Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Motivating Christians to live as Christians

        We all have someone in our lives whom we would like to change.  I can probably say that there are times when my fellow congregational members and my wife would like to change me (and for good reason). We ourselves wish we could change for the better. But how is it done? In particular how does one get the Christian to do what God wants?
How do we encourage our fellow church members to be more fully dedicated to Christ? How do Christian parents get their children to gladly obey them? What do we use to motivate Christian behavior?
Laying down the law is the usual method people use to produce change in behavior. For example, to increase church offerings, a congregation may try shaming its members into giving more. In such a case the law reads something like this: “A good Christian would give “x” amount of income to the church.” In a troubled marriage, a spouse may lay down the law like this, “I’m taking the children and leaving unless you clean up your act.”  Parents take the same approach with children.
The law, however, often incites our sinful nature to do just the opposite of what it commands. God’s Word tells us this. “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life…” (Romans 7:9)
Want an example? A parent who to their two year old, “Don’t touch that glass vase!” Two seconds later the child’s hand is reaching out to touch the vase or to see how close they can come without touching. Laying down the law often moves us to disobedience. Even if the law’s threats stop us from committing the sin, it can never motivate anyone to want to do the right thing.
So why don’t we use the Gospel to motive and encourage each other? Perhaps it is because we want to see instantaneous results.  From our impatient human point of view, the Gospel doesn’t seem to work fast enough.  The law may get results but only the gospel can bring forth results that please God.
A Lutheran pastor named Herman Gockel gave an illustration of the Gospel’s power to compel Christians to do the right thing. He wrote, “A mother was upset when she saw several suggestive pictures on her son’s dorm room wall. She didn’t say anything at the time, but sent him a picture of Jesus.  He put it on his wall.  In a matter of days, the other pictures were gone.  The mother never once badgered him.  Jesus’ love, as called to mind by the picture, worked in his heart what laying down the law could never do.
       “For Christ’s love compels us…and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God!

           Thanksgiving Day - it's almost here!  I can hardly wait!  Turkey!  Stuffing!  Cranberries!  Pies!  Football!  Family and Friends!  Thanksgiving Day - What a great day it is!  It is truly a wonderful holiday; filled with many traditions.
On Thanksgiving Day we hear a lot about what we have to be thankful for.  It is easy for us to look around and point to the bounty that we enjoy.
What we don't hear much about on Thanksgiving Day is talk about who we are to thank for this bounty.  A few bold commentators on television will mention the fact that it is God who is to receive our thanks.  Others simply hope that their audience will enjoy "Turkey Day" and not eat too much.
We call Thanksgiving Day by that name for it is a day set aside to give thanks.  Why is it that so many don't know whom to thank?  Some merely thank their  LUCKY STARS.  They are filled with thanks that all has gone well, their investments have brought them a profit and they are in good health.  They just don't know whom to thank.
Some simply take the credit for themselves.  "Look what I have done!"  "I've worked hard and it's paid off.  I have a nice home, two cars and I am financially secure.  I have my family and health.  What more could I want?"
But that is not the purpose of Thanksgiving Day.  It's a day to give thanks to God.  God is the source of our blessings!  God is the one who gives us good health.  God is the one who helps us when we are ill.  God is the one who makes the rich and the one who sustains the poor.  God is the one who blesses our homes and marriages, the one who allows our investments to multiply, and gives us every other blessing we possess.  It all comes from God.
The psalmist, David, says it well; "The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." (Psalm 145:16)
David knew where his blessings came from and he knew whom to thank for them.  It is the Lord and the Lord alone who is to receive credit.
But, we miss an important part of this thanksgiving if we only thank God for the blessings we can see.  The greatest blessing of all is the forgiveness of our sins.  Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation!  These are the greatest blessings of all.
This Thanksgiving Day, let us not get so wrapped up in the celebration and the traditions that we forget what this day is all about.  "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good and his mercy endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Has anyone stolen your identity?

         One of the fastest growing crimes in the United States is called “identity theft.” With the advent of computers, thieves have found new ways to steal a person’s identity. Once get your personal information, your birth date, social security number, credit card information, they can use them to make charges, buy cars, and take out loans. And, they do it all in your name!
After a couple of months, the collection agencies tract you down to get the money they are owed. That’s when you realize that someone has stolen your identity. They’ve left you with unpaid bills, bad loans and lots of debts. Your credit history is in danger and that’s only the beginning. Now you must begin the work of setting things straight.
When we are born, we obtain our identity as an individual. We are a unique person, unlike anyone else. What makes us unique is not our social security number. It is our personality, our intellect, fingerprints, our DNA, etc. All these things become ours when we are conceived and begin our life as a unique person.
We also come into the world as sinners. As innocent as a child appears, when born, it is a sinful human being. Every person comes into the world with a sinful nature that is passed on from mom and dad. The Bible calls it our Old Adam. It is also referred to as our sinful nature, or simply our ‘flesh’. It’s passed on to us at the time of our conception.  The Psalmist David says it well, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) Paul recognized his sinful nature as well. He writes, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”
When someone agrees to testify against some dangerous or powerful person, the government may put them into the Federal Witness Protection Program. They are given a new name, new identity, moved to a new community to start a new life.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God gives us a new identity. He does it when we come to faith. Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.”
God gives us a new identity. He adopts us as his child. Showers us with countless blessings and makes us heirs of salvation. He gives us a new identity, one that we could never get on our own.
God has “stolen” your identity and given you a new one. Thank God that he has! Join John in praising God – “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The elections are over. Now what?

            By now we should know who the next President of the United States will be for the next four years. I say, ‘we should know’ since the election results, if close, could be challenged or recounted. It’s happened before.
            More than likely, by the time you read this, it will all be over. Mailers will no longer fill your mail box. Political ads will disappear from television and radio. The unending stream of political phone calls from political advocates will, thankfully, be over. Life may return to normal – at least for a while.
            Given the intensity of the campaigns the side that wins will rejoice and maybe even gloat. The side that loses will wonder how it happened and may even be bitter. There will likely be accusations of voter fraud. The makeup of Congress will receive lots of attention as it will determine what legislation is likely to get considered and passed.
            News commentators, talk show hosts, and political analysts will be looking ahead at the political landscape and making predictions on how things will go down the road. Everyone will stake out their positions and lay out their plans.
            I am writing these words two days before our final votes will be cast. I have no idea who will be the next President of the United States or those who will serve in the many other positions up for grabs across our land. What I do know is the God tells us to honor and obey those who are in positions of authority over us. We may not agree with their political ideology. We may feel strongly about the issues. We have the freedom to voice those feelings and objections.
            What we don’t have the right to do is to show disrespect for the President or anyone else whom God has placed over us. That applies to the policeman, the state trooper, the mayor, all those who are our leaders. Through the Apostle Paul, the Lord says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Those who lead us are God’s representatives. God may not approve of all they do. They must answer for that. Our job is to obey.
            This same principle applies as we read in Romans 13:7 and following. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.  8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
            God’s message is clear. Show honor, respect, obey, be subject to those in authority over you. They have been placed there by God and are his representatives. Keep them in your prayers.