Pushing It To The Next Level

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Here we go!!!

A funny thing happened along the way as I look towards turning 40. No, I am not there yet, but it is less than a year away! I started running about 9 years ago, and at that time it was more of just something I thought I would try.

This is after growing up and participating in sports where running was the punishment. I played one year of football when I was in fourth grade and because I did not hit properly the coach made me run around the entire area where we were practicing (which was at least a 1/4 mile). That was enough of me playing football! I played tennis all four years in high school and of course some running was involved but I did not think anything about it. I had friends that played soccer and ran cross country, and I thought that the distances they were running were just insane.

So, here I find myself now. Approaching my 40th birthday with a new goal on my mind. That goal is to complete the Detroit Marathon on October 16; my first full marathon before I turn 40! No, I just did not decide to do this on a whim. Since 2009 I have ran 5 half-marathons and a 25k. So much for the boy that grew up detesting running.

My official training started this morning with an easy 4 mile out and back run that felt pretty good. I am motivated by many things while I look towards race day. They are, not in any particular order:

  1. Setting an awesome example for my children.
  2. Maintaining my health and losing weight (Can I get down to 170 by race day?).
  3. Running the Marathon with my sister (and perhaps beating her). A little sibling rivalry is healthy right?
  4. A sense of accomplishment that I have truly pushed myself to a new level.
  5. And many, many more…

Running for me is a sense to connect with God and is a time of contemplation. For this reason I usually prefer to run by myself. I do listen to podcasts usually while I run and the one that I listened to this morning was true motivation. Runner’s World has just started producing two podcasts that are wonderful and the Human Race  podcast that I listened to this morning feature a conversation with 85 year old Sylvia Wiener, who has completed 75 marathons and thousands of other races after surviving the Holocaust. Stories like this are great motivation as well.

I encourage you to listen to yourself and by chance even to where God may be calling you to push in your life. I know that as I push towards this next goal that I am not alone as Jesus is right along side me and that I can count on all of your support and love. I’ll be sure to keep you updated about my training and other opportunities.

 

 

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To the People of Galatia

Book-of-Galatians

Galatians 1:1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom to be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Beginning this Sunday we are going to start a six week journey with Paul in his letter to the Galatians. Almost half of the New Testament consists of letters that Paul has written to those places that he has either ministered to along his journey or to individuals working to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They usually contain a salutation and words of thanksgiving for the ministry that is being done at the current time.

Aren’t these words that you would like to hear from someone that brought the faith to you and being affirmed in the things that you are doing? It is nice to be acknowledged for those things that we do correctly and those times that we go above and beyond the expectations. We like to be greeted with kind words and acknowledged by those that we encounter throughout the day. We like to be welcomed with a warm smile and a friendly hello. While Paul usually does not do this in person, his letters usually speak for him.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians seems to start out like any of his other letters. There is one thing missing that I am sure the listeners of the letter as it is read to them are shocked by. They are greeted with a salutation, but where is their word for thanksgiving? Instead, he goes right into his purpose of writing to them and does not hold back. It may even appear that he goes on the defense of the things that he has taught to the Galatians. He backs this up with his credentials and the point that the gospel he originally shared with the Galatians was the same that was revealed to him through Jesus Christ.

So, why does Paul seem to go on the attack right at the outset of his letter? Why is this letter to the Galatians different from all of the other letters that he had written or would write? He is concerned that the people of Christ are following another teaching, different from the good news that was proclaimed to them by Paul when he was with them. The last time he left the Galatians they were probably full of the Spirit and ready to proclaim the same good news that he had shared with them to others in the area. He was probably satisfied to the point that he felt that it was time to carry the good news on to another community and they would be fine as there were probably some leaders that had been lifted up among them. He had spent a great deal of time with them and I am sure he put in a lot of hard work.

Of course, our plans always work out, right? In this case, Paul is shocked to hear that the Galatians have steered away from what Paul preached and were now following the instructions that spoke counter to the Word that Paul shared. He is astonished that they were so quick to step away from his teachings and fall so quickly for someone else that preached a false gospel. In my mind, I am picturing something like the guy that I saw before the Detroit Tiger’s game earlier this week that was walking around with a big cross and megaphone preaching anything but the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ.

