Sunday, December 26, 2010

GOD WANTS YOU TO KNOW by Cheri Holdridge (with assists by Paul Harvey & Kurt Young)

Because I'm a pastor, people come to talk to me, sometimes when life gets really hard. This is one of the most painful statements I hear. It does not happen too often, but it does happen: "Cheri, I just don't know my partner anymore. We've been today for many years, but it's like she's another person. I don't know what happened. But I have no idea who she is anymore. It's more than us just growing apart. She does not seem to have a clue who I am. I feel like I'm talking to a complete stranger."

Have you ever felt like that? It's more lonely, isn't it, than being alone? You know, it's part of the basic human condition, that we want to be known. That's actually one of the best definitions of intimacy that I have ever heard. Intimacy is: "to know someone and to be known." We long for intimacy with other human beings. I believe that God longs for intimacy with us too. God longs to know us, and for us to know God.

That's really what Christmas is about. The gift of Jesus is God's attempt to know humanity. God was not satisfied being far away from God’s creation in Heaven. God wanted to get right here in the nitty gritty of our daily lives, in the flesh and blood of human existence to be with us. That's why God came to Earth in human form. So today, on this day after Christmas, I want to tell you a story, about God's desire to be with us. It's an old story told by Paul Harvey:

The Man and the Birds by Paul Harvey

The man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn't make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

"I'm truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite. That he'd much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound...Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud...At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn't let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them...He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms...Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me...That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

"If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand."

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells - Adeste Fidelis [Oh Come All Ye Faithful] - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Thank you Paul Harvey for this wonderful story.

You see, that is why God sent Jesus. To be one of us. To lead us to God. Now we don't get to meet Jesus first hand, because we did not live 2000 years ago. We have to trust the stories of our ancestors in the faith. But from generation to generation we have all been touched by someone, who has been touched by someone, who has been touched by someone, who somewhere way back down the line, saw Jesus face to face. And that’s why we are here today.

Because God wants us to live in the warmth and the safety of God's embrace. God does not want us to be out in the cold, shivering and helpless, lost and without hope. God's big barn may not be fancy, but in it, there is warmth, and friendship, plenty of food to go around, and compassion and healing, and forgiveness.

We saw it outside the Main Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library yesterday on Christmas Day. We saw dozens upon dozens of people descend on a place where those in need know they can come on Saturdays for companionship, support, a little food and other items they need to get through a week. For the first time in the event’s existence it was on Christmas. And those giving out help out numbered those in need. We were there, a group from the Village, but we were not alone. A family decided to skip a gift exchange and instead provided hats, and scarves and other items to those who needed them. Others showed up with books and toys for the kids who come. Santa was even there with Fudge for all. It was a little glimpse of what God’s reign on Earth could look like. What we in The Village want to see.

It's a place I believe we all want to live. That's why Jesus came. That's why God sent Jesus to us. God wants to give us a home, because God wants to know us. Like a family member, a partner, a mom or a dad, a sister or a brother who knows us inside and out, God wants to know what's going on with us, and wants to guide us and support us. And because God is the one who made us, God will never fail to understand us.

So you may feel like no one else understands you. But God does. And that is a gift. And on this day after Christmas we give thanks for that gift. We give thanks that God knows us, and wants to know us. And that no matter who we are, and where we are on our faith and life journeys God will always want to know us and love us.

If you don’t know that kind of love, that kind of community, come join us at The Village. We are fellow travelers on that journey, some just starting, others further along on the path. Starting next Sunday, January 2nd, our worship celebrations are at 9:45 & 11:30 AM. Or join us as we live out our faith in the world at one of our small group or outreach events.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Keeping It Real By Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I love Christmas! I really do. I have a big heart. And I love the simplicity of the story of Jesus’ birth. I love the goodness and the generosity of people at Christmas time. I love all the heart-warming stories of people showing kindness. I love it that Christmas can bring out the best in people.

