Through the Bible – Week 31

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“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” I’d like to extend a warm welcome to you if you’re joining us for the first time this week. And, I’d also like to say “Thank You” to all of the faithful people who have been journeying through the Bible with us this year. I hope that you’ve been deeply blessed as you’ve explored God’s Word with us.

Where do you find shelter these days?

I’m blessed with a place that I can call “home” – where I’m protected by a roof that doesn’t leak. My “home” is a place where I find safety and security at the end of the day, and it’s a place where I can shut the rest of the world out of my life by simply closing the door. My car provides me with shelter and the windshield protects me from flying bugs. I have all sorts of places where I feel sheltered and secure, but most of them could disappear in the blink of an eye.

The Bible describes God as a shelter and tells us that “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4). The Bible, furthermore, tells us: “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, not the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (Psalm 91:5-6)

And so, I ask again: Where do you find refuge these days?

Do you find your sense of safety and security in the places where you’ve been taught to feel safe and secure, or have you learned to trust most of all in the Lord who has told us: “When you call to me, I will answer you; I will be with you in trouble; I will rescue you and honor you. With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation” (Psalm 91:15-16)?

Here’s this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 4-5 – Monday: Leviticus 22-24 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 21-25 – Wednesday: Psalms 90-92 – Thursday: Proverbs 14-15 – Friday: Ezekiel 43-48 – Saturday: John 1-2

Is God Fair?

God's Love

We’ve all been told that God loves us.

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” – and we’ve learned to trust that God will do that. One of my friends on Facebook recently posted the words: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) My Hindu friends believe in “karma,” and many Christians have adopted the teachings of “karma” as a way of pointing toward divine justice. After all, “good people” go to Heaven and “bad people” go to Hell. Right?

But, what if I told you that God is NOT fair, and that we should be happy about that?

In this week’s message, “Is God Fair?”, we’re going to focus upon a story that Jesus told a long time ago and that we can still read in Matthew 20:1-16. It’s the story of a landowner who hires some people to pick his grapes. Some of the workers worked 12 hours in the scorching heat, and others only worked for 9 hours. Still others worked for 6 hours, and yet others only worked in the vineyard for 3 hours. And then, there were people who stood at the “One Day’s Work” office all day and only worked for 1 hour. And at the end of the day – when the whistle blows – the landowner calls all of the workers to come to the pay station and he pays them ALL the exact same amount of money!

And that’s not fair!

And, not surprisingly, the workers didn’t think that it was fair either! And they stuck out their lower lips and complained. They moaned and groaned until the landowner zapped them between the eyes with the most important words of the story: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matthew 20:16) And, as we listen to these words, we’re invited to see God face-to-face.

Here, we see a God who “unfairly” allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” allows people to prosper and have nice things whether they’re sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning – or cheering for their kids at a soccer game. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” forgives people who have done things in life that I can’t imagine doing. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” chooses to step outside of the realm of karma and divine justice, and give people things that they clearly don’t deserve in any way.

And that’s not fair!

But, in all honesty, I have to admit that I like what this story tells me about God!

The landowner in this famous story challenges me to see the God who richly blesses me and who fills my life with good things even when I’m not always as good and deserving as other people. I see the God who sent His own Son into the world to die on the Cross because He wants me to go to Heaven – even though I don’t really deserve it. I’m clearly challenged to think about what I truly believe is “fair” – and, when it’s all said and done, I walk away celebrating the fact that God DOESN’T always give me exactly what I deserve. I don’t always sow good seeds. The “Law of Karma” sounds good – until you sit down and begin to count your mistakes and misdeeds. And then….

“Is God Fair?”

Jesus bluntly tells us that the answer to that question is clearly, “No!” And for that, we can rejoice and sing and praise the Lord!

Read Through the Bible – Week 30

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” We’re excited that you’re here and hope that you will jump on board and join us as we read through God’s Word.

This week, we’re going to read one of my favorite passages in the Bible!

Just imagine the prophet Ezekiel looking across a valley that’s filled with sun-bleached bones. And as he’s walking in the field and stepping over skeletons, God asks him, “Can these bones lives again?” And Ezekiel answers: “O Lord, only you know that!” And then, Ezekiel is told to prophesy. And the bones begin to rattle and come together. The sinews begin to grow, muscles begin to form, and skin covers the bodies. And then, when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the wind (spirit), the still-dead bodies are filled with “breath” and become living beings. A field full of skeletons becomes a field that’s filled with a living, breathing and marching army of strong and determined soldiers. Wow!

