Be Real!

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I sometimes wish that I had the words to make things better.

I don’t always know what to say to parents who have just lost a child, or to a friend who just learned that he/she has cancer. I remember standing in a long line in a gymnasium, several years ago, wondering what I was going to say when it was my turn to speak with a mother whose son had been killed in Afghanistan. I’ve heard Christians try to comfort others with the words: “God will never give you more than you can bear.” Many people who came to offer their support after my mother died talked about how “good” my Mom looked as she was lying in her casket.

I sometimes wish that I had the words to make things better; but, when it all boils down, I know that I can’t fix everything by sprinkling some “magic fairy dust” from my lips.

In this week’s message, “Be Real!”, we meet a false prophet named Hananiah who spoke to God’s people during an incredibly difficult time. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had invaded the land of Judah and had scorched the earth with fire. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed homes, uprooted families, and carried people away as slaves. And, when the false prophet Hananiah speaks, I can almost hear him say: “Don’t worry! Just relax! God’s going to make things better before you know it! It’s always darkest before the dawn!”

I sometimes wish that I had the words to make things better – and I’m sure that you feel the same way. It’s not easy to sit down and spend time with people who are grieving, or to talk with teenagers who are being bullied. It’s not easy to talk with parents whose kids are being consumed by opioids, with people who don’t have a place to call a home, with people who are struggling with a mental illness, or with people who are being abused in their own homes.

When God calls people to prayer and to the embracing of Christ’s Great Commission, God sends people into dark, scary places. And it’s not easy to remain “real” and “authentic” on the front lines of ministry because it’s not comfortable and because we don’t always have the words that we need to make things better.

And yet, as we learn to move past unhelpful platitudes and shallow statements that we have created to make ourselves feel better, we become open to “real connections” and “real relationships.” Christ journeys with us. God opens doors. The Holy Spirit even puts words into our mouths!

It’s not easy to be real and authentic. It’s not easy to admit that we don’t have words that can make difficult situations better. But, as we struggle to be both real and authentic, we find ourselves speaking God’s word in powerful ways. “Be Real!” Be a man or woman of faith who’s not afraid to simply “be present” during difficult times; because, when you do that, God will use you in incredible ways to pierce darkness with His own brilliant light!

Blessings!

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!

Mental Health Awareness Month

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Organizations throughout the world will be focusing on the issue of mental health during the month of May. Mental wellness, according to the World Health Organization, is: “a state of well-being where one can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work both productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.”

Did you know that you are more likely to encounter a person in an emotional or mental crisis than you are to encounter someone having a heart attack? Did you know nearly 3 million people are treated for anxiety-related disorders every year – and that outpatient treatments for depression cost people nearly $18 billion each year? Did you know that many mental illnesses (like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) first strike young adults in their early 20’s? Did you know mental illness dramatically increase risk factors such as substance abuse, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, excessive spending, and even troublesome exercise routines? Did you know that people who are suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime that they are to commit one?

Unfortunately, people who suffer from mental illnesses are still stigmatized and pushed to the fringes of society because people remain both uninformed and afraid. We accept the fact that people’s arteries can become blocked, and that people’s pancreas can stop producing insulin. We stand beside folks who are fighting cancer, and we participate in support activities that are created to fight diseases. But what happens when someone’s brain chemistry changes? What happens when a person’s behavior is affected by a change that occurs inside their head? People who act in unusual ways can be scary to us. People who struggle with mental illness are often driven into silence, and often fight their battle alone because other people just do not want to get involved. I believe that God calls us, as Christians and as the Church, to something better than that. And I truly believe that the compassionate Lord challenges us to learn, to grow, and to love people that we find hard to understand and to fully embrace.

During Mental Health Awareness month, I’d like to challenge you to do several things:

  1. Learn – remembering that knowledge and insight are important first steps. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides information for people who are interested in learning about mental health, and provides helpful information for those who struggle with mental illness and their families. You can find more information by visiting: namiswpa.org
  2. Be Real – remembering that help is available to those who need it. You can take a first, big step by contacting your family doctor. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and to talk – and to help you to find a path forward. If you are a bit reluctant to take a “big step” like that, you might want to take a “Mental Health Screening” in the privacy of your own home during the month of May. You can find a great “Mental Health Screening” at: mentalhealthamerica.net. The “Resources” link on Mental Health America’s website can help you to screen for depression, alcohol or substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. That same site provides a screening that young people (between the ages of 11 and 17) can use if they’re concerned that they might be having a problem, and another screening that parents can use if they think that their teenager is facing a challenge.
  3. Be Ready – remembering that times of crisis are NOT the time to start looking for more information and resources. If you’re feeling suicidal (or if someone tells you that he/she is thinking about ending his/her own life) call 911 so that you can get the help that you need without a moment’s hesitation! “NOW Mental Health” also provides a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-855-990-6729. “NOW Mental Health” network also provides instant access to professionally trained staff and referral to facilities that are spread across our country.
  4. Be Open – remembering that people at Christ’s Lutheran Church want to stand beside you and your family. We have a “Family Fund” that can help pay for your visit to a counselor, or that can help you to purchase prescribed medications that you need for self-care. Please, also, remember that I’ve worked as a chaplain at several hospitals and that I have had some experience working with people who are struggling with the challenges of mental illness. Any conversations that you have with me and any sort of assistance that you receive from the church will be offered in the strictest of confidence. What really matters most is YOU…!