Come to think of it, are we really much different from the Galatians? At times we are quick to follow what others say and do without really thinking for ourselves. Perhaps we find ourselves on a different path in life than what God had intended for us and it most likely is not a path that Jesus would have taken. We forget what has been taught to us in the past and we turn to the next best thing, that which is close by. This is what the Galatians have done. They probably got to the point after Paul left that they were not quite sure of themselves and someone else came in bearing another story. A story that did not line up with the story Paul shared, but they felt it was close enough to follow.

At this Paul gets upset. Personally, he does not care what the people think of him, because he is not trying to please them. His calling was to go and proclaim the good news and somewhere along the line, that good news was rearranged.

Doesn’t this sound like a great letter for us to spend six weeks with? Honestly it is. It speaks to the freedom that we have in Christ and the inclusion that the church has the utmost desire for. Grace abounds in the letter to the Galatians and we will unwrap it in the coming weeks. The grace this week comes to us in the fact that even though Paul is upset with the Galatians, he is still willing to teach and share the grace and peace of God as he opens up the letter. Yes he is upset. The grace can be found in the word of God that he continues to share and the hope that he has in Jesus Christ. That hope he now shares with the people in Galatia with a little corrective love.

Yes, we may at times follow a false witness, like the Galatians. However, may we always know that through Jesus Christ we have received the grace of God, which is always present in our lives and ready for us to return at anytime.

As we spend these next six weeks with Paul, may you get to know the people of Galatia through his letter, and be open to the revelation of Jesus Christ in your own life.

We Have Much to Learn

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John 16:12-15

Grace and Peace to you from the Triune God. Amen

Can you remember that first time you were in a class and just felt so overwhelmed that you thought you would never get through it? Maybe it was when the teacher or professor handed you the course syllabus and you were left wondering why did I decide to take this course. Perhaps it was while you were in the midst of the course and things for some reason were just not sticking and were slipping out of your mind as quickly as you heard them or read them.

For me that course was not until my senior year of my undergrad when I needed to get some credits to fulfill my basic requirements. My wife was majoring in psychology at the time and I thought this would be an easy class to pass. Since all I needed to do was pas the class I decided to take the class pass/fail. In this case I needed to get a C in the class to receive the credit. It was by far the class I struggled with most throughout my entire education and my wife was loving every single moment of it, since I usually did not have to put any extra effort into my studies.

It is a wonderful thing that God has created us all with our own gifts and talents and that we can usually find one thing that we are drawn to and utilizes those gifts and talents. For me, at the time, psychology was not one of my gifts or talents. Psychology at that time for me was a bit of a mystery.

We are surrounded by mystery every step along the way. We do not have the answers for everything, and if we think that we do, we are only kidding ourselves. We are surrounded by mystery this morning as we approach the doctrine of the Trinity. Part of the issue may be that we try to compartmentalize everything when it comes to trying to understand it and we think that if we can do so than it will make much more sense to ourselves and hopefully to others that we are trying to communicate. However, God is found in the mystery and it is here that we live. It is through our faith that we come to trust and rely in the Trinity in relationship.

Yet, we still struggle for more answers to the most profound questions of humanity. Jesus states in John this morning that “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them” (16:12). If you are familiar with John in any matter than it may seem contradictory to what Jesus says in 15:15, “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” So, what is it? Has Jesus made everything known to us, or does he still have many things to say that we cannot quite bear?

Yes! Jesus has made everything known to us. However, do we always pick up what he is laying down? The disciples are proof that not everything is understood that comes out of Jesus’ mouth. They were often left wondering what he was saying as well as at times appearing dense. Like myself in psychology, there are times when we are just not ready to bear those things that are being said or taught to us.

Our parents always had more to say, and they may still, but are we ready to bear some of those things that they are wanting to tell us? Teachers always have more to say, no matter what subject you are in, and it can get to a point when we are just ready to say enough is enough, I can only handle so much in one day. Children are not the only ones that have trouble bearing certain topics. Parents, are you ready to bear some of those things that your teenagers would like to say? Are we ready to bear suffering, severe illness, or even death?