Yeah, I know it brings out the worst in folks too. I know it has been a hard month for some of you. Your families have been on their “worst” behavior. And yeah I know the traffic is awful. And truth is, you won’t catch me near a shopping mall if I can help it. The rampant over-commercialization of the birthday of our Savior is NOT what I love.

But I love Christmas. And here is why. On Christmas night – God comes down from heaven where everything is wonderful and perfect and beautiful, to live right here on Earth, with us, in the muck and the mess of our everyday human existence. God is keeping it real. Born just like the rest of us – to human parents, in poverty, in humble beginnings, in some no name place called Bethlehem. It would be like being born in Blissfield, or Stony Ridge. Just a little blip on the map.

But God soooo wanted the people to know how much God loved them. (And loves us.) And they just were not getting the message. So God sent Jesus. We call this the INCARNATION – the embodiment of God in human form—God becoming real—flesh and blood. I call it God “keeping it real.”

Here at The Village, you may not know this, but one of our jobs, is to practice what we call “incarnational theology.” That means, we live out our faith in the world; we keep it real. We believe that God’s spirit actually lives in each one of us, and is active in the world in our actions.

Jesus used lots of metaphors, images, to try to help folks understand this “incarnational theology.” He said to his followers: "You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to God in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

People NEED to see God in the world. People are experiencing a lot of darkness right now. People have lost their jobs. They are losing their homes. They are frightened, because this is the worst economy many of us have seen in our life- times. We need hope. We need light. We need Jesus.

One of our members, Robyn Georgius and I were talking a couple of months ago about her work with the AIDS Resource Center here in Toledo. She is a case manager. She goes and meets with potential new clients. People who have recently been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, and who make less than $36,000 per year. Her agency can help them get medical exams and treatment, transportation, and sometimes help with food assistance and some other items like personal hygiene items. But recently, as some of you have heard, the Federal Government cut the programs, and Ohio followed suit, and they have been unable to sign up any new clients for the program that helps with the medication, which can cost $2000-3000 per month. They just get put on a waiting list, and so far, since July 1, no one has moved off that waiting list.

I asked Robyn what The Village could do to help, with a Christmas offering, and she said, if we could just help provide Christmas baskets, that would be great. Last year they were only able to provide 20 baskets, and they were very small. She said they would love to be able to provide 75-100 this year. “It would mean so much to our clients”, Robyn said.

But this is the part that made me really sad, and not just a little sad, but angry. She said, “You know, our case-workers are pretty much told, not to bother trying to ask churches for help. There is such a stigma with our clients, having HIV and AIDS, churches don’t want to help us.” I know in my head this is true. I even know why. But I don’t like it. In fact, I HATE IT. And in fact I’m pretty darn sure that Jesus would hate this fact.

Well, you know what happens when your pastor hears about injustice. I am like a mother protecting her children. I get ready for a fight. Let me at ‘em! So I said, “We will raise the money. You will get your food baskets!” And raise the money we have done. We set a goal of $3000 and so far we have raised $3500!”

Last Friday the Case Managers went and bought 75 turkeys. Last year each person just got one of those little Cornish hens. (We like to keep it real, so this year they get REAL turkeys.) On Monday a group of folks went to fill the bags of food. Each person got: potatoes, bread, apples, crackers, canned goods, pancake mix, gloves, mustard, cranberry sauce, stuffing, raumen noddles, homemade cookies and AND a hand-made card from The Village.

I got a thank you note from one person: I am a client of ARC (Aids Resource Center of Ohio) and received a basket overflowing with items this year that you helped to supply. We live in a world where it is so easy to criticize everything but no one takes the time to stop and say Thank I wanted to do just that. I cannot thank you enough that I will be able to have a Christmas dinner thanks to your church. HIV and AIDS seems to fall through the cracks due to the medications on the market....most people are under the understanding that the HIV epidemic is solved.....but when you are living daily with it....and all the side effects from the feels quite different. Organizations like yours that take the time to make a difference are appreciated more then you know.

May God bless you for all that you do, not only at this Holiday Season....but all year long.

