Looking at Life Through Clean Windows

dirty window

James 3:13-4:3

Clara was a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.

She would rock back-and-forth in her rickety, old chair carefully observing things that were happening all around her. Clara’s grandchildren sometimes arrived at her home with spots of ketchup and mustard on their shirts. Clara always noticed when her grand-kids’ shoes weren’t tied, when Johnny had a hole in the knee of his pants, when the mug of hot coffee that her daughter brought to her didn’t have enough cream in it, and when there was dust on the piano. And that’s why Johnny wasn’t surprised when she got going.

“Hey, Johnny,” Clara said, “look at those sheets hanging on Esther’s clothes line! Aren’t those the dirtiest sheets you’ve ever seen?” “Just look at those filthy things! They just look like a bunch of dirty rags!”
And Johnny sat there as his grandma went on and on and on and on….

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sheets. And, after a few minutes of listening to his grandma’s newest complaint, Johnny got a little, quirky smile on his face and said, “Hey, Grandma, when was the last time you cleaned your windows?” “You’re seeing all of those dirty spots because you’re looking at Esther’s sheets through your own dirty windows.”
We’ve probably all had times when we looked at the world and at other people through our own set of dirty windows.

We’ve all been told to stay away from certain “kinds” of people and we do it. We’ve all had time when we’ve heard rumors about other people; and, suddenly, we discovered that we could never look at them in the same way. We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by others; and, when that happens, we decide that other people are “bad” and that they will never change. We usually believe that when people do things that are wrong they will always be people who do things that are wrong. And, that’s it. Period.

In this week’s message, “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, we take some time to explore the ways that we look at each other. St. James leaves us dangling between a “fractured” world filled with conflicts, disputes, greed and anger – and a world that is filled with Godly gentleness that’s born of wisdom. St. James tells us to “be doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22) and to live lives that point others toward the Christ that we love and serve. But, sometimes, the ways that we “see” other people can stop us from doing that. Sometimes, the spots on our own dirty windows keeps us from seeing the goodness in others and causes us to interpret things in unhelpful ways.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Church reformer once explained the 8th Commandment using these words: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything that they do in the best possible way.
How would our lives and our relationships change if we started to do that?

This week, try to find the good in other people. Try your hardest to interpret the things that other people do in the best possible way. Ask God to help you to clean your windows, so that you’re more able to see others in the ways that God does – knowing that when you are “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, you’re going to be happier – you’re going to have more friends and deeper relationships. You may even find that when you live your life seeing the goodness in others and accepting other people just as they are, other people will begin to see you and to treat you in the very same way.

You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!

pointing at you

Mark 7:24-37

What does it mean to be a “community of Jesus” that welcomes everyone?

In this week’s message, “You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”, we explore one of the most unusual conversations in the Bible. It’s the story of a Syro-Phoenician woman – an outcast – a woman that we’re supposed to avoid. It’s the story of a unclean woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon and who came to Jesus asking for help. And, right after the woman asks Jesus to heal her little girl, Jesus responds: “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs!” (Mark 7:27)

Many people travel through times in life when they don’t think that they’re worthy to receive the crumbs that drop from God’s table. We make mistakes and sometimes choose to do the wrong thing. We confess our sins to God; and, then, return to the world to just sin again. And, no matter how many times we promise God that we’re going to change our lives and live in a different way, we get off track – don’t we? And that can leave us with a lingering sense of guilt and make us think that we don’t deserve God’s blessings at all. I once talked with a man who told me that he knows that he’s nothing more than a worm in the eyes of God. And worms don’t deserve to eat the children’s food – do they?

But then, the woman responds to what Jesus has said saying: “But even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table.” (Mark 7:28) And Jesus responds to her words by giving her the blessing that she sought. Perhaps, even people who believe that they’re nothing more than worms can receive God’s blessings, too? Perhaps, even people that we consider to be outcasts and unclean can be embraced and welcomed by the same God who embraces and welcomes us? What a radical idea!

When we pray and come to worship, we sense that the stories of our lives are connected to what Jesus is doing in the world. When we pray and worship, we’re invited to share in a “sacred moment” when God stretches-out arms of welcome and embrace. And, when that happens, it’s a “holy moment” because it’s the moment of God’s presence. It’s a “holy moment” when we’re reminded that all of us are important to God – even in dark times when we make mistakes and bad choices – even in times when we believe in our hearts that we’re not worthy to receive God’s blessings.

