“You will be hated by all…”

Startup Stock PhotosA friend of mine once told me a story about his trips to the coffee house to sit, read, and, on occasion, discuss Christianity.  My friend didn’t go to debate, he was there because it was a comfortable place with nice chairs and room to spread out his books for study.  The coffee house wasn’t a big chain with green aprons, but a locally-owned place with good crowds and a great vibe.  He loved the place and got to know a few of the regulars.  Everyone got along for the most part, and he had some lively debates.
That is, until one night, when another patron pulled him aside and told him to be careful.  My friend and the patron had grown close, and the patron wanted to look out for him.  There were grumblings among some of the others that my friend needed to “watch out.”  This was, effectively, a threat.
Christians, more often than not, are not the instigators of another person’s feelings.  We don’t cause someone to become angry at us, or to hate us, or to think we’re being judgmental.  Often, the quiet Christian is harassed solely because they exist in the same space as the other person or people and are, well, being Christian.
“If I don’t cause the reaction, why does it happen?  Are these people just hateful individuals?” Not at all. Instead, those responses are internal to that person.  The feelings inside them well up and are driven out at the Christian, making them the target of all of the feelings.
So, then, one will ask, “What are the source of these feelings?  These are not people that normally live lives of anger.”  How can it be that seemingly passive or accepting people (read “tolerant”) become so vicious?
In the end, the answer is fairly simple for the Christian to understand, and folly to all others.  They have the Law written on their hearts, as we all do.  The very sight of Christians and Christian signs and symbols wrenches on their hearts and minds, and injects a feeling of guilt that bounces off of their hardened hearts and becomes hate as it leaves their lips.  They don’t hate you, though, but rather they hate Christ and all that He is.  They cannot stomach the thought of their sins, their breaking of the moral code of God, and they live in fear of the judgment that is theirs because of their sin.  They are not even aware of it.
And the worst part of this reaction is that we do the same things to God.  We, in our sinful lives, hate God.  Our stomachs turn and our sinful hearts turn away.  We strive to run from God as fast as we can.
“But, how can that be?” you say.  “I go to church, read my Bible and pray, and I believe.  How can I hate God?”  The key difference between the believer and the unbeliever is faith.  We have faith, given by the Holy Spirit through the power of God’s Word.  Because of that faith, the Holy Spirit turns us towards God and His Son Jesus Christ, and we are saved!  By the power outside of ourselves, we are made right before God.  We are because, as Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
That’s the blessing of God’s power and the comfort of His merciful gift in Christ Jesus.  We are able to live freely in our faith, and able to complete the works of God for the world around us.
The unbeliever doesn’t have that comfort.  They don’t have the faith that saves them from the wretched guilt that eats their insides.  Without the Word of God, they are not even able to give it a name.  They just know that they hate that cross you wear, the Bible you carry, the worship music you listen to, or the book about your faith that you read.  They cannot understand because they do not have the language that we receive in our faith.
We live in a world that doesn’t understand us.  It doesn’t know Christ inherently.  God is only revealed to us by God’s Word.  This is why we must continue to speak it to the world.  Whenever we can, whether it is the quiet lunch conversation with the grieving co-worker, the smiling message of gratefulness and thanks to the grocery store clerk, or the words of forgiveness and strength to our friends and family, we can speak the Word of God and the comfort that comes in Christ Jesus our Lord through our words and actions.
Maybe, next time the person who sees you at the coffee house will, instead of shouting at you, ask about the Bible you are reading.

Deliberate Practice and the Art of Family

Geoff Colvin, in Talent is Overrated, talks about how “deliberate practice” is the method in which one can go from being good or acceptable to great in their field, whether it is sports, art, entertainment, or even business. The elite performers spend hours training and studying at their craft, which is the key to building neural pathways in the brain that allow them to perform at the highest levels. The brain, as it repeats the exercises and study, increases the protective sheath around the neurons, and speeds up those pathways so that they become more resilent and faster. This “deliberate practice” doesn’t just consist of repetition of the skills in which these individuals have already achieved high levels, but is an intentional focus on the areas that still require improvement. They go out and work on those areas over and over again in order to build themselves up.  

