Our Stories and Our Faith

Our life together, as Jesus people, is built around stories. We gather on Christmas Eve to remember God as Immanuel – God with us in every situation and circumstance of life. We celebrate Easter by listening to a wonderful story about Jesus being raised from the dead; and, on that day, we remember that, even after life and death have done their worst, God is going to raise us up new and whole. Perhaps, you remember a well-known story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people with only five barley loaves and two little fish. Maybe you remember the story of Noah’s ark. Our life together is built around stories.

I have been drawn into the story of the Exodus many times during the pandemic that has so dramatically reshaped our lives. I came to appreciate Moses more deeply as I came to see him as a man who didn’t think that he had the ability to lead God’s people into the future. I came to understand the challenges that the Israelites faced as I listened to people calling me to move in many different directions during a time when I am not always sure what’s best. God has called me to come to Mount Sinai, where I have removed my shoes and spent time in the presence of the Lord in times of daily prayer and devotion. I have even come to understand what it was like when the Israelites looked back and saw the Red Sea closing behind them. There was a sense that God was closing a chapter in their lives and that the only option was to move into an unknown future.

The story of the Exodus bears witness to God’s ability to lead us into an unknown future that is good; and, this week, I would like to encourage you to reflect upon that story. The Church still has many unanswered questions, doesn’t it? How can we continue to be a community of Jesus people when some are worshiping inside our buildings and others are worshiping at home? How can we continue to share the message of Jesus with young people during a time when parents are not sure that it is safe to bring their children back to Sunday School? How can we continue to be a community of Jesus people when we are being called into deep and destructive divisions? How can we continue to move forward with faith during a time when many things we have trusted in the past are changing or fading away? Here are some things to think about:

  • The story of the Exodus reminds us that, in times when we are afraid and uncertain, one of the first things we want to do is go back to a time and place in the past when we felt safe. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5) I remember days when we needed to put extra chairs in the aisles during worship, so that everyone could sit down. I remember days when my Dad told me, “If you are too sick to go to church, you are too sick to do anything else today” and he meant it. But times are changing. Today, only about 16% of Americans regularly attend in-person worship. What does that mean to us as a community of Jesus people? What can we learn about ourselves as we think about the Israelites creating an idealized picture of a past that they wanted to recapture even while God was leading them into the future?
  • The story of the Exodus also reminds us that God is a God who provides manna in the Wilderness (Exodus 16:13-14). The Hebrew word “manna” means: “What is this stuff?” We don’t always fully understand what God is providing as we journey into a new future. Some folks asked: “What is Zoom?” last year. I never imagined being able to create a Christmas and Easter service using DaVinci Resolve 17. We have been learning how to use YouTube Live. We have been learning how to get a copy of our weekly bulletin into people’s hands by creating a link on our church’s webpage. Sermons that have been preached at Christ’s Lutheran Church are now being heard in 36 countries. We have been using new camera equipment to enable people in California, Texas, New York, South Carolina and even Germany to join us in worship. 2021 is a year when we all need to be asking: “What is this stuff?” What tools and what opportunities is God providing, so that we can move from where we are right now to where God wants us to be? “What is this stuff?” that God is providing to help us to share the message of Jesus with others?
  • And lastly, the story of the Exodus reminds us that leading God’s people into their unknown future is not an easy task, and that those who are trying their best to lead the Church during these strange times need people to come alongside of them as they stand on the front line (Exodus 17:10-12). I often speak about leading the Church through these difficult days as drinking from a firehose. There are few decisions that are easy. People who serve us as bishops, as pastors, as Church Council members and as leaders of every sort have never done this before. Just picture Moses standing with his arms in the air knowing that God’s people win as long as he holds his hands high in the air and that they falter when his arms begin to drop. “How long can I keep doing this?” he surely asked himself. And we read that Moses did his best even when he was weary. But the story of the Exodus tells us that the battle was won after Aaron and Hur got a stone, so that Moses could sit down. And then, Aaron and Hur came alongside of Moses and physically held his weary arms in the air and the day was saved. What a story!

Our life together, as Jesus people, continues to be built around stories; and, this week, I want to encourage you to think about the story of the Exodus. How can we work together to live into the future that God is setting before us during a time when many of us want to return to our idealized picture of a past that no longer exists? How can we work together and move forward in our lives and ministry during a time when we are continuing to ask, “What is this stuff?” as we see what God is providing? And how can we continue to live well with each other and faithfully support those who are trying their best to lead us through a time that none of us could have ever imagined?

