New in 2020!

FaithBuilders Picture

Are looking for a new and exciting way to build connections between your faith and daily living as we enter this new year?

Today, I added a new menu option to my blog called FaithBuilders.

FaithBuilders is an exciting way for people and for families to connect with each other at the end of each day to share what is happening in their lives with each other, and to build bridges between their faith and what’s happening in their lives. FaithBuilders is a way for people of all ages to move through the Bible and to think about stories from the Bible that have been a part of the Christian faith for thousands of years. FaithBuilders is something that we can easily incorporate into our daily routines, and it is a daily faith practice that encourages us to talk with each other, to pray with each other about what’s happening in our lives, and to bless each other.

We are going spend some time in 2020 learning about the life of Jesus Christ. This is a great way to learn more about Jesus if you don’t know much about Him right now, and it’s also a great way for parents to introduce stories about Jesus to their children and teenagers. We’re going to be focusing upon only one story from the Bible each week. And throughout the week, I’m going to ask you to ponder several questions that can help you to think more about what you believe and to apply what you believe to your daily life. You can find several suggested questions to ponder under each reading from the Bible. If you get off-track for some reason, don’t worry! Just pick up with the next story when you get started again. This is about learning and growing as an individual and with people who are an important part of your life. This is NOT about being “bound” by yet another commitment or New Year’s resolution!

I’m hoping that God will richly bless you as you make FaithBuilders a part of your daily routine, and as you continue your journey of faith toward wherever God is leading you.

To get started, all that you need to do is look at my blog’s main menu (above), and either click or tap the FaithBuilders option.

God Bless!

What do You Want Christmas to be Like?

christmas-tree

What do you want Christmas to be like this year?

Some of us remember Christmas as a day when our family came together when we were growing up and we want that tradition to continue as we grow older. Other people look forward to seeing the twinkle in people’s eyes when they open the special gift that we bought for them. Still others resonate with the words “peace on earth and goodwill for all” and we long to see that happen in our lives and in the world. Yet others experience the coming Holiday as a time of loneliness, sorrow and hurt.

And then, right in the middle of our holiday preparations, the words of John the Baptizer ring in our ears (Matthew 3:1-12). John calls people a bunch of snakes. John calls us to repent and change our ways. John speaks not of the quiet coming of a little baby who is placed in a manger, but of a rather ferocious person who comes into the world to gather wheat into a barn and throw chaff into unquenchable fire. Whoa! John appears to be the biggest Christmas party-pooper who ever lived!

But, think about this. Sometimes Christmas isn’t what we hope it will be because we all have relationships that are strained and broken because of things we’ve said or done – and sometimes that’s why there are empty seats at our Christmas dinner. Sometimes Christmas isn’t what we hoped it would be because we get so immersed in the Holiday cheer and buying presents that we forget that Christmas is about love. Sometimes our Christmas isn’t what we hoped it would be because our hearts are hard; and because, even in a Season of “peace on earth and goodwill for all,” we judge people who need our help and make assumptions about the lives of people that we’ve never met. Sometimes, Christmas isn’t what we hoped it would be because we’ve gotten so swept away by the Holiday tunes and on the radio and preparing our Christmas feast that we forget about people who will spend Christmas alone and even end up throwing food in the garbage that could have been shared with a special guest.

But the Good News is that we still have a little bit more than two weeks to just stop and change course and do things differently. It’s not too late to go back to people that we’ve hurt and make amends, so that the empty seat at last year’s Christmas feast isn’t empty again this year. It’s not too late to remember that Christmas is about love and not about finding that “special gift” that is going to wear out or be broken and thrown in the trash. It’s not too late to drop some money into a Salvation Army bucket, or gather some people together to go Christmas caroling at the homes of folks who are confined to their homes because of health issues. It’s not too late to pick up the telephone and invite someone you know who is going to be alone on Christmas to be your special guest at Christmas dinner.

We all have ideas about what we want Christmas to be like. Christmas is a time of the year that’s filled with hopes and expectations and big dreams and deep longings for something in life that we don’t often experience at other times of the year. And that’s why the words of John the Baptizer are so important for us to hear.

