Comfortable Words

come unto meThomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, is well-known for coining the term “Comfortable Words,” which he outlined in the Book of Common Prayer as a preparation for Communion. Here is what he wrote:

Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says to all that truly turn to him. “Come to me all that travail, and are heavy laden, and I shall refresh you.” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all that believe in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. Hear also what St. Paul says, “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Hear what St. John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins”  (Book of Common Prayer, 111-20)

These words of comfort are a wonderful collection for us to remember as we come to the Table of the Lord in gratitude and praise for what he has done through his Body and his Blood.

These Comfortable Words from Matthew 11:28, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:15 and 1 John 2:1 are good for us to recite and remember at other times, too, of course: in the morning, at bedtime, when feeling sad or frustrated or when starting to doubt.

Everything in our lives comes back to the comfort that the Gospel provides. Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross for our sins is all we need to know to find true comfort in our lives and in any situation we may encounter.

Think of ways that you can incorporate these Comfortable Words into your daily or weekly routines. And be comforted by them again and again.

 

Signs of the Resurrection

He is risenThe church that I attend has a sign language interpreter who communicates the words spoken and sung in worship to a group of hearing impaired parishioners. I must confess that I am very often drawn in to her signing and am moved by it.

Recently I noticed that the sign for “He is risen” is two fingers pointing downward, then floated down and placed upon the palm of the other hand. A very literal and visual interpretation of that event. I somehow sense in that sign the miracle of the resurrection and yet the humanity of Christ in the depiction of his body.

What other “signs” of the resurrection of Christ do we see in the world?

I think of flowers budding from seemingly barren ground. I think of butterflies emerging from very rough-looking cocoons. I think of wobbly baby birds that take wing and fly.

The miracle of the resurrection is still astounding and surprising to us. We should never take it for granted.

It is still something that we should marvel at and contemplate as something beyond our imagination.

It is something that is true and real and connected to us and our future.

For we know that when our Lord returns on the Last Day, our bodies, too, will be raised to new life. As it says in Romans 8:11: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

What a comfort to know that Christ’s resurrection means our resurrection and his new life means new life for us, forever with him. Let that message be our source of strength today and every day until he comes!

God’s Plan Is Bigger

God’s plan is biggerIn light of the fact that over the last two decades, the U.S. suicide rate has risen by 25 percent, leaders in the Church are being compelled more than ever to speak out about the meaning of our lives in the context of God’s plan. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, whose own son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013, has urged those who are suffering to reach out to others for help, and he urges congregations to make a concerted effort to talk to those who are suffering.

What should our message to them be? Warren says we should remind sufferers of this Biblical truth: “God’s plan and purpose for you is greater than the problem or emotion you’re feeling now” (“People in Pain,” World Magazine, June 30, 2018, 9).

The realization that God’s plan and purpose is bigger than ourselves is a very comforting thought and one that I have gone back to quite often since I read this quote.

Are you having a problem at work or at home? God knows about it and will get you through it, as he has planned.

Are you worried, scared, nervous angry, sad, frustrated? God has the power to overcome those emotions and bring you peace and hope and confidence in him.

Life can be messy and not what we envisioned, for sure, but our faith tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

And we are assured that ”he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

We may not be able to see the plan of God for us right now, but we will one day, on the Last Day, and until that time we hold on tight to and find joy in the knowledge that the Lord says, even on our saddest day, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Keep trusting in him.

The Kainos Movement

kainosIn December 2014 Bryan Lottis launched the Kainos Movement in order to build multiethnic unity in the Body of Christ and to provide equipping and training that will inspire multi-ethnic movements among the people of God in organizations and churches. The movement has been getting a lot of traction ever since. Why is the movement so important?

Because, unfortunately, according to researchers, only about 14% of churches in America are multiethnic.

How is this determined? By what is called the 80/20 rule. A church is defined as multiethnic only if only one ethnicity makes up more than 80 percent of the whole. For instance, if a church has a hundred members and 85 are African American that is called a homogeneous church, but if a church has a hundred members and 80 are Caucasian and the rest are other ethnicities, it qualifies as a multiethnic church.

