Category Archives: Devotional

Forgivenesss for Kids

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In an article called “Sin and Forgiveness,” in the March 2019 issue of Living Lutheran, author Erin Strybis talked about a time when her young son’s tantrum led her to have a tantrum of her own. To her surprise, her son came up to her afterward and said, “It’s OK, Mommy,” and hugged her (42). Our kids “get” forgiveness more than we perhaps realize.

Strybis suggests three principles to practice in the home to reinforce the power of forgiveness:

Lean on story: The Bible is filled with stories of people who sinned and were forgiven. Think of the prodigal son, Simon Peter, the thief on the cross. Bible stories of forgiveness can be the bedtime stories we tell our children.

Lean into hugs: Remember the father of the prodigal son who ran to embrace repentant son. We need to be quick to reach out and wrap our arms around our children when they come to us confessing their sin. We need to show them that we love and forgive them wholeheartedly.

Lean on prayer: Prayer is an important piece in the practice of forgiveness. We need to pray to God when we are angry at our child and need to reorient ourselves to God’s merciful ways and we need to pray with our kid when we express forgiveness to remind us all the forgiveness comes first from God through Christ and the cross.

Let forgiveness flow freely in our families by the grace of God.

Our Sustaining Force

gospelIn the Editor’s Note of the December 2016 Christianity Today, Richard Clark says,

“I’ve always thought it odd that we gospel people so easily fall prey to the false gospels of moralism. Sometimes moralism is directed at myself; sometimes it’s directed at others. In the wake of the right kind of mishap, I can spiral into self-doubt and self-accusation about my own pitiable nature. Yet just as quickly, I can start casting aspersions on those who’ve made similar mistakes. Only the grace of the gospel can pull me out of the pendulum swing” (9).

Though this was written several years ago, it seems more true than ever to me. We can so easily be swayed by outside forces. We are so quick to judge others, to judge ourselves, to shake our heads in disgust or shame and leave it at that. But that is when we need to pull everything back into the context of the gospel, the context of grace, the reality of forgiveness for every sin, won for us and the whole world through the cross of Christ and through his resurrection.

It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is our sustaining force. It has the power to put right side up every apple cart sin has overturned in our lives and in our world. No sin, no evil, no misdeed is beyond the gospel’s scope of reversing when we come to Christ confessing our waywardness. How so? Only through the undeserved favor of God through the sacrifice of his Son. That is grace. And that is why we call it amazing.

Water and the Word

baptismMy parents recently reminded me that I was baptized using water my grandparents brought from the Jordan River on their trip to the Holy Land. I was touched and moved by this news that I had forgotten, but it got me to thinking that when it comes to baptism, it does not really matter where the water comes from.

What matters most is its connection to the Word. The Word spoken over the baptized person as water is poured: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is the Word that reminds us: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Through baptism, we are made brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Word made flesh. It is in this Word that we find our hope with the sprinkling of water from wherever it may come from, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Entertaining Worship

entertaining worshipA recent survey from Ligonier Ministries asked the question, “Must churches provide entertaining worship services if they want to be effective?” The results were a bit surprising. About 4 in 10 believe “effective” churches must offer “entertaining” worship, through only 1 in 10 believe this strongly. Those who attend worship weekly agreed more strongly (14%) than those who attend only on holidays, rarely or never (8%) (“Come, Now Is the Time to Entertain,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 17).

The results of the survey are interesting to me because they indicate that providing entertaining worship is not as desired by parishioners as much as it is perceived to be by church leaders and the public in general.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that we in the church need to wow parishioners in worship with rock-style music and bands, lights and flash. But the data here shows that it is actually not as powerful of a draw as we may think it is.

We do not need to put all our eggs in the “entertainment basket,” these numbers seems to reveal. While the entertainment factor can still be a part of a worship experience, we continue to need to include and emphasize the Word and Sacrament, the fellowship with those in the congregation and a grounding in Christ-centered messages.

The joy and excitement of worship remains on the Good News that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. Let that be what brings the most entertainment to our souls.

