Category Archives: Devotional

Go and Tell John

Go and tell JohnOne of my new favorite choral pieces is a song called “Go and Tell John.” It is based on the Scripture passage in which John the Baptist sent word from prison to Jesus through his disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2). Jesus’ response is the text of this song: Take a listen.

What I like about this song is the energy and excitement of the various voices passing on the good news that Jesus is the one who is to come. The overlapping voices and the repeating of the word tell help to capture how the message of Jesus is spreading fast from person to person.

What is the evidence to confirm the Jesus is our Messiah? The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. And the deaf hear once again. The dead are raised up. Good news preached to the poor. And blessed is he who believes in him. This evidence is the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 29.

What I find interesting about Jesus’ response, too, is that it is personal. Go and tell JOHN. The music highlights that in the end when it crescendos on the name John. It is a reminder to us that the message of Jesus is a personal one to each one of us as well. Jesus wants the good news to come to each of us personally. Go and tell Sue, go and tell Will, go and tell Taylor.

This is not some broad statement but something for you to take to heart in your own life and your own situation. The figurative and perhaps literal blindnesses in your life will be lifted. Messages that you had been deaf to literally and figuratively will be heard. When you die, Jesus is assuring us that we will be raised to life in him. We who are poor will become rich with blessings through him.

This is definitely something to share over and over again with others and sing about again and again. Think of who you would like to “go and tell” about Jesus today!

Our Vocation

vocationDr. W. Mart Thompson in his seminar “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God calls and equips Christians to serve one another,” talked about the role of vocation in our lives.

Vocation is a calling from God to serve him and others. In a Christian context there are three realms or estates of our vocation. They are: home, congregation, and society.

As part the seminar, each participant shared their vocation using these parameters. Here’s mine as an example.

Name: Mark

A family vocation: brother, son

A congregational calling: Bible study leader

An occupational vocation: writer at Creative Communications

A community calling: member of a Tuesday night bike-riding club

It was an interesting exercise because it helped me to see where God has placed me to serve and how I might be more intentional in revealing my relationship with Christ to others and being more Christ-like in my words and deeds.

It was also interesting to listen to the vocation lists of all those in attendance and hear how God is working in so many and various ways in the lives of his people. The ways in which people volunteer and give of their time and unique skills was truly inspiring.

Consider doing this vocation exercise this week for yourself and think about how God has placed you in a certain time and place and position for a reason. Take time to ponder what those reasons are, pray about them and then act upon them as the Holy Spirit directs you.

 

 

Hesed

hesedThe Hebrew word hesed is translated lovingkindness in most Bibles, but it is so rich in meaning that the word cannot be adequately described in English. Other translations have used the words covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. It is a type of love that is quite literally beyond words.

In a new book from InterVarsity Press called Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, author Michael Card explores what the word means about God’s character and how the word relates to God’s people.

What it reveals to me about God’s character is that he loves us beyond measure, beyond what we can even comprehend. It is a love that can never be matched fully in human terms. It is a love that will stop at nothing to care for us and protect us.

That is the reason why hesed is most fully realized in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus is hesed in the flesh. And he went to the greatest lengths of all out of God’s great love for us to save us. He went to the cross to suffer and die and sacrifice his very life for us all. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” the Bible says (John 15:13). But God’s hesed went beyond even the grave when he rose Jesus from the dead on Easter morning.

Now that Christ is alive and alive in each of us, God’s hesed has transformed each of us to live a new life of deep and divinely inspired love, care and compassion for others. We love as we have been loved: with our whole selves, giving our all for one another in the name of the God of hesed. That is the beautiful plan for us from the heart of our God.

A Royal Priesthood

priesthoodI recently attended a seminar at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, entitled “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God Calls and Equips Christians to Serve One Another,” led by Dr. W. Mart Thompson. The term “royal priesthood” is only mentioned four times in the Bible, Thompson noted, but it truly is a blueprint for how we should live our lives as Christians in this world, since each one of us is called to be a part of the priesthood of all believers.

