Where Have All the Saints Gone?

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I sometimes find myself wanting to withdraw, and to protect myself from the constant stream of breaking news and nonsense on social media. I find myself talking with more and more people who are simply tired these days, and I’m talking with more and more people who are simply looking for a sense of peace within the walls of the Church. Even in my times of prayer, I’ve found myself asking God: “Where have all the saints gone?

That’s what this week’s message – “Where Have All the Saints Gone?” – is all about.

Jesus said that the “blessed” are found among the humble and among those who mourn as they watch what’s happening in the news. Jesus said that the “blessed” are still found among the poor, among those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and among those who still search for paths toward peace in crazy times. Jesus said the “blessed” are still found among those who are rejected by others because they are crying-out for justice in a world where other people are telling them to be quiet. When the “Reign of God” breaks into the world – through the lives of God’s saints – it’s always going to come as something that seems to be foreign, weird, strange, and other-worldly.

Even in crazy times, God continues to work through YOU as you put  fingerprints on the world and help our world to become a better place. God’s continues to work through people just like YOU – His saints – as you extend mercy, peace, love and compassion toward others. God works in YOU every time you extend a laurel branch of forgiveness, every time you speak a gentle and encouraging word, every time you help someone to become a better person, and every time you live-into your faith and become an agent of God’s Reign. If you’ve ever asked yourself,  “Where Have All the Saints Gone?”, perhaps you need to simply look in the mirror and think about all the ways that God’s using YOU to make our world into a better place for all of us.

Never forget that what YOU do really matters!

What YOU are doing to fulfill God’s plan for your life really matters and IS helping our world to become a better place. Rise up, O saint of God!

 

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 24

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

This week, we will begin what (at least for me) is one of the most difficult books in the Bible. The book of Leviticus is packed with rules and regulations. We’ll begin by reading rules about burnt offerings, grain offerings, and peace offerings. We’ll read rules about sin and guilt offerings, about clean and unclean types of animals, about purification rites that women should perform after childbirth and about boundaries that God’s set in place to define healthy sexual relationships.

But rules are sometimes hard to follow, aren’t they?

Last week, when I was on vacation, I almost always set the cruise control on my car to 5 (or even 10) miles-an-hour over the speed limit. I’ve been known to run into a store and hurry things along, so that I can return to my car before someone notices that I didn’t put any money into the parking meter. I, sometimes, break God’s rules by refusing to forgive people who have hurt me, and the words that come out of my mouth aren’t always kind and up-lifting. I, perhaps like you, used to worry about the fact that there might be a big balance in the sky where God weighs all of the bad things that I’ve done and all of the good things that I’ve done – all in an effort to determine my eternal destiny.

Rules are important and the book of Leviticus is an important part of the Bible for us to read; but, as you’re working your way through Leviticus, I’d like you to continue to ask yourself an important question: “What makes me ‘right’ in the eyes of God?” The God of the Bible says, “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you may not vomit you out.” (Leviticus 20:22) But, in the very same Bible, St. Paul writes: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21)

How do you make sense of that? How do you live in “community” with other followers of Christ in a world where some Christians want to argue that the Law means nothing – and where other Christians still argue that “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell?” How do you balance the Law of God with the Love of God? And, perhaps just as importantly, how will you “use” the words that you read as we work our way through the book of Leviticus? Will you highlight certain verses and use them to point-out the sin in the lives of other people, or will you struggle to make sense of what it means to live in a world where the God who writes rules continues to love us and forgive us?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Ephesians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 1-3 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 10-13 – Wednesday: Psalms 69-71 – Thursday: Proverbs 4 – Friday: Ezekiel 1-6 – Saturday: Luke 11-12

Are You an Apostle?

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How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

My relationship with Jesus began when I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I have been a student and a church organist. I have been a counselor at a Christian camp and I’ve served as a pastor for 29 years. My relationship with Christ has changed as I’ve moved through life, and I’m excited about where God is going to take me in the coming years.

