When Passion and Commitment Connect

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Mark 8:27-38

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is one of my favorite places in the world.

I spent three years of my life living right in the middle of the battlefield and bicycling across the top of Seminary Ridge. I spent many evenings watching beautiful sunsets from the peak of Little Round Top. But Gettysburg is, also, a place that invites people to think about life and about what God is calling us to do with the time that we’ve been given.

What would drive a person to leave everything behind and go to war? What would drive 262 Union soldiers from Minnesota to race forward to meet the advancing forces of 1,500 confederates from Alabama? What would stir-up the hearts of soldiers and cause them to stand in a straight line in an open field and charge into the firing cannons of the enemy? Why would 20,000 men fight over a 19-acre piece of ground just outside of Gettysburg in one of the bloodiest battles in human history?
Big things happen when passion and commitment connect.

People grab the bull by the tail and wrestle with demons. People commit themselves to things that are more important to them than life itself. People need to decide between what’s really important in life and what simply isn’t. People invest the very best that they have to offer in things that they believe can change the world.

In this week’s message, “When Passion and Commitment Connect”, we listen to some of the most challenging words that Jesus ever spoke: “If any of you would come after Me, you must deny yourselves and take-up your Cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) Jesus continues by saying: “Those of you who want to save your own life are going to lose it, and those of you who are willing to lose your life for My sake are going to find it.” (Mark 8:35)

“True life” is found when we discover something that ignites us, and drives us and causes us to invest ourselves in something important – and “true life” is lost when we live our lives searching for least common denominators and the easiest path. “True life” is found when the Holy Spirit ignites our hearts and drives us into the world to discover why God made us – and “true life” is lost when we allow the precious time that we have been given to slip between our fingers.

When we begin to see what God wants us to do, we begin to hear the voice of Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes inside of us. The Holy Spirit opens and closes doors in front of us, sends rains to quench our thirst in the desert, and gives us energy and stamina that we never knew we had. The Holy Spirit challenges us to look past the many obstacles and problems that stand in our way and helps us to embrace God-given possibilities and opportunities that are set before us. The Holy Spirit calls-forth the very best that we have to offer, and God’s work is done with our very own hands.
So, let me ask you: “Where do passion and commitment connect in YOUR life?
What is big enough and challenging enough to call-forth the very best that you have to give and to pull you into the middle of something that you can do to change the world?

The burdens and problems and troubles that we face in our lives are NOT the Cross that Jesus speaks to us about when He calls us to “take-up our Cross and follow Him” (Mark 8:34) Our “Cross” is the place where passion and commitment connect, and it’s the place where we discover our deepest calling and purpose in life.

Where Life and Faith Meet

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Let me ask you a question….

What is it, in your life of faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?

On the surface, that might seem to be an unusual question. Many of us believe that our faith and our relationship with Christ are a private matter. We’ve all been taught that, if we want to avoid controversy in our lives, we need to learn to avoid the topics of religion and politics in daily conversations. And yet, Christ calls us to be His witnesses. The story of Pentecost is a story where people were amazed and perplexed by what they saw other people doing. And so, perhaps the question – “What is it, in your life and faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?” – is one that we need to consider.

The Day of Pentecost started-out like most other days. Roosters had been crowing to announce the beginning of the day. Little children were jumping out of their beds and were getting ready to play. People had begun to come out of their homes and loud voices could be heard in the streets. And then, a rushing wind sent people scrambling. The Sacred Story tells us about “fire-tongues” falling from the sky and landing on people’s heads. We hear about the disciples speaking in languages that they didn’t know. And the whole thing, according to Acts 2:7, left people feeling both amazed and perplexed.

Let me ask you again….

What is it, in your life of faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?

“Where Faith and Life Meet” is a message that challenges us to think about that, and that encourages us to think about how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives. Can we see the Holy Spirit at work in the Church when people who disagree with each other continue to gather together, sing songs, and share a Meal with each other – in times of division and deep separations? That, if you think about it, is both amazing and perplexing. People are amazed and perplexed when we refrain from judging them and criticizing them because they don’t live their lives in the way that we choose to live ours. People are amazed and perplexed when we forgive them and allow relationships to continue after we’ve been hurt and disappointed. People are amazed and perplexed when they see us welcoming and embracing them – no matter who they are or where they’ve been in life – because we know that God created them to be precious, valuable, and worthy of love.

The Sacred Story reminds us that, when the Holy Spirit works in our midst, things that we do will leave people both amazed and perplexed.

And so, I ask you, once again: “What is it, in your life of faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?” Take a moment to stop and to listen to what God’s telling you. Think about how the Holy Spirit is already working in your life to do amazing things. Think and pray for a moment about how God may be challenging you to do things that other people may not fully understand, but that they will deeply appreciate and see as a sign of what God’s doing in our world right now.

 

Does God Speak to You?

God Speaks

The Bible is filled with stories about God speaking to people.

