Our daughter, Christina was born on December 21st.  She loves Christmas! She calls one day to tell me how excited she is about Christmas and how she has already bought many of her gifts. She says, “I cannot wait for Christmas!”  I asked her, “Christina, are you waiting for Christmas or are you waiting for Christ?” After a long moment of pause and silence, she responds, “Both – Whichever comes first!”

Christmas Day is only now a few short weeks away. And, as we wait for the day to come there is so much to do! Our expectations are high!  Our days are filled with preparing for the big day!  We are putting up our trees, decorating the house, and going to Christmas parties.  We do all of these wonderful and fun things in our waiting!

What is the difference?  Isn’t Christmas about the coming of the Christ child?  Is Christmas not the reason we celebrate that special day? I believe the answer is ‘yes’ for most of us; however, I do believe there is a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.

In his gospel, Luke tells us what to expect when the end days are coming.  There will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, nations will rise against nations; you will be persecuted, betrayed, and hated because of your love for Jesus Christ.  You will see signs in the sun, moon, and stars; there will be confusion, the heavens will shake, and there will be so much fear that people will faint.  So, be on guard and make sure that your heart is not weighed down with all the things of this world.  Things like worry, self-indulgence, and dissipation so you are not caught unexpectantly when Jesus comes.  And, most of all, pray for strength when you are faced with these times of trial.

Isn’t it true that so many of these prophecies are already happening?  Jesus is coming again and that is a promise!  On Christmas day, we celebrate the coming of Christ!  However, in my experience, I go through a lot of work and spend a lot of money preparing and waiting for that special day.  And, within two hours of opening our gifts we have given each other, it seems to be over.  Our expectations of that day are so high that when it is done there is a certain amount of disappointment and let-down.

However, in our waiting and preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ, we have something that we do not have that Christmas morning.  We have ‘Hope.”  In this life, we are going to face times of trial, disasters, confusion, pain, and suffering.  But, in the end, we have ‘hope’ that we will continue to live in the presence of Christ! There will not be disappointment. We will not be let down. Jesus will far exceed any of our expectations!

Our gospel writer states, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28).  Redemption! Saved from sin!  Saved from evil!  Free to live a life with Christ!

We know the day of Christmas – December 25th.  But, we do not know the day when Christ will come again.  So, be on guard and make sure that your heart is not weighed down with all the things of this world.  Things like worry, self-indulgence, and dissipation so you are not caught unexpectantly when Jesus comes.  And, most of all, pray for strength when you are faced with these times of trial!

Whichever comes first – Christmas Day or Jesus Christ, waiting for Jesus to come again promises to be worth the wait!

Light of Life

Yesterday, I had the privilege of doing our children’s sermon.  Sometimes when I feel sad about things going on in my life, I like to focus on the baptismal font.  So, I moved the font to the front and center of the aisle where no one would miss seeing it. When the children came up to hear the Word of God, I wanted them to know that it was important to know who Jesus was and what Jesus means in their lives, but also to know who they were – a Child of God!

In John 8:8-20, the scribes and the Pharisees had brought a woman to the temple to be stoned because she had committed adultery.  When Jesus comes on the scene, he tells them that anyone who has not sinned, can throw the first stone.  Since no one could not qualify themselves as sinless, they all backed away.  Jesus lets the woman walk away, unjudged.  However, here is what I love the most:  Jesus tells them, “I know where I come from and I know where I am going…If you know me, you would know my father also.”

This life is so hard. We have all kinds of voices talking to us – to tell us how we are to feel; how we are supposed to look; we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, and it goes on and on.  If we are not confident in who we are – a Child of God…and know who Jesus Christ is – the One who died on the cross for us, it is so easy to hear the things of this secular world and not the Word of God that tells us how awesome we are because He created us!

Jesus was confident about who He was – the Son of God; and where He was going – to be with His Father! He did not care what the Scribes and Pharisees had to say or what they thought about Him!  He knew Who He was and to Whom He belonged!  Who cares what they think about Him!

