The Church’s GPS

Smartphone Pic

One of the features that I use most often on my Smartphone is the GPS.

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Many pastors and congregational leaders are searching for the church’s path forward in quickly changing times. We realize that our society is moving through a time of dramatic change and transition. We can sense that dramatic shifts are occurring in people’s lives as we hear more and more about the “Nones” and the “Dones.” And we wish we could find the magic pill. We wish that we could somehow re-create an idealized past; but, deep inside, we all know that that’s not going to work. And so, we need to look forward. And, we also need to listen to God’s voice because the Church has been built upon the life-giving message of Christ crucified and risen for 2,000 years, and because the Risen Christ has promised to sustain the Church and lead it into the future.

So, what does our life of worship and prayer have to do with a GPS?

• First, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we are right now.” We begin worship services at Christ’s Lutheran Church, each week, by joining in a time of confession and forgiveness because we need to remember “where we are right now.” Times of confession call us to look deep inside; and, sometimes, call us to look at parts of our lives that we don’t like to see. Times of open confession call us to gaze into a mirror, and to see ourselves both honestly and authentically. And that’s important because some of the things that we see in the mirror can stand in the way when we want to serve God. And the pronouncement of God’s forgiveness frees us and liberates us, so that we can move in a new direction. Worship and prayer can open our eyes to “where we are right now” – and that’s where every journey begins.

• Second, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we need to be.” And worship and prayer can help us to see that, too. God opens our eyes and speaks to our hearts in worship and prayer – helping us to see the “gap” between where things are right now and where God wants them to be. As we “dream and dreams of God” in our worship and prayer, God gives us visions of the future that God wants to create for our lives and our ministry. God points us toward “where we need to be.” We might think that we can simply decide “where we need to be” by sitting at a table and by creating long-term strategies without God’s help. But, no matter how creative our strategies become, they’ll never lead us to “where we need to be” until we gather around God’s Word, spend time in worship and prayer, and ask God to lead us and help us to do what He wants us to do.

• Third, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” there are many different paths – and some of them may be far better than others. The book of Acts contains a wonderful story where the Holy Spirit opens and closes doors as St. Paul was traveling (Acts 16:6-10). We need to understand that God does the same thing today. When we spend time in worship and prayer, God works. God inspires. God leads. God opens door that we can’t open by ourselves with His mighty hands. And God chooses the best route forward. When we know “where we are right now” and “where we need to be,” we must remain in worship and in prayer – trusting that God will open doors and even close doors that will lead us down paths filled with unnecessary obstacles.

• Lastly, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” God will provide pictures of our destination. The Bible tells us: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). As we worship and pray, God paints a picture for us. Can we see Christ’s Lutheran Church as a vibrant congregation that’s both multi-generational and multi-cultural? Can we picture Christ’s Lutheran Church as a place where people use the first five minutes after each worship services to engage and to speak with visitors, instead of just flying toward the doors? Can we picture Christ’s Lutheran Church as a place that devotes itself to listening to people and to building entire ministries around what God has told us to do to meet the needs of people who are living just beyond the walls of our building? Can we picture Christ’s Lutheran Church as a place that continues to lift-up the fact that ALL of God’s people are created to be ministers – and that one of the most important things that we can do as a church is to help people to fulfill their own ministry by equipping and empowering them by providing the tools and training and connections that they need to find?

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Can we look at our life of worship and prayer as something that does the same thing?

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?

Our Spiritual GPS

GPS

One of the features that I use most often on my Smartphone is the GPS.

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Many pastors and congregational leaders are searching for the church’s path forward in quickly changing times. We realize that our society is moving through a time of dramatic change and transition. We can sense that dramatic shifts are occurring in people’s lives as we hear more and more about the “Nones” and the “Dones.” And we wish we could find the magic pill. We wish that we could somehow re-create an idealized past; but, deep inside, we all know that that’s not going to work. And so, we need to look forward. And, we need to listen to God’s voice because the Church has been built upon the life-giving message of Christ crucified and risen for 2,000 years, and because the Risen Christ has promised to both sustain the Church and lead it into the future.

And so, how can our life of worship and prayer be our spiritual GPS?

