Sunday, June 27, 2010
Here at The Village we want to change the world. Often, that task becomes overwhelming. Just last week, we talked about the task of caring for creation, and what a mess the world is in. And how overwhelming it can be to think about the environment, and the fact that God made us care-takers of this world. We watched a funny clip from a movie about taking baby steps and we reflected on simple steps we might take as individuals to make a difference in the world.
Our Village Kids Leader, Jess Lucero, introduced Cheri to this great video, called “The
Girl Effect,” which introduces a great idea, that again simplifies a huge concept. It takes this global idea of changing the world, and breaks it down into simple actions that we can do that can affect change, that can build momentum over time, to create large movements of transformation. The point of the video is that a small effort, getting a third world girl the uniform to go to school or money to buy her family a cow to sell milk, can change the whole world if we all take on one girl.
Now, a local church, might take up an offering to provide school uniforms, or to provide teachers in a village; especially for girls in a place where there are only schools for boys. Or someone might buy a cow through the Heifer Project, International, which specializes in getting animals to villages which can produce a sustainable food source, like chickens for eggs, or goats or dairy cows for milk. There is another great project that provides mosquito nets to prevent malaria. Preventing disease spread through mosquitos is a huge life transforming initiative. These nets cost $10 apiece and each one can save a life.
But wait. Here is the problem. There are lots of good places to give, but money is tight.
It’s a bad economy out there. We don’t have much to give. And so these days, especially, our charities, are struggling. Those who depend upon the generosity of others, are hurting even more. Programs are being cut. Shelves at food pantries are bare. People are getting desperate. And why? Because we are afraid. We are afraid we don’t have enough to go around.
Well friends, when Cheri & I get scared, we ask God for help, and we turn to the Bible,
because in the Bible I find stories of other people, who have gone before me, who have gotten scared & turned to God for help in times of trouble. This week in worship we read a story from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 for those reading along at home.
We find this story about Paul encouraging a new young church in Corinth, a tiny little
new church start, like The Village, in the ancient city of Corinth. The folks in Corinth were more wealthy than the church in Macedonia. Paul was encouraging the folks in Corinth to be generous like the folks in Macedonia. Paul raised up the church in Macedonia as a model. Out of their poverty, they begged for the privilege of sharing in the ministry. Can you imagine poor people begging to help others?
The Macedonians were poor and yet they were generous. They wanted to help others. Research shows that Christians at lower income levels, give more per capita than Christians of higher income levels. Why? Perhaps they understand this concept of living simply and being more generous.
Pastor Adam Hamilton writes: “The more we have, the more we waste.” Cheri found an
envelope with $80 in our living room the other day. Do you think a poor person would ever just leave an envelope with $80 lying around? And not know where it came from? We don’t think we are rich. Really we don’t. But we are rich. Really I think it’s Cheri’s Mom’s. She’s 80. She probably forgot she left it there. But she says she does not remember leaving it there, so it’s ours now.
For Cheri’s sermon we were trying to think of something we are extravagant about in our spending. Cheri and I were eating lunch at Subway the other day. Cheri said, “I need an example.” I said, “Well, we know that the biggest part of our extra spending, our discretionary spending – that stuff that we COULD give up if we had to – goes for eating out and vacations.”
“Yeah,” Cheri said, “I could go on our Quicken account and see how much we spent the past few months on eating out. I think it would be scary.” I quickly tried to change the subject, “how about that US Men’s Soccer Team?”.
As I feared, Cheri went and opened up Quicken, and looked at a couple of random
months. We spent roughly $600 on changing the world and $750 on eating out. We can justify that until we are both blue in the face (e.g. we both work hard at jobs that change the world and are too tired or busy to cook some nights, we have kids with activities to get to, etc). But here is the truth, we are appalled. We don’t want to spend more money going out to eat than we spend on changing the world. That’s the bottom line.
