Do You Want to be Healed?

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I suspect that we all have questions about healing.

We can all see the difference between those who appear to be healthy and those who are struggling with disease. Even little children can sense the distinction between justice and oppression. Almost all major religions try to speak a helpful word to those who struggle with human mortality and to point them to the hope of eternity. Today, we experience many gaps between where we live and experience life today and where God’s promised to take us in the future.

This week’s story is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.

Picture mighty Naaman, an “important” man who lived his life commanding others to do what he wanted them to do. Picture this same man carrying 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold across nearly 80 miles of untamed wilderness. And when Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, he expects something big to happen.

But we read that the prophet Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to meet Naaman.

And then, we hear this very human response from a man who expected the prophet to heal him. “I thought that FOR ME the prophet would surely come out!” Naaman says to those who were traveling with him. And, in those very human words, we can hear our own voices can’t we? Have you ever expected God to do something big and spectacular in your life? Have you ever asked God to ride onto the scene and heal a terminal disease, or give you something that you really wanted? Have you ever been disappointed because God didn’t do what you expected? That’s the beauty of this story.

We’re reminded, in the story of Naaman, that God doesn’t always bring healing into our lives in big and spectacular ways. God brings healing through the touch of doctors and nurses, and through the medications that we take. God sometimes brings healing into our live while we’re talking with a trusted friend, a professional counselor, or even a pastor. God fills us with strength and faith as we come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed by Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Jesus. God, sometimes, even helps us to bring healing into the lives of other people through the kindness, forgiveness and compassion that we extend to other people when they need it most.

At this end of this wonderful story, there’s a hidden gem!

Picture mighty Naaman, a commander of soldiers, walking down to the Jordan River to wash himself in the water. Naaman, undoubtedly, wore heavy armor. He wanted to look strong and ferocious in battle. He, also, wore his armor everywhere he went because a thick layer of armor also hides leprosy, doesn’t it? Can you imagine what would have happened if Naaman had just walked to the water – wearing armor? Can you imagine Naaman sinking like a rock as his armor dragged him to the bottom of the river?

As Naaman approached the Jordan, he needed to remove his armor didn’t he? Before Naaman could be healed, he needed to remove the armor that protected him from other soldiers in battle and from the eyes of those who would have been shocked when they saw his leprosy. And healing often begins in our lives when we do the same thing.

Sometimes, we need to remove the “masks” that we all wear before God can work in our lives to bring healing. How many times have you told people that you’re “fine” when you really weren’t? How many times have you carried burdens that you carefully concealed because you didn’t want other people to know what was happening in your life, or even in your family? Healing often begins when we become both honest and authentic with ourselves and other people. The “masks” that we wear aren’t always helpful.

Jesus once called us to come to Him when we’re heavy laden and nearly overcome. Jesus calls us gather with other Christians in a community of faith where we can be forgiven and strengthened, renewed and even healed.

What are you going to be doing this weekend? Perhaps, it’s time for you to push all of the busyness of life aside, for just a moment, and to find a precious place to rest with those who love you and who want what’s best for you? God’s calling you, right now, to set aside some time in the next few days; and to spend time with people who will strengthen, heal, renew, and help to make you whole again.

Please Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus is Searching for You

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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

 

When times are tough….

Jesus in Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,
I thank God that the path toward the future isn’t paved
with only my own inner strength and courage.
God is Mighty!
And the Lord who holds me in the palm of His hand
has the power to carry me safely
toward better days.

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie

 

God is Near!

Elijah

1 Kings 17:6-24

Life is filled with ups and downs, isn’t it?

We save money for a rainy day, and we invest our time and energy in relationships with other people. We plan for our future (often expecting the best) and we even go to church and pray – believing that God stands beside us.
But, life throws us curves, doesn’t it?

Children sometimes go astray when they grow up, and close relationships can end when people move to a different city – or even die. Today’s bad choices often shape tomorrow’s reality. Marriages crumble. Jobs can be lost. Sudden illnesses can bring us a mountain of unpaid bills. And, when any of those things happen, our faith can be shaken and we can even begin to ask hard questions.

