Sunday, January 30, 2011

WE HAVE ENOUGH: YOU ONLY HAVE ONE YOU by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

When we were in graduate school 20-some years ago, there was an article on the cover of Newsweek, that caught both of our eyes (mind you we had never met and were in different states), about corporate executives suffering burn-out. Article talked about how there was a high value being placed for being a work-a-holic; not taking your vacation or other days off; working no matter what. This was leading to Execs checking into the hospital from exhaustion. Not a huge surprise, they were working 100 + hours a week. Kurt was watching it up close and personal as law school classmates worked full time and went to school full time, burning the candle at all ends.

Back then, Cheri decided to calculate how many hours she could work. (Kurt was not that methodical in his approach but came to similar conclusions) There are 168 hours in a week (24 x 7). If you limit yourself to just 5 hours of sleep a night, you’re down 168 to 133. Throw in another hour a day for hygiene needs, you’re down to 126. Eating is going to take up another 2 hours a day or 14 for the week so now you’re at 112. Take away another hour or so for commuting a day, now you’re down to 105, which leaves you with 5 hours of free time. So, you could, theoretically work that much in a week, for the short run. Of course, this assumes no kids, no housework, no need to pay your bills, get your car serviced, buy groceries, date, pray, exercise, any of that – just work!

The Bishop of the West Ohio Conference, sometime back, before Cheri was a pastor, probably in the 80’s, was known to have said that he expected pastors to work a minimum of 60 hours a week. Thankfully, our current bishop, Bruce Ough, has a more balanced approach. He encourages Sabbath: Bishop Ough will host a day apart a day focused on prayer and balance; He wants pastors to spend an hour a day in prayer and reflection, in addition to a day per week and a week a year, for Sabbath rest. The times they are a changin’.

If the end of the 20th century was time of the work-a-holic, corporate executives collapsing from exhaustion, then it seems the 21st century might just be a time of slowing down to rediscover what is important to us. We might live out the title of that book that is now a popular movie:“Eat, Pray and Love.” Those are some good values.

Often, a key event can be the turning point to cause a person to take stock of life and make some changes: A world changing event like Sept 11, 2001; personal, life threatening illness (Kurt collapsed without explanation and had to be admitted to the hospital several years ago), or divorce (not Cheri or Kurt, thankfully, but we’ve both seen plenty of friends go through this with a few in the midst of it); Or, instead of all of those, how about just a date like 1/30/11.

Why not? This is as good a day as any, to decide to make a choice, and take a turn in our lives for the better. Because to be honest, WE are the only ones who will do this for US. We can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for us. Have you ever tried to get someone you love to change their behavior? You can’t do it. Nope. Can’t be done. But I can make a change for me. And you can make a change for you.

And today we have this scripture as our invitation:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16, NRSV) or here is another version, from The Message Bible: “You realize, don't you, that you are the temple of God, and God is present in you?”

Now, this is the scripture that has been used to preach some very restrictive and moralistic sermons, especially to scare teen-agers out of having pre-marital sex. “Your body is the temple of God – so don’t be doing anything Jesus would not do.” Also sermons against the ravages of alcohol, drug abuse, smoking and other physical abuses of our body – and yes, we can make the argument, that we should take good care of our bodies, as they are God’s creation and a gift from God. But today, let’s broaden this a bit, and try to look at it more from the view point of blessing rather than threat.

This physical and spiritual being that is each one of us, is a unique and wonderful creation of God, and God dwells in us. We are God’s home. God’s Spirit lives in us. This body we have, is the only one we have for our entire life on Earth. So, how will we use it? How will we care for it? How will we honor God with our bodies and our hearts and our souls?

Well…that brings us to the heart of today’s message. Self care. Are you taking care of yourself? Do you wake up most mornings, rested and looking forward to your day? Do you go to bed at night, content? Of course, we all have bad days. We all have some stress. But on average, would you say you have more good days than bad?