How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

In this week’s message, “The Apostolic Imperative”, we see that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel referred to people who surrounded Jesus in two different ways. In Matthew 10:1, we see that the people who surrounded Jesus were called “μαθητης” – a Greek word that occurs 74 times in Matthew’s Gospel and that describes the people who surrounded Jesus as “disciples” – followers – “followers who adhere to the teachings of a particular teacher.” But, in Matthew 10:2, the writer of the Gospel shifts gears and uses the word “αποστολος” to describe those who surrounded Christ – a Greek word that is only used one time in the Gospel. “Αποστολος” describes those who surround Jesus as apostles and “commissioned representatives” of One who sends them. When you think about “αποστολος,” I want you to think about Moses – a man who was called to serve as a commissioned representative of God and who was sent to the Pharaoh of Egypt with a clear message from God.

I suspect that most of us picture ourselves as “followers” of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is walking with us and we want to believe that we’re doing things that Jesus wants us to do. But, what if we began to understand that we’re, also, called to be commissioned representatives of the Reign of God? Imagine the power that kind of a distinction could bring to our ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ!

Christ’s “Commissioned Representatives” feed the hungry, and announce the coming of the Reign of God in the very same way that Jesus did. “Commissioned Representatives” of the Reign of God confront the powers of evil that oppress the poor and that continue to separate people by looking at the color of their skin. “Commissioned Representatives” of Jesus Christ proclaim God’s forgiveness and embrace, and they speak a word of hope to young people who are being bullied in schools. “Commissioned Representatives” of Jesus Christ fight against domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness, and hunger in the lives of children who are living in the communities that surround our churches. And why? Simply because that’s what “αποστολος” do!

I believe that the modern-day Church has become insecure, and I believe that the role of the Church in America (and in other places around the world) has been clearly dislodged because the Church is experiencing an “identity crisis.” We must recapture the important distinction between being “μαθητης” (followers of Jesus) and “αποστολος” (commissioned representatives of the Reign of God) in the world today. And that’s what I lift before you in this week’s message, “The Apostolic Imperative”

Blessings!

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 15/16

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the ways I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ears, but they walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” ~ Jeremiah 7:23-24

I suspect that we’ve all had times when we’ve lived in the way that God commanded us to live, and I suspect that we’ve all had times when we drifted off course. We read and digest God’s Word, and we pray for God’s guidance and direction. We have times when we drift away from God because we don’t listen, because we walk in our counsels, and because we can even be drawn off course by our own stubbornness and rebellion. But how do we get back on course and find “peace with God” after we’ve gone astray?

Many people believe that “peace with God” is achieved by returning to obedience. We’ve been told that we’re supposed to confess our sins, repent and change course. Even God’s Word tells us: when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins. (1 John 1:9) But if we seek “peace with God” by trying to live in the right way, how can we know when we’ve done enough? If “Judgment Day” is a day when we’re going to stand in front of a great, big scale in the sky with all of our “good deeds” placed on one side of the scale and all of our “bad deeds” placed on the other of the scale, how can we know – with 100% certainty – that the scale’s going to tip in the right direction?

St. Paul struggled with that idea as he was making sense of what it means to be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  St. Paul made some big mistakes along the way, and he was present at the stoning of Steven. (Acts 7:54-60)  Paul was severely and continuously criticized throughout his ministry because he persecuted the early Church. (Galatians 1:13) Centuries later, the German reformer, Martin Luther, struggled with the same issue – “How can I ever be ‘good’ enough to find peace with God?” And that question is what, ultimately, led Luther to post his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church.

When we’re not perfect and when we make mistakes (even when we’re trying our best to do differently), how do we find “peace with God”?

