Jesus is Searching for You

Searching

Stories are an important part of our lives.

I suspect that many of us can remember the day when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, and that many of us can remember what we were doing on that day. My father used to tell me a story about the day when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I’ve been told many stories in my years as a pastor, and I truly believe that many of those stories capture the very essence of life.

Jesus told many stories, called parables, during His ministry.

And one day, Jesus told a story about a shepherd who left 99 sheep in the middle of the Wilderness in order to search for one of the sheep that had wandered off. He searched behind rocks and boulders. He shouted until the back of his throat was raw. He searched and searched and searched and searched. And he rejoiced when he found the lost sheep and was able to return it to the flock.

We all have times when we wander off and get lost in the Wilderness.

Some people get lost when they sink into the bottomless pit of addiction. Some of us struggle to forgive people who have hurt or disappointed us. Some of us get lost as we face the temptation to withdraw and isolate ourselves as we grieve. Teenagers who are being bullied can feel lost. People who struggle with homeless can feel lost. People who are trying to escape from the grip of Internet pornography (which is a plague that affects and ruins many people’s lives – even in the Church) can feel lost. And, when we’re lost, we can’t always find our own way back from the lonely Wilderness, can we?

Jesus is searching for you.

The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who have life all figured-out, come together to be entertained for an hour each week. The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who don’t want to admit that we’re all lost in some way, come together to have their ego stroked by an inspiring speaker. We’ve all had times when we’ve needed to be found by the Shepherd of our Souls. We’ve all had times when we’ve been lost and when we’ve needed to be brought back to the safety of the flock whether it be to the safety of our family, or to the safety of  the Church, or to the safety of a support group that can help and encourage us as we struggle with the uncertainties of life.

Jesus is searching for you.

No matter where you find yourself in life, right now, the arms of God are opened wide and God’s embrace is big. Take heart! The Shepherd of our Souls continues to search for you even when you feel lost and alone. Jesus is searching for you in whatever Wilderness surrounds you today. And that’s truly a message of Good News, isn’t it? It’s a message that can comfort and sustain us when we’re feeling cut-off from other people and when we’re feeling that even God is standing at a distance as we struggle to find our way through a Wilderness that can leave us feeling very lost and alone.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

Looking at Life Through Clean Windows

dirty window

James 3:13-4:3

Clara was a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.

She would rock back-and-forth in her rickety, old chair carefully observing things that were happening all around her. Clara’s grandchildren sometimes arrived at her home with spots of ketchup and mustard on their shirts. Clara always noticed when her grand-kids’ shoes weren’t tied, when Johnny had a hole in the knee of his pants, when the mug of hot coffee that her daughter brought to her didn’t have enough cream in it, and when there was dust on the piano. And that’s why Johnny wasn’t surprised when she got going.

“Hey, Johnny,” Clara said, “look at those sheets hanging on Esther’s clothes line! Aren’t those the dirtiest sheets you’ve ever seen?” “Just look at those filthy things! They just look like a bunch of dirty rags!”
And Johnny sat there as his grandma went on and on and on and on….

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sheets. And, after a few minutes of listening to his grandma’s newest complaint, Johnny got a little, quirky smile on his face and said, “Hey, Grandma, when was the last time you cleaned your windows?” “You’re seeing all of those dirty spots because you’re looking at Esther’s sheets through your own dirty windows.”
We’ve probably all had times when we looked at the world and at other people through our own set of dirty windows.

We’ve all been told to stay away from certain “kinds” of people and we do it. We’ve all had time when we’ve heard rumors about other people; and, suddenly, we discovered that we could never look at them in the same way. We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by others; and, when that happens, we decide that other people are “bad” and that they will never change. We usually believe that when people do things that are wrong they will always be people who do things that are wrong. And, that’s it. Period.

