Jesus will be wherever God leads you.

 

 

cross pic

Have you ever waited for something really big to happen?

Many young people were looking forward to the day of their graduation and to having a big party with their friends. People get excited when they hear that a new baby is on the way; but they need to wait for the “Big Day,” don’t they? The people of Israel waited for 70 years before they were permitted to return from their exile. Maybe you are anxiously waiting for the day when you can return to the building where you have worshipped and prayed and sung hymns with your friends for many years.

The disciples of Jesus had a time when they needed to wait, too.

Many of the disciples had followed Jesus for three years. They were stunned when Jesus was swept away and was put to death by the Roman soldiers. And then, Jesus was raised from the dead and was seen alive again by more than 500 people. But one day, forty days after He was raised from the dead (a day that we call Ascension Day), Jesus was lifted up into Heaven right before His disciples’ eyes!

It’s sometimes hard to wait for something big to happen and to be patient, isn’t it?

People are beginning to come out of their homes and businesses are reopening. Millions of people in America traveled during the Memorial Day weekend, and even more people have started to ask when they can return to church buildings for weekly worship. Some people are protesting in the streets. Others are arguing that their rights have been taken away. People are fighting with each other on the Internet and some have even physically attacked others. How are you doing during this time of waiting? Are you finding it hard to be patient? Do you, like many others, wish that we could all just “move on” and put the last few months behind us like a bad dream?

I’m sure that the Israelites experienced many feelings and emotions when King Cyrus of Persia told them that they could return to their homeland. Some of them were probably excited because their parents and grandparents had told them about a land flowing with milk and honey; but, others were probably a bit scared because they knew that it was going to be a long time before living in the land of Israel would be easy. I’m sure that the disciples of Jesus experienced many feelings and emotions after Jesus was taken up into Heaven. Some of them were probably excited because Jesus had promised to send them the Holy Spirit, but others probably experienced some angst because the Jesus that they had known and loved was now gone and they knew that everything was going to be very different.

But both of these stories in the Bible and the story of our lives, right now, have something in common.

The Israelites knew that when they returned to their homeland it was probably going to be very different, but they also knew that God would be found there.  The disciples could trust in the fact that, even after Jesus was taken into Heaven, God was going to continue to be found in their future as individuals and as the Church. And that very same promise is something that we can cling to today.

We don’t fully know what our “new normal” is going to be.

But we do know that, whatever that future is going to be, Jesus will be with us. As we continue to find our way through these unusual times together, we know that whatever our future is going to be, Jesus is going to be walking right beside us. And, perhaps, that’s a message that can bring us peace? Perhaps, knowing that Jesus is going to be with us in whatever the future may bring, we can find the courage and faith to continue to live well with each other during these unusual times?

Please know that everything is going to be OK!

Your future’s being held in the hands of the God who loves you; and, whatever the future may bring to you and to those that you love, you can know that Jesus will be found right in the middle of it – walking beside you.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

 

God’s Living and Active Word

prayer-page

Does God’s Word speak to you in different ways on different days?

Several months ago, the youngest children in our Sunday School asked me an interesting question. They asked, “Pastor Wayne, do you know all of the stories in the Bible by heart, or do you need to read them just like we do?” And I was struck by that question because it made me think about the times in my own spiritual journey when a story in the Bible spoke to me in a very different way than it had at any other time in my life because of something that was happening to me.

Several days ago, I read familiar words of Jesus: “I will not leave you as an orphan; I will come to you. In just a little while, the world will see me no more, but you will see me.” (John 14:18-19a). And, when I read those words this time, they spoke to me as somebody who knows what it’s like to be an orphan. Those of us who have lost both of our parents know what it’s like to want to be able to pick up a telephone and call someone who is not going to answer your call. I wish that I could ask my father for advice as I am traveling through these unusual times with you. I sometimes wish that I could smell my mother’s pumpkin pies baking in the oven. That’s a normal part of grief, isn’t it? We never just “get over” the death of a person that we’ve loved. The only thing that we can do as we grieve is adjust to our new normal.

Are you grieving, right now?