Colvin also, in his book, talks about “domain knowledge” as another way that individuals continue to grow to become the top in their field. Reqular study and understanding of the “How” and the “Why” in their field becomes another key element to their success. The best in any field is a “subject matter expert” at what they do. That experience gives them depth and insight beyond the rest, and allows them view the landscape to see what is coming next.  

There is a story of the how Wayne Gretzky’s father trained his young son to nearly see into the future. He would put Wayne onto the ice and have him follow the puck around as he made long passes. Wayne’s father would sling the puck off of the boards around the ice rink and make Wayne chase it until his lungs burned and his legs ached. The key to this practice, however, wasn’t to build speed; speed was a by-product. Wayne wouldn’t just follow the puck, he would go to where the puck would be in the future and catch it on the fly. Wayne looked ahead to see where the puck was going, and went there. He studied how the puck would bounce and became a subject matter expert, using deliberate practice to master his field.

Thinking about this, how are you committing to “deliberate practice” in your life? Are you spending time studying your job, or your favorite pastimes? Do you practice the skills that you have not yet mastered in order to attain that mastery? Each and every time you sit down to learn, what can you do to make sure that you’re improving?

These concepts, however, do not just limit themselves to business, physical endeavors, or the arts. Family requires “deliberate practice” as well. Spending time with your spouse, your children, and the others closest to you in your life can be another form of “deliberate practice.” Family isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and NO ONE is an expert at it Day One. We learn about each other. We grow together. We have to constantly work on the areas that have fault and failure. For, without that work, we never learn how to overcome the struggles that inevitably are a part of life. Consistent, intentional, and focused “practice” is the key.  

Take time to work on the areas of your marriage or relationship that seem hard. If you struggle with engaging consistently throughout the day, make it a point to do three kind, selfless acts for that someone in your life in the morning, during the day, and in the evening. If you find that you have a hard time expressing yourself and your feelings, send three text messages throughout the day and let that other person know how much your care about them. Then, after a week, take one of those times and say it to them directly, face-to-face. Yes, it’s going to be hard; that’s why it’s called DELIBERATE practice. You’ll have to work at it to become great.  

Spend time and build the “domain knowledge” of that other person. Over coffee, or dinner, or while sitting together in the car, ask questions about their thoughts and mindsets on things. Work to understand how they think. Pray for them and with them. Become a “subject matter expert” on them. By connected with them on a deeper level, you will not only build your relationship, you’ll actually change your brain! You will find that they become your area of focused expertise. And that’s a skill you’ll never want to give up.

The Story that Never Gets Old

You’ve heard it said a hundred times before, I’m sure.  But I think that sometime in the next 24 hours, between the presents, the food, the family  and friends, the traveling and the frustrations, the anxiety and agitation of the planning and parties, the meeting of new family members and spending time with the old ones, we should all take a moment to stop and tell one story that never gets old.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the firstregistration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

To God be the Glory!  Amen!

Viva La Revolution!

Dear Christian Friends,

Many evenings in our household consist of the same routine. Bed-time is announced, which is immediately followed by the first attempted coup d’etat. This is subsequently quashed by the state police (a.k.a. Dad), and then The Resistance is punished with Chinese Water Torture (or, more commonly, a shower). Towel drying then commences (Mom has banned the use of her hair-drier), teeth are brushed (The Second Revolution Rises!), and then the government (a.k.a. Mom) declares a national curfew with the phrase, “Bed-time will be earlier from now on!” Off to the prison cell of a bedroom where the child is locked away under covers and a stuffed bulldog from IKEA. Tales of other failed rebellions are read, (or Charlotte’s Web…whatever is handy), and a hymn is sung by Dad after prayers. Just like any other household, right?

You may have stopped at the hymn. A hymn? Really? But why, one may ask? Is it for the soothing melody? The peaceful music?

I would say that “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers” are hardly lullabies. But the intent is not to coax the child off to sleep. It’s to teach.

