Where Do You See God?

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Where are you seeing God these days?

Some of us are spending 40 – 50 – 60 – even 70 hours at work each week. Some of us are parents who spend the week changing diapers, negotiating with rebellious toddlers and talking with little children who aren’t always easy to understand. Some of us spend the week enjoying the goodness of retirement, while others rise to begin yet another day of caring for a loved-one or facing the fact that our “Golden Years” aren’t always golden.

Jesus once said, “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.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Yokes are big, clumsy and heavy. Yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals that are going to be used for heavy labor like plowing fields and pulling wagons. Yokes are placed upon the shoulders of animals that will carry burdens and that will undoubtedly become weary, tired, exhausted, and totally spent. But yokes bind animals together, so that they can work more efficiently. Yokes bind animals together because there are jobs on a farm that are simply too big for animals to do by themselves.

When God places you in a particular place, what you do in that place is your ministry.

This week’s message, “Where Are You Seeing God?”, is one that’s designed to challenge you to realize that God journeys with us as we travel through life. Christ helps us to carry the yoke when we’re at work and when we’re struggling to be a good parent. Christ helps us to carry the burden when the yoke of caring for someone that we love becomes heavy and when we’re not sure if there’s enough of us to go around. Christ promises to journey with us through life and to help us to do far more than we ever thought we’d be able to do. When Christ teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” He challenges us to prayerfully remember that God’s grace is always sufficient; and that, day by day, God will provide what we need – just when we need it most.

Where are you seeing God these days?

Can you see God’s face in the eyes of people who work beside you, or in the smiles of the customers who appreciate your help? Can you see God’s face as you gaze into the eyes of your spouse as he/she listens to you talk and talk and talk and talk? Can you see God’s face as you look into the eyes of a doctor, or a nurse, who is caring for you or for a loved one who’s sick? Can see God’s face in the eyes of your friends – of your family members – of your pastors or of people who attend your church – of people who celebrate what’s good in your life and help you to carry the weight of your burdens?

When we can see God’s presence in those around us, we can know that we’re not alone. When we learn to see God’s presence in the faces of people around us, we can know that no matter where we find ourselves in life, God’s already there to be with us.

Blessings!

 

Be Real!

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I sometimes wish that I had the words to make things better.

I don’t always know what to say to parents who have just lost a child, or to a friend who just learned that he/she has cancer. I remember standing in a long line in a gymnasium, several years ago, wondering what I was going to say when it was my turn to speak with a mother whose son had been killed in Afghanistan. I’ve heard Christians try to comfort others with the words: “God will never give you more than you can bear.” Many people who came to offer their support after my mother died talked about how “good” my Mom looked as she was lying in her casket.

I sometimes wish that I had the words to make things better; but, when it all boils down, I know that I can’t fix everything by sprinkling some “magic fairy dust” from my lips.

In this week’s message, “Be Real!”, we meet a false prophet named Hananiah who spoke to God’s people during an incredibly difficult time. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had invaded the land of Judah and had scorched the earth with fire. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed homes, uprooted families, and carried people away as slaves. And, when the false prophet Hananiah speaks, I can almost hear him say: “Don’t worry! Just relax! God’s going to make things better before you know it! It’s always darkest before the dawn!”

I sometimes wish that I had the words to make things better – and I’m sure that you feel the same way. It’s not easy to sit down and spend time with people who are grieving, or to talk with teenagers who are being bullied. It’s not easy to talk with parents whose kids are being consumed by opioids, with people who don’t have a place to call a home, with people who are struggling with a mental illness, or with people who are being abused in their own homes.

When God calls people to prayer and to the embracing of Christ’s Great Commission, God sends people into dark, scary places. And it’s not easy to remain “real” and “authentic” on the front lines of ministry because it’s not comfortable and because we don’t always have the words that we need to make things better.

And yet, as we learn to move past unhelpful platitudes and shallow statements that we have created to make ourselves feel better, we become open to “real connections” and “real relationships.” Christ journeys with us. God opens doors. The Holy Spirit even puts words into our mouths!

It’s not easy to be real and authentic. It’s not easy to admit that we don’t have words that can make difficult situations better. But, as we struggle to be both real and authentic, we find ourselves speaking God’s word in powerful ways. “Be Real!” Be a man or woman of faith who’s not afraid to simply “be present” during difficult times; because, when you do that, God will use you in incredible ways to pierce darkness with His own brilliant light!

Blessings!

God’s Whispering in Your Ear!

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Many Christians (and churches) are struggling these days.

Christ calls us into ministry in the waters of Holy Baptism and sends us into the world as His representatives. The Bible plainly tells us that the Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts that we need – and assures us that, when we’re engaged in ministry, Christ journeys with us and opens doors.

But translating Christ’s “call to action” into concrete ministries isn’t always easy, is it?

It’s easy to talk about Christians being called onto the “front lines” of the battle. It’s easy to say that Christians need to get outside of their buildings and more deeply engage with people in their community. Many churches are trying to create long-term strategies for doing ministry in a world where it’s not always easy to know what the future will bring. And that’s what this week’s message,  “God’s Whispering in Your Ear!”, is all about.

Jesus says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops!” (Matthew 10:27)

Ministry begins when God’s people pray, and when God’s people listen and talk with each other about what God’s been whispering into their ears. What does God whisper in your ears when you pray about people in your community who are struggling with illnesses and loneliness? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about people in your community whose lives are being destroyed by opioid addictions? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about little children in your community who were being offered a free breakfast when they arrived at school, but who have lost that daily meal during the summer? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about young people who are being bullied, about children who need Sunday School teachers, about men and women who are being abused in their own homes, and about people in your own community who don’t have enough money to purchase medicines that they need in order to remain healthy?

God’s still using folks who are prayerfully listening to people in their community, and who are seeking God’s guidance and direction. Ministry begins when the people of God talk with people in their community, fall to their knees in prayer, and open their ears to hear what God has to say.

We live in a time when opportunities for doing ministry are immense! And, as we look for a path forward in ministry, we must continue to be people who are engaged in prayer and the daily reading of Holy Scripture. We cannot speak about what we have not heard! We cannot proclaim from the housetops what we’ve not heard whispered into our ears by the Living God!

And so, if you’re looking for a path forward in ministry – as either an individual or as a church – stop for a moment and pray. We are not called to build ministries and churches around our own agendas and good ideas. We are called, instead, to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who has promised to journey with us (and to open doors before us) as we seek to fulfill His plan for our lives and for our ministries in practical ways.

Blessings!

The Great Commission

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Christ calls the Church into vital, expansive and life-giving ministry!

I’m sure that the disciples were a bit shaken when Jesus told them that it was, now, their job to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  I suspect that it has never been easy for Christians to stand toe-to-toe with people who are in positions of power and proclaim the Reign of a Living God who calls us to extend compassion to the poor, to lift-up those who are being crushed by injustice, to walk with people who mourn, and to create a society where even the lowly have a voice. And yet, even today, Christians are commissioned by the Risen Christ to announce the imminent coming of the Reign of God.

I don’t always feel prepared to do that – even as a pastor. I don’t always feel prepared to speak about God’s plan for our lives from the pulpit, to counsel couples whose marriages are crumbling, to comfort people who have just lost a child, or to speak a word of hope beside the empty grave of someone that I’ve loved. Maybe you don’t really feel qualified to teach a Sunday School class, to lead a Bible Study, to say a prayer in front of other people, or to assume responsibility for a ministry at your church. And yet, in this week’s message, “The Great Commission”, God calls us into action.

Ministry is never easy; and yet, “The Great Commission” is accompanied by a great and wonderful promise! As we join hands in ministry, Christ promises to walk by our sides. As we join hands in ministry, Christ promises to send the Holy Spirit to equip us and give us gifts from above. Jesus promises us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and those are words that can encourage us as we work together to bring the Reign of God into the world today.

Blessings!

Spiritual Warfare

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People don’t talk much about the devil these days.

Many people come to the Church looking for a sense of solace and peace. I’ve heard people say that they attend worship to have their “spiritual gas tanks” filled. We speak a lot about God’s forgiveness, and about God’s mercy. We’re reminded that God walks beside us as we journey through life, and that God’s grace is sufficient for today (2 Corinthians 12:9). But, we don’t often speak about the enemy. We don’t often speak about the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)

In this week’s message, “Spiritual Warfare”, we’re drawn into the story of an epic battle between “God’s Champion” and the devil himself. We’re drawn into an unusual story in the Bible where everything’s on the line and where Jesus CANNOT make a mistake. And, as we search for a connection between this particular story in the Bible and our own daily lives, we can’t help but hear the words: “Be alert!”

Christian ministry is spiritual warfare. The devil is close at hand every time we do God’s work with our own hands and every time the “Reign of God” breaks into the world. We’re called to be alert and to remember that the devil still prowls around in our world. But, we are also reminded that “God’s Champion” – the Risen Christ – journeys with us as we are nourished by the reading of Holy Scripture, as we share broken Bread and poured Wine in Holy Communion, as we experience God’s forgiveness and renewal in our lives, and as we are strengthened by God for whatever is coming next.

Christians must never forget that the devil is prowling around us, right now. We can never forget that the ministry of the Church is never going to be easy because Christian ministry is standing against the rulers and the dark forces of the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). But, the devil is being driven back by the God who’s fighting a Great Battle of the Cosmos with us. And we will prevail in the name of our Risen Christ!

Blessings!

Freedom in Christ

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I’m a person who was raised in the Church.

I have a little pin that proves that I had ten years of “Perfect Attendance” in Sunday School as a child. I still remember standing beside my father during worship services and learning to follow the service by watching his finger move across pages in the hymnal. And, yes…! I was raised in the Church because I was taught to believe that good people to go worship on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights) because “that’s just how it is.”

Christians can be drawn to noble causes when they spend time in worship. Christians can be inspired to live their lives in the “proper way” – and learn that a journey with Christ is one that’s filled with rules, expectations, and words like “should.” In fact, when we live our lives with just the “little bit of religion” that we gain during hour-long times of weekly worship on Sunday mornings (or on Saturday night), we actually become quite dangerous!

But then, we begin to hear Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when people slap our face. We begin to hear Jesus tells us to give-away money that we’ve earned in an effort of help other people. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and to be “as perfect as God.” And, we are pretty quickly left wondering when “good enough” is actually going to be “good enough.”

There’s a different way to live-out your life with Christ; and that’s what this weeks short message – “Freedom in Christ” – is all about. It’s a message that challenges us to come out of the “spiritual castle” that we’ve built for ourselves – a place where we can feel good about ourselves while firing cannonballs at other people. It’s about discovering that the Church is a place where I don’t need to try to be as perfect as you are pretending to be – and where you don’t need to try to become as perfect as I’m pretending to be. And, when we grasp that truth, Christ sets us free! The Church becomes a life-filled place where I can come to be forgiven, to be nourished, to be embraced and to be led by God. And the Church becomes a life-filled place where I can invite other people that I know to share that very, same kind of “holy” experience with me.

“Freedom in Christ” may be a message that helps you to understand the Church in a very different way; and it might even be a message that encourages you to lower the drawbridge of your own “spiritual castle,” so that you can walk more intentionally – and authentically – into a world filled with people that God’s called you to love.

Blessings!