Sunday, December 27, 2009

Paul Nixon's - The Manger and Metro:

This weeks' blog is courtesy of Paul Nixon, our guest preacher this week. Paul is a Methodist Minister, published author, church developer, church planter and on staff with the national church on the Board of Discipleship's Path One. Paul has been praying for the creation of the Village long before it had a name, let alone a location.

The Manger and Metro: How Jesus keeps showing up in the Darndest Places and What it means for the Village"

The struggle of Mary and Joseph that surrounded the birth of Jesus is enough to stress a parent out. It was hard. And yet a night packed full of amazing surprises! Decades later, Paul and Barnabas, followers of Jesus who were seeking to spread his teaching across the Roman Empire reiterated this fact: that living a faithful life is just plain hard. A hard life, but I might add, a life filled to the brim with magnificent surprises.
In August of 2006, United Methodist Bishop Charlene Kammerer invited me to spend a week walking the streets and praying about moving to the Washington DC area in order to help plant a new faith community. It took me just a couple days to conclude that the project would be very hard, and I began to think how exactly I would word my response to her, that “It’s a wonderful place, but the work looks too hard.”
I was working on that little speech in my head as I rode down the escalator into the Dupont Metro at rush hour on a hot August Friday night. As I waited for the train, I noticed a woman waiting nearby, strapped into a wheelchair, with a brown Labrador asleep at her feet, on a leash. The woman was beautiful, her hair blonde and her smile almost beatific as she moved only her fingers in order to read a Braille magazine – and again, this is DC, so it was probably something like Nuclear Physics Today. I began to wonder how many times she and that dog had practiced this route from work back home before they tried it all by themselves. And then I thought “What courage – to immerse oneself in a sea of strangers in a big city at rush hour, unable to see anybody, unable to run, able only to trust that her dog would help her find the door to the train and ultimately, the way home.”
Well, we got on the train – we packed on like sardines – and as bodies filled the gap between me the woman, I could no longer see her. Oddly, when the people in front of her exited the train at Metro Center, neither she nor the dog was there. I have no idea where they went. I have watched for her on other Friday nights at 6:30 at Dupont; but I have never seen her again.
Well, that night as I went to sleep, I fantasized about how easy it would be to accept the call to work in DC if only Jesus would appear to me in a vision while I slept. I laughed about how easy life would be if we could have visions of Jesus and audible voices and so forth. A few hours later, I awakened at maybe 2 in the morning – and the first thing I thought was “No vision of Jesus.” I rolled over to go back to sleep and then my eyes were wide open. And I saw her – the woman and her dog – faithfully and courageously living life as God called them to live it – a life that is hands-down harder than anything God has ever called me to. “But God, this work you set before me – it looks too hard.” And yet I knew then that my work was not going to be as hard as her work. And I knew that “too hard” was not going to wash. “Too hard?”
Paul Nixon, have you been sleeping all those times through the stories in the Bible? What was it that we read a moment ago, what was it that Paul and Barnabas were saying to all the young Christians across Asia Minor – “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases it with his customary in-your-face style: “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.” Period.
Where on earth did we ever get the notion that when God is in it, it all becomes easy? That is just plain silliness. The Gospel Way is hard. This work to which so many of us have been called – sharing good news with our world - folks, it’ll wear you out. This church, this Village, you folks are planting here in Toledo, its hard work. True?
Three things I want to say to you today – you tenacious Village People of Toledo -
When I say the Way, I am talking about the Way with a capital W – the journey of faith to which God calls us as we seek to follow in the steps of Jesus. People, the Way is hard.
In the Book of Acts, a couple chapters after Paul and his friend Barnabas commented on the way being hard, we find Paul and another friend, Silas, flogged (as in whipped), then thrown in a dank Roman jail – singing hymns and happy songs in the middle of the night. Have you ever known anyone who was crazy enough that you can imagine them doing this if they were in such a situation? If so, that’s a friend to hold onto.
I work with church planters all over the USA, developing systems and resources to make their lives easier – and still it’s hard. None of my planters have been flogged yet. Nor have they or I caught pneumonia from riding their horse in a January rain – which is how one of my ancestors died, the first Protestant missionary to cross to the west bank of the Mississippi over 200 years ago.
And it moves far beyond the Cheri Holdridges of the world. Folks, I’m here to report, if you doing what you are supposed to be doing, it’s hard. It’s always hard.
In a lot of cases, where the Apostle Paul and friends got into trouble with the authorities, it was due to misunderstanding – people were typically mad at Paul for stupid reasons, because of their own issues that caused them to take offense at something he did or said. Life hasn’t changed in 1900 years, has it?
On the other hand, if your way is a little too easy these days – if you are feeling a little too comfortable, a little too close to the top of your game, if you are feeling like you are really getting the hang of this ministry thing, BEWARE. When the way becomes easy it means you could well be drifting off course.
The Way is hard, when you are trying to do the right thing, and follow the direction that God has for you. And yet I want you to consider tonight’s second big idea:
We are aware that life in Bethlehem got very interesting after midnight, when angels showed up, and a bunch of shepherds threw an ad hoc birthday party. God has a history of good work done in the black of the night.
In the case of our church planter team, Paul and Silas, in the jail – it was an earthquake that came in the middle of the night, changing the whole plotline. I could keep going on this theme of the good stuff God does in the wee hours, the dark hours. Stuff like…. Easter.
A couple years ago, Jim Forbes from Riverside Church in New York, spoke in DC at a church just down a few blocks from my home. It was the Sunday after Easter, and Forbes preached again for us the same basic sermon he had preached the Sunday before, when he had been at Trinity UCC in Chicago (Obama’s old church – a church that was getting bashed by the media that week in a bad way). His sermon was entitled “Good News in the Night Season.” That sermon was a doorway, through which I was able to better understand the whole experience of the night season.
Forbes says that God’s best work comes in the middle of the night, in those moments when we simply can’t see what is going on –when the path is not clear at all, and the best we can do is hold on and trust. I think he is right.
You know every person on the planet lives half their life with the sun above the horizon and half their life with the sun below the horizon. No matter what your latitude, it all averages out. If you live 80 years on this earth, 40 of them will be in the dark. That is true spiritually and emotionally as well. God made the world this way – the night is not evil – now it holds the potential for mischief, but it is not evil and it is not a tragic season – it is just that time in our life when stuff happens that we do not understand. I got to thinking during that sermon that in the years prior to my coming to DC, life had been a long summertime in the Yukon for me – lots of light, minimal darkness. But you read the spiritual autobiography of Mother Teresa, a book entitled “Come Be My Light,” and you will see a woman plunged in the longest dark night of the soul ever recorded, wintertime at the North Pole, so to speak. And yet, look what she accomplished in the night! It was not a tragic time at all. Painful, oh yes. Very painful, but a very good season. In the early years of the darkness, when Teresa no longer felt the presence of God, she spent a lot of energy trying to recapture the good, fuzzy feelings of her earlier spiritual journey. In terms of human ecstasy, as a young adult, Teresa sailed about as close to touching God as any have ever described. However, her writings reveal that as the night season wore on, she grew more accepting of it. In fact, it was her longing to touch Christ that propelled her and her team of sisters to go each day to the dying in the streets and to hold them and to love them – it was only in holding the least of these and the last of these our brethren that Teresa found any sense of God at all for the last three decades of her life. Teresa’s life could well go down as one of the 20 most remarkable people of all time – that is how powerful a life she lived…. In that elite dinner party of 20, Jesus and Buddha would share with her around the table.
But friends, such lives …the great lives are not formed in the midst of perpetual sunshine. The best lives emerge through hardship and some sense of struggle, always. Perplexity often! Great people are spiritually formed in the night season. Just like 13 year olds do their best growing at night. You can expect God’s best work in the middle of your night.
Sometimes when we collapse to try to pray in stressful moments, we fall asleep. In the greatest of all night seasons, in the Garden of Gethsemene, the disciples were supposed to be sitting up with Jesus, who was deep in prayer and waiting to be arrested, and… they fell asleep. Jesus scolds them repeatedly. But we cannot hear the tone of his voice in the page of the Bible. Somehow, I don’t hear anger in his voice, more resignation, even a hint of disappointment. Those guys were not dying the next day, they were in a different place than Jesus… but they were stressed to the max in their own ways. I take a minority viewpoint on this subject, but I think they needed their rest. God was still at work in Peter, James and John, even when they had pushed as far as they could go faith-wise and energy-wise. They each had better days coming; each of them later would have their own night in the garden, so to speak.
In the meantime, often all we can do, and the best thing we can do, is to get some rest in the arms of God, while God keeps working. There will be moments in the life of the Village when you will need to remember that!
And then, one final big idea: You can indeed expect God’s best work after midnight,…
I came to Washington DC in large part to help create a new faith community. And the project floundered. After four months, I was up to four souls in my people-gathering mission in Washington, God and I had some long talks out on the deck in the mornings. After my first six weeks, reality was setting in, and I began to wonder what on earth I was doing in downtown Washington DC. And then one afternoon, grace surprised me.
Do you remember the story that was on the news last year about the man who sued the dry cleaners for millions of dollars because they lost his pants? It was one of those stories so ridiculous that it made for good human interest material. Jeannie Moose of CNN covered the story – and they gave us the blow by blow on NPR radio for weeks.
Well, here I am in a new city, and I am trying to make conversation with anyone I can, so I step into the dry cleaners near my building to pick up some clothes and I am looking for any handle I can find to make small talk. So out of the blue I ask, “Whatever happened to the man who sued the dry cleaners for millions of dollars? How did that come out?” I had lost track of the story and figured the woman at the dry cleaners would know. She looked at me with a very serious look. And she asked, “Did you see him?” “Did I see who?” “Mr. Pearson.” “Who is Mr. Pearson?” “The man who sued the cleaners.” “No, I have no idea who he is – I was just curious.” And then she cut me off, to say, “You just passed him as you came in here.” “Huh?” “The man going out the door as you came in, that was Mr. Pearson.” I said, “Noooooo.” She said, “Yaaahhhh, we are his new dry cleaners.” I said, “Noooooo.” She said, “Yahhhhh” She proceeded to tell me that he had been coming in for about a year, ever since he had the problem with the other cleaners, but that he had always paid cash and used a pseudonym, because I mean what dry cleaners in their right man would want to do business with a man who will sue them for $20 million when they mess up his $400 pants? So it turns out, they had just figured out who he was.
I asked, “Are you scared?” And she said, “A little – but we prayed about it – and we knew that he is not a happy person. He’s had a bad divorce. Someone needs to pray for Mr. Pearson. So we decided that we would take him as a customer, so that every time he came in, we would be reminded to pray for him.”
So, picture this – just after the moment when these two Christian business women, having prayed about it, decide to courageously serve a man whom no other dry cleaner in her right mind would touch – and they have just given him the speech, “Now Mr. Pearson, please understand that sometimes we can make mistakes, etc” They have just finished that encounter – and in walks this new Methodist preacher in town, who out of the blue asks about Mr. Pearson – people, people, people – what are the odds of that?
For them it was confirmation that God wanted them to serve this difficult man. For me it was a reminder, that even when I feel like I am wandering in circles in Washington, God is ordering my steps. It was a typical surprise by grace.
Now, a couple years later, after several starts and stops, we are progressing to create a new faith community in Washington – totally Plan B. Grace again has surprised me.
I know this much. It’s not about me. And it’s not about Cheri. It’s not about you. It’s not even about the Village. Nor about the Apostle Paul… Not to offend any Catholic friends, but it’s not even about Mary and Joseph.
It’s about what God is up to in the world. God calls us to do what we can do – and worrying is not on the list of helpful things that we can do. God calls us
…to faithfully show up, day by day.
…to give it our best,
…to work and think as hard as we can,
…to push out beyond our comfort zones –
…and then to wait upon God… …for the next surprise of grace.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Celebrate the Miracle: You’re Precious to God

