Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prayer, Care, Share

There are many different ways to think about sharing the Gospel with others. Last week at our Lutheran Hour Ministries chapel service I was introduced to "Prayer, Care and Share" by Rev. Joe Sullivan, from Pacific, Missouri. No, it's not a revolutionary or earth-shattering idea, but it is a neat way to center our thinking on fulfilling this command Jesus gave us: to make disciples of all nations.

Let's face it. The sharing part is pretty intimidating for most of us. None of us wants to face rejection or drive someone away when sharing our faith. But it helps me to remember the share part comes last.

Prayer is first.

What could be easier than praying for someone in your life who needs to know God's love the way you do. (And what if you can't think of any non-Christians? Pray for God to show you someone He wants you to reach.) Then pray for that person or those people, over and over and over again.

And that brings up a really cool part of this whole thing. Normally you might think of people at work, school, or your next-door neighbors. But what if you have absolutely nothing in common with them? If that's the case, then your hobbies and interests, things you really have a passion for, can be your guide.

For instance, if you're an outdoors kind of person, you don't have to suddenly go to a really uncomfortable place like an art gallery to find someone to witness to. You can talk to your buddy at the state park, or the lake, or the campground. If, on the other hand, you get hives thinking of the great outdoors and you enjoy dance class; then there are plenty of people who share that passion too.

Whatever passion God gave you, that is a natural door to prayer, care and share.

Next, is the caring part.

That's not nearly as intimidating as the sharing part, and it's absolutely vital before we start to share. If a total stranger walks up to me and starts telling me the world is flat, I'll just think he's a wacko and go on my way. His advice or thoughts are worth about two cents to me. But if it's my tried-and-true friend telling it to me, then I'll be willing to really listen and reexamine what I always thought was true.

Caring is the investment that increases the value of the faith you have to share. Even more, when they see the difference that faith, trust and peace brings to your life -- especially in the rough stretches of your life -- they may be begging you to let them in on your secret. Getting to that level of friendship takes time, time spent together, a personal investment of hours.

And then finally, there is the sharing.

Sharing just sounds intimidating, doesn't it? It usually means pushing across a barrier or boundary you haven't crossed with that friend before. That's frightening because you don't know what's on the other side. What if your friend disagrees? It's okay. You don't have to keep pushing; you don't have to give a 15-minute speech or a half-hour lecture on the Gospel. Pray for God to open your eyes to chances to share what Jesus means to you, how He's helped you through life's rough patches.

That leads you right back to prayer and care again. Bring to God the new things you learned about your friend in the time you spent together. Pray about their concerns, their struggles, their worries. Think about similar situations in your life, and how your faith helped -- or how it would have helped if you hadn't tried to carry it by yourself.

Prayer, care, share. It's a pretty good way to knock some of the intimidation out of telling others about Jesus.

Talking to others about Jesus can be a challenge. Then again, we probably make it tougher than it is by thinking it's all about our eloquence, our encyclopedic knowledge, our personality. It's really not about us, except in how we can be a mouthpiece for Him. He will lead. He will empower, if only we will listen.

What do you think about sharing your faith? Tell us by clicking here and letting us know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I Feel Old When ...

This past Monday morning one of the trending topics on Twitter was #IFeelOldWhen ....

Some of the tweets were pretty good:

#IFeelOldWhen "I still think of the 90s as 10 years ago."

#IFeelOldWhen "My teenager says 'nice outfit' and rolls her eyes."

#IFeelOldWhen "I realized The Simpsons came out over 26 years ago."

#IFeelOldWhen "It's time to pay my mortgage, car payment, insurance, electric bill, cell bill, Internet bill, water bill, etc."

#IFeelOldWhen "I see my old friends, and they are all married with kids."

These last two tweets appear to come from people in their 20s or 30s, which makes it rather obvious we start feeling the passage of time when we're still quite young. Elite athletes probably feel it more acutely than those of us who aren't. But eventually the relentless march of time becomes obvious to each of us.

One tweet that struck me was from an M.D.:

#IFeelOldWhen "I get to work and all the corpses to autopsy are younger than me. Boy, does that make me sad."

We Americans go to war against time and aging, throwing billions of dollars a year into anti-aging creams and plastic surgeries, but sooner or later we all have to admit it's a losing battle. Sure, we can slow our body's aging a bit with good nutrition, rest and exercise. And that is very good. It gives us more energy and, hopefully, healthy years to serve God by serving our family and neighbors. But ultimately when enough years roll along we too will grow frail and finally lose the battle.

