Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Further thoughts on Romans 12:9-21

Sunday I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon (you would know what I said if you were there) that i didn't have enough time to address all the things that Paul writes in Romans 12. That epistle reading was packed full of powerful guidance for the life of a Christian. The Holy Spirit is showing us how we are to treat one another - in light of the fact that we offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices. We give ourselves, not to our own actions and our own desires, but to the Lord's actions and desires. The old sinful nature in us is put to death over and over again as we live in spiritual worship to our Lord Jesus Christ.

I feel compelled to talk about the verses beginning at verse 14. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."  That is a challenge isn't it? To bless those who curse you. This is truly following the example of Luther's 8th commandment explanation. Bless - speak well of and put the best construction on all that is done by those who persecute you. That is so contrary to the way we want to act. When you push me, I am going to react by pushing you back. You say something bad about me, I will think of something worse to say about you. You hurt my reputation and I will do all i can to destroy your reputation. That is the way of the sinful, natural heart of each one of us. That is what we must sacrifice. To follow that way of thinking is to be conformed to the way of the world instead of being transformed by the renewing of the Holy Spirit. We are not only told to do this, but our Lord Jesus Christ has given us that example as He suffered at the hands of those who wished to have Him put to death. Instead of hurling insults back at them, He took their mockery and asked His Father to forgive them. Instead of attacking the pharisees, He dealt with them in a righteous and holy manner. We are called to do the opposite of what we want to do - bless and not curse our persecutors.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (vs. 15) This is something we are able to do with those that we like. If they are our friends or someone that we want to impress, we will be there for them. We will party with those who party. We will cry with those who cry. When someone has a child, we rejoice. When they have a death, we weep. Or do we? What about when that family that you cannot stand has a joyous event happen? Do you rejoice with them? Do you call them up and tell them how happy you are for them? Do you stop by their house with a plate of cookies and tell them how wonderful it is that things have gone well for them? Or do you grumble about the fact that they don't deserve to win the lottery or to have a healthy child or to have the son who is on the honor roll at college? When something bad happens to them, do you feel sorry for them? Or do actually feel like, "They got theirs!"? This is tough when you are talking about all people - especially those who persecute you in your life. To rejoice with them makes us want to puke. To weep with them would mean you would have to be a hypocrite because you really want that person to suffer. Think about it. Which way are we called to live? Not conformed to the world in it's thoughts but transformed by the Spirit.

"Live in harmony with one another." What? Live in harmony with one another? What does that mean for us? The harmony is that which is found in Christ Jesus, given by the Spirit. Jesus prays that we might be one as He and the Father are one. Live at harmony doesn't mean that we wait for the other person to become like we want them to become. No, it means that we are asking the Spirit to transform "ME" to be like Jesus so that I can live in harmony with all people. It is easy to be at harmony with those that we like. But those that we don't like (and you know that the church has people in it that you don't like), that is much more difficult. That is the direction of the Spirit - live in harmony with one another. All too often in a church family, we sound more like an orchestra where everyone is out of tune and doing their own thing. There is no beautiful music being made. Instead it is a terrible, awful sound that drives the mice and bats out of the building. How can we expect to share the love of Christ in that situation? How can we expect the love of our Lord to come through when it is like that? It can't! Harmony - like an orchestra made up of a lot of different instruments that come out sounding beautiful - as each follows the conductor (our Lord) and follow the sheet music (the Word). The next time you think to yourself that it is too tough to live at harmony with THAT person, stop and think how tough it is to live in harmony with YOU! Ask the Spirit to change your lack of love and harmony and to make you in you a joyful noise that is found in the life of faith in your Savior.

OK, I am going to stop at this point for now. Why? If I make the blog posting too long, you will stop reading. Come back later for a little more on Romans 12. For now, pray that the Spirit would transform you so you don't conform to the world in your relationship with your fellow member of the church.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It sounds familiar to me!

I was reading this morning in the book of Zephaniah (not a book that most of us spend too much time in). The third chapter has some interesting things to say to us as a people. Let me read that for you and then I will make a few comments:

"Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men; her priests profane what is holy; they do violence to the law. The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth is justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame." (Zephaniah 3:1-5 ESV)

As I read this section of the prophecy of Zephaniah, I thought about our nation. I felt that Zephaniah was writing about the USA today. How much have we defiled the way of the Lord? How often have we turned from His way to the sinful, idolatrous ways of the world? Our officials and judges are not seeking the way of the Lord. (I am not talking "party" here. I am talking that it seems from my point of view that they are seeking what they want and couching it in terms of that make it sound like they are following the will of the people. Like lions they devour. Like wolves they destroy. All without any fear of God.) Even our prophets and priests (our pastors and church leaders) are not seeking the way of the Lord. We call evil good and good evil. We do not proclaim the fullness of the Word of God but merely speak what will get the most people into our churches so we can say we are the latest and greatest thing, in order to get our name out there for others to follow. What ever happened to faithfulness to the Lord? Whatever became of seeking to receive the word from our Lord, "Well done, my good and faithful servant?" Instead we seek praise from man and accolades from the press. We want our names splashed around on the sign boards and the books - not the name of the Lord.

