New Models of Ministry

new modelsAs the church develops and changes in these modern times, the traditional model of a congregation has not led to new growth as it once did and many congregations in certain areas are shrinking. So new models of ministry have arisen in these once-thriving, now dwindling parishes, according to the article “Led by the Spirit” in the February 2019 Living Lutheran magazine.

One model is the anchor model. Smaller congregations have partnered with other larger congregations to work together to build ministries that accommodate members from the various locales. Some congregations in this partnership have strength in some areas that other congregations do not, and vice versa. Shared facilities and staff and Bible studies spread the work to more people so one person or space or class does not seem overloaded or underattended. This model also shows how different aspects of the Body of Christ can work together.

Another model is the adoption model. In this scenario, one church “adopts” another and they become one more fully functioning church. This model allows for members to work together in a more personal, more integrated, singular body of believers. Coming together as one builds bonds that would not exist otherwise perhaps if congregations were meeting separately. This model has has a biblical basis in that St. Paul says that we all have been adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). So this model clearly represents this concept of being forever bonded as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Yet another model getting more traction in traditional churches that are getting smaller is the redevelopment model. Churches using this model work to change the way they “do church” by reconnecting to the community around them in different ways, not relying solely on membership, but on event-based outreach to meet the specific needs of the people who are currently on their doorsteps and in the pews. This model highlights service and draws strength from the accomplishments that are made to bring hope and help and healing in small and more hands-on ways to people who are members or not.

Making the most of what God has given you in ministry is key in all these models and shows that the Church is never static, but always moving and adjusting and touching the lives of people in miraculous ways through the love and care of Jesus present in his people.

Digital Bibles

digital BibleThe use of digital Bibles as exploded over the last several years. So much so that I know that in many churches the pastor will say in a sermon, “Let’s open our Bibles or your favorite Bible app or website to look more closely at our reading for today.” It seems more common these days for people to read Scripture to me on their phones when we are talking about a particular topic or a favorite verse they want to share.

Biblegateway.com is my go-to digital Bible most of the time. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has 219 Bible translations in 72 languages available to users. I like to use it to get right to a verse I was trying to think of. Like, say, I am looking for that verse about “endurance” and “character ” Type in those two words into biblegateway.com and boom! There it is. Romans 5:4: “Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Now I can go from there quickly and easily in the flow of writing a devotion or blog or letter to a friend to make my point.

Hard to believe that at one time we spent lots of time flipping Bible pages, looking through concordances and saying to ourselves, “I know it is here somewhere in Romans, but where exactly?”

Digital Bibles do take the guesswork out of finding verses. But the work of the Holy Spirit still needs to happen within our hearts for these words now more quickly found to speak to us deeply and spiritually. Digital Bibles should never be a way for for us to “click it and forget it” and go on to the next verse or the next app or the next website. We still need to be people who “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). What the Bible (digital or leatherbound or otherwise) has to say to us must continue to sink into us and make a difference in how we live, speak and act.

That’s why I do like the “in context” feature available on biblegateway.com. It takes the verse you have found and shows you the verses that surround it, the story this verse is from, the topic that this verse was a part of. It’s easy to “cherry-pick” Bible verses when you are working with a digital Bible and not get the full message being expressed, unfortunately. So taking the extra step to put verses in context is invaluable to our understanding of the Word of God for our lives.

Making the most of the digital Bible you use can help you grow in faith and develop a closer relationship with Christ. In the end that is all that matters, no matter how those precious words of salvation through his cross and empty tomb reach you. See how much “screen time” can involve “faith time” in the digital Word this week!

 

The Graduation Verse

graduationWith all the graduations happening in these weeks, it reminds me to take a closer look at what I have come to call “the graduation verse,” Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It is a very meaningful and inspiring verse and one that gives comfort to many of us who are sending our children, nieces and nephews and other loved ones off on their adventure beyond   particular school walls.

Several things jump out at me about this verse. First of all, God says he KNOWS the plans he has for each of us. He is not “thinking about it” or “undecided” or “exploring various options,” sentiments we may be hearing from our graduates here and there, perhaps. God KNOWS what he has in mind for each of our graduates.

