Journeying with Jesus in Stormy Times

I often recall that early Christians used a boat as a symbol for the Church.

The Church is a vessel that sails through smooth times and difficult times. The image of a boat is often used to describe the Church because it’s a vessel that carries people all the way to the gates of Paradise. If you look up while you’re sitting in many church worship spaces what you’ll see is that you’re worshiping in what looks like an upside down boat.

Immediately after Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 little fish, He commands the disciples to get into a boat and sail to the other side of the sea. Imagine these early followers of Jesus getting into a boat (the Church) and moving, together, toward the place where Jesus told them to go. As we read Matthew 14:22-33, we’re invited to think about the ministry that we’re doing today. We listen to Jesus. We gather together in the boat (the Church). We go where we believe Jesus wants us to go.

But then, in the middle of this well-known story, something happens.

We read that the boat that was carrying the disciples was being beaten back by the wind and the waves. In Matthew 14:24, we read that the “wind was against them.” The earliest Church was sailing directly into the wind. The earliest Church was experiencing opposition and was even being pushed in the wrong direction! And the Church is going through a time just like that in 2020. Many church buildings are still closed. Tens of thousands of churches all around the world have needed to embrace new technologies. And the scariest part of it all, at least for me, is that we don’t know how long this disruption is going to continue, or what our ministry is going to look like when we get to the other side of the sea.

It’s easy for us to go where we think Jesus wants us to go when we simply need to unlock the doors of a building and wait for children to arrive for Sunday School. It’s easy for us to do what we think Jesus wants us to do when all that we need to do is give someone a key to a building. It’s easy to go where Jesus wants us to go when we don’t need to deal with Zoom meetings, and the misunderstandings that often occur when people stop talking face-to-face and start to reply upon email and text messages.

But these are days when the winds have shifted.

I can picture myself in the boat (the Church) in Matthew 14:22-33. I, sometimes, feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back, or even one step forward and two steps back. I’m reminded of the times when storms have emerged while I was sailing and when I needed to constantly adjust the sails and the rudder while water poured over the gunwales and started to collect in the bottom of the boat. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that the wind was blowing against you and trying to push you in the wrong direction? Do you feel like that, right now?

But Jesus carried the boat (the Church) through the storm, didn’t He?

And Jesus is going to carry us through this storm as well. We don’t fully understand what our ministry “on the other side” is going to look like, but we can know that it is Jesus who is taking us to that “other side.” None of us can predict the long-term personal and economic impact of the coronavirus. None of us know how this time of protesting and political turmoil is going to end. But we do know that the boat (the Church) is going to continue to sail – even if it looks very different than it did just a few months ago.

And so, this week, I’d like to encourage you to think about where YOU are in this story.

You might want to begin by remembering that we’re all in the same boat, right? Some of us have been thinking about what’s most important to us. Many of us have needed to return to Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment and to try our best to keep interpreting the actions and behaviors of others in the best possible way. Some of us are being called to step onto the water in faith during a time that’s scary. We’re all learning about life and faith and ministry because in every crisis there are opportunities to learn and grow and stretch our wings.

Please remember that you’re not alone.

Your journey is a part of my journey, and my journey is a part of your journey. And OUR journey is a journey that’s being shared by our friends and family members, by the people that we work with, by our neighbors and by people that we don’t even know. And we’re sailing through these scary and changing times even when we’re feeling both weary and frazzled knowing that better days will surely come as Jesus continues to lead us and guide us and direct us toward the “other side” where our ministries will grow and flourish again because that’s what the Church has done in every Age.

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Little Things Make a Big Difference

I was told that I can be anything that I want to be when I grow up.

I can remember imagining myself as an archaeologist digging through the sands of Egypt. I imagined being a concert pianist accompanying a symphony orchestra. And, of course, I was often told that I could grow up to be the President of the United States.

But, I’m none of those things as I move into the sixth decade of my life.

I began my career as a Chemical Engineer; and then, after attending a seminary, I was ordained as a pastor. I spend my days talking with people who are going through a rough time. I write sermons to encourage people to think about their relationship with God. I attend a lot of Zoom meetings, right now. And, of course, I spend time in prayer and try my best to care about others. That’s far from what I imagined many years ago, isn’t it?

