Why not set aside about 20 minutes this evening to simply stop, get more centered, reflect and pray? Today, we are inviting you to remember that God is near to you during these strange and challenging times. Here’s the third video in our Lenten Series entitled: “Streams in the Desert.”
Why not set aside about 20 minutes this evening to simply stop, get more centered, reflect and pray? Today, we are inviting you to remember that God listens to you during these strange and challenging times. Here’s the second video in our Lenten Series entitled: “Streams in the Desert.”
Why not set aside about 20 minutes this evening to simply stop, get more centered, reflect and pray? Today, we are inviting you to remember that God sustains you during these strange and challenging times. Here’s a link to the first video in our Lenten Series entitled: “Streams in the Desert.”
This year, I have been continuing to provide new FaithBuilders materials for those who want to learn more about God and to explore their faith in new and engaging ways. I, first, created FaithBuilders as a tool that parents can use to lift up important stories from the Bible and to share faith-building time with their children. I began FaithBuilders, last year, by lifting up 52 stories from the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ and by providing a few short questions each week to encourage some thinking and discussion. The idea is to focus upon only one short story from the Bible each week.
This year, I am lifting up key 52 stories from the entire Bible that can give you a bird’s-eye-view of the Bible and that can help you (and your family) to learn key stories from the Bible that can help you to understand the entire Bible better. Here is an example of this week’s FaithBuilders material:
Week 11 – Genesis 29:14-30
Have you ever been tricked by another person? Talk a little bit about a time when you were tricked and about how being tricked made you feel.
Jacob served Laban for seven years before he asked Laban to allow him to marry his daughter, Rachel. Why do you think Laban tricked Jacob (See: Genesis 29:17-18 and Genesis 29:26)? How do you think Jacob felt when he discovered that he had married Leah? How do you think Leah felt about the whole thing?
People sometimes grow angry when they discover that they have been tricked by other people. Do you think that Jacob got angry? Why do you think that Jacob agreed to work for Laban for another seven years? Do you think Jacob forgave Laban, or did he just work for Laban for another seven years to get what he wanted?
We do not ask fathers to “give away” the bride during weddings at our church. Why do you think that we stopped doing that? What does being “given away” by her father during the wedding ceremony say about a woman and her relationship with her father and husband?
Jacob ended up married to both Leah and Rachel (which was allowed when the Book of Genesis was written); but we learn in this week’s story, that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah (See: Genesis 29:30). What do you think it was like to live in the house with Jacob, Leah and Rachel? What kind of problems do you think were created because Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah?
Laban tricked Jacob because he wanted Leah to be married and to have a nice life, too. Do you think that it’s ever OK to do something that you know is wrong because you want to see something good happen? (For example: Do you think that it’s ever OK to steal money from someone who is wealthy and give it to somebody who sends his/her kids to school hungry because he/she does not have enough money to buy food?) If you think that it’s OK to do something that you know is wrong because you think that something good will happen, where do you draw the line? How far is too far?
If you would like to begin using FaithBuilders as a tool to strengthen your faith, or to help your children or grandchildren learn more about God and the Bible, please click this link: https://lifeandfaith.online/faithbuilders/ and be sure to come back each week.
You can begin almost anywhere in the set of readings and questions that I have provided, and you may even want to invite someone to visit FaithBuilders and to discuss the stories and questions that you will find there with you.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge the Lord and God will make your path straight.“
Several months ago, I began a new ministry called FaithBuilders.
I have noticed (in my 32 years as a pastor) that many Christians either don’t know much about the Bible or that they feel overwhelmed when they try to apply what the Bible says to daily living. Sunday School teachers are doing their best to help children learn stories in the Bible; but, sometimes, the Sunday School curriculum that they use is built around so many unfamiliar stories that children remember only a few of them. We live in a time when more and more parents depend upon the Church to teach their children about God (while they, perhaps, go out for Sunday brunch?), and when other parents do not teach their children much about God or the Bible at all. And even some churches have shifted away from teaching basic stories from the Bible and have started teaching little children about compassion, kindness, gentleness and love – wonderful values and principles that are, sometimes, much too nebulous for little children to embrace and understand.
And I’ve asked myself, many times: “What is something that I could do to change that?”
