Dear Fellow Children of God,
I have been officially mentoring a number of people recently, including Pastor Eugene Larmi of Lamb of God Lutheran in Wasilla. Eugene and I meet weekly and consider questions the seminary asks us to discuss. I believe that it is not only Eugene who benefits from this relationship, but I benefit as well as Eugene and we get to know one another, and as I re-examine my faith, my life, and my ministry. I benefit as I see the grace of God at work in a sinner like me.
One of this week’s questions for discussion might be somewhat difficult to understand, but let me share with you the question, and then the essence of my answer. The question from the seminary was, “What hermeneutical principles does your mentor find operative in the lives of his people in Bible studies?” That’s a lot of big words. But, what the question basically asks for discussion about is, “With what beliefs and attitudes do people approach God’s Word?”
My answer was somewhat long, but the bottom line I shared with Eugene is, “My goal for teaching Bible classes is first knowledge, then understanding, and then changed lives.” We can all learn more about what God says. We can all grow in personal understanding of what God’s Word means for our lives. But, the real test is, “Do we live in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus?”
This might all be summed up in one verse from Jesus’ teaching. In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, "Blessed . . . are those who hear the word of God and obey it." As a child I memorized that verse as “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
The truth be told, the reason God established Israelite worship at Sinai, and the reason Jesus established the Christian Church, is that we all struggle both hearing and keeping God’s Word. Reality is not as some Christians would like to think, that “We are faithful and those outside the church are not.” The truth is not as some outside Christ’s church think that “All Christians think alike and act alike and look down on the rest of us.” In truth, we ALL struggle. We all need direction from God and support from other believers. We all need to grow in knowledge of God, in understanding of the difference His love and direction make in our lives. We all need to grow in not just hearing but in keeping the teaching and direction of our Lord.
But, there is another “secret” that many don’t understand. We don’t live changed lives because we just do what we are told to do. We live changed lives when our hearts are changed and we want to live differently. In other words, going to worship or trying to keep God’s commandments because I am supposed to do so only works for so long. But, when I want to worship, when I want to serve God, that is new life.
How does God create new hearts? Have you heard about the mother who found her child stealing? After he returned what he stole, she told him punishment was needed. He expected the punishment. So, she told him to take the ruler and slap her knuckles 3 times. The boy looked in surprise. He had stolen, not her. She explained she did not want him to be hurt, so she would take the punishment. But, loving his mother he did not want to hurt her. She asked him if there was another solution. Out of love for his mom he said, “Mom, I don’t want you to be hurt. I’ll work really hard not to do that again.” Now he had motivation, his mother’s love for him and his increased love for his mom.
In Ezekiel God is dealing with the stubbornness of the Israelites. He promised, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19). How does God give us hearts of flesh in place of hard and stubborn hearts of stone? If we listen and understand, the sacrificial love of our Heavenly Father in the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus are totally unexpected. We struggle to obey and deserve the punishment our sins deserve. But, instead God Himself pays for our sin through Jesus. When we realize that surprising love, our motivation changes so that we want to serve our Loving Lord. Hopefully, we hear the Word of God AND Keep it!
A Child of God, Seeking to Serve My Lord in Willing Love,
P.S. Here is a picture of the baptism of Josiah Lentes-Moore on Sunday, July 26. https://picasaweb.google.com/114993745799525883148/BaptismsWinterSpring2015#6177587237834728274
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .