God’s Whispering in Your Ear!

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Many Christians (and churches) are struggling these days.

Christ calls us into ministry in the waters of Holy Baptism and sends us into the world as His representatives. The Bible plainly tells us that the Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts that we need – and assures us that, when we’re engaged in ministry, Christ journeys with us and opens doors.

But translating Christ’s “call to action” into concrete ministries isn’t always easy, is it?

It’s easy to talk about Christians being called onto the “front lines” of the battle. It’s easy to say that Christians need to get outside of their buildings and more deeply engage with people in their community. Many churches are trying to create long-term strategies for doing ministry in a world where it’s not always easy to know what the future will bring. And that’s what this week’s message,  “God’s Whispering in Your Ear!”, is all about.

Jesus says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops!” (Matthew 10:27)

Ministry begins when God’s people pray, and when God’s people listen and talk with each other about what God’s been whispering into their ears. What does God whisper in your ears when you pray about people in your community who are struggling with illnesses and loneliness? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about people in your community whose lives are being destroyed by opioid addictions? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about little children in your community who were being offered a free breakfast when they arrived at school, but who have lost that daily meal during the summer? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about young people who are being bullied, about children who need Sunday School teachers, about men and women who are being abused in their own homes, and about people in your own community who don’t have enough money to purchase medicines that they need in order to remain healthy?

God’s still using folks who are prayerfully listening to people in their community, and who are seeking God’s guidance and direction. Ministry begins when the people of God talk with people in their community, fall to their knees in prayer, and open their ears to hear what God has to say.

We live in a time when opportunities for doing ministry are immense! And, as we look for a path forward in ministry, we must continue to be people who are engaged in prayer and the daily reading of Holy Scripture. We cannot speak about what we have not heard! We cannot proclaim from the housetops what we’ve not heard whispered into our ears by the Living God!

And so, if you’re looking for a path forward in ministry – as either an individual or as a church – stop for a moment and pray. We are not called to build ministries and churches around our own agendas and good ideas. We are called, instead, to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who has promised to journey with us (and to open doors before us) as we seek to fulfill His plan for our lives and for our ministries in practical ways.

Blessings!

Vacation Bible School

kids

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was looking for something to do during the steaming hot days of July. He’d been out of school for more than a month. He’d already worn ruts in the grass – while riding his bicycle around in the yard. He’d spent hours in the woods digging in the dirt, and had been shooting at chipmunks with a bow and arrow made of sticks and a rubber band for weeks. Time passed slowly. And the beginning of school was more than a month away.

And then, one morning, the little boy’s mother got him out of bed and took him to the church. The church was decorated with long, colorful streamers that moved every time the electric fans swished past them; and there were rocks made of brown, crumbled paper on the floor. Little kids were running everywhere, and the energy was incredible! Grown-ups tried their hardest to split the kids by age groups and they pinned a colorful name tag to each child’s chest. And then, the singing began. Some lessons were taught. The floors of the church were littered with little pieces of paper as children went to work with scissors and glue. And, of course, there was a snack. Cookies. Cookies with bright red Kool Aid! Everybody knows that energized kids who are bouncing off the walls need more sugar. Right?

And at the end of the week, every child who had come to the church every day got a copy of the Good News Bible. And the little boy was so excited! He took his Bible home and put it on the table beside his bed. And he read stories from the Bible every day. The edges of the pages became dirty as time passed and the binding on the Bible became loose. But the little boy kept reading from the Bible every day. And as he grew into a teenager, he kept that Bible close at hand. And in the already-worn pages of the Bible, he came to know a man named Jesus who lived and died and rose again. And some of it made sense, and some of it didn’t. But that was OK.

Many people don’t realize how important a week of Vacation Bible School can be in the life of a child. It’s not easy for parents to pack-up their kids in the middle of the summer and drag them to the church. It’s not easy for a too-small army of volunteers to keep an eye on the children – while singing songs – and teaching lessons – and playing games – and washing hands – and completing a craft – and serving a snack in the basement of a church on hot summer days. It takes time to hang those long, colorful streamers and to make those paper rocks. It takes time to make the name-tags, and to register all the kids, and to keep the kids safe. Someone always cuts their finger and needs a band-aid to make things better. Someone won’t like the snack. Someone won’t sit down during the lesson, and a parent or two may need to be called because someone gets homesick. That’s Vacation Bible School in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Back to the little boy….

Placing a Bible in the hands of little boy can do great things! A little boy can learn about the God who loves him when he reads what the Bible says. He wonders about things that some kids never think about. He asks questions. And, as the years continue to pass, seeds that were planted begin to grow. And little boys grow into men. And sometimes, those men grow into pastors who devote their lives to teaching others about the God that they’ve come to know and love. Some of those men – like me – grow into men who want people to know about Jesus, too. And the story of God’s love and embrace gets passed to another generation!