We have a little bit more than two weeks to do the things that will help Christmas to be what we want it to be. We still have a little bit of time to stop and change course and think about ways to let other people know that the “Reign of God is near.” And that’s the message that John the Baptizer speaks to us even today.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Do You REALLY Want Life To Be Fair?

scale

I have always believed that life should be fair.

I like to watch “Law and Order” because less than an hour after somebody commits a crime that person is hauled off to jail. I believe that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to bad people.

But life is NOT always fair, is it?

Several weeks ago, a woman in the area where I live, drove off with a little child in the back seat of a car leaving the child’s father standing in the dust. Several hours later, the child was found dead. Just last week, a man who plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates (who shall remain unnamed) was arrested for allegedly abusing young people while he was being paid millions of dollars to play baseball. Have you ever been hurt by a person who walked away from you as if nothing happened or by a person who refused to admit that something was wrong? Have you ever had a time in your life when you were trying to do your very best, but ended-up on the short end of the stick? We probably all have.

This week, we focus our attention upon a really strange story that Jesus told about a man who squandered someone else’s property and who was fired for doing it. (Luke 16:1-13) And, even though many of us have seen people get fired because they did something that was wrong, the horror of this story is compounded when the man who is being fired for his misbehavior calls-in other people who owe his boss money and “cooks the books” to reduce what OTHER people owe, too. Now there’s nothing really fair about that is there? And yet, the boss commends the man and pats him on the back. “Well done!” the man’s boss exclaims. “You were really smart when you decided to cooked the books and reduce the debts of other people!”

And that’s NOT fair, is it? People who borrow money from other people should pay back every penny they borrow with interest! People who struggle to make ends meet should just work harder. People who commit a crime should be labeled as “felons” for the rest of their lives even it means that they can’t find a job after they have served their sentences. Why is a man’s boss commending him for doing something even more outrageous than he was doing before he was fired?

Perhaps, the reason we have a problem with this story is because even though we THINK that we believe that life should be fair, we really don’t? We THINK that life should be fair to US, but we DON’T really care if life is fair to other people.

Think about a time in your life when you hurt someone with your words or actions, and when somebody forgave you even though you didn’t deserve it. Think about all of the times when God has filled your life with blessings even though your life of prayer was pretty dry. Think about all of the times when God has scooped you up and has  forgiven you after you’ve fallen flat on your face. Think about love. Is love always fair? I thank God that I have relationships with people who continue to care about me even in times of disappointment. I thank God that people don’t simply strike back and try to hurt me as badly as I’ve hurt them. I thank God that love often survives ups and downs in daily life simply because it ISN’T fair and because it DOESN’T demand justice when a relationship is moving through a difficult time.

What if I told you that God’s love isn’t fair? And what if I told you that “unfairness” can be a sign of the inbreaking of the Reign of God?

Think about Jesus crying out from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing!” Think about a Risen Lord who continues to challenge us to live with a sense of “unfairness” in our lives and in our interactions with others. The “forgiven” are given the chance to forgive. Those who are “embraced” have the chance to embrace other people. Those who know that they are “loved” have a chance to love even when it’s tempting to feel that we have the right to strike back in the name of justice and fairness.

And so, let’s think about what I call “holy un-fairness” as we travel through life this week. Is there somebody that you need to forgive today? Are there people that you’re unwilling to welcome and embrace for a reason that you don’t want to share because you are a bit embarrassed to admit the way you feel? How could embracing “holy unfairness” bring you peace, heal your soul, and restore a sense of calm and wholeness in your life?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

In God We Trust

In God We Trust

Every piece of money in the United States contains the phrase: “In God We Trust.”

A pastor from Pennsylvania first suggested that we add that phrase to our coins in 1861 to ensure that God would protect Union soldiers during the Civil War. The phrase was removed in 1907 by President Roosevelt because he believed that printing the words “In God We Trust” on our money was an unhealthy mingling of God and mammon. President Eisenhower approved adding the phrase to all of our money – both coins and paper bills – because he believed that it was important to draw a sharp distinction between the faith of the American people and the godlessness of the Communists. And, by 1983, Supreme Court justices ruled that the phrase, “In God We Trust,” didn’t need to be removed from our money because, by that time, the phrase had lost all religious significance.