Yes, it’s true. Lessons are learned at all times of day. And what better way to teach the Word of God than through music? Luther said, “Next to theology, I accord to music the highest place and the greatest honor.” He understood the importance of teaching in any way possible. Luther wrote a number of hymns, both to uplift the mind and spirit, and to direct our hearts toward Jesus Christ, the “Valiant One” who fights for us, as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” proclaims.

And these songs are not just written to sell well, or have a catchy tune that makes the Christian Top 40. They come directly from the Word of God. The liturgical hymn, “Create in Me” is Psalm 51:10-12.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Sharing the hymns of the church with my children is something that I do because I know that through them I can teach them about Christ Jesus. It’s a blessing to have another way that I can give them the Gospel of our Lord.

And if it helps them to fall asleep, then I guess it’s another indication of how the Lord blesses us in many ways!

A Persuasion to Prayer

As we move through the stress and strain of our daily lives, sometimes we wonder how we should best handle our worries and fears, our hopes and desires, our needs and our wants. Where can we find help and strength to carry our in the burden of life? Stress relief is often the topic of many emotional self-help books and audio recordings, like the ones we see on TV at 3 am between Law and Order and Dracula vs. the Wolfman, Part 17. They tell us that we can look inside ourselves to find The Power of Living, as one so-called collection states. Yet, these always cost large amounts of time and rather large amounts of money, because, as we all know, 4 easy payments of $39.99 is not cheap to anyone in a recession.

However, I would like to offer a simpler, easier, more fulfilling method to handle to problems of this world. Something that is useful anywhere, in any situation. It’s inexpensive (actually, it’s free), anyone can do it, and available to all. The solution is prayer.

Now, you may ask yourself, why pray? Well, Paul tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17, to “pray continually.” I know that in my life things happen on a regular basis such that I need help, or just want to talk about them with someone. God is always there and ready to hear what I have to say. Christ commands us to pray in Matthew 7:7ff, when He says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” God wants us to talk with Him. He is willing to listen to us in our times of trouble, or even to thank him for what He has done for us. Even medical studies show that prayer is helpful in the midst of an illness. Prayer relieves stress by focusing one’s attention and calming an individual. Prayer is the equivalent of a child’s time-out. It gives us a moment to step back and look at the things around us.

How, then, should we pray? Christ answers this question fully when He says in Matthew 6:9ff, “This, then, is how you should pray,” and follows with what has thus been known as the Lord’s Prayer. However, this is not the only way that we can talk to our Father. Martin Luther states one method of praying in his definition of the Second Commandment, taken from his Small Catechism, which states that we should “in every time of need call upon [God], pray to him, praise him, and give him thanks.” From this we can see three major types of prayer: prayer in times of need, praising God as our great and almighty King, and thanking God for the gifts He has given to us. When we pray in times of need, we should ask God not only to help us and watch over us, but those around us, such as our family and loved ones; Christ even tells us to pray for our enemies. Thanking and praising God should be the easiest part of prayer, because of all of the gifts we receive from Him should be more than enough of a reason to pray. All of these types of prayer can be seen in the most amazing collection of prayers ever assembled: the Psalms. Here we see many of the different ways that we can talk to God. But these are not the only ways. Even just having a plain, old conversation with the Creator of all (as ironic as that sounds) is a comfortable and helpful way to give peace to our lives. Some see prayer as a quiet meditation time, to look over the events of their lives and to seek God’s guidance. That is the essence of prayer. Asking for God’s guidance and strength, seeking His peace and love, searching for His will and desires in our lives.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of prayer? As for the latter, I see no drawbacks to talking with God. He commands it, and answers us. When we pray, He comes to us and comforts us in our time of need. All that He asks is that, when we pray, we thank and praise Him. To me, this sounds like a win-win situation. The benefits of prayer are even greater. Besides the physiological benefits of relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation, we receive many mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits as well. Peace, joy, happiness, restoration of the heart and mind, comfort, and strength are just a few of the things that we see in our lives after we pray to God. Also, God answers those questions that most trouble our hearts and minds, and He leads us to live lives of good and faithful righteousness in Him.

