Tag Archives: Christ

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.

 

Be Ready

cockcrowIn an article in the December 2017 Living Lutheran, Pastor Brian Hiortdahl points to the word cockcrow in Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 13:35:

Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.

Cockcrow is Mark’s tell,” Hiortdahl says. “Sooner than anyone is ready for it, Jesus will be betrayed, arrested, denied (cockcrow), crucified and raised. The arrival of the kingdom—in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is sudden and surprising” (“Ready or not … Christ is coming,” Living Lutheran, December 2017, 27).

There is great foreshadowing in this verse. We know that Peter denied Jesus at cockcrow. In essence, he was not ready for the salvation of Christ to come. He was caught off guard and spoke against his Lord when pressed. But the realization hit him immediately, Matthew 26:75 records:

And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Which begs the question: Will we be ready when Christ returns? We know it is coming, but as the Bible says again and again, we do not know when. I find it interesting that in some translations of Mark 13:35, it says “at 3 o’clock on the morning” instead of “at cockcrow.” Most people would probably consider 3 a.m. the most unexpected time of day for something startling to happen, when most of us are fast asleep.

But the reality is that any time of the day or night is a possibility for when Christ could return. There are many times in life when I think “Now would be a good time for Christ to come back.” But it is not up to me. It is up to God and we are called to respond immediately whenever it happens. I am reminded of the words of the apostle John’s vision in Revelation:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Our immediate response to Christ when he comes is to praise and worship him for his salvation. No fear, no worry, no tears, no pain—just joy.

 

Treasures in Heaven

damaged packageIn an article in October 22, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporter Aisha Sulton relayed the story of how her father had shipped several boxes of her childhood memorabilia from his basement, but how only one tattered box actually arrived at her home. The note inside from the post office said, “During the processing of your package the contents became unsecured and required rewrapping in order to forward it.”

All that was left of her childhood possessions were a couple elementary and high school yearbooks. All the other papers, ribbons, trophies, journals, personal letters and photos that were in those boxes originally were gone forever.

Sulton said she felt a pinch in her heart for the lost items for several days afterward. But then Hurricane Harvey hit and she witnessed on the news how hundreds of thousands of people lost everything they had in the rising waters. She was able to put her own small loss into perspective and recognize the fact that, as Henry Havelock Ellis write, “All of the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

Which called to mind for me Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For us a Christians, we need to always remember that we need to loosen our grip on our earthly possessions that will one day be destroyed, but to hold fast to the treasures of heaven of forgiveness, life in Christ, and salvation in him that will never pass away, but will be with us forever.

Think of ways this week that you can start letting go of some of your earthly possessions and ways you can begin to hold on more tightly to the things of heaven that really matter.

Accompaniment

accompanimentOur sister company, Twenty-Third Publications, came out with a publication recently called The Art of Accompaniment, a term expressed by Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel. Here is the link to the booklet:

http://www.twentythirdpublications.com/artofacniesc.html

By the term “the art of accompaniment,” Pope Francis is referring to the call of the Church to walk with people in compassion and love in whatever circumstances of life they are given.

The concept of the art of accompaniment can be applied to our journeying with younger generations through their milestones of faith as well (baptism, First Communion, confirmation). Our presence at these events and our encouragement of them in their faith can go a long way in keeping them grounded and confident in their relationship with Christ.

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The Magna Carta of Christianity

RomansMy pastor recently called the book of Romans the Magna Carta of Christianity, because it states what makes our faith unique and includes the details of our faith that are non-negotiable.

A perusal of Romans reveals the following non-negotiables:

The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17)

No one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by works of the law (Romans 3:20)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22)

Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)

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Repurposing

coffee table crateThere is a lot of interest and energy lately around the concept of repurposing. I confess that I watch a lot of home improvement shows and they are always repurposing old crates into rustic coffee tables or making bookshelves out of old school lockers, and things like that. In the art world, there are many artists who create interesting art pieces from old-fashioned kitchen utensils, tins, banks and toys found at flea markets or antique stores.

The concept of repurposing came to my mind recently when read again the story in Scripture of the conversion of St. Paul. Here was a man  was zealous in his persecution of Christians. But God repurposed this man’s zealousness to promote the Christian message instead. The story of the repurposing of Saul to Paul makes us realize that God can do dramatic things with what is put before him. Like a craftsperson at a workbench with various pieces laid out, God can create something beautiful and unexpected from the most random of things.

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Let Your Song Go On

song birdWhen I was worshiping recently at the Chapel of the Resurrection at my alma mater, Valparaiso University, we sang this verse from “All Creatures, Worship God Most High”:

All who for love of God forgive,
all who in pain or sorrow grieve;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ bears your burdens and your fears;
still make your song amid the tears:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The line “still make your song amid the tears” struck me. Our song of love for our Lord that our God has given us to sing is never drowned out by the sadnesses of our lives. That is not to say that the sorrows of our lives are not deep and sore and real. They are. But they are not the final refrain. I am moved by the fact that the word tears in this verse is followed immediately by 5 alleluias! The alleluias have the last word.

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