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

 

Christian Emissions Standards

Freedom of Speech

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

I began my career as a Chemical Engineer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Speech?

Freedom of Speech

Many people seem to believe that we have the “right” to say whatever we want to say to each other these days.

Social media is atrocious! Conversations turn into ugly arguments; and, before you know it, profanity is flying through the ethers of the universe. Folks who don’t even know each other call each other names and type words on their computer screens that they would never say to each other in public. And, somehow, we need to make sense of that. How do we make sense of our freedom of speech in a world where words can be used to praise and honor God, and where words can be just as easily used to curse people that God has made?

Many years ago, Saint Paul was asked about meat that had been sacrificed to false gods. “What do you do,” the Corinthians asked, “when you’re not sure about where the meat behind the grocery counter came from?” “What do you do,” the Corinthians asked Saint Paul, “when you’re not sure about where the meat behind the grocery counter came from because the temples in Corinth are selling animals that were sacrificed to the false gods in the meat market.”

And I find Saint Paul’s answer absolutely fascinating!

Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that it’s OK to eat the meat because, after all, an idol is just a piece of wood that really doesn’t matter at all. Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that it’s OK to eat the meat because there’s only one God and idols are just humanly-created trinkets. “And yet,” Saint Paul continues, “as you prepare to take a bite of your steak, you need to stop and look around.” Other people are watching you! People can be led astray in their walk with Christ because of the way you behave. It’s all about community! It’s all about relationships! It’s all about doing what’s helpful and turning away from the things that can harm other people.

People who call each other names and spew profanity from their computer need to stop for a moment and think about the people who will read their words. People who spread gossip need to remember that words are powerful and can destroy people’s lives. When we swear and speak harshly to each other in front of little children, we are telling them that it’s OK for them to do the very same thing. Every time we find ourselves in an ugly argument, we need to ask ourselves: “Is what I’m debating more important to me than my relationships with other people?”

Words have the power to change people’s lives – even in a country that is committed to free speech, and that’s what this week’s message, “Freedom of Speech?”, is all about.

People can be led astray in their walk with Christ as they watch the way that we speak to each other, and as they watch the way that we interact with others on social media. Just as Saint Paul told the Corinthians that they need to stop for a moment and look around before they take a bite of their juicy steak, he would also tells us that we need to be very careful when we exercise our freedom of speech in modern times.

The words that we speak have a power of their own and can never be taken back. And that’s why we need to choose the words that we speak, or type, very carefully.

 

 

New Study Resource!

Bread and Wine

Welcome to the Table of the Lord

God calls parents to help their children to grow into men and women of faith.

Some parents make a special commitment to have their children in some sort of program where Christian perspectives and teachings will be shared. Many parents make a special effort to enroll their children in catechism. But, due to changing family dynamics, many parents are taking-on more of the responsibility for teaching their kids about God and about their relationship with Christ. But, in order to do that effectively, parents need tools. And that’s what “Welcome to the Table of the Lord” is all about.

“Welcome to the Table of the Lord” is a three-session study that can help parents to teach their children about Holy Communion. This study guide is not meant to replace the First Communion instruction that’s offered by your church! This resource is, instead, designed to help you to explore some of the basic concepts that your child needs to know.

In the three sessions you will share with your child, you will talk about the Last Supper, the story of Joseph, and the story of the Passover. You’ll talk about the different ways that churches celebrate Holy Communion, and the important promises that God offers to us when we receive the Sacrament. Perhaps, most importantly, you’ll be helping your child to understand that Holy Communion is for you and that you are welcome at the Table of the Lord because God loves you and wants to be a part of your life in a special way.

I’m hoping that this new tool for parents will be an important part of the “equipping and empowering” ministry of the ExploraStory Cafe and that parents will use it to help young people to understand and more deeply participate in an important part of the life of the Church.

 

What’s My End Game?

conflict

We all have times when relationships are difficult, don’t we?