This week, I want you to remember that the little things that you do make a big difference.

Jesus once fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus is at work every time you help people or encourage them with your words. Jesus uses money that you contribute to charities to do wonderful things in the lives of other people. Jesus is using you to make our world into a better place for all of us.

It’s very easy for us to begin to turn inward when life becomes challenging.

Notice that, in the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21), the first thing that the disciples noticed is that they didn’t have enough of what they needed. I don’t have the skills of a concert pianist, but I can bang out a hymn on the piano during worship. I can’t feed all of the unemployed people in my community, but I can donate cans of food to our local food pantry. I can’t solve every challenge in other people’s lives (I can’t even solve all of the challenges in my own life), but I can listen to people and be compassionate. I can’t change the whole world during this crazy time that’s wearing all of us out, but I can be kind to others. I can lend an ear. I can protect other people by wearing a mask. I can be kind to others by simply refraining from blowing the horn on my car when I’m frustrated at other drivers.

We may not be the most powerful people in the world, but we’re important.

Yes, powerful people can change the world in incredible ways. But, life’s taught me that it’s more simple people, just like us, who make our world into a better place by doing things that we never imagined we could do to make a difference in other people’s lives.

And so, this week, I want to encourage you to get out there and to do your best. And, when you think that you’re not big enough or powerful enough to make a big difference, remember that the Lord who fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish is a Lord who can take whatever you have to offer and use it to change the world.

Rest for the Weary

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Where are you seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Jesus brings us together to sing hymns, to listen to stories from the Bible, to pray and to discover God’s presence in our lives. And then, Jesus sends us back into the world. This week, some of us will work 40 – maybe 50 – maybe 60 – perhaps even 70 hours. Some of us are deeply engaged in parenting during these unusual times. Some of us will spend this week enjoying our retirement. Others may spend the week caring for a loved one, going to doctors’ appointments, facing the challenges of aging and perhaps being reminded that the “Golden Years” aren’t golden at all.

Jesus calls us to follow Him and to go back into the world to make it a better place. And, as we do that, Jesus travels with us, points us in the right direction, opens doors in front of us that we can’t open by ourselves, lifts us up and keeps us strong. And, in the midst of that, Jesus speaks words of encouragement: “Come to me, all who are weary and who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.

The image of yoke is one that often confuses us.

We know that yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals who are being required to do heavy labor. We know that a yoke joins animals to a wagon or, perhaps, to a plow. But, did you know that a yoke serves a different purpose? Yokes bind animals together and make them into a team. Yokes bind animals together because there are jobs on a farm that are simply too big for one, single animal. Yokes spread the burden.

And so, what does it mean to be “yoked” to Jesus?

Being yoked to Jesus reminds me that I’m never alone. It reminds me that Jesus is with me in the times when I don’t feel that there’s enough of me to go around. Being yoked to Jesus reminds me that, with God beside me, I can do far more than I could ever imagine doing by myself. Being yoked to Jesus reminds me that God is intimately involved in my life, that Jesus is helping to carry my burdens, and that Jesus is with me even when I am feeling alone and overwhelmed by the circumstances in my life.

Where are you seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Look into the eyes of the people who are around you this week. Can you see Jesus in the eyes of people at work? How does the love of Jesus shine into your life as you fulfill your role as a parent? Can you see Jesus in the eyes of your spouse or your partner (if you have one)? Perhaps, if you look hard enough, you’ll even see Jesus in the eyes of your doctor or nurse; in the eyes of a loved one who needs your help; in the eyes of a friend, child, pastor or member of your church? Jesus is with you.

And so, remember that you are not alone even if you’re feeling weary right now.

Jesus is walking beside you. Jesus is helping to carry your burdens and share the load. Perhaps, this week, you will come to sense that Jesus is right beside you (yoked to you) more deeply; so that, even in the times when you are weary and overwhelmed, you’ll find the strength, courage, faith and love that you need to meet the days ahead.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

God’s Presence in Times of Change

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We can learn a lot about living faithfully by returning to the Jewish Exile.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land of Judah, destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; and, most likely, ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be destroyed. Homes and crops were burned. People were dragged away in chains and yokes, and they were now living in a strange country with different customs. And people began to dream about being able to return to what once was as they continued to live in exile.