And if it is God who has a plan for each person, then WE know that that plan is a good one, one for our welfare, our well-bring, our ultimate benefit.

And what does that plan look like? It has a future. Which means it is going somewhere. It will have direction, a goal, a mission. And it has a hope. The plan has the capacity to keep driving, keep moving, keep striving. Hope indicates there is meaning and purpose in what God has in store, and that God will be a part of that plan every step of the way. Because only he is our hope.

Congratulations to all those graduating from grade school, high school and college. Blessings on embarking on the plan God has for you.

Recalculating

recaluculatingRecalculating. We all have experienced hearing that word at one time or another when we are using our GPS and go a different way than the app has mapped out, Though we have gone “off-course,” our GPS finds a new way to get us back on track.

The idea of recalculating recalls for me the work of our Good Shepherd in our lives. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). When we have gone our own way, our Good Shepherd comes and finds us. As our Good Shepherd tells us, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matthew 18:11-13). Jesus is our divine GPS and does the recalculating for us by going to the cross to save us from our sins and put us back on the path to everlasting life.

Let the Good Shepherd lead you on the path he has set for you.

 

 

Making a House a Christian Home

home sweet homeSome friends of mine recently moved to a new house and posted this on on their Facebook page when they closed on the deal: A house is made of walls and beams. A home is made of love and dreams.

What a beautiful sentiment to ponder as they embark on a new adventure in a new dwelling place.

This got me to thinking: What makes a house a Christian home?

A Christian home is a place where there is genuine love for one another and for Christ.

A Christian home is a place where the Word of God is shared and perhaps even displayed through plaques with favorite verses.

A Christian home is a place where forgiveness flows from one to another.

A Christian home is a place where prayers are said over meals and at bedtime and at anytime.

A Christian home is a place where all our hopes and dreams are grounded in the good news from Jesus who comforts us with these words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).

We know as Christians that our homes here on earth are only temporary, but our eternal dwelling place is in heaven, where we will join with all the saints in praising the name of our Savior, Jesus. May our homes here on earth give us glimpses of our home yet to come.

 

 

Humility

humilityIn a recent article in Christianity Today, author Karen Swallow Prior says this about humility:

“The virtue of humility is thought to be the foundation of all other virtues. Humility comes from the same root word as human, one that means earth or ground, the substance of our bodies’ origin and  ultimate decay. To have humility, then, is to understand our origins and our place in the world, to have an accurate sense of who and what we are. Thus, virtuous humility isn’t just a matter of acknowledging our limitations and weaknesses; it is recognizes gifts and strengths, too. Humility is an accurate assessment of oneself in relation to the world and to God” (Prior, Karen Swallow, “The Art of Virtuous Reading,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 37).

No wonder the Bible calls us to be humble. Consider these verses:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:10).

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).

These verses remind me of that classic acronym for JOY we need to always keep in mind as we set priorities in our lives. We need to always remember that the hierarchy for us as Christians is: Jesus, Others and then Yourself. Prioritizing our lives in this way is the only way for us for find true happiness and joy in its purest sense. Putting Jesus first makes us remember that life is not about us; it is about him. And putting others before ourselves reminds us that life is all about serving those around us with the gifts that God has given us, not just serving ourselves.

Humility is not about putting ourselves down, but seeing that our place is to lift up Christ and others, who, in turn, lift us up. Find joy in being humble this week.

 

Plein Air

plein air

Plein air is a French expression that means “open air” and is a practice of painting in which artists work on the spot. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told of an artist, Patrick Saunders, who travels around the country in his pickup with an Airstream camper, capturing moments with paint on canvas as he sees them. There are even plein air competitions hosted by cities, counties, museums and art magazines in which artists are given a period of time to paint and submit work of scenes as soon they see them in whatever weather conditions they may find themselves in. “I’ve painted out in thunderstorms, in 100-degree weather, in 30-degree weather,” Saunders says (Lewis, Jon, “Plein Air from an Airstream,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 2019, B4). Plein air painting also helps artists not to dwell too much on the small details. They paint then and there and they are done.