But what does being a part of the priesthood entail? For an answer to that, Thompson took us to the Old Testament, which outlines very clearly what the role of the temple priests was. Here are 8 characteristics of the Old Testament temple priests:

• Separated and anointed (Exodus 30:22-38)

• Representative (Exodus 28:28-38)

• Mediator of the covenant (Malachi 2:4ff)

• Maintain holiness (Exodus 28:36-38)

• Offers sacrifices (Leviticus 1-9)

• Blesses God’s people (Numbers 6:22-27)

• Instructs God’s people (Malachi 2:7)

• Offers prayers (2 Chronicles 30:27)

I was amazed by how practical and “doable” these characteristics were and how applicable they can be to our lives today as we serve as “little priests.”

Theologians have outlined the 3-fold shape of priestly work for us today, which mirrors the work of the ancient temple priests:

• sacrifice (for God in serving others)

• prayer (speak to God for others)

• proclamation (speak to others for God)

Since this seminar, I have become much more aware of how to live out my calling as a part of the priesthood in these three facets. I can serve where I see need. I can pray multiple times throughout the day. I can talk to people about my faith in Christ more freely and energetically, knowing it is part of my role here on earth.

As 1 Peter 2:9 tells us, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” What a wonderful picture of the life of a Christian!

 

 

 

 

Mercy and Truth

I recently heard the choral piece “Mercy and Truth,” written by composer Philip Lawson, commissioned for the Salisbury Cathedral in England. Based on Psalm 85:10, it overlays the words of the text in unique ways for moving effects.

The text is: “Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Take a listen:

The song resonates because it reminds me that the mercy of God is always in line with ultimate truth. We can never hide the truth from God, but the truth does not take away the mercy of God. He always loves us and forgives us, even when he knows the truth of our sin and knows that we have failed him time and again. He is faithful and will always return to find us when we have strayed to bring us back to him.

The first couplet Psalm 85:10in this verse (mercy and truth) is tied with the second paring of righteousness and peace, which kiss each other. I find this connection interesting as well because it acknowledges that when we are found righteous in the sight of God through Jesus, we find peace. And this connection is not cold or indifferent. It elicits an outpouring of love and compassion. There is a bond of love that happens through a kiss, and knowing that righteousness and peace kiss each other means that those who find righteousness and peace together have a loving and holy bond. We and God are reconnected through his love found in Christ.

What I like most about this song is how the words are sung on top of each other by different sections of the choir. One part starts immediately when one is done with the couplets and some parts come in while others are halfway through. Isn’t that just like life and how things get jumbled up and mixed together and we are not sure when one thing begins and one thing ends? While it sometimes may seem confusing, the reality is that God is in control and his mercy and his truth, his righteousness and peace will always be a part of our lives as his followers.

Are We Suffering from Chronological Snobbery?

chronological snobberyIn discussing religious perspectives of his day, C. S. Lewis’ friend Owen Barfield referred to the peril of “chronological snobbery,” the assumption that the present age is to be held superior to the past merely because it came later—that history is a record of uninterrupted progress (“The Well-Read Christian,” Modern Reformation, 55).

This assumption might seem laughable at first glance, but upon further reflection I found myself susceptible to it myself. Without even realizing, we tend to assume that we know better than those of the past when it comes to many things, not just religious things. But that, of course, is not always the case.

That is why we often need to reorient and recalibrate ourselves to what is known to be true and right and solid theology. To combat chronological snobbery in ourselves theologically, author Rick Ritchie suggests, “Aside from a rereading of the new Testament, a reading of old Christian authors is probably the best way of challenging our own complacency with our understanding of the good Christian life” (“The Well-Read Christian,” Modern Reformation, 55). Ritchie recommends we turn to the writings of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and John Warwick Montgomery for trustworthy insights into our faith that have stood the test of time.

Above all, of course, it is the Word of God that must guide our faith no matter what age we find ourselves in and no matter what “in vogue” teaching may be popular. We must hold all current messages regarding religion up against what we know to be true from Scripture. For we know that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So don’t become a “chronological snob,” and think that somehow we know better than God’s Word simply because we are living in “modern times.” As one of my favorite songs, “Ancient Words,” says:

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
They resound with God’s own heart.
Oh, let the ancient words impart.

So let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you remember that the biblical truth that Jesus took our place on the cross for our forgiveness and salvation will never change or fade away or be replaced throughout the passage of time.

 

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!”