“You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”
In Christ, we become a community where everybody is welcome. There is nobody who’s unworthy to eat the crumbs that are left on the floor. There is nobody who needs to sit – or to stand – at a distance because of a mistake or bad choice that’s been made at some point in the past. Jesus calls us to eat the children’s food – no matter where we’ve been – no matter what we’ve done – and no matter what kind of “story” we’ve written. And, as we respond to the invitation of Jesus, God’s story of continuing forgiveness and embrace becomes a part of our story even in times when we don’t believe we deserve to eat the crumbs that are left on the floor.

Christ’s Church for ALL People has been created to be a “community of Jesus” that welcomes and embraces everyone – and that clearly proclaims to ALL people: “You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”

Healing Can Take Time

healing blind

Mark 8:22-25

Let’s think about one of the craziest stories in the Bible….

Jesus was traveling through Bethsaida (“The House of the Fisherman”) one day when a group of people approached him and asked him to heal a man who was blind. Jesus, of course, was filled with compassion and wanted to help. And so, Jesus worked-up a bit of spit in his mouth, spit into the man’s eyes, and rubbed the saliva around a bit. And then, Jesus asked the man, “Do you see anything?” And the man responded, “Oh, yes! I can see the people who are standing all around me, but they look like walking trees.” And with that, Jesus decided to touch him again; and, after Jesus did that, the man was able to see clearly.

This has always been a little hidden gem in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 8:22-25) and I often just read through this crazy story without even thinking about it. And then, in the midst of my training to be a Discipleship Coach, I was introduced to a small book: “Dwelling in the Word”, that encouraged me to spend time with stories like this one and to unpack them over a long period of time (I’ve been reading and reflecting upon this unusual story in the Bible for almost four months!). And the process of unpacking this unusual story about the ministry of Jesus led to this week’s message: “Healing Can Take Time”.

Have you ever wanted to see God at work in your life in a deeper way? Have you ever wanted a relationship to be healed and to move in a better direction after you’ve been hurt by something that you’ve loved? Do you, sometimes, have trouble sensing God’s presence in the midst of the busyness of your daily life? Have you ever asked God to give you strength and courage to face a world that’s filled with constant and scary change?

When people brought the blind man to Jesus, Jesus spit into the man’s eyes, rubbed the saliva around a bit, and asked him if he could see. Jesus doesn’t always turn on a light switch and give us a deeper awareness of God’s presence in our lives in an instant. We, sometimes, need to travel through a rather confusing time when people who have hurt us still “look like trees” – even when Jesus is healing us. It’s not easy make changes in our lives that Jesus can use to bring renewal and spiritual growth. It’s not easy – even with the help of Jesus – to move from fear to faith when we’re scared by the things that are happening all around us and when we just want things to stop changing. And yet, Jesus continues to heal us. Jesus continues to touch us and to work in our lives. Jesus continues to help us to move from “wherever we are right now” to “where God wants us to move as we journey into the future” – both alone, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so, let me ask you a couple of questions:

  1. What do you need to be able to “see” more clearly, right now?
  2. How do you need to be touched and healed by Jesus at this point in your life?

Jesus has the power to bring incredible healing into our lives and our relationships. And Jesus wants to send us back into the world with a set of eyes that can “see” life – and even other people – in different ways again. But, that type of healing takes time. Spend time “Dwelling in the Word”, praying about things you learn as you immerse yourself in God’s Word, and be open to the ways that Jesus wants to heal you and to send you back into the world with eyes that can “see” the things all around you in different ways.

Getting Ready for Christmas

Christmas Fireplace

Lots of people are getting ready for Christmas these days.

Merchants have stacked their shelves to capacity; and they are, now, awaiting the arrival of the Master Cards, Visa cards, and Discover cards. People are baking cookies. Folks are buying presents, stringing lights on the outside of their homes, and wrapping gifts. Little children are writing letters to Santa Claus while their parents decorate the Christmas tree. We have parties to plan, gatherings to organize, houses to clean, and big bowls of eggnog to dust with nutmeg. And, it seems, that it all has to be done “right now.”

Preparation is a normal part of Christmas, and we all know that our time of preparation is limited because Christmas is going to arrive whether we’re ready or not. Can you image a Christmas morning where there aren’t any gifts under the tree because nobody took time to wrap them? Can you imagine attending a Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve and watching the room go totally black when the lights are dimmed because nobody bought candles? Preparation is not just about getting ready. Preparation is about getting ready before it’s too late.

John the Baptizer came into the world to “prepare the way” for Jesus Christ. John called people to stop, and look at their lives and relationships. John called people to admit that we all have relationships that aren’t what we want them to be. We all have things in our lives that we need to push into the past, so that God can do something new. We have things that block our vision. We have things that stand between us and God. We have fears and challenges that overshadow God’s plan for our lives and futures. We all have valleys and craters that can make God seem far away.

