Standing Before God

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Throughout the months of July and August, we’ve been focusing upon God’s plan for our lives and for our world. We all know that our world is far from perfect. And yet, we live as people who look forward to that Great Day when God will wipe away the tears from our eyes and when there will be no more suffering, or pain, or sorrow, or mourning, or sickness, or hurt or pain. And, if you recall, we’ve referred to that Age of Perfection – to “What our world is yet to be” – as Olam Haba.

Well, this last message in our summer series reminds us that one of the most important things that we can do as we’re living our lives in the GAP that stands between “what our world is right now” and “what our world is yet to be” is remain deeply engaged in what’s happening in our world and continue to do the things that we believe God is calling us to do. In Christian circles, we refer to this challenge as God’s call to be engaged in mission.

In Psalm 82, we are drawn into a courtroom and that One who’s seated behind the bench speaks to us both clearly and directly:

How long will you continue to judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?”

And the command of the One who’s seated behind the bench is just as clear: “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Mission keeps God’s people connected to other people in life-giving ways.

Picture a group of teenagers pounding nails, mixing concrete, and painting walls in the homes of people who need their help. Picture women crocheting hats for women who are fighting cancer, and other people walking through the streets of a busy city taking meals to people who are homeless. Can you imagine the joy that fills a woman’s heart when a pharmacist hands her a bottle of medication that she couldn’t afford a few hours earlier, or when a family realizes that the water in their home is running again? Mission keeps God’s people connected to other people in life-giving ways. Mission reminds us that God calls us to bring justice to the world, to maintain the rights of the lowly, and to rescue the weak and the needy. 

We all talk about the fact that we’re living in tough times these days. And, as we come to the end of this series of messages, I want to remind you that it’s people just like you who are changing our world and who are helping it to become a better place.

And so, here’s a challenge:  This week, I’d like to challenge you to think about one way that our world could become a better place. Think about something that could help our world to become more like what you think God wants it to be like. And at some point this week, go out and DO SOMETHING that you think would help to move our world in that direction. That’s mission! And you might even discover that it’s God’s deepest calling in your life!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Stronger Together!

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I can’t think of any words that describe the last few months of our ministry at Christ’s Lutheran Church better than the words: “Stronger Together!” We’ve been devoting a lot of time to developing partnerships with other churches and organizations, and the seeds that we’ve planted have already sprouted and grown into fruit-bearing trees! God has been doing mighty things in our midst and we have some exciting stories about how God has been at work in our congregation to share with you today. So, here’s what’s been happening….

Flea Market

In June, our Social Ministry and Outreach Team sponsored yet another successful Flea Market that drew hundreds of people from our local community together. Many of our partners in ministry at Christ’s generously donated items that were sold, while other partners carefully sorted and priced the items before the “BIG DAY” arrived. We had partners who supplied baked good, other partners who cooked hot dogs and sold cold drinks. We had still other partners who worked on the day of the event collecting money from hundreds of people who arrived searching for their treasures, and yet others who packed-up what remained unsold at the end of the day. People who joined together as partners with a common cause raised more than $2,000 that will be used to support life-giving ministries throughout our community.

As the month of June drew to a close, it was time for the young people from Christ’s and their adult sponsors to travel to Lorain, Ohio for our long-anticipated Mission Trip! We spent a week digging holes, pounding nails, pouring cement, painting walls, talking with people that we’d never met, worshipping in a church building where we’d never been, reflecting upon our own journey of faith, and learning what it’s like to be more deeply engaged in mission. We learned that people don’t have to travel to a strange land to be a missionary – because Lorain, Ohio isn’t all that different than Murrysville, Pennsylvania. We learned that people who serve as missionaries often face tight budgets and don’t always have the money that they need to do the things that they want to do. We learned that when we are willing to step out of our own “comfort-zone” we can learn things about life and other people that we’d have never known it we didn’t do that. And we learned that, sometimes, there’s a difference between what people need us to do for them and what we want to do for them (I remember a conversation with one of the women we were serving who wanted the steps on her deck to be placed in a different location, so that it would be easier for her to bring her groceries into the house – and there was a little bit of angst because the “plans” that were drawn for her deck indicated that the steps were going to be built in a different location).

