Hatred will not Win!

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John 11:32-44

I was as stunned and as saddened by last weekend’s senseless massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh as you were.

I don’t understand the hatred that led to the tragedy; and I don’t understand the racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the senseless killing of eleven innocent people. I spent some time with Jews and Muslims and Hindus and other Christians at Temple David in Monroeville, Pennsylvania last weekend because I needed to witness people coming together as a “community,” and because I wanted to be a part of a small gathering of people who are committed to the fact that hatred will not win.

Hatred descends upon us like a thick and suffocating blanket. Hatred isolates us from other people. Hatred turns off the lights and leaves us in darkness. Hatred makes our hearts cold and angry and bitter toward people that we don’t even know.

We celebrate the Festival of All Saints as a “holy time” in our journey of faith. We take time to remember people that we’ve loved and lost, and we tell stories about their lives (sometimes with a sense of heaviness in our hearts). We remember those whom we have loved and lost through the years and we stand beside people who have experienced the same kinds of loss that we have. And, just like in the short story of Lazarus’ death and raising, Jesus draws near to weep and to comfort us. Jesus brings the “living presence of God” near to us as He dries the tears in our eyes and bears testimony to the fact that even in times of sorrow and loss, God is at work to do something new. John of Patmos bears testimony to the God who is active and re-creating everything in our lives and in the entire Creation (Revelation 21:1-6a). John talks about God dwelling with us and wiping the tears from our eyes. John speaks of a day when death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. John of Patmos echoes the great promise of the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “God will destroy on this mountain the suffocating shroud that’s spread over all people, and God will swallow-up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:7-8)

“Hatred will not Win!” Christians proclaim that God’s at work to re-create the world all around us; and God’s at work to bring an end to the types of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that can end the lives of innocent people. Christians stand together in the shadow of a Cross where God binds people together and welcomes everybody with a warm embrace. Christians understand that, when God’s at work, the world that we share can begin to change and people really can stop killing other people simply because they see them as people who are “different” in some way. Christians are called to stand beside our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community and to cry with them as they mourn – always carrying in our hearts the promise of the great peace that we crave in solidarity, and clinging to the fact that the great peace that we desire for ourselves and for those who come after us will come – and, as Julian of Norwich once said, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

I don’t understand the hatred that led to last weekend’s tragedy. I don’t understand the kinds of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the deaths of Bernice, Sylvan, Melvin, Daniel, Irving, Rose, Jerry, Joyce, Richard, Cecil and David. But I do know that the powers of good will prevail as long as Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus continue to come together and promise each other that hatred will not be allowed to win. The powers of good and of God will prevail as long as we allow God to draw us together into a “community” where what binds us together is stronger than what tears us apart.

But, now is a time to stop – to weep with those who are weeping – and to offer our love and full support to those whose lives have been changed in an unspeakable way.

May God’s peace be with you!

Always remember that, even in the face of tragedy, God is at work to re-create what we see all around us as we stand beside each other and share each other’s pain, and as we open our lives to God’s healing power that continues to work in our lives and in the world.

Hurricane Florence – You Can Help!

Hurricane Florence

Many people want to offer their help and support when disasters strike.

Hurricane Florence is bearing-down on the east coast of the United States. Millions of people have left everything that they own behind in an attempt to escape devastating winds and rain. Others have decided to hunker-down because they either can’t run away or because they’ve decided that they can somehow face the unknown and prevail. The Weather Channel  is predicting that some areas of North Carolina will receive as much as forty inches of rain in the next few days, and elected leaders have promised us that they are prepared to respond to a disaster. But, the help of many other people will be needed, too.

How do you decide which charity or organization will use money that you contribute most wisely?

One of the first things that I suggest is that people visit CharityWatch before they send any money to an organization that’s asking for support during emergencies (and at other times, too). CharityWatch is America’s most independent and assertive charity watchdog and was founded 25 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). CharityWatch does not just give you what charities report to their donors using simplistic or automated formulas. CharityWatch dives deeply into an organization’s structures and expenses to let you know how efficiently that charity will use your donation to fund the cause you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor. Before you donate your hard-earned money to any organization or charity, please take a few minutes to visit CharityWatch. That simple, first step will protect you, as a donor, and the people that you want to help and support with your generous gift.