Pandemic Ponderings

We have been journeying through a time in our lives that none of us could have predicted. The pandemic left us scrambling to find ways to remain connected to each other and made us find new ways to do almost everything. We stretched our wings, and we embraced new technologies. Many of us adjusted to the pandemic by wearing masks in public and by not eating in restaurants. The pandemic forced us to find new ways to do things like shopping for groceries and it even closed our churches. And now, at least in the United States, we are moving toward brighter days, even as people continue to struggle in other countries.

If you are at all like me, you are tired and overwhelmed. I am tired of adjusting my life to accommodate something that I cannot even see. I am tired of a wearing a mask in public and of remaining distant from people I love. The political atmosphere in America wearies me, and I have noticed that many people are both edgy and more critical. Conflicts fester when people are tired and overwhelmed. We find it more difficult to interpret the actions of others in kind and generous ways when we are stretched and exhausted. And when that happens, relationships in every part of our lives can become strained.

And so, what are some things that we can do to keep moving forward together?

  • We need to begin by realizing that we are all tired; and that, when people are tired, they sometimes do things they normally would not do. This is a time when grace and forgiveness are important in our relationships. I’ve often used the image of people being like porcupines. We can live and move about relatively painlessly, even in times of challenge and uncertainty, when we are alone. But, when we begin to draw close to one another – especially when we are tired and overwhelmed – it is easy for us to stick each other and to be stuck by the quills of other porcupines. People who are tired sometimes say things in less-than-helpful ways. People who are tired sometimes misinterpret the words and actions of other people. We are not always grace-filled when we are edgy; and, because of that, our relationships with other people can be dramatically changed. That is why grace and forgiveness are both necessary and important right now. Martin Luther, the 16th-Century Protestant reformer, taught that the 8th Commandment is all about learning to interpret the actions of other people in the best possible way. That is something that we can all try to do to keep moving forward together.
  • We need to remember that people who are tired need other people to come alongside of them and to help them to carry the load. Healthcare workers, teachers, pastors and other people who live their lives serving others are both exhausted and burned out. A teacher told me, just last week, that she feels like she has been drinking from a firehose for more than a year. Another teacher told me that he wishes that people could understand how much needs to happen behind the scenes to make an Internet link work. Healthcare workers, pastors and other people who have devoted their lives to serving others have decided to switch jobs or retire early. Many churches and other organizations have battled their way through the pandemic with a very short front line. This is a time when the frontline needs your help, your support and your encouragement. That is something else that we need to remember as we keep moving forward together.
  • Lastly, we need to realize that people who are tired and overwhelmed need other people to encourage them, not simply criticize what they are trying to do. We need to remember that we are all trying to do our best in these challenging times. A little note, a text message, an email or even a short telephone call can brighten someone’s day. The spirits of people on the front line are lifted when other people point out what is working and what is going well. I have, fortunately, been blessed by many encouraging messages throughout the pandemic. What can you do, right now, to expand the circle of appreciation? What could you do, today, to ensure that someone who is working hard to make good things happen knows that her/his time and efforts are appreciated? Part of moving forward together includes lifting up what is working well, encouraging people who are working hard, and spurring others on with kind thoughts and caring words, so that they know that they are appreciated – even when things that are happening are not quite perfect.

We are moving forward together and our journey will carry us toward better days.  And, if we can just keep these three simple things in mind, we will find new and exciting ways to come out of these challenging times stronger and more healthy than we were before the pandemic hit. Who can you lift up today? How could you stand beside someone who continues to pour out time and energy both freely and willingly in these challenging days? How is God is at work in your life, right now, to help you to be an encourager who blesses and stands beside people who are doing their best to make good things happen?

Jesus Promised

I’ve been taught to trust in the promises of Jesus.

I believe that death is not going to be my end because Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, and those who believe in Me are going to live again, even after they’ve died.” I believe that I’m going to go to Heaven because Jesus promised me that He’s gone ahead of me to prepare a special place where I will live with Him forever. Perhaps, you trust that Jesus is walking beside you every day because Jesus once said, “I am with you always, even to the End of the Age.” Jesus also gave another promise. He said, “I am going to build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

What did Jesus mean when He said that He’s going to build His Church and even the gates of hell are not going to prevail against it? What sense do you make of this promise of Jesus when it seems that there are many prevailing powers opposing the ministry of the Church? Can we use these words, today, to assure us that the specific congregations that we attend and support can never fail in the same way that some Christians assume that Jesus will never allow them to become infected by the coronavirus while they are worshiping and singing hymns without masks? What sense do you make of this promise of Jesus in the midst of a time of dramatic change, both inside and outside of the Church, and during a time when many individual congregations are closing?