"... You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19b). That's what Adam and Eve's disobedience won for all of us. But that's what makes the recently completed Easter season so wonderful. Jesus' perfect obedience has won for us a glorious future, even as He is risen from the dead and lives to all eternity. One day all of us who trust His great salvation and look forward to His return will stand before Him in glorious bodies of our own. It will be a perfect, immortal body that will never wear out, grow old, get sick, or die.

I wish I would have reminded my dad of that when cancer was returning his body to the dust. He was a man of faith who knew death wouldn't have the final say, but when he felt so weak, spent and useless, I wish I would have reminded him of his glorious future when that same weary body will be raised in glory: forever powerful, vibrant, radiant, filled with strength, skill and energy.

Sure, from time to time in this lifetime all of us will feel old when .... But take heart, that feeling won't last forever.

Someone once said that youth is wasted on the young. It kind of seems like it is too, but that doesn't mean there are not remarkable things left for us to do -- no matter what our age. Certainly, one of the most important things is remembering we have a God who will renew these old bones when He calls His children home to eternity.

I like that. In fact, I'm not thinking I'm quite so old anymore.

Any thoughts on this whole aging thing we go through? If so, click here and share them with your brothers out there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Thank God for Thomas

Eight days. Eight long, maddening days. Over and over the 10 apostles told their story, "We saw Jesus! He's alive!" Still no matter what they said, their fellow apostle Thomas refused to believe. Nothing was enough: empty grave cloths, angel words, detailed stories from the women, Peter's own personal visit from Jesus that Sunday afternoon, two trusted followers walking with Christ to Emmaus, 10 of the 12 gathered in the upper room as Jesus appears to them. Nothing. In fact, it seems the more details they shared, the more Thomas dug in his heels.

Toward the end Thomas was to the point of embarrassing himself. Perhaps it was anger, hurt and pride, but he clung to his unbelief: "Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe" (see John 20: 24-29).

Do you have a Thomas in your life? -- a husband or wife, fiancé, girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn't believe? -- a child who has wandered from the faith? -- a brother or sister who has made up their mind? -- someone at work? -- a close friend? Do you find the more you talk the more adamant they become against what you're saying? How do you reach someone who refuses to be reached? What do you do with a Thomas?

Thank God for Thomas' unbelief -- no, not the unbelief itself -- but for what that unbelief teaches us about sharing the Good News with others.

Have you ever shared the faith, only to see that doing so seemed to make that person even more resistant to Jesus' message? Did you feel like a failure? Did you conclude it would have been better off if you had shared it one time, then let it go? -- or maybe never shared it at all?

The other disciples teach us not to give up. They kept sharing. Perhaps, they even reminded Thomas of all the experiences they had shared together in Jesus' presence as well as all the miracles they had seen. There were all the blind who received their sight, the lame who walked, the deaf who heard, the lepers who were cleansed. Together they had seen Jesus multiply bread and fish. They could remind him of that fearful time on the Sea of Galilee when they thought the boat would sink and they would all drown, only to have Jesus wake up and speak a word, stopping the winds, stilling the sea, and bringing calm to the storm. They could remind Thomas (as if he would need reminding) of Jesus walking on the water to them.

They might have said, "What about those times we watched Jesus square off against death and defeat it? There was that young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. She had just died when Jesus raised her. Then when we entered the town of Nain and met the funeral procession carrying the widow's son out to burial -- and Jesus raised him hours after his death. And how can we forget Lazarus, dead and buried four days, and yet Jesus was able to overcome death and restore him to life? Is it really that big a stretch to think Jesus Himself could rise from the dead?"

When our friends reject the faith we share, we don't reject them. We keep strengthening the bonds of our friendship, watching and praying for the best time to share our faith again.

I always wondered why Jesus waited a whole week: eight long days to show Himself. Maybe it was to teach us it is not our job to convince or persuade someone to believe. After all, if it was in the apostles' power to make someone believe, shouldn't eight days have been enough for Thomas? Luther had it right: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him." And we cannot by our own reason or strength lead someone else to believe in Him.

All the disciples could do was to faithfully share what they knew. All we can do is faithfully share what we know. Be patient, kind, gentle. Build up that relationship and shake off frustration. Also, don't badger them as if it was up to us and our efforts to bring them to faith.

