I wondered as I typed the title above how you would read it. Did you read it as meaning "Finally!" or did you read it as suggesting that the topic was 'time'? Well, it touches on both. At our meeting on Sunday, August 22nd we made some important decisions. We decided to proceed with chartering and become a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Some of you might be thinking, 'it's about time!'
Of course, many missions continue on as missions for years on end. There was no hurry, except that we wanted to reclaim what we lost in the conflict - our identity as an individual congregation. It only seems like it has been a long time coming. It is welcome nonetheless.
Now that we are a congregation (or very soon to be a congregation!) we need to evaluate our priorities. Our first priority, of course, is the Word of God. Our Synod in convention this summer passed a resolution which declared "outreach" to be our first priority. They were wrong, and no amount of posturing will change that. Without the Word of God clear and plain, we have nothing with which to reach out.
Now we must be careful to live as though that is our first priority. Our Sunday attendance was almost 100% in the first months, but lately other things have begun to take priority for some over hearing the Word, sharing in the fellowship of the saints, and receiving the gifts of God. The problem is not widespread or extreme, but we want to be alert to that temptation now and 'nip it in the bud' so to speak, before it becomes a real problem. If the Word is your first priority, then so will be gathering with the body of Christ for worship and for study of that Word.
Our second priority is the fellowship of the body of Christ. It is not second in importance, for it is also part of the first priority. I just chose to address it second. God has called us to be in fellowship with one another. We help, encourage, and support one another in faith and in life as God's people in this world of sin and sorrow. We are to be dedicated to one another. But this dedication is not one of rules - "I gotta" - but one of the heart, where I want to, and I do it out of love. "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
The Bible speaks a great deal about our dealings with one another. The Old Testament Law speaks about how a member of a nation of brothers is to treat others who are also part of that nation. Now, in the New Testament times, we are that nation, and we are the brothers. We are adopted by the same Father. We are saved by the same Brother. We are instructed to love one another, count each other as more important, more precious, and more worthy of honor than ourselves. The example that is laid before us is Jesus Christ Himself. Philippians 2:5 and following lays the attitude - the "mind" - of Jesus before us, to show us how radical and thorough-going this love for one another is to be.
We all recognize that the standard set before us is absolutely contrary to our own instincts and personal values. Nonetheless, we are encouraged and exhorted to copy Jesus in our lives and hearts. We will never be perfect, as long as we wear this sinful flesh, but that doesn't mean that we are not to set our sights on the goal and live as though we are God's people, aware of who we are and how we got to be God's people. That means that if you can frame the question, "Does that mean that if I see a fellow member of the church who needs blah-blah-blah, I am supposed to take personal responsibility for it and do something, even spend my resources for him or her?" The answer is "yes." If you see the need, and can do something, it is your privilege to be like Jesus and do something to help that person. And what they do with your Christ-like love is not your problem. That is between them and God who sent them aid.
Does that mean I should deal with everyone that way?
My opinion, and that is all that it is, is that family (fellow members of the body of Christ) comes first. "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." Galatians 6:10 seems to say as much. Then, of course, what you can do and the mercy and love you can show for others is also good - but it is a second layer of care. Our first layer belongs to fellow believers. Note, that care of the self is not in layer one or two! How you put that principle and that care into practice will vary from person to person, and according to the gifts you have to share.
It's about time that we lived as though we were really God's people. We need to live forgiveness received - and forgiveness given. We need to live out our trust in God, not in our own preparation or our own worthiness. Too often, Christians live uncertainty about the future and unwillingness to spend themselves on others. The Bible says, "If we have food and clothing, let us be content with that." After all, we Christians know by God's Word, and our personal experience, that all you need right now, is all you need right now. We also know, and Christ clearly demonstrates, that God will provide. So, we can dare to live as though that is true. It is what we confess!
Our third priority, and again it is just the third in the list, not less important than the other two, is bringing the Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation to those who do not yet believe. We have the grace of God in knowing the truth (and believing it!) about sin and death, and forgiveness and life through Jesus Christ! We, therefore, also have the high privilege of speaking God's Word to those who need it and do not know it, to those who have never heard, or never really listened. And just because someone has heard about Jesus doesn't mean that they have really been told the truth. Sometimes they hear the silly fables that rank along side of Santa and Peter Cotton-tail. They need the truth - and you have it.
