Pass It On

I have been told that a successful coach is a good recruiter. This is true in junior high as well as in professional athletics. The coach see some qualities needed to become a good athlete, and the recruitment begins. How thrilling it would be for a young person to hear his coach say, “I’ve had my eye on you for some time, and I would like to invite you out for basketball when we begin practice in a few weeks.” That event would be the topic of conversation at dinner that night.

I realize it can be dangerous to use secular illustrations to explain great spiritual decisions Ð- like asking someone to consider being called to serve the Lord Jesus in the building of his kingdom. But please be generous and forgive whatever theological heresy I might be committing.

Was God not out recruiting a sinful man to be His number one servant to the Gentile world when He called Saul of Tarsus to become a chief apostle to the Gentile world. And was not Paul recruiting when he called Timothy to become his successor? And was Timothy not following the same procedure when he was told to entrust the law and the gospel of Jesus Christ to faithful people?

Is John Stott not correct when he says, “This is the true apostolic succession. Certainly it is more in the message than in the men who teach it, . . . for what the generation hands down from generation to generation should be the biblical truth.”

Is God still using people to recruit those who are and will be his faithful servants? I think so. Certainly word of mouth is not the only way God calls his servants, but it is a common way in our world.

All who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are called to be his witnesses. When you have entered into a relationship with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you have a story to tell. When those with a story are willing and faithful to tell it to others, the kingdom spreads. All Christians are called to be witnesses.

Let’s be specific. Christian parents, helping their children find their place in life, are some of God’s best recruiters. Your children asks for your counsel in their life’s work. Don’t forget to tell them that Christ needs full-time workers in the building of His Kingdom.

When I was a junior in high school, my plans were to become an accountant. One of the pastors at a Bible camp asked if I had considered becoming a pastor. That thought had never crossed my mind, but from that day on it never left my mind.

While all Christians are called to be witnesses for Christ, some are set aside to be teachers of the faith.

The words of our text were first spoken by Paul to Timothy, and today they are spoken to us. “You then, my son, be strong it the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs Ð he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”

Note the three metaphors Paul uses:

1. Endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ Jesus who wants to please his commanding officer.

2. Compete as an athlete who does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. He realizes that God’s Word is his authority, and to that he must be faithful.

3. Let the hardworking farmer be your example. He is the first to receive a share of the crop.

We have a great need for pastors and church workers in our society. Many candidates are sitting in the pews of our churches every Sunday morning. Why not use the words of the coach to the ninth grader, “I have been watching you grow up in our church. You are attentive when the Word of God is being preached. You are faithful in Sunday school. You love people. I think you should consider becoming a full-time servant of Christ in his Kingdom.”

Think about it and pray that God will lead you. That young person might never have thought about it before, but now will never forget your conversation. Who knows how God will use your words.

Growing Involves Making Wise Choices

A wise man once said, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” It is true that we make a lot of choices Ð from what television show to watch in the evening to the attitude with which we will face our day. Some choices can be more major than others, such as what kind of friends we are going to run with and the person with whom I am going to spend the rest of my life.

We make choices in regard to our priorities and the goals we set for ourselves. I once heard a rather sad statement from an individual who said, “I spent my life climbing the ladder of success only to discover now that I had it leaning against the wrong building.”

We want our choices to be wise. That includes our spiritual life as well. Our story today is about Mary and Martha. It is about a choice that was made and Jesus affirmed as wise. We need to move past this discussion of whether I am a Martha-type person or a Mary-type and really get to the bottom of what this story is really all about. This story is about choosing wisely for one’s spiritual growth.

Jesus was invited to the home of Martha, who wants to get to know him better. So he and his twelve disciples accept the invitation and enter her home. (We don’t know exactly why Martha had invited him in other than she most likely wanted to get to know him.) When they arrived, he began to teach. In the meantime, Martha’s sister Mary sat and listened to what Jesus was saying. It says in the passage that she was sitting there listening. The word listening literally means hearing, like a student attentively mulls over the teacher’s words. She was hearing Jesus interpret the Word. The text uses the word, “logo,” meaning, the Word. She was hearing the Word of the kingdom of God. This was God’s plan for the world, God’s love for each individual, and God’s desire to have a relationship with not only the disciples, but also with Mary and everyone else in the world. She was taking in all of Jesus’ message.

Meanwhile, Martha is off in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Martha serves as the foil in this story as she asks, “Lord, don’t you care that I am doing this all by myself? Send Mary out here with me.” Martha didn’t like being left to do all the work by herself. We know that feeling and could sympathize with Martha on that one.

