Johnny Grapevine

vineyard worker

My wife sometimes calls me: “Johnny Grapevine.”

I remember the days when my Dad and I would walk through the woods staring up into the treetops. My Dad would point-out the different kinds of trees.  We would speak about the wide variety of trees that can be found in Pennsylvania; and we’d, sometimes, even do a leaf-rubbing. But, every once in a while, my Dad would point-out a wild grapevine that had climbed up a tree and that had begun to choke the life out of everything around it. And, with no delay, he’d pull-out his great, big bow saw and start cutting the grapevine off at the ground, And after he was finished, we’d just walk away – leaving the grapevine to wither in the treetops. I still do that. Hence, my wife calls me: “Johnny Grapevine.”

Jesus once described Himself as a grapevine, and He described God as the owner of the vineyard who walks through the world examining grape branches. When God sees a branch that’s bearing fruit, God trims it back a bit; so that, more of the vine’s juices can flow into the growing fruit. And, when God discovers branches that aren’t bearing any fruit, God saws and hacks and trims until those branches are removed. And, when the branches are removed from the Vine, they simply shrivel and die – just like the branches did when my Dad and I cut them off at the roots in the woods of Pennsylvania.

The Sacred Story is one that reminds us that our connection to the Vine is crucial.

Life-giving juices flow through us when we’re connected to the Vine (Jesus); and, when that happens, we’re able to bear fruit that we could never bear without God’s help. God’s Spirit continues to lead us and guide us and empower us when we’re connected to the Vine; and we, sometimes, discover a great source of strength that we never knew we had – when we need it most. The Vine (Jesus) gives its life-giving juices to many branches at the same time (reminding us that God never asks us to bear all of the fruit of the Vine by ourselves) and that’s important for us to remember, as the Church, as we continue to join hands with each other in ministry in an Age where it isn’t always easy to find help and the volunteers we need. When we’re connected to the Vine, God calls us to live-into our God-given strengths and abilities; and, sometimes, that means we need to set some things aside – always remembering that the “new wine” God is bringing into the world is always going to be made from the fruit that’s been harvested from many different branches that, ultimately, share one thing in common – their life-giving connection to the Vine.

So, let me ask you a question….

How’s your life going these days? I suspect that we all have times when we wonder if there’s enough of us to go around.  I’m sure we’ve all had times in life when we weren’t sure if we had anything left to give; and then, something big popped-up and demanded our immediate attention and action. How do you find the strength and energy that you need to continue? Where do you find the strength to keep going when it seems that you have nothing left to give?

In this week’s message, “Johnny Grapevine”, we explore the importance of faith. We talk about the importance of reading our Bibles each day and of setting aside time to pray. We talk about living together as God’s people and about drawing upon the life-giving juices of the Vine in a world where God’s told us that it’s “not good” for us to be alone.

God has blessed you with the gift of life. God has blessed you with skills and talents that you can use to help your family and friends, your church, your community and even the world to become a better place for us all.  And that’s why it’s important for us to remain connected to the Vine (which is Jesus Himself).  We don’t always have “inner strength” to do what God’s calling us to do. We all face times in life when it seems that there’s just not enough of us to go around. We need connection. We need Christ’s life-giving juices. We need God’s Spirit living and moving and breathing in our lives.

God gives us strength. God fills us with life-giving energy. And God continues to help us to do thing that we simply can’t do by ourselves – as God enlivens us with the Holy Spirit and sends us into the world empowered to do God’s work.

 

God’s Vision and Mission for the Church

vision pic

Many pastors and congregations struggle to define their vision and mission.

We sense that our ministries need to be about more than ourselves, and our own hopes and dreams. We know that congregations are not little social clubs where members “pay their dues” and then have a right to extract their benefits. But, who in the congregation is qualified to decide what’s best? The pastor? A Church Council? The Mission and Strategic Planning Task Force? Maybe, it should all be left-up to a bishop? The Church of the Risen Christ existed for thousands of years before any of us were born, and it will continue to exist long after all of us are gone. We need to remember that.

What if we began to consider the fact that specific congregations aren’t supposed to have their own vision and mission? What would happen if we began to consider the fact that God’s Vision and Mission has a Church? Hmm….

We set aside one Sunday each year and we call it: “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Sheep are rather awkward creatures who are stubborn and unpredictable. Sheep are demanding and independent. Jesus once said that people are like sheep. We tend to drift apart, and probably know little about what’s happening in each other’s lives. We’ve learned to just divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups. We use our Smartphones (that can very easily access the collective wisdom of humanity) to argue and debate with people that we’ve never even met. And, as we’ve done that, we’ve lost a sense of compassion and love for each other. We’ve lost part of the very essence of human community.

