Too Busy to Pray?

Prayer Page

It’s sometimes hard for me to find time for prayer and daily devotion.

I usually begin to think about all of the things that I need to do before I even get out of bed in the morning. My feet hit the ground running and I often collapse into my recliner at the end of the day exhausted. I’ve learned that there’s always going to be another telephone call to return, another person to visit, and another email that’s awaiting my response. I recently decided to activate the “alert” feature on my Smartphone’s calendar, so that I can get a 30-minute “heads-up” warning before it’s time to move on to my next commitment.

It’s sometimes hard for me (and I suspect for all of you) to find time for prayer and daily devotion. I find myself encouraging people to pray and reflect upon the truths of Scripture, but I struggle to set aside time to do it myself. I’m always looking for devotional materials that are easy for me to use; and yet, I want those materials to speak to my heart and guide my life. And that’s why I’ve decided to add a Daily Devotion link to the menu options on my blog that will connect you with a ministry called “Pray as You Go”

“Pray as You Go” is a daily invitation to prayer that you can use whenever you find time. A new prayer session, which lasts between 10 and 13 minutes, is provided for every day of the working week and an additional session is provided for the weekend. I hope that you’ll take time on the additional day each weekend to gather with other Christians in a church for worship and prayer. “Pray as You Go” isn’t created to be your inspirational ‘Thought for the Day’, a daily sermon, or continuing Bible Study. “Pray as You Go” combines music, Scripture reading and questions that you can use for thought and reflection.

“Pray as You Go” is designed to help you to:

  • Become more aware of God’s presence in your life
  • Listen to the words of Scripture and reflect upon them
  • Grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ

“Pray as You Go” is produced by Jesuit Media Initiatives, and utilizes materials written by devoted Jesuits and other experts in the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola. Although the content varies each day, the basic format stays the same.

I hope that you’ll find this new link on the menu page of the ExploraStory Cafe helpful, and that you’ll use this link as a way to find time to carve-out a few moments each day to more deeply connect with God in the midst of your busy life.

Blessings!

Leaving Your Fingerprints on the World

Fingerprint

Fingerprints….

We all  leave fingerprints behind us when we touch things, and we all hope that the world will be somehow better because we’ve lived in it.

In this week’s message, “Leaving Your Fingerprints on the World”, we reflect upon the passionate determination that drove Jesus toward the Cross and that’s still needed in the lives of Christians today.

What are you most passionate about in your life as a Christian? Have you ever considered harnessing that passion and using it as the springboard that could help you move toward your God-given destiny?

The Holy Spirit lights a “fire in our souls” as it lives and moves in our midst today – always driving us into a world that needs to hear the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, and continually stirring-up the kinds of passionate determination that can empower us to boldly announce the “Reign of God” by doing God’s work  with our own hands.

Blessings!

 

Being Religious vs. Being a Disciple

Gold

Jesus once said, “The Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and, in joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”

Being “religious” is like carrying gold bullion in a cardboard box.

Being a “disciple” is knowing the true value of what you’ve discovered and wanting to share what you’ve found with other people.

Why the Church needs Lutherans

 

Luther Rose Picture (1)

The last year has taken me in many interesting directions. I’ve spoken with bishops and pastors from many denominations. I’ve talked with Raymond Bonwell, an economist and Presbyterian pastor, who’s lectured at Princeton Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School, about time management, the challenges of ministry, and the laser-type of focus that pastors and church leaders must maintain in order to help congregations fulfill their mission. I’ve spent time with Eric Law, an Episcopal priest and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, learning about six “Holy Currencies” that congregations need to consistently exchange in order to remain both missional and sustainable. I’ve talked with many people, who belong to the congregation that I serve, about our ministry in the 21st Century in Conversation Circles; and I’ve had the chance to talk with Nadia Bolz-Weber, an ELCA pastor who has discovered refreshing ways to reach people, who weren’t being touched by traditional ministries of the Church, through radical authenticity and embrace. And in the midst of all that activity, I’ve learned many lessons about life and faith.

But there’s something else….