About 10 years ago, 98 percent of churches were identified as homogeneous [classified as one ethnic group making up more than 80 percent of the congregation]. In a recent Lifeway Research poll, it’s now moved down to 86 percent. So through the help of the Kainos Movement, things are moving in the right direction.

The goal of the Kainos Movement is that 50% or more of all churches be multiethnic by the year 2050—the year that sociologists project the United States will become majority minority for the first time in her history.

The word kainos is Greek for new and a word used by St. Paul to describe the coming together of Jews and Gentiles to form the multiethnic church.

The Kainos Movement mission statement says, “Our nation is trending towards diversity. The church has no option but to maintain the same trajectory, not so much forward, but backward to her first century roots where the normal was ethnic diversity. A failure to do so will put us perilously close to being irrelevant to the changing face of our society.”

Let us continue in the model of St. Paul and the Kainos Movement in ways that we can to incorporate more cultures and ethnicities into our congregations. Just as our neighborhoods and communities are becoming more multiethnic, our churches should too.

It is a perfect time, on this tipping point in cultural history, to reach out to someone with a different ethnicity than our own and say, “Come to church with me!”

Everyday Worship

everyday worshipChristianity Today’s 2018 book of the year is Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. The thesis of the book is to point out that all of life is liturgical, that is, filled with sacred everyday rhythms that point to Christ. The most ordinary activities in the author’s life (brushing her teeth, making her bed, fighting with her husband) take on divine meaning.

I have talked about this general idea in previous blogs, but the concept seems to be getting more traction as of late, perhaps because people are so desperate for something solid and definitive in their lives.

I recently was asked by my dad to put together a worship service for a family reunion. And what I ended up doing was using devotions from Hope-Full Living (Creative’s daily devotional for seniors) as parts of the liturgy. A devotion on forgiveness became the confession and absolution, a devotion on loosening your grip on material possessions became the children’s sermon. A blog I wrote about being attractors to others for Christ, just as certain bushes are attractors to certain butterflies became the sermon, and a devotion on blessing others became the benediction.

Real stories about real people became the liturgy for the day that day, and it can become the liturgy of our everyday. Every time we are forgiving, caring, and sharing, we are engaging in our spiritual act of worship. Worship does not always have to be anything formal. It can be the most simple gesture that points someone to the love and salvation of Christ. Even difficulties can point us to the strength of our God in hard times.

Look at your day as a worship service and see how that perhaps transforms your attitude and approach. Begin each day with an Invocation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then close each day, as we often close worship, with the words, “Thanks be to God!”

 

Lift Up Your Heads

lift up your headAt a conference I attended recently Pastor MItchell Gowen of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Aiea, Hawaii, talked about the experience on January 13, 2018, when for 38 minutes residents and tourists in Hawaii scrambled to react to a terrifying emergency alert on their phones that read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The alert turned out to be a false alarm, but there was no way of knowing that during that frightening period.

Those Gowen was with at his church at the time asked what they should do. Most decided to run to the basement. But Gowen decided he was going straight to the parking lot to “watch the show.” If this was indeed his last day, Gowen wanted to be there to see it.

I admire Gowen’s reaction born of faith. As Christians, our last day on earth is not something that we should be afraid of. Because it means we will be with our Savior in heaven. It means the end of tears and pain and sin and the beginning of a perfect eternal life won for us through the death and resurrection of Christ.

I think of this verse from Luke 21:27-28:

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

When the end comes for each of us, it should not be time for us to look down or look away, but a time, by God’s grace and strength, to look up and see what God has accomplished to bring us salvation. At a time or an hour we do not yet know, Christ will come and no matter when that might be, we as his faithful people need to be ready, as Gowen says, to “see the show.” And what a sight it will be!