I think it is important for us to understand the culture of that day. Mary is sitting in the main room with the disciples and Jesus. Back in those days, men were in the public space and women were either in the kitchen or with the children and out of view. But in this scene, Mary sits down in the main room with Jesus and the disciples, basically crossing an invisible boundary that was not to be crossed. She was behaving like a man, and Martha was mystified that Jesus would allow this to happen. And Mary was not only sitting with the disciples, she was also sitting at the feet of Jesus. Some versions of this story read that she was in the posture of a student. Women were not given the privilege of being students of the Rabbis. And Martha is wondering why Mary crossed the line of appropriateness, acting like a disciple.

Martha must have thought that was just absurd. So she says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

But Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, . . .”

What has Mary chosen? She has chosen to be a hearer of the Word of God, to sit at the feet of Jesus and be his disciple.

And Jesus went on to say, “And it will not be taken away from her.” Her choice that day was affirmed by Jesus. She grabbed the opportunity to be a hearer of the Word and be fed by the precious Word of God that Jesus brought. She chose to be served by the Master and begin her training as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This story isn’t about being a server or a listener. It is about making a wise choice in the opportunities given us. Jesus came to serve that day by giving the Word. Mary chose to sit and be a hearer of the Word, and Jesus affirmed her choice.

Earlier in that chapter of Luke, Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Luke 10:23, 24). Mary was joining the crowd of the blessed by choosing to sit and be a hearer of the Word. Jesus wants us to do that.

When I was a kid, we would sometimes dare to ask our parents why we had to go to church. Perhaps you asked that same question when you were a kid. Perhaps you’ve even been asked why you take time in your day to sit down and listen to a program like Christian Crusaders?

The answer Jesus would give is that it is a wise choice. It is a wise habit to be a regular hearer of the Word, for it is in hearing the Word of God that we grow stronger in our relationship with our Heavenly Father and with our Savior Jesus. It is in sitting quietly and listening to the Word being proclaimed that we are once again reminded that we are loved by the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings and that his love goes so deep, it went all the way to a cross. It is in sitting quietly and hearing the Word that we’re again brought to the remembrance that someday we’re going to die, but a place has been prepared for us by Jesus in his Father’s house. It is in sitting, listening quietly, and being a hearer of the Word, that, when we sometimes get off track as followers of Jesus Christ, he brings us back by reminding us “what does it profit to gain the whole world and yet lose your soul” as he challenges our values.

As we’re caught up in worry, we need to be reminded as hearers of the Word, “Why do you worry about what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, and what you’re going to wear? (Everybody in the world worries about that.) Your Heavenly Father knows your needs; he loves you, and you are so valuable to him.” Again and again, as hearers of the Word, we are given the opportunity to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Dear Friend, it’s good that you are here listening in today. Be reminded that you have a Savior who really loves you and wants to walk alongside of you each day of your life. By being here this day you’ve chosen the best portion. When we go to church, when we listen in as hearers of the Word, we’re not only choosing the best portion for ourselves, but also for our children as well.

A wise man once said, “When we get out of the habit of going to church, we are spiritually shooting ourselves in the foot. But we’re also shooting our children in the leg and our grandchildren in the heart.” Your children are watching what you choose as being important in your life. Every time we choose to take time to hear the Word of God, we’re drawing closer to Jesus, and we’re growing in the abundant life that Christ Jesus came to give.

I have learned that I need to listen to and learn from the One who really knows what makes my life work, and his name is Jesus Christ. I find it interesting that one of the most favorite quotes of Jesus that people memorize is an invitation to listen to him. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke.” The yoke back in those days sometimes referred to the teaching of the rabbis. Take my wise teaching upon you and learn from me, Jesus says, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. He wants us to be hearers of his Word. It is a choice we make.

One of the great thinkers of the Christian faith, C. S. Lewis, once wrote in his book, Mere Christianity, “Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all the innumerable choices you have all your lifelong, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature, either into a creature that is in harmony with God and with other creatures and with itself or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy, peace, knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to one state or the other.”

My dear friends, you tuned in today. According to Jesus you made the wise choice. Let us continue being people of the Word.

Your Bible

I was browsing through a religious bookstore when a lady from congregation asked if I would help her. She wanted to buy a new Bible. So we looked at several International Version Bibles with maps, a brief concordance, and an exposition of the text to help interpret what was being said.

After the lady made her selection of the Bible she wanted, I said to her, “This is not just another book. If you will read it faithfully, it will bring many blessings to your life.”

St. Paul wrote similar words to Timothy in today’s text. These words of Paul are spoken not only to Timothy, but also to all people of the world in every generation. Your Bible can change your life.

1. Announcing.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned, . . . and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

We learn in the Bible that God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He took our sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross, where he was dying vicariously for who will in faith receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. When Jesus lives in us, and we have the assurance of our eternal salvation, we are different people than we would be without him.