I find this discipline rather interesting because it parallels many times what we must do as Christians in this world as we “paint the picture” for others of what our salvation in Jesus is all about. Oftentimes we are called on the spot to witness to others about our faith and we have no time to prepare. We must just in that moment speak from our heart and soul. The Holy Spirit helps us in this task. As Scripture says, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). The conditions may not be perfect, but the message is just as beautiful no matter where you declare it. And just like the plein air artists, you do not need to worry about the minor details or the exact words. God will make your on-the-spot “word pictures” of forgiveness and everlasting life found in Jesus Christ alone a masterpiece.

The Christian Job Description

Christian job descriptionWhat kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives. Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2 Peter 3:11, 14

We so often ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” And many people ask it of us. The answer may not come as quickly to our minds as we would like it to.

Apparently, the people in Peter’s day had the same question, which Peter helps us to respond to.

What kind of people are we to be as Christians?

Peter says we ought to:

• live holy and godly lives

• make every effort to be found spotless and blameless

• be at peace with Christ

These characteristics may not seem possible as times, but with Christ they are.

• Living holy and godly lives means living like Christ did in his holy and godly life—loving others unconditionally, putting our relationship with God first, making our spiritual lives our primary priority and emphasis, staying humble and dependent on God—and then recognizing that only Christ can make us holy through the suffering and death of his Son.

• Making every effort to be found spotless and blameless means not pursuing paths that we know full well will lead to sinful behavior. It also means not engaging with others in a way that puts us at fault through such things as angry words or the spreading of gossip. Treat people in a way that no negative feelings that people may have can ever come back to us.

• Being at peace with Christ comes first ad foremost when we confess our sins to him  and we receive his forgiveness. Knowing that we are no longer enemies of God because of our sins brings us back in harmony with God and with Christ. We are not at odds with him. We are friends with him, and that friendship with him should guide our friendships with others so that we live in peace and harmony with them at all times.

Put these hallmarks of the Christian life into practice as much as you can this week and consider it your job description. Embrace the joy it brings and rejoice in the fact that everything we do is not to earn our salvation but to respond in thanksgiving to the salvation won for us by Christ on the cross.

 

 

Out of the Tomb

open tomb

Happy Easter! The popular worship song, “Glorious Day,” includes these lyrics:

You called my name
And I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness
Into your glorious day

On this day when we celebrate Christ emerging from the tomb to resurrected life, we remember that on this day our resurrected Lord frees us from all the “tombs” we have put ourselves in on this earth, “tombs” of guilt, shame, addiction, fear, doubt. Now that Christ has step foot from his tomb alive, we are released from these “tombs” to bask in this glorious day of resurrection joy, filled with victory, forgiveness, confidence and faith in Christ. In his glory, we have all the grace we need from him to overcome all that once held us back from new life. Our life is now renewed and restored forever. What glorious news! Alleluia! Amen.

The Most Popular Bible Verse

top Bible verseAccording to YouVersion, one of the most popular Bible apps in the world, the Bible verse that was the most bookmarked, highlighted and shared over the course of 2018 in the U.S. and globally was Isaiah 41:10:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

It is not hard to see why. It is chuck full of promises and assurances from God. Why should we not fear? Because God is with us. Why should we not be dismayed? Because he is our God and he can do anything and everything. What can our God do for us? He can strengthen you when you are weak. He can help you when you are in trouble. He had uphold you when you are down.

This is a good verse for us to commit to memory, to put on our bathroom mirror, to write on a Post-It on our desks. This is a verse that can get you through the day.

The fact that this verse was the most shared verse of the year over the internet and through smartphones warms my heart as well. It shows that people are using God’s Word to help and comfort and give hope through modern means to get the messages of our Lord out instantly.

Consider sending Isaiah 41:10 out to a friend you are thinking about who may be needing to hear these words of support right now. Become part of a positive popular trend.