Seeing Who You Really Are

reflection

John 6:35, 41-51

When was the last time you looked at your own reflection in a pool of water?

You and I are signs that can open the windows of Heaven and point other people toward Jesus. We can point people toward Jesus by treating them with love and respect, and we can point people toward the “Bread of Life” by participating in the ministry of a Christian congregation. But, we don’t always see ourselves as “signs” that can point people to Jesus, do we? That’s something that I struggle with, too.

Jesus once had an interesting confrontation with people in Capernaum. He had just fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. He had just finished telling the people that they hadn’t come to see Him because of the “signs” that He had done. In fact, according to Jesus, the people had only come to see Him because they had just had their bellies filled with the bread and fish. And right after Jesus had told the people this truth, He told them that He’s the “Bread of Life” – the one, lasting thing that satisfies the deepest needs in our daily lives.

And people shouted, “Who does this guy think that he is?” “Didn’t we know this guy when he was just a little kid, and don’t we know this man’s father and mother..?” “How can this son of Joseph, an ordinary guy, do the “works of God” and be what we need the most?”

This is the all-too-real dilemma that we face in: “Seeing Who You Really Are”.

What makes me, the son of Robert and Lois, worthy to stand in a pulpit and to preach a sermon? What makes YOU, the son or daughter of your own ordinary parents, qualified to teach a Sunday School class, or serve on a Church Council, or express your opinions during a meeting at the church you attend? What is it that makes YOU, a son or daughter of your own ordinary parents, qualified to do God’s work?
Jesus has something to say about that.

Jesus says you’re qualified to do God’s work because, when you do God’s work, it’s God who is working within you. In John 6:35, 41-51, Jesus reminds us that we’re qualified to join hands with others in Christian ministry – not because of our lineage or background; but rather, because God touched us in the waters of Baptism and because God continues to reminds us of “who we are” every time we gaze into a pool of quiet water and reflect upon the day of our Baptism.

This week’s message, “Seeing Who You Really Are”, ends by drawing you into an ancient Indian myth that tells the story of mighty Symba, King Kimbalu and their little cub. It’s a message that challenges you to gaze into the still waters of Holy Baptism until you begin to more clearly see who you are, and until you begin to feel a great, primal ROOOOAAAR erupt within you. This is a life-changing message that you need to both hear and to share with others! It’s a message that might help you to discover the identity of the person that God has created you to be, and that might help you to more clearly see what God wants you to do as you live your daily life in a world where you have the chance to point other people to Jesus.

Living in the Legacy of Jesus

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Have you ever thought about the purpose and the meaning of your life?

The Bible presents the story of a God who’s at work to topple the forces of evil. The Sacred Story tells us that God created the world by bringing order to chaos, but it also tells us that everything fell apart in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the “Tree of the Awareness of Duality.” The Sacred Story reminds us that people have struggled since the beginning of time to “get right with God,” but it also tells us that the path to peace with God has been provided by Jesus. God is going to win! The Sacred Story tells us about a Great Day when God’s going to wipe every tear from our eyes, and when there will no longer be pain and sorrow and mourning. And the great “Hero” of the Sacred Story is Jesus. Jesus – the great “Hero” – rises-up to confront what’s wrong with the Creation and to conquer the forces of evil, so that good will ultimately win.

You and I, and all of the people who have been bound to Jesus – the “Hero” – in the waters of Holy Baptism are engaged in the Great Epic Battle. You and I, and all of the people who have been bound to Jesus in the waters of Baptism, are called and summoned to step-up to the plate, to directly engage the forces of evil and to overcome it in the name of God. And our participation in that Great Epic Battle – the ongoing war between good and evil – is ultimately what provides meaning in our lives and the purpose of our ministries.

“Living in the Legacy of Jesus” is a message that’s been created to stir you and to call the Church, as a whole, into action. We live in an Age where increasingly large numbers of people are struggling with an addiction to opioids, and when a growing sadness in many hearts is driving people to suicide. We live in an Age where poverty creates a situation where nearly half of the children in America go to school with an empty stomach – and lose an important meal every day during their summer vacation. We’re living in an Age where racism and bigotry have been revealed as the Achilles’ heel of American culture. We live in an Age where countless boundaries and barriers and walls are being created, and where people are being encouraged to experience life as “Us versus Them.”

As we fight the epic battle against duality – following Jesus, the “Hero” – we write a story that not only tells the story of our lives, but that also tells the world how we make sense of what it means to live in the legacy of Jesus. As we fight the epic battle against duality, the story we write is used by God to stir-up and create faith in others.

The story that we write helps people to understand what God’s doing in the world today. The story that we write is also one that invites others to join hands with us – so that, they can also be a part of what God’s doing.

