Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Live Simply, Find Joy, and Have a Plan” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    If you’ve ever attended church for more than a few Sundays you have probably heard a message or two on the story of the Prodigal Son (it’s Luke Chapter 15 for those following along on the internet). It’s a story that makes us feel good, because it’s a story about God’s forgiving love. God is like the father in the story who always lets us come back home when we run away and do stupid things and then we want to come back and get a fresh start. God welcomes us back, and throws us a party and all is forgiven. We love this story. And it’s a great story of how much God does truly love us.  I’ve been there, how about you?  No matter what, God love us.

    But there is another message in this story that I want to us have a look at today, and that’s the story of the prodigal himself. You see, he is the wild one, the one who does not want to be tied down, he wants to be free. He does not want to be practical, and plan for the future. He does not want to settle. There is a bit of the prodigal in each one of us, myself included, at some point in our lives. We want to be free!

     Did you know, by the way, that the word prodigal does not mean someone who wanders away or is lost? Prodigal literally means “one who wastes money.”  Because, you see, that is what the story is about. In the story, the two sons are due an inheritance. They will both get some land, and that is their future stability. With that land, they can plant crops, earn money, and provide for themselves and their family. The inheritance of land is like a full time, job security, and a 401K all rolled into one! The father is going to give this land to each son. But the one son, the one we know as the Prodigal, sells his. He sells his future security. He goes to the big city, spends all his money having fun. He goes to the casino, finds beautiful women to impress, false friends, etc. And when he comes home he has nothing!

    How many young adults, and middle aged adults, find themselves in just this situation today? Filing for bankruptcy! Buried in debt because we have lived the American dream built on consumerism, credit card debt, rent to own, 90 days same as cash, second mortgages, payday loans, playing the lottery, going to the casinos, and all sort of instant gratification. Gone are the days of saving, and waiting to buy something until we have the money, setting aside money for our retirement, rather than counting on Social Security to be enough to provide for us.  The Sears Catalog not only did not take credit, it even had the Biblical warnings about borrowing.

    And now we are experiencing the worst economic meltdown of our lives. Something has gone terribly wrong. I asked you a couple of weeks to tell me if you are worried about money. Most of you said yes. You are worried about your health, and a few other things. But overwhelmingly, we are worried about how we are going to pay our bills, and what our country is going to do to get out of this economic mess.

    We need a plan. The prodigal son did not have a plan. His plan was no plan. I have heard this phrase over and over again lately: “A failure to plan, is a plan to fail.”

    Those people who are good at managing their finances will say this to those of us who are not so good at managing our finances all the time: we need a budget. We need to track our spending. Before the month begins, we need to decide how we are going to spend every dollar. You thought you were going to hear a sermon about God’s love and grace.  No, today’s is about practical things, how to have a budget. 

    THAT is how we have enough money to GIVE to change the world; and that is how we SAVE so we can be ready for the emergencies that WILL come along. We plan. We all want to have money to GIVE. We all want to have money in savings. We all want to have money for retirement and those with kids want our kids to go to college if we want. We don’t want to have credit card debt.

    Well, my friends, it’s not rocket science. I am taking Dave Ramsey’s class, it’s the one everyone raves about. I have read Adam Hamilton’s book and Mike Slaughter’s book. I have talked to a financial advisor. They all say the same thing. ARE YOU READY FOR THE BIG SECRET OF FINANCIAL PEACE & STABILITY? ARE YOU REALLY READY?  HERE IT IS: Create a budget at the beginning of the month, and then LIVE BY IT.

    You see, God loves us so much, God does not want us to live in crisis. God gives us so much. Too often, we fail to just stop and look at what we have. That’s why I asked you a couple of weeks ago to stop and take pictures of the abundant joy in your life, and to send them in to me. We are putting these up on our website, so keep sending them and looking at our website. We are so blessed and we take the most simple blessings for granted. Yes, we’ve got bad things going on.  As I look around this room I know we are dealing with lost jobs, divorce, lost relationships, physical problems.  But we are truly blessed compared to the rest of the world. And we fail to give God thanks. We forget that everything we have comes from God.