2. Teaching.

God, in his Word, teaches what is right and wrong. The Bible gives us Ten Commandments, one of which is, “Thou shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). This is not a suggestion. This commandment is not applicable just at certain times; it is God’s absolute.

We live in a time of relativism. People of all ages wonder what is right and what is wrong. For example, a man is sent to Europe for three months, and his wife is not able to go with him. During his time there, he takes the liberty to invite a woman to sleep with him once a week. This, according to my friend soaked in relativism, is not sin because he has sexual needs that must be satisfied, and his wife is not available.

God’s Word speaks to such thinking in an absolute way.

3. Rebuking.

When the time was getting close for Jesus to die, he wanted to tell his disciples what would happen. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:31-32).

“But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ÔGet behind me, Satan!’ he said. ÔYou do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men'” (Mark 8:33).

Peter was wrong. He loved Jesus and could not believe that such things would happen. The disciple had to be rebuked, and Jesus was there to do it.

Jesus’ words are not always spoken lovingly and kindly. When it was time to speak harshly, Jesus could do it.

4. Correcting.

We learn about a tax collector, who was a legitimate thief. His name was Zacchaeus, and he lived in Jericho. This is my favorite New Testament Bible story. You can read it in Luke 19.

Jesus angered the people one day when he visited Jericho and went to Zacchaeus’ house. They questioned how Jesus, who was such a righteous man, could go into a tax collector’s house. However, Jesus had a purpose.

While a guest at Zacchaeus’ beautiful home, Jesus talked to him about his sin. While the text does not tell us what they talked about, I believe Jesus left no doubt in the tax collector’s mind that he had been stealing from his fellow citizens. However, it couldn’t officially be called stealing, because the Roman Empire didn’t have a limit on how much Zacchaeus could charge the citizens of Jericho as long as the government got what they wanted. With that freedom, Zacchaeus overcharged the people and became very wealthy. Jesus taught his host about sin and its condemning effect on his life.

I like to believe that Zacchaeus invited Jesus to stay the night, and in the morning the thief had been changed into a man of God by God’s Word. His confession to Jesus and the people was, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

“Jesus said to him, ÔToday salvation has come to this man’s house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost'” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Bible is the foundation of our faith. On the basis of the Scripture itself, our Lutheran Church teaches, “We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and our only authority in matters of faith and life.”

I have always appreciated this confession. It is so basic and does not involve us in details that endanger us in missing the core of the teaching Ð that our Bible is inspired. Here is an example. The first words in the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It doesn’t tell us how he did it, only that he did it. That is basic; God is the Creator.

In one of our confirmation classes once, a student told us that they were studying evolution in public school. Evolution teaches that God is not the Creator, but the earth simply evolved from nothing. In the student’s mind, his ninth grade teacher was telling his class that the Bible and science were not in agreement about the creation of the world.

We turned to Genesis 1:1 and I had him read the verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I was anxious to point out that the Bible says that God is the Creator. It does not tell us how he did it. If people can tell us how God did it, we should be respectful and listen to what the teacher is saying. Our church’s confession is the basic teaching on which we stand. If science teaches that God had nothing to do with the creation, the Christian should voice disagreement and remind the teacher that evolution, too, is a theory.

These are days in which some people have concerns. When some leadership in the Church, primarily theologians and bishops, tell congregations, who have confessed that the Bible is the inspired Word, that the Law of God can be altered to make it more culturally acceptable, congregations become very anxious. Some individuals or congregations are deciding that the day has come to make some changes. They are going elsewhere to worship, leaving behind large holes in the worship services and division among family and friends.

So the Bible has its own confession clearly stating what the Bible is, and our church denominations have written their own confession of the Bible. However, the individual believer also has his personal beliefs about the Bible.

In 1948, I was ordained to be a pastor of the Lutheran Church. As a part of the service, I stood in front of a large congregation and made my ordination vow, “I will strive to preach the Word of God, in its truth and purity as contained in the prophetic and apostolic writings, and in the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.”

I believed those words then, and after all these years, it is still my confession. The Word of God gives the pulpit its strength. If the sermon is biblically based, it “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” It has power to change lives and create faith in the souls of people who receive Christ. When we are dealing with the souls of people, preaching is no small matter.

Back to the introduction of this sermon where I talked about the woman who was purchasing a new Bible in the religious store. I am happy to report that she not only bought the Bible, but also is using it. Her Bible shows wear, and her Christian witness makes it obvious that the Holy Spirit is strengthening her faith in Christ and guiding her along Christ’s way as one of his obedient servants.