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. They are precious in his sight . . .” That’s the song lyric and that’s the miracle we are celebrating tonight. We are all precious in God’s sight. Every single one of us is precious to God.

The movie “Precious” which came out this year, is about a teenage girl whose name may be precious, but she probably feels like anything but that. She is a teenager having her 2nd child. She has a terribly abusive mother. She lives in poverty, etc. Think of a horrible circumstance and Precious has probably experienced it. But, having experienced a very intense moment with her mother of more hatred, Precious finds the inner strength to break that cycle of abuse and sets herself free.

Jesus came to show all of us that we are precious. All of us have great worth. Amazingly, a tiny baby, born across the world, two thousand years ago, has created a movement that brings us together tonight. It is miraculous, but the bigger miracle is creating a feeling of love in us all.

During her sermon tonight, Cheri talked about her time in seminary. She was questioning whether she really had what she needed to be a church’s pastor. She was depressed. She was lonely. She was doubting herself. She was not sure she would ever serve a church. But then something changed.

Cheri worked for Trinity United Methodist Church in Atlanta during seminary. She served as the youth pastor, working with at risk youth from the local housing project. The church had a homeless shelter. Cheri got to experience urban ministry and things began to change.

Christmas Eve is Cheri’s favorite night of the year, thanks in large part to an experience at Trinity. She agreed to be the overnight worker at the homeless shelter one Christmas Eve. She like to stay in Atlanta for the Christmas Eve Service with her church and then travel the next day to her family. One year, she agreed to take the night shift that night in the shelter. She helped tend to the guests, and then went to the storage room where her cot was located. A few hours later, she got up thirsty, and went to get a drink of water. She found, in the basement of her church where the shelter was, one of the homeless men, sleeping under the Christmas Tree. He was there, not waiting for Santa, but for Jesus.

That was where Cheri’s passion for her ministry was born. Where she got her taste for ministry for those who have been discarded by society, the voiceless, the powerless. The people in Jesus’ time were powerless. They were oppressed by a foreign invader. They were waiting for a messiah who liberate them. They were waiting on a great, rich, powerful, military leader who would free them. They were not ready for an ordinary couple to give birth to a child in a stable. They were not ready for a child whose first crib was a feed trough.

There are a lot of hurting people out in the world. At the Village, we are going to do lots for them. But tonight, on Christmas Eve, we are going to focus on us. There might have been someone who felt great about themselves and their lot in life tonight. But for many of us, we have pain, we have fear, we have doubts. Jesus came with a simple message for us though.

That simple message is that God loves us all, no reservations, no way to separate ourselves permanently from that. Sure, we can do things God won’t like. Sure we can turn away. God still loves us. Every single one of us on this Earth is precious. That’s the message, summed up in one small paragraph.

And that, dear friends is the miracle of Christmas. God came down to be one of us. We are all precious in God’s sight. I pray you feel that miracle in the next day. God bless and Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


“God wants to give you a gift, but you need to be ready”. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wish God would be that unsubtle. Just come out and say this, then I would make sure I was getting myself ready. Then again, maybe a little how I am supposed to get ready would be good too.

Well, let me tell you, I’ve got a few incredible gifts from God in my life, but one of the greatest came to me as a result of Memorial Day Weekend 1996. Now, it didn’t start out that way. Sure, a group of my friends had traveled across the state to go to a baseball game with me. And they were meeting up with my new friends from Toledo. But then the trip up to the game went poorly and worse still, I introduced my new date to my friends. Nothing like time with friends and being stuck in traffic to expose the flaws of a date. By the end of the weekend, I was pretty bummed out, light one ex-date and I had about had it with dating.

But then, my best friend Roger, with encouragement of two other great friends Ian & Jessica, got me to put a personal ad on America Online as one last “Hail Mary”, before throwing in the towel. I put an ad on AOL’s Net Girl, I still cringe at giving that name away. Anyway, I posted it under a screen name created for the occasion and waited and waited some more. Then I got mad at Ian for crashing my computer with an upgrade for days. Then I checked and found out I had two responses. One was from Iowa. So much for the part in the Ad where I said Northern Ohio/ Southern Michigan only. The other was from a woman in Findlay. I’d barely heard of Findlay and never really been there except for brief stops for work.

That woman from Findlay and I corresponded on the internet for weeks, then talked on the phone and final we dated. Within a week of our first date, Cheri and I knew we were going to be married, but we did wait 6 months to get engaged and a year and a week from our first date to marry. And, not to get sappy, but I do bless that broken road every day. But I was only able to go down it because I was ready.

Then again, I’ve had to be ready for lots of gifts from God & Cheri as a result - moving from BG to the hood. Moving from a growing church with a contemporary worship service that fed me, to a church which was not sure it could pay her reduced salary and whose after school tutoring program had to remind the kids (elementary school students) that the gang colors came off when they came through the doors. But I’ve loved those gifts too. Yes, I really did.

Sometimes you’ve got to be ready for big changes to get that gift from God. This week in worship we used a great clip for the second season of the West Wing. The episode is a flash back, after an assassination attempt, to each of the staff joining the Bartlett (the President in the show) Campaign. Josh Lymon was working for John Hoynes, the prohibitive favorite to win not only the Democratic Nomination but the Presidency. There’s only one problem for Josh, he’s already decided Hoynes is not the “real thing”. He can win, but he won’t change the world. Then his father’s old friend Leo stops by and asks him to come to Nashua, New Hampshire and hear former Congressman & Governor Bartlett speak. Bartlett is, at the point, unlikely to win anything. The best explanation the family friend can give for why to come, is because “that’s what sons do for old friends of their father”.

On the way, Josh stops in Manhattan to visit his old friend Sam Seaborn and convince him to join the Hoynes’ Campaign as a speech writer . Sam is about to make partner in one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country. He is also about to get married. All Sam needs to do is help close a very well executed deal that will buy an oil company much too cheap oil tankers that can (and eventually will) cause a horrible oil spill without liability. As the two walk and talk on a break, they both question why they are doing what they are doing. As Josh leaves for New Hampshire, he asks Sam, “if I see the real thing in New Hampshire should I tell you about it?”. Sam’s response is “you won’t have to, you have a lousy poker face”.