You and I, and all of the people who have been bound to Jesus – the “Hero” – in the waters of Holy Baptism are called to engage the forces of evil, and to overcome them (with God’s help) in the name of everything that is good and right and holy and true.

“Living in the Legacy of Jesus” – by participating in the epic battle against duality is, ultimately, something that gives meaning to our lives, and provides a purpose and a “calling” to the ministry of the Church. And as we write the story of what God’s doing in our midst and in the midst of our churches, as we celebrate our victories and learn from our mistakes, and as we tell others about what God’s doing, ministry becomes magnetic – and people see that we have something both significant and life-giving to share with the world – as we invite them to be a part of what we’re doing with the help of God.

Following Jesus – The Basics

jesus-following

I suspect that, if you’re reading this post, you want to follow Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear. People don’t get into Heaven by following Jesus and by doing all sorts of good things. St. Paul clearly tells us that we are made right in the eyes of God through the gift of God’s love (Romans 3:24, Ephesians 2:16). And yet, God is still a God who calls us to “follow Jesus,” and Jesus is still a Lord who calls us to “take-up the Cross” and follow Him. But, what that means isn’t easy to understand. If you had a “discipleship coach” to help you figure-out God’s plan for your life, what do you think the coach would tell you? As a budding coach and as a Christian who’s served the Church as a pastor for nearly 30 years, let me set some ideas before you for consideration (and please be sure to follow the links in the text for more insights and information):

1. We “follow Jesus” as we live-well among God’s faithful people.

Many people try to figure-out what it means to “follow Jesus” in isolation – making their journey of faith into something private. Many Christians have decided that it’s not important to attend worship, or to pray with their children at bedtime. Many of the Christians in America don’t participate in the life of the Church because they feel like the Church is filled with hypocrites. And yet, Jesus continued to gather people together, to feed large crowds, to spend time in the synagogues, and to call people to love and forgive each other. “Living Together as God’s People” is an important part of following Jesus because God created us to live in community with each other. In the community of God’s people, we encourage each other and build each other up – we learn to forgive each other and spur each other on. Following Jesus always brings us together and creates community. Following Jesus calls us to come out of the types of isolation that many people create and experience in their lives these days.

2. We “follow Jesus” as we gather to hear God’s Word and share the Lord’s Supper

People who read the Bible regularly will quickly discover that God’s Word is far more than a book filled with words that consistently make us feel good. The Bible is filled with words of comfort that bring peace in difficult times. The Sacred Story is one that reminds us of God’s presence in difficult times, of God’s guiding hand in times when we don’t have the answers we need, of God’s power to deliver us from illness, and of God’s promise to lift us up even after we die. But God’s Word is also a word that calls us to “take-up the Cross” and that reminds us that “following Jesus” isn’t for the faint-of-heart. “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Lord’s Supper” is an important part of “following Jesus” because God’s Word (called the “Sword of the Spirit”) both comforts us and drives us out into uncomfortable places. The same Sacred Story that sustains us and gives us hope continues to challenge us and to convict us. And that’s why we also need the Lord’s Supper – where God forgives us, nourishes us and refreshes us. If we want to “follow Jesus,” we will continue to hear God’s call to ground our lives in the teachings of God’s Word and we’ll continue to gather around the altar where God forgives us and nourishes us with the Lord’s Supper.

3. We “follow Jesus” as we share the Good News of Jesus through our words and deeds.

Those who “follow Jesus” understand that we have a life-giving message of hope and peace to share with the world. God isn’t sitting up in Heaven unmoved as He watches what’s happening in our lives and in the world. God’s helping people, just like us, to transform our world and to re-create what is far from what God intends. Christians are joining hands to fight hunger and poverty throughout the world. Christians are fighting homelessness, diseases, racism, bigotry and violence. Christians understand that we are standing in a “great chasm” between what we see in the world today and what God intends for the Creation. But, quite honestly, Christians sometimes cling to things that stand in the way and keep them from fulfilling their mission. “Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ” is an important part of “following Jesus.” But, as we try our best to share that good news, we need to allow Christ to work in our lives and to clear things out of the way; so that, we can fulfill our mission more effectively. When we “follow Jesus,” we discover that there are thing in our lives and in our ministries that need to change before we can move forward. Part of following Jesus is allowing Jesus to change us as we learn to embrace and serve others in more effective ways.