Mission Trip 2

Mission Trip

We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot about life. We had many opportunities to reflect upon our faith. And again, it was all made possible because of partnerships that were forged between people who joined hands. Many of our generous partners at Christ’s contributed the money that we needed, and a few of our partners worked tirelessly to bring it all together. NextStep Ministries forged connections that we couldn’t have built by ourselves in Lorain, Ohio; gathered the tools that we needed; identified the locations where we worked, secured the necessary permits, and prepared our meals. The Avon Lake Presbyterian Church provided a place where we could leave our belongings, shower at the end of the day, gather for meals and worship, and sleep (when I wasn’t blasting Podcasts in the sleeping quarters). Once again, partnerships bring explosive results and open new doors to life-changing ministry!

And then, before we even had a chance to unpack the suitcases that we had taken to Lorain, Ohio, it was time for another adventure with Vacation Bible School. Once again, an army of partners at Christ’s was raised and rallied – and kids, from our congregation and from our local community, came out of nowhere. We sang songs and played games. We talked about the wonderful world that God has created, had a blast working on crafts, and filled our bellies with snacks every day. We even had a surprise development this year! On Monday, it took me a little bit longer than I had anticipated to get to the Fellowship Hall to say the prayer before the snack. Well, on Tuesday, the kids decided that they were not going to sit around and wait for me. And so, one of the kids stood up and said, “I’ll say the prayer today!” And every day after that, one of the children stood up and volunteered to say the prayer before the snack was served. Awesome! Another display of partnership! A great team of people coming together with a common goal and purpose – making great things happen together!

VBS

Now this story’s a bit tricky (and we can’t share a picture because of confidentiality issues), but it’s a real gem! Last Spring, our Outreach and Social Ministry Team had an idea and decided that it would like to reach-out to people in our community who are presently living their lives in the role of a “caregiver.” As you know, being a caregiver is not easy and we, at Christ’s, don’t have the resources (or the expertise) that we need to be able to offer the kinds of support that caregivers both need and deserve. And so, once again, partnership became something for us to explore. Our Outreach and Social Ministry Team contacted the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging and discovered that the agency offers a 6-week class for caregivers called Powerful Tools for Caregivers. And Voila…! We were ready to move forward. But, then, there was another challenge. How could we work together to enable people who are caregivers to attend the classes, particularly if they are a sole caregiver who needs to stay with their loved-one nearly 24-hours each day? And we found the solution in yet another partnership with the United Way through its Open Your Heart to a Senior program. Well, I’m happy to report that these vital partnerships (another example of our ministry bringing people and organizations together) is working well. We have 12 people enrolled in the class (the maximum number of people who can be enrolled) and we have four more people on our waiting list – ready to attend our next class!

And finally, yet another exciting partnership is blossoming at Christ’s Lutheran Church! This summer, we formed a new partnership with the Northside Common Ministries – a ministry that is supplying food to people who are facing hunger and homelessness in our area. The Northside Common Ministries is devoted to taking meals to people in our area who are homeless. Meals are packaged and delivered to the distribution site; and then, they are hand-delivered to people who are homeless by people who are committed to reaching-out to children of God who are caught in a quite difficult situation. Together, we have supplied food containers and flatware. Several of our partners in ministry have joined in the distribution of meals. And a group of our partners in ministry gathered on August 10th to prepare 66 meals that were distributed to people facing homelessness later that evening. This wonderful new partnership is yet another example of the fact that we can do far more when we join hands with other people who share the same kind of hopes and dreams that we have for a better world.

Food Packers

And so, as you can see, it’s been a busy summer! It’s been a summer where we’re stretching our wings in some new ways, where we’re exploring some new types of ministry, and where we’re seeing God work through the power of partnerships that we have formed with other groups of people in our community. Please keep your eyes open as we move into the Fall and as we continue to share the stories of other things that we’re doing. There are so many different ways that you can be a part of what God’s doing at Christ’s Lutheran Church. And there’s a special place for everyone – including you!