In this week’s message, “God is Near”, we explore a brief moment of time in the life of a widow who experienced a roller-coaster of emotions. She watched the ground dry, crops wilt, and animals die after Elijah told King Ahab that God was going to withhold the rain because of Israel’s wickedness. The widow had seen her small barrel of meal and flask of oil provide more meal and oil that she could have ever imaged after she (in faith) baked Elijah a small loaf of bread and gave him a drink of water. She watched her only son die, and cursed the day she had met Elijah – because she blamed him for what had happened to her son. And then, Elijah wept and prayed and held the dead corpse of the widow’s only son; and, suddenly, he came back to life!
We experience a wide range of emotions as we travel through life as people of faith.

When everything’s going well and when we’re happy and prosperous, we feel like God is blessing us and we praise God from the mountaintop! But, when the pendulum swings in the other direction, we ask tough questions, don’t we? “Where was God when I needed God to be present?” “Why do bad things always seem to happen to good people?” “Why do little children face starvation and horrible diseases?” “Where is God when violence explodes at a local synagogue?” “Where is God when little children are being abused by priests?” Where is God when overdoses claim the lives of people that we love?” “Where was God when the widow of Zarephath’s only son got sick and suddenly died?”

We are reminded, in this week’s message (“God is Near”), that God is near to us in both good times and bad times. God was present as the widow of Zarephath wept for her son. God is present when people gather together to lift each other up and to stand beside each other in difficult times. Jesus promised us that He will always be found when we come together as God’s people to share gifts of Bread and Wine in Holy Communion. God will always be found in the love we receive from people who encourage us and hug us and whisper tender words into our ears, and God will be present every time we offer our love and support to other people – comforting others with the same kind words and actions that others extend to us during difficult times (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Our journey of faith teaches us to know that God is near in every circumstance.

It’s easy to see God’s presence when we experience times of blessing. But Jesus promises to be close to us even when the pendulum swings in the other direction – and when our lives become difficult.

Trust the Lord and know that God is near to you. Look for Jesus in every circumstance of life – whether it’s good or bad. And know that our God promises to draw near to us and to sustain us and to renew us in every situation that we face.

Confronting Worry and Anxiety

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Matthew 6:25-34

Worry and anxiety are big words these days, aren’t they?

Many of us were glued to our televisions last week as we watched Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle the Florida and slowly move through the Southeastern United States with unstoppable fury. We’ve been watching people that we’ve trusted all of our lives fall from pedestals as stories about scandals in the Church, and even in our schools, have filled the news with unimaginable truths. Studies tell us that more people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications than ever before, and the suicide rate in the United States continues to rise. Worry and anxiety take a big toll.

In this week’s message, “Confronting Worry and Anxiety”, we explore what Jesus had to say about worry and anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus and His disciples were always surrounded by people who were pushing-in on every side and their days were both long and tiring. Jesus was often rejected when His message became “too political” or when His words stirred people’s nests. One day, while Jesus was teaching, nearly everyone in the crowd stood-up and walked away – never to return. Jesus was a man who was “tested as we are” in every sense of the word (Hebrews 4:15) – and so, Jesus can teach us all how to rise above the fray and move forward when our lives become difficult, too.

This week, Jesus reminded me that, when I become overwhelmed, I need to learn to stop and look at the birds in my backyard. And then, I need to ask myself, “If God’s taking care of them, why don’t I believe that God is taking care of me?” A few days ago, my wife and I saw a beautiful hibiscus flower (pictured above) that looked prettier than what either of us were wearing as we walking down the street of a small town. What can that beautiful flower teach us about how God works in our lives and in the world? What can we learn about God (and about what it means to live as God’s people of faith) as we celebrate the Harvest this year and remember that it’s God who provides the sunshine and rain and warmth and good soil that all work together to create the miracle of food?
We worry and become anxious because, deep inside, we want to be in control.

We gather and tuck things away (like squirrels gathering nuts) because we’re afraid that if we don’t collect enough – we’ll “run out.” We hold onto things that we could share with other people because we believe that we need to “save” for days that may not even be on our calendars. We want to remain in control because we’re afraid that if we lose control, something’s going to happen to us that we’re not going to like. And, in the midst of all of that, Jesus calls us to stop and to come back to our faith and to our trust in God.
“Don’t worry about tomorrow.” Jesus says, “Let tomorrow worry about itself.”

