God’s Presence in Times of Change

yoke pic

We can learn a lot about living faithfully by returning to the Jewish Exile.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land of Judah, destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; and, most likely, ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be destroyed. Homes and crops were burned. People were dragged away in chains and yokes, and they were now living in a strange country with different customs. And people began to dream about being able to return to what once was as they continued to live in exile.

Many of the rabbis that I know are referring to the Jewish Exile these days.

We’re not able to go where we want to go and to live our lives in the way that we’d like to live them. Many faithful Christians are still watching worship services online and are far removed from the worship spaces where they’ve come to know God. Some people in our country (and all around the world) are trying to explain away safety measures that we’ve been asked to take while others are refusing to wear any sort of face covering to make a political statement. We are responding to this crisis in so many different ways!

The coronavirus has brought grief into many of our lives.

We usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is something that’s far more complex. I am grieving because I’m not able to visit my grandchildren. Many young people are grieving because they didn’t get to attend a prom or graduation ceremony. We see young children acting out because they miss playing with their friends. We’re sensing that things are different and that it may not be possible to just return to doing things that we once took for granted in the near future. And many people are still grieving the loss of their job or even of their home, aren’t they? Some are grieving because we know that things that we cherish are going to be different.

We often wish that we could just go back to what once was when we are grieving.

And that’s what we see in Jeremiah 28:1-9. The false prophet Hananiah has started to talk with people who were living in Exile about being able to go back to what once was. Hananiah speaks about bringing sacred vessels back into the Temple (which, remember, had been flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians) and returning to the place that the Jewish people had called their home for generations. It’s almost as if Hananiah doesn’t want to accept the fact that things have changed, and he’s trying to encourage people to believe that they can simply return to what once was and watch the storm just go away. Perhaps you’d like to be able to do that today? But Jeremiah wasn’t that optimistic.

One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that our lives are often lived in cycles.

Good times are almost always followed by bad times; and even the worst times in our lives can give way to much better times. Think about grief. We mourn over what we’ve lost and wish that we could have it once again, but life moves forward and we change as we adjust to our new reality. Christianity is built upon the death and the resurrection of Jesus: Life being lost in death and death giving way to new life. Our faith reminds us of the fact that God blesses us with new life even while we’re still caught in our grief.

Now, think about the Church.

We were knocked off-center when churches needed to close; and yet, in the midst of this pandemic, churches that had never done so in the past have incorporated electronics in their ministry. That’s new life! People who don’t normally attend worship services are listening to sermons and are participating in online worship services. That’s new life! We’ve had the chance to improve our methods of communicating with each other. That’s new life! The church that I am serving is even working with several other congregations to launch an online Vacation Bible School for children in the next few weeks. That’s new life! Leaders throughout the Church have been imagining new ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in more creative ways – realizing that, even as we grieve, Jesus moves us toward something new and exciting and life-filled. That’s new life! That’s resurrection!

Listen to Psalm 89:1 – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations!

This week, I’d like to encourage you to do three things:

  • Think about grief and about how grief might be affecting you, right now. It’s not easy to be told that you can’t do things that you like to do. And it’s very natural for people who are grieving to imagine what it would be like to just to back to what once was even though it’s not possible anymore.
  • Pray for the many people who need to make big decisions today and remember that they are trying to do the best that they can even when you disagree with what they think needs to be done.
  • Pray for patience and offer some of your time, energy, vision and creativity to those who are struggling to discover how we can best return from our Exile and proclaim the message of God’s love and the hope of the Resurrection in new and exiting ways as the people of God, today. You can be a part of the new life that Jesus is creating!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Whoa! Jesus Said That?

jesus-cleanses-temple

What do you think Jesus was like?

I have a Nativity (Christmas) icon hanging in my office; and, just like in Christmas carols, Jesus is quietly sleeping in the hay, but dressed in a burial shroud. In the Christmas carol “What Child is This?” we see Jesus quietly sleeping in hay until we sing the words: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me, for you.” Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus standing outside a door without a door knob and quietly waiting for the person inside to answer His knock? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Jesus with children surrounding Him as He teaches them about God? I would venture to say that almost all of us picture Jesus as a rather calm and gentle sort of man who will forgive us whenever we do things wrong and who will, ultimately, take us to Heaven when we die – no matter how far we drift off-course in our daily lives.