So, Josh goes to New Hampshire and is blown away. Not by the great campaign, the room is almost empty at the event despite it being the candidate’s home town and the free food. Nor is he blown away by the candidate’s great eloquence “yep, I put the hammer to you and your friends” is not the answer the candidate was supposed to give to an angry constituent. No, he is blown away by a man who would sacrifice votes, possibly re-election, and a chance at the presidency even, to get kids cheap milk. Now, he’s got to tell Sam, who, of course leaves the law firm in the middle of the big meeting to close the deal that get’s him the golden ring. Again, you’ve got to be ready when the chance comes. (Oh, and if you’re excited by a church using West Wing clips, we’re just warming up. Starting in January I will be teaching a class on faith and morals using the West Wing).

But that’s part of what the scripture story we read in worship this week was all about. We read today about Shepherds in Luke Chapter 2. Now, we’ve all come to think of the shepherds as squeaky clean kids in bathrobes in Christmas plays, but they were far from that. They were a pretty lowly, rough and tumble, really scary bunch. But that’s who God gave the job of announcing the gift of Jesus’ birth that night 2,000 years ago. Partially because God was sending a message that Jesus was not going to be the on high king for the chosen ones, but the savior for all of us. Partially because the shepherds were ready to travel and awake.

God gave them a incredible gift, a chance to get in on the ground floor of something amazing, but also God made them leave their comfort zone. They had to leave the fields, go into town and see a baby, all due to a bunch of angels (and see my prior blogs on how much “fun” it is to have angels pop to give you news). But, they took a chance, and were part of the most amazing gift ever, and they and billions of others were eventually blessed.

The common thread of all of these stories, you have to be ready to take a risk when God comes along with a great gift. Cheri and I had to be ready to find each other, thanks in no small part to horrible past dates. Fictional Sam & Josh had to be ready, take the invite, and risk much, to be part of changing their world for the better. The Shepherds too, took the chance they were given and ran to Bethlehem to do it.

The Village is about being ready and taking some risks as well. Tonight, a group of us will be going to Ottawa Park to have an outdoor Christmas Candlelight Service. Why in the world will we be going out into wind chills predicted to be in the teens? Because we think God has given us some gifts and we want to say that to the world in a way that attracts attention. Now maybe no one will show up or maybe multiple people who need to hear about the real gift of Christmas (I’m finishing this afterwards and it was 40 people). But we, as the Village, have and will be taking these risks.

We’re not going to stay in our warm sanctuary, even on the low attendance day of the Sunday after Christmas. Sure, we’ll do a worship service at the Village Sunday Morning, but it won’t be anything normal. First, we’ll have a guest preacher, Paul Nixon, a nationally known, and published expert on church growth and planting. Second, we’re coming in sweats and pajamas. Third we’re going to have some fun with Pizza, and maybe some Wii playing on the big screens. Finally, though, we’re then going out into the world and feeding hungry families at St Mark’s Episcopal Church as they need help doing their monthly community meal.

And we’re going to do lots more in the coming months and years to reach out and give some great gifts, but even more importantly receive some back. Are you ready for God to give you a great gift? Well, if not, better get ready, it could come in your next few minutes on the Internet or who knows where else. So, in the next few days, make some room in your life for the miracle that is Christmas and be ready, Jesus isn’t the only gift you’re getting from God.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Make Space for the Miracle: REPENT

Ok, as you start reading this article, without laughing, say the following out loud: “I’m ready to make changes; and this time, I really mean it!”. Now, really, stop laughing, cause we’ve all tried that one haven’t we. We’ve all tried to make a bad habit. Ever had it creep back in again? My bad habits are too numerous to list here, but let me give you a few: I eat horribly unhealthy foods, I don’t exercise regularly, I’m an overachiever, got a Superman complex, and am a recovering nicotine addict. Luckily, this week in our worship celebration at the Village we were talking about letting go.

Our story in worship this week, from Luke Chapter 3, was the story of John the Baptist. Now, for those who have regularly and religiously (bad pun I know) studied the Bible, are going to say the story of John is after Jesus’ birth, but it’s about getting ready for Jesus so we use it at church before Christmas. John’s about letting go so we have room for the miracles to come. You’ve got to leave your sin behind and get saved, at least that’s what the preachers all tell us.

Cheri and I both grew up going to church, and we were both confused by that when we heard pastors railing about how we all have to let go of our sinful lives to be saved. Neither one of us were sleeping around, doing hard core drugs, etc. In short, we were both goodie two shoes. Neither one of us felt like we had done something truly wicked. As Cheri said, she felt like she needed to go out and do something really bad first to be saved. And that seemed to be really important.

Cheri grew up in West Texas, where even the mainline churches sound a little Southern Baptist to me. They’re all about the ritual of being saved. Her friends would go to a service to say their prayer, turn away from their sins and be saved. Sometimes, they did it every year. Cheri had one friend who was saved 5 years in a row, being re-baptized 7 or so times as well. Now, I’m just being bad, but what were these folks doing that the grace of God wore off? At the Village and in our two denominations, we claim you as a child of God with a baptism when you are a child and we believe it doesn’t wear off. No matter what you do or don’t do, you’re God’s beloved child and the invisible tattoo of that doesn’t come off.

Back in the times of the Bible, John was preaching at the Jordan River about how people needed to clean up their acts as the Messiah was coming. God’s Kingdom on Earth was coming. The injustice of the world was about to end as was suffering. The mighty, well there time was done. The message was, you folks need to get your lives in order.

And people came by the hundreds, lining up at the Jordan River to get dunked, sprinkled on with water, whatever. But, John knew that for many this was a fad. It was the equivalent of the annual revival at the hot church in town. But John told them they were snakes and they weren’t going to get anything from sprinkling water on their snake skins. They needed to change their lives in a meaningful way, not just show up at church.

Know anyone who went to church for reasons other than sincerely wanting to be there? Who went cause it was the popular thing to do? Because their Mother, Aunt, Grandma, Dad, etc made them go? Well, if you know me, that would be a yes. I grew up Catholic and not only were you supposed to go on Sunday and certain holidays, it was a sin not to go. Not exactly what I think God was going for, another Sin rather than a path to forgiveness.

Let’s talk about that path to forgiveness, repenting. To repent, requires as a first step that we figure out what we are doing wrong. Could be the big ones the preachers always warn us about: sex, drugs, rock & roll. Or it could be littler things selfishness, self-centeredness or trying to be Superman/Wonder Woman. Only you can identify what is wrong with you and what you’ve done.

There is a great scene from a great, quirky romantic comedy called Elizabethtown. In the movie Orlando Bloom is a brilliant young shoe designer who has been given the chance to create Mercury Shoes (think the folks with the swoosh) next great shoe. Only one problem, it is going to bomb beyond all measure. Conservative estimates put the companies losses as at $972 Million. He and the company’s CEO and founder Phil tour the company’s complex as Phil talks about all of the cuts due to this fiasco to come. The best is as he shows Drew the Environmental Watchdog Project, that was going to save the planet. Ouch, that’s a big one. Thankfully, most of us have not cost the planet’s future or a company nearly a Billion Dollars.

The next step on the repentance road is to make amends and ask forgiveness. This isn’t always from others, although most times it is. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves for that forgiveness, sometimes our friends or strangers. But there is always one we have to ask for this forgiveness, God. Thankfully God is ready always to give that forgiveness.

Now, sometimes this is easy, but lots of times it is hard. We need the help of others to be strong enough to go down this road. To stop smoking and get on with a healthier life, I needed a support group and class called Smoke Stoppers. Not quite a twelve step program, but that’s a good place too. We need places where we can be honest and ask for and get support. We’ve got to honest enough to ask for help, and we have to accept that help. Sadly, people aren’t willing to do that at most churches. They’ll do it at Twelve Step programs and they are doing a better job than we have as churches. That’s where people can be real.

This support is crucial for everyone. Even my dear wife, has the support of me, her friends and family, accountability groups and a spiritual director and she still struggles It’s still hard for her. It’s still hard for me as well.

The last step, wait for it, you have to actually change. Not simply say you want to change, but actually do so. No, praying a prayer is not enough. Rather than say we want to stop being Superman/Wonder Woman, we have to actually put away the cape and stop trying to save the world single handed. We have to make a plan, do it and keep trying, knowing we are human and going to fail. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community like the Village is a good thing too.

God loves us unconditionally. No matter what we’ve done, what we do, God loves us. We’re about to celebrate God’s greatest demonstration of love, coming down among us in the form of God’s son. We need to make room for that wonderful and miraculous gift.

