Reading Through the Bible – Week 5

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I’m hoping that you continued your journey through the Bible this week! If you have missed a few days along the way, that’s OK. We are glad you’re staying with us – and hope that you’ll feel free to simply move forward without feeling burdened by the need to return to what you have missed.

I was struck by several verses that we read in Psalm 11 this week.

The psalmist writes: “In the Lord I take refuge.” And then, several verses later, he writes: “The Lord is in his holy temple.” The Lord who guides and protects us can be found. The Lord is as close to us as our own breath and is always near. But, sometimes, God can seem both distant and far away. And why is that? Has God moved away from us – or have we moved? Has God withdrawn his presence from our lives – or have our eyes become blurred by distractions and interference?

Stop for a moment and ask yourself: Where am I seeing God at work in my life right now?

We probably all have times when God seems to be particularly close – and we probably all have times when God seems to be quite distant. And so, let me ask you a question…. What makes you feel close to God and what makes God seem distant? Are you looking for God where God has promised to be – or are you trying to find God, by yourself, in other places? The Bible tells us that “the Lord is in his holy temple” (Psalm 11:4). The Lord has promised to be “where two or three are gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20). The Lord has promised to be with us as we gather around gifts of broken Bread and shared Wine in Holy Communion (Matthew 26:28). The Lord has promised to be present when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, welcome strangers, and visit the sick (Matthew 25:36-40).

And now, here are the readings for next week:

Week #5

Sunday: Romans 9-10 – Monday: Genesis 16-19 – Tuesday: Joshua 21-24 – Wednesday: Psalm 12-14 – Thursday: Job 9-10 – Friday: Isaiah 23-28 – Saturday: Matthew 11-13

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!

“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!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 4

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I’m hoping that you continued your journey through the Bible this week!

You’ve done it! I mentioned, last week, that studies have shown that new routines become a regular part of our lives after 21-days of consistent change. If you’ve been sticking with your daily times of reading the Bible with us, you’ve just created a life-changing spiritual practice. Congratulations! If you’ve missed a few days along the way, that’s OK too! We are glad that you’re staying with us – and hope that you’ll feel free to simply continue to move forward with us this week without feeling burdened by the need to return to what you’ve missed.

Perhaps, some of the things that you’ve read this week struck you?

Have you noticed the sharp contrast between the “peace with God” (that St. Paul describes in Romans 5:1) and the brutality that we’ve been seeing in the book of Joshua?

I was struck (on Wednesday) by the sharp distinction that I see between the words “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears” (Psalm 6:6) and the words “What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

Where do you find yourself in your journey of faith, right now? Is your walk with Christ one that’s filled with harsh realities, or peace with God? Are you traveling through a time in your life when you are flooding your bed with tears, or are you mindful of God’s gentleness and compassion? Perhaps you would describe this particular point in your spiritual journey with other words? If that’s true, what words would you use?

That’s something that I’d encourage you to think about as you move through the rest of this week’s readings.

And now, here are the readings for next week:

Week #4

Sunday: Romans 7-8 – Monday: Genesis 12-15 – Tuesday: Joshua 16-20 – Wednesday: Psalm 9-11 – Thursday: Job 7-8 – Friday: Isaiah 18-22 – Saturday: Matthew 8-10

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 over the course of the next 52 weeks. 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!

 

Planted Beside a Stream

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“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Life makes people thirsty.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you believed that there just wasn’t enough of you to go around? Maybe you feel like a gerbil on a wheel that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and faster? Perhaps, you’re worried about someone that you love – or are struggling to navigate through a time of illness? Or, perhaps, you’re moving through a dry time in your walk with Christ and it feels like you’re moving through the “uninhabited salt land” that the prophet Jeremiah once described?

In this week’s message, “Planted Beside a Stream”, we are drawn into a fascinating story about a Samaritan woman who met Jesus beside Jacob’s Well and who was promised that Jesus could give her the “Living Water” that bubbles-up to Eternal Life.

What does that “Living Water” taste like? How does the Good News of the Gospel that proclaims that you have a Lord who gives you courage when you’re afraid, peace when you’re anxious, strength when you are feeling weak, and hope even at the moment of death affect the way that you face the challenges and obstacles in your life, right now?

The community of Taize often sings a hymn that contains these words: “By night, we search for the source of living water because it is only our thirst that guides our way.”

What would “Living Water” taste like, right now? How can the life-giving news – that God has planted you beside a stream – sustain and renew you as you journey through life?

Let’s travel to Jacob’s Well and listen to the words that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman nearly 2,000 years ago; and, as we listen to Jesus speak, let’s stop for a moment and think about what His words and promises can mean to us today.

Blessings!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 3

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I’m hoping that you continued your journey through the Bible this week.

Today, I have some good news for you! Studies have shown that new routines become a regular part of our lives after 21-days of consistent change. And so, if you’re sticking with your daily time of reading through the Bible with us, you’re well on your way to creating a life-changing spiritual practice. Congratulations!

We came face-to-face with the beating heart of the Christian faith this week.

On Tuesday, we encountered the words: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7b) But, on Monday, we read a very different truth: “For we hold that one is justified (made right in God’s eyes) by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

How have you found peace with God?

