I recently saw a post on Facebook of the Concordia University-Nebraska A Capella Choir singing “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come” (arranged by Paul Manz). They were all wearing masks and were socially distanced throughout their chapel. Here is the link to their performance for you to copy and paste into your browser to listen to:
I find the performance interesting because the sound of their voices is just as rich and full as if they were singing without their masks. The masks do not stop them from praising their Lord in song. And their distance from one another in the chapel does not prevent their voices from blending beautifully to the glory of God.
This is a good reminder that we can still proclaim the name of the Lord through our literal masks and through all other “masks” that seek to block our voices from praising him, things like hardships, worry, shyness and even busyness. Our proclamations of our Savior’s love and care and forgiveness and our hope for the life to come when he returns can break through any barriers put before us. Nothing can stand in the way of Christ.
We can remember, too, that though we may not be as physically close to one another as we once were, we can still work together to create beautiful music for the Lord (literally and figuratively). From a distance, for instance, we can still combine our efforts to serve those in need with our gifts and talents as a melody, if you will, of comfort and strength through hard times.
Let your life be a soundtrack of our inner peace and joy breaking through every blockade.
Late summer was always the time when my parents had extra tomatoes and zucchini from their garden that they gave away to friends and neighbors. The abundance of the harvest led to acts of generosity and sharing. Those who received from our garden’s bounty were happy to have something fresh and healthy to eat. And the time spent conversing and catching up with my parents was an added and joyful benefit to the passing along of the produce.
This activity reminds me of the fruit of the Spirit that we pass along and share with family, friends and neighbors. The Holy Spirit has given us an overabundance of the fruit of the Spirit, so it is only natural for us to want to freely give to others of our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Happiness comes to those who receive the fruit of the Spirit from us. It increases their faith. It grows their relationship with us. And it fills them with health for their souls.
What ways can you be like a gardener giving of God’s bountiful crop? Making a visit to a loved one, sharing a story that touches the heart, sitting with someone who is waiting at the hospital, supplying a meal to someone who is overwhelmed with work and family life are some of the ways to be a good gardener for God of the Holy Spirit’s fruit. Keep all growth in the Spirit going!
Food trucks are becoming more and more popular these days with people waiting in lines for their edible fare in business areas, parks and neighborhoods. Wherever the wheels can go, the food can be offered to the people who want it.
Food trucks are a good example of what we as Christians can provide to the people yet to know Christ. St. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). We, like food trucks, can individually serve different things to different people in the name of the Lord. We can supply sympathy to one who is sad. We can give strength to one who is weak. We can dish up Scripture to those who are seeking to inwardly digest the Word. Our efforts do not need to be fixated on one type of outreach or a single verse we personally may like. We need to always adjust and change and be a blessing in various ways to all sorts of people.
People have different tastes in how they want food presented to them. So too they have different ways of receiving the message of salvation that resonates more to them than other ways. Our task as Christ’s disciples is to be ready to travel, quick to get on the road to where God’s Word is needed most, and aware of what fare from Scripture will satisfy the spiritual palates of those we encounter. In the end, may all those we serve, “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
In late summer, there was a large sunflower field in the St. Louis metropolitan area that was a fair distance from my house. People kept posting beautiful pictures of themselves in the midst of these beautiful blossoms. I wanted to get there to see the sunflowers for myself but I kept putting it off or was too busy to make the drive.
Then the last weekend in August I decided to make the trek, only to find I was too late. The sunflowers had lost their color and were all drooping forlornly. I took a picture of myself with the sad-looking sunflowers anyway.
As I drove away from the the field that once was so full of life, it made me think about the fact that we as Christians oftentimes need to act right away when an opportunity to share our faith presents itself or the chance for a beautiful result may slip away. Don’t get so caught up in yourself and your activities that you miss the opening to blossom with God’s love and shine the light of the Son of God onto someone else.
The experience also made me remember the words of Isaiah who said, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord lasts forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The fading sunflowers actually become a comforting symbol that shows that the Word of the Lord will never fade away. We do not have to worry that God’s messages will wither away. The Word will be a bright and lasting burst of sunshine in our lives every day here on earth and in heaven to come. Let opening the Bible be like opening a forever-flourishing flower in an otherwise dwindling creation. Let the words bloom within you.
He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Luke 21:29-31
On my bike rides I have been noticing that there are more leaves on the ground than usual. “Why?” I wondered. Then I realized that it is the end of August, which means the fall is near. Time seems to have flown by this year. Even with all the disruptions of a pandemic and racial unrest, the seasons still change and the signs of their coming and going march on.
It reminds me that I need to be more attentive to the signs of things to come that God still puts in my path even when I am encountering earthly upheavals in my life. He puts Bible verses in front of me to keep me aware of my coming days. “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off,” Proverbs 23:18 tells me. He warms my face with the sun to give me the hint, that it is the Son of God who warms my heart every day.
Keep your eyes open for the messages Christ is sending you as more leaves fall, more trees turn colors and the wilds blow more and more. There is glory yet to be revealed and our lives will change forever when the Last Day comes and Jesus returns. There is no stopping his arrival, just as there is no stopping the changing of the season. Keep watch.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:16
We as Christians must remind ourselves daily that we are in the world, but not of it. We can so easily be drawn in to the things of this world (money, clothes, food, homes, jobs) that we can forget that we need to pay more attention to the things not of this world (heaven, salvation, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit). Our lives should be directed by the things not of this earth, not by the things of this earth.
How can we do that? By looking to Christ and mirroring what he did and said while on this earth. Remember what he said: “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 12:23). Christ spent more of his time talking to people about the kingdom of heaven and the ways of God. His desire was to help people know more about what is unseen than what is seen. St. Paul tells us to do the same in 1 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
And there’s the heart of the matter. The world and everything in it will one day pass away. But God and our life in Christ will last forever. It is time, therefore, for us to release the grip we have on earthly things and hang on more tightly to the everlasting things. Putting the eternal before the temporal in our minds gives us the proper perspective in how we spend our time while we walk on this earth. Prayer, worship, reading God’s Word are what should take precedence in our lives and lead us forward to the world yet to come.
There are times during this pandemic when things feel like they are at a stand-still. We are stuck at home working remotely. Our children are stationed in front of their screens for online learning. Many of our churches have still not opened their doors to in-person worship. We may not feel we should venture out too far for fear of being around too many people.
But even with all these restrictions and parameters placed upon us and by us, we still have the ability and the calling to move forward in different ways. Think about what Jesus told his disciples before he left. He said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). That calling has not changed, even though we may not be walking around our neighborhoods as much as we used to or have not been getting in the car to go to church as often or at all.
We can move forward spiritually in our discipleship by reaching out by text or email or phone to friends and family with cheer in the Lord’s name. We can share something we have learned from Scripture on our computer screens through Zoom or other video conferencing platforms. We can pray for people around the world who are struggling during these times.
Any lack of mobility we are encountering now does not sideline our spiritually. We are always growing and changing and maturing in our faith no matter where we are. So don’t stop. Keep moving forward for the Lord. The Bible says, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). The day when we will be with Jesus in heaven is getting closer, so using our time until then spreading the Word of God is increasingly important. Get going!
I have been hearing people say they can’t remember what day of the week it is with all this staying-at-home and all this virtual learning going on in schools. We have lost in some ways the rhythm of our week with the changes that have happened because of the pandemic.
In some ways, the Bible tells us, we do not need to really worry what day it is or how far we are into our week. All we need to do is be thankful for the day we are in. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Each day is a gift, no matter when it is. Find ways to rejoice in the day. Look out at the sunshine. Take a walk. Breathe in the air. Listen for birds chirping. Feel the breeze. It is good to be in the moment.
Another way to look at our days, the Bible says, is not to think so much about future days, but just deal with the day at hand. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). We cannot solve all of life’s problems in one day. All we can do is handle any issues that come up in any given day the best that we can. Piling on the problems of future days to one day’s agenda is not healthy or beneficial for us. It is in our interest to battle only what hardships a single day lobs at us. Deal with your days one day at a time.
St. Peter tells us, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). This helps us to remember that time is relative. What we think is a long time is nothing to our God, and what seems short to us can seem like an eternity to others. Don’t put all your hopes and dreams into one day. Let things happen naturally and by God’s design. We cannot control what a day may bring. So leave it up to God and let him take the reins. We will feel better each day knowing he is in charge of all our days.
It means different things to be “at home” these days. A home now can be an office or a school or a gym as well as a dwelling place. That makes it feel different when you are living “at home.” That’s why it is still important to have a specified space for various activities. I liked to close the door to my “office” when I was done working from home and then move to my recliner for my retreat when my workday was done.
Since church services are still very much online events, the home has become a church as well. Think about ways that you can set aside a particular place for viewing videos and live streams of worship or spaces where you as a family can gather for Bible reading and prayer.
Our homes have been much more adaptable than we thought possible, and we have become more adaptable than we might have envisioned too. For this we need to thank and praise our God. I think of this verse: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Even though it has been a challenge within the walls of our homes during these pandemic days, we have seen firsthand what God has been able to do in these circumstances that is beyond what we expected. People have talked about having more time to talk to one another and enjoy each other’s company. That’s God at work in our relationships. I have been doing a lot more praying than I did before. That’s God at work in my faith. I have noticed that I have become more grateful for the small things that my house affords, like a bath or a shower. That’s God at work in my outlook on life.
We might feel like homebodies these days, but maybe that is where God wants us to be somebody that lives for him in unique and inspiring ways. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6)? That might be just what “being home” means for you right now. And that’s OK.
Thank you, loving Father, for restoring our joy in you through the birth of your Son, Jesus. May his presence among us resurrect in us a new sense of peace and liveliness in living our lives refreshed by our Savior’s forgiveness and renewal. Amen.
The prayer above is something that I wrote recently for an Advent 2020 product, but was ultimately not used. So let’s enjoy a little Christmas in August by giving this prayer some thought.
For me, it’s nice to remember during any time of year that Jesus brings renewal and restoration. There is always a chance to start over again with Jesus. He is reborn in us each and every day. and any time we feel down and out, Jesus can lift us up and into his arms.
The concept of resurrection is a reminder that with Jesus alive in us, we have nothing to fear and we should be at peace. Living in him should be lively and active, something that moves us forward in our faith.
From manger to empty grave, our Jesus has moved forward for us. It’s our turn now to move forward for him with acts of forgiveness, love and service.