Tag Archives: faith

Updates

updates

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of always getting messages on my computer to update to the next operating system or the latest version of a particular program that I use. It is a struggle: Do I “move up” or keep things as they are?

In our Christian lives, the answer is always to update, to move forward, to begin anew. That is why we have confession and absolution every time we worship. We need to be upgraded from sinful to forgiven people of God again and again by his grace and mercy. Staying “where we are” spiritually on any given day only keeps us in our sins and thus separated from our source of renewal in God through Christ.

Updating in a spiritual sense also means returning to the Word of God on a regular basis to remind us of what Scripture says. We can so easily forget what the Bible proclaims to us about our motivation for living. What are we designed for? Take a look:

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Life, in the Christian faith, is all about newness and growing and not giving up. So don’t be afraid to keep updating your life of faith with more prayer, more confession, more devotion and Bible readings. Expanding your commitment to Christ means extending your relationship with him. Becoming closer and closer to Christ in more and more ways brings blessings upon blessings. Let the updates abound.

Binary Stars

binary stars

I recently watched an episode of the TV show Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson in which they talked about the existence of binary stars. Binary stars are two stars that orbit around a common center of mass and are gravitationally bound to each other.

This concept got me to thinking that we who are lights of the world for Christ often are inexorably tied to other lights in the Christian “solar system,” if you will. Our light for Christ may be forever linked to the one who first shone their light of Christ to us. Our light of faith may be tied to other “lights” who were in the same confirmation, Sunday school or Bible class with us. Our lights may also be drawn to the “lights” that shone in our families—our spouse, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Knowing that we have lights that are attached to us in this way helps us to shine brighter, confident in their encouragement and support. When our lights might grow dim because of some darkness we have experienced, we know that our “light” partners will brighten our light and life again with their love and care.

What binds us together in our special unions as Christ’s lights is the light of Christ himself. That common draw in the lives of all Christ’s tandem lights is what keeps the bond between us strong in our faith. Making Christ’s light the center of all our relationships keeps us bound in the warm glow of his grace and favor. Savor and value the unique bonds with other “lights” God has blessed you with in the vast constellation of his people.

Gardening

tomatoes and vucchini

Late summer was always the time when my parents had extra tomatoes and zucchini from their garden that they gave away to friends and neighbors. The abundance of the harvest led to acts of generosity and sharing. Those who received from our garden’s bounty were happy to have something fresh and healthy to eat. And the time spent conversing and catching up with my parents was an added and joyful benefit to the passing along of the produce.

This activity reminds me of the fruit of the Spirit that we pass along and share with family, friends and neighbors. The Holy Spirit has given us an overabundance of the fruit of the Spirit, so it is only natural for us to want to freely give to others of our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Happiness comes to those who receive the fruit of the Spirit from us. It increases their faith. It grows their relationship with us. And it fills them with health for their souls.

What ways can you be like a gardener giving of God’s bountiful crop? Making a visit to a loved one, sharing a story that touches the heart, sitting with someone who is waiting at the hospital, supplying a meal to someone who is overwhelmed with work and family life are some of the ways to be a good gardener for God of the Holy Spirit’s fruit. Keep all growth in the Spirit going!

Slides

slides

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.

Virtual Choirs

In this new age of keeping our distance, people have found creative ways to come together as disciples of Christ. One of those ways is through virtual choirs in which many people in various places and spaces lift up their voices to the Lord through Zoom or other video chat programs. It is interesting to watch and listen to virtual choirs to see the joy on singers’ faces and to still hear the harmonies blending beautifully through the screen.

Here is a link to one example of a virtual choir of Augustana College alumni singing, “For the Beauty of the Earth”:

The increase in virtual choirs during this time shows to me that people are craving the experience of singing songs to the Lord together. It is something that is missing from even in-person worship with parishioners’ voices muffled behind masks.