While Journeying to Paradise

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Christians talk a lot about Paradise.

We look forward to the day when the New Jerusalem will come down out of Heaven and when God will, personally, wipe the tears from our eyes. We long for the Day when there will no longer be any pain and suffering, mourning and sorrow,  or crying and grief. And we, sometimes, disagree about how that Great Day will come. Some folks invest a lot of time and money reminding people of the Day of Christ’s return. Others speak of God’s Kingdom in the world today – slowly transforming everything into what God wants it to be. And, of course, in the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing upon “Olam Haba” – “What our world is yet to be” – while keeping in mind that the words “Olam Haba” don’t appear in the Bible even though the concept has been discussed and debated by the rabbis and theologians in the Christian tradition for thousands of years.

We look forward to the Great Day when the promises of Christ will be fulfilled; but we, also, need to live in the world today. So let’s keep things practical in the same way that the writer of Psalm 15 did so many years ago.

The writer of Psalm 15 begins by reminding us that we are sojourners – travelers – who are moving from one place to another. The psalmist reminds us of the days when the people of Israel worshiped God in a tent that was located in the Wilderness. The psalmist then goes on to speak of the days when God’s people worshiped in the Temple – before it was flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians and then, again, by the Romans. But, much to our surprise, the psalmist doesn’t write about cultic practices and about how we should worship as we travel from “where we are right now” to “where God wants us to be in the future.” In fact, the rabbis even warn us against using Psalm 15 as an “Entrance Quiz” to determine “who is welcome” and “who is not welcome” as we gather in worship.

And so, how do we live as we are journey toward Paradise?

The psalmist is clear. “Do what’s right and speak truthfully from you heart.” “Tame your tongue and use words to build people up.” “Be a person whose life is clearly marked with honesty and integrity.” “Live your life with a spark of hope in your heart and honor other people by treating them fairly in a world that’s often marked by heartless attitudes.”

Have you ever though about why God put you on the earth?

How would your life and your relationships with others change if you focused upon the fact that you’ve been put on the earth to learn how to love?

The promise of “Olam Haba” continues to point toward better days. The vision of “what our world is yet to be” can ignite a spark of hope in our hearts and send us into the world as people who point other folks toward the light at the end of the tunnel in a world that’s often both challenging and cruel. And isn’t that what Christian ministry is all about? Isn’t Christian ministry about going into the world and doing God’s work with our own hands – after we’ve captured a vision of “Olam Haba” – “What our world is yet to be” – in times of prayer and worship?

Click Here for this Week’s Message

 

Your Life and Your Money

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Mark 10:35-45

Many people cringe when their pastor begins to talk about money.

The story of our faith tells us that, in the Beginning, God created everything that we see and that God created it all to be “good.” In his explanation of the 4th Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther reminds us that, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” God responds to our prayer by providing food, drink, shelter, shoes, clothing, our homes, faithful rulers, good weather, peace, good health, good neighbors, and even the gift of money. Signs of God’s faithfulness are all around us; in fact, God’s continuing love and faithfulness is what keeps us alive.
And so, a natural question emerges: “How do we respond to God’s faithfulness?”

In today’s reading (Mark 10:35-45), James and John ask an interesting question. They have been following Jesus for some time. They have seen Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. They’ve heard Jesus talk about Heaven and they decide that they want special seats in Heaven; and so, they ask Jesus to give them those coveted places.
But Jesus surprises them.

Jesus describes being a Christ-ian as being a person who serves. Following Jesus is not about honor and prestige, and being great and visible. Following Jesus is not about power and authority and getting your own way. Christ-ians follow Jesus by living lives that are dedicated to loosing bonds and setting people free. Christ-ians untie bonds and help people move toward “wellness.” But, in a busy world, we don’t have enough hours in the day to support every good cause, do we? In a busy world filled is many obligations, we can’t set everyone free, untie all of the bonds that we want to untie, and help all of the people that we want to help move toward “wellness.” But, what we do have is a “vehicle” that we can use to do just that.
What would happen if you began to look at money as something that someone else gives to you in exchange for a part of your life that you can never get back?

