When in Doubt – Just Love People

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Last week, I had a great chance to talk with children about diversity.

I began by looking at the story of Creation and by remembering that, in the Beginning, God created our world to be a place filled with many different things. God created the sun and the moon, the birds and the fish, trees and even worms. And then, to top it all off, God made people and filled them with the Spirit that gives life. And God was happy!

But we need to remember that God didn’t only make a lot of different things. God made a lot of different things that are different than each other. There are blue birds and red birds and yellow birds – but they’re all birds, aren’t they? There are people with brown eyes and blue eyes, with long hair and short hair, with darker skin and lighter skin – and there are even people who speak different languages and who are born in countries all over the world. But, when we get back to the basics, we’re all people, aren’t we? We all want to be loved, don’t we? We all want to know that we’re going to be safe as we move around in the world. We all want to have food to eat when we’re hungry. And we all just want to be happy, in one way or another, don’t we…?

But, sometimes, we’re not happy.

Even though God was happy with the diversity that fills our world, people don’t always find it easy to be happy and celebrate the diversity that surrounds them. Kids sometimes pick their friends based upon the kind of clothes that they wear, or the type of shoes that they wear. Adults, sometimes, put up walls when they see people who are different than themselves because they’re scared and want to fee safe. The sin in our lives encourages us to divide and separate our world into more and more disconnected pieces. And when that happens, it makes God sad. It makes God so sad, in fact, that God even decided to do something about it.

God sent Jesus into the world to remind us that “it’s all about love.” The Bible tells us that, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. The Bible tells us that faith and the love of Jesus level the playing field and help us see that differences and diversity can be embraced and celebrated as a part of the goodness of the Creation. The Cross of Jesus brings us together! And, if we ever doubt that the words of Jesus are true, all we need to do is remember Easter. God raised Jesus from the dead on Easter to show us that Jesus is right! It really IS all about love!

And that’s the message I shared with the children at Vacation Bible School. It’s a message that reminds us that God loves us just as we are and that God, also, calls us to extend that very same love to each other. Our differences and all of the diversity that surrounds us can encourage us to divide the world into smaller and smaller pieces, and to build more and more walls to keep other people away from us. Our differences can tear our world apart and create more challenges and problems than we’re facing right now. But there’s another path. The “Jesus Path.” We can learn to embrace and celebrate diversity. We can learn again, with the help of Jesus, see other people through the eyes of God! And when we do that, we’ll be taking a big step toward helping our world to be a better place — the kind of place that God wants it to be.

So, let’s try that, this week. Let’s work together to begin transforming our world into a better place for all of us by embracing the goodness of the world as God made it! Olam Haba – “what the world is yet to be” – is closer than we’d ever imagine. And we can even get a little taste of it — when we go into the world and when we allow love to win!

CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK’S MESSAGE

 

עולם הבא

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

In the coming weeks, we will be using the Hebrew words: Olam HaBa. Olam HaBa, which can be translated as “what the world is yet to be,” lifts-up images of hope and of what life and the world will be like when God’s final plan for the Creation is complete.

Olam HaBa is widely discussed by theologians. Some speak of Olam HaBa as the time when those who will be resurrected and those who will not share in the “world to come” will be separated. Others speak of Olam Haba as a time of radical transformation—as a time when single grapes will produce enough wine to fill a flagon, when trees produce fruit one month after they are planted, and when God’s people will be known throughout the world as the producers of the finest grain and wool. Olam HaBa is the fulfillment of God’s promised Messianic Age.

But we can’t fully enjoy (or understand) Olam HaBa because it doesn’t exist yet–and that’s what this week’s message  is all about. Olam Haba is still in the future. Think of the day when God will personally dry your tears, and when all of your suffering and pain will come to an end. Think about a Great Day when every type of suffering and sorrow and mourning will come to an end. The words “Olam HaBa” don’t appear in the Bible; however, John of Patmos captures the essence of Olam HaBa when he writes:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” ~ Revelation 21:1-5a

God is Near!

Elijah

1 Kings 17:6-24

Life is filled with ups and downs, isn’t it?

We save money for a rainy day, and we invest our time and energy in relationships with other people. We plan for our future (often expecting the best) and we even go to church and pray – believing that God stands beside us.
But, life throws us curves, doesn’t it?