Grief isn’t something that we only experience when people die. We grieve when we lose a job and don’t know how to restart our lives. We grieve when we can’t do things like have a graduation party with our friends to celebrate one of the biggest days in our lives. Grief can, also, be a part of our spiritual journey. We grieve when we find ourselves unable to worship inside a building where we feel connected to God. We grieve when we can’t hear the music of a praise band or listen to a pipe organ. We grieve when we can’t see people that we know in worship or in a Sunday School class. In fact, we grieve almost every time something radically changes in our lives because we all like to feel that our lives are both stable and secure, and that we are in control of what happens in our lives.

But one of the things I’ve learned is that the Bible is living and active.

I can hear God speaking to me in the words of the Bible on one day; and, on another day, I can hear God speaking to me – in the very same words – in a different way. What Jesus once said about orphans strikes me very differently now that both of my parents have died than they used to speak to me when my parents were both alive. And, maybe, that’s an important truth for the Church to grasp right now.

Maybe God is stretching the Church right now and is calling Christians to remember that God is not only found inside of the buildings where we worship when we read: “The God who made the world and everything in it does not only live in the temples that have been made by human hands.” (Acts 17:27) You see, my friends, the Church isn’t a building. The Church is US – whether we’re singing together inside a familiar building or gathering as God’s people in a Zoom meeting. Maybe God is stretching us and calling us to see the presence of Jesus in our lives in a different way as Jesus tells us: “I will never leave you as an orphan; I will come to you. And, even though the world may not be able to see me, you will be able to see me.” (John 14: 18-19a). Perhaps, we all need to be reminded that Jesus has not abandoned us in these challenging days? And maybe God is stretching us and the entire Church, right now, as He says: “I have asked my Father to give you an Advocate – a Helper – the Holy Spirit who will be with you forever.” (John 14:25-26) You see, God is not far from us at all! The Holy Spirit is leading us and guiding us, and Jesus is still listening to us as we pray about what’s happening in our lives and as we ask God for the types of guidance that we need during these unusual times.

God’s Word is living and active!

And, this week, I want to encourage you to spend some time reading your Bible. Maybe God’s Word will speak to you very differently during these challenging days!

May the peace of Jesus continue to fill your heart and calm your soul. And may you, also, be reminded that God is close to you every time you open your Bible, worship and pray.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: Our Good Shepherd

shepherd

How are you doing these days?

If you’re at all like me, you’re probably thinking that this whole social distancing thing is getting a bit old. Maybe you’re working at home (if you’re even working right now) and you’re finding it harder to get away from your job because your office is right across the hall from your bedroom. Maybe you live by yourself and social distancing has all but cut you off from the rest of the world. This past week, my granddaughter told her father that she just wants to play with her friends.

But life continues to unfold in other ways, too.

Imagine what it would be like to receive a telephone call telling you that your elderly mother decided to get into her car and take a ride, and was involved in an automobile accident that sent her to a hospital hundreds of miles away. Imagine what it would be like to hear that one of the teenagers in your family was involved in an accident, and know that you couldn’t even wrap your arms around his grieving mother. In 31 years of ministry, I have never had to bury a man before a funeral service and then promise his kids that I will “do right by your Dad” and have a memorial service when things settle down. And so, I ask you again, “How are YOU doing these days?”

I sometimes find it hard to connect with parts of the Bible.

The Bible contains genealogies where somebody begat somebody who begat somebody who begat somebody else. The Bible contains rules that tell us how we should wash our pots and pans, and rules that tell us what we should do if our neighbor’s cow wanders into our backyard and is injured. The Bible tells us that we shouldn’t be wearing clothing with a cotton/polyester blend; and the Bible, also, tells us that God doesn’t want us to eat bald eagles, ostriches, insects with wings and shrimp.

And I have trouble connecting with the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd,” too.

The only shepherd that I’ve ever know was my grandfather, who lived in a Conestoga wagon in the middle of Wyoming more than 100 years ago. I have trouble understanding the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” because I don’t usually feel lost or afraid that something “out there” is trying to get me. I’ve been blessed in many ways!

But the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” is striking me very differently, right now.