What would our lives look like if we went back to the old proverb that teaches us that we can only eat an elephant one bite at a time? What would happen if we learned to live our lives in a way that’s more “centered” upon what’s happening right now, and focused our attention upon today and upon what we can do right now? What would life look like if we lived with a deeper awareness of the fact that Jesus walks right beside us moment by moment by moment? What would our lives look like if we learned, again, to trust in the fact that God’s grace is sufficient for today – and it will be sufficient for tomorrow – and it will be sufficient for the day after that?
Have faith!

Remember that Jesus is walking beside you. Remember that God will provide whatever you need to face today – tomorrow – and the day after that. And when you’re worried and filled with anxiety, take a moment to watch the birds – and ask yourself, “If God is taking such good care of them, why don’t I think God’s going to take good care of me?”

The Mission Interpreter

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How are choices and decisions you make each day connected to your journey of faith?

You live in a complex Age where change surrounds you. You probably feel overwhelmed by a constant stream of news and information that summons your attention by sending the invasive pop, ding, or silent vibration that invades every part of your daily life. You most likely believe in God, but you may have decided that you don’t want to be affiliated with a local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. And yet, you still want to make some sort of difference in the world. You still want to believe that God is somehow working in your life and in the lives of the people that you love. Perhaps, what you need are stories that remind you that God’s at work in our lives and in the world, and mental morsels to challenge you to think about the relationship between your daily living and faith?

I believe that there’s always a next step for us to take in our journey of faith, and I am dedicated to working with people who want to take the next step forward in their journey of faith with confidence and courage. And, that’s why I’ve added a link to the menu on this site that takes you to my newest blog entitled: “The Mission Interpreter”.

This is a place where you’ll discover ways that God’s people are making a difference in the world, right now. This is a place where the leaders of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples will be challenged to reflect and to grow. This is a place where you will be challenged to think about the relationship between daily living and the kinds of choices and commitments you make each day. This is a place where you’ll be challenged to explore the ways that choices and decisions you make are connected to your journey of faith and to your relationship with God.

You can receive updates every time new material is added to “The Mission Interpreter” by following the blog itself as a regular user of WordPress – or you can provide an email address where links to new material can be send. I hope you’ll also share information about this new blog with your friends, so that they can, also, be encouraged by the fact that people of faith continue to do life-changing things in our quickly-changing world.

To get started, why not take a moment to investigate “The Mission Interpreter” and to read one of the newest, thought-provoking posts: “Stewardship, Stoles, and Suicide” – a piece that tells the tragic story of a pastor who recently committed suicide and that offers some ideas that can help congregations to support and encourage pastors who struggle with issues of sadness, discouragement, depression and anxiety – just like so many other folks do in the Church. You can, also, find several inspiring stories that point to the power of prayer and that lift-up the good that God’s people do when they join hands and work as a team. You’ll even find a thought-provoking piece that challenges Church leaders to remember the importance of storytelling as they prepare to make financial appeals.

I hope that “The Mission Interpreter” will provide something helpful for everyone who visits the site. You’ll notice that there’s, also, a CONTACT ME link on the site. Please let me know if you; the congregation, synagogue, mosque or temple that you attend; or a group of people that you know are joining hands to do something that points others to the God who continues to call us to express our faith in a way that touches and changes lives.

Grace Sufficient for Today

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Having faith isn’t always easy, is it?

We’re pushed and shoved, and we’re disappointed when things go wrong. We face times in life when we’re pushed to the wall and when we don’t know where we’re going to get strength to face even one more day. We face difficult challenges. God doesn’t always take our problems away – even when we ask God to do it. St. Paul once described some sort of challenge that he faced as a “thorn in his flesh.” Do you feel like you have a “thorn” in your flesh? Is there something in your life that you would like God to change?

St. Paul was once a nasty man. He held the cloaks of the people who stoned St. Stephen and he did everything that he could do to destroy the early Church. Paul arrested people who believe in Jesus and had them thrown in jail. But, one day, St. Paul met Jesus face-to-face and his life was changed forever. In fact, Paul devoted the rest of his life to sharing the message of Jesus – the very message that he once had tried to destroy.

But, even though St. Paul was devoted to his ministry and to sharing the message of Jesus with as many people as he could, he faced a challenge. St. Paul called it his “thorn in the flesh.” And even though a lot of folks think that they know what St. Paul’s “thorn” was – we really don’t. And that’s OK.

