Does God Speak to You?

God Speaks

The Bible is filled with stories about God speaking to people.

God spoke to Moses from a burning bush; and God told Joseph that the people of Egypt needed to save food, so that they would survive a seven-year famine. God spoke to the prophets, and revealed Himself to Abraham. And, in 1 Samuel 3:1-20, God speaks to a little boy who was sleeping beside the Ark of the Covenant.

The Bible tells us that Eli (the Temple priest) was quite blind by the time God decided to speak to Samuel, and that he was neatly tucked beneath the smelly blanket that he had used for many years. When Samuel first ran to the Temple priest, Eli was as confused by the whole thing as Samuel was – because the word of the Lord was rare in those days and even the prophets weren’t having the types of visions that they used to have.

But the “pregnant question” remains.

Does God speak to people during times when the word of the Lord seems to be rare, and when the prophets aren’t having the visions that they used to have? Can you imagine a God who knows you by name, who can choose to call-out to you and whisper words into your ears, who continues to lead and guide you through life, and who can even send you into the world with words to share with other people?

In this week’s message, “Does God Speak to You?”, we’re asked to reflect and to consider how God speaks us today.

What do you think happens when you gather with other people to hear God’s Word and to share in the “Feast of Heaven”? What do you think happens when the Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes and stirs people as they listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we still believe that it’s God’s voice that continues to call us to take-up the Cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads us? Do we believe that God still has the power to speak to us, and send us out into the world to strive for justice and peace – telling us that if we invest all of our time and energy in trying to save our own lives and our churches, we’re going to lose it all – and telling us that if we take up the Cross, invest ourselves in other people, and bring the Good News of God’s love to the world, we’re going to find a new type of life that will continue to flourish and endure even in an Age when churches are closing their doors for the last time every week?

Does God speak to you? Do you really believe that God continues to know you by name and calls-out to you in the midst of darkness? Do you really believe that we have a God who continues to speak to us as we read God’s Word, as we gather in worship, and as we spend time in daily devotion and prayer?

The Holy Spirit continues to live and move and stir God’s people. The Spirit of God is still calling-out to people and inviting them into the ongoing mission of Christ’s Church.

When God calls-out to us, will we have the courage (as Samuel did) to respond by saying, “Here I am, Lord”? Will we have the faith and courage to respond to God’s calling in our own lives and to boldly say, “Speak to me, for Your servant is listening!”?

 

Baptized and Ready to Go!

Baptism

Christians talk about Baptism in different ways.

Some Christians baptize little babies trusting in the fact that their parents will help them to remain connected to the Church and to grow into faith-filled adults. Other Christians wait until young people are old enough to make a public profession of their faith; and then, they baptize young believers who will, again, live-into their relationship with Christ as they journey through life. I’ve baptized infants who were born with serious medical conditions that threatened their lives. I, once, baptized an 86-year-old man who came to faith late in life. I’ve baptized a few people on their death-bed as their families watched in tears. Christians talk about Baptism in different ways and have different methods of baptizing; but the Bible continues to present Baptism in some very specific ways.

In this week’s message, “Baptized and Ready to Go!”, we’re reminded that Baptism is always centered around water, God’s Word and promises, the Holy Spirit, and Mission.

Baptism brings with it the promise of a relationship with God and the promise of eternal life. God’s Spirit descends and touches us when we’re baptized, and we’re promised that God will journey with us through the best and worst that life will bring. But, in Baptism, we are also driven into the world to confront evil and to stand face-to-face with the devil. We’re challenged, in Baptism, to call-out the forces of evil in our world; and to struggle and wrestle and fight for what’s right in a world that doesn’t always want to hear what God has to say. We’re called into “ministry” in the waters of Baptism – a ministry that challenges us to stop long enough to listen to other people, to be open to the voices of others and to pray with them about the circumstances that they’re facing in life, to read the Bible and to figure-out what God has to say about what’s happening in people’s lives, and to help people to move from “wherever they are right now” to “wherever God wants them to be.”

But, “Baptized and Ready to Go!” is also a message that reminds us that, as we grow and participate in life-giving ministry, we need to be sustained, encouraged, and empowered.

And that’s why it’s important for us to remained focused upon the “5 Faith Practices” that have stood at the center of faith-filled living for as long as the Church as existed. We are both called and challenged in the waters of Baptism to:

  • Continue to live among God’s faithful people;
  • Continue to gather in places where the Bible’s read and studied, and in the places where we can be nurtured and strengthened by the gift of Holy Communion;
  • Continue to share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ with our families and friends and even with strangers that we don’t even know;
  • Continue to serve other people in the very same way that Jesus did;
  • Continue to work hand-in-hand with those who call for justice, peace, compassion and love in a world where many people continue to crave what God promises.