Jesus claims that He is the Light of the world.  You see, this is how we become the Light of Life! (John 8:12) When we recognize who we are and to Whom we belong, the Light – Jesus Christ – is in us and with us!  Nothing else matters!

Let us pray.  Jesus Christ, Lord, Savior, and friend: When this life becomes so hard, help us to hear your words of love, grace, and mercy. Like the adulterous woman, please do not judge us when we know we have sinned.  Help us to remember who we are – your child and to Whom we belong – only You! Lead us and guide us to be the Light of Life in this world. Amen.

Why Do You Go to Church?

In my home visits to my congregation, the first question I would ask is, “Why do you go to church?” I’ve had to ponder this question myself as I thought about my own church life. I do not remember a time when I “didn’t” do to church! It was what we did growing up. I was expected to get up every single Sunday morning regardless of how late I was out the night before. So, was going to church just checking off a box to say that I went? Did I go because I was told to go? Is church just something that is expected of me?  Why do you go to church?  And, if you are not a church-goer, what would be the reason that you would go to church?

In John 6:24-35, there are crowds of people seeking out Jesus because he had just fed thousands of peoples’ stomachs full, with only a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. When they find Jesus, He tells them, “The only reason you are searching for me is because you want to be fed again, and for free!”  The dialogue continues with Jesus telling them to work hard for the things that last, not for things that are temporary and have no meaning.  In their confusion, they ask Jesus, “What should we doing then to perform the works of God?”  Jesus is frank with them, “Believe in the One whom God sent – just trust! They respond, “Well, if you want us to trust you and commit to you, then give us a sign!” And, as an example they reminded Jesus that Moses provided Manna (food) for the Israelites. Therefore Jesus, what will you do for us? But, Jesus corrects them and says, “It is not Moses who provided the Manna, but God! God gives you everything!”

So, what is this all about? Jesus says that to do the works of God, we must trust Him?  But, trust can only come from the work of the Spirit. We don’t even have the capability or desire to do that on our own!  This is a matter of the heart!  To trust Jesus, our hearts must be right with God! There is no other way! It’s like a snow ball effect…Then to be in a right relationship with God, our hearts have to be fed!  Our hearts can only be fed with the Word of God and through the breaking of the bread!

The question: Why do you go to church?  We go to church to be fed with the Word of God! We go to church to receive God’s amazing grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love through the breaking of the Bread! Jesus is the BREAD!  Through Him, we are given LIFE!  A life that frees us from our sin, brokenness, and suffering! This is the Life that is truly LIFE!

Sir, give us this Bread always!

Are you Tired and Weary?

When our son, Robert was only a few months old when I took him in for one of his check-ups.  With pure exhaustion, I told his pediatrician, “I thought babies were supposed to sleep!”  Because you see, I’m one of those who do need my sleep!  But, he told me, there are some people who just don’t require a lot of sleep.  Well, our son, Robert is one of them.

However, sleep is important to our overall health.  Did you know that consistently lacking in sleep can cause many health problems? For example, not enough sleep will cause high blood pressure, lowered immunity, dysfunctional metabolism, a higher the risk of diabetes, a threat to our cardiovascular health, increased obesity, and a higher risk of a stroke. God created us to rest and to sleep. It is how we are created!

In Mark 6:30-34; 53-56, Jesus tells his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  They disciples had just returned from a long mission trip where they had the power and authority to heal the sick, cast our demons, and proclaim the good news.  So, they get into their boat to get to a deserted place to be alone and get some rest. But, the people recognized them and started coming towards them in droves – 1000’s of people from all the neighboring towns!  Even though, they were trying to get away to rest, Jesus had compassion for the people. He said, “They are like sheep without a shepherd!”

Jesus began to teach them and with only a couple of fish and loaves of bread, Jesus fed thousands of people that day.  Again, he tells the disciples to get back into the boat. Jesus dismisses the crowds and goes to the mountain to pray. While the disciples were in the boat, a wind comes up and the disciples are struggling with the oar. Jesus who was on land and sees them struggling against the wind, begins to walk on water towards them. In their fear, the disciples struggle with processing all they had seen Jesus do.

