Everyone Has a Part

curtainTheology professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer wrote, “Scripture is not a textbook but the Church’s holy script, and understanding it involves reading all the books in the Old and New Testament as parts of an overarching story. It’s more than narrative, it’s drama: story made flesh, in which readers today have speaking parts” (“Letter to an Aspiring Theologian,” First Things, August/September 2018, 29).

This quote is a good reminder to those in church work that implementing programs that call for parishioners to read the entire Bible over the course of a certain period of time is a valuable and worthwhile exercise even when slogging through the book of Numbers. We as Christians need to see the big picture and be reminded of it again and again. This is not some new story of salvation. It is the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

The other part of this quote that I like is that it reminds us that the Bible is not something to put on a shelf to collect dust somewhere. It is not just something to read in a college course and box up in the basement. It is not just a sweet story that you read to kids at bedtime from time to time. It is living and active and something that is a part of us and a part of our lives here and now.

The best part of the quote for me is that it declares to us that everyone has a part to play in the drama that began in the Bible. This divine play does not end with the last word of the book of Revelation. It continues with each one of us who have faith in Christ and believe in him. No believer is left out of this play. Everyone has a part. The story of what is yet to come on the Last Day when Jesus calls us home to be with him as his forgiven and loved brothers and sisters still needs to be told to audiences all over the world in many and various ways. Some have speaking roles. Some sing in the chorus. Some pull the curtain open to reveal a truth about our salvation to someone. We are on the world’s stage for a reason. And it not to signify nothing, to paraphrase Shakespeare. But what we have to share signifies everything. We only need to wait for the curtain call when Christ returns with endless applause.

Everyone a Theologian

TheologiansWhen we hear the word theologian, we most often think of bearded men in tweed jackets sitting in well-appointed rooms in ivory towers deep in thought while reading a well-worn dog-eared Bible. And the truth of the matter is there are indeed some of those. But the classification of theologian is much broader than that.

Thomas Aquinas said that theology at its heart “is taught by God, teaches of God and leads to God” (Vanhoozer, Kevin J., “Letter to an Aspiring Theologian,” First Things, August/September 2018, 28). So in fact anyone who is a student of these components could be called a theologian. That means you, that means me, that means everyone who is eager to explore these aspects of theology.

Let’s look at each component individually and how we can apply them to our own lives:

Taught by God. Our quest is to study and put our faith only in those things that are taught by God. That means going to the Bible, the true and only Word of God, first and foremost, for guidance and inspiration, for strength and knowledge and insight. Other “false gods” in this world try to tell us what to do in many aspects of our lives. We need to take any other messages from other sources back to the litmus test of God’s teachings before we make any decisions on how we should live and who we should trust. God is our one and only trusted source.

Teaches of God. Theology focuses us squarely on God and who he is in our lives, according to Scripture. He is our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. He is triune: Father, Son and Spirit. He is all-knowing, all-loving, all-present. He is our All in All. There is no one greater than him and only through him can we receive salvation through the Son he sent to suffer and die for us on the cross for the forgiveness of all of our sins. This is the one and only God. There is no other.

Leads to God.Theology found in Scripture steers us directly to God. It shows us how to draw closer to him in prayer, meditation, devotion and service to him and to one another in response to his great love for us in Jesus. It teaches us now to live for him and live through him living inside of each one of us. We are not to just say we believe in God. By his Word, we know that we are called to show our belief in him, which in turn leads others to God.

So don’t be afraid to call yourself a theologian. Because that is who you are, a student of the Holy One. Wear it with all glory to him.

Exercising Body and Soul

exerciseThere is a trend in churches today to offer wellness and physical exercise programs within their walls. Some churches have gyms where members and those in the community can work out, and some offer fitness classes on a regular basis. For instance, since 2011 St. Enoch Lutheran Church in Kannapolis, NC, has been offering an hour-long class that incorporates dance, weights, Christian music and closes with a devotion and a prayer (Strybis, Erin, “Fit and Faithful,” Living Lutheran, January 2019, 15).

These sorts of programs help to build community and connections among members and others outside the church. They encourage healthy living and self-care of the bodies God has given us, these “temples of the Holy Spirit” we have been blessed with (1 Corinthians 6:19). The programs also foster and encourage discipline.