And all I can do is hang my head in shame. For I have not been the man of God that I should be. I do not speak as boldly as God would have me speak. While it may seem I am casting stones at others, I know that the stones should be cast at me.

What can be done? We can repent of our sins. We can turn from our sinful behavior and actions. We can pray to the Lord that He would help us to mend our sinful lives and follow His will once again. If we do not, are we any better than the nations before us that turned from His way? Where are they today? They are a few pages in the history books. They are sites for the vacationer to visit, take a few pictures and walk away wondering whatever happened to cause this great civilization to collapse in ruins. That could be the USA if we continue to turn our backs upon the Lord.

Thanks Zephaniah! Thanks for speaking the word of the Lord to me today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday evening

Thursday evening - the first week of school draws to a close for me. I know that there is still Friday for students and teachers. But for me, today is my Friday. For the first time in years, more than I can count, I will actually have a real day off (I mean during the school year, when school is in session. Here at St. Paul's, I have had my Fridays off during the summer. But this feels really good to know that I actually have a day off from teaching and other work). From the time I was in my last years are Ferrin to this year, I have not had a real day off during the week, not without taking a vacation day. Not a day that I could count on week after week to not have to get up and go to the office, to teach class or do something else that was needed in the church that I was serving.

That is, till now. Tomorrow, I will not be getting up to teach class or to lead staff devotions. I will not have to go into the office to make sure that the bulletin is correct or that everything is running smoothly. Instead, if I get up in the morning, it will be because I want to get up and do some reading, to spend time in the Word, to be able to sit peaceably without having to head over to the office.

It means a lot to me to not have to get going. So tonight, when I go to bed, I will go to bed knowing that tomorrow is a day given over to my rest, rest with Penny, rest from my labors. It is my Sabbath rest. And I give thanks to God and to St. Paul's congregation and school for it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflections on Day Number 1

It is in the books - the first day of school at St. Paul's. I know that that there are other schools who will be having first days today or tomorrow or whenever. That's all right. It is good that they have first days. But for me, yesterday (Monday, August 15th) was the first day of school.

It was good to have the children back in the building. It has been empty all summer, save for the week of Vacation Bible School in the middle of June and for Sunday school each Sunday morning for an hour. But a school building devoid of students is an empty place.

Mr. Monroe has been working all summer to prepare the building for the children. He has refinished the floors in the classrooms so that they shine, a nice deep shine that makes it possible to walk into the classroom and enjoy the way it looks.

The teachers came back at the beginning of the month and began to prepare their classrooms, preparing for this day to arrive. Looking around the school you see how all things are ready.

Mrs. Thomas has made the kindergarten room a welcoming place for the seven new kindergarten students who are all smiles and yet have that nervous look on their face. "I am in kindergarten, woohoo! But wait, I am in kindergarten, I am scared of what that means. Help me! I am about to cry." And up steps Mrs. Thomas with her smile and her kind way and the nervousness soon melts back into excitement.

The 1st and 2nd grade come in feeling that they have somehow arrived at the promised land and Mrs. Dehne is there to help them with that feeling. The classroom has a new look, a new feel. Mrs. Dehne has made it her classroom this year. It looks like her and the students see that. There are the six 1st graders who are fresh out of kindergarten, knowing that they have advanced to the place of learning. The six 2nd graders are the big ones in the classroom now. They remember how the 2nd graders acted last year and they try to be that same way, all grown up in the way that only 2nd graders can be. And with 12 children in the classroom, Mrs. Dehne work efficiently and lovingly to help each one of them feel special.

Next door there are 8 children looking to Mrs. McLaughlin for guidance as they enter the realm of the 3rd and 4th grade. The 3rd grade has only 2 students - 1 boy and 1 girl. The girl misses her classmate from last year but will quickly adjust to her new classmate this year. Oh how she wishes she had both classmates but Mrs. McLaughlin helps her to adjust to the new world of 3rd grade. Excitement as one of the six 4th grade students tries to get his big red notebook into his desk only to see that it is too wide. With the flair of only a 4th grade student, he continues to try as he hopes for all his classmates to notice that he has a big red notebook that won't fit into the desk. each student has their way of trying to the attention of the other students as they try to unpack their bags and get it all into one little desk. Chaos? Not really, not for Mrs. McLaughlin who smiles happily to see her students back in her classroom.

Let's move up the hallway to the real action is, where the older students will reside for the next 9 months. Here is the 5th and 6th grade classroom with the 7 students. Mrs. Doyle welcomes them in with her caring smile and her sharp eye. She sees what each is bringing in and knows what they need and don't need. The 5th grade students are, what is that I see in their eyes, nervous, a little scared? But no, they won't let anyone know that about them. They are confident in only the way a 5th grade student can be. Looking around there is the 4 sixth grade students confidently setting the boundaries for the 5th grade to live within - who is going to be the class leader this year? Who will be the one that everyone looks for to know if they should laugh or if they should just do their work? There she is, Mrs. Doyle, sitting in her chair, smiling at them, showing them the way that they should be as they face this year. No fears, Mrs. Doyle is here. Will she be as mean as others have said? She chuckles to herself. Let them think she is mean, tough or whatever. Loving them in Christ, she will be the teacher they need to go through this year.