We have much to learn, and we cannot do it on our own. Even though many of us will try. Jesus is well aware of this and knows that we cannot bear it all on our own. It is in the third part of the Trinity that Jesus sends his promise that the Spirit of truth will come and guide us all into the truth. Jesus’ teaching is not yet complete and it is in the Spirit that we will continue to be instructed.

The Holy Spirit is in relationship with God and Jesus so that we too may be able to reflect that relationship that is shared amongst them. We must be receptive to not just God and Jesus, for the Spirit comes bearing the truth that guides us in our ways. By being receptive to the Spirit we are led to a much better and deeper understanding of our faith. As the Trinity is in relationship, we are in community and reflect the love that the three in one have for each other.

We must be patient as we study and wait for the Spirit to come guide us in the way and share the truth. I fell in love with this painting when I found it earlier this week. It is titled, Studying the Bible, and it is by Leonid Afremov. For one thing, it reflects the importance of being in relationship with one another. The three gentleman in the painting appear to be of the three Abrahamic faiths and seem to be having a great conversation around the Bible. It speaks to relationship. It speaks to mystery.

The mystery that surrounds our faith should be embraced as we welcome the Spirit of truth to guide us. Get it out of your mind right now that we are expected to know everything and understand everything. Instead, let us wait and listen. We are called to be patient in this waiting and listening. We are called to listen to the past. We are called to listen to the present. We are called to listen to the future. We still have much to learn as children of God. May you be receptive to the Spirit of truth that Jesus has sent to guide us throughout the rest of our days.

*Studying the Bible, painting by Leonid Afremov

Where’s the Spirit Moving You?

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Acts 2:1-21

May the boldness of the Holy Spirit embrace you as you hear God’s Good News this morning!

Change! Not just change, a transformation.

Isn’t that what we are really talking about today? Isn’t it change that is occurring in the midst of those that are gathering in Jerusalem? And what is our natural reaction when it comes to change? We run away from it as far as we can. We try to find any bit of familiarity and cuddle up to it so that we don’t lose anything more that is familiar to us in this time and place.

Change is uncomfortable. Change can lead to disaster. Change can also lead to something miraculous and wonderful. You know what, change requires faith. Do you have faith? For those that fear any change that may come their way, we may possibility question where their faith lies. For changes that come in response to the living, breathing Word of God and the Holy Spirit, requires our utmost faith.

This morning we celebrate Pentecost. Traditionally we look at Pentecost as the birth of the church as we read of the Holy Spirit busting down the doors of the house where the believers are gathering and creates a ruckus so loud and bold that others in Jerusalem have to rush to the scene to witness the commotion. Not only has a strong wind blown through the house and brought others to the scene, but the believers are now speaking in various tongues. The amazing and miraculous thing is that they are able to understand one another in their own language. Imagine that you are at a gathering of the United Nations, because of course we would get invited to that. Just imagine though being surrounded by hundreds of people, all citizens of different countries, speaking hundreds of different languages. And you could understand them all!!!

This is what is taking place in Jerusalem.

“Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

And what is their response? Some are truly amazed at what is transpiring in front of their very own eyes and what they can hear with their very own ears. It is the Spirit at work in both those speaking and those that have gathered to witness. However, as you know, we can not gather together in assemblies without some naysayers. The few that speak out against them are sure that they must be drunk on the new wine! Isn’t that are first assumption at times too when we see someone doing or saying something so outrageous that it confronts our own perceptions. Surely, they must be drunk, or perhaps they are high! Jesus too spoke to those that questioned everything he said and he was thought to be speaking counter to the law. It is Jesus’ message in action that is now taking place in Jerusalem. The promise of the Holy Spirit coming to the believers is now being fulfilled.

The tongues, as of fire, are God’s promise coming to the believers and the Words of Jesus being fulfilled. Just as we have taken part during the Easter season of pointing to where we see God’s promise, the believers received God’s promise on the day of Pentecost as they were called to go forth and share the good news. And the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, even those that come rushing to the scene can understand those that are speaking in their own native tongues while those that questions the whole thing are left wondering. The Spirit is bringing about change for all of those gathered on this day! It is a transformation of the heart and mind, and the Spirit brings all together in one place to witness what God is doing in and through Christ.