Children sometimes go astray when they grow up, and close relationships can end when people move to a different city – or even die. Today’s bad choices often shape tomorrow’s reality. Marriages crumble. Jobs can be lost. Sudden illnesses can bring us a mountain of unpaid bills. And, when any of those things happen, our faith can be shaken and we can even begin to ask hard questions.

In this week’s message, “God is Near”, we explore a brief moment of time in the life of a widow who experienced a roller-coaster of emotions. She watched the ground dry, crops wilt, and animals die after Elijah told King Ahab that God was going to withhold the rain because of Israel’s wickedness. The widow had seen her small barrel of meal and flask of oil provide more meal and oil that she could have ever imaged after she (in faith) baked Elijah a small loaf of bread and gave him a drink of water. She watched her only son die, and cursed the day she had met Elijah – because she blamed him for what had happened to her son. And then, Elijah wept and prayed and held the dead corpse of the widow’s only son; and, suddenly, he came back to life!
We experience a wide range of emotions as we travel through life as people of faith.

When everything’s going well and when we’re happy and prosperous, we feel like God is blessing us and we praise God from the mountaintop! But, when the pendulum swings in the other direction, we ask tough questions, don’t we? “Where was God when I needed God to be present?” “Why do bad things always seem to happen to good people?” “Why do little children face starvation and horrible diseases?” “Where is God when violence explodes at a local synagogue?” “Where is God when little children are being abused by priests?” Where is God when overdoses claim the lives of people that we love?” “Where was God when the widow of Zarephath’s only son got sick and suddenly died?”

We are reminded, in this week’s message (“God is Near”), that God is near to us in both good times and bad times. God was present as the widow of Zarephath wept for her son. God is present when people gather together to lift each other up and to stand beside each other in difficult times. Jesus promised us that He will always be found when we come together as God’s people to share gifts of Bread and Wine in Holy Communion. God will always be found in the love we receive from people who encourage us and hug us and whisper tender words into our ears, and God will be present every time we offer our love and support to other people – comforting others with the same kind words and actions that others extend to us during difficult times (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Our journey of faith teaches us to know that God is near in every circumstance.

It’s easy to see God’s presence when we experience times of blessing. But Jesus promises to be close to us even when the pendulum swings in the other direction – and when our lives become difficult.

Trust the Lord and know that God is near to you. Look for Jesus in every circumstance of life – whether it’s good or bad. And know that our God promises to draw near to us and to sustain us and to renew us in every situation that we face.

Tree of Life: Where Healing Begins

Tree of Life Pic

“We pray for healing of the body.

We pray for healing of the soul.

For strength of flesh and mind and spirit.

We pray to once again be whole.”

These are words that resonate deeply with my soul.

I’m sure that we were all both shocked and horrified when we learned that a lone gunman had walked into the Tree of Life synagogue near Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday morning and had opened fire on innocent worshipers who had gathered there on the Sabbath. The story of what happened quickly moved to the center of the daily news. Eleven of the worshipers, ranging in age from 54 to 97, were killed almost instantly as the police, emergency teams, SWAT teams and the FBI mobilized and quickly traveled to the scene. The gunman, who was later wounded in a shoot-out with the police, surrendered and was quickly removed from the scene. And our journey into the “unspeakable” began.

I learned, many years ago, that there are times when our words can’t fix things.

What do you say to a mother who has just watched her child die? What do you say to the loved ones of someone who decides that life cannot be endured for another day and who then ends it? What do you say to the families of eleven innocent people who were killed while worshiping in a synagogue by a man who ran into the building with guns in his hands and screaming, “All Jews must die!”? What do you say to a community filled with people who trusted in the fact that senseless slaughters always happen somewhere else?

I learned, many years ago, that God didn’t give me any magic fairy dust.

