While I have extolled the virtues of digital Bibles on this very blog, there is a mounting backlash against the exclusive use of digital Bibles. In “People of the eBook” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Karen Swallow Prior says, “As our reading becomes more immersed in a digital rather than a print culture, the more we return to some of the qualities of the pre-literate world. We are reading more, but the way we read replicates the effects of the discrete images of stained glass windows more than the sustained, logical, and coherent linearity of a whole book” (50).
Before people had access to the written word of the Bible, parishioners learned about what the Bible said in bits and pieces, most often through the images found in stained glass windows in the church. The same thing seems to be happening when accessing the Bible digitally. We are only getting bits and pieces and we are drawn to imagery on the screen.
Many pastors in response are encouraging deeper engagement with physical Bibles to help to see the whole salvation story and make stronger connections with various parts of the biblical text. This has brought about a growing popularity in printed Bibles that include space in the margins for journaling and notetaking to make these connections within the text. Also, people have come to realize that they like to hold the weight of God’s words in their hands. So while digital Bibles can have their benefits, consider getting reconnected or more connected with your physical Bible to stay connected to the whole story of Jesus and his love.
In the article “Three Tests in the Wilderness,” in the March 2019 issue of Living Lutheran, author Brian Hiortdahl reviews for us the three temptations that Satan tried to entice Jesus with during his 40 days in the wilderness. The temptations were:
To turn stone to bread.
To throw himself from a high place to be rescued by angels
To gain power over all the kingdoms of the earth by bowing to Satan
Each of these temptations Jesus resists and overcomes, using Scripture and declaring that God should not be put to the test.
Hiortdal reveals that Jesus overcame each of temptations in a much greater way in the last days of his life.
Jesus turns his body into bread for those with hearts of stone on Maundy Thursday.
Jesus is thrown down on the cross on Good Friday, but rises from the dead on Easter.
Jesus ascends to absolute power when he returns to his rightful throne in heaven on Ascension Day.
Because Jesus ultimately overcame these temptations in this way, we, too, have the ultimate power to overcome every temptation the devil sends our way.
In an article called “Sin and Forgiveness,” in the March 2019 issue of Living Lutheran, author Erin Strybis talked about a time when her young son’s tantrum led her to have a tantrum of her own. To her surprise, her son came up to her afterward and said, “It’s OK, Mommy,” and hugged her (42). Our kids “get” forgiveness more than we perhaps realize.
Strybis suggests three principles to practice in the home to reinforce the power of forgiveness:
Lean on story: The Bible is filled with stories of people who sinned and were forgiven. Think of the prodigal son, Simon Peter, the thief on the cross. Bible stories of forgiveness can be the bedtime stories we tell our children.
Lean into hugs: Remember the father of the prodigal son who ran to embrace repentant son. We need to be quick to reach out and wrap our arms around our children when they come to us confessing their sin. We need to show them that we love and forgive them wholeheartedly.
Lean on prayer: Prayer is an important piece in the practice of forgiveness. We need to pray to God when we are angry at our child and need to reorient ourselves to God’s merciful ways and we need to pray with our kid when we express forgiveness to remind us all the forgiveness comes first from God through Christ and the cross.
Let forgiveness flow freely in our families by the grace of God.
In the Editor’s Note of the December 2016 Christianity Today, Richard Clark says,
“I’ve always thought it odd that we gospel people so easily fall prey to the false gospels of moralism. Sometimes moralism is directed at myself; sometimes it’s directed at others. In the wake of the right kind of mishap, I can spiral into self-doubt and self-accusation about my own pitiable nature. Yet just as quickly, I can start casting aspersions on those who’ve made similar mistakes. Only the grace of the gospel can pull me out of the pendulum swing” (9).
Though this was written several years ago, it seems more true than ever to me. We can so easily be swayed by outside forces. We are so quick to judge others, to judge ourselves, to shake our heads in disgust or shame and leave it at that. But that is when we need to pull everything back into the context of the gospel, the context of grace, the reality of forgiveness for every sin, won for us and the whole world through the cross of Christ and through his resurrection.
It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is our sustaining force. It has the power to put right side up every apple cart sin has overturned in our lives and in our world. No sin, no evil, no misdeed is beyond the gospel’s scope of reversing when we come to Christ confessing our waywardness. How so? Only through the undeserved favor of God through the sacrifice of his Son. That is grace. And that is why we call it amazing.
My parents recently reminded me that I was baptized using water my grandparents brought from the Jordan River on their trip to the Holy Land. I was touched and moved by this news that I had forgotten, but it got me to thinking that when it comes to baptism, it does not really matter where the water comes from.
What matters most is its connection to the Word. The Word spoken over the baptized person as water is poured: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is the Word that reminds us: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
Through baptism, we are made brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Word made flesh. It is in this Word that we find our hope with the sprinkling of water from wherever it may come from, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
A recent survey from Ligonier Ministries asked the question, “Must churches provide entertaining worship services if they want to be effective?” The results were a bit surprising. About 4 in 10 believe “effective” churches must offer “entertaining” worship, through only 1 in 10 believe this strongly. Those who attend worship weekly agreed more strongly (14%) than those who attend only on holidays, rarely or never (8%) (“Come, Now Is the Time to Entertain,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 17).
The results of the survey are interesting to me because they indicate that providing entertaining worship is not as desired by parishioners as much as it is perceived to be by church leaders and the public in general.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that we in the church need to wow parishioners in worship with rock-style music and bands, lights and flash. But the data here shows that it is actually not as powerful of a draw as we may think it is.
We do not need to put all our eggs in the “entertainment basket,” these numbers seems to reveal. While the entertainment factor can still be a part of a worship experience, we continue to need to include and emphasize the Word and Sacrament, the fellowship with those in the congregation and a grounding in Christ-centered messages.
The joy and excitement of worship remains on the Good News that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. Let that be what brings the most entertainment to our souls.
I recently had to take a close look at Romans 12:9-12 for a Bible study, and I realized that it is a perfect daily checklist for us as Christians. Take a look:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
St. Paul gives us these guidelines for living the Christian life in response to what Christ has done for us:
Cling to good.
Never lack zeal.
Be joyful in hope.
Be patient in affliction.
Be faithful in prayer.
If you are like me, I have lots of checklists in my life. Some I write down and some I have in my head: chores to do around the house, tasks to accomplish at work, what to buy at the grocery store. But none of these checklists should supersede this checklist from Romans 12. I encourage you to put this checklist on your refrigerator or somewhere you can see it easily as you start your day. Or put it on top of all your other checklists. These eight things are what should have the check marks by them each and every day!
I found this prayer in a booklet I wrote long ago and it was one of those times when it felt like my past self was talking to my present self and saying, “Listen up!”
Here is the prayer:
I am feeling weak. But you, O God, are strong. And you give strength to your people. As you gave strength to Abraham, so keep me strong in my faith. As you gave strength to Moses, so keep me strong over the long haul. And as you gave strength to David, so keep me strong in the face of giant obstacles.
This prayer helps me to remember that I am not alone whenever I feel weak. Our great patriarchs felt weak in their lives, and God gave them strength. Abraham in his old age (and Sarah in her old age) were promised a son but it didn’t happen right away. But God gave Abraham strength to have faith in the promise. And Isaac was born in God’s time. God even gave Abraham the strength to be willing to sacrifice that son until an angel stopped him from going through with it. That same strength from God keeps me strong in my faith in him no matter what the promise or test.
I think of Moses, too, who felt weak in leading the Israelites out of slavery, saying he didn’t speak well. But God gave him strength to lead his people out of Egypt and guide them on a 40-year journey through the wilderness to the doorstep of the Promised Land. That same strength from God keeps me patient and confident in the extensive journeys through my life and through any qualms I may have of not being capable of completing the plans he has for me.
Then there is David, who as a young shepherd boy, seemed to be no match to the giant Goliath. But God gave David strength to fling his slingshot with a stone and fell that foe. God gives me that same strength against the giant foe of the devil that I may defeat his slings and arrows with the Word of God in my arsenal. I may be small in the grand scheme of things, but I am mighty in the presence of the Lord. Let me never forget that.
Scott Christenson, another one of the keynote speakers at Best Practices, spoke about different ways in which we can encourage each other in the Church.
The first is cheer encourgement. We can let each other know, “You can do it!” We can tell people, “Great job!” and “Congratulations!” when we see our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ doing well in the work of the Lord.
The second is support encouragement. Things do not always go the way we expect them to, but we can be there to say “Hang in there” and “Do not give up.” God has got this and it is not all up to us. It is up to him to complete the mission he has planned.
The third is challenge encouragement. Sometimes people need a little push, a little nudge in the direction God wants them to go. We can help people to see the big picture and see that maybe it is time for them to do something new or take a risk that God has in mind for them. Point people to possibilities in ministry they may not have thought of before.
Think of ways you can be an encourager in these three ways this week and keep this verse in mind:
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Dan Shepmann, one of the keynote speakers at Best Practices in Phoenix in February, talked about these verses:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. —Matthew 11:29-30
Shepmann brought an actual yoke to show. It does not look easy or light at first glance, but in the hands of our Master, it is.
Yokes put on oxen are controlled by the farmer, the Master of the ox.The ox yoked to the Master cannot go anywhere without the Master guiding and directing. This makes the work easier for the ox. With Christ as our guide, we learn how to maneuver through the treacherous portions of life, as he did on the way to the cross for our salvation.
One translation of these verses says that the Master’s yoke “fits well.” It is not a “one size fits all” sort of approach. Our weight, our mission, that is placed upon us by our Lord is custom designed for us. So being yoked to our Savior is not something to struggle with, but something to hold on to and to celebrate the gifts God has given you to be the bearer of this yoke.
And our Savior promises to be gentle. His gentle hands on the reigns make our work for him manageable and doable and pleasing to him and to ourselves. In this light, what a privilege it is to “take his yoke upon us.”