Conquering Our Doubts Together

Calm to the Waves

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears.

How have you been responding to the challenges that we’ve all had to face in the last few weeks? Maybe you’re scared? Maybe you’re troubled by the fact that our lives are going to be different after the storm we’re facing comes to an end? Maybe you’ve been forced to think about the fact that you’re far more vulnerable than you like to admit? Maybe the events of the last few weeks have made you think more about the fact that you’re mortal and that you are going to die someday – from a coronavirus infection or from something else?

The story of Thomas that we find in John’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) has some important lessons to teach us about life as we journey through these unusual times.

Thomas was a follower of Jesus and Thomas lived his day-to-day life with Jesus for about three years. Thomas watched Jesus turn water into wine at a wedding feast. Thomas saw Jesus heal lepers and cast out many demons.  Thomas listened to Jesus tell stories, and he heard Jesus talk about the fact that He was going to be killed and that He was going to be raised from the dead. But Thomas was stunned when Jesus was swept away, and when Jesus was crucified. Thomas was totally numb as he listened to news about how the dead body of Jesus had been removed from the Cross and had been sealed in a cold tomb.

It’s sometimes hard for us to know what’s true these days.

People are saying so many different things. Experts seem to be arguing with each other and even leaders in the United States (and all over the world) can’t seem to agree upon what’s best for us. And maybe, at this point in your life, you’ve begun to say to yourself, “Seeing is believing.” Many of us are relying more upon our own personal experiences with the coronavirus than we are upon reports in the news and upon press briefings.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus first appeared to the disciples (after He was raised from the dead) Thomas wasn’t in the room with them. We don’t know why Thomas was not in the room when the Risen Jesus appeared, but we do know that Thomas remained immersed in his doubts and fears for nearly a week after the Resurrection because he was not able to fully believe what other people were telling him. “Seeing is believing” seems to describe Thomas’ approach to life better than any other words. Have you ever said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”?

But Thomas remained connected to other disciples even in his time of doubt, didn’t he?

One of the things that’s been driven into my head over and over again in the last few weeks is that we need each other and we need to find ways to remain connected to each other during these unusual times. We need to remind each other that Jesus is walking beside us. We need to pray for each other and explore creative ways to do ministry. We need to be spreading the light of the Gospel with those around us; because, after all, who needs someone to give them a flashlight after the sun has risen and a new day begins? As harsh as it may sound, if Christians can’t find a way to bring a message of light – and the message of God’s love – in dark times like these, who needs us during other times? One of the recurring themes in John’s Gospel is the sharp contrast between darkness and light, and that theme is something that Christians need to be embracing today.

The story of Thomas reminds us that we need each other.

In the beginning, God said that it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Our Risen Lord has told us that He’ll continue to be with us as we reach out to each other, embrace each other and shine light into each other’s lives. Perhaps, what people need more than anything else right now is friends and family members (and a Church) that continues to remind them that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off? Is that what you need to hear? Do you need to be reminded that Jesus is walking beside you and that God has promised you that, no matter what you face in life (or even in death), you will be lifted-up again both whole and restored?

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears. And we need to remember that, in times such as these, God continues to give us the gift of each other. 

What can YOU do today to remind people that you know that they are not alone in these challenging times? What can YOU do to shine light into the dark corners in other people’s lives, to strengthen them and to remind them that the Risen Jesus is walking beside them during these incredibly difficult days? As harsh as it may sound, if we can’t find a way to share a message of light and a message of God’s love in dark times like these, who needs us? Nobody needs other people to give them a flashlight after the sun rises and after a new day begins. People need us to be reminding them, right now, that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: The Servant

footwashing pic

Many of us know that Jesus once washed His disciples’ feet.

Jesus had ridden into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey while people cheered and threw pieces of their clothing and palm branches. Jesus had entered the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem in a moment of zeal, and He had driven the moneychangers away. And on the night when Jesus knew that He was going to be betrayed by Judas, He was aware of the fact that something terrible was about to happen.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We read: “And then, the chief priests and the Pharisees said, ‘If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will take away our Temple and our nation.’” (John 11:47) Shortly after that, Caiaphas, the High Priest, said: “Don’t you understand that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people, so that our whole nation will not be destroyed?” (John 11:50)

Everything became radically different in a very short period of time.