St. Paul’s answer is simple: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are made right by God’s grace as a gift through redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23)

“Peace with God” comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. “Peace with God” isn’t found by somehow returning to obedience and by find a way to “get it right” this time. We find “peace with God” when we discover that we’re the recipients of a gift from the hands of God that comes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

And now, here are your readings for the next two weeks:

Week 15

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 13-14 – Monday: Exodus 5-8 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 21-25 – Wednesday: Psalms 42-44 – Thursday: Job 29-30 – Friday: Jeremiah: 12-16 – Saturday: Mark 9-10

Week 16

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 15-16 – Monday: Exodus 9-12 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 26-31 – Wednesday: Psalms 45-47 – Thursday: Job 31-32 – Friday: Jeremiah 17-21 – Saturday: Mark 11-12

Blessings!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 13

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I hope that you’ve been continuing to read through the Bible with us. Please remember that we’re simply inviting you to more deeply connect with God’s Word and to create a routine that includes spending some time with God every day. If you’ve missed a few of the readings along the way, it’s OK. I’ve missed some readings, too. The good news is: this is NOT a competition! Just jump back in. Draw a line in the sand and continue on your way with us. And, please, don’t think that you need to “catch up.” Just begin, again, with this week’s readings.

In two weeks, we’re going to move out of the book of Genesis and plunge into Exodus – one of the best-known books in the Old Testament. You may have already heard the story of the Exodus. You may be one of the people who watch the story of the Exodus (starring Charlton Heston) around Easter. But, did you know that the story of the Exodus began in the book of Genesis? The Hebrews were first invited into the land of Egypt when Joseph forgave his brothers and offered them refuge in the midst of a famine.

Has God ever used one event in your life as a springboard to another? How has your life and future been changed by the forgiveness of other people, and of God? Perhaps, in the story of Joseph, you’ve been encouraged to reflect upon the times in your life when other people’s kindness and generosity has been important to your future? Perhaps, as you’ve read the story of Joseph, you’ve been challenged to rise-up and release some of the anger that you have toward another person?

What does the story of Joseph teach you about the love of God that we come to know in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Could we even say that Joseph points us to the love and forgiveness that God offers us in Christ? Many people believe that ALL of God’s Word points us toward Christ – and this is an example of why people believe that.

And now, here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 9-10 – Monday: Genesis 48-50 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 11-15 – Wednesday: Psalms 36-38 – Thursday: Job 25-26 – Friday: Jeremiah 1-6 – Saturday: Mark 5-6

Blessings!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 12

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I hope that you’re continuing to read through the Bible with us.

The Spirit of God moves in our hearts as we read and digest the words of the Holy Bible. The Bible itself tells us: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12) Christians cannot live faithful lives apart from God’s Word. The Church, itself, cannot move forward in rapidly-changing times without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Faithful Christian lives are bound to the Risen Christ, and the Risen Christ is revealed in God’s word and in the sacraments that the Risen Christ instituted. As we read and digest God’s Word together, Christ binds us to one another and reveals Himself in our midst.

We’ve been moving through one of my favorite stories in the Bible in the last few weeks. The story of Joseph is the story of a young man who was admittedly spoiled by his father. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph was taken to the land of Egypt where he rose to a position of power – lost everything because of a horrible lie – and then, rose to a position of prominence again. Joseph’s brothers didn’t follow the rising and falling tides in Joseph’s life. And, when they came to the land of Egypt looking for help, they were not expecting to discover that their brother had risen to a position of authority that was second only to the authority of the Pharaoh.

“And Joseph’s brother’s came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them.” (Genesis 42:7)

How do you treat people who have hurt you in the past? How do you respond when a person who has hurt you in the past comes to you for help? Do you help them, or do you turn them away? Do you try your best to assist them, or do you (inwardly) smile and rejoice in their suffering and hurt? That’s what we’re going to be challenged to think about as we move forward with the story of Joseph this week.

And so, here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 7-8 – Monday: Genesis 44-47 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 6-10 – Wednesday: Psalms 33-35 – Thursday: Job 23-24 – Friday: Isaiah 62-66 – Saturday: Mark 3-4

Blessings!