The events that unfolded at the Tree of Life synagogue near Pittsburgh dragged me back in time to a very different – yet hauntingly similar – event that I faced several years ago. I was preparing to begin another busy Wednesday in Lent when my cellphone beeped and alerted me to the fact that a young man had walked into the Franklin Regional High School (about five miles from my home) with two knives in his hands and had stabbed twenty people (click here to learn more) before being tackled. I was speechless. I felt both paralyzed and numbed as I stared at the screen of my television; and yet, I wanted to do something helpful. I suspect that many folks felt that same paralysis on Saturday. When senseless tragedies unfold, we stare blankly at our television sets and watch first responders rise to the occasion. We want to shut the news off and return to our more normal routines, but we can’t. Senseless violence changes us. We sense a solidarity with all of humanity when the lives of innocent people are ended by violent outbursts of anger. We, perhaps, sense our need for human community when violence drives us into isolation. But what then? What do we do in the days and weeks that follow senseless tragedies? How can we begin to take the first steps forward after we’ve been paralyzed by senseless violence?

Here are some things that I learned as I moved through the difficult days and weeks and months that followed the violent outburst at the Franklin Regional High School. And I offer these ideas hoping that they’ll be helpful to you:

  1. I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we need to take care of ourselves. In the Beginning, God said that it’s “not good” for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and that’s especially true when we’re struggling. We need each other, and we need to gather in community with other people as we try to make sense of violent acts that change our lives. I remember gathering with people at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Murrysville, PA on the evening of the incident at Franklin Regional High School. We sang hymns together and prayed. We listened to the words of Scripture, and we spent time together. My wife and I did the same thing yesterday. We attended a gathering of several hundred people at Temple David in Monroeville; and we mourned with Jews and Muslims and Christians alike. We were reminded that we must not allow hatred and bigotry to win. We were reminded that we are people who can make a lasting difference in our world by committing ourselves to the path of love and deeper understanding.
  2. I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we need to watch the helpers. I find it quite ironic that the violent outburst at the Tree of Life synagogue unfolded in the same neighborhood that once provided a home for Fred Rogers. I grew-up in the Pittsburgh area and Mr. Rogers was a part of my childhood. I still remember his friendly smile. I still remember him changing his shoes and putting his sweater on at the beginning of each show. But, perhaps even more than that, I remember Mr. Rogers’ kindness and embrace of others. Fred Rogers once said (or at least we are told that he said) that, when bad things happen, we need to watch and to focus upon what the helpers are doing. The world is full of good people. The world is full of people who care about each other and who want to help each other. Think about the first responders and the police officers who were wounded when they rushed into the synagogue. Think about all of the doctors and nurses who rushed to the hospital, so that they would be ready to treat the wounded. Think of the people who will walk beside the families of those who were killed in the weeks and months ahead – often unseen and unnoticed. We can all learn a lesson from Mr. Rogers; because, even in times of unspeakable tragedy, good people gather and help.
  3. I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we need to be willing to listen to what people are saying – even when we hear things that make us feel uncomfortable. I listened to stories from the lips of many young people who were being bullied at school in the weeks and months that followed the incident at the Franklin Regional High School – and it all began when I sat down with a small group of teenagers and said, “When I was your age, bullies flicked your ears and shot spit balls at you. I don’t know what bullying looks like today. Will you help me to understand?” When we listen, we learn. I’ve believed that those who are suffering are my teachers for a long, long time. I’ve been given a small glimpse of what it’s like to lose a child, to face a terminal illness, and to say goodbye to your spouse. I’ve learned a bit about bullying by listening to teenagers tell me about their lives. Perhaps, this is a time when we need to listen to people share stories about Anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and hatred? Perhaps, this is a time when we need to allow people who are usually silent to speak? I was once told that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a very good reason. We need to remember that in times like these.
  4. And lastly, I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we can begin to turn the corner and step away from feelings of powerlessness by helping. In the weeks and months after the violent incident at Franklin Regional High School, the good and always-faithful people at Christ’s Lutheran Church collected money that was used to pay medical bills, to financially support parents who needed to quit their jobs to care for their teenagers, and to provide resiliency training for local teachers. We were told, yesterday, that the Muslim community is collecting money to help pay medical bills and funeral expenses and to bring financial relief to those who have already faced so much. I found that becoming a helper was even more empowering than watching helpers. If you’d like to help the families of those who have already faced so much because of the horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue

CLICK HERE

My wife and I joined hundreds of others singing powerful words of prayer during the gathering at Temple David in Monroeville yesterday; and, as I close, I’d like to lift those words before you:

“We pray for healing of our people.

