Category Archives: Devotional

Why Not Attend?

why not attendGallup recently did a survey in which they asked Americans why they no longer attend church. Here were the results:

44% I prefer to worship on my own

36% I don’t like organized religion

22% I haven’t found a church that I like

19% I don’t have the time

16% I don’t like being asked for money when I attend

9% I don’t feel welcome when I do attend

(Christianity Today, May 2018, 18)

We as a Church struggle with the issues addressed in these responses and must seek ways to reverse the trend of diminishing worship attendance, perhaps through more personalized ministries, less of an emphasis on governance, offering alternative worship times, softening calls to action in fundraising campaigns, and making worship environments warm and inviting.

But, in my estimation, a better question for a Gallup survey should be: Why do you attend church?

The answers for me are:

I enjoy worshiping with fellow believers

I am spiritually uplifted by the music

I am inspired in my faith through the words of Scripture and the sermon

I am energized to go out and live my life as a follower of Christ in the week ahead

I am comforted and encouraged by those I see there

What are your reasons for attending church? Maybe if we as a Church think more about why people are attending church than about why they aren’t, then we will be well on our way to fostering growth.

May this verse keep us moving forward in this endeavor: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Pray-Ground

praygroundGrace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, has set up a unique space up front in their sanctuary called the “pray-ground.” It is a place filled with small chairs and tables, crayons, coloring books and soft toys, where kids and parents can better engage in the service.

Pastor Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, a mother herself, explains that in her experience children often pay more attention in worship when they can see what is going on. Parents that first thought it would be a disaster have been surprised that the children were not disruptive and enjoyed it. It has even brought new families with young children to join the church (Living Lutheran, May 2018, pp.38-39).

While, admittedly, a “pray-ground” may not be the answer for every church, the idea of creating a welcoming environment for children is crucial in a worship setting. Consistently making children’s sermons a part of worship relates that children are a special part of the church family. Making it clear where the nursery or cry room is makes parents feel more comfortable about where to take their children if they need to, And simply engaging with children on a regular basis from week to week gives children (and parents) the assurance that your church cares about the interests and well-being of children. Even offering to hold a child for a time while a parent is busy with another child or in an important conversation with the pastor or another church worker can be a godsend.

We remember well that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). So the church should always be a kid-friendly zone, a place where we are quick to say to every child of God (big or small), “Come on in!”

Be Well

wellWater for Life Haiti is a Christian nonprofit organization that is helping that country in the long recovery from Hurricane Matthew that hit on October 4, 2016. One way they are doing that is by building additional wells to provide clean water to areas affected by disease and cholera.

What I found interesting about the program is that Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, a pastor working with Water for Life Haiti, said, “We are locating the wells on or near our church properties. The wells bring people to the church, and the church speaks to the community about the living water of Christ” (Lutherans Engage, Spring 2018, p. 16).

Tying physical and spiritual needs together is an important way for the church to reach out to people most often outside the church and build relationships around faith. I think of the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, who realized after talking to Jesus that she needed more than well water. She came to faith that day.

The same thing can happen in our churches when we tie physical and spiritual needs together. I think of the food pantries in many churches that provide for physical needs, but can help start conversations with those who visit about the Bread of Life who can feed their souls.

Parish nurses are vital in this tying together of physical and spiritual needs as well. So often when people come to discuss physical ailments with a parish nurse, the conversation can move to the Healer of all, who cares for us body and soul.

Consider ways in which your church can meet the physical needs of those around you as a springboard into meeting the vastly more important spiritual needs. Enjoy the process and look to Christ for guidance as you help others be well in the Lord.

 

The Image of God

image of GodIn the story of creation, we read: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Many have wondered what exactly “the image of God” means. There are several schools of thought. One group thinks that it refers to our ability to reason. Another philosophy is that it means that God is reflected in us in our bodies: our physical characteristics and the way we walk and talk. Still others say it is about our relational nature and the relationships we have with God and creation.

I tend to lean toward the last description. He gave human beings a special place in the world, and he desires a close, personal bond with us. His love for us is on a much deeper and different level than it is with plants and animals, for instance. And God selected humans to rule over every living creature (Genesis 1:28).

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Pivotal Questions

pivotal questionsI was wondering recently about how pivotal questions are often asked at significant moments in the story of salvation. Why is that? Consider these:

At the empty tomb on Easter morning, the angels ask the women: ““Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:6).

When the risen Jesus appears to the disciple in the upper room, he asks, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Luke 24:38)

After Jesus has ascended, two angels ask the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

These seem like basic questions, but they actually get to the heart of what is going on. Those to whom the questions are asked are experiencing confusion. But each question is designed to bring them comfort.

In the Easter quote, the women were sure that Jesus was dead, but the question reveals the good news that Jesus is alive.

In the upper room quote, the disciples were undoubtedly afraid by the sudden appearance of Jesus, but Christ’s question to them assures them that they do not need to be afraid at all.

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The Church: A Mountain or a Funnel?

mountain churchAt a recent conference I attended, one of the speakers, Todd Jones, talked about how the church should be a mountain and not a funnel.

Here’s what he meant: In most business models, an organization is a funnel in which a message is sent out to a crowd, then a community and then the committed. This is the paradigm espoused by the retail industry. Blanket the most people you can with your message, hone in on who is interested and then reach those who are wiling to buy what your are selling. In the model, the idea is going from large to small. Thus the visual is a funnel.

But in the early Church, a different organizational model was used: the mountain. A small number of committed people (the 12 disciples) spread the word about Christ to the community (those in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost) and then when that community was filled with the Holy Spirit, that community fanned out to the crowd (the people far and wide in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc.). In this model, the trajectory is going from small to large, so the visual is a mountain.

