When Passion and Commitment Connect

cross pic

Mark 8:27-38

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is one of my favorite places in the world.

I spent three years of my life living right in the middle of the battlefield and bicycling across the top of Seminary Ridge. I spent many evenings watching beautiful sunsets from the peak of Little Round Top. But Gettysburg is, also, a place that invites people to think about life and about what God is calling us to do with the time that we’ve been given.

What would drive a person to leave everything behind and go to war? What would drive 262 Union soldiers from Minnesota to race forward to meet the advancing forces of 1,500 confederates from Alabama? What would stir-up the hearts of soldiers and cause them to stand in a straight line in an open field and charge into the firing cannons of the enemy? Why would 20,000 men fight over a 19-acre piece of ground just outside of Gettysburg in one of the bloodiest battles in human history?
Big things happen when passion and commitment connect.

People grab the bull by the tail and wrestle with demons. People commit themselves to things that are more important to them than life itself. People need to decide between what’s really important in life and what simply isn’t. People invest the very best that they have to offer in things that they believe can change the world.

In this week’s message, “When Passion and Commitment Connect”, we listen to some of the most challenging words that Jesus ever spoke: “If any of you would come after Me, you must deny yourselves and take-up your Cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) Jesus continues by saying: “Those of you who want to save your own life are going to lose it, and those of you who are willing to lose your life for My sake are going to find it.” (Mark 8:35)

“True life” is found when we discover something that ignites us, and drives us and causes us to invest ourselves in something important – and “true life” is lost when we live our lives searching for least common denominators and the easiest path. “True life” is found when the Holy Spirit ignites our hearts and drives us into the world to discover why God made us – and “true life” is lost when we allow the precious time that we have been given to slip between our fingers.

When we begin to see what God wants us to do, we begin to hear the voice of Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes inside of us. The Holy Spirit opens and closes doors in front of us, sends rains to quench our thirst in the desert, and gives us energy and stamina that we never knew we had. The Holy Spirit challenges us to look past the many obstacles and problems that stand in our way and helps us to embrace God-given possibilities and opportunities that are set before us. The Holy Spirit calls-forth the very best that we have to offer, and God’s work is done with our very own hands.
So, let me ask you: “Where do passion and commitment connect in YOUR life?
What is big enough and challenging enough to call-forth the very best that you have to give and to pull you into the middle of something that you can do to change the world?

The burdens and problems and troubles that we face in our lives are NOT the Cross that Jesus speaks to us about when He calls us to “take-up our Cross and follow Him” (Mark 8:34) Our “Cross” is the place where passion and commitment connect, and it’s the place where we discover our deepest calling and purpose in 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?

Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk

Money Bag

Take a moment to simply dream….

Imagine that you’ve bought a Powerball ticket and that you’re sitting at home watching the balls bounce around in the machine; and, when the numbers come out, you realize that you’ve won! Imagine yourself as the recipient of millions and millions of dollars – perhaps more money than you can even imagine.

What would you do with it?

You could risk your millions in the stock market, or you could buy an ordinary CD. You could do something that may or may not work, or you could stuff the money into your mattress. That’s what this week’s message, “Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk”, is all about.

Jesus once told a story about a rich man who entrusted money into the hands of servants and who, then, went away on a journey. Two of the servants doubled the money that they were given through wise investments. But the other servant was paralyzed by fear when he received the money, and he simply buried the money in the ground to keep it safe.

So, let me ask you a question….

If I asked you to stand-up and to tell all of your friends about your greatest gift or talent, what would you tell them about?

If I asked you to stand-up and to tell all of your friends about the greatest gift or talent that you’ve been given, what would you say?

You see, that’s your million dollars. Some people are musicians and others can teach. Still others are skilled craftsmen who can properly maintain property, and yet others have the self-discipline to own their own business. Some people are great bakers. Some people are known for their generous financial support of worthy causes. Some people can step up to the plate and offer leadership skills to churches and organizations. Still others are able to handle “little details” that easily slip between the cracks when people get busy.

The story that Jesus tells in Matthew 25:14-30 is a story about trustworthiness. The point of the story is NOT that some people have more talents and abilities and gifts than other people – even though that might be true. The point of the story is NOT that some people have more resources to bring to the table than others – even though that might be true.

What Jesus wants us to see is that the greatest risk is NOT found in boldly investing and risking everything. The greatest risk is NOT encountered when we “put it all on the line” and “step-out in faith.” The greatest risk is encountered when we never get to the point in life (or in ministry) where we care enough about something to invest ourselves in deep and passionate ways. In this story, Jesus tells us that trustworthiness is often lived-into by those who become driven and who are passionate enough to invest everything they have – lock, stock, and barrel.

What are you passionate about? What kinds of things excite you, and would drive you to invest your God-given gifts and talents with excitement and passion and energy? What hopes and dreams do you have? If you had millions and millions of dollars to distribute, what would you do with your money?

I end this week’s message, “Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk”, with a metaphor that’s meant to challenge and push you. How would you live your life differently if you knew that the greatest risk of all is dying with your toys still left in your bag? How would you live your life differently if you knew that, one day, you would be left thinking about what you could have done differently in life – if you had been willing to “take a chance” and to trust God enough to use you to change the world?

That’s the challenge of trustworthiness. That’s why we all need to struggle, and to learn how to navigate through lives that are filled with “Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk”.