Tag Archives: Christ

Cope With Hope

cope with hopeWhen I was worshiping at Praise and Worship Lutheran Church in Branson, MO, this past fall, Pastor Mark Hunsaker prayed that we would “cope with hope.” I liked that turn of phrase and it made me realize what a wonderful coping mechanism we have in the hope that we have in our crucified and risen Lord. No matter how bad things get in life, we have hope that Christ has conquered sin, trouble and all our frustrations. We have hope that this trial too (no matter how awful) will pass and we will one day be in paradise with our Lord, where there will be no more tears or pain or suffering.

St. Paul makes it clear: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

There is truly light at the end of the tunnel, as St. Peter tells us, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).

A few things jump out for me in that verse.

• A little while. Though the suffering may seem endless to us now, this really will in the long run be a short period of time of hardship before the glorious joy to come.

• Restore you and make you strong. When the suffering ends, you will not be a shell of a person or a weak shadow of yourself. You will be renewed, re-energized and strong in the Lord. You will be fully you!

• Firm and steadfast. That is how we shall be and what we should be along the way: confident and sure in our trust in Christ to carry us through. No doubts, no questions, no confusion. Just faith in his power and grace to get us to the other side.

That is how we can cope with hope this week.

 

Sinking Down

air mattressI recently slept on an air mattress on a trip with some friends. Unfortunately there was a leak somewhere in the mattress, and by the time I woke up the next morning, I had sunk down into the middle with the two sides of the mattress enfolding me like a taco, which brought peals of laughter from my friends when they saw me “sunken down.”

The experience called to mind for me these words of the hymn “What Wondrous Love is This”:

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

When I was literally “sunken down” on the air mattress, it was hard for me to get out. It is impossible when I am sunken down in sin. Only Christ can lift me out.

Another thing I noticed when I was “down low” was that there was still a little bit of air left in the mattress so that I was not sleeping directly on the floor. When I think I have reached rock bottom in my life, I must always remember that the the wind, the air, the breath of the Holy Spirit still lifts me up and sustains me in the faith and keeps me from the very bottom of despair.

And when I was low in the mattress, the sides of air were, I realized, like a warm hug wrapping their arms around me, like a loving Father, who only hates the sin, saying to me, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you. You will not be sucked away by sin.”

The next night I slept on a full-pumped air mattress with no leaks, and all was right with the world.

 

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.

 

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!

Signs of the Resurrection

He is risenThe church that I attend has a sign language interpreter who communicates the words spoken and sung in worship to a group of hearing impaired parishioners. I must confess that I am very often drawn in to her signing and am moved by it.

Recently I noticed that the sign for “He is risen” is two fingers pointing downward, then floated down and placed upon the palm of the other hand. A very literal and visual interpretation of that event. I somehow sense in that sign the miracle of the resurrection and yet the humanity of Christ in the depiction of his body.

What other “signs” of the resurrection of Christ do we see in the world?

I think of flowers budding from seemingly barren ground. I think of butterflies emerging from very rough-looking cocoons. I think of wobbly baby birds that take wing and fly.

The miracle of the resurrection is still astounding and surprising to us. We should never take it for granted.

It is still something that we should marvel at and contemplate as something beyond our imagination.

It is something that is true and real and connected to us and our future.

For we know that when our Lord returns on the Last Day, our bodies, too, will be raised to new life. As it says in Romans 8:11: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

What a comfort to know that Christ’s resurrection means our resurrection and his new life means new life for us, forever with him. Let that message be our source of strength today and every day until he comes!

Everyday Worship

everyday worshipChristianity Today’s 2018 book of the year is Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. The thesis of the book is to point out that all of life is liturgical, that is, filled with sacred everyday rhythms that point to Christ. The most ordinary activities in the author’s life (brushing her teeth, making her bed, fighting with her husband) take on divine meaning.

I have talked about this general idea in previous blogs, but the concept seems to be getting more traction as of late, perhaps because people are so desperate for something solid and definitive in their lives.

I recently was asked by my dad to put together a worship service for a family reunion. And what I ended up doing was using devotions from Hope-Full Living (Creative’s daily devotional for seniors) as parts of the liturgy. A devotion on forgiveness became the confession and absolution, a devotion on loosening your grip on material possessions became the children’s sermon. A blog I wrote about being attractors to others for Christ, just as certain bushes are attractors to certain butterflies became the sermon, and a devotion on blessing others became the benediction.

Real stories about real people became the liturgy for the day that day, and it can become the liturgy of our everyday. Every time we are forgiving, caring, and sharing, we are engaging in our spiritual act of worship. Worship does not always have to be anything formal. It can be the most simple gesture that points someone to the love and salvation of Christ. Even difficulties can point us to the strength of our God in hard times.

Look at your day as a worship service and see how that perhaps transforms your attitude and approach. Begin each day with an Invocation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then close each day, as we often close worship, with the words, “Thanks be to God!”

 

Fast-Forwarding Through Suffering?

fast forwardKathryn A. Kleinhans, dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, posits, “It’s tempting to fast-forward through Jesus’ suffering and death to Easter lilies and the happy ending. In a broken world, we long for happy endings” (“Easter: The Best News in the World,” Living Lutheran, April 2018, 45).

In fact, the disciples themselves wanted to fast-forward through Jesus’ suffering or avoid it altogether. One time after Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die … and then rise. Peter proclaimed, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). And two other times Jesus told the disciples that his suffering was coming before his resurrection, but they did not understand.

