Do You Want to be Healed?

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I suspect that we all have questions about healing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus is Searching for You

Searching

Stories are an important part of our lives.

I suspect that many of us can remember the day when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, and that many of us can remember what we were doing on that day. My father used to tell me a story about the day when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I’ve been told many stories in my years as a pastor, and I truly believe that many of those stories capture the very essence of life.

Jesus told many stories, called parables, during His ministry.

And one day, Jesus told a story about a shepherd who left 99 sheep in the middle of the Wilderness in order to search for one of the sheep that had wandered off. He searched behind rocks and boulders. He shouted until the back of his throat was raw. He searched and searched and searched and searched. And he rejoiced when he found the lost sheep and was able to return it to the flock.

We all have times when we wander off and get lost in the Wilderness.

Some people get lost when they sink into the bottomless pit of addiction. Some of us struggle to forgive people who have hurt or disappointed us. Some of us get lost as we face the temptation to withdraw and isolate ourselves as we grieve. Teenagers who are being bullied can feel lost. People who struggle with homeless can feel lost. People who are trying to escape from the grip of Internet pornography (which is a plague that affects and ruins many people’s lives – even in the Church) can feel lost. And, when we’re lost, we can’t always find our own way back from the lonely Wilderness, can we?

Jesus is searching for you.

The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who have life all figured-out, come together to be entertained for an hour each week. The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who don’t want to admit that we’re all lost in some way, come together to have their ego stroked by an inspiring speaker. We’ve all had times when we’ve needed to be found by the Shepherd of our Souls. We’ve all had times when we’ve been lost and when we’ve needed to be brought back to the safety of the flock whether it be to the safety of our family, or to the safety of  the Church, or to the safety of a support group that can help and encourage us as we struggle with the uncertainties of life.

Jesus is searching for you.

No matter where you find yourself in life, right now, the arms of God are opened wide and God’s embrace is big. Take heart! The Shepherd of our Souls continues to search for you even when you feel lost and alone. Jesus is searching for you in whatever Wilderness surrounds you today. And that’s truly a message of Good News, isn’t it? It’s a message that can comfort and sustain us when we’re feeling cut-off from other people and when we’re feeling that even God is standing at a distance as we struggle to find our way through a Wilderness that can leave us feeling very lost and alone.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

Grace Sufficient for Today

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Having faith isn’t always easy, is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Facing the Holiday Blues

the pain by emilio gallori 1846 1924  siena palazzo publicco

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

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

Some common causes:

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

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

Some helpful ideas:

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

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

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

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

Waiting Well

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One of the things that drives me crazy is waiting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Storms Arise

Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,

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

with only my own inner strength and courage.

God is Mighty!

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

has the power to carry me safely

toward better days.

 

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie

The Heartbeat of God

Embrace

God has a wonderful plan for your future!

I suspect that many of us come to worship and invest our time in prayer because we want to experience a sense of the divine. We long for God’s presence in our lives, and we want to live “in tune” with God’s plans. We want to know that God’s walking beside us and giving us the strength that we need each day. And, perhaps most of all, we all want to know that God’s going to be with us when we face that one, inescapable moment in time when we close our eyes and quietly slip into eternity.

But, when we travel through times when our faith’s being tested, God’s “heartbeat” can become so soft and muted that it almost seems to disappear. God’s “heartbeat” can be silenced by our busy-ness. God’s “heartbeat” can be hard to hear when we find ourselves running from place to place because we’ve tried to squeeze too many things into our already over-packed schedules. But, if we listen carefully to the words of Jesus, we can know that when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be OK. That’s what we explore in this week’s message: “The Heartbeat of God”

Julian of Norwich often listened to the “heartbeat of God” and she came away with a great and life-giving truth: “All shall be well – and all shall be well – and all manner of things shall be well.” Listen to those words today. Remember that Christ has gone before you to prepare a place where God shall wipe the tears from your eyes – and where there shall no longer be mourning and crying and pain for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Listen to the “heartbeat of God.” Open your ears as the Great Rabbi Himself, the Risen Christ, opens His arms and draws you close to His chest. All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Blessings!

Mental Health Awareness Month

the pain by emilio gallori 1846 1924  siena palazzo publicco

Organizations throughout the world will be focusing on the issue of mental health during the month of May. Mental wellness, according to the World Health Organization, is: “a state of well-being where one can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work both productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.”

Did you know that you are more likely to encounter a person in an emotional or mental crisis than you are to encounter someone having a heart attack? Did you know nearly 3 million people are treated for anxiety-related disorders every year – and that outpatient treatments for depression cost people nearly $18 billion each year? Did you know that many mental illnesses (like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) first strike young adults in their early 20’s? Did you know mental illness dramatically increase risk factors such as substance abuse, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, excessive spending, and even troublesome exercise routines? Did you know that people who are suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime that they are to commit one?