    So I have read several of these books on how to have a plan to get our finances in order, and not to worry so much about money, and they are all good. They all have something to teach us. And today I’m going to suggest a plan.  Now, All of these plans take time. 

    Dave Ramsey says that making our future into what we want, financially is not microwave work; it’s crock pot work. It takes some time.

    But we have to plan. Otherwise we’ll be like that prodigal son and we’ll just waste our money away and look back on life and wonder, where did it go.

So here are some steps to take.
·    Pray. Give thanks to God.

·    Plan to give first. Give your tithe back to God. Give money to your church, or wherever you are going to give money to do God’s work in the world. Everything we have comes from God, and when we love God, we start by giving money back to God every week. It’s that simple. If we are going to have a plan and order our lives with God, then we need to make God a priority.

·    Simplify your lifestyle. Take a look at everything in your life and see what is truly essential. What brings you joy?

·    Save next. You have to have an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey says everyone needs an emergency fund of $1000. (or $500 if your income is less than $20,000 a year). Do whatever it takes to get that emergency fund. Have a garage sale. Eat at home. Shovel snow, Mow lawns. Baby sit.  Sell something on Ebay or at a garage sale.

·    Pay off your debts (except your house). Figure out what you owe (it may not be as bad as you think).  Start with the little ones first, Dave Ramsey calls it the Debt Snowball.  Or with the highest interest rate ones first.  Either way, it WORKS.

·    At the same time: BUDGET - create a budget of your income and expenses and live by it every month. This is your plan. Those of us in the Financial Peace class are doing this right now, and we will start Nov 1. Every dollar has a name before the month starts. For those of us that have a partner we have to agree with our partner what every dollar of income will be designated toward. Some things will go toward bills that are paid automatically like the mortgage and utilities. For other things we will get cash and put it in envelopes marked: groceries, eating out, and “blow money” because we know there has to be a category for money we will just blow on stuff. But there will also be money to pay off debt and to build up emergency savings. And the credit cards will be cut up so we won’t add to the debt anymore.

·    After the debt is paid off - establish long term savings and investments for retirement, college funds and larger purchases like cars. We are learning to pay cash for our cars and not see car payments as a necessary way of life.

This is the plan.  I am not a planner by nature. I am a free spirit. But I know that in order to reach certain goals I need a plan.   The trend in the US right now, is to have no plan for financial security. According to a CNN Money study in 2007, about 50% of American had less than $25,000 in savings for retirement. So half of us are probably in that boat, with no plan.

    But, you see being a follower of Jesus has always meant that we are radical. We know that.  We are not people who go with the status quo. We are change makers.  God is inviting us to be radical today, to start over today, to set a trend. As followers of Jesus, we are invited to start a new trend, the trend of finding joy in living simply and having a plan.

    Now we have already started the Financial Peace class for this session, but if you are interested in doing another such class, let me know. Or feel free to talk to one of the folks in the class. We can find other ways to help you, if you need help with getting on a budget and getting your personal finances in order.

    But this is the bottom line. God does not want us to worry about money. Worry does not add a day to anyone’s life. God blesses each one of us with so much. We all have resources, and whatever we have, that is where we start. When we have a plan, we can live simply and find joy.   Let’s do it, let’s live with Joy. 

    If you need a place where you can find peace and joy, come join the followers of Jesus.  We are many places in this world.  If you find yourself at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, or very soon in Maumee, come join us.  We’re living simply with a plan that provides for us and others and allows us to find our joy.
   
There are many resources by Christian writers on this subject, here are just a small few examples:
Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity by Adam Hamilton

Financial Peace Revisited  by Dave Ramsey

Upside Down Living in a Downside Economy by Mike Slaughter

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Live Simply, Find Joy and Be Generous!" by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)


    Our scripture for today in our worship celebration, Acts 4:32-35 from the Message translation for those following along via the web:

33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

 34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.

    According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of one political system, communism, is this: “a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.” In pure theory, this sounds like a good system.

     In practice, it never really works, because human beings, for the most part, do not seem capable of being completely fair and objective. So we do not share the resources fairly. But at our best, in smaller systems and communities, we can try.

