Tag Archives: Jesus

Be Well

wellWater for Life Haiti is a Christian nonprofit organization that is helping that country in the long recovery from Hurricane Matthew that hit on October 4, 2016. One way they are doing that is by building additional wells to provide clean water to areas affected by disease and cholera.

What I found interesting about the program is that Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, a pastor working with Water for Life Haiti, said, “We are locating the wells on or near our church properties. The wells bring people to the church, and the church speaks to the community about the living water of Christ” (Lutherans Engage, Spring 2018, p. 16).

Tying physical and spiritual needs together is an important way for the church to reach out to people most often outside the church and build relationships around faith. I think of the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, who realized after talking to Jesus that she needed more than well water. She came to faith that day.

The same thing can happen in our churches when we tie physical and spiritual needs together. I think of the food pantries in many churches that provide for physical needs, but can help start conversations with those who visit about the Bread of Life who can feed their souls.

Parish nurses are vital in this tying together of physical and spiritual needs as well. So often when people come to discuss physical ailments with a parish nurse, the conversation can move to the Healer of all, who cares for us body and soul.

Consider ways in which your church can meet the physical needs of those around you as a springboard into meeting the vastly more important spiritual needs. Enjoy the process and look to Christ for guidance as you help others be well in the Lord.

 

Farminaries

farminariesBelieve it or not, there are such things as farminaries, agricultural acreages where those in seminary serve to promote the role of food in the life of the Church.

In many ways, these projects are fulfilling Scripture. In Genesis 2 God called humanity to work and take care of the land. And in John 21 Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

In addition, Fred Bahnson, director of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity’s Food, Health and Ecology, explains that when seminaries provide a space for growing and eating food, seminarians are better prepared to grasp the biblical story in the context of the agrarian society in which it emerged (Christianity Today, January/February 2018, 81).

Indeed, a large number of Jesus’ parables and activities in ministry revolved around food (the parables of the mustard seed, the sower, the fig tree, etc, and the important ministry moments of the miraculous catch of fish, the feeding of the 5000 and the Eucharist, for instance).

When we study food through the biblical narrative, our relationship to all of creation becomes covered in humility and gratitude, those involved in farminaries have found. When seminarians see and are involved in the work that goes into growing food on a farm, they recognize more fully that food is a gift from God and something that should not be taken for granted.

In addition, ministers equipped to talk about food are ministers prepared to address concerns related to food: hunger, obesity, eating disorders, etc.

Food banks, food drives and CROP walks are just some of the ways in which churches are involved in feeding the hungry. And support groups like Overeaters Anonymous often meet within the walls of churches. So it is only natural that farminaries are becoming more prevalent.

The church is not just for potlucks anymore! And that’s a good thing.

 

Damascus or Emmaus Road?

Emmaus RoadIn the Testimony column in the March 2018 Christianity Today, Iranian refugee Annahita Parsan says, “For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like ti was on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe” (p. 88).

Insightful words that got me to thinking about how coming to faith and growing in faith is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Sometimes we do indeed need to be knocked off our (high) horse, as St. Paul was on the way to Damascus. And oftentimes we need a quieter, gentler approach, as the Emmaus disciples experienced when Jesus inconspicuously walked alongside them.

My personal journey of faith has been more along the Emmaus Road lines. The words of Christ were revealed to me over time and I grew to know Jesus along the way. But there have been indeed times when I literally was caught off guard by a message from God.

It came recently at a conference in Phoenix during a breakout session in which the speaker was talking how hard it was for him as a father to watch his daughter who has Crohn’s disease suffer.

This verse flashed on the screen:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things? Romans 8:32

And I almost fell over.

Tears burst from my eyes and I recognized that I was being struck head-on with the good news that there is no length to which God will not go  in order to care for me and love me. I do not need to worry or be afraid.

God watched his only child suffer and die so that we might be saved. That is how much he loves us.

I came out of that session with a new vision of and a new confidence in what God in Christ has done and is doing for me.

Think over your life about your journey of faith and recall what has been your Dasmascus Road moment and what has been your Emmaus Road experience. Our lives are filled with each and we need to be aware as much as we can of how God is speaking to us both dramatically and subtly. This is how we will grow more and more into who he wants us to be in Christ.