I began to wonder if adults would find it far less intimidating to talk with their children about God if they were better equipped? What would happen, for example, if I created a list of 52 stories from the life of Jesus and asked people to focus on one story each week? Would adults take a few minutes at the end of each day to teach children a story from the Bible if I provided some easy-to-use tools? Would adults be willing to take a few minutes at the end of the day to read a story from the Bible and to talk with their children about it if I provided a few questions to get the conversation going? What about adults? Could an adult be encouraged to read stories from the Bible a few moments each day and to reflect upon questions that can help them to build a bridge between the stories in the Bible and daily living? What would it look like if I created a list of 52 stories from the life of Jesus to read during one year; and then, created a list of 52 well-known stories from the Bible to read throughout the course of another year? It seemed to be a win-win for everybody! Adults would be equipped. Adults could be encouraged to read the Bible and pray with their children. And the children, of course, would benefit from spending some time each day with their parent(s) or another adult(s) learning about God and building life-giving faith-links to the Bible that they could carry with them for the rest of their lives.
FaithBuilders is a ministry that’s been created to help you to build a bridge between where you are right now and where God wants to take you tomorrow. And, the best part about is that it’s easy, convenient, and life-changing! And, guess what? FaithBuilders can all be found right here on this blog! Just click the menu option above.
Why not visit FaithBuilders today? There is no better moment than right now to begin to explore the Bible in a new way, and there’s no better moment than right now to begin to introduce children to stories from the Bible that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I had the chance to gather in an online meeting with nearly thirty spiritual leaders that represented five different faith traditions this morning.
We, most certainly, had different ideas about God and spirituality. Imagine Jewish rabbis talking about how they celebrated Passover with Islamic leaders who are getting ready for Ramadan. Imagine Christians talking about Holy Week and Easter with a Buddhist. Imagine a Mormon speaking about the new temple that is being built in our local area while spiritual leaders from different faith traditions listened to her and shared in her excitement. It was an incredible experience!
People of all faith traditions are moving through challenging and unusual times.
Our shared humanity is something that reminds us that we’re vulnerable. It’s scary to think about the fact that, any time you leave your home, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of being infected by a deadly virus. Many people, who were wishing that their lives could slow down for a while, have too much time on their hands. Some people have even begun to openly rebel against social distancing and are protesting on the steps of capital buildings across America. And then, there are those who are grieving because they’ve lost people that they dearly loved in the last few weeks. There are students who were preparing for their high school or college graduation, but who are now mourning the fact that they will never see some of their friends again. Stress and tension are high. Some people are continuing to search for ways to be kind to others while others have a fuse that’s growing shorter every day.
Spiritual leaders, even across faith traditions, agree that isolation has some benefits.
Many of us are trapped in busy routines that can silence the voice of God. We pack our schedules with a nearly endless list of things to do. I recently asked a group of teenagers how many of them would like to tell their parents that they need to just stop once in a while – and every hand in the room went up. We search for significance through job promotions. We try to gain a sense of satisfaction by buying things that we don’t really need, or by bragging about how much money we have in the bank. Some of us have a Bible that we proudly display on the coffee table in our living room; and yet, we never open it. It’s sometimes hard to hear the voice of God because we never simply stop, and take time to reflect and pray. Jesus withdrew to the mountaintop many times during His life and ministry because He knew that God’s often found in silence and solitude.
One of the big benefits of isolation is that we have more time to spend in faith-building activities and in sensing our deep connections to the Divine.
Several months ago, I created something that I’m calling FaithBuilders. In my life and ministry, I’ve learned that many people are unfamiliar with even the basic stories in the Bible. I spend time with teenagers who don’t know how to find specific verses in their Bibles, and who have never heard the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors, the story of the Exodus, or even the story of Samson and Delilah. Today, more and more people have never heard many of the stories about Jesus that are in the Bible.
Spiritual leaders, even across faith traditions, agree that isolation has some benefits.
And that’s why I would like to encourage you to spend some time during these unusual days reconnecting with your faith, your God and your spirituality. And for those who are Christian, I’d like to introduce you, again, to FaithBuilders.
FaithBuilders is an easy-to-use tool that can be used by individuals who want to reflect upon their faith and revisit basic stories in the Bible, and FaithBuilders is something that parents can use with their children during these unusual times when children are not able to gather together in Sunday School classes.
We focus upon only one story in the Bible each week; and, as we’re doing that together, I provide some questions for you to think about (or even discuss with others). Some of the questions build bridges between the story you’re being asked to read and other stories in the Bible. Other questions help you to build bridges between your faith and daily living. Still other questions invite you to pray about challenges that you are facing in your own life and about some of the things that you’re seeing in other people’s lives. FaithBuilders is designed to help you to grow and to sense a deeper connection between God and daily living.
