Tag Archives: Word

The Light From Afar

star

The wise men followed the star from afar. They did not stop until they came to the palace in Jerusalem where they thought Jesus was born a king. But the chief priests and scribes pointed them in the direction of Bethlehem according to the Scriptures, to the house where Jesus was.

I find it interesting that the wise men followed the Word after they followed the star. It was the Word that put them back on course. It was the Word that led them to Jesus, the Star of their lives. And it is the Word that leads us to Jesus as well, who is the Star of our lives. As the psalmist says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

The star the wise men saw is no longer present in the sky. But the light of the Word remains for us today. All we need to do is open the pages of Scripture to see it. The Word enlightens our lives with hope, faith and love. It is the Word that brings us close to the Light of the World, Jesus, our Savior. He shines on us with forgiveness and everlasting life through his sinless life and suffering and death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

The light of Christ enters into our hearts, souls and minds, and into our very lives. We ourselves become the lights of the world because of Christ dwelling in us. We share the light of Christ with those we meet. Our glow of Christ’s glory from within us spreads to those around us. Christ’s light is brighter each day as it spreads. We keep the Light alive in us through prayer and worship and Bible study. We fan into flame the Light of Christ in thought, word and deed. Everything we say, everything we do, everything we think is a reflection of the Light of life. We are little lights that keep glowing for him.

When we look at the night sky, we see thousands of stars that make the night brighter. They make us remember that each one of us makes the darkness of the world disappear. We are reminded that God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore. We are little lights of Christ among many. We do not shine alone. We shine in concert with others, much like stars in constellations. Our lights form shapes and designs that send messages to those who don’t know Christ as the Light of the World. We work together to let people know that Jesus is the one true Light. God made sure that the children of Abraham (of whom we are a part) have lights that interconnect and intersect with one another. We are not random bursts of light, but steady beams that have a permanent place in this world. Shine on. Shine bright. Shine full that Christ might be bright always and ever in your life and in the lives of those around you.

There will be a time when the light we shine as humans on this earth will go out when we die. But the light of heaven will shine on in us. We will be blessed in the heavenly realms in the city of light where we will shine like stars as saints of God. In heaven there is light everlasting and no darkness at all. There is no sadness, no tears, no hardship, no sickness there. Light like no other outshines all light and there in paradise new light from the risen Christ beams forth.

Signs that Communicate

sign language

Roy Allela, a 25-year-old from Kenya, recently invented a pair of gloves that convert physical sign language into audible speech in real time. The invention, called Sign-IO, uses sensors to read the wearer’s fingers and hand gestures and compares them to American Sign Language (“Smart Signs,” World Magazine, February 16, 2019, 55). The signs are then vocalized for the hearer.

This invention reminds me that we as Christians serve as communicators of the Word of God who may not fully understand it. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the signs and wonders written about in Holy Scripture are relayed through us in ways that listeners can hear about them and understand them more clearly. This can be realized most compellingly in preaching and in Bible study groups. Our interpretation that comes through the Holy Spirit can communicate Christ to many in ways they may not have been aware of before. What a gift we have been given.

Preaching to Gen Z

preaching to Gen Z

Preaching to Generation Z (those born from 1999 on) means you can’t preach your Grandpa’s sermon anymore. Pastor Trygve Johnson has some tips for how to connect to Gen Z from the pulpit (“Next-Gen Preaching,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 35-36).

  1. I get inside my sermon. Preachers should not be afraid to share their stories from their own lives. They should not be afraid to laugh at themselves. Generation Z seeks a preacher that is relational, that tells it like it is, that it is personal.
  2. I offer a sense of history and place. Preachers should put sermons in context both Scripturally and in terms of the space where they are worshiping. In this digital age, Gen Zers are not as fully aware of some of the stories of the Bible as perhaps generations before have been and they may not be as connected to the meaning and history behind the surroundings in their worship space and the community that formed there. These community stories need to be told as well.
  3. I treat people like insiders. Preachers need to help those who are listening that they are loved, cared for, valued and accepted. Gen Zers are eager to be a part of something and learn new terms and new insights. Preachers should not shy away from sharing those new and perhaps more challenging concepts.
  4. I preach for Gen Z, not at them. Preachers should not try to make their messages trendy, hip, or all about pop culture to impress Gen Z. Preaching for Gen Z means making God the subject of the sermon, and the salvation found in Christ alone. Keeping God at the center of all that is said in sermons is what will be of most value to Gen Z. The Word of God is what they came to hear.

In many ways these principles are actually what can make preaching better for all generations.

Water and the Word

baptismMy parents recently reminded me that I was baptized using water my grandparents brought from the Jordan River on their trip to the Holy Land. I was touched and moved by this news that I had forgotten, but it got me to thinking that when it comes to baptism, it does not really matter where the water comes from.

What matters most is its connection to the Word. The Word spoken over the baptized person as water is poured: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is the Word that reminds us: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Through baptism, we are made brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Word made flesh. It is in this Word that we find our hope with the sprinkling of water from wherever it may come from, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Entertaining Worship

entertaining worshipA recent survey from Ligonier Ministries asked the question, “Must churches provide entertaining worship services if they want to be effective?” The results were a bit surprising. About 4 in 10 believe “effective” churches must offer “entertaining” worship, through only 1 in 10 believe this strongly. Those who attend worship weekly agreed more strongly (14%) than those who attend only on holidays, rarely or never (8%) (“Come, Now Is the Time to Entertain,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 17).

The results of the survey are interesting to me because they indicate that providing entertaining worship is not as desired by parishioners as much as it is perceived to be by church leaders and the public in general.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that we in the church need to wow parishioners in worship with rock-style music and bands, lights and flash. But the data here shows that it is actually not as powerful of a draw as we may think it is.