Another thing that you need to remember is that almost every organization or charity has some sort of overhead costs and expenses that need to be paid by somebody. Will that be you?

Most organizations and charities skim a certain percentage of every contribution that’s made to pay these costs and expenses. Some organizations pay their CEO hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Others use a percentage of the money that they receive to advertise, so that they can collect even more money from donors. It’s important to remember that organizations and charities that are most visible are, often, the ones that devote the largest amount of money to advertising. If they didn’t do that, you would probably never hear about what they are doing. Remember that.

But, some organizations and charities underwrite their expenses in other ways – and are, thus, able to send a larger percentage of your donation – or even 100% of it – to people that you want to help.

One example of a fine organization that does just that is Lutheran Disaster Response. Lutheran Disaster Response works as a catalyst, convener and bridge builder when disasters strike. Lutheran Disaster Response works with other organizations in the United States and all around the world. This approach enables Lutheran Disaster Response to use every dollar that it receives to help people who are affected by disasters and to maximize the impact of every dollar that’s received. Overhead costs and expenses are paid by faithful members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), so that every penny that is contributed to special appeals can be used to help people who need support and care. If you would like to read about Lutheran Disaster Response’s work in 2017 – click here.

Lutheran Disaster Response  recognizes that every disaster is local. Because of this, every response is rooted in the local community Your generous contribution provides everything that’s needed from immediate relief to the long-term recovery needs of affected people and communities. Your generous gift changes lives!

Your generous gift provides:

  • Emotional and spiritual support for both the people who have been affected by the disaster and for the leaders in the community who are responding to it;
  • Coordination of the efforts of thousands of volunteers;
  • Immediate support for those who need food, water, baby formula and diapers, mattresses, and other emergency supplies that are needed for rebuilding lives;
  • Long-term support that continues to meet the long-term needs of people who are affected by disasters – months – and even years after disasters strike and other organizations have left the area.

If you would like to help people whose lives are affected by Hurricane Florence

 CLICK HERE!

Hurricanes and other natural disasters strike people’s lives with devastating consequences, and we are both called and challenged by God to offer our support and care. But, we also need to ensure that the hard-earned money that we contribute to organizations and charities will be used wisely and efficiently to extend the care that we want to offer.

Thank you for your interest in extending your love and support to those whose lives will, undoubtedly, be devastated by Hurricane Florence. And thank you for thinking about using Lutheran Disaster Response as a vehicle that will deliver the financial support you want to offer to those who are facing the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

 

The Mission Interpreter

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How are choices and decisions you make each day connected to your journey of faith?

You live in a complex Age where change surrounds you. You probably feel overwhelmed by a constant stream of news and information that summons your attention by sending the invasive pop, ding, or silent vibration that invades every part of your daily life. You most likely believe in God, but you may have decided that you don’t want to be affiliated with a local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. And yet, you still want to make some sort of difference in the world. You still want to believe that God is somehow working in your life and in the lives of the people that you love. Perhaps, what you need are stories that remind you that God’s at work in our lives and in the world, and mental morsels to challenge you to think about the relationship between your daily living and faith?

I believe that there’s always a next step for us to take in our journey of faith, and I am dedicated to working with people who want to take the next step forward in their journey of faith with confidence and courage. And, that’s why I’ve added a link to the menu on this site that takes you to my newest blog entitled: “The Mission Interpreter”.

This is a place where you’ll discover ways that God’s people are making a difference in the world, right now. This is a place where the leaders of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples will be challenged to reflect and to grow. This is a place where you will be challenged to think about the relationship between daily living and the kinds of choices and commitments you make each day. This is a place where you’ll be challenged to explore the ways that choices and decisions you make are connected to your journey of faith and to your relationship with God.

You can receive updates every time new material is added to “The Mission Interpreter” by following the blog itself as a regular user of WordPress – or you can provide an email address where links to new material can be send. I hope you’ll also share information about this new blog with your friends, so that they can, also, be encouraged by the fact that people of faith continue to do life-changing things in our quickly-changing world.

