Biking

bike

I have been biking the last few Saturdays on a trail near my house. The trail had been closed for a time in the midst of the COVID shutdown, so I was excited to get back on it after some time away.

I learned a few things “getting back into the saddle.” The first thing is that you cannot get right back to where you once were. You have to ease your way in. I found that I was not going as fast as I was and that it took more energy. When I got home, I felt soreness in my shoulders and back.

The other thing I learned is that it is not best to bike in the baking sun of midday. The sweat was pouring down my face and all down my back in the 90-degree heat. On weeks when I rode a little later in the day, the sun was not as sweltering and there was a breeze along the way.

Lastly, I discovered that even the slightest incline can make a bike ride more difficult. I didn’t even realize I was going uphill until my body started objecting with aches and pains. Turning around and going downhill feels like a dream after that.

These experiences mirror the Christian life in that it sometimes takes time to get it right, to hit our stride as Christ’s disciples. We need to be patient with ourselves and not get discouraged when we don’t follow Christ the way we should or we miss opportunities to witness. More chances will come along. The path is long and God will never give up on us, so we should not give up on ourselves.

Life as a Christian can get uncomfortable sometimes. But don’t let the heat of hard times get to you. You can find ways to get around the heat and keep moving forward for the Lord and his plan for your life journey.

Uphill battles in our Christian way can startle us but when we keep pedaling through, we know that the downward slope is on the horizon with an easy ride toward heaven because Christ went up the hill of Calvary and came down victorious over sin and death forever through his death and resurrection.

Whether you bike or not, keep on going forward in the name of the Lord. As the Scripture says, “Let us run (bike) with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Slides

slides

My aunt and uncle recently delivered to me 46 carousels of slides my grandfather took on trips to Europe and the Holy Land. “But how will I see them?” I wondered. My aunt and uncle brought an old projector that is no longer available in any stores for me to view the images. “But where will I show the slides when I have no blank walls?” My aunt and uncle brought a classic screen that I can unroll and stand anywhere in my home to clearly capture the images on a white background.

My experience with the slides made me think of this passage:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15).

We are like the projector that shines the light on the Word of God so that people can see it and understand it. Without the projector, the slides are useless. And without our witness, the message of the Gospel will never be known.

We are also like the screen. Without the Word of God reflected upon us, people will never see how the image of Christ will impact the blank slate of our lives. The story of our faith is revealed only when it is captured in our words and actions illuminated by Christ.

My grandpa’s journeys are shown in his slides. And our journey of faith is shown in our Savior. Do all you can to shine the light on the one who is the Light of the World. Then people will know. People will see. And people will believe.

Vacations

vacation

Taking a vacation this summer may look a little different with the usual destinations closed or only open at certain capacities with restrictions. Wearing masks to the beach or bringing hand sanitizer to the amusement park may feel a little strange, like we are taking the fun out of the experience, but these precautions have become a necessary part of being in public spaces. We must learn to live with it and still let the fun happen.

Now more than ever we are keenly aware that life, even for the Christian, is not full of sunshine and roses. There are things that get in the way of our good times. There are problems that detract from what we had planned. Long before this pandemic came along, St. Paul addresses these disappointments we face that can steal our joy: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

St. Paul helps us to see that nuisances, difficulties, even fiery ordeals are nothing usual, even on a vacation. Don’t be taken aback by them, but find your joy in Christ. He will give you gladness to carry you through the barriers and detours put in your path. Our joy in Christ should be greater than any inconvenience that comes our way. When we share in Christ’s suffering, we share even more in his happiness that heaven is on the horizon and none of these bumps in the road is going to stop us from our arrival there.

Virtual Choirs

In this new age of keeping our distance, people have found creative ways to come together as disciples of Christ. One of those ways is through virtual choirs in which many people in various places and spaces lift up their voices to the Lord through Zoom or other video chat programs. It is interesting to watch and listen to virtual choirs to see the joy on singers’ faces and to still hear the harmonies blending beautifully through the screen.

Here is a link to one example of a virtual choir of Augustana College alumni singing, “For the Beauty of the Earth”:

The increase in virtual choirs during this time shows to me that people are craving the experience of singing songs to the Lord together. It is something that is missing from even in-person worship with parishioners’ voices muffled behind masks.

The virtual choir is a a visual representation of the expanse of the Church. The Church is never confined to one place, but is scattered throughout the nation and the world, bringing good news of the beauty our Lord provides to people throughout the earth. We have known in theory that the Church is present worldwide, but now we see it and sense it on our computer screens. When we join our voices with those we hear on screen, we feel the bond of faith we share and we welcome the community of believers into our hearts and homes. Our common tie to Christ as our Lord and Savior connects us and streams through us as we sing.

Search for virtual choirs online and let the notes you raise in chorus with them be a sacrifice of praise to the Lord for his many blessings and music to his ears.

Now I See

reading glasses

It seems that no matter who you are and no matter what your eyesight has been in the past, once you reach or near a certain age you will need glasses. I have worn glasses nearly my entire life, but when I was getting into middle age, I discovered I needed new glasses and different glasses for various tasks.