Some time ago, Cheri was caught off guard when a close friend said to her, “You seem to be unhappy much of the time.” She was surprised that her friend perceived her in that way. Kurt had his moment at Food for Thought (an effort to hand out food and hygenie items to the homeless at the main branch library) when a homeless man asked him “what was wrong”, he asked “you seem so down”. A homeless guy, struggling to make it through life, perceived that Kurt was more than little down. So it made us pause and take a look at some issues of balance in our lifes, time management, and what we could do to regain joy. Cheri’s friend had noticed her complaining as friends do, and the red flag came up. Her struggles revolved around the balance of work and family and time for Cheri. That’s where her self-care issues come up.

Because she loves our family. She loves being a mom and wife. She loves The Village and her work here. So. . . making time just for Cheri always comes up last in the priority list. And she has never been into sports so taking care of her physical body and doing that thing you all call “EXERCISE” – well, that comes DEAD last. So four weeks ago, to take care of herself, She joined a yoga class. It’s one of the few physical exercise things she enjoys. It works for her. But she had not gone in over a year. She had to find a buddy to go with, in order to have accountability. So Todd and Cheri go on Wednesday nights. Cheri can tell you that almost every Wednesday night she would not have gone if she did not have Todd as her accountability partner. But She always feel better after she goes.

This is self care. We only have one of each of us. Cheri and Kurt spend LOTS of time taking care of other people. You know those 168 hours we start out with? Except for sleep, about all we do is other-people-care. We love it, but it gets me out of balance. Cheri can’t care for you as a pastor, or take care of her kids and husband if she don’t take care of herself.

So Cheri made this one simple change in her life this month; a shift toward self care. Because “I am God’s temple, and God dwells in me”. And God wants me to take care of God. In life Cheri has made other choices that are shifts toward self care. She has been seeing Sr. Breta Gorman for Spiritual Direction about once a month for about 15 years. They meet for an hour and talk about how Cheri is doing in keeping in balance and she guides Cheri (and occasionally Kurt) in her spiritual journey with God. So if you think you see a glimpse of some spiritual depth in Cheri every now and then, you can thank Breta and the fact that Cheri has been going to Spiritual Direction for so long. But it was not easy. For most of those 15 years

Cheri says “there is probably no single choice in my life that has drawn me closer to God, than Spiritual Direction, Well, that and being part of a church family”. She really hopes more of you will try Spiritual Direction in 2011. They will be here on Monday, in case any of you would still like to schedule an introductory appt.

You probably have a sense of a shift you wish you could make in your life. Cheri remembers times when she was so stressed that she thought, “I wonder how close I am to collapsing and being put in the hospital for exhaustion like those CEO’s I read about in Newsweek.” And then she would sort of play a little game and consider, what she would do differently, if she could just stop everything in my life, hit the reset button on my priorities, and reorder them. That kind of exercise is where we get our clues to self-care.

In our scripture for today, Paul is encouraging us, as followers of Jesus. He says, it’s like we are the house of God. Once we have decided to make Jesus our foundation, then the real work begins. As the walls go up in the house, we are making our choices. We can choose priorities that make our house one that makes room for God. Or we can be so busy, running ragged living by the world’s standards that there is no room for God, and no room for joy or anything we love. We get to choose.

When we get off track, we are the only ones who can make the choices to get ourselves back on track. So, what choice is God nudging you to make today for self-care? Is there something big, a re-evaluation of everything or do you just need to choose one thing to do for you (yoga class, exercise every day, prayer), did you just need to get out your calendar and mark some days off; do you need to plan a vacation, take a class, get some spiritual direction, downsize and simplify your life, or simply ride a bike and get some time to rest and reflect.

Do you have a place to get centered, to rest, reflect, and take care of yourself? If not come to a place like the Village. We have prayer and share groups and study groups, along with spiritual direction to take care of our souls. We have hiking/biking groups and healthy living groups to take care of our bodies. We’re here every Sunday @ 9:45 AM & 11:30 AM and at various places during the week. Join us.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON? by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

We’ve heard lots of stories of church conflict. It sometimes goes a bit like this: the Senior Pastor and the Associate Pastor got into an argument at the church Board meeting one night, right in front of everyone, over something, we’ll pick a topic. . . . baptism at the river.

Or in Kurt’s personal experience a fight over a parsonage. Should we buy a new one now. He remembers a meeting where the woman next to him loudly referring to Kurt, who had been one of the leaders in selling the old parsonage, in the third person, “he voted to sell the old one . . . and he’ll be against buying this new one”. Sadly, this person did not know that Kurt was actually one of the supporters of buying the new one, despite what would be a personal inconvenience for him, as he got that the church was best served by the new one.

You know what happens. The church members chose sides. In the baptism story, the next week, the Associate Pastor opened up her own church a mile away with half the folks. A year later, there are two churches, neither church had grown. Guess why? One or both systems are unhealthy. In Kurt’s experience, the church stays divided and conflict after conflict grown until the church shrinks. They don’t know how to focus on one love, one heart, and how to deal with what’s important and how to get along. This is not a good way to deal with conflict.

It started when we were kids. No one wants to be friends with you when you are the one who says: “I’ll take my marbles (now video game) and go home then.” Were you like this as a kid? Do you have one of these kids in your house? And we hate it when our friends make us choose. We have some kids who act like this. We know some adults who still act like this.

On the other hand, Cheri grew up in a family, where she did not really learn how to deal with conflict constructively (actually, Kurt’s family is not that much more functional, slightly, but only slightly on this point). Her Dad, who is no longer with us, kept it inside. He came from a family who never expressed their anger and conflict well. Her Mom just ran into her room and had a good cry, but she never knew what it was really about.

Cheri never really got a good model of dealing with conflict (Kurt again claims no greater level). Cheri started going to therapy 20 years ago to learn to deal more appropriately with conflict. And she is still learning how to deal with conflict. She feels like even people like her best friends or Kurt will abandon her if she fights with them.

Just recently Cheri read a book about dysfunctional teams in business, and church, and other organizations. The writer, Patrick Lencioni, talks about these dysfunctions: The first of these is a lack of trust. The Second is a fear of conflict; we’re not able to deal with healthy conflict in order to learn together. The third dysfunction is a lack of commitment to the higher common purpose. We’re not focused on solving our problems so we can live out our mission.

Now sometimes you have conflict because a powerful person, makes a decision without consulting others and just imposes the decision on others, like I did with the ban on pot-lucks (we did a little skit in worship that Cheri had banned pot lucks and Allen was leaving the church). That’s a lack of trust in the ability of a group to come up with a good decision together. If we are going to be a community here at The Village, then some decisions have to be made by teams, and we need a bit more collaboration on some decisions. We have to trust that the team can make good decisions together.

Sometimes in churches, (and families and other organizations,) conflict happens because one person wields too much arbitrary power (Cheri in our skit wielded power without discussion and information and banned pot lucks based upon a misreading of a story). But what we find that in churches, conflict happens quite often because of what I call the “niceness” factor. We are absolutely paralyzed to deal with anything because we are TOO NICE. We don’t trust one another to be grown up. And we are afraid people won’t hang in there with us through a bit of conflict so we don’t tell the truth. And so, in fact, WE LIE. We say we are being nice. But we don’t want to tell the truth. So we withhold the truth. And in that act, we create conflict. And we do harm to God’s mission through our church. We SAY we don’t want to rock the boat, but usually the boat is already rocking. We are just trying to pretend it is not, in the hopes it will stop, because we are afraid of conflict. But in reality, some healthy conflict helps us learn and helps us move forward as a community. When we share ideas, debate them, and listen to other’s ideas, we can learn.

Such as the church council where the Associate Pastor and the Senior Pastor were in tension about having a baptism service by the river or keep them in the sanctuary. If they had simply avoided that conversation in the effort to be nice, the conflict would still have been there. A constructive conversation would have helped the congregation have deeper conversations about needs within their congregation for different worship experiences to meet the needs of the different people that we worshiping with them. Or in Kurt’s experience, where a nasty confrontation could have been avoided by not assuming what each other’s stances were. Avoiding that conversation in the name of being “nice” would not negate the fact that the conflicting worship needs and values were there, under the surface. Many of our churches have done this being nice, and they’re stuck.

And the truth is, if the conflict exists, it WILL be dealt with, in one way or another. Either we will deal with it, or it will eat us alive. People will deal with it by staying home, withdrawing from the community. In Patrick Lencinone’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” he lays out this process and explains that in any organization, the inability to deal with conflict, keeps us from focusing on our commitment to a higher purpose.