That’s the truth that this week’s message, “Your Life and Your Money”, lifts-up. Our lives and our money are intimately connected. And our money is a “vehicle” that we can use to do things that we, otherwise, wouldn’t have the time or the physical ability to do.

We may not have time or the physical ability to visit the ill and the home-bound people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can offer a part of our lives to restore people who are suffering and lonely to wellness by supporting the ministry of a person who makes those life-changing visits. We may not have the time or the physical ability to feed hungry people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians to untie the bonds of hunger and place food on people’s tables by supporting the work of a local food bank. We may not have time or the physical ability to fight the raging battle against addictions in our communities – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians, so that people who are battling addictions have a safe place where they can gather in supportive communities to fight their battle with the help of other people. We may not have time or the physical ability to rebuild homes after a hurricane has destroyed them – but through the “vehicle” of money we can restore hope and rebuild homes, and we can provide help to those who are traveling through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
When we give money to the Church, we offer a gift-of-life that will be used as a “vehicle” to restore people, to untie bonds, and to bring God’s people to a better place in life that’s marked with both health and wellness.

Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to support an institution or social club. Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to pay ongoing expenses, so that the doors of an aging building can remain open for another week.

The money that you give is a “vehicle” that we use to share our lives with others. Money that we give to the Church in thanksgiving is a “vehicle” we use to share time and energy and life with folks who need to be restored and who need to be brought to a better place in life in the name of Jesus.

Our Partners in Mission

Partners Pic

Mark 9:38-40

Have you noticed that the world’s changing?

We live in a world of instant access where people can watch hurricanes move across the Atlantic, and where we’re invited to sit in the courtroom while people like Bill Cosby are being sentenced to time in prison. We can watch President Trump address the General Assembly of the United Nations, and listen to people question Brett Kavanaugh after his nomination to serve on the Supreme Court. Every “pop” and “ding” and “vibration” on our cellphones means something. And, as the world’s quickly changing all around us, the Church is changing, too.

Most Americans continue to believe in God, but fewer and fewer people are sitting in church pews on an average weekend. Churches that were once filled to capacity with bustling crowds are facing tough times as once-filled pools of volunteers have emptied and as rising costs fuel growing deficits. But people are still doing “good things,” aren’t they? Organizations all across America were mobilizing volunteers and were asking for financial support long before Hurricane Florence made its landfall. People can send money to feed hungry children – support their local women’s shelter – provide medical care for children with cancer – or even save an abandoned puppy or kitten with a touch on their cellphone’s screen. And many people in the Church are feeling threatened by that – because it’s almost as if we’re competing with other groups that are always pulling people and resources that we need to do ministry out of our hands.

The apostle John once said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” (Mark 9:38)

“Our Partners in Mission” is a message that’s been created to encourage you to think about building mission-partnerships between the church that you attend and groups that are also serving God’s people in your local community. Jesus once said, “Those who are not against us are for us.” (Mark 9:40) When we move past the idea that life-altering ministry is a “possession” of the Church, we can begin to see that God uses all sorts of people to do things that God wants to do in the world. And that can be life-changing to a congregation that’s struggling to figure-out what ministry even looks like in the 21st Century.
Let’s look more carefully at the idea of mission-partnerships where I live.