Many of the rabbis that I know are referring to the Jewish Exile these days.

We’re not able to go where we want to go and to live our lives in the way that we’d like to live them. Many faithful Christians are still watching worship services online and are far removed from the worship spaces where they’ve come to know God. Some people in our country (and all around the world) are trying to explain away safety measures that we’ve been asked to take while others are refusing to wear any sort of face covering to make a political statement. We are responding to this crisis in so many different ways!

The coronavirus has brought grief into many of our lives.

We usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is something that’s far more complex. I am grieving because I’m not able to visit my grandchildren. Many young people are grieving because they didn’t get to attend a prom or graduation ceremony. We see young children acting out because they miss playing with their friends. We’re sensing that things are different and that it may not be possible to just return to doing things that we once took for granted in the near future. And many people are still grieving the loss of their job or even of their home, aren’t they? Some are grieving because we know that things that we cherish are going to be different.

We often wish that we could just go back to what once was when we are grieving.

And that’s what we see in Jeremiah 28:1-9. The false prophet Hananiah has started to talk with people who were living in Exile about being able to go back to what once was. Hananiah speaks about bringing sacred vessels back into the Temple (which, remember, had been flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians) and returning to the place that the Jewish people had called their home for generations. It’s almost as if Hananiah doesn’t want to accept the fact that things have changed, and he’s trying to encourage people to believe that they can simply return to what once was and watch the storm just go away. Perhaps you’d like to be able to do that today? But Jeremiah wasn’t that optimistic.

One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that our lives are often lived in cycles.

Good times are almost always followed by bad times; and even the worst times in our lives can give way to much better times. Think about grief. We mourn over what we’ve lost and wish that we could have it once again, but life moves forward and we change as we adjust to our new reality. Christianity is built upon the death and the resurrection of Jesus: Life being lost in death and death giving way to new life. Our faith reminds us of the fact that God blesses us with new life even while we’re still caught in our grief.

Now, think about the Church.

We were knocked off-center when churches needed to close; and yet, in the midst of this pandemic, churches that had never done so in the past have incorporated electronics in their ministry. That’s new life! People who don’t normally attend worship services are listening to sermons and are participating in online worship services. That’s new life! We’ve had the chance to improve our methods of communicating with each other. That’s new life! The church that I am serving is even working with several other congregations to launch an online Vacation Bible School for children in the next few weeks. That’s new life! Leaders throughout the Church have been imagining new ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in more creative ways – realizing that, even as we grieve, Jesus moves us toward something new and exciting and life-filled. That’s new life! That’s resurrection!

Listen to Psalm 89:1 – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations!

This week, I’d like to encourage you to do three things:

  • Think about grief and about how grief might be affecting you, right now. It’s not easy to be told that you can’t do things that you like to do. And it’s very natural for people who are grieving to imagine what it would be like to just to back to what once was even though it’s not possible anymore.
  • Pray for the many people who need to make big decisions today and remember that they are trying to do the best that they can even when you disagree with what they think needs to be done.
  • Pray for patience and offer some of your time, energy, vision and creativity to those who are struggling to discover how we can best return from our Exile and proclaim the message of God’s love and the hope of the Resurrection in new and exiting ways as the people of God, today. You can be a part of the new life that Jesus is creating!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Whoa! Jesus Said That?

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What do you think Jesus was like?

I have a Nativity (Christmas) icon hanging in my office; and, just like in Christmas carols, Jesus is quietly sleeping in the hay, but dressed in a burial shroud. In the Christmas carol “What Child is This?” we see Jesus quietly sleeping in hay until we sing the words: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me, for you.” Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus standing outside a door without a door knob and quietly waiting for the person inside to answer His knock? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Jesus with children surrounding Him as He teaches them about God? I would venture to say that almost all of us picture Jesus as a rather calm and gentle sort of man who will forgive us whenever we do things wrong and who will, ultimately, take us to Heaven when we die – no matter how far we drift off-course in our daily lives.

But Jesus was very complex.

The same Jesus who called us to love each other is the same Jesus who said, “I didn’t come into the world to bring peace, but a sword.” The same Jesus who taught us the Golden Rule said, “I have come to set a son against his father and a daughter against her mother, and people’s enemies will be those in their own homes.” Or, how about these famous words of Jesus: “Do not fear those who kill the body but who cannot kill the soul. Rather fear the God who can throw both your body and your soul into hell.

Whoa! Jesus said that?

As much as we want to picture Jesus as a kind and gentle man, we must never forget that Jesus is also the Lord of the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate sign of love and self-sacrifice; but the Cross is also a place of alienation and separation from other people. The Cross was the place of God’s battle with the devil; but it was also a place where troublemakers who dared to speak against the status quo were put to death by those who wanted power more than anything else. The Cross (do you wear around your neck?) isn’t just a piece of gold or silver jewelry that tells other people that we’re Christians. The Cross was a place where people who publicly spoke uncomfortable truths were thrust high into the air to die a horrible death, so that those who watched it happening would be reminded that the best thing that you can do is live your life keeping your mouth shut….

Do you know that there’s a Cross waiting for you?

Many people in the Church (even pastors) are afraid to speak the truth because they’re afraid of what might happen to them if they speak their minds too openly. Have you ever laughed at a racist joke because you wanted to be one of the crowd? Have you ever watched in silence as somebody bullied someone in front of you (remember that adults bully each other as much as teenagers do). Have you ever quietly listened to somebody tell lies about somebody else because you were afraid that you would be the next target if you dared to speak up?

We all want to be liked by other people and especially by God; and yet, Jesus has a way of calling us to move beyond where we are right now and to live in a very different way.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” Jesus says. “Take up your cross and follow me!” Believe in something. Be passionate about something. Find something in life that you really care about. Don’t live your entire life in a pool of lukewarm water and die wondering what God could have done with you. Do something that matters. Be a part of helping our world to become a better place. That’s what it means to be alive!

But the challenge of Jesus is also accompanied by a promise.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny; and yet, not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Don’t be afraid, for you are much more valuable than many sparrows.” Take up your cross. Live a life marked by love and self-sacrifice. Stand up for what you believe; because, when you do that, you may discover the “true life” that God wants you to have and not the type of life that slips between your fingers like sand!

Jesus was a kind and gentle man, but He was also complex.

And today, I want to challenge you to think about the images of Jesus that you embrace. Jesus loves you dearly, but He was also killed because He refused to keep his mouth shut. Jesus continues to call you to step out of the lukewarm pools of life where you’ve learned to feel comfortable. And, even though all of that might seem frightening to you, Jesus has also assured you that as you continue to live into God’s plan for your life and your future, Jesus walk right beside you every step of the way to both strengthen and embolden you.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

God is Working Through You!

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Charles Dickens began his famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with these words:

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.”

We are living in times just like what Charles Dickens described.

In the last few months, we’ve been hearing stories about food banks providing meals for hungry families and we’ve watched a police officer kill an innocent man before our eyes. Last week, I read about a local congregation that has prepared and given away nearly 40,000 hot meals in the last few months, and I also read about a man who broke a store employee’s arm after being asked to put on a mask. Many people have been living well and have been working with each other during these very unusual times; and yet, just last week, I saw a picture of an automobile with the words, “Remember that your health is not as important to me as my liberties” painted on the back window.

And we need to make sense of all of this as people of faith.

You’re probably feeling a bit frazzled these days and you may be finding that it’s hard to be patient with other people. You probably believe that you’re a good person who’s living each day in a way that pleases God; but, you probably can think of some relationships in your life that are in need of repair. I have been reminded many times, as both a husband and as a parent, that we’re ALL made out of clay; and that, sometimes, what we need are people who can continue to love us even when we’re “cracked pots.” As we have moved through this pandemic together, you have probably seen the best in yourself and you’ve probably also seen the worst. We all have.

It’s easy for us to become discouraged.