And, while God gives us the privilege of sharing in His work of saving men, even though our part is very small, He doesn't burden us with any of the responsibility for its success. We are only responsible for speaking the truth - God does the converting. A lot of "outreach" materials and programs seem to place the burden on you, the believer and witness. God doesn't. Even "the Great Commission" does not. It is usually translated, "Go, therefore, and make disciples!" It actually says, "Therefore, having gone, teach all nations." We speak. We teach. We witness. God 'makes disciples'.
So, it's about time that we did some of that. Our salvation is either wonderful in our eyes, or it is a nasty little secret that we try to hide for shame. Only you can choose what is true for you, and you vote by your life and words. You can tell me anything, and I will take you at your word. God, however, will see the truth (whatever it may be) reflected in your life, behavior, conversations, etc.. Modern American Christians, Lutherans being no exception, tend to be very private and individualistic about their faith. It is that American tolerance, I suppose. But we should find the prospect of anyone dying without hearing of the blood-bought gift of salvation intolerable. We have the answer for death, and we can give it away by just telling people about it.
It is never a good idea to presume someone else knows, either. Sure, family and certain friends have probably heard, but do they believe? If they do, your speaking boldly about Jesus will be a refreshing encouragement to them. If they do not believe, you want them to have yet another opportunity to really hear the good news. And, if you cannot be absolutely certain about close friends, the rest of the world is fair game - or to use a Biblical metaphor, "fields white unto harvest." To give us practice at this art, God has given us each other. We like hearing about the Gospel, and we need the encouragement, and hearing others speaking boldly and clearly gives us the courage to do the same. Once it has become a habit among the members of the congregation to speak clearly and fearlessly about God and His goodness, it will be so much easier to do 'out in the world'. Even if you are really shy, you surely can invite people to worship, and let me, and the congregation, share the good news, and teach them the hope of salvation.
I have to admit, I feel almost silly writing all of this to you. You all know this stuff, and when I read over what I have written, it sounds almost like I am accusing you of not doing this. Please understand, I am not accusing any one of you. I am writing for your encouragement - and my own - and to remind you. It seems to me that it's about time that I stopped worrying about what others might think or how they will react to the Word which I am called to preach and teach. If the words above make you feel challenged, or a little guilty, remember the Gospel. You may have need of this encouragement, and any failures of the past are forgiven as quickly as you repent.
On November 7th, Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Mission will become Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church. We will charter on that day as a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I say that its about time! When we charter nothing changes, really, and yet everything changes. We need to re-commit ourselves to taking up the reins of our mission here in Laurie, and throughout the Synod, and the entire world.
We have such great potential. We have a wonderful group of people, and it can only grow. We have a glorious and gracious God who is with us with His almighty power to bless our work and grant us success in accomplishing all that He wills for us. And we have such a wonderful task! We get to be in the Word, to encourage and to help and to love one another, and to share this message of joy and peace and salvation.
We have such a great message! It begins badly, with our sins and sinfulness, but most people will recognize the truth of that from their own troubles and sorrows. But then God steps in. He sends His only-begotten Son to be born in Bethlehem. Jesus grows up and lives a life of holiness beyond anything we are capable of - or willing to do. His life is perfect, in terms of sinlessness, although He is money poor and has some pretty powerful enemies. His life, because of His holiness, earns Him everlasting life. He does not deserve death.
And yet He dies. It looks like a horrible miscarriage of justice, and, in human terms, it is. He is falsely accused, and unjustly convicted, and wrongly sentenced. But in the scales of God's justice, everything is going just right. Jesus had to be falsely accused. He did nothing wrong. He had to be unjustly convicted because He was innocent. He had to be sentenced to death, even though He deserved life, in order for Him to take our place under the sentence of death. That is a sentence we have each earned. And Jesus took that sentence of condemnation on Himself and died in our place on the cross.
And the message just keeps getting better! Death was not the end. Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning! It is a well-known fact, and yet most people don't seem to follow it well. Bunnies and colored eggs have distracted them. Because Jesus has risen we have forgiveness of sins and the promise - read guarantee - of God that we, too shall rise from our graves, and join Jesus in life everlasting. That, and the fact that we are now among God's favorite people - literally the people of His favor. Right now, we have the blessing and protection and providence (means "the providing") of God, who loves us for Jesus' sake!
All this is complete. All of it was done for us. And we don't have to sell it, just tell it. God does the work. Everyone who takes God at His Word, and trusts Him to do just as He has promised, will participate in all these blessings. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." That isn't hard to say, is it? I didn't think so.
It's about time - you have the time God gives you, and we have a wonderful mission to share. It's about time that we join together and live as the disciples we are. May God accomplish His good and gracious will through us!
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
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