This week, figure out what you need to get rid of to make room for God’s gift. When you figure that out, take a rock or something similar (we had a supply in worship at the Village) and pray about what you need to let go of. Put this into your rock and find a good place to let it go (hopefully nowhere near a window or you’ll need another rock). Now, we can’t guarantee that will let you get rid of your sin. Not even with the support of our groups, etc at the Village is there any guarantee. But let’s start down that road of repenting together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


In most denomination’s ordination service, the person being ordained into God’s service is taken up front, before assembled congregation, and assume some kind of position of submission. In the United Methodist Church, Cheri had to kneel, surrounded by a group a friends & supporters laying hands on her, while the Bishop completed a many years of hard work process. In the Catholic Church, the priest or nun lays, face down, on the ground, on the floor of the church.

Either way, it is a position of vulnerability and trust. Having one hundred percent trust is what being a servant is all about, at least in a healthy servant relationship. Being submissive to God, trusting implicitly is not a bad thing. It’s just my worst thing about being a follower of Christ. I don’t always have the courage to be that vulnerable. This week’s story in worship was about someone who had that kind of courage though, Mary.

Now, most of you have heard the story of Mary. It’s a favorite in Christmas pageants, plays, masterworks of art, etc, everywhere. The Angel comes to Mary and informs her that she is going to be the mother of Jesus. But you need to understand the context to understand the courage. This was a remarkable decision by a remarkable woman.

Mary was a teenager. She was getting ready to be a wife and eventually mother. She was engaged to an older man Joseph and looking forward to the simple life of a wife of a carpenter, having children, keeping the household running, etc. But, surprise, there is an Angel. Now in those days, as I imagine it would be today too, the appearance of an angel was pretty scary and shocking. A message from God by divine messenger was not usually good news. So, not running in terror was the first of many demonstrations of courage.

Then you get to the message. Mary, you’re going to be the mother of the Messiah, the savior your people have been waiting for now for generations. This without a husband, without having had, well you know, sex, that thing that tends to cause babies. And let me tell you, we have gotten rid of the more serious consequences of being a single mother in the 21st century, but not back then.

Mary was risking losing her fiancĂ©’. Imagine trying to convince your betrothed that you have not been cheating on him while standing there pregnant: Oh, sure the spirit of the Lord God came upon you, please. She risked losing the comfortable life of wife and mother she had longed for. She even risked her life, not only because childbirth is dangerous, but what she could be accused of doing was a stoning offense. Best case scenario, if Joseph bugs out she has no one to provide food and shelter to her and her child.

So, imagine your reaction: “Can I sleep on this one?”, “You sure you’re not talking about my older sister?”, “Can’t I wait on this one until I’m married, have other kids?”, etc. Not Mary, she didn’t say any of that. Her simple response, as memorialized in the Bible and a Beatles song “Let It Be”. Wow, I guarantee you I would have had a few hems and haws before I got to “Let it be”.

The first step on being a follower of Christ, or any other servant, is trusting in God. Let me tell you, I think of myself as a servant of God, but trust is not my strong suit. Trusting in God to care for me and mine is not a strong suit for me. I am a contingency, emergency, planning for trouble thinker (yes, I have emergency kits at home with water). Imagine that, a lawyer who likes to plan ahead and avoid trouble. Well, several years ago, God gave me a chance to trust and I failed miserably.

New Years Eve and Day about 9 years ago, we went on a family trip to Cincinnati to visit good friends of Cheri’s. Becca, who was about 18 months old had a cold, but was doing great. She partied at a family friendly New Year’s Eve party well past Midnight (Becca has seen Midnight every New Year’s since her birth), got up and played with friends, and was a charming child at lunch. We decided to stop at a nearby mall to kill a little time so we could hit Findlay and meet other friends for dinner on the way back. But that’s when the plan derailed.

Becca, in the double door entry to a suburban Cincinnati mall started a seizure in her stroller. As I fought to keep her tongue out of her throat, she flailed and turned purple. EMS was there faster than I could have ever prayed and we were at the hospital faster than I believed possible. Thankfully, with in minutes, I could tell from the ER Staff’s body language, which went from “dear God we’re not losing a small child today” to “we got this”, things were under control. It turns out Becca had a high fever, and had what is known as a febrile seizure . Within a matter of a few more minutes, Becca was starting to rebound and we were told, all was well. We were clear to travel back home and she would be fine.

Now, came the five hour drive home. Let me tell you, I would not want to be someone trying to get in my way on the way home that day. I was going to get that child to our house, nestled 5 minutes drive from two Level One (the best of the best) Trauma Center ER’s with kids units. The whole way home, I was computing in my head which hospital we would divert to if something happened (e.g. we’re by Lima, so we’re headed to St Rita’s, we’re closer to BG, now it’s Wood County Hospital, etc). I could have just trusted in the doctors (including the head of the ER Department who happened to be working on New Year’s Day) and nurses. I could have just trusted that God wanted Becca to be fine . Could that be why all of the help we needed was there immediately? Instead, I exhausted myself trying to figure out how I would save the day, when in reality, not a chance. Like I said, trust in God in something I had to learn and that was a failure.

As a part of trusting God, we also need to align our lives to be ready to serve when we are called. Mary didn’t let anything be in her way. Imagine what our lives would look like if we want to align with God’s desires. We would physically take care of ourselves: Exercising, you bet we would be and eating junk food, not so much; and none of those chemicals (drugs & alcohol) that hurt us. Alignment in relationships would be keeping the good ones that feed and nurture us and getting rid of those relationships that harm us. Aligning our finances so we can take jobs that feed us and make the world a better place, while taking care of our needs and leaving us with money to give back.

Again, this is something we, or at least me can use help with. It’s easy to say we want to be ready to serve, but it’s hard to pull it off. That’s why communities, like the Village, are so important. A true community can support us and give us the accountability to make this happen, plus the tools to make that desire a reality. I’ve seen that first hand in a past community, a Servant Leadership Class at Cheri’s last church.

Servant Leadership is a ten month class created by the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC as essentially their membership class. As someone who has had the pleasure of taking it, I can tell you it’s basic goal is to remind students that they are a beloved child of God, help them center themselves for ministry, and discover what their passion, future ministry is. I have seen this class transform lives and even a neighborhood in Washington, DC.

Several years ago a group of us at Cheri’s last church took this class, including Patti. Patti was, at the time, trying to decide what to do when she “grew up”. Mind you, Patti had a great job in the past, raised wonderful children and now found herself with an empty nest. She was not sure what to do, and was drifting from interesting, but totally unrelated, and totally unsuited to her, job to job. Finally in the midst of the class, Patti asked the group, “do you think I should go back to teaching”. The answer was a resounding “DUH, Patti you’re a gifted teacher and nurturer, of course you should be teaching somewhere”. To the rest of North America this was an obvious decision. And, given time to study, pray, and be with a group, it was to Patti as well.

Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out God’s call and trust it. Mary was given a clear vision and an amazing call that was obviously from God. It’s not very likely to be that clear and that powerful for the rest of us. But God has a path for us all. You just need to find a place like the Village where you can find it. Here’s hoping that you and I both have a “Let it Be with Me as You Say”, if we get such an opportunity.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Make Space for the Miracle: LISTEN

After Thanksgiving, the preparations for Christmas can begin. Now, if we listen to the forces of our culture, it would be more like after Labor Day, but my wife and I agree on this one, after Thanksgiving. Fortunately, we have a period of time to get ready. In the church we call it Advent. A time to prepare our hearts and lives to receive the miracle that is Christmas. And given how slowly our family prepares for Christmas (we’ve given up and called our family Christmas letter a holiday letter, partially out of deference to our non-Christian friends, mostly cause it doesn’t get out some years before Epiphany, January 6th), we need it.

Christmas is truly a miracle. In case you’re new to the story, God had been trying for thousands of years to get the people on Earth back on track. God would try to show us the way, but we would wander away. Time and time again, we would as the Bible says “do what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. Thankfully, God realized early on that just whipping the slate clean, save a few good folks, was not the way to go (see: Noah & the Ark). So God tried miraculous signs (e.g. burning bushes, stone tablets, etc,), which didn’t work either. So God tried wonderful speakers and leaders, a.k.a. the prophets. For a time, sure we’d listen, but then most likely we would turn on them. We as a species say we like straight talkers, right up until they say we’ve got to change. Finally, God decided it was time to come down and be among us a child, Jesus.

Every year, we celebrate that child’s birthday, by making room, making some space in our lives to receive that miracle again. We honor the child by showing our love for each other, right? Right (said in best sarcastic voice), that’s how we celebrate Christmas, remembering the Christ child, that’s the ticket. Well, maybe, or maybe we get to do this every year to give us another chance to try to get it right, cause it seems we can’t quite do that.

We’ve all seen signs that we don’t do such a good job on that, don’t we? Family fights and blow ups over whom will be welcome at the family Christmas gathering, and who won’t, sound familiar? Prince of peace, anyone? Out of sight consumer purchasing and rampant materialism to honor the birth of the champion of the poor? People getting trampled, some times to death for the sin of trying to get a cheap GPS or the hottest video game ring a bell? Ok, so it does seem we need to keep practicing this one until we get it right.