Positive Proximity

positive proximityThere’s a term in urban planning getting a lot of traction these days: positive proximity. The term refers to ways in which neighbors in a community work together in a positive manner to achieve a worthy goal. Revitalized main streets in small towns and parks in subdivisions have resulted from the positive proximity approach.

Churches can be a major player in the concept of positive proximity. Being a good neighbor as a church to the businesses around it can go a long way to build up feelings of goodwill and gestures of kindness down the road.

The church is never to be an island to itself on a street. It is meant to be a part of the action, a major contributor to the needs of those who dwell in the surrounding spaces.

How does this happen? Perhaps after a snowstorm, a church can arrange to have plow trucks clear the parking lots of neighboring businesses as well as their own. I think of a florist that sat next to my church in Cleveland, OH, whom we bought altar flowers from. The florist in turn allowed our church’s school to sell pumpkins for Halloween in their parking lot each October to raise money for ministry.

So many actions can seem so small, but they are really remembered. Just a simple wave to someone who is coming out of their home while you are coming out of church can bring a smile to that neighbor’s face. That neighbor then recalls that gesture when someone else asks about your church. “They’re nice!”

The driving force behind the positive proximity concept is that it can cause a chain reaction of random acts of kindness in a community. One wave can lead to a conversation about working together on a project to keep the sidewalks clean, which can lead to increased foot traffic to shops and storefronts.

It is important in positive proximity to be open and available. Think of the old model of rows of front porches in a neighborhood. Being out and about in front of your church can help neighbors to see that you care about the place you are in and you care about the community. Make a point to engage in conversations with those who walk by while you are putting a new message on your church sign, for instance.

I think of how Jesus was positive proximity in action. He did not stay inside all time during his life on earth. He was more often walking the streets, talking to people, finding out how things were with them and then helping and healing, as we read in Matthew 9:35:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

That is our role as the church, too, to be the hands and feet of Christ and and not just the dwelling place of God in brick and mortar. Be a positive impact on a next-door neighbor to your church today.

 

A Bible for Everyone

BibleOne of the books highlighted in World Magazine’ s Best Children’s Books of the Year issue was a Bible for toddlers called Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. In it are 52 stories equally divided between Old and New Testaments, conveying the most important parts of the Bible in language that age group can understand, accompanied by kid-friendly artwork.

One of the biggest trends in Christian publishing today is specially designed Bibles for almost every type of person or demographic you can think of. A quick internet search brought up the following:

The Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible (for artists)

The Action Bible (for tweens)

Guys Life Application Bible (for teen boys)

She Reads Truth Bible (for women)

Leadership Bible (for church leaders)

These Bible include such things as artwork, questions to ponder, reflections and discussion starters aimed at a very specific audience. These types of niche market Bibles are important to help people see the Bible not as some stuffy book that is only meant for pastors, but a book that is meant for them.

What I find interesting in The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is that the word Gospel is front and center in the title. That’s a good thing, and something to remember when we start to cater the Bible to meet the needs of so many different groups.

In all the flashy pictures, cute covers and innovative font treatments, we as Christian publishers should never lose sight of the Gospel, the good news that God sent Jesus to this lost and broken world to save us through his death and resurrection. No marketing strategy can ever replace that.

I encourage you to be on the lookout for a unique type of Bible that appeals to you, but in the process it is my hope that the Gospel message comes through loud and clear within its creatively designed pages.

 

A Zacchaeus Moment

ZacchaeusI tend to sympathize with Zacchaeus. He was interested in  Jesus, but he had trouble seeing him in the crowd. He was resourceful, so he climbed a tree to see him. But he didn’t really want to be seen himself.

But Jesus pointed him out. Jesus made it clear that he wanted to talk to him and spend time with him, even go to his house. Zacchaeus must have been mortified. I know I would be. I, like Zacchaeus, am curious about things but like to stay in the background.

But Jesus brings Zacchaeus to the forefront. Why? We find out in Luke 19:10 when Jesus says:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Bible scholars call that verse the heart of the Gospel of Luke. Located toward the middle of the Gospel, it is the hub on which the wheel of Christ’s mission spins. Everything before and after this verse is driven by this goal.

The Son of Man came to seek … He looks out for us. He searches for us.

… and to save … He is here to deliver us from sin, death and the devil.