  • First, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we are right now.” Many churches begin their worship services, each week, by inviting worshipers to join in a time of confession and forgiveness – because we need to remember “where we are right now.” Times of confession call us to look deep inside; and, sometimes, call us to look at parts of our lives that we don’t like to see. Times of confession call us to gaze into a mirror, and to see ourselves both honestly and authentically. And that’s important because some of the things that we see in the mirror can stand in the way when we want to serve God as individuals and even as a church. And the pronouncement of God’s forgiveness frees us and liberates us, so that we can move in a new direction. Worship and prayer open our eyes to “where we are right now” – and that’s where every journey begins.
  • Second, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we need to be.” And worship and prayer can help us to see that, too. God opens our eyes and speaks to our hearts in worship and prayer – helping us to see the “gap” between what things are right now and what God wants them to be. As we “dream and dreams of God” in our worship and prayer, God gives us visions of the future that God wants to create for our lives, our ministries, and our world. God points us toward “where we need to be.” We might think that we can simply decide “where we need to be” by sitting at a table and by creating long-term strategies without God’s help. But, no matter how creative our strategies become, they’ll never lead us to “where we need to be” until we gather around God’s Word, spend time in worship and prayer, and ask God to lead us and help us to do what He wants us to do.
  • Third, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” there are many different paths – and some of them may be far better than others. The book of Acts contains a wonderful story where the Holy Spirit opens and closes doors as St. Paul was traveling (Acts 16:6-10). We need to understand that God does the same thing today. When we spend time in worship and prayer, God works. God inspires. God leads. God opens door that we can’t open by ourselves with His mighty hands. And God shows us the best route forward. When we know “where we are right now” and “where we need to be,” we must remain in worship and in prayer – trusting that God will open doors and even close doors that will lead us down paths filled with unnecessary obstacles.
  • Lastly, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” God will provide pictures of our destination. The Bible tells us: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). As we worship and pray, God paints pictures for us. Can we see our congregations as vibrant places that are both multi-generational and multi-cultural? Can we picture our churches as places where people use the first five minutes after each worship services to engage and to speak with visitors, instead of just flying toward the doors? Can we picture our churches as places that are devoted to listening to people and to building entire ministries around what God has told us to do to meet the needs of people who are living just beyond the walls of our buildings? Can we picture our churches as places that continues to lift-up the fact that ALL of God’s people are created to be ministers – and that one of the most important things that we can do as a church is to help people to fulfill their own ministry by equipping and empowering them by helping them to find the tools and training and connections that they need to find to be more effective?

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Can we look at our life of worship and prayer as something that does the same thing in our lives of faith?

Be a Star!

wise-men-pic

Most of us are probably familiar with the story of the Wise Men.

We picture a band of weary travelers slowly moving through the desert – following a star to Bethlehem. We don’t know how many Wise Men actually visited the holy Christ-child, but Church Tradition teaches us that there were three; and Tradition also teaches us that their names were Balthasar, Jasper, and Melchior. We do know that the Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – at least according to the story we find in the Gospel of Matthew. We also know that the Wise Men visited with King Herod before they went to Bethlehem; and then, they simply disappeared – returning to their homes by a different route. (Matthew 2:12)

We suspect that the Wise Men were ancient astrologers. But, perhaps, one of the most important insights we can gain from the Biblical story of the Wise Men is that they didn’t know how to get to Jesus. The Wise Men needed a star to point them toward Jesus because even “smart” people can’t find their way to Jesus all by themselves!

We need to realize that many people are dwelling in darkness as we enter 2017. We can’t listen to the news or pick up our Smartphones without being reminded that violence and darkness are all around us. Many young parents are concerned about the future that their kids are going to face. People need something that can carry them through all of the ups and downs of life, something that can restore their hope, and something that can help them to rediscover a sense of peace in crazy times. People need Jesus.

In this week’s message, “Be a Star!”, we’re challenged to recommit ourselves to being a “Star” that points other people toward Jesus in 2017. We point other people toward Jesus when we love them. We point other people toward Jesus when we forgive them and release the festering anger that we’re holding inside of us. We point others toward Jesus when we lift-up what’s “good” inside of people and look past what isn’t so “good.” We point other people toward Jesus when we lovingly give them things that they may not always deserve – because that’s what makes darkness go away, isn’t it?

As we enter 2017, God is challenging us to become more intentional about the ways that we share the story of our own encounter with Jesus with other people. God’s challenging us to commit ourselves to the task of lifting-up what’s good and whole in the lives of others, and to the task of learning to let go of the things that disappoint us.

Be a star!

As Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good words and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Happy New Year!