    In my lifetime, I have not seen any evidence, that a large system, like a country, or a government can really make communal living work.  But we’re not here today to talk about politics, or how to solve the global economic meltdown, or even how to deal with the United States debt and unemployment crisis. Those are big problems that affect all of us.

    They are important.   They have to be dealt with.  Clearly our country has gone too long without finding adequate ways for the people and the leaders to work together to solve our big economic problems together.

    But just for today, we’re going to take this down to the micro level. What does communal
 living, or generous living, look like in a small community like a local church called The Village?
You see way back when this Christian movement started, back at the time of those early followers of Jesus, the ones that were there right after he was resurrected into heaven, and that big Spirit of wind and power came over them, this is what church looked like, let me read it to you again:

33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.
 34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.

    You see, they trusted one another to do those things: to share, according to their need. I like to think they did not have any quarrels about it. Maybe they did – but at their best, I hope they did not. At least this is the VISION of God’s community: PEOPLE ARE GENEROUS AND THEY SHARE, according to their means and according to their need.
Sounds like a little bit of heaven on Earth, doesn’t it?   Now if we could just count on everyone to do their share of the work, and if we could believe that everyone would be taken care of in a fair and just way, wouldn’t that be heaven?

    Well, you can call me na├»ve if you want, but I say, we can decide to live that way. Let’s choose to live simply, find joy, and BE GENEROUS.  It’s a vision, it’s not practical. 
Everyone giving, everyone receiving according to our needs, everyone cared for.

    Here’s how we do it. In this community, here at the Village, in the context of Toledo, Ohio, with this horrible unemployment rate, and rotten economy, we just take some baby steps to live into God’s vision.   Let’s just do it anyway.

    Let’s just live simply, find joy, and BE GENEROUS.  I’m going to show you how we are already doing it. Some of you know we have a fund here called the Good Samaritan Fund. Let’s call it Good Sam, for short. It’s named after the person in the Bible who helped a stranger. The Samaritans were not the heroes of the time of Jesus.  In fact, think of a group you look down on.  We are all guilty of having someone we don’t like.  Imagine them doing wonderful things for a person in need. (who was, by the way, an enemy).

    We use our fund to help our friends here at The Village.  I’m going to ask our friend, Sam (not her real name), to come up here and she and I are going to share a bit of her story with you. 

    She is a medical transcriptionist with fibormyalgia, along with major depression, and other help problems. I am applying for disability, but it’s a long, drawn out process. I can not make enough money to pay my bills.  I’ve moved several times to try to get cheaper housing, etc.

    When the Village first opened up, I found it through the newspaper article about the Village.  I checked it out on Facebook and other places and finally came.  And I love the Village.  I found community there.  If I had not come to the Village, I would be more depressed, and maybe homeless. 

    For over five minutes, people in the congregation shared about how Sam has affected their lives, made their lives, etc.  How their lives are enriched by Sam and how having Sam makes them better people.

    This is what it means to BE church, to be community.  This is the lesson I have learned from Sam, she finds joy in giving.  She doesn’t have money, but she has time and love to give. 

    You see, we live in a world, where there is a great deal of focus on what we do not have. We talked about this last week. We focus on scarcity. Everyone out there will tell us what we don’t have and what we need in order to be beautiful and successful and popular.

    But the call to the early Christian community turns that upside down. It says, this is the way to follow Jesus – give up what you have – be generous – in sharing – and you will find joy!

    Help others – look for someone in need, and see if you have within your resources, something you can share with them. See if by living more simply, that you can supply the simple needs of someone else. In this act of self sacrifice – you will find joy.

    There are folks in this church who have given to our Good Samaritan Fund over the past year. I know Kurt and I probably gave up going out to eat so that we could give to that fund. That was not a big sacrifice for us. Another person might have given up buying some new clothes, so they could give to the fund. Maybe someone car-pooled to work to save money, and gave that money to help someone get their car fixed and get to work, or find a job. Maybe someone had a garage sale and used that money to help a single parent buy diapers.