We face times of conflict in the places where we work and even in our own homes. We sometimes find ourselves in a conflict with people that we’ve known for years and with people who sit beside us in worship. We disagree with our “Friends” on Facebook; and, before we know it, our disagreements turn into angry exchanges and angry exchanges come to an end when we hit the “un-Friend” or “Block” button. We all face times in life that are filled with conflict – and sometimes those conflicts are resolved and sometimes our relationships with other people, unfortunately, end.

Jesus provides an honest and authentic way to handle times of conflict in our lives.

Jesus challenges us to sit down with people in times of conflict, and invites us to speak with people who have hurt us in an honest and authentic way that promotes deeper understandings and that strives for resolution. Jesus, also, challenges us to invite level-headed and Godly people to work with us when our relationships are falling apart. And there’s even a role for the Church. But Christ’s teachings about conflict resolution (that we find in Matthew 18:15-20) can be twisted and perverted into something they were never intended to be, and they can be used to justify causing irreparable damage in our relationships with others.

In this week’s message, “What’s My End Game?”, we are challenged to step-back and to ask ourselves some serious questions during times of conflict. Do I want to the “right” or do I want to be “reconciled”? Do I want to simply gather a group of people who share my thoughts and perspectives, and come after my opponent with a “like-minded army” or do I want to ask faith-filled people to help me to find a path back? Is God calling me to deal with what’s troubling me in an open and authentic way, or have I already decided that the issue that stands at the heart of the conflict is more important than the relationship itself? Am I prayerfully seeking God’s help and direction (knowing that Christ promised to help me when I’m facing times of conflict), or have I already decided that it’s time to gather-up my toys and go home?

Times of conflict are never easy, and in this week’s message – “What’s My End Game?” – we’re challenged to ask ourselves some serious questions and to think about how we would like the conflict to be resolved as we search for our next step forward.

When relationships are difficult, we need to ask ourselves: “What’s My End Game?”

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 10

prayer-page

I’m hoping that you continued walking through the Bible in the last few weeks – even though I was taking a much-needed vacation. I had an enjoyable time on the Outer Banks of NC, and spent some wonderful time with my family. The surf was pretty high, and we had gale-force winds at the beginning of the week; but, the sun broke out in the later part of the week and we enjoyed some great time on the beach.

I’ve been reflecting upon one particular verse from Psalm 23 for more than a week.

In Proverbs 13:24, we read: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but whoever loves him is diligent to discipline him.” I’ve heard these words used, many times, to justify corporal punishment. We’ve been taught to compare the “rod” with modern-day paddles. We can use these words from the Bible to justify paddling children in order to correct their many inappropriate deeds. Some people are convinced that they can correct behavior with the swat of a paddle (or even with a hand). But is this, really, what the Bible teaches us?

The psalmist writes, in Psalm 23:4, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Here, we don’t picture a shepherd whacking his sheep with his staff. In fact, human experience teaches us that sheep can’t be herded in the same way that cattle can be. Sheep aren’t lead by a shepherd’s harsh correction. Sheep are led by trust. Didn’t Jesus, Himself, tell us: “When he [the shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they known his voice.” (John 10:4)? Parents “spare the rod” when they fail to lead their children by their own example. Parents “spare the rod” when they give-up their God-given duty to be the head of their own household, and when they fail to teach their children the ways of the Lord. When corporal punishment is born in a spirit of frustration and anger, correcting can become an abusive misuse of power. This is not what God intends. God blesses parents with children, so that they can lead them and guide them – pointing them toward the Lord and paths of righteousness. And the same is true in every  part of our lives where we’re called to lead other people.

And now, here are the readings for next week:

Week #10

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 3-4 – Monday: Genesis 36-39 – Tuesday: Ruth – Wednesday: Psalms 27-29 – Thursday: Job 19-20 – Friday: Isaiah 51-55 – Saturday: Matthew 26-28