 

A Daily Checklist

checklistI recently had to take a close look at Romans 12:9-12 for a Bible study, and I realized that it is a perfect daily checklist for us as Christians. Take a look:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

St. Paul gives us these guidelines for living the Christian life in response to what Christ has done for us:

  1. Be sincere.
  2. Hate evil.
  3. Cling to good.
  4. Be devoted.
  5. Never lack zeal.
  6. Be joyful in hope.
  7. Be patient in affliction.
  8. Be faithful in prayer.

If you are like me, I have lots of checklists in my life. Some I write down and some I have in my head: chores to do around the house, tasks to accomplish at work, what to buy at the grocery store. But none of these checklists should supersede this checklist from Romans 12. I encourage you to put this checklist on your refrigerator or somewhere you can see it easily as you start your day. Or put it on top of all your other checklists. These eight things are what should have the check marks by them each and every day!

 

 

 

Stay Strong

stay strongI found this prayer in a booklet I wrote long ago and it was one of those times when it felt like my past self was talking to my present self and saying, “Listen up!”

Here is the prayer:

I am feeling weak. But you, O God, are strong. And you give strength to your people. As you gave strength to Abraham, so keep me strong in my faith. As you gave strength to Moses, so keep me strong over the long haul. And as you gave strength to David, so keep me strong in the face of giant obstacles.

This prayer helps me to remember that I am not alone whenever I feel weak. Our great patriarchs felt weak in their lives, and God gave them strength. Abraham in his old age (and Sarah in her old age) were promised a son but it didn’t happen right away. But God gave Abraham strength to have faith in the promise. And Isaac was born in God’s time. God even gave Abraham the strength to be willing to sacrifice that son until an angel stopped him from going through with it. That same strength from God keeps me strong in my faith in him no matter what the promise or test.

I think of Moses, too, who felt weak in leading the Israelites out of slavery, saying he didn’t speak well. But God gave him strength to lead his people out of Egypt and guide them on a 40-year journey through the wilderness to the doorstep of the Promised Land. That same strength from God keeps me patient and confident in the extensive journeys through my life and through any qualms I may have of not being capable of completing the plans he has for me.

Then there is David, who as a young shepherd boy, seemed to be no match to the giant Goliath. But God gave David strength to fling his slingshot with a stone and fell that foe. God gives me that same strength against the giant foe of the devil that I may defeat his slings and arrows with the Word of God in my arsenal. I may be small in the grand scheme of things, but I am mighty in the presence of the Lord. Let me never forget that.

 

 

Slides That Work

slidesAt Best Practices for Ministry, Christopher Cawthon led a session called “Better Slides for Better Worship.” With almost all churches using slides in worship in place of bulletins, making slides that work well and enhance worship is becoming more important than ever.

Simple things like how many words are on a slide, where the line breaks happen, the font and font size used and how much punctuation is included can be crucial to readability and a worshiper’s overall experience.

Switching from one slide to the next too fast or too slow can lead to confusion as well.

In recent years motion and still background of one color or shades of the same color have replaced more and more those backgrounds with images, which has led to less cluttered visuals on the screens. Single color backgrounds also convey certain moods for the songs being sung (purple for penitent, reflective music, gold for happy, joyful anthems, for instance.)

Doing run-throughs of the slides with the musicians especially is helpful to get things right on Sunday mornings, Cawthon said, and having a good connection between the pastor and the person doing the slides is beneficial, as well, he said. They both need to trust one another for things to go as smoothly as they can.

In the end, slides are a great tool to keep parishioners engaged and keep heads looking up. Things can always go wrong, of course, but with some simple plans in place errors can be minimized, and there is always forgiveness—a good lesson to remember in church.

Social Media Ministry

social mediaA session I attended at Best Practices for Ministry in Phoenix this past February was called “Ministry in the Digital Space—It’s Where the People Are.” Presenter Bruce Becker described how churches can use different digital platforms to reach certain people in your congregation.

For instance, statistics show that women use Facebook more often than men because of its relational nature. Men are more active on YouTube, and teens and young adults are more highly engaged on Instagram than other groups.

What can the church learn from this? Customization is key. If you wan to get the word out about a women’s Bible study or retreat, post the information on your church’s Facebook page. If you want to start a men’s group, put up a video inviting men of your church to join on your YouTube channel. And if you want to highlight a youth event coming up, place a picture with a message about the event on Instagram with a hashtag to spread the word.

