Strength of My Life

strengthThe LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? —Psalm 27:1 (KJV)

My confirmation verse was Psalm 27:1. I chose it because I liked the words about the Lord being “my light and my salvation.” But recently a friend of mine showed me a plaque he received as a farewell gift when he left one congregation to serve as a musician in another. “The Lord is the strength of my life,” it read. And my friend has faithfully put it by the door in homes he has lived in ever since.

What a nice reminder as we leave our homes that the Lord is the strength of our lives. We cannot do it with our own strength, but we can do it with his. He is the core, the center, the driving force that carries us forward in our lives.

Much like in our bodies, when we exercise, we are supposed to “work the core,” the center of our bodies around the torso, because when the core is strong, the rest of our body becomes stronger. That is a great picture of how the strength of the Lord makes our entire selves, both soul and body, strong because he is strong.

Think about the strength God gives this week. Draw upon that core strength, and say with the psalmist, “Of whom shall I be afraid?”

 

The Great Sustainer

sustainerSurely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. —Psalm 54:4

Psalm 54:4 is good for anyone going through trying times. It gives hope when we feel helpless. I like the use of the word surely here. There is a confidence and a certainty about it. God WILL BE my help. There is no doubt about it.

I also like the fact that this verse dues not stop with the help. It assures us of the Lord sustaining us. There is help for the long haul, not just for now. There is a future plan that God has in place to keep us going in our faith and in our life with him. There is no end to the care that our Lord will continue to provide for us. Even unto eternity, he will sustain us by taking us to heaven with him when we die.

His help and sustaining are ever-present and ever-giving. We are never in this life alone with our Great Sustainer beside us.

Sinking Down

air mattressI recently slept on an air mattress on a trip with some friends. Unfortunately there was a leak somewhere in the mattress, and by the time I woke up the next morning, I had sunk down into the middle with the two sides of the mattress enfolding me like a taco, which brought peals of laughter from my friends when they saw me “sunken down.”

The experience called to mind for me these words of the hymn “What Wondrous Love is This”:

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

When I was literally “sunken down” on the air mattress, it was hard for me to get out. It is impossible when I am sunken down in sin. Only Christ can lift me out.

Another thing I noticed when I was “down low” was that there was still a little bit of air left in the mattress so that I was not sleeping directly on the floor. When I think I have reached rock bottom in my life, I must always remember that the the wind, the air, the breath of the Holy Spirit still lifts me up and sustains me in the faith and keeps me from the very bottom of despair.

And when I was low in the mattress, the sides of air were, I realized, like a warm hug wrapping their arms around me, like a loving Father, who only hates the sin, saying to me, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you. You will not be sucked away by sin.”

The next night I slept on a full-pumped air mattress with no leaks, and all was right with the world.

 

An Anchor

anchorWe have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. —Hebrews 6:19

Recently I went boating with some friends on a nearby lake. At one point our boat driver took us to a secluded clove, where he heaved a very heavy anchor over the bow until it hit bottom many feet below. This would keep the boat steady while we swam and floated on noodles and rafts behind the boat.

What struck me was that even though the boat was anchored, it still did a lot of moving around because of the prevailing winds, the waves from other boats and currents from the lake. There were times when I had to swim quite a ways to stay close to the back of the boat to stay safe. I had always imagined that once a boat was anchored, it stayed put. That is not the case, I discovered.

Which made me think about this verse from Hebrews about our hope in Christ being an anchor for the soul. Though the anchor is firm and secure, we who are tethered to it are not always still. We are pushed around by doubts, fears, the advice and messages of others who say that God does not matter or that Christianity has become passé. It is not always easy up here on the surface. The waters of life can be rough.

But we who have our hope and faith in Christ have the confidence that though we may be tossed about for a little while, our God will never let us go too far adrift. He keeps us firmly planted in the depths of his love and care and compassion for us to keep us on course in our faith. He will always keep us safe in his forgiveness and grace. That is our hope. That is our anchor. That is our salvation.