I hope that you’ll take some time to explore FaithBuilders and that you will be able to use this tool as a faith-building activity during these unusual days. As I indicated above, the spiritual leaders that I spoke with this morning agree that isolation has benefits. Why not use some time in these unusual days to revisit some of your beliefs and to become more deeply connected to faith-building activities? Perhaps, these difficult times can help you to become more aware of God’s presence and more able to hear God’s voice?
People say many different things about Jesus.
We know that Jesus was crucified and was raised from the dead between 26 and 36 CE because that’s when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. St. Paul wrote his letters about 20 years later and the Gospel of Mark was written about 10 years after that. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke appeared about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Gospel of John first appeared in about 95 CE (almost 70 years after Jesus lived). The New Testament bears witness to Jesus and has transmitted stories about Jesus and letters written by early Christians for nearly 2,000 years. In the next few weeks, we are going to be exploring some of the things that the New Testament tells us about Jesus and about what all of that means for us today.
We begin this 5-week series of messages in the Wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the devil. Jesus has already been washed in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer. We have already been told that Jesus is God’s Son. And now, we see Jesus being led into the wilderness (the land of demons and unclean spirits) by the Holy Spirit and we even see the devil tempt Jesus three different times.
But, before we get to that, let’s back up a little bit….
Did you know that Jesus believed that our world is a place where evil is running amok? Jesus, like John the Baptizer before him, called people to radically change their lives – knowing that the Kingdom of God is near. Jesus believed that he was living in the End Times and that a mighty warrior, called the Son of Man, was going to come into the world to set things straight (maybe even tomorrow!). And, because of that, the ethical teachings of Jesus were both extreme and confrontational (think about plucking-out the eye that causes you to sin) (Matthew 5:29). Jesus believed that the “Son of Man” was coming into the world to judge both the living and the dead.
It is in this context that Jesus came to be seen by his followers as The Cosmic Warrior.
Jesus came into a world where the forces of good and evil are fighting with each other and to defeat the forces of evil (and even the devil). Jesus came into the world to drive-back the enemies of God and to defeat the powers of sin, the devil and death. We’re told in the letter to the Hebrews that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but did not fall victim to those temptations (Hebrews 4:15). St. Paul tells us that, because of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, we can know that we’re already “far more that conquerors through him who loves us (Romans 8:37).
And it’s in that trust and faith that we find courage and strength to live our daily lives.
We are still being tempted to put ourselves first and to push other people aside because we’re afraid that they’ll somehow take what belongs to us – just like Jesus was. We’re still being tempted to test the extent of God’s love and mercy every time we do things that we know aren’t right trusting that God will always forgive us. We still live in a world where people crave power for themselves and where people want to have a sense of power and control over other people. Think about Jesus – The Cosmic Warrior – who was offered total and absolute power, and who was offered the chance to control the entire world if he would just sell his soul to the devil – one time!
Jesus – The Cosmic Warrior – journeys with us, in that same battle, today.
Please don’t forget that when you’re being tempted to do what you know isn’t right, Jesus is with you. Please don’t forget that when you’re searching for a sense of peace and hope in your life, Jesus is with you to give you strength. Please don’t forget that Jesus continues to point you in the right direction when you read your Bible, and pray, and join others in worship and prayer. And please don’t forget that the same Jesus will sometimes poke you and challenge you to change course when you’re drifting away – just like Jesus did during his life and ministry on the earth.
You are already far more than a conqueror!
And my challenge to you, this week, is to live in that faith and to trust that Jesus is with you. This week’s lesson (Matthew 4:1-11) reminds us that Jesus – The Cosmic Warrior – has already faced the devil and has triumphed. Jesus is able to help you to overcome any temptation that you face and will journey with you no matter where life takes you. Trust that Jesus is taking care of you. Trust that Jesus is providing what you need. And, above all, know that ALL of the battles you will face this week are nothing more than the last few skirmishes of a great cosmic war between good and evil that has already been won for us by Jesus – The Cosmic Warrior.
Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faith-of-heart.
I’ve had times in my life when I was so focused upon prayer and contemplation that my journey of faith began to turn inward. When I was in seminary, I always wanted to take a course on spirituality, so that I could somehow become a bit more “spiritual” – but I didn’t find the magic pill. I have moved through periods in life where I’ve consumed everything that people offered to me to help me grow as a Christian and I always went away craving more. I’ve also learned that it’s safe to do ministry from a distance. I’ve sponsored several children through Compassion International. I’ve sent money to Pittsburgh Fisher House. I’ve dumped hundreds of cans of food into boxes at my church – knowing that those cans would be delivered to a local food bank by somebody else. I can’t even begin to count the number of struggling people that I’ve tried to comfort by telling them that they’re in “my thoughts and prayers” while standing at a safe distance from their struggles and pain.