 

 

 

The Heartbeat of God

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God has a wonderful plan for your future!

I suspect that many of us come to worship and invest our time in prayer because we want to experience a sense of the divine. We long for God’s presence in our lives, and we want to live “in tune” with God’s plans. We want to know that God’s walking beside us and giving us the strength that we need each day. And, perhaps most of all, we all want to know that God’s going to be with us when we face that one, inescapable moment in time when we close our eyes and quietly slip into eternity.

But, when we travel through times when our faith’s being tested, God’s “heartbeat” can become so soft and muted that it almost seems to disappear. God’s “heartbeat” can be silenced by our busy-ness. God’s “heartbeat” can be hard to hear when we find ourselves running from place to place because we’ve tried to squeeze too many things into our already over-packed schedules. But, if we listen carefully to the words of Jesus, we can know that when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be OK. That’s what we explore in this week’s message: “The Heartbeat of God”

Julian of Norwich often listened to the “heartbeat of God” and she came away with a great and life-giving truth: “All shall be well – and all shall be well – and all manner of things shall be well.” Listen to those words today. Remember that Christ has gone before you to prepare a place where God shall wipe the tears from your eyes – and where there shall no longer be mourning and crying and pain for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Listen to the “heartbeat of God.” Open your ears as the Great Rabbi Himself, the Risen Christ, opens His arms and draws you close to His chest. All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Blessings!

The Lord is Your Shepherd

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Life changes quickly, doesn’t it?

I still remember the day when a doctor looked me straight in the eyes (at the ripe old age of 37) and said, “Wayne, I believe that your hands are shaking and your walking’s a bit shuffled because you have Parkinson’s Disease.”

I’m sure that a lot of people in America are trying to figure-out what happened in the House of Representatives last week because they’re not sure if their struggle with an addiction – or with a birth defect – or even with a mental illness is going to prevent them from being able to purchase health insurance in the United States.

Even though we’ve been raised to believe that we are “safe” in the United States of America, we can no longer ignore things like terrorism – and we live in an age where we need to spend time teaching our children about safe body boundaries.

And yet, even in the midst of a quickly-changing world, we’re reminded that God is a Great Constant in our lives. God continues to point us in the right direction. God is a Good Shepherd who continues to nourish and sustain us. God is always present when His sheep are grazing in green pastures – and even when His sheep are walking through the scary valleys of the shadow of death.

In this week’s message, “The Lord is Your Shepherd”, we’re reminded of the faithfulness of the God who continues to recognize the deepest need in our lives and who opens His hands to fill our lives with goodness. We’re reminded that the Lord is a Good Shepherd who watches over us and the people that we love, and how God has promised to be the one constant in life that never fails.

We all know that things can change quickly in our lives and in the world. We all know that the specific circumstances in our lives aren’t always easy to control. And yet, the Good Shepherd continues to journey with us – taking us by the hand and leading us through all of the crazy ups and downs that we’ll face as we journey through life.

Blessings!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Weeks 7 – 8 – 9

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I’m hoping that you continued your journey through the Bible this week – even if you had to use a little bit of creativity to do it…! I got immersed in my preparations for Holy Week and Easter last week; and, inadvertently, forgot to post readings for Week #7. Sorry about that! I’m posting the readings now – and the readings for the next two weeks since I’ll be taking some much-needed time away from the office. I’m hoping that, if you missed a few days along the way (or if you stopped reading because you weren’t sure which chapters to read next), we can just get things going again without delay. I’m suggesting that we just move forward without feeling a compelling need to return to readings we’ve missed. I’m sure that you’ve already picked-up that theme in this blog.

In the coming week, we’ll be reading one of the best-known passages in the Bible!

Psalm 23 is a wonderful psalm that clearly reminds us of God’s goodness and sustaining presence in our lives. David invites us to picture God as a Shepherd – leading us to places where we can safely drink from refreshing streams, and guiding us toward places in life where we can have our souls restored and refreshed in the midst of busy routines. We’re reminded that God is a God who journeys with us when life’s good, and we’re told that our God is also a God who walks with us “even though [we] walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23:4)

We do not need to live in fear!