In this week’s message, “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, we take some time to explore the ways that we look at each other. St. James leaves us dangling between a “fractured” world filled with conflicts, disputes, greed and anger – and a world that is filled with Godly gentleness that’s born of wisdom. St. James tells us to “be doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22) and to live lives that point others toward the Christ that we love and serve. But, sometimes, the ways that we “see” other people can stop us from doing that. Sometimes, the spots on our own dirty windows keeps us from seeing the goodness in others and causes us to interpret things in unhelpful ways.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Church reformer once explained the 8th Commandment using these words: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything that they do in the best possible way.
How would our lives and our relationships change if we started to do that?

This week, try to find the good in other people. Try your hardest to interpret the things that other people do in the best possible way. Ask God to help you to clean your windows, so that you’re more able to see others in the ways that God does – knowing that when you are “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, you’re going to be happier – you’re going to have more friends and deeper relationships. You may even find that when you live your life seeing the goodness in others and accepting other people just as they are, other people will begin to see you and to treat you in the very same way.

Christian Emissions Standards

Freedom of Speech

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I began my career as a Chemical Engineer.

I helped to design pilot plants – smaller versions of chemical plants that would be built in the future. I worked beside a computer programmer every day, and our daily task was to write and utilize computer programs that simulated what would happen as chemicals traveled through a chemical plant – so that we could accurately predict what would come out of the plant based upon what we put into it. And that was always important to me.

I remember my parents taking my sisters and I down to the McDonalds in Baden, PA and watching orange dust from the steel mill across the river settle onto our car as we ate our cheeseburgers. I remember the brown hillside behind the lead smelter where I worked – totally devoid of vegetation because all of the plants and trees had been killed by the chemicals that had been spewed from our plant for decades. And that’s why I became “environmentally conscious” long before many other people even cared.
But now, people talk about the environment all the time, don’t they?

We are concerned about what comes out the tailpipes of our cars, and many people want us to stop mining and burning coal. We buy energy-efficient light bulbs, and we talk about the irreparable damage that could be done to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota if mining companies are permitted to take-over a pristine, untamed wilderness. We talk about animals (like the black rhinoceros) becoming extinct, and stories about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fill the news. And that’s good. I think that it’s good for us to watch what we are doing and to remember that God has placed us on the face of this earth to take care of it – not to just consume it.
Jesus was concerned about “emissions standards,” too!

There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile,” Jesus says, “but the things that come out of us are what make us unclean in the eyes of God.” (Mark 7:15)The things that we take into our bodies are not the things in life that make us unclean in the eyes of the Lord,” Jesus says. “What makes us unclean in God’s eyes are all of the things that come out of our hearts and, then, out of our mouths.
According to Jesus, Christians need “emissions standards.”

How many times do we all hear faithful Christians swearing and using vulgar language when they are speaking with each other? How many times have we used our own tongue to spread gossip, to talk about people behind their backs, and to speak to each other in unhelpful ways? How often do we find ourselves attacking people that we haven’t even met on social media? I suspect that we’ve all let words fly from our lips – or from the tips of our fingers – and suddenly wished that we could take them back. But it’s often too late for that, isn’t it?

In this week’s message, “Christian Emissions Standards”, we explore what it means to be good stewards of our language. St. James once wrote, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for, your anger does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19b-20) James further writes, “If any of you think that you are righteous and do not bridle your tongue, you just deceive your hearts and your religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)

How would our lives be changed if we more carefully chose our words, so that we spoke to others in encouraging and up-building ways more consistently? How would our lives – and our country – be changed if we became as concerned about what comes out of our mouths – and off the tips of our fingers – as we are about what comes out of smokestacks at chemical plants?

We can protect our environment by bridling our tongues and by being more careful about what we post on social media. We need to remember that we don’t have to enter every debate and every argument. Sometimes, it’s best for us to say absolutely nothing than to say what we think in a way that hurts people.

How can we use our voice – and the words that we type on our computer screens – to foster deeper understandings, to call forth the best in each other, and to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves“? (James 1:22)

Perhaps, in an age of increasingly divisive rhetoric and ugly arguments that end life-long friendships, one of the best things we can do is become better stewards of our language – by watching what comes out of our mouths more carefully – and by being just as careful about the words that emerge from our fingertips as we leave messages on social media?