 

Loading Brush

loading brushIn Wendell Berry’s recent book, The Art of Loading Brush, he talks about the the fact that in agrarian life there is a certain way to go about, an “art”  to, the mundane task of loading brush. “The loader must pay attention to each limb so that all the brush can fit on one wagon load,” a character in Berry’s story says. “If the art of loading brush dies out, the art of making music finally will die out too,” the character continues. Berry draws a connection between the rural and the urban life and how the practices in one can inform the other and vice versa. We should not live in one world, and not be informed about the other, he dontends.

But Berry also makes it clear that something like loading brush needs to be learned and practiced. This is something that must to taught from one generation to another.

This reminds me of the words of our God in Deuteronomy 11:18-19:

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

It is our task as parents and Sunday school teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even neighbors and friends to pass on the faith to future generation so that they know about the great love of God for them. Otherwise the faith will die out if it is not passed on.

I am also reminded of the words of Romans 10:14-15:

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!”

The “going about of” faith, the “art” of faith, cannot continue if people are not told. We are to be “the beautiful feet” who share the practices of prayer, worship, Bible study and devotion, who proclaim that Christ is our Savior from sin, death and the devil, and that by believing in him we may have everlasting life in him. At times this teaching of the faith may seem mundane, but it is not optional, It is something that has to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit that all may know the truth of the Good News!

Who is someone you can teach the faith to today?

Root rot

root rotMindy Belz, in an article in the September 1, 2018, World Magazine, shared her experience with root rot in her garden this past summer. Apparently her area had received so much rain that the soil became so saturated that no air could enter in, causing the roots to dissolve and her plants to die.

Belz came to realize, “In the garden and in life, we can be lulled by why seems a buoyant ride into ignoring underlying perils.”

The only way to remedy root rot is to lift the plant from the saturated soil while at least some of the roots are still intact and move the plant to completely fresh soil. There the plant can thrive once again.

This story about root rot reminds me of Colossians 2:6-7:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

When we find ourselves swimming along and trying to root our lives in material things or our own accomplishments, the roots can quickly dissolve when things break or are lost or when our accomplishments don’t get us anywhere.

It is then that we need to be transplanted, if you will, into the rich soil of faith in Christ. Only there can our lives develop deep roots, nourished and fed by him. Only there can we thrive and bear fruit for him. And only there will we continue to grow for all eternity into the plantings he wants us to be.

Be routed and grounded in Christ today and always … and overflow with thankfulness!

Go and Tell John

Go and tell JohnOne of my new favorite choral pieces is a song called “Go and Tell John.” It is based on the Scripture passage in which John the Baptist sent word from prison to Jesus through his disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2). Jesus’ response is the text of this song: Take a listen.

What I like about this song is the energy and excitement of the various voices passing on the good news that Jesus is the one who is to come. The overlapping voices and the repeating of the word tell help to capture how the message of Jesus is spreading fast from person to person.

What is the evidence to confirm the Jesus is our Messiah? The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. And the deaf hear once again. The dead are raised up. Good news preached to the poor. And blessed is he who believes in him. This evidence is the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 29.

What I find interesting about Jesus’ response, too, is that it is personal. Go and tell JOHN. The music highlights that in the end when it crescendos on the name John. It is a reminder to us that the message of Jesus is a personal one to each one of us as well. Jesus wants the good news to come to each of us personally. Go and tell Sue, go and tell Will, go and tell Taylor.

This is not some broad statement but something for you to take to heart in your own life and your own situation. The figurative and perhaps literal blindnesses in your life will be lifted. Messages that you had been deaf to literally and figuratively will be heard. When you die, Jesus is assuring us that we will be raised to life in him. We who are poor will become rich with blessings through him.

This is definitely something to share over and over again with others and sing about again and again. Think of who you would like to “go and tell” about Jesus today!