This change in my eyesight needs reminded me of the following words from Scripture: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). This was said by the blind man who was healed by Jesus. He could not see, but now he could because of Jesus.

We have blindspots in our lives that change with age and that Jesus helps us to see. Like a new pair of glasses, Jesus helps us to see better the needs of older adults that we once were blind to when we were younger. He opens our eyes to opportunities to serve that we once did not see at all. Once blind to God at work in the world, we now see his hand reaching out to make things happen to his glory, through the lens of Jesus Christ.

No matter what your age or eyesight situation, let Jesus give you the vision to see what he can do through you.

Thirsty?

water bottle

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” —John 7:37

These words from Jesus are a good reminder to us of what it is we are thirsting for. Are we thirsting for him? Or are we thirsting for wealth? Or for a human relationship? Or for happiness? Or for a good job? Or for popularity or fame?

I think of how we hear again and again from doctors and other health experts that we should drink 8 glasses of water a day. But do we? I for one find myself drinking more soda than bottled water, more sports drinks than tap water. We know what is best for us, but we don’t always drink what we should.

Coming to Christ and drinking means being in prayer more often than we are on the Internet. It means reading his Word in the Bible more often than watching TV. It means being filled with his Spirit more often than stuffing our faces with food.

So come to Christ and drink. Be thirsty for time with him. Crave his presence with you. Be soothed by his messages of hope and blessing, peace and love. Let his words wash over you and be poured into you over and over again each and every day.

Parade of Praise

birthday parade

We have been experiencing something we never would have heard of last year at this time: the birthday parade. People drive by the birthday celebrant’s house in a string of cars, honking, shouting, waving and holding up signs. The birthday celebrant feels the love without being physically touched and the whole neighborhood gets to know that it is someone’s special day.

The concept of a parade of praise for someone reminds me of what happened to Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. People stood at a distance and shouted, “Hosanna and hooray,” words of praise to Jesus, as he rode slowly by in the most basic mode of transport of the time: a donkey. Instead of waving signs, the people waved palm branches to the man of the hour. A palm branch sent the message: “You are a king, Jesus. You are our king.” When people put their cloaks on the ground, in front of Jesus, it was like writing in chalk on the sidewalks as people have been doing the last few months: “We are with you. We are in this together.”

The parade of Palm Sunday provides us with a template for how we should welcome our Lord Jesus into our midst during these trying times. We should rejoice in him. We should let our community know how special he is to us. We should make ourselves visible and present to him. With a cross, a sign or maybe a decorative flag waving in the wind, our homes should declare to anyone driving by: Jesus lives here and he is reborn in us every day. Alleluia and amen!

Our Refuge

fortress

So much has been written about this COVID-19 crisis with stay-at-home orders and social distancing that I hesitate to even mention it. But then God put this verse in front of me: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). It seems as if this verse is made for these times.

We have taken refuge in our homes to stay safe and protected from the virus, just as we take refuge in our God to keep ourselves safe and protected from all manner of evil and danger is this world.

We have done all we can to keep ourselves strong health-wise during this pandemic, wearing masks, washing our hands, walking 6 feet from each other. But our greatest strength comes from our God, who cleanses us from all sin and keeps us strong in our faith that he will surround us with his power against all that would seek to weaken us.

God’s help is very present. It is not something old or forgotten. It is something that is real, that is modern, that is up-to-date. We do not need to worry that somehow God does not understand what today’s troubles are like. He is well-aware of all that we are going through and is able and willing to help. We are not helpless and flailing about in the wind. God has things under control and we are in his care.

Let this verse keep us grounded in God while everything else seems to want to make us off-kilter.

Faces

faces

We are in an era when we are thinking about each other’s faces more often than we perhaps did in times before. I am thinking about the many faces of people that now appear before us when we video chat with family and co-workers. I think of faces we can’t see when they are behind masks in grocery stores or restaurants or other locales. I think of our faces on our profiles on Facebook and Instagram and other social media outlets.

Face it! Our faces say a lot about us, about who we are, about how we feel, about what matters to us. Those who are fellow Christians with us (and those who are not) are looking closer at our faces than we may realize. It is important for our faces to reflect Christ. The Bible says, ”For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Our faces should shine with Jesus’ love. Our faces should reveal that we know God in our heart. Our faces should show that we are aware of the way out of the darkness. No matter what we face, we have a Savior who is watching us with love and leading us to glorify him in every smile, every listening ear and every eye that looks with care. People are saying they can see people smile through their masks. The beauty of our faith in Christ can go through and get out from under any barrier put in front of it. Let your face be a beacon of Christ’s presence in your life, no matter where it may turn up.

Lifted Up

cross and sun

Today is the seventh in a series on the 7 Last Words of Christ.

To you I lift up my spirit.

Jesus turned over what was rightly his Father’s Spirit to the Lord. He gave up the spiritual aspect of himself that ultimately belongs to God the Father. For the Spirit of the Lord came down upon Christ in his baptism. It rested on Christ until this time when Christ returned it to his Father, leaving his physical body to die. Three days later the Spirit of the Lord would be breathed back into Christ and he would be raised up.