Then we come to where they really have "arrived" - the 7th and 8th grade class. Confident, sure of themselves, a swagger in their step - all of which hides the real person inside who is trying to figure out who he or she truly is. This year is a chance to shape and mold their persona. And yet, there is the unknown with that - Mr. Cluck, a new teacher, a MAN teacher, someone that no one here has had before. Who is he? What is he? Will he be nice? Will he be tough? More questions in the minds of students who are already filled with questions. the 5 seventh grade students look to the 7 8th grade students for guidance in how to act. All right Mr. Cluck, you are their guide this year, their teacher, their mentor.

Then there is the place of great confusion - the preschool. Moms and Dads bring their little ones into the classrooms. Students everywhere. Pictures taken. Tears shed. The confident little girl suddenly bursts into tears and doesn't want to stay. The shy little boy marches in and takes control of the little truck and starts talking with the boy next to him. Nothing is at it seems. Nothing is as it will be tomorrow (which by the way is today!). Miss Darla and Miss Tanya welcome the 4's into the classroom as Miss Michelle works to help the 3's feel comfortable in this completely new way of life. They are setting the table for the years to come.

And it is complete. Things are as they should be once again. The students are back. The teachers are teaching. The building is humming. And over it all, the Holy Spirit is filling hearts, minds and souls with the wonder of the love of the Savior. How do I fit into this picture? That is the question that will be answered through out the year. May the Lord bless this new school year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Of wings and chirps

Sitting on the porch this morning, as I do most mornings during the summer months, I encountered something I hadn't encountered before. It was a beautiful morning. Facing the south, the clouds on the horizon were just starting to glow pink and orange with the rising sun in the east. The humidity of the past days had dispersed and the temperature was comfortable. Has it really only been 2 days since the air was so heavy and hot that it took your breath away when you walked out the door? Has it really only been since Sunday that your glasses would steam up when you entered the sweat box we called outdoors? Sitting there, I listened to crickets chirping away. It is a relaxing sound. It set the stage for the devotions that would take place there on the front porch.

Surrounded by the flowers and vines that Penny had planted, I enjoyed the slight breeze that touched the flowers. Slightly waving in the breeze,  their colors added to the pallet of the morning. The soft reds and yellows, purples and pinks all came to life as the sun was just peeking over the horizon. What a glorious morning to be alive! What a joy to be able to welcome the new day that the Lord had brought forth once again. "This is the day that the Lord hath made" ran through my mind as I enjoyed the wonders of the morning.

Turning my attention to the devotions and readings of the morning, I listened to the sounds of the morning. The crickets, the birds, the cars zipping past taking people to work as close as the building next door or off into the city of St. Louis for a time in the cubicles of life that we call the office. As I sat there, I heard another sound, a slight chirping. It was so soft that it didn't register at first. But as the chirping continued I looked up from the book that I was reading to see where this soft, new sound was coming from.

At first, I could not figure it out. It continue as I sat there silently, watching, waiting for the noise maker to show himself. What would it be? I could hear it behind the pillar of the porch, the one cover in vines with soft purple flowers blooming all around. The I caught a glimpse of movement. Anticipation built in my heart as I waited and wondered. Then from around the corner, tasting the lovely nectar of the flowers flit a small bird - a hummingbird! What? Was this maker of the small, soft chirping that had brought me out of the pages of the book that had captured my attention?

Still chirping, with little wings a blur, he went from flower to flower, drinking the wonders of that flower, talking to himself. It was as though he was giving thanks to God for each and every flower that he came to. Chirp and the long thin beak pressed into the flower. Withdrawing, he continued to hover in the air only to chirp and go to the next flower. The beautiful little bird, the bird whose wings moved so quickly and wonderfully that they were hard to see, the bird whose body was so small and fragile and yet delicate and beautiful, seemed to be praising the Almighty for the flowers that were feeding him yet again this morning. The chirping continued as he continued to feed. Flitting to the zinnias around the bird bath, the little bearing of the wonders of creation continued to flit from flower to flower, thanking God for the coolness of the morning, the wonders of the day and the nectar of the flowers. Disappearing as quickly as he came, he left me with the crickets and the sparrows, the cars and the drivers, the author of the book and my thoughts.

Yes, the little bird drew my attention and left me a lesson. Give thanks to God for the day, for the moment, for the joys and for the sorrows, for the family and the friends, for the members of the congregation, for job that is to be done and the job that has been completed, for the car in which you can travel to the place of work, for the wonders of the morning and the colors of the sunrise. With each turn of the page as I returned to the book I was reading, I felt like chirping. Like the hummingbird, I felt that I should give thanks to the Lord for the words I could read, for the pages I could turn, for the things I was learning.

This is the day which the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Thank you Mr. Hummingbird for calling my attention to that which I might have missed - the wonders of today.