In addition, Becker noted, social media is called SOCIAL media for a reason. That means interaction between the church and parishioners on whatever platform you are using. Using social media simply as a billboard is not effective, and just putting the same content on all platforms is not beneficial.

That is why more and more churches are employing social media ministers, if you will, to develop and differentiate the content a church launches onto its various platforms and then to respond in good time (hours, not days) to questions, comments and other feedback from parishioners. It is good practice for the last comment in a thread to be from the church so no parishioner comment is “left hanging.”

It is important for churches to prioritize which platform is getting the most traction, Becker said, and then developing strategies that put more effort from staff in those areas and putting fewer resources toward those platforms that are not performing as well.

In the end, each church is unique and no one social media plan fits all. Each church needs to decide what is right for them. But one thing is clear: social media ministry is here to stay and needs to be a part of church’s overall ministry plan.

 

Keeping the Church Year Alive

slinkyA session I attended at Best Practices in Ministry in Phoenix this past February was “Can Holidays Be Holy Days?” presented by Rachel Hinz. Hinz gave excellent suggestions for doing small things within the family to remind children and adults alike what season of the Church Year we are in. Some of her suggestions included:

• making your own Advent wreath out of a piece of wood with holes drilled for the candles

• moving the manger scene figures of shepherds and wise men and Mary and Joseph around the house for children to find and move closer to the manger each day of Advent

• putting the figure of Baby Jesus in the bread box all year round to remind the family that Jesus is the bread of life

• celebrating St. Nicholas Day with chocolate and coins in shoes

• changing bed time stories to Advent Reading from the Bible

• giving a gift to each other on each of the 12 days of Christmas

• make a Three Kings Cake during the Epiphany season

• make a small standing cross and then adding ribbons to match the colors of the Church Year

Hinz remarked that though the seasons of the Church Year seem to make up one big circle that we retread over and over again, it is more like a slinky, that childhood toy of old, with loops that go around and around again, but which has a beginning and an end. As each Church Year goes from Advent, to Christmas, to Epiphany, to Lent, then to the Pentecost Season, depicting the life of Christ each year, we are ever moving forward to the end of days when Christ will return. He is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end. That is why we have the Church Year, to remind us that his life has meaning in our lives year in and year out, which we need never forget. There is a rhythm to our lives that the Church Year helps us to see, but there is a progression, too, as we draw closer and closer to the time when we will be with Christ forever, celebrating his life with all the saints in light.

Online Church

online churchAt the Best Practices in Ministry conference in Phoenix I attended this past February, I went to a breakout session led by TJ Winters of Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio,TX, on How to Do Online Church. It was a fascinating session that helped me to see the value of having your church service streaming online for those who are homebound or home with a sick child or just had a baby or those who live in a different area of the country but like the services at your church.

Winters started the session by putting 1 John 5:13 on the screen:

 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

John was writing this letter from a distance, and Winters said this verse declares that we are called to be online church to those at a distance, Winters said, to let them know that they have eternal life in Christ.

There are many ways to do online church, but one way is through Facebook Live. Other avenues for streaming your worship can be found at churchonlineplatform.com, where watchers can chat and make comments in real-time and where the church can customize how they stream their services and put up sermon notes and schedules. People usually find out  about a church’s online services through the church’s regular website, through hashtags, through Facebook pages or through word of mouth.

There are a lot of technical components like lighting and cameras and sound systems that can make a difference in the quality of the streaming. Each church must decide for itself how in-depth it wants to go in this area of ministry and how much to invest in its outreach. For instance some churches only live stream the sermons while others stream the entire service, which can be more complex technically speaking.

For me, the impact of online cam down to two stories. One session participant said that her pastor said that if the only home watching the online service was a family whose child had cancer and could not attend because of the child’s fragile immune system, then it was doing its job. The other story came from Winters himself who said one Sunday a highly tattooed woman visited his church and said, “I’m from Virginia, but I have enjoyed your traditional services so much, I had to see for myself.” God is truly touching the lives of many through online church in unique, interesting and surprising ways.