Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Lord’s Supper

Word Sacrament

Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart.

I was taught that faith is primarily a source of comfort, stability and peace in life when I was a little boy. I was taught that people should come to worship because the church is a place where people have their “gas tanks” filled, and where people come to be energized and to be inspired by the pastor. But, after living almost thirty years as a pastor, I can say that I’ve learned that living my life as a follower of Jesus is about much, much more.

It’s not easy to spend time with people who are dying, or to speak words of hope and new life while standing beside a hole in the ground. It’s not easy to listen to a pain-filled story; and, then, take a woman who’s being abused at home to a place where someone from the Blackburn Center will pick her up and take her to a safe place. It’s not easy to continually search for new ways to help parents raise faith-filled children when many of those same parents won’t even bring their kids to worship. It’s not easy to publicly speak-out against racism and bigotry, to openly speak about caring for the poor and homeless, and to just as openly address hot political issues when people just stop coming to worship and stop supporting important ministries when they disagree with what’s being said in the pulpit.

Right after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and right after He spent time alone in the Wilderness, Jesus began to preach and heal people and gather disciples. We read that Jesus once fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. And Peter was watching everything! The Bible tells us that Peter even got to the point where He believed that Jesus is the Messiah.

But, right after Peter told everyone around him that he believed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to speak about suffering, and being rejected, and being killed, and being lift-up to new life. And when Peter had heard enough, he shouted, “No, no, no, no, no! That’s not how things are going to be!” And Jesus called him “Satan” – and told him to get out of the way! And then, Jesus spoke haunting words: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will save it.”

And that brings us to the second of the Faith Practices that we’re going to lift-up during our Lenten Journey (to learn more about the first Faith Practice, click here).

The Bible tells us that God’s Word is the “sword of the Spirit” that cuts us to the heart – bringing words of comfort and peace, but also bringing powerful words that convict us and challenge us to do what God wants us to do. The “sword of the Spirit” is something that God uses to bring peace and to stir-up faith within us, but the “sword of the Spirit” is also a powerful word that continues to challenge us to “take-up our Cross”; and to allow “old ways” to die, so that “new ways” can be born.

In “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Supper”, we are reminded that our faith can be a source of strength and stability, but it can also be something that drives us to do things that are uncomfortable. When we stop biting our tongues and begin to speak-out about the things that we believe, we can experience rejection and unexpected consequences. When we stop biting our tongues and stop hiding what we believe, we can gain an even deeper sense of what God’s calling us to do – but, when we take that chance, we need to realize that we might become unpopular and even be rejected. That’s why the second of our Faith Practices is so important!

God’s Word comforts and challenges us, and the Lord’s Supper brings us the gift of God’s presence and forgiveness. The “sword of the Spirit” continues to guide and direct us, and the Lord’s Supper continues to strengthen and empower us.

Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish need to be grounded in God’s Word and to be strengthened by the Lord’s Supper. Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish must continue to seek God’s guidance in the teachings of the Bible and in prayer, and they must also continue to seek the strengthening presence of God at the Table where Christ has promised to be. Churches and ministries can’t be built on things that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called “wish dreams” (human-created ideas and dreams). In this week’s message, we are called to remember that churches and ministries are built and endure when God’s people spend time reading God’s Word and in prayer, and when God’s people continue to gather around the altar to be fed and nourished.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Christ will save it.” May God continue to guide us as we make sense of what these words mean to us in changing times, and may God continue to comfort and challenge us to “live well” with each other as we gather around God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper.


As We Enter Lent

Ash Weds

Many Christians entered the Season of Lent yesterday.

Lent is a time of reflection when we think about the connection between our daily lives and our journey of faith. Lent is a time of the year when we remember that, sometimes, we are a part of what’s wrong with the world – and that, sometimes, the best thing that we can do to change the world is change ourselves. We don’t always love God with our whole heart and mind and strength, and we don’t always love other people the way that God does. Our lives are often tainted by pride and impatience, anger and envy, prejudice and contempt for others, and by a lack of concern for people who aren’t “like us.” And Lent is a time when God calls us to abandon those ways of living and to come home.

“As We Enter Lent” is a message that’s created to encourage people to stop for a moment and reflect upon their lives as they enter Lent.

Jesus once attacked folks who lived their lives trying to convince the world that they are somehow better than other people. There’s a difference between being “religious” in a way that causes you to be noticed by other people and being a “person of faith” who is struggling to make sense of what it means to follow Christ. There’s a difference between being “religious” in a way that makes you think that you are somehow better than other people and being a “person of faith” who struggles to find a way to bring God’s love into the world.

We are created to live in a relationship with God, and we’ve also been created to live well with other people. God created us to live well with each other – encouraging each other, spurring each other on, building each other up, and equipping and empowering each other for life and ministry in our quickly-changing world.

