As You Enter a New Year

New Year

Happy New Year!

The story of King Herod and the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) provides fertile ground for us as we enter a brand new year.  King Herod rose to power during the flurry of activity that occurred after the death of Julius Caesar. King Herod was a survivor who was bound and determined to bring Judea into the Roman Empire, and he was a man who was not afraid to use violence to get his own way. Herod ordered the death of his wife; and, then, he had her dead body preserved in honey for seven years. Herod commanded his soldiers to kill three of his sons, and Herod’s own brother escaped a similar fate only because he died before the soldiers could assassinate him.

And then, near the end of his life, Herod meets the Magi. The Magi were oriental priests who studied astrology and who interpreted dreams (which, in the ancient world, were understood to be the voice of God). Most people accept the fact that the Magi were not present on the night of Christ’s birth because the Bible tells us, when the Magi arrived, Jesus was living in a “house” with His mother – and we also know that when King Herod tried to destroy the Christ Child, he ordered the death of every boy under the age of two (to allow himself some wiggle room).

But, the story of King Herod and the Magi is a story about people who went away from the Christ as people who had been changed and as people who decided “to go home on a different road.” And that’s the challenge we find in this story today.

“As You Enter a New Year” is a message that’s meant to invite you to think about the new year and about how you can live your life in a new way in 2018.

Can we enter 2018 with a renewed sense of peace as we continue to live our lives in a world where it’s easy to be consumed by long lists of worries and concerns? Can we enter the new year with a deeper understanding of God’s love and embrace in a world where it’s not always easy to love and embrace? Can we enter 2018 with a renewed sense of what God’s doing in our lives – in our families – in our churches – and in the world? Can we enter 2018 with a deeper sense of God’s unfolding plan for our lives and world during a time when we seem to be constantly surrounded by chaos, conflict, and bad news?

The Magi didn’t return to King Herod because “dream interpreters” who listen to the voice of God understand that God’s future isn’t going to be found in people who simply overpower others to get their own way. “Dream interpreters” who listen to the voice of God understand that God’s future isn’t going to be found where people squash others under their feet to get ahead.

Can we enter 2018 with a deeper understanding of the gentleness and compassion that stands at the heart of God’s message to the world? Can we enter the new year with a deeper understanding of the fact that God’s Reign breaks into the world when divisive rhetoric is replaced with a spirit of cooperation and goodwill for all people? Can we enter 2018 with a deeper understanding of God’s path of love that calls us to bear each other’s burdens and to lift each other up?

How will we be changed by the encounter with Christ that we’ve just shared? How will the voice of God call us to “go back home on a different road” – walking together on new and exciting paths as we enter the new year?

 

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.

Keep Stirring!

stirring pot

Have you ever noticed that holidays bring back memories?

I remember the days when my one job on Thanksgiving was to stir the gravy, so that it didn’t get lumpy while it was coming to a boil. My mother would drain the turkey juices into a pan, put the pan on the stove, add some water and flour that she had shaken in her special little gizmo, and then she’d tell me to stir. And I’d stir, and I’d stir, and I’d stir. I’d adjust the flame underneath the pan to speed things up. And then I’d stir, and I’d stir, and I’d stir. And at some point I’d always remember what my grandma used to say: “A watched pot never boils.” And, as funny as it sounds, Isaiah drew upon that image a long time ago – writing: “Oh, that you [God] would rend the heavens and come down – that the mountains might quake at your presence, just like when the fire causes a pot of water to come to a boil.” (Isaiah 64:1-2)

A pan of water doesn’t start to boil as soon as we put it on the stove, does it? When I was serving on Thanksgiving “gravy patrol,” I’d stand beside the pot of gravy – stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring – waiting for something to happen. And that’s, often, how life works, isn’t it…?

God doesn’t always change the circumstances in our lives (or in the lives of the people that we love) as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. God doesn’t always heal the illnesses that we face, or take away the sting of our grief, or heal our strained relationships as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. I’m sure that, at some point, we’ve all heard that “a watched pot never boils” because things don’t always happen as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. And that’s what this week’s message “Keep Stirring!” is all about.