The Plum Food Pantry is serving people who are food-insecure in the community where the congregation I serve is located and we can feed hungry families, too – not by creating our own wheel and by feeding people in our own way – but, rather, by joining hands with other people who also want to do God’s work in our community. The Blackburn Center is standing beside women who are being battered in their homes, and is standing beside women and men who have been sexually abused or assaulted and we can do that, too – not by going out and creating our own wheel and by trying to do it all by ourselves – but, rather, by joining hands with other people who want to do God’s work, too. We can help seniors remain in their homes and remain independent by “joining the cause” and being a mission-partner with those who are trying to expand Open Your Heart to a Senior in our local area. We can battle the opioid addiction that’s claiming so many young lives in our community and we don’t need to create our own wheel and try to do it by ourselves! We can, instead, join hands in a mission-partnership with Narcotics Anonymous and do God’s work by supporting the ministry of folks who are already on the front-lines of the battle against addictions!
When the Church begins to look at ministry as its own possession, it loses sight of the fact that God can use all sorts of people to do the things that God wants to do.

The Church enjoyed being the center of the community for a long, long time. The Church created activities and programs that gave people something to do, and the fellowship of the Church was blessed by cover-dish dinners – church picnics – women’s circle meetings – and all sorts of youth group activities. And, as a “new day” dawns, those who continue to participate in the ministry of the Church carry that with them. As a “new day” dawns in America and all around the world, those who continue to regularly participate in the ministry of the Church carry all of those important things with them as things that can be remembered and cherished and honored and celebrated!

But, as Jesus continues to challenge us to explore new ways to “be the Church” and to think about ways that we can join hands in ministry in new and creative ways, it’s time for us to realize that “Those who are not against us are for us!” (Mark 9:40) – because, when we move past the idea that ministry is the Church’s possession, we become more open to working with many different people who are as serious about doing God’s work as we are.

Hurricane Florence – You Can Help!

Hurricane Florence

Many people want to offer their help and support when disasters strike.

Hurricane Florence is bearing-down on the east coast of the United States. Millions of people have left everything that they own behind in an attempt to escape devastating winds and rain. Others have decided to hunker-down because they either can’t run away or because they’ve decided that they can somehow face the unknown and prevail. The Weather Channel  is predicting that some areas of North Carolina will receive as much as forty inches of rain in the next few days, and elected leaders have promised us that they are prepared to respond to a disaster. But, the help of many other people will be needed, too.

How do you decide which charity or organization will use money that you contribute most wisely?

One of the first things that I suggest is that people visit CharityWatch before they send any money to an organization that’s asking for support during emergencies (and at other times, too). CharityWatch is America’s most independent and assertive charity watchdog and was founded 25 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). CharityWatch does not just give you what charities report to their donors using simplistic or automated formulas. CharityWatch dives deeply into an organization’s structures and expenses to let you know how efficiently that charity will use your donation to fund the cause you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor. Before you donate your hard-earned money to any organization or charity, please take a few minutes to visit CharityWatch. That simple, first step will protect you, as a donor, and the people that you want to help and support with your generous gift.

Another thing that you need to remember is that almost every organization or charity has some sort of overhead costs and expenses that need to be paid by somebody. Will that be you?

Most organizations and charities skim a certain percentage of every contribution that’s made to pay these costs and expenses. Some organizations pay their CEO hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Others use a percentage of the money that they receive to advertise, so that they can collect even more money from donors. It’s important to remember that organizations and charities that are most visible are, often, the ones that devote the largest amount of money to advertising. If they didn’t do that, you would probably never hear about what they are doing. Remember that.

But, some organizations and charities underwrite their expenses in other ways – and are, thus, able to send a larger percentage of your donation – or even 100% of it – to people that you want to help.

One example of a fine organization that does just that is Lutheran Disaster Response. Lutheran Disaster Response works as a catalyst, convener and bridge builder when disasters strike. Lutheran Disaster Response works with other organizations in the United States and all around the world. This approach enables Lutheran Disaster Response to use every dollar that it receives to help people who are affected by disasters and to maximize the impact of every dollar that’s received. Overhead costs and expenses are paid by faithful members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), so that every penny that is contributed to special appeals can be used to help people who need support and care. If you would like to read about Lutheran Disaster Response’s work in 2017 – click here.

Lutheran Disaster Response  recognizes that every disaster is local. Because of this, every response is rooted in the local community Your generous contribution provides everything that’s needed from immediate relief to the long-term recovery needs of affected people and communities. Your generous gift changes lives!

