An Anchor

anchorWe have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. —Hebrews 6:19

Recently I went boating with some friends on a nearby lake. At one point our boat driver took us to a secluded clove, where he heaved a very heavy anchor over the bow until it hit bottom many feet below. This would keep the boat steady while we swam and floated on noodles and rafts behind the boat.

What struck me was that even though the boat was anchored, it still did a lot of moving around because of the prevailing winds, the waves from other boats and currents from the lake. There were times when I had to swim quite a ways to stay close to the back of the boat to stay safe. I had always imagined that once a boat was anchored, it stayed put. That is not the case, I discovered.

Which made me think about this verse from Hebrews about our hope in Christ being an anchor for the soul. Though the anchor is firm and secure, we who are tethered to it are not always still. We are pushed around by doubts, fears, the advice and messages of others who say that God does not matter or that Christianity has become passé. It is not always easy up here on the surface. The waters of life can be rough.

But we who have our hope and faith in Christ have the confidence that though we may be tossed about for a little while, our God will never let us go too far adrift. He keeps us firmly planted in the depths of his love and care and compassion for us to keep us on course in our faith. He will always keep us safe in his forgiveness and grace. That is our hope. That is our anchor. That is our salvation.

 

Loading Brush

loading brushIn Wendell Berry’s recent book, The Art of Loading Brush, he talks about the the fact that in agrarian life there is a certain way to go about, an “art”  to, the mundane task of loading brush. “The loader must pay attention to each limb so that all the brush can fit on one wagon load,” a character in Berry’s story says. “If the art of loading brush dies out, the art of making music finally will die out too,” the character continues. Berry draws a connection between the rural and the urban life and how the practices in one can inform the other and vice versa. We should not live in one world, and not be informed about the other, he dontends.

But Berry also makes it clear that something like loading brush needs to be learned and practiced. This is something that must to taught from one generation to another.

This reminds me of the words of our God in Deuteronomy 11:18-19:

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

It is our task as parents and Sunday school teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even neighbors and friends to pass on the faith to future generation so that they know about the great love of God for them. Otherwise the faith will die out if it is not passed on.

I am also reminded of the words of Romans 10:14-15:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The “going about of” faith, the “art” of faith, cannot continue if people are not told. We are to be “the beautiful feet” who share the practices of prayer, worship, Bible study and devotion, who proclaim that Christ is our Savior from sin, death and the devil, and that by believing in him we may have everlasting life in him. At times this teaching of the faith may seem mundane, but it is not optional, It is something that has to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit that all may know the truth of the Good News!

Who is someone you can teach the faith to today?

Root rot

root rotMindy Belz, in an article in the September 1, 2018, World Magazine, shared her experience with root rot in her garden this past summer. Apparently her area had received so much rain that the soil became so saturated that no air could enter in, causing the roots to dissolve and her plants to die.

Belz came to realize, “In the garden and in life, we can be lulled by why seems a buoyant ride into ignoring underlying perils.”

The only way to remedy root rot is to lift the plant from the saturated soil while at least some of the roots are still intact and move the plant to completely fresh soil. There the plant can thrive once again.

This story about root rot reminds me of Colossians 2:6-7:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

When we find ourselves swimming along and trying to root our lives in material things or our own accomplishments, the roots can quickly dissolve when things break or are lost or when our accomplishments don’t get us anywhere.

It is then that we need to be transplanted, if you will, into the rich soil of faith in Christ. Only there can our lives develop deep roots, nourished and fed by him. Only there can we thrive and bear fruit for him. And only there will we continue to grow for all eternity into the plantings he wants us to be.

Be routed and grounded in Christ today and always … and overflow with thankfulness!

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.