After having seen all of these reasons to pray, sometimes we are still unsure of what pray. Many daily devotional books and pamphlets, such as the Portals of Prayer series, updated every quarter, which is available online through Concordia Publishing House, are readily accessible to all. Also, leaflets, like Talking with God, are handy in looking into the discussion of prayer and its usefulness. The Treasury of Daily Prayer, and it’s corresponding app, Pray Now, are available at all times through any Apple device.

Prayer should be a major part in the lives of every Christian. Its benefits are far greater than even the person praying can ever imagine. We are commanded to pray by God Himself. It is not time consuming nor is it hard to do. We have a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with about the humor of life, someone to hear us and understand all of the things that affect us in our daily lives. With this kind of a deal, who could pass up the opportunity to be heard? The benefits are outstanding, and in the end, we will be glad that we did it. So go on, pray. It regularly gets me through this blog. It can get you through anything.

Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand!

One night when I was in college, a Christian friend and I had the pleasure of having a conversation with a non-Christian friend of mine which lasted until 4:00 in the morning.  While it was an enlightening discussion and a wonderful witnessing experience, there was one point that made me stop and think.  I asked the non-Christian, when he alluded to his current state of searching for the Answer, “What do you stand on?”  After he gave me an explanation, I stopped and thought, “Well, what do I stand on?”

Constantly in this world, we are bashed by the rains and waves of sin and temptation, hounded by the winds of evil and suffering.  We try to establish ourselves a place to stand on this earth, only to be struck again and again by depression, anger, pain, unease, and weariness.  And most of all, our sinfulness.  In all of this trouble and torment, what do we stand on?

In Matthew 7:24ff, Jesus tells the story of the wise and foolish builders.  These two guys each built a house; one built on the rock and the other on sand.  The rains and winds came and beat the house on the rock, but it stood straight and tall, and did not fall.  The other house on sand fell to the ground, because it had no firm foundation.  Jesus says in this passage that all who follow Him and His Word are like the wise man who built on the rock.

We stand on the Rock that is the Lord.  Isaiah 26:4, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”  We stand on God and His Promises, the Hope of now and our future years.  We stand on Christ Jesus and His Victory over sin and death.

When the world pulls at us, trying to bring us down into it’s hopeless depths, remember the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  We have the contentment and satisfaction of knowing that we stand on a Rock which can never be broken.  The Rock that will never succumb to the evil of this world.  It is our strength and refuge.

The next time I ask myself, “What do you stand on?” I know my answer.

Read also:  Psalm 31, 61, and 62, Matthew 16:13-20 (Peter’s answer is the Rock), 1 Peter 2:4-12.

“Suffer the little children…”

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with some friends of ours on Sunday. We got to sit and laugh and talk with them about all topics great and small. One of the rather interesting things we discussed was our children. They have two wonderful little boys, and we have one of our own, and of course, as parents, we all want the best for them. But the conversation turned to the idea of how to help the children to grow outside of our overprotective nature as parents.

The word that came out in the discussion was “suffering.” Not suffering in the sense of painful agony, or torment and torture, but rather, suffering as a struggle to proceed through life. We all know that type of suffering. The grind of work, the frustration of relationships with other, or the issues we have to work through with ourselves are all examples of suffering. Our friend told the story of moving in the summer before his 5th grade year, and how hard was to be in that situation with new friends and a new school. I think of the death of my grandfather, and how my son learned about the loss of a loved one. Then there are the times when it’s just tough to be a kid (or an adult), and learn about consequence and disappointment when things just don’t go the way they should.

We always want to protect our children, and to help them to understand the world. We don’t want them to experience the harshness that life has until we think they are old enough to handle it. Which is the protection that parents should give to their children. The world is not a happy and nurturing place, like Sesame Street. But it is important to temper the understand children have of suffering the pains of a sinful world with the message of the Gospel. We all do things that are wrong. We all “sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And still Christ has made atonement for our sins. He has taken away the power of the evil one and given us life and salvation. That is the message that our children should learn about suffering. It is a time to teach about faith, and to build faith in a child through the Word. “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). And that hope is the faith we have in our Lord Jesus, who has taken away the suffering of this life by His suffering on the cross.