    And if we don’t have money, we have time and other gifts.  You have other resources, then be generous with your time, to help those who could use some help right now. One of the things we could use help with at The Village right now is help with cleaning our building, and trimming the grass around the edges of the parking lot. We can’t afford to hire a custodian or a maintenance crew so we have to rely on ourselves to do this. Kristen and I cleaned the church yesterday. Kristen and Rock clean the church most of the time, but Rock is having some health issues. I didn’t mind taking a turn, but if you would like to help, we can use some more folks on the facilities team. There are many ways to be generous with your time and your resources, in order to be part of this community.

    It’s tough out there right now.  I don’t know how to fix the trillions of dollar debt that the US government has. Somebody needs to figure it out. A group of people smarter than me needs to be working hard on that problem.  I’m not seeing a lot of evidence of this happening, but it took a long time to get into this mess and it’s going to take a long time to get out of this mess.

    But I do know this. I do know what it means to follow Jesus and live in community. I see it right here, every week with all of you. We can take the baby steps we need to take, to care for one another.

    And we will get through this economic downturn, together, one day at a time. The early Christians gave us the instructions for how to do it. So I hope you will think about how you can share what you have to help others around here.  It is so easy to get overwhelmed by the big problems we are facing

    So you see, we can become overwhelmed by the big problems in the world. Or we can focus on the smaller picture for now. We can look to this community and what we are to one another. We can find our joy. We can create our joy. I think we can do it. And I think it will make all the difference. Let’s live by these words: live simply, find joy, and be Generous.

    If you need a community like this, where you can share your gifts, look hard, they are out there.  We’re at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo and soon in Maumee.  Come join a fellowship of believers getting each other through a dark time and waiting for that day we can dance into the light of God. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

LIVE SIMPLY, FIND JOY by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Are you someone who doesn’t worry?  Then I want to study at your feet.  You are more centered than I am.  Right now, one of the biggest sources of worry for most people is money and debt. We all have issues we need to address money, debt and finances.  But, we spent time during worship writing down what we are worried about when it comes to money.

Some of us at the Village have started a class called Financial Peace University.  Author and financial advisor Dave Ramsey’s advice in this class is pretty simple and common sense.  Put $1,000 in an emergency fund right away.  If you make less than $20,000 per year, then $500 will do. Next, pay off all your debts.   Then 3-6 months of expenses in savings.   The more advanced stuff comes after you get these in order.  We are still working on step one and a half.

Now I know there are some folks in this room who have been out of work for quite a while, and there are others who are disabled and living on Social security. There are others who, especially in this economy, are what we call, “under employed.” You are not making as much money as you were few years ago. So saving money seems really hard, really hard.

Many of us wish we had started saving a long time ago, when things were different in our lives, or when the economy was different. But here’s the thing,  it is what it is.   His point is this: We’ll feel more secure when we have some money in an emergency savings fund. I don’t think anyone would argue with that.
And unless we are homeless, and destitute, we can all save something. In the class we are learning some tips and we are supporting one another as how to do it. Because you just have to start where you are, even if we are in the worst economy since the Great Depression.   But here is the thing. Some money in savings will give us some sense of material security, and it will help us have less stress when those absolutely predictable life emergencies come along. Because they WILL come. Your car will break down, your house or apartment will cost you something for repairs or replacements.

But I think even Dave Ramsey, who is a Christian, would agree with me, that ultimately, you can’t serve God and wealth. At least that’s what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.   “You can’t serve God and wealth. No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Mt 6:24

Now, of course, we need money in order to function in this world. But it’s a matter of where our first loyalty is. Where do we put our trust?  In God, or in wealth?  Wealth is just a tool. It is something we use while we are living here on this earth. That is all it is. And so we need to be good stewards of the resources that God gives us. We need to manage our money instead of letting it manage us.
In fact, when we take control of our money, we have more of it to give away, to make the world a better place for others. Wouldn’t you just love to be able to write a big check every month to support the causes that you believe in? Wouldn’t that make you feel great?

I don’t think God does allows us to have jobs and other sources of income and resources, and then watches with pleasure when we worry about money and live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t think that’s what God has in mind.  Seventy percent of us live paycheck to check. I don’t think that’s what God wants for us.

