Category Archives: Devotional

STEM

STEM

A big push in education these days is the emphasis on STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. According to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), “a common definition of STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.”

These four fields of study are growing exponentially and are areas in which our workforce needs to be enhanced. These are disciplines that we as a country were lacking in at times, but now we are matching where other countries are in these fields. It is a testament to the hard work of the educational administrators, teachers and students who helped our expertise and advancement in STEM grow.

The importance of STEM has come to light most recently with the development of vaccines for COVID and in the launching of manned rockets to the space station.

All of this expansion in STEM has led me to think about growth in the Church. What are the core tenets of the Church that need to be focused on more and enhanced? Here are my suggestions:

Stewardship: The word stewardship itself can send a shiver down the spine of many a parishioner in the pew. The first thought associated with it is money. “They want my money.” But stewardship in the Church is much more, of course; it is the giving of our entire selves to the Lord. Money and offerings are just one part of it. Expressing our gratitude to God by giving of ourselves in many ways can be an emphasis that can enrich the concept of stewardship.

Teaching: Many Sunday Schools and Bible studies have ended in the wake of the pandemic. But some classes still continue virtually and there can be a more concerted effort to make sure that people are still reached with the teachings of Jesus through such things as online sermon discussion groups after each Sunday service and daily devotions that go out to each member electronically.

Evangelism: The thought of someone knocking on your door to tell you about Jesus can make even the most faithful believer wince a little. But evangelism does not only mean going door to door with the Gospel; it means just talking about your faith wherever you go with whomever you meet. It does not need to be a daunting task, but it is actually something that comes naturally to any follower of Christ. Helping people to feel more and more comfortable expressing their beliefs is a prime role of the Church that needs to be fostered more and more.

Music: We are at a definitive crossroads in the Church regarding music. The days of hymnal music only in any service are dwindling fast, and the outbreak of rock-style contemporary music that is reaching the mainstream is exploding. Somewhere in the middle are the suburban and small-town churches that are doing a little of both traditional and contemporary and trying to balance the preferences of their parishioners at both ends of the spectrum. This can be a struggle, but the Church must make sure that the role of music remains central to worship in whatever form it takes and we must as church-goers be open to new options and experiences when it comes to making a joyful noise to the Lord.

May this STEM (Stewardship, Teaching, Evangelism and Music) of the Church flourish with God’s blessing.

PPE

PPE

We have heard a lot about personal protective equipment these days in our pandemic world. Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE,” is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. Personal protective equipment include items such as masks, face shields, gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, or coveralls, vests and full body suits. PPE is especially prevalent now in the healthcare industry among doctors and nurses and other medical staff treating COVID-19 patients.

The concept of PPE reminds me of the focus on the armor of God in the Bible, described here:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  —Ephesians 6:13-18

Like PPE in our physical world, the armor of God in the spiritual world protects us from the harm and danger that the evil forces against our God fling at us. Let’s take a look at each piece of our spiritual PPE:

The belt of truth: We know that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life. That keeps us firm against every falsehood that threatens to infect our souls. And the truth is that Jesus has saved us and is with us always.

The breastplate of righteousness: Jesus has made us righteous through his suffering, death and resurrection from the dead. We are safe in him. Our hearts are protected by his grace. No evil force can change that fact.

Shoes fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace: There are times when we need to move in response to the Lord’s bidding, and the shoes of our spiritual armor help us to do that quickly, knowing that we have the peace of God’s Good News of salvation to guide us. These shoes make us ready to run from evil and not be afraid.

The shield of faith: Hardships, uncertainty and sickness can be like darts that try to poke away at our faith. But when we lift up the faithful shield of our hope in Jesus, the darts are deflected and our confidence remains strong.

The helmet of salvation: Evil, doubt and dread can get in our heads during trying times, but with the helmet of salvation set in place over our minds, the bad thoughts cannot get in and the good thoughts of God’s blessings even in hard times remain.

The sword of the Spirit: So many messages come at us from various media sources about what we should and should not do and so many words of worry and doom come at us from the Evil One. But we can slice through all the talk and get to what matters most with the Word of God. Let the Spirit help you turn to the pages of the Bible that get you to the news that you should listen to above all other outlets.