4. We “follow Jesus” as we serve other people.

Almost every Christian can recite John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” The Sacred Story reminds us that faith is “incarnational.” Now, what in the world does that mean? Some religions teach that God lives up in Heaven, and that people need to climb up to Heaven to reach God. The ancient Jewish faith taught that God sat on the “Holy of Holies” – and so, people came to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform sacrifices and to pray. But Christianity speaks of a God who came into the world to be a part of our lives, and that’s a key insight that we need to grasp when we want to “Serve Others Following the Example of Jesus”. What would the Church’s ministry look like if we could move past the idea that our ministry’s primary goal is to get more people to come into our buildings during a particular time of the week? Perhaps, we can “follow Jesus” by creating places where people who don’t want to come into our buildings can pray with each other? Perhaps, we need to take the Sacred Story that we’ve been given into places like community libraries and public parks? Perhaps, the Sacred Story is one the calls us to become more active in our communities, and to help parents (who don’t regularly come into our buildings) to raise healthy children? When we “follow Jesus,” we are not sucked inward – we are pushed outward. Our ministry needs to be “incarnational.” “Following Jesus” calls us to reach into the world, and to touch people where they live and work and raise their children.

5. We “follow Jesus” as we strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Jesus didn’t die because He was quiet and meek. Jesus stirred people’s nests and spent time with the wrong kinds of people. Jesus touched lepers and called religious leaders of His time “white-washed tombs.” Those who “follow Jesus” understand that there’s no such thing as being a disciple of Jesus without bearing the Cross. There’s no such thing as being a follower of Jesus without “Striving for Justice and Peace in all the Earth”. Those who want to “follow Jesus” understand that what’s happening in our world is not what God originally planned. Those who “follow Jesus” will continue to hear Christ’s call to take-up the Cross, and to put some skin in the game, and to put their lives and their reputations on the line because those who “follow Jesus,” sooner or later, will be set on fire by the passion-generating power of the Holy Spirit that drives people into the world to change it. It’s not easy to speak truth to people who are in positions of power. It’s not easy to point to the fact that the “way things are” isn’t the way that they could be. If we want to “follow Jesus,” we need to be people who are willing to stir people’s nest and stand-up for what’s right. But, as we do that, we also need to realize that, when we “follow Jesus” in that way, people may want to make us disappear in the same way that they tried to make Jesus disappear!

So, there you have it. I hope that this short post can help you to better understand what it means to “follow Jesus” in our modern world. May God bless you richly as you continue to discover what God’s calling you to do with your time and energy, and may God use you in big and powerful ways to accomplish His deepest purposes for your life!

 

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.

 

Baptized and Ready to Go!

Baptism

Christians talk about Baptism in different ways.

Some Christians baptize little babies trusting in the fact that their parents will help them to remain connected to the Church and to grow into faith-filled adults. Other Christians wait until young people are old enough to make a public profession of their faith; and then, they baptize young believers who will, again, live-into their relationship with Christ as they journey through life. I’ve baptized infants who were born with serious medical conditions that threatened their lives. I, once, baptized an 86-year-old man who came to faith late in life. I’ve baptized a few people on their death-bed as their families watched in tears. Christians talk about Baptism in different ways and have different methods of baptizing; but the Bible continues to present Baptism in some very specific ways.

In this week’s message, “Baptized and Ready to Go!”, we’re reminded that Baptism is always centered around water, God’s Word and promises, the Holy Spirit, and Mission.

Baptism brings with it the promise of a relationship with God and the promise of eternal life. God’s Spirit descends and touches us when we’re baptized, and we’re promised that God will journey with us through the best and worst that life will bring. But, in Baptism, we are also driven into the world to confront evil and to stand face-to-face with the devil. We’re challenged, in Baptism, to call-out the forces of evil in our world; and to struggle and wrestle and fight for what’s right in a world that doesn’t always want to hear what God has to say. We’re called into “ministry” in the waters of Baptism – a ministry that challenges us to stop long enough to listen to other people, to be open to the voices of others and to pray with them about the circumstances that they’re facing in life, to read the Bible and to figure-out what God has to say about what’s happening in people’s lives, and to help people to move from “wherever they are right now” to “wherever God wants them to be.”

But, “Baptized and Ready to Go!” is also a message that reminds us that, as we grow and participate in life-giving ministry, we need to be sustained, encouraged, and empowered.

And that’s why it’s important for us to remained focused upon the “5 Faith Practices” that have stood at the center of faith-filled living for as long as the Church as existed. We are both called and challenged in the waters of Baptism to:

  • Continue to live among God’s faithful people;
  • Continue to gather in places where the Bible’s read and studied, and in the places where we can be nurtured and strengthened by the gift of Holy Communion;
  • Continue to share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ with our families and friends and even with strangers that we don’t even know;
  • Continue to serve other people in the very same way that Jesus did;
  • Continue to work hand-in-hand with those who call for justice, peace, compassion and love in a world where many people continue to crave what God promises.

“Baptized and Ready to Go!” is a message that reminds us that God continues to claim us as His own, and that God continues to work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that touched Jesus on the day of His baptism – is living and moving and breathing and leading and directing and inspiring us even now! May God continue to call us together in the waters of Baptism and to use us to do things that we’d never imagine in our wildest dreams!

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!