My aunt and uncle recently delivered to me 46 carousels of slides my grandfather took on trips to Europe and the Holy Land. “But how will I see them?” I wondered. My aunt and uncle brought an old projector that is no longer available in any stores for me to view the images. “But where will I show the slides when I have no blank walls?” My aunt and uncle brought a classic screen that I can unroll and stand anywhere in my home to clearly capture the images on a white background.
My experience with the slides made me think of this passage:
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!” (Romans 10:14-15).
We are like the projector that shines the light on the Word of God so that people can see it and understand it. Without the projector, the slides are useless. And without our witness, the message of the Gospel will never be known.
We are also like the screen. Without the Word of God reflected upon us, people will never see how the image of Christ will impact the blank slate of our lives. The story of our faith is revealed only when it is captured in our words and actions illuminated by Christ.
My grandpa’s journeys are shown in his slides. And our journey of faith is shown in our Savior. Do all you can to shine the light on the one who is the Light of the World. Then people will know. People will see. And people will believe.
Taking a vacation this summer may look a little different with the usual destinations closed or only open at certain capacities with restrictions. Wearing masks to the beach or bringing hand sanitizer to the amusement park may feel a little strange, like we are taking the fun out of the experience, but these precautions have become a necessary part of being in public spaces. We must learn to live with it and still let the fun happen.
Now more than ever we are keenly aware that life, even for the Christian, is not full of sunshine and roses. There are things that get in the way of our good times. There are problems that detract from what we had planned. Long before this pandemic came along, St. Paul addresses these disappointments we face that can steal our joy: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
St. Paul helps us to see that nuisances, difficulties, even fiery ordeals are nothing usual, even on a vacation. Don’t be taken aback by them, but find your joy in Christ. He will give you gladness to carry you through the barriers and detours put in your path. Our joy in Christ should be greater than any inconvenience that comes our way. When we share in Christ’s suffering, we share even more in his happiness that heaven is on the horizon and none of these bumps in the road is going to stop us from our arrival there.
We are in an era when we are thinking about each other’s faces
more often than we perhaps did in times before. I am thinking about the many
faces of people that now appear before us when we video chat with family and
co-workers. I think of faces we can’t see when they are behind masks in grocery
stores or restaurants or other locales. I think of our faces on our profiles on
Facebook and Instagram and other social media outlets.
Face it! Our faces say a lot about us, about who we are, about how we feel, about what matters to us. Those who are fellow Christians with us (and those who are not) are looking closer at our faces than we may realize. It is important for our faces to reflect Christ. The Bible says, ”For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Our faces should shine with Jesus’ love. Our faces should reveal that we know God in our heart. Our faces should show that we are aware of the way out of the darkness. No matter what we face, we have a Savior who is watching us with love and leading us to glorify him in every smile, every listening ear and every eye that looks with care. People are saying they can see people smile through their masks. The beauty of our faith in Christ can go through and get out from under any barrier put in front of it. Let your face be a beacon of Christ’s presence in your life, no matter where it may turn up.
Today is the fourth in a series on the 7 Last Words of Christ.
Today you will be with me in paradise.
When the thief on the right of Jesus’ cross said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus responded with comforting words that assure the thief on the right that he will be with Christ that day in heaven. This statement from Christ reminds us that a place awaits us in heaven on the day that we die and it awaits us even now because Christ has died on the cross for us to forgive our sins. This scene reminds us that Jesus’ love and forgiveness extend to the most sinful—even to a thief who was sentenced to death, deservedly so, as the thief himself mentions to the other thief on the cross. They justly deserved punishment, he said. So we justly deserve punishment, but Jesus forgives us.
Vietnam veteran Roger Blum served as a combat artist. He remembers “painting combat scenes was not relaxing. It was intense and personal.” His job required him to look hard at the results of combat. He fights back tears even today when he thinks of those who died. He admits that his trust in God at the time amounted to making sure to stand next to someone with a machine gun.