It seems to me that we can make sense of this promise of Jesus by doing three things:

First, we need to begin by remembering who made the promise. Jesus is with you today, and Jesus continues to be with the Church as well. Individual Christians and even specific congregations have not been left alone to make sense of our changing times. Jesus is with us as we read our Bibles and pray with each other. Jesus has promised to lead us and guide us and direct our ways as we move through changing times. The Holy Spirit once worked in the life of St. Paul by closing and opening doors in front of him (Acts 16:6-10). Rely on the One who has given us wonderful promises and you can never go wrong.

Second, we need to remember that God has a long history of leading people through times of change and uncertainty. Think about the people of Israel being led out of the land of Egypt when all that they wanted to do was return to the “Good Ol’ Days” of slavery when they were given free cucumbers. Think about the people of Israel living in Babylonian captivity and longing for the day when God would bring them back to Jerusalem after their exile. God has a long track record of leading people safely from one place to another and that’s what God is doing in the life of the Church, right now. Trust in the God who is leading you and you can never go wrong.

Finally, we need to remember that, when Jesus gives us a promise, Jesus gives us a promise that He’s not going to break. The Church is built upon the foundation of God’s love and faithfulness. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one that proclaims timeless truths like love, forgiveness, hope, and the dignity and value of all people. Specific practices and ways of doing things in churches may need to change with the passage of time, but the Church that’s build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and that has rooted itself in timeless principles will endure. Trust in the One who doesn’t break His promises and you can never go wrong.

We may not have all of the answers that we need right now, but our faith calls us back to the Great Source of God’s promises and to the timeless values that will endure. Jesus once said, “I am going to build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And today, I’m willing to trust in that promise. And I’m willing to put all of my eggs into one, single basket that’s carried by the One who gave us those promises. Are you?

Listen to this week’s message: “The Mighty, Prevailing Church”

Insiders and Outsiders

Our world is often shaped by our understanding of insiders and outsiders.

We tend to feel most comfortable with people who resemble us and who think about life in the same ways that we do. We divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups by defining distinctions based upon race, ethnic background, economic level and even political party. Surveys have shown that Christians in America are most segregated on Sunday mornings during times set aside for worship. Denominations like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continue to struggle with the fact that members of the ELCA are more than 98% white even after people have tried for decades to change that.

In Matthew 15:20-28, we find an absolutely fascinating story from the life of Jesus. Jesus has traveled into a land that’s inhabited by both Jews and Gentiles. And, while Jesus is in that area, a Canaanite woman approaches Him and asks Him to heal her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We might expect Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter in the same way that He healed so many others. But, in this short story, Jesus responds to the Gentile woman’s request by saying: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and to feed it to the dogs.” And, frankly, Jesus’ response continues to shock me every time that I read it.

Jews didn’t allow dogs to live in their homes in Jesus’ days, but Gentiles often looked at dogs as pets who deserved kindness and care. But, the word “dog” was also used in a very different way. The Jews didn’t want “those kind of people” – the dogs – to mix with “our kind of people.” The Jews called outsiders “dogs” because they didn’t live their lives based upon Jewish teachings and purity practices.

But, before we look too harshly at the Jews in Jesus’ days, we need to consider some of the things that are happening in our own lives, right now.

People who do not attend worship services are sometimes looked down upon by the people who do attend worship services. Churches sometimes draw clear distinctions between the people who are members and those who are not members of the congregation. People who struggle with mental illnesses, homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction often find the doors of churches locked when they get there. America continues to be most segregated and divided during the one hour when people are worshiping on Sunday mornings than at any other time in the entire week!

But, then, Jesus seems to turn on His heels.

Right after Jesus says that it’s not right to feed the children’s bread to the dogs, the woman responds, “But even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” And, right after that, Jesus commends the woman for her great faith. Faith realizes that God is a God who welcomes and embraces both insiders and outsiders alike. Faith realizes that God is a God who looks past the artificial barriers and walls that we build between people who are like us and people who are not like us. Economic barriers are challenged as we gather to celebrate Holy Communion at an altar rail where company presidents kneel beside the folks who work for them. Faith creates radical hospitality that gazes beyond distinctions that are based upon race, ethnic background, economic level and political party.