We pray for healing of the land.

And peace for ev’ry race and nation,

Ev’ry child, ev’ry woman, ev’ry man.”

 

Your Life and Your Money

Money Pic

Mark 10:35-45

Many people cringe when their pastor begins to talk about money.

The story of our faith tells us that, in the Beginning, God created everything that we see and that God created it all to be “good.” In his explanation of the 4th Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther reminds us that, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” God responds to our prayer by providing food, drink, shelter, shoes, clothing, our homes, faithful rulers, good weather, peace, good health, good neighbors, and even the gift of money. Signs of God’s faithfulness are all around us; in fact, God’s continuing love and faithfulness is what keeps us alive.
And so, a natural question emerges: “How do we respond to God’s faithfulness?”

In today’s reading (Mark 10:35-45), James and John ask an interesting question. They have been following Jesus for some time. They have seen Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. They’ve heard Jesus talk about Heaven and they decide that they want special seats in Heaven; and so, they ask Jesus to give them those coveted places.
But Jesus surprises them.

Jesus describes being a Christ-ian as being a person who serves. Following Jesus is not about honor and prestige, and being great and visible. Following Jesus is not about power and authority and getting your own way. Christ-ians follow Jesus by living lives that are dedicated to loosing bonds and setting people free. Christ-ians untie bonds and help people move toward “wellness.” But, in a busy world, we don’t have enough hours in the day to support every good cause, do we? In a busy world filled is many obligations, we can’t set everyone free, untie all of the bonds that we want to untie, and help all of the people that we want to help move toward “wellness.” But, what we do have is a “vehicle” that we can use to do just that.
What would happen if you began to look at money as something that someone else gives to you in exchange for a part of your life that you can never get back?

That’s the truth that this week’s message, “Your Life and Your Money”, lifts-up. Our lives and our money are intimately connected. And our money is a “vehicle” that we can use to do things that we, otherwise, wouldn’t have the time or the physical ability to do.

We may not have time or the physical ability to visit the ill and the home-bound people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can offer a part of our lives to restore people who are suffering and lonely to wellness by supporting the ministry of a person who makes those life-changing visits. We may not have the time or the physical ability to feed hungry people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians to untie the bonds of hunger and place food on people’s tables by supporting the work of a local food bank. We may not have time or the physical ability to fight the raging battle against addictions in our communities – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians, so that people who are battling addictions have a safe place where they can gather in supportive communities to fight their battle with the help of other people. We may not have time or the physical ability to rebuild homes after a hurricane has destroyed them – but through the “vehicle” of money we can restore hope and rebuild homes, and we can provide help to those who are traveling through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
When we give money to the Church, we offer a gift-of-life that will be used as a “vehicle” to restore people, to untie bonds, and to bring God’s people to a better place in life that’s marked with both health and wellness.

Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to support an institution or social club. Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to pay ongoing expenses, so that the doors of an aging building can remain open for another week.

The money that you give is a “vehicle” that we use to share our lives with others. Money that we give to the Church in thanksgiving is a “vehicle” we use to share time and energy and life with folks who need to be restored and who need to be brought to a better place in life in the name of Jesus.

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!”

When You Get Off Track

off track pic

Sin almost always starts with something small, doesn’t it?

Imagine a small child walking into a grocery store, picking up a candy bar, stuffing it into his pocket, and walking out the door. Picture a middle-aged man who is struggling to pay his bills, and who decides to free-up some cash by cheating on his income taxes. Perhaps, you know someone who’s living in an unhappy marriage and who’s begun to talk with one of her co-workers about her problems – and maybe, she’s shared a few drinks, some secret telephone chats and Internet messages, a few secret meetings, and perhaps even a bit more with him…. Imagine sometime telling a lie that quickly grows into something bigger, and into something even bigger, and then into something monstrous.

Sin almost always starts with something small, doesn’t it?

King Herod’s problems probably began with a little wink. And then, there were secret meetings and much, much more. And when John the Baptizer told King Herod that it was not right for him to marry his own brother’s wife, Herod had him thrown in jail. And after that, emotions flew out of control and anger turned into rage. What seemed to be an innocent little wink turned into an unexpected demand for an innocent man’s head to be removed.

