Missio Dei

mission roadThe term missio Dei has come up more often as of late in religious literature I am reading, so I have done a little research into it.

It is a Latin Christian theological term that literally means “the mission of God” or “the sending of God.”

It is a term first coined by German theologian Karl Hartenstein in 1934, but had a resurgence in the late 20th century with the rise of the missional church movement. Popular modern theologians Timothy Keller and Ed Stetzer have been instrumental in increasing its use and visibility in Christian circles.

At the heart of the missio Dei is the concept that mission is not just something the church itself does, but something that is the result of God’s initiative and his desire to restore and heal creation. The church serves as a tool in the larger purpose of God to reach all nations with the message of the Gospel and to bring glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words, the church is not the mission of God, the spreading of the Gospel to the world through the church is the ultimate mission.

In the missional movement the church is defined as a community of God that organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In the missional movement, when the church is in mission, it is the true church.

The missional movement itself may not be as pervasive as it once was, but its principles remain strong in the language of the missio Dei we hear in our churches. There is more emphasis overall on the church being a sending place for God’s purposes—a launching point for the people of God going out into the community on servant events and going on mission trips to locations near and far. There is more emphasis on purpose. There is more talk of outreach. There is an expansion of forward-movement expression.

There is a good distinction embedded in the missio Dei that the mission is not from the church, but from God. And the mission is not just the church; it is beyond the church. We as members of the church are not the end result of God’s plan; we are part of the plan that God is enacting through us to bring more people to him.

St. Paul explains this overall missio Dei well in 1 Timothy 2:1-4: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

God wants all people to be saved, and he is using us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make the saving message known to them. Have a missio Dei kind of day today.

 

 

 

Saint and Sinner

saint

Look at it this way and it says SAINT.

sinner

Look at the same image this way and it says SINNER.

In 2017, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so I will be focusing on some of the major themes of that monumental event in Church history throughout the year.

One concept that was highlighted on All Saints Day last year in my congregation was the emphasis that Martin Luther put on the fact that as Christians we are living both as saint and sinner. In the Latin, the term is “simul justus et peculator.”

My church used the images shown above to help us understand that duality. Looking at the image one way, and you see the word saint. Look at the same image upside down and you see the word sinner. But it is still a single image with both words present within it.

So it is the same with us. The sinner and the saint both exist within us and wrestle with one another. Thanks be the God, though, because of Christ and his death and resurrection for us, our God only sees us as saints. The sinner still exists within us on this side of heaven as we dwell in this world of original sin. But when we reach the gates of heaven, our sinfulness will be permanently removed and we will dwell in perfect harmony with God forevermore.

It was this saint-and-sinner truth that first led Luther to confess his sins again and again and punish himself over and over, But then it was the realization that our sin within is taken care of through Christ that forced Luther to speak out about the good news that God sees us only as saint because of our Savior.

Colossians 1:17 says this so perfectly: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

And this is what Martin Luther and the Reformation revealed.

So as Christians let us acknowledge the sinner, but celebrate the saint that we are in Christ.

Little Free Pantry

pantry

Jennifer McClard stands next to a Little Free Pantry.

An article in the November 2016 issue of Living Lutheran magazine described the growing popularity of the Little Free Pantry, a grassroots program that was begun by Jessica McClard, a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Ark. She took the idea of a concept that already was present in the marketplace, Little Free Libraries, and made it her own. She saw the need in her community for staple foods to be provided for the poor and needy and built a mini-pantry in her neighborhood and posted it on Facebook.

The idea caught on, and now there are Little Free Pantries popping up in neighborhoods all over the nation filled with boxes of cereal, canned good, peanut butter, crackers, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Check it out at Facebook.com/littlefreepantry.

I am always amazed by the ability of our Christian brothers and sisters like McClard who take an idea and run with it, which motivates others to do the same. “For me, my faith is alive when I’m out living Christ’s mandate for how we are church in the world, ” McClard said.

So what can you do to live our Christ’s mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger in his name?

It does not need to be anything fancy. It can be little, like the little pantry. It can be free for the receiver, like the free food. It can be like something that is already out there, like the free little pantry was like the free little library.

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel here. You just need to keep your eyes open and look around at the needs around you and connect those needs with solutions that you can do on your own or that can be done through your church or in your neighborhood.

The important thing is the take action when the Spirit moves you with an idea. Don’t just assume someone else can do it. You can do it. God gave one person in Fayetteville, Ark.,the strength to put her faith into action and it took off, and you can too. Who knows what Christ can accomplish through your simple actions to serve others.

By doing such things, we are reminded, we are doing them for Christ: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me,“ Christ says in Matthew 25:40.

Let Christ be in your sights as you serve.

Fresh Start

new yearThe new year provides us with a golden opportunity to make a fresh start. So many begin an exercise regimen on Jan. 1. Others go on a diet. Many more make commitments to give up bad habits.