We’re sometimes left shaking our heads when we watch the news. On a more personal level, we sometimes shake our heads at ourselves because we feel like we have been less than what we ought to be. We can find it difficult, as people of faith, to make sense of our ability the shine like the sun in one moment and to be left with nothing to say but “Oops! I am so sorry!” in the next one. But this is how we live, isn’t it? People sometimes judge us rather harshly and call us hypocrites even when we’re trying to do our best. But, today, I want you to think about what the Bible has to say about all of this, too.

Saint Paul once wrote: “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Jesus died for the ungodly…. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) God works in our lives long before we are perfect. God is at work in us even when we feel that we’re less than what we ought to be. And, even more than that, God changes the world by empowering people who feel like “cracked pots” at times. Did you know that God can even change the world through YOU?

Jesus once told His disciples to go out and to proclaim the Good News. (Matthew 10:7)

And the Good News that Jesus told the disciples to proclaim is that the Reign of God is near to you. “The Reign of God is near to YOU!”  Just think about that….

In the best of times and in the worst of times, Jesus comes into the world and works in our lives. In an age of wisdom and in an age of foolishness, God continues to work in our lives (even when we feel that we’re far less than perfect) and calls forth the best that’s inside of us, and forgiving us when we make mistakes. In the season of light and in the season of darkness, Jesus walks with us and calls us to loudly proclaim that the light at the end of the tunnel has NOT been turned off! In the season of hope and in the winter of despair, the Reign of God breaks into our world and tears down bleak systems of poverty, injustice, bigotry and racism, and everything else that’s broken – working in the midst of OUR lives and calling US to be a part of creating something new (sometimes even kicking what has stopped us from doing what God’s calling us to do in the past out of our way).

God is working through YOU!

And this week, I want to challenge you to think about that.

  • What does it mean for you to call yourself a “person of faith” in times like these?
  • How is your faith helping you to make sense of what’s happening right now?
  • What do YOU hear when Jesus tells you that the Reign of God has come near?
  • And what will all of this mean to you this week as you live your life (perhaps a bit frazzled and edgy) knowing that Jesus is walking beside you and that the Reign of God is coming into the world through YOU?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

God’s Living and Active Word

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Does God’s Word speak to you in different ways on different days?

Several months ago, the youngest children in our Sunday School asked me an interesting question. They asked, “Pastor Wayne, do you know all of the stories in the Bible by heart, or do you need to read them just like we do?” And I was struck by that question because it made me think about the times in my own spiritual journey when a story in the Bible spoke to me in a very different way than it had at any other time in my life because of something that was happening to me.

Several days ago, I read familiar words of Jesus: “I will not leave you as an orphan; I will come to you. In just a little while, the world will see me no more, but you will see me.” (John 14:18-19a). And, when I read those words this time, they spoke to me as somebody who knows what it’s like to be an orphan. Those of us who have lost both of our parents know what it’s like to want to be able to pick up a telephone and call someone who is not going to answer your call. I wish that I could ask my father for advice as I am traveling through these unusual times with you. I sometimes wish that I could smell my mother’s pumpkin pies baking in the oven. That’s a normal part of grief, isn’t it? We never just “get over” the death of a person that we’ve loved. The only thing that we can do as we grieve is adjust to our new normal.

Are you grieving, right now?

Grief isn’t something that we only experience when people die. We grieve when we lose a job and don’t know how to restart our lives. We grieve when we can’t do things like have a graduation party with our friends to celebrate one of the biggest days in our lives. Grief can, also, be a part of our spiritual journey. We grieve when we find ourselves unable to worship inside a building where we feel connected to God. We grieve when we can’t hear the music of a praise band or listen to a pipe organ. We grieve when we can’t see people that we know in worship or in a Sunday School class. In fact, we grieve almost every time something radically changes in our lives because we all like to feel that our lives are both stable and secure, and that we are in control of what happens in our lives.

But one of the things I’ve learned is that the Bible is living and active.

I can hear God speaking to me in the words of the Bible on one day; and, on another day, I can hear God speaking to me – in the very same words – in a different way. What Jesus once said about orphans strikes me very differently now that both of my parents have died than they used to speak to me when my parents were both alive. And, maybe, that’s an important truth for the Church to grasp right now.