“Grace Sufficient for Today” is a message that can help you to think about the “thorn” that you are facing in life, right now. Jesus once told us that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of its own. St. Paul faced his own “thorn in the flesh” by living from day to day – trusting that God would provide whatever he needed to get through yet another day. And in that, there’s a wonderful message of hope and guidance for all of us.

Several years back, quite by chance, I had the opportunity to meet Billy Graham.

By the time that I met Billy Graham he was pretty fragile. I’ll never forget that he needed two men to walk beside him and hold him by the arms as he entered the room. But, even more than that, I’ll always remember the conversation that I had with Billy Graham as he shared his thoughts about his struggles with Parkinson’s disease. He said that throughout all of his struggles, the one thing that he had learned – over and over again – is that God’s grace is always sufficient to meet today’s needs.

That’s a powerful message; and it’s also a message that echoed inside of me when my own hands started to shake about five years later. “God’s grace is always sufficient to meet today’s needs,” I remembered as the doctor told me that I have Parkinson’s disease, too. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” Jesus once said to us, “because tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”

Faith is a wonderful gift. The fact that God will provide whatever we need – just when we need it the most – is a source of great hope in challenging times. God is God who blesses us and strengthens us and supports us and cares for us in incredible ways! And God is a God who has promised us that we will be given the faith that we need to face each day.

How can that message bring strength and hope into your life, right now?

How can the fact that God’s grace is sufficient for today help you and encourage you as you face whatever you need to face this week with Jesus by your side?

 

Facing the Holiday Blues

the pain by emilio gallori 1846 1924  siena palazzo publicco

Many different things can cause that rather depressed, stressed, agitated, and fatigued feeling that many of us experience during the Holiday season. The “Holiday Blues” can be caused by a variety of things, and we need to understand what stands at the core of what we’re experiencing before we can begin to address it. What is depressing and stressful for one person may not affect other people in the same way. And, what one person finds to be helpful during those stressful and “blue” periods may not work for other people at all.

It’s important to realize that the “bad feelings” that come during the Holiday season are not the real problem. Bad feelings are a symptom. We are most likely reacting to something that’s “not right” – or to something that we think isn’t right in our lives when the “Holiday Blues” strike. And so, one of the best things we can do when the “Holiday Blues” strike is look beyond those “bad feelings” themselves and focus upon what’s causing us to feel the way that we’re feeling. We may even be able to address the specific issues that are affecting our lives quite effectively once we clearly identify them. Take some time to simply think about what’s happening; and be careful that you are not overlooking an underlying medical problem, the side effects of the medications that you’re taking, or even Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Some common causes:

Most of us probably believe that the Holidays are “supposed” to be a time of happiness, cheer, joy, fellowship and optimistic hopes for the New Year. We all have “idealized” images of what the Holidays “should” be like. And that’s why we’re often bombarded with all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings when we’re moving through times of significant loss, unresolved grief, fears about the future, and disappointment. We can become very discouraged when we begin to compare what we think the Holidays should be like with what they really “are” like. “Holiday Blues” can also be caused by isolation and loneliness.

The Holiday season is also a busy and stressful time. We have more things to do and more things to purchase on tight budgets. There is more traffic on the highways and even parking our automobiles can become more difficult. Stores are crowded. Tempers are short. Extra demands and expectations are often placed upon our time, attention, energy and finances. This can all be stressful.

Some helpful ideas:

Many people begin to conquer the “Holiday Blues” by re-thinking their attitude and approach to the Holidays. There’s a big difference between what you “have” to do and what is “best” for you. Do you have to buy all of the expensive gifts you’re planning to purchase? Do you have to buy so many gifts? How does your understanding of God shape the purpose and meaning of your giving? Is it time for you to approach giving in a different way? Don’t forget to keep the overall picture in mind. Making the effort to get a gift (or to do something nice) for one person may be easy, but it gets more difficult and demanding as you increase the number of people who will receive your gifts and your time. Don’t just follow your past practices and traditions without thinking about them. Families and relationships change. Your financial situation may be very different than it was last year. Your understanding of “giving” can be greatly clarified as you allow your gift-giving to be shaped by your faith. Think about how your life is different than it was last year and accept the fact that a new approach to Holiday giving (and even celebrating) may be totally appropriate.