I’m feeling a little bit lost these days because many parts of my life have simultaneously changed. I’m reminded that there’s a deadly wolf, who is ready to pop out from behind a rock and even kill me, every time I see people wearing masks. Life isn’t easy for any of us right now; and perhaps, what we all need is a “Good Shepherd”? When you think of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” what images come to your mind? How is Jesus shepherding you, right now? How is YOUR faith affecting your journey through life, right now?

I’m sure that we all realize that it’s a bit naïve to think that bad things will never happen to us as long as we’re following Jesus.

My grandfather often talked about the mountain lions and wolves that tried to grab one of his sheep almost every day; and, “Sometimes,” he said, “one of them was successful.” Have YOU ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Maybe something much bigger than social distancing in on YOUR mind, right now, because you have lost your job or can’t visit your parents in a nursing home? Jesus once said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.(John 10:10) Are YOU afraid that the thief is going to steal or kill or destroy you, or someone that you love? If you’re afraid of that, right now, please know that you’re not alone.

Jesus is our “Good Shepherd” as we travel through these unusual times.

Jesus is walking beside you as you. Jesus is leading you and guiding you and blessing you with faith even if you’re finding it hard to see Him as work in your life or in the world. And Jesus has also promised you that He’s come into the world “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s Jesus’ promise for YOU.

In the most famous psalm in the Bible (Psalm 23), the Psalmist writes: “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.” (Psalm 23:4a) And why isn’t the Psalmist afraid? Why don’t you need be afraid even as you travel through times like these? “Because you [God] are with me.” (Psalm 23:4b) God is with YOU.

Jesus is with you. Jesus has promised to bless YOU with abundant life.

May Jesus – our Good Shepherd – continue to walk beside you during these unusual times. And may Jesus – our Good Shepherd – bless YOU with the strength and courage and faith that YOU need as we continue to travel through these difficult days together.

 

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: Right Beside You

jesus-following

Where have YOU been seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Life’s taught me that Christians tend to respond to challenging and unusual times in two different ways: Some Christians find their faith to be a great source of strength and peace because they continue to trust that Jesus is walking beside them; but other Christians feel totally abandoned and sometimes withdraw from God in challenging times because Jesus seems to be absent. And the hardest part of all of that, at least for me as a pastor, is that I don’t always know which of those two groups a person is in until something that’s really bad happens; and, by then, it’s sometimes too late.

How would YOU answer these questions?

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when Jesus seemed to be very close to you? How would you describe that time?
  2. Can you remember a time in your life when you felt that God had abandoned you? How did that time in your life affect your faith?

The Bible contains a story about people who had trouble seeing Jesus. (Luke 24:13-35)

Luke tells us that two of Jesus’ followers were walking on a road about seven miles away from Jerusalem when Jesus, now raised from the dead, drew near. The disciples told Him about all of their hopes and dreams. The disciples told Him that they had hoped that He had come into the world to save them. But, even as that conversation continued and as Jesus walked right beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they couldn’t recognize Him.

Have YOU ever had a time in your life when you couldn’t see Jesus?

Maybe you were so weighed-down by something that was happening in your life that you turned inward even while Jesus was walking beside you? Maybe you’ve had a time when you shook your fist at the sky because God didn’t answer your prayers? Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? I certainly have. And maybe you are wondering, right now, why God doesn’t step onto the scene, wipe out the coronavirus and save people’s lives.

Challenging and difficult times in your life can keep you from seeing Jesus.

Times of adversity can draw you closer to God, but those same difficult times can drive a deep wedge between you and God. The women who came to the Tomb of Jesus on that first Easter were so scared that they thought Jesus was a gardener. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we see that the women who discovered the Empty Tomb were so overwhelmed that they simply ran away and didn’t tell anyone else what they’d seen. A shining angel of the Lord told the women who came to the tomb, “Do not be afraid,” during a time in their lives when they had many reasons to be afraid. Jesus’ disciple didn’t recognize Him on the road to Emmaus because they were overcome with sorrow; and yet, what we see in all of these different stories of Easter is that Jesus is beside people even when they were finding it difficult to see Him and to recognize Him at that very moment.