Maybe God is stretching the Church right now and is calling Christians to remember that God is not only found inside of the buildings where we worship when we read: “The God who made the world and everything in it does not only live in the temples that have been made by human hands.” (Acts 17:27) You see, my friends, the Church isn’t a building. The Church is US – whether we’re singing together inside a familiar building or gathering as God’s people in a Zoom meeting. Maybe God is stretching us and calling us to see the presence of Jesus in our lives in a different way as Jesus tells us: “I will never leave you as an orphan; I will come to you. And, even though the world may not be able to see me, you will be able to see me.” (John 14: 18-19a). Perhaps, we all need to be reminded that Jesus has not abandoned us in these challenging days? And maybe God is stretching us and the entire Church, right now, as He says: “I have asked my Father to give you an Advocate – a Helper – the Holy Spirit who will be with you forever.” (John 14:25-26) You see, God is not far from us at all! The Holy Spirit is leading us and guiding us, and Jesus is still listening to us as we pray about what’s happening in our lives and as we ask God for the types of guidance that we need during these unusual times.

God’s Word is living and active!

And, this week, I want to encourage you to spend some time reading your Bible. Maybe God’s Word will speak to you very differently during these challenging days!

May the peace of Jesus continue to fill your heart and calm your soul. And may you, also, be reminded that God is close to you every time you open your Bible, worship and pray.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: Our Good Shepherd

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How are you doing these days?

If you’re at all like me, you’re probably thinking that this whole social distancing thing is getting a bit old. Maybe you’re working at home (if you’re even working right now) and you’re finding it harder to get away from your job because your office is right across the hall from your bedroom. Maybe you live by yourself and social distancing has all but cut you off from the rest of the world. This past week, my granddaughter told her father that she just wants to play with her friends.

But life continues to unfold in other ways, too.

Imagine what it would be like to receive a telephone call telling you that your elderly mother decided to get into her car and take a ride, and was involved in an automobile accident that sent her to a hospital hundreds of miles away. Imagine what it would be like to hear that one of the teenagers in your family was involved in an accident, and know that you couldn’t even wrap your arms around his grieving mother. In 31 years of ministry, I have never had to bury a man before a funeral service and then promise his kids that I will “do right by your Dad” and have a memorial service when things settle down. And so, I ask you again, “How are YOU doing these days?”

I sometimes find it hard to connect with parts of the Bible.

The Bible contains genealogies where somebody begat somebody who begat somebody who begat somebody else. The Bible contains rules that tell us how we should wash our pots and pans, and rules that tell us what we should do if our neighbor’s cow wanders into our backyard and is injured. The Bible tells us that we shouldn’t be wearing clothing with a cotton/polyester blend; and the Bible, also, tells us that God doesn’t want us to eat bald eagles, ostriches, insects with wings and shrimp.

And I have trouble connecting with the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd,” too.

The only shepherd that I’ve ever know was my grandfather, who lived in a Conestoga wagon in the middle of Wyoming more than 100 years ago. I have trouble understanding the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” because I don’t usually feel lost or afraid that something “out there” is trying to get me. I’ve been blessed in many ways!

But the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” is striking me very differently, right now.

I’m feeling a little bit lost these days because many parts of my life have simultaneously changed. I’m reminded that there’s a deadly wolf, who is ready to pop out from behind a rock and even kill me, every time I see people wearing masks. Life isn’t easy for any of us right now; and perhaps, what we all need is a “Good Shepherd”? When you think of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” what images come to your mind? How is Jesus shepherding you, right now? How is YOUR faith affecting your journey through life, right now?

I’m sure that we all realize that it’s a bit naïve to think that bad things will never happen to us as long as we’re following Jesus.

My grandfather often talked about the mountain lions and wolves that tried to grab one of his sheep almost every day; and, “Sometimes,” he said, “one of them was successful.” Have YOU ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Maybe something much bigger than social distancing in on YOUR mind, right now, because you have lost your job or can’t visit your parents in a nursing home? Jesus once said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.(John 10:10) Are YOU afraid that the thief is going to steal or kill or destroy you, or someone that you love? If you’re afraid of that, right now, please know that you’re not alone.