And yet, in the midst of that change and uncertainty, what did Jesus do? We read that He got up, took off His outer robe and tied a towel around His waist. And then, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with a towel. And He said, “Do you know what I’ve just done? I’ve set an example, so that you will do what I have done. Servants are never greater than their master, nor are the messengers greater than the One who has sent them.” (John 13:12-16) And Jesus shows us that when we serve other people what we’re doing is holy in a selfless act of washing feet. Jesus, our Master, shows us that serving others is a “holy act” that we can continue to do even today.

There are opportunities in every crisis.

Many of us are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus and are staying in our homes to prevent the spread of the virus. And yet, even in these frightening times when it’s very easy for us to withdraw and turn inward, Jesus is challenging us to continue to search for ways that we can creatively serve others.

People are continuing to serve others by working at food banks during these uncertain times and others are struggling to overcome steep technological learning curves, so that other people can remain connected. People are picking up their telephones and are calling people who live by themselves, and children are coloring pictures to send to other people. We serve others every time we wash our hands and voluntarily embrace social distancing. Last week, a member of the congregation that I serve asked me if it would be helpful for her to donate money to our church’s Family Fund since she is working in her home and spending less money for gasoline. People continue to serve others by working in hospitals and grocery stores. People are serving others by harvesting food that could simply be left in fields to rot. People are sewing masks for healthcare workers. People are delivering groceries and medications to those who are not able to leave their homes. And every time we do these things (or other creative things) to serve others, Jesus comes into our midst and we discover that we’re doing God’s work with our own hands!

There are opportunities in every crisis.

There are many opportunities for us to join hands (not literally) with other people in our communities who are brightly shining as “Jesus People” in these challenging times. Just as Jesus did not shrink back and turn inward on the night in which He was betrayed, God is calling us to keep moving forward and to keep searching for creative ways that we can serve other people simply because that’s what “Jesus People” do.

Perhaps, in these very unusual days, we have a chance to shine more brightly, as “Jesus People,” than we ever have at any other point in our lives?

May God continue to journey with you in these scary and unusual times. And may God bless all of us as we continue to think about creative ways that we can serve other people and glorify God with our love and good deed.

Click Here for my Maundy Thursday Message

Jesus: The Son of God

Son of God picd

The Bible is filled with stories about God doing unusual things.

Just think about the story of Jacob’s ladder; when, in the midst of Jacob’s struggles with his brother Esau, God sent a vision of a ladder stretching up into the heavens. Imagine what the Israelites felt like when they were walking through the Red Sea after they had left the land of Egypt. The prophet Elijah once rolled up his cloak and struck the water in the Jordan River and the waters were parted. Jesus also did some incredible and very unusual things as the Son of God.

This week, I would like you to think about the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11).

Lazarus, a man that Jesus knew, was sick and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus. When the messenger that Mary and Martha had sent to Jesus told Him that Lazarus was sick, Jesus responded: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God.” (John 11:4). And then, Jesus did something very unusual. We read: “And when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was for two more days.” (John 11:6) That seems pretty unusual. Why didn’t Jesus just go to Lazarus immediately?

Now, before we go any further, we need to get something straight.

John’s Gospel does not indicate that Lazarus had done something wrong or that God had decided to make Lazarus sick. Every time disasters strike, people tell us that God’s angry and that God has sent whatever’s happening as a punishment from above. Maybe a good-natured friend once told you that God will never give you more than you can bear in an attempt to comfort you during a particularly difficult time?

Do you really believe that the God of the entire universe has nothing better to do than make your life miserable and to see how far you can be pushed before you break?

Yes, Lazarus was sick. But, John’s Gospel never indicates that his illness was being caused by something other than something natural. Lazarus, in fact, was so sick that he even died – just like many people who have been infected by the coronavirus have died. And again, how did Jesus respond to all of this? Jesus says: “The illness of Lazarus is meant for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified.” (John 11:4) “And when Jesus heard Lazarus was deathly ill, He stayed where He was for two more days.” (John 11:6)

And as strange as what Jesus does appears to be, there is something for us to learn here.

People who have been complaining because they need a break from their busy routines are now getting a break, aren’t they? The coronavirus has reminded all of us that we’re vulnerable, even though most of us want to believe that we’re nearly invincible. Many Christians who are worshipping online are talking about the fact that they miss being able to share Holy Communion with each other. Many good and faithful Christians are losing their jobs and are even beginning to face financial difficulties.

