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.

Christian Emissions Standards

Freedom of Speech

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

I began my career as a Chemical Engineer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Yourself (and Others) a Break!

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Do you ever feel like there’s not enough of you to go around?

I begin my morning by reaching over and grabbing my cell phone off the nightstand, so that I can see what I need to do. I watch people running from place to place to place – trying to juggle their schedule at work with their commitments to their children, while trying to take care of aging parents as the grass on their front lawn continues to grow. I recently asked a group of teenagers, “How many of you would like to tell your parents that you just need to stop once in a while?” – and every hand at the table went up. How many of you have convinced yourselves that you’ll have all the time in the world to do the things that you want to do when you retire? But, what if you don’t have enough energy to do those things, or the gift of good health, when you retire?

This week’s message, “Give Yourself (and Others) a Break!”, calls us to stop and to think about the Sabbath. The Sacred Story tells us that God created the Sabbath after being busily invested in the all-consuming and exhausting work of Creation. The Sacred Story tells us that God created the Sabbath because we live in a world where we don’t allow ourselves to stop, and because we live in a world where other people don’t allow us to stop either. The Sabbath is a time to be filled and sustained with God’s gifts. God created the Sabbath as a time of healing – even though other folks don’t often think about the fact that we need God’s healing and restoring power in our lives.

But the Sabbath wasn’t just given to us. The Sabbath is also a gift that we can extend to other people. What would life look like if we began to realize that life is about more than an endless list of chores and obligations? What would life look like if parents began to realize that young people need to stop as much as they do – and if young people could see that their parents sometimes need to stop running, too? What would life look like if we began to realize that other people can’t always pick up the ball and run with it every time we decide that we don’t want to do something anymore? What would life look like if we built our society upon the premise that God has given the gift of the Sabbath to everyone; and that people who are working two, three, or even four jobs to make ends meet, need to be paid high enough wages to be able to stop and rest, too?

The Sabbath is a gift that allows us to break-away from our busy routines, but the gift of the Sabbath is also an issue of justice. “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. On in you shall not do any work – you or your son or daughter, your male servant or female servant, your ox or donkey or livestock, or even the traveler who is within your gates – so that they may rest just as you do.” (Exodus 20:10-11)

Do you ever feel like there’s not enough of you to go around?

If you just answered “Yes!” to that question, you’re in good company. “The Sabbath was made for people,” Jesus once said (Mark 2:27). Don’t we all need to shift gears once in a while for the sake of our own health and well-being? Don’t we all need to remember that we live in a world where we can feel like there’s not enough of us to go around – because we never allow ourselves to step off of the running treadmill – and because we don’t allow other people to do it either?

Where’s God Working in Your Life?

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Where do you see God at work in your life these days?

We’ve all been taught to think about God in certain ways; and, when we do that, it shapes not only what we believe about God, but it also shapes what we believe God does.

Do you picture God as an old man with a long, white beard who’s watching everything? Do you picture God as a “puppet-master” who’s pulling strings in your life (and in the world) to accomplish His will? Are you confusing God and Santa Claus – picturing God as a white-bearded “Watchman” who keeps track of whether you’ve been naughty or nice – and who always has a sack filled with goodies (or coal) to give away? Are you able to see God’s presence in people who are suffering – always working in unexpected places?

In this week’s message, “Where’s God Working in Your Life?”, we are challenged to keep things “down to earth” and to explore where God is working in our lives in down-to-earth ways. Instead of pointing to an invisible God up in the sky who’s keeping an eye on us and watching everything that we do, pulling strings like a “puppet-master,” and leaving gifts (or coal) under our tree – what if we could begin to see God at work in places where we are feeling welcomed and embraced – just as we are – with all of our strengths and weaknesses, our quirks and flaws, our goodness and love? What would life be like if we began to see God in places where we are feeling listened-to and cared-about? Jesus once said that He would always be found in the midst of His people as they come together to share gifts of broken Bread and tasty Wine. What if we began to more clearly see that God’s at work in places where we’re feeling loved and supported — listened-to and cared-about — equipped and empowered to face whatever life brings us tomorrow morning?