Over the next four Sundays at the Village, we are going to look at stories from the Bible to get us ready and invite us to “Make Room for the Miracle” this year. Next week we are going to hear the story of a young, teenage girl with a calling named Mary;. After that, John the Baptist and his call to drop our baggage; Finally, we’re going to hear about the shepherds, no, not the kids in the bathrobes all squeaky clean, but the rough and tumble shepherds who God chose as God’s messengers.

Today, our story was about Zechariah and Elizabeth. If you want to check if God has a sense of humor, this is one of those stories that will show you, God does. God needs a herald, someone to prepare the world for Jesus, an opening act if you will, John the Baptist. But John the Baptist needs parents. Given all of the choices available for God, a elderly couple who’ve given up on having kids, is not a very likely choice. Then again, God loves to prove God’s sense of humor, or just that God values those society we value least. Either way, I like it. Zechariah gets the humor of the situation though, he, like me, needs to watch when we, I mean he expresses it.

Zechariah was a Jewish priest. He and his wife were very good folks (a rare statement in the Bible it seems at times). He and his group of priests were doing their duty in the Temple. Once in a lifetime, these priests would be allowed to go into the inner most part of the Temple, the holiest of holy places, and it was Zechariah’s once in a life time chance. When he was there, the Angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah that he is going to be a father. His reaction, was essentially “you’re kidding me right? My wife and I have been praying for years to be parents, but now when we’re old and gray?”Gabriel’s reaction was “fine, don’t believe your prayer for a child was answered in God’s time (one of my least favorite time zones) then you can be quiet until the baby is born”. Zechariah is rendered mute on the spot.

God has a habit of doing big things to get our attention. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. Go back to my blog article from August, called “Watching the Signs”, subtle is BAD when you need to get someone to go somewhere or do something. Missing a sign, a direction, etc can get you into some real trouble (or if you read the blog, at least cost you an extra 10 miles of riding and no pancakes). In this case, God made Zechariah mute, so there would be no doubt, he would be listening.

We all need to take some time to listen. If not, we miss those important things in life. But our society has gotten away from those times of calm where we can hear the important things. We used a great clip from the movie Contact in worship to illustrate this point. Theologian Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey) is appearing on the Larry King Show. He is talking about despite the advantages of our modern technology, how alone & empty we are. He is talking about how we try to fill those voids with quickly taken vacations, deficit spending trips to the mall, etc. Meanwhile, Ellie Araway (an astronomer played by Jodie Foster) makes the discovery of the Century, if not all of recorded history, because she is listening when others who work with her are not.

Now, as we prepare for another Christmas, what are we really preparing for? Are we preparing for the miracle of God coming into the world to show us the way to a better life? Are we clearing space and getting ready to accept this incredible gift? Or are we working on getting the house decorated just so, the perfect Christmas card out, the perfect set of cookies baked? Wouldn’t it be horrible if we missed a great gift, a great calling to do something real for this world, cause we were busy trying to hang up the perfect Christmas light display?

Well, at the Village we’re going to give you some chances to slow down, and clear some room in the midst of this crazy month of preparation. We will still have our usual, Sunday morning worship celebration and our after service Bible study. But we are adding to this, contrary to popular church logic which is to not add anything, but rather subtract at this time of year. We are going to give you several new opportunities to interact with God.

On Tuesday Nights @ 7 PM, starting this week, we will be offering a small group, a prayer group. Along with listening for the voice of God, this group will be taking prayers from it’s members and our greater community and giving them a voice back to God. Also, starting Tuesday at 12:15 PM, Pastor Cheri will be offering an opportunity to slow down for a bit and try to get some calm. She will offering a 15 minute, quiet time called the Lunchtime Prayer Break. Bring your lunch and take a few minutes to get some calm and peace in this crazy time. You don’t need any knowledge or expertise with prayer for either group. In fact, there’s really no such thing. It’s just a matter of praying. Like anything else, you get better at doing it with practice.

So, take a little while this week, in a group, or by yourself and listen. You don’t know what message you may get, but if it is from God, it will be a good one.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Bishop Judy Craig of the United Methodist Church told a great story several years ago at our annual conference. Off the coast of Florida a Coast Guard Search And Rescue Cutter sank suddenly in a heavy storm. Without warning, the crew found themselves in the water. No time for lifeboats, no time to grab equipment. Whatever they had on while onboard, they had in the water. Suddenly, those who go into harm’s way to rescue people, were the ones in desperate need of rescue. Not a good place to be.

A veteran non-commissioned office (NCO), a Chief found himself floating alone in the dark. Now, my Dad was a Navy Chief, so I know that the military runs on these wise veterans, but this Chief sounds like he was a cut above that. The Chief yelled out in the darkness, as loud as he could, “CIRCLE UP!”. He repeated it several times until he heard it being repeated in the stormy seas around him. He then swam towards the nearest voice and joined a shipmate.

Now the two yelled out again “CIRCLE UP!”. They heard another voice nearby echo it and so they swam together to him. Now there were three in a circle. The group clung together for warmth, protection and rest for a few minutes and then Chief yelled “REACH OUT!” and so the groups reached out and found others. And so it repeated all night, “CIRCLE UP!”. New larger circles were formed, rest was had, then “REACH OUT!”, new people were brought into the circle of protection.; Over and over again, the pattern repeated. By morning the 27 member crew were found alive, in a large circle.

Isn’t that a perfect model of our call as a Christian community. We are called on to form strong circles for protection, healing, empowerment, and then sent to reach out. We could spend the next 20 years trying to emulate this model. Too often though, one of those elements gets over done. Many churches, especially progressive, social justice churches spend so much time trying to change the world that they burn out. Others spend so much time circling up, they never reach out, becoming a club. We need to circle up. Not in a co-dependent way. We need to rest every so often. Life can be very draining at time. Also, we get hurt and need a place to heal those wounds. But we need to then work on reaching out.

In the last week, Cheri had the chance to do a little of the “circle up” part with our friend Jennifer. Jennifer and her husband Tim have been in my life longer than Cheri. They have been friends with Cheri for over thirteen years. We have shared thick and thin including the birth of their twins and our two kids, the break-up of the law firm where Jennifer and I both worked, three lawsuits that came from that, and numerous deaths and illnesses. So us being there for each other has been a constant.

Recently, Jennifer was diagnosed with a tumor, thankfully benign, on her chin into throat. However, it had to be removed as while it was not spreading elsewhere, it was growing, effecting her nerves, etc. Amazingly the best surgeon for the job was at St. Rita’s Hospital in Lima. Not to be a medical snob, but Jennifer is pretty high up in Mercy Health Partners, and has access to doctors all of the country, so she’s gonna have surgery in Lima was the first of several, “she’s going to do what?” moments our family had around this event. But her doctor’s skill in all areas is a subject for another sermon/blog.

The next “she’s going to do what?” moment was when we found out the surgery was going to be on Friday the Thirteenth at Seven O’Clock in the morning. Worse still, that’s the day after Jennifer’s Birthday, so another “she’s going to do what?” moment. But then the best one of these moments for me was when Jennifer learned Cheri was going to come down for the surgery. Being good friends means know that Cheri is not a morning person and so a 5 AM wake-up call and drive to Lima is not Cheri’s norm. Jennifer was actually rendered close to speechless, and Jennifer is never speechless.

Cheri explained that being at hospitals was not a big deal for pastors. They go to hospitals all the time. Cheri explained to Jennifer that when the Village is hundreds of people she won’t have the chance to do this for everyone, but with a surgery around the main arteries to the brain, and with the Village the size it is, this was not a big deal for a Pastor to do. So, with that Jennifer let Cheri come. The thing is, Cheri wasn’t really trying to come as the Pastor. She wanted to come as a friend. Jennifer later admitted she might not have let her friend come to the hospital, but she would let her minister. Aren’t we all like that. We don’t want to impose on our friends. We are too proud to ask for help. We don’t want to be embarrassed, so we are not real with our friends.

Our dream for the Village is to make it a community where you can be real. Where we give ourselves a chance to be open and share our lives with each other. We can’t and we won’t be that 1950's model of the church where the pastor is the one who takes care of everyone. The professional hospital call by the Pastor is why most of our churches are dying. Well, that and another issue.

People want a place to be real, they long for a place where they can be accepted as themselves. Unfortunately, they don’t think church is a place like that. Instead, the studies show they think church is a place to be avoided because it is filled with fake people. The last person you want to tell that you have HIV/AIDS, that your teenager is pregnant, that you or your spouse has had an affair, that you are struggling with addiction, etc. is a member of a church. But shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t that be precisely the time you turn to your church family.

That’s what Jesus said, this is exactly the times and the people who need him. In Luke’s gospel, the story is told of Jesus dinning with tax collectors and other unsavory characters. The Pharisees (and for those of you who don’t know Bible history, think the ultra religious right of the time) gave Jesus all manner of grief over that. But, as he always would do, Jesus set them straight, saying “who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders - an invitation to a changed life , changed inside and out” (Luke 5:31-32 from the Message Translation).