But Jesus was very complex.

The same Jesus who called us to love each other is the same Jesus who said, “I didn’t come into the world to bring peace, but a sword.” The same Jesus who taught us the Golden Rule said, “I have come to set a son against his father and a daughter against her mother, and people’s enemies will be those in their own homes.” Or, how about these famous words of Jesus: “Do not fear those who kill the body but who cannot kill the soul. Rather fear the God who can throw both your body and your soul into hell.

Whoa! Jesus said that?

As much as we want to picture Jesus as a kind and gentle man, we must never forget that Jesus is also the Lord of the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate sign of love and self-sacrifice; but the Cross is also a place of alienation and separation from other people. The Cross was the place of God’s battle with the devil; but it was also a place where troublemakers who dared to speak against the status quo were put to death by those who wanted power more than anything else. The Cross (do you wear around your neck?) isn’t just a piece of gold or silver jewelry that tells other people that we’re Christians. The Cross was a place where people who publicly spoke uncomfortable truths were thrust high into the air to die a horrible death, so that those who watched it happening would be reminded that the best thing that you can do is live your life keeping your mouth shut….

Do you know that there’s a Cross waiting for you?

Many people in the Church (even pastors) are afraid to speak the truth because they’re afraid of what might happen to them if they speak their minds too openly. Have you ever laughed at a racist joke because you wanted to be one of the crowd? Have you ever watched in silence as somebody bullied someone in front of you (remember that adults bully each other as much as teenagers do). Have you ever quietly listened to somebody tell lies about somebody else because you were afraid that you would be the next target if you dared to speak up?

We all want to be liked by other people and especially by God; and yet, Jesus has a way of calling us to move beyond where we are right now and to live in a very different way.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” Jesus says. “Take up your cross and follow me!” Believe in something. Be passionate about something. Find something in life that you really care about. Don’t live your entire life in a pool of lukewarm water and die wondering what God could have done with you. Do something that matters. Be a part of helping our world to become a better place. That’s what it means to be alive!

But the challenge of Jesus is also accompanied by a promise.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny; and yet, not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Don’t be afraid, for you are much more valuable than many sparrows.” Take up your cross. Live a life marked by love and self-sacrifice. Stand up for what you believe; because, when you do that, you may discover the “true life” that God wants you to have and not the type of life that slips between your fingers like sand!

Jesus was a kind and gentle man, but He was also complex.

And today, I want to challenge you to think about the images of Jesus that you embrace. Jesus loves you dearly, but He was also killed because He refused to keep his mouth shut. Jesus continues to call you to step out of the lukewarm pools of life where you’ve learned to feel comfortable. And, even though all of that might seem frightening to you, Jesus has also assured you that as you continue to live into God’s plan for your life and your future, Jesus walk right beside you every step of the way to both strengthen and embolden you.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

God is Working Through You!

June 14 blog pic

Charles Dickens began his famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with these words:

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.”

We are living in times just like what Charles Dickens described.

In the last few months, we’ve been hearing stories about food banks providing meals for hungry families and we’ve watched a police officer kill an innocent man before our eyes. Last week, I read about a local congregation that has prepared and given away nearly 40,000 hot meals in the last few months, and I also read about a man who broke a store employee’s arm after being asked to put on a mask. Many people have been living well and have been working with each other during these very unusual times; and yet, just last week, I saw a picture of an automobile with the words, “Remember that your health is not as important to me as my liberties” painted on the back window.

And we need to make sense of all of this as people of faith.

You’re probably feeling a bit frazzled these days and you may be finding that it’s hard to be patient with other people. You probably believe that you’re a good person who’s living each day in a way that pleases God; but, you probably can think of some relationships in your life that are in need of repair. I have been reminded many times, as both a husband and as a parent, that we’re ALL made out of clay; and that, sometimes, what we need are people who can continue to love us even when we’re “cracked pots.” As we have moved through this pandemic together, you have probably seen the best in yourself and you’ve probably also seen the worst. We all have.

It’s easy for us to become discouraged.