And yet, even in 2019, we struggle to make sense of what those words mean. Some argue that America was created to be a Christian nation, while others argue that our Founders created our nation to be a place where the government was prevented from choosing a particular religion. Christian Nationalists continue to teach that America is a Christian nation even though people like Thomas Jefferson created their own Bibles by retaining only the portions of the Bible that they believed were helpful for moral instruction, and even though people like Thomas Paine set the Bible aside in favor of personal spiritual experience.

And so, what do we do with passages like Psalm 33 that contain the words: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord“? How do we live, as people of faith, remembering that it is ordinary people, not God, who have drawn the lines in the dirt that separate counties, states, and even nations that exist in the world today?

The psalmist reminds us that “from where God sits enthroned, God watches over ALL the inhabitants of the earth.” The prophet Micah also reminds us that, as God watches over ALL the peoples of the earth, God sends messengers to reminds us that one of our most holy callings in life is to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

The psalmist tells us, in Psalm 33, that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found in trusting people who call us to build bigger armies, and who challenge us to find new ways to be bigger and stronger than people who live on the “other side” of the lines that we’ve drawn in the dirt. The psalmist tells us that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found by silencing people who don’t think about life in the same ways that we do, and by continuing to separate ourselves into smaller and smaller pieces – until we get to the point where even all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t find a way to put us back together again.

Instead, the psalmist challenges us to envision God as a God who’s watching over ALL the nations of the world. The psalmist challenges us to rediscover a level of the soul that God has placed inside of us that connects us to every other living Being.

“In God We Trust” in a mighty statement.

How can we use that statement as something that binds us together as people who are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly in the presence of God in a world where people are using that phrase to separate us and to drive deep wedges between us?

Click Here to Listen to This Week’s Message

 

Do you know a child who’s grieving?

Waterbugs

The loss of a loved-one can be devastating to a child.

Some children travel through many years of their lives without experiencing the death of someone that they know. I wasn’t so lucky. One of my grandmothers died when I was four. Less than three years later, I lost one of my grandfathers – and two years after that, I lost my other grandfather.

It’s not easy to talk with children about death.

Children can have as many questions about death as we do. What happens to people when they die? Can grandma still see me even though she’s buried in the ground? Why does mommy cry so much, and why does daddy tell me to just leave her alone? Am I supposed to cry like everyone else? Am I going to die when I go to sleep tonight?

I have used Water Bugs and Dragonflies as a tool for many years. It’s a well-written story, and it’s a wonderful resource that can help adults to speak to grieving children. And now, it’s even available in an incredibly helpful coloring-book format!

If you know a child who’s struggling to make sense of the death of a loved-one, you may want to get a copy of Water Bugs and Dragonflies and spend some time reading a story, coloring, and talking about one of the hardest parts of life that we’ll ever face. 

Christ’s Church for ALL People

Christ's Church

We live our lives with a lot of rules, don’t we?

Written and unwritten rules are just accepted as the “truth” and we often simply accept the things that we’ve been taught without questioning. The rules that we’ve been taught teach us to separate the “good people” from the “bad people” – and it’s, ultimately, these same written and unwritten rules that shape our thinking and our behavior.

And that’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with folks who come to America from other countries. That’s why we’re still struggling to figure-out what to do with folks who fall  in love with people that they’re not “supposed” to fall in love with. That’s why many predominantly white denominations in the Christian Church are struggling to figure-out what they need to do to survive and flourish in a society where white people will very soon be the minority in America. That’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with people who think and who choose to live their lives in ways that we don’t always understand or want to accept.

“Christ’s Church for ALL People” is a message that challenges us to think about the very nature of the Church. How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who touched people who were considered to be “unclean” by others? How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who ate in the homes of tax-collectors and sinners, and who wasn’t even afraid to touch the corpses of those who had died? How do we make sense of a God who loves white people and black people, people who live in the United States and people who want to come to America from other countries? Doesn’t the Sacred Story remind us that God has created ALL people to be both precious and valuable? Doesn’t the Sacred Story tell us about Jesus – a man who came into the world to welcome and embrace people, and to even die on the Cross for everyone?

