Out of the Tomb

open tomb

Happy Easter! The popular worship song, “Glorious Day,” includes these lyrics:

You called my name
And I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness
Into your glorious day

On this day when we celebrate Christ emerging from the tomb to resurrected life, we remember that on this day our resurrected Lord frees us from all the “tombs” we have put ourselves in on this earth, “tombs” of guilt, shame, addiction, fear, doubt. Now that Christ has step foot from his tomb alive, we are released from these “tombs” to bask in this glorious day of resurrection joy, filled with victory, forgiveness, confidence and faith in Christ. In his glory, we have all the grace we need from him to overcome all that once held us back from new life. Our life is now renewed and restored forever. What glorious news! Alleluia! Amen.

The Most Popular Bible Verse

top Bible verseAccording to YouVersion, one of the most popular Bible apps in the world, the Bible verse that was the most bookmarked, highlighted and shared over the course of 2018 in the U.S. and globally was Isaiah 41:10:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

It is not hard to see why. It is chuck full of promises and assurances from God. Why should we not fear? Because God is with us. Why should we not be dismayed? Because he is our God and he can do anything and everything. What can our God do for us? He can strengthen you when you are weak. He can help you when you are in trouble. He had uphold you when you are down.

This is a good verse for us to commit to memory, to put on our bathroom mirror, to write on a Post-It on our desks. This is a verse that can get you through the day.

The fact that this verse was the most shared verse of the year over the internet and through smartphones warms my heart as well. It shows that people are using God’s Word to help and comfort and give hope through modern means to get the messages of our Lord out instantly.

Consider sending Isaiah 41:10 out to a friend you are thinking about who may be needing to hear these words of support right now. Become part of a positive popular trend.

 

Genealogies

family treeFinding out your genealogy through websites like ancestry.com and 23andme.com is all the rage these days. People have been surprised that their DNA makeup is more from one country than another. For instance, though my aunt was born a Zimmermann (a very German name), ancestry.com revealed that her heritage comes far more from Great Britain than Germany. These sites have even led to people gathering to meet far distant relatives they did not know previously to learn more about their family history.

In the Bible people were very careful to track their lineage. In fact, almost all of Matthew 1 tracks the 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus, highlighting that Jesus is connected directly to the line of King David. Luke 3:23-38 follows the ancestry of Jesus all the way back to Adam through 77 tongue-twisting names.

Why all the emphasis on the genealogy of Jesus? The genealogy from Abraham to Jesus confirms the promise that God made to Abraham, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (Exodus 32:13). And the genealogy from Adam to Jesus revealed the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Savior from sin from Adam and Eve’s offspring in Genesis 3:15 when he said to the serpent; “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The good news for us as believers in Christ is that we may not be blood relatives of Jesus by birth, but we have been grafted into the family of God by the blood he shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. God’s promises of old now apply to us as well. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” Galatians 3:29 tells us. Each Sunday then becomes a family reunion when we join with our brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate our place in the family of God. Enjoy being part of this holy heritage.

Sweet and Bitter Truths

scrollIn a recent article in Christianity Today, Lisa Fields, an expert on biblical literacy, said: “When it relates to biblical literacy, I always think of Ezekiel, when God commands him to eat the whole scroll, and it will be sweet and then bitter. It just reminds me that in Scripture there will be some bitter portions and some sweet portions. There are some difficult things I have to wrestle with, but because I believe God has called me to this work, I have to take all of it” (“Black Bible Reading Endures,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 17).

It is true that the Bible does not sugar-coat the fact that the wages of sin is death and that there will be suffering in this world. It does not hide the fact that people turned against God, that there was betrayal and hardship among God’s people that still happen today. We cannot change the fact that there is sin in the world and that there will bad days sometimes as we wait for the Last Day to come.

But the sweet news comes from St. Peter who tells us, “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13). The sweetness is revealed in Revelation 21:3-5 in John’s vision of heaven:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

In the end in the bliss of heaven the bitterness will be no more and we will only taste the sweetness of salvation won for us in Jesus.

Let the first thing we do each day until that time always be to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). That sweetness of the goodness of the Lord supersedes all bitterness.