To get started, why not take a moment to investigate “The Mission Interpreter” and to read one of the newest, thought-provoking posts: “Stewardship, Stoles, and Suicide” – a piece that tells the tragic story of a pastor who recently committed suicide and that offers some ideas that can help congregations to support and encourage pastors who struggle with issues of sadness, discouragement, depression and anxiety – just like so many other folks do in the Church. You can, also, find several inspiring stories that point to the power of prayer and that lift-up the good that God’s people do when they join hands and work as a team. You’ll even find a thought-provoking piece that challenges Church leaders to remember the importance of storytelling as they prepare to make financial appeals.

I hope that “The Mission Interpreter” will provide something helpful for everyone who visits the site. You’ll notice that there’s, also, a CONTACT ME link on the site. Please let me know if you; the congregation, synagogue, mosque or temple that you attend; or a group of people that you know are joining hands to do something that points others to the God who continues to call us to express our faith in a way that touches and changes lives.

Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?

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John 6:56-69

Why would anybody want to be a pastor?

Now, that might seem to be a really bizarre question for a pastor to be asking, but follow with me….

I was asked to preside at a worship service while I was in Chicago last week; but, when I learned that nobody had volunteered to play the piano for the service, I quickly asked if I could provide music for the service instead – because I wasn’t sure that I’d have time to change my clothes after the service and I didn’t want to fly into Pittsburgh dressed like a Roman Catholic priest.

I think that we all know that many churches are struggling to find volunteers and the financial resources that are needed to support life-giving ministries – and pastors often take the brunt of those changing realities in the Church by scrambling to fill-in the gaps and by juggling ministry priorities to meet available funding.

Pastors have to watch what they say in the pulpit these days because, if they preach God’s call to justice too loudly, people aren’t afraid to vote with their feet or to express their dissatisfaction by cutting their weekly offering.

And that brings us back to the theme of this week’s message: “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Jesus’ disciples had to make a big choice one day. They’d been following Jesus for some time, and they’d watched Jesus turn water into wine and heal the sick. They had heard Jesus tell people that they need to be “born again” and to be transformed into something that they simply aren’t by God’s power. Jesus had told people that He’s the “Bread of Life” and that He has the power to raise people up even to eternal life after life and death have done their worst. And Jesus told people to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, so that He would live inside of them.

But people didn’t like that.

“Who does this guy think He is?” they grumbled. “And what makes Jesus think that He can talk to US that way?” And we read: “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66)

Jesus said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown (Mark 6:4). Who wants to hear a message about self-sacrifice and sacrificial giving when the guy down the street is telling people that God’s going to give them a big house? Who wants to be told to “deny yourself and take up your Cross” (Luke 9:23) when the guy just down the road is telling people that God will give them whatever they want? Who wants to listen to a message that calls us to extend compassion and justice to the poor when many of us have been taught to believe that the poor are simply lazy? After all…. Jesus loves the little children, doesn’t He. And we extrapolate that to mean that Jesus loves us too – no matter what we do and no matter what choices we make – right?

And so, “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Perhaps, the answer is found in the words of St. Peter: “Lord,to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)

I’m a pastor because God calls me to stand beside people and to continue to point them toward the promise of eternity during difficult times. I’m a pastor because I find it incredibly life-giving to sit down on the floor with a banjo in my lap and tell little kids the story of Jesus and help them to understand that they’re more precious than gold. I’m a pastor because I believe that God’s called me to remind people that no matter where they have been and what they have done – Jesus died on the Cross and was raised from the dead to give them another chance and a cleaned slate. I don’t think that there’s any better way for me to spend my years on this earth than to spend them baptizing little babies and grown adults, placing my hands upon the heads of teenagers who have come forward to affirm their faith and blessing them, welcoming new mission-partners into the ministry of Christ’s Church, and working beside men and women of faith who want to leave fingerprints on the world and somehow make it into a better place.

“Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

What else would I do with my life, Lord? Is there really anything better that I could do with my life than spend my days pointing other people to the “Bread of Life” – Jesus – the Lord who challenges us to live lives of self-sacrifice, compassion toward others, and love for one other and for the world during a time when many are turning away from the One who has come into the world to bless all of God’s people with the gift of eternal life?

Christ’s Church for ALL People

Christ's Church

We live our lives with a lot of rules, don’t we?