Jesus once had an interesting conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a powerful man and a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus spent his entire life studying the Old Testament and trying to follow the “Rules of God” which had grown from a list of ten clear commandments into scrolls filled with thousands of rules. But Nicodemus was also fascinated by Jesus. And so, one night, Nicodemus came to Jesus because he wanted to talk with Him. And Jesus began to talk with Nicodemus about being “born again.” And in that story, we find what’s probably the best-known verse in the entire Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) And, in that great verse, we find an important key to ministry in the world today!
In this week’s message, “Serving Others – Following the Example of Jesus”, we remember that how we think about God shapes the way we think about ministry.
Many of us believe that God’s presence is found in a church building and that folks need to come to that church building if they want to encounter God and grow as a Christian – and when we think in that particular way we almost transform our church buildings into a Jewish “Holy of Holies.” Many Christians believe that the Church’s best-route-forward in swiftly changing times is still going to be discovered when we find new and innovative ways to get more people to come into our church buildings during a particular time of the week (that we, of course, have chosen for ourselves).
But, in the story of Nicodemus, we’re reminded that God didn’t sit up in Heaven waiting for people to come to Him. God became “incarnate.” The Christian faith is built around the idea that God came into the world to meet us where we live and spend our time and raise our kids. And so, if we truly want to serve others – following the example of Jesus – doesn’t it make sense that our ministry must also be one that reaches-out to people in the places where they live and spend their time and raise their kids, too?
What would the ministry of Christ’s Church look like if we moved past the idea that our primary goal in ministry is to get more people to come into our buildings?
Can you imagine Christians studying the Bible with each other in their homes, and very intentionally creating safe places where people who don’t want to come into our church buildings can gather to talk about God and pray with each other? Imagine Christians going into their communities and forging new relationships with groups of parents who are just as concerned about helping young people to grow into healthy adults as we are. What would our ministries look like if we pictured our church buildings simply as places where people could come to be welcomed and embraced, to be heard and to be cared for, to worship and pray in a place filled with love and acceptance, and to be equipped and empowered to do what God’s calling them to do outside of the church building?
Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart. And life’s, also, taught me that “Serving Others – Following the Example of Jesus” is something that will always call us to move beyond the safety of “spiritual practices” and the walls of church buildings.
What would happen if we began to see that ministry isn’t just about struggling to find new and innovative ways to get people to come into our church buildings? What would happen if we began to understand Christian ministry more incarnationally and followed the example of Jesus more intentionally – going-out into the world to meet people where they live and spend their time and raise their kids?
I’ve always enjoyed sharing Good News with other people.
Good news can bring a smile to people’s faces and it can help people to see that life’s still good in tough times. Good news encourages people, builds people up, and brings comfort to those who are struggling. And yet, America’s filled with more and more people who do not want to hear the message of Good News that Christians bring to the world. America is filled with many people who don’t want to have anything do to with the Church. And that is a harsh reality that we face in: “Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ”
The Temple of Jerusalem was divided into three distinct parts in the time of Jesus. There was a “Holy of Holies” – reserved for the High Priest. There was an area surrounding the “Holy of Holies” where the Jews could worship. And then, there was an outside area that existed because, according to Isaiah 56:7, the Temple in Jerusalem was originally built to be a “house of prayer for all people.” People who weren’t Jewish were still welcome in the Temple and they could worship in this outside area. But a problem was created when the Jews began to use this “outside area” as a place to sell animals and to exchange coins. And, when Jesus arrived at the Temple, He was horrified by the fact that the “business as usual” in the Temple was interfering with the Temple’s ability to be the “house of prayer for all people.”
We have a life-giving message of Good News and a wonderful message of God’s love and embrace to share with the world; but, sometimes, our “business as usual” in the Church can keep us from being Christ’s Church for all people. The Good News of Jesus Christ can become hidden when people in the Church aren’t living well with each other, and that’s why many people don’t want to have anything to do with the Church. The Good News of God’s welcome and embrace can become hidden when “the way that we want people to do things” becomes more important than the fact that we want people to be a part of what God’s doing in our midst. The Good News of God’s forgiveness can become hidden when Christians refuse to forgive each other and release the things in life that have hurt them. The Good News of Jesus Christ can become veiled in a cloud when our “business as usual” in the Church becomes more important than what we are doing to proclaim God’s love and embrace.