You see, we are being the light of Christ for that one person, and for many more. It’s just that simple. But Robyn and the other case managers had been told, “Don’t ask churches, they won’t help us.” Don’t ask the followers of Jesus to do something generous and kind at Christmas time. What the heck? (I wanted to say something else)

I believe have to “keep it real” – we have to keep the message of God’s radical love and Jesus’s radical love real by being the light that shines in the darkness. All we had to do was collect some money and buy some food. So far, we have raised $3500 in less than one month this year. We did that without even breaking a sweat. Next year, we are going to raise $10,000, because we are going to start earlier and get some of our sister churches to help us. We are going to challenge them if need be.

This is what it means to live out an incarnational theology. God is living IN US in the world. Jesus said: "WE are the light of the world. And OUR light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing OUR good works, they may give praise to God in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

I LOVE Christmas – because there are so many signs of God’s love in the world. There are so many opportunities for us to be generous. Tomorrow morning, my family is going to go downtown to the Library at 10 a.m. and help the folks with Food for Thought give away more food and hygiene items to some folks that need them. We don’t know who will show up on Christmas day, but we will be there. I will be there because my 11 year old has decided SHE wants to be there and she is dragging the rest of us there, quite honestly. It was her idea. Becca is living out incarnational theology. The people there ask for razors each week, so Becca went to COSTCO and bought 52 razors, tied a ribbon to each one, and made a homemade card.

You see, God had a great idea. God said, I’m going to SHOW my love to them, in flesh and blood. It’s the only way. It’s the only way for them to really GET it. God had tried everything else God knew to do. And finally God tried Jesus. A baby. God in human form.

And now God has us. We are the ones that God has in the world to MAKE IT REAL and KEEP IT REAL. So let’s do it. Let’s help God, keep it real. Amen. May the peace and joy of Jesus be on you as we celebrate his birth again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

WHEN GOD HAS OTHER PLANS - By Kurt Young (with an assist by Cheri Holdridge)

My life was a whirlwind from 2002 to 2003. A firm I had been a part of for about 9 years had come apart at the seams. We had a senior partner who had lost it all in the economic collapse of post September 11, 2001 and was refusing to finish a sale of the firm to a group of us who had worked for years to own it. She did this after draining our resources to keep her family employed during the crash. Add the addition of our son, Jamie, to the mix, and the almost loss of our health insurance thanks to that crash, and well, I thought I knew stress.
But in January 2003 I had joined our closest competitor, who welcomed me with open arms. This meant that all four of the board certified specialists in my area of law, workers’ compensation on the injured workers’ side, in Toledo would be under one roof. They had a reputation for excellence and were considered good to their employees. A great place for me to land and my colleagues were landing safely too elsewhere.
But 2003 did not calm down. In October 2003, after a series of events, all of which could have caused them, I was admitted to the hospital with not one but two blood clots my lungs (pulmonary emboli). Often, this is fatal; it had been for Cheri’s Dad. A series of doctor friends said to me the same thing “Kurt we usually figure this out in the autopsy, not in the hospital." Nine days in hospital and a month off work followed. But I rebounded and charged back into work. I got sued twice due to the collapse of the old firm, but we got through that relatively unscathed. Only to have my brother in law die unexpectedly. But again, God provided for us and our family.
But things were not going well with the new job because of all of that. I was not happy there. While they have similar hearts, they do things differently. I had thought about getting out of there, but I had a wife and two kids and a couple hundred clients who needed a little stability and I decided to put up with it. But in early 2004, God had other plans for me.
I was called into a meeting with the partners of the firm. “Kurt, we can’t keep you on the payroll. The money is not there” we are going to have to let you go. When I left my old firm, my senior partner, who was retiring anyway, fought to keep clients she was not going to help, and stripped 5/6th of my clients. I was given 30 days notice. I would get a few more paychecks, but then I was on my own. In 2010, I would be in very good company, but in 2004 things were not like that.
So What to do now? Try to get hired as a hearing officer (Judge)? That was six months off at best. Move and force my wife into a new job and kids into a new city? Try to get an interview with our next competitor? Actually had it but the competitor cancelled at the last minute (thank God, but not for the reason, the I-280 Bridge Collapse made them too busy). Then a chorus of voices started - start your own firm.
"You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t have enough clients to make that viable," I thought.
You can do it Kurt.
"I have less than 30 days and no place to set up the office."
But you know the two realtors who handle most of the downtown office space.
"I don’t have time to set up the needed bank accounts."
Hey, Kurt, ask the guy walking down Erie Street next to you, who works for your personal bank.
"I can’t afford the office furniture I keep looking at."
You do know about the used office furniture place in Sylvania, right?
"The office I can afford needs repainted and some of the furniture needs assembled."
You’ve got a church family of handy people and a family with three professional painters (and you can do that yourself too).
"But I need a staff member who can start as a part time secretary but has the skills to be my right hand.
Hey, dummy, remember that great receptionist you were help groom into a paralegal and beyond at the old firm?
"I don’t have enough start up capital to get through the first 3-6 months."
Your Mother has some money.

