Tag Archives: Jesus

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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Pillows

pillowIn the middle of the growing contentious issue regarding refugees in America, I came across a moment of brightness in the conversation. I found it in the story of Pastor Paul Stumme-Diers, of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bainbridge Island, Washington, who had an idea:

“I recognized pillows as a symbol of hospitality. Who invites a guest without offering a pillow? And I found a great deal on pillows at a local retailer. What a fitting way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the ministry of Jesus, who associated with the outsiders, Samaritans and lepers, and who himself was a refugee as an infant” (Pritchett, Rachel, “Providing Comfort,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 39).

The church blessed 500 pillows in their sanctuary by tossing them into the air before delivering them to Lutheran Community Services (LCS) Northwest, which provides services to refugees.

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Blessed Are You NOW

blessedIn a recent article in Living Lutheran magazine, author Tiffany C. Chaney makes an interesting observation about the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. She writes,

“The text doesn’t say ‘Blessed are those who used to mourn or those who were poor in spirit or those who made peace before.’ The blessed are in the midst of serving God now; they are deep in the trenches. They are being persecuted and reviled and more, even now. And yet they are blessed” (“Living Saints,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 23).

The present-tense reality of being blessed in the midst of trials really struck home to me. I realize that in the midst of struggles, I often look toward to some future time when blessings will come my way. But the fact of the matter is that blessings come when I am feeling sad, when I can feeling a lack of spirit, when I feel far from peaceful.

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Happiness is …

fireflyA few Christmases ago, there was a special on TV celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. As part of the program, Kristin Chenoweth sang the song “Happiness” from the You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown musical.

That particular clip is no longer available on YouTube, but here is another older, shortened (much slower, sorry) version for you to listen to:

My favorite line from that song is “Happiness is catching a firefly, setting him free.” I can feel the joy in that, and it makes be nostalgic for childhood. The song eventually concludes, “Happiness is anyone and anything that’s loved by you.” Though I love this song, that’s a pretty broad brush!

That got me to thinking about what happiness is to the Christian. St. Paul helps us in this regard when he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).

For us as Christians, the circumstances of our lives are not what bring us ultimate happiness. For the Christian, happiness is knowing we have a gracious and forgiving God who will never abandon us.

Therefore, happiness for the Christian is not centered on what we love, but on the fact that we are loved by Christ. And that love is revealed to us in flesh and blood through the Babe of Bethlehem who came to live with us and love us in person all the way to the cross, that we might be saved and live with him forever. That is the true and lasting happiness that brings joy to the world this Christmas and always.

If I had to write a new verse to the “Happiness” song, then I would add: “Happiness is Jesus who loves me, knowing he cares so. He died for me!” May that be your song this season, too, and may it bring happiness to your heart.