“Mercy, Not Sacrifice!”

th8EXDBGHU

How has your understanding of God changed as you’ve lived and experienced more of life?

My first impressions of God, as a child, revolved around God’s goodness and willingness to give me “good stuff.” I grew into a man who embraced the idea that God’s always with me and that God’s always guiding me. I’ve grown to understand God as a God who forgives me and who carries me through tough times. And now, as I begin my journey through the back stretch of life, I’ve been drawn to understand God through the lens of Hosea 6:6 – as a God who tells me, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In this week’s message, “I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice”, we are challenged to think about the ways that our ideas about God can change as we come to know Christ more deeply. Do we picture God sitting up in Heaven looking for a reason to throw people, who don’t make Him happy, into Hell – or do we picture God as a God who continues to love and care about us when we miss the mark? Do we picture an angry God who is looking forward to eternally punishing people who fall short of His demands – or do we picture a God who’s willing to push past the failures in our lives (and the failures in the lives of other people) for the sake of Christ? Perhaps, we understand that our relationship with God is based upon both the “bad news” (Law) and the “good news” (Gospel)?

The recording begins with a long reading about a man who was born blind (John 9:1-41). And, as you listen to this beloved story from the Bible, please remember that this is not just a story about healing – it’s a Sacred Story about a man who came to understand Jesus in a very different way as he struggled to make sense of who Jesus is.

And that’s the challenge that we all face in our spiritual journey, isn’t it? We all base our understandings of God upon our experiences in life and faith. And those understandings can be changed and transformed as we experience God’s presence in new ways, can’t they be?

Blessings!

 

Planted Beside a Stream

Ohiopyle Falls - Edited for Enlarge

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Life makes people thirsty.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you believed that there just wasn’t enough of you to go around? Maybe you feel like a gerbil on a wheel that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and faster? Perhaps, you’re worried about someone that you love – or are struggling to navigate through a time of illness? Or, perhaps, you’re moving through a dry time in your walk with Christ and it feels like you’re moving through the “uninhabited salt land” that the prophet Jeremiah once described?

In this week’s message, “Planted Beside a Stream”, we are drawn into a fascinating story about a Samaritan woman who met Jesus beside Jacob’s Well and who was promised that Jesus could give her the “Living Water” that bubbles-up to Eternal Life.

What does that “Living Water” taste like? How does the Good News of the Gospel that proclaims that you have a Lord who gives you courage when you’re afraid, peace when you’re anxious, strength when you are feeling weak, and hope even at the moment of death affect the way that you face the challenges and obstacles in your life, right now?

The community of Taize often sings a hymn that contains these words: “By night, we search for the source of living water because it is only our thirst that guides our way.”

What would “Living Water” taste like, right now? How can the life-giving news – that God has planted you beside a stream – sustain and renew you as you journey through life?

Let’s travel to Jacob’s Well and listen to the words that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman nearly 2,000 years ago; and, as we listen to Jesus speak, let’s stop for a moment and think about what His words and promises can mean to us today.

Blessings!

Born Again!

Baby

Christians have many different ideas about what it means to be “born again.”

I regularly pass a billboard that’s covered with a picture of a raging fire on the left side and a picture of puffy, white clouds on the right side – and, across the top, I read the words: “Heaven or Hell – The Choice is Yours!” Most of us have probably been asked: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Maybe you attended a Billy Graham Crusade many years ago, and suddenly felt the need to come down onto the field and “do something” about your relationship with God – RIGHT NOW!

In this week’s message, “Born Again!”, we listen to the story of Nicodemus. We see that Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night,” and learn that darkness is always a sign of doubt and disbelief in the Gospel of John. In the story of Nicodemus, we are challenged to admit that what we believe about being “born again” ultimately tells the world whether we believe that salvation is “all up to us” or “all up to God.” And that’s really big!

As a part of my preparation for this message, I reflected and prayed about the process of giving birth. For nine months, Mom carries a baby deep inside of her. She watches what she eats – goes to the doctor for check-ups – and buys things that she thinks she will need when the baby is born. And then, comes the “Big Day”! There’s pain and there’s sweating and there’s screaming. And, after it’s all said and done, the new Mom gets to hold her new baby – who, by the way, basically hasn’t done anything to make its own birth happen.