We too are called to change. As the Holy Spirit comes and breaths new life in this place through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, we are called to places that we may have never expected. How do we get there, if we do not know where there is? We listen. We listen to God and the Spirit calling us into new forms of ministry and being with one another.

These past couple of days I have had the opportunity to attend Synod Assembly and the overwhelming message was about change. Where are we called to as a church? Where are we called to as a Synod? And as we get down to an even closer level, where are we being called to as a congregation?

Presiding Bishop Eaton was present to share the news of some of the wonderful ministries taking part currently within the ELCA. However, God is always at work in all we do and as a denomination she is encouraging all of its members to come together and examine how we are all “Called Forward Together in Christ.” What do you want the future of the ELCA to look like? Where do you think we are called to be as a church? We will be having these discussions in the coming months so that we can share our input.

Bishop Kreiss discussed the new focus of the synod as we are called to Rise Up and Go Forward! There are some great things happening within our Synod that Trinity is going to be a part of.

And here at Trinity we are in the midst of change! You are getting to know me and I am getting to know you. It is also time to start moving forward in the Kingdom of God and listening to where God is calling us. We will be putting together an exciting new Stewardship emphasis over the summer. We already have some great ministries at work and seeing our new Bike Ministry serving by not only giving bikes to those in need, it also is serving as a ministry to those that want to share their skills and talents.

The Spirit is alive and well in this place and I encourage you to be open to the breath of change that is taking place in the church today as we are called to exciting and new places. May the Spirit transform you and ignite that flame within you to share the powerful message of Jesus Christ through your words and actions.

 

 

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom: A Review

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I was drawn to music at an early age through the music that my parents played on the radio, through cassette tapes, or records. The music was eclectic and ranged from classics to country and rock and everything in between. Through these early experiences it was encouraged that I take piano lessons and did so for eight years. I also played the trombone for five years in the band.

I have appreciated and loved many forms of music from as early as I can remember and understand the power that music has in it. I was delighted as I started to read Albom’s newest novel finding that the narrator is no one other than music herself. The gift of music given to those that grasp it at such a young age and nurture their gift and skills as they grow.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto serves as a biography of sorts as the life of Francisco Rubio (who would become Frankie Presto) is told from the very beginning of his birth to his death. Music plays a vital role throughout the his whole story. While there are aspects of it that seem somewhat super-natural, the spiritual flows through it in ways in which you could argue God was at work.

The love that pours through this story begins from the time of Frankie’s birth in a chapel to his chance encounter with his future wife while he was still a young boy. At times you want to be able to reach out and slap Frankie because he allows things to get away from him and does not seem to fully understand. This is life as we know it and as Albom shares the story you feel a connection to the characters.

The magic strings play a vital part of the story as they bear life and are connected throughout the story of Frankie. While this novel is a little longer than others that Albom has written, it moves fairly quickly and brings in those that you may be familiar with in the music world. You are left with the feeling that you would like to know Frankie as well.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: A Review


I question whether I even have the right to review this book. My initial thoughts after finishing it is that humanity as a long ways to go yet before we are living in the Kingdom of God. Coates is challenging and thought provoking in this memoir/story to his son.

Myself, growing up in a predominantly white town that was at one time a destination point for the KKK in Michigan brought me a childhood that was white and sheltered from diversity. My first real glimpse of true diversity was when I went off to college. While, I don’t consider myself racist, I know that I can have a natural tendency at looking at others differently because of my white upbringing. I may have been blind to the white privilege that I have encountered throughout my life and am now starting to understand it to a small degree.

The world that Coates shares in Between the World and Me is one that is foreign to the world that I grew up in, yet one that I feel compelled to help change as a leader in the church. This book will take many reads to truly start to soak into my sense of understanding, so instead of trying to analyze or criticize, I believe that it is best that we just listen. In that frame of mind, here are a couple excerpts:

referring to the death of Prince Jones, “When it came to her son, Dr. Jone’s country did what it does best–it forgot him. The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them the suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world.”