We’re sometimes left shaking our heads when we watch the news. On a more personal level, we sometimes shake our heads at ourselves because we feel like we have been less than what we ought to be. We can find it difficult, as people of faith, to make sense of our ability the shine like the sun in one moment and to be left with nothing to say but “Oops! I am so sorry!” in the next one. But this is how we live, isn’t it? People sometimes judge us rather harshly and call us hypocrites even when we’re trying to do our best. But, today, I want you to think about what the Bible has to say about all of this, too.

Saint Paul once wrote: “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Jesus died for the ungodly…. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) God works in our lives long before we are perfect. God is at work in us even when we feel that we’re less than what we ought to be. And, even more than that, God changes the world by empowering people who feel like “cracked pots” at times. Did you know that God can even change the world through YOU?

Jesus once told His disciples to go out and to proclaim the Good News. (Matthew 10:7)

And the Good News that Jesus told the disciples to proclaim is that the Reign of God is near to you. “The Reign of God is near to YOU!”  Just think about that….

In the best of times and in the worst of times, Jesus comes into the world and works in our lives. In an age of wisdom and in an age of foolishness, God continues to work in our lives (even when we feel that we’re far less than perfect) and calls forth the best that’s inside of us, and forgiving us when we make mistakes. In the season of light and in the season of darkness, Jesus walks with us and calls us to loudly proclaim that the light at the end of the tunnel has NOT been turned off! In the season of hope and in the winter of despair, the Reign of God breaks into our world and tears down bleak systems of poverty, injustice, bigotry and racism, and everything else that’s broken – working in the midst of OUR lives and calling US to be a part of creating something new (sometimes even kicking what has stopped us from doing what God’s calling us to do in the past out of our way).

God is working through YOU!

And this week, I want to challenge you to think about that.

  • What does it mean for you to call yourself a “person of faith” in times like these?
  • How is your faith helping you to make sense of what’s happening right now?
  • What do YOU hear when Jesus tells you that the Reign of God has come near?
  • And what will all of this mean to you this week as you live your life (perhaps a bit frazzled and edgy) knowing that Jesus is walking beside you and that the Reign of God is coming into the world through YOU?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

FaithBuilders

FaithBuilders Picture

Several months ago, I began a new ministry called FaithBuilders.

I have noticed (in my 32 years as a pastor) that many Christians either don’t know much about the Bible or that they feel overwhelmed when they try to apply what the Bible says to daily living. Sunday School teachers are doing their best to help children learn stories in the Bible; but, sometimes, the Sunday School curriculum that they use is built around so many unfamiliar stories that children remember only a few of them. We live in a time when more and more parents depend upon the Church to teach their children about God (while they, perhaps, go out for Sunday brunch?), and when other parents do not teach their children much about God or the Bible at all. And even some churches have shifted away from teaching basic stories from the Bible and have started teaching little children about compassion, kindness, gentleness and love – wonderful values and principles that are, sometimes, much too nebulous for little children to embrace and understand.

And I’ve asked myself, many times: “What is something that I could do to change that?”

I began to wonder if adults would find it far less intimidating to talk with their children about God if they were better equipped? What would happen, for example, if I created a list of 52 stories from the life of Jesus and asked people to focus on one story each week? Would adults take a few minutes at the end of each day to teach children a story from the Bible if I provided some easy-to-use tools? Would adults be willing to take a few minutes at the end of the day to read a story from the Bible and to talk with their children about it if I provided a few questions to get the conversation going? What about adults? Could an adult be encouraged to read stories from the Bible a few moments each day and to reflect upon questions that can help them to build a bridge between the stories in the Bible and daily living? What would it look like if I created a list of 52 stories from the life of Jesus to read during one year; and then, created a list of 52 well-known stories from the Bible to read throughout the course of another year? It seemed to be a win-win for everybody! Adults would be equipped. Adults could be encouraged to read the Bible and pray with their children. And the children, of course, would benefit from spending some time each day with their parent(s) or another adult(s) learning about God and building life-giving faith-links to the Bible that they could carry with them for the rest of their lives.

FaithBuilders is a ministry that’s been created to help you to build a bridge between where you are right now and where God wants to take you tomorrow. And, the best part about is that it’s easy, convenient, and life-changing! And, guess what? FaithBuilders can all be found right here on this blog! Just click the menu option above.

Why not visit FaithBuilders today? There is no better moment than right now to begin to explore the Bible in a new way, and there’s no better moment than right now to begin to introduce children to stories from the Bible that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Click Here to Visit FaithBuilders

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