And we might ask ourselves: “How can God be gloried in all of this?”

  1. The spread of the coronavirus has caused us to think about what we really believe about God. And, perhaps, as we travel through this challenging time, we can just abandon the idea that God is an angry God who strikes people down or who pushes us harder and harder every day to see what it’s going to take to break us?
  2. The spread of the coronavirus has challenged us to think about the ways that we treat each other. Perhaps, it’s time for us to admit that we really do need each other more than we’d like to admit? Or, maybe, this unusual time can help us to become more aware of infectious diseases and how often we spread them to other people?
  3. The spread of the coronavirus has challenged all of us to remember that we don’t have an unlimited number of days to live. Maybe, we’ll all be a little bit more aware of how we are spending – or wasting – the little bit of time that we have when this is all over? Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “Dost thou love life? Then, don’t waste time because that’s what life is made of.”
  4. The spread of the coronavirus can help us to more fully understand how it feels to be alone. Maybe, we can all come through this unusual time with a deeper sense of what it feels like to journey through the last years of life alone – often hoping that a family member will come to visit; or, at least, make a telephone call?
  5. The spread of the coronavirus has also given many of us more time to simply stop. Perhaps, we can use this time of social distancing to spend more time reading our Bibles and engaging in activities that God can use to build our faith? We can come through this challenging time much stronger!

The unusual times that we are experiencing will come to an end.

But, in the meantime, let’s draw upon on a great truth in the Bible: “God’s grace and strength are always sufficient, and God’s power is often revealed in times when we are feeling both weak and vulnerable.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We can learn many lessons about life and faith in these challenging times. We are being held safely in the hands of the God who loves us. And Jesus – the Son of God – has shown us that God’s in control of absolutely everything and that our God even has the power to raise those who have died to Eternal life.

And if we can just continue to travel through these uncertain days with that message in our hearts and minds, God will be gloried in the craziness of the coronavirus pandemic.

May God be with you, my friends. May God’s peace fill your hearts, and may you always remember that God will give you the strength and faith you need each day as we travel through these uncertain times together.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: The Son of Man

Son of Man Pic

I think that we’d all admit that the last few weeks have been unusual.

I’m sure that you’ve been watching the news and that you’ve been trying to figure-out what all of this means. Maybe you’ve been stockpiling supplies? Maybe the fact that some of the shelves in grocery stores are empty is making you nervous? Many churches are trying to live-stream worship services for the first time in order to help people stay connected to each other in these unusual times.

And the big question is: “Why do people in the Church need to stay connected?”

Do you realize that God saw something wrong with the Creation long before Adam and Eve ever took a bite of the forbidden fruit? The book of Genesis tells us that God made the sun and the moon, the trees and vegetation, the stars in the sky, and even animals and human beings. We learn, in the book of Genesis, that God saw that the Creation was “very good” and that God was very happy. And then, God noticed something wrong….

And then, the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

The worldwide response to the coronavirus has created a deep sense of isolation in our lives. Children are not able to go to school and many people are working at home. We see people very wisely staying at a safe distance any time we leave our homes, and some of our governors have ordered a complete lock-down. And, at least for me, it’s all been very overwhelming. Almost every part of my life has been uprooted, and I can’t do many of the things that I’ve taken for granted all of my life. And I’m sure that you’re feeling the very same way as you continue to weather this storm at home, too.

Many years before St. Paul was even born, the Jewish community was looking forward to the coming of the Son of Man.

The Son of Man was described as God’s ultimate warrior who would come into the world to set everything straight. The Son of Man was supposed to come into the world to drive back the forces of evil and everything that defies God, and the Son of Man was to be the ultimate judge of the living and of the dead. And that’s the background that we need to bring with us when we read: Romans 8:31-39.

St. Paul writes: “I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of Creation will be able to separate us….

And why is that?

If the Son of Man (Jesus) came into the world as God’s ultimate warrior to drive back the forces of evil and everything that defies God…. If the Son of Man (Jesus) came into the world to set things straight and to restore the Creation…. Wouldn’t it make sense to say that since God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18); and that, since the life and ministry of Jesus – the Son of Man – was meant to destroy what God says isn’t good, Jesus came into the world to conquer the types of isolation we’re feeling right now?

