Tag Archives: God

In the World, Not Of It

world

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:16

We as Christians must remind ourselves daily that we are in the world, but not of it. We can so easily be drawn in to the things of this world (money, clothes, food, homes, jobs) that we can forget that we need to pay more attention to the things not of this world (heaven, salvation, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit). Our lives should be directed by the things not of this earth, not by the things of this earth.

How can we do that? By looking to Christ and mirroring what he did and said while on this earth. Remember what he said: “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 12:23). Christ spent more of his time talking to people about the kingdom of heaven and the ways of God. His desire was to help people know more about what is unseen than what is seen. St. Paul tells us to do the same in 1 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

And there’s the heart of the matter. The world and everything in it will one day pass away. But God and our life in Christ will last forever. It is time, therefore, for us to release the grip we have on earthly things and hang on more tightly to the everlasting things. Putting the eternal before the temporal in our minds gives us the proper perspective in how we spend our time while we walk on this earth. Prayer, worship, reading God’s Word are what should take precedence in our lives and lead us forward to the world yet to come.

A Day at a Time

calendar

I have been hearing people say they can’t remember what day of the week it is with all this staying-at-home and all this virtual learning going on in schools. We have lost in some ways the rhythm of our week with the changes that have happened because of the pandemic.

In some ways, the Bible tells us, we do not need to really worry what day it is or how far we are into our week. All we need to do is be thankful for the day we are in. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Each day is a gift, no matter when it is. Find ways to rejoice in the day. Look out at the sunshine. Take a walk. Breathe in the air. Listen for birds chirping. Feel the breeze. It is good to be in the moment.

Another way to look at our days, the Bible says, is not to think so much about future days, but just deal with the day at hand. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). We cannot solve all of life’s problems in one day. All we can do is handle any issues that come up in any given day the best that we can. Piling on the problems of future days to one day’s agenda is not healthy or beneficial for us. It is in our interest to battle only what hardships a single day lobs at us. Deal with your days one day at a time.

St. Peter tells us, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). This helps us to remember that time is relative. What we think is a long time is nothing to our God, and what seems short to us can seem like an eternity to others. Don’t put all your hopes and dreams into one day. Let things happen naturally and by God’s design. We cannot control what a day may bring. So leave it up to God and let him take the reins. We will feel better each day knowing he is in charge of all our days.

Preaching to Gen Z

preaching to Gen Z

Preaching to Generation Z (those born from 1999 on) means you can’t preach your Grandpa’s sermon anymore. Pastor Trygve Johnson has some tips for how to connect to Gen Z from the pulpit (“Next-Gen Preaching,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 35-36).

  1. I get inside my sermon. Preachers should not be afraid to share their stories from their own lives. They should not be afraid to laugh at themselves. Generation Z seeks a preacher that is relational, that tells it like it is, that it is personal.
  2. I offer a sense of history and place. Preachers should put sermons in context both Scripturally and in terms of the space where they are worshiping. In this digital age, Gen Zers are not as fully aware of some of the stories of the Bible as perhaps generations before have been and they may not be as connected to the meaning and history behind the surroundings in their worship space and the community that formed there. These community stories need to be told as well.
  3. I treat people like insiders. Preachers need to help those who are listening that they are loved, cared for, valued and accepted. Gen Zers are eager to be a part of something and learn new terms and new insights. Preachers should not shy away from sharing those new and perhaps more challenging concepts.
  4. I preach for Gen Z, not at them. Preachers should not try to make their messages trendy, hip, or all about pop culture to impress Gen Z. Preaching for Gen Z means making God the subject of the sermon, and the salvation found in Christ alone. Keeping God at the center of all that is said in sermons is what will be of most value to Gen Z. The Word of God is what they came to hear.

In many ways these principles are actually what can make preaching better for all generations.

Wholely Healthy

wholely healthy

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The Graduation Verse

graduationWith all the graduations happening in these weeks, it reminds me to take a closer look at what I have come to call “the graduation verse,” Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It is a very meaningful and inspiring verse and one that gives comfort to many of us who are sending our children, nieces and nephews and other loved ones off on their adventure beyond   particular school walls.

Several things jump out at me about this verse. First of all, God says he KNOWS the plans he has for each of us. He is not “thinking about it” or “undecided” or “exploring various options,” sentiments we may be hearing from our graduates here and there, perhaps. God KNOWS what he has in mind for each of our graduates.

And if it is God who has a plan for each person, then WE know that that plan is a good one, one for our welfare, our well-bring, our ultimate benefit.

And what does that plan look like? It has a future. Which means it is going somewhere. It will have direction, a goal, a mission. And it has a hope. The plan has the capacity to keep driving, keep moving, keep striving. Hope indicates there is meaning and purpose in what God has in store, and that God will be a part of that plan every step of the way. Because only he is our hope.

Congratulations to all those graduating from grade school, high school and college. Blessings on embarking on the plan God has for you.

The Christian Job Description

Christian job descriptionWhat kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives. Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2 Peter 3:11, 14

We so often ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” And many people ask it of us. The answer may not come as quickly to our minds as we would like it to.

Apparently, the people in Peter’s day had the same question, which Peter helps us to respond to.

What kind of people are we to be as Christians?

Peter says we ought to:

• live holy and godly lives

• make every effort to be found spotless and blameless

• be at peace with Christ

These characteristics may not seem possible as times, but with Christ they are.

• Living holy and godly lives means living like Christ did in his holy and godly life—loving others unconditionally, putting our relationship with God first, making our spiritual lives our primary priority and emphasis, staying humble and dependent on God—and then recognizing that only Christ can make us holy through the suffering and death of his Son.