At the Village, our plan is to be such a place. A place where you can be real, be healed, and get back on track in life. Need someone to be real with, the Village is going to give you ways to make that happen. After worship every week we have a Bible study to discuss the scripture from our worship celebration and get real with each other. Starting December 1st, our new Prayer Group will be meeting and sharing our joys and fears from the congregation as a whole, and from the members of the group. In December, as the craziness of the Holiday Season hits full force and effect, Pastor Cheri will be hosting a prayer session at lunchtime, Tuesday through Friday to allow folks to take a break. Even more ways are coming, after the first of the year, I’ll be teaching a series of studies using my favorite ways of starting conversation, movies and television. The first one, one of my own creation, using the West Wing and it’s handling of faith and morals issues.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Several years ago, I began studying a Japanese Martial Art at Toledo Campus Ministry known as Wa Ai Ju, It’s a blend of Aikido & Jujitsu. Each of the words stands for a fundamental principle of it. Wa - stands for accord/balance of body & sprit, Ai - Spontaneous action or Creativity, Ju - Gentleness. Ok, it’s a martial art, so it’s more like proportional response or using an attackers energy against them.

The fundamental movement of Wa Ai Ju is called Happo Undo, it literally means the Eight Direction Exercise. It is a way to practice our strikes (punches) and kicks, turning in 8 directions around a circle. Early on in my study, I had a real frustration problem, I couldn’t keep in perfect balance as I did it, I would get very frustrated and it showed. Finally, my instructor let me in on the Secret, you can’t do happo undo remaining in center, it off balances you doing it (well it does for her even, number two in the world in the art). It’s not about keeping perfect balance or center, it’s about how fast you can recover it by using your center/core.

But isn’t that life, we all get knocked off balance, constantly, for me this week: a car tire blew out one day, we discovered a bill didn’t get paid on time, the kids were cranky, we had a family wedding to go to that was a five hour round trip on Saturday night, with Cheri needing to preach, etc. As my mother says, “if you don’t have problems to deal with, you’re not alive”.

I kind of felt like Carl Fredricksen, the hero from UP!, which we showed part of in worship. In that movie, Carl finds the love of his life, Ellie, early in life. Ellie and he grow up dreaming of a South American Adventure at Paradise Falls. Becca and Jamie love when she describes South America as “like America, only South”. Carl and Ellie take jobs at the Zoo, in, of course, the South America section, hoping to make their dream a reality. But then, life intervenes. One thing, after another, after another, keeps them from going on the adventure, until it is too late for Ellie.

I can understand the franticness of life getting in the way. The week above is not an atypical week for us. Things in our house get crazy, especially in the morning. Trying to get two kids out the door to school every morning gets a mite crazy. If you want to read more about that, look at my prior blog on My Life the Sitcom. It gets even crazy if Cheri has to run out the door with us.

But most mornings, she and I get a chance to wind down and find our centers before leaving. For me, it comes from walking our dog and getting some other exercise. Cheri get’s her coffee, sits and prays. It’s from that daily exercise that Cheri gets her center to do this. However, I have to let you in on a little secret. This does not come easily to me or even her. That’s right, even Pastor’s struggle with prayer lives. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, as not only do people have struggles with keeping a balance, most churches do to. They struggle with keeping a balance as a group; some struggle as they spend too much time taking care of their own, others burn out trying to do so much justice they forget to take care of their own.

But the journey of being a Christian or a Christian Community is not a sprint, I don’t even think it is a marathon. I tend to think of it as the Iron Man Triathalon (if you don’t know, a group of maniacs go to Hawaii, swim, 2.4 miles in the ocean, get out of the water and ride 112 miles on bicycles, get off the bikes and run a marathon as desert. This is not over the course of days or weeks, but on the same day). It never seems to end. And that’s what life is like, one challenge after another.

Fortunately, Jesus himself taught us how to train our cores for this. In our scripture this week, Luke 6: 6-12, Jesus gets to confront the scribes and the Pharisees and if anyone knew how to off balance Jesus, it was those folks. In this particular story, they try to trip Jesus up, with a violation of the law so severe it could get him killed. Having dealt with them, what does he do, he does worry, doesn’t obsess, he goes off and prays. He re-establishes his center, his connection with God.

It’s the core of prayer and center on purpose that let Jesus do what he needed to do to save us. It’s from that core that has let Cheri do what she needed to do, and not get pulled away from the important things. This balance is how she’s survived the trials of church planting and stayed on the mission that brought us to today. Now as a faith community, we are adopting balance as a core value. Balance in two senses of the word, balance between prayer/study & doing something to make the world better. Also a balance between body & soul.

But this balance individually and collectively does not come easily. It takes daily training. Want to start your training? Take a few minutes each day this week and calm yourself and talk to God. In the coming weeks and months, we will be offering you more chances to exercise your balance - doing and praying, and caring for your spirit and your body. Come and join us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


This week was definitely one where the world showed just how “messed up” it is. So far the authorities believe that eleven young women, and possibly more, were murdered in a home in Cleveland.. A man who had lost his job is accused of shooting ½ a dozen former co-workers in Orlando. Suicide bombers killed dozens in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Then three dozen people were shot at Ft. Hood, allegedly by a comrade in arms, driven to this supposedly by the thought of killing those of the same faith, and people taunting him about that faith.

It was pretty easy, after a week like that for me to do as Cheri asked in worship and say to my neighbor “The world is messed up”. Thankfully, that was followed by “let’s change the world”. That’s what this week’s worship celebration was about, changing the world. Not an easy thing to do, as you can see, the world needs a lot of changing. Fortunately, Jesus left us a step by step set of instructions,

The Gospel of Matthew is one of my favorites. Not a surprise that a lawyer loves the book written to convince those into the laws of the time, that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. Chapter 25 has a story of God sorting those worthy to go into Heaven and those not. A scary thought for those of us who are into God’s grace, the thought of our forgiving creator God, sorting us into the worthy and unworthy piles. However, taken as step by step instructions for how to change the world, it’s perfect.

In the modern, Message translation : these folks are worthy because they did any of the following to someone overlooked or ignored by society:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a home,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

The ills of our world seem so overwhelming: hunger, lack of clean drinking water, homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, crime and a lack of hope. Then again, I’m sure living in a city of dying, poor people was daunting to AgnesĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She began her career trying to serve God, not sure what to do.

What she found, was that her destiny was to serve those at the bottom rung of the world, those dying in the gutters of her city one of the most hellish places on the planet. She began simply trying to give one person a place to die in peace and with some measure of comfort. Her advice for changing the world, take baby steps on the path above. Pretty good advice, but even better when you realize it comes from a Nobel Peace Prize winner who you know as Mother Theresa.

So we’ll start with baby steps and beyond, but again, that’s what you have to start with. In 1982, Karen Olsen was a marketing executive in New Jersey. Everyday she passed a homeless woman, Millie, on the street. Finally, she stopped and bought Millie a sandwich. By 1986, Karen helped found what was then called Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN). By 1989, IHN went national, using the unused rooms in churches and synagogues to provide housing for homeless families. Last year, IHN, which is now called Family Promise, helped 45,000 otherwise homeless families.

Two years ago, Cheri got an answer that made the world look a little messed up as well. The Methodist Church wants to plant ten new churches in the Toledo Area. They have invested over a decade plus and thousands of dollars training Cheri to be a church planter. And to say people in power nudged her to plant a church, is a mild rewrite of the facts. So, Cheri, after a year or more of study, prayer and planning, proposed The Village. The answer from the powers that be was a resounding “NO”.

Now, that could have been that. Cheri could have just taken the next, safe appointment and helped another church do what it was doing. But she did not. We, her team, could have just taken this rejection and given up, but I am proud to say we did not. Our reaction, “well, we’re going to “be the church”, and eventually we will be called a church”. And that’s what we did.

Two years ago, a Christmas time, a group of us gathered, as the Village and one of our first acts was not a study, not worship, not even a social outing. No, we provided a Christmas time meal and a night’s worth of fun and entertainment to a group of homeless families thanks to Family Promise.

From there, we are following the plan:

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink – we’ve given hundreds of water bottles out on a dozen or so occasions to our community and we’re just getting started.
I was hungry and you fed me – we’ve fed dozens of families and hundreds of people through Food For Thought, Family Promise, and The Saint Mark’s Community Meal.
I was homeless and you gave me a home – working with Habitat and Family Promise, we’re working to give dozens of people homes.
I was shivering and you gave me clothes – we’ve worked with Hannah’s Socks and St. Paul’s Community Center, and will continue to do so, to gather clothes for those who need them.
I was sick and you stopped to visit – the Village is working hard to expand healthcare in America as part of Interfaith Worker Justice/Jobs with Justice.
I was in prison, and you came to me – well, we need to work on this one, but Cheri does provide pastoral care to a young man serving twenty to life.

