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!”

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.

Christian Emissions Standards

Freedom of Speech

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I began my career as a Chemical Engineer.

I helped to design pilot plants – smaller versions of chemical plants that would be built in the future. I worked beside a computer programmer every day, and our daily task was to write and utilize computer programs that simulated what would happen as chemicals traveled through a chemical plant – so that we could accurately predict what would come out of the plant based upon what we put into it. And that was always important to me.

I remember my parents taking my sisters and I down to the McDonalds in Baden, PA and watching orange dust from the steel mill across the river settle onto our car as we ate our cheeseburgers. I remember the brown hillside behind the lead smelter where I worked – totally devoid of vegetation because all of the plants and trees had been killed by the chemicals that had been spewed from our plant for decades. And that’s why I became “environmentally conscious” long before many other people even cared.
But now, people talk about the environment all the time, don’t they?

We are concerned about what comes out the tailpipes of our cars, and many people want us to stop mining and burning coal. We buy energy-efficient light bulbs, and we talk about the irreparable damage that could be done to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota if mining companies are permitted to take-over a pristine, untamed wilderness. We talk about animals (like the black rhinoceros) becoming extinct, and stories about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fill the news. And that’s good. I think that it’s good for us to watch what we are doing and to remember that God has placed us on the face of this earth to take care of it – not to just consume it.
Jesus was concerned about “emissions standards,” too!

There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile,” Jesus says, “but the things that come out of us are what make us unclean in the eyes of God.” (Mark 7:15)The things that we take into our bodies are not the things in life that make us unclean in the eyes of the Lord,” Jesus says. “What makes us unclean in God’s eyes are all of the things that come out of our hearts and, then, out of our mouths.
According to Jesus, Christians need “emissions standards.”

How many times do we all hear faithful Christians swearing and using vulgar language when they are speaking with each other? How many times have we used our own tongue to spread gossip, to talk about people behind their backs, and to speak to each other in unhelpful ways? How often do we find ourselves attacking people that we haven’t even met on social media? I suspect that we’ve all let words fly from our lips – or from the tips of our fingers – and suddenly wished that we could take them back. But it’s often too late for that, isn’t it?

In this week’s message, “Christian Emissions Standards”, we explore what it means to be good stewards of our language. St. James once wrote, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for, your anger does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19b-20) James further writes, “If any of you think that you are righteous and do not bridle your tongue, you just deceive your hearts and your religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)

How would our lives be changed if we more carefully chose our words, so that we spoke to others in encouraging and up-building ways more consistently? How would our lives – and our country – be changed if we became as concerned about what comes out of our mouths – and off the tips of our fingers – as we are about what comes out of smokestacks at chemical plants?

We can protect our environment by bridling our tongues and by being more careful about what we post on social media. We need to remember that we don’t have to enter every debate and every argument. Sometimes, it’s best for us to say absolutely nothing than to say what we think in a way that hurts people.

How can we use our voice – and the words that we type on our computer screens – to foster deeper understandings, to call forth the best in each other, and to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves“? (James 1:22)

Perhaps, in an age of increasingly divisive rhetoric and ugly arguments that end life-long friendships, one of the best things we can do is become better stewards of our language – by watching what comes out of our mouths more carefully – and by being just as careful about the words that emerge from our fingertips as we leave messages on social media?

Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?

clerical collar pic

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?

Seeing Who You Really Are

reflection

John 6:35, 41-51

When was the last time you looked at your own reflection in a pool of water?

You and I are signs that can open the windows of Heaven and point other people toward Jesus. We can point people toward Jesus by treating them with love and respect, and we can point people toward the “Bread of Life” by participating in the ministry of a Christian congregation. But, we don’t always see ourselves as “signs” that can point people to Jesus, do we? That’s something that I struggle with, too.

Jesus once had an interesting confrontation with people in Capernaum. He had just fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. He had just finished telling the people that they hadn’t come to see Him because of the “signs” that He had done. In fact, according to Jesus, the people had only come to see Him because they had just had their bellies filled with the bread and fish. And right after Jesus had told the people this truth, He told them that He’s the “Bread of Life” – the one, lasting thing that satisfies the deepest needs in our daily lives.