What if being “born again” isn’t so much about what “we do” – but is, rather, God’s work in our lives to push us out of places where we are warm and cozy – into a new phase of life? What if being “born again” isn’t so much about “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior;” but is, rather, more about God’s activity – pushing you out of the places where you feel safe and secure, and driving you into places where you can grow and mature and become something more than a spiritual baby?

So, what do you believe it means to be “born again”? Is being “born again” your decision to take a step toward God – or is it about God washing you in the waters of Baptism, filling you with His Spirit, placing a lit candle in your hand, and saying: “Let your light so shine before others, so that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven”?

Blessings!

 

Spiritual Warfare

prayer-graphic

People don’t talk much about the devil these days.

Many people come to the Church looking for a sense of solace and peace. I’ve heard people say that they attend worship to have their “spiritual gas tanks” filled. We speak a lot about God’s forgiveness, and about God’s mercy. We’re reminded that God walks beside us as we journey through life, and that God’s grace is sufficient for today (2 Corinthians 12:9). But, we don’t often speak about the enemy. We don’t often speak about the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)

In this week’s message, “Spiritual Warfare”, we’re drawn into the story of an epic battle between “God’s Champion” and the devil himself. We’re drawn into an unusual story in the Bible where everything’s on the line and where Jesus CANNOT make a mistake. And, as we search for a connection between this particular story in the Bible and our own daily lives, we can’t help but hear the words: “Be alert!”

Christian ministry is spiritual warfare. The devil is close at hand every time we do God’s work with our own hands and every time the “Reign of God” breaks into the world. We’re called to be alert and to remember that the devil still prowls around in our world. But, we are also reminded that “God’s Champion” – the Risen Christ – journeys with us as we are nourished by the reading of Holy Scripture, as we share broken Bread and poured Wine in Holy Communion, as we experience God’s forgiveness and renewal in our lives, and as we are strengthened by God for whatever is coming next.

Christians must never forget that the devil is prowling around us, right now. We can never forget that the ministry of the Church is never going to be easy because Christian ministry is standing against the rulers and the dark forces of the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). But, the devil is being driven back by the God who’s fighting a Great Battle of the Cosmos with us. And we will prevail in the name of our Risen Christ!

Blessings!

God Wants You Alone!

cross

We begin our journey through Lent this week.

Some of us have decided to “give up” something for the next few weeks, and some of us have entered Lent with the desire to try something new. Lent is, traditionally, a time in the year when we’re called to be more reflective and to carefully examine our priorities. And, as we travel through these next few weeks, we’ll be drawn to the base of the Cross, and we’ll be challenged to think about what the death and resurrection of Christ means to us today.

We begin Lent with a time of confession. Have any of us loved God with our whole heart and forgiven every single person who’s hurt us? Have any of us never experienced pride, or envy, or apathy? Have any of us never been negligent in prayer? Have we never closed our eyes to injustice, or allowed our deep-seated prejudices to affect the way we think about other people?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once penned a well-known book entitled: “Life Together.” And one of the central themes of that book is “alien righteousness” – a theme that clearly reminds us that, as we share our lives with other people, we can never forget that we are people who aren’t perfect and that we don’t have the right to demand perfection from others. This is an important truth for us to grasp as we live with each other in a fallen world.

Bonhoeffer writes:

“It is the grace of the Gospel which is so hard for the pious to understand. The Gospel confronts us with the truth and says: ‘You are a sinner; a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to the God who loves you – knowing that God wants you as you are; and He does not wants anything from you (some sort of sacrifice or good work). God wants you alone!'”

That’s where we begin our journey through Lent. And in the message, “God Wants You Alone”, we’re invited to enter the Season of Lent with that in mind. Perhaps, instead of moving through the Season of Lent with our list of things we’re willing to “give up” as a sign of self-denial, we can use this special time in the year to focus upon the love and grace and embrace of the Living God – hearing once again: “God Wants You Alone.”

Blessings!