But we’re just getting warmed up here. The Village has only been worshiping together on a weekly basis for a few weeks. We’ve got lots more work to do as the Village is about following Jesus and thereby changing the world. What are you going to do to take your baby step this week? If you need some suggestions, come to our events page, or better yet come in person next Sunday and check out the get connected board.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


We had a little Halloween fun this week at the start of Cheri’s message. Cheri suggested we tell our neighbor who we would want to dress as for Halloween. I had hoped that my dear wife would want to go as a Star Wars character or something geeky, but no such luck. I did get a good laugh though as she tried to explain what a Flapper was to our band leader.

We then got to watch a great clip from one of my favorite movies, and boy am I getting real on admitting this one, “Must Love Dogs”. Yes, I’m a guy who likes a romantic comedy here and there. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about getting back into the dating scene after having been out of it for a time. Diane Lane (Sarah) is a forty year old school teacher getting back into the game, after a horrible break up, and things are not going well. Sarah goes on a newspaper personals ad date only to find out it is her Dad, lying through his teeth not only about his age but also about not being in a relationship. She even gets talked in putting an ad online by her sister. Then she drives Dad’s one girlfriend (of many) Dolly, home.

As they get to know each other, Dolly shows off her internet profiles. Dolly says “I love this internet, part fantasy, part community, and you get to pay your bills naked” (Yes, we did let the play in worship). Dolly explains to Sarah how she has to get onto more than one site. “You’ve got to get more bets on the table”, Dolly explains, as she shows Sarah her various profiles, some claiming to enjoy antiques, others skydiving and motorcycle riding. Dolly explains that you get to try on some many personalities, be anyone you want to be.

The internet certainly has added a layer of masks we can wear, so says the peaceful guy with a Mafia Wars profile (hey maybe that’s why Cheri said she wanted to be a “Flapper” for Halloween), among other personas and characters online and in video games. And nothing lets you have alternative personas and masks like dating, especially in the internet age. Cheri and I both know that one. Back when we were single, we got to go on lots of blind dates.

I tried blind dates set up by friends, so did she. I tried a newspaper ad or two, some more creative than others “Job not a joke, I’m not quite broke, but my love life’s DOA” (yes, that theme song), was my ad on arriving in Toledo dateless and desperate about 14 or so years ago. But then Memorial Day weekend on 1996, after a date from, well this is a church blog so we’ll stop there, I got talked into putting an Ad on a part of America On Line (yes, the internet existed back in Age of Dinosaurs and before Facebook) called Netgirl. I went so far as to create another screen name so that if I got a stalker out of the deal, well, I’d be ok. Amazingly, I found a woman online who I wanted to meet. After a series of careful moves to ensure we were not about to date an ax murder or similar type, we met. A year and a week later, I married Cheri, the woman who responded to the Ad “Nice Guys Finnish Last, Prove Me Wrong”.

Our Scripture this week was about intimacy, being able to be yourself in the presence of another. Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus and his followers stopping in a town in Symaria. Now, today we think about Samaritans as good folks, The Good Samaritan is held up as an example of a good person in all aspects of culture today, there are even Good Samaritan laws to protect do-gooders. However, back then, Jews looked at Samaritans as the lowest of the low and the feelings were pretty mutual. So, this would be kind of like Jesus and friends passing through Taliban controlled territory in Afghanistan and stopping for a drink.

At the community well, it’s mid day and Jesus meets a local woman. Now, at the time, that would be the last time in the world someone would go to the well. Think middle of the night now. You didn’t go to the well at midday, it was hot, it was dusty, you only went then if you were trying to avoid people. Well, she was. She was not exactly thought of well in the community. And, lo and behold Jesus gets real with her. He talks to her about her five husbands and the man she is living with now. He talks to her about the real him, going so far as to reveal his true nature to her. He and she both put their masks aside and share a deep conversation with each other. And for a moment, real community happens.

Isn’t that we are all looking for now? In person or online, don’t we want a community of people with whom we can relax and be our real selves with. It’s scary to think about letting down our guards, sharing our thoughts, our fears, our dreams. But deep down, it’s what we want. A family, a group of friends, a church where we can be ourselves. It’s what the sociologists tell us is missing in our digital culture and it’s why many of us have left churches and won’t go to others. That feeling that church is NOT a place where we can get real. We have to put on a show, “I’m great” when our heart is broken up, etc. But we long for it.

At the Village, one of our core values is Authenticity, or being real. We always want you to be who you are here. And we are trying to foster connection groups where you can do just that. Not mega church worship celebrations where you slip in, get entertained, and slip out. Real community where you can be you. Where you can share your fears, your hurts and your joys. Where you can unload the baggage we all have.

In worship today, we had a chance to go to a mirror, and start with, quietly or on paper, letting go of what we feel we need to let go of. So try that now, when you log off. Go to a mirror, by yourself and let go of that baggage about whatever the bad things you feel you’ve done or not done. Confession, to us, is not something we feel you need to do to a “priest or pastor”. God knows what we’ve done, but it helps us to let it out. But, when you’ve done that, take things a step further. You see God knows all of the bad we’ve done, but God still loves us, yes, even you, whomever’s voice of doubt just shot up. God loves you and God has a better message than you’re letting through. Go listen for that other voice. You’ll know you’ve got it when you start hearing a message like this “I love you and you’re worthy, special, important to me”. That’s the voice of the God who created you as you, faults, flaws and all. Start hearing that voice a little first, then find out how you can use the gifts and talents you see later, to help others along this path with you.

At the Village, we want you to be you. So, come get real with yourself and others first, and then Connect with the world. There are a whole lot people out there who can only hear that first voice, the one we create with all the negatives. They need to hear that other voice, and that’s one of the ways we can change the world, starting here at the little corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo. Are you ready to put aside your masks, get real and hear that voice? Do you need some help finding it? Either way, we here, every Sunday and beyond. Come join us.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


In our worship celebration this week, we read a classic from the Gospel of Luke.
It’s the Good Shepherd Story. Rather than try to re-tell it myself, I’m going to just give you it out of my favorite Bible translation - The Message (a retelling of the Bible in more modern language, no begats here):

Luke 15
1-3By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends." Their grumbling triggered this story.
4-7"Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, 'Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep!' Count on it—there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

I don’t know about you, but I have had plenty of times in life where I would have thought of myself as having a “doubtful reputation”. Believe me, I am the worst critic of Kurt Young on the planet. If there is something I’ve done wrong, I’ve noticed it. Anything I’ve failed to do, humanly possible or not, I’m on it.
Leave it to Cheri to come up with a few ways to get me off of the I’m not worthy recording in my head. First, the more serious, she had us all repeat a simple, but effective phrase to start her message, “God really loves you, so I’m going to try too”. Then she went to the wacky. She had us all stare at the video screens to see if we could recognize the new United States Senator and former comedian. The screen sprung to life with “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darn it, people like”.
In case you were not a fan of Saturday Night Live, that’s Stuart Smalley, a self-help guru spoof created by Al Franken, the now junior Senator from Minnesota. As Cheri pointed out, and I agree, we live in a pretty amazing world where Al Franken is a senator and Cheri is the Pastor of a Methodist Church with a beer cooler in it. Yes, if you have not joined us yet, the Village has a beer cooler running, unfortunately filled with milk & creamer. It does make a great way to the break the ice on inviting people to visit.
Recently, We’ve seen a lot of the world valuing good people whose lives were cut short. Jasper Howard is a prime example of that. Jasper was a young man who worked hard to leave the seemingly unsafe streets of Miami’s Little Haiti behind to go to school and play football in suburban Hartford, Connecticut at the University of Connecticut. Seemingly a safe place to be. But on October 17th a day that started with Jasper having 11 tackles in homecoming win, ended with Jasper stabbed to death at the Homecoming Dance. Such a wonderful young man was a common theme in the words of who lost him. Fitting tributes have followed in the media and even from his team’s opponents this week. Jasper was someone who mattered to the world.
It reminded Cheri and I of a recent loss, near us, not treated with nearly as much coverage. Victor Johnson was 34 years old and lived a few blocks away from us. He was walking down his street when a gunman or gunmen shot him. Hearing the shots (sadly not that uncommon near our home) and not having Victor return home, his family and friends feared the worst and called 911. The Toledo Police came, but were unable to find a body where they were told the shooting and went back on patrol. Hours later, the family found the body. Victor Johnson was someone who mattered to God, just like Jasper. Just not as much to the world. Our scripture this week was about a simple message, EVERYONE MATTERS TO GOD. No exceptions
Cheri told us about a time where this was driven home to her. Cheri’s family is from Texas, the family home is DeLeon, Texas, which believe me scared the daylights out of this big city Yankee. She grew up in Abilene, Texas, which she described in the heart of redneck country. But she found herself in Atlanta, hired to be the youth pastor for an inner city youth group. Somehow, the naive West Texas white girl connected to the young, African-American men. Leading a communion Sunday, where Tony asked Cheri to join her as his family saying “is there room for me here?”
Jesus message in this week’s scripture is “There is always room.” In fact, if you’re not here – I’ll come looking for you. God isn’t worried about the 99 “worthy” folks out there, but the 1 of us that is not worthy, at least in our eyes. In God’s eyes, we all matter, this is non-negotiable, no exceptions, no questions.
Of course, there is a problem with mattering. You have to find it out for yourself. It’s not easy. Even for me, who has been told I was God’s beloved child since birth. Sometimes that voice is hard to hear, but you need to hear that. You are God’s child and you matter. But when you, when you do you’re going to hear a new voice. Others matter too and need to hear that.