And so, let me ask you again…. Where do you see God at work in your life these days?

Jesus once told us that He will always be found when His people come together and form a “community.” And what that means is that – sometimes Jesus works through us as we help other people’s – and sometimes Jesus works through other people who help us.

It’s all about connection – love – and mutual guidance and support. And, before we go off and try to find the invisible God, we always need to remember that we’ve been told that, if we can’t love (and be loved by) people that we can see, we’ll never be able to love (and be loved by) the invisible God that we can’t see (1 John 4:20).

Faith and Wellness

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Life’s pretty complicated, isn’t it?

We live in an Age of soaring blood pressure, out-of-control cholesterol levels, expanding waist bands, and anti-anxiety medications. We have commitments to our families and to our employers. We have things that we need to do right now and things that we need to do tomorrow. We have commitments to our nation and commitments to our God.

Have you ever felt like a juggler who’s spinning plates at a circus?

Have you ever wondered if there’s enough of you to go around?

If so, you really need to listen to this week’s message: “Faith and Wellness”.

“Faith and Wellness” are intimately connected because God created us to be people who live lives that are healthy and whole. God wants us to work and earn a living – but God doesn’t want us to focus so much energy upon earning money that we neglect the people that we love. God wants us to grow intellectually and to have time to relax – but God also wants us to eat healthy foods and exercise. God wants us to do the things that are most important to us and that we enjoy – but God also calls us to offer some of our time and energy and wealth to the building-up of His Reign on the earth. It’s challenging. Finding new ways to integrate the basic pieces of our lives and blend them together into a strong and healthy whole isn’t easy. But, if we want to be healthy and whole, we need to realize that “Faith and Wellness” are intimately connected.

We can begin to consider ways to more effectively balance our lives as we reflect upon the “Wholeness Wheel” that’s provided above – and we can all improve the quality of our lives as we continue to remember that God calls us to give adequate attention to all of the different parts of our lives without allowing anything – but God – to gain control of the whole thing.

 

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 32 and 33

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Life’s been a bit crazy in the last few weeks….

I guess that a man doesn’t realize how much his wife does to support and to care for him until she decides to go away for ten days. I spent time at a coaching conference while my wife was away, and came home with a 3-hour homework assignment and a small pile of books to read. And, of course, ministry continues.  First Communion classes have started and our Catechism program is underway. We’re getting ready to celebrate Harvest Home this weekend with an Oktoberfest – and with a special Sunday that’s devoted to focusing our attention upon how God’s using us and the ministry of our congregation to do His work in a quickly-changing world. And, quite honestly, it’s all pretty overwhelming….

You could probably be writing something very similar, right? There are times when we find ourselves burning the candle at both ends and trying to light it in the middle. We all have times when we realize that there’s just not enough of us to around. And it’s hard for us – because we don’t always like to admit it. I often joke about the fact that I once asked God for an extra day each week – and He responded, in great mercy, by saying, “No!”

And yet, as we travel through the book of Proverbs, we find encouragement.

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

How is God helping to establish your plans? How is God leading you and guiding you in your life right now? Are you trying to do it all by yourself? Are you struggling because you can’t figure-out how to find the time to do all of the things that you think God wants you to do? Perhaps, it’s time to step back and commit your work to the Lord? Maybe, it’s time to step back and admit that you don’t really know the exact path forward, and ask God to guide you and strengthen you?

We all face overwhelming times when we’re not sure about the future and when we are even less sure about how to get there. Why not take some time to pray about that today – knowing that God has a wonderful plan for your life and that God will open doors that will lead you in the direction that He wants you to move?