Everyone Has a Part

curtainTheology professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer wrote, “Scripture is not a textbook but the Church’s holy script, and understanding it involves reading all the books in the Old and New Testament as parts of an overarching story. It’s more than narrative, it’s drama: story made flesh, in which readers today have speaking parts” (“Letter to an Aspiring Theologian,” First Things, August/September 2018, 29).

This quote is a good reminder to those in church work that implementing programs that call for parishioners to read the entire Bible over the course of a certain period of time is a valuable and worthwhile exercise even when slogging through the book of Numbers. We as Christians need to see the big picture and be reminded of it again and again. This is not some new story of salvation. It is the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

The other part of this quote that I like is that it reminds us that the Bible is not something to put on a shelf to collect dust somewhere. It is not just something to read in a college course and box up in the basement. It is not just a sweet story that you read to kids at bedtime from time to time. It is living and active and something that is a part of us and a part of our lives here and now.

The best part of the quote for me is that it declares to us that everyone has a part to play in the drama that began in the Bible. This divine play does not end with the last word of the book of Revelation. It continues with each one of us who have faith in Christ and believe in him. No believer is left out of this play. Everyone has a part. The story of what is yet to come on the Last Day when Jesus calls us home to be with him as his forgiven and loved brothers and sisters still needs to be told to audiences all over the world in many and various ways. Some have speaking roles. Some sing in the chorus. Some pull the curtain open to reveal a truth about our salvation to someone. We are on the world’s stage for a reason. And it not to signify nothing, to paraphrase Shakespeare. But what we have to share signifies everything. We only need to wait for the curtain call when Christ returns with endless applause.

Everyone a Theologian

TheologiansWhen we hear the word theologian, we most often think of bearded men in tweed jackets sitting in well-appointed rooms in ivory towers deep in thought while reading a well-worn dog-eared Bible. And the truth of the matter is there are indeed some of those. But the classification of theologian is much broader than that.

Thomas Aquinas said that theology at its heart “is taught by God, teaches of God and leads to God” (Vanhoozer, Kevin J., “Letter to an Aspiring Theologian,” First Things, August/September 2018, 28). So in fact anyone who is a student of these components could be called a theologian. That means you, that means me, that means everyone who is eager to explore these aspects of theology.

Let’s look at each component individually and how we can apply them to our own lives:

Taught by God. Our quest is to study and put our faith only in those things that are taught by God. That means going to the Bible, the true and only Word of God, first and foremost, for guidance and inspiration, for strength and knowledge and insight. Other “false gods” in this world try to tell us what to do in many aspects of our lives. We need to take any other messages from other sources back to the litmus test of God’s teachings before we make any decisions on how we should live and who we should trust. God is our one and only trusted source.

Teaches of God. Theology focuses us squarely on God and who he is in our lives, according to Scripture. He is our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. He is triune: Father, Son and Spirit. He is all-knowing, all-loving, all-present. He is our All in All. There is no one greater than him and only through him can we receive salvation through the Son he sent to suffer and die for us on the cross for the forgiveness of all of our sins. This is the one and only God. There is no other.

Leads to God.Theology found in Scripture steers us directly to God. It shows us how to draw closer to him in prayer, meditation, devotion and service to him and to one another in response to his great love for us in Jesus. It teaches us now to live for him and live through him living inside of each one of us. We are not to just say we believe in God. By his Word, we know that we are called to show our belief in him, which in turn leads others to God.

So don’t be afraid to call yourself a theologian. Because that is who you are, a student of the Holy One. Wear it with all glory to him.

Exercising Body and Soul

exerciseThere is a trend in churches today to offer wellness and physical exercise programs within their walls. Some churches have gyms where members and those in the community can work out, and some offer fitness classes on a regular basis. For instance, since 2011 St. Enoch Lutheran Church in Kannapolis, NC, has been offering an hour-long class that incorporates dance, weights, Christian music and closes with a devotion and a prayer (Strybis, Erin, “Fit and Faithful,” Living Lutheran, January 2019, 15).

These sorts of programs help to build community and connections among members and others outside the church. They encourage healthy living and self-care of the bodies God has given us, these “temples of the Holy Spirit” we have been blessed with (1 Corinthians 6:19). The programs also foster and encourage discipline.