It was in God the Father's good time that Jesus finally came back to that upper room on the eighth day. No disciple could bring Thomas to believe. It was Jesus' visit and the power of the Holy Spirit that finally shattered his unbelief. "Thomas -- put your finger in My hand, stretch out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting -- no, stop refusing to believe -- and believe!"

Finally, the truth sunk in. "My Lord and my God!"

It was Jesus' visit that worked faith in Thomas, and it is His visit to our friends, co-workers, family and loved ones through the Gospel we share that will shatter their unbelief as the Holy Spirit works saving faith.

Thank God for Thomas' unbelief -- but far more for his repentant belief.

Do you have any stories from the road that deal with witnessing to the faith within you? If you do, click here and tell us about them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Singing and Poetry - Seriously?

Remember studying poems in grade school? All those flowery rhythms and rhymes never seemed very manly to me. Too bad my teachers didn't expose us to powerful poems like the one Walt Whitman wrote after President Lincoln's assassination. Talk about that dark shadow over the joy at the end of the Civil War:

Captain, My Captain

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Or consider Alfred, Lord Tennyson's (oooh, even his name sounds kind of sissy, doesn't it?) stirring description of a British cavalry unit that is ordered to cross a valley to capture Russian cannons at the other end. Couldn't their commanding officer see the enemies lining both sides of the valley ready to cut them down?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Good poetry has power to move us, to motivate us, to open our eyes. That's why it always kills me to see guys sitting in church staring off in the distance when hymns are playing. I know it's tough for men to sing. Some of us never got beyond that cracking-voice thing that happened in junior high or middle school, but if you don't sing, or at least read the words, while others are singing, you don't know what you're missing! Read this hymn text slowly; think about the imagery, and you'll feel how Jesus overcame Thomas' unbelief:

These Things Did Thomas Count as Real

These things did Thomas count as real:
The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
The grain of wood, the heft of stone,
The last frail twitch of flesh and bone.
The vision of his skeptic mind
Was keen enough to make him blind
To any unexpected act
Too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied
That one could live when one had died,
Until his fingers read like Braille
The marking of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
Whose raw imprinted palms reached out
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Poetry. Lyric. Their power is undeniable, but for many of us they're an acquired taste. Without a melody to hum along and carry the words, it's easy to dismiss the subtle attention to detail of a well-wrought poem or a tightly constructed hymn.

Sometimes you just have to read the words on the page.

What are you reading these days? Click here and let us know.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Our Present and Future

Doesn't seem like our annual remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection made any impact in the world, does it? After all, terrorists blew themselves up at an Easter celebration in Pakistan, and they are breathing out more threats of violence and destruction. The presidential campaigns seem to be going straight into the gutter on the Republican side and to the FBI on the Democratic. Gun violence continues in the cities. It can get downright overwhelming and depressing.

But wait a minute, Jesus' death and resurrection really did change our world and our lives -- radically. No, it didn't remove evil, pain, suffering and death from the world or our lives -- at least not yet. Jesus will bring that when He returns on the Last Day. But for Christian men, women and children around the world, Jesus' resurrection has changed the whole equation of our lives. Apart from Him, it's just this life alone. If you can't get what you want in this life, you never will. But now a new and unending life stretches before us. It's an eternal life we will share in the presence of our God, in a perfect body, in the company of His redeemed.

In a sense, we are now free to live recklessly: free of fear, doubt and reservation. After all, what's the worse that people can do to us? To be sure, the suicide bombers darkened an Easter celebration, but scores of our Christian brothers and sisters began a never-ending Easter feast, gazing in wonder and joy at the hands, side and feet of their glorious, resurrected Lord. Many will mourn the loss of those who were murdered, and it goes without saying how cowardly, ignorant and vile such an act of violence is. But still the truth remains: because of Jesus' victory over death and sin, we can boldly share our faith and sing songs of thanksgiving, even when the world threatens us, even when the sword is at our throat.

Jesus' resurrection, and the new life it guarantees, have changed our life perspective completely. While we may be disheartened for a time, we don't need to perpetually grieve our children who are born with mental, emotional or physical disabilities -- or even the Zika virus -- because Jesus will completely restore and perfect their bodies and minds when He returns. After this brief life of suffering, there stretches before us an eternity of health, freedom and vitality.

