“You have not lived a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” –Ruth Smeltzer
In the last several months, Jan and I have enjoyed several opportunities to reflect on life and ministry. We have been invited to return to five congregations in which we ministered full-time. The opportunity to teach and preach in these churches has been a special blessing. These congregations represent 27 years of the time we spent in full-time local ministry. We have reminisced and rejoiced as we shared time with brothers and sisters who are dear to us. We have been blessed by their continued generosity and interest in the ministry and mission we are now pursuing.
In addition, we have reconnected with several special friends from our past, spending time with Ken and Joy Dillman (15th Street, Tulsa) and Bill and Betty Sims (Plymouth, Michigan). Last Sunday we were in Bella Vista, Arkansas for a Mission Emphasis Sunday. While there, we were blessed to spend some time with Lowell and Judith Carmical whom we also knew in Plymouth, Michigan.
We are continually amazed at friendships in Christ that do not end even though time and miles separate us. Heaven will indeed be a wonderful place of glory and grace!
It is easy for us to lose perspective. Sometimes, Jan and I look longingly at those who have lived in the same place for many years and have life-long friends with whom they regularly spend time. We try to imagine what it would be like to have such roots and stability, with friendships that have been continuously nurtured and enjoyed. We are tempted to jealousy, but we are brought back to reality when those very people remind us that we have friends around the world.
Friends around the world! Friends in Christ in most of the states of our nation; brothers and sisters in Christ among the nations of our world. We are bound together by love in Christ, hope for the future, and prayer for one another.
“Dear God, help me never forget that I am blessed to be a blessing. Thank you for the wonderful way you have blessed our lives with friends and spiritual family in Jesus.”
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” –Publilius Syrus
“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” –Flora Whittemore
Life is filled with choices. A few choices are basic! Once they are made, they provide the foundation for the rest of life’s choices. If the foundational choices are not made in place, the rest of life is a constant struggle. Let me be specific. Here are two foundational questions that provide orientation for the rest of life. Who am I? Who is in control in my life?
For a Christian, the answer to number one depends on grasping God’s love and God’s forgiveness. Warning! If we make love easy or forgiveness cheap, our identity in Christ will be constantly blurry. This is not an easy love that says “You’re OK” and “I can put up with you like you are.” This is love that acknowledges problems and the necessity of change. This is no unconditional love. This is love that rightly expects obedience and commitment.
Impossible? That is where God’s forgiveness enters. What is impossible with us humans is possible with God. God’s forgiveness affirms our identity in Christ. Warning! Do not make this forgiveness cheap and unconditional. Do not fall into Satan’s trap of thinking that God is so loving that forgiveness is automatic and universal with only an unthinking acknowledgement of God’s existence. God’s grace is extended at great cost, and is faithfully accepted only with intense, unending gratitude.
Who is in control in my life? First, I must establish that I am not! Jesus Christ is Lord. The Bible is God’s Word. Here we see the written word and the living word. God reveals himself to us so we can understand him. When we see God for who he really is, we see ourselves as we really are. When we see God in all of his glory, we rejoice that he is willing to take care of our every inadequacy, fault, flaw, sin, shortcoming, and weakness. It is not about us, God is in control!
Today as I worship among God’s people, I seek to be reminded of these basic truths. I want to be reminded of who I am. I want to be reminded that God is in control. Basic life choices! Without these in place, the week ahead can get pretty rough and intense. With these in place, a lot of other life choices will also fall into place!
With the selection of Pope Francis, one very clever and popular quote I hear more and more is, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
The quote is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and seems to say that proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than proclaiming it verbally. I dislike the quote for several reasons. First, it creates an artificial dichotomy between preaching and practice, seeming to force a choice between speech and action. Second, the idea that the gospel can be preached without words is not true. Third, it is unbiblical and biased, subtly suggesting that those who “practice the Gospel” are more faithful than those who preach it. Finally, Francis of Assisi never said it. There is no record of the quotation from his disciples or from early or later biographers. It does not appear in any of his writings. The truth is that Francis was a powerful preacher. He was known as much for his preaching as for his lifestyle. Francis did not depend only on his actions to proclaim the gospel. The popularity of the quote likely tells us more about the spirit of our age than of any historical reality.
Mark Galli has suggested a different quotation: “Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always.”
[Note: See also my article: Preach the Gospel–Use Words Always.]
Dear Father, thank you for helping us know what is good. Help us believe you when you say it is good to give thanks, it is good to sing praises. Thank you for showing us your steadfast love every morning, may we speak your faithfulness as each day closes and night falls. Today I rejoice again in your unfailing love and your steadfast faithfulness. Show me today how I can reflect your loving kindness and your wonderful faithfulness in every part of my life–in my relationships, in my words, in my interactions with others, in my joy and in my compassion. Help me develop today more completely the attitude of Christ. Teach me to depend on your love and faithfulness when I find it difficult to forgive myself. Thank you for your love that continually reaches out to me and redeems and restores me, in Jesus, Amen.
It is good to tive thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your4 steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:1-2)