No matter what my objection, roadblock, etc, God put something in my path to make it happen. So in 30 days, I opened up my own firm. Somehow, I was ready on Day One. And somehow things kept happening to keep me in business. And somehow I have managed to stay going, hire additional people and keep this viable at a time when the clients I represent were getting clobbered. I only get paid when they do, but they don’t get paid much and have lots of needs they can’t pay to address. We do it anyway. God and Cheri long ago convinced me this is my ministry. It pays better than most, but not better than other areas of law. But God has stationed me here for now.

Have you had many of these experiences where you are going along – and then all of a sudden WHAM! Everything changes. The world changes your plans. Or God? We can’t be sure which one. I can never be sure who causes the change. But I am sure of this: once the change occurs, God walks with us through the change. God helps get us through the turmoil, to the other side. God never abandons us.
Which is why, as a Father and husband I can certainly identify with Joseph, the Earthly father of Jesus. During worship at the Village this week, we read the story of Joseph dealing with this kind of "wham moment" as Cheri described it in her sermon. For those reading along at home, we used Matthew (my favorite Gospel) 1: 18-25 from the New Revised Standard Version. If you don’t have it at home, here it is:
8Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Thanks to all I have been through, I have easy time imaging being Joseph. But let me help you get there. You’re engaged to be married to Mary, who you’re very happy with as your wife to be. Wham, she’s pregnant and you two have never been together in that way. This “virgin” is pregnant. You’ve got options now that include leaving her and having her stoned. But, no, you’re a good guy. You would only do it quietly. Then you find out it’s not some other guy’s son, but God’s son. And you get an Angel visit, a scary prospect and good news does not usually follow. The Angel says: Trust God. So, what are you going to do, make a run for it? or stay with Mary, trust that this was not just a dream, and raise the Son of God?

As the scripture says “He took her as his wife." These are six little words that show courage and faithfulness beyond all measure. He trusted God. He stepped out on faith. Mary showed courage first, then Joseph did and because of that, we get Jesus. These two incredible people chose faith and trust in times when that was really hard. During those “WHAM” moments.

I have had to trust God many times in my life. During career decisions, illness, economic anxiety, etc. I could pursue an easier area of law, but God seems to want me where I am. Every time I have had a reason to doubt or fear, God has led me to way to stay or do what I have interpreted as God’s will. But let me assure you that has never been easy. It’s taken me years of prayer.