When Paul wrote about the resurrection, he hinted that our new resurrection bodies will be pretty incredible. "What you sow (in the grave) is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen" (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-38). Sounds like our new body won't just be this body reanimated to what it was when we were at our peak, but something far surpassing that. Paul says comparing our current body to our new body is like comparing a shriveled-up seed of corn to a fully mature plant standing in the fields.

Yes, we have an incredible future because of what Jesus has accomplished. But we have a pretty outstanding present too. Wherever we are, no matter how high or low we feel, no matter how good or bad our situation, we serve a glorious, wonderful Lord and are surrounded by people who need to know, need to hear what Jesus has done for them. They need to know Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

Another Easter has come and gone -- or has it? Christ's resurrection from the dead is proof that Easter is here and now, eternally in the present.

How was your Easter this year? Did you take time to consider the cost Jesus paid for your sins, my sins, the world's sins?

Anything you would like to share? If so, you can click here and comment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reliving Good Friday

Have you ever spent a Good Friday walking through the events that unfolded the day of Jesus' death? After all, His story is our story. Not everyone can take the whole day thinking of nothing else, but at least we can all pause at certain times and hours to consider what was going on in that day of Jesus' life. (Only three of these times are certain: 9 a.m., 12 noon, and 3 p.m. The rest are close approximations.)

6 a.m. - Peter is vehemently denying Jesus when the rooster crows. He turns and sees Jesus, then rushes out weeping. The Jewish high court reconvenes. Jesus confesses He is God's Son, and they condemn Him to death. The Jewish officials rush Jesus off to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (see Luke 22:59-62).

6:30 a.m. - Pilate hears evidence against Jesus, questions Him, and then declares there is no basis for the charges brought against Him. When he learns that Jesus is a Galilean, he hands the case over to Herod, governor of Galilee (see Luke 23:1-7).

7 a.m. - Jesus is brought before Herod Antipas. Apparently, Herod has an opening for a court magician because he keeps nagging Jesus to perform a miracle. Jesus stands silently. The Jewish officials pile on the charges against Him, but Herod isn't interested, and Jesus remains silent. Herod mocks Jesus, then sends Him back to Pilate (see Luke 23:8-12).

7:30 a.m. - Jesus appears for a second time before Pilate. Pilate tries a variety of tricks to force the Jews to accept Jesus' release, but each one backfires. He offers to release either Jesus or Barabbas; the priests convince the crowd to call for Barabbas. Pilate decides to have Jesus flogged. Then maybe the Jews will be satisfied (see John 18:38-19:1).

8 a.m. - Jesus is stripped for flogging. I deserve this brutal physical suffering for my disobedience and selfishness. Afterward, the soldiers crown Him with thorns and mock His kingship. How often do I make a mockery of His kingship in my life? (See John 19:2-3.)

8:20 a.m. - Pilate presents Jesus to the crowds with the crown of thorns and bloody robe. They demand His crucifixion and while washing his hands, Pilate surrenders Jesus over to their will (see Matthew 27:24-26).

8:30 a.m. - The crucifixion detail makes its procession through the streets of Jerusalem. When Jesus grows too weak to carry the cross, the soldiers force Simon of Cyrene to carry it for Him (see Matthew 27:32).

9 a.m. - Jesus is crucified. (In case you thought Jesus was only on the cross three hours, check out Mark 15:25, 33-34; it was six hours.) He prays "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (see Luke 23:34).

10 a.m. - Jesus is surrounded with mocking and railing from the chief priests, Roman soldiers, and even the criminals, at first. But then one criminal changes his mind and speaks up in Jesus' defense. Then he pleads, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Jesus assures him, "Truly, truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise" (see Luke 23:40-43).

11 a.m. - Jesus sees His mother Mary standing nearby with His disciple John. He commends Mary into John's keeping (see John 19:25-27).

12 noon - Three hours of supernatural darkness begin. Jesus is forsaken and silently suffers the torments of hell that I deserve (see Matthew 27:45). This three-hour interval is our eternal damnation condensed to three intense hours. It must have seemed like an eternity to Him.

3 p.m. - The end has come. Jesus makes four statements in rapid succession:

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (See Matthew 27:46.) Quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, He summarizes the whole psalm which speaks both of His suffering and His victorious resurrection.

"I'm thirsty" (see John 19:28-29). Jesus wets His mouth so He can proclaim His victory in the next saying.