Written and unwritten rules are just accepted as the “truth” and we often simply accept the things that we’ve been taught without questioning. The rules that we’ve been taught teach us to separate the “good people” from the “bad people” – and it’s, ultimately, these same written and unwritten rules that shape our thinking and our behavior.

And that’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with folks who come to America from other countries. That’s why we’re still struggling to figure-out what to do with folks who fall  in love with people that they’re not “supposed” to fall in love with. That’s why many predominantly white denominations in the Christian Church are struggling to figure-out what they need to do to survive and flourish in a society where white people will very soon be the minority in America. That’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with people who think and who choose to live their lives in ways that we don’t always understand or want to accept.

“Christ’s Church for ALL People” is a message that challenges us to think about the very nature of the Church. How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who touched people who were considered to be “unclean” by others? How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who ate in the homes of tax-collectors and sinners, and who wasn’t even afraid to touch the corpses of those who had died? How do we make sense of a God who loves white people and black people, people who live in the United States and people who want to come to America from other countries? Doesn’t the Sacred Story remind us that God has created ALL people to be both precious and valuable? Doesn’t the Sacred Story tell us about Jesus – a man who came into the world to welcome and embrace people, and to even die on the Cross for everyone?

People – even God’s people – are not always good at lifting-up the fact that everyone is precious and valuable in God’s sight. Even Christians can have a hard time accepting the fact that: there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And yet, that truth is fundamental to the Christian faith. “Christ’s Church for ALL People” is who we are even in a tumultuous time when many people are speaking a very different truth even inside the Church – the place where Jesus continues to challenge us to offer our welcome and embrace to ALL people and to help them to realize that the Church is a “home” where God’s love and care can be experienced by everyone.

 

God Works with Our Hands

Early in the morning, on April 7th, heavy rains created a landslide that swept many people in our local area into chaos. People lost their homes and most of their belongings in just a matter of minutes. Residents were evacuated with only the clothes on their backs—many of them still in their pajamas. The doors of Christ Greek Orthodox Church’s Olympia Hall were immediately opened, and a command center was created. Warm meals were prepared, and shelter was offered to many people who could only watch in silence as their homes were demolished and everything that they owned was encased in piles of rubble within a few short hours.

Landslide 1

Residents of apartment buildings that did not need to be demolished were permitted to, briefly, return to their homes to collect the few belongings that they could gather—but, since that time, several of the buildings have been labeled “uninhabitable” and residents of those buildings are now permanently displaced. These apartment buildings housed many people who are senior citizens and disabled, and many low-income households. Officials are estimating that repairs will take a minimum of eight months to complete.

Mission-Partnerships are very important in times like these because most of us, as individuals, don’t have the financial resources and the specific skills and talents to make long-term and lasting impact in situations like this. And that’s why we work together as the body of Christ. We join hands with each other—looking past the walls of our buildings, looking past our denominational differences, and even looking past lines we’ve drawn to identify different communities—and we do God’s work in the world.

Landslide 2

We’ve been asked to join hands with congregations, who are working as a Team, to accomplished God’s vision and mission for the Church by pulling together and by offering our support and care to people in our area who’ve lost their homes and belongings. We, at Christ’s Lutheran Church, proclaim that part of God’s vision and mission for our congregation is to “Listen and Care,” and this is a great opportunity to join hands with Christians in our community (and even around the world) to do what God’s calling us to do—both as a congregation and vital part of the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole.

Landslide 3

We are going to be collecting money that will be used to purchase gift cards that will be distributed to those whose lives have been affected by recent landslides in our local area—during the month of May.

Money that we collect during the month of May will be sent to Christ Greek Orthodox Church and it will be added to funds that have been collected by other Mission-Partners throughout our area. The funds will, then, be distributed to displaced residents in the form of gift cards that they can use to purchase items that they need from local businesses. We are partnering with other local churches and with businesses in our local area to do things that none of us could do by ourselves. That’s the power of Mission-Partnerships. When we work together in ways that aren’t limited by the walls of our buildings and the lines that we’ve drawn between communities, we can accomplish great things and fulfill God’s vision and mission for the Church together.

