So much has been written about this COVID-19 crisis with stay-at-home orders and social distancing that I hesitate to even mention it. But then God put this verse in front of me: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). It seems as if this verse is made for these times.
We have taken refuge in our homes to stay safe and protected from the virus, just as we take refuge in our God to keep ourselves safe and protected from all manner of evil and danger is this world.
We have done all we can to keep ourselves strong health-wise during this pandemic, wearing masks, washing our hands, walking 6 feet from each other. But our greatest strength comes from our God, who cleanses us from all sin and keeps us strong in our faith that he will surround us with his power against all that would seek to weaken us.
God’s help is very present. It is not something old or forgotten. It is something that is real, that is modern, that is up-to-date. We do not need to worry that somehow God does not understand what today’s troubles are like. He is well-aware of all that we are going through and is able and willing to help. We are not helpless and flailing about in the wind. God has things under control and we are in his care.
Let this verse keep us grounded in God while everything else seems to want to make us off-kilter.
While I have extolled the virtues of digital Bibles on this very blog, there is a mounting backlash against the exclusive use of digital Bibles. In “People of the eBook” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Karen Swallow Prior says, “As our reading becomes more immersed in a digital rather than a print culture, the more we return to some of the qualities of the pre-literate world. We are reading more, but the way we read replicates the effects of the discrete images of stained glass windows more than the sustained, logical, and coherent linearity of a whole book” (50).
Before people had access to the written word of the Bible, parishioners learned about what the Bible said in bits and pieces, most often through the images found in stained glass windows in the church. The same thing seems to be happening when accessing the Bible digitally. We are only getting bits and pieces and we are drawn to imagery on the screen.
Many pastors in response are encouraging deeper engagement with physical Bibles to help to see the whole salvation story and make stronger connections with various parts of the biblical text. This has brought about a growing popularity in printed Bibles that include space in the margins for journaling and notetaking to make these connections within the text. Also, people have come to realize that they like to hold the weight of God’s words in their hands. So while digital Bibles can have their benefits, consider getting reconnected or more connected with your physical Bible to stay connected to the whole story of Jesus and his love.
Some friends of mine recently moved to a new house and posted this on on their Facebook page when they closed on the deal: A house is made of walls and beams. A home is made of love and dreams.
What a beautiful sentiment to ponder as they embark on a new adventure in a new dwelling place.
This got me to thinking: What makes a house a Christian home?
A Christian home is a place where there is genuine love for one another and for Christ.
A Christian home is a place where the Word of God is shared and perhaps even displayed through plaques with favorite verses.
A Christian home is a place where forgiveness flows from one to another.
A Christian home is a place where prayers are said over meals and at bedtime and at anytime.
A Christian home is a place where all our hopes and dreams are grounded in the good news from Jesus who comforts us with these words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).
We know as Christians that our homes here on earth are only temporary, but our eternal dwelling place is in heaven, where we will join with all the saints in praising the name of our Savior, Jesus. May our homes here on earth give us glimpses of our home yet to come.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5
One part of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wants to make sure that this congregation’s gentleness is evident to all. Why? Because the Lord is near. Our gentle ways should be what people are seeing at work in us when the Lord returns.
In a world that is often hostile, angry and at odds with one another, our gentleness as Christian people can stand out. What do we mean by being gentle? We only need to look to our Lord Jesus when he was on this earth for guidance. He said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He took little children into his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:16). He spoke gently even of those who were crucifying him, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
In the same way, we can be people of gentleness by being humble in our approach to people, by embracing children and caring for those around us in a loving way, by blessing those around us with the peace of God and encouraging them in their endeavors. We can be gentle in our forgiving of those who have hurt us, recognizing that we are all sinful and in need of the grace and mercy found only in the cross.
Even when we witness to others of the hope we have in Christ, we are to do so “with gentleness and respect,” St. Peter says (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be comforting in how we share our faith, not overbearing. Our goal should always be to be kind and helpful and reassuring. That is what gentleness is all about. Be gentle in your ways today, with the help of God.
There are a lot of shows on television these days about rebuilding and restoring and redecorating homes. We are somehow drawn to the process of what carpenters and designers can do to reimagine a space or an entire house. The payoff comes at the reveal, when the finished product is presented to the homeowners with exclamations of delight.
I recently heard the song “Rebuilder” by the Christian group Carrollton. It celebrates the fact that our God is the greatest rebuilder of all, not of our homes, of our very selves. When we are falling apart and in bad shape and in need of repair because of our sins, our doubts, our waywardness, he rebuilds with his foundation of goodness and grace, his blessing and love. He is like the foreman of the project that is our lives. The end result is a new creation because of the work of his Son, the carpenter, who followed through with the rebuilding of all believers by going to the cross for our forgiveness. The old is gone; the new has come, as the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 5:17. And there is great excitement in the reveal of our newly redesigned lives. The Bible says, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). And we who have come to him confessing and have been rebuilt by our God, rejoice as well, saying, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3). No matter what condition we may find ourselves in today, God can rebuild us and the results will be glorious. As the Bible declares, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). What a wonderful craftsman we have!
