Calming Music

keyboard pic

Martin Luther once said that, next to the Word of God, the devil dislikes music more than anything else in the world. Music can calm our hearts and lift our spirits. Music can help to restore a sense of peace in our lives and quiet our racing thoughts. Sometimes, I like to simply stop at the end of the day and listen to calming music before I go to bed.

We are traveling through a very unusual and stressful time right now. And, in response to that, I’ve added a new menu option to my blog entitled Calming Music.  I’ve enjoyed playing the piano for many years and have even written some music and hymns of my own. I, also, enjoy creating new arrangements of familiar songs and hymns. I am offering these original recordings of familiar hymns and other songs for you to enjoy hoping that they can bring you moments of calm and peace in the midst of this storm. Please feel free to share them with other people that you know.

One of the songs I have included in this collection is an original composition entitled, “Through the Years.” I wrote this song while journeying through life with a very dear friend who was dying. I recently added an oboe part to the score. I have, also, added some other instrumentation to some of the songs that I have included in this short collection to add some variety to your listening experience.

I hope that you will enjoy listening to these songs that I’ve played and that they will bring you a sense of calm and peace during these unusual and challenging times.

Click Here to Listen to “Calming Music”

You are Blessed!

diversity

What do you think it means to be “blessed”?

I hope that you know that you are deeply loved by God and that you are an important part of what God’s doing in the world today. I also hope that God has surrounded you with people who love and support you because even God said that it’s not good for any of us to journey through life all alone (Genesis 2:18).

But, even when we know that God loves us and sends people into our lives to encourage and support us, life is not always easy.

Many of us have been taught that people who are blessed by God live in positions of power and prestige. The Prosperity Gospel teaches us that God is ready to bless us with prosperity and good health – if we plant the right “seed.” We, normally, don’t call people blessed when they’re struggling to make ends meet or to figure out where they are going to get their next meal. Many people, in fact, believe that people who are struggling and who need help from others just need to learn to get out there and pull themselves up by the bootstraps (whatever that means) and start living their lives in the “right” way – which, of course, often means: “in the way that I do.”

Jesus said something very different than what most of us believe (Matthew 5:1-12).

Jesus calls people “blessed” when they are being crushed by the circumstances in their lives and when they’re longing for God’s comfort as they mourn. Jesus calls people “supremely blessed” when they find themselves longing for better days and when they are trying to mend relationships with other people. Jesus said that we’re “blessed” when people are criticizing and belittling us because we’re standing up for what we believe. Jesus says that people, who openly speak about truths and principles that other people don’t want to think about, are “blessed” – even thought we may not think so.

Several months ago, I read a book, entitled “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor; and, in that book, I was challenged to think about something that I had never considered in my journey of faith.

Have you ever thought about how many things God did in the dark?

The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (chaos), in the dark, before God created the sun and the moon (Genesis 1:2-3.) Think about the story where Jacob sees a ladder reaching into the heavens in the dark (Genesis 28:10-19) and about the Angel of Death moving through the land of Egypt on the night of the Passover in the dark (Exodus 12:28-32). And, of course, the Gospels tell us that the women came to the Tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning at sunrise (Matthew 28:1) and found it empty. And why? Because God raised Jesus from the dead in the dark.

This week, I want you to think about the fact that God is with you and that God’s blessing you every single day. God is with you when you are living on top the world, and God is with you when you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. God is with you when you (and perhaps, your family) are blessed with the goodness of life, and God is with you as you mourn the death of people that you have loved and cared about for many years. God’s with you when you find yourself surrounded by people who love you, and God is with you when you are struggling to mend relationships in your life that are broken because of conflict. God is found in the “light.” God is found in the “dark.” God is found in every moment…!

And so, remember: You are blessed…!

Jesus calls you “supremely blessed” even when your life isn’t filled with an abundance of things that we normally associate with success and happiness. And Jesus also calls you “blessed” when your life isn’t filled with all of the things that the empty Prosperity Gospel promises to those who plant the right “seed.” And why? Because God’s love is always a gift that is freely given to us. It’s not a gift that has to be earned by doing whatever we think we need to do (or are told that we need to do) to catch God’s attention.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

Jesus is Searching for You

Searching

Stories are an important part of our lives.

I suspect that many of us can remember the day when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, and that many of us can remember what we were doing on that day. My father used to tell me a story about the day when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I’ve been told many stories in my years as a pastor, and I truly believe that many of those stories capture the very essence of life.

Jesus told many stories, called parables, during His ministry.

And one day, Jesus told a story about a shepherd who left 99 sheep in the middle of the Wilderness in order to search for one of the sheep that had wandered off. He searched behind rocks and boulders. He shouted until the back of his throat was raw. He searched and searched and searched and searched. And he rejoiced when he found the lost sheep and was able to return it to the flock.