“Baptized and Ready to Go!” is a message that reminds us that God continues to claim us as His own, and that God continues to work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that touched Jesus on the day of His baptism – is living and moving and breathing and leading and directing and inspiring us even now! May God continue to call us together in the waters of Baptism and to use us to do things that we’d never imagine in our wildest dreams!

Dreams, Talents, Passions and Risk

Money Bag

Take a moment to simply dream….

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

What would you do with it?

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

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

So, let me ask you a question….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 30

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” We’re excited that you’re here and hope that you will jump on board and join us as we read through God’s Word.

This week, we’re going to read one of my favorite passages in the Bible!

Just imagine the prophet Ezekiel looking across a valley that’s filled with sun-bleached bones. And as he’s walking in the field and stepping over skeletons, God asks him, “Can these bones lives again?” And Ezekiel answers: “O Lord, only you know that!” And then, Ezekiel is told to prophesy. And the bones begin to rattle and come together. The sinews begin to grow, muscles begin to form, and skin covers the bodies. And then, when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the wind (spirit), the still-dead bodies are filled with “breath” and become living beings. A field full of skeletons becomes a field that’s filled with a living, breathing and marching army of strong and determined soldiers. Wow!

Where have you discovered valleys that are filled with sun-bleached bones in your life?

Perhaps, today, you’re discouraged because you’re facing a terminal illness, or maybe you are finding that it’s quiet overwhelming to care for an aging parent? Maybe one of your kids is struggling with an addiction to opioids, or will spend today in jail? Maybe you’re struggling through a period of unemployment, or maybe your ongoing struggle with a teenager is simply wearing you out? Maybe you’re being bullied at school, or at work? Maybe you’re buried under a mountain of bills and the telephone calls from the bill collectors simply won’t stop? Maybe you’re grieving the loss of someone that you dearly loved, or perhaps you’re watching your spouse struggle with dementia? The list goes on and on….

Life is filled with valleys that are covered with dry bones. We can feel both overwhelmed and numb when life continues to give us things that are simply unfair. But, the question is: “Do I believe that God can make circumstances in my life any different?” Or, perhaps: “Do I believe that God can bring hope and peace into a nearly impossible situation?”

The Bible tells us that the God who brought sun-bleached bones together, covered them with sinews and muscles, cloaked them in skin and brought them back to life is at work in our daily lives. That’s right! God’s at work in your life right now. God’s speaking words of new life and new possibilities even in times when the situations that we face appear to be impossible. God journeys with us as we travel through life step-by-step-by-step, and He calls us to have faith, to trust in His ability to lift us up, and to know that He’s walking right beside us – opening doors and blessing us with His strengthening presence even as we walk through seemingly-impossible times!

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 19-21 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 16-20 – Wednesday: Psalms 87-89 – Thursday: Proverbs 13 – Friday: Ezekiel 37-42 – Saturday: Luke 23-24

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 20

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” I hope that you’ve been able to continue your journey through the Bible as we’ve been traveling through the busy season of vacations and shifting gears. Remember: If you miss some of the readings – or even if you’ve set your Bible aside for a week (or two) during your vacation – it’s easy to get back on track. Just start reading the Bible again, today. And remember, it only takes 21 days of setting aside a time for daily devotion to re-establish a strong, faith-building routine.

This week, we’re going to encounter an incredible psalm!

The Psalmist describes his soul being found in the midst of lions and talks about the fact that he’s lying down in the midst of fiery beasts. The Psalmist writes about being found in the midst of people “whose teeth are spears and arrows” and “whose tongues are as sharp as swords.”

And yet, the Psalmist proclaims: “God will save me and will put to shame him who tries to trample upon me. God will send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness!” And, in the midst of all of that, there’s a precious truth that we dare not miss! The Psalmist tells us “God will fulfill His purpose for me.” (Psalm 57:2)

Have you ever thought about God’s purpose for you? How is God working in your life as you’re devoting many hours, each week, to your job? If you have a child or if you’ve been blessed with a number of children, how is God working in your life as a parent? Perhaps, you’re fulfilling God’s purpose for your life as you care for another person that you love and cherish? Perhaps, you volunteer your time to support a worthy cause? As you send financial gifts to support the mission of your church or another important organization, you are fulfilling God’s purpose for your life in another way – because, after all, time is money – right? Money is something that someone else gives you for a part of your life that you can never get back.

God created us to fulfill a special purpose! God created us to leave fingerprints on the world and to transform our world into a better place. It’s a holy calling! It’s a noble and worthy cause!

Have you ever thought about the fact that we can experience life in a deeper way when we pray, when we read God’s Word, and when we ask God to show us the reason that He’s made us?