Great faith recognizes the fact that Christ’s Church is meant to be a home for everyone, and great faith recognizes that even deep divisions and barriers can be overcome when love is allowed to rule in our hearts. And that’s the challenge that’s placed before us as we listen to this intriguing story from the life and ministry of Jesus.

Let radical hospitality challenge you and transform you. Let the love of Jesus empower you and enable you to see that the Church is meant to be a place that welcomes everyone. And, as that’s happening, let the love of Jesus tear down the divisions and barriers and walls that we continue to build, create and maintain even inside the Church itself.

This Week’s Message: “Insiders and Outsiders”

Journeying with Jesus in Stormy Times

I often recall that early Christians used a boat as a symbol for the Church.

The Church is a vessel that sails through smooth times and difficult times. The image of a boat is often used to describe the Church because it’s a vessel that carries people all the way to the gates of Paradise. If you look up while you’re sitting in many church worship spaces what you’ll see is that you’re worshiping in what looks like an upside down boat.

Immediately after Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 little fish, He commands the disciples to get into a boat and sail to the other side of the sea. Imagine these early followers of Jesus getting into a boat (the Church) and moving, together, toward the place where Jesus told them to go. As we read Matthew 14:22-33, we’re invited to think about the ministry that we’re doing today. We listen to Jesus. We gather together in the boat (the Church). We go where we believe Jesus wants us to go.

But then, in the middle of this well-known story, something happens.

We read that the boat that was carrying the disciples was being beaten back by the wind and the waves. In Matthew 14:24, we read that the “wind was against them.” The earliest Church was sailing directly into the wind. The earliest Church was experiencing opposition and was even being pushed in the wrong direction! And the Church is going through a time just like that in 2020. Many church buildings are still closed. Tens of thousands of churches all around the world have needed to embrace new technologies. And the scariest part of it all, at least for me, is that we don’t know how long this disruption is going to continue, or what our ministry is going to look like when we get to the other side of the sea.

It’s easy for us to go where we think Jesus wants us to go when we simply need to unlock the doors of a building and wait for children to arrive for Sunday School. It’s easy for us to do what we think Jesus wants us to do when all that we need to do is give someone a key to a building. It’s easy to go where Jesus wants us to go when we don’t need to deal with Zoom meetings, and the misunderstandings that often occur when people stop talking face-to-face and start to reply upon email and text messages.

But these are days when the winds have shifted.

I can picture myself in the boat (the Church) in Matthew 14:22-33. I, sometimes, feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back, or even one step forward and two steps back. I’m reminded of the times when storms have emerged while I was sailing and when I needed to constantly adjust the sails and the rudder while water poured over the gunwales and started to collect in the bottom of the boat. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that the wind was blowing against you and trying to push you in the wrong direction? Do you feel like that, right now?

But Jesus carried the boat (the Church) through the storm, didn’t He?

And Jesus is going to carry us through this storm as well. We don’t fully understand what our ministry “on the other side” is going to look like, but we can know that it is Jesus who is taking us to that “other side.” None of us can predict the long-term personal and economic impact of the coronavirus. None of us know how this time of protesting and political turmoil is going to end. But we do know that the boat (the Church) is going to continue to sail – even if it looks very different than it did just a few months ago.

And so, this week, I’d like to encourage you to think about where YOU are in this story.

You might want to begin by remembering that we’re all in the same boat, right? Some of us have been thinking about what’s most important to us. Many of us have needed to return to Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment and to try our best to keep interpreting the actions and behaviors of others in the best possible way. Some of us are being called to step onto the water in faith during a time that’s scary. We’re all learning about life and faith and ministry because in every crisis there are opportunities to learn and grow and stretch our wings.

Please remember that you’re not alone.

Your journey is a part of my journey, and my journey is a part of your journey. And OUR journey is a journey that’s being shared by our friends and family members, by the people that we work with, by our neighbors and by people that we don’t even know. And we’re sailing through these scary and changing times even when we’re feeling both weary and frazzled knowing that better days will surely come as Jesus continues to lead us and guide us and direct us toward the “other side” where our ministries will grow and flourish again because that’s what the Church has done in every Age.

For this week’s message, please click here:

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Little Things Make a Big Difference

I was told that I can be anything that I want to be when I grow up.

I can remember imagining myself as an archaeologist digging through the sands of Egypt. I imagined being a concert pianist accompanying a symphony orchestra. And, of course, I was often told that I could grow up to be the President of the United States.