I hope that, as we move through this month, we’ll all find ways to learn more about the challenges that people face when they struggle with mental illnesses. It’s time for us to learn to talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable, and it’s time for us to learn new ways to support people who are facing tough times. Our compassionate Lord calls us to love and to embrace each other – and part of learning to do that, as individuals and as a church, is learning to open our hearts and allow people to speak, both honestly and authentically, about the challenges that they’re facing in life – continuing to discover and growing-into what it means to be “Christ’s Church for All People.”

Blessings!

God Wants You Alone!

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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!

 

 

Freedom in Christ

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I’m a person who was raised in the Church.

I have a little pin that proves that I had ten years of “Perfect Attendance” in Sunday School as a child. I still remember standing beside my father during worship services and learning to follow the service by watching his finger move across pages in the hymnal. And, yes…! I was raised in the Church because I was taught to believe that good people to go worship on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights) because “that’s just how it is.”

Christians can be drawn to noble causes when they spend time in worship. Christians can be inspired to live their lives in the “proper way” – and learn that a journey with Christ is one that’s filled with rules, expectations, and words like “should.” In fact, when we live our lives with just the “little bit of religion” that we gain during hour-long times of weekly worship on Sunday mornings (or on Saturday night), we actually become quite dangerous!

But then, we begin to hear Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when people slap our face. We begin to hear Jesus tells us to give-away money that we’ve earned in an effort of help other people. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and to be “as perfect as God.” And, we are pretty quickly left wondering when “good enough” is actually going to be “good enough.”

There’s a different way to live-out your life with Christ; and that’s what this weeks short message – “Freedom in Christ” – is all about. It’s a message that challenges us to come out of the “spiritual castle” that we’ve built for ourselves – a place where we can feel good about ourselves while firing cannonballs at other people. It’s about discovering that the Church is a place where I don’t need to try to be as perfect as you are pretending to be – and where you don’t need to try to become as perfect as I’m pretending to be. And, when we grasp that truth, Christ sets us free! The Church becomes a life-filled place where I can come to be forgiven, to be nourished, to be embraced and to be led by God. And the Church becomes a life-filled place where I can invite other people that I know to share that very, same kind of “holy” experience with me.

“Freedom in Christ” may be a message that helps you to understand the Church in a very different way; and it might even be a message that encourages you to lower the drawbridge of your own “spiritual castle,” so that you can walk more intentionally – and authentically – into a world filled with people that God’s called you to love.

Blessings!

Your Greatest Gift

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We’ve just traveled through the “Season of Giving” once again.

We listen to people a little bit more carefully as Christmas approaches, and we try to be more “in tune” with people’s wishes and desires, don’t we? We spend money during the holidays because we all enjoy the look on people’s faces when we give them gifts. And, of course, we always try to identify and to purchase things that other people want or desire.

Right after John’s disciples began to follow the “Lamb of God,” Jesus asks them a very important question: “What are you seeking?” And this is a question that Jesus commonly asked people. “What are you seeking?” “What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus can see that people are searching for something that they can’t always clearly identify until they’re asked to be specific. What are you seeking from God? What do you want God to do for you, right now?

In this week’s message, “Your Greatest Gift”, we listen to a familiar story in a different way. We’ve all been taught to be “good consumers.” We’ve all learned to be satisfied by things in life – and even in our spiritual lives – that can offer instant gratification. Some people even drift from church to church to church looking for their next meal (what they think will satisfy them, at least until they find something a bit better). Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we can find ourselves so focused upon satisfying our momentary thirst that we never allow God to draw us into the depths of “living water.” (John 4:10)

“Your Greatest Gift” is your life and your witness to Jesus Christ. The greatest gift that you can offer another person is a warm and embracing invitation that can open doors, and that can point people toward a God who walks with us through all of the ups and downs of life, and who has even promised to lift us up when we die. And that’s big!

Blessings!