The Pittsburgh Theological Seminary recently sponsored a “Being Church” conference that attracted Church leaders from across the nation and invited them to join in lively conversations about ministry. Nadia Bolz-Weber shared the story of her life; and then, she talked with us about why she’s a Christian. She spoke about God’s embrace and love for people that we often don’t understand. She talked with us about finding God’s presence in the midst of ordinary people and about watching the Spirit move in people’s lives. She spoke about the radical implications of “justification by grace through faith”—something quite familiar to me as a Lutheran. And then, Nadia Bolz-Weber invited us to gather in small groups to simply listen to each and to share ideas.

The small group that I attended was very diverse. We crossed our denominational lines, moved past racial barriers, embraced people of all ages, and intentionally tried to be as inclusive as possible. We talked about many of the things Nadia Bolz-Weber had lifted before us during her presentation. And then, a woman in our group surprised me when she said, “I found the ways that Nadia spoke about ‘grace’ to be both insightful and refreshing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about ‘grace’ that way.” I smiled….

We live in an age where churches are trying all sorts of things to make themselves more attractive to new members. The pastor of a church in my community recently removed all of the crosses from the walls in the building—because “The cross is offensive to people in modern times.” I’ve seen many churches strip denominational affiliations from the name of their congregation and become a “Bible” church. I’ve seen other churches transform worship into a weekly self-help seminar designed to help ordinary people become both happy and successful in life. We want to find an easy fix. We want to believe that if we just change the style of our music—or the name on the front of our building—or, perhaps, get rid of our denominational affiliation altogether—people are going to flood through our opened doors and we’ll be happy again. We’ll even have to start setting-up chairs in the aisles, so that people have a place to sit.

But it doesn’t work that way.

I was reminded, once again, that the Lutheran congregation that I serve has a precious gift to share with the Church, and with the world, as I listened to the words of a woman in our small group at the “Being Church” conference. “I found the way that Nadia spoke about ‘grace’ to be both insightful and refreshing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about ‘grace’ that way,” she said. The continuing Lutheran witness to God’s radical love and embrace is a gift to the Church. The continuing Lutheran witness to God’s power to forgive and to embrace people that we find hard to accept and understand is a precious “gift” that Lutherans have to share in a time when that message is not always clear. I don’t need to challenge the congregation that I serve to give-up its rich Lutheran heritage in order to help the Church to move into the future. I don’t need to listen to the voices of those who think that the Church needs to become “more generic” in order to appeal to the next generation. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t change. We may need to find new ways to talk with people about God’s message of radical love and embrace, and we may need to embrace new ways of doing ministry in a changing world, but we don’t need to abandon “who we are” and become “what we are not” in order to become more appealing to the next generation.

I’ve been encouraged as I’ve spoken with other people about the future of the Church. We’re moving through quickly changing times—and that can be scary. But the Spirit’s alive and moving in our midst. It’s exciting to watch people, who don’t even know each other, talk about the evolving ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ in similar ways. This is a time when prayer is absolutely crucial. This is a time when we need to listen to each other, when we need to build each other up, and when we need to speak with each other in helpful and respectful ways. But this is also a time when I need to remember, and when I must continue to remind the people that I serve, that the Church of Jesus Christ needs the precious “gift” that faithful Lutherans bring to the table when we bear witness to God’s continuing love, forgiveness and embrace in our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Our Demons, Christ and Healing

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This week, we explore one of the most unusual stories in the Bible. We meet a naked man who lives in a cemetery. We hear a story about demon possession. We see thousands of demons coming out of a man and invading a herd of pigs. We can almost see the shock on a swineherd’s face as all of his pigs run over the edge of a cliff and drown.

What do you think about demon possession? Have you ever pictured yourself as a person who’s living in a spiritual war zone? Do unspeakable, but all-too-common, tragedies like the senseless killing of 49 innocent people in an Orlando, Florida nightclub have a some sort of spiritual dimension?