Just as we need to exercise our bodies on a regular basis, we need to exercise our souls. Exercising our souls on a regular basis through prayer, reading Scripture, Bible study, small group ministry and worship keeps our spiritual selves healthy and strong. Like physical exercise, there is a discipline to it that is not always something we are good at. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can keep at it. Think of the Holy Spirit as your trainer, always reminding you and encouraging you to keep going and to remember the benefits that come from regular exercising of our souls: a closer relationship with our Savior, a confidence and hope in him and a joy that lasts forever. Keep exercising your soul this week and see how your spirit is uplifted and stays fit.

 

The Three E’s

The Three E's Christianity Today founder Billy Graham’s original vision for the periodical was to “engage, encourage and equip the church” (Harold Smith, “Why Now?” Christianity Today, 9). It remains the vision of the magazine to this day and it should be the driving force and mission behind all that we do as members of the church here and now.

Here’s what that can look like:

Engage: We as Christians need to engage the church in its mission to spread the Gospel message by being present and not staying in the shadows. We need to stay involved in what our individual congregations are doing. We need to worship, sing and share with others what God has done in our life in Christ through his death and resurrection. All of our engagement goes a long way to keep our church vital and active and an integral part of our communities.

Encourage: We need to do all we can to compliment and support the work of all the workers in the church who invest countless hours putting together and conducting worship services, Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, musical experiences and all sorts of groups and programs in any church’s given ministry. The work of the church can be draining and thankless. A kind word, a pat on the back, a note of thanks from you to your ministry team can mean the world to those who serve in the church.

Equip: Equipping the church can come in many ways. We can give the church the tools they need to carry out their ministry by giving of our time, talents and treasures. There are so many ways in which we can volunteer for a program or lend a hand in a building project or provide monetarily what we can for a cause. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver¯ St. Paul said to the Corinthians and he says to each of us today (2 Corinthians 9:7). Do what is truly in your heart to give to equip the church in its endeavors to reach more and more people with the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That’s what will make the church grow and thrive through him. See what you can do to take part in one or all of these three e’s in your labors for the Lord this week in response to his love.

Feeling Blue?

blue candleOver the Christmas season a few months back a story ran on the national news about “blue” Christmas services that some parishes were offering for those who were feeling lonely or grieving the loss of loved ones during the holiday season. The service included lighting candles, listening to comforting words of Scripture and soothing music, surrounded by the presence of loving and caring people.

I found the story heart-warming and touching and something that we can consider doing all year-round in our churches at various times.

The church is designed to be a place of comfort, care and healing for those who are feeling blue. The funny thing about the color blue is that in modern-day vernacular in this turn of phrase blue means sad. But in the church blue is a color of hope, renewal and a future in the heavens above.

Therefore, let us do all we can to help those on their journey from sad to glad through the hope they are given in the love and salvation of Christ our Lord.

Broken and Restored

potteryOn this Ash Wednesday and throughout the Lenten season, we consider the fact that we are broken because of sin in our lives, but we are restored in Christ.

There is a centuries-old Japanese method of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi (which means “golden joinery”) or Kintsukuroi (which means “golden repair”). In this method pieces of a broken piece of pottery are joined back together with a special lacquer dusted with gold, silver or platinum. Beautiful trails of gold glint and sparkle where the cracks once existed, creating a unique and beautiful effect. The method can be pain-staking and takes long periods of time to complete. But the results are stunning.

I find it interesting that this method dramatically celebrates the brokenness in the piece of pottery and in essence rejoices in what the brokenness brought about—something even more beautiful than the piece was before. The brokenness is not hidden or ignored. The gold coloring reveals the richness and preciousness which now exudes from the pottery.

In the Bible, we hear Isaiah say to God, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). We are each molded by God into creations like pieces of pottery.

Because of the presence of sin in the world, we can crack and break and become broken. But God in his mercy joins the pieces of our brokenness back together in glorious fashion through the suffering and death of his Son Jesus, whose blood repairs our brokenness and his glorious resurrection seals our status as forgiven and whole children of God who will walk the streets paved with gold in heaven forever.