God spoke to Moses from a burning bush; and God told Joseph that the people of Egypt needed to save food, so that they would survive a seven-year famine. God spoke to the prophets, and revealed Himself to Abraham. And, in 1 Samuel 3:1-20, God speaks to a little boy who was sleeping beside the Ark of the Covenant.

The Bible tells us that Eli (the Temple priest) was quite blind by the time God decided to speak to Samuel, and that he was neatly tucked beneath the smelly blanket that he had used for many years. When Samuel first ran to the Temple priest, Eli was as confused by the whole thing as Samuel was – because the word of the Lord was rare in those days and even the prophets weren’t having the types of visions that they used to have.

But the “pregnant question” remains.

Does God speak to people during times when the word of the Lord seems to be rare, and when the prophets aren’t having the visions that they used to have? Can you imagine a God who knows you by name, who can choose to call-out to you and whisper words into your ears, who continues to lead and guide you through life, and who can even send you into the world with words to share with other people?

In this week’s message, “Does God Speak to You?”, we’re asked to reflect and to consider how God speaks us today.

What do you think happens when you gather with other people to hear God’s Word and to share in the “Feast of Heaven”? What do you think happens when the Holy Spirit lives and moves and breathes and stirs people as they listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we still believe that it’s God’s voice that continues to call us to take-up the Cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads us? Do we believe that God still has the power to speak to us, and send us out into the world to strive for justice and peace – telling us that if we invest all of our time and energy in trying to save our own lives and our churches, we’re going to lose it all – and telling us that if we take up the Cross, invest ourselves in other people, and bring the Good News of God’s love to the world, we’re going to find a new type of life that will continue to flourish and endure even in an Age when churches are closing their doors for the last time every week?

Does God speak to you? Do you really believe that God continues to know you by name and calls-out to you in the midst of darkness? Do you really believe that we have a God who continues to speak to us as we read God’s Word, as we gather in worship, and as we spend time in daily devotion and prayer?

The Holy Spirit continues to live and move and stir God’s people. The Spirit of God is still calling-out to people and inviting them into the ongoing mission of Christ’s Church.

When God calls-out to us, will we have the courage (as Samuel did) to respond by saying, “Here I am, Lord”? Will we have the faith and courage to respond to God’s calling in our own lives and to boldly say, “Speak to me, for Your servant is listening!”?

 

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!

God’s Whispering in Your Ear!

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Many Christians (and churches) are struggling these days.

Christ calls us into ministry in the waters of Holy Baptism and sends us into the world as His representatives. The Bible plainly tells us that the Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts that we need – and assures us that, when we’re engaged in ministry, Christ journeys with us and opens doors.

But translating Christ’s “call to action” into concrete ministries isn’t always easy, is it?

It’s easy to talk about Christians being called onto the “front lines” of the battle. It’s easy to say that Christians need to get outside of their buildings and more deeply engage with people in their community. Many churches are trying to create long-term strategies for doing ministry in a world where it’s not always easy to know what the future will bring. And that’s what this week’s message,  “God’s Whispering in Your Ear!”, is all about.

Jesus says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops!” (Matthew 10:27)

Ministry begins when God’s people pray, and when God’s people listen and talk with each other about what God’s been whispering into their ears. What does God whisper in your ears when you pray about people in your community who are struggling with illnesses and loneliness? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about people in your community whose lives are being destroyed by opioid addictions? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about little children in your community who were being offered a free breakfast when they arrived at school, but who have lost that daily meal during the summer? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about young people who are being bullied, about children who need Sunday School teachers, about men and women who are being abused in their own homes, and about people in your own community who don’t have enough money to purchase medicines that they need in order to remain healthy?

God’s still using folks who are prayerfully listening to people in their community, and who are seeking God’s guidance and direction. Ministry begins when the people of God talk with people in their community, fall to their knees in prayer, and open their ears to hear what God has to say.

We live in a time when opportunities for doing ministry are immense! And, as we look for a path forward in ministry, we must continue to be people who are engaged in prayer and the daily reading of Holy Scripture. We cannot speak about what we have not heard! We cannot proclaim from the housetops what we’ve not heard whispered into our ears by the Living God!

And so, if you’re looking for a path forward in ministry – as either an individual or as a church – stop for a moment and pray. We are not called to build ministries and churches around our own agendas and good ideas. We are called, instead, to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who has promised to journey with us (and to open doors before us) as we seek to fulfill His plan for our lives and for our ministries in practical ways.

Blessings!

The Great Commission

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Christ calls the Church into vital, expansive and life-giving ministry!

I’m sure that the disciples were a bit shaken when Jesus told them that it was, now, their job to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  I suspect that it has never been easy for Christians to stand toe-to-toe with people who are in positions of power and proclaim the Reign of a Living God who calls us to extend compassion to the poor, to lift-up those who are being crushed by injustice, to walk with people who mourn, and to create a society where even the lowly have a voice. And yet, even today, Christians are commissioned by the Risen Christ to announce the imminent coming of the Reign of God.

