Read through the Bible – Week 25

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.”

We’ve been traveling through the Bible together for 24 weeks; and, in the process, we’ve covered nearly half the contents of the Bible. I hope and pray that you’ve had a chance to learn and grow as you’ve been reading God’s Word with us, that you’ve had a chance to reflect upon some things that you believe about God, and that you’ve take some time to pray. In my own journey of faith, I’ve seen many times what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews meant when we wrote: “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12) God’s word is alive and active, and changes lives.

This week we’re going to encounter one of the most important (and most misunderstood) statements of Jesus. Next Saturday’s reading will include the words: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) And as we read those words, I’d like to challenge you to think about what they mean to you.

Some people believe that an illness that they are facing is their cross to bear. Some folks believe that a “cross” has been thrust upon them when they lose a job and live through a time of unemployment. Many of us consider almost any challenging time in our lives to be the “cross” that God gives us to carry, and some even try to comfort others by telling them that “God will never give you more than you can bear.” And, at least to me, that’s cruel – and even spiritually abusive – because it shakes people’s faith and causes people to picture God as a God who piles more and more burdens upon our shoulders because He wants to see how strong we are. Wow! Now that’s a tough and rather cruel God!

So, let me ask you a question: What do you think Christ means when He calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him”?

  • First, notice that the “cross” Christ calls us to bear is one that we “take-up” – it’s not one that a cruel God thrusts upon us as a test of our strength and fortitude.
  • Second, remember that the “cross” was taken-up by Christ for the sake of others – it wasn’t taken-up by Christ is prove His own strength and ability to face discomfort.
  • Third, remember that the “cross” Christ bore was redemptive to other people – it was a “cross” that released the burdened and brought new life to the world.
  • Lastly, remember that the “cross” Christ bore was willingly taken-up by a man who refused to be silenced, who refused to stop speaking God’s truth to people who were enjoying their positions of power, who continued to speak in total solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and who continued to remind the “religious” people of His time that religious rituals and rules become empty when they’re devoid of love.

And so, let me ask you: “What cross are you bearing right now?” Have you voluntarily taken-up a cause, and invested time and energy in something that’s important and that ignites passion in your heart? Have you voluntarily taken-up a cause that has a positive impact upon the lives other people, and that lifts-up people who are burdened by harsh and cruel realities in their lives? How does the cause that you’re investing your time and energy in proclaim new life and peace with God to burdened souls? How does the cause that you’re investing your time and energy in speak God’s truth to people in power who are using their position of influence in an ungodly ways and call-forth the best in God’s people in a world where religious experiences and convictions can be both empty and devoid of love?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Ephesians 4-6 – Monday: Leviticus 4-6 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 14-18 – Wednesday: Psalms 72-74 – Thursday: Proverbs 5-6 – Friday: Ezekiel 7-12 – Saturday: Luke 13-14

 

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!

Have you ever asked God, “WHY?”

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We all face times when our faith is shaken to the core.

On some level, we expect to be blessed with good health and with healthy children when we follow God. We, often, spend time in prayer when we’re facing difficult times or when we want God to heal our bodies (or the bodies of people we know and love).  Deep inside, we might believe that it’s God’s “job” to ride onto the scene and make things better when life’ tough, and we might even be disappointed when God doesn’t do what we expect God to do. Have you ever asked God, “WHY?”

In this week’s message, “Have you ever asked God, ‘WHY?'”, we explore one of the most intriguing stories in the Bible. We read about Lazarus, a man who was ill and we read about a man whose sisters hoped Jesus would save the day. We read about a man who died, and about two sisters who uttered some of the most haunting words in the Bible: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I suspect that we’ve all said those words in difficult times. We’ve probably all had times when we’ve shaken our fists at the sky and when we’ve pounded on the silent gates of Heaven. But, no matter how many times we ask the question “Why?” – we don’t get an answer, do we? No matter how many times we want to hear the voice from Heaven, it doesn’t come.

And Jesus knows that….

And, perhaps, when Mary and Martha ask Jesus their unanswerable question, that’s why He begins to talk with them about “What’s next?” What does it mean when Jesus tells us that struggles and illnesses and death are not going to be the end of our story? How can we find strength and courage to move through times in life when things are falling apart and when life’s not fair – by remembering that God’s still at work and that God continues to have the power to re-create and give the gift of new life?

We CAN find peace and hope in life – even when the specific details in our lives are not what we want them to be. Do not be afraid! Even though I don’t know where life’s going to take you and what kinds of challenges you’re going to face – I do know that, when it’s all said and done, you’re going to be OK.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” Jesus says, and the Day shall surely come when all of your “Why?-s” and “Why didn’t you?-s” will fade away. The Day is surely coming when all the great unanswered questions we have about life and death are going to pass away – and, in that Great Moment, we’ll be swept-up into the arms of the Lord who loves us and we’ll actually see God face-to-face!

Blessings!

 

“Mercy, Not Sacrifice!”

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How has your understanding of God changed as you’ve lived and experienced more of life?

My first impressions of God, as a child, revolved around God’s goodness and willingness to give me “good stuff.” I grew into a man who embraced the idea that God’s always with me and that God’s always guiding me. I’ve grown to understand God as a God who forgives me and who carries me through tough times. And now, as I begin my journey through the back stretch of life, I’ve been drawn to understand God through the lens of Hosea 6:6 – as a God who tells me, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In this week’s message, “I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice”, we are challenged to think about the ways that our ideas about God can change as we come to know Christ more deeply. Do we picture God sitting up in Heaven looking for a reason to throw people, who don’t make Him happy, into Hell – or do we picture God as a God who continues to love and care about us when we miss the mark? Do we picture an angry God who is looking forward to eternally punishing people who fall short of His demands – or do we picture a God who’s willing to push past the failures in our lives (and the failures in the lives of other people) for the sake of Christ? Perhaps, we understand that our relationship with God is based upon both the “bad news” (Law) and the “good news” (Gospel)?

The recording begins with a long reading about a man who was born blind (John 9:1-41). And, as you listen to this beloved story from the Bible, please remember that this is not just a story about healing – it’s a Sacred Story about a man who came to understand Jesus in a very different way as he struggled to make sense of who Jesus is.

And that’s the challenge that we all face in our spiritual journey, isn’t it? We all base our understandings of God upon our experiences in life and faith. And those understandings can be changed and transformed as we experience God’s presence in new ways, can’t they be?

Blessings!

 

Have you ever read the whole Bible?

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Reading through the Bible, as a whole, can be a deeply enriching experience for Christians of every age! God opens our hearts and minds as we explore His Word, and the Holy Spirit stirs our spirits as we read and digest Holy Scripture. The Bible, itself, tells us that “the Word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and that the words of the Bible judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

With that in mind, I’ve added a new menu option to the ExploraStory Cafe!

Perhaps, you’ve tried a “Through the Bible” program that encouraged you to begin to read the Bible in Genesis; but, your progress ground to a complete halt when you began working your way through Leviticus. Many people who enthusiastically begin to read through the Bible become discouraged when they fall behind – and realize they just don’t have enough time to catch-up with the scheduled readings. I’m hoping that this attempt to guide you through the Bible, over the course of a 52-week period, will be different!

Please take a few moments to check the new menu option above and to join us as we move through the Bible together as God’s people! I’ll be providing the new readings on a weekly basis each Thursday. If you’d like to receive an automatic update when the new readings are provided, please feel free to “follow” the ExploraStory Cafe – by providing an email address where you would like to receive information about the updates, or by connecting the ExploraStory Cafe to your existing WordPress account.

Blessings!

 

God’s Taking Us to Court!

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Have you ever thought about what would happen if God took us to court?

A lot of us believe that “good” people go to Heaven and “bad” people go to Hell. A lot of us probably picture God sitting on a great, big throne in the sky – always keeping an eye on us and making a list of “good things” and “bad things” that He sees us doing, so that He can judge our “worthiness” to enter Heaven after we die.

But, have you ever thought about the fact that God speaks to us and tries to point us in the right direction when we fly off course, right now? Have you ever thought about the fact that the Holy Bible, the “Sacred Story” of God’s journey with His people, is part of a story that’s continuing to unfold even now? We can find ourselves in the midst of the Exodus during times of dramatic change and transition. We can learn how to live with faith, in a world where God’s grace is often only sufficient for today, when we find ourselves in the “Sacred Story” of people who trusted that God would provide “manna” in the Wilderness each day. The “Sacred Story” we find in the Holy Bible is OUR story. The “Sacred Story” we find in the Bible is not just a story about historic events that happened long ago. It’s the story of OUR journey. It’s the story of OUR struggle to make sense of what it means to live our lives with faith in changing (and sometimes scary) times. The “Sacred Story” that we find in the Bible is the story of OUR continuing relationship with the Risen Christ, who came into the world to set us free from the power of sin and to raise us up to a new life.

In this week’s message, “God’s Taking Us to Court!”, we find ourselves in the midst of a courtroom. The prophet tells us that God’s taking us to court! We listen to God’s clear and pointed testimony. We hear the “Sacred Story” of God’s continuing love. And, as we are drawn into that “Sacred Story,” God challenges us to think about how we treat people who are hungry; how we respond to people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol; how we respond to the cries of refugees who are fleeing from their homes and countries to escape certain death; how we treat people who are being victimized by domestic violence, child trafficking, our inability to forgive, and “systems of power” that trap them in poverty, homelessness, fear and uncertainty.

This is a challenging message, but it’s a message that will speak to your heart. It’s a message that will remind you that YOU are a part of the “Sacred Story” that God’s been writing since the beginning of time. Perhaps, you’ll hear a Word that challenges you to be more forgiving and embracing? Perhaps, you’ll hear a Word from God that challenges the ways you think about people who are less fortunate than you are? Perhaps, God will speak to you in a different way and help you to discover a new and life-giving way to respond to the “Sacred Story” of God’s faithfulness in your own daily life?

Blessings!