I decided to make a book of pictures from my vacation this summer. The book program online allowed for a certain format and then a particular number of pages with various layouts available. I enjoyed placing digital copies of my photographs in the spaces allotted to create a collection of images that captured a mood or a feeling regarding the places I visited.
After I received the hard copy in the mail, it was fun to experience each stop on my trip through the images I had selected. Collecting approximately 100 pictures from a pool of 3000 or so proved difficult at times, but the finished product did highlight the best of what happened.
The process of putting together this book gave me the slightest glimpse into what the apostle John had to do when he put together his Gospel, the Book of John, about the life of Jesus. Near the end of his book, John wrote:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).
Like me with my vacation book, John chose those things that best captured his experiences with Jesus. While there were many stories John could have told, like with the many pictures I could have included in my book, John selected the stories that best helped us as readers know that Jesus is the Son of God.
So what stories would you include in your own book of faith to reveal to readers who Jesus is? What John’s words allow us to see is that it is best not to overwhelm people with too many stories, but to focus our attention on what episodes have the most power and meaning about the role of Jesus as our Savior. Think today about your best examples of Jesus’ impact on your life. Let those be the first ones that you share. The rest can come later.
I readily admit that I have an obsession with fans. I have a standing oscillating fan in my bedroom that helps me sleep at night. I have ceiling fans in my living room, kitchen and home office. I even have one of those little fans that clips on a table that runs while I eat breakfast.
Why the fascination? I think it has something to do with the feeling of comfort and the slight background noise they provide. But maybe there is a deeper, more spiritual need that is at work here. Consider this verse:
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. John 3:8
The wind that a fan creates is a good reminder of the Holy Spirit that blows throughout my life, moving and changing the environments around me to make me keenly aware of the power of God in my midst to make a difference in my life in line with his will. What a comfort the Holy Spirit is, always helping us to remember that God is present and working in the background (and often foreground) for me.
Everywhere I turn these days, there is a QR code to scan. A QR code (short for “quick-response code”) is a type of two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black squares arranged in a square grid on a white background. QR codes were invented 1994, by Japanese company Denso Wave initially for labelling automobile parts. Now QR codes are used almost universally to display text to the user, to open a webpage on the user’s device, to connect to a wireless network, or to compose an email or text message. The QR code is used because of its fast readability and greater storage capacity compared to standard UPC codes and has become one of the most-used types of two-dimensional code.
But this was not always the case. There was a time when QR codes were being used less and less by marketers and consumers. But then the pandemic hit and COVID restrictions increased the use of QR codes substantially because paper material was largely removed from restaurants, retail stores and churches. Now scanning a QR code is de rigueur in almost any place we visit.
I find this fascinating on two fronts. First, you never know when something might hit big, and second, you never know what you might get used to doing.
I think these insights apply when to the Christian life. We may get the sense that our Christian witness is not making a difference, but like with the QR code, something may happen in the future (in a positive sense, not like the pandemic) that will spark a renewal in Christianity. Who knows what the Holy Spirit has in store?
Also, there are many things in Christianity that we may at first have thought that we could never do, like talk to a stranger about Jesus, pray in public, invite a friend to church. But the more we do these things, the easier they become.
St. Paul must have had these ideas in mind we he said, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Remembering what Jesus did for us gives us strength to carry on and never give up. There’s probably a QR code out there that you can scan that tells you that, too.
On this Labor Day, I got to thinking about job titles. As human beings in this world, we have lots of job titles, don’t we, both at work and at home? What is your job title at work? What could you say are your job titles at home? I notice how some people like to list all job titles that may apply to them on their Facebook page. For instance, many parents write chauffeur, counselor, chef, teacher, nurse, accountant, project manager, activities coordinator, etc. The list could go on. We have jobs in our lives that come and go and some that will last a lifetime. God equips us with what we need at the moment to do that job at hand.
As I look back over my life, I sometimes marvel at how I got certain jobs done. I think, “I could never do that now.” But then I realize that God places us in particular moments with a certain set of skills that are right for that time. It is a wonder what God can accomplish in us in so many facets of our lives. We just need to be ready when the job comes our way.
In business, it is common for people to map out their 5-year plan, their 10-year plan, etc. But as Christians, we are perhaps not as prone to do that because the plan of our life is not our own. It is up to God. Who knows what jobs at home or work are on the horizon for us? It is kind of exciting and scary at the same time. But two Bible verses keep us grounded in our approach:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Colossians 3:23
The one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
Everything we work on has purpose and meaning in the context of Christ. So get to work … in him! He is your ultimate Project Manager.
And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it became wormy and rotten. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed, but when the sun grew hot, it melted. Exodus 16:19, 21
When I went grocery shopping this week, I wondered how long what I had bought would last. We as humans like to plan ahead, to get things ready for the future, to do what we can to make life easier for ourselves at some later date.
That’s when I think about the Israelites and the manna God gave them. It came every day. They had just enough for that day, and if they saved any for later, it spoiled. What was God telling them (and us) by providing manna in this manner?
To me, it says that God wants us to live for each day and not over-plan ourselves. We are not in control of what will happen. Only God is. He provides us every day with as much as we need, and he does not want us to think beyond that when it comes to our basic human needs. God has got us covered.
So each morning, let us celebrate and enjoy the food we have in the pantry, the clothes we have to wear, the roof we have over our heads. This is God’s manna to us, his daily provision. Let us savor and be grateful for what we have and not wish for more. What God has given us, whatever it is, is enough, and we can trust that what he provides to us day after day will always be enough.
I recently was on a walking tour of the outside of Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright home in western Pennsylvania. One of the features of the tour was that each person on the tour got an individual bluetooth headset to put on our ears so that we could clearly hear everything that the tour guide was saying, even if we could not see her or were a short distance away from her.
I liked the experience because I did not have to strain to hear her or always try to walk close to her. I could know exactly what she was saying about one thing while I was looking at something else. The information was helpful no matter where I was.
The use of a headset is a good reminder to me that we can let God’s Word speak to us wherever we are and whatever we are doing. I sometimes recite my favorite Bible verses in my mind while I am doing chores around the house. I listen to Christian music with my earbuds in when I am taking a walk and looking at the nature around me in my neighborhood. I can hear a sermon from a livestream worship service recording through headphones while I am grocery shopping.
God’s Word is not something reserved for hearing at church or at night when we say our prayers. Everywhere and anytime, the Word can come to our ears loud and clear.
Every true crime show I watch now eventually comes down to matching DNA of a suspect with the DNA at a crime scene. It is a wonder that we captured criminals at all before DNA technology was made available to law enforcement. The thing about DNA is that is does not lie. It is a part of who you are, and there is no denying that it is you.
That got me to thinking: What is our spiritual DNA? What do we leave behind of ourselves in a spiritual sense that indicates that we were at a certain location or scene? I know people who literally leave behind a prayer card or a Christian note wherever they go. I have a few such items that people gave me when I met them at conferences or on a mission trip. They are nice remembrances of your encounter with a fellow Christian and a good reminder of what our faith is all about—reaching out to others with the Good News.
Another way to look at spiritual DNA is to think about the actual words you say and the actions you take when you go somewhere. I often recall hugs I had at the front door of my home with Christian brothers and sisters as I pass the threshold every day. I think about kind words of encouragement spoken to me in the lobby of my old church home in South Euclid, OH, where I recently visited. I ponder the Bible verses my dad used at his funeral as messages to us all to stay hopeful in Christ and at peace with God (see Psalm 54:4, Romans 15:13, John 10:27-28).
What spiritual DNA do you want to leave behind in the places where you go today?
This post is related to the Advent family devotional, Journey to Joy, now available at creativecommunications.com.
One of the traditions of the Advent season is the Advent wreath. The concept of the Advent wreath originated in Germany in the 16th century. However, the modern four-candle Advent wreath, with its candles representing the Sundays of Advent, originated in 1839.
The four colored candles represent the four weeks of Advent, with one additional candle being lit each Sunday in Advent. The flames of candles are a representation of the light of Christ approaching on Christmas.
The first candle, which is purple, symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” to highlight the role of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation felt as we anticipate the coming Messiah.
The second candle, also purple, represents faith. It is called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
The third pink candle symbolizes joy. It is called the “Shepherd’s Candle,” and is pink because rose is the color for joy in church settings. The Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday (Latin for “Rejoice”) and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy we have at arriving halfway through Advent.
On the fourth week of Advent, we light the last purple candle. This candle, the “Angel’s Candle,” symbolizes peace. It reminds us of the message of the angels: “Peace on earth, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30
During the pandemic, when we could not gather in church, we tended to scatter. We went in different directions, watching worship services online at home, heading out to parks and pathways to walk and sit and meditate on God’s Word, looking on the internet for devotions and prayers. But in many cases, we scattered even farther afield from our faith—going to the gym when we usually went to church, watching secular memes when we should have been watching spiritual videos, scanning the web for news about our favorite celebrities instead of looking for reports of Christians in action.
Since the return to “normalcy,” I have noticed that gathering together in our Christian communities has come back, but at a fairly slow rate. Why? Perhaps it is because we enjoyed being scattered and off by ourselves. Like sheep, we are prone to wonder.
But the truth that Jesus is trying to get across to us is that when we are not regularly with him and our Christian brothers and sisters, the tendency is to go against him in our thoughts, words and deeds. It may be slowly, it may be imperceptibly, but a turning away from Jesus occurs over time when we are scattered.
It is time, therefore, to make a concerted effort to gather more and more with the faithful—in church, in Bible study, in fellowship, getting to know each other more and getting to know Jesus more in the process.
On my vacation last month, I got the chance to hike along the infamous Appalachian Trail. One of the unique features of the trail is that at various intervals, trees are marked with a brushstroke of white paint. The white marking assures hikers that they are on the right path. The marking also serves a reminder to keep going.
For us as Christians, our journey of faith is marked too, with the sign of the cross. We may not see it on tree trunks, but we may see a cross on a steeple, on a necklace, on an intersection street sign. Keep your eyes open on the path before you for the cross of Christ to lead you to where you need to go on your walk with Jesus. His sacrificial love, his unconditional forgiveness and his humble obedience to God in his crucifixion mark out for us how we should live in word and deed for him and for one another. It is Christ’s cross that keeps us moving forward to reach the goal for which God has called us heavenward.