We all have times when we wander off and get lost in the Wilderness.

Some people get lost when they sink into the bottomless pit of addiction. Some of us struggle to forgive people who have hurt or disappointed us. Some of us get lost as we face the temptation to withdraw and isolate ourselves as we grieve. Teenagers who are being bullied can feel lost. People who struggle with homeless can feel lost. People who are trying to escape from the grip of Internet pornography (which is a plague that affects and ruins many people’s lives – even in the Church) can feel lost. And, when we’re lost, we can’t always find our own way back from the lonely Wilderness, can we?

Jesus is searching for you.

The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who have life all figured-out, come together to be entertained for an hour each week. The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who don’t want to admit that we’re all lost in some way, come together to have their ego stroked by an inspiring speaker. We’ve all had times when we’ve needed to be found by the Shepherd of our Souls. We’ve all had times when we’ve been lost and when we’ve needed to be brought back to the safety of the flock whether it be to the safety of our family, or to the safety of  the Church, or to the safety of a support group that can help and encourage us as we struggle with the uncertainties of life.

Jesus is searching for you.

No matter where you find yourself in life, right now, the arms of God are opened wide and God’s embrace is big. Take heart! The Shepherd of our Souls continues to search for you even when you feel lost and alone. Jesus is searching for you in whatever Wilderness surrounds you today. And that’s truly a message of Good News, isn’t it? It’s a message that can comfort and sustain us when we’re feeling cut-off from other people and when we’re feeling that even God is standing at a distance as we struggle to find our way through a Wilderness that can leave us feeling very lost and alone.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

Resetting Your Heart

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

In my last few posts, I have focused upon Paradise.

I pointed you back to the 21st Chapter of Revelation, and lifted-up the Day when there will not be any more crying or grief or hurt or broken relationshipss or mourning or sorrow or regrets. We have been focusing upon Olam Haba – “what our world is yet to be.” And we’ve talked about the fact that we’re just not there yet.

And so, how do we live our lives as we travel through a time that spans the period that stands between “what our world is right now” and “what our world is yet to be”?

We can spend our time and our days lamenting the fact that life can be brutal, or we can invest our time and energy in developing an intentional awareness of the ways that God is working in our lives and in the world. We can invest our time and energy in pointing out the ways that our world is far from being a Paradise, or we can allow God to help us to see goodness and blessings in even the smallest things that happen in our lives each day. And the choice is ours.

About a year ago, I placed “The Book of Blessings” in the doorway where people enter our worship space – to challenge people to stop for a moment and think about ways that God has blessed them in the last week. If you don’t worship with us at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, I’d challenge you to get a small notebook, spend a moment thinking about ways that God’s blessed you, and write them down in your own “Book of Blessings.” It’s truly amazing to look back through pages and pages of blessings that we have intentionally recorded because in one way or another they were important to us at one moment in time. It’s also amazing to see how quickly we forget about how God has blessed us – especially when life gets tough.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly “thanksgiving” can reset your heart. You’ll be amazed at how something as simple as counting your blessings each day can reshape the way that you think about your life and the world. Why not start YOUR “Book of Blessings” today?

Click Here for this Week’s Message



When times are tough….

Jesus in Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,
I thank God that the path toward the future isn’t paved
with only my own inner strength and courage.
God is Mighty!
And the Lord who holds me in the palm of His hand
has the power to carry me safely
toward better days.

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie

 

Christ’s Healing of Creation

unity

It was the worst day in human history.

God had been at work since the “Beginning” (whenever that was). God had been at work transforming what was “formless and void” into a beautiful Creation filled with a sun and moon, water, land, trees, birds, and fish. And, at the high point of it all, God created ADAM and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

But, ADAM was alone; and so, God assembled a huge parade and God marched all of the animals in front of ADAM – but a suitable partner wasn’t found for him. And so, our God created ADAMAH – a woman – and ADAM was so excited that he exclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” And everything was very, very good.

But, the Sacred Story reminds us that there was a serpent in the Garden of Eden. And the serpent took ADAMAH aside and convinced her to eat fruit from the only tree that God had told her not to touch: The Tree of the Awareness of Duality and Separation. And, as soon as that happened, people began to notice that they’re somehow different than the people around them. You and me. Good and bad. Righteous and unrighteous. Black and White. Us and them. Republicans and Democrats. Americans, Russians, Mexicans, and Germans. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Orthodox. I’m exhausted….