In this week’s message, “God’s Vision and Mission for the Church”, we remember that Jesus – the Good Shepherd – has come into the world to draw us together, and to shape and form us into “communities of compassion” – “churches.” Jesus comes into the world to draw people together; and to create places where people can care about each other, support each other, and love. Jesus comes into the world to create places where sheep come together, and learn the importance of holding each other in their hearts and in their prayers. The Sacred Story reminds us that Jesus comes into the world to create something that we need more than anything else in the world – a place where we can come to be welcomed and embraced, to be heard and to be cared-for, to worship and to pray, and to be equipped and empowered for life and ministry in a quickly changing world.

What if we began to consider the fact that specific congregations aren’t supposed to have their own vision and mission? What would happen if we began to consider the fact that God’s Vision and Mission has a Church…?

Perhaps, we need to remember that a “flock of sheep” wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a shepherd who was constantly working behind the scenes to hold it together? Perhaps, we need to consider the fact that ministry isn’t about trying to build something that’s going to last upon our own shifting ideas and dreams? The Good Shepherd calls us to live-into God’s great dreams for our lives and our futures. The Good Shepherd calls us to notice the sharp distinctions between what’s happening in our world and what God has planned for Creation – and then, to do something about it. God’s great vision and mission in one that continues to call people together and to create “communities of compassion” – in a world where people are becoming more and more isolated in an electronic world of shallow connections, more and more unfulfilled in a world of constant running and hectic schedules, more and more alone in a world where people tend to just move-on in life with or without us, and more and more detached from the God who comes into the world to be a part of our lives.

The Sacred Story tells us the story of a God who’s come into the world to show us that we deserve to be loved and to be embraced – to be heard and to be cared-for. The Sacred Story continues to remind us that God’s using us, in one way or another, to fulfill God’s great plans and dreams for Creation. And that’s why, on the bottom line, we need to see that it’s not our job to create and develop our own vision and mission for our churches. Our deepest calling is to immerse ourselves in Scripture (the Sacred Story); to pray; and to ask the Good Shepherd to open our eyes, guide us in the right direction, and help us to better understand how we can live-into God’s vision and mission for our “life together” as the Church.

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.

 

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.

 

Does God Speak to You?

God Speaks

The Bible is filled with stories about God speaking to people.

God spoke to Moses from a burning bush; and God told Joseph that the people of Egypt needed to save food, so that they would survive a seven-year famine. God spoke to the prophets, and revealed Himself to Abraham. And, in 1 Samuel 3:1-20, God speaks to a little boy who was sleeping beside the Ark of the Covenant.

The Bible tells us that Eli (the Temple priest) was quite blind by the time God decided to speak to Samuel, and that he was neatly tucked beneath the smelly blanket that he had used for many years. When Samuel first ran to the Temple priest, Eli was as confused by the whole thing as Samuel was – because the word of the Lord was rare in those days and even the prophets weren’t having the types of visions that they used to have.

But the “pregnant question” remains.

Does God speak to people during times when the word of the Lord seems to be rare, and when the prophets aren’t having the visions that they used to have? Can you imagine a God who knows you by name, who can choose to call-out to you and whisper words into your ears, who continues to lead and guide you through life, and who can even send you into the world with words to share with other people?

In this week’s message, “Does God Speak to You?”, we’re asked to reflect and to consider how God speaks us today.

What do you think happens when you gather with other people to hear God’s Word and to share in the “Feast of Heaven”? What do you think happens when the Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes and stirs people as they listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we still believe that it’s God’s voice that continues to call us to take-up the Cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads us? Do we believe that God still has the power to speak to us, and send us out into the world to strive for justice and peace – telling us that if we invest all of our time and energy in trying to save our own lives and our churches, we’re going to lose it all – and telling us that if we take up the Cross, invest ourselves in other people, and bring the Good News of God’s love to the world, we’re going to find a new type of life that will continue to flourish and endure even in an Age when churches are closing their doors for the last time every week?

Does God speak to you? Do you really believe that God continues to know you by name and calls-out to you in the midst of darkness? Do you really believe that we have a God who continues to speak to us as we read God’s Word, as we gather in worship, and as we spend time in daily devotion and prayer?

The Holy Spirit continues to live and move and stir God’s people. The Spirit of God is still calling-out to people and inviting them into the ongoing mission of Christ’s Church.

When God calls-out to us, will we have the courage (as Samuel did) to respond by saying, “Here I am, Lord”? Will we have the faith and courage to respond to God’s calling in our own lives and to boldly say, “Speak to me, for Your servant is listening!”?

 

Why is Stewardship a Dirty Word?

stewardship pic

Many pastors and church leaders approach the Fall with fear and trepidation because we find ourselves, once again, struggling to find a way to talk about stewardship.