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” (Psalm 91:5)

We can know that God has “commanded His angels concerning [us],” and we can trust in the fact that God will “guard [us] in all [our] ways.” (Psalm 91:11)

This week, I’d like to invite you to spend some time thinking about where you are seeing God at work in your life these days. Where is God walking with you, right now?  Where is God lifting you up, sustaining you, and giving you strength? Where is God giving you the courage you need to face each new day with faith, hope and peace in your heart?

And now, here are the readings for next few weeks:

Week #7

Sunday: Romans 13-14 – Monday: Genesis 24-27 – Tuesday: Judges 7-11 – Wednesday: Psalms 18-20 – Thursday: Job 13-14 – Friday: Isaiah 34-39 – Saturday: Matthew 17-19

Week #8

Sunday: Romans 15-16 – Monday: Genesis 28-31 – Tuesday: Judges 12-16 – Wednesday: Psalms 21-23 – Thursday: Job 15-16 – Friday: Isaiah 40-44 – Saturday: Matthew 20-22

Week #9

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 1-2 – Monday: Genesis 32-35 – Tuesday: Judges 17-21 – Wednesday: Psalms 24-26 – Thursday: Job 17-18 – Friday: Isaiah 45-50 – Saturday: Matthew 23-25

Please remember that this journey through the Bible is meant to encourage you to explore God’s Word and to help you move through the Bible. It’s not meant to place a burden upon you! I’m hoping that if you miss a reading (or a few of the readings) along the way that you’ll feel free to simply jump back into the schedule of readings that I’m providing – knowing that, when you do, you’ll be re-connecting with faithful people who are committed to traveling through God’s Word with you.

Blessings!

God’s Creating Something New!

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The Biblical theme of “darkness” has always fascinated me.

The Bible tells us that God moved around in the darkness long before He ever said, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3) God wrestled with Jacob in the darkness (Genesis 32:22-31), and Jacob saw a ladder reaching into Heaven in the darkness (Genesis 28:10-12). We read that God moved through the land of Egypt and “passed over” the homes of the Israelites (Exodus 12:12) in the darkness. We read that the tomb of Jesus was found empty “at early dawn” (Luke 24:1) because God had raised the Christ in the darkness.

It’s easy for us to be overcome by the darkness these days. North Korea has been rattling its nuclear swords; and, last week, we witnessed the strategic dropping of the “Mother of All Bombs.” We’ve heard about innocent people being killed by poisonous gas in Syria and about millions of people starving to death in Africa. People are dying, every day, from drug overdoses and churches need to carefully screen volunteers before allowing them to work with children. We live in a world where relationships are hard, where our marriages can crumble and fall apart, and where young people are being bullied while they attend school.

And yet, the God who has worked “in the darkness” through all of human history is hard at work today! God’s creating something new, and God’s restoring what has been broken and what needs to be healed!

In this week’s message, “God’s Creating Something New!”, we’re reminded that God is at work in our world and that the forces of good shall prevail. The message of Easter is one that reminds us that, when it’s all said and done, the forces of good and the forces of God will surely prevail! And that’s what we really need to know, isn’t it?

Easter reminds us that God shall triumph; but Easter, also, sends us back into the world as people with a mission. Every time we leave our homes and our churches, we return to a world where we’ll be surrounded by darkness and bad news. Every time we leave our homes and churches, we’re challenged to speak to others with a conviction that springs from Easter courage and Easter hope!

Jesus Christ is risen! All the forces of evil and pain and brokenness have crumbled before the power of a God who even raises the dead! And, today, we can live our lives knowing that all of us – all of the people we love – and all of the people in our world – are securely held in the hands of a God who continues to work “in the darkness” and Who has surely promised us that He’ll lift us up to a better and more glorious Day.

Alleluia!