So, let’s look at what Jesus said: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt 6:25-26)

Jesus tells us not to worry.  Well I wish Jesus would come to Toledo, OH in 2011 because our economy is in bad shape. I heard this week that we are in the top 10, or maybe I should say, the bottom 10 cities in the country, in terms of how hard we have been hit by this economic recession.  And Jesus says: Don’t worry. You are of value to God, and God will provide for your needs. Really?  Does it feel like that?  Really?

Don’t worry, Jesus says, God will provide.  It’s really a matter of which world view we are going to adopt.  One world view centers on the attitude of scarcity. There is never enough. So we need more. Just watch the ads on TV for one hour and they will tell you. You are not good enough, beautiful enough, happy enough, popular enough, but if you will just buy these products, THEN things will be better.

It’s a marketing plan based on scarcity. You don’t have what you need but we will sell it to you. Of course, the problem is, there is no end to our scarcity and need, so they continue to create more products that we need to buy. And so we live with a feeling of emptiness, and fear and scarcity.
The fear comes because we spend more than we have, and we run ourselves in debt, and then a real need comes along, like a health crisis in our family, or necessary maintenance on our homes, or sending the kids to college. (It comes to us as a surprise, even though we have 18 years to prepare for it!) And the worries just pile up.

This world view of scarcity is strong in our culture and we buy into it.  But there is another world view, one that Jesus invites us into, and that is the idea of abundance. Jesus says33”But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33-34 in the New Revised Standard Version for those reading along on the web)


We have enough! Focus on loving God, and TRUSTING God. You see, God’s love is infinite. There is always enough of God. Jesus invites us into a relationship with God; that will sustain us and fill us in the ways that wealth building will never do.

You see, when Jesus was here on the earth, the powers of the world, were focused on scarcity and fear. They wanted to keep the people down. When people are afraid and think there is not enough, then they will do what the political forces tell them to do. But Jesus gave a message of abundance which is a message of freedom, there is freedom. When we trust God we have courage, and we don’t worry about not having enough. We know God will see us through any economic downturn.

Jesus showed the human forces of his day, that their ways were not the most powerful. Because you see, they killed him. But God resurrected him. David Lose writes that “when you think about it [the resurrection], is the ultimate act of abundance: creating something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life to the dead.” (Source:http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=458)

I don’t know about you, but I could use some of that resurrection power right now. I could use some light in the darkness. We could use some life to this dead economy in Toledo, Ohio, right now. We can use some hope right here, right now.  We need some joy, Jesus.

Friends, we can choose abundance. We can choose to trust God. We can choose to believe we have enough, and make it enough. We can choose to live more simply, we can save money rather than spend so much. We can choose to live with courage rather than fear. We can choose all these things, when we center our lives on and in God.
So I have an idea, an invitation, a challenge. Let’s look for abundance, and take some pictures. Where do you find joy in this life God has given you? Are there some ways that you are living more simply, by choice or by necessity, and are you seeing abundance in living more simply? Kurt and I like to go to dinner and a movie for date night and last week we replaced the movie with a walk. We got some well-needed exercise, we got to TALK, and we saw the beauty of God’s creation. It was lovely.

Where do you find yourself experiencing joy and see others trusting God? Where do you see abundant living rather than scarcity? Over the next couple of weeks, would you snap a picture of something that brings you joy? And e mail those pics to me? We’d like to put them on a page on our web site so we can all see them. It will be on a page called “Live Simply, Find Joy.” We need some pictures that remind us that we are a people who trust God, live simply and find joy.


This will be our reminder to live simply, to experience joy and not give into this lousy economy, this miserable situation.  We need to live out of joy and trust, rather than scarcity.  Let’s share those moments with each other.  Let’s live simply and trust God and find our joy. Come join us at the corner of Monroe & Central (or soon in Maumee) as we share our joy and shed our fear and doubt and scarcity.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Healthy Relationships: Love Like Jesus Loved by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Paul (the biblical writer and the first church planter of our movement as Christians) said in one of his letters to a group of new Christians becoming the church in city named Philippi, : “Make my joy complete.” Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand”.