Where have you discovered valleys that are filled with sun-bleached bones in your life?

Perhaps, today, you’re discouraged because you’re facing a terminal illness, or maybe you are finding that it’s quiet overwhelming to care for an aging parent? Maybe one of your kids is struggling with an addiction to opioids, or will spend today in jail? Maybe you’re struggling through a period of unemployment, or maybe your ongoing struggle with a teenager is simply wearing you out? Maybe you’re being bullied at school, or at work? Maybe you’re buried under a mountain of bills and the telephone calls from the bill collectors simply won’t stop? Maybe you’re grieving the loss of someone that you dearly loved, or perhaps you’re watching your spouse struggle with dementia? The list goes on and on….

Life is filled with valleys that are covered with dry bones. We can feel both overwhelmed and numb when life continues to give us things that are simply unfair. But, the question is: “Do I believe that God can make circumstances in my life any different?” Or, perhaps: “Do I believe that God can bring hope and peace into a nearly impossible situation?”

The Bible tells us that the God who brought sun-bleached bones together, covered them with sinews and muscles, cloaked them in skin and brought them back to life is at work in our daily lives. That’s right! God’s at work in your life right now. God’s speaking words of new life and new possibilities even in times when the situations that we face appear to be impossible. God journeys with us as we travel through life step-by-step-by-step, and He calls us to have faith, to trust in His ability to lift us up, and to know that He’s walking right beside us – opening doors and blessing us with His strengthening presence even as we walk through seemingly-impossible times!

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 19-21 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 16-20 – Wednesday: Psalms 87-89 – Thursday: Proverbs 13 – Friday: Ezekiel 37-42 – Saturday: Luke 23-24

 

What did Jesus say about forgiveness?

conflict

I suspect that we’ve all had times when we’ve been hurt or disappointed by others, and I suspect that we’ve all been taught many different things about forgiveness.

Some people expect us to “get over it” and move on with our lives as if nothing happened. Others confuse the concept of forgiving and forgetting. Still others want us to believe that people of faith are supposed to continually “turn the other cheek” and endure the hurtful behavior of other people. And still others tell us that there’s nothing wrong with holding onto our anger indefinitely even though some people describe holding onto our anger as drinking poison and waiting for other people to die.

I’ve put together a series of three short messages to help you to reflect upon forgiveness, and upon some of the things that you may want to consider when you’ve been hurt and disappointed by others. Times of hurt and disappointment do not need to end significant relationships – but times of hurt and disappointment need to be considered and handled in ways that are both honest and authentic before healing can occur.

In the first message, “Binding and Loosing”, we take some time to think about ways that we approach forgiveness immediately after we’ve been hurt or disappointed. Many folks want to forgive – or to be forgiven – quickly because the feelings and emotions that follow times of hurt and disappointment make us feel uncomfortable. But, did you know that it’s OK to hold onto your anger and to even withhold your forgiveness until after you’ve had some time to “process” what happened? Forgiveness can only be authentically given after we’ve acknowledged that the hurt and disappointment is real. Rushing the process of forgiveness by saying things like “Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.” may actually interfere with our ability to forgive in an authentic way. Slow down! Allow yourself to feel the things that you’re feeling. And don’t allow people who’ve hurt you to rush you.

In the second message, “What’s My End Game?”, we take some time to think about the different ways that we approach reconciliation. Do we want to be “right,” or do we want to be “reconciled” with those who have hurt us – and how is that going to affect the way that we approach them during difficult times? When we’re struggling in a relationship, do we search for people who can offer balanced perspectives, or do we search for a like-minded army of people who will simply support our position? Forgiveness and the type of reconciliation that Christ wants to bring into our lives when times are tough emerge as we speak with others in honest and authentic ways. And the great promise of Christ is that He’s going to be with us as we are working through challenges in our relationships. Sin separates, but the work of God in Jesus Christ continues to heal and to bring people together.