In this week’s message, “When You Get Off Track”, we explore several things we need to do when we’re drawn into sin and find ourselves behaving in inappropriate ways. We discover that God calls us to:

  1. Honestly admit that we’re doing something wrong and stop doing it.
  2. Intentionally change course and move in a different direction.
  3. Realize that, when we sin, we need to change course immediately – because sin can set a whole set of consequences into motion that can deeply affect our own lives, or the lives of people that we both love and cherish.

And, perhaps, the hardest part of the whole thing is that we simply don’t want to do any of those things if we’re left to ourselves. Sins usually get repeated because they make us feel good in one way or another. Sin makes us to feel good when we think we’ve tricked someone, or when we think that we’ve gotten away with something. Sin causes us to feel good when we are struggling in a relationship by driving us into the arms of someone who seems to be “so much better” than the person we’ve married. Sin often encourages us to excuse our inappropriate behavior away – even as we hear God calling us to change course.

Sin almost always starts with something small, doesn’t it?

And so, today, I want to encourage you to just stop what you’re doing and change course if you know that you’re doing something wrong. The love and mercy of God is great, and God will give you the strength and courage you need to change course. Jesus promised that He will always be with us – even as He challenges us to change our lives, so that we can live-into the future God’s planned for us. As I shared last week, God’s grace is always sufficient to meet the needs of today – especially when we need God’s continuing help to battle against the very things that have the power to destroy our lives.

Grace Sufficient for Today

grace-e1531161089464.jpg

Having faith isn’t always easy, is it?

We’re pushed and shoved, and we’re disappointed when things go wrong. We face times in life when we’re pushed to the wall and when we don’t know where we’re going to get strength to face even one more day. We face difficult challenges. God doesn’t always take our problems away – even when we ask God to do it. St. Paul once described some sort of challenge that he faced as a “thorn in his flesh.” Do you feel like you have a “thorn” in your flesh? Is there something in your life that you would like God to change?

St. Paul was once a nasty man. He held the cloaks of the people who stoned St. Stephen and he did everything that he could do to destroy the early Church. Paul arrested people who believe in Jesus and had them thrown in jail. But, one day, St. Paul met Jesus face-to-face and his life was changed forever. In fact, Paul devoted the rest of his life to sharing the message of Jesus – the very message that he once had tried to destroy.

But, even though St. Paul was devoted to his ministry and to sharing the message of Jesus with as many people as he could, he faced a challenge. St. Paul called it his “thorn in the flesh.” And even though a lot of folks think that they know what St. Paul’s “thorn” was – we really don’t. And that’s OK.

“Grace Sufficient for Today” is a message that can help you to think about the “thorn” that you are facing in life, right now. Jesus once told us that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of its own. St. Paul faced his own “thorn in the flesh” by living from day to day – trusting that God would provide whatever he needed to get through yet another day. And in that, there’s a wonderful message of hope and guidance for all of us.

Several years back, quite by chance, I had the opportunity to meet Billy Graham.

By the time that I met Billy Graham he was pretty fragile. I’ll never forget that he needed two men to walk beside him and hold him by the arms as he entered the room. But, even more than that, I’ll always remember the conversation that I had with Billy Graham as he shared his thoughts about his struggles with Parkinson’s disease. He said that throughout all of his struggles, the one thing that he had learned – over and over again – is that God’s grace is always sufficient to meet today’s needs.

That’s a powerful message; and it’s also a message that echoed inside of me when my own hands started to shake about five years later. “God’s grace is always sufficient to meet today’s needs,” I remembered as the doctor told me that I have Parkinson’s disease, too. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” Jesus once said to us, “because tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”

Faith is a wonderful gift. The fact that God will provide whatever we need – just when we need it the most – is a source of great hope in challenging times. God is God who blesses us and strengthens us and supports us and cares for us in incredible ways! And God is a God who has promised us that we will be given the faith that we need to face each day.

How can that message bring strength and hope into your life, right now?

How can the fact that God’s grace is sufficient for today help you and encourage you as you face whatever you need to face this week with Jesus by your side?

 

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.