They now moored their boat at Gennesaret. And, again the people recognize the disciples and Jesus – and the crowds are thick with people wanting to be healed.  Even the marketplace becomes a place where people are brought on stretchers hoping for Jesus’ healing hands…many believed that even if they could just touch the clothing of Jesus – they would be healed. And, indeed they were – ALL THOSE WHO TOUCHED IT WERE HEALED.

These people were desperate! They were looking for hope! They had no where else to go!  Jesus was their last recourse!  They yearned to be in the presence of the Lord!  And, when they were, they were healed!

Well, I have been perplexed by this! I want to know to know the end of the story!  I want to know what the people did!  Did they run and tell others?  Or, were they content because they had received what they needed from Jesus with no intention of ever following Jesus?

So, it was in the Greek that I found the only answer that makes sense to me…To be healed…could be translated as “To be made whole”

You see for me, this changes everything!  “To be made whole” doesn’t just mean our physical body is healed. “To be made whole” means that all of our past hurts are gone. “To be made whole” means to be in a right relationship with Jesus Christ!  “To be made whole” takes commitment, honesty, and determination, just like all those people that traveled to be in the presence of the Lord!

Jesus became their Shepherd – I Will Make YOU WHOLE!

I’ll feed you.  I’ll take your worry from you.  I’ll take your pain.  I’ll take your suffering. I’ll take your broken relationships I’ll take your sins. I’ll give you Forgiveness. And, I’ll give you REST!

Were the people changed that day?  Absolutely “yes!” – Inside and out! Not only were they healed of their physical ailments, but also, matters of the Heart!

Not only did God create us to rest, but God also sent us God’s Son to provide all the rest that we need. Through Jesus’ amazing grace, mercy, and love for us, we are given God’s peace that allows us to rest in the arms of our Lord.

Yes, sleep and rest in this life is important for our bodies while we are here on earth.  It is how God created us.  None of us want to encounter the ailments that lack of sleep can cause.

However, Jesus invites us to come to Him to allow Him to be our Shepherd, who will give us everything we need so that we can rest. Through Jesus Christ, who is our Shepherd, will give us rest and we then will receive a life that is truly life.

Power Received by Faith

I received a text message that I want to share with the world.  It says:

 “I absolutely love my job…but I am not kidding when I tell you…that this, [doing ministry],” is so much more important to me. I wish I could just take leave and work on growing this church!”

 Following Jesus Christ comes from the heart.  It is our faith that gives us power, endurance, and strength to do the work of the Lord.  Our faith comes from the Word of God. Through the Word of God – hearingGod’s Word, one’s life is changed radically, in which it will never be the same again.  This is what happened to the disciples and this is what happened to the person who sent me this text.

In Mark 6:1-13, Jesus and His disciples arrive into Jesus’ hometown. It is a Sabbath and they go into to the temple where Jesus preaches and teaches. At first, all are “astounded” at what they hear, until they recognize Him as the kid that played in the street with the other kids. He faces rejection.

He then sends his twelve disciples on a mission trip to proclaim the Good News of repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons. These same disciples who lacked faith just a few short days ago, and questioned who this man Jesus really was – the One who was had power over the wind and the sea – now suddenly do not even question their abilities to go out into the world and do as Jesus has equipped them to do!

What changed?  What was it that gave the disciples the power, passion, and desire for mission that enabled them to go out into the communities with no food, no money, no extra change of clothes, and having no idea where they would sleep that night and proclaim Christ in this profound way?

This mission trip was so radically different than anything they had ever done! These were 12 men who just a few short days ago, lacked in their faith, could not grasp that Jesus was Lord of all, and relied on Him for their well-being.