And shortly after ADAM and ADAMAH ate from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality the Creation changed. ADAM and ADAMAH noticed that they were different, and they sewed fig leaves together to hide parts of their bodies from each other. ADAM and ADAMAH began to sense a distinction between the “ordinary” and the “sacred”; and, for the first time, they felt shame as they stood in the presence of God. The deadly fruit from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality caused ADAM to blame ADAMAH when God asked him if he had eaten from the tree, and it caused ADAMAH to blame the serpent when she was asked the same question – because, when something goes wrong, it always has to be someone’s fault (and it’s almost always someone else’s fault, isn’t it?). The fruit from the Tree of the Awareness of Duality unraveled God’s creative intent, and the fruit continues to work in our lives and in the world today.

And that’s why Jesus came.

In this week’s message, “Christ’s Healing of Creation”, we’re reminded that Jesus came into the world to tear down the wall between God and God’s people – so that, we don’t have to live our lives sensing a separation between the “ordinary” and “sacred.” Jesus came into the world to tear down the walls that we build between ourselves and other people – reminding us that, “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus came into the world to bridge the separation that we sense between ourselves and God, so that we can live at peace with God. Jesus came into the world to share a love that unravels “duality” and “separation,” and to remind us that no matter what kinds of lines we try to draw between ourselves and others, God’s at work to erase those lines and to bind us together – because God has given us each other as a “gift,” so that none of us have to travel through life alone.

The Sacred Story reminds us that “duality” – our sense of separation between ourselves and God – and between ourselves and other people – was not God’s original intent in the Creation and it’s not God’s intent for our lives today. And that’s why God continues to draw us to a Table where we share a common Meal – and into a community, called the “Church,” where God binds us together as a visible sign of what God’s doing today.

 

Facing the Holiday Blues

the pain by emilio gallori 1846 1924  siena palazzo publicco

Many different things can cause that rather depressed, stressed, agitated, and fatigued feeling that many of us experience during the Holiday season. The “Holiday Blues” can be caused by a variety of things, and we need to understand what stands at the core of what we’re experiencing before we can begin to address it. What is depressing and stressful for one person may not affect other people in the same way. And, what one person finds to be helpful during those stressful and “blue” periods may not work for other people at all.

It’s important to realize that the “bad feelings” that come during the Holiday season are not the real problem. Bad feelings are a symptom. We are most likely reacting to something that’s “not right” – or to something that we think isn’t right in our lives when the “Holiday Blues” strike. And so, one of the best things we can do when the “Holiday Blues” strike is look beyond those “bad feelings” themselves and focus upon what’s causing us to feel the way that we’re feeling. We may even be able to address the specific issues that are affecting our lives quite effectively once we clearly identify them. Take some time to simply think about what’s happening; and be careful that you are not overlooking an underlying medical problem, the side effects of the medications that you’re taking, or even Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Some common causes:

Most of us probably believe that the Holidays are “supposed” to be a time of happiness, cheer, joy, fellowship and optimistic hopes for the New Year. We all have “idealized” images of what the Holidays “should” be like. And that’s why we’re often bombarded with all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings when we’re moving through times of significant loss, unresolved grief, fears about the future, and disappointment. We can become very discouraged when we begin to compare what we think the Holidays should be like with what they really “are” like. “Holiday Blues” can also be caused by isolation and loneliness.

The Holiday season is also a busy and stressful time. We have more things to do and more things to purchase on tight budgets. There is more traffic on the highways and even parking our automobiles can become more difficult. Stores are crowded. Tempers are short. Extra demands and expectations are often placed upon our time, attention, energy and finances. This can all be stressful.

Some helpful ideas:

Many people begin to conquer the “Holiday Blues” by re-thinking their attitude and approach to the Holidays. There’s a big difference between what you “have” to do and what is “best” for you. Do you have to buy all of the expensive gifts you’re planning to purchase? Do you have to buy so many gifts? How does your understanding of God shape the purpose and meaning of your giving? Is it time for you to approach giving in a different way? Don’t forget to keep the overall picture in mind. Making the effort to get a gift (or to do something nice) for one person may be easy, but it gets more difficult and demanding as you increase the number of people who will receive your gifts and your time. Don’t just follow your past practices and traditions without thinking about them. Families and relationships change. Your financial situation may be very different than it was last year. Your understanding of “giving” can be greatly clarified as you allow your gift-giving to be shaped by your faith. Think about how your life is different than it was last year and accept the fact that a new approach to Holiday giving (and even celebrating) may be totally appropriate.

If significant losses are making the Holidays difficult, you may want to use some time during the Holiday season to mourn and grieve in a different way. You will most likely feel loneliness and sadness. If you accept the grief and feelings that go along with your loss, the intensity of those bad feelings will likely lessen. Remember that you don’t need to spend the Holidays alone – but remember that you, also, don’t need to accept every invitation that you receive. You may need to find ways to satisfy the needs in your life that were filled by the person you have lost. You may, also, need to spend some time alone. The Holidays can be difficult – but they can also be a time to celebrate the goodness of the relationships that continue to be a blessing to our lives in a healthy and balanced way.