We do not need to put all our eggs in the “entertainment basket,” these numbers seems to reveal. While the entertainment factor can still be a part of a worship experience, we continue to need to include and emphasize the Word and Sacrament, the fellowship with those in the congregation and a grounding in Christ-centered messages.

The joy and excitement of worship remains on the Good News that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. Let that be what brings the most entertainment to our souls.

 

Everyone a Theologian

TheologiansWhen we hear the word theologian, we most often think of bearded men in tweed jackets sitting in well-appointed rooms in ivory towers deep in thought while reading a well-worn dog-eared Bible. And the truth of the matter is there are indeed some of those. But the classification of theologian is much broader than that.

Thomas Aquinas said that theology at its heart “is taught by God, teaches of God and leads to God” (Vanhoozer, Kevin J., “Letter to an Aspiring Theologian,” First Things, August/September 2018, 28). So in fact anyone who is a student of these components could be called a theologian. That means you, that means me, that means everyone who is eager to explore these aspects of theology.

Let’s look at each component individually and how we can apply them to our own lives:

Taught by God. Our quest is to study and put our faith only in those things that are taught by God. That means going to the Bible, the true and only Word of God, first and foremost, for guidance and inspiration, for strength and knowledge and insight. Other “false gods” in this world try to tell us what to do in many aspects of our lives. We need to take any other messages from other sources back to the litmus test of God’s teachings before we make any decisions on how we should live and who we should trust. God is our one and only trusted source.

Teaches of God. Theology focuses us squarely on God and who he is in our lives, according to Scripture. He is our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. He is triune: Father, Son and Spirit. He is all-knowing, all-loving, all-present. He is our All in All. There is no one greater than him and only through him can we receive salvation through the Son he sent to suffer and die for us on the cross for the forgiveness of all of our sins. This is the one and only God. There is no other.

Leads to God.Theology found in Scripture steers us directly to God. It shows us how to draw closer to him in prayer, meditation, devotion and service to him and to one another in response to his great love for us in Jesus. It teaches us now to live for him and live through him living inside of each one of us. We are not to just say we believe in God. By his Word, we know that we are called to show our belief in him, which in turn leads others to God.

So don’t be afraid to call yourself a theologian. Because that is who you are, a student of the Holy One. Wear it with all glory to him.

Our Vocation

vocationDr. W. Mart Thompson in his seminar “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God calls and equips Christians to serve one another,” talked about the role of vocation in our lives.

Vocation is a calling from God to serve him and others. In a Christian context there are three realms or estates of our vocation. They are: home, congregation, and society.

As part the seminar, each participant shared their vocation using these parameters. Here’s mine as an example.

Name: Mark

A family vocation: brother, son

A congregational calling: Bible study leader

An occupational vocation: writer at Creative Communications

A community calling: member of a Tuesday night bike-riding club

It was an interesting exercise because it helped me to see where God has placed me to serve and how I might be more intentional in revealing my relationship with Christ to others and being more Christ-like in my words and deeds.

It was also interesting to listen to the vocation lists of all those in attendance and hear how God is working in so many and various ways in the lives of his people. The ways in which people volunteer and give of their time and unique skills was truly inspiring.

Consider doing this vocation exercise this week for yourself and think about how God has placed you in a certain time and place and position for a reason. Take time to ponder what those reasons are, pray about them and then act upon them as the Holy Spirit directs you.

 

 

Hesed

hesedThe 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.

Podcast Preaching

podcast

Many of my friends say that instead of listening to the radio in the car anymore, they are listening to podcasts. While I have heard of podcasts, I am not as well-versed in them as I am other technology outlets. Believe it or not, podcasting is having an impact on the Church.

For those who may not know, the word podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast. Though most people do not use iPods for mobile listening, the use of the word has stuck. Simply put, a podcast is an audio segment downloaded to your smartphone that you can listen to wherever you are whenever you want

Even in the Entertainment Weekly magazine I subscribe to, there is now a podcast section for subscribers to read about the latest podcasts out there to listen to, as you would your favorite streaming TV show.

Since listening to and looking for podcasts is becoming such a common practice in our current culture, it is a perfect opportunity for the Church to offer something in this arena as well. Worship, Bible studies, sermons, Sunday school classes, devotional reading and prayer petitions can all become podcasts that people who cannot make it to church on Sundays or those who are homebound can access when they have time available.

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A-literacy and the Church

no readingIn an interesting article in the October 2017 issue of First Things. columnist Mark Bauerlein explains that we currently live in a society where younger generations are a-literate, meaning that they can read, but they don’t read much of anything. A 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts found that only half of 18- to 24-year-olds read a book during leisure hours during the preceding 12 months.

What does that mean for the church? Quite a lot, actually. If no one is reading anything, and if the basis of our growing in faith is built on reading, learning and inwardly digesting the Word of God, then that is a problem.

If they are not reading, how are people being fed words and getting information, then? Our lives are filled the sound bites and short quotes and pithy statements on Facebook and Twitter and on TV scrolls. But are we getting deeper into the meaning behind these words? Most likely not.

The old models of in-depth Bible studies are lost on younger generations, and have led, in general, to a decline in Bible class attendance on Sunday mornings.

So what is a church to do to appeal to the increasingly alliterate society. One thought I have is that the church needs to be more and more present on social media platforms with intriguing words of Scripture that then start a conversation thread and a larger discussion moderated by leaders in the church of the meaning and impact of the Word of God on our everyday lives. That is one way of reaching the younger generations with the Word in the places where they are reading and receiving information.

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