Landslide 4

We’re going to make it easy for you to join hands with us as we work together to help displaced residents in our local area, too.

You can simply add your contribution to this important ministry by including it in your regular offering envelope as a part of your weekly offering. All that we are asking you to do is to designate your gift on the “other” line that’s already found on your offering envelope.

You can, also, support this ministry through an electronic gift. You can visit our church’s  newly updated website and support this ministry by using the “give now” link that you’ll find at the bottom of the home page. Just remember to enter the amount that you want to contribute in the “other” fund option and let us know that you’re contributing to the “Rt 30 Landslide” fund.

You can, mail us a check that’s written to “Christ’s Lutheran Church.” Please send your check to: Christ’s Lutheran Church, 5330 Logans Ferry Road, Murrysville, PA 15668. If you send a check, please be sure to tells us that you want us to include your contribution in the “Rt 30 Landslide” fund on the memo line of your check. We will make sure that your money is sent to the proper place.

You can, also, text CLC4ALL to 77977 on your cellphone and send your support in that way.

God’s vision and mission for our world is one that calls us into action in many ways, and this chance to join hands with other Mission-Partners who are working together to support many people whose lives were disrupted by an early-morning landslide is a great chance for us to demonstrate how We Listen and Care.

Every gift makes a difference! Every dollar you contribute will be used to purchase gift cards that senior citizens, disabled residents, and low-income households can use at local businesses as they begin to re-build their lives after this devastating event. We can do more when we join hands with our Mission-Partners than we can ever hope to do by ourselves. Let’s prove it!

Following Jesus – The Basics

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I suspect that, if you’re reading this post, you want to follow Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear. People don’t get into Heaven by following Jesus and by doing all sorts of good things. St. Paul clearly tells us that we are made right in the eyes of God through the gift of God’s love (Romans 3:24, Ephesians 2:16). And yet, God is still a God who calls us to “follow Jesus,” and Jesus is still a Lord who calls us to “take-up the Cross” and follow Him. But, what that means isn’t easy to understand. If you had a “discipleship coach” to help you figure-out God’s plan for your life, what do you think the coach would tell you? As a budding coach and as a Christian who’s served the Church as a pastor for nearly 30 years, let me set some ideas before you for consideration (and please be sure to follow the links in the text for more insights and information):

1. We “follow Jesus” as we live-well among God’s faithful people.

Many people try to figure-out what it means to “follow Jesus” in isolation – making their journey of faith into something private. Many Christians have decided that it’s not important to attend worship, or to pray with their children at bedtime. Many of the Christians in America don’t participate in the life of the Church because they feel like the Church is filled with hypocrites. And yet, Jesus continued to gather people together, to feed large crowds, to spend time in the synagogues, and to call people to love and forgive each other. “Living Together as God’s People” is an important part of following Jesus because God created us to live in community with each other. In the community of God’s people, we encourage each other and build each other up – we learn to forgive each other and spur each other on. Following Jesus always brings us together and creates community. Following Jesus calls us to come out of the types of isolation that many people create and experience in their lives these days.

2. We “follow Jesus” as we gather to hear God’s Word and share the Lord’s Supper

People who read the Bible regularly will quickly discover that God’s Word is far more than a book filled with words that consistently make us feel good. The Bible is filled with words of comfort that bring peace in difficult times. The Sacred Story is one that reminds us of God’s presence in difficult times, of God’s guiding hand in times when we don’t have the answers we need, of God’s power to deliver us from illness, and of God’s promise to lift us up even after we die. But God’s Word is also a word that calls us to “take-up the Cross” and that reminds us that “following Jesus” isn’t for the faint-of-heart. “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Lord’s Supper” is an important part of “following Jesus” because God’s Word (called the “Sword of the Spirit”) both comforts us and drives us out into uncomfortable places. The same Sacred Story that sustains us and gives us hope continues to challenge us and to convict us. And that’s why we also need the Lord’s Supper – where God forgives us, nourishes us and refreshes us. If we want to “follow Jesus,” we will continue to hear God’s call to ground our lives in the teachings of God’s Word and we’ll continue to gather around the altar where God forgives us and nourishes us with the Lord’s Supper.