And so what are some things that YOU can do during times when YOU can’t see Jesus?

  1. You need to get past the idea that Jesus’ presence in your life (or lack thereof) can be accurately detected by your feelings and emotions. Jesus is present in your life, right now, because Jesus has promised to be present in your life right now. Jesus is close to you whether you can feel it right now, or not. Trust Him!
  2. You need to see that some people were able to recognize Jesus after He was raised from the dead and other people weren’t. And that’s OK! We sometimes fall into the trap of comparing our own journey with Jesus to the journey that other people are taking in a different situation. People see Jesus at different times and in different ways. What YOU are experiencing at this point in your life is OK. Jesus is with you even if you can’t see Him right now. Trust Him!
  3. You need to remember that Jesus often said, “Do not be afraid!” And we don’t need to be afraid while we travel through uncertain times because Jesus has told us: “I am with YOU always, even to the end of the Age.” Trust Him!

And so, where have YOU been seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Please know that Jesus is with you no matter how you’re feeling as we continue to travel through these unusual times together. My hope and prayer for YOU is that Jesus will bless YOU with peace in the coming days, and that Jesus will continue to bless YOU with the faith and courage you need as you walk on the road you’re traveling today, with Jesus right beside you.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

 

Conquering Our Doubts Together

Calm to the Waves

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears.

How have you been responding to the challenges that we’ve all had to face in the last few weeks? Maybe you’re scared? Maybe you’re troubled by the fact that our lives are going to be different after the storm we’re facing comes to an end? Maybe you’ve been forced to think about the fact that you’re far more vulnerable than you like to admit? Maybe the events of the last few weeks have made you think more about the fact that you’re mortal and that you are going to die someday – from a coronavirus infection or from something else?

The story of Thomas that we find in John’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) has some important lessons to teach us about life as we journey through these unusual times.

Thomas was a follower of Jesus and Thomas lived his day-to-day life with Jesus for about three years. Thomas watched Jesus turn water into wine at a wedding feast. Thomas saw Jesus heal lepers and cast out many demons.  Thomas listened to Jesus tell stories, and he heard Jesus talk about the fact that He was going to be killed and that He was going to be raised from the dead. But Thomas was stunned when Jesus was swept away, and when Jesus was crucified. Thomas was totally numb as he listened to news about how the dead body of Jesus had been removed from the Cross and had been sealed in a cold tomb.

It’s sometimes hard for us to know what’s true these days.

People are saying so many different things. Experts seem to be arguing with each other and even leaders in the United States (and all over the world) can’t seem to agree upon what’s best for us. And maybe, at this point in your life, you’ve begun to say to yourself, “Seeing is believing.” Many of us are relying more upon our own personal experiences with the coronavirus than we are upon reports in the news and upon press briefings.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus first appeared to the disciples (after He was raised from the dead) Thomas wasn’t in the room with them. We don’t know why Thomas was not in the room when the Risen Jesus appeared, but we do know that Thomas remained immersed in his doubts and fears for nearly a week after the Resurrection because he was not able to fully believe what other people were telling him. “Seeing is believing” seems to describe Thomas’ approach to life better than any other words. Have you ever said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”?

But Thomas remained connected to other disciples even in his time of doubt, didn’t he?

One of the things that’s been driven into my head over and over again in the last few weeks is that we need each other and we need to find ways to remain connected to each other during these unusual times. We need to remind each other that Jesus is walking beside us. We need to pray for each other and explore creative ways to do ministry. We need to be spreading the light of the Gospel with those around us; because, after all, who needs someone to give them a flashlight after the sun has risen and a new day begins? As harsh as it may sound, if Christians can’t find a way to bring a message of light – and the message of God’s love – in dark times like these, who needs us during other times? One of the recurring themes in John’s Gospel is the sharp contrast between darkness and light, and that theme is something that Christians need to be embracing today.

The story of Thomas reminds us that we need each other.

In the beginning, God said that it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Our Risen Lord has told us that He’ll continue to be with us as we reach out to each other, embrace each other and shine light into each other’s lives. Perhaps, what people need more than anything else right now is friends and family members (and a Church) that continues to remind them that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off? Is that what you need to hear? Do you need to be reminded that Jesus is walking beside you and that God has promised you that, no matter what you face in life (or even in death), you will be lifted-up again both whole and restored?