Jesus – the Son of Man – came into the world to destroy isolation.

Churches are continuing to have online worship services and Bible studies because that’s what Jesus-people do. Jesus-people understand that the community of the Church is a place where relationships are important and where life-long connections are made. We travel through good and bad together. We try to remain connected to each other even when it isn’t easy. Jesus-people understand that they can fight against loneliness and isolation by remaining in contact with each other through telephone calls and electronic connections, snail mail and even by having children color pictures and send their own masterpieces to people who are feeling isolated and alone.

It’s sometimes hard to maintain relationships, but that what Jesus-people do.

And this week, I’d like to encourage you to think about that. Jesus – the Son of Man – came into the world to destroy isolation. And one of the best ways that Jesus-people can be a part of the ongoing work of Jesus in the world today is to strive to remain connected and in contact with others – even during a time when the coronavirus has driven us all back into the isolation of our own homes.

And, with that in mind, think about these things:

Do you know someone who is homebound (or who lives alone)? If so, please give that person a telephone call this week to remind that person that he/she is important.

Are your kids looking for something to do? If so, why not have them color some pictures and send them to other people who need some love right now, or have them draw some pictures on a sidewalk where they’ll bring a smile to people’s faces when they’re taking a walk to get some fresh air?

If you’re not connected to the ministry of a specific congregation right now, maybe this is a good time to learn more about what some local churches are doing and about what you can do to be a part of what’s happening.

In times like these, we need to remember that: “neither life nor death, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of Creation – including the coronavirus – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” And perhaps, with that in mind, we can all find ways to move through these challenging times together with strength and courage and faith.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: The Living Water

Samaritan Woman Pic

The coronavirus has created a world-wide crisis.

The shelves in grocery stores are empty, and schools and businesses are closed. People have stockpiled hand sanitizers and toilet paper. It’s nearly impossible to find sanitizing wipes and isopropyl alcohol. Pastors are communicating with the faithful people they serve using new and previously unexplored technologies. And, of course, we’re all being told to wash our hands both thoroughly and frequently.

People in the United States don’t usually worry about having enough water.

We simply turn a knob when we want water and the water magically appears. Many of us wash laundry whenever we want, and even water lawns and flowers in the summer. I once listened to a group of teenagers complain about the fact that they need to get up early every morning, so that they can beat their siblings to the shower; because, if they don’t win the race to the shower, there’s not going to be any hot water left.

But it isn’t that way everywhere.

I had a well when I lived in a rural community and I needed to carefully space loads of laundry during dry spells. I remember talking with one of my friends from Africa who was simply horrified that Americans wash their cars with water that they can drink. In some places, even today, people have to walk long distances to get fresh water. And that’s what we see in a story about an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the Well of Jacob (John 4:5-42) – which, by the way, contains the longest conversation that Jesus has with another person in the entire Bible.

Picture a woman who is parched after a long journey in the hottest part of the day.

Here, we find a woman who was coming to the Well of Jacob because she was looking for something that she needed to survive. When things like water are scarce, there’s a very human part of us that tells us that we need to look out for ourselves first. The Samaritan woman needed water; and yet, she was being asked to give what she thought she needed to survive to someone else (Jesus).  Have you collected so much hand sanitizer that other people can’t get any? Are you one of the people who has been hoarding sterilizing wipes and toilet paper? Do you have boxes of masks to put over your face (that are desperately needed by other people) to protect yourself from the coronavirus?

Our survival instinct tells us that we need to get as much of whatever we think we are going to need quickly – even if it means that other people won’t be able to get any of it.

And yet, when the parched Samaritan woman comes to the Well of Jacob, Jesus offers her something different: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Here, Jesus reminds us that we can find an abundance of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. Jesus reminds us, in this short passage, that He’s come into the world to offer us an abundance of God’s welcome and goodness and peace and strength. And, if you think about it, isn’t that what we’re all trying to find?

We begin the Season of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, by remembering that we are dust and that, one day, we’re going to be dust again. We admit that we’re mortal. We admit that none of us are going to be around forever. In fact, as hard as it is for us to admit, we are all going to die at some point – and it doesn’t matter if it’s because of the coronavirus or because of something else. That might sound harsh. But it’s true.