Jesus is our “Good Shepherd” as we travel through these unusual times.

Jesus is walking beside you as you. Jesus is leading you and guiding you and blessing you with faith even if you’re finding it hard to see Him as work in your life or in the world. And Jesus has also promised you that He’s come into the world “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s Jesus’ promise for YOU.

In the most famous psalm in the Bible (Psalm 23), the Psalmist writes: “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.” (Psalm 23:4a) And why isn’t the Psalmist afraid? Why don’t you need be afraid even as you travel through times like these? “Because you [God] are with me.” (Psalm 23:4b) God is with YOU.

Jesus is with you. Jesus has promised to bless YOU with abundant life.

May Jesus – our Good Shepherd – continue to walk beside you during these unusual times. And may Jesus – our Good Shepherd – bless YOU with the strength and courage and faith that YOU need as we continue to travel through these difficult days together.

 

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Jesus: Right Beside You

jesus-following

Where have YOU been seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Life’s taught me that Christians tend to respond to challenging and unusual times in two different ways: Some Christians find their faith to be a great source of strength and peace because they continue to trust that Jesus is walking beside them; but other Christians feel totally abandoned and sometimes withdraw from God in challenging times because Jesus seems to be absent. And the hardest part of all of that, at least for me as a pastor, is that I don’t always know which of those two groups a person is in until something that’s really bad happens; and, by then, it’s sometimes too late.

How would YOU answer these questions?

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when Jesus seemed to be very close to you? How would you describe that time?
  2. Can you remember a time in your life when you felt that God had abandoned you? How did that time in your life affect your faith?

The Bible contains a story about people who had trouble seeing Jesus. (Luke 24:13-35)

Luke tells us that two of Jesus’ followers were walking on a road about seven miles away from Jerusalem when Jesus, now raised from the dead, drew near. The disciples told Him about all of their hopes and dreams. The disciples told Him that they had hoped that He had come into the world to save them. But, even as that conversation continued and as Jesus walked right beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they couldn’t recognize Him.

Have YOU ever had a time in your life when you couldn’t see Jesus?

Maybe you were so weighed-down by something that was happening in your life that you turned inward even while Jesus was walking beside you? Maybe you’ve had a time when you shook your fist at the sky because God didn’t answer your prayers? Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? I certainly have. And maybe you are wondering, right now, why God doesn’t step onto the scene, wipe out the coronavirus and save people’s lives.

Challenging and difficult times in your life can keep you from seeing Jesus.

Times of adversity can draw you closer to God, but those same difficult times can drive a deep wedge between you and God. The women who came to the Tomb of Jesus on that first Easter were so scared that they thought Jesus was a gardener. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we see that the women who discovered the Empty Tomb were so overwhelmed that they simply ran away and didn’t tell anyone else what they’d seen. A shining angel of the Lord told the women who came to the tomb, “Do not be afraid,” during a time in their lives when they had many reasons to be afraid. Jesus’ disciple didn’t recognize Him on the road to Emmaus because they were overcome with sorrow; and yet, what we see in all of these different stories of Easter is that Jesus is beside people even when they were finding it difficult to see Him and to recognize Him at that very moment.

And so what are some things that YOU can do during times when YOU can’t see Jesus?

  1. You need to get past the idea that Jesus’ presence in your life (or lack thereof) can be accurately detected by your feelings and emotions. Jesus is present in your life, right now, because Jesus has promised to be present in your life right now. Jesus is close to you whether you can feel it right now, or not. Trust Him!
  2. You need to see that some people were able to recognize Jesus after He was raised from the dead and other people weren’t. And that’s OK! We sometimes fall into the trap of comparing our own journey with Jesus to the journey that other people are taking in a different situation. People see Jesus at different times and in different ways. What YOU are experiencing at this point in your life is OK. Jesus is with you even if you can’t see Him right now. Trust Him!
  3. You need to remember that Jesus often said, “Do not be afraid!” And we don’t need to be afraid while we travel through uncertain times because Jesus has told us: “I am with YOU always, even to the end of the Age.” Trust Him!