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears. And we need to remember that, in times such as these, God continues to give us the gift of each other. 

What can YOU do today to remind people that you know that they are not alone in these challenging times? What can YOU do to shine light into the dark corners in other people’s lives, to strengthen them and to remind them that the Risen Jesus is walking beside them during these incredibly difficult days? As harsh as it may sound, if we can’t find a way to share a message of light and a message of God’s love in dark times like these, who needs us? Nobody needs other people to give them a flashlight after the sun rises and after a new day begins. People need us to be reminding them, right now, that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Spiritual Growth in Challenging Times

FaithBuilders Picture

I had the chance to gather in an online meeting with nearly thirty spiritual leaders that represented five different faith traditions this morning.

We, most certainly, had different ideas about God and spirituality. Imagine Jewish rabbis talking about how they celebrated Passover with Islamic leaders who are getting ready for Ramadan. Imagine Christians talking about Holy Week and Easter with a Buddhist. Imagine a Mormon speaking about the new temple that is being built in our local area while spiritual leaders from different faith traditions listened to her and shared in her excitement. It was an incredible experience!

People of all faith traditions are moving through challenging and unusual times.

Our shared humanity is something that reminds us that we’re vulnerable. It’s scary to think about the fact that, any time you leave your home, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of being infected by a deadly virus. Many people, who were wishing that their lives could slow down for a while, have too much time on their hands. Some people have even begun to openly rebel against social distancing and are protesting on the steps of capital buildings across America. And then, there are those who are grieving because they’ve lost people that they dearly loved in the last few weeks. There are students who were preparing for their high school or college graduation, but who are now mourning the fact that they will never see some of their friends again. Stress and tension are high. Some people are continuing to search for ways to be kind to others while others have a fuse that’s growing shorter every day.

Spiritual leaders, even across faith traditions, agree that isolation has some benefits.

Many of us are trapped in busy routines that can silence the voice of God. We pack our schedules with a nearly endless list of things to do. I recently asked a group of teenagers how many of them would like to tell their parents that they need to just stop once in a while – and every hand in the room went up. We search for significance through job promotions. We try to gain a sense of satisfaction by buying things that we don’t really need, or by bragging about how much money we have in the bank. Some of us have a Bible that we proudly display on the coffee table in our living room; and yet, we never open it. It’s sometimes hard to hear the voice of God because we never simply stop, and take time to reflect and pray. Jesus withdrew to the mountaintop many times during His life and ministry because He knew that God’s often found in silence and solitude.

One of the big benefits of isolation is that we have more time to spend in faith-building activities and in sensing our deep connections to the Divine.

Several months ago, I created something that I’m calling FaithBuilders. In my life and ministry, I’ve learned that many people are unfamiliar with even the basic stories in the Bible. I spend time with teenagers who don’t know how to find specific verses in their Bibles, and who have never heard the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors, the story of the Exodus, or even the story of Samson and Delilah. Today, more and more people have never heard many of the stories about Jesus that are in the Bible.

Spiritual leaders, even across faith traditions, agree that isolation has some benefits.

And that’s why I would like to encourage you to spend some time during these unusual days reconnecting with your faith, your God and your spirituality. And for those who are Christian, I’d like to introduce you, again, to FaithBuilders.

FaithBuilders is an easy-to-use tool that can be used by individuals who want to reflect upon their faith and revisit basic stories in the Bible, and FaithBuilders is something that parents can use with their children during these unusual times when children are not able to gather together in Sunday School classes.

We focus upon only one story in the Bible each week; and, as we’re doing that together, I provide some questions for you to think about (or even discuss with others). Some of the questions build bridges between the story you’re being asked to read and other stories in the Bible. Other questions help you to build bridges between your faith and daily living. Still other questions invite you to pray about challenges that you are facing in your own life and about some of the things that you’re seeing in other people’s lives. FaithBuilders is designed to help you to grow and to sense a deeper connection between God and daily living.