I don’t always feel prepared to do that – even as a pastor. I don’t always feel prepared to speak about God’s plan for our lives from the pulpit, to counsel couples whose marriages are crumbling, to comfort people who have just lost a child, or to speak a word of hope beside the empty grave of someone that I’ve loved. Maybe you don’t really feel qualified to teach a Sunday School class, to lead a Bible Study, to say a prayer in front of other people, or to assume responsibility for a ministry at your church. And yet, in this week’s message, “The Great Commission”, God calls us into action.

Ministry is never easy; and yet, “The Great Commission” is accompanied by a great and wonderful promise! As we join hands in ministry, Christ promises to walk by our sides. As we join hands in ministry, Christ promises to send the Holy Spirit to equip us and give us gifts from above. Jesus promises us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and those are words that can encourage us as we work together to bring the Reign of God into the world today.

Blessings!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 12

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

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

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

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

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

And so, here are this week’s readings:

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

Blessings!

 

 

 

Living into Your Destiny!

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I suspect that we’ve all thought about our “purpose in life.”

The Bible tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) We read in that same psalm: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; and in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me.”

God has created us with a purpose and with a destiny in mind! You might even say that our lives and our journeys of faith are an adventure – where we somehow try to make sense of what is means to be created by God and to be touched by the Holy Spirit. That’s what this week’s message, “Living into Your Destiny!”, is all about.

As we listen to a story about Jesus being washed by John the Baptizer, we’re magically transported through time, and we are taken back to the time and place where we were washed – in the waters of Holy Baptism – and to the time and place where we were touched, just like Jesus was, by the Spirit of God.

The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God moved over the waters in the midst of unfolding Creation, and touched God’s people on the day of Pentecost. The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God “blows wherever it wants to blow” (John 3:8) and that the Spirit of God will touch whoever God wants to touch. And God touched YOU…! You have been filled with the same Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus, and you have been touched by the same Spirit of God that drove Jesus into the world to fight the forces of evil and to proclaim the dawning of the Reign of God.

What does that mean?

Perhaps, your deepest calling in life is to discover what God created you to be? Perhaps, your deepest calling in life is to discover what it means to a representative of the Reign of God in a world where many folks believe that everything’s just falling apart?

Blessings!

 

Too Busy to Pray?

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It’s sometimes hard for me to find time for prayer and daily devotion.

I usually begin to think about all of the things that I need to do before I even get out of bed in the morning. My feet hit the ground running and I often collapse into my recliner at the end of the day exhausted. I’ve learned that there’s always going to be another telephone call to return, another person to visit, and another email that’s awaiting my response. I recently decided to activate the “alert” feature on my Smartphone’s calendar, so that I can get a 30-minute “heads-up” warning before it’s time to move on to my next commitment.

It’s sometimes hard for me (and I suspect for all of you) to find time for prayer and daily devotion. I find myself encouraging people to pray and reflect upon the truths of Scripture, but I struggle to set aside time to do it myself. I’m always looking for devotional materials that are easy for me to use; and yet, I want those materials to speak to my heart and guide my life. And that’s why I’ve decided to add a Daily Devotion link to the menu options on my blog that will connect you with a ministry called “Pray as You Go”

“Pray as You Go” is a daily invitation to prayer that you can use whenever you find time. A new prayer session, which lasts between 10 and 13 minutes, is provided for every day of the working week and an additional session is provided for the weekend. I hope that you’ll take time on the additional day each weekend to gather with other Christians in a church for worship and prayer. “Pray as You Go” isn’t created to be your inspirational ‘Thought for the Day’, a daily sermon, or continuing Bible Study. “Pray as You Go” combines music, Scripture reading and questions that you can use for thought and reflection.

“Pray as You Go” is designed to help you to:

  • Become more aware of God’s presence in your life
  • Listen to the words of Scripture and reflect upon them
  • Grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ

“Pray as You Go” is produced by Jesuit Media Initiatives, and utilizes materials written by devoted Jesuits and other experts in the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola. Although the content varies each day, the basic format stays the same.

I hope that you’ll find this new link on the menu page of the ExploraStory Cafe helpful, and that you’ll use this link as a way to find time to carve-out a few moments each day to more deeply connect with God in the midst of your busy life.

Blessings!

Leaving Your Fingerprints on the World

Fingerprint

Fingerprints….

We all  leave fingerprints behind us when we touch things, and we all hope that the world will be somehow better because we’ve lived in it.

In this week’s message, “Leaving Your Fingerprints on the World”, we reflect upon the passionate determination that drove Jesus toward the Cross and that’s still needed in the lives of Christians today.

What are you most passionate about in your life as a Christian? Have you ever considered harnessing that passion and using it as the springboard that could help you move toward your God-given destiny?

The Holy Spirit lights a “fire in our souls” as it lives and moves in our midst today – always driving us into a world that needs to hear the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, and continually stirring-up the kinds of passionate determination that can empower us to boldly announce the “Reign of God” by doing God’s work  with our own hands.

Blessings!