That We May Be One

Unity Pic

What does “unity” look like to you?

I suspect that most people believe that “unity” is created when people share similar ideas and perspectives. The “unity” of the Church is centered upon the saving message of Jesus Christ. The “unity” of the Church is created by God as people gather to worship with each other, to pray with each other, and to join hands with each other in ministry.

But “unity” and “uniformity” are very different, aren’t they? We can be “one” with each other when we agree about specific things, but we can also be “one” with each other in times when we disagree about specific things. The “unity” that God creates in the Church is not a “unity” of absolute uniformity; and thus, Christians are called together in a spirit of love even when they are moving through times of disagreement and struggles.

In this week’s message, “That We May Be One”, we explore the difference between unity and uniformity; and, perhaps just as importantly, we learn that we need to learn how to distinguish between “those who are for us” and “those who are simply for the things that we are for.” That distinction is important because “those who are for us” will continue to be “for us” even when we aren’t in 100% agreement about “what we are for.”

Blessings!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 13

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I hope that you’ve been continuing to read through the Bible with us. Please remember that we’re simply inviting you to more deeply connect with God’s Word and to create a routine that includes spending some time with God every day. If you’ve missed a few of the readings along the way, it’s OK. I’ve missed some readings, too. The good news is: this is NOT a competition! Just jump back in. Draw a line in the sand and continue on your way with us. And, please, don’t think that you need to “catch up.” Just begin, again, with this week’s readings.

In two weeks, we’re going to move out of the book of Genesis and plunge into Exodus – one of the best-known books in the Old Testament. You may have already heard the story of the Exodus. You may be one of the people who watch the story of the Exodus (starring Charlton Heston) around Easter. But, did you know that the story of the Exodus began in the book of Genesis? The Hebrews were first invited into the land of Egypt when Joseph forgave his brothers and offered them refuge in the midst of a famine.

Has God ever used one event in your life as a springboard to another? How has your life and future been changed by the forgiveness of other people, and of God? Perhaps, in the story of Joseph, you’ve been encouraged to reflect upon the times in your life when other people’s kindness and generosity has been important to your future? Perhaps, as you’ve read the story of Joseph, you’ve been challenged to rise-up and release some of the anger that you have toward another person?

What does the story of Joseph teach you about the love of God that we come to know in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Could we even say that Joseph points us to the love and forgiveness that God offers us in Christ? Many people believe that ALL of God’s Word points us toward Christ – and this is an example of why people believe that.

And now, here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 9-10 – Monday: Genesis 48-50 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 11-15 – Wednesday: Psalms 36-38 – Thursday: Job 25-26 – Friday: Jeremiah 1-6 – Saturday: Mark 5-6

Blessings!

 

What a Restaurant can teach the Church about Hospitality

welcome

What makes you feel welcome?

I’ve noticed that, when my wife and I eat-out in a restaurant, there’s always someone who is ready to greet us the moment we walk in the door.

I’ve noticed that restaurants always have people who are “in place,” who are ready to help me find my way through the hustle and bustle, and who are dedicated to the task of helping me to feel both “comfortable” and “at home.”

I’ve noticed that servers in restaurants almost always tell me their names when we first meet, so that I know somebody by name when I need help. They usually even wear a name tag, so that I don’t feel uncomfortable if I need to talk with them—even though I’ve forgotten their names.

I’ve noticed that restaurants clearly mark the path to the restrooms, so that I don’t need to ask for directions. None of us like to ask for directions to the restroom, do we?

I’ve noticed that most restaurants have high-chairs—because they don’t expect parents to bring everything that their children will need during the visit. When you’re expecting children, you make special provisions for them, don’t you?

I’ve noticed that most restaurants (at least in America) provide menus that are written in English (which, conveniently, is the language I speak) because people want to clearly know what they’re ordering. I’ve never been impressed by a menu that contained fancy words that I didn’t understand.

I’ve noticed that restaurants put “Reserved” signs on seats and tables that are set aside for use by other people. I never need to worry about sitting in someone’s seat and being asked to get out of someone’s seat in a restaurant.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people need to do a lot of different things to make me feel both welcomed and embraced. Hospitality is the outgrowth of strong teamwork.

I’ve noticed that servers seldom complain to customers about their managers, about the cook, or about the people who clean the tables. I enjoy feeling welcomed and embraced, but there IS such a thing as “too much information” during my first visit.

I’ve noticed that the people understand that I’m visiting the restaurant to be fed—I’m not expecting to be asked to help cook my own meal, to pour coffee for other people, and to get the table ready for the next guests who will use it. When I’m visiting a restaurant, I’m not expecting to be offered some sort of “job” before I leave.

I’ve noticed that I’m far more likely to return to places where I have felt the welcome and embrace of other people—when I’ve been made to feel appreciated and important—and when I’ve felt that people were doing their best to make me feel “at home.”

Blessings!

 

 

“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!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 12

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I hope that you’re continuing to read through the Bible with us.