What changed? Well, here is what I believe…

In Verse 1:  It was the Sabbath and Jesus began to teach and many who were there, were astounded!  The disciples were there!  They followed Jesus into the Temple that day.  They heard the Word of God!  They just weren’t there and listened. They heard it!

 It was through a new faith of their own, they received God’s authority! It was a pure gift in which they are then called by the One whose resurrection power enabled them to do what they could otherwise never do, or even dream of doing.

I believe this is what happened to the 12 disciples!  They heard God’s Word and God’s call for them that gave them a life radically different from anything they could ever imagine. This transformation from hearing God’s Word allowed them to put their faith into action by accepting God’s gift of authority and power that began to change the world!

It’s the same with us! When we hear with our hearts the Word of God in such a profound way, we begin to accept God’s authority, right along with Jesus and His disciples, to proclaim, heal, and claim victory over evil!

This is the “Heart” of the matter! Our hearts must hear God’s Word of Salvation and Hope for us to have the passion to proclaim it to others!  It’s the one way!  It’s called discipleship!  God’s Word in our hearts cause us to see beyond what we expect to see. We begin to see the world through the lens of Jesus Christ!  When our hearts hear the Word of God, we begin to connect with others as if our life depended on it. It becomes a life or death concept that can only come from the heart.

And, when we cross over to the side of Jesus Christ, we realize that there is no going back. There is no Plan B!  We know in our hearts and minds that we must keep forging forward to live out our mission for Jesus Christ!  And, when we do, we Leave our mark on the world!  People will know who we are without ever having met us!

I truly believe that this is what happened to this person who sent me this text:

 “I absolutely love my job…but I am not kidding when I tell you…that this, ”doing ministry,” is so much more important to me. I wish I could just take leave and work on growing this church!”.

Her name is Colette Hammesfahr, a member and church council president of Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church in Richmond Hill, GA.

Jesus calls us to a life that is truly life and radically different than anything that we can imagine!  As we deepen our faith and relationship with Christ, we are transformed from ordinary people to an extraordinary disciple of Christ!  Through this transformation, God’s power to heal and take care of His people will take expression in our churches, communities, and the world, in ways we could never dream or imagine!

Excruciating Vulnerability!

I’ll never forget my favorite professor from Norther Kentucky University who always told me, “You have to put yourself out there!  You will never know what you can be until you do!”  At the time, I was applying for a job at Procter and Gamble. I could think of a million reasons for them not to hire me…I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, and on and on.  I was afraid of rejection!  I was afraid of failure!  Putting ourselves “out there” is hard because it makes us vulnerable.  Vulnerability makes us feel uncomfortable. No one wants to be rejected, hurt, or feel like they don’t belong.

In Mark 5:21-43, there is a man named, Jarius.  He is a religious official, well-known in his community, and high up on the socio-economic ladder.  He probably could have had anything he wanted and needed.  But, he had a 12-year old daughter who was deathly ill. He could not make her well.  When Jesus got off the boat, Jarius was there falling at Jesus’ feet, begging him to come lay hands on his daughter.  Jesus begins to follow him with crowds of people closing in on him.

A woman, with ‘no name’ who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years wanted to get near Jesus. She had spent every penny on trying to get well. She lived on the margins of society, was considered “unclean,” and at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.  She believed that if only she could touch the clothes of Jesus, she might would be healed.  And, she was right! Soon after she touched Jesus’ cloak, she could feel the illness leave her body! With the crowds closing in, Jesus wanted to know who touched him.  She came forward in ‘fear and trembling.’ She admitted and confessed to Jesus that she was the one.

Excruciating Vulnerability…both Jarius and the ‘no name’ woman put themselves “out there” where they could have easily been rejected by Jesus.  For Jarius, it would have been complete embarrassment.  A man who could have had ‘anything,’ but could not heal his daughter.  For the ‘no name’ woman, she had nothing to lose.  She was already at the bottom, ostracized, and rejected by her family and the community . From one end of the spectrum to the other, Jesus loved them both, had compassion for them, and not only healed the daughter and the woman, but also made them whole again within their community. Their ‘excruciating vulnerability’ gave them power to be alive and free!

