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.
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.
In a recent article in Christianity Today, Lisa Fields, an expert on biblical literacy, said: “When it relates to biblical literacy, I always think of Ezekiel, when God commands him to eat the whole scroll, and it will be sweet and then bitter. It just reminds me that in Scripture there will be some bitter portions and some sweet portions. There are some difficult things I have to wrestle with, but because I believe God has called me to this work, I have to take all of it” (“Black Bible Reading Endures,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 17).
It is true that the Bible does not sugar-coat the fact that the wages of sin is death and that there will be suffering in this world. It does not hide the fact that people turned against God, that there was betrayal and hardship among God’s people that still happen today. We cannot change the fact that there is sin in the world and that there will bad days sometimes as we wait for the Last Day to come.
But the sweet news comes from St. Peter who tells us, “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13). The sweetness is revealed in Revelation 21:3-5 in John’s vision of heaven:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”
In the end in the bliss of heaven the bitterness will be no more and we will only taste the sweetness of salvation won for us in Jesus.
Let the first thing we do each day until that time always be to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). That sweetness of the goodness of the Lord supersedes all bitterness.
On this Ash Wednesday and throughout the Lenten season, we consider the fact that we are broken because of sin in our lives, but we are restored in Christ.
There is a centuries-old Japanese method of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi (which means “golden joinery”) or Kintsukuroi (which means “golden repair”). In this method pieces of a broken piece of pottery are joined back together with a special lacquer dusted with gold, silver or platinum. Beautiful trails of gold glint and sparkle where the cracks once existed, creating a unique and beautiful effect. The method can be pain-staking and takes long periods of time to complete. But the results are stunning.
I find it interesting that this method dramatically celebrates the brokenness in the piece of pottery and in essence rejoices in what the brokenness brought about—something even more beautiful than the piece was before. The brokenness is not hidden or ignored. The gold coloring reveals the richness and preciousness which now exudes from the pottery.
In the Bible, we hear Isaiah say to God, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). We are each molded by God into creations like pieces of pottery.
Because of the presence of sin in the world, we can crack and break and become broken. But God in his mercy joins the pieces of our brokenness back together in glorious fashion through the suffering and death of his Son Jesus, whose blood repairs our brokenness and his glorious resurrection seals our status as forgiven and whole children of God who will walk the streets paved with gold in heaven forever.
The repairs of our brokenness were painful and difficult to be sure for our Savior and being restored from our brokenness can be trying for us from day to day. But the struggle is worth it and in the end it makes us more beautiful. For in Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the signs of our brokenness now repaired only proclaim to the world how glorious and brilliant the work of the Lord is in our lives.
This summer I attended a garden tour in my community and got to see many interesting plants and flowers. One of the interesting concepts that caught my attention was that there are particular plants that are called attractors because they attract butterflies. Not just any plant attracts any butterfly, but only certain plants attract very particular butterflies. For instance, black-eyed Susans are known attractors of Monarch butterflies, asters attract Painted Lady butterflies, and zinnias draw Swallowtail butterflies.
It strikes me that this idea could be applied to our Christian witness. First of all, are we living as Christian “attractors,” that is to say, are we people who draw others closer to know more about our faith by the way we live? Or are we living in such a way that we “repel” others from the faith and send them flying to other pastures of religion? I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Our role is to attract others to the glory of God revealed in us. How can we go about that? I so often am personally attracted to the faith present in those who respond to a difficulty in their lives with hope and grace and confidence that God is in charge of the outcome. Our faith-filled reactions to the inevitable troubles that life throws at us serve as attractors to others who are intrigued and curious about such responses that are counter to what secular society expects.
In the Church in the time of Martin Luther, there was a stark division between the sacred and the secular. Only the priest could do the “holy” things. The laity went about their tasks disconnected from any tie to their faith.
But Martin Luther brought the sacred and the secular back together. He pointed out that the tasks of the laity were just a holy as the tasks of the priests and reintroduced the concept of the priesthood of all believers.
…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ on whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone. (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church).
Dr. Erik Hermann in his “Reformation Reverberations: The Lasting Impact of Martin Luther’s Reforms” presentation at Concordia Seminary-St. Louis, referred to this the sacralization of the secular.
In doing research for a Bible study, I ran across this passage about a man named Epaphroditus, whom St. Paul calls “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (Philippians 2:25). Now that’s a lot of jobs for one person!
But it make me think that we have a lot of jobs too in our lives—jobs that are not exclusively related to our profession or paid occupation. We call these many callings in various aspects of our lives vocations.
The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life.
So when I think about my vocations, my callings from God, I consider my role as a editor of religious writing, a Bible study leader, a work colleague, a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a cousin and a friend.