When Jesus got to the Temple, He found people doing what people had always done at the Temple during Passover. They were selling animals. They were selling sacrificial doves to the poor. They were exchanging Roman coins for coins that could be used in the Temple. And, as they did their “business as usual,” the part of the Temple in Jerusalem that was designed to be a place where people who weren’t Jewish could gather for worship disappeared and the Temple began to lose a sense of being a “house of prayer for all people.”
And that’s something that we need to think about in the Church today.
How does our “business as usual” interfere with our ability to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world today? How does our “business as usual” create a barrier that keeps people from experiencing God’s presence in our houses of worship today? How does our “business as usual” keep people from more-fully participating in ministry, and using gifts and talents to glorify God?
Perhaps this Lent, as the Living Christ continues to move in our midst, we can hear God’s call to move past our “business as usual” in the Church, so that all of God’s people will be able to more deeply sense that the place where we worship is a “house of prayer for all people” where all who gather can experience God’s presence and hear a word of Good News.
Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart.
I was taught that faith is primarily a source of comfort, stability and peace in life when I was a little boy. I was taught that people should come to worship because the church is a place where people have their “gas tanks” filled, and where people come to be energized and to be inspired by the pastor. But, after living almost thirty years as a pastor, I can say that I’ve learned that living my life as a follower of Jesus is about much, much more.
It’s not easy to spend time with people who are dying, or to speak words of hope and new life while standing beside a hole in the ground. It’s not easy to listen to a pain-filled story; and, then, take a woman who’s being abused at home to a place where someone from the Blackburn Center will pick her up and take her to a safe place. It’s not easy to continually search for new ways to help parents raise faith-filled children when many of those same parents won’t even bring their kids to worship. It’s not easy to publicly speak-out against racism and bigotry, to openly speak about caring for the poor and homeless, and to just as openly address hot political issues when people just stop coming to worship and stop supporting important ministries when they disagree with what’s being said in the pulpit.
Right after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and right after He spent time alone in the Wilderness, Jesus began to preach and heal people and gather disciples. We read that Jesus once fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. And Peter was watching everything! The Bible tells us that Peter even got to the point where He believed that Jesus is the Messiah.
But, right after Peter told everyone around him that he believed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to speak about suffering, and being rejected, and being killed, and being lift-up to new life. And when Peter had heard enough, he shouted, “No, no, no, no, no! That’s not how things are going to be!” And Jesus called him “Satan” – and told him to get out of the way! And then, Jesus spoke haunting words: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will save it.”
And that brings us to the second of the Faith Practices that we’re going to lift-up during our Lenten Journey (to learn more about the first Faith Practice, click here).
The Bible tells us that God’s Word is the “sword of the Spirit” that cuts us to the heart – bringing words of comfort and peace, but also bringing powerful words that convict us and challenge us to do what God wants us to do. The “sword of the Spirit” is something that God uses to bring peace and to stir-up faith within us, but the “sword of the Spirit” is also a powerful word that continues to challenge us to “take-up our Cross”; and to allow “old ways” to die, so that “new ways” can be born.
In “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Supper”, we are reminded that our faith can be a source of strength and stability, but it can also be something that drives us to do things that are uncomfortable. When we stop biting our tongues and begin to speak-out about the things that we believe, we can experience rejection and unexpected consequences. When we stop biting our tongues and stop hiding what we believe, we can gain an even deeper sense of what God’s calling us to do – but, when we take that chance, we need to realize that we might become unpopular and even be rejected. That’s why the second of our Faith Practices is so important!
God’s Word comforts and challenges us, and the Lord’s Supper brings us the gift of God’s presence and forgiveness. The “sword of the Spirit” continues to guide and direct us, and the Lord’s Supper continues to strengthen and empower us.
Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish need to be grounded in God’s Word and to be strengthened by the Lord’s Supper. Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish must continue to seek God’s guidance in the teachings of the Bible and in prayer, and they must also continue to seek the strengthening presence of God at the Table where Christ has promised to be. Churches and ministries can’t be built on things that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called “wish dreams” (human-created ideas and dreams). In this week’s message, we are called to remember that churches and ministries are built and endure when God’s people spend time reading God’s Word and in prayer, and when God’s people continue to gather around the altar to be fed and nourished.
“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Christ will save it.” May God continue to guide us as we make sense of what these words mean to us in changing times, and may God continue to comfort and challenge us to “live well” with each other as we gather around God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper.