sanctification

Just a Little Bottle of Water

I’m not a creep. I’m not a creep. I’m not a creep.

I knock on the car’s window. The person inside jumps, raises her hands to her mouth in shock, sees me, jumps again, and after a moment of hesitation lowers her window. My sweaty reflection disappears as the glass drops into the door. I look like a creep.

Hi!” I say. “I’m the pastor from the church right there.” I gesture to the building behind me. “I noticed the accident and everyone’s been waiting here for a while I thought you might like some water.” I proffer a plastic bag filled with sealed water bottles.

The woman looks at me, glances at the bag, and says, “Thanks. Yeah. I think I’ll take one.”

We chat for a few minutes. She’s a librarian on her way to work. She’s already half an hour late because of the accident. She asks about the people in the crushed cars.

When I talked to the officers, they said there was no one seriously hurt. So that’s good! They told me the road should be cleared in ten minutes, but that was, um, fifteen minutes ago now.” I offer a rueful smile. “And it’s so hot. How long have you been waiting?”

She looks at the clock. “Almost forty minutes.”

I’m sorry.” I gesture to the line of cars. After some more niceties, I say, “Good to meet you! I’m going to make my way up the line, though. Make sure no one gets overheated.”

And I make my way up the street that has become a parking lot, reminding myself that I’m not a creep. I offer more water, eventually running out – and actually at just the right place, at the guy driving the dump truck that was at the head of the line. Only about half the people I talked to accepted water; many already had drinks with them of some kind. Good thing; it was in the 90’s and plenty humid without waiting inside a car on the pavement. As I went, I chatted with a man on a motorcycle, one of the church’s neighbors who had come out to see what was going on, a Baptist deacon (“Good to meet you!” he says and offers to come cantor at my congregation), a few construction workers, a young woman who really didn’t know what to do with me, and a lot more.

I really debated what to do when cars started lining up. Do I go make sure people are ok? Offer them our bathroom? Offer them our AC? If I bring water, do I hand over a business card, too?

I opted to simply… serve. I identified myself and offered bottles of water. That’s it. If someone wanted to talk more, of course I’d be willing! But here I didn’t want to “hold anyone hostage” or anything. Just… serve. And so I delivered water until I ran out of water. The timing worked out, too. The line finally got moving about five minutes after handing out my last bottle.

And once the line started moving, I counted: 145 cars backed up in one direction on the little two-lane highway in front of the church. On the hottest day of the year thus far.

Should I have slipped in a business card? Yeah, it probably wouldn’t have hurt. Could I have invited to church? Yeah. But… I chose to simply serve. To simply give cold water to those who desired it. Best thing I could have done? I’m willing to admit that I probably could have done more.

But I know what I did was good. Best? Probably not. But here, again, cold water for those who needed it.

And here I take great comfort. Every day I fail. Every action I take is tainted by my sinful nature. I have never done a purely good work. And yet… Jesus has given me his robes of righteousness. While I’m concerned about being a creep, he looks and smiles – not because I’m awesome, but because he is, and he loves me. And on the Last Day, he’ll look at me and declare, “Well done!” And that declaration has nothing to do with my actions. It has everything to do with the fact that he has given me what he earned, and he has declared me what he is. And now I am his child. My sinful nature is buried; I need not fear.

Do I want to learn how to serve better? Yeah. But only because my Savior has already told me that I am his, and he has proven it on the cross, and he has given it to me in my Baptism.

Which means… I rejoice that he gave me an opportunity to serve. To simply give a bottle of cold water to those who are thirsty. This was a gift from him.

And for the next time? I’ll pray wisdom to use the opportunities better.

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Review: Chivalry

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Chivalry:The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World by Zach Hunter

It’s not a list of rules. It’s a code of honor, calling men and women to higher standards. It’s about being more. And if we live it, it will transform us – and the world.

Or at least that’s what the book claims. It also claims that author Hunter unites teachings of ancient knights with the teachings of Jesus. Thus, the book claims to be Christian.

Sigh.

The book has some great stuff in it. Great advice. And the ten principles to live by aren’t bad by any means!