In this week’s message, “Getting Ready for Christmas”, we’re challenged to admit that, as a well-known Christmas song proclaims, we grow a little leaner, a little colder, a little sadder, and a little older as we travel through life. Circumstances in our lives can steal the twinkle in our eyes and take the spring out of our step. And that’s why we need this special time of the year.

Perhaps, we can use the next few weeks to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ by spending a little bit more time in prayer and reflection? Perhaps we can use the next two weeks to mend some fences and to tear down some of the walls that we’ve place between ourselves and other people? Perhaps, we need some new perspectives? Perhaps, we need to reflect upon what it means to be a child of God in crazy times, and to allow the storm in our souls to be calmed?

Oh, yes! We need a little Christmas – right this very minute! But we, also, need a time of preparation that continues to challenge us to look at our lives in an honest and authentic way; and, perhaps, to challenge us to make some changes – as we long for the Day when God will renew His entire Creation, and bring healing into our lives and into our world.

What did Jesus say about forgiveness?

conflict

I suspect that we’ve all had times when we’ve been hurt or disappointed by others, and I suspect that we’ve all been taught many different things about forgiveness.

Some people expect us to “get over it” and move on with our lives as if nothing happened. Others confuse the concept of forgiving and forgetting. Still others want us to believe that people of faith are supposed to continually “turn the other cheek” and endure the hurtful behavior of other people. And still others tell us that there’s nothing wrong with holding onto our anger indefinitely even though some people describe holding onto our anger as drinking poison and waiting for other people to die.

I’ve put together a series of three short messages to help you to reflect upon forgiveness, and upon some of the things that you may want to consider when you’ve been hurt and disappointed by others. Times of hurt and disappointment do not need to end significant relationships – but times of hurt and disappointment need to be considered and handled in ways that are both honest and authentic before healing can occur.

In the first message, “Binding and Loosing”, we take some time to think about ways that we approach forgiveness immediately after we’ve been hurt or disappointed. Many folks want to forgive – or to be forgiven – quickly because the feelings and emotions that follow times of hurt and disappointment make us feel uncomfortable. But, did you know that it’s OK to hold onto your anger and to even withhold your forgiveness until after you’ve had some time to “process” what happened? Forgiveness can only be authentically given after we’ve acknowledged that the hurt and disappointment is real. Rushing the process of forgiveness by saying things like “Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.” may actually interfere with our ability to forgive in an authentic way. Slow down! Allow yourself to feel the things that you’re feeling. And don’t allow people who’ve hurt you to rush you.

In the second message, “What’s My End Game?”, we take some time to think about the different ways that we approach reconciliation. Do we want to be “right,” or do we want to be “reconciled” with those who have hurt us – and how is that going to affect the way that we approach them during difficult times? When we’re struggling in a relationship, do we search for people who can offer balanced perspectives, or do we search for a like-minded army of people who will simply support our position? Forgiveness and the type of reconciliation that Christ wants to bring into our lives when times are tough emerge as we speak with others in honest and authentic ways. And the great promise of Christ is that He’s going to be with us as we are working through challenges in our relationships. Sin separates, but the work of God in Jesus Christ continues to heal and to bring people together.

In the third message, “Too Big to Forgive?”, we address one of the most difficult parts of forgiveness. I suspect that we’ve all asked ourselves, “How do I know when the sin that someone has committed is too big for me to forgive?” At some point in life, we may have also asked ourselves, “How do I know when someone has hurt me too many times?” Our gift of forgiveness does not permit others to continue to hurt us. We may need to learn to walk away from relationships that are abusive and that continue to be filled with pain. But, even if we decide to do that, we still need to learn how to handle the “gunk” that’s left inside of us, don’t we? Sometimes, we may need to learn how to release little things; and, sometimes, the things that we will need to release may be huge! What can we learn as we continue to pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us?” Genuine forgiveness is always going to be tough because it always involves forgiving things the were both real and hurtful. But, forgiveness – real and genuine forgiveness – is what continues to open our lives to peace with God and to healthy relationships with other people.

 

 

Too Big to Forgive?

conflict-pic

Lord, how many times do I need to forgive a person who’s hurt me?

Relationships can be difficult. People don’t always speak to each other in charitable ways and people don’t always treat each other kindly. We can’t really expect the relationships in our lives to be “perfect” because people aren’t “perfect.” And what that means is that we’re all going to need to have healthy boundaries that we create to protect ourselves, and we’re all going to need to find ways to rebuild relationships after we’ve been hurt.