The virtual choir is a a visual representation of the expanse of the Church. The Church is never confined to one place, but is scattered throughout the nation and the world, bringing good news of the beauty our Lord provides to people throughout the earth. We have known in theory that the Church is present worldwide, but now we see it and sense it on our computer screens. When we join our voices with those we hear on screen, we feel the bond of faith we share and we welcome the community of believers into our hearts and homes. Our common tie to Christ as our Lord and Savior connects us and streams through us as we sing.

Search for virtual choirs online and let the notes you raise in chorus with them be a sacrifice of praise to the Lord for his many blessings and music to his ears.

A Boat in the Storm

When the disciples were with Jesus on the boat and a storm blew in, the disciples turned immediately to Jesus. But Jesus was asleep. “Save us,” they pleaded. But Jesus calmly said, “O you of little faith,” and quietly said to the wind and the waves and the rain, “Be still.” And immediately they were still and the disciples were astonished: “Who is this man that even the wind and the sea obey them him?”

This story is very much like our lives. We are very much at peace in the boat of our lives with Jesus asleep inside. Then when a storm comes along and rocks the boat of our lives, we panic and we rouse Jesus from slumber, begging him to save us. Jesus, without much fanfare, stills the storm in our lives and renews faith in us. Peace returns to our hearts and Jesus remains to dwell by our sides.

The boat of our lives continues to sail until it reaches the shore of heaven, where we will dwell in perfect harmony in blessed union with Christ and our fellow lifemates giving praise to our God who welcomes us to the eternal banks of glory in paradise.

The storms that come along can be all sorts of things. They can be physical upheavals like sickness and disease, chronic illness or pain. They can be earthly like rainstorms, hurricanes, floods, fires, tornadoes or other disasters. They can be spiritual turmoil like lack of faith and trust., a loss of reliance on prayer and devotions and a turning away from Scripture for help and strength.

When Jesus tells the wind and waves, “Be still,” he is telling us too, to be still. We are not to get anxious or panic when things start going wrong. The arrival of trouble means that we need to look to God and know that he is who he says he is. “Be still and know that he is God,” Psalm 46:10 says. In our stillness, we know and remember that God is trustworthy, faithful, strong, confident, courageous, comforting, loving, peaceful and caring. These attributes will never change, though the world continues to change all around us. The trouble and turmoil of this world obey the voice of the Lord. We should never think that trouble and turmoil can overcome the power of God in our lives.

When we think of Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm, we often think he is not caring or paying attention to our troubles and turmoil. But the truth is that he is asleep because he is not worried about the trouble and turmoil. He is taking care of them.

The Faith of the Centurion

faith

When Jesus encountered the centurion, it was the centurion who knew what Jesus could do for him. He asked for healing for his sick servant. The centurion understood what it meant to be leader over others. “I say ‘Go’ and they go. I say ‘Come’ and they come.” He knew the power a leader had and obedience a servant under his command had. We learn that Jesus is our supreme leader and we are his servants. It is our duty to obey him. The centurion showed obedience to the Lord, through his words and actions, and the Lord healed the centurion’s servant. The Lord even said, “Not in all of Israel have I found such faith.” This was a shocking statement because the centurion was not a member of the tribes of Israel, God’s people. The centurion was a Roman, an enemy of the people of God. The Romans were rulers over the Israelites. Israel was an occupied nation. What is interesting is that we live as foreigners in a foreign land. We are not citizens of the earth, but citizens of God’s kingdom. What this reminds us of is that followers of Christ are present in the kingdom of God. But there are those like the centurion who honor and respect the Savior and trust his judgment even though he is part of a group that does not believe in him.