In the third message, “Too Big to Forgive?”, we address one of the most difficult parts of forgiveness. I suspect that we’ve all asked ourselves, “How do I know when the sin that someone has committed is too big for me to forgive?” At some point in life, we may have also asked ourselves, “How do I know when someone has hurt me too many times?” Our gift of forgiveness does not permit others to continue to hurt us. We may need to learn to walk away from relationships that are abusive and that continue to be filled with pain. But, even if we decide to do that, we still need to learn how to handle the “gunk” that’s left inside of us, don’t we? Sometimes, we may need to learn how to release little things; and, sometimes, the things that we will need to release may be huge! What can we learn as we continue to pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us?” Genuine forgiveness is always going to be tough because it always involves forgiving things the were both real and hurtful. But, forgiveness – real and genuine forgiveness – is what continues to open our lives to peace with God and to healthy relationships with other people.

 

 

Too Big to Forgive?

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Lord, how many times do I need to forgive a person who’s hurt me?

Relationships can be difficult. People don’t always speak to each other in charitable ways and people don’t always treat each other kindly. We can’t really expect the relationships in our lives to be “perfect” because people aren’t “perfect.” And what that means is that we’re all going to need to have healthy boundaries that we create to protect ourselves, and we’re all going to need to find ways to rebuild relationships after we’ve been hurt.

In this week’s message, “Too Big to Forgive?”, we’re challenged to ask ourselves two huge questions: (1) How do we know when the sins that people have committed against us are too big to forgive? and  (2) How do we decide when someone’s hurt us too many times?

When we’re hurt by others, we usually step back and do an inner “damage assessment” to determine the magnitude and the severity of the hurt. The decision to forgive doesn’t always come easily. We may, in fact, need to talk with other people and to process what has happened to us. But, on the bottom line, forgiveness is always going to involve the decision to forgive. Forgiveness is always going to be about learning to open our hands and let go of something that has happened to us that was real. And sometimes, what we need to release may be little. And sometimes, what we need to release may be huge.

Has someone done something to you that’s “Too Big to Forgive?”

Let’s open our Bibles to Matthew 18:21-35 and explore that question together as people of faith.

 

Our Spiritual GPS

GPS

One of the features that I use most often on my Smartphone is the GPS.

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Many pastors and congregational leaders are searching for the church’s path forward in quickly changing times. We realize that our society is moving through a time of dramatic change and transition. We can sense that dramatic shifts are occurring in people’s lives as we hear more and more about the “Nones” and the “Dones.” And we wish we could find the magic pill. We wish that we could somehow re-create an idealized past; but, deep inside, we all know that that’s not going to work. And so, we need to look forward. And, we need to listen to God’s voice because the Church has been built upon the life-giving message of Christ crucified and risen for 2,000 years, and because the Risen Christ has promised to both sustain the Church and lead it into the future.

And so, how can our life of worship and prayer be our spiritual GPS?

  • First, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we are right now.” Many churches begin their worship services, each week, by inviting worshipers to join in a time of confession and forgiveness – because we need to remember “where we are right now.” Times of confession call us to look deep inside; and, sometimes, call us to look at parts of our lives that we don’t like to see. Times of confession call us to gaze into a mirror, and to see ourselves both honestly and authentically. And that’s important because some of the things that we see in the mirror can stand in the way when we want to serve God as individuals and even as a church. And the pronouncement of God’s forgiveness frees us and liberates us, so that we can move in a new direction. Worship and prayer open our eyes to “where we are right now” – and that’s where every journey begins.
  • Second, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we need to be.” And worship and prayer can help us to see that, too. God opens our eyes and speaks to our hearts in worship and prayer – helping us to see the “gap” between what things are right now and what God wants them to be. As we “dream and dreams of God” in our worship and prayer, God gives us visions of the future that God wants to create for our lives, our ministries, and our world. God points us toward “where we need to be.” We might think that we can simply decide “where we need to be” by sitting at a table and by creating long-term strategies without God’s help. But, no matter how creative our strategies become, they’ll never lead us to “where we need to be” until we gather around God’s Word, spend time in worship and prayer, and ask God to lead us and help us to do what He wants us to do.
  • Third, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” there are many different paths – and some of them may be far better than others. The book of Acts contains a wonderful story where the Holy Spirit opens and closes doors as St. Paul was traveling (Acts 16:6-10). We need to understand that God does the same thing today. When we spend time in worship and prayer, God works. God inspires. God leads. God opens door that we can’t open by ourselves with His mighty hands. And God shows us the best route forward. When we know “where we are right now” and “where we need to be,” we must remain in worship and in prayer – trusting that God will open doors and even close doors that will lead us down paths filled with unnecessary obstacles.
  • Lastly, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” God will provide pictures of our destination. The Bible tells us: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). As we worship and pray, God paints pictures for us. Can we see our congregations as vibrant places that are both multi-generational and multi-cultural? Can we picture our churches as places where people use the first five minutes after each worship services to engage and to speak with visitors, instead of just flying toward the doors? Can we picture our churches as places that are devoted to listening to people and to building entire ministries around what God has told us to do to meet the needs of people who are living just beyond the walls of our buildings? Can we picture our churches as places that continues to lift-up the fact that ALL of God’s people are created to be ministers – and that one of the most important things that we can do as a church is to help people to fulfill their own ministry by equipping and empowering them by helping them to find the tools and training and connections that they need to find to be more effective?