If significant losses are making the Holidays difficult, you may want to use some time during the Holiday season to mourn and grieve in a different way. You will most likely feel loneliness and sadness. If you accept the grief and feelings that go along with your loss, the intensity of those bad feelings will likely lessen. Remember that you don’t need to spend the Holidays alone – but remember that you, also, don’t need to accept every invitation that you receive. You may need to find ways to satisfy the needs in your life that were filled by the person you have lost. You may, also, need to spend some time alone. The Holidays can be difficult – but they can also be a time to celebrate the goodness of the relationships that continue to be a blessing to our lives in a healthy and balanced way.

You may also find the “Serenity Prayer” helpful during the Holiday season. When the “Holiday Blues” strike, remember that it’s sometimes helpful to: (1) accept the things that you cannot change, (2) change the things that you can, and (3) accept the fact that there’s a difference between the two.

The holiday season is, finally, a great time to celebrate the presence of God and to remember the promises of a brighter future in difficult times. Please don’t forget to include worship and prayer in your Holiday schedule. You may find a “Longest Night” service to be helpful. As Christians, we can find great peace when we remember that the Holiday season is REALLY about the God who loves us and who comes into our world – even during challenging times – to be an important part of our daily lives.

Waiting Well

bridesmaids pic

One of the things that drives me crazy is waiting.

I’d rather arrive 15 minutes early than walk into a meeting 2 minutes late. When I go to a show in Pittsburgh, it drives me absolutely crazy when the ushers are still seating people, with flashlights in their hands, after the show has begun. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Dost thou love life? Then, don’t waste time because that’s what life is made of.”

Jesus once told a story about ten bridesmaids who went to a wedding feast. The women were left waiting outside the banquet hall because the bridegroom didn’t arrive at the party on time. Five bridesmaids were prepared for the wait because they had brought extra oil for their lamps. The other five bridesmaids weren’t prepared, and they had to run to the local market to buy extra oil and they missed the bridegroom’s arrival. The reception started. The great feast was set before the guests. The music started and the great, big doors of the banquet hall were closed. And, when the five bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps returned, they were sent away.

Have you ever had a time when you needed to “wait upon the Lord”?

I pray with a lot of people who are going through tough times; and, when I do that, I expect God to do something. I spend a lot of time with people who are struggling with a variety of illnesses; and I know what it’s like to pray and pray and pray, and to wait for God to do something. I (like many of  you) have traveled the lonely path of grief and I know what it’s like to long for better days. My granddaughter recently told me that her least favorite part of school is “waiting in line” – and I suspect that that’s true because she doesn’t like “waiting” any more than I do.

The psalmist once wrote: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!” (Psalm 70:1). But the prophet Isaiah has also written: “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall  mount-up with wings like an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and they shall not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

And so, as people of faith, we’re left in a dilemma. The Bridegroom doesn’t always come when we expect Him to come. God doesn’t always arrive when we expect Him to arrive. Sometimes, we need to learn to “wait upon the Lord.” Sometimes, as people of faith, we need to realize that healing and better days don’t always come quickly even though we have been assured by God that they’ll surely come. And that’s what this week’s message, “Waiting Well”, is all about.

We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” by spending time with people who have learned to wait upon the Lord in their own times of struggle – in private conversations or in support groups. We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” as we continue to remain connected with the community of the Church as it gathers around a Feast of broken break and shared wine. We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” by reflecting upon the promises of God that we find in the Bible and by spending time with God in prayer. We can “wait upon the Lord” in tough times by remaining connected to other people who are building their lives upon the Rock of Jesus Christ and who are “Waiting Well” in the times when God’s arrival doesn’t fit neatly into their schedules either.

The longer I’ve lived and the more I’ve experienced the more I’ve realized that we all need to find ways to faithfully “wait upon the Lord” and to do that “Waiting Well”.

“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount-up with wings like an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and they shall not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

When Storms Arise

Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,

I thank God that the path toward the future isn’t paved

with only my own inner strength and courage.

God is Mighty!

And the Lord who holds me in the palm of His hand

has the power to carry me safely

toward better days.

 

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie