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!
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.
My confirmation verse was Psalm 27:1. I chose it because I liked the words about the Lord being “my light and my salvation.” But recently a friend of mine showed me a plaque he received as a farewell gift when he left one congregation to serve as a musician in another. “The Lord is the strength of my life,” it read. And my friend has faithfully put it by the door in homes he has lived in ever since.
What a nice reminder as we leave our homes that the Lord is the strength of our lives. We cannot do it with our own strength, but we can do it with his. He is the core, the center, the driving force that carries us forward in our lives.
Much like in our bodies, when we exercise, we are supposed to “work the core,” the center of our bodies around the torso, because when the core is strong, the rest of our body becomes stronger. That is a great picture of how the strength of the Lord makes our entire selves, both soul and body, strong because he is strong.
Think about the strength God gives this week. Draw upon that core strength, and say with the psalmist, “Of whom shall I be afraid?”
Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, is well-known for coining the term “Comfortable Words,” which he outlined in the Book of Common Prayer as a preparation for Communion. Here is what he wrote:
Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says to all that truly turn to him. “Come to me all that travail, and are heavy laden, and I shall refresh you.” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all that believe in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. Hear also what St. Paul says, “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Hear what St. John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins” (Book of Common Prayer, 111-20)
These words of comfort are a wonderful collection for us to remember as we come to the Table of the Lord in gratitude and praise for what he has done through his Body and his Blood.
These Comfortable Words from Matthew 11:28, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:15 and 1 John 2:1 are good for us to recite and remember at other times, too, of course: in the morning, at bedtime, when feeling sad or frustrated or when starting to doubt.
Everything in our lives comes back to the comfort that the Gospel provides. Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross for our sins is all we need to know to find true comfort in our lives and in any situation we may encounter.
Think of ways that you can incorporate these Comfortable Words into your daily or weekly routines. And be comforted by them again and again.
The church that I attend has a sign language interpreter who communicates the words spoken and sung in worship to a group of hearing impaired parishioners. I must confess that I am very often drawn in to her signing and am moved by it.
Recently I noticed that the sign for “He is risen” is two fingers pointing downward, then floated down and placed upon the palm of the other hand. A very literal and visual interpretation of that event. I somehow sense in that sign the miracle of the resurrection and yet the humanity of Christ in the depiction of his body.
What other “signs” of the resurrection of Christ do we see in the world?
I think of flowers budding from seemingly barren ground. I think of butterflies emerging from very rough-looking cocoons. I think of wobbly baby birds that take wing and fly.
The miracle of the resurrection is still astounding and surprising to us. We should never take it for granted.
It is still something that we should marvel at and contemplate as something beyond our imagination.
It is something that is true and real and connected to us and our future.
For we know that when our Lord returns on the Last Day, our bodies, too, will be raised to new life. As it says in Romans 8:11: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
What a comfort to know that Christ’s resurrection means our resurrection and his new life means new life for us, forever with him. Let that message be our source of strength today and every day until he comes!
This concept of the trajectory of engagement is having a large impact on the church today. Engagement on social media may be a good start when it comes to church relations. But it cannot be the end result. We, in the church, know that faith engagement must at some point be face-to-face, person-to person. The trajectory must go beyond technology to faith-based living in the family of God.
So how does this trajectory happen? It happens through concerted efforts to invite those who are engaged in conversations on a church’s social media platforms to join in events at church, be it worship, a small group Bible study, a soup supper, whatever opportunity for personal engagement at the church presents itself.
It is only in the actual presence of other people that the richness and vitality of the Christian Church can be seen and felt most fully by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I know for me in my life, so many conversations I have with people in the church are now through text messages, which can be great for sharing a quick story or an encouraging word but cannot replace being together in the pew or chatting over a cup of coffee at lunch. The online and the offline communication must work in tandom for a deeper connection to develop spiritually.
I often wonder what it would have been like if Jesus had been alive during this time of social media. My first thought would be that he would point us to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Would we be like the priest and the Levite who walked by the person in need right in front of us because we were texting our friends?
It’s time for us to look up from our phones and look at social media in the church not as an end in itself, but a beginning, a doorway, a portal into a life of more meaningful real-life personal relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Be social in life and not just a screen!
There is a lot of interest and energy lately around the concept of repurposing. I confess that I watch a lot of home improvement shows and they are always repurposing old crates into rustic coffee tables or making bookshelves out of old school lockers, and things like that. In the art world, there are many artists who create interesting art pieces from old-fashioned kitchen utensils, tins, banks and toys found at flea markets or antique stores.
The concept of repurposing came to my mind recently when read again the story in Scripture of the conversion of St. Paul. Here was a man was zealous in his persecution of Christians. But God repurposed this man’s zealousness to promote the Christian message instead. The story of the repurposing of Saul to Paul makes us realize that God can do dramatic things with what is put before him. Like a craftsperson at a workbench with various pieces laid out, God can create something beautiful and unexpected from the most random of things.
In the article “Grace Alone” in the September 2017 issue of Living Lutheran, theology professor John F. Hoffmeyer pointed readers to Colossians 3:3: “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “We can be assured that, in Christ, God refuses to live without us,” Hoffmeyer says. “Our lives are bound to Christ’s life—regardless. God regards us with the same unbounded love with which God regards Jesus” (Living Lutheran, September 2017, p. 45).
Something in those precious words clicked with me in a profound way, like with Martin Luther in his Tower Experience after reading Romans 1:17. Like Luther before me, I felt reborn in my faith.
It struck me that when God sees me, he doesn’t see just me, he sees Christ first, and then me, hidden with him. The concept of being hidden with Christ is compelling to me. I am part of him now because of his death and resurrection for me. I am forgiven, free and forever loved. I am embedded within him. No longer is my face the face people see first. It is now the face of Christ. And my life is behind that face of Christ.
When I was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and other places like it, I noticed stones stacked up into little towers along the way. I now know that those collections of rocks are called cairns and they are placed there by hikers to guide future hikers along the path to show them where to go. Over the centuries, cairns have also been used as landmarks and memorials.
I got to thinking that cairns of sorts were used in the Bible by Abraham, Moses and Jacob as altars. Check out these verses:
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. —Genesis 22:9
Abraham built this altar to acknowledge that God is God on his journey through his life, and he was saying through this cairn that he would obey God’s will. Of course, God would send an angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son. But later, God would sacrifice his own Son, Jesus, on the altar, the cairn, if you will, of the cross, which was erected on a rock hill called Golgotha.
As Christmas approaches, it is good for us to remember that the name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Why is that significant? Because bread plays a important role in the life of Christ and in the Bible in general.
An article in the September 2017 Living Lutheran magazine points out that “bread is perhaps the easiest metaphor in the Bible. Almost all possible ingredients have a scriptural spotlight” (Kari Alice Olsen, Living Lutheran, September 2017, p. 20). Let’s take a look:
Water: Water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. —1 Peter 3:21
Yeast: What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. —Luke 13:20-21