And people shouted, “Who does this guy think that he is?” “Didn’t we know this guy when he was just a little kid, and don’t we know this man’s father and mother..?” “How can this son of Joseph, an ordinary guy, do the “works of God” and be what we need the most?”

This is the all-too-real dilemma that we face in: “Seeing Who You Really Are”.

What makes me, the son of Robert and Lois, worthy to stand in a pulpit and to preach a sermon? What makes YOU, the son or daughter of your own ordinary parents, qualified to teach a Sunday School class, or serve on a Church Council, or express your opinions during a meeting at the church you attend? What is it that makes YOU, a son or daughter of your own ordinary parents, qualified to do God’s work?
Jesus has something to say about that.

Jesus says you’re qualified to do God’s work because, when you do God’s work, it’s God who is working within you. In John 6:35, 41-51, Jesus reminds us that we’re qualified to join hands with others in Christian ministry – not because of our lineage or background; but rather, because God touched us in the waters of Baptism and because God continues to reminds us of “who we are” every time we gaze into a pool of quiet water and reflect upon the day of our Baptism.

This week’s message, “Seeing Who You Really Are”, ends by drawing you into an ancient Indian myth that tells the story of mighty Symba, King Kimbalu and their little cub. It’s a message that challenges you to gaze into the still waters of Holy Baptism until you begin to more clearly see who you are, and until you begin to feel a great, primal ROOOOAAAR erupt within you. This is a life-changing message that you need to both hear and to share with others! It’s a message that might help you to discover the identity of the person that God has created you to be, and that might help you to more clearly see what God wants you to do as you live your daily life in a world where you have the chance to point other people to Jesus.

Does God Still Give Us “Signs”?

looking for a sign

John 6:24-35

Several months ago, I saw a “sign.”

Now, before you get all excited, the sky didn’t open-up and I didn’t hear a big, booming voice from Heaven. The “sign” that I saw had nothing to do with watching someone feed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. The “sign,” in fact, was just a large, tattered billboard that read: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!

In this week’s message, “Does God Still Give Us ‘Signs’?”, I want to challenge you to think about the things that first pointed you toward Jesus. We sometimes see Jesus’ power to strengthen and heal when we find ourselves praying for people that we love. Jesus can melt the harsh bitterness that fills our hearts after we’ve been hurt or disappointed. God can show us the next step forward when we don’t know what to do. Sometimes, WE can even be a “sign” of Jesus’ presence in the lives of other people.

The writer of John’s Gospel begins an interesting story in John 6:24-35.

Jesus has just finished feeding more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. Jesus has gone off to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the home of about 1,500 people. And when the people hear that Jesus is in Capernaum, they gather because they want to see Him. And Jesus tells them: “You haven’t come here to see me because you saw ‘signs.’ You came here because you had your bellies filled with bread and fish.” And, even after Jesus tells the people that what He has just done is the “work of God,” the people who have gathered around Him start to demand another sign.
So, let me ask you a question: “How have YOU come to know Jesus?”

I first learned about Jesus in a Sunday School class where Mrs. Pfeifer showed-up every Sunday morning to teach me about Jesus. I also learned about Jesus as an ordinary man, named Kenneth Ruckert, pointed me to “signs” that proclaimed the fact that Jesus even loves confused teenagers. I’ve learned about Jesus while serving as a camp counselor at Camp Lutherlyn, and as I’ve journeyed through life with people who were suffering and even dying – people who pointed me toward the “signs” of God’s presence in the world when life isn’t perfect. I’ve come to know Jesus because people, throughout all of my life, have invested their time and energy in me. And, because of that, I’ve seen a lot of “signs.” Didn’t St. Paul once write that faith always comes from outside of us (Romans 10:17)?
And that’s why your investment in the ministry of the Church is so important.

I may have never heard about Jesus if Mrs. Pfeifer hadn’t volunteered to teach Sunday School every Sunday morning, and if other people hadn’t donated the money that she needed to buy the books that she used. I may have never become a pastor if the faithful members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Beaver Falls, PA hadn’t financially supported the ministry of Pastor Joel Nafuma – the man who helped me to pull the pieces together when God first began to call me into ordained ministry. When we faithfully invest our time and energy and money in Christian ministry, we can be people who create “signs” that point people to Jesus. In fact, when we invest in the ministry of a local congregation (or in the ministry of the Church in a broader way), we can open windows to Heaven and point people toward Jesus – the “Bread of Life” – who comes into the world to nourish us, to sustain us, to forgive us, and to lift us up both strengthened and renewed.
“If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!”