3. We “follow Jesus” as we share the Good News of Jesus through our words and deeds.

Those who “follow Jesus” understand that we have a life-giving message of hope and peace to share with the world. God isn’t sitting up in Heaven unmoved as He watches what’s happening in our lives and in the world. God’s helping people, just like us, to transform our world and to re-create what is far from what God intends. Christians are joining hands to fight hunger and poverty throughout the world. Christians are fighting homelessness, diseases, racism, bigotry and violence. Christians understand that we are standing in a “great chasm” between what we see in the world today and what God intends for the Creation. But, quite honestly, Christians sometimes cling to things that stand in the way and keep them from fulfilling their mission. “Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ” is an important part of “following Jesus.” But, as we try our best to share that good news, we need to allow Christ to work in our lives and to clear things out of the way; so that, we can fulfill our mission more effectively. When we “follow Jesus,” we discover that there are thing in our lives and in our ministries that need to change before we can move forward. Part of following Jesus is allowing Jesus to change us as we learn to embrace and serve others in more effective ways.

4. We “follow Jesus” as we serve other people.

Almost every Christian can recite John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” The Sacred Story reminds us that faith is “incarnational.” Now, what in the world does that mean? Some religions teach that God lives up in Heaven, and that people need to climb up to Heaven to reach God. The ancient Jewish faith taught that God sat on the “Holy of Holies” – and so, people came to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform sacrifices and to pray. But Christianity speaks of a God who came into the world to be a part of our lives, and that’s a key insight that we need to grasp when we want to “Serve Others Following the Example of Jesus”. What would the Church’s ministry look like if we could move past the idea that our ministry’s primary goal is to get more people to come into our buildings during a particular time of the week? Perhaps, we can “follow Jesus” by creating places where people who don’t want to come into our buildings can pray with each other? Perhaps, we need to take the Sacred Story that we’ve been given into places like community libraries and public parks? Perhaps, the Sacred Story is one the calls us to become more active in our communities, and to help parents (who don’t regularly come into our buildings) to raise healthy children? When we “follow Jesus,” we are not sucked inward – we are pushed outward. Our ministry needs to be “incarnational.” “Following Jesus” calls us to reach into the world, and to touch people where they live and work and raise their children.

5. We “follow Jesus” as we strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Jesus didn’t die because He was quiet and meek. Jesus stirred people’s nests and spent time with the wrong kinds of people. Jesus touched lepers and called religious leaders of His time “white-washed tombs.” Those who “follow Jesus” understand that there’s no such thing as being a disciple of Jesus without bearing the Cross. There’s no such thing as being a follower of Jesus without “Striving for Justice and Peace in all the Earth”. Those who want to “follow Jesus” understand that what’s happening in our world is not what God originally planned. Those who “follow Jesus” will continue to hear Christ’s call to take-up the Cross, and to put some skin in the game, and to put their lives and their reputations on the line because those who “follow Jesus,” sooner or later, will be set on fire by the passion-generating power of the Holy Spirit that drives people into the world to change it. It’s not easy to speak truth to people who are in positions of power. It’s not easy to point to the fact that the “way things are” isn’t the way that they could be. If we want to “follow Jesus,” we need to be people who are willing to stir people’s nest and stand-up for what’s right. But, as we do that, we also need to realize that, when we “follow Jesus” in that way, people may want to make us disappear in the same way that they tried to make Jesus disappear!

So, there you have it. I hope that this short post can help you to better understand what it means to “follow Jesus” in our modern world. May God bless you richly as you continue to discover what God’s calling you to do with your time and energy, and may God use you in big and powerful ways to accomplish His deepest purposes for your life!

 

Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ

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I’ve always enjoyed sharing Good News with other people.

Good news can bring a smile to people’s faces and it can help people to see that life’s still good in tough times. Good news encourages people, builds people up, and brings comfort to those who are struggling. And yet, America’s filled with more and more people who do not want to hear the message of Good News that Christians bring to the world. America is filled with many people who don’t want to have anything do to with the Church. And that is a harsh reality that we face in:  “Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ”

The Temple of Jerusalem was divided into three distinct parts in the time of Jesus. There was a “Holy of Holies” – reserved for the High Priest. There was an area surrounding the “Holy of Holies” where the Jews could worship. And then, there was an outside area that existed because, according to Isaiah 56:7, the Temple in Jerusalem was originally built to be a “house of prayer for all people.” People who weren’t Jewish were still welcome in the Temple and they could worship in this outside area. But a problem was created when the Jews began to use this “outside area” as a place to sell animals and to exchange coins. And, when Jesus arrived at the Temple, He was horrified by the fact that the “business as usual” in the Temple was interfering with the Temple’s ability to be the “house of prayer for all people.”