    Today we are going to talk about selfless love, this is the last in our series on healthy relationships.  Selfless love – the kind that means we give up our power and put someone else ahead of us. We put the scorecards away, and we decide just to care, because it’s what Jesus would do for us.

   In worship we showed a scene from the “West Wing.” It’s a favorite TV show of me and Kurt. In the scene, Leo McGary, who is the President’s chief-of-staff, and his best friend, is in trouble. Information has been leaked that in the past Leo was hospitalized for alcohol and prescription drug addiction. He cleaned up his act before he came to work at the White House, but someone from the other political party has gotten a hold of his personnel record and they are going to crucify him with this information.

    Leo’s staff finds out that a young clerical worker in the White House is the one who leaked the information. They decide to fire her, of course, but before they throw her out of the building, Leo has her come to his office.   You see, he wants to ask her what was she was thinking when she read the file and decided to leak the information. 

     In the video, she tells Leo her father was an alcoholic.  He was dangerous.  She tells Leo she gave the information to a family friend because his role is too important to be held by a person like her dad. They spend a few minutes getting to share their stories and she says that he is not what she thought what he was like.  In the end, he realizes her courage in trying to stop something bad from happening.

    Leo gives her another chance. He has all the power over her and her job. Her action had potentially ruined his career, totally ruined his life. But he takes the time to meet her, and to listen to her story. He does not see himself as better than her. He’s probably not surprised to find out there is an alcoholic in her family. Lots of families are touched by alcoholism. I think Leo has some compassion for this woman because he knows how alcoholism hurts a family. He knows she has broken the law by leaking the file. But he realizes that she was really just trying to do the right thing, to protect her country. She misunderstood what kind of man Leo was, because she did not know him. She made assumptions.  Ah, assumptions, we all make them don’t we.  They had a little talk, and got to know one another a little better. You could say they cleared the air through a little honest communication.  Wow, how helpful would it be to engage in some honest communication.

    He had the power to throw her out of the White House, no questions asked. She would be without a job with the snap of his fingers. But here’s what Paul tells us to do: “Put yourself aside and help others get ahead.” That’s how to love like Jesus did. And that’s what Leo did. That woman’s actions caused him to admit publically, his addiction, and he nearly lost his job. It was a huge embarrassment to the President. But Leo put that all aside, and showed mercy upon her, that minor White House staffer.

    That’s what it means to love like Jesus loved.   But here is the thing: they had both made some mistakes. Leo had a problem. There was no denying that. And the woman broke the law by leaking a private White House personnel document. No one is perfect. And so Leo, in essence, says to the woman. We are all broken people. Let’s admit that. And let’s both get back to work.   We are all broken, no perfect people allowed.

    He does not consider himself any better than her or any worse.   He’s the White House Chief of Staff, one of the most powerful people on the planet, she’s a little clerk.

     You see, that is the key to a healthy human relationship: recognizing that no one person is better than another. We all fall short. And so we can all do well do live with some humility.

    Because even Jesus lived with a dose of humility.   Listen to those words of Paul
one more time:
1-4If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
 5-8Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

    So what do these words mean to us in our closest, human relationships?  When you’re in a conflict with those closest to you, there are times, when being strong and loving, means that you set aside yourself, to let the other person get ahead. Now, I did not say that one person always gets walked all over in a relationship. I said, when you are strong and loving, like Jesus, it’s ok to let the other person get ahead. It’s ok to humble yourself so that your partner, or your child, or you mother, or the person you supervise, can win.

    You don’t have to win every time, even when you are right.  It’s a Jesus thing.
Leo let that woman win her job back, even though she was wrong, because it was the Jesus thing to do.

    Parents give children another chance, all the time, because it’s a gracious thing to do. Now there is a difference between letting children get away with everything so that they grow up as little self centered monsters who think they will always get their way in life, and giving them a win, now and they, so that they understand grace.  It’s OK every now and then to give them a win so they understand grace and compassion.

