Tag Archives: love

The Image of God

image of GodIn the story of creation, we read: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Many have wondered what exactly “the image of God” means. There are several schools of thought. One group thinks that it refers to our ability to reason. Another philosophy is that it means that God is reflected in us in our bodies: our physical characteristics and the way we walk and talk. Still others say it is about our relational nature and the relationships we have with God and creation.

I tend to lean toward the last description. He gave human beings a special place in the world, and he desires a close, personal bond with us. His love for us is on a much deeper and different level than it is with plants and animals, for instance. And God selected humans to rule over every living creature (Genesis 1:28).

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Your Faith Walk

guitarChristian musician Peter Mayer has this advice for aspiring musicians: “If you’re a songwriter, guitarist or singer, do it every day. Let those voices seeking a home know that yours is available. Do the practice, playing of gigs, writing and rehearsing more than you talk or post about it. Fail at least as much as you succeed, and you’re on the discovery road” (“I’m a Lutheran,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 13).

After reading words, I realized Mayer’s advice to musician here is a blueprint for Christian living as well in our walk of faith. Here’s what I mean:

As Christians, we need to live as Christians every day. There is no day off from serving, praising, praying, loving, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. Do your Christian faith every day.

Be open and available to carrying out the mission and the calling that Christ has for you. Always be ready to say yes to opportunities that come your way that are in line with your God-given gifts.

Actions speak louder than words, we know. So be people of action. We can say we will do this or that very easily sometimes. But it is the follow-through that takes the most effort and has the most impact.

Never be afraid to fail. We all know stories of famous people who failed many times before they reached success. We as Christians are no different. We cannot live in fear of not doing well and then do nothing at all. Failure leads to learning and helps us to do better the next time we are called into action for Jesus. No one can do everything right all the time. Once you accept that fact, it frees you up to keep trying. And God will bless your efforts in the end.

The Christian life is about discovery. Become a lifelong learner. Keep growing in your knowledge and fear of the Lord and let him keep leading you on.

The path of every Christian will lead directly to a deep relationship with Christ. As Peter Mayer would  say, “Know and experience this mighty love of God in Christ” as you walk in his way.

 

Finding The Heartbeat of Your Church

heartbeatIn an interview in the March 2018 Christianity Today, author and pastor Dominique Dubois Gilliard says, “It’s crucial to find the heartbeat of your church. Your church might have a heart for education. Or caring for children orphaned by the incarceration of a mother or father“ (p. 67).

I have seen this play out in the churches in which I have been a member. One program that may work in one parish will not work in another precisely because that is not where the heartbeat of that church lies.

I know churches in my community who minister to the deaf and have a sign language interpreter in worship. Another church has a minister for families with children with special needs, and makes activities available that cater to those families. International students meet for a Bible study at another church in the area.

Each of these is an example of how a church found their heartbeat and did something to keep that beat going.

So much in the church is about “the things we have always done.” But it is important to always take a step back and think about “the things we should be doing.” It is never too late to start a new program to tap into an energy and excitement among your people for a certain ministry.

In the self-help industry these days, there is a push for people to “find their passion.” The same can be said for our churches. Finding your passion as a congregation is important because focusing on that passion can build community and grow faith. People who are passionate about something get to work and are happy to be there. Isn’t that the type of people we want within our parishes?

Think about opportunities within your parish that you are sensing that people have heart and a passion for. Then keep that heartbeat going by offering more opportunities to serve in that area. The heart of God will be revealed in the process.

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.

Gluttony

gluttonyWe live in a world in which pleasure and happiness are paramount. But constantly feeding our physical and emotional appetites for pleasure leads to one of the great seven deadly sins: gluttony.

Gluttony is greedy or excessive indulgence. The pitfalls of gluttony for us as Christians are that it focuses on self and can lead to diminishing returns. The more we have of some earthly pleasure, the less enjoyable it becomes.

I like what pastor and theology professor Wayne E. Croft Sr. said about gluttony: “Gluttony deceives us into believing we can feed our souls through our flesh. The problem is when I would rather watch reruns of my favorite TV program than pray. The problem is when I would rather check my texts, emails or social media sites than pause to meditate. The problem is when I long for Pillsbury biscuits but not the bread of life” (“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 45).

Our desire should always be to please God first and foremost, beyond our own personal pleasures. Our joy, our satisfaction, our ultimate pleasure should come from being with God and getting to know him more. Our motivation in life should always be to be more like Christ, serving others more often than we serve ourselves.