For instance, the first principle, “I will not go on this journey alone” encourages the reader to find mentors and friends who are not afraid to correct them. It urges us to find people from many walks of life to encourage us, so that we don’t “lean one direction” too much. Use people of different ages – both older and younger! One great observation said, “By now, I know that if my phone rings and I’m hoping their names don’t show up on my caller ID, I’m probably going through something I really need them for.” The closing line of that chapter says, “Chivalrous people aren’t foolishly confident, believing they don’t need anyone else on this journey. They realize they are human, weak, and vulnerable.” This is fantastic advice.

Other principles include “I will practice self control and selflessness,” “I will fight only for the sake of those who are unable to defend themselves, or in the defense of justice,” and “I will honor truth and always keep my promises.” Ten principles in all unfold through the book. The volume ends with questions to dig deeper into each principle as well as a pledge to “live the code” for each principle.

I said it before: This is fantastic advice. The book stirs up that desire to be more and to do more. It gives solid application for the advice and stories fill the book with great readable examples.

But… despite all that, I don’t know if I can really recommend this book as-is.

You see, it claims to be Christian… but for nearly all the book, Jesus is used as merely example. “Jesus did this, so you should do it, too.” Jesus becomes one more person to try to emulate, right along with Confucius (I kid you not) and Audrey Hepburn. Granted, Jesus is used far more often than either of the other two, but an example he is.

To be fair, Hunter does talk about Jesus being our Savior. Briefly. About halfway into the book. But in the same token, he talks about hating the word sin and prefers thinking about it as “missing the mark,” which just encourages him to try harder. He talks about how we don’t need more rules… and then lays out ten principles to live by.

The thing is… this book could be fantastic. Talk about the principles and how we don’t live by them. Show how miserably we fail, even though the principles are good (and they are good). And then point to Jesus who did keep the principles… and now, because he has died for us, our failures are gone. Because he have been given his righteousness, in God’s eyes we are already chivalrous. We are knights. So now, be what we have been given credit for being already. You have Christ’s chivalry… so be chivalrous!

Such a book wouldn’t just lay out principles, but also give the power to do them. It wouldn’t be a pep talk pumping us up to try and then fail, but a way to point to Christ and live out his grace every day. Honestly, I’m considering taking these “ten principles” and trying to work them into a teen Bible study (or a sermon series? Maybe. Not sure on that.). However, they need to be shown that sanctification flows from justification – that Christian life flows from the Life that was given for us. This book by itself… it’s good advice, but it ignores the source of our ability to do anything.

So, can I recommend the book? Alas, not as a Christian book. Good advice? Absolutely. Well-written? You got that right.

But it needs a lot more Jesus to make it a good Christian book.

A Sea Brighter than the Sky

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The waters were restless this morning. Breakers roared in, and I felt their spray even fifteen feet above as I ran along the cliffs over the Lake. Out on the horizon and over the Lake, dark blue clouds blotted out the sky. And yet, here and there, you could see the sun poking through.

And the Lake responded.

If I looked up to the sky, I saw a dark, foreboding scene. But as I looked down, I observed a bright, shining lake that left me dazzled. The sight took my breath away: the waters reflected an unseen sun under a dark sky.

Christian, this is you.

You have been called to be light. You have been called to reflect your Savior, the one who redeemed you, the one who bought you out of darkness at the price of his own life. The skies are dark here. Oh, they are so, so dark. I know. Trust me. They overwhelm so easily, and we give in to despair.

Look up. Do you see? The Son has not abandoned you. Look down. Do you see the proclamation in Word? He knew the deeps you keep secret from the world around you. He knew the secrets you have not told, for fear that those around you would reject you. And do you see? He has loved you anyway. He has purchased and won you, not with silver or gold, but with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.

Oh, even under the dark sky, Christian, reflect him. Be brighter than those around you. Surprise and delight. Don’t fade into the darkness. This is not who your Savior made you to be.

But you cannot do it, dear one. It is impossible for you – unless.

Unless you are reflecting him. Unless you see the Son and focus on him and his love for you. Unless you grow to gasp at his goodness and revel in his brightness. Unless you grow in the grace and knowledge of our lord Jesus Christ.