St. Paul once wrote that all of Creation is groaning inwardly as we wait, together, for the Great Day when God’s going to fix it. (Romans 8:22) The prophet Isaiah tells us that from Days of Old, no one has heard – and no one has seen any other god than the Lord who comes into our world [and into our lives] (Isaiah 64:4) as we continue to stir and stir and stir. And that’s what Advent’s about. Stirring. Staying awake. Loving each other. Caring for each other. Supporting each other. Encouraging each other as we wait, together, for the Great Day when God’s going to renew His entire Creation and make it whole.

Have faith, my friend, and trust in the Lord. Always remember that the things that you’re doing – as you continue to stir and stir and stir – really matter (even though you don’t always see the fruits of you labor as quickly as you’d like). Love each other. Care for each other. Support each other. Encourage each other. And always remember that, as we wait together for the Great Day when God’s going to renew His creation, we need each other in order to be strong and courageous and active and faithful.

 

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

Read Through the Bible – Week 30

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” We’re excited that you’re here and hope that you will jump on board and join us as we read through God’s Word.

This week, we’re going to read one of my favorite passages in the Bible!

Just imagine the prophet Ezekiel looking across a valley that’s filled with sun-bleached bones. And as he’s walking in the field and stepping over skeletons, God asks him, “Can these bones lives again?” And Ezekiel answers: “O Lord, only you know that!” And then, Ezekiel is told to prophesy. And the bones begin to rattle and come together. The sinews begin to grow, muscles begin to form, and skin covers the bodies. And then, when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the wind (spirit), the still-dead bodies are filled with “breath” and become living beings. A field full of skeletons becomes a field that’s filled with a living, breathing and marching army of strong and determined soldiers. Wow!

Where have you discovered valleys that are filled with sun-bleached bones in your life?

Perhaps, today, you’re discouraged because you’re facing a terminal illness, or maybe you are finding that it’s quiet overwhelming to care for an aging parent? Maybe one of your kids is struggling with an addiction to opioids, or will spend today in jail? Maybe you’re struggling through a period of unemployment, or maybe your ongoing struggle with a teenager is simply wearing you out? Maybe you’re being bullied at school, or at work? Maybe you’re buried under a mountain of bills and the telephone calls from the bill collectors simply won’t stop? Maybe you’re grieving the loss of someone that you dearly loved, or perhaps you’re watching your spouse struggle with dementia? The list goes on and on….

Life is filled with valleys that are covered with dry bones. We can feel both overwhelmed and numb when life continues to give us things that are simply unfair. But, the question is: “Do I believe that God can make circumstances in my life any different?” Or, perhaps: “Do I believe that God can bring hope and peace into a nearly impossible situation?”

The Bible tells us that the God who brought sun-bleached bones together, covered them with sinews and muscles, cloaked them in skin and brought them back to life is at work in our daily lives. That’s right! God’s at work in your life right now. God’s speaking words of new life and new possibilities even in times when the situations that we face appear to be impossible. God journeys with us as we travel through life step-by-step-by-step, and He calls us to have faith, to trust in His ability to lift us up, and to know that He’s walking right beside us – opening doors and blessing us with His strengthening presence even as we walk through seemingly-impossible times!

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 19-21 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 16-20 – Wednesday: Psalms 87-89 – Thursday: Proverbs 13 – Friday: Ezekiel 37-42 – Saturday: Luke 23-24

 

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

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

 

Where Do You See God?

yoke pic

Where are you seeing God these days?

Some of us are spending 40 – 50 – 60 – even 70 hours at work each week. Some of us are parents who spend the week changing diapers, negotiating with rebellious toddlers and talking with little children who aren’t always easy to understand. Some of us spend the week enjoying the goodness of retirement, while others rise to begin yet another day of caring for a loved-one or facing the fact that our “Golden Years” aren’t always golden.

Jesus once said, “Come to me all who are weary and who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me – for I am gentle and lowly in heart – and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Yokes are big, clumsy and heavy. Yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals that are going to be used for heavy labor like plowing fields and pulling wagons. Yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals that will carry burdens and that will undoubtedly become weary, tired, exhausted, and totally spent. But yokes bind animals together, so that they can work more efficiently. Yokes bind animals together because there are jobs on a farm that are simply too big for animals to do by themselves.

When God places you in a particular place, what you do in that place is your ministry.

