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.