Read Through the Bible – Week 22

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“Read Through the Bible” is designed to help you to journey through God’s Word over the course of a year. Unlike other Bible reading programs, “Read Through the Bible” is not built upon the concept of beginning to read the Bible in the book of Genesis and reading straight through to the end of Revelation. It’s easy to get bogged-down in Biblical books like Leviticus and become discouraged enough to stop reading. “Read Through the Bible” has been created to help you to experience reading through the Bible in a different way.

This week, we’re going to begin Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians – a rather complex and theologically rich book that was written to eradicate doctrinal errors.

You’ll see Saint Paul proclaiming that his apostleship is genuine. Saint Paul, then, goes on to talk about the importance of the Cross of Christ – arguing against the Jews. One of the main points that Saint Paul will make is that a “right” relationship with God is based on believing in Jesus – and is not built upon the foundation of “making points” with God by behaving in the “right way.” In this brief letter, St. Paul forever settles the questions that we might have about the relationship between faith in Jesus and building a relationship with God upon the Law of Moses.

And so, as you begin Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians, you might want to ask yourself: How do I know that I’m “right” with God? You might, also, want to ask yourself: What is the difference between being a Christian and being a Buddhist or a Hindu? Am I building my relationship with God upon a pile of “good deeds” and accomplishments in order to somehow impress God, or am I trusting in Jesus who told me that He is the way, the truth, and the life? (John 14:6)

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Galatians 1-3 – Monday: Exodus 33-36 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 1-4 – Wednesday: Psalms 63-65 – Thursday: Proverbs 1 – Friday: Jeremiah 47-52 – Saturday: Luke 7-8

Blessings!

Sower Sam (continued)

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Last week, in the first part of this creatively written story, we had the chance to meet a “city-boy” named Sower Sam who wanted to be a farmer from the time he was knee-high to a grasshopper (“Sower Sam”).

Sower Sam bought himself a field in the middle of nowhere, got a horse and wagon, and a bushel basket full of wheat.  And he planted his wheat by throwing grain off the left side of his wagon – off the right side of his wagon – and even off the back of his wagon. He threw grain over his left shoulder – over his right shoulder – over the top of  his bald head – and even under his armpits. And Sower Sam sowed that way because he knew in his heart that, when you’re sowing seeds, you don’t have time to make sure that every seed lands in the “right place.”

Well, this week, the delightful tale continues as a sneaky neighbor, who didn’t like Sower Sam tries to ruin his crop by scattering poisonous darnel seeds in his wheat field. Darnel makes you nauseous, it makes you dizzy, and it can even kill you as dead as you’ll ever die.  And, as Sam responds to the crisis he faces, he teaches us a mighty, powerful lesson about life.

In this second part of this story, “Sower Sam (cont)”, we’re challenged to think about the good people who live in our world and about all the bad people. We’re given a chance to think about people who gossip, and about God’s command to refrain from bearing false witness against others. We’re reminded that many people like to say that they don’t come to worship because churches are filled with hypocrites; but, we’re also reminded that God’s in the business of changing those hypocrites into people who do some really great things. Life’s full of surprises when God’s at work!

If you missed last week’s episode, fear not! You can get a running start on the continuing saga of Sower Sam by listening to the first part of the story: “Sower Sam”.

I truly hope that you enjoy listening to both parts of this little story that I’ve written for you and for the members of the congregation that I serve. It’s always a joy to share God’s message with people in a creative way that invites people to think about their lives and their faith in a different way.

Blessings!

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 21

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.”

We started our journey through the Bible in March, and I’ve watched more and more people decide to travel through God’s Word with us. How exciting! We’re approaching the half-way point in our trip through the Bible; but, up to this point, we’ve devoted every Thursday to reading a part of the book of Job.

What have you been thinking about as you’ve walked through the book of Job?

The Bible tells us that Job was “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1); and yet, for some weird reason, God allowed Satan to push Job to the wall to see if he (Satan) could push Job hard enough to make him curse God to His face (Job 1:11). We’ve read stories about how Job’s three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) tried to “comfort” Job – but often in unhelpful ways. Eliphaz begins by pointing-out that the innocent always prosper; and that, since Job isn’t prospering, he must have done something wrong. Bildad then steps up to the plate and tells Job “if you seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, and if you are pure and upright…He will rouse Himself and restore your prosperous state.” (Job 8-5-6) And, then, Zophar steps forward and clearly tells Job that he’s lucky that he didn’t receive even worse: “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” (Job 11:6) And the rest of the book of Job is devoted to working through these three different and widely divergent understandings of human suffering.

What do you think about when you’re facing times of adversity? Do you believe that you are facing a tough time in life because of something you’ve done wrong? We can, indeed, suffer for doing wrong – but, many times, we place an increased weight upon our backs when we blame ourselves for what’s going wrong. Do you believe that, if you simply try to live your life in the right way and plead with God, God will be roused and decide to pour rich prosperity into your life? Or, maybe, you’re a pessimist who believes that life could always be worse? What does that say about the God you worship?

This week, I’d like to encourage you to think about adversity and about how you face times of struggle as a person of faith. Where is God when you’ve traveling through a tough time? What promises of God are most important to you when life isn’t what you think it should be? How can the fact that God restored Job’s fortunes encourage you as you’re moving through a tough time – knowing that better days are ahead?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 11-13 – Monday: Exodus 29-32 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 20-24 – Wednesday: Psalms 60-62 – Thursday: Job 41-42 – Friday: Jeremiah 42-46 – Saturday: Luke 5-6

Blessings!