No matter where you are and what condition you are in, always remember that you have this spiritual PPE on and you can do great things because of it.

Gift Bags

gift bags

Have you noticed lately that most presents for birthdays and other special occasions are found in gift bags, not in wrapped presents? “Why is that so?” I pondered. Here is what I came up with:

  1. They are easier to wrap—no scissors, tape and measuring.
  2. They are easier for the recipient to unwrap—no picking at corners and straining to undo tape.
  3. They are easier for the recipient to carry home with the built-in handles.

What does this have to do with Christian living? It has to do with the Christian life because we often make sharing our God-given gifts with others more difficult. We bind up our love behind the tape of selfishness and hostility. We often make it hard to break through the barriers we put in place to block our kindness and care. That’s why we as Christians are drawn to the “gift bag” approach, if you will, of sharing with others. Our hearts should be open and easy to access. Our gift-giving should be something that comes naturally and without much trouble to receive. Our gifts should be something that the recipients can carry home with them to enjoy and even share with others. So often people re-use gift bags to give their own presents to others. So we are to share with others in the same way that others have shared with us. What a beautiful picture of the continuous spreading of God’s gifts of love to every one of us.

Candy Hearts

candy hearts

Did you get any candy hearts for Valentine’s Day? As a kid, I enjoyed getting them and reading the message on each one before I ate it. They say things like: “I love you,” “Be mine,” “True love,” “My pal,” and “Friends forever.” We usually eat these and then don’t think much about them. But if we think about them, these candy hearts have a very biblical connection. Consider this Bible verse:

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3

God has imprinted on our very hearts his love and care for us. He truly means it when he says, “I love you,” “Be mine,” “True love,” “My pal,” and “Friends forever.” These divine messages on our hearts define who we are and whose we are. These are words that should never be forgotten or dissolve away in our mouths. They should be the motivating factors in our love for one another. As the Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). His love for us helps us to say, “I love you,” “Be mine,” “True love,” “My pal,” and “Friends forever” in the Lord’s name to one another. These words we share with each other are engraved on their hearts as well since they are blessed by God. With sincere hearts we care for one another in the same way that God cares for us. Let every heart be a message board of love.

Math

math

I have to admit that I was never very good at math. That’s why I stuck with writing even though I did make it through algebra in high school by the skin of my teeth. But Jesus asks us all to do a little math when Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” If I am doing my math right, Jesus is asking us to forgive a person 490 times when they sin against us.

But here is where I don’t think Jesus wants us to get our math exactly right, forgiving someone 490 times on the nose and then refusing to forgive once that magic number is reached. No, the meaning here, scholars believe, is that Jesus is intending to express an infinite number. Seven was seen as a perfect number (that is why Peter suggests it), so multiplying a perfect number by a multiple of a perfect number meant that the number of times we should forgive should be perfection upon perfection, a never-ending amount.

We can be a very unforgiving people at times. “I will never forgive him!” we hear people say. The forgiveness factor offered by much of humanity is often a zero. And that is the kind of math our human nature tends toward. But we are formed in the nature of God, and therefore it is in our spiritual DNA to forgive and forgive and forgive. There is no number that calculates the end of our forgiveness. The number of times we say “I forgive you” in the kingdom of God is always countless.

School

school

School is still looking a lot different these days with kids still taking classes remotely from home, some going to school in a hybrid fashion only a few days a week with the other days at home learning, and others going to school full-time in regular fashion with masks, often in pods with small groups of students.

I got to thinking that we did not know many of these words over a year ago and now they are a normal part of our vocabulary as we schedule our days with our children. It also got me to thinking that learning takes place in many ways, ways that we might have thought were unworkable before.

What does this have to do with Jesus? It is important because it brings to light that Jesus was very adaptable in his teaching methods. He taught remotely in the homes of people living in various parts of the surrounding territory where he lived. He taught in hybrid ways, sometimes alone with a single person and sometimes with crowds of people. He taught in pods, if you will, sharing knowledge of God’s kingdom with a small group of 12 disciples.

His teaching style may have changed with each type of teaching circumstance, but his messages to his students was always the same. His lessons were to repent, to love, to tell, to listen, to pray, to trust, to grow in faith, and to live in hope. For all those who teach (which is all of us, in one way or another), our approach should be the same as Jesus’. We should always be ready to adapt and be flexible, but we should never change our lesson plan to instruct our students in the ways of Jesus and the power of his salvation for us. As Jesus himself said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Let the learning continue for all of you.