• Making every effort to be found spotless and blameless means not pursuing paths that we know full well will lead to sinful behavior. It also means not engaging with others in a way that puts us at fault through such things as angry words or the spreading of gossip. Treat people in a way that no negative feelings that people may have can ever come back to us.

• Being at peace with Christ comes first ad foremost when we confess our sins to him  and we receive his forgiveness. Knowing that we are no longer enemies of God because of our sins brings us back in harmony with God and with Christ. We are not at odds with him. We are friends with him, and that friendship with him should guide our friendships with others so that we live in peace and harmony with them at all times.

Put these hallmarks of the Christian life into practice as much as you can this week and consider it your job description. Embrace the joy it brings and rejoice in the fact that everything we do is not to earn our salvation but to respond in thanksgiving to the salvation won for us by Christ on the cross.

 

 

Everyone a Theologian

TheologiansWhen we hear the word theologian, we most often think of bearded men in tweed jackets sitting in well-appointed rooms in ivory towers deep in thought while reading a well-worn dog-eared Bible. And the truth of the matter is there are indeed some of those. But the classification of theologian is much broader than that.

Thomas Aquinas said that theology at its heart “is taught by God, teaches of God and leads to God” (Vanhoozer, Kevin J., “Letter to an Aspiring Theologian,” First Things, August/September 2018, 28). So in fact anyone who is a student of these components could be called a theologian. That means you, that means me, that means everyone who is eager to explore these aspects of theology.

Let’s look at each component individually and how we can apply them to our own lives:

Taught by God. Our quest is to study and put our faith only in those things that are taught by God. That means going to the Bible, the true and only Word of God, first and foremost, for guidance and inspiration, for strength and knowledge and insight. Other “false gods” in this world try to tell us what to do in many aspects of our lives. We need to take any other messages from other sources back to the litmus test of God’s teachings before we make any decisions on how we should live and who we should trust. God is our one and only trusted source.

Teaches of God. Theology focuses us squarely on God and who he is in our lives, according to Scripture. He is our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. He is triune: Father, Son and Spirit. He is all-knowing, all-loving, all-present. He is our All in All. There is no one greater than him and only through him can we receive salvation through the Son he sent to suffer and die for us on the cross for the forgiveness of all of our sins. This is the one and only God. There is no other.

Leads to God.Theology found in Scripture steers us directly to God. It shows us how to draw closer to him in prayer, meditation, devotion and service to him and to one another in response to his great love for us in Jesus. It teaches us now to live for him and live through him living inside of each one of us. We are not to just say we believe in God. By his Word, we know that we are called to show our belief in him, which in turn leads others to God.

So don’t be afraid to call yourself a theologian. Because that is who you are, a student of the Holy One. Wear it with all glory to him.

Step in the Water

step in the waterNov. 23, 2018’s Minute in the Word on Joy 99.1 FM in St. Louis highlighted Joshua 3:8, in which the Lord says, “When you reach the edge of the waters, go and stand in the river.”

The Children of Israel were steps away from entering the Promised Land the Lord had promised, but they still had to cross the Jordan River to get there. Joshua must have wondered how they were going to do that. But God simply said to step foot in the river, which Joshua and all the nation of Israel did:

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. Joshua 3:17

God parted the waters as he had done at the Red Sea forty years before when they had escaped Egypt. The two crossings of water bookend the incredible story of God saving his people.

But the people had to trust that God would do it. They could not cross the Jordan without God’s help, yet they had to take the first step into the water and let God do his work.

That is what we need to do in our lives today. When challenges stand in our way of God’s goal for our lives, we need to take the step forward and come to God and let God do the rest.

As Joshua told the Israelites in Joshua 3:5: “The Lord will do amazing things among you.” And he will do amazing things among us as well. Step right up and see what God has planned.

 

 

 

 

All That Matters

all that mattersDear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2

When I lead Bible class in my church, there are times when the only answer I have to a difficult question someone has is: “We will have to ask Jesus that one when he returns in glory.”

We as humans are an inquisitive bunch. We want to know and understand everything right away. But there are simply some things that we will never know this side of heaven.

What we need to remember is not so much what we do not know, but what we do know:

• We are children of God.

• Christ will appear to take us home to heaven.

• We are dearly loved by our Savior.

• We are forgiven and saved from all our sins through the suffering and death of Christ.

In the end, no questions about what we don’t know really matter, because what we do know is all that matters.

When You Pass Through the Waters

when you pass through the watersGod sometimes makes it clear that he wants you to listen to a particular verse in Scripture. This recently happened to me with Isaiah 43:2-3. We sang it as an anthem in my choir. Then it was the reading of the day in church and then it was used in an article called “Fear Not,” by Elizabeth Eaton in the September 2018 issue of Living Lutheran. Here is the verse:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers; they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel.”

God was speaking to the Israelites in their wandering, assuring them that whatever things came their way, they could get through it.

Watching the aftermaths of hurricanes that have hit Florida and Texas in recent years, we can see firsthand the power of water. It is not something you can discount or go around when flood waters that forceful are upon you. You must go through it. We have seen so many stories about how people were rescued by boat or helicopter from the rising waters. Those rescue operations are a metaphor for how our God rescues us from the rising waters of troubles at work, home our school. We just must pass through them and God will lift us out, he assures us.

He makes it clear that we will not be overwhelmed or consumed by any obstacle in our path. Why? Because he is with us and he is the Lord. That’s all we need to cling to in the midst of strife.