And in Jesus – The Living Water – God provides a solution that gives us faith and strength as we journey through scary times. In Jesus – The Living Water – we can find the courage to continue to live well with each other even in a time when our fear is calling forth our worst human instincts. All will be well. In fact, even when we’re tempted to think that all will not be well, all will be well because we’re safe in the hands of God and because God has already shown us – in Jesus – that no matter what we face, in life or even in death, we are already far more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

And so, as you journey through scary times, live your life with faith and courage.

Even though there’s a deep human instinct that’s telling us to look out for ourselves, we need each other and must learn how to continue to live well with other people. We can’t allow fear to drive us into uncontrollable panic and we can’t afford to allow ourselves to allow our imaginations to just run wild.

We need to somehow continue to find ways to live well in these challenging times, and we need to continue to search for ways to care for each other and to treat each other in kind and loving ways.

Right after Jesus offered the Samaritan woman “living water,” she said, “Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15); and she, immediately, ran to all of her friends and told them about what she had discovered in the midst of her own time of desperate need.

How can your faith carry you through these times of challenge and uncertainty?

How can your faith help you to calm those around you who are allowing fear to bring out the worst in them?

In every crisis, there’s an opportunity. And, perhaps, this crisis provides a chance for all of us to bear witness to our faith and our trust in God in new and exciting ways?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Salt Shakers and Bright Lights

Salt shaker with spilled salt on a black background

I met an unusual man when I was a student at Penn State.

Bro Cope stood on the steps of the Electrical Engineering building every morning (with a Bible in his hand) challenging students to repent and to change their sinful and horrible ways. His always-faithful disciples heckled Hare Krishna-s when they passed and bullied women whose dresses were too short (according to Bro). Bro told us that we were going straight to Hell, and his message was always the same….

You’re all gonna be dead a lot longer than you’re all gonna be alive!

Bro would scream: “You’re all gonna be dead a lot longer than you’re all gonna be alive!” as students walked past him without looking up. And, quite frankly, even as a student who was involved in the Penn State Lutheran Campus Ministry, I was turned away by Bro’s message every time that I listened to him speak.

Have you ever heard that you are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”?

Jesus tells us that we’ve been set apart by God for a special purpose (Matthew 5:13-20). As the “salt of the earth,” we carry the message of Jesus Christ to other people, and we bear a message can bring healing and bind-up the broken-hearted and even send people away much stronger than when we first met them. As the “light of the world,” we carry the lamp of Christ’s love, and bring light to people who think that they’ve been forgotten and bring hope to people who believe that they’re trapped in darkness. As the “salt of the earth,” we bear a message that can challenge and purify what’s less than what God made it to be, and that can preserve what’s pure and holy and good. As the “light of the world,” we’re beacons of hope who shine in the darkest corners of our world and who remind people that God is always near to them.

As I prayed about salt and light last week, my eyes were opened to something new.

Salt can be used to season food, to heal wounds and to keep things from spoiling; but, Roman soldiers also used salt to poison wells and fertile soil, so that farming would be impossible for many years. Light can be helpful at night and can even be used (in the top of a lighthouse) to guide ships in dark and foggy nights; but, think for a moment about what it’s like when you’re driving on a dark road and an approaching car has its high beams on. That doesn’t feel so good, does it?

Bro Cope taught me that we need to remember that, when we’re trying to share our faith with other people, there really can be too much of a good thing.

Many people go after the “un-saved” with vigor and energy shining their high beams into the darkest places in people’s lives. Many good and faithful Christians are determined to get people to change their ways to avoid the raging fires of an eternal Hell…. And, almost every time people come on too strong, the top comes off of the salt shaker and what they are trying to season is ruined. Almost every time people shine their bright spotlights into dark corners in other people’s lives (in an effort to do something really good), they cause people to flinch and shrink back and run away. And what they’re trying to do (or what they think they’re trying to do) fails. And, why? Because, when we give people too much of what we think is a good thing, the love of Jesus can simply disappear!

Some of us are really good at sharing our faith with other people, and some of us would rather walk across a bed of hot coals than talk with another person about God.

But, this week, I’d like to challenge you to think about something. Some of us share our faith with others by talking about God. Others share their faith by doing acts of love and kindness. We all tell people what we believe about God when we speak to them in kind and generous ways. We all tell people what we believe about God when we extend fiery judgment and condemnation. And, as we share what we believe about God (however we choose to do it), we either season and preserve, or poison the well. We either shine with the love of Jesus, or we burn other people’s eyes with our high beams.