Does your journey of faith send you out into the world knowing that you have to find ways to “rule over sin” today – or does your journey of faith send you into the world knowing that you have peace with God because of your relationship with Christ? That’s something that I’d like to encourage you to think about as you move through the rest of this week’s readings.

And now, here are the readings for next week:

Week #3

Sunday: Romans 5-6 – Monday: Genesis 8-11 – Tuesday: Joshua 11-15 – Wednesday: Psalm 6-8 – Thursday: Job 5-6 – Friday: Isaiah 12-17 – Saturday: Matthew 5-7

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 over the course of the next 52 weeks. 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!

Born Again!

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Christians have many different ideas about what it means to be “born again.”

I regularly pass a billboard that’s covered with a picture of a raging fire on the left side and a picture of puffy, white clouds on the right side – and, across the top, I read the words: “Heaven or Hell – The Choice is Yours!” Most of us have probably been asked: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Maybe you attended a Billy Graham Crusade many years ago, and suddenly felt the need to come down onto the field and “do something” about your relationship with God – RIGHT NOW!

In this week’s message, “Born Again!”, we listen to the story of Nicodemus. We see that Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night,” and learn that darkness is always a sign of doubt and disbelief in the Gospel of John. In the story of Nicodemus, we are challenged to admit that what we believe about being “born again” ultimately tells the world whether we believe that salvation is “all up to us” or “all up to God.” And that’s really big!

As a part of my preparation for this message, I reflected and prayed about the process of giving birth. For nine months, Mom carries a baby deep inside of her. She watches what she eats – goes to the doctor for check-ups – and buys things that she thinks she will need when the baby is born. And then, comes the “Big Day”! There’s pain and there’s sweating and there’s screaming. And, after it’s all said and done, the new Mom gets to hold her new baby – who, by the way, basically hasn’t done anything to make its own birth happen.

What if being “born again” isn’t so much about what “we do” – but is, rather, God’s work in our lives to push us out of places where we are warm and cozy – into a new phase of life? What if being “born again” isn’t so much about “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior;” but is, rather, more about God’s activity – pushing you out of the places where you feel safe and secure, and driving you into places where you can grow and mature and become something more than a spiritual baby?

So, what do you believe it means to be “born again”? Is being “born again” your decision to take a step toward God – or is it about God washing you in the waters of Baptism, filling you with His Spirit, placing a lit candle in your hand, and saying: “Let your light so shine before others, so that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven”?

Blessings!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 2

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I’m hoping that you were able to begin your journey through the Bible this week!

The Bible is so diverse! We’ve already read part of a letter that St. Paul, one of the most famous of all Christians, wrote to the Romans. We’ve read about God’s creative activity; and we’ve watched Job’s closest friends – Epiphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – demonstrate the fact that, when tragedy strikes, our presence is often more important than the words that we have to say. And we been reminded that we are “blessed” when we spend time in the presence of the Lord, and when we meditate upon God’s Word each day (Psalm 1:1-2).

And now, we’re ready to move forward with our next week of readings.

Week #2

Sunday: Romans 3,4 – Monday: Genesis 3,4,5,6,7 – Tuesday: Joshua 6,7,8,9,10 – Wednesday: Psalm 3,4,5,6 – Thursday: Job 3,4 – Friday: Isaiah 7,8,9,10,11 – Saturday: Matthew 3,4

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 over the course of the next 52 weeks. 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 schedule of readings that I’m providing – knowing that when you do that you’ll be re-connecting with faithful people who are committed to traveling through God’s Word together.

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!

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 Wants You Alone!

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We begin our journey through Lent this week.

Some of us have decided to “give up” something for the next few weeks, and some of us have entered Lent with the desire to try something new. Lent is, traditionally, a time in the year when we’re called to be more reflective and to carefully examine our priorities. And, as we travel through these next few weeks, we’ll be drawn to the base of the Cross, and we’ll be challenged to think about what the death and resurrection of Christ means to us today.

We begin Lent with a time of confession. Have any of us loved God with our whole heart and forgiven every single person who’s hurt us? Have any of us never experienced pride, or envy, or apathy? Have any of us never been negligent in prayer? Have we never closed our eyes to injustice, or allowed our deep-seated prejudices to affect the way we think about other people?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once penned a well-known book entitled: “Life Together.” And one of the central themes of that book is “alien righteousness” – a theme that clearly reminds us that, as we share our lives with other people, we can never forget that we are people who aren’t perfect and that we don’t have the right to demand perfection from others. This is an important truth for us to grasp as we live with each other in a fallen world.

Bonhoeffer writes:

“It is the grace of the Gospel which is so hard for the pious to understand. The Gospel confronts us with the truth and says: ‘You are a sinner; a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to the God who loves you – knowing that God wants you as you are; and He does not wants anything from you (some sort of sacrifice or good work). God wants you alone!'”

That’s where we begin our journey through Lent. And in the message, “God Wants You Alone”, we’re invited to enter the Season of Lent with that in mind. Perhaps, instead of moving through the Season of Lent with our list of things we’re willing to “give up” as a sign of self-denial, we can use this special time in the year to focus upon the love and grace and embrace of the Living God – hearing once again: “God Wants You Alone.”

Blessings!