These are tough days in the life of many congregations throughout the Church. We don’t always have enough people to row the boat and major shifts in patterns of giving have left many churches with shrinking financial resources. The bills keep arriving in the mail and many church treasurers face the weekly challenge of deciding which bills need to be paid this week and which bills can wait until next week. And so, many churches gather a few brave souls each Fall and try to find new ways to ask faithful people for their money and their time. Unfortunately, the issue of stewardship is often approached through the lens of the church’s needs and with a poverty mentality, and pastors and church leaders can feel like they’re being asked, once again, to crawl down the center aisle of the church on their knees and beg for the money and help that’s needed. Someone once told me that the church is the only institution in the world that asks for money by telling people that it doesn’t have enough money.

There has to be a better way!

What would happen if pastors and church leaders built stewardship campaigns around storytelling and helping people to understand how a congregation is doing God’s work in the world? What would happen if pastors and church leaders would built a stewardship campaign with a spirit of thanksgiving in their hearts, and use the stewardship campaign to lift-up hopes and dreams for the future? What would happen if pastors and church leaders challenged people to look at themselves as “Mission Partners” instead of seeing themselves as “Members with Benefits”? What would happen if pastors and other church leaders built the stewardship campaign around the idea that people who attend worship are precious in God’s sight – they’re God’s kids – and stopped looking at people who attend worship as a pool of potential volunteers and financial supporters who are going to be asked to help in yet another way?

This year, we built our stewardship campaign upon those principles. I’m not suggesting that we’ve discovered a “magic pill” or that we’ve created something new. Maybe you’ve been doing what I’m suggesting for many years and have been wondering when people like me were going to catch-up. I’d just like to share a few things that we tried and hope that you’ll feel free to share what’s been working for you, too.

We decided to call our worship service “A Celebration of our Ministry and Life Together” and to build our service around four themes that stand at the heart of our congregation’s ministry: We Welcome and Embrace, We Listen and Care, We Worship and Pray, and We Equip and Empower. I’m glad to report that the service was very well received by those who attended and that the responses that we received were very positive. I’ve included this link if you’d like to see what we did.

And then, as we worshiped together, we took some time to tell the story of what we’ve been doing and to ask people for their help in some very specific ways. We shared four story-based messages that told the story of what God’s been doing with us. We named the groups of messages “Christ’s Church for All People” because that’s our vision for the future. We want to grow and to be even more transformed into “Christ’s Church for All People.” You can find an outline of the message that was shared with the congregation here and learn more about our ministry at the same time. We helped the congregation to move around our mission graphic which can be found on the front of the bulletin.

Many pastors and church leaders approach the Fall with fear and trepidation because we find ourselves, once again, struggling to find a way to talk about stewardship. But, with a little bit of storytelling, a strong recognition of the goodness of God’s people, and with a short list of a few specific ways that people can help, pastors and church leaders can find new and exciting ways to address stewardship in changing times.

 

 

Christ’s Church for All People

diversity

Mary was most certainly a committed Christian. She cooked and delivered meals for Meals-on-Wheels, set-up the altar for worship services, regularly attended our Bible studies at the church, and served on several church committees. Mary was a great lady! But, even after many years of friendship, Mary and I couldn’t agree on one single thing.

I allowed my dogs to live in the house, but Mary thought that they should live outside.

And that simple difference of opinion can help us to better understand the Gospel that’s set before us this week; because, in Jesus’ time, Jews didn’t allow dogs to come into their homes, while Gentiles welcomed dogs with opened arms and treated them as valued and cherished members of the family. And it worked in the same way with people.

“Those kind of people” (openly called “dogs”) were kept away from “our kind of people.”

People who don’t go to worship are often looked down upon by people who do attend worship – and many pastors won’t baptize the children of the “un-churched.” Many of our churches define people by “who belongs to our church” and “who doesn’t belong to our church” – and ministries are often built around “our” needs and desires. People who struggle with mental illnesses and depression, teenagers who are being victimized by bullies, and people who struggle with addictions can often find the doors of the church closed when they get there. People – even in the Church – can separate themselves into smaller and smaller groups by agreeing that the sins that “those kind of people” commit are worse than the sins that “our kind of people” commit – and, when that happens, the “dogs” are driven away and need to learn how to find what they need in their life – or in their journey of faith – somewhere else.

This week’s message, “Christ’s Church for All People”, is a message that points to the fact that the House of the Lord is a house of prayer for ALL people. God opens the doors of the church to both “those kinds of people” and “our kind of people.” God opens the doors of the church to people who are struggling with mental illnesses, the after-effects of bullying, addictions, and even sin. In this week’s message, “Christ’s Church for All People”, we are challenged to see that we are “Christ’s Church for All People” – a House of prayer and worship where ALL PEOPLE can discover the warmth of welcome and embrace, where ALL PEOPLE can be heard and cared-for, where ALL PEOPLE can be nourished and spiritually fed, and where ALL PEOPLE can be equipped and empowered for both life and ministry in today’s world.

God’s Whispering in Your Ear!

praying pic

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!

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!