Here are two weeks of readings:

Week 31

Sunday – 2 Thessalonians, Monday – Leviticus 25-27, Tuesday – 1 Chronicles 1-4, Wednesday – Psalms 93-95, Thursday – Proverbs 16, Friday – Daniel 1-6, Saturday – John 3-4

Week 32

Sunday – 1 Timothy 1-3, Monday – Numbers 1-4, Tuesday – 1 Chronicles 5-9, Wednesday – Psalms 96-98, Thursday – Proverbs 17-18, Friday – Daniel 7-12, Saturday – John 5-6

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 29

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

I want to begin, this week, by congratulating you. Many people tell me that they would like to read through the Bible, but many of those same people tell me that they’ve never done it for one reason or another. Reading through the entire Bible can seem to be a big and unmanageable task, but even large and unmanageable tasks can be accomplished by taking small, consistent steps forward on a daily basis. And I’m hoping that this weekly “Read Through the Bible” addition to my blog has helped you to develop a daily pattern of taking time to read God’s Word and to think about what God’s saying to you.

I’ve always found it hard to read the book of Proverbs.

When I’m reading through the book of Proverbs, it’s almost like I’m being blasted with a whole bunch of different and unrelated ideas at the same time. A single chapter of the book of Proverbs can present dozens of different ideas. This week, our reading from the book of Proverbs will speak about: false scales, wealth, living a good life, the righteous being delivered from trouble, spreading false information about others, our need to have worthy counselors, posting a bond for others, gracious women and violent men, crooked hearts, etc. I could go on and on and on….

But, one proverb that stands-out to me says: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but the man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” (Proverbs 11:12-13)

Friendships are often marked by the sharing of secrets. Friends talk with us about things that are happening in their lives that they don’t want to share with other people. Friends sometimes tell us about painful experiences in their pasts, or about the very, real battles that they’re facing right now. And the question always is: “What do I do with information that friends share with me?”

Private information can become the topic of gossip – and it can be used to destroy the reputations of other people. Private information that friends share with us can be freely spread during conversations that should probably never happen, or it can be kept “covered” as Proverbs 11:13 suggests. And that’s something we need to think about when friends share private information believing that we’ll keep private information private.

And so, this week, as we continue our journey through the book of Proverbs, I’d like to challenge you to think about what you do when your friends and family members share private information with you. Do you spread what you’ve learned, or do you keep what you’ve learned buried deep in your heart? Do you share what you’ve been told through gossip as soon as you have a chance, or do you carry the private information that’s been entrusted to you by a person who trusts you both “covered” and “unrevealed”?

Here’s this week’s readings:

Sunday: Colossians 3-4 – Monday: Leviticus 16-18 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 11-15 – Wednesday: Psalms 84-86 – Thursday: Proverbs 11-12 – Friday: Ezekiel 31-36 – Saturday: Luke 21-22

The Big Commitment

robin williams

I suspect that we’ve all heard the words: “Carpe Diem”

Many of us drift through life believing that we have all the time in the world. And, as we do that, today becomes tomorrow and tomorrow becomes the middle of next week. Next week turns into next month; and, before we know it, we’re ringing-in another year. And, as that happens, the sands in the hourglass just keep dropping through the little hole and the sands of time keep slipping between our fingers in the exact same way.

When Jesus calls us to “take-up our the cross and follow Him,” He calls us to make “The Big Commitment”.  The Big Commitment changes our lives. The Big Commitment calls us to grow into something that we might not otherwise become. The Big Commitment will challenge us to make choices and decisions that aren’t always popular with other people and call us to “put some skin in the game” when other people won’t. The Big Commitment calls us to “Seize the Day” and make the best of every opportunity that God places before us because big opportunities can be lost and key moments can disappear forever.

People often tell us that they’re “too busy” to do things that we ask them to do. But, one of the things I’ve learned in life is that no one is always busy. And what that means is that people base their decision to join hands with us (or not join hands with us) upon what number we are on their priority list. It’s about choices. It’s about commitments. It’s about setting priorities in life and shaping life around what we believe is most important.

And that’s where “The Big Commitment” comes into the picture.