Cheri and I (especially Cheri who does our budget and bills) have worked really hard to
pay off some bad consumer debt that we had racked up, in the past years while she worked 50 hours a week at conference minimum salary to turn another church around. We don’t do a lot of unnecessary shopping. And so when something comes along that we care about, we can make a contribution. Not a huge one, but we can write a check and that feels good. We like to be generous. Cheri likes living more simply so that we can be more generous. But we want to be more generous. And we are appalled that we are spending more on eating out, that we are giving away to change the world.
But I did not know we were doing that, until Cheri decided to take a look. You see, one
of the things we do, when we decide to follow Jesus, is to look at every corner of our lives, and consider whether it lines up with how we want to live as followers of Jesus. Jim Wallis puts it this way about finances, “budgets are moral documents” whether they are for governments, corporations, or people. And we have to confess to you, that we want to live simply so that we can be generous. And eating out so much, that we spend more on eating out, than we can give to organizations like The Village, and Equality Toledo, and the MS Society and whatever else, to change the world – well that just does not cut it for us – as a followers of Jesus.
How about you? The Spirit is asking us, where can we simplify our lives so that we can
live more generously. We think one of the reasons we fail to be generous, is because we are afraid we won’t have enough. Cheri asked Wendell to tell us a story this morning in worship because he told her his story and it’s a great one, of him overcoming his fear, to be generous.
Wendell is a teacher at the University of Toledo. Part of being a professor is that you don’t get paid for three months each summer. You have to save all year to get the money to pay your bills, the mortgage, etc during that time. Wendell found a problem this year. No matter what he did, things got in his way. His parents wanted to come visit and it cost him a great deal of money. He was in the process of refinancing his mortgage to get a lower payment when he was told he would need to bring $2,300 to the closing. His car started having problems. Then another’s need came before him.
A student, Christie, needed help. She is a young mom, with a husband who was hurt. She needed financial help. All Wendell could think of was the fact that he did not have enough to get him through the lean time. He felt too much need for himself. God persisted in his prayer time, each day, calling on him to “bless Christie the way he had been blessed”. Blessed was the last thing Wendell was feeling financially. Finally, Wendell, listened to the voice of God and helped a student in need and in an amount larger than he thought he would have ever given. It was then that the mortgage broker called to say that the numbers he gave Wendell were wrong. He did not need to bring $2,300 to the closing but $300. So, despite the generosity, and because of his conscious effort throughout the year, Wendell helped a person in need, brought his parents to visit, fixed his car, and paid his new mortgage past when he next gets paid.
As you approach your finances, especially in this time of need, make a plan. Make it something that can be chopped up into small steps, the baby steps we talked about last week, and then make it happen. Find your small steps and make them happen. You’ll be surprised as the changes you make, change your world and the rest of the world for the better.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Our family loves to go to the beach. It was something Cheri & I loved before we found each other. This summer, we’re going to a new beach, Rehobeth Beach in Delaware. Before we found each other, Cheri used to go to Panama City, Florida, and Sunset Beach in North Carolina. I used to go with friends or family to Nags Head in North Carolina. Since we added kids we go to Saugatuck in Michigan. While the rest of you suffered through a blizzard a few years ago, Cheri & I were on Miami Beach, sorry.
It restores our souls to go to the beach. We try to get there every summer, and if possible in February as well, Cheri and gloomy, cold Februarys don’t get along. Maybe you like the mountains, plenty of people enjoy that. Others love fishing on a lake or sailing. Some of us enjoy long cycle rides. Maybe your thing is gardening. Cheri gets a little “mini-connection” to God’s creation by taking a walk in a garden or working on one. I just get environmental allergies, so . . .
Connecting to creation is the point. Because God created this world for us. And God gave it to us as a gift. It restores our souls to connect to this creation, in our own ways. But God also gave us a responsibility. To make sure it was there and took, it’s in the FIRST Chapter of the FIRST Book of the Bible. In Genesis, Chapter 1 we are given the job of caring for creation. Stewardship is the old school, church word for this. We are given Stewardship of all of God’s creation, to use it wisely, and it is good, as the Message Translation says “So very good”.
Then, something awful happens like the Deep Horizon Oil Well Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, that explodes and burns and bursts and starts spewing so much oil into the ocean. So much oil we can’t even get an accurate measurement of it (10,000 Barrels, 20,000 Barrels, 60,000 barrels a day). And one attempt, after another (Containment Vessel, Top Hat 1, Top Kill, Top Hat 2, etc) fails, days and weeks go by. Eleven Human lives were lost on day one, and countless lives will be lost later as workers get sick from cleaning the mess. Next we see vegetation and animals, and food sources, and marshes, and jobs and beautiful coast lands are affected. And still the oil is pouring into the ocean and moving towards almost all of the beautiful beaches named above, and so on.
And I turn back to the scripture this week “Take charge! Be responsible for every living thing that moves on the Earth”. Hmm . . . If we humans are responsible for every living thing, well, we have failed, haven’t we? A big, fat, enormous “F” on this one.
And it’s easy to point fingers. Cheri watched several mornings on CNN as “that guy” as she calls him, Tony Hayward, the guy who is the CEO and in charge of the clean up until this last week, appeared. Every morning he appeared with John Roberts and I swear they got him ready by taking him into a room, putting a helmet and shoulder pads on him and hitting him repeatedly with a baseball bat. Because that’s what the press is doing to him, he had no answers and took no real ownership of the mess, and we wish that he didn’t have the pads on, don’t we? Or maybe they had something more painful than a baseball bat. They made horrible mistakes to get us there and they have no answers.
Still others blame the President for not having a way to cap a flow of oil gushing out so hard it would fling a bulldozer into the air in a place where no human can go. Or, the nameless, faceless SOMEONE, who should be able to fix this. There’s blame out there alright and maybe plenty to go around.
Now, of course, we can get mad at BP specifically, or the oil industry in general, or corporate greed & Wall Steet, or the Government, etc. and make the scape goats. But, most of us drive cars or ride buses don’t we? We have some kind of plastic gadgets or bottles in our possession, right now? I sure do with one strapped to my belt and one I’m typing on now. So we are participate in this. We are all dependant upon oil. We are part of a system that makes those “evil” oil companies desperate to dig deeper and deeper wells in the ocean, at depths where indeed the oil comes out as such a great pressure it would fling bulldozers into the air and keep it up there and depths where only specially designed robots can go. Sure, maybe they are greedy, but we still need more oil because we have a system that is not sustainable. And we know it.
And friends, this is just one part of that unsustainable system. It’s a very big, and very timely, part of this system. But it’s just one thing.
We’ve heard this message for years. In the 1970's we got a look at the fragile little ball that sustains us, the Earth, from space and the environmental movement took fire. And modern prophet after prophet has tried to tell us. Folks like Al Gore are called every name in the book, “Captain Plan Nut”, “tree hugger”, “fear monger”, etc. The science is called into question, etc. Ok, sure, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” did win an Academy award, and his group with the UN did win the Noble Peace Prize, but don’t tell me it didn’t cost him (the presidency among other things) and others dearly. Lots of us don’t want to hear it. And it’s not just the “Right”.
Again, there is a religious word again for what we are called to do and it’s called Stewardship. Most people hear stewardship and they think it’s about money. No, it’s about using the resources we have been given wisely. It’s about using money, true, but it’s also about using water, and trees, and minerals, etc wisely. Again, this is in BOOK ONE, CHAPTER ONE of the Bible. God gives us this as “Job One”. How are we doing? If you’re answer is anything but LOUSY, you’re kidding yourself.
When we pause and let this all sink in, the problem, and the task ahead is overwhelming. Cheri took a test on our use of resources, and found out that if we are the norm, and we’re actually only slightly better than the norm, we are going to use up 3 ½ times the Earth’s resources. Now, again, we got ONE Earth, but we’re going to chew it up and spit it out. We’ve got some changes to make.
Whew! That’s overwhelming, depressing, way too heavy, right? Well, in worship, we broke this up with a little comedy to introduce the solution. We showed an old, funny movie, “What About Bob”. Bill Murray plays Bob. He’s got really huge problems. Richard Dreyfus is a psychologist who is given the job of “fixing” him. The scene include Richard Dreyfus saying: wait a minute now, you’re a multi-phobic person who is almost paralyzed by fear and you’re saying you dumped your wife because she likes Neil Diamond too much?
Richard Dreyfus introduces Bob to his new book, which he hopes will be a best seller, and for which he dutifully bills Bob the $29.99 cover price “Baby Steps”. Bob, as he does throughout the movie, misunderstands, and misapplies the lesson, taking actual baby steps as he leaves the office. But, the message is a good one. Take small, realistic, sustainable steps to fix a larger, seemingly overwhelming problem.
I think that in order for us to become better stewards for God, and reclaim our power to care for creation, we are going to have to start with some “baby steps”. We didn’t get into this mess in the last few months, or years or decades even. We are NOT going to fix this overnight either. But we have to make some changes. Because you see, we mean it when we say every week in worship that “we are followers of Jesus and WE ARE going to change the world”. Our actions have to be consistent in all areas of our life, including how we care for this beautiful planet we have been entrusted with.
Cheri found the baby steps clip at her training for how to plant The Village. That’s an enormous, often overwhelming undertaking too. But you need to, just like we are, take multiple, easy to achieve steps, to tackle a large problem.
There are lots of things we, mere mortals, can do to reduce our impact on this planet and be better stewards of it’s gifts. Here’s just a small sample of “baby steps” you can take:
Turn off lights you are not using and unplug electronic devices and chargers when not in use.
Use CFL’s (Compact Florescent Light Bulbs), those funny little lights that use a whole lot less electricity & last longer. (And yes, you have to dispose of them properly when they’re done as they have issues too).
Use less hot water by using cold water detergents and taking shorter showers
Fix leaks and never let the water run
Don’t buy those plastic bottles of water, get a re-useable water bottle, we’ll give you one.
Ride your bike or walk on trips where a car is not really needed
Check your tire pressure in your car.
These steps not only will help the Earth, they actually will lower your Gas, Natural Gas, Electric and Food bills. And they’re easy steps to start doing. Pick one, accomplish it, and then movement. You don’t have to plug this leak yourself. So far, no one has found the magic formula on that.
Let’s start with the little steps. As our one song in the service said “let what we do in here, fill the streets out there”. Let us follow Jesus and change the world, because we are the Village Church and we can, by baby steps, change the world. If you want to help, join us on Sundays at 10:30, or via the web.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Habits are powerful. That’s true of good ones e.g. exercise, eating right, praying, etc. And it’s true of bad ones, “Hi, I’m Kurt, and I’m a nicotine addict. It’s been 20 years, this month, since my last cigarette”. It’s easy to start the bad ones. It’s hard to start and maintain the good ones. I have started and abandoned countless journals. I have gained and lost my body weight several times over.
Good habits and bad ones are tied together. The good habits can crowd out the bad. I got to see that happen first hand at a former church of ours in Findlay, Christ Church United Methodist. There, we had a friend Roger, who used one good habit to crowd out one really bad habit. You see, Roger was an alcoholic. He had been a married, upper middle class guy. He had been a CEO. But Roger had drunk his way out of all that.
But many years ago, Roger discovered Christ Church via a New Years Eve Service we had. Now, let me tell you, we almost cancelled that service. It was not very well attended, there were something like 10-20 people there the night Roger came. It really strained Cheri and I and all who put it on. But, Roger made the choice to join us that night. Then, he stared coming to Sunday School on a regular basis.
In that Sunday School Class, Roger found a home. He found acceptance, he found peace with God, and he found a way to push out a bad habit. But that was always a choice. Roger’s way to Christ Church was actually filled with a real world decision each time. You see, Roger’s favorite alcohol source was a carry-out, directly across the street from Christ Church. The right turn (no, I swear I’m not making this up) was into Christ Church and the left was into the carry-out. Staring with that New Year’s Eve service, Roger made the right turn.
Roger later succumb to the damage that years of abuse caused, he died sober and loved by a small group of people, our Sunday School Class. But with all the joy of his turn around that I feel, comes a great sadness for me.