Merry Christmas to one and all! It is my joy to share the joy of this day with you, and I wish you special moments with friends and family and a deepening connection with the Christ Child today.
One thing I have liked to do is to buy Christmas ornaments from places that I visit each year. This past year, on my vacation to Wisconsin I found a metal ornament in the shape of the state with a cutout of a hiker in the middle. It perfectly encapsulated my experience of hiking various parts of the state and rejoicing in God’s creation. I enjoyed putting that ornament on my Christmas tree this year.
What experience do you want to remember fondly from the past year as you celebrate Christmas today? The fact is the Christ comes to us in various ways not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. What “Christmas ornament” moment do you want to treasure today and give thanks to God for?
Today is a day to remember how the birth of Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death forever decorates our lives year after year. The beauty of his birth is something that is precious to us and something that needs to be celebrated often. Let this Christmas be the beginning of many more Christmas moments throughout the coming year, moments when we see the love of our Savior ornamenting our world.
The Hebrew word hesed is translated lovingkindness in most Bibles, but it is so rich in meaning that the word cannot be adequately described in English. Other translations have used the words covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. It is a type of love that is quite literally beyond words.
In a new book from InterVarsity Press called Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, author Michael Card explores what the word means about God’s character and how the word relates to God’s people.
What it reveals to me about God’s character is that he loves us beyond measure, beyond what we can even comprehend. It is a love that can never be matched fully in human terms. It is a love that will stop at nothing to care for us and protect us.
That is the reason why hesed is most fully realized in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus is hesed in the flesh. And he went to the greatest lengths of all out of God’s great love for us to save us. He went to the cross to suffer and die and sacrifice his very life for us all. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” the Bible says (John 15:13). But God’s hesed went beyond even the grave when he rose Jesus from the dead on Easter morning.
Now that Christ is alive and alive in each of us, God’s hesed has transformed each of us to live a new life of deep and divinely inspired love, care and compassion for others. We love as we have been loved: with our whole selves, giving our all for one another in the name of the God of hesed. That is the beautiful plan for us from the heart of our God.
I recently heard the choral piece “Mercy and Truth,” written by composer Philip Lawson, commissioned for the Salisbury Cathedral in England. Based on Psalm 85:10, it overlays the words of the text in unique ways for moving effects.
The text is: “Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Take a listen:
The song resonates because it reminds me that the mercy of God is always in line with ultimate truth. We can never hide the truth from God, but the truth does not take away the mercy of God. He always loves us and forgives us, even when he knows the truth of our sin and knows that we have failed him time and again. He is faithful and will always return to find us when we have strayed to bring us back to him.
The first couplet in this verse (mercy and truth) is tied with the second paring of righteousness and peace, which kiss each other. I find this connection interesting as well because it acknowledges that when we are found righteous in the sight of God through Jesus, we find peace. And this connection is not cold or indifferent. It elicits an outpouring of love and compassion. There is a bond of love that happens through a kiss, and knowing that righteousness and peace kiss each other means that those who find righteousness and peace together have a loving and holy bond. We and God are reconnected through his love found in Christ.
What I like most about this song is how the words are sung on top of each other by different sections of the choir. One part starts immediately when one is done with the couplets and some parts come in while others are halfway through. Isn’t that just like life and how things get jumbled up and mixed together and we are not sure when one thing begins and one thing ends? While it sometimes may seem confusing, the reality is that God is in control and his mercy and his truth, his righteousness and peace will always be a part of our lives as his followers.
Christianity Today’s 2018 book of the year is Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. The thesis of the book is to point out that all of life is liturgical, that is, filled with sacred everyday rhythms that point to Christ. The most ordinary activities in the author’s life (brushing her teeth, making her bed, fighting with her husband) take on divine meaning.
I have talked about this general idea in previous blogs, but the concept seems to be getting more traction as of late, perhaps because people are so desperate for something solid and definitive in their lives.
I recently was asked by my dad to put together a worship service for a family reunion. And what I ended up doing was using devotions from Hope-Full Living (Creative’s daily devotional for seniors) as parts of the liturgy. A devotion on forgiveness became the confession and absolution, a devotion on loosening your grip on material possessions became the children’s sermon. A blog I wrote about being attractors to others for Christ, just as certain bushes are attractors to certain butterflies became the sermon, and a devotion on blessing others became the benediction.
Real stories about real people became the liturgy for the day that day, and it can become the liturgy of our everyday. Every time we are forgiving, caring, and sharing, we are engaging in our spiritual act of worship. Worship does not always have to be anything formal. It can be the most simple gesture that points someone to the love and salvation of Christ. Even difficulties can point us to the strength of our God in hard times.
Look at your day as a worship service and see how that perhaps transforms your attitude and approach. Begin each day with an Invocation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then close each day, as we often close worship, with the words, “Thanks be to God!”