A Lightning Rod

lightning rodAt a conference at Concordia Seminary last February, professor Chuck Arand compared the cross to a lightning rod, something that takes on all the destructive force of nature and dissipates it.

I rather like that image because it captures so clearly the power that the cross has over the ferociousness of this world. We still jump when we see a flash of lightning. And we still are shaken up when we see the presence of evil in front of us in various forms. But we as Christians do not need to stay unsettled.

I think it is significant, therefore, to remember that at the time of the crucifixion, the sky turned dark, the earth shook and rocks were split apart. This sinful world itself was raging against Christ and the cross, but the cross and Christ himself withstood the terrible tumult. Nothing that the world tried to throw at him could stop the mission of Christ.

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A Ritual of Thanks

thanks ritual

One of our our most pervasive rituals of thanks is gathering for a feast with family and friends.

When we were little and someone gave us something or complimented us, our parents prompted us with, “Now what do you say?” We would dutifully say thank you (perhaps rather meekly and/or begrudgingly) and run away.

As adults, we often continue to need prompting from our heavenly Father to say thank you. As the Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Scripture itself is encouraging us to develop a ritual of thanks in our lives. We are called to make thanksgiving a regular part of our every activity.

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Being Humble

humbleThe Bible says, “Humble yourself before the Lord’ (James 4:10). But what does that really mean?

Mark R. McMinn, in “The Science of Humility” in the July/August issue of Christianity Today, gives us some guidance in this area, explaining that scientists point to three primary qualities of humble people (82-82):

Quality 1: Humble people have a reasonably accurate view of themselves (neither too high or too low).

Quality 2: Humble people pay attention to others.

Quality 3: Humble people are teachable.

The wheels in my head are turning almost immediately when I consider each of these qualities. One common thread that weaves through each of them is that humility involves fighting the internal tendency we have as humans to say, “I am the best. I am the most important. I know how to do this.”

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Cultivating Eulogy Virtues

virturesIn a recent article in Christianity Today on the increasing threat of automation in the workforce, authors Kevin Brown and Steven McMullen highlighted an expression from author and columnist David Brooks, who has talked about the difference between résumé virtues (marketplace skills) vs. eulogy virtues (human goodness and character) (“Hope in the Humanless Economy,” Christianity Today, July/August 2017, 36).

We as Christians are not to put all of our thoughts and energy regarding our lives and livelihood into the résumé virtues basket. Jobs change, skill sets become obsolete and our careers need not define who are at our very core. As followers of Christ, we, instead, need to focus on the eulogy virtues, those things that we have learned from our Savior about showing unconditional love to others, serving in humility those around us and being respectful and genuine toward one another.

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Blooming in the Dark

moonflowerOn a garden tour I attended this summer, I learned about a plant called the moonflower. Believe it or not, this is a flower that only blooms at night under the light of the moon. Here’s how it is described on the Better Homes and Gardens website:

Moonflower is one of the most romantic plants you can grow in the garden. It’s a statuesque, ideal evening-garden plant bearing large trumpet-shape flowers that unfurl in the evening (or on overcast days) and stay open until the sun rises. Some are sweetly fragrant when open.

For some reason, that flower got me to thinking about how some of our gravest and most fearful moments hit us at night. How many times have we woken up with a start in the night in a panic, worried about an approaching deadline or an unresolved issue of some kind?

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Attractors

butterfliesThis summer I attended a garden tour in my community and got to see many interesting plants and flowers. One of the interesting concepts that caught my attention was that there are particular plants that are called attractors because they attract butterflies. Not just any plant attracts any butterfly, but only certain plants attract very particular butterflies. For instance, black-eyed Susans are known attractors of Monarch butterflies, asters attract Painted Lady butterflies, and zinnias draw Swallowtail butterflies.

It strikes me that this idea could be applied to our Christian witness. First of all, are we living as Christian “attractors,” that is to say, are we people who draw others closer to know more about our faith by the way we live? Or are we living in such a way that we “repel” others from the faith and send them flying to other pastures of religion? I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Our role is to attract others to the glory of God revealed in us. How can we go about that? I so often am personally attracted to the faith present in those who respond to a difficulty in their lives with hope and grace and confidence that God is in charge of the outcome. Our faith-filled reactions to the inevitable troubles that life throws at us serve as attractors to others who are intrigued and curious about such responses that are counter to what secular society expects.

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Beyond the Walls

serving othersPresiding bishop of the ELCA Elizabeth E. Eaton relates this story:

The wood frame structure of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church was a “place of worship and hope during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. But people were freezing and starving to death. There was no wood for heating or cooking. So the Lutherans looked at their beloved church and then looked at the suffering around them. Piece by piece they dismantled their building and gave it away for the life of the community” (Living Lutheran, July 2017, p. 50).

Giving away what is most precious to us in the Church to serve others is what being the Church in action is all about. We should never cling so tightly to our church building or our own history as a church body that we fail to meet the pressing needs of those around us.

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Family Gatherings

game nightHave you heard of the popular online trend of monthly box subscription services? Amanda Monroe, a director of children’s and family ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Loves Park, IL, applied the concept to develop faith formation at home. Her online store is faithfixbox.com. Faith Fix Boxes can be purchased by families or congregations to use.

The idea is to provide devotional materials and faith-based activities for families to use and work on together to strengthen their individual commitment to Christ and build relationships of faith with one another.

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Arms

armsWe sang the song “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship a few Sundays ago in church, and I was struck by this refrain:

The Father’s arms are open wide.

As those words were woven into the lyrics and repeated throughout, the powerful meaning of that image filled me with comfort and confidence. No matter where I have been, what I have done, when I return to him in repentance, God’s arms are always open wide to receive me.

There is a moment in the youtube version of the song link below where the audience sings these words in unison, and I can feel the collective relief and unburdening in the people’s voices. Take a listen, if you have a moment here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYQ5yXCc_CA

I am reminded of the scene in the story of the Prodigal Son when the father sees his wayward son from a distance and runs with arms open wide to embrace him. At the very heart of our relationship with God is a longing and desire to be wrapped in his embrace and surrounded by the peace, security and strength only he can provide.

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The Joy of the Creator

potterOn June 16, 2017, the Friday before Father’s Day on the Moment in the Word on 99.1 Joy FM in St. Louis, the DJ talked about the joy he sees in the eyes of his children when they bring him gifts they have made themselves for him for Father’s Day. His children are overflowing with pride in their creations.

That must be how God felt after creating each of us, the DJ said. The Bible reminds us: “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). God is the one who has formed us and shaped us and molded us into exactly what he wanted us to be. And he could not be more excited about his creation of us. He wants to show us off to the world. Each creation is precious to him.

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