Unfortunately, people who suffer from mental illnesses are still stigmatized and pushed to the fringes of society because people remain both uninformed and afraid. We accept the fact that people’s arteries can become blocked, and that people’s pancreas can stop producing insulin. We stand beside folks who are fighting cancer, and we participate in support activities that are created to fight diseases. But what happens when someone’s brain chemistry changes? What happens when a person’s behavior is affected by a change that occurs inside their head? People who act in unusual ways can be scary to us. People who struggle with mental illness are often driven into silence, and often fight their battle alone because other people just do not want to get involved. I believe that God calls us, as Christians and as the Church, to something better than that. And I truly believe that the compassionate Lord challenges us to learn, to grow, and to love people that we find hard to understand and to fully embrace.

During Mental Health Awareness month, I’d like to challenge you to do several things:

  1. Learn – remembering that knowledge and insight are important first steps. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides information for people who are interested in learning about mental health, and provides helpful information for those who struggle with mental illness and their families. You can find more information by visiting: namiswpa.org
  2. Be Real – remembering that help is available to those who need it. You can take a first, big step by contacting your family doctor. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and to talk – and to help you to find a path forward. If you are a bit reluctant to take a “big step” like that, you might want to take a “Mental Health Screening” in the privacy of your own home during the month of May. You can find a great “Mental Health Screening” at: mentalhealthamerica.net. The “Resources” link on Mental Health America’s website can help you to screen for depression, alcohol or substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. That same site provides a screening that young people (between the ages of 11 and 17) can use if they’re concerned that they might be having a problem, and another screening that parents can use if they think that their teenager is facing a challenge.
  3. Be Ready – remembering that times of crisis are NOT the time to start looking for more information and resources. If you’re feeling suicidal (or if someone tells you that he/she is thinking about ending his/her own life) call 911 so that you can get the help that you need without a moment’s hesitation! “NOW Mental Health” also provides a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-855-990-6729. “NOW Mental Health” network also provides instant access to professionally trained staff and referral to facilities that are spread across our country.
  4. Be Open – remembering that people at Christ’s Lutheran Church want to stand beside you and your family. We have a “Family Fund” that can help pay for your visit to a counselor, or that can help you to purchase prescribed medications that you need for self-care. Please, also, remember that I’ve worked as a chaplain at several hospitals and that I have had some experience working with people who are struggling with the challenges of mental illness. Any conversations that you have with me and any sort of assistance that you receive from the church will be offered in the strictest of confidence. What really matters most is YOU…!

I hope that, as we move through this month, we’ll all find ways to learn more about the challenges that people face when they struggle with mental illnesses. It’s time for us to learn to talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable, and it’s time for us to learn new ways to support people who are facing tough times. Our compassionate Lord calls us to love and to embrace each other – and part of learning to do that, as individuals and as a church, is learning to open our hearts and allow people to speak, both honestly and authentically, about the challenges that they’re facing in life – continuing to discover and growing-into what it means to be “Christ’s Church for All People.”

Blessings!

The Gift of One Another

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Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day!

I’ll be stopping at the Hallmark store on my way home from work today. My wife told me that she’s already purchased some special treats that she’ll prepare for tomorrow night’s dinner, and I’m looking forward to a quiet night at home. The relationships that we share with other people are important, aren’t they? Whether we are married or not – we all have people who are important to us, and who share our joys and sorrows.

Did you know that relationships with others are a gift of God that are created to satisfy one of the deepest longings in the human soul? In the Beginning, God created rivers and birds and beasts and trees. The Bible tells us that God created ADAM from the dust of the earth and that God filled ADAM with “spirit” – the “breath of life.” And then, there was a great, big parade. The Bible tells us that God marched elephants, tigers, bears, zebras, giraffes, pygmy goats, chipmunks and even some raccoons in front of ADAM; and God asked ADAM to give each of them a name. And God did that because God was hoping that ADAM would be so delighted with one of the animals that it would become his “partner.” But it didn’t happen – and a great, gray sadness came over the earth.

It is not good that the man should be alone,” God said. (Genesis 2:18) God knew that “it is not good” for any of us to travel through life alone. And so, God decided to give all of us the “gift of other people” who celebrate the best moments in our lives, and who hold us in their arms and bear us up when life gets tough. God decided to give all of us the precious “gift of other people” because God knows that we all need to feel a sense of connection to something other than ourselves.

But, it’s not always easy to live with those “other people,” is it? We, sometimes, take each other for granted and argue about things that aren’t really important. Many of us bury our faces in our Smartphone these days – while time that we can never get back trickles away.

In this week’s message, “The Gift of One Another”, we’re called to think about that – and we’re invited to explore what “real love” looks like in human relationships. We’re going to explore what it means to share life with other people that God has brought into our lives to become members of our “team.”

I wish you many blessings as you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day tomorrow. And I hope that you’ll all take some time, tomorrow, to think about the relationships you share with ALL of the people that God’s brought into your life. It is not good for any of us to travel through life alone – and that’s why God gives us “The Gift of One Another” in order to satisfy one of the deepest longings in our soul.

Blessings!