Keeping the Church Year Alive

slinkyA session I attended at Best Practices in Ministry in Phoenix this past February was “Can Holidays Be Holy Days?” presented by Rachel Hinz. Hinz gave excellent suggestions for doing small things within the family to remind children and adults alike what season of the Church Year we are in. Some of her suggestions included:

• making your own Advent wreath out of a piece of wood with holes drilled for the candles

• moving the manger scene figures of shepherds and wise men and Mary and Joseph around the house for children to find and move closer to the manger each day of Advent

• putting the figure of Baby Jesus in the bread box all year round to remind the family that Jesus is the bread of life

• celebrating St. Nicholas Day with chocolate and coins in shoes

• changing bed time stories to Advent Reading from the Bible

• giving a gift to each other on each of the 12 days of Christmas

• make a Three Kings Cake during the Epiphany season

• make a small standing cross and then adding ribbons to match the colors of the Church Year

Hinz remarked that though the seasons of the Church Year seem to make up one big circle that we retread over and over again, it is more like a slinky, that childhood toy of old, with loops that go around and around again, but which has a beginning and an end. As each Church Year goes from Advent, to Christmas, to Epiphany, to Lent, then to the Pentecost Season, depicting the life of Christ each year, we are ever moving forward to the end of days when Christ will return. He is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end. That is why we have the Church Year, to remind us that his life has meaning in our lives year in and year out, which we need never forget. There is a rhythm to our lives that the Church Year helps us to see, but there is a progression, too, as we draw closer and closer to the time when we will be with Christ forever, celebrating his life with all the saints in light.

Online Church

online churchAt the Best Practices in Ministry conference in Phoenix I attended this past February, I went to a breakout session led by TJ Winters of Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio,TX, on How to Do Online Church. It was a fascinating session that helped me to see the value of having your church service streaming online for those who are homebound or home with a sick child or just had a baby or those who live in a different area of the country but like the services at your church.

Winters started the session by putting 1 John 5:13 on the screen:

 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

John was writing this letter from a distance, and Winters said this verse declares that we are called to be online church to those at a distance, Winters said, to let them know that they have eternal life in Christ.

There are many ways to do online church, but one way is through Facebook Live. Other avenues for streaming your worship can be found at churchonlineplatform.com, where watchers can chat and make comments in real-time and where the church can customize how they stream their services and put up sermon notes and schedules. People usually find out  about a church’s online services through the church’s regular website, through hashtags, through Facebook pages or through word of mouth.

There are a lot of technical components like lighting and cameras and sound systems that can make a difference in the quality of the streaming. Each church must decide for itself how in-depth it wants to go in this area of ministry and how much to invest in its outreach. For instance some churches only live stream the sermons while others stream the entire service, which can be more complex technically speaking.

For me, the impact of online cam down to two stories. One session participant said that her pastor said that if the only home watching the online service was a family whose child had cancer and could not attend because of the child’s fragile immune system, then it was doing its job. The other story came from Winters himself who said one Sunday a highly tattooed woman visited his church and said, “I’m from Virginia, but I have enjoyed your traditional services so much, I had to see for myself.” God is truly touching the lives of many through online church in unique, interesting and surprising ways.

 

Relentless

relentlessAt a memorial service for Eugene Peterson last November, his son Lief said the pastor/author for 50 years had one main message: “God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless” (“Voices,” World Magazine, February 16, 2019, 64).

What a wonderful message and legacy for Eugene Peterson to leave. The author of The Message paraphrased translation of the Bible so many of us know and love, Peterson made sure in all his writing that we know that we are loved by God. And this memorial statement by his son reveals the depth of that love.

Even if we do not feel loved, we are loved by God, no matter what. Even if we feel like everything is against us. God is on our side. I have recently found great solace in the verse, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). God is always on our team.

Then when I hear the words “He is coming for you,” I cannot help but think of the loving Father who ran toward his repentant prodigal son to wrap his arms around him. He longs to reach out to you and embrace you just as you are, faults and all, because of the forgiveness won for us through Christ.

And he is relentless. He will not let you get lost or run away. Like the Good Shepherd, he leaves the 99 sheep behind until he finds the lost one. He will not stop seeking you out and being your Savior. I think of this verse from Isaiah 35:4: Say to those who are anxious in heart: “He will come and save you!” He has and he always will.

 

 

New Models of Ministry

new modelsAs the church develops and changes in these modern times, the traditional model of a congregation has not led to new growth as it once did and many congregations in certain areas are shrinking. So new models of ministry have arisen in these once-thriving, now dwindling parishes, according to the article “Led by the Spirit” in the February 2019 Living Lutheran magazine.

One model is the anchor model. Smaller congregations have partnered with other larger congregations to work together to build ministries that accommodate members from the various locales. Some congregations in this partnership have strength in some areas that other congregations do not, and vice versa. Shared facilities and staff and Bible studies spread the work to more people so one person or space or class does not seem overloaded or underattended. This model also shows how different aspects of the Body of Christ can work together.

Another model is the adoption model. In this scenario, one church “adopts” another and they become one more fully functioning church. This model allows for members to work together in a more personal, more integrated, singular body of believers. Coming together as one builds bonds that would not exist otherwise perhaps if congregations were meeting separately. This model has has a biblical basis in that St. Paul says that we all have been adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). So this model clearly represents this concept of being forever bonded as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Yet another model getting more traction in traditional churches that are getting smaller is the redevelopment model. Churches using this model work to change the way they “do church” by reconnecting to the community around them in different ways, not relying solely on membership, but on event-based outreach to meet the specific needs of the people who are currently on their doorsteps and in the pews. This model highlights service and draws strength from the accomplishments that are made to bring hope and help and healing in small and more hands-on ways to people who are members or not.

Making the most of what God has given you in ministry is key in all these models and shows that the Church is never static, but always moving and adjusting and touching the lives of people in miraculous ways through the love and care of Jesus present in his people.

Digital Bibles

digital BibleThe use of digital Bibles as exploded over the last several years. So much so that I know that in many churches the pastor will say in a sermon, “Let’s open our Bibles or your favorite Bible app or website to look more closely at our reading for today.” It seems more common these days for people to read Scripture to me on their phones when we are talking about a particular topic or a favorite verse they want to share.

Biblegateway.com is my go-to digital Bible most of the time. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has 219 Bible translations in 72 languages available to users. I like to use it to get right to a verse I was trying to think of. Like, say, I am looking for that verse about “endurance” and “character ” Type in those two words into biblegateway.com and boom! There it is. Romans 5:4: “Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Now I can go from there quickly and easily in the flow of writing a devotion or blog or letter to a friend to make my point.

Hard to believe that at one time we spent lots of time flipping Bible pages, looking through concordances and saying to ourselves, “I know it is here somewhere in Romans, but where exactly?”

Digital Bibles do take the guesswork out of finding verses. But the work of the Holy Spirit still needs to happen within our hearts for these words now more quickly found to speak to us deeply and spiritually. Digital Bibles should never be a way for for us to “click it and forget it” and go on to the next verse or the next app or the next website. We still need to be people who “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). What the Bible (digital or leatherbound or otherwise) has to say to us must continue to sink into us and make a difference in how we live, speak and act.

That’s why I do like the “in context” feature available on biblegateway.com. It takes the verse you have found and shows you the verses that surround it, the story this verse is from, the topic that this verse was a part of. It’s easy to “cherry-pick” Bible verses when you are working with a digital Bible and not get the full message being expressed, unfortunately. So taking the extra step to put verses in context is invaluable to our understanding of the Word of God for our lives.

Making the most of the digital Bible you use can help you grow in faith and develop a closer relationship with Christ. In the end that is all that matters, no matter how those precious words of salvation through his cross and empty tomb reach you. See how much “screen time” can involve “faith time” in the digital Word this week!

 

The Graduation Verse

graduationWith all the graduations happening in these weeks, it reminds me to take a closer look at what I have come to call “the graduation verse,” Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It is a very meaningful and inspiring verse and one that gives comfort to many of us who are sending our children, nieces and nephews and other loved ones off on their adventure beyond   particular school walls.

Several things jump out at me about this verse. First of all, God says he KNOWS the plans he has for each of us. He is not “thinking about it” or “undecided” or “exploring various options,” sentiments we may be hearing from our graduates here and there, perhaps. God KNOWS what he has in mind for each of our graduates.

And if it is God who has a plan for each person, then WE know that that plan is a good one, one for our welfare, our well-bring, our ultimate benefit.

