Merry Christmas 2020

Who would’ve thought, one year ago today, that 2020 would be the year that it’s been? Yet, here I sit this Christmas morning, thinking on the year we are about to close out and what a blessing this day remains despite the trials, tribulations and troubles this year has wrought. “Blessing, you say?” Yes, Blessing.

Today we come face-to-face with eternity in the Person of the Christ Child. His birth in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago was not His beginning. St. John opens his Gospel by declaring the eternal presence of Jesus, the Author of Life and Savior of the world (see John 1:1-5). When I consider the difficulties of 2020 in the context of knowing the One Eternal God, I am comforted, at peace, and excited for the future.

People like to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I have repeated this many times over the years. Recently, a pastor friend of mine turned the tables a bit when he posted this on Facebook:

YOU are the reason for the season.

This stopped me in my tracks. Indeed, this is true. Jesus was born for a purpose. His mission was to defeat sin and death so that all who believe in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life in God’s presence. No pandemic, no civil unrest, nothing that happens here on Earth will shake this truth. God, in the Person of Jesus was born for me and for you. Indeed, WE are the reason for the season! Knowing this, we can be at peace.

Dear friend, as you ponder the meaning of Jesus’ birth, remember the cross on which the one, perfect sacrifice was given for you and for me. With that Truth in mind we can say to one another, “Merry Christmas!” Yes, even in 2020.

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

Happy Thanksgiving 2020

Happy Thanksgiving! Or is it? While this is the favorite holiday of many, including yours truly, I am sure there are many who would just as soon skip Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas this year and go straight to 2021. Indeed, 2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. And, as I write this, the long-promised November surge in COVID-19 cases seems to be well underway. Many are ill, too many have perished, healthcare providers are tired and stressed, and all of us likely suffer from pandemic fatigue to some extent. So, given all of this, what are we to do with Thanksgiving 2020?

This may be easier for some of us than for others this year. But, as believers, we know that God is in control. Jesus is Lord and reigns today. Even through COVID. Even through social unrest. Even through temporal death and sadness. Jesus reigns. He has not relinquished control. He will never leave us nor forsake us. This is true for all who believe, no matter what difficulties and challenges we have faced this year. Dear friends, we must cling to Him when times are rough. God knows what each of us are going through and He goes through it with us. That, for one, is something for which to be thankful!

As I look back on 2020, I am reminded that I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my faith in the One True God who loves me despite all my faults and shortcomings to the point of sending Jesus to die for my sins. I am thankful that God reveals Himself through His Word, the Bible, and through His creation. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my church and I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for the technology that allows us to connect with one another when social distancing is our temporary normal. I am thankful for a rewarding and satisfying career. I am thankful for good health. I am thankful for all who work diligently to keep us safe and for those who give selflessly to care for those suffering illness. I am thankful that I live in the great state of Texas and the greatest country on earth.

Have you had a rough year? Has 2020 dealt you more blows than you feel you can handle? If so, know that I care and I am praying for you. As Christians, we are to build each other up. We are to support and encourage one another in good times and bad. I hope you find some encouragement in this little piece. And I hope you can find a few things for which to give thanks. Even this year. Even in these trying times.

May God bless all who read this, and I pray that each of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Soli DEO Gloria!

© workisministry 2020

I Am With Them…

Have you ever felt Jesus’ presence? I am a “people person” – one who thrives in the presence of others. To be sure, I enjoy my alone time. But there is an energy, a spirit of unity that I feel when I am gathered with other believers.

The earliest recollection I have of feeling Jesus’ presence in a very real way was in August, 1977, at fifteen years old. We moved from Minnesota to Katy, Texas that July. We visited what would become our home church, Memorial Lutheran Church of Katy, soon after moving in. After our very first visit, the church’s pastor came to our house to welcome us to town and to Memorial. Although we hadn’t yet joined the church, Pastor Loomis invited my sister and me to join the youth group on their annual beach retreat to Matagorda, TX the following weekend. With some degree of apprehension we accepted the invitation. The group welcomed us as if we had been with them for years. The fellowship we enjoyed over the weekend was like nothing I had experienced before. Sunday morning, we worshipped on the fishing pier overlooking the river on which the house was situated. There, for the first time, I knew Jesus is real.