Why Not Attend?

why not attendGallup recently did a survey in which they asked Americans why they no longer attend church. Here were the results:

44% I prefer to worship on my own

36% I don’t like organized religion

22% I haven’t found a church that I like

19% I don’t have the time

16% I don’t like being asked for money when I attend

9% I don’t feel welcome when I do attend

(Christianity Today, May 2018, 18)

We as a Church struggle with the issues addressed in these responses and must seek ways to reverse the trend of diminishing worship attendance, perhaps through more personalized ministries, less of an emphasis on governance, offering alternative worship times, softening calls to action in fundraising campaigns, and making worship environments warm and inviting.

But, in my estimation, a better question for a Gallup survey should be: Why do you attend church?

The answers for me are:

I enjoy worshiping with fellow believers

I am spiritually uplifted by the music

I am inspired in my faith through the words of Scripture and the sermon

I am energized to go out and live my life as a follower of Christ in the week ahead

I am comforted and encouraged by those I see there

What are your reasons for attending church? Maybe if we as a Church think more about why people are attending church than about why they aren’t, then we will be well on our way to fostering growth.

May this verse keep us moving forward in this endeavor: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Pray-Ground

praygroundGrace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, has set up a unique space up front in their sanctuary called the “pray-ground.” It is a place filled with small chairs and tables, crayons, coloring books and soft toys, where kids and parents can better engage in the service.

Pastor Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, a mother herself, explains that in her experience children often pay more attention in worship when they can see what is going on. Parents that first thought it would be a disaster have been surprised that the children were not disruptive and enjoyed it. It has even brought new families with young children to join the church (Living Lutheran, May 2018, pp.38-39).

While, admittedly, a “pray-ground” may not be the answer for every church, the idea of creating a welcoming environment for children is crucial in a worship setting. Consistently making children’s sermons a part of worship relates that children are a special part of the church family. Making it clear where the nursery or cry room is makes parents feel more comfortable about where to take their children if they need to, And simply engaging with children on a regular basis from week to week gives children (and parents) the assurance that your church cares about the interests and well-being of children. Even offering to hold a child for a time while a parent is busy with another child or in an important conversation with the pastor or another church worker can be a godsend.

We remember well that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). So the church should always be a kid-friendly zone, a place where we are quick to say to every child of God (big or small), “Come on in!”

Be Well

wellWater for Life Haiti is a Christian nonprofit organization that is helping that country in the long recovery from Hurricane Matthew that hit on October 4, 2016. One way they are doing that is by building additional wells to provide clean water to areas affected by disease and cholera.

What I found interesting about the program is that Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, a pastor working with Water for Life Haiti, said, “We are locating the wells on or near our church properties. The wells bring people to the church, and the church speaks to the community about the living water of Christ” (Lutherans Engage, Spring 2018, p. 16).

Tying physical and spiritual needs together is an important way for the church to reach out to people most often outside the church and build relationships around faith. I think of the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, who realized after talking to Jesus that she needed more than well water. She came to faith that day.

The same thing can happen in our churches when we tie physical and spiritual needs together. I think of the food pantries in many churches that provide for physical needs, but can help start conversations with those who visit about the Bread of Life who can feed their souls.

Parish nurses are vital in this tying together of physical and spiritual needs as well. So often when people come to discuss physical ailments with a parish nurse, the conversation can move to the Healer of all, who cares for us body and soul.

Consider ways in which your church can meet the physical needs of those around you as a springboard into meeting the vastly more important spiritual needs. Enjoy the process and look to Christ for guidance as you help others be well in the Lord.

 

The Image of God

image of GodIn the story of creation, we read: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Many have wondered what exactly “the image of God” means. There are several schools of thought. One group thinks that it refers to our ability to reason. Another philosophy is that it means that God is reflected in us in our bodies: our physical characteristics and the way we walk and talk. Still others say it is about our relational nature and the relationships we have with God and creation.

I tend to lean toward the last description. He gave human beings a special place in the world, and he desires a close, personal bond with us. His love for us is on a much deeper and different level than it is with plants and animals, for instance. And God selected humans to rule over every living creature (Genesis 1:28).

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