People – even God’s people – are not always good at lifting-up the fact that everyone is precious and valuable in God’s sight. Even Christians can have a hard time accepting the fact that: there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And yet, that truth is fundamental to the Christian faith. “Christ’s Church for ALL People” is who we are even in a tumultuous time when many people are speaking a very different truth even inside the Church – the place where Jesus continues to challenge us to offer our welcome and embrace to ALL people and to help them to realize that the Church is a “home” where God’s love and care can be experienced by everyone.

 

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.

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 38 and 39

prayer-page

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever!

We celebrate a national Day of Thanksgiving in the United States this week.

People drive many miles to spend time with their family. Houses are filled with familiar smells as pies are baked and as turkeys spend hours in the oven. Some people watch the big parades and the football games that have become a part of Thanksgiving Day. Other people spend time reviewing their Christmas list, so that they can hit the ground running on Black Friday. And, at some point, we all encounter the “pregnant moment” when we gather around a great feast and prepare to eat.

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Many of us live our lives believing that we work hard for all the things that we have and for the food that we eat. Many of us celebrate “Turkey Day” with little awareness of God’s blessings in our lives and in the lives of those that we love. It’s easy to forget about all of the prayers that God has answered and the blessings that God has given. It’s easy for us to forget about the blessings of good health, warm homes and peace. Martin Luther once wrote that, as Christ teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus tells us to remember that it is God who gives us our food and drink, clothing, shoes, house, money, goods, husbands and wives, children, our government, good weather, peace, good health, good friends and neighbors, self-control and a good reputation. When we pray – “Give us this day our daily bread” – we recall that God’s the source of everything.

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Perhaps, we need to pause and think about what life would be like if we didn’t have any food, any clothes to wear, warm homes to enjoy, and good health? Perhaps, we need to pause for a moment and think about what life would be like if we didn’t have any fresh water to drink, enough money to pay our bills, good weather, family and friends?

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Perhaps because it’s easy to forget that we’re richly blessed? Perhaps because we need to stop – at least for a short moment once each year – to just think about the Wonderful God who fills our lives with so many good things? Perhaps in that “pregnant moment” we can think about the people in our world who are less fortunate than we are? Perhaps in that once-a-year “pregnant moment” we can simply stop and think about ways that we can be a blessing in the lives of other people who don’t enjoy simple blessings that we often take for granted as we prepare to enter another Holiday Season?

Why is it important to celebrate Thanksgiving?

It’s important to celebrate Thanksgiving because it prepares us for what’s coming next. We remember that being “blessed” doesn’t always mean “having more.” We remember that life’s about far more than getting the biggest box that’s under the tree, or the most expensive electronic device. Life is about learning to appreciate what God gives us. Life is about finding ways to share goodness with others. Thanksgiving reminds us that God fills our lives with blessings we can share with other people. We become more generous, more giving and more aware of the needs of others when we stop and realize how richly we’ve been blessed in the past year.

I hope and pray that you’ll enjoy this Thanksgiving with those you love. I also hope and pray that, when you come to the “pregnant moment” we’ll all face as we gather around the table where a great feast is set before us that you’ll take a moment to just pause – and to reflect for a moment – and to give thanks for the many blessings that God has poured into your life.

And then, as you rise from the feast and prepare to journey into the “Season of Giving,” I hope and pray that you’ll carry with you a generous spirit – filled to overflowing with the type of thanksgiving that gives birth to love, to kindness, and to generosity.

Here are the readings for the next two weeks:

Week #38

Sunday: Philemon – Monday: Numbers 21-24 – Tuesday: 2 Chronicles 1-5 – Wednesday: Psalms 111-113 – Thursday: Proverbs 25 – Friday: Amos 5-9 – Saturday: John 19-21

Week #39

Sunday: Hebrews 1-4 – Monday: Numbers 25-28 – Tuesday: 2 Chronicles 6-10 – Wednesday: Psalms 114-116 – Thursday: Proverbs 26-27 – Friday: Obadiah – Saturday: Acts 1-2

 

New Study Resource!

Bread and Wine

Welcome to the Table of the Lord

God calls parents to help their children to grow into men and women of faith.