Through my high school years, my church, and more specifically, my youth group and its adult leaders, were grounding elements in my life. I felt called into professional ministry, and enrolled at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin for pre-seminary studies. At Concordia, I received a top-flight education as I earned a Bachelors Degree in General Studies. More important, though, were the friendships I gained over those four years. Countless times, whether in class, in chapel, or in small groups, I felt Jesus’ presence with us. The unity among my Concordia friends is grounded in Christ, and that unity still flourishes today.

Now, here we are. 2020. COVID-19. I don’t have to recap the story here; we have all lived it. In March, when churches closed due to pandemic, the phenomenon we call online church emerged. It grew and developed into a major force in the church. At first I really enjoyed it. I have several friends who pastor churches all over the country and I enjoyed visiting their churches online and hearing them preach the Gospel. Over time, I found that I didn’t necessarily have to tune in at the exact time of worship; many were available on YouTube and other media (still are) and I could watch at my convenience. Yes, I could watch…. For me, online worship was not participatory; I felt that I was observing from the outside and I longed to gather together. In person. At my church.

I am not knocking online worship. It is an incredible blessing for those with high risk factors to COVID-19 and I thank God for the technology and expertise that makes online worship a high quality and blessed experience. But, it does not replace the in-person gathering of Christians to lift our voices in praise, hear the Word together and partake of the Sacraments. I am so thankful that many churches, including my church family at Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, are once again gathering in person while maintaining their online presence for those who cannot safely partake.

One of the things I love most about this promise from Jesus is the fact that it is not limited to gatherings in church. When believers gather to share a meal, when we gather for a simple visit, even when we gather for a Zoom happy hour as a few of us from Concordia did last Friday – this promise is true. Jesus is with us. We encourage each other, we support each other, and the unity in Christ that we share is fortified.

Indeed, I love this promise from Jesus, and I know it to be true. This evening, for the first time in about eight months, I will join with other choristers at my church in a rehearsal for this Sunday’s worship service. We will be a smaller number than usual. We will be socially distanced. We will wear masks. And… We will sing. We will be together. Jesus will be there, too. And I can hardly wait!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Ultimate Hope

2020 has been one heckuva year, has it not? I often see posts and memes on social media lamenting the awfulness of this year and looking ahead, longing for something better. As a believer in Christ, I know that the “something better” for which we all long has already been accomplished.

Amidst all the noise that is 2020, this assurance rings true:

God’s goodness and love have not left the building. God is just as present in 2020 as He has ever been. He speaks to us through His Word just as He always has. And, fellow believers, we have so much to look forward to, including the incredible promise that we will dwell with Him forever.

God has much good to say to us, but we must dial in. Be in the Word. Be in prayer. Be in worship, whether online or in person. God is our ultimate hope for our life’s future and for our eternal destiny. Indeed, we can take comfort in these words from one of the most quoted chapters in Scripture, remembering that even in the darkest of days and the toughest of times, God is in control. He’s got this. And He’s got you and me cradled in His loving arms – today and for all eternity.

With that reality in mind, let’s take on this day!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Hectic Morning and Liturgy…

Oh, come on, dogs! It is 3AM! What in the world are you barking at? Indeed, awakened well before dawn serenaded by barking dogs, I got up to see what the heck was going on. Lightening. Thunder. Rain. They usually don’t bark at these things. I never did figure out what the fuss was all about. But I was up.

I brewed some coffee and came upstairs to do my morning reading. I was distracted, my mind racing between various things I need to accomplish today and still wondering why I was up so darn early. As I closed my eyes, trying to settle down to pray, this Scripture came to mind:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 KJV)

Over and over I prayed this Scripture, eyes closed, asking God to calm my heart, ease my mind and give me the sense of peace that seemed so elusive. And, you know what? God answered that prayer.

I grew up in a liturgical church. Every Sunday we sang, chanted or spoke the liturgy. What I didn’t realize then was, as we worshipped I was memorizing Scripture! Indeed, the various Orders of Worship laid out for us in the front pages of the hymnal were taken right from Scripture, much of it from the Psalms.

At the time I didn’t appreciate it; I sometimes thought it was boring. But recently, as I’ve read through my Bible and come across familiar passages I recognize from the liturgies of my youth, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the liturgy and how thoughtfully it is presented. And I realize I miss it.