The repairs of our brokenness were painful and difficult to be sure for our Savior and being restored from our brokenness can be trying for us from day to day. But the struggle is worth it and in the end it makes us more beautiful. For in Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the signs of our brokenness now repaired only proclaim to the world how glorious and brilliant the work of the Lord is in our lives.

Curiosity

curiosityWe are a curious people, to be sure. We wonder about a lot of things and we have questions about the world around us.

But St. Augustine once “famously separated what we today call ‘curiosity’ into two kinds: curiositas (‘frivolous speculation’) and studiositas (‘principled investigation’)” (Doug Estes, “Red Planet Calling,” Christianity Today, 44).

We as Christians need to beware not to spend too much of our time in frivolous speculation about things that do not matter in the long run or are not in line with the will and direction of God. This type of curiosity desires to skirt around God somehow and figure things out without a connection to him. Focusing on frivolous speculation can lead to a reliance on such things as astrology and card reading, which can lead us astray.

When we put our curiosity on principled investigation instead, we are fulfilling our purpose in God for us as human beings. He created us to be curious in a way that leads us to a better understanding of him. Pursuing principled investigation in curiosity leads us to Scriptures to find new discoveries about ourselves and our universe and our place in it. As Paul said to Timothy, “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). We turn to Scripture in our curiosity to learn all that is faithful and true to God.

There are things we can never know fully this side of heaven, and that is the limited nature of who we are as human beings. But uncovering what our Lord reveals to us in his Word is everything we need to know.

 

Redeem

redeemThe word redeem had legal meaning in the Hebrew days of the Old Testament:

The term meant to buy back a person, property or right to which one had a previous claim through family relation or possession. The term is found 18 times in the Old Testament. Someone who had to sell himself into slavery because of poverty, for instance, could have his freedom bought back by someone called a redeemer, usually his next of kin.

In the Book of Ruth, we read that Boaz redeemed the widow Ruth in this manner when he bought back the land that belonged to Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, now also a widow. As the “redeemer” in this case Boaz said, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day” (Ruth 4:9-10).

This is a beautiful foreshadowing of how Christ redeemed the Church and bought it back as his Bride. He saw us in our lost state and made sure we had a family, a home and a relationship with him.

This is why the word redeem is so powerful in Scripture. It means reconnection to the family of God that was lost because of our sin. And the payment for this redemption? The body and blood of Jesus. He gave completely of himself that he might give us an inheritance with him forevermore. What a  glorious transaction!

 

 

 

Gentleness

gentleness Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5

One part of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wants to make sure that this congregation’s gentleness is evident to all. Why? Because the Lord is near. Our gentle ways should be what people are seeing at work in us when the Lord returns.

In a world that is often hostile, angry and at odds with one another, our gentleness as Christian people can stand out. What do we mean by being gentle? We only need to look to our Lord Jesus when he was on this earth for guidance. He said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He took little children into his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:16). He spoke gently even of those who were crucifying him, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In the same way, we can be people of gentleness by being humble in our approach to people, by embracing children and caring for those around us in a loving way, by blessing those around us with the peace of God and encouraging them in their endeavors. We can be gentle in our forgiving of those who have hurt us, recognizing that we are all sinful and in need of the grace and mercy found only in the cross.

Even when we witness to others of the hope we have in Christ, we are to do so “with gentleness and respect,” St. Peter says (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be comforting in how we share our faith, not overbearing. Our goal should always be to be kind and helpful and reassuring. That is what gentleness is all about. Be gentle in your ways today, with the help of God.

 

 

Is the Lord’s Arm Too Short?

arm of GodThe Minute in the Word on Joy FM in St. Louis on Nov. 12, 2018, highlighted Number 11:23 when God reminded Moses:

Is the Lord’s arm too short?

You see, the Children of Israel were desperately in need of food, and Moses could not see how they could find enough food for them all. Moses could only see what was at arm’s length around him.

But the Lord’s arm extends far beyond our imagination.

God sent a great wind that drove quail to the camp to feed the people for a month.

God’s arm is never too short to help us. He can reach out as far as he needs to in order to bring us help. Why? Because as we all know, on this Valentine’s Day, he loves us dearly.

Let us never forget that.