Scrapbooks

scrapbooks

One of the things that my mom would have us do at the end of a school year was to make a scrapbook of pictures of events and achievements from the past year. It was fun to review what my brother, sister and I had done and talk about the memories we would treasure from whatever grade we had just completed. At the end of each summer, we would do the same thing and include pictures of places we traveled to and friends and family we spent time with during the months away from school. It was fun to remember the good times we had and keep a memento of what happened with our scrapbooks. Sometimes we would crack them open at different times of the year as a pick-me-up or to show others what we experienced at various points in our lives.

I now have those scrapbooks in my attic and look at them occasionally, but not as much as I thought I would. The art of scrapbooking has faded in this era of electronic pictures as well, so future generations may not have as meticulous a record of what occurred in a person’s life in any particular year, which I find a shame.

But we do have another book that tells us everything we need to know about our background and about the events that we should remember always. That book, of course, is the Bible, the Church’s scrapbook, if you will, that reminds us of what God’s people experienced and endured through hundreds and thousands of years of history. It tells us about the good times of creation, the bad times of sin, the journeys through the wilderness, the triumphs in battle and the defeats suffered. It highlights the life of our greatest family member, Jesus, who went to the cross from our salvation on Good Friday and rose for us on Easter Sunday to bring us everlasting life.

The Bible should never be a book we store away in a dusty attic never to crack open again. It should be a book that is always at our fingertips and open for us to explore frequently. The Bible should always remind us of who we are as children of God and what we should treasure most: that our names are written in the Book of Life forever through Christ. Happy reading!

Updates

updates

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of always getting messages on my computer to update to the next operating system or the latest version of a particular program that I use. It is a struggle: Do I “move up” or keep things as they are?

In our Christian lives, the answer is always to update, to move forward, to begin anew. That is why we have confession and absolution every time we worship. We need to be upgraded from sinful to forgiven people of God again and again by his grace and mercy. Staying “where we are” spiritually on any given day only keeps us in our sins and thus separated from our source of renewal in God through Christ.

Updating in a spiritual sense also means returning to the Word of God on a regular basis to remind us of what Scripture says. We can so easily forget what the Bible proclaims to us about our motivation for living. What are we designed for? Take a look:

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Life, in the Christian faith, is all about newness and growing and not giving up. So don’t be afraid to keep updating your life of faith with more prayer, more confession, more devotion and Bible readings. Expanding your commitment to Christ means extending your relationship with him. Becoming closer and closer to Christ in more and more ways brings blessings upon blessings. Let the updates abound.

Citizenship

citizens with flags

On this day of inauguration, we are reminded as Christians that while we are citizens of this nation, we are also citizens of a divine kingdom. As St. Paul tells us, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). No matter who the president is, our King is Jesus and he rules over all in heaven and on earth, and our allegiance belongs ultimately to him.

So much is happening in our country that it is sometimes hard to know what rules to follow. But the commands of the kingdom of God are clear:

• Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:19).

• In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy (1 Peter 3:15).

• Encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace (2 Corinthians 13:11).

• Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people (Colossians 3:23).

These should be guidelines we live by above all others. May using them as our rules of order, if you will, bring about more blessings within our borders and greater unity among our residents.

Seasons of Love

In the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent, the characters ponder the question, “How you do measure a year in a life?” They give some options: in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in truths that she learned or in times that she cried, in bridges he burned or the way that she died. In the end, they reveal that it is love that a year should be measured by.

How are you showing love in this year now that we are just a few weeks in? In smiles, in waves, in phone calls and text messages, through Zoom or Facetime? Would anyone know the love you have if they saw you today?

St. John helps us to remember that love is made known in our actions. “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Think about what you are doing and how you are expressing the love that you have for the Lord and the love that you have for others.

It is not a time to hide in the shadows, but to make the love Christ has for each one of us known. And let love never be just a season, but an entire lifetime of care and compassion. Take a moment today to convey love in some small way and keep that practice going day after day. Little way by little way, love grows and grows. Be a part of the love mosaic God has pieced together through us and through his Son, Jesus.