So often these best laid plans go by the wayside by the time we reach Valentine’s Day. But many do stick, and I am always impressed by friends and loved one who stay committed to the resolutions made on this day, Dec. 31, each year.

But the concept of a fresh start in a Christian context is much broader. I am constantly going back to these words from Lamentations 3:22-23:

 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Every morning! Not just once a year, but every morning God’s mercy to us is new. We as his followers have a fresh day every day because of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. All our sins are forgiven day after day.

No matter what we did or failed to do yesterday or last year, we have a clean slate in Christ. We can start over with him and seek to follow his will and bring glory to him in the days ahead.

God knows we fail, God knows we mess up. God knows we don’t always keep our resolutions. But he still loves us and gives us a new chance each and every day to live for him anew.

Think each morning of the newness of life that God gives to us with the dawn of every day. Each day is like a Jan. 1 and we have been granted a reboot. And, like the verse from Lamentations says, he is faithful, and he will help us through each new day to stay committed to him. What a gift! Happy New Year and Happy New Day to each of you!

12 Days

12 daysWe all know the song about the 12 days of Christmas that starts, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me … ” But do we really celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas in our homes? Our society tends to want to end the celebration on the 25th. But our church year calendar has the 12 days of the Christmas SEASON built into it.

The 12 days on the church year calendar span the time from Christmas Day to Epiphany (Jan. 6), when we celebrate the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus.

So we as followers of Christ and followers of the church year calendar should do all we can to enjoy the entire 12 days of Christmas and not pack everything up on the night of the 25th.

Creative Communications can help you to extend your celebration in this manner with a devotion book, a bookmark and a pop-up window calendar to mark the 12 days with reflections, activities, Bible verses and prayers. See the links below:

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/TD1/12-days-of-christmas.aspx

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/TDC/bookmark-twelve-days-of-christmas-gladness-bookmark.aspx

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/DGA/12-days-of-christmas–pop-up-window-manger.aspx

But even if you do not use any of these products, just think to yourself during each of the 12 days, “What can I do to celebrate the birth of Christ in a meaningful way today?” Many people put extra ornaments on the Christmas tree during these days. Some make an effort to go out and visit people in the church or in their neighborhood to share a cup of coffee or a conversation, as an echo of the visit of the wise men to the home of Mary and Joseph. Still more open extra gifts for each other for each day of the Christmas season as a reminder that the gift of Jesus is still with us every day of our lives.

Whatever you do during these 12 days, do it with joy in the Lord and gratitude for what our true love sent to us: salvation through his Son.

Cantata

CDI am singing in a cantata at my church again this year, and as part of the discipline for preparing for that event, our director provides CDs of people singing the music for us to listen to in the car. I find the experience interesting because I have the songs on almost a continuous loop whenever I am driving anywhere. And sometimes the juxtaposition is startling.

As I turn off the car in the grocery store parking lot, the last words I hear are, “Love came down at Christmas.” Somehow buying food becomes less of a chore when you know that.

On the way home from work on the dark interstate, the words, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” seem to have added significance as I find myself weary from the day.

Traveling in the early morning, I hear, “Rise and shine, your light will come.” I awaken to the beauty of a new day, aware that the Light of Christ is on the way.

What is the soundtrack of our lives? For many it can be a dirge or a march. Plod along. Get things done. But for us as Christians, the melody of our lives is a continuous lullaby from God in Christ, who soothes us day in and day out through his Word and prayer with messages of hope, peace, freedom, joy and grace.

It is only right that we hum along with him and savor his sounds of salvation.

So if you haven’t already, put a CD of your favorite Christmas music in the car this holiday weekend and see what musical message lands where in your day-to-day travels this week. And sing along.

Christmas letters

Christmas letter

What will you say in your Christmas letter this year?

I confess that I am one of those people who loves composing and receiving Christmas letters. Maybe it is the writer in me, but there is something therapeutic to me about summing up the events of the past year in a single page and reminding me and all the friends and loved ones on my Christmas list that the Savior who was born for us in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago is still at work in our daily lives.

I love to hear the stories of how God worked in the lives of others during the past year and there is a sense in the very writing of Christmas letters that we are all in this together, that we are corresponding out of mutual love and respect and a bond with one another.

Sometimes in the writing of my Christmas letter, I make connections that I never thought of before and in the writing, I often have the feeling that I am writing to encourage myself and to support others in their daily walk with God.

This year has been a little more tricky because there are some sad things or things that were rather unpleasant that happened to me that I don’t really want to go into in depth. I don’t want to sugarcoat things, but I also want to express how even through the tough times this year, I felt Christ with me, teaching me, refining my faith and giving me conference to carry on.

So when I do sit down to write it (which I will), my prayer is that my words will be honest and real and grounded in my relationship with Christ.

I am reminded of St. Paul, who wrote many a letter to his friends, who said,

“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11).

He wanted to show the receivers how important the Good News of Christ was. So I plan to write in big letters, “Jesus Is Born!” across the top of my Christmas letter before I get to my “news.” Because, in the end, HIS story is the only story that matters.

Mission Statement

missionEvery once in a while, a Bible verse keeps popping up so often in our day-to-day experiences that you can»t help but think, “God really wants me to hear this verse!”

The verse that has been appearing frequently in my life in the last weeks is Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Several writers of our daily devotionals at Creative Communications used it in their reflections. It was the reading in church a few weeks ago. And it is the theme verse for the year at the parochial school associated with my parish.

So I am asking myself, “Why has God put this particular verse in front of me lately?”

What strikes me about this verse as I ponder it more deeply is that it can serve as a kind of mission  statement for the Christian life.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

God has shown us what is good through the life, death and resurrection of Christ and revealed to us our human condition and our inability to be good in the eyes of God on our own because of our sins. That is where the life of a Christian should always begin. We are only human, we will never be good, but we are made righteous through the blood of Christ.

And what does the Lord require of you?

Now that we know that we can never live up to the perfect life to enter into heaven, but that Christ has lived the perfect life and makes it possible for us to enter heaven only through faith in him, what does the Lord want us to do? This is where the concept of sanctification enters in. The Lord wants us to respond in gratitude to him for his salvation by saying and doing those things that help us to become more and more like Christ.

To act justly

Christ in his life acted justly, reaching out to the poor beggars and to the authority figures of the day. He did not let the sins of others prevent him from getting to know them or sharing his message of salvation with them. Our acts need to mirror his in this area as we seek to act in ways that just and that treat people the same as God sees them—children of God.

and to love mercy,

Christ was merciful to us and forgave our sins completely and loved us to death (literally). Now it is our turn to love others unconditionally and to show compassion unsparingly and to forgive endlessly those who have wronged us.

and to walk humbly with our God.

As Christians, we do not walk alone in this life. We have a constant travel companion, our good and gracious God in the Flesh, Jesus. We are to be humble before him in a way that does not presume we know what path to take, but always relying on him for direction and counsel. We must never forget in our daily living that he is continuously by our side and ready to listen to us. That is why he came to earth.

There you have it, a mission statement for every Christian to follow! I thank God for leading me to this verse and reminding me why I am here on this earth. Act, love and walk for Christ today!

 

 

Steals on the Ear

listenOn All Saints Day, we sang my favorite hymn, “For All the Saints.” And though I have sung it a thousand times, this time when I sang it, a certain phrase caught my attention. In one verse we sing:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Steals on the ear? What does that really mean? A quick study of the word steal in this context revealed this meaning of the word: to move somewhere quietly or surreptitiously.

”That distant triumph song is moving secretly onto our ear“ is what that line is saying in our current vernacular.

I marvel at the writer, William W. How, who chose to use the word steal in this way and in this context. It is a beautiful imagery. While we are surrounded by all sorts of noisy sounds in our lives, a far-off tune is beckoning us to the victory celebration in heaven, where all the saints are surrounding the throne of Christ and praising him for saving us from sin, death and hell forever.

It recalls for me the experience of Elijah who heard God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still, small voice that Elijah had to strain to hear.

What sounds steal on your ear these days amid all the hustle and bustle of Christmas? These are jingle bells and Christmas carols and holiday commercials, but what do our ears need to be most attuned to? The distant cry of a baby in a small town thousands of miles from here. And in that small voice we hear God whispering to us, “I love you!”

Listen for that!

 

 

 

 

Media Reformation

smartphoneAs we are fast approaching the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in October 2017, it is time for us to look at where we are as a Church today. To many theologians, we are in the midst of a media reformation as the Church uses all sorts of new technology to spread the message of the Gospel far and wide in the same vein as Martin Luther and his use of the printing press to get his writings out to the masses.

Billy Graham once said, “It is time for the church to use technology to make a statement that in the midst of chaos, emptiness, and despair, there is hope in the person of Jesus Christ” (Christianity Today, October 2016, 42). It is, in fact, hard to be heard in the clutter of messages being spewed out in social media channels, but it is our task to make the effort and be the voice of promise to a people searching for true meaning in life.

Thus we are, Christianity Today tells us, an analog church. No longer can we rely on paper newsletters, bulletins, magazines and the like to get the salvation story out to people. We as a Church must, dare we say, reform our ways of reaching out.

The message is still the same, of course, as it was in Martin Luther’s day, but we need to deliver that message through media that is fast-changing and developing, but pervasive.

We as a church need to be where people getting their information, and as we all know, people’s first source of information is their smartphone. Every time I go to the doctor’s office, I notice that the first thing that people do when they sit down in the waiting room is get out their phones and start browsing.

That is where the Church needs to be with its message of hope in Jesus.

Many apps and websites already exist with daily devotions and Scripture for the day, but the Good News of Jesus is not as pervasive as it could be online.

That is why we as a Church need to focus our attention on what we can do in the mission field of the internet. We can no longer ignore it; we need to use it. Think of it as our new tool. The internet is our modern-day printing press and we are the Martin Luthers of our day,