Persecution

persecution

We don’t often think about being persecuted for our faith in our modern times, but the truth is that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide and that on average 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith (World Watch List 2019, 5). What can we do with this information? What can be our response? One response, of course, is to pray for those who are being persecuted. Ask that God keep them strong and firm in their faith. Another response is to treasure the freedom we have to worship our Lord and Savior in this country and to recognize that we are blessed to be faithful in our following of Christ unobstructed and unencumbered. Lastly, we can respond by recognizing that following Christ can be a dangerous venture, and one that is not to be taken lightly. We may not experience persecution for our faith right now or as overtly in other countries, but we need to be aware that suffering is part of the Christian walk to one degree or another. We need to stay strong, therefore, in the face of those we may ridicule us for our faith or may question why we follow Christ. This type of “mini-persecution” should never deter us or turn us away from our Lord. This should only make a stronger. Our faith is a matter of life and death. As the Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). For his power is greater than any power that world can throw at us—even death!

Reaching Out to Generation Z

reaching out to Gen Z

Referred to as post-millennials, iGen, or most commonly Generation Z, this group’s oldest members (born between 1999 and 2001) are now entering college, classically a time when the “rubber hits the road” for faith and ministry in a young person’s life. Christianity Today recently led a panel discussion of pastors to get a bead on where these shepherds see Gen Z Christians going as they “head out on their own” in their faith. (From “Bringing GEN Z Into Focus,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 24-25).

• They want to see how their faith speaks to every aspect of their lives: where they work, where they play, where they worship.

• They want to know how their faith will engage the issues that are important to them.

• They want their faith represent the diversity they see present in the world.

• They want their faith to have a digital presence.

What can we as faith leaders learn from these insight? First, we must show application of our Christian faith, not just talk about it on Sunday mornings. We need to give practical suggestions on how our faith can be lived out Monday to Saturday.

We also need to need shy away from issues that are of interest to Gen Zers, even if that might be uncomfortable for us. Give Gen Zers the space to talk about these issues and then share how these issues relate to our beliefs of faith.

While our faith communities may not be as diverse as we would hope them to be, we can in our worship incorporate music from other cultures and integrate text in sermons and other spoken parts of the service that resonate with various ethnic origins that represent the Church as a whole.

Having a digital presence as a faith community is key and keeping it up-to-date is essential for Gen Z to stay engaged and interested in what is happening at church through websites, Facebook pages, twitter handles and Instagram posts. They too are sharing their faith digitally, so we as a church body need to be in those spaces as well with clear Christian messages.

We have a wonderful opportunity to grow as a community of all generations through the input and impact of Generation Z.

Stay Strong

stay strongI found this prayer in a booklet I wrote long ago and it was one of those times when it felt like my past self was talking to my present self and saying, “Listen up!”

Here is the prayer:

I am feeling weak. But you, O God, are strong. And you give strength to your people. As you gave strength to Abraham, so keep me strong in my faith. As you gave strength to Moses, so keep me strong over the long haul. And as you gave strength to David, so keep me strong in the face of giant obstacles.

This prayer helps me to remember that I am not alone whenever I feel weak. Our great patriarchs felt weak in their lives, and God gave them strength. Abraham in his old age (and Sarah in her old age) were promised a son but it didn’t happen right away. But God gave Abraham strength to have faith in the promise. And Isaac was born in God’s time. God even gave Abraham the strength to be willing to sacrifice that son until an angel stopped him from going through with it. That same strength from God keeps me strong in my faith in him no matter what the promise or test.

I think of Moses, too, who felt weak in leading the Israelites out of slavery, saying he didn’t speak well. But God gave him strength to lead his people out of Egypt and guide them on a 40-year journey through the wilderness to the doorstep of the Promised Land. That same strength from God keeps me patient and confident in the extensive journeys through my life and through any qualms I may have of not being capable of completing the plans he has for me.

Then there is David, who as a young shepherd boy, seemed to be no match to the giant Goliath. But God gave David strength to fling his slingshot with a stone and fell that foe. God gives me that same strength against the giant foe of the devil that I may defeat his slings and arrows with the Word of God in my arsenal. I may be small in the grand scheme of things, but I am mighty in the presence of the Lord. Let me never forget that.