And what does that plan look like? It has a future. Which means it is going somewhere. It will have direction, a goal, a mission. And it has a hope. The plan has the capacity to keep driving, keep moving, keep striving. Hope indicates there is meaning and purpose in what God has in store, and that God will be a part of that plan every step of the way. Because only he is our hope.

Congratulations to all those graduating from grade school, high school and college. Blessings on embarking on the plan God has for you.

Recalculating

recaluculatingRecalculating. We all have experienced hearing that word at one time or another when we are using our GPS and go a different way than the app has mapped out, Though we have gone “off-course,” our GPS finds a new way to get us back on track.

The idea of recalculating recalls for me the work of our Good Shepherd in our lives. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). When we have gone our own way, our Good Shepherd comes and finds us. As our Good Shepherd tells us, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matthew 18:11-13). Jesus is our divine GPS and does the recalculating for us by going to the cross to save us from our sins and put us back on the path to everlasting life.

Let the Good Shepherd lead you on the path he has set for you.

 

 

Making a House a Christian Home

home sweet homeSome friends of mine recently moved to a new house and posted this on on their Facebook page when they closed on the deal: A house is made of walls and beams. A home is made of love and dreams.

What a beautiful sentiment to ponder as they embark on a new adventure in a new dwelling place.

This got me to thinking: What makes a house a Christian home?

A Christian home is a place where there is genuine love for one another and for Christ.

A Christian home is a place where the Word of God is shared and perhaps even displayed through plaques with favorite verses.

A Christian home is a place where forgiveness flows from one to another.

A Christian home is a place where prayers are said over meals and at bedtime and at anytime.

A Christian home is a place where all our hopes and dreams are grounded in the good news from Jesus who comforts us with these words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).

We know as Christians that our homes here on earth are only temporary, but our eternal dwelling place is in heaven, where we will join with all the saints in praising the name of our Savior, Jesus. May our homes here on earth give us glimpses of our home yet to come.

 

 

Humility

humilityIn a recent article in Christianity Today, author Karen Swallow Prior says this about humility:

“The virtue of humility is thought to be the foundation of all other virtues. Humility comes from the same root word as human, one that means earth or ground, the substance of our bodies’ origin and  ultimate decay. To have humility, then, is to understand our origins and our place in the world, to have an accurate sense of who and what we are. Thus, virtuous humility isn’t just a matter of acknowledging our limitations and weaknesses; it is recognizes gifts and strengths, too. Humility is an accurate assessment of oneself in relation to the world and to God” (Prior, Karen Swallow, “The Art of Virtuous Reading,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 37).

No wonder the Bible calls us to be humble. Consider these verses:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:10).

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).

These verses remind me of that classic acronym for JOY we need to always keep in mind as we set priorities in our lives. We need to always remember that the hierarchy for us as Christians is: Jesus, Others and then Yourself. Prioritizing our lives in this way is the only way for us for find true happiness and joy in its purest sense. Putting Jesus first makes us remember that life is not about us; it is about him. And putting others before ourselves reminds us that life is all about serving those around us with the gifts that God has given us, not just serving ourselves.

Humility is not about putting ourselves down, but seeing that our place is to lift up Christ and others, who, in turn, lift us up. Find joy in being humble this week.

 

Plein Air

plein air

Plein air is a French expression that means “open air” and is a practice of painting in which artists work on the spot. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told of an artist, Patrick Saunders, who travels around the country in his pickup with an Airstream camper, capturing moments with paint on canvas as he sees them. There are even plein air competitions hosted by cities, counties, museums and art magazines in which artists are given a period of time to paint and submit work of scenes as soon they see them in whatever weather conditions they may find themselves in. “I’ve painted out in thunderstorms, in 100-degree weather, in 30-degree weather,” Saunders says (Lewis, Jon, “Plein Air from an Airstream,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 2019, B4). Plein air painting also helps artists not to dwell too much on the small details. They paint then and there and they are done.

I find this discipline rather interesting because it parallels many times what we must do as Christians in this world as we “paint the picture” for others of what our salvation in Jesus is all about. Oftentimes we are called on the spot to witness to others about our faith and we have no time to prepare. We must just in that moment speak from our heart and soul. The Holy Spirit helps us in this task. As Scripture says, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). The conditions may not be perfect, but the message is just as beautiful no matter where you declare it. And just like the plein air artists, you do not need to worry about the minor details or the exact words. God will make your on-the-spot “word pictures” of forgiveness and everlasting life found in Jesus Christ alone a masterpiece.