Healing Can Take Time

healing blind

Mark 8:22-25

Let’s think about one of the craziest stories in the Bible….

Jesus was traveling through Bethsaida (“The House of the Fisherman”) one day when a group of people approached him and asked him to heal a man who was blind. Jesus, of course, was filled with compassion and wanted to help. And so, Jesus worked-up a bit of spit in his mouth, spit into the man’s eyes, and rubbed the saliva around a bit. And then, Jesus asked the man, “Do you see anything?” And the man responded, “Oh, yes! I can see the people who are standing all around me, but they look like walking trees.” And with that, Jesus decided to touch him again; and, after Jesus did that, the man was able to see clearly.

This has always been a little hidden gem in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 8:22-25) and I often just read through this crazy story without even thinking about it. And then, in the midst of my training to be a Discipleship Coach, I was introduced to a small book: “Dwelling in the Word”, that encouraged me to spend time with stories like this one and to unpack them over a long period of time (I’ve been reading and reflecting upon this unusual story in the Bible for almost four months!). And the process of unpacking this unusual story about the ministry of Jesus led to this week’s message: “Healing Can Take Time”.

Have you ever wanted to see God at work in your life in a deeper way? Have you ever wanted a relationship to be healed and to move in a better direction after you’ve been hurt by something that you’ve loved? Do you, sometimes, have trouble sensing God’s presence in the midst of the busyness of your daily life? Have you ever asked God to give you strength and courage to face a world that’s filled with constant and scary change?

When people brought the blind man to Jesus, Jesus spit into the man’s eyes, rubbed the saliva around a bit, and asked him if he could see. Jesus doesn’t always turn on a light switch and give us a deeper awareness of God’s presence in our lives in an instant. We, sometimes, need to travel through a rather confusing time when people who have hurt us still “look like trees” – even when Jesus is healing us. It’s not easy make changes in our lives that Jesus can use to bring renewal and spiritual growth. It’s not easy – even with the help of Jesus – to move from fear to faith when we’re scared by the things that are happening all around us and when we just want things to stop changing. And yet, Jesus continues to heal us. Jesus continues to touch us and to work in our lives. Jesus continues to help us to move from “wherever we are right now” to “where God wants us to move as we journey into the future” – both alone, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so, let me ask you a couple of questions:

  1. What do you need to be able to “see” more clearly, right now?
  2. How do you need to be touched and healed by Jesus at this point in your life?

Jesus has the power to bring incredible healing into our lives and our relationships. And Jesus wants to send us back into the world with a set of eyes that can “see” life – and even other people – in different ways again. But, that type of healing takes time. Spend time “Dwelling in the Word”, praying about things you learn as you immerse yourself in God’s Word, and be open to the ways that Jesus wants to heal you and to send you back into the world with eyes that can “see” the things all around you in different ways.

Christ’s Healing of Creation

unity

It was the worst day in human history.

God had been at work since the “Beginning” (whenever that was). God had been at work transforming what was “formless and void” into a beautiful Creation filled with a sun and moon, water, land, trees, birds, and fish. And, at the high point of it all, God created ADAM and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

But, ADAM was alone; and so, God assembled a huge parade and God marched all of the animals in front of ADAM – but a suitable partner wasn’t found for him. And so, our God created ADAMAH – a woman – and ADAM was so excited that he exclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” And everything was very, very good.

But, the Sacred Story reminds us that there was a serpent in the Garden of Eden. And the serpent took ADAMAH aside and convinced her to eat fruit from the only tree that God had told her not to touch: The Tree of the Awareness of Duality and Separation. And, as soon as that happened, people began to notice that they’re somehow different than the people around them. You and me. Good and bad. Righteous and unrighteous. Black and White. Us and them. Republicans and Democrats. Americans, Russians, Mexicans, and Germans. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Orthodox. I’m exhausted….

