Tag Archives: Corinthians

Letters of Recommendation

There I was in my first year in my first pastorate, in the beautiful but small town of Sioux Center, Iowa. As the Associate Pastor of Youth & Education I was responsible for ministry to 150 9th – 12th graders. The Youth Leaders and I wanted to do something special for the youth and decided on a formal banquet to honor them. One advantage of a farming community is that good food is abundant – like roast pig. (1)

 

 

So the menu was not an issue. Adult volunteers were not an issue. Entertainment and some type of encouraging message – that was an issue. I had no files, no contacts, and no backlog of resources to draw from. And how could I even begin to think about pulling in some big name person or group without it being a huge cost? After all, there is no easy way to get to Sioux Center (halfway between Sioux City, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota). Then I remembered – one of the youth had given me a business card of some singers she had heard at a conference shortly before this – she said they were really good. With nothing to lose I called Steve & Maria Gardner – and they came!

Wow! What a night. They were the perfect fit with wonderful, youth-appealing music and an inspiring, challenging message for the youth. And they radiated Jesus – boy did they radiate Him. My wife and I hosted them – and their infant daughter – and fell in love with them and were deeply blessed by them. Jesus was just so evident in their lives! We had a retired pastor who was at the banquet and afterward he told me, “You know, when they started to sing I wasn’t too sure about them and their music. But once that young man started to speak and I felt the Spirit and saw the attention of the youth, I knew they were right and that Jesus would be honored!” They radiated Jesus. (2)

As I think about that great time my mind goes to the Apostle Paul who, in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (The Message), wrote “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” Steve & Maria were Jesus’ letters of recommendation. I learned that when we are recommending Jesus, we need to write a good letter. When I ask for a letter of recommendation I expect the person to write a good reference letter, to present me well. So it is with Jesus – He relies on us to write Him good letters of recommendation. (3)

The reality is that because we  are Christians we represent Jesus everywhere we are, in everything we say, and in everything we do – and even in what we do not say and do not do. At all times and in all places, we represent Jesus. So we need to be sure we are writing a good letter. I think of all the times I’ve let my guard down, or let my temper flare up, or let the devil get hold of my tongue or mind and therefore wrote a poor letter for Jesus. “Lord, forgive me – and give me grace and strength to be that vibrant, Spirit-filled living letter of recommendation for You.

You are always representing Jesus – you are always a letter pointing to Him.  What kind of letter will you be today – and tomorrow – and every day? I pray you will write a good letter.

(1) Image from pixabay.com

(2) Photo from Curry & Barb Pikkaart

(3) Image from StoryBlocks

A Volkswagen Beetle and the Bible

In the midst of all the chaos, violence, partisanship, selfishness and crude cruelty in our society God has repeatedly put a verse in my mind. But I struggled with how to apply it – until now. This week God placed an innocuous experience from my life alongside the verse.

It occurred 49 years ago. Barb and I were on our honeymoon, headed from Michigan to Washington D.C. Our car was a Volkswagen Beetle. We had, of course, waxed the car so it would be a clean, bright shiny blue for the special occasion. What a great idea!

Then we placed a car top carrier on the roof to hold our luggage. Another great idea! But two great ideas don’t necessarily equate to a good idea. On the road to D.C. we discovered the carrier was slowly sliding backwards down the sloped roof and was about to slide down over the back window and slide completely off! Our solution?

We stopped and bought some clothesline and anchored the carrier by tying it to the front and back bumpers. While we drew a lot of funny glances along the way, it worked. The carrier held its place because it was firmly fixed, tied to a firm foundation.

This incident pointed to a valuable truth. To be firm, to be secure, to stay grounded in place one must be tied to a sure foundation. I now see why God keeps putting this verse before me. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) God has been waiting for me to catch His mind and Spirit.

On one level, I truly believe that much of the chaos, violence, partisanship, selfishness and crude cruelty in our society would dissipate if more people would build their lives on a firm foundation. Then their actions would at least arise out of something solid and be consistent with their beliefs. We would still have disagreements but the selfish, knee-jerk, follow the crowd, listen to the media mentality would greatly lessen.

But for now I focus on another level. Those of us who believe in and serve Jesus Christ must be sure He – and He alone – is our foundation.

All of our decisions, actions, words and attitudes must flow from Him. Think, act, and speak like Jesus. As I observe life in the Body of Christ it too often saddens me – we react like those with no foundation. Our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes control what we say and how we say it. We, too, fall into the selfish, knee-jerk, follow the crowd, listen to the media mentality. Churches and denominations are torn apart. If we can’t do any better than this, how can we judge ‘all those other people’ out there?