Joseph also said yes, when the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, stand with Mary.” You see, both Mary AND Joseph were chosen by God. And Joseph’s friends probably thought he was crazy to stay with this young woman who was pregnant. No one would believe she was a virgin. It was outrageous. In fact, it would have been legal for Joseph to have her stoned to death, not just to have quietly called off the engagement, which is what he had resolved to do.
BUT GOD STEPPED IN. GOD HAD OTHER PLANS. GOD SPOKE. AND JOSEPH LISTENED TO GOD. AND JOSEPH SAID YES TO GOD. JOSEPH WAS OBEDIENT. That’s the word Cheri used in her sermon. Obedience is not a word she uses very often. It’s sort of a harsh word. She likes nice words, soft words. She prefers to talk about making choices in life. When we talk about children we talk about helping them to make good choices rather than being so harsh and demanding that they be obedient.
But I’ve got to tell you, there is a little part of me that thinks it’s ok that Joseph and Mary were obedient to God in this situation. After all, this was a big deal. God was asking them to be the earthly parents of God’s own child. This is important. I think this calls for a complete giving over of oneself. Submission. Obedience.
“Yes God. I will do what you ask. No questions asked. You are the boss. You give me the directions, and I will follow.” You know, sometimes I think it would not hurt us to learn just a little bit of obedience and submission when comes to God Almighty Our Creator.
How about you? When life throws you a curve. . . when something just goes WHAM! – are you willing to trust God? Would you be ready to change your life plan in 30 days? Set up your own business and make a go of it? Add a child to your family that you were not planning to have? (You could be asked to take in a child for someone, you know.) Move, go to school, take some new responsibility; break an addiction; learn something new that you know you have to learn but you have been putting off? Deal with having cancer. WHAM! For good or bad. Like I said, I’m not saying they all come from an angel of God. Some of them just happen. BUT, I do believe that when we trust God, God will walk with us through whatever it is. GOD WILL HELP US FIND A WAY THROUGH THE CHAOS.
Looking for that kind of confidence in your faith. The road starts with a faith community that supports you. That will teach you to read the Bible, pray, and listen for God. Join us at the Village Church at the corner of Monroe & Central at 9:45 AM & 11:30 AM Sundays (new times start on January 2nd). We can help you start on this long path.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Do you like to look at Christmas lights? We do. Our family loves to go to the Toledo Zoo every year and look at the Christmas lights, they have over one million lights. Every since Cheri was a little girl she loved to get in the car and go drive around and look at Christmas lights. They fill Cheri with wonder. Kurt loves to sit in our darkened living room and see our brightly lit Christmas tree bathe our Nativity sets in light.

There is something magical about those lights. Cheri’s not crazy about the mechanical displays with all the Santa’s and stuff like that. She is more of a purist, cringing at Kurt’s mechanical Bengals player on the lawn (most years) and the various Star Wars, Star Trek & sports ornaments on the tree. Cheri likes the lights in the trees that fill the night sky. The kind that take your breath away. She loves driving along a dark highway in the winter and coming upon a lone farm house that is covered with Christmas lights, proclaiming the joy of the season. It just kind of sneaks up on us both, and brings a big smile to our faces. Even when we’re tired, driving home at the end of a long trip, it brings us such joy. The word awesome truly describes the moment.

Do you have experiences like this, that take your breath away, and fill you with joy? Moments that truly fill you with awe, joy, and reverence and a sense of something way beyond yourself? There are some experiences in this world that are truly awesome. They are the things that take our breath away. They stop us dead in our tracks, and tell us: yes, there is a God.

Can you think of some examples? Seeing the birth of a child, yours or someone else’s. Experiencing generosity or sincere kindness from a stranger or giving it. Being forgiven for something really bad, when we really don’t feel like we deserve to be forgiven . There are experiences that stop us, and tell us, this world is bigger than me. And in those moments, we are grateful that there is a God, who created this world, and whose love is the most powerful force in the world. It is a power that we cannot control, we cannot explain, but we must simply sit and be awed by. We believe that if we are not awed by the power of God in the world, that we really must not be paying attention.

I love the story in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:46-55 for those reading along on the web) of Mary, who would become the mother of Jesus, because Mary pays attention to God. She is a simple young woman. Mary is unmarried, engaged, and supposedly a virgin and yet somehow, she becomes pregnant. And in the text we read today, Mary was filled with awe, not the terror the world says she should be experiencing, because God sent an angel to tell her she would be the mother of God. And Mary choses to pay attention to that Angel. She could have ignored it. She could have decided she was just having a bad dream. But she saw the sign God gave her. And she held that sign deep in her heart, she visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, and she gave her life over to that sign.

