Monthly Archives: April 2019

Plein Air

plein air

Plein air is a French expression that means “open air” and is a practice of painting in which artists work on the spot. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told of an artist, Patrick Saunders, who travels around the country in his pickup with an Airstream camper, capturing moments with paint on canvas as he sees them. There are even plein air competitions hosted by cities, counties, museums and art magazines in which artists are given a period of time to paint and submit work of scenes as soon they see them in whatever weather conditions they may find themselves in. “I’ve painted out in thunderstorms, in 100-degree weather, in 30-degree weather,” Saunders says (Lewis, Jon, “Plein Air from an Airstream,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 2019, B4). Plein air painting also helps artists not to dwell too much on the small details. They paint then and there and they are done.

I find this discipline rather interesting because it parallels many times what we must do as Christians in this world as we “paint the picture” for others of what our salvation in Jesus is all about. Oftentimes we are called on the spot to witness to others about our faith and we have no time to prepare. We must just in that moment speak from our heart and soul. The Holy Spirit helps us in this task. As Scripture says, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). The conditions may not be perfect, but the message is just as beautiful no matter where you declare it. And just like the plein air artists, you do not need to worry about the minor details or the exact words. God will make your on-the-spot “word pictures” of forgiveness and everlasting life found in Jesus Christ alone a masterpiece.

The Christian Job Description

Christian job descriptionWhat kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives. Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2 Peter 3:11, 14

We so often ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” And many people ask it of us. The answer may not come as quickly to our minds as we would like it to.

Apparently, the people in Peter’s day had the same question, which Peter helps us to respond to.

What kind of people are we to be as Christians?

Peter says we ought to:

• live holy and godly lives

• make every effort to be found spotless and blameless

• be at peace with Christ

These characteristics may not seem possible as times, but with Christ they are.

• Living holy and godly lives means living like Christ did in his holy and godly life—loving others unconditionally, putting our relationship with God first, making our spiritual lives our primary priority and emphasis, staying humble and dependent on God—and then recognizing that only Christ can make us holy through the suffering and death of his Son.

• Making every effort to be found spotless and blameless means not pursuing paths that we know full well will lead to sinful behavior. It also means not engaging with others in a way that puts us at fault through such things as angry words or the spreading of gossip. Treat people in a way that no negative feelings that people may have can ever come back to us.

• Being at peace with Christ comes first ad foremost when we confess our sins to him  and we receive his forgiveness. Knowing that we are no longer enemies of God because of our sins brings us back in harmony with God and with Christ. We are not at odds with him. We are friends with him, and that friendship with him should guide our friendships with others so that we live in peace and harmony with them at all times.

Put these hallmarks of the Christian life into practice as much as you can this week and consider it your job description. Embrace the joy it brings and rejoice in the fact that everything we do is not to earn our salvation but to respond in thanksgiving to the salvation won for us by Christ on the cross.

 

 

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.