This week’s message, “Where Are You Seeing God?”, is one that’s designed to challenge you to realize that God journeys with us as we travel through life. Christ helps us to carry the yoke when we’re at work and when we’re struggling to be a good parent. Christ helps us to carry the burden when the yoke of caring for someone that we love becomes heavy and when we’re not sure if there’s enough of us to go around. Christ promises to journey with us through life and to help us to do far more than we ever thought we’d be able to do. When Christ teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” He challenges us to prayerfully remember that God’s grace is always sufficient; and that, day by day, God will provide what we need – just when we need it most.

Where are you seeing God these days?

Can you see God’s face in the eyes of people who work beside you, or in the smiles of the customers who appreciate your help? Can you see God’s face as you gaze into the eyes of your spouse as he/she listens to you talk and talk and talk and talk? Can you see God’s face as you look into the eyes of a doctor, or a nurse, who is caring for you or for a loved one who’s sick? Can see God’s face in the eyes of your friends – of your family members – of your pastors or of people who attend your church – of people who celebrate what’s good in your life and help you to carry the weight of your burdens?

When we can see God’s presence in those around us, we can know that we’re not alone. When we learn to see God’s presence in the faces of people around us, we can know that no matter where we find ourselves in life, God’s already there to be with us.

Blessings!

 

The Lord is Your Shepherd

shepherd

Life changes quickly, doesn’t it?

I still remember the day when a doctor looked me straight in the eyes (at the ripe old age of 37) and said, “Wayne, I believe that your hands are shaking and your walking’s a bit shuffled because you have Parkinson’s Disease.”

I’m sure that a lot of people in America are trying to figure-out what happened in the House of Representatives last week because they’re not sure if their struggle with an addiction – or with a birth defect – or even with a mental illness is going to prevent them from being able to purchase health insurance in the United States.

Even though we’ve been raised to believe that we are “safe” in the United States of America, we can no longer ignore things like terrorism – and we live in an age where we need to spend time teaching our children about safe body boundaries.

And yet, even in the midst of a quickly-changing world, we’re reminded that God is a Great Constant in our lives. God continues to point us in the right direction. God is a Good Shepherd who continues to nourish and sustain us. God is always present when His sheep are grazing in green pastures – and even when His sheep are walking through the scary valleys of the shadow of death.

In this week’s message, “The Lord is Your Shepherd”, we’re reminded of the faithfulness of the God who continues to recognize the deepest need in our lives and who opens His hands to fill our lives with goodness. We’re reminded that the Lord is a Good Shepherd who watches over us and the people that we love, and how God has promised to be the one constant in life that never fails.

We all know that things can change quickly in our lives and in the world. We all know that the specific circumstances in our lives aren’t always easy to control. And yet, the Good Shepherd continues to journey with us – taking us by the hand and leading us through all of the crazy ups and downs that we’ll face as we journey through life.

Blessings!

 

Planted Beside a Stream

Ohiopyle Falls - Edited for Enlarge

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Life makes people thirsty.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you believed that there just wasn’t enough of you to go around? Maybe you feel like a gerbil on a wheel that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and faster? Perhaps, you’re worried about someone that you love – or are struggling to navigate through a time of illness? Or, perhaps, you’re moving through a dry time in your walk with Christ and it feels like you’re moving through the “uninhabited salt land” that the prophet Jeremiah once described?

In this week’s message, “Planted Beside a Stream”, we are drawn into a fascinating story about a Samaritan woman who met Jesus beside Jacob’s Well and who was promised that Jesus could give her the “Living Water” that bubbles-up to Eternal Life.

What does that “Living Water” taste like? How does the Good News of the Gospel that proclaims that you have a Lord who gives you courage when you’re afraid, peace when you’re anxious, strength when you are feeling weak, and hope even at the moment of death affect the way that you face the challenges and obstacles in your life, right now?

The community of Taize often sings a hymn that contains these words: “By night, we search for the source of living water because it is only our thirst that guides our way.”

What would “Living Water” taste like, right now? How can the life-giving news – that God has planted you beside a stream – sustain and renew you as you journey through life?

Let’s travel to Jacob’s Well and listen to the words that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman nearly 2,000 years ago; and, as we listen to Jesus speak, let’s stop for a moment and think about what His words and promises can mean to us today.

Blessings!