Water 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.
We 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.
In an article in the September 2017 Christianity Today, singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken talks about the two spiritual time zones we live in. “On the one hand, by faith we are held secure in the love of God. On the other hand, though we have been made secure in Christ, we continue to experience uncertainty. We are sojourners, not yet home” (“Our Two Spiritual Time Zones,” Christianity Today, September 2017, p. 30).
Theologians refer to this tension between our two spiritual time zones ‘living in “the in-between” and in “the now and net yet” or in “the interim.”
McCracken relates this period to experiencing jet lag after a long flight. Things can often feel out of sync. Our bodies get weary, our minds get fuzzy about what day it is, and our thoughts get muddled about our schedules, but then we adjust, get back in sync and back on track about the business of living.
This metaphor of having spiritual jet lag is helpful to me because it acknowledges the fact that we can get weary and tired in our faith walk in the space between these two spiritual time zones. This is a natural part of being human. I think of the disciples who slept while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted in the time leading up to the fulfillment of God’s promise to save his people by sending his Son to die for us.
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Probably one of the most rampant worldviews in conflict with the Church today is secular humanism. This is the belief that there is no God, no spiritual direction, no afterlife. This world and this life is all there is to the secular humanist. There is no room for or need for God. Secular humanists rely solely on human reason.
The prevalence of secular humanism leads to a kind of elevation of humanity and a quest to live life to satisfy your own personal needs to the fullest, since this is all there is.
What can the Church do in the midst of secular humanism? One way is to gently point people to the Bible’s statements of the involvement of God in the world.
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Let the Bible read you.
In the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of the Concordia Journal, Prof. Erik Herrmann says in an article on the relevance of remembering the Reformation, “There is a saying that ‘there are some books that you read, and then there are some books that read you.’ For Luther, the Bible was that second kind of book. He did not see the Scriptures primarily as the object of our interpretation, but rather we are the objects as the Scriptures interpret us” (Concordia Journal, Winter/Spring 2017, p. 24).
Letting the Bible read us instead of us reading the Bible completely changes our approach to the study of Scripture. We are not to lay our own thoughts and opinions and values onto Scripture. Instead, we need to let the messages of Scripture overlay onto us and reveal where we are at in our spiritual lives.
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I found it interesting that both Publishers Weekly and Christianity Today mentioned the Ennegram system in their most recent issues. “Most simply, the Ennegram is a system of categorizing people with a number—one through nine—that represents a core motivation or orientation to others and the world,” the Christianity Today article reported (Christianity Today, November 2016, 56). (See also “What It Means to Be Christian,” Publishers Weekly, October 24, 2016, 21.)
At some point in our lives we have all taken a personality or spiritual gifts survey to indicate what our strongest traits are. What is making the Ennegram system different and so appealing to churches nationwide is that it gets to the heart of why people do what they do. The nine categories are as follows:
- I want to be good.
- I want to be needed.
- I want to achieve.
- I want to be unique.
- I want to think things through.
- I want to be safe.
- I want to have fun.
- I want to be in charge.
- I want to be a peace.
As I type each of these categories, my mind instantly goes to certain people I know and to myself. “That is so him.” “That is so her.” “That is so me.” The designers of the system grant that each one of us is a mixture of several numbers, but suggest that if you are a certain number you often become blind to the motivations of those are are another number.
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I saw this sign that said “Drive-Thru Prayer, This Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.” in front of a church in my neighborhood and just had to blog about it.
I find it interesting that in our society today everything can be “drive thru,” even prayer. Everything we do seems to be done on the way to something else and should be done quickly.
I mean no disrespect to this idea of having an evening when this church has a drive-thru prayer event and I am sure that if people want to, they can pull to the side and have a longer prayer with a parishioner.
But the concept to me begs the larger question of how we look at our spiritual disciplines.
Are they something that we do when we have an extra minute or two?
Are they something that we see as something that is secondary to our scheduled events and activities for the day, like games and practices and lunch out and work, etc.?
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When I was home over Christmas last December, there was a beautiful moment when all the members of my entire immediate family fit into one long pew at my parents’ church. My mom and dad were celebrating their anniversary that particular day (Dec. 27) and it was especially moving for them to see all their children with their spouses and grandchildren being together in one row in the house of God. It was a wonderful picture to me of what passing on the faith means.
The love and the faith that began with my mother and father were carried on in my life and in the lives of my brother and sister and their families. The baton has been passed, and we now are called to carry on the faith to our future generations. But as we know, the pews are not as full as they once were in “our day.” Attendance at traditional worship is not as much a staple of our weekend schedule as it once was in our Christian families.
That is not to say that people are not religious. It is just that they are expressing faith in different ways: at home, through online streaming worship services, through small groups at coffee shops.
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