We have a life-giving message of Good News and a wonderful message of God’s love and embrace to share with the world; but, sometimes, our “business as usual” in the Church can keep us from being Christ’s Church for all people. The Good News of Jesus Christ can become hidden when people in the Church aren’t living well with each other, and that’s why many people don’t want to have anything to do with the Church. The Good News of God’s welcome and embrace can become hidden when “the way that we want people to do things” becomes more important than the fact that we want people to be a part of what God’s doing in our midst. The Good News of God’s forgiveness can become hidden when Christians refuse to forgive each other and release the things in life that have hurt them. The Good News of Jesus Christ can become veiled in a cloud when our “business as usual” in the Church becomes more important than what we are doing to proclaim God’s love and embrace.

When Jesus got to the Temple, He found people doing what people had always done at the Temple during Passover. They were selling animals. They were selling sacrificial doves to the poor. They were exchanging Roman coins for coins that could be used in the Temple. And, as they did their “business as usual,” the part of the Temple in Jerusalem that was designed to be a place where people who weren’t Jewish could gather for worship disappeared and the Temple began to lose a sense of being a “house of prayer for all people.”

And that’s something that we need to think about in the Church today.

How does our “business as usual” interfere with our ability to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world today? How does our “business as usual” create a barrier that keeps people from experiencing God’s presence in our houses of worship today? How does our “business as usual” keep people from more-fully participating in ministry, and using gifts and talents to glorify God?

Perhaps this Lent, as the Living Christ continues to move in our midst, we can hear God’s call to move past our “business as usual” in the Church, so that all of God’s people will be able to more deeply sense that the place where we worship is a “house of prayer for all people” where all who gather can experience God’s presence and hear a word of Good News.

 

Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Lord’s Supper

Word Sacrament

Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart.

I was taught that faith is primarily a source of comfort, stability and peace in life when I was a little boy. I was taught that people should come to worship because the church is a place where people have their “gas tanks” filled, and where people come to be energized and to be inspired by the pastor. But, after living almost thirty years as a pastor, I can say that I’ve learned that living my life as a follower of Jesus is about much, much more.

It’s not easy to spend time with people who are dying, or to speak words of hope and new life while standing beside a hole in the ground. It’s not easy to listen to a pain-filled story; and, then, take a woman who’s being abused at home to a place where someone from the Blackburn Center will pick her up and take her to a safe place. It’s not easy to continually search for new ways to help parents raise faith-filled children when many of those same parents won’t even bring their kids to worship. It’s not easy to publicly speak-out against racism and bigotry, to openly speak about caring for the poor and homeless, and to just as openly address hot political issues when people just stop coming to worship and stop supporting important ministries when they disagree with what’s being said in the pulpit.

Right after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and right after He spent time alone in the Wilderness, Jesus began to preach and heal people and gather disciples. We read that Jesus once fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. And Peter was watching everything! The Bible tells us that Peter even got to the point where He believed that Jesus is the Messiah.

But, right after Peter told everyone around him that he believed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to speak about suffering, and being rejected, and being killed, and being lift-up to new life. And when Peter had heard enough, he shouted, “No, no, no, no, no! That’s not how things are going to be!” And Jesus called him “Satan” – and told him to get out of the way! And then, Jesus spoke haunting words: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will save it.”

And that brings us to the second of the Faith Practices that we’re going to lift-up during our Lenten Journey (to learn more about the first Faith Practice, click here).

The Bible tells us that God’s Word is the “sword of the Spirit” that cuts us to the heart – bringing words of comfort and peace, but also bringing powerful words that convict us and challenge us to do what God wants us to do. The “sword of the Spirit” is something that God uses to bring peace and to stir-up faith within us, but the “sword of the Spirit” is also a powerful word that continues to challenge us to “take-up our Cross”; and to allow “old ways” to die, so that “new ways” can be born.