You see, putting yourself “out there” – making yourself vulnerable to the Lord, gives you the power to become free, whole, and filled with joy! To say, “Jesus, here I am…broken, a sinner, in pain, and hurting…An excruciating vulnerability – to admit before God all the things that are wrong with us – but yet, we are never rejected by the One who came to save us!  We have a God who loves us so much, in spite of everything we are and not who we should be. A God that forgives, heals, and restores our lives. A God who makes us whole, giving us a sense of belonging that brings us complete joy!

The Kingdom of God is Like..

The Kingdom of God is like…

How would you fill in the blank? How do you view God’s Kingdom? What are your hopes and dreams as you vision God’s Kingdom?

In Mark 4:26-34, we get a glimpse into God’s Kingdom.  We get a glimpse from the perspective of two parables. Did you know that parables are the only way Jesus spoke to the people and even to the disciples.  However, Jesus did explain everything to the disciples when they were in private.  Jesus gave the disciples the INSIDE-SCOOP!

The word “Parable” in the Greek is broken down into two parts: PARA – which means “BESIDE” and BALLEIN, which means, “TO THROW.”  So, a parable then is “THROWING” one thing – A Vision of God’s Kingdom –and BESIDE another – The World as it is.  When  ‘a vision of God’s Kingdom’ is beside the ‘world as it is’,  anything can happen!

Furthermore, the Greek word for KINGDOM is BASILEIA which is NOT a static location, room, or place.  BASILEIA is dynamic!  It describes the arenas of God’s activity and influence.  It can translate as God’s REIGN or God’s RULE.

Therefore, the Kingdom of God is like…Seeing the World as God does!  For us as humans, it puts us in this place of the NOW – Here on earth – even as we pray…Our Father…Let your Kingdom come…But also, the NOT YET!  We live in the in-between of the Now and the Not yet!

Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is Like…”  And, then we get these two parables…

“THROWING” A Vision of God’s Kingdom. “BESIDE” The World as it is…And, then we see what happens…

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God like seed scatter, that grows into a plant. But, we don’t know how it all happens…It just does…

Secondly, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard Seed – so tiny, lifeless, a seed that seems dead; we can walk on it and crush it, and as a tiny seed is offers us no value whatsoever.

However, when planted and nourished, it grows into this huge shrub – so large, it will give us shade and branches for the birds to build their nests.

You and I can plant the seed.  We have that capability.  But, we have no control over the seed and how it grows.  It is up to God.

The world as it is – beside a vision of God’s Kingdom…

The seed in these parables are the Word of God.  The world as it is:  You and I who are to SCATTER God’s WORD –Throw’ it out into the world to every place we can, ‘beside’ God’s Vision for the Kingdom.  What happens?  It is the Word of God that changes hearts!  We don’t know how it happens, it just does!

St. Paul tells in another way to the Corinth Church: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become NEW!

When our hearts are changed into the likeness of Christ, we are a new creation!  Everything about us becomes new!  No longer can we stand to hear profanity, watch or listen to violence, or tolerate cruelty.  We become open to helping others, fighting for justice, and feel compassion for the poor, the suffering, and those who are hurting.  The Word of God moves us and changes us in ways we never could have imagined!

This is the world as it is…BESIDE God’s vision for the world –

The Kingdom of God is LIKE…

Our FAITH the size of a lifeless Mustard Seed, Beside God’s Power beyond our Understanding…Deepens our Faith and Love for God that cannot be contained!

The Kingdom of God is like…You and me in the world doing the work of the Lord, Beside God’s Dynamic, Activity and Influence, Changes Hearts in ways we cannot fathom!

The Kingdom of God is LIKE…You and me in the world, full of chaos, hate, suffering, and hardships…Beside a God who loves us so much…That he sent HIS one and only son to die for us…to take our sin…We don’t know how it happened or if we can truly grasp it and understand it…

Jesus did it for you just so you can have eternal LIFE!