Her song, recorded here in scripture, is such an amazing one. We hope you will read her song over and over again this week. It is such a wonderful song. She is filled with awe, and wonder and joy. We believe Mary was filled with joy for one simple reason: She was paying attention. She wanted to be awed by God. Do you want to be awed by God? You see, we will not be awed by God, if we are not paying attention. That is the simple truth.

Cheri got a phone call from a friend the other day. We’ll call him Steve. Steve did some work on our building last year when we were getting ready to open. Steve called me one night a couple of weeks ago and said, “Pastor Cheri, I was driving by your church the other day and I saw that sign you have posted outside.” (Steve was paying attention to the signs, like Mary.) The sign says, “Be like Jesus, embrace the wrong people.”
Steve said to her, “Pastor Cheri, there is the guy in my life, a friend, that I’m really mad at. And I want to stay mad at him, but I saw your sign, and I remembered that Jesus loved the wrong people – the people that no one else loved, and I knew it was a sign for me that I have to stop being mad at this guy. So I just had to call and tell you. Your sign, spoke to me, it worked!” Steve and Cheri both laughed.

Cheri knows, because she and Steve have had some conversations, that Steve has seen some hard times in his life. He has overcome some obstacles. He has been one of those “wrong” people that was grateful for Jesus’ love, and so our sign helped him remember that God calls us to have compassion for other folks, even when they do us wrong. He had lost a friend who helped him through these times to suicide this week.

So Cheri took the conversation a little further and asked Steve how he was doing. Because the last time Cheri talked with him she knew he was kind of drifting between a couple of churches. He said he had broken up with his girlfriend, and he said, “You know I just wish God would show me what God wants me to do with my life.” Ah. A pastor loves to hear this. Steve wants a sign! I love it when people are looking for signs, paying attention like Mary. Then he said, “I’ve been really busy though, I’ve been working two jobs. I wanted to buy a new motorcycle so I took on an extra job. And with the extra job I have not been able to go to church anywhere. But I’ve been thinking I need to get back to church. I’ve even been thinking maybe I might visit your church.”

So Cheri said to Steve, “You know, you just told me that you want to know God’s direction for your life, but you are putting your time into making money for a motorcycle, instead of going to church with other folks who are listening to God. Steve, what are you doing to pay attention to the signs God is giving you? How is God going to show you signs if you don’t give God any time or space in your life to speak to you?” He laughed, and said he got Cheri’s point. “You’ve got a really great church where everyone is welcome”, Steve said.

We put a sign on the front of our building, and it got Steve’s attention. Cheri has more stories of this kind of thing. People who have come because of a sign. But God wants more from us. God wants more attention from us, than what God can get as we are driving down the street. God wants us to see all the signs God puts out there.

Mary paid attention to God. When the angel came, Mary paid attention. When we listen to her song, she talks about all the signs she sees of God’s action in the world. “God’s mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before God. God bared an arm and showed strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. God knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. God embraced the chosen child, Israel; God remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.

It's exactly what God promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Cheri & Kurt want to be like Mary in this season leading up to Christmas, don’t you? We want to pay attention and see God all around us. There are signs of God’s action. WHEN WE LOOK. But we have to stop, and look. We see God in the compassion of persons who are giving food to the hungry and clothing and blankets to those who really need it. Kurt and Becca saw it this weekend at Food for Thought (a program that gives out food for the homeless on Saturdays at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s Main Branch) and at the Christmas Party for Berry’s Landing (a homeless shelter for veterans, sadly very over represented in the community of those without a roof over their heads on a regular basis).

Becca is so moved by the community that has gathered at the Main Branch Library (it’s now a carnival for those without a home and now includes multiple groups giving out food, clothes, hygiene items, etc) that she wants to go down on Christmas morning to help. An 11 year old wants to leave her warm home, her family and new toys and share some joy with those who have none. That’s awe inspiring. Kurt, whose dealing with a lot of stress at work trying to help those who society is casting out these days was feeling pretty down while he was there, but putting on a brave face for those who have real worries. But one of the people in line saw his angst and took the time to check in on Kurt. Now, that's the presence of God. Jen Black, who goes down each week there and gives out hugs was given a Christmas gift by someone who has nothing. That's awe inspiring.

