As the church that serves the countryside, we commit ourselves to share Christ's love in action through our congregation, community, and the world.
In the Bible, praise is given not to the strong man who "takes a city, but to the stronger man who rules with the spirit". (Proverbs 16:32) The stronger man is he who exercises' control over his personal habits, his thoughts, his speech and his actions. We call this self-discipline.
Many benefits come from the marvelous world of self-discipline. It is essential, if we are to renew ourselves, to become aware of the full range of our abilities. Seneca said, "most powerful is he who has himself in his power". It does take self-discipline to be able to understand ourselves, to know who we are, and to live with ourselves. The author of
Self-Renewal said, "It is not only the most difficult thing to know one's self, but the most inconvenient one, too". Is there any wonder that by middle life many persons are accomplished fugitives from themselves?
But to know ourselves - to discover the discipline of self control- will give benefits not only to ourselves but to others as well. A successful family demands self-discipline from all its members, not just some. Without the give and take that self-control allows, many families would be harmed. If we look at things from a historical perspective, the majority of desires and appetites that have degraded society would have shrunk into insignificance if there had been self-disciplines, self-respect and self-control.
The wisdom and glory for the Lord are due in part because of His ability to see events from an "eternal perspective" and judge their consequences by that much more accurate measure. We do not have the ability to see things as God does. However, we can in a very modest way make use of the attribute of Perspective. This ability to see things from different perspective is one characteristic which separates us from all other creatures, and the "extended perspective" is one of our most useful vantage points.
When the farmer plows a straight furrow he is not usually watching the ground immediately in front of him. He is often focused on a fixed point at the end of the field to get a perspective on his work and to keep his rows straight.
The draftsman at his desk, the carpenter at this building craft find that the longer the measuring device, the more accurate the calculation.
The most effective way for an explorer to make his way through uncharted country is by pointing to some distant destination. If he would concentrate only on the area right at his feet, he will find himself traveling in circles.
When the ancient navigators began to take their bearings from the far perspective of the stars, new worlds began to open up to them
The idea of "long perspective" is more than a handy tool for guidance and navigation, more than an implement for agriculture or construction. When we apply it to our lives, a "lengthy perspective" can give us some very valuable direction and wisdom.
Very seldom do I feel that I've made bad decisions from taking too long to make a decision based upon a "long perspective". Usually, it is the other way around. Usually we do not look for enough ahead to see the implications of our actions. We so often get driven by our immediate needs and actions. we can waste so much time in numerous side paths and distractions which seem important at the time but don't contribute to our progress.
Along with fall comes the opening of the football season. In our state, as well as many others, we have a new wave of excitement as we follow and cheer on the favorite teams. Most of us have some kind of athletic program that we follow or participate in. Most young people participate in some kind of athletic program and spectator sports occupy a large amount of time for so many adults.
There are so many positive results that can come from athletic competition. The rewards of disciplined practices, the thrill of being a part of a team and the wisdom gained from winning and losing are benefits that may stay with us all our lives.
Then is another important lesson that athletes must learn. Regardless of your athletic powers and your natural ability, every individual who has aspirations to succeed in the world of competitive sports must first listen to a coach - to listen to a person who has been there before, to a person whose judgments are born of long seasons of preparation and experience. It is the coach's advice and counsel that must be listened to before the noisy urgings of the crowd and one's own instincts.
Life demands of us, this same lesson. Those of us who participate in this contest of loving must also learn to heed the voice of the coach: our success and happiness depend on it.
So we turn to the great mentor of life for guidance concerning the rules and strategies for success in this existence. Those who knew Jesus referred to Him as the good Shepherd. This title was used because of the Savior's wise counsel and admonitions. Just as a shepherd would lead His flock to green pastures and sufficient water, so , too, will spreading the words of the master teacher lead us to a more abundant life.
Not An Idea, But An Action!
Fred Speakman in his book "Love Is Something You Do" suggests that the word "love" is really a verb and not a noun. In other words "Love" is not simply a feeling, a thing, some kind of inanimate object, but, rather, an action, something accomplished, something done.
The word "love" in the New Testament is, among other things, a verb. As it is used by Jesus in the New Testament, it almost always has something to do with specific actions or deeds. To love our neighbor as Jesus describe it, was to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit the sick. To love our enemies is to pray for him, and treat him with kindness, and even turn the other cheek. And to love God is to keep his Commandments.
In each case, love is defined in terms of an action. Christian Love" then is not only a principal, a thought, or expression. To be properly defined it must go beyond theory to active demonstration and application. The first and great Commandment that Jesus taught us was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul" and the second Commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself." These are mandates to act. It is no more possible to truly love God and man without action than to transmit light by memorizing a fact of nature.
The divine love of God toward us, his children, is also based on action. Because of love, the world was created, the stars and the planet put in their orbits; and man (us) started on the path to eternal life. It was the great love of Christ that had led Him to the cross to act out in pain the greatest demonstration of universal affection. With this in mind, let us remember that all of our most charitable feelings and intentions toward our fellow humans weigh less than one "act" of love. Thoughts and words of love require action, works of love. Love is truly a verb.
Pastor Hans Lillejord
Remember The Living
In my opinion, one of the most harsh orders that Jesus ever made was "Let the dead bury the dead. Matt 8:22". It may appear even more insensitive as we prepare for the God and Country celebration here at New Sweden in which we memorialize those who gave lives for our country. However, it was not out of disrespect for the dead but, rather, out of respect for the living that prompted the Savior's words. That is, respect for the simple truth of life that service rendered to the dead is of little value to them. Post mortem love, kindness shown to those who are now absent, is like the rain of September which arrives too late to save the withered crops from the drought of summer.
The love we offer to the dead- the eulogies, the wreaths, the epitaphs does little to bless their lives. We remember them - as we should- and remember them with great fondness. But how much sweeter would be their memory if we had shared those thoughts with them while they were yet alive. We very often withhold our encouragement and affection for the living, waiting for the right moment to express our love- waiting, procrastinating, making busy with our lives with the irrelevancies of life - until at last the moment is gone. The bouquets of flowers we had thought to deliver to a friend must now be delivered as a wreath; the appreciation that might have confronted the aging parent or spouse will become a funeral eulogy; the undelivered expressions of love that could have been given to those we knew must now become the epitaphs on gravestones.
Let us remember the living while there is still time. Perhaps someone in a nursing home waits for a visit that we have been putting off. We may owe someone an unpaid debt of kindness - a friend, parent, former teacher, a sister, a brother - a debt that will remain unpaid unless we act now.
Two Great Invitations
As I think forward to the God and Country celebration which we hold here at New Sweden the last Sunday of June each year I think of two invitations which we are the recipients of. The first comes from our Lord Jesus who simply gave us the invitation to "Come, follow me!". That invitation gives us a better life and a brighter hope as we look toward our futures. It is a simple and straight forward invitation which some of us have gladly responded to. Upon acceptance hope, peace and love become our constant focus. There is another invitation from a more recent time that has also brought hope to those who suffered in poverty, prejudice and bondage. It is that invitation etched on the base of the statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe
free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I life my lamp beside the golden door!". Like the words of our Lord, these words have invited people to change their lives and destinies.
The people who follow Christ believed that the rewards would be worth the price and they knew there was a cost associated with the discipleship. Likewise, those who cast their fate to the future of this land of freedom find that freedom isn't free. Happiness isn't handed out, and even the golden door of opportunity is one which must be pushed open.
The finding Fathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor so that we who followed would have an opportunity to pursue happiness. To find it, is up to us. So, both invitations require something more than just wanting to be free, happy and blessed. Desire, faith and yes, "hard work" are necessary.
Gifts of Praise
There is a hunger is each one of us. It is a hunger of the heart but is no less compelling than the hunger of the stomach. It is the need for appreciation and praise. A philosopher once said, "We have an innate propensity to get ourselves noticed, and noticed favorably, by our kind." Mark Twain said it so simply, "I can live for two months on a good compliment."
No one can say how early in a child's life this hunger shows itself. It may even be that the first cry of a baby is the babies attempt to call for recognition and attention. The waves and shouts which every parent is so well acquainted with, the calls of "Hey Mom, watch me," and "Dad look at me," are as important to the proper development of the child as the food and shelter his parents provide.
We never outgrow this need, although as adults it may manifest itself in different forms, from the healthy accomplishments of high achievers to the sick needs of vandals and psychopaths crying out in their twisted way to be recognized.
Most of us seem to have been born with an ability to enjoy receiving praise, but giving praise may not come so naturally. There are however, a number of good reasons that we may want to develop this trait.
Most importantly, praising others takes our minds off ourselves...It has been said that a man wrapped up in himself makes a rather small package. Becoming aware of others snaps the strings of that very small package and allows us to grow.
A second benefit we reap is the healthy habit of looking for the good in the life of others. It is so easy in life for us to be critical and focus on the negative, and there are always quest
for the gossip mill if we seek to find it. There is, however, an abundance of good waiting to be gleamed.
Giving Without Thanks
The Bible recounts a time when Jesus came into a certain village and ten lepers met him and begged to be made well again. Jesus gave them instructions on what to do. They did as He instructed and they were all made whole again. Then the story grows dark. Nine of the healed lepers rushed away cheering and jubilant but self-centered and said nothing about the healing. Only one returned to Jesus to thank Him for being healed and made whole again.
Jesus is quoted as saying "Were there not ten cleansed, where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17) It was a simple and fair question, typical of a lifetime of being used and then forgotten. The gracious nature of Jesus was that He did not take back the gift even there was no gratitude shown. How many others had gotten something from Him and then hurried off forgetting their benefactor? And how many benefactors have watched and said nothing as He was tried and crucified?
Jesus said, "As I have loved you, love one another". His unceasing giving of service, in spite of lack of appreciation, tells us something about the kind of love He means. Whenever we begin to hold back our acts of love and service to other people because we do not feel we have been properly thanked and appreciated, it may be time to question our motives. Do we do our deeds and acts to be noticed and admired by others or for self-aggrandizement? Thanks and praises from others may be sweet but if we start giving the gifts of ourselves merely to receive them in return, we have lost something much grander.
Finding Value In Sadness
The feeling of sadness is a feeling which most of us feel we could do without, but of course, sadness will always be a part of life. Joy and sorrow are together mixed to make up the substance of our lives. The poet Ovid observed that, “no pleasure is unalloyed; some trouble ever intrudes on our happiness”.
“Happiness” is hailed by almost everyone as the desired state in life. What then is the purpose of sadness? The grim writer of the book of Ecclesiastes thought very highly of sorrow and he wrote, “sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better (Eccl 7:3) it certainly can be debated as to whether sorrow is better than laughter, but it must be admitted that sorrow might be often unappreciated in our lives. We can learn lessons in our moments of melancholy that would escape us if all our days were filled with sun and smiles. Those lessons are patience, long-suffering and courage in the face of adversity. These lessons, we might well ponder in our pleasure seeking world.
Top psychologists and many popular clergy try to suggest to us that sadness is unnatural and that life should be a steady stream of joy and laughter. They suggest that if we are not happy there must be something wrong with us. This shallow view of life can have some real unfortunate conclusions. Young couples may seek divorce at the first sign of difficulty, not knowing that every marriage has problems. Some people go deeply into debt to buy their way out of unhappiness.
Where Are We Going - A Memorial
I write this month's message as I prepare for two funerals in our congregation, two members who were longtime members and active, contributing, faithful Christians. As I think about the funerals, I am reminded that much will be the same in the obituaries and services, yet they will be different. In our world, everyone and everything is just a little unique; almost nothing is identical, every person, flower, tree, and animal is unlike every other. However, there is something similar in all living things, they are all in motion. Nothing is this universe, that is alive stands still. From the largest planet to the smallest neutron inside an atom, nothing stands still, everything is active.
If all life is in continual motion, the next question we might ask is this, "Where is it all going?" Is all this movement just happenstance, controlled by cold, unfeeling, laws of physics going about its business?
From our vantage point, it is impossible to tell where it is all going because of our prospective and our narrow range of vision and experience. Our field of vision is so limited and short.
However, we are not left without direction in our quest for meaning in all creation. Theologians, clergy, poets, inspired scientists, musicians and others have felt the whispering of the Holy Spirit and have seen a guiding hand behind this constant movement. They have seen direction and distinction in its flow. That destination has been given different names. Wagner writes of the "Pilgrim's Chorus" with strong implications that it means more than just an earthly pilgrimage. Brahms writes of a better land we are bound for in his "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place."
The destination can be described differently but the feeling is always the same. There is a brighter hope for tomorrow, a glorious destination for human beings and for all of God's creation.