At the end of the conversation with our friends, we agreed that the kids would learn suffering soon enough. But we can take comfort and hope in knowing that they will have their Savior to lean on when they do suffer.

You are Mine

It’s difficult to get to Saturday night, take a look around the house, and have so many things remind you of your sins of the past week.  The promises made and not fulfilled, the thoughts of anger and frustration, the mistakes and the sadness and the guilt.  You count the Commandments you’ve broken and realize that it takes all ten fingers to enumerate them.  Not a single one is left untarnished by the filth of your life.

Right then, in that moment, God sits before you in the judgement seat.  He looks upon your life and points down to you and prepares to cast you into the realms of damnation for all eternity.  A fit and deserved punishment, to say the least.  For how can we stand before God in our evil ways, our sinful flesh, and not be guilty?

And yet, before the Lord strikes you down, Christ steps in front of you and says, “I will take the punishment.”  He turns to you, and shows you His hands and feet, pierced for you.  He takes your hand and places it on His side and says, “See, I have paid for you.”

You then look around your room and see no more sin, no more pain, no more fear.  All that once brought you shame is gone, and now brings you peace in Christ.  You hear Jesus whisper in your ear, “I have held you to My Heart since your baptism.  I have kept you close when you ate and drank at the Supper.  You are saved by the faith you receive in My Word.  You are Mine.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1b

First My Wife was Right, and Now My Son…

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” –Romans 10:17

I started reading The Story Bible from Concordia Publishing House to my son in the evenings at bedtime.  It’s a wonderful collection of Bible narratives geared toward children.  There are life-like pictures, rather than the cartoonish images in many Bibles.  They help my son to understand that what happened in the Bible is true, instead of a story that someone made up to get a message across like the other books on his shelf.

He’s starting to ask for Bible readings every night.  Just another example of the Word building faith!  We know that the Holy Spirit works faith in us when we hear God’s Word.  It is God’s Word that drives us to Him who is The Word, Jesus Christ.

My son is becoming to me a model for this belief.  We read the narratives and he asks questions sometimes about what happened.  He likes to hear about Samson (he’s into superheroes right now, so I think there’s a connection).  But he always listens, and then tells me why reading the Bible is important.  “So we can know about Jesus and go to heaven.”  What a proclamation of the Gospel!  Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

He believes the Bible because, to him, it’s true.  Not because I tell him so, although we certainly have taught him about Jesus.  He believes the Bible is true because his faith tells him so.  I find that when I don’t think so hard about God and Faith and eternity and Sacraments and Confessions and Commentaries and Catechisms, and instead listen like a child, the sweet message of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, gives me more peace than I could ever seek in books or the so-called powers of my mind.  Sometimes, just sitting down with my son to read a story about Jesus is all I truly need.

Why is it my wife is always right…?

My wife is reading the book Forgotten God:  Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski.  In it, the author discusses the lack of attention to the Holy Spirit by Evangelical preachers and churches.  There was one quote, in particular, that she read to me and caught my attention.  And it was on the second page of the book.

From the Introduction:

“The benchmark of success in church services has become more about attendance than the movement of the Holy Spirit.  The ‘entertainment’ model of church was largely adopted in the 1980s and ‘90s, and while it alleviated some of our boredom for a couple of hours a week, it filled our churches with self-focused consumers rather than self-sacrificing servants attuned to the Holy Spirit.”

I may have to borrow this book from her when she’s finished.  Consumers…that’s a word to think about the next time you’re in church.  And that’s not referring to the consumption of the Lord’s Supper, or taking in the Gospel of Christ.

I find this quote especially intriguing after reading a post over at Gottesdienst Online, entitled “Bait and Switch.”  The link in the post is something to take a look at, if you listened to Contemporary Christian Music in the ’80s and 90’s.