Unlike the pleasures of the world, our joy in the Lord leads to ever increasing returns. As Psalm 23:6 reminds us:

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The joy we have in God’s love for us in Jesus will continue all the way into eternal life, where we will be singing his praises evermore. That’s the lasting pleasure we seek.

 

 

House of Mercy

house of mercyAn article in winter 2018 Lutherans Engage magazine highlighted the work of Rev. Eddie Hosch in Lima, Peru. Part of this ministry there includes a Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy), a safe place where children can come after school or at other times to be with other children and learn more about Jesus.

Hosch says, “I love the kids. The opportunities here are huge to share the Gospel in a simple way: a lunch, a hug, friendship. All allowing us to teach the children the Word of God.”

This house of mercy works with the prayer that the Word of God will produce faith in these children and their parents and will help them to see Christ’s mercy at work in their lives.

This Casa de Misericordia is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own lives. How can each of our homes be houses of mercy to show others the mercy of Christ? How can we establish our churches as being houses of mercy for those who are in need in our community/

Many programs already exist along these lines with food pantries and clothing drives in many parishes. But what I think is important to foster is the sense that our homes and our churches are safe and loving places to come for help. God in his mercy did not turn people away from his love in Jesus, and we should convey our willingness to be of service to those around us who are truly in need.

I like Hosch’s idea of sharing mercy in simple ways. Maybe it is a wave at your neighbor or an invitation to chat on your front porch. Maybe it is just putting your arm around someone you know is struggling at church. Perhaps it is just saying “You are safe here” to someone who is living in fear.

Several years ago Pope Francis declared a year of mercy, and my recommendation to you this week is to declare this a week of mercy in your own home and see what happens.

Use this as your theme verse:

God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. —Ephesians 2:4-5

Be alive with Christ’s mercy this week!

 

The Gift Economy

gift economyThe concept of the gift economy recently came up in a meeting with fellow editors. Apparently the idea of the gift economy is gaining traction and interest again in our society, particularly among Christians, with speakers discussing it at various religious conferences.

What is the gift economy exactly? It is the practice of giving items to people without any expectation of anything in return. This is in contrast, of course, to our market-based economy and even the barter system in which goods and services are exchanged for money or other items in return.

Anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied these various types of economies within a range of cultures and introduced the terms reciprocity (the expectation of something equal in return), inalienable possessions (things that can only belong to an individual person) and prestation (a cultural offering of a gift or service). The type of an economy that a culture uses tends to say a lot about them as people.

So why is the concept of the gift economy trending in our world today? My hunch is that we, especially as Christians, are recognizing more and more that our culture today is driven largely by money, the stock market, sales and profits. And we in our Christian culture recognize that our life should be less about the bottom line and more about sharing love.

While traditional financial exchanges are important and necessary in a culture, of course, ultimately life should not be about a running tally of who gave what to whom and did those items match up monetarily. Life, in the Christian model, should be at its most essential about giving to others with no conditions. It should be about caring for others as people and not as customers.

The Bible even says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving should be about our hearts and our love for others, not about tracking numbers or keeping score somehow.

Our lives should first and foremost be modeled after Christ, who gave his life as a free gift for us that we can never repay. He gave his life on the cross out of love for us that we might show that same love to others unconditionally and live with him together in heaven one day.

Each day is a gift because of Christ, so we are called to give as freely to others without exception.

 

Protection

protectionOn Dec. 24 last year, on the way to Iowa for Christmas in the snow, the car in front of me started spinning out, causing me to start spinning out. I ended up facing the opposite direction of traffic on Interstate 270 in St. Louis.

But I did not hit a single car and I was able to turn the car around and pull off to the side of the road unhurt.

After pulling myself together, my only thought was that God was protecting me.

There are moments in our lives when we wonder if God is watching over us, but in that moment I knew for certain that he was. There is really no other explanation for how I (and my car) escaped that situation unscathed.

The words of Psalm 20:1 were fulfilled in my life that day:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

Now I find myself much more grateful for safe travels and much more aware of the small blessings God grants to us every day out of his sheer mercy and love for us. He is always looking out for us and I found that out firsthand. Thank God today for all the ways that he protects you!

The Magna Carta of Christianity

RomansMy pastor recently called the book of Romans the Magna Carta of Christianity, because it states what makes our faith unique and includes the details of our faith that are non-negotiable.

A perusal of Romans reveals the following non-negotiables:

The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17)

No one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by works of the law (Romans 3:20)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22)

Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)

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Dunbar’s Number

150 membersHave you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).

I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.

It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:

It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.

It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.

It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.

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