You are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” You are an important part of what God’s doing in the world today, and what you do really matters.

And this week, as you’re doing all of those things, please remember that you can scream at the sinners, or use your salt and light with love and care. You can drive people away in horror by igniting the fires of raging Hell beneath their feet, or you can tell them a story about God’s love in gentle, Christ-filled and loving ways.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Bigger Than Me

Ordinary People

We live in an Age of rugged individualism.

We have been told that we need to go out into the world and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps (whatever that means). We have been told that people who are struggling and who can’t feed their own children just need to work harder. We’re told that there are two things in life that we should never talk about: religion and politics. And, as we’ve heard those confusing messages, our faith and our thoughts about God have been changing.

Many people believe that religion is something deeply personal.

Maybe we believe that because we think that faith is only about “Jesus and me,” and that our spiritual journey is only about finding our way into a paradise that we call Heaven. Maybe we say that our faith is a personal thing because we never learned how to talk about God with other people and don’t feel comfortable praying in front of others. Many of us say that a person’s religion is something deeply personal; and yet, for some reason, we keep talking about the fact that we need to get prayer back into public schools. Maybe we don’t think we should talk about our faith because we know that we live in a diverse country where people believe many different things about God and we don’t want to get into debates (even fights) with other people.

In my Christian faith tradition, God clearly speaks against rugged individualism. In fact, when God was creating the heavens and the earth, the first thing that God saw that was NOT good is pointed-out in Genesis 2:18. God clearly says, “It is NOT good for the person that I have created to be alone.” Wow!

In my last few posts, I’ve been reminding you that you are dearly loved by God and that God has placed you on the earth to do a very special thing. I’ve also lifted up the fact that, as people of faith, it’s important for us to remind each other that the things we’re doing with our lives are important. God created us to encourage each other and to build each other up. God created us pray for each other and to spur each other on. But, we can’t do that as individuals who are not connected to each other in some way. And that’s why, as people who are dearly loved by God, Christ brings us together in the Church.

A lot of people don’t want to have anything to do with the Church these days; and, quite frankly, I can sometimes understand why they remain distant. People are sometimes like porcupines on a cold winter night. We need each other to stay warm. We, perhaps, even need each other to survive in a world where God says that it’s not good for us to be all alone. But, sometimes, when we get close to each other, we prick each other with our quills, don’t we? Sometimes WE prick other people with OUR quills. Sometimes we get pricked by the quills that other people have. And it can hurt. It can make us want to run away. Some of you may have decided that you don’t want to have anything to do with the Church because you are sick and tired of being hurt by people that you think should be nicer, or more friendly, or less belligerent, or even more forgiving. One of the things that I’ve learned about the Church is that the Church is filled with people. And, if I require the people in the Church to be more perfect than I am, I’m bound to be disappointed.

Saint Paul talks about the Church in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. He clearly reminds us that the Church consists of many different gatherings in many different places. Saint Paul even acknowledges that people in one community of faith can feel separated from folks in other communities of faith. Have you ever been afraid to work with another group of Christians in a different faith community to meet the needs of young people because you think that “other” congregations want to “steal” the young people in your congregation? Have you ever secretly gloated when you heard that another faith community was going through a time of struggle? Have you ever been afraid that the newly-installed and very charismatic preacher down the street is going to draw “your” people away? We’re very good at talking about the fact that we are all Christians together and that we shouldn’t feel that we’re in competition with each other, but….

What would the ministry of the Church look like if we all reached out to each other and tried to form partnerships? Maybe we could do things together that we’re having trouble doing all by ourselves? Maybe, if we set aside some of our feelings of competition, we could re-discover the fact that the Church is one Body – not just a bunch of individually working body parts? Maybe we could all thrive and become more healthy together by remaining connected to each other in times when the Church is going through a lot of scary changes? Maybe we could even begin to see Christ do some incredibly new things with all of us if we could just begin to see ourselves as more than individuals – or as individual communities of faith – and started working together and acting like the one Body that we are?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Thank! Encourage! Build-up!

Encourage

Do you have somebody in your life who encourages you and who cheers you on?