It’s not with the passing of Roger. We all die, and I’m sure ,beyond any doubt that Roger is in a place of acceptance, healing and love. No, I’m sadden by the fact that Roger never crossed the building and joined us in worship on a Sunday. Roger felt unworthy to come into the Sunday morning worship service as all he had to wear were sweat pants and t-shirts. Each week he came, read the Bible, share his life with us, but quickly left without coming into the sanctuary. He left without joining the larger body of the church.
Let me make this clear, NO ONE at Christ Church ever overtly made Roger feel unwelcome. Christ Church is a wonderful, mainline Methodist church. But, they dressed up for church. Not a sinful thing, not a disrespectful thing. They were showing their respect for God, in their minds, in the way they dressed. They also made those in the circle very welcome. But Roger was not in the circle.
As a group of us founded a second worship service, the Backdoor Coffee House, where Roger would have been welcomed to come as he was and be among friends, we remembered Roger. Every time I get frustrated, tired and ready to give up at a church, I try to remember Roger. I do not want any other Rogers to feel excluded from that circle of worship ever again.
For me, welcome to the worship circle hits close to home. I gave up on worship around the age of eighteen, which means I gave up on church. Church took time away from political campaigning, from fund raising walks and rides, from blood drives, in other words it took away from “saving the world”. I never gave up on God and I know God doesn’t give up on me, but worship was a boring, waste of time. It took dating a Pastor (an evangelism technique I now frown up for some reason, at least until we get a single associate pastor at the Village) to get me in the doors of a church.
But, when I came back, at Christ Church, I discovered something about worship done right. God comes to us in worship. The story from the Bible we used this week in worship, from the Book of Chronicles says it best “if you seek God, God will be found by you, but if you abandon God, God will abandon you”. Asa in the story repairs the temple altar and puts away the abominable idols of his culture. Imagine that a society with bad idols (greed, anger, etc). I’ve never hard of such a thing.
Augustine, a great Christian writer & leader, said it best, “our hearts are restless until we rest in God”. Boy are we restless today. Today, some of that is good. Bettering ourselves & the world is somewhat restless. But, there is a lot of bad restlessness out there. We feel like we have to buy or earn our way into feeling safe, secure, rested. We enter into bad relationships, hang out with the wrong people to feel at ease. We use drugs & alcohol to try to bring us that rest. We think we can fill our spaces with things.
For me, worship done right is where I refresh, recharge, reconnect and recommit. I still don’t speak (and I consider music style a language) “praise music”. I don’t think the all powerful, creator of the universe, the God of Issac & Abraham & David & Jesus & Martin Luther King, Jr needs to hear from me how great God is. I am an insignificant creature, at an insignificant time, on an insignificant world. But, Cheri has been trying to get me to hear, it’s about me hearing that about God. God is great, God is powerful and God wants to have a relationship with me. Slowly, but surely, I find myself tolerating more praise music in the mix of songs we sing at the Village.
To be a follower of Christ is a team sport. Jesus didn’t mentor a disciple, but a team. It is also a contact sport. Going against the grain of our society, that says it’s all about each of us getting what we want, rather than us all getting what we need, is a contact sport. Jesus spent a lot of time in trouble with the powers that be. And we find ourselves in the same lot. Whether we are liberals or conservatives in our political and theological views, we will tick off the mainstream of faith and of society. Jesus did. Worship is where we join up with the rest of the team.
In the next few months, right after Labor Day, we will be launching a new worship service at the Village. It will be located in the Village Commons (our current worship space) and will be on Sunday as well. But it will be with a different style and with different people attending. Six to twelve months later, worship service number three will be launched. This world needs multiple places to refresh, recharge, reconnect and recommit to a message that God loves us and we need to love each other and make the world a better place. And that’s what the Village is about.
So, do you have a place like this for yourself? If you do, great. Pray for those who don’t and for us as we continue to expand our circle. If you don’t have such a home, find one. There are great faith communities like that all over the country, including one at the corner of Central & Monroe Street. We’re together Sundays at 10:30, and in a few months later as well. If you have ideas, talents, gifts to share, contact Cheri at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the great and wonderful love of God crowd out the bad things of this world this week.