I hope that you’ll take some time to explore FaithBuilders and that you will be able to use this tool as a faith-building activity during these unusual days. As I indicated above, the spiritual leaders that I spoke with this morning agree that isolation has benefits. Why not use some time in these unusual days to revisit some of your beliefs and to become more deeply connected to faith-building activities? Perhaps, these difficult times can help you to become more aware of God’s presence and more able to hear God’s voice?

Click Here to Go to FaithBuilders

Jesus: The Servant

footwashing pic

Many of us know that Jesus once washed His disciples’ feet.

Jesus had ridden into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey while people cheered and threw pieces of their clothing and palm branches. Jesus had entered the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem in a moment of zeal, and He had driven the moneychangers away. And on the night when Jesus knew that He was going to be betrayed by Judas, He was aware of the fact that something terrible was about to happen.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We read: “And then, the chief priests and the Pharisees said, ‘If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will take away our Temple and our nation.’” (John 11:47) Shortly after that, Caiaphas, the High Priest, said: “Don’t you understand that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people, so that our whole nation will not be destroyed?” (John 11:50)

Everything became radically different in a very short period of time.

And yet, in the midst of that change and uncertainty, what did Jesus do? We read that He got up, took off His outer robe and tied a towel around His waist. And then, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with a towel. And He said, “Do you know what I’ve just done? I’ve set an example, so that you will do what I have done. Servants are never greater than their master, nor are the messengers greater than the One who has sent them.” (John 13:12-16) And Jesus shows us that when we serve other people what we’re doing is holy in a selfless act of washing feet. Jesus, our Master, shows us that serving others is a “holy act” that we can continue to do even today.

There are opportunities in every crisis.

Many of us are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus and are staying in our homes to prevent the spread of the virus. And yet, even in these frightening times when it’s very easy for us to withdraw and turn inward, Jesus is challenging us to continue to search for ways that we can creatively serve others.

People are continuing to serve others by working at food banks during these uncertain times and others are struggling to overcome steep technological learning curves, so that other people can remain connected. People are picking up their telephones and are calling people who live by themselves, and children are coloring pictures to send to other people. We serve others every time we wash our hands and voluntarily embrace social distancing. Last week, a member of the congregation that I serve asked me if it would be helpful for her to donate money to our church’s Family Fund since she is working in her home and spending less money for gasoline. People continue to serve others by working in hospitals and grocery stores. People are serving others by harvesting food that could simply be left in fields to rot. People are sewing masks for healthcare workers. People are delivering groceries and medications to those who are not able to leave their homes. And every time we do these things (or other creative things) to serve others, Jesus comes into our midst and we discover that we’re doing God’s work with our own hands!

There are opportunities in every crisis.

There are many opportunities for us to join hands (not literally) with other people in our communities who are brightly shining as “Jesus People” in these challenging times. Just as Jesus did not shrink back and turn inward on the night in which He was betrayed, God is calling us to keep moving forward and to keep searching for creative ways that we can serve other people simply because that’s what “Jesus People” do.

Perhaps, in these very unusual days, we have a chance to shine more brightly, as “Jesus People,” than we ever have at any other point in our lives?

May God continue to journey with you in these scary and unusual times. And may God bless all of us as we continue to think about creative ways that we can serve other people and glorify God with our love and good deed.

Click Here for my Maundy Thursday Message

Jesus: Our Savior

 

Palm Sunday Pic

Do you refer to Jesus as your “Savior”?

When Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, people were really excited. The people who were living in Jerusalem needed to be saved from the Roman soldiers and from something that they didn’t have any power to control. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, told people what they were allowed to do and what they were not allowed to do. The governor limited the size of all public gatherings. The governor told people when they were allowed to leave their own homes and when they needed to stay inside. And, once each year, Pontius Pilate was even more strict because, during the time of the Passover, Jewish people from all over the place flocked to Jerusalem and the city was almost always brought to the brink of chaos.

On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus was celebrated as a “Savior” who had come into the world during a time when people weren’t allowed to do what they wanted to do. People cast garments and palm branches on the road while Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey because they were expecting God to intervene and to take control of an absolutely horrible situation.