“I do not believe that we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves…But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.”

It is not an easy read, however, I believe that it should be a necessary reading, or has the recommendation on the front cover by Toni Morrison says, “This is required reading.” Not just for people of color, but for all people. It is time that we move beyond race, nationality, sex or sexual orientation, disability, and embrace all people as children of God. I know, easier said than done. Let us pray!

Jesus Prays for Us!

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John 17:20-26

Glory, to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

We find ourselves in the midst of Jesus’ farewell discourse as he is in prayer for those things he has done, yet to do, and for those that will carry the gospel message forward after he is crucified, resurrected, and ascended. The disciples together are one group waiting for what their next step may be in their journey with Jesus. Jesus encourages that oneness in his prayer on the night before his arrest.

I have to admit that the gospel of John in the past has been my least favorite of the gospels. Why, you may ask. Because, I like the down and dirty Jesus that is working in and among the people, healing, bringing good news and hope, and is doing so, humbly with little to no fanfare. The gospel of John has the tendency to lift up the glory of Jesus and ultimately his divinity. Not just towards the end of the gospel, but from the very beginning. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2). The divinity of Jesus is paraded boldly, so much to the point that Jesus says, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (8:23).

Isn’t it amazing how different parts of scripture can affect us differently given where we are at in on our lives or what is going on around us. Personally, I have experienced John’s gospel in a new and profound way this Easter season. The deep theological rifts that run through the gospel have become more alive. This is the Living Word of God, acting in our lives and breathing into us new signs of hope and inspiration. Scripture speaks of times past, roughly 2000 years ago, but it does not stay there. God’s Word comes to us in the here and now!

The problem 2000 years ago was that the World did not know God. Jesus came into this world proclaiming a message that angered people and fell onto deaf ears. Jesus reached out to those that were in need of healing and were struggling. He spoke to the outcasts of society and brought them God’s peace in a time when their voices were not being heard. He also lifted up their voices so that they could be heard by those that were in positions of power. It is was in these actions that he was condemned.

Jesus’ message brought conflict to a world that was already divided by race, class, culture, and sex. The conflict that occurred confirmed that there was still much growth to be had between “the world” and “the Word.” As we look around today we can see that that conflict still exists.  There are Christians that complain that the voice of the church does not have the same power that it once did. That the “world” is overtaking the Word of Jesus.  As society evolves and changes, we too must be willing to evolve and change as the Word of God is still just as provocative and prophetic today as it was thousands of years ago.

Jesus was well aware of the issues and conflicts that the disciples would encounter as they began to spread the gospel throughout the world. He knew that the world did not know God, yet it was through Jesus that others would come to know God. “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). It is this oneness that brings Jesus to pray for the disciples and his desire for all to know that glory that God has given to him, that they can be a part of. It is Jesus’ prayer for oneness that starts to break down the walls of division and bring about a greater unity among people of faith. It is prayer that connects the disciples of Jesus to us in our time today. Here and now!

The prayers that are lifted up in this farewell discourse flow down through time through the Word that is alive and well and breathing today to touch upon our lives. How does that make you feel to know that we are connected to those first disciples through the sharing of the Word and Jesus’ prayer? For Jesus prayed not just for his current disciples. He prayed for those that would come to believe in him through the Word that we read this morning and pour over in our own prayers and devotions. As I pray for each one of you during the week, my prayers stem from those prayers Jesus prayed 2000 years ago.

Jesus’ prayer this morning is for us! IT IS FOR US! How powerful to know that the Words of Jesus’ prayer flow down to us and wash over us in his desire for us to be one with God and to share in the love that he has showered upon all. Like a mother praying for her children when they go out the door until their return, Jesus always has us in his prayers. It is in his prayer for us to be one that we come together communally, not under dogma, but under that own desire in our hearts to be in relationship with others. Our mission is to keep this experience of faith alive in the community, so that we can offer it to a broken and fractured world.

May we embrace Jesus’ prayer for us before he took up the cross and suffered. May we be in unity with him when we are called to bear our own cross.

Let us pray…

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace. Be present, Lord, among us, and bring us to belief. Amen.