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Can we look at our life of worship and prayer as something that does the same thing in our lives of faith?

When Storms Arise

Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,

I thank God that the path toward the future isn’t paved

with only my own inner strength and courage.

God is Mighty!

And the Lord who holds me in the palm of His hand

has the power to carry me safely

toward better days.

 

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie

What’s My End Game?

conflict

We all have times when relationships are difficult, don’t we?

We face times of conflict in the places where we work and even in our own homes. We sometimes find ourselves in a conflict with people that we’ve known for years and with people who sit beside us in worship. We disagree with our “Friends” on Facebook; and, before we know it, our disagreements turn into angry exchanges and angry exchanges come to an end when we hit the “un-Friend” or “Block” button. We all face times in life that are filled with conflict – and sometimes those conflicts are resolved and sometimes our relationships with other people, unfortunately, end.

Jesus provides an honest and authentic way to handle times of conflict in our lives.

Jesus challenges us to sit down with people in times of conflict, and invites us to speak with people who have hurt us in an honest and authentic way that promotes deeper understandings and that strives for resolution. Jesus, also, challenges us to invite level-headed and Godly people to work with us when our relationships are falling apart. And there’s even a role for the Church. But Christ’s teachings about conflict resolution (that we find in Matthew 18:15-20) can be twisted and perverted into something they were never intended to be, and they can be used to justify causing irreparable damage in our relationships with others.

In this week’s message, “What’s My End Game?”, we are challenged to step-back and to ask ourselves some serious questions during times of conflict. Do I want to the “right” or do I want to be “reconciled”? Do I want to simply gather a group of people who share my thoughts and perspectives, and come after my opponent with a “like-minded army” or do I want to ask faith-filled people to help me to find a path back? Is God calling me to deal with what’s troubling me in an open and authentic way, or have I already decided that the issue that stands at the heart of the conflict is more important than the relationship itself? Am I prayerfully seeking God’s help and direction (knowing that Christ promised to help me when I’m facing times of conflict), or have I already decided that it’s time to gather-up my toys and go home?

Times of conflict are never easy, and in this week’s message – “What’s My End Game?” – we’re challenged to ask ourselves some serious questions and to think about how we would like the conflict to be resolved as we search for our next step forward.

When relationships are difficult, we need to ask ourselves: “What’s My End Game?”

 

The Big Commitment

robin williams

I suspect that we’ve all heard the words: “Carpe Diem”

Many of us drift through life believing that we have all the time in the world. And, as we do that, today becomes tomorrow and tomorrow becomes the middle of next week. Next week turns into next month; and, before we know it, we’re ringing-in another year. And, as that happens, the sands in the hourglass just keep dropping through the little hole and the sands of time keep slipping between our fingers in the exact same way.

When Jesus calls us to “take-up our the cross and follow Him,” He calls us to make “The Big Commitment”.  The Big Commitment changes our lives. The Big Commitment calls us to grow into something that we might not otherwise become. The Big Commitment will challenge us to make choices and decisions that aren’t always popular with other people and call us to “put some skin in the game” when other people won’t. The Big Commitment calls us to “Seize the Day” and make the best of every opportunity that God places before us because big opportunities can be lost and key moments can disappear forever.