In my last post, we learned a little bit about the baptism of Jesus. We remembered the day when Jesus was baptized, when the Holy Spirit touched Him and when God called Jesus “beloved.” We reflected upon our own baptisms remembering the fact that God has touched us in the very same way. We are loved. We are precious. God has created US and has sent US into the world to make it a better place.

And now, as we read John 1:29-42, we find another interesting story.

We read that Jesus was walking along a road one day and that John the Baptizer shouted, “Look! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and, after that, John talked about what happened on the day of Jesus’ baptism. And then, John does the same thing again! It’s almost as if John the Baptizer is trying to tell people that Jesus is doing something important. John is announcing to the entire world that Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus has been sent into the world with a special mission and purpose to fulfill.

Now let’s stop right there and think about what’s happening….

I suspect that Jesus didn’t really need John’s affirmations as He moved forward in life and ministry, but I don’t really know that. But I do know that, as WE travel through life, we all need people who thank us, who encourage us and who remind us that we’re doing God’s work. We are doing something important that’s changing lives….

You might be serving in a position of leadership at a church, or you might be helping to pack boxes at a food pantry. You might be a teacher. You might be an engineer. You may be a stay-at-home mother or father. Or, you may be one of those people who is always at work behind the curtain, so that things run smoothly in front of the curtain. You may be a parent, or a grandparent or another type of caregiver who is helping a young person to grow toward adulthood or an older person who’s slowly approaching death. You may be a musician. You may be an administrator. You may be…. You get the point.

God is at work in your life, but what God calls us to do can sometimes be both exhausting and discouraging. We’re all human, right…? We may even have times in our lives when we experience something called “compassion fatigue” that can deeply affect how we feel, and how we think about life and about what we’re doing. And that’s why we need people who thank us and encourage us and build us up as we continue to do what we’re doing.

We all like to be thanked when we’ve done something, don’t we? We all have times in our lives when we need to be reminded that we’re doing something important. We all have times in life and ministry when we need to be reminded that what we’re doing is God’s work with our very own hands.

And so, here’s what I’d like you to carry with you this week….

  1. Listen to me…. Thank you! I know that life can be challenging, but I want you to know that, even if nobody else is saying it, you’re doing something important. God wants you to know that you’re loved and that you’re precious. And God also wants you to know that, when you do what you believe you’re being called to do by God, you are doing something that’s changing lives and helping our world to be a much better place for us all. Thank you!
  2.  And now watch this…. Other people are experiencing exactly what you experience. They’re fighting on the front line beside you. They’re trying their best to live and to do what they believe God wants them to be doing in a crazy world. And, sometimes, they also need to hear the very same words that I just addressed to you…

Be like John the Baptizer in the coming days. Look for the face of Jesus in the people who are around you and examine the many ways that people are doing what they think God wants them to do. Thank them. Encourage them. Build them up, and help them see that they’re doing something important as they invest their time and lives in other people.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

Is Your Congregation Struggling to Survive?

Crucifixion Picture

Many congregations are moving through challenging times these days.

Immediately after World War II, the “builders” got to work; and church buildings, some of them quite large, popped up everywhere. Many church buildings were filled to capacity in the 1950’s and some congregations even needed to put chairs in the aisles on special occasions. But, as we moved into the 1960’s and 1970’s, things began to change. People became suspicious of institutions of every kind. But, even in the 1980’s and 1990’s, many church buildings were still almost full because the “builders” kept coming to worship and were incredibly faithful in both their attendance and financial support.

But things continued to change. The “builders” began to age and even die. Congregations began to see worship attendance falling and budget deficits rising. And congregations began to respond to that change in two different ways: (1) Some congregations turned inward and chopped away at their ministry to save money, and (2) Other congregations turned to God in prayer, sought spiritual renewal, and searched for new and exciting ways to engage in mission and ministry.

In the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, we meet two very different men.