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The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

same carsI like when I find out there is a name for something that I noticed in the world that I thought was peculiar. You know how after you buy a car and then you see that make and model of car again and again on the road all around you? Well, that experience has a name: the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It also has been called frequency illusion.

Scientists have found that the reason for this is that our brains like patterns. Our brains are constantly searching for things that are alike, a characteristic which is helpful for memory, but it does cause the brain to highlight things that may not be that important. Since the brain is bombarded with an abundance of words, names, and ideas every day, it is only natural that we might run into the same information twice or more within a short time. But when repetition like this happens, the brain elevates the information because the repeated instances make up the beginnings of a sequence. It is then that something called the recency effect kicks in, which is a cognitive bias that inflates the importance of recent stimuli or observations. This increases the chances of being more aware of the subject when we encounter it again in the near future.

I find this fascinating from a Christian perspective. While we may be able to chalk up these coincidences and patterns up to brain function, I have no doubt in my mind that often the Holy Spirit has something to do with it. How many times have we noticed someone or something on our drive to work or our walk at lunch that we had not paid attention to before … and then we noticed that person of thing again? We as Christians must consider that it is the Holy Spirit hard at work pointing us in the direction of something we need take seriously or act upon.

Keep your eyes open for patterns that the Holy Spirit is sending you to nudge you in your acts of faith.

 

Fast-Forwarding Through Suffering?

fast forwardKathryn A. Kleinhans, dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, posits, “It’s tempting to fast-forward through Jesus’ suffering and death to Easter lilies and the happy ending. In a broken world, we long for happy endings” (“Easter: The Best News in the World,” Living Lutheran, April 2018, 45).

In fact, the disciples themselves wanted to fast-forward through Jesus’ suffering or avoid it altogether. One time after Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die … and then rise. Peter proclaimed, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). And two other times Jesus told the disciples that his suffering was coming before his resurrection, but they did not understand.

In our lives today we too often seek to push a fast-forward button through the inevitable suffering in our lives, But there is no such thing as a fast-forward button through the suffering in our lives. Part of being a Christian in the world entails suffering. Martin Luther even calls it a mark of the Church. And as humans in a sinful world, suffering is the result of our brokenness.

The Bible even says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). There is no getting around it for Jesus or for us.

But we are assured that there is value in the suffering. As St. Paul tells us, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). We are made stronger people through the suffering.

The best news of all is the suffering will not last forever. Just as Jesus rose from the dead three days after his suffering and death, the day will come when suffering will end and we will rise, too, to the overflowing joy of heaven.

As St. Paul declares, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The happy ending of heaven will be even sweeter for us because of the suffering.

So though we cannot fast-forward through suffering, we can move through it with grace and resolve because Christ fought through the pain to free us forever. Alleluia!

 

Your Faith Walk

guitarChristian musician Peter Mayer has this advice for aspiring musicians: “If you’re a songwriter, guitarist or singer, do it every day. Let those voices seeking a home know that yours is available. Do the practice, playing of gigs, writing and rehearsing more than you talk or post about it. Fail at least as much as you succeed, and you’re on the discovery road” (“I’m a Lutheran,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 13).

After reading words, I realized Mayer’s advice to musician here is a blueprint for Christian living as well in our walk of faith. Here’s what I mean:

As Christians, we need to live as Christians every day. There is no day off from serving, praising, praying, loving, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. Do your Christian faith every day.

Be open and available to carrying out the mission and the calling that Christ has for you. Always be ready to say yes to opportunities that come your way that are in line with your God-given gifts.

Actions speak louder than words, we know. So be people of action. We can say we will do this or that very easily sometimes. But it is the follow-through that takes the most effort and has the most impact.

Never be afraid to fail. We all know stories of famous people who failed many times before they reached success. We as Christians are no different. We cannot live in fear of not doing well and then do nothing at all. Failure leads to learning and helps us to do better the next time we are called into action for Jesus. No one can do everything right all the time. Once you accept that fact, it frees you up to keep trying. And God will bless your efforts in the end.

The Christian life is about discovery. Become a lifelong learner. Keep growing in your knowledge and fear of the Lord and let him keep leading you on.

The path of every Christian will lead directly to a deep relationship with Christ. As Peter Mayer would  say, “Know and experience this mighty love of God in Christ” as you walk in his way.

 

Farminaries

farminariesBelieve it or not, there are such things as farminaries, agricultural acreages where those in seminary serve to promote the role of food in the life of the Church.

In many ways, these projects are fulfilling Scripture. In Genesis 2 God called humanity to work and take care of the land. And in John 21 Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

In addition, Fred Bahnson, director of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity’s Food, Health and Ecology, explains that when seminaries provide a space for growing and eating food, seminarians are better prepared to grasp the biblical story in the context of the agrarian society in which it emerged (Christianity Today, January/February 2018, 81).

Indeed, a large number of Jesus’ parables and activities in ministry revolved around food (the parables of the mustard seed, the sower, the fig tree, etc, and the important ministry moments of the miraculous catch of fish, the feeding of the 5000 and the Eucharist, for instance).

When we study food through the biblical narrative, our relationship to all of creation becomes covered in humility and gratitude, those involved in farminaries have found. When seminarians see and are involved in the work that goes into growing food on a farm, they recognize more fully that food is a gift from God and something that should not be taken for granted.

In addition, ministers equipped to talk about food are ministers prepared to address concerns related to food: hunger, obesity, eating disorders, etc.

Food banks, food drives and CROP walks are just some of the ways in which churches are involved in feeding the hungry. And support groups like Overeaters Anonymous often meet within the walls of churches. So it is only natural that farminaries are becoming more prevalent.

The church is not just for potlucks anymore! And that’s a good thing.