And sometimes it begins with a week of Vacation Bible School. Sometimes, it begins when a small army of volunteers make long and colorful streamers that sway when an electric fan blows past them; make rocks from crumbled paper bags, put a band-aids on fingers; and place Good News Bibles in the hands of little children. Sometimes, it all begins when a small army of God’s people commit themselves to opening their hearts and to opening the doors of their building, so that little kids can hear the story of God’s love.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20  

Harvesting Abundance

harvest pic

Have you noticed that everything in the Church is “green” these days?

Green is the color of growth and vitality. Many plants signal the arrival of warmer weather in the Spring by displaying new green leaves. The green leaves on plants absorb the summer sunlight, and transform it into much-needed energy through the miracle of photosynthesis. I’ve noticed that we are in the “Season of Growth” because I need to mow the grass every week and stay ahead of the weeds. Green is the color of growth and vitality – and that’s why many Christians use green coverings on the altar and why many pastors wear green stoles around their necks during the season of Pentecost.

Most churches are craving new growth and vitality these days. People in the Church can’t help but notice that worship attendance has been falling and that financial resources are tight. Many churches are aging as young people drift away – sometimes because they’ve decided to move to new and exciting places, and sometimes because they simply can’t “connect” with what the Church is doing. It’s hard to find volunteers. It’s hard to find the energy that’s needed to remain on the front lines of ministry. And this growing reality in the Church can create a mentality of scarcity. We focus more upon what we don’t have than upon what we do have. We spend our time thinking about things we’re not doing instead of reflecting upon the ways that God is using us to accomplish His purposes. A mentality of scarcity always tells us we don’t have enough. And, when we get overcome by that type of thinking, we get discouraged and do even less.

But one of the great promises of Holy Scripture is one that tells us that “the harvest is plentiful.” (Matthew 9:37) People may not be attending worship services as often as they did in the past, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t thinking about their relationship with God. We may need to learn how to tell the story of our ministry in new and creative ways, so that people can see that our ministry is vital and important. People who are not affiliated with our congregations aren’t likely to simply walk through the unlocked doors of our churches on Sunday mornings to see what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not visiting our church websites during the week. Thoughts of scarcity cause us to withdraw into a death-creating and congregation-killing discouragement, but thoughts of abundance can create excitement and new growth in our churches.

So, how does vibrant and life-giving ministry unfold in this green Season of growth and abundance? It begins when people see the difference between what they see and what they believe God wants. Do you think that our God doesn’t care when a third of the little children in a community go to school without breakfast and when their school-provided breakfast disappears during the summer? Do you think that God doesn’t care about the ninety-one people who die from opioid overdoses in our country every day – some in our own church communities? Does God not care about the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day in America? Has God abandoned children who are being bullied? Has our God walked away from older people in our communities who are lonely because they’re not able to leave their homes? Does God abandon people in the midst of their grief? Does God turn away from people who experience abuse in their home, who are recovering from addictions, who are facing a life-altering illness or disease, who are struggling with a mental illness, or who have lost their job? I don’t think so….

In this “green” season of the Church year, we’re asked to reflect upon what excites us and upon what creates passion in our lives. God made us to be people who change the world! God made us and draws us together in the communities that we call “churches,” so that we can work together; draw on the excitement and energy other people; and go into the world, filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit, to bring the Reign of God into our struggling world. That’s what ministry is. That’s what creates new growth and vitality.

And so, during this “green” season of the Church year, I want to challenge you to dream the dreams that God has for the Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st Century. The harvest is plentiful. God has told us that He’ll lead and guide us as we pray and worship. The Holy Spirit will direct our work and open doors that need to be opened. And all we need to do is “ask the Lord of the harvest to send-out laborers” (Matthew 9:38) who are passionate about spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ in a struggling world where many people are crippled by the types of “scarcity mentality” that steal energy, vitality, and a life-filled future from the hands of God’s people.

Blessings!

 

 

Are You an Apostle?

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How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

My relationship with Jesus began when I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I have been a student and a church organist. I have been a counselor at a Christian camp and I’ve served as a pastor for 29 years. My relationship with Christ has changed as I’ve moved through life, and I’m excited about where God is going to take me in the coming years.

How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

In this week’s message, “The Apostolic Imperative”, we see that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel referred to people who surrounded Jesus in two different ways. In Matthew 10:1, we see that the people who surrounded Jesus were called “μαθητης” – a Greek word that occurs 74 times in Matthew’s Gospel and that describes the people who surrounded Jesus as “disciples” – followers – “followers who adhere to the teachings of a particular teacher.” But, in Matthew 10:2, the writer of the Gospel shifts gears and uses the word “αποστολος” to describe those who surrounded Christ – a Greek word that is only used one time in the Gospel. “Αποστολος” describes those who surround Jesus as apostles and “commissioned representatives” of One who sends them. When you think about “αποστολος,” I want you to think about Moses – a man who was called to serve as a commissioned representative of God and who was sent to the Pharaoh of Egypt with a clear message from God.