Some parents make a special commitment to have their children in some sort of program where Christian perspectives and teachings will be shared. Many parents make a special effort to enroll their children in catechism. But, due to changing family dynamics, many parents are taking-on more of the responsibility for teaching their kids about God and about their relationship with Christ. But, in order to do that effectively, parents need tools. And that’s what “Welcome to the Table of the Lord” is all about.

“Welcome to the Table of the Lord” is a three-session study that can help parents to teach their children about Holy Communion. This study guide is not meant to replace the First Communion instruction that’s offered by your church! This resource is, instead, designed to help you to explore some of the basic concepts that your child needs to know.

In the three sessions you will share with your child, you will talk about the Last Supper, the story of Joseph, and the story of the Passover. You’ll talk about the different ways that churches celebrate Holy Communion, and the important promises that God offers to us when we receive the Sacrament. Perhaps, most importantly, you’ll be helping your child to understand that Holy Communion is for you and that you are welcome at the Table of the Lord because God loves you and wants to be a part of your life in a special way.

I’m hoping that this new tool for parents will be an important part of the “equipping and empowering” ministry of the ExploraStory Cafe and that parents will use it to help young people to understand and more deeply participate in an important part of the life of the Church.

 

A Special Hurricane Harvey Appeal

Fire Picture

(the former home of Debbie Tysarczky and her family)

In this week’s edition of “Read Through the Bible,” I’d like to lift-up a special concern, and the immediate needs of a very, special lady and her family.

St. James tells us: “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead” (James 2:17); and, the refrain of an old song continues to remind us that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Faith and good deeds are intimately connected. As we’re reading through the Bible, we’re reminded of God’s great love for us and of God’s command to love each other as He has loved us. One of the ways that we can do that is by joining hands, and offering our care and support to people with special and immediate needs.

Hurricane Harvey has caused devastating destruction in southern regions of the United States. Homes have been flooded. People have lost their belongings. Flooding has caused gas lines to rupture; and, when that happens, even the last remnants of damaged homes are destroyed by unstoppable fires.

A friend of mine, Keith, told me today that his sister, Debbie Tysarczky, and her family lost their home and all of their belongings because of the flooding in Friendswood, Texas. The house that they once occupied was flooded and needed to be abandoned – and, then, the house was destroyed when a gas line ruptured and a fire was ignited. Debbie and her family have been left without a place to live and with very few personal belongings.

I understand that Debbie’s story is simply one of many, and that we’ve all been offered many different opportunities to offer financial support to those whose lives have been disrupted; however, I also know that some of us like the “one-on-one feel” of giving our support to a specific person (or family) that we know – at least by name. That’s why I’m making this special appeal.

We’re collecting money for Debbie’s family through a “Family Fund” at Christ’s Lutheran Church and will be sending 100% of the money that we receive in response to this special appeal to Debbie and her family. We will be collecting the money for a three-week period that ends on September 24, 2017 – and will be forwarding the money we collect to Debbie (and her family) during the next week.

If you would like to support this special appeal, this is what you need to do:

  • Take some time to pray for Debbie and her family, and to ask God how He can use you to change the lives of Debbie and her family members through your prayers and generous financial support of this appeal.
  • Write a check to: “Christ’s Lutheran Church” and be sure to include “Debbie Tysarczky Appeal” on the comment line of the check; or, you can simply send your gift of love through the “Give Now” link on the Christ’s Lutheran Church website. Be sure to mark any gift that you send: “Debbie Tysarcsky Appeal.”
  • If you decide to write a check, you can mail the check to: Debbie Tysarczky Appeal, c/o Christ’s Lutheran Church, 5330 Logans Ferry Road, Murrysville, PA 15668

I will provide an accurate accounting of all money that’s been collected and that’s been dispersed during this special appeal, and a printed accounting of money collected and dispersed will be available through the Church Office. I will, also, post an accounting of funds received and dispersed on this blog.

Thank you for considering of this special appeal for Debbie and her family during a time when the needs in people’s lives are both significant and overwhelming. Together, we truly continue to do “God’s Work with Our Hands.”

Here are this week’s “Read Through the Bible” readings:

Sunday: Philippians 3-4 – Monday: Leviticus 10-12 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 1-5 – Wednesday: Psalms 78-80 – Thursday: Proverbs 8-9 – Friday: Ezekiel 19-24 – Saturday: Luke 17-18