In this week’s message – “Our Demons, Christ and Healing” we explore some of these topics as people of faith, and are invited to bring the struggles and challenged in our own lives to the Christ who can both heal us and restore a sense of wholeness in our lives.

Blessings!

 

Honest to God!

Tan Line Pic

Summer is a simply wonderful time to enjoy life and to relax.

My wife and I just spent Memorial Day weekend on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We enjoyed long bicycle rides on the Beach Road, and we had a great chance to simply stop and build sandcastles with our granddaughter. The sound of crashing waves calms my heart and soothes my soul. I even leaned down and picked-up a few shells as I was walking along the shore—shells that I’m planning to use during baptisms.

And, of course, I wore my Fitbit, so that I could record every step.

I wore my Fitbit while I was riding my bicycle and I wore my Fitbit while I was reading a book entitled, “Happy,” to my granddaughter. I wore my Fitbit while I was playing in the sand, and I wore my Fitbit while I was relaxing in my folding chair on the beach. And, as I enjoyed my relaxing days in North Carolina, I didn’t even notice that I was changing. My skin began to adjust to the sunlight and I started to tan. Little by little—day by day—my skin began to change even though I didn’t realize what was happening. And then, one day, when I removed by Fitbit to take a shower, I noticed something. I had a tan line. The skin on my arms had begun to tan, but a small band of untanned skin marked the place where my Fitbit had rested. And I learned about God and about faith.

In Psalm 139:23-24, we read: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”

We change when we spend time in the presence of the Lord. God touches our hearts when we read the Bible and spend time in daily prayer. God changes our hearts when we confess the ways that we’ve hurt other people; when we honestly think about the unfair ways that we sometimes treat people; when we openly face doubts and fears that plague our daily lives; and when we intentionally remove the masks that we wear to make other people believe that we’re something that we’re really not. God changes us when we’re open and authentic. God acts most powerfully in our lives when we allow Him to work in the parts of our lives where we’re most broken and afraid.

But when we try to hide our vulnerabilities, and when we try to live our lives in ways that lack honesty and authenticity, we can become “closed” to what God’s trying to do.

And, that’s the tan line. God can work in my life most powerfully when I’m both authentic and open to how God wants to change me. God can do wonderful things in my life and God can even help me to become a different person. But, when I try to hide and conceal the unappealing parts of my life, and when I intentionally put up walls that are meant to protect parts of my life that I don’t want to change, even the life-giving work of God can be thwarted. A tan line is a visible reminder of the fact that when we cover parts of “who we are”—either physically or spiritually—we can stop growing and even seal ourselves off from the life-transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.

And so, enjoy your summer. Do the things that you love with the people you cherish. And, the next time you look down and see a tan line, think about the ways that God’s changing you, and think about the parts of your life that you’re intentionally trying to hide from other people and even from the eyes of God.

Authenticity opens the doors to spiritual growth. God often works most powerfully in our lives when we come into God’s presence both honestly and authentically—allowing God to see not only the wonderful fruits of His blessings in our lives; but also the anxious thoughts, the secret desires, the hidden truths, and the face we sometimes want to keep hidden behind a mask.

The Testimony of a Changed Man

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The Bible is filled with stories about ordinary people who are changed by their encounter with God. In this week’s message, “My Story”, we meet a man who lived his life with a long list of rules and expectations that greatly shaped his relationships with other people.

How do our “rules” shape our interactions with other people? How can our experience of Christ’s love and embrace help us to become more welcoming toward people who don’t always live their lives in the way we think they “should”?

In this narrative sermon, we hear the testimony of Simon (a Pharisee), a man who went away from his encounter with Christ changed and transformed by love.

Blessings!

God’s Always With You

Zarephath

The story of a widow’s encounter with Elijah in Zarephath has a lot to teach us about God’s continuing presence and faithfulness in every circumstance that we face in life. God’s with us when life’s good, but God’s just as present when we’re experiencing the hardships and difficulties that challenge our faith.  “God’s Always With You” is a message that invites you to see God’s faithful presence in every circumstance in life, and that invites you to pray and to continue to look for God’s blessings when life is hard.

Blessings!