Your generous gift provides:

  • Emotional and spiritual support for both the people who have been affected by the disaster and for the leaders in the community who are responding to it;
  • Coordination of the efforts of thousands of volunteers;
  • Immediate support for those who need food, water, baby formula and diapers, mattresses, and other emergency supplies that are needed for rebuilding lives;
  • Long-term support that continues to meet the long-term needs of people who are affected by disasters – months – and even years after disasters strike and other organizations have left the area.

If you would like to help people whose lives are affected by Hurricane Florence

 CLICK HERE!

Hurricanes and other natural disasters strike people’s lives with devastating consequences, and we are both called and challenged by God to offer our support and care. But, we also need to ensure that the hard-earned money that we contribute to organizations and charities will be used wisely and efficiently to extend the care that we want to offer.

Thank you for your interest in extending your love and support to those whose lives will, undoubtedly, be devastated by Hurricane Florence. And thank you for thinking about using Lutheran Disaster Response as a vehicle that will deliver the financial support you want to offer to those who are facing the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

 

The Mission Interpreter

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How are choices and decisions you make each day connected to your journey of faith?

You live in a complex Age where change surrounds you. You probably feel overwhelmed by a constant stream of news and information that summons your attention by sending the invasive pop, ding, or silent vibration that invades every part of your daily life. You most likely believe in God, but you may have decided that you don’t want to be affiliated with a local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. And yet, you still want to make some sort of difference in the world. You still want to believe that God is somehow working in your life and in the lives of the people that you love. Perhaps, what you need are stories that remind you that God’s at work in our lives and in the world, and mental morsels to challenge you to think about the relationship between your daily living and faith?

I believe that there’s always a next step for us to take in our journey of faith, and I am dedicated to working with people who want to take the next step forward in their journey of faith with confidence and courage. And, that’s why I’ve added a link to the menu on this site that takes you to my newest blog entitled: “The Mission Interpreter”.

This is a place where you’ll discover ways that God’s people are making a difference in the world, right now. This is a place where the leaders of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples will be challenged to reflect and to grow. This is a place where you will be challenged to think about the relationship between daily living and the kinds of choices and commitments you make each day. This is a place where you’ll be challenged to explore the ways that choices and decisions you make are connected to your journey of faith and to your relationship with God.

You can receive updates every time new material is added to “The Mission Interpreter” by following the blog itself as a regular user of WordPress – or you can provide an email address where links to new material can be send. I hope you’ll also share information about this new blog with your friends, so that they can, also, be encouraged by the fact that people of faith continue to do life-changing things in our quickly-changing world.

To get started, why not take a moment to investigate “The Mission Interpreter” and to read one of the newest, thought-provoking posts: “Stewardship, Stoles, and Suicide” – a piece that tells the tragic story of a pastor who recently committed suicide and that offers some ideas that can help congregations to support and encourage pastors who struggle with issues of sadness, discouragement, depression and anxiety – just like so many other folks do in the Church. You can, also, find several inspiring stories that point to the power of prayer and that lift-up the good that God’s people do when they join hands and work as a team. You’ll even find a thought-provoking piece that challenges Church leaders to remember the importance of storytelling as they prepare to make financial appeals.

I hope that “The Mission Interpreter” will provide something helpful for everyone who visits the site. You’ll notice that there’s, also, a CONTACT ME link on the site. Please let me know if you; the congregation, synagogue, mosque or temple that you attend; or a group of people that you know are joining hands to do something that points others to the God who continues to call us to express our faith in a way that touches and changes lives.

Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?

clerical collar pic

John 6:56-69

Why would anybody want to be a pastor?

Now, that might seem to be a really bizarre question for a pastor to be asking, but follow with me….

I was asked to preside at a worship service while I was in Chicago last week; but, when I learned that nobody had volunteered to play the piano for the service, I quickly asked if I could provide music for the service instead – because I wasn’t sure that I’d have time to change my clothes after the service and I didn’t want to fly into Pittsburgh dressed like a Roman Catholic priest.