This is what Paul was writing about in his letter to that young church in Corinth (I Corinthians 3: 1-9 for those reading along at home). Remember we talked about them last week. Corinth had been a really rough town. Many changed their ways because of Paul’s ministry there. After he left they started back-sliding.

Conflict erupted, competition, read what the message version says “ 9Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God's field in which we are working.”

They were jockeying for which one was more important based on who had baptized them, sort of like one group staying in the church with one pastor and the other leaving the church with another pastor. We don’t think two pastors focused on God would let that happen. The point is to love God, and follow Jesus and to change the world by walking in this Way. We need to keep the main thing the main thing.

So what does all this mean for us at the Village? We are still a young church. Guess what we are here to tell you – there will be conflicts among people within our church. Gasps are permitted as is “well Duh!” We may fight over small things and big things. Soon we are going to begin serious conversations about another location in addition to this one. Some will have hurt feelings about that. “I might go to the new location,” one will say. Others will say “Why would you leave and go help at the new location?”.

Well, because both are important for the mission of The Village and to help other people experience the love of God that we have experienced. And that is the big picture. The main thing is for hurting people out there to know that God loves them and find a community like ours. That’s it. That’s the only thing really. We are not going to reach all of them. Some of the other faith communities will reach some of them but there are more of them, that God wants us to reach.

But we can’t get side-tracked by internal conflicts. So when we find ourselves in conflict, we need to sit down, and work it out like grown up. We’re not going to be infants, (like Paul wrote about) and have a hissy fit and storm out and take our pot-luck pans and go home (Allen was supposed to do that, but they felt the crowd was getting too concerned in the skit in worship)! And We hope we will remember this skit and refer back to it with each other. If we are going to be in community, then we owe it to one another to sit down and talk about it when we are in conflict.

We have something special here in our Village Community. We experience the love of God in powerful ways. And there are other people out there who need this love. BUT, let there be no mistake. We will have our conflicts. (Say that out loud, whether you’re a member of The Village or another church out there, CHURCHES WILL HAVE CONFLICT!) The early churches had conflict. And we will have them too. We are asking us, to take a lesson from Paul’s lesson to the Church at Corinth. Let’s remember to keep God at the center of all that we do. Let’s trust one another and trust God enough to deal with our conflicts and hang in there with one another. And when we are in conflict over things here in our Village Community, let’s work really hard to keep the one love, that one thing, the mission of this church the focus. Lots of other things will take care of themselves, when we remember that our purpose is to share the message of God’s love with a world that needs to hear that message just as much as we do.

If you want to be a part of a community without conflict, that’s not us. But if you want to be a part of a community where we try to deal with each other and keep the main thing the main thing, consider joining us here at the Village. We’re here Sundays at 9:45 and 11:30 AM on Sundays at the corner of Monroe Street and Central Avenue in Toledo.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

WE HAVE ENOUGH: UNLIMITED RESOURCES by Cheri Holdridge (assist by Kurt Young)

My daughter and I have only recently become a Gleek (Glee Geek or fan of the show Glee for those who have not been clued in). How about you? Do you watch “Glee” on television? The show is set in Lima, Ohio (about an hour or so south of Toledo for those tuning in from around the world) of all places. It’s about a young teacher, who was in the Glee Club when he was in High School, and now he takes over the job of leading the Glee Club in the high school.

It is a thankless job. When he starts out there are only 5 students. They are the misfits. No one in the school shows them any respect. In the season premiere, the teacher is about ready to quit. His wife gets pregnant, and pressures him to quit teaching and to get a better paying job to provide for the family. These kids need him, because music is their passion. It is his passion too. Music is the thing that brings him joy! But he almost stops believing. He gets scared that it won’t be enough. He needs more money to make his wife happy and to take care of a child.

We watched a scene in worship, where his friend, the school guidance counselor tries to help him see things another way. She shows the leader of the glee club a video of him in High School at nationals. He is happier than she has ever seen him. He says he knew who he was. He was where he wanted to be. She talks to him about how money is not the only thing in life and living life is what is important. It’s then that he hears his small band of misfits singing “don’t stop believing” and rediscovