Photography

old camera

Long ago, I took a photography class in college in which we took and developed our own pictures in the “photo lab.” I think of all the variables we were taught regarding our cameras, using different lenses and f-stops for instance. I think about how we had to go into the dark room to roll our film onto a reel and how we had to use photo paper placed in a chemical solution for a time to reveal the image we had taken.

I know I missed a lot of steps in the process for those of you are professional photographers, but my point is that in today’s digital world, I as an amateur photographer do not need to worry about any of these steps anymore. All I have to do now is hold up my smartphone, hit the camera icon, and tap the red button to take a picture that I can send immediately to all my friends and family.

smartphone camera

This change in photography reminds me that there are changes in the church that are sometimes hard to keep up with. There is “the way we used to do it” and the way “everybody is doing it” now. This has particularly come to light with the onset of the coronavirus and the advent of highly developed online worship and other ministries taking place as a result.

My thought is that the old or new way is neither bad nor good, better or worse. It just is. And we have to adjust to what is regardless of what way we may have done things in the church before. So click on that Zoom link from your parish. Watch that YouTube video of your Bible study. Listen to that podcast from your pastor. The new ways may not feel comfortable at first, but in the end they are doing what the old ways have always done: gotten the Word of God out to the people to need to hear it. And a picture of our good and loving Savior, Jesus Christ, is revealed.

Binary Stars

binary stars

I recently watched an episode of the TV show Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson in which they talked about the existence of binary stars. Binary stars are two stars that orbit around a common center of mass and are gravitationally bound to each other.

This concept got me to thinking that we who are lights of the world for Christ often are inexorably tied to other lights in the Christian “solar system,” if you will. Our light for Christ may be forever linked to the one who first shone their light of Christ to us. Our light of faith may be tied to other “lights” who were in the same confirmation, Sunday school or Bible class with us. Our lights may also be drawn to the “lights” that shone in our families—our spouse, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Knowing that we have lights that are attached to us in this way helps us to shine brighter, confident in their encouragement and support. When our lights might grow dim because of some darkness we have experienced, we know that our “light” partners will brighten our light and life again with their love and care.

What binds us together in our special unions as Christ’s lights is the light of Christ himself. That common draw in the lives of all Christ’s tandem lights is what keeps the bond between us strong in our faith. Making Christ’s light the center of all our relationships keeps us bound in the warm glow of his grace and favor. Savor and value the unique bonds with other “lights” God has blessed you with in the vast constellation of his people.

Restart

restart

We have all been there: Our computer stops working and we are at a loss as to what to do to remedy the situation. We ask computer experts what elaborate protocol might be necessary to fix the problem. Inevitably, the question comes back, “Have you tried restarting?” Ah, the simplest act of turning your computer off and on again is sometimes all that is necessary to resolve the glitch. It is often the easiest solution that is the best.

When we are stuck or broken down or just not working as we should in our lives, the psalmist tells us to restart:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:2-5).

Renewal comes to us when we remember what God has done for us. Remember that we are blessed. Remember that we are forgiven. Remember that we have healing in God. Recall where we once were and how far we have come by God’s grace. Remind yourself that love and mercy from God sustain us. The good gifts from God we may have let slip from our minds can make us soar again.

Make it a practice to restart in your remembrance of God every time you are forced to restart your computer. The benefits are abundant.

Weeds

weeds

I finally got to doing some yardwork in my backyard and was surprised by the number of weeds that had cropped up amidst the healthy bushes and grasses growing around. I spent my time chopping down and clipping and cutting the weeds to help the good plants flourish and to make the foliage in my yard look good. But the roots of the weeds in many places in my yard still remain, though you cannot see them. So the weeds will return potentially for me to cut down again sometime later.

The experience reminds me of this parable Jesus told:

“The servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn”’” (Matthew 13:27-30).

Jesus acknowledges here that weeds and good plants must grow together. They are intermingled and by trying to get rid of the bad, you might get rid of the good. That is a lot like life, isn’t it? The devil plants seeds of weeds amongst the good seeds planted by God. And any attempt to rid the bad growth of sin might uproot good growth going on. So we must live with the presence of original sin in our lives on this side of heaven while continuing to grow faithfully and richly for the Lord simultaneously.

On the Last Day, God will sort it all out. The bad seeds will be burned in the fires of hell and the good growth will be harvested to be brought to the storehouses of heaven. In paradise above, life will no longer be intertwined with good and bad, but will only flourish sin-free to celebrate eternal goodness and grace from our God. Until then, keep growing as good plantings for the Lord wherever you may find yourself, and whatever weeds might be springing up around you.

Stress Ball

stress ball

I have a stress ball at my desk that I got at a conference long ago. I confess that I have given it a squeeze or two every once in a while when things have gotten tough in my life. It does indeed relieve the tension for a time and gives me a sense of calm for a moment. I have gotten the stress out. But the problem is that the stress comes back and I cannot be squeezing a stress ball every minute of the day. That is not a productive use of my time over the long haul.

That is why it is important for us to turn to Scripture for a more long-lasting stress relief. Consider these verses:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

Take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20

These words from Jesus are more effective than any stress ball might be at calming our troubled hearts and minds. Let them be your ultimate stress relievers in difficult times.