You have been called to be a sea brighter than the sky, but never brighter than the sun. Oh, that can never be. But Christian: reflect that light you have been shown. Shine bright.

“You’re too old/young to have a good idea!”

I am so proud of my congregation.

Before I explain why, let me say: my congregation is full of sinners. Its pastor is a terrible sinner. We do terrible things to each other. We are broken human beings that, really, are just getting used to being open about our brokenness with each other.

And yet, sometimes, something happens that shows me that they are not what they were. They have been washed, they’ve been sanctified, they’ve been justified by Jesus. And it’s so awesome for me, as their pastor, when that shows.

We were having a congregational brainstorming session. It was pretty open. I served as moderator and tried to keep things focused and on track as well as allowing everyone the chance to speak. It went well. Lots of ideas came up. The central thought of the meeting was this: How can we make Jesus clearer to a visitor? How do we get all the junk out of the way that we do sometimes, how do we get all the thick “This is the way we do things” out of the way and simply present Jesus? (more…)

Pastors Aren’t Finished Products.

When did that happen?!

So, this past week we walked around the neighborhood and handed out invitations to a neighborhood cookout my congregation is hosting. Free food, free bounce house, free games and prizes, free raffle for big items, free music – you know, lots of free stuff so that we get the chance to show the neighborhood that our congregation is not only alive, but welcoming. (Plus, the raffle lets us get names and addresses to go follow up with. Bonus!)

We usually walk in pairs – one person on one side of the street, one on the other – and simply hand out fliers, usually by sticking them in doors. I happen to walk with two of the teens. They didn’t particularly enjoy talking to people. One in particular was rather shy.

So… I took every house where it looked like people would actually answer the door. I did all the talking. I sort of shrugged and told her I’d take care of it for her if she wanted me to.

Wait a second… when did that happen?! I’m scared of people! I hate talking to people in uncontrolled situations like that! And doing cold calls? Talking to people about church without any kind of previous contact? Without it being a hospital call or something like that? Now I’m not only comfortable, but chuckling that someone wouldn’t want to? Now I’m simply shrugging and saying that talking to people is no big deal? How – how – when – how?! (more…)

Gospel Motivation

You can tell this isn’t a huge seller on the Christian bookstore circuit… this is the biggest pic I could find of the cover!

Gospel Motivation: More than “Jesus died for my sins”
by Robert J. Koester

I think God’s trying to teach me a lesson. Several books that I’ve read now have really pounded home the lesson that this volume is centered on. You don’t get God’s people to grow spiritually and show spiritual maturity by pounding them over and over with the Law. You don’t tell them, “God hath said!” and follow that with a thundering commandment. It doesn’t work; that kind of theology withers the soul. While it might be good at producing outward results, such methods actually stunt the soul.

It started way back with So You Want To Leave the Church? The book delivered a dubious moral, but it was deft in pointing out law motivation in everyday church functions. Jesus+Nothing=Everything put it on in full light: Law motivation simply doesn’t work. Another book I just finished, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, also talked about Gospel motivation. And now this book – well, it’s in the title. What else would you expect? (more…)

You’re Already Amazing

You’re Already Amazing
by Holley Gerth

You don’t have to do more, be more, have more. You’re a daughter of God, a holy princess, a woman created with strengths you’ve yet to fully grasp and a story that’s still being written by the divine Author himself. … [in Christ] you’re not only amazing. You’re enough. You’re beautiful. You’re wanted. You’re chosen. You’re called.

You’re Already Amazing presents an amazing truth: in Christ, you are enough. In Christ, you are everything you need to be and more… because Jesus is enough and everything you need to be. You have his record. So stop trying to be someone you’re not… because Jesus has made you exactly who he wants you to be. (more…)

Which would you rather have?

Would you like scumbag pastor for your pastor?

I Timothy 3:1-7 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

 

Which would you rather have?

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If you think you’re going to sit around doing nothing…

John 15:1-8 15      “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

If you think you can just sit around, you’re going to have a hard time.

  1. You’re going to bear fruit.
  2. You’re going to be cut.

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Which one are you?

Matthew 21:28-32

 

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

 

Which one are you?

  1. The first son or the second son?
  2. The Pharisee or the prostitute?

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