Living together as God’s faithful people challenges us to explore what it means to live in a world where other people don’t always think the same way that we do, or look like us. Hearing God’s Word and sharing the Lord’s Supper provides strength for our journey. Authentic and honest listening and prayer can help us to more clearly see the difference between “where people are right now” and “where God wants to take them in the future” – which can help us to serve others more effectively and proclaim the message of Jesus in more relevant ways. Striving for justice and peace in all the world isn’t easy because it’s never going to be easy to speak God’s truth to people who are in positions of power; but, as we gather as God’s people and live well with each other, we can discover new ways to discuss difficult issues, and to equip and empower each other for life and ministry.

Faith is about far more than an invisible relationship between me and Jesus. It’s about discovering Christ’s continuing love in a fallen Creation and it’s about learning what it means to live well with other people.

Welcome to Lent. May God richly bless you in this reflective time of the year and bring you out of the holy Season – Strengthened, Renewed and Sent.


Pointing Others Toward Jesus

Transfig pic

Do you find it difficult to share your faith with other people?

We’ve been raised in a culture where we’ve been told that we should avoid talking about religion and politics. Many of us have been encouraged to believe that faith is a personal thing, and that our relationship with Christ is about “Jesus and me.” We find it difficult to pray in front of other people. We, sometimes, find it hard to talk about our faith with our spouse and our children. But what would happen if we began to focus upon the fact that a close, intimate and living relationship with Jesus is a precious gift?

Peter and James and John went up a mountain one day; and, when they got to the top of the mountain huffing and puffing and trying to catch their breath, something happened. The lights came on. Jesus began to glow. Moses and Elijah appeared out of nowhere. And, even though that experience must have been incredible, Peter and James and John didn’t realize how important that experience would be.

In a few short weeks, Jesus would be riding through the streets of Jerusalem as people shouted, “Hosanna!” A few days after that, Jesus would be arrested. And Jesus would be dragged away. Jesus would be put on trial.  Jesus would be nailed to a cross and die. And Peter and James and John would be so stunned that they’d lock themselves in a room to keep the rest of the world out.

In this week’s message, “Pointing Others Toward Jesus”, we explore one of the hardest truths we’ll ever face. We love our children and our grandchildren. We all have friends that we’d walk across a bed of hot coals to help. But, no matter how much we love our children and grandchildren, and no matter how much we care about our friends, there are going to be times when we’re not going to be able to be where we want to be.

Our children and grandchildren grow-up and move away. Friends can unexpectedly lose their jobs, or lose their homes in a fire, or lose their kids in a custody battle. Our parents and other people that we know can travel through times of lonely depression and can be given horrible news during an appointment with their doctor. I’ve journeyed with a lot of good people who have lost their spouse – or even their child – many years after their Mom and Dad were gone.

And, in those critical moments in life, I’ve seen people find great strength and courage by remembering their encounters with Jesus. People who travel through difficult times in life can find the courage and strength they need to meet the days ahead by going back in time – to moments when something lit the “candle of faith” in the center of their lives.

You have a story to share. The story of your life and your faith can help others to see that Jesus is alive and at work in their lives, too. The story you share can point others toward Jesus, and can be a source of great strength and stability in times when you’re not able to be where you want to be.

Tell your story. Plant seeds in the lives of others. Realize that you have a beautiful song that nobody else is able to sing.

Sharing your faith doesn’t have to be scary. Sharing your faith can be as simple as taking a few moments to tell someone how God was with you during a particular moment in your life. The gift of an intimate relationship with Jesus is a precious thing, and you can offer that precious gift to someone that you know and love today.


Your Power to Heal


Did you know that God has given you the power to bring healing into the lives of others?

We all experience times of joy and sorrow, triumph and loss. We all experience times of great strength and vitality, and times when we’re not sure that we have “enough” to last another day. And, as we move through life, we write a story.

A man who has just lost his wife after a long battle with cancer can speak to other men, who are going through the same thing, in ways that nobody else really can. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are successfully built upon the premise that people who have walked on a particular path in life can help others on the same path in ways that other people can’t. As we continue to live our lives and discover the bridges that exist between our daily lives and our “lives of faith,” we discover what it means to be human and find the key to connecting with others in life-giving ways.

“Your Power to Heal” is a message that’s based upon the story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and upon insights that we can glean from the writings of Henri Nouwen.

Simon’s mother-in-law was struck down by a debilitating fever; and, in the midst of her struggle, she learned what it feels like to be lift-up by the hand of Jesus. She became what Henri Nouwen would call a “wounded healer” when Jesus lifted her up and, immediately, she rose from her bed and began to serve other people.

How can the story of your life help others to experience Christ’s presence in their own times of joy and struggles? How can the story of your life help other people to see Jesus in the midst of the story that they’re writing, too?

The story of your life – your journey through times of joy and sorrow, triumph and loss – is something that God can use to stir-up the gift of faith in other people. The story of your life and the story of your faith-journey has the power to bring healing to others – and, as you share that story, others can be lifted-up by the same Christ who has lifted you.