In our lives today we too often seek to push a fast-forward button through the inevitable suffering in our lives, But there is no such thing as a fast-forward button through the suffering in our lives. Part of being a Christian in the world entails suffering. Martin Luther even calls it a mark of the Church. And as humans in a sinful world, suffering is the result of our brokenness.

The Bible even says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). There is no getting around it for Jesus or for us.

But we are assured that there is value in the suffering. As St. Paul tells us, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). We are made stronger people through the suffering.

The best news of all is the suffering will not last forever. Just as Jesus rose from the dead three days after his suffering and death, the day will come when suffering will end and we will rise, too, to the overflowing joy of heaven.

As St. Paul declares, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The happy ending of heaven will be even sweeter for us because of the suffering.

So though we cannot fast-forward through suffering, we can move through it with grace and resolve because Christ fought through the pain to free us forever. Alleluia!

 

Loosen Your Grip

messy basementI recently heard the following prayer petition spoken at a conference I was attending:

Loosen our attachment to earthly things. May we receive them with the condition of their surrender.

The petition struck me because at the moment I had lost my coat and was feeling sad about it. I was gripping too tightly to my earthly possession at that exact time.

These words brought home to me too that we as a society and we as Christians even, are clinging too tightly to the things of this earth: our homes, our clothes, our smartphone, our iPads, our furniture, etc.

We attach a lot of sentimentality to things and do not wish to part with “our stuff.” In the most extreme cases, this can lead to hoarding, which a whole television show is dedicated to. We think when we see a hoarder, “How could they get to that point?” But then we go down to our own basements and see box after box of “stuff.” Why are we holding on all of this?

At the same conference where I heard this petition, Pastor Chris Singer from Houston, TX, spoke about how he and his family lost all of their possessions in Hurricane Harvey and how their house was greatly damaged and at that time still uninhabitable.

But what came out of that experience for Singer was the realization that our lives are not about things, but about Christ, and how we can serve others through him. Their church became a crisis center for people who needed the basics to survive. And people generously donated items for the people in need to use to make it through this tough time in their lives.

All of this made me see that in many ways we on a daily basis need to loosen our grip on things. As Christians, we know that this earth and everything in it will pass away and we will have only our faith in Christ and his presence with us.

So loosen your grip by giving things away to those in need and sharing what you have with others. Be willing to surrender your stuff. Don’t hang on too much to what will pass away, but hang on to Christ. He will never let you go.

House of Mercy

house of mercyAn article in winter 2018 Lutherans Engage magazine highlighted the work of Rev. Eddie Hosch in Lima, Peru. Part of this ministry there includes a Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy), a safe place where children can come after school or at other times to be with other children and learn more about Jesus.

Hosch says, “I love the kids. The opportunities here are huge to share the Gospel in a simple way: a lunch, a hug, friendship. All allowing us to teach the children the Word of God.”

This house of mercy works with the prayer that the Word of God will produce faith in these children and their parents and will help them to see Christ’s mercy at work in their lives.

This Casa de Misericordia is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own lives. How can each of our homes be houses of mercy to show others the mercy of Christ? How can we establish our churches as being houses of mercy for those who are in need in our community/

Many programs already exist along these lines with food pantries and clothing drives in many parishes. But what I think is important to foster is the sense that our homes and our churches are safe and loving places to come for help. God in his mercy did not turn people away from his love in Jesus, and we should convey our willingness to be of service to those around us who are truly in need.

I like Hosch’s idea of sharing mercy in simple ways. Maybe it is a wave at your neighbor or an invitation to chat on your front porch. Maybe it is just putting your arm around someone you know is struggling at church. Perhaps it is just saying “You are safe here” to someone who is living in fear.

Several years ago Pope Francis declared a year of mercy, and my recommendation to you this week is to declare this a week of mercy in your own home and see what happens.

Use this as your theme verse:

God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. —Ephesians 2:4-5

Be alive with Christ’s mercy this week!

 

The Gift Economy

gift economyThe concept of the gift economy recently came up in a meeting with fellow editors. Apparently the idea of the gift economy is gaining traction and interest again in our society, particularly among Christians, with speakers discussing it at various religious conferences.

What is the gift economy exactly? It is the practice of giving items to people without any expectation of anything in return. This is in contrast, of course, to our market-based economy and even the barter system in which goods and services are exchanged for money or other items in return.

Anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied these various types of economies within a range of cultures and introduced the terms reciprocity (the expectation of something equal in return), inalienable possessions (things that can only belong to an individual person) and prestation (a cultural offering of a gift or service). The type of an economy that a culture uses tends to say a lot about them as people.

So why is the concept of the gift economy trending in our world today? My hunch is that we, especially as Christians, are recognizing more and more that our culture today is driven largely by money, the stock market, sales and profits. And we in our Christian culture recognize that our life should be less about the bottom line and more about sharing love.

While traditional financial exchanges are important and necessary in a culture, of course, ultimately life should not be about a running tally of who gave what to whom and did those items match up monetarily. Life, in the Christian model, should be at its most essential about giving to others with no conditions. It should be about caring for others as people and not as customers.

The Bible even says, “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” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving should be about our hearts and our love for others, not about tracking numbers or keeping score somehow.

Our lives should first and foremost be modeled after Christ, who gave his life as a free gift for us that we can never repay. He gave his life on the cross out of love for us that we might show that same love to others unconditionally and live with him together in heaven one day.

Each day is a gift because of Christ, so we are called to give as freely to others without exception.