Speaking Christian

speaking Christian

A story in the August 2020 Living Lutheran magazine talked about the value of teaching children to “speak Christian.” The article referred to the incorporation of wonder and mystery into conversation, with questions like, “I wonder how Jesus is in the bread” of Holy Communion. “I wonder since Jesus is part human too if he just couldn’t stay around forever,” one child pondered in the article, regarding the ascension (Janelle Rozek Hooper, “Encourage Wonder,” Living Lutheran, August 2020).

Deep thoughts and ones that need to be considered. But beyond considerations of mystery and wonder, my mind went to other aspects of what “speaking Christian” entails. “Speaking Christian” for me involves using language that is loving and forgiving. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” the Bible says (Ephesians 4:14). And later in that same chapter of Ephesians, we read, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Being kind, loving and forgiving in our speech brings us closer to Christ and marks us as “Christian.”

I think too of the disciples, who were the eyewitnesses of Christ’s days on this earth, spent their days telling and retelling the story of salvation through Christ alone—through his suffering, death and resurrection. Words about Christ’s salvation for us should always be on our lips as Christians. It is not something we should keep quiet about.

“Speaking Christian” is about repeating the words of Christ to others. Think about your favorite quotes from Christ and be quick to utter them when they are appropriate for the situation. I think about when he said, “Thy will be done.” St. Paul echoes that sentiment when he tells us, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). Words that recognize that it is all up to God should pepper our speech always.

Words that reiterate how blessed we are makes “speaking Christian” unique. St. Paul does a good job of this when he says, “I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (Romans 15:29). We have the fullness of the blessing of Christ at our disposal every day, and it is our joy to express that, rather than complaining or nitpicking.

Let every word from your mouth bring honor to Christ and your faith in him. That is what “speaking Christian” means.

Energy Boost

soda

One of my vices is to drink Pepsi or Coke every morning. I know it may not be the best choice. But it is what I need to get an energy booth to get me going in the day. Other people drink coffee or tea or sports drinks to perk them up to give them a lift to start their tasks.

The truth is that the Lord gives us an energy boost like no drink on earth can. Consider these enlivening words of Scripture:

The joy of the Lord your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Jushua 1:9

They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

What gives us an energy boost according to these verses? Joy of the Lord, the Scriptures, having hope, knowing that God is with you and being renewed as we wait for him. Every time you indulge in your morning energy boost, consider these ways of being energized in your faith. They have the power to bring you everlasting liveliness in God.

Crossword Puzzles

crossword

I recently began doing crossword puzzles. I had not done them earlier because I felt they were too difficult for me. But I have found that doing them on a regular basis (once a week) has helped me to get better at them and made them easier to do. Now I look forward to my “crossword time” and enjoy the experience more, especially when I “get” a hard word that opens the door to getting a lot more words in the puzzle.

My experience of getting into crosswords puzzles can be similar to how we get into the Word of God. At first we may avoid it and think it is too difficult for us. But then when we read the Bible regularly. it becomes easier to do. It feels good when it becomes part of our routine. When we do “get” a word or passage, story or parable from Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are excited and enlightened and our minds are opened to other messages in God’s Word.

As with crossword puzzles, all the words of Scripture are connected to each other, and we are connected to God more and more as we come to see the interrelationship of his communications to us.

Church in the Woods

Thorncrown

On my recent trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I visited Thorncrown Chapel, a beautiful work of architecture tucked in the woods. When you enter the space, a greeter asks you to sit down in the pews and quietly listen to music and take pictures.

The posture of siting down in the structure allows you to look up at the soaring ceiling of wood beams crisscrossing one another. It also helps you to look to your right and your left to see the trees and foliage directly outside the windows on each side. Your eyes turn toward the side lights shaped into a cross.

Thorncrown inside

The chapel reinforces the fact that God is in nature and his beauty is seen in every plant and creature we see. The chapel reminds us, too, that we are part of God’s creation, formed in his image to tend and care for the earth. Tending and caring for the earth is an act of worship, and one we should not take lightly. We should honor the earth and celebrate the joy it brings to us. We should sing praises as we work to preserve the world around us, and we should take the time to reflect on and marvel at his handiwork.

But as the chapel architecture reminds us, it is the cross of Christ that should crisscross every angle that we view of the earth around us. It is that cross that makes all of life beautiful beyond measure.

Christ of our Lives

Christ of the Ozarks

I recently went on a short vacation to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. One of the popular sights to see there is “Christ of the Ozarks,” a large statue of Jesus with arms outstretched à la the Christ the Redeemer statue in Buenos Aires. But it has its own look and feel that somehow tells you that you are in the Ozarks.

It makes me think, “How does Christ look to you?” What does “Christ of Mark Zimmermann” feature most prominently? I would say that for me when I think of Christ, I think of his loving eyes. I picture his arms reaching forward to embrace me. I ponder his smile upon me.

Take a few moments today to consider what your image of Christ looks like for you personally. How do you see his face? How do you view his stance toward you? Perhaps take some time to draw your concept of Christ.

Our experiences with Christ may be different for each of us, but in the end the qualities of Christ that remain the same are his everlasting love and care, his forgiveness and grace. Those aspects will never change. Thanks be to God!