    When I am in a power struggle with my husband, and he with me, sometimes one of us just gives in, because we don’t need to be obsessed with our own advantage any longer. The greater good of moving forward in our relationship and getting on with our lives is more important than winning that particular day. That is humility.  Have you been on the receiving end of that grace sometimes?  When you can give it too, that’s humility.

    Jesus wants us to live in humility, willing to put ourselves aside, so that others may experience the love and the grace of God.  When we step aside and care about the other more than the win, that’s living like Jesus.   It is really that simple. We are God’s instruments. When we step out of the way, and others move forward, God is the one who is blessed, and we are all better off. So let’s love like Jesus. Let’s be filled with his love, and share that love with others.

    There is a tradition in many churches of kneeling before God.  Getting on our knees and praying.  It’s a chance to practice humility.  To be humble before God for a minute.  Wherever you are reading this, think about taking a minute of doing just that. Get down on your knees (if you can, if you can’t just bow your head down, that’s an act of humility too) and pray to God.  Pray about that concern on your heart, that relationship you’re concerned about, whatever.

    If you need a place where you can find someone to guide you to relationship with God and others like this, look around, they are out there.  If you find yourself near Central & Monroe in Toledo (or coming soon to Maumee) come join us.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Healthy Relationships: Make Things Right" by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)


     Have you ever heard Christians debating over their “brand” of Christianity? I do. I suppose it just human nature. We are diverse and so we experience God differently and we live out our faith differently. Since the time of Jesus, and long before, there have been debates over what is the best way to be faithful to God.

      In the first part of the Bible, the Hebrew Bible, the one we Christians call the Old Testament, we have much of what we call “the Law.” Of course we have the “big ten,” the Ten Commandments, and then the Old Testament has thousands of other laws to tell us how to live in ways that please God.

      But history shows that some folks got a little too caught up in the details of the law, rather than the spirit of loving God, loving their neighbor, and loving self.   Is it the spirit of the law, or hitting every minute detail?  That’s the debate.  In Matthew’s Gospel, where our scripture for today is found, Jesus has just spoken about this very thing. (And by the way, if you have wanted to start reading your Bible again, Matthew chapters 5-6-7 is a great place to start. We call this The Sermon on the Mount, and it’s a great place to find the heart of Jesus’ teaching.)

     So in Chapter 5, Jesus begins by saying: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. “  But then as he begins to preach, we see that he wants to make the law more clear and more down to earth. He wants to connect the law to the real life experiences of the people. It is not about rigid rules – the law is about living the ways of God down to your daily life, down to the very core of your existence. This is serious stuff to Jesus.

       So then Jesus takes the law, and gives some particular examples, and that is where we get our scripture for today. You see, he is trying to say that unless we are ready to LIVE with an attitude of reconciliation and peace in our personal lives, then the law is of no use, and basically the world is doomed, there is no hope for any of us.  Following the minutia is useless if you can’t live the life of love God, love your neighbor, as yourself.

     The law says: 'Do not murder.' Jesus says, our angry, hateful thoughts are just as bad. “The simple moral fact is that words kill.”  That’s how the Message Bible describes Jesus’ teaching here.   We have all experienced the punch in the stomach of hurtful words, haven’t we? We have wished we were dead when we have been told that someone hated us, or that someone no longer loved us.

      In our world today, the power of words is becoming clearer as we see children committing suicide because of bullying. We are coming to terms with the power of language. It is slapping us in the face.  That’s what Jesus was saying.

      We have all said it, haven’t we? “I hate her.” She’s a liar, a manipulator, a self-centered so-and-so. We shoot daggers with our eyes and spit poison with our words. We are murderers, Jesus says.

       And then here’s what he says to his followers: MAKE IT RIGHT.  It’s really that simple.  MAKE IT RIGHT IN YOUR HEART, and with your actions.  You can’t change that other person. You can’t make her stop lying and manipulating and being self-centered and mean and everything else.  But you can stop hating and being murderous with your thoughts and actions.  Jesus says it is up to you, MAKE IT RIGHT.