One of the men hanging on a cross beside Jesus cried out in desperation saying: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” This was a cry for survival. Maybe the man on the cross was asking for one more day to make amends with those he had hurt. Maybe he wanted to live for another month, another year, or even another decade. But, what we do know is that this man’s desperate plea for survival wasn’t answered. He didn’t get what he wanted; and, perhaps, he even died in sad desperation. But, this shouldn’t really be a surprise. Didn’t Jesus once say that those who try to save their own lives are going to lose them? (Matthew 16:25)

But, the other man who was hanging on the cross beside Jesus did something very different. He began by confessing that he had gotten himself into a pickle; and that, in some ways, he was only reaping what he had sowed. And then, in a moment of faith, he turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Here, we have a man of faith. This man, who cried out to Jesus in the same desperate situation said, “Jesus, please take me wherever You want to take me.” He entrusted everything to Jesus alone. And, in that moment of faith, he heard a promise: “I will remember you,” Jesus says, “and you will be with me in Paradise.” And those words shouldn’t surprise us either. Didn’t Jesus tells us that those who give up their life for His sake and who trust in Him alone are going to find it? (Matthew 10:39) Didn’t Jesus also tell us that He was going to build the Church and that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against it? (Matthew 16:17-19)

Moses once told the people of Israel: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) And the story of Jesus’ crucifixion does the very same thing.

Congregations that turn inward and try to “survive” by chopping away at their ministries to save money are choosing a perilous path that often leads to death. Congregations that seek renewal through prayer and daily devotion and that entrust their futures to Jesus, in difficult times, often find new life and exciting opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others because renewal often brings a deeper sense of God’s guiding hand in life and in the ministry of the Church.

Jesus has clearly told us that He has something special planned for us, and that He’s going to carry us into better days and into a future that’s going to be far better than any of us can imagine in our wildest dreams.

And that leaves us, our congregations, and even the whole Church with a question that needs to be answered: Do we want to fight to survive for another year or even another decade, or do we want to follow Jesus into a future where our ministry will continue to grow and thrive even in challenging times? The choice is ours.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Holy Moments – Holy Lives

End of World

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

Many Christians live their lives awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. We see nations rising against nations. We hear about earthquakes and famines and fatal illnesses and disease. This morning, I learned that the government of China has begun to arrest Muslims and remove them from society. We hear about children shooting each other in our schools. We see world leaders rattling their sabers in an effort in intimidate each other. I’ve even noticed that every time something happens, like a “Blood Moon,” people start saying that this is yet another “sign” that the End is near. And it all simply wears me out….

John the Baptizer proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near to us. Reza Aslan, who wrote the book Zealot got it right when he said that the message of John the Baptizer was carried forward by a much more famous man named Jesus. In a world that’s filled with nations rising against nations, the Kingdom of God is near. In a world filled with bad news about earthquakes, famines, diseases and school shootings, the Kingdom of God is near. When your life is filled with abundant blessings, the Kingdom of God is near. And, the Kingdom of God is near when you climb out of bed, when you kiss someone that you love, when you’re afraid that you’re going to flunk a test, or when you lose someone who was dear to you.

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

What would life look like if, instead of waiting around for Jesus to return, we went out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near? Maybe, realizing that God journeys with us each day, we could bear witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near by buying a child, whose family is struggling to make ends meet, a new winter coat – or maybe, we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by visiting people and sending them encouraging messages when life is hard? Maybe we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by not running away and hiding from people when we know that they need our help now more than ever? Maybe we could try harder to speak-out on behalf of people in our world who aren’t being heard by people who look at them as nothing more than a drain on society? Maybe, especially at the holidays approach, we could tell other people that the Kingdom of God is near by carrying light and love into dark places where people are grieving, fighting diseases, trying to escape from abusive relationships or fighting a battle with some kind of substance that’s taken over their lives?

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my journey of faith is that every moment that I live is a “holy moment” when the Kingdom of God is near. And in those “holy moments,” God prepares me to go out into the world and tell other people about God’s love and to remind them that the Kingdom of God is near in every moment of their lives, too.

You see, it doesn’t really matter what day, or month, or year Jesus returns. It doesn’t matter if the End arrives before I have a chance to post this message, or if the End comes long after I’m dead and buried.

What matters is that I have the wonderful opportunity to live a life that’s full of times when God is near. What matters is that, in the “holy moments” when the Kingdom of God is near to me, God always points me back to people who believe that things are so bad in their lives that the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.

When we realize that the Kingdom of God is near and that each moment of our lives is a “sacred time” when God is close to us, our walk of faith becomes more about learning to live faithfully in a world that can be pretty scary, rather than about waiting for some Day when Jesus will return to fix everything. When we realize that our lives are filled with “sacred moments” when the Kingdom of God is near, we have something to share with people – when their lives are going well and when their lives are falling apart.

Click Here for This Week’s Message