But, I’m none of those things as I move into the sixth decade of my life.

I began my career as a Chemical Engineer; and then, after attending a seminary, I was ordained as a pastor. I spend my days talking with people who are going through a rough time. I write sermons to encourage people to think about their relationship with God. I attend a lot of Zoom meetings, right now. And, of course, I spend time in prayer and try my best to care about others. That’s far from what I imagined many years ago, isn’t it?

This week, I want you to remember that the little things that you do make a big difference.

Jesus once fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus is at work every time you help people or encourage them with your words. Jesus uses money that you contribute to charities to do wonderful things in the lives of other people. Jesus is using you to make our world into a better place for all of us.

It’s very easy for us to begin to turn inward when life becomes challenging.

Notice that, in the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21), the first thing that the disciples noticed is that they didn’t have enough of what they needed. I don’t have the skills of a concert pianist, but I can bang out a hymn on the piano during worship. I can’t feed all of the unemployed people in my community, but I can donate cans of food to our local food pantry. I can’t solve every challenge in other people’s lives (I can’t even solve all of the challenges in my own life), but I can listen to people and be compassionate. I can’t change the whole world during this crazy time that’s wearing all of us out, but I can be kind to others. I can lend an ear. I can protect other people by wearing a mask. I can be kind to others by simply refraining from blowing the horn on my car when I’m frustrated at other drivers.

We may not be the most powerful people in the world, but we’re important.

Yes, powerful people can change the world in incredible ways. But, life’s taught me that it’s more simple people, just like us, who make our world into a better place by doing things that we never imagined we could do to make a difference in other people’s lives.

And so, this week, I want to encourage you to get out there and to do your best. And, when you think that you’re not big enough or powerful enough to make a big difference, remember that the Lord who fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish is a Lord who can take whatever you have to offer and use it to change the world.

God’s Presence in Times of Change

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We can learn a lot about living faithfully by returning to the Jewish Exile.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land of Judah, destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; and, most likely, ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be destroyed. Homes and crops were burned. People were dragged away in chains and yokes, and they were now living in a strange country with different customs. And people began to dream about being able to return to what once was as they continued to live in exile.

Many of the rabbis that I know are referring to the Jewish Exile these days.

We’re not able to go where we want to go and to live our lives in the way that we’d like to live them. Many faithful Christians are still watching worship services online and are far removed from the worship spaces where they’ve come to know God. Some people in our country (and all around the world) are trying to explain away safety measures that we’ve been asked to take while others are refusing to wear any sort of face covering to make a political statement. We are responding to this crisis in so many different ways!

The coronavirus has brought grief into many of our lives.

We usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is something that’s far more complex. I am grieving because I’m not able to visit my grandchildren. Many young people are grieving because they didn’t get to attend a prom or graduation ceremony. We see young children acting out because they miss playing with their friends. We’re sensing that things are different and that it may not be possible to just return to doing things that we once took for granted in the near future. And many people are still grieving the loss of their job or even of their home, aren’t they? Some are grieving because we know that things that we cherish are going to be different.

We often wish that we could just go back to what once was when we are grieving.

And that’s what we see in Jeremiah 28:1-9. The false prophet Hananiah has started to talk with people who were living in Exile about being able to go back to what once was. Hananiah speaks about bringing sacred vessels back into the Temple (which, remember, had been flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians) and returning to the place that the Jewish people had called their home for generations. It’s almost as if Hananiah doesn’t want to accept the fact that things have changed, and he’s trying to encourage people to believe that they can simply return to what once was and watch the storm just go away. Perhaps you’d like to be able to do that today? But Jeremiah wasn’t that optimistic.

One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that our lives are often lived in cycles.

Good times are almost always followed by bad times; and even the worst times in our lives can give way to much better times. Think about grief. We mourn over what we’ve lost and wish that we could have it once again, but life moves forward and we change as we adjust to our new reality. Christianity is built upon the death and the resurrection of Jesus: Life being lost in death and death giving way to new life. Our faith reminds us of the fact that God blesses us with new life even while we’re still caught in our grief.

Now, think about the Church.

We were knocked off-center when churches needed to close; and yet, in the midst of this pandemic, churches that had never done so in the past have incorporated electronics in their ministry. That’s new life! People who don’t normally attend worship services are listening to sermons and are participating in online worship services. That’s new life! We’ve had the chance to improve our methods of communicating with each other. That’s new life! The church that I am serving is even working with several other congregations to launch an online Vacation Bible School for children in the next few weeks. That’s new life! Leaders throughout the Church have been imagining new ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in more creative ways – realizing that, even as we grieve, Jesus moves us toward something new and exciting and life-filled. That’s new life! That’s resurrection!

