That Strong Tower

I earned my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts college in Austin, Texas. Part of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod education network, it was known as Concordia Lutheran College when I was there; today it is Concordia University Texas. One of the aspects of attending Concordia that I appreciated the most was the daily chapel service. Lasting about 20 minutes, it offered a daily grounding in worship and Word as students and faculty gathered together each morning. I miss that.

“The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

Proverbs 18:10 NASB

Do you sometimes feel stressed or overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world? COVID-19. Civil unrest. Divisiveness. Disunity. Joblessness. Dysfunction. Oh, and on top of all of that, it is an election year. I’m reminded of the old TV commercial, “Calgon, take me away!” Ha! (For you younger readers, the Calgon of years past is the Lush bath bomb of today.)

I have learned over the years that the things on which I focus tend to take center stage in my life. For good or for harm, they have influence. Focus on the turmoil in the world and life feels tumultuous. But, shifting that focus to God’s Word has an amazingly calming effect. Much more so than any bath bomb can offer.

What does this have to do with chapel at Concordia or the proverb quoted above? College life offers its own set of pressures and stress. As I walked into Concordia’s chapel each morning, I was entering that strong tower. That place of peace and calm. The place where we were reminded each morning, through worship and Word, of Who it is that we serve and the fact that He has a grand purpose for our lives. It was in chapel that students and faculty worshipped together, unified by the Word of God and uplifted by the examples of Christian faith all around us. And, as I departed the morning service, everything I faced, no matter what it was, took on a completely different perspective and priority.

I often wish there was a daily chapel service I could attend today. Thankfully, God comes to us through His Word no matter where we might be when we seek Him. God meets us where we are. For me it is in the quiet of the early morning, when I read and consider God’s Word, that I am most at peace. The act of posting here and on Instagram inspires me. Even if nobody ever reads this, I am reassured, regrounded and rejuvenated by having taken the time to write.

I do miss Concordia’s morning chapel. I miss gathering with other Christians to worship, receive the Sacraments, hear God’s Word proclaimed, and offer mutual encouragement. And I am thankful that He is here, with me now, in the quiet of this early morning. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App with (c) Roger Coles

(c) workisministry 2020

The Importance of Assembly

This is week six, I believe, of church online. Six weeks of not being able to gather with our respective church families to lift our voices in praise and worship. I know I’m not the only one who misses being in church, but I also understand and support the need to stay home and keep ourselves and one another safe. I am reminded this morning of this passage from the book of Hebrews:

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

There are a myriad of passages in Scripture that discuss the importance of God’s people gathering together. The focal point of Israel’s relationship with God was the tabernacle – the place where God was present among them and where the people went to be in His presence. The psalms talk about gathering together to offer worship and praise in the presence of God. Jesus, and the apostles after Him, preached and taught people assembled in homes and in the local temples. We read about thousands who gathered to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His miraculous feeding of over 5,000 with just a few loaves and fishes. And, in Acts chapter two, the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit as they were gathered together soon after Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, Scripture is abundantly clear on the importance of God’s people assembling for worship, prayer, preaching, teaching, and edification in the Word of God.

Here, the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of gathering together for the purpose of encouraging one another. Not just pastors and teachers encouraging the flock, but all of us reaching out to one another, shaking hands, embracing, offering words of comfort and encouragement to one another. The well-known phrase, “Don’t go it alone” comes to mind. As we assemble to offer worship and praise to God, we also serve as ministers to one another in a “strength in numbers” kind of way. The world is replete with people and things that seek to draw our attention away from God. As we assemble in church, we are reminded that there is a vast community of believers of which we are a part. This walk with God is not a solo effort; we are all in this together. Assembling regularly serves to strengthen our faith and prepare us to go into the world and live lives that honor the Lord.

Indeed, I miss going to church. Having said that, I am thankful to God for the technology that allows church to come to me. The last few Sundays, I have virtually visited several churches around the world via their online worship services. Many are pastored by dear friends with whom I attended college. This technology, truly, is a gift from God and I celebrate it. And I will continue to celebrate it until the day, hopefully soon, that I can once again walk through the doors of Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston and worship once again in the presence of my church family.

Stay safe, my friends. Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: You Version Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2020

Hidden in my Heart

Busy, Busy, Busy! As I wrote in my last post, I sometimes find myself so embroiled in the busyness of life that I sacrifice my morning reading and prayer time in order to get to the office a bit earlier or tend to some long-neglected household chore. I recently went through a period of this that was complicated by international travel and major changes at work. We all experience this from time to time. How does the Christian keep proper focus when life seems to be spinning at a rate faster than we can control?

I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

This verse was part of my morning reading this past Thursday and I am so thankful for this reminder. Hiding God’s Word in my heart means that I can call on certain passages of Scripture when faced with critical life circumstances or decisions. It means that I carry with me an overall understanding of who God is and what He wants for His people, all based on reading studying my Bible. I can draw from these things when the enemy seeks to lure me in a different direction. No, I’m not some freakish “super Christian” or a religious fanatic. I’m simply a man who loves his God and wants to live my life in alignment with His Word.

How does one hide God’s Word in his heart? Well, a few things come to mind:

  1. I know that I am most tuned in to God when I keep my morning appointment with Him. Getting up early, reading my Bible and praying keep me dialed in. Touching base with God each morning sets the foundation for my day, and when I allow myself to be robbed of this time, there is a distinct difference in my outlook, my attitude, and my productivity. I must cherish this time and not let anything stand in the way of my morning devotion.
  2. Memorizing passages of Scripture is another way to hide God’s Word in your heart. We all know John 3:16, right? Just in case, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” What a comfort that is to me when life seems so harrowed that the day goes by in a blur. Or when I catch myself in a sin and the guilt monster starts to eat away at my conscience. Admittedly, I could do much better here, but there are a number of verses that I know by heart so I can call on them. Sometimes, God gives me a nudge with a passage of Scripture. I love that.
  3. There is a podcast called Truth for Life that I like to listen to when I walk. Alistair Begg is an honorable man of God who is very gifted at preaching and teaching God’s Word. There are a number of other quality podcasts out there featuring teachers faithful to the intent and meaning of Scripture.
  4. Find a church home and get involved! Weekly worship is a fundamental need. In addition to participation in worship, find a way to serve outside of worship. I know many who claim that church is not a necessary ingredient to being a Christian. While this is technically correct, I believe it is misguided. We are the church. We exist to worship God, study His Word, partake of the Sacraments, and support one another. I believe this to be critically important.

The second half of this verse is important also. Why do I seek to hide God’s Word in my heart? Having God’s Word in my heart helps keep me from sinning against Him. It helps me make decisions that align with His Word. Oh, make no mistake, I sin. I sin often. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and lamented often that he catches himself doing things (sinning) that are not pleasing to God (see Romans 7:15ff). I’m no Paul for sure, but I can sure relate to these passages. So hiding God’s Word in my heart does not make me perfect, but it often causes me to change direction or make a decision different from what I was originally considering. I want my life to please God. His Word, and His Word alone, is my moral compass.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) famously penned this prayer:

“Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Book of Common Prayer

That, my dear friend, is what it means to hide God’s Word in your heart. May God richly bless you in the coming week and beyond.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019