In this week’s message, “Too Big to Forgive?”, we’re challenged to ask ourselves two huge questions: (1) How do we know when the sins that people have committed against us are too big to forgive? and  (2) How do we decide when someone’s hurt us too many times?

When we’re hurt by others, we usually step back and do an inner “damage assessment” to determine the magnitude and the severity of the hurt. The decision to forgive doesn’t always come easily. We may, in fact, need to talk with other people and to process what has happened to us. But, on the bottom line, forgiveness is always going to involve the decision to forgive. Forgiveness is always going to be about learning to open our hands and let go of something that has happened to us that was real. And sometimes, what we need to release may be little. And sometimes, what we need to release may be huge.

Has someone done something to you that’s “Too Big to Forgive?”

Let’s open our Bibles to Matthew 18:21-35 and explore that question together as people of faith.

 

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 15/16

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the ways I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ears, but they walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” ~ Jeremiah 7:23-24

I suspect that we’ve all had times when we’ve lived in the way that God commanded us to live, and I suspect that we’ve all had times when we drifted off course. We read and digest God’s Word, and we pray for God’s guidance and direction. We have times when we drift away from God because we don’t listen, because we walk in our counsels, and because we can even be drawn off course by our own stubbornness and rebellion. But how do we get back on course and find “peace with God” after we’ve gone astray?

Many people believe that “peace with God” is achieved by returning to obedience. We’ve been told that we’re supposed to confess our sins, repent and change course. Even God’s Word tells us: when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins. (1 John 1:9) But if we seek “peace with God” by trying to live in the right way, how can we know when we’ve done enough? If “Judgment Day” is a day when we’re going to stand in front of a great, big scale in the sky with all of our “good deeds” placed on one side of the scale and all of our “bad deeds” placed on the other of the scale, how can we know – with 100% certainty – that the scale’s going to tip in the right direction?

St. Paul struggled with that idea as he was making sense of what it means to be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  St. Paul made some big mistakes along the way, and he was present at the stoning of Steven. (Acts 7:54-60)  Paul was severely and continuously criticized throughout his ministry because he persecuted the early Church. (Galatians 1:13) Centuries later, the German reformer, Martin Luther, struggled with the same issue – “How can I ever be ‘good’ enough to find peace with God?” And that question is what, ultimately, led Luther to post his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church.

When we’re not perfect and when we make mistakes (even when we’re trying our best to do differently), how do we find “peace with God”?

St. Paul’s answer is simple: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are made right by God’s grace as a gift through redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23)

“Peace with God” comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. “Peace with God” isn’t found by somehow returning to obedience and by find a way to “get it right” this time. We find “peace with God” when we discover that we’re the recipients of a gift from the hands of God that comes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

And now, here are your readings for the next two weeks:

Week 15

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 13-14 – Monday: Exodus 5-8 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 21-25 – Wednesday: Psalms 42-44 – Thursday: Job 29-30 – Friday: Jeremiah: 12-16 – Saturday: Mark 9-10

Week 16

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 15-16 – Monday: Exodus 9-12 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 26-31 – Wednesday: Psalms 45-47 – Thursday: Job 31-32 – Friday: Jeremiah 17-21 – Saturday: Mark 11-12

Blessings!

 

Binding and Loosing

broken-chain

I suspect that we all have times when we need to forgive.

People get hurt when other people speak or act too quickly. We’ve all had times when we have been offended by people that we know, or by people that we don’t know. We even have times in our live when we hurt ourselves by getting too puffed-up, or by thinking less of ourselves than we ought. We need to be forgiven by God and by other people, but we also have times when we’re the ones who need to forgive. And sometimes it’s easy – but sometimes it’s very hard.

In this week’s message, “Binding and Loosing”, we explore the fact that Jesus never said that forgiveness must always be offered quickly. Forgiveness and reconciliation are gifts that we offer to people who have hurt us, but they are also gifts that need to be extended in the “appropriate” time and in the “appropriate” way.

Forgiveness is NOT saying that what people did is no longer important and that it can simply be forgotten. The “Dance of Forgiveness” happens when the peace of Christ fills our hearts and when the breath of Jesus fills our souls. The “Dance of Forgiveness” happens when we get to the point in our lives when we’re able to release the hurt that we feel, and when we can honestly and authentically ask ourselves what must happen in order for reconciliation to occur.

Blessings!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 13

prayer-page

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!

 

Reading Through the Bible – Week 12

prayer-page

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!