Listen to Psalm 89:1 – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations!

This week, I’d like to encourage you to do three things:

  • Think about grief and about how grief might be affecting you, right now. It’s not easy to be told that you can’t do things that you like to do. And it’s very natural for people who are grieving to imagine what it would be like to just to back to what once was even though it’s not possible anymore.
  • Pray for the many people who need to make big decisions today and remember that they are trying to do the best that they can even when you disagree with what they think needs to be done.
  • Pray for patience and offer some of your time, energy, vision and creativity to those who are struggling to discover how we can best return from our Exile and proclaim the message of God’s love and the hope of the Resurrection in new and exiting ways as the people of God, today. You can be a part of the new life that Jesus is creating!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Whoa! Jesus Said That?

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What do you think Jesus was like?

I have a Nativity (Christmas) icon hanging in my office; and, just like in Christmas carols, Jesus is quietly sleeping in the hay, but dressed in a burial shroud. In the Christmas carol “What Child is This?” we see Jesus quietly sleeping in hay until we sing the words: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me, for you.” Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus standing outside a door without a door knob and quietly waiting for the person inside to answer His knock? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Jesus with children surrounding Him as He teaches them about God? I would venture to say that almost all of us picture Jesus as a rather calm and gentle sort of man who will forgive us whenever we do things wrong and who will, ultimately, take us to Heaven when we die – no matter how far we drift off-course in our daily lives.

But Jesus was very complex.

The same Jesus who called us to love each other is the same Jesus who said, “I didn’t come into the world to bring peace, but a sword.” The same Jesus who taught us the Golden Rule said, “I have come to set a son against his father and a daughter against her mother, and people’s enemies will be those in their own homes.” Or, how about these famous words of Jesus: “Do not fear those who kill the body but who cannot kill the soul. Rather fear the God who can throw both your body and your soul into hell.

Whoa! Jesus said that?

As much as we want to picture Jesus as a kind and gentle man, we must never forget that Jesus is also the Lord of the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate sign of love and self-sacrifice; but the Cross is also a place of alienation and separation from other people. The Cross was the place of God’s battle with the devil; but it was also a place where troublemakers who dared to speak against the status quo were put to death by those who wanted power more than anything else. The Cross (do you wear around your neck?) isn’t just a piece of gold or silver jewelry that tells other people that we’re Christians. The Cross was a place where people who publicly spoke uncomfortable truths were thrust high into the air to die a horrible death, so that those who watched it happening would be reminded that the best thing that you can do is live your life keeping your mouth shut….

Do you know that there’s a Cross waiting for you?

Many people in the Church (even pastors) are afraid to speak the truth because they’re afraid of what might happen to them if they speak their minds too openly. Have you ever laughed at a racist joke because you wanted to be one of the crowd? Have you ever watched in silence as somebody bullied someone in front of you (remember that adults bully each other as much as teenagers do). Have you ever quietly listened to somebody tell lies about somebody else because you were afraid that you would be the next target if you dared to speak up?

We all want to be liked by other people and especially by God; and yet, Jesus has a way of calling us to move beyond where we are right now and to live in a very different way.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” Jesus says. “Take up your cross and follow me!” Believe in something. Be passionate about something. Find something in life that you really care about. Don’t live your entire life in a pool of lukewarm water and die wondering what God could have done with you. Do something that matters. Be a part of helping our world to become a better place. That’s what it means to be alive!

But the challenge of Jesus is also accompanied by a promise.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny; and yet, not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Don’t be afraid, for you are much more valuable than many sparrows.” Take up your cross. Live a life marked by love and self-sacrifice. Stand up for what you believe; because, when you do that, you may discover the “true life” that God wants you to have and not the type of life that slips between your fingers like sand!

Jesus was a kind and gentle man, but He was also complex.

And today, I want to challenge you to think about the images of Jesus that you embrace. Jesus loves you dearly, but He was also killed because He refused to keep his mouth shut. Jesus continues to call you to step out of the lukewarm pools of life where you’ve learned to feel comfortable. And, even though all of that might seem frightening to you, Jesus has also assured you that as you continue to live into God’s plan for your life and your future, Jesus walk right beside you every step of the way to both strengthen and embolden you.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

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