I think that we all know that many churches are struggling to find volunteers and the financial resources that are needed to support life-giving ministries – and pastors often take the brunt of those changing realities in the Church by scrambling to fill-in the gaps and by juggling ministry priorities to meet available funding.

Pastors have to watch what they say in the pulpit these days because, if they preach God’s call to justice too loudly, people aren’t afraid to vote with their feet or to express their dissatisfaction by cutting their weekly offering.

And that brings us back to the theme of this week’s message: “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Jesus’ disciples had to make a big choice one day. They’d been following Jesus for some time, and they’d watched Jesus turn water into wine and heal the sick. They had heard Jesus tell people that they need to be “born again” and to be transformed into something that they simply aren’t by God’s power. Jesus had told people that He’s the “Bread of Life” and that He has the power to raise people up even to eternal life after life and death have done their worst. And Jesus told people to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, so that He would live inside of them.

But people didn’t like that.

“Who does this guy think He is?” they grumbled. “And what makes Jesus think that He can talk to US that way?” And we read: “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66)

Jesus said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown (Mark 6:4). Who wants to hear a message about self-sacrifice and sacrificial giving when the guy down the street is telling people that God’s going to give them a big house? Who wants to be told to “deny yourself and take up your Cross” (Luke 9:23) when the guy just down the road is telling people that God will give them whatever they want? Who wants to listen to a message that calls us to extend compassion and justice to the poor when many of us have been taught to believe that the poor are simply lazy? After all…. Jesus loves the little children, doesn’t He. And we extrapolate that to mean that Jesus loves us too – no matter what we do and no matter what choices we make – right?

And so, “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Perhaps, the answer is found in the words of St. Peter: “Lord,to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)

I’m a pastor because God calls me to stand beside people and to continue to point them toward the promise of eternity during difficult times. I’m a pastor because I find it incredibly life-giving to sit down on the floor with a banjo in my lap and tell little kids the story of Jesus and help them to understand that they’re more precious than gold. I’m a pastor because I believe that God’s called me to remind people that no matter where they have been and what they have done – Jesus died on the Cross and was raised from the dead to give them another chance and a cleaned slate. I don’t think that there’s any better way for me to spend my years on this earth than to spend them baptizing little babies and grown adults, placing my hands upon the heads of teenagers who have come forward to affirm their faith and blessing them, welcoming new mission-partners into the ministry of Christ’s Church, and working beside men and women of faith who want to leave fingerprints on the world and somehow make it into a better place.

“Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

What else would I do with my life, Lord? Is there really anything better that I could do with my life than spend my days pointing other people to the “Bread of Life” – Jesus – the Lord who challenges us to live lives of self-sacrifice, compassion toward others, and love for one other and for the world during a time when many are turning away from the One who has come into the world to bless all of God’s people with the gift of eternal life?

Does God Still Give Us “Signs”?

looking for a sign

John 6:24-35

Several months ago, I saw a “sign.”

Now, before you get all excited, the sky didn’t open-up and I didn’t hear a big, booming voice from Heaven. The “sign” that I saw had nothing to do with watching someone feed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. The “sign,” in fact, was just a large, tattered billboard that read: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!

In this week’s message, “Does God Still Give Us ‘Signs’?”, I want to challenge you to think about the things that first pointed you toward Jesus. We sometimes see Jesus’ power to strengthen and heal when we find ourselves praying for people that we love. Jesus can melt the harsh bitterness that fills our hearts after we’ve been hurt or disappointed. God can show us the next step forward when we don’t know what to do. Sometimes, WE can even be a “sign” of Jesus’ presence in the lives of other people.

The writer of John’s Gospel begins an interesting story in John 6:24-35.