And, maybe today, that’s something that resonates with you?

We’re living in a scary time, and we’re all being told that we’re not allowed to do some of the things we like to do. Governors have closed businesses all across the United States. We have been told to stay in our homes. Government officials all over the world have been trying to control the chaos by issuing orders and decrees that are sometimes even enforced by the police. Some people are still resisting the orders that have been issued by government officials and are doing whatever they want to do with little concern for their own health or for the health of other people. Maybe you’ve been praying and asking God to somehow intervene in the coronavirus pandemic because you believe that God needs to deliver all of us from these difficult days?

People were excited when Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

Palm branches and pieces of clothing were flying through the air. People were shouting “Hosanna!” – “Deliver us!” – because they believed that God was finally going to save them from something that they didn’t like. But what they didn’t realize is that Jesus came into the world to save us from far more than daily inconveniences. Jesus came into the world to deliver us from far more than government officials who tell us how to live our lives.

Jesus came into the world to break-down the power of sin and to take away everything that stands between us and God. Jesus came into the world to save us from the sin and selfish attitudes that destroy relationships. Jesus came into the world to remind us that God loves us and that God is not an angry God who sends horrible pandemics and things like the coronavirus to strike people down. Jesus came into the world because God wants us to know that we’re going to be OK even after life and death itself have done their very worst.

But many of us don’t believe that we need to be saved from anything.

We don’t picture ourselves as the money-changers in the Temple of Jerusalem because we don’t want to be reminded of the fact that we, sometimes, take advantage of other people, too. We’re humbled as we watch Jesus wash the feet of His disciples because we don’t want to picture ourselves as people who don’t take advantage of opportunities to serve other people. The altar is a place of cultural rebellion where company presidents humbly kneel beside people who work for them during Holy Communion. We are all reminded that we are not always swift to forgive as we listen to Jesus ask God to forgive even the people who were killing Him as He hung on the Cross.

If you call Jesus your “Savior,” what do you need to be saved from?

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that, if we truly want to make amends with other people, it’s best to do it today because none of us are actually sure that tomorrow is even on the calendar. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we are a lot more vulnerable than we like to admit. Most of us don’t even think about the fact that we need to be saved or delivered from anything because we believe, deep inside, that we have the world by the tail and that we have the power to shape the future and even our destiny. But, maybe during these unusual times, God is calling us to step back and to look at our lives – to think about our decisions and priorities – to think about ways that we use (or even waste) our time – and to think about the relationships that we all have in our lives that are in need of repair?

If you call Jesus your “Savior,” what do you need to be saved from?

May God be with all of us as we think about that important question in the coming days. And may God bless us and increase our faith as we prepare to celebrate Easter, safely, from inside our homes in just a few short days.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: The Son of God

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The Bible is filled with stories about God doing unusual things.

Just think about the story of Jacob’s ladder; when, in the midst of Jacob’s struggles with his brother Esau, God sent a vision of a ladder stretching up into the heavens. Imagine what the Israelites felt like when they were walking through the Red Sea after they had left the land of Egypt. The prophet Elijah once rolled up his cloak and struck the water in the Jordan River and the waters were parted. Jesus also did some incredible and very unusual things as the Son of God.

This week, I would like you to think about the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11).

Lazarus, a man that Jesus knew, was sick and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus. When the messenger that Mary and Martha had sent to Jesus told Him that Lazarus was sick, Jesus responded: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God.” (John 11:4). And then, Jesus did something very unusual. We read: “And when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was for two more days.” (John 11:6) That seems pretty unusual. Why didn’t Jesus just go to Lazarus immediately?

Now, before we go any further, we need to get something straight.

John’s Gospel does not indicate that Lazarus had done something wrong or that God had decided to make Lazarus sick. Every time disasters strike, people tell us that God’s angry and that God has sent whatever’s happening as a punishment from above. Maybe a good-natured friend once told you that God will never give you more than you can bear in an attempt to comfort you during a particularly difficult time?

Do you really believe that the God of the entire universe has nothing better to do than make your life miserable and to see how far you can be pushed before you break?