In many churches today, the liturgy is a relic of the past. Worship styles vary greatly, and that’s OK. However, I wonder if abandoning the liturgy in favor of a series of worship songs and forgoing readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels in favor of a single reading from “today’s text” may reduce Bible literacy amongst believers. I am concerned that the tendency in some churches to exclude corporate Confession and Absolution except during Lent and possibly Advent may be creating a generation of Christians that do not fully grasp the nature and prevalence of sin and therefore do not fully appreciate the magnificent message of the Gospel.

I pray each morning for Christ’s Church. I pray for unity firmly grounded in the Truth of God’s Word. I pray for bold preachers and teachers to deliver the Word in fullness of truth out of genuine love for God and His people. Indeed, as I said earlier worship styles can be different, and that’s OK. But, sometimes, I miss the Order of Worship with which I grew up.

What a crazy morning it’s been. From a chorus of barking dogs at 3AM to a sense of peace at 6 I am ready to take on the day. Perhaps with a nap inserted somewhere…

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

To His Glory…

How do you approach life? Yesterday, in my daily Bible reading, this familiar passage really resonated and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB

The words whatever and all are two of the most inclusive words in the English language. I don’t see that this passage leaves any room to carve out an aspect of my life and exclude God from it. Not that that is my intent, but to be perfectly honest, it does happen sometimes. There is the Jeff that people encounter at church. There is the Jeff that people encounter at work. There is the Jeff that my family encounters at home. And, there is the Jeff that people encounter in social settings. Years ago, these four Jeffs could be radically different. I don’t think that is what God wants from us.

I am reminded this morning of the greatest gift offered to humankind: the gift of salvation through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. If there is one truth on which I can hang my hat it is this: that I am a sinner, completely unworthy of any relationship with God because of my sin. God sought me out and gave me the gift of faith. Jesus, God incarnate, came to earth as a man to be sacrificed as payment in full for the sins I have committed – yesterday, today and tomorrow. Through His sacrifice, I am redeemed. I am made worthy to be in relationship with God. I will enjoy eternity with Him in Heaven.

Friends, THIS. CHANGES. EVERYTHING!

The calling of the Christian to do all we do to the glory of God is not a litmus test on which our position with God will be determined. Not at all. My seeking to do whatever I do to His glory is in direct response to the gift of salvation He has given me through His Son. That’s it! God wants me to enjoy my life. He desires my worship and involvement in my church. He wants me to enjoy and excel in my work. He wants me to love my family and be a blessing to them. And He wants me to enjoy the many relationships He has given me. When I view each of these through the lens of the Gospel, the natural response is to strive to do whatever I do to the glory of God. Yes, I will mess things up. Yes, I will say things I want to take back. Yes, I will make mistakes. Yes, I will sin. And, yes, I am forgiven!

Gracious Heavenly Father, I thank you this morning for the gift of faith. I thank you that Jesus died on the cross to free me from the bondage of my sins and place me in relationship with You. I give you this day, and I give you this week. I pray that your holy angel would be with me, that all my doings and life may please You. And I pray that my very life would be a witness to all with whom I come into contact, that they would see You through me and give You all honor, glory and praise. Indeed, Lord, help me to do all I do to Your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

The Most Important Race

I work in corporate America as a risk management professional. To help foster productivity and success in my work I have earned an advanced degree and two professional designations. To keep abreast of industry changes and advances in technology I attend conferences and seminars, and I enjoy offering content at those as well. Indeed, to succeed in business, one must have a firm base of knowledge on which to build a level of expertise that consistently adds value. If such preparation is important in business, is it not important in our Christian walk as well?

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

1 Corinthians 9:24 NASB

In the chapters of 1 Corinthians leading up to this passage we learn that Paul is writing to a church that had issues. It was divided. It was tolerating, and even embracing chronic sinful behavior amongst its members. It was at risk of being destroyed from within. This church was in trouble and it needed its pastor to help it refocus on the prize: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That, in summary, is the theme of 1 Corinthians.

Here, Paul is describing his disciplined approach to ministry. Really, his disciplined approach to ministry was grounded in his disciplined approach to life. It is tempting to lift this verse out of context and use it as the foundation of a “rah-rah” motivational talk on success in sports, sales or any other endeavor. But Paul is addressing something far more important: Paul is addressing the winning and nurturing of souls for Jesus Christ.

“But, Jeff, didn’t you open this missive with a description of your preparation and nurturing of yourself to achieve success in your career?” Indeed, I did. And, yes, this principle can be applied to many facets of daily life. And, while I enjoy my career and I want to succeed, my highest calling is to live a life that points directly to Christ. My highest calling is to live and conduct myself in such a way that others see Jesus through me (Matthew 5:16).

With that context, this verse compels me to think. Am I better prepared for business than I am for daily ministry? (Yes). Are there aspects of my life that point in some direction other than Christ? (Yes). Are there aspects of my life that point to Christ? (Yes). Have I seen progress in my spiritual growth? (Yes). Do I have room to grow and improve? (Yes). As I think about this verse in the context of this business man who wants a role in reaping the harvest for Jesus, I see the footsteps that have carried me to this point and I see areas in my life that need some work.

Run in such a way that you may win.

This verse is incredibly motivating and encouraging. The runner of the race is in a constant state of training and preparation. It is a process of constantly seeking to hone one’s skills. And, while God has led me to this place this morning, I see opportunities to build my knowledge and understanding of Scripture and how to apply it in my daily living at home, at work, and at rest. I ask Got to strengthen my faith so I am better equipped to let my light shine, that through me, others will see the Lord Jesus. This is not about me. It is about Him. Let us who believe in the Lord Jesus run this race together, to His honor and glory, with our eyes on the prize: The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him alone be all honor, glory and praise.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Seize The Day!

“Ah, the good old days…” How many times have you heard somebody say this, or something similar? How many times have you said it yourself? I have to admit, I am guilty as charged.

“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”

Ecclesiastes 7:10 NASB

Isn’t it interesting the people in Old Testament times had this same lament that we often hear today? So much so, apparently, that the writer of Ecclesiastes felt the need to address it.

When we dwell in the past, longing for “the good old days”, we become distracted from living today to its fullest potential. Today is a gift from God to each of us. He wants us to enjoy it. So let us celebrate today! Live it! Enjoy it! Relish it! Indeed, Seize It!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Enjoying Life “Under the Sun”

I remember as a boy a commercial jingle for a fast food chain that started, “Eat, drink and be merry!” This chain is famous for its ice cream treats and, indeed, as a youngster it was always a treat when my parents would give in and take us to Dairy Queen to enjoy one of their sweet, sugary concoctions. Truth be told, I still enjoy the occasional visit; drive through almost any small town in Texas and you will likely see the DQ sign somewhere along the main drag. What better way to enjoy the Texas countryside than an ice cold shake (vanilla is my fav)?

“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”

Ecclesiastes 5:18

Do you enjoy your work? Do you enjoy your life? Did you know that God wants us to enjoy life? He does. Now, we must be careful here. This is one verse that is easy to take out of context and go way off the rails with how we apply it to life. Pull this out of the context of the whole of Scripture and it appears to be a license for gluttony, drunkenness and “whatever”. Taken within the context of the whole of Scripture and we quickly realize that is not the message here at all. So, what is the message?

Let’s work backwards through the verse. “This is his reward.” According to Merriam Webster, a reward is “Something that is given in return for good or evil done or received or that is offered or given for some service or attainment.”1 What is the reward here? The reward is to “eat, drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor.” Simply put, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This is not a careless free-for-all; it is, however, an expression of joy.

The writer of Ecclesiastes writes much about the futilities of this life. He goes on about the vanities of life. The lack of purpose of life. But as one reads through this book, the author’s point is revealed: Life lived absent of God is futile. Life lived in relationship with God is fulfilling. Daily toil with no perceived purpose is futile. Daily work with an attitude towards service to God is fulfilling. And in the midst of all this, he tells us to enjoy the fruits of our labor, for that is our reward. It is not a license to sin, but it is a reminder to enjoy life’s blessings.

A fictional young man named Ferris Bueller summed it up quite well:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.2

[Ferris Bueller’s Day Off]

As strange as it may seem to quote Ferris Bueller in seeking to understand a passage of Scripture, I think young Ferris hit this one square on the head. A wise person once said, “Stop and smell the roses.” I think that about sums it up.