I suspect that most of us picture ourselves as “followers” of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is walking with us and we want to believe that we’re doing things that Jesus wants us to do. But, what if we began to understand that we’re, also, called to be commissioned representatives of the Reign of God? Imagine the power that kind of a distinction could bring to our ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ!

Christ’s “Commissioned Representatives” feed the hungry, and announce the coming of the Reign of God in the very same way that Jesus did. “Commissioned Representatives” of the Reign of God confront the powers of evil that oppress the poor and that continue to separate people by looking at the color of their skin. “Commissioned Representatives” of Jesus Christ proclaim God’s forgiveness and embrace, and they speak a word of hope to young people who are being bullied in schools. “Commissioned Representatives” of Jesus Christ fight against domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness, and hunger in the lives of children who are living in the communities that surround our churches. And why? Simply because that’s what “αποστολος” do!

I believe that the modern-day Church has become insecure, and I believe that the role of the Church in America (and in other places around the world) has been clearly dislodged because the Church is experiencing an “identity crisis.” We must recapture the important distinction between being “μαθητης” (followers of Jesus) and “αποστολος” (commissioned representatives of the Reign of God) in the world today. And that’s what I lift before you in this week’s message, “The Apostolic Imperative”

Blessings!

The Great Commission

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Christ calls the Church into vital, expansive and life-giving ministry!

I’m sure that the disciples were a bit shaken when Jesus told them that it was, now, their job to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  I suspect that it has never been easy for Christians to stand toe-to-toe with people who are in positions of power and proclaim the Reign of a Living God who calls us to extend compassion to the poor, to lift-up those who are being crushed by injustice, to walk with people who mourn, and to create a society where even the lowly have a voice. And yet, even today, Christians are commissioned by the Risen Christ to announce the imminent coming of the Reign of God.

I don’t always feel prepared to do that – even as a pastor. I don’t always feel prepared to speak about God’s plan for our lives from the pulpit, to counsel couples whose marriages are crumbling, to comfort people who have just lost a child, or to speak a word of hope beside the empty grave of someone that I’ve loved. Maybe you don’t really feel qualified to teach a Sunday School class, to lead a Bible Study, to say a prayer in front of other people, or to assume responsibility for a ministry at your church. And yet, in this week’s message, “The Great Commission”, God calls us into action.

Ministry is never easy; and yet, “The Great Commission” is accompanied by a great and wonderful promise! As we join hands in ministry, Christ promises to walk by our sides. As we join hands in ministry, Christ promises to send the Holy Spirit to equip us and give us gifts from above. Jesus promises us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and those are words that can encourage us as we work together to bring the Reign of God into the world today.

Blessings!

Take a stand against abuse!

abuse

Genesis 2:18

Most people believe that God created the world to be a place that was entirely good, and that everything fell apart when Adam and Eve went astray. God pauses at the end of each day of creation in the first chapter of Genesis and says, “Wow! That’s good!” The same thing happens each day – culminating in God’s recognition of the fact that everything is “very good” on the sixth day. And then, many of us have been taught, everything fell apart when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

However, we find another truth buried in the second chapter of Genesis where God says: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” “It is not good” for us to live in isolation. We are most complete when we are in fellowship with others. Isolation stands at the heart of what God identified as being “not good” in the story of creation.

Domestic and sexual abuse isolate. People who are being abused often withdraw from significant relationships. Women and men who are sexually assaulted often withdraw into deep, isolating silence. Domestic and sexual abuse create what God has clearly said is “not good” in the lives of His people. And, in that breaking of human community, abusers create something very different than what God plans for our lives.

We commit ourselves to helping our world to grow toward what God first intended when we promise to stand against domestic and sexual abuse; and we participate in God’s redemption of Creation when we commit ourselves to standing against behaviors that strip dignity from the lives of God’s people and drive them into isolation that “is not good” in God’s eyes.

Binding and Loosing

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I suspect that we all have times when we need to forgive.

People get hurt when other people speak or act too quickly. We’ve all had times when we have been offended by people that we know, or by people that we don’t know. We even have times in our live when we hurt ourselves by getting too puffed-up, or by thinking less of ourselves than we ought. We need to be forgiven by God and by other people, but we also have times when we’re the ones who need to forgive. And sometimes it’s easy – but sometimes it’s very hard.

In this week’s message, “Binding and Loosing”, we explore the fact that Jesus never said that forgiveness must always be offered quickly. Forgiveness and reconciliation are gifts that we offer to people who have hurt us, but they are also gifts that need to be extended in the “appropriate” time and in the “appropriate” way.

Forgiveness is NOT saying that what people did is no longer important and that it can simply be forgotten. The “Dance of Forgiveness” happens when the peace of Christ fills our hearts and when the breath of Jesus fills our souls. The “Dance of Forgiveness” happens when we get to the point in our lives when we’re able to release the hurt that we feel, and when we can honestly and authentically ask ourselves what must happen in order for reconciliation to occur.

Blessings!