"It is finished" (see John 19:30). Jesus uses a Greek accounting term that means paid in full. Not a single sin remains against us; each one has been paid in full.

"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (see Luke 23:46).

Jesus dies and a number of miracles take place: a massive earthquake splits rocks and opens tombs; the temple curtain is torn in two. This is probably during the evening sacrifice when a priest is offering incense before it (see Matthew 27:51-53).

The Roman centurion declares, "Certainly, this man was innocent!" (See Luke 23:47). "Truly, this was the Son of God!" (See Matthew 27:54.)

The guilt-stricken crowds are convinced something terribly wrong was done here (see Luke 23:48).

4 p.m. - The Jewish leaders ask Pilate to have the criminals' legs broken to finish them off, so they can be taken down from their crosses before the Sabbath. The soldiers break the legs of the two criminals with Jesus, but find Him already dead. To be sure He is dead they pierce His heart with a spear (see John 19:31-37).

5 p.m. - Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for permission to bury Jesus' body. He meets with Nicodemus, removes Jesus' body from the cross, wraps it in spices and strips of linen, and buries it in his own new tomb. The women follow and note where Jesus is laid. They prepare spices and ointments to properly finish the burial early Sunday morning, after the Sabbath has concluded (see John 19:38-42; Luke 23:55-56).

And we know what happened after that. Triumphant and full of glory Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning, bringing with Him the gift of life eternal to all who receive Him in faith.

He did it for you and me. Our sins are dead and gone. Now it's time to give thanks to God, and gather with our brothers and sisters Sunday morning for a joyous celebration at the empty tomb.

This is a week unlike any other. As we turn our eyes to the fateful circumstances of Jesus' last few hours on this earth, we are reminded that His entire mission, His entire life on earth was spent for us.

Any thoughts in particular concerning the coming Easter holiday? If so, you can tell us by clicking here .

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Whatever Happened to Palm Sunday?

Back when I was a kid in the 60s, our church always celebrated the Sunday before Easter as "Palm Sunday." Somewhere between then and now it changed to "Passion Sunday." Yes, I get why this change was made. I know it's because the vast majority of members skip the weeknight and weekday services, and go straight from Jesus' triumphal entry one Sunday to His resurrection the next, without ever hearing the account of His suffering and death on the cross to save us from our sins.

I'm happy that in many churches the triumphal entry is not completely overlooked; it gets put at the front of the service. But still that kind of bums me out. When you try to squeeze in all the monumental events of Holy Week into a single hour of worship, everything gets diminished.

For me there is something to walking along with Jesus and participating in the events of Holy Week on the day those events occurred. On Palm Sunday I will think of Jesus entering Jerusalem to the praises of the people. The palm branches waving, the cloaks being laid on the roads to give Jesus that red carpet welcome into His capital city. I note the tears rolling down Jesus' cheeks because, just like us, He knows the rest of the story.

On Monday I will think of the barren fig tree that withered at Jesus' words: a powerful reminder that I'm here to bear fruit for God and the growth of His kingdom, not just for my own personal interests.

On Tuesday I will think of Jesus' powerful teachings in the temple courts, the challenges and questions He faced, and His final warning to the crowds as His days drew short. I'll remember the time is brief for each of us too, and I need to listen to Jesus and share His words with others before their time -- or mine -- runs out.

On Wednesday I will think of the silent day Jesus spent alone with His disciples. There are times when I need to spend time alone with my loved ones, celebrating our lives together, cherishing those fleeting moments.

On Thursday I'll think of Peter and John making preparations for that Last Supper, and then that evening -- in church -- I'll sit in that upper room with Jesus and receive His precious memorial: His body and blood given in, with, and under the bread and wine. Then I'll go with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane and watch as He pours out His heart in anguished prayer.

On Friday I'll witness the trial before Pilate; I'll follow the procession to Calvary and stand at the foot of the cross, watching my Savior reconciling all of us to our Heavenly Father as He dies in our place.

On Saturday I'll stand looking on the tomb that holds my Savior's lifeless body -- as it awaits the resurrection on the morrow. I'll sit with the Roman soldiers who come to seal the tomb and stand guard over it.

No, one hour is not enough for me to celebrate my Lord's passion. To really be able to celebrate Easter right, I'm going to need every day of Holy Week.

How do you celebrate the coming Holy Week? Do you have any special traditions to add to a week already full of reverential events? You can let us know by clicking here and sharing our thoughts.