People often tell us that they’re “too busy” to do things that we ask them to do. But, one of the things I’ve learned in life is that no one is always busy. And what that means is that people base their decision to join hands with us (or not join hands with us) upon what number we are on their priority list. It’s about choices. It’s about commitments. It’s about setting priorities in life and shaping life around what we believe is most important.

And that’s where “The Big Commitment” comes into the picture.

When Christ calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him,” He’s not talking about facing the challenges in our lives with faith and courage. Our personal struggles and challenges are not our crosses. Christ calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him” when He calls us to make life-changing decisions and long-term commitments. He calls us to make choices and decisions that change the way that we think and the way that we act. When Christ calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him,” He calls us to commit ourselves to making sacrifices in life for the sake of others that most people would never consider making – because we know that we know that we know that it’s what God wants us to do.

Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Commit yourself to doing the things that you know God wants you to do – even if your decision to do those things separates you from some other people and all of the expectations that they’ve placed upon your life.

A Special Hurricane Harvey Appeal

Fire Picture

(the former home of Debbie Tysarczky and her family)

In this week’s edition of “Read Through the Bible,” I’d like to lift-up a special concern, and the immediate needs of a very, special lady and her family.

St. James tells us: “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead” (James 2:17); and, the refrain of an old song continues to remind us that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Faith and good deeds are intimately connected. As we’re reading through the Bible, we’re reminded of God’s great love for us and of God’s command to love each other as He has loved us. One of the ways that we can do that is by joining hands, and offering our care and support to people with special and immediate needs.

Hurricane Harvey has caused devastating destruction in southern regions of the United States. Homes have been flooded. People have lost their belongings. Flooding has caused gas lines to rupture; and, when that happens, even the last remnants of damaged homes are destroyed by unstoppable fires.

A friend of mine, Keith, told me today that his sister, Debbie Tysarczky, and her family lost their home and all of their belongings because of the flooding in Friendswood, Texas. The house that they once occupied was flooded and needed to be abandoned – and, then, the house was destroyed when a gas line ruptured and a fire was ignited. Debbie and her family have been left without a place to live and with very few personal belongings.

I understand that Debbie’s story is simply one of many, and that we’ve all been offered many different opportunities to offer financial support to those whose lives have been disrupted; however, I also know that some of us like the “one-on-one feel” of giving our support to a specific person (or family) that we know – at least by name. That’s why I’m making this special appeal.

We’re collecting money for Debbie’s family through a “Family Fund” at Christ’s Lutheran Church and will be sending 100% of the money that we receive in response to this special appeal to Debbie and her family. We will be collecting the money for a three-week period that ends on September 24, 2017 – and will be forwarding the money we collect to Debbie (and her family) during the next week.

If you would like to support this special appeal, this is what you need to do:

  • Take some time to pray for Debbie and her family, and to ask God how He can use you to change the lives of Debbie and her family members through your prayers and generous financial support of this appeal.
  • Write a check to: “Christ’s Lutheran Church” and be sure to include “Debbie Tysarczky Appeal” on the comment line of the check; or, you can simply send your gift of love through the “Give Now” link on the Christ’s Lutheran Church website. Be sure to mark any gift that you send: “Debbie Tysarcsky Appeal.”
  • If you decide to write a check, you can mail the check to: Debbie Tysarczky Appeal, c/o Christ’s Lutheran Church, 5330 Logans Ferry Road, Murrysville, PA 15668

I will provide an accurate accounting of all money that’s been collected and that’s been dispersed during this special appeal, and a printed accounting of money collected and dispersed will be available through the Church Office. I will, also, post an accounting of funds received and dispersed on this blog.

Thank you for considering of this special appeal for Debbie and her family during a time when the needs in people’s lives are both significant and overwhelming. Together, we truly continue to do “God’s Work with Our Hands.”

Here are this week’s “Read Through the Bible” readings:

Sunday: Philippians 3-4 – Monday: Leviticus 10-12 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 1-5 – Wednesday: Psalms 78-80 – Thursday: Proverbs 8-9 – Friday: Ezekiel 19-24 – Saturday: Luke 17-18