… the lost. He knows we are lost in our waywardness and need to be found by him in order to gain eternal life.

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Gospel Language

Gospel languageIn the Fall 2016 Concordia Journal, Professor Jeff Gibbs talks about the Gospel language that Matthew uses to share the news that Christ has come to save us through his death and resurrection.

In Matthew the good news of Christ is presented in the Gospel language of living under the reign of God.  For instance in Matthew 5:3, Matthew records Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gibbs points out that if Paul had written that verse, he would have said, “Redeemed are those who are enslaved, for Christ has set them free.” Paul’s gospel language is about freedom from slavery.

If John would have written it, it would have said, “Enlightened are those who were in darkness, for Christ is the light of the world,” because John’s Gospel language is light and darkness.

I find the idea of different Gospel languages interesting because I have found that people often have a favorite type of Gospel language that they are drawn to. For instance, my adopted grandma, Mrs. Graber, always liked Good Shepherd Sunday and loved the hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father.” Her preferred Gospel language was about being safe and secure in the lovingly arms of a Shepherd or a father.

It might be a good practice for each of us to evaluate what Gospel language has the most meaning and resonance for us personally, and then it is good for us to consider what Gospel language might have the most significance to a friend or family member or someone we are witnessing to.

The sure message of the Gospel is always the same (We are saved from sin, death and the devil by Christ alone), but understanding what way to share the Gospel message to a certain person can be just as important as conveying the Gospel message itself. Something to think about the next time you are talking to someone about Jesus.

 

 

No Foolin’

empty tombHappy Easter! What a wonderful coincidence that Easter lands on April Fools’ Day this year! It is so symbolic and ironic on many levels. Consider these verses from Scripture in light of the triumphant resurrection of Christ from the dead on this day:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (I Corinthians 3:10-20).

On Good Friday, many at the foot of the cross of Christ thought Jesus was foolish. They thought he was a fraud. But on this Easter Day, it is they who are the fools and Jesus who is our Risen Wisdom.

On the cross, Jesus may have looked weak and foolishness, but it was in the weakness that the power of God was revealed and came to fulfillment at the empty tomb.

They thought they had Jesus all figured out on Good Friday, but today Jesus makes it clear that he is the one who has everything figured out for our eternal salvation.

Praise the Lord and alleluia to him.

 

Your Elevator Speech

elevatorThe word evangelism can strike fear in the hearts of many Christians. The thought of knocking on doors to talk to strangers about your faith in Jesus or the idea of standing up in front of a group to say what you believe about Jesus can be very intimidating.

But evangelism doesn’t have to be like that.

I turn to the words of Peter and John in Acts 4 as a guide for a good approach to evangelism. The two disciples were called in by the leaders of the church at the time to essentially stop evangelizing about Jesus to the crowds in Jerusalem. Here was their response:

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20)

Our attitude as Christ’s followers should be that we cannot help but talk about Jesus wherever we are, whatever we are doing. We have seen him at work in our lives. We have heard in God’s Word his message of our salvation through his death and resurrection of his Son.

Even the church leaders in Jerusalem could not help but notice something extraordinary was going on with how Peter and John were evangelizing:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

This verse helps me remember that I do not need to be a Bible scholar to evangelize and I don’t need to have just the right words to say. The truth of my faith in Jesus will come naturally from my mouth and I do not have to be afraid because the Holy Spirit will give me the confidence I need. I may be an ordinary person, but God can help me do extraordinary things through him.

A common question these days in the field of evangelism is, “What is your elevator speech?” In other words, what can you say about your faith in Jesus to someone you are standing next to in an elevator for a brief time? The answer is simple: Tell what you have seen and heard about Jesus. Whoever is listening will get the message loud and clear.

 

 

 

Judge Not

judge not“Judge not lest you be judged,” Jesus clearly states to us in Scripture (Luke 6:37). But it’s easier said than done when we are living in an ever increasingly judgmental society.

It can seem like no big deal to join the chorus of voices who are judging others out of hand for all sorts of things they have said or done.

But as the saying goes, every time you point one finger at someone, there are usually ten fingers pointing back at you. There by the grace of God gooes each one of us. We are all sinners and we all make mistakes.

The difference for us as Christians is to replace judgment that may be welling upside of us for any given person, with forgiveness and love. Because that is how we would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

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