When Christ calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him,” He’s not talking about facing the challenges in our lives with faith and courage. Our personal struggles and challenges are not our crosses. Christ calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him” when He calls us to make life-changing decisions and long-term commitments. He calls us to make choices and decisions that change the way that we think and the way that we act. When Christ calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him,” He calls us to commit ourselves to making sacrifices in life for the sake of others that most people would never consider making – because we know that we know that we know that it’s what God wants us to do.

Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Commit yourself to doing the things that you know God wants you to do – even if your decision to do those things separates you from some other people and all of the expectations that they’ve placed upon your life.

Are You an Apostle?

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How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

My relationship with Jesus began when I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I have been a student and a church organist. I have been a counselor at a Christian camp and I’ve served as a pastor for 29 years. My relationship with Christ has changed as I’ve moved through life, and I’m excited about where God is going to take me in the coming years.

How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

In this week’s message, “The Apostolic Imperative”, we see that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel referred to people who surrounded Jesus in two different ways. In Matthew 10:1, we see that the people who surrounded Jesus were called “μαθητης” – a Greek word that occurs 74 times in Matthew’s Gospel and that describes the people who surrounded Jesus as “disciples” – followers – “followers who adhere to the teachings of a particular teacher.” But, in Matthew 10:2, the writer of the Gospel shifts gears and uses the word “αποστολος” to describe those who surrounded Christ – a Greek word that is only used one time in the Gospel. “Αποστολος” describes those who surround Jesus as apostles and “commissioned representatives” of One who sends them. When you think about “αποστολος,” I want you to think about Moses – a man who was called to serve as a commissioned representative of God and who was sent to the Pharaoh of Egypt with a clear message from God.

I suspect that most of us picture ourselves as “followers” of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is walking with us and we want to believe that we’re doing things that Jesus wants us to do. But, what if we began to understand that we’re, also, called to be commissioned representatives of the Reign of God? Imagine the power that kind of a distinction could bring to our ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ!

Christ’s “Commissioned Representatives” feed the hungry, and announce the coming of the Reign of God in the very same way that Jesus did. “Commissioned Representatives” of the Reign of God confront the powers of evil that oppress the poor and that continue to separate people by looking at the color of their skin. “Commissioned Representatives” of Jesus Christ proclaim God’s forgiveness and embrace, and they speak a word of hope to young people who are being bullied in schools. “Commissioned Representatives” of Jesus Christ fight against domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness, and hunger in the lives of children who are living in the communities that surround our churches. And why? Simply because that’s what “αποστολος” do!

I believe that the modern-day Church has become insecure, and I believe that the role of the Church in America (and in other places around the world) has been clearly dislodged because the Church is experiencing an “identity crisis.” We must recapture the important distinction between being “μαθητης” (followers of Jesus) and “αποστολος” (commissioned representatives of the Reign of God) in the world today. And that’s what I lift before you in this week’s message, “The Apostolic Imperative”

Blessings!

Living into Your Destiny!

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I suspect that we’ve all thought about our “purpose in life.”

The Bible tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) We read in that same psalm: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; and in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me.”

God has created us with a purpose and with a destiny in mind! You might even say that our lives and our journeys of faith are an adventure – where we somehow try to make sense of what is means to be created by God and to be touched by the Holy Spirit. That’s what this week’s message, “Living into Your Destiny!”, is all about.

As we listen to a story about Jesus being washed by John the Baptizer, we’re magically transported through time, and we are taken back to the time and place where we were washed – in the waters of Holy Baptism – and to the time and place where we were touched, just like Jesus was, by the Spirit of God.

The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God moved over the waters in the midst of unfolding Creation, and touched God’s people on the day of Pentecost. The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God “blows wherever it wants to blow” (John 3:8) and that the Spirit of God will touch whoever God wants to touch. And God touched YOU…! You have been filled with the same Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus, and you have been touched by the same Spirit of God that drove Jesus into the world to fight the forces of evil and to proclaim the dawning of the Reign of God.

What does that mean?

Perhaps, your deepest calling in life is to discover what God created you to be? Perhaps, your deepest calling in life is to discover what it means to a representative of the Reign of God in a world where many folks believe that everything’s just falling apart?

Blessings!