Our Vocation

vocationDr. W. Mart Thompson in his seminar “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God calls and equips Christians to serve one another,” talked about the role of vocation in our lives.

Vocation is a calling from God to serve him and others. In a Christian context there are three realms or estates of our vocation. They are: home, congregation, and society.

As part the seminar, each participant shared their vocation using these parameters. Here’s mine as an example.

Name: Mark

A family vocation: brother, son

A congregational calling: Bible study leader

An occupational vocation: writer at Creative Communications

A community calling: member of a Tuesday night bike-riding club

It was an interesting exercise because it helped me to see where God has placed me to serve and how I might be more intentional in revealing my relationship with Christ to others and being more Christ-like in my words and deeds.

It was also interesting to listen to the vocation lists of all those in attendance and hear how God is working in so many and various ways in the lives of his people. The ways in which people volunteer and give of their time and unique skills was truly inspiring.

Consider doing this vocation exercise this week for yourself and think about how God has placed you in a certain time and place and position for a reason. Take time to ponder what those reasons are, pray about them and then act upon them as the Holy Spirit directs you.

 

 

Hesed

hesedThe Hebrew word hesed is translated lovingkindness in most Bibles, but it is so rich in meaning that the word cannot be adequately described in English. Other translations have used the words covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. It is a type of love that is quite literally beyond words.

In a new book from InterVarsity Press called Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, author Michael Card explores what the word means about God’s character and how the word relates to God’s people.

What it reveals to me about God’s character is that he loves us beyond measure, beyond what we can even comprehend. It is a love that can never be matched fully in human terms. It is a love that will stop at nothing to care for us and protect us.

That is the reason why hesed is most fully realized in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus is hesed in the flesh. And he went to the greatest lengths of all out of God’s great love for us to save us. He went to the cross to suffer and die and sacrifice his very life for us all. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” the Bible says (John 15:13). But God’s hesed went beyond even the grave when he rose Jesus from the dead on Easter morning.

Now that Christ is alive and alive in each of us, God’s hesed has transformed each of us to live a new life of deep and divinely inspired love, care and compassion for others. We love as we have been loved: with our whole selves, giving our all for one another in the name of the God of hesed. That is the beautiful plan for us from the heart of our God.

A Royal Priesthood

priesthoodI recently attended a seminar at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, entitled “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God Calls and Equips Christians to Serve One Another,” led by Dr. W. Mart Thompson. The term “royal priesthood” is only mentioned four times in the Bible, Thompson noted, but it truly is a blueprint for how we should live our lives as Christians in this world, since each one of us is called to be a part of the priesthood of all believers.

But what does being a part of the priesthood entail? For an answer to that, Thompson took us to the Old Testament, which outlines very clearly what the role of the temple priests was. Here are 8 characteristics of the Old Testament temple priests:

• Separated and anointed (Exodus 30:22-38)

• Representative (Exodus 28:28-38)

• Mediator of the covenant (Malachi 2:4ff)

• Maintain holiness (Exodus 28:36-38)

• Offers sacrifices (Leviticus 1-9)

• Blesses God’s people (Numbers 6:22-27)

• Instructs God’s people (Malachi 2:7)

• Offers prayers (2 Chronicles 30:27)

I was amazed by how practical and “doable” these characteristics were and how applicable they can be to our lives today as we serve as “little priests.”

Theologians have outlined the 3-fold shape of priestly work for us today, which mirrors the work of the ancient temple priests:

• sacrifice (for God in serving others)

• prayer (speak to God for others)

• proclamation (speak to others for God)

Since this seminar, I have become much more aware of how to live out my calling as a part of the priesthood in these three facets. I can serve where I see need. I can pray multiple times throughout the day. I can talk to people about my faith in Christ more freely and energetically, knowing it is part of my role here on earth.

As 1 Peter 2:9 tells us, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” What a wonderful picture of the life of a Christian!