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 9-10 – Monday: Exodus 25-28 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 15-19 – Wednesday: Psalms 57-59 – Thursday: Job 39-40 – Friday: Jeremiah 37-41 – Saturday: Luke 3-4

Blessings!

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 19

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In just a few more weeks, we will have read half of the Bible!

The Bible is filled with incredible variety! We’ve read stories about people like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Job, Joshua and Ruth, Jeremiah and Jesus. We’ve read some peace-filled psalms that remind us of God’s love, and we’ve read stories of bloody battles and human tragedies. We’ve read two of the Gospels – Matthew and Mark – and are beginning our journey through Luke in the coming week. I hope that you’ve found this approach to reading through the Bible helpful in your journey of faith, and hope that you’ll continue to journey with us in the coming weeks!

The opening of Luke’s Gospel is both abrupt and pointed. An angel of the Lord speaks to Zechariah and proclaims the birth of the fiery preacher named John the Baptizer. The angel Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus and Mary responds by singing what has come to be called “The Magnificat” – a song that declares that, when the Reign of God breaks into the world, the mighty will be humbled, the exalted will be brought low, the hungry will be filled with the food that they crave, and the rich will be sent away empty. And then, we read a story of the birth of Jesus that many of us heard in childhood. And it’s a story of shepherds and angels, a baby lying in a manger, a mother who quietly watches everything happen while pondering it in her heart, and a nearly-unmentioned father who quickly fades into the Biblical background and disappears.

This week, I’d like to encourage you to think about how you’ve come to know God. Did you learn about God by going to church, or did your parents teach you what you know? Did you learn about God as a child, or did you start learning about God later in life? Did you experience a time when you felt that you had been touched by God in a special way, or has your journey of faith unfolded in a more quiet way? How is your journey of faith similar to the journeys of other people that you know, and how is it different?

And now, shift gears and think about this….

How has your journey through nearly half of the Bible changed the way that you think about God? Have you been surprised by anything you’ve read? Has your understanding of God changed as you’ve encountered the God who leads His people to safe, still waters while remaining a God who strikes-down the first-born of Egypt without mercy? Where does Jesus fit into the picture? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus today? How is your life being shaped by what you’re reading – as you read about a God of power and authority who creates long lists of rules; and who, yet, continues to forgive us when we break those very same rules for the sake of Christ?

Here are the coming week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 6-8 – Monday: Exodus 21-24 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 10-14 – Wednesday: Psalms 54-56 – Thursday: Job 37-38 – Friday: Jeremiah 32-36 – Saturday: Luke 1-2

Blessings!

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 18

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Summer is a wonderful time to shift gears and to set-aside time for something new!

Many people have never read through the entire Bible. Some people don’t know where to begin, and other people begin in the first chapter of Genesis – but get bogged-down when they reach Leviticus. We all like to know that we’re doing things with other people. That’s what the ExploraStory Cafe is all about! It’s about reading God’s Word with other people. It’s about exploring foundations of our faith by listening, together, to recorded messages. It’s about spending quiet-time at the end of the day – reviewing the events of the past day and even asking ourselves, “What will I need from God – as I face the joys and challenges of tomorrow?”

This week, we’re going to ride a roller coaster during our journey through the Bible!

We’re going to read the 10 Commandments on Monday, and we’re going to read David’s psalm of confession (which was written after his disastrous affair with Bathsheba and after his role in causing the death of her husband, Uriah, became public) on Wednesday. We are going to encounter a threat that God uttered against a false-prophet, Hananiah, (“I am going to remove you from the face of the earth!” ~ Jeremiah 28:16) on Friday; and, on Saturday, we’re going to see Mark’s Gospel abruptly end as the three women who went to Jesus’ empty tomb flee in astonishment and say nothing to anyone. And, as we’re reading through these parts of the Bible together, we’re going to be challenged to think.

Which of the 10 Commandments am I breaking – right now – at this point in my life?

Do I regularly think about the things that I’m doing and ask God to forgive my sins, or do I wait until my sins are lifted before my eyes by another person?

How are my thoughts and actions being shaped by God’s Word, and how do my thoughts and actions bear testimony to what God’s doing in my life and in the world?

How do I respond to my encounters with the Risen Christ? Am I telling others about what Christ is doing in my life? Am I trying my best to figure-out what it means? Am I afraid to speak about the things that God’s doing? How could I be a more effective witness to God’s work in my life and in the world?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 4-5 – Monday: Exodus 17-20 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 5-9 – Wednesday: Psalms 51-53 – Thursday: Job 35-36 – Friday: Jeremiah 27-31 – Saturday: Mark 15-16

Blessings!

Vacation Bible School

kids

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was looking for something to do during the steaming hot days of July. He’d been out of school for more than a month. He’d already worn ruts in the grass – while riding his bicycle around in the yard. He’d spent hours in the woods digging in the dirt, and had been shooting at chipmunks with a bow and arrow made of sticks and a rubber band for weeks. Time passed slowly. And the beginning of school was more than a month away.

And then, one morning, the little boy’s mother got him out of bed and took him to the church. The church was decorated with long, colorful streamers that moved every time the electric fans swished past them; and there were rocks made of brown, crumbled paper on the floor. Little kids were running everywhere, and the energy was incredible! Grown-ups tried their hardest to split the kids by age groups and they pinned a colorful name tag to each child’s chest. And then, the singing began. Some lessons were taught. The floors of the church were littered with little pieces of paper as children went to work with scissors and glue. And, of course, there was a snack. Cookies. Cookies with bright red Kool Aid! Everybody knows that energized kids who are bouncing off the walls need more sugar. Right?

And at the end of the week, every child who had come to the church every day got a copy of the Good News Bible. And the little boy was so excited! He took his Bible home and put it on the table beside his bed. And he read stories from the Bible every day. The edges of the pages became dirty as time passed and the binding on the Bible became loose. But the little boy kept reading from the Bible every day. And as he grew into a teenager, he kept that Bible close at hand. And in the already-worn pages of the Bible, he came to know a man named Jesus who lived and died and rose again. And some of it made sense, and some of it didn’t. But that was OK.

Many people don’t realize how important a week of Vacation Bible School can be in the life of a child. It’s not easy for parents to pack-up their kids in the middle of the summer and drag them to the church. It’s not easy for a too-small army of volunteers to keep an eye on the children – while singing songs – and teaching lessons – and playing games – and washing hands – and completing a craft – and serving a snack in the basement of a church on hot summer days. It takes time to hang those long, colorful streamers and to make those paper rocks. It takes time to make the name-tags, and to register all the kids, and to keep the kids safe. Someone always cuts their finger and needs a band-aid to make things better. Someone won’t like the snack. Someone won’t sit down during the lesson, and a parent or two may need to be called because someone gets homesick. That’s Vacation Bible School in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Back to the little boy….

Placing a Bible in the hands of little boy can do great things! A little boy can learn about the God who loves him when he reads what the Bible says. He wonders about things that some kids never think about. He asks questions. And, as the years continue to pass, seeds that were planted begin to grow. And little boys grow into men. And sometimes, those men grow into pastors who devote their lives to teaching others about the God that they’ve come to know and love. Some of those men – like me – grow into men who want people to know about Jesus, too. And the story of God’s love and embrace gets passed to another generation!

And sometimes it begins with a week of Vacation Bible School. Sometimes, it begins when a small army of volunteers make long and colorful streamers that sway when an electric fan blows past them; make rocks from crumbled paper bags, put a band-aids on fingers; and place Good News Bibles in the hands of little children. Sometimes, it all begins when a small army of God’s people commit themselves to opening their hearts and to opening the doors of their building, so that little kids can hear the story of God’s love.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20  

“Already” but “Not Yet”

Christ lifting pic

I have always believed that one of the hardest parts of being a Christian is remembering how much God loves me when the circumstances in my life make me wonder if God even cares.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been listening to some wonderful promises. We’ve pictured Christ as a “Good Shepherd” who helps us to find “still waters” when we need a safe place to get a drink, and who guides us through all sorts of scary places when it’s easy for us to get off-track. We’ve listened to Jesus talk about Heaven, and we’ve listened carefully as Jesus has told us that He’s going to take us to Heaven when we die.

But we also live in a world where life’s tough, don’t we? Even though Christ speaks to us in a way that gives us hope and peace, the world’s pretty good at taking that hope and peace away from us, isn’t it? That’s what it is to live in the “Already, but Not Yet”.

In this week’s message, “Already, but Not Yet”, we reflect upon a wonderful promise as we think about Christ’s words: “I will not leave you orphaned.” (John 14:18) Christ tells us that He will continue to speak to us and to bless us with the wisdom we need to make good decisions even as we move through incredibly difficult times. God promises to dry our tears and give us courage when we lose things in life that we never imagined we’d ever lose. God promises to send the people that we need to lift us up and encourage us when we’re struggling. And as that happens (as we recalled last week), we can discover that “All will be well – and all will be well – and all manner of things will be well,” (Julian of Norwich)

The words “I will not leave you orphaned” are words that can carry us through life. The words “I will not leave you orphaned” are the promise of a Risen Christ who has told us that He’ll continue to stand beside us in every circumstance of life to hold us, to sustain us, and to make us whole.

Blessings!