Personally, I know Jesus is the foundation of my life. But I’ve had to admit that there have been times in the midst of our chaotic times that I have untied the ropes and slid backwards. My own thoughts, feelings, emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes controlled what I said and how I said it. I’m grateful God was persistent and wouldn’t let me get away from this verse. I’ve asked Him to tie the ropes again and hold me to Him. It won’t solve all the issues or overcome all the problems – or even heal all the divisions. But if Christians get back to their foundation it will ratchet down the rhetoric, lessen the emotion, and place Jesus front and center. Then He becomes the focus for all around us. And He can do the solving and healing. Yes – there will be many who don’t want Jesus brought into it. But once He’s front and center, shining brightly through us, they can’t ignore Him. It may not always be easy, but we have a precious promise. The Apostle Paul said it well: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 — Underlining mine)

What a difference that will make – for me, for you and for all around us.

So So

I was in the sixth grade (in those days that was still elementary school). I was part of the safety patrol – responsible at an intersection for making sure no students crossed the street until it was clear to do so. One day, a much younger boy tripped and fell right near my corner. So I helped him up made sure he was okay, which he was. Shortly thereafter I ran for Mayor of the school. My mother told me that another mother had shared with her that her son had voted for me because I had been so nice to him the day he fell. It, of course, made my mother feel some pride – and I was always happy when that happened! But I remember thinking that it was really nothing special that I did, and wondered if it wasn’t something that anyone would have done. Little did I realize at that time a couple of lessons. One – not everyone would have helped. Two – I had experienced the divine law of reciprocity. Both lessons would be reinforced many, many times throughout my life.

Yet it was many years later when I finally recognized the divine nature of my actions. Paul said it most clearly in two passages: Galatians 6:7-10 – “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we will not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” And he mentioned the same principle in 2 Cor. 9:6 in regards to giving. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Whether it’s in giving, or in praying, or in loving, or in our relationships what we sow, we reap. Even if we do not see it right away, God will reciprocate – it’s His promise.

I admit that sometimes I get weary of sowing all the time and begin to feel as if there is no return. After all constant sowing can be boring and not all that exciting – sometimes even burdensome. But since it’s a promise of God, I’ve adopted a principle: “When life is just so so, just sow sow.” Even if I never see the return in this life, I will in eternity. Then again, when I stop the self-pity routine and examine my life, I begin to see again the blessings God has poured into my life. He, like my little fellow student, votes for me in a myriad of ways through the blessings He sends – and I know there are many blessings I will never realize until that great and glorious day! In fact, I shudder to think of life without the blessings. I’m convinced that the saddest people, and some of the most depressed, are often those who are not sowing. So their lives are just so so – lacking in blessing and joy. The bottom line is we all have a choice – we can live so so lives or sow sow lives; it all depends on what we want out of life. “When life is just so so, just sow sow.”

And I’ve discovered one more element about the sow sow life. Once we begin to sow it becomes a habit, a pattern, a life-style. Without realizing it we are soon sowing into others lives not because we want a return but because it’s what we were created to do; therefore we feel a sense of inner peace and joy, a sense of fulfillment whenever we sow. And really, that’s blessing enough. Come to think of it, that’s when we’re most like Christ. No wonder it’s enough. So – will your life be so so or sow sow? Remember, what you sow, you reap.

An Incomplete List

Thanksgiving Day is past. But thoughts of gratitude still linger. As part of our celebration some of our family jotted down what they were thankful for. My list was easy – my top three are Jesus and Salvation, a godly loving wife, and a precious family. In some ways it’s hard to argue with my list. Yet today I read an old story I once used to challenge others to consider what gratitude and blessing are all about – and I’m wondering if my list is incomplete. The story goes like this:

An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting. Opening the door a few cautious inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble. He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables. He bade us good morning and offered his produce for sale. We were uneasy enough that we made a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear. To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road. As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize it wasn’t alcohol but cataracts that “marbleized” his eyes. On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing two mismatched right shoes, and pull out a harmonica. With glazed eyes set on a future glory, he’d puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion. On one visit he exclaimed, ‘The Lord is so good! I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.’ ‘That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth!’ we said. ‘We’re happy for you.’ ‘You know what’s even more wonderful?’ he asked. ‘Just yesterday I met some people who could use them.’

When the Lord is our treasure, when our heart has been given over to Him and filled by Him, thankfulness and gratitude should never be an end in themselves. Rather, they should lead to sharing our wealth of blessings, no matter how much or little they are. That’s where I sense some incompleteness in my list. Shouldn’t the joy of giving be somewhere near the top? Yes – it should. And once again I am challenged to see what more, and in what other ways I can give – not as a duty but joyfully because of what God has given me in His Son. Surely – what I have is something someone else can use! Surely the blessing I have received is one someone else needs.

I need to embrace again the worlds of the Apostle Paul.

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

That pretty much says it all. May my blessings and your blessings find their way into the life and heart of someone who needs them. May the heart of Christ find it’s way through us into their hearts. Then my list will be complete.