In “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Supper”, we are reminded that our faith can be a source of strength and stability, but it can also be something that drives us to do things that are uncomfortable. When we stop biting our tongues and begin to speak-out about the things that we believe, we can experience rejection and unexpected consequences. When we stop biting our tongues and stop hiding what we believe, we can gain an even deeper sense of what God’s calling us to do – but, when we take that chance, we need to realize that we might become unpopular and even be rejected. That’s why the second of our Faith Practices is so important!

God’s Word comforts and challenges us, and the Lord’s Supper brings us the gift of God’s presence and forgiveness. The “sword of the Spirit” continues to guide and direct us, and the Lord’s Supper continues to strengthen and empower us.

Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish need to be grounded in God’s Word and to be strengthened by the Lord’s Supper. Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish must continue to seek God’s guidance in the teachings of the Bible and in prayer, and they must also continue to seek the strengthening presence of God at the Table where Christ has promised to be. Churches and ministries can’t be built on things that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called “wish dreams” (human-created ideas and dreams). In this week’s message, we are called to remember that churches and ministries are built and endure when God’s people spend time reading God’s Word and in prayer, and when God’s people continue to gather around the altar to be fed and nourished.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Christ will save it.” May God continue to guide us as we make sense of what these words mean to us in changing times, and may God continue to comfort and challenge us to “live well” with each other as we gather around God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper.

 

Baptized and Ready to Go!

Baptism

Christians talk about Baptism in different ways.

Some Christians baptize little babies trusting in the fact that their parents will help them to remain connected to the Church and to grow into faith-filled adults. Other Christians wait until young people are old enough to make a public profession of their faith; and then, they baptize young believers who will, again, live-into their relationship with Christ as they journey through life. I’ve baptized infants who were born with serious medical conditions that threatened their lives. I, once, baptized an 86-year-old man who came to faith late in life. I’ve baptized a few people on their death-bed as their families watched in tears. Christians talk about Baptism in different ways and have different methods of baptizing; but the Bible continues to present Baptism in some very specific ways.

In this week’s message, “Baptized and Ready to Go!”, we’re reminded that Baptism is always centered around water, God’s Word and promises, the Holy Spirit, and Mission.

Baptism brings with it the promise of a relationship with God and the promise of eternal life. God’s Spirit descends and touches us when we’re baptized, and we’re promised that God will journey with us through the best and worst that life will bring. But, in Baptism, we are also driven into the world to confront evil and to stand face-to-face with the devil. We’re challenged, in Baptism, to call-out the forces of evil in our world; and to struggle and wrestle and fight for what’s right in a world that doesn’t always want to hear what God has to say. We’re called into “ministry” in the waters of Baptism – a ministry that challenges us to stop long enough to listen to other people, to be open to the voices of others and to pray with them about the circumstances that they’re facing in life, to read the Bible and to figure-out what God has to say about what’s happening in people’s lives, and to help people to move from “wherever they are right now” to “wherever God wants them to be.”

But, “Baptized and Ready to Go!” is also a message that reminds us that, as we grow and participate in life-giving ministry, we need to be sustained, encouraged, and empowered.

And that’s why it’s important for us to remained focused upon the “5 Faith Practices” that have stood at the center of faith-filled living for as long as the Church as existed. We are both called and challenged in the waters of Baptism to:

  • Continue to live among God’s faithful people;
  • Continue to gather in places where the Bible’s read and studied, and in the places where we can be nurtured and strengthened by the gift of Holy Communion;
  • Continue to share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ with our families and friends and even with strangers that we don’t even know;
  • Continue to serve other people in the very same way that Jesus did;
  • Continue to work hand-in-hand with those who call for justice, peace, compassion and love in a world where many people continue to crave what God promises.

“Baptized and Ready to Go!” is a message that reminds us that God continues to claim us as His own, and that God continues to work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that touched Jesus on the day of His baptism – is living and moving and breathing and leading and directing and inspiring us even now! May God continue to call us together in the waters of Baptism and to use us to do things that we’d never imagine in our wildest dreams!