The Spirit of God moves in our hearts as we read and digest the words of the Holy Bible. The Bible itself tells us: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12) Christians cannot live faithful lives apart from God’s Word. The Church, itself, cannot move forward in rapidly-changing times without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Faithful Christian lives are bound to the Risen Christ, and the Risen Christ is revealed in God’s word and in the sacraments that the Risen Christ instituted. As we read and digest God’s Word together, Christ binds us to one another and reveals Himself in our midst.

We’ve been moving through one of my favorite stories in the Bible in the last few weeks. The story of Joseph is the story of a young man who was admittedly spoiled by his father. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph was taken to the land of Egypt where he rose to a position of power – lost everything because of a horrible lie – and then, rose to a position of prominence again. Joseph’s brothers didn’t follow the rising and falling tides in Joseph’s life. And, when they came to the land of Egypt looking for help, they were not expecting to discover that their brother had risen to a position of authority that was second only to the authority of the Pharaoh.

“And Joseph’s brother’s came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them.” (Genesis 42:7)

How do you treat people who have hurt you in the past? How do you respond when a person who has hurt you in the past comes to you for help? Do you help them, or do you turn them away? Do you try your best to assist them, or do you (inwardly) smile and rejoice in their suffering and hurt? That’s what we’re going to be challenged to think about as we move forward with the story of Joseph this week.

And so, here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 7-8 – Monday: Genesis 44-47 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 6-10 – Wednesday: Psalms 33-35 – Thursday: Job 23-24 – Friday: Isaiah 62-66 – Saturday: Mark 3-4

Blessings!

 

 

 

The Heartbeat of God

Embrace

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!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 11

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Welcome to Week 11 of “Reading Through the Bible.”

We’ve already finished several books of the Bible, and I’m hoping that the wide variety of daily readings has kept you from becoming bogged-down in the more difficult sections of God’s Word. The Bible is a fascinating! The people that we discover in the pages of God’s Word are “real” people who faced the same joys and sorrows that we face. We can learn about life and about faith in the pages of God’s Word because the people that we meet in the Bible were people just like us.

We read an entire book of the Bible last Tuesday!

The book of Ruth is a story of devotion and I’ve always been struck by the words: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Just imagine that kind devotion! Can you think of somebody who needs to hear those words from you? How are those words reflected in your love toward others? Have you met someone, or perhaps even spent a lifetime with someone, who needs to hear those words from you today? Loyalty and devotion often exist in our relationships; but it’s, sometimes, helpful for us to express our commitments and feelings in words. Why not take some time to do that today?

And now, here are the readings for the next week:

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 5-6 – Monday: Genesis 40-43 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 1-5 – Wednesday: Psalms 30-32 – Thursday: Job 21-22 – Friday: Isaiah 56-61 – Saturday: Mark 1-2

 

The Lord is Your Shepherd

shepherd

Life changes quickly, doesn’t it?

I still remember the day when a doctor looked me straight in the eyes (at the ripe old age of 37) and said, “Wayne, I believe that your hands are shaking and your walking’s a bit shuffled because you have Parkinson’s Disease.”

I’m sure that a lot of people in America are trying to figure-out what happened in the House of Representatives last week because they’re not sure if their struggle with an addiction – or with a birth defect – or even with a mental illness is going to prevent them from being able to purchase health insurance in the United States.

Even though we’ve been raised to believe that we are “safe” in the United States of America, we can no longer ignore things like terrorism – and we live in an age where we need to spend time teaching our children about safe body boundaries.

And yet, even in the midst of a quickly-changing world, we’re reminded that God is a Great Constant in our lives. God continues to point us in the right direction. God is a Good Shepherd who continues to nourish and sustain us. God is always present when His sheep are grazing in green pastures – and even when His sheep are walking through the scary valleys of the shadow of death.

In this week’s message, “The Lord is Your Shepherd”, we’re reminded of the faithfulness of the God who continues to recognize the deepest need in our lives and who opens His hands to fill our lives with goodness. We’re reminded that the Lord is a Good Shepherd who watches over us and the people that we love, and how God has promised to be the one constant in life that never fails.

We all know that things can change quickly in our lives and in the world. We all know that the specific circumstances in our lives aren’t always easy to control. And yet, the Good Shepherd continues to journey with us – taking us by the hand and leading us through all of the crazy ups and downs that we’ll face as we journey through life.

Blessings!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 10

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I’m hoping that you continued walking through the Bible in the last few weeks – even though I was taking a much-needed vacation. I had an enjoyable time on the Outer Banks of NC, and spent some wonderful time with my family. The surf was pretty high, and we had gale-force winds at the beginning of the week; but, the sun broke out in the later part of the week and we enjoyed some great time on the beach.

I’ve been reflecting upon one particular verse from Psalm 23 for more than a week.

In Proverbs 13:24, we read: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but whoever loves him is diligent to discipline him.” I’ve heard these words used, many times, to justify corporal punishment. We’ve been taught to compare the “rod” with modern-day paddles. We can use these words from the Bible to justify paddling children in order to correct their many inappropriate deeds. Some people are convinced that they can correct behavior with the swat of a paddle (or even with a hand). But is this, really, what the Bible teaches us?