We see God in folks who are making acts of reconciliation with family members and friends that they have been in conflict with, trying to find a way to make peace. Any place where we see hope, and joy, and reconciliation, that is a sign of God’s presence. We can see the signs, if we will pay attention. And then, we can be like Mary, singing and dancing for joy. So, let’s pay attention, let’s sing for joy. Christmas is almost here.

If you want a place where you might find a little job and awe this holiday season, join us here at the Village if you can or any number of our sister churches around this world. There is a gift waiting for you, if you want it, the awe of total love and acceptance by God. Join us Sundays at 10:30 AM & 12:30 AM or Christmas Eve @ 6:30 PM. Come and be part of the joy, even if you don’t feel like you deserve it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rediscover Christmas: Getting Ready for a Changed Life by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

This week, Cheri visited a home of a family that lives very simply. It’s a value
for them. Some of it is necessity because there are two adults and one child living on one parent’s income; but they are not poor. The dad is a professional. But Cheri was struck by one thing: there was no clutter in the house. They have a child and there was no clutter.

By comparison, we will confess, to those of you who may never have seen our house, we have some clutter (ok, lots of clutter says Kurt, the producer of lots of it). Cheri is kind of a pack rat and Kurt is not exactly Mr. Clean himself. Neither of us think of ourselves as materialistic. We drive middle of the road, albeit newer cars. Neither of us like to shop. You won’t see us at the mall except to go to the movies, the bookstore, or people watching at Kurt’s suggestion for something to do, hardly at all.

We will tell you that living simply is one of Cheri’s values, instilled into Kurt throughout our lives together. We live in the Old West End (for those out of town, a beautiful historic district of Edwardian, Victorian and Arts & Crafts Homes) in a sort of medium sized house for the Old West End (the neighborhood is absolutely teeming with large homes, some mansions) and the rooms just seem to fill up with stuff. We wish we could tell you that Cheri or Kurt are one of those Moms or Dads that keeps up with that annual practice of thinning out our own clothes, our kids' closets and helping them sort out the toys and giving away the ones they don’t play with. Every holiday break - Easter, Summer, Thanksgiving or Christmas we start out with the same intent. We’re going to do it. And every year, something, friends, family, illness, work, etc intervenes before the job is done.

LIVING SIMPLY! It’s what we want to do. It’s what we believe Jesus wants us to do. But we don’t feel like we’re keeping up with it. So lately, We have been trying to make some course corrections. As Kurt, the sailor (and son of US Navy Sailor) will tell you, the further away from danger you are, the smaller the correction you need to make; gradually, over time, your course will change greatly with a little turn of the tiller or wheel.

Because here is the other thing. We feel better when we live in a home that has less clutter, but we don’t keep up with our own clutter. Despite what we’ve accomplished in our lives, we’re not very disciplined persons. It does not come naturally for either of us. So Cheri has a dresser that is piled with stuff. Kurt’s was just cleaned up last weekend for the first time in the Village’s worshiping existence (not an exaggeration, he found a receipt from the week we started cleaning up our worship space for the first time). And we have a desk in the kitchen that is piled with stuff (mostly kids stuff). And a table in the living room, by the chair where Cheri prays, that gets cluttered with stuff. Cheri has some file drawers over at The Village offices that are piled with stuff that needs to be sorted through. Kurt’s office, save one area, is very organized, but that’s a job requirement and he has a staff to help. We need some order.

And when we think about people in this world that have nothing. And then we look at all the stuff in our house, that we can’t keep organized, we feel like a failure. Kurt is so out of control, he has a coat to give to homeless man but he couldn’t get it together to bring it to church on Sunday. Pathetic! Who are we, to have all this stuff that we don’t even need and we can’t even manage, when other people have nothing? Other people could benefit from our excess, but we have to get it to them.