Yes, Lazarus was sick. But, John’s Gospel never indicates that his illness was being caused by something other than something natural. Lazarus, in fact, was so sick that he even died – just like many people who have been infected by the coronavirus have died. And again, how did Jesus respond to all of this? Jesus says: “The illness of Lazarus is meant for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified.” (John 11:4) “And when Jesus heard Lazarus was deathly ill, He stayed where He was for two more days.” (John 11:6)

And as strange as what Jesus does appears to be, there is something for us to learn here.

People who have been complaining because they need a break from their busy routines are now getting a break, aren’t they? The coronavirus has reminded all of us that we’re vulnerable, even though most of us want to believe that we’re nearly invincible. Many Christians who are worshipping online are talking about the fact that they miss being able to share Holy Communion with each other. Many good and faithful Christians are losing their jobs and are even beginning to face financial difficulties.

And we might ask ourselves: “How can God be gloried in all of this?”

  1. The spread of the coronavirus has caused us to think about what we really believe about God. And, perhaps, as we travel through this challenging time, we can just abandon the idea that God is an angry God who strikes people down or who pushes us harder and harder every day to see what it’s going to take to break us?
  2. The spread of the coronavirus has challenged us to think about the ways that we treat each other. Perhaps, it’s time for us to admit that we really do need each other more than we’d like to admit? Or, maybe, this unusual time can help us to become more aware of infectious diseases and how often we spread them to other people?
  3. The spread of the coronavirus has challenged all of us to remember that we don’t have an unlimited number of days to live. Maybe, we’ll all be a little bit more aware of how we are spending – or wasting – the little bit of time that we have when this is all over? Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “Dost thou love life? Then, don’t waste time because that’s what life is made of.”
  4. The spread of the coronavirus can help us to more fully understand how it feels to be alone. Maybe, we can all come through this unusual time with a deeper sense of what it feels like to journey through the last years of life alone – often hoping that a family member will come to visit; or, at least, make a telephone call?
  5. The spread of the coronavirus has also given many of us more time to simply stop. Perhaps, we can use this time of social distancing to spend more time reading our Bibles and engaging in activities that God can use to build our faith? We can come through this challenging time much stronger!

The unusual times that we are experiencing will come to an end.

But, in the meantime, let’s draw upon on a great truth in the Bible: “God’s grace and strength are always sufficient, and God’s power is often revealed in times when we are feeling both weak and vulnerable.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We can learn many lessons about life and faith in these challenging times. We are being held safely in the hands of the God who loves us. And Jesus – the Son of God – has shown us that God’s in control of absolutely everything and that our God even has the power to raise those who have died to Eternal life.

And if we can just continue to travel through these uncertain days with that message in our hearts and minds, God will be gloried in the craziness of the coronavirus pandemic.

May God be with you, my friends. May God’s peace fill your hearts, and may you always remember that God will give you the strength and faith you need each day as we travel through these uncertain times together.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Calming Music

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Martin Luther once said that, next to the Word of God, the devil dislikes music more than anything else in the world. Music can calm our hearts and lift our spirits. Music can help to restore a sense of peace in our lives and quiet our racing thoughts. Sometimes, I like to simply stop at the end of the day and listen to calming music before I go to bed.

We are traveling through a very unusual and stressful time right now. And, in response to that, I’ve added a new menu option to my blog entitled Calming Music.  I’ve enjoyed playing the piano for many years and have even written some music and hymns of my own. I, also, enjoy creating new arrangements of familiar songs and hymns. I am offering these original recordings of familiar hymns and other songs for you to enjoy hoping that they can bring you moments of calm and peace in the midst of this storm. Please feel free to share them with other people that you know.

One of the songs I have included in this collection is an original composition entitled, “Through the Years.” I wrote this song while journeying through life with a very dear friend who was dying. I recently added an oboe part to the score. I have, also, added some other instrumentation to some of the songs that I have included in this short collection to add some variety to your listening experience.

I hope that you will enjoy listening to these songs that I’ve played and that they will bring you a sense of calm and peace during these unusual and challenging times.

Click Here to Listen to “Calming Music”