And so, where have YOU been seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Please know that Jesus is with you no matter how you’re feeling as we continue to travel through these unusual times together. My hope and prayer for YOU is that Jesus will bless YOU with peace in the coming days, and that Jesus will continue to bless YOU with the faith and courage you need as you walk on the road you’re traveling today, with Jesus right beside you.

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Conquering Our Doubts Together

Calm to the Waves

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears.

How have you been responding to the challenges that we’ve all had to face in the last few weeks? Maybe you’re scared? Maybe you’re troubled by the fact that our lives are going to be different after the storm we’re facing comes to an end? Maybe you’ve been forced to think about the fact that you’re far more vulnerable than you like to admit? Maybe the events of the last few weeks have made you think more about the fact that you’re mortal and that you are going to die someday – from a coronavirus infection or from something else?

The story of Thomas that we find in John’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) has some important lessons to teach us about life as we journey through these unusual times.

Thomas was a follower of Jesus and Thomas lived his day-to-day life with Jesus for about three years. Thomas watched Jesus turn water into wine at a wedding feast. Thomas saw Jesus heal lepers and cast out many demons.  Thomas listened to Jesus tell stories, and he heard Jesus talk about the fact that He was going to be killed and that He was going to be raised from the dead. But Thomas was stunned when Jesus was swept away, and when Jesus was crucified. Thomas was totally numb as he listened to news about how the dead body of Jesus had been removed from the Cross and had been sealed in a cold tomb.

It’s sometimes hard for us to know what’s true these days.

People are saying so many different things. Experts seem to be arguing with each other and even leaders in the United States (and all over the world) can’t seem to agree upon what’s best for us. And maybe, at this point in your life, you’ve begun to say to yourself, “Seeing is believing.” Many of us are relying more upon our own personal experiences with the coronavirus than we are upon reports in the news and upon press briefings.

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus first appeared to the disciples (after He was raised from the dead) Thomas wasn’t in the room with them. We don’t know why Thomas was not in the room when the Risen Jesus appeared, but we do know that Thomas remained immersed in his doubts and fears for nearly a week after the Resurrection because he was not able to fully believe what other people were telling him. “Seeing is believing” seems to describe Thomas’ approach to life better than any other words. Have you ever said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”?

But Thomas remained connected to other disciples even in his time of doubt, didn’t he?

One of the things that’s been driven into my head over and over again in the last few weeks is that we need each other and we need to find ways to remain connected to each other during these unusual times. We need to remind each other that Jesus is walking beside us. We need to pray for each other and explore creative ways to do ministry. We need to be spreading the light of the Gospel with those around us; because, after all, who needs someone to give them a flashlight after the sun has risen and a new day begins? As harsh as it may sound, if Christians can’t find a way to bring a message of light – and the message of God’s love – in dark times like these, who needs us during other times? One of the recurring themes in John’s Gospel is the sharp contrast between darkness and light, and that theme is something that Christians need to be embracing today.

The story of Thomas reminds us that we need each other.

In the beginning, God said that it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Our Risen Lord has told us that He’ll continue to be with us as we reach out to each other, embrace each other and shine light into each other’s lives. Perhaps, what people need more than anything else right now is friends and family members (and a Church) that continues to remind them that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off? Is that what you need to hear? Do you need to be reminded that Jesus is walking beside you and that God has promised you that, no matter what you face in life (or even in death), you will be lifted-up again both whole and restored?

We are traveling through a time filled with many doubts and fears. And we need to remember that, in times such as these, God continues to give us the gift of each other. 

What can YOU do today to remind people that you know that they are not alone in these challenging times? What can YOU do to shine light into the dark corners in other people’s lives, to strengthen them and to remind them that the Risen Jesus is walking beside them during these incredibly difficult days? As harsh as it may sound, if we can’t find a way to share a message of light and a message of God’s love in dark times like these, who needs us? Nobody needs other people to give them a flashlight after the sun rises and after a new day begins. People need us to be reminding them, right now, that the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off.

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