You may also find the “Serenity Prayer” helpful during the Holiday season. When the “Holiday Blues” strike, remember that it’s sometimes helpful to: (1) accept the things that you cannot change, (2) change the things that you can, and (3) accept the fact that there’s a difference between the two.

The holiday season is, finally, a great time to celebrate the presence of God and to remember the promises of a brighter future in difficult times. Please don’t forget to include worship and prayer in your Holiday schedule. You may find a “Longest Night” service to be helpful. As Christians, we can find great peace when we remember that the Holiday season is REALLY about the God who loves us and who comes into our world – even during challenging times – to be an important part of our daily lives.

Waiting Well

bridesmaids pic

One of the things that drives me crazy is waiting.

I’d rather arrive 15 minutes early than walk into a meeting 2 minutes late. When I go to a show in Pittsburgh, it drives me absolutely crazy when the ushers are still seating people, with flashlights in their hands, after the show has begun. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Dost thou love life? Then, don’t waste time because that’s what life is made of.”

Jesus once told a story about ten bridesmaids who went to a wedding feast. The women were left waiting outside the banquet hall because the bridegroom didn’t arrive at the party on time. Five bridesmaids were prepared for the wait because they had brought extra oil for their lamps. The other five bridesmaids weren’t prepared, and they had to run to the local market to buy extra oil and they missed the bridegroom’s arrival. The reception started. The great feast was set before the guests. The music started and the great, big doors of the banquet hall were closed. And, when the five bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps returned, they were sent away.

Have you ever had a time when you needed to “wait upon the Lord”?

I pray with a lot of people who are going through tough times; and, when I do that, I expect God to do something. I spend a lot of time with people who are struggling with a variety of illnesses; and I know what it’s like to pray and pray and pray, and to wait for God to do something. I (like many of  you) have traveled the lonely path of grief and I know what it’s like to long for better days. My granddaughter recently told me that her least favorite part of school is “waiting in line” – and I suspect that that’s true because she doesn’t like “waiting” any more than I do.

The psalmist once wrote: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!” (Psalm 70:1). But the prophet Isaiah has also written: “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall  mount-up with wings like an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and they shall not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

And so, as people of faith, we’re left in a dilemma. The Bridegroom doesn’t always come when we expect Him to come. God doesn’t always arrive when we expect Him to arrive. Sometimes, we need to learn to “wait upon the Lord.” Sometimes, as people of faith, we need to realize that healing and better days don’t always come quickly even though we have been assured by God that they’ll surely come. And that’s what this week’s message, “Waiting Well”, is all about.

We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” by spending time with people who have learned to wait upon the Lord in their own times of struggle – in private conversations or in support groups. We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” as we continue to remain connected with the community of the Church as it gathers around a Feast of broken break and shared wine. We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” by reflecting upon the promises of God that we find in the Bible and by spending time with God in prayer. We can “wait upon the Lord” in tough times by remaining connected to other people who are building their lives upon the Rock of Jesus Christ and who are “Waiting Well” in the times when God’s arrival doesn’t fit neatly into their schedules either.

The longer I’ve lived and the more I’ve experienced the more I’ve realized that we all need to find ways to faithfully “wait upon the Lord” and to do that “Waiting Well”.

“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount-up with wings like an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and they shall not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

Faith and Wellness

WholenessWheel

Life’s pretty complicated, isn’t it?

We live in an Age of soaring blood pressure, out-of-control cholesterol levels, expanding waist bands, and anti-anxiety medications. We have commitments to our families and to our employers. We have things that we need to do right now and things that we need to do tomorrow. We have commitments to our nation and commitments to our God.

Have you ever felt like a juggler who’s spinning plates at a circus?

Have you ever wondered if there’s enough of you to go around?

If so, you really need to listen to this week’s message: “Faith and Wellness”.

“Faith and Wellness” are intimately connected because God created us to be people who live lives that are healthy and whole. God wants us to work and earn a living – but God doesn’t want us to focus so much energy upon earning money that we neglect the people that we love. God wants us to grow intellectually and to have time to relax – but God also wants us to eat healthy foods and exercise. God wants us to do the things that are most important to us and that we enjoy – but God also calls us to offer some of our time and energy and wealth to the building-up of His Reign on the earth. It’s challenging. Finding new ways to integrate the basic pieces of our lives and blend them together into a strong and healthy whole isn’t easy. But, if we want to be healthy and whole, we need to realize that “Faith and Wellness” are intimately connected.

We can begin to consider ways to more effectively balance our lives as we reflect upon the “Wholeness Wheel” that’s provided above – and we can all improve the quality of our lives as we continue to remember that God calls us to give adequate attention to all of the different parts of our lives without allowing anything – but God – to gain control of the whole thing.