So, whether the voice you need to hear is You Matter to God, or Make Others Know They Matter to God, we’re here every week waiting for you. Come visit the Village, our worship celebrations are Sunday at 10:30. See you there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Waiting On The World To Change

I’ve got a real problem. I have a Superman Complex. There are times I believe that if I try hard enough, I can fix anything. Of course, I can’t fix everything, it only took a few therapy sessions to get there. But I can take off the cape, I don’t have to change the world alone.

In our scripture for the worship celebration this week, John 5: 1-9, we read about a man who spent most of his life, 38 years, at the Bethesda Pool. He was unable to walk and the pool at Bethesda was supposed to have healing properties. The problem is that you have to get someone to put you at the right time, after it had been properly stirred up. Jesus walked up to the man and said “do you want to be healed?”. Seemingly a silly question, but the man had spent his life waiting on this, without making it happen. When the man said yes to this, Jesus said simply pick up your mat & walk, and so he did. Sometimes, it’s just that simple, choosing to make it happen.

Part of our progress towards turning the old Colony Restaurant, Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant, the Doctor’s Inn, etc into the Village has been thanks to our sister UMC & UCC churches. Last week I spoke about a UMC, so this week let me tell you about a UCC church, North Congregational Church in Columbus. We had a great group from North Congregation join us thanks to the work of Lesle Eppler at a UCC Conference. She met Skylar, a member of North Congregational.

Skylar is a member of one of the teams at North Congregational. He and his team met with me, heard further about this crazy adventure of ours, and decided to come north a couple of hours drive and help us. As I met with this group, I met Skylar’s wife Angie. Angie was very enthusiastic about the project and ready to help. But Angie had a concern. She did not want to slow down Skylar and the other handy members of the team.

Angie is not that terminally unhandy like I am. No, she’s in a wheelchair. But Angie did not have to worry about slowing anyone down. She worked for hours painting our children’s room. In addition, she and another member of the team, Marilyn, solved a problem we had been agonizing about, how to turn an inaccessible bathroom, into an accessible one. The group wanted to help change the world by helping get the Village off the ground. Angie didn’t wait 38 years for healing, she just rolled into it.

Cheri faced a similar decision in her career. When Cheri was growing up, she couldn’t decide if she really wanted to be a minister. She never doubted she wanted to serve God, it was not that. It was fights about what color the choir robes should be, arranging chicken bar b cues, and whether to use inclusive language or not. But she went to seminary anyway, and then had the experience that convinced her she could.

During seminary, she got a job at Trinity United Methodist in Atlanta, Georgia. Trinity is a mission center for all of Atlanta. It is a place where the poor and homeless get some of the help they vitally need. It is also a place where all are included, one of the first fully inclusive United Methodist churches in the south. There is where she fell in love with urban ministry and welcoming all.

Cheri decided if Trinity could be a United Methodist Church, She could be a Methodist pastor. She could have waited for the Methodist Church to heal itself of it’s various wounds on not including all, but that would still be happening. Instead, she decided to help heal the Methodist church from inside.

Many of us who are progressives have had our share of concerns about organized religion. I know that I have had struggles with the denomination that I grew up in. To not fully include women, even those clearly called to ministry, to demand celibacy of clergy, to tell couples not to use available technology to control the size of their family, or to tell couples they should be open to having children but can’t use the technology available to help, was just the start of my problems.

Jim Wallis is an activist and writer who help found Sojourners, an organization that works for the poor and outcasts of our society. Jim has seen the “Religious Right” dominate the political discussion for a long time, while the “Religious Left” remain ignored. But Jim has given us all an interesting call. He has suggested that the alternative to bad religion isn’t no religion, it’s good religion. He has called on us all to reclaim the faith that led to some of the great social justice movements of our nation’s history; the Abolition of Slavery, Voting Rights for Women, and the Civil Rights of Movement; and start changing the world with it again.

In his book, “God’s Politics”, Jim tells the story of Lisa, a community organizer he worked with at Sojourners. Lisa died relatively young, but she made a huge difference. She spoke once about the struggles of her generation to make a difference. Her peers bemoaned the lack of the great leaders of generations past. They want to know when the Martin Luther King, Jr’s; John F. Kennedy’s; the Robert Kennedy’s, etc. are. Lisa’s eloquent response was simply, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for”.

So, if we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, how are we working to change the world? It doesn’t have to be huge. One of my favorite poems “Success”, talks about how we can change the world, by the simple things we’ve done and said. Now, imagine what you need to let go of to start making that change. Today in worship, we poured a cup of water, prayed about what we needed to let go, then poured into a larger container, releasing those things. That water is helping grow the beautiful flowers outside the Village as I type.

If you’re ready to start letting go of what is holding you back and find others who will join you in making the world a better place, come to the Village. Our worship celebrations are Sundays at 10:30. We’ll help you find that first step to pick up your mat and starting walking down the path to changing the world, from the corner of Central & Monroe.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Do you ever have those days? The days when hope is the last thing that is on your mind; when all seems lost. Usually it is on a Monday for me in the Football season, but we’re not talking about the pains and joys of being a football fan of a team known for losing now, we’re talking about the really important things in life. Believe me, the man known as Eeyore to his wife, knows those days.

Let me share one of them with you. A few weeks ago as we were rehabbing the space that will become the Village’s home. One of our work crews could not come. There were illnesses, chaos of life, etc. As it was, the project was a daunting one to begin with. Then we had contract/lease snafu’s and lost a weekend, a holiday weekend when we had lots of volunteers lined up and lots of energy. Enter tons of a little problems, nothing we should not expect rehabbing an old building that sat vacant for five years. Another group came up with a fraction of their volunteers (mind you they made huge contributions with a small group). Then nobody shows. No work group and very few folks from the Village either. And the work went horribly that day. A few dozen light bulbs changed is all I had to show for my aching, throbbing body & day.

I going to tell you, hopeless was where I was. I came home from that day, curled up in a ball and cried. But as Cheri made us repeat several times in worship this week “Some days, I feel hopeless, but Jesus never loses hope.” That really is what we are trying to do with the Village, spread this message. That’s what are logo shows, hope growing in the city. And we are all about that, hope from hopelessness. I mean, come on, who else but a bunch of people who are crazy about hope would start a church during the “Great Recession”.
Thankfully we have some great models of hope. We have a president who started out as a community organizer in Chicago. He knows something about hope. This week he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Prematurely many say, but in the words of the committee, "[o]nly very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future”. By the way, in case you’ve not heard this, it is not unusual for the Nobel Committee to award the peace prize to those whose work is just beginning or incomplete as a way to encourage what they believe to be worthy efforts, but we’ll leave defending their decision to them.

Also, while I am glad to have helped gotten President Obama elected, we are going to focus on a little bit different leader here. Another leader who people choose to follow. Another leader that caused people to have hope. Let’s see him in action from our scripture this week, from the Message Translation: Mark 1:16-20 (from The Message) 16-18Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed. 19-20A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee's sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.

So the question is why did these men literally drop everything and follow Jesus? Did they have a need. Well that’s part of it. Being a fisherman is not an easy life now, and it was even harder back then. Did they sense a leader who could give them hope and whom they could trust. Probably true. Did they just have incredible faith? Or did they choose to say yes, knowing they could change the world?

With The Village our Vision is simple: “Follow Jesus and Change the World”. It’s on our sign out front of the building. It’s on our advertising. And, most importantly, it’s in our hearts. We ARE going to change the world. It’s going to start with this one corner, Monroe & Central. We’re going to bring back a historic building. But it’s not going to end there. Our church is not a building. Church is not supposed to be a building. It is a verb. It is going out into the world and changing it.

And right now is a time where hope is needed: two very difficult wars are being fought by our country’s military at a time they need a rest; Our economy may be turning the corner, but it’s not there yet and we live in one of the bottom ten poorest towns; we have so many angry, hopeless people here, we are seeing gunfights like the Shootout at the OK Coral in our local bars.

Do you know someone who needs hope? Is that you? A friend? A co-worker? A neighbor? A relative? We all need signs of hope. We can be that sign of hope. We can be that hope by changing a building, by feeding the hungry, but raising some money, or just giving some inspiration. Come join us a get a little hope, then reach out to others invite those other people in need of hope. Come become a fisher of people.

We don’t have to give in to despair and hopelessness. It’s not what God wants for us and it’s not what followers of Jesus are all about. So, are you ready? Are you ready for this great adventure? Join us on Sundays at 10:30, starting October 25th, and become part of putting Hope back into the world.

And those building issues? Well, thanks to 13 new friends from Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio, we’ve got a chance to make this great adventure happen. And that silly football team. Well, even they’re winning. Come see hope come alive in all kinds of ways, especially the important ones.