Just as we need to exercise our bodies on a regular basis, we need to exercise our souls. Exercising our souls on a regular basis through prayer, reading Scripture, Bible study, small group ministry and worship keeps our spiritual selves healthy and strong. Like physical exercise, there is a discipline to it that is not always something we are good at. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can keep at it. Think of the Holy Spirit as your trainer, always reminding you and encouraging you to keep going and to remember the benefits that come from regular exercising of our souls: a closer relationship with our Savior, a confidence and hope in him and a joy that lasts forever. Keep exercising your soul this week and see how your spirit is uplifted and stays fit.

 

The Three E’s

The Three E's Christianity Today founder Billy Graham’s original vision for the periodical was to “engage, encourage and equip the church” (Harold Smith, “Why Now?” Christianity Today, 9). It remains the vision of the magazine to this day and it should be the driving force and mission behind all that we do as members of the church here and now.

Here’s what that can look like:

Engage: We as Christians need to engage the church in its mission to spread the Gospel message by being present and not staying in the shadows. We need to stay involved in what our individual congregations are doing. We need to worship, sing and share with others what God has done in our life in Christ through his death and resurrection. All of our engagement goes a long way to keep our church vital and active and an integral part of our communities.

Encourage: We need to do all we can to compliment and support the work of all the workers in the church who invest countless hours putting together and conducting worship services, Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, musical experiences and all sorts of groups and programs in any church’s given ministry. The work of the church can be draining and thankless. A kind word, a pat on the back, a note of thanks from you to your ministry team can mean the world to those who serve in the church.

Equip: Equipping the church can come in many ways. We can give the church the tools they need to carry out their ministry by giving of our time, talents and treasures. There are so many ways in which we can volunteer for a program or lend a hand in a building project or provide monetarily what we can for a cause. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver¯ St. Paul said to the Corinthians and he says to each of us today (2 Corinthians 9:7). Do what is truly in your heart to give to equip the church in its endeavors to reach more and more people with the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That’s what will make the church grow and thrive through him. See what you can do to take part in one or all of these three e’s in your labors for the Lord this week in response to his love.

Feeling Blue?

blue candleOver the Christmas season a few months back a story ran on the national news about “blue” Christmas services that some parishes were offering for those who were feeling lonely or grieving the loss of loved ones during the holiday season. The service included lighting candles, listening to comforting words of Scripture and soothing music, surrounded by the presence of loving and caring people.

I found the story heart-warming and touching and something that we can consider doing all year-round in our churches at various times.

The church is designed to be a place of comfort, care and healing for those who are feeling blue. The funny thing about the color blue is that in modern-day vernacular in this turn of phrase blue means sad. But in the church blue is a color of hope, renewal and a future in the heavens above.

Therefore, let us do all we can to help those on their journey from sad to glad through the hope they are given in the love and salvation of Christ our Lord.

Broken and Restored

potteryOn this Ash Wednesday and throughout the Lenten season, we consider the fact that we are broken because of sin in our lives, but we are restored in Christ.

There is a centuries-old Japanese method of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi (which means “golden joinery”) or Kintsukuroi (which means “golden repair”). In this method pieces of a broken piece of pottery are joined back together with a special lacquer dusted with gold, silver or platinum. Beautiful trails of gold glint and sparkle where the cracks once existed, creating a unique and beautiful effect. The method can be pain-staking and takes long periods of time to complete. But the results are stunning.

I find it interesting that this method dramatically celebrates the brokenness in the piece of pottery and in essence rejoices in what the brokenness brought about—something even more beautiful than the piece was before. The brokenness is not hidden or ignored. The gold coloring reveals the richness and preciousness which now exudes from the pottery.

In the Bible, we hear Isaiah say to God, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). We are each molded by God into creations like pieces of pottery.

Because of the presence of sin in the world, we can crack and break and become broken. But God in his mercy joins the pieces of our brokenness back together in glorious fashion through the suffering and death of his Son Jesus, whose blood repairs our brokenness and his glorious resurrection seals our status as forgiven and whole children of God who will walk the streets paved with gold in heaven forever.

The repairs of our brokenness were painful and difficult to be sure for our Savior and being restored from our brokenness can be trying for us from day to day. But the struggle is worth it and in the end it makes us more beautiful. For in Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the signs of our brokenness now repaired only proclaim to the world how glorious and brilliant the work of the Lord is in our lives.