Then he met another combat artist who was a Christian. Blum was amazed at the Christian’s visible happiness and freedom in Christ. The encounter with the Christian artist led him to examine his own faith. After the war, he attended a neighbor’s Church and fell in love with Christ. He now paints wildlife and landscapes that show God’s creative glory (Dierberger, Sharon, “Portrait of a Christian Artist,” World Magazine, April 27, 2019, 61).
The story of Roger Blum serves as a blueprint for the transformation that we experience when we encounter Christ. Without Christ, the world and our own perspective focus on the tragedies, the battles, the hardships of life. That is what we picture most in our minds. But with Christ, those tough things are not our focus. Instead, we look to what is beautiful around us. We picture most in our minds what brings God glory. Take time to examine the world through the eyes of Christ to find compassion, grace, love and hope. Share the vision of Christ with others and put it on full display for all to see. That is the art of the Christian perspective.
In the article “The Integrated Pastor,” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Todd Wilson identifies three areas a pastor needs to take seriously to stay wholely healthy. While meant for pastors, the principles can apply to us all. Here are the three areas to focus on:
Take the body more seriously. Eat healthy and regularly. Exercise. Get good sleep. Take care of your body when it is sick or hurting. You are your best self and the person God created you to be when your body is functioning at its best.
Take the brain more seriously. Think positively. Don’t wallow in negative thought. Think about those things that are pleasing to God. I am always going back to Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Thinking on these things keeps our brains stronger and healthier in faith and closer to the mind of God.
Take interpersonal communion more seriously. God has created us to be in community with others. We need to make time to be with others, to learn from them, to grow in our understanding of our place in the Body of Christ. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says. The mutual support of one another goes a long way to keep our relationships with others and with Christ healthy and strong.
Let these three principles guide your life as you live your best life in the Lord.
In the book Discipling in a Multicultural World, author Ajith Fernando introduces the idea of one type of discipling being like spiritual parenting. He defines spiritual parenting as “a long-term and highly relational ministry in which disciplers assume indefinite responsibility for their disciplees’ spiritual growth” (“Discipleship That Travels,” Christianity Today, 68). He cites such examples from the Bible as Paul and Timothy and Peter and Mark.
This model encourages a more one-on-one approach and highlights meeting people where they are at in their spiritual journey without overwhelming them with knowledge-based rhetoric. Spiritual parenting involves loving and caring and guiding and not so much preaching and teaching and telling. “Like earthly parents, spiritual parents take primary responsibility for their children’s growth, but they realize that their growth requires relationships and insights beyond what they alone can offer” (“Discipleship That Travels,” Christianity Today, 68). The ultimate goal is to reach spiritual growth and maturity through the power of the Holy Spirit. The role of the spiritual parent then is get the ball rolling, so to speak, to help to “present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29). Consider today someone you can be a spiritual parent to. Perhaps you can establish a weekly or monthly time to meet or talk on the phone. It is certain you will grow in the your spiritual life in the process as well.
In 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.
A 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.
Dan Shepmann, one of the keynote speakers at Best Practices in Phoenix in February, talked about these verses:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. —Matthew 11:29-30
Shepmann brought an actual yoke to show. It does not look easy or light at first glance, but in the hands of our Master, it is.
Yokes put on oxen are controlled by the farmer, the Master of the ox.The ox yoked to the Master cannot go anywhere without the Master guiding and directing. This makes the work easier for the ox. With Christ as our guide, we learn how to maneuver through the treacherous portions of life, as he did on the way to the cross for our salvation.
One translation of these verses says that the Master’s yoke “fits well.” It is not a “one size fits all” sort of approach. Our weight, our mission, that is placed upon us by our Lord is custom designed for us. So being yoked to our Savior is not something to struggle with, but something to hold on to and to celebrate the gifts God has given you to be the bearer of this yoke.
And our Savior promises to be gentle. His gentle hands on the reigns make our work for him manageable and doable and pleasing to him and to ourselves. In this light, what a privilege it is to “take his yoke upon us.”