Jesus has just finished feeding more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. Jesus has gone off to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the home of about 1,500 people. And when the people hear that Jesus is in Capernaum, they gather because they want to see Him. And Jesus tells them: “You haven’t come here to see me because you saw ‘signs.’ You came here because you had your bellies filled with bread and fish.” And, even after Jesus tells the people that what He has just done is the “work of God,” the people who have gathered around Him start to demand another sign.
So, let me ask you a question: “How have YOU come to know Jesus?”

I first learned about Jesus in a Sunday School class where Mrs. Pfeifer showed-up every Sunday morning to teach me about Jesus. I also learned about Jesus as an ordinary man, named Kenneth Ruckert, pointed me to “signs” that proclaimed the fact that Jesus even loves confused teenagers. I’ve learned about Jesus while serving as a camp counselor at Camp Lutherlyn, and as I’ve journeyed through life with people who were suffering and even dying – people who pointed me toward the “signs” of God’s presence in the world when life isn’t perfect. I’ve come to know Jesus because people, throughout all of my life, have invested their time and energy in me. And, because of that, I’ve seen a lot of “signs.” Didn’t St. Paul once write that faith always comes from outside of us (Romans 10:17)?
And that’s why your investment in the ministry of the Church is so important.

I may have never heard about Jesus if Mrs. Pfeifer hadn’t volunteered to teach Sunday School every Sunday morning, and if other people hadn’t donated the money that she needed to buy the books that she used. I may have never become a pastor if the faithful members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Beaver Falls, PA hadn’t financially supported the ministry of Pastor Joel Nafuma – the man who helped me to pull the pieces together when God first began to call me into ordained ministry. When we faithfully invest our time and energy and money in Christian ministry, we can be people who create “signs” that point people to Jesus. In fact, when we invest in the ministry of a local congregation (or in the ministry of the Church in a broader way), we can open windows to Heaven and point people toward Jesus – the “Bread of Life” – who comes into the world to nourish us, to sustain us, to forgive us, and to lift us up both strengthened and renewed.
“If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!”

Perhaps, God is using these words to challenge you to think about the ways that God can use YOU to do the types of ministry that open the windows of Heaven for other people? Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that the time, energy and money that YOU invest in the ministry of a local congregation (and in the Church as a whole) has the power to help other people to discover the “Bread of Life.” Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that, as YOU join hands with other Christians in ministry, God can use whatever you offer to change people’s lives and alter their destinies?

Christ’s Church for ALL People

Christ's Church

We live our lives with a lot of rules, don’t we?

Written and unwritten rules are just accepted as the “truth” and we often simply accept the things that we’ve been taught without questioning. The rules that we’ve been taught teach us to separate the “good people” from the “bad people” – and it’s, ultimately, these same written and unwritten rules that shape our thinking and our behavior.

And that’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with folks who come to America from other countries. That’s why we’re still struggling to figure-out what to do with folks who fall  in love with people that they’re not “supposed” to fall in love with. That’s why many predominantly white denominations in the Christian Church are struggling to figure-out what they need to do to survive and flourish in a society where white people will very soon be the minority in America. That’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with people who think and who choose to live their lives in ways that we don’t always understand or want to accept.

“Christ’s Church for ALL People” is a message that challenges us to think about the very nature of the Church. How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who touched people who were considered to be “unclean” by others? How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who ate in the homes of tax-collectors and sinners, and who wasn’t even afraid to touch the corpses of those who had died? How do we make sense of a God who loves white people and black people, people who live in the United States and people who want to come to America from other countries? Doesn’t the Sacred Story remind us that God has created ALL people to be both precious and valuable? Doesn’t the Sacred Story tell us about Jesus – a man who came into the world to welcome and embrace people, and to even die on the Cross for everyone?

People – even God’s people – are not always good at lifting-up the fact that everyone is precious and valuable in God’s sight. Even Christians can have a hard time accepting the fact that: there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And yet, that truth is fundamental to the Christian faith. “Christ’s Church for ALL People” is who we are even in a tumultuous time when many people are speaking a very different truth even inside the Church – the place where Jesus continues to challenge us to offer our welcome and embrace to ALL people and to help them to realize that the Church is a “home” where God’s love and care can be experienced by everyone.