      Jesus said, “If you are going to be my disciples, then MAKE IT RIGHT.” He went on to say this: When you see that person walking across the street who is mad at you, and they accost you, MAKE THE FIRST MOVE. Just don’t ignore them, cross the street and make the first move.  Wow, this is hard.

      Jesus does let us off the hook. It is not enough just to stay on our side of the street and ignore the person. Jesus wants us to MAKE THE FIRST MOVE AND MAKE IT RIGHT!  He wants us to walk right across the street to that person who hates us and seek reconciliation.   Oh, gosh, that’s hard.

      It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But it’s real. We need more honesty and integrity in this world. We need more people who want to make peace. Don’t we?   How would you react to this if someone did this to you?

     I turned in some weapons to the police this week. Someone came to The Village and said, “I have some weapons, some knives and some things from a life I want to leave behind. I want to surrender these to the Police. Can I leave them here, pastor?”  YES! That was making the first move to make things right.   That was a powerful move toward making things right.

      For many of us, our weapons are our words.  Most of us don’t’ have physical weapons we need to surrender to the police.  Will we surrender our weapons of hate? Will we say “no more”! I’m not going to participate anymore in the cycles of murderous language and hatred in our community. If I can’t say something kind then I won’t say anything.

       And when and old enemy tries to stir up trouble with me, I am going to do something kind and loving toward that person, because that’s what Jesus would do! That is radical discipleship, my friends.  That is radical love my friends.

      Do you want to have more healthy relationships? Live by these words from Jesus.  Let me tell you a story about it. This is told to me as a true story.

“There is a true story about two farmers in Canada. One day the dog of one farmer got loose and mauled to death the two-year-old child of his neighbor. The devastated father cut off all relationship with his neighbor, and the two men lived in cold, defiant enmity for years. Then one day a fire devastated the property of the dog-owning farmer, destroying his barn and all his equipment. He was unable to plow and plant, and so his future appeared doomed. Except that the next morning he woke up and found all his fields plowed and ready for seed. Upon investigation, he discovered that his grieving neighbor had done this good deed. Humbly the rescued farmer approached his neighbor and asked him if he had plowed his fields -- and, if so, why. The answer was clear: "Aye," the former enemy said. "I plowed your fields so that God can live."” (Story as told by William P. Barker in sermon by Susan R. Andrews, “The Embassy At 66011,” sermonsuite.com.)

That’s radical reconciliation.  We want God to live, my friends. And when we hold hate in our hearts, of any kind, there is no room for God.  I know these are hard words.  They are hard for me too.

      In this scripture Jesus also says that when you come to worship, and you come to make an offering, consider whether you are holding a grudge against anyone first. And if you are, go make peace with that person first. That’s why in many churches there is a symbolic passing of the peace before Holy Communion – to symbolize that we have made peace with anyone we are holding a grudge against.

       I wonder today, if you can think of anyone that you are really mad at? Is there anyone you are not speaking to? I have learned that this is a common practice in many families. People have a fight and they quit talking to one another for a day or a week, or even years. We don’t do that in my family. It’s a foreign concept to me.  But I know this is very real for some of you.  Is there anyone you are not speaking to?  Who really, deep down, you need to be in relationship with?

       We’re going to celebrate Holy Communion today. Before you come take communion today, can you make a promise to yourself and God that later today you will reach out to that person you are not speaking to?
You see, its’ just really hard to love God, while we hold a grudge and refuse to speak to a family member or a good friend. It just does not make sense. God does not hold grudges. Now, again, we can’t control the other person and their actions, but we can take the high ground and reach out in reconciliation. We can be loving, even when they are not, because God’s way is love.

       Jesus calls us to MAKE IT RIGHT in our own hearts and with our own actions. We have the power to do that, when we put our trust in God. God gives us the power to do things that we cannot do on our own.
Picture in your mind, right now, that person who has become your enemy, that person with whom you are angry, and with God’s help, decide right now, to MAKE IT RIGHT.

      Too hard for you to do now?  You have enough power, enough forgiveness, but you need a place telling you that.  Come join us if you are near the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, or soon in Maumee. Or, find a community of spiritual strength like the Village.  There are more of us out there.