And shortly after ADAM and ADAMAH ate from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality the Creation changed. ADAM and ADAMAH noticed that they were different, and they sewed fig leaves together to hide parts of their bodies from each other. ADAM and ADAMAH began to sense a distinction between the “ordinary” and the “sacred”; and, for the first time, they felt shame as they stood in the presence of God. The deadly fruit from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality caused ADAM to blame ADAMAH when God asked him if he had eaten from the tree, and it caused ADAMAH to blame the serpent when she was asked the same question – because, when something goes wrong, it always has to be someone’s fault (and it’s almost always someone else’s fault, isn’t it?). The fruit from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality unraveled God’s creative intent, and the fruit continues to work in our lives and in the world today.

And that’s why Jesus came.

In this week’s message, “Christ’s Healing of Creation”, we’re reminded that Jesus came into the world to tear down the wall between God and God’s people – so that, we don’t have to live our lives sensing a separation between the “ordinary” and “sacred.” Jesus came into the world to tear down the walls that we build between ourselves and other people – reminding us that, “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus came into the world to bridge the separation that we sense between ourselves and God, so that we can live at peace with God. Jesus came into the world to share a love that unravels “duality” and “separation,” and to remind us that no matter what kinds of lines we try to draw between ourselves and others, God’s at work to erase those lines and to bind us together – because God has given us each other as a “gift,” so that none of us have to travel through life alone.

The Sacred Story reminds us that “duality” – our sense of separation between ourselves and God – and between ourselves and other people – was not God’s original intent in the Creation and it’s not God’s intent for our lives today. And that’s why God continues to draw us to a Table where we share a common Meal – and into a community, called the “Church,” where God binds us together as a visible sign of what God’s doing today.

 

Freedom of Speech?

Freedom of Speech

Many people seem to believe that we have the “right” to say whatever we want to say to each other these days.

Social media is atrocious! Conversations turn into ugly arguments; and, before you know it, profanity is flying through the ethers of the universe. Folks who don’t even know each other call each other names and type words on their computer screens that they would never say to each other in public. And, somehow, we need to make sense of that. How do we make sense of our freedom of speech in a world where words can be used to praise and honor God, and where words can be just as easily used to curse people that God has made?

Many years ago, Saint Paul was asked about meat that had been sacrificed to false gods. “What do you do,” the Corinthians asked, “when you’re not sure about where the meat behind the grocery counter came from?” “What do you do,” the Corinthians asked Saint Paul, “when you’re not sure about where the meat behind the grocery counter came from because the temples in Corinth are selling animals that were sacrificed to the false gods in the meat market.”

And I find Saint Paul’s answer absolutely fascinating!

Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that it’s OK to eat the meat because, after all, an idol is just a piece of wood that really doesn’t matter at all. Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that it’s OK to eat the meat because there’s only one God and idols are just humanly-created trinkets. “And yet,” Saint Paul continues, “as you prepare to take a bite of your steak, you need to stop and look around.” Other people are watching you! People can be led astray in their walk with Christ because of the way you behave. It’s all about community! It’s all about relationships! It’s all about doing what’s helpful and turning away from the things that can harm other people.

People who call each other names and spew profanity from their computer need to stop for a moment and think about the people who will read their words. People who spread gossip need to remember that words are powerful and can destroy people’s lives. When we swear and speak harshly to each other in front of little children, we are telling them that it’s OK for them to do the very same thing. Every time we find ourselves in an ugly argument, we need to ask ourselves: “Is what I’m debating more important to me than my relationships with other people?”

Words have the power to change people’s lives – even in a country that is committed to free speech, and that’s what this week’s message, “Freedom of Speech?”, is all about.

People can be led astray in their walk with Christ as they watch the way that we speak to each other, and as they watch the way that we interact with others on social media. Just as Saint Paul told the Corinthians that they need to stop for a moment and look around before they take a bite of their juicy steak, he would also tells us that we need to be very careful when we exercise our freedom of speech in modern times.

The words that we speak have a power of their own and can never be taken back. And that’s why we need to choose the words that we speak, or type, very carefully.

 

 

What did Jesus say about forgiveness?

conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Too Big to Forgive?

conflict-pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s My End Game?

conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Binding and Loosing

broken-chain

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!