David Brooks' January 20, 2014 New York Times op-ed column The Art of Presence caught my eye the other day. It's definitely worth a read. As someone who often helps people and families through difficult times, his reflections resonated with me. I am constantly ecouraging my congregation to pursue an incarnational rather than an attractional style of ministry. In other words, be there rather than waiting for or trying to get someone to come to you.
The temptation is to distance yourself, assuming that they need space or time or that there's really nothing you can say or do. It turns out that showing up makes a powerful statement in itself, even if you have little to say. Don't wait. Just go. Be there.
That's what Jesus did. He shows up in our world. Now while He comes with a message and miracles, His presence also speaks volumes. We could never go to Him. Not when we are sinners and He is holy. But He can come to us. He still does. He comes and speaks to us in His Word. He still comes with gifts of grace in the sacraments. And that communicates a powerful message of love.
“My child, pay attention to what I say.
Listen carefully to my words.
Don’t lose sight of them.
Let them penetrate deep into your heart” (Proverbs 4:21 NLT).
When I read these words this morning, I began to wonder just how deeply God’s Word penetrates our hearts. My immediate thought was, “Not very. Not very deep at all.” If that’s true, then my spirituality is embarrassingly superficial. God’s Word just skims the surface of my life. I may do what He says, but one doesn’t have to give much thought to obedience. I may trust His promises, but I can go for an entire day without them coming to mind. I can dig deep and find all kinds of fears, doubts and regrets inside myself. How can God get a foothold in there, deep in my heart?
As I pondered this question, a few images came to mind. One was from Ezekiel, where the Lord declares that He will replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). I can understand the need for that. It’s very hard to penetrate stone. I’ve tried. Even with a masonry bit and a large drill, it takes time to make a hole for an anchor to hang up a shelf in the garage. I can penetrate flesh much easier. I’ve done that, too, as the assortment of cuts on my hands attest. When God’s Spirit brings us to life, our hearts become penetrable once again.
Next, there is the promise from Jeremiah of a new covenant God make with his people, writing His law on their hearts (Jer. 31:33). That new covenant comes when God forgives, a promise fulfilled by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, the blood of a new covenant. Our Lord’s words no longer skim the surface when we eat and drink His body and blood. The reality of His grace indeed find room within us, replacing the fears, doubts and regrets with forgiveness, life and salvation.
As I thought of and wrote about the above, I’m amazed and thankful that these images surfaced. Obviously God got through to me somewhere and somehow. I guess I’m still learning just how deep His love is (Eph. 3:18).
The Sunday before last, a vacationing pastor worshiped with us along with his wife and two grandsons. I thought I recognized him and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the visitor card he filled out.
Later that week, I got an encouraging email from him unlike any I’ve ever received. After introducing himself, he complimented me on my preaching, including a summary of the message with direct quotes that were meaningful to him. I rarely get feedback like that, and I can’t say enough about how much it meant to me. I plan on giving feedback like that the next time I get some time off and get to be in the congregation.
Thank you, pastor, for reminding me about the awesome power of encouragement!
Today I began my sermon with a challenge. “Picture in your mind the most unusual person you’ve ever seen in a worship service.” After a few moments, I shared a few images that had popped into my mind this past week. A pair of Mormon missionaries, a lady with a bird’s-nest hairdo (complete with robin’s eggs), and a suicious looking young man in a long black trench coat. The challenge set up the arrival of the wise men – foreign astrologers – who showed up to worship Jesus and are now honored with a day in the church year, Epiphany. Definitely not your typical worshipers of the king of the Jews.
Now on a post-nap Sunday afternoon, I’m wondering what a typical worshiper looks like. Since the gathers to worship in just about every language in every corner of the world, anyone should be able to fit in. Since Pentecost the worldwide Church has the multicultural look of heaven recorded by John in Revelation.
Yet as I look around on a Sunday morning, I will surely see someone who looks out of place. Someone with a different idea of what it means to worship. So one with a different idea of what is attractive. Someone who has different values. Someone who thinks I’m different. (So what’s with the black shirt and white plastic neck thing?)
And I will be challenged to live the Epiphany reality that my Savior is their Savior, too.
Yesterday I put away all of our Christmas decorations. It doesn’t seem that we have as many decorations as other homes I’ve seen, but we do have seven storage containers filled with lights, knick-knacks, ornaments, stockings and dishes, in addition to the tree.
As I was taking the ornaments off the tree, I realized that we did not buy a single one. Continue reading
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25).
If anyone ever underestimates Joseph's part in the story of Christ's birth, they just need to read these two verses. Some honeymoon, huh? I know, I should be a little more reverent, but the whole idea of getting married is so that you can “know” your wife (and I know you know what that means!). Obedient, patient, self-controlled — if you ask me, Joseph is one heck of a husband!
It’s a new year. The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). But I found all these new things mentioned in scripture:
- A new song: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:3)