So – here are some things I enjoy “under the sun”:

  • I enjoy the relationships of family and friends.
  • I enjoy a Blanton’s bourbon on a large rock after a long day of work.
  • I enjoy a thick steak accompanied by a bold Cabernet Sauvignon at a fine restaurant with family, friends and coworkers.
  • I enjoy a long walk on the beach (yes, I really do).
  • I enjoy the fresh air of the early morning.
  • I enjoy boarding an airplane to travel someplace new or someplace familiar.
  • I enjoy watching an Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park, and I really look forward to the day when we fans can return.
  • I enjoy reading and meditating on God’s Word. That is partly why I write this blog. In fact, I am enjoying listing things I enjoy!
  • I enjoy live music and dancing a two-step to a good country band.
  • I enjoy reminiscing with my friends from Concordia days.
  • I enjoy singing in the choir.

I could go on. As I write this, I am reminded of how much I enjoy my life and that God wants me to enjoy my life. What a blessing that is!

What do you enjoy “under the sun”?

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

1“Reward.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reward. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

2Hughes, John, et al. Ferris Bueller’s day off. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures Corp, 1987.

Consecrate My Life?

One of my fondest memories of church is from many years ago. It was 1978 and I was 16 years old. Our congregation in Katy, Texas had outgrown our little church. Even with two Sunday services, the space was cramped on Sunday mornings. We wanted a space large enough that all could worship together in one service each Sunday morning. The unity we shared as a congregation as the construction progressed and we worked towards our first service has stuck with me over the years. It was here that I first began to understand what being the church was all about.

“Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”

1 Chronicles 29:5b NASB

Consecrate. The first time I ever heard this word was in the context of dedicating our new sanctuary to the Lord’s work. Our first worship service was an Order of Consecration. What does this mean exactly? According to Merriam Webster, to consecrate is to “dedicate to a sacred purpose.”1 Pretty simple, right? That makes sense; we built the building to serve as the place in which we gathered to worship God. It was special, different from any other space. It was to be set apart. It was to be holy. Indeed, it was to be a sanctuary.

As I was reading my Bible a couple mornings ago, this verse from 1 Chronicles hit me right between the eyes. For context, King David had decided to build a temple, a house, for the Lord. God spoke to David through a prophet telling him that he was not to build God’s house. God had determined that David’s son, Solomon, would build the house. So David gathered all the materials needed to build and furnish God’s house. He then anointed Solomon as king, and after doing so, David asked this question of Israel. In response, donations came flooding in, sacrifices were made, and Solomon assumed his reign.

So, here I sit this morning with that question on my mind. Am I willing to consecrate myself, indeed my life, to the Lord? If so, what would that consecrated life look like? The short answer for me is, of course, “yes”. Yes, I am willing. However, I cannot help but feel I am not worthy – not of my own accord.

I hearken back to the dictionary definition of consecrate: to dedicate for a sacred purpose. What is my purpose? My purpose is to honor God by seeking to obey Jesus’ command recorded in Matthew 5:16. I’ve written about this before.

As I ponder this question I begin to wonder how in the world do I achieve this? I think about sins I’ve committed in the past, decisions I have made and later regretted, and things I have said I wish I could take back. Who am I to think that I can consecrate my life to the Lord? As I I think about these things, two words from David’s question leap out at me. Let’s read the question again:

“Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”

Emphasis Mine

Do you see it? The past is the past. This question today can mark a fresh start, a new beginning, if you will. As I consider my past sins I am convicted; that is what the Law does for the Christian. Jesus died so that my sins might be forgiven. He bore my burden; He paid the price. Am I worthy? Of my own accord, no. But through the blood of Jesus I am made worthy. The burden I felt as I first considered this question is now a feeling of freedom. Through Christ, I am free to live my life to His glory! Through Christ, I can answer this question with a hearty, “Yes, Lord!”

Indeed, the past is the past. In Jesus, no matter what my past or your past looks like, we can leave the past where it belongs: In The Past. And we can move forward, freed from the burden of past sins, free to serve Him in joy and thanksgiving. Will I make mistakes? Yes. Will I give in to temptation? Yes. Will God work through me anyway? Yes! Thanks be to God through His Son, Jesus!

Today, Monday morning, marks a new beginning. I am consecrated to the Lord. I will seek to honor Him in my work, my relationships, my social media posts – everything. How about you?

Soli DEO Gloria!

Images from YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

1“Consecrate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consecrate. Accessed 9 Aug. 2020.