The psalmist writes, in Psalm 23:4, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Here, we don’t picture a shepherd whacking his sheep with his staff. In fact, human experience teaches us that sheep can’t be herded in the same way that cattle can be. Sheep aren’t lead by a shepherd’s harsh correction. Sheep are led by trust. Didn’t Jesus, Himself, tell us: “When he [the shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they known his voice.” (John 10:4)? Parents “spare the rod” when they fail to lead their children by their own example. Parents “spare the rod” when they give-up their God-given duty to be the head of their own household, and when they fail to teach their children the ways of the Lord. When corporal punishment is born in a spirit of frustration and anger, correcting can become an abusive misuse of power. This is not what God intends. God blesses parents with children, so that they can lead them and guide them – pointing them toward the Lord and paths of righteousness. And the same is true in every  part of our lives where we’re called to lead other people.

And now, here are the readings for next week:

Week #10

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 3-4 – Monday: Genesis 36-39 – Tuesday: Ruth – Wednesday: Psalms 27-29 – Thursday: Job 19-20 – Friday: Isaiah 51-55 – Saturday: Matthew 26-28

Mental Health Awareness Month

the pain by emilio gallori 1846 1924  siena palazzo publicco

Organizations throughout the world will be focusing on the issue of mental health during the month of May. Mental wellness, according to the World Health Organization, is: “a state of well-being where one can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work both productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.”

Did you know that you are more likely to encounter a person in an emotional or mental crisis than you are to encounter someone having a heart attack? Did you know nearly 3 million people are treated for anxiety-related disorders every year – and that outpatient treatments for depression cost people nearly $18 billion each year? Did you know that many mental illnesses (like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) first strike young adults in their early 20’s? Did you know mental illness dramatically increase risk factors such as substance abuse, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, excessive spending, and even troublesome exercise routines? Did you know that people who are suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime that they are to commit one?

Unfortunately, people who suffer from mental illnesses are still stigmatized and pushed to the fringes of society because people remain both uninformed and afraid. We accept the fact that people’s arteries can become blocked, and that people’s pancreas can stop producing insulin. We stand beside folks who are fighting cancer, and we participate in support activities that are created to fight diseases. But what happens when someone’s brain chemistry changes? What happens when a person’s behavior is affected by a change that occurs inside their head? People who act in unusual ways can be scary to us. People who struggle with mental illness are often driven into silence, and often fight their battle alone because other people just do not want to get involved. I believe that God calls us, as Christians and as the Church, to something better than that. And I truly believe that the compassionate Lord challenges us to learn, to grow, and to love people that we find hard to understand and to fully embrace.

During Mental Health Awareness month, I’d like to challenge you to do several things:

  1. Learn – remembering that knowledge and insight are important first steps. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides information for people who are interested in learning about mental health, and provides helpful information for those who struggle with mental illness and their families. You can find more information by visiting: namiswpa.org
  2. Be Real – remembering that help is available to those who need it. You can take a first, big step by contacting your family doctor. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and to talk – and to help you to find a path forward. If you are a bit reluctant to take a “big step” like that, you might want to take a “Mental Health Screening” in the privacy of your own home during the month of May. You can find a great “Mental Health Screening” at: mentalhealthamerica.net. The “Resources” link on Mental Health America’s website can help you to screen for depression, alcohol or substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. That same site provides a screening that young people (between the ages of 11 and 17) can use if they’re concerned that they might be having a problem, and another screening that parents can use if they think that their teenager is facing a challenge.
  3. Be Ready – remembering that times of crisis are NOT the time to start looking for more information and resources. If you’re feeling suicidal (or if someone tells you that he/she is thinking about ending his/her own life) call 911 so that you can get the help that you need without a moment’s hesitation! “NOW Mental Health” also provides a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-855-990-6729. “NOW Mental Health” network also provides instant access to professionally trained staff and referral to facilities that are spread across our country.
  4. Be Open – remembering that people at Christ’s Lutheran Church want to stand beside you and your family. We have a “Family Fund” that can help pay for your visit to a counselor, or that can help you to purchase prescribed medications that you need for self-care. Please, also, remember that I’ve worked as a chaplain at several hospitals and that I have had some experience working with people who are struggling with the challenges of mental illness. Any conversations that you have with me and any sort of assistance that you receive from the church will be offered in the strictest of confidence. What really matters most is YOU…!

I hope that, as we move through this month, we’ll all find ways to learn more about the challenges that people face when they struggle with mental illnesses. It’s time for us to learn to talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable, and it’s time for us to learn new ways to support people who are facing tough times. Our compassionate Lord calls us to love and to embrace each other – and part of learning to do that, as individuals and as a church, is learning to open our hearts and allow people to speak, both honestly and authentically, about the challenges that they’re facing in life – continuing to discover and growing-into what it means to be “Christ’s Church for All People.”

Blessings!