Perhaps, God is using these words to challenge you to think about the ways that God can use YOU to do the types of ministry that open the windows of Heaven for other people? Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that the time, energy and money that YOU invest in the ministry of a local congregation (and in the Church as a whole) has the power to help other people to discover the “Bread of Life.” Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that, as YOU join hands with other Christians in ministry, God can use whatever you offer to change people’s lives and alter their destinies?

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.

Remember the Beauty of Your Dreams

big things

Have you ever tried to water-ski?

Many years ago, I found myself bobbing up and down in the Ohio River. I had already tried to pull myself out of the water and stand on my feet many times. My stomach was churning because I had swallowed what must have been a gallon of water while being dragged behind a boat. And, as everybody watched, I reached for the rope that floated beside me, heard the rev of the engine, saw the slack in the rope disappear, and then…. I disappeared beneath the water again, was dragged several hundred feet, and finally let go of the rope. That was it. I climbed into the boat – and never tried to water ski again.

Picture the disciples sitting beside Jesus. They were already exhausted. They had crossed over the sea to escape from the busyness of their daily routines. But, the people saw what they were doing and were waiting for them on the other side of the sea. And Jesus cared about the people, and He taught – and taught – and taught – and taught. And, before Jesus’ disciples realized what what happening, stomachs began to growl and people needed to eat. But the disciples could only find find loaves of bread and two little fish – and what’s that when you’re sitting in a crowd of more than 5,000 hungry people?

I’m sure that we all get tired and that we all have times when we don’t think that we have anything left to give. We, sometimes, find it hard to say “No” when we’re asked to do things – even though our calendars are already full. Many churches are struggling with an ever-shrinking pool of volunteers and with rising deficits. We have hopes and dreams that have been placed in our hearts by God. We want to do great and marvelous things. But, we’ve all faced times when we think (or even know) that there’s not enough to go around, right? We want to do great things, but find nothing more than five loaves of bread and two little fish to get the job done.

And so, we need to make a decision. We can chisel our dreams into something less, or we can lift the situation before God and ask for God’s help. We can cut things back a bit, stop reaching toward God-inspired dreams, and simply quit – or we can remember that God’s placed those hopes and dreams in our hearts, and that God will supply what we need to do what God wants us to do. And that’s important for us to understand.

In this week’s message, “Remember the Beauty of Your Dreams”, we’re reminded that faith challenges us to look past obstacles and challenges, and to work together to fulfill God’s plans for our lives and ministries. We are, often, the very people who ultimately decide what we can and cannot do because we are people who decide what we “will” or “will not” do in response to God’s call. We’ve all needed to face the little voice deep inside that says, “You can’t do that!” But, even as that voice continues to echo in our ears, Jesus continues to call us to feed the multitude – even when we’re not sure that we can do it.

But just think about how our lives and ministries could be transformed if we just go so excited and fired-up about what God wants us to do that we simply did it? How would our lives and ministries be changed if we simply trusted that God would provide us with the resources and volunteers that we need to do the things that God’s calling us to do?

Randy Pausch, the author of a book entitled Last Lecture, challenges us to live our lives with passion and commitment. He reminds us that we only have one chance to live and that we need to do the things that matter the most to us. And Randy also reminds us that brick walls often arise to test us and to help us to see how badly we want the thing that we dream about. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Remember the Beauty of Your Dreams.” And, this week, I’m challenging you to do that.

What hopes and dreams has God placed into your heart? What ways is God calling you to put your fingerprints on the world? Is there something that you believe God wants you to do before you die? What’s keeping you from simply doing it, right now?

Seize the day! God has a great, big, wonderful plan for both you and for the ministry of Christ’s Church. Lift your five loaves of bread and two little fish before God and ask God to bless them and multiply them today. You might be surprised by what God can do!

 

When You Get Off Track

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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.