It makes us crazy! We cry out to God and ask God to please help us find a way out of this mess. Well here is the thing. Advent is a time, for course correction. It’s a time for self evaluation. It’s a time to make changes. FROM THE INSIDE OUT. BIG
CHANGES. OR GRADUAL ONES that will result in big changes over time. Some of
us have to take baby steps, because when you make big changes too fast, you can’t
stick with them, and you end up failing. Ever been there?

In our scripture story from worship this week (Matthew 3:1-12 from The Message for those reading along at home), we have this “bigger-than-life-character named John. He was Jesus’ cousin. He was a wild man. They tell us “John was dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey.”

Here is what it says in Matthew, chapter 3:
7-10When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for
a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he
exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here
to the river? Do you think a little water on your snake skins is going to make any
difference? It's your life that must change, not your skin! And don't think you can
pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither
here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your
life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11-12"I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.
The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him
I'm a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the
Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean
house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper
place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."

John was a preacher that was pointing the way for Jesus, getting folks ready for
Jesus. He was SERIOUS! He did not want them to waste any time. It was time to

So, you see, that’s what this season is for us. It’s a season of changing gears, and making corrections in the course of our lives. A new year is coming in January, and many of us like to get a fresh start in January. But even before that turning point
on the world’s calendar – God’s calendar has this world changing event happening
and we get to celebrate it again every year. On Christmas, we relive the Holy Night
of Jesus coming to us as the Infant Christ.

So, what does it mean for to celebrate the birth of Jesus, to receive God’s gift of Jesus? What difference does Jesus make to us? God sent Jesus to change the world. God sent Jesus to tell us that we CAN make changes in our lives. Little ones – and little ones that turn into big ones.

Now getting a hold of the clutter in our home and our office may seem like a little
thing. But it represents our values. It represents the feeling that our life is spinning out of control; and that we can’t keep up with things. Having too much stuff also goes against our Jesus-values of generosity and giving stuff away. So when we see all that stuff, it works against our core values of simplicity and generosity. So you see, having a plan and being disciplined to clear out the clutter is essential to us living out our Jesus values. Becca was terrified yesterday when she and Kurt were sent, after feeding and giving things like clothes and hygiene items to the homeless, to the library to check out a book on celebrating holidays more simply. She asked Cheri to please order her Christmas gifts on line first and then read the book.

But making changes demands a plan and commitment. And we cannot do it alone. And neither can you. We need God to give us the strength to do what we cannot do alone. When those people came down to the water to John to be baptized, they said they wanted to be changed. But he did not believe them. He said, “You just want to do the trendy thing. All your friends are getting baptized so you are coming down here too. But baptism is not about getting a little water on your outside skin – it’s about a change inside.”

Baptism – and the choice to accept the gift of baptism and say – “I want to belong to God” – is a willingness to be changed from the inside out. In our two worship services on Sunday, we had a baptism and a renewal of our baptism. But before we did that, we invited each of the people present (and you reading along at home) to consider a question. What is one big change you want to make in your life, that you know you can’t make without God’s help?

We took a slip of paper to write that change on and asked people to put it
in a basket, but you can do it at home. Maybe you need help with a relationship, or with getting out of financial debt. What is the one thing that keeps up at night with worry more than any other thing? Because here is the thing, that’s the thing you need to give to God, and we believe you need to ask God to help you with.

John the Baptist told the people to get ready for Jesus. He said that it was time
for them to make some changes in their lives. That’s what this season of Advent is
for us. A time to make some changes. Pick one. Pick one change you want to work
on, starting today. And ask God to help you.

If you need a community to help you do this, a place where no one is perfect, where we ALL have something to work on, then come join us at the Village Church. We are imperfect people who make mistakes, but we know God loves us; and with God’s help, we are going to follow Jesus and change the world. Starting each Sunday at the corner of Monroe & Central Avenue in Toledo, and branching out to the rest of Toledo, Northwest Ohio, the United States and the world. Peace and may the joy of Advent and the coming of God’s greatest gift, fill you.