 

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 20

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” I hope that you’ve been able to continue your journey through the Bible as we’ve been traveling through the busy season of vacations and shifting gears. Remember: If you miss some of the readings – or even if you’ve set your Bible aside for a week (or two) during your vacation – it’s easy to get back on track. Just start reading the Bible again, today. And remember, it only takes 21 days of setting aside a time for daily devotion to re-establish a strong, faith-building routine.

This week, we’re going to encounter an incredible psalm!

The Psalmist describes his soul being found in the midst of lions and talks about the fact that he’s lying down in the midst of fiery beasts. The Psalmist writes about being found in the midst of people “whose teeth are spears and arrows” and “whose tongues are as sharp as swords.”

And yet, the Psalmist proclaims: “God will save me and will put to shame him who tries to trample upon me. God will send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness!” And, in the midst of all of that, there’s a precious truth that we dare not miss! The Psalmist tells us “God will fulfill His purpose for me.” (Psalm 57:2)

Have you ever thought about God’s purpose for you? How is God working in your life as you’re devoting many hours, each week, to your job? If you have a child or if you’ve been blessed with a number of children, how is God working in your life as a parent? Perhaps, you’re fulfilling God’s purpose for your life as you care for another person that you love and cherish? Perhaps, you volunteer your time to support a worthy cause? As you send financial gifts to support the mission of your church or another important organization, you are fulfilling God’s purpose for your life in another way – because, after all, time is money – right? Money is something that someone else gives you for a part of your life that you can never get back.

God created us to fulfill a special purpose! God created us to leave fingerprints on the world and to transform our world into a better place. It’s a holy calling! It’s a noble and worthy cause!

Have you ever thought about the fact that we can experience life in a deeper way when we pray, when we read God’s Word, and when we ask God to show us the reason that He’s made us?

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 9-10 – Monday: Exodus 25-28 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 15-19 – Wednesday: Psalms 57-59 – Thursday: Job 39-40 – Friday: Jeremiah 37-41 – Saturday: Luke 3-4

Blessings!

 

Sower Sam

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We all love to hear a good story don’t we?

When we hear the words “once upon a time” we sit up a bit straighter in our chairs and prepare to allow our minds to drift into another world. Jesus regularly used stories, like the “Parable of the Sower,” to teach us about the ways that the Reign of God breaks into our world. And, of course, we all enjoy a story that ends with the words “and they lived happily ever after” – don’t we?

“Sower Sam” is a modern-day adaptation of the “Parable of the Sower” and it’s sure to delight people of every age who enjoy a good story that contains a bit of a bite – just like all the parables of Jesus did. You’ll meet a charmingly innocent city-boy who decided that he wanted to become a farmer and you’ll see more experienced farmers laughing at him as he recklessly plants seeds in a rather crazy fashion. But, when God’s at work, miracles happen and even our sharpest critics are silenced.

So, sit back and enjoy this week’s message, “Sower Sam” . It’s a charming story that will certainly make you think about life and about how God can use seeds that you plant to do incredible things.

Blessings!

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!

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 19

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In just a few more weeks, we will have read half of the Bible!

The Bible is filled with incredible variety! We’ve read stories about people like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Job, Joshua and Ruth, Jeremiah and Jesus. We’ve read some peace-filled psalms that remind us of God’s love, and we’ve read stories of bloody battles and human tragedies. We’ve read two of the Gospels – Matthew and Mark – and are beginning our journey through Luke in the coming week. I hope that you’ve found this approach to reading through the Bible helpful in your journey of faith, and hope that you’ll continue to journey with us in the coming weeks!

The opening of Luke’s Gospel is both abrupt and pointed. An angel of the Lord speaks to Zechariah and proclaims the birth of the fiery preacher named John the Baptizer. The angel Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus and Mary responds by singing what has come to be called “The Magnificat” – a song that declares that, when the Reign of God breaks into the world, the mighty will be humbled, the exalted will be brought low, the hungry will be filled with the food that they crave, and the rich will be sent away empty. And then, we read a story of the birth of Jesus that many of us heard in childhood. And it’s a story of shepherds and angels, a baby lying in a manger, a mother who quietly watches everything happen while pondering it in her heart, and a nearly-unmentioned father who quickly fades into the Biblical background and disappears.

This week, I’d like to encourage you to think about how you’ve come to know God. Did you learn about God by going to church, or did your parents teach you what you know? Did you learn about God as a child, or did you start learning about God later in life? Did you experience a time when you felt that you had been touched by God in a special way, or has your journey of faith unfolded in a more quiet way? How is your journey of faith similar to the journeys of other people that you know, and how is it different?

And now, shift gears and think about this….

How has your journey through nearly half of the Bible changed the way that you think about God? Have you been surprised by anything you’ve read? Has your understanding of God changed as you’ve encountered the God who leads His people to safe, still waters while remaining a God who strikes-down the first-born of Egypt without mercy? Where does Jesus fit into the picture? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus today? How is your life being shaped by what you’re reading – as you read about a God of power and authority who creates long lists of rules; and who, yet, continues to forgive us when we break those very same rules for the sake of Christ?

Here are the coming week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 6-8 – Monday: Exodus 21-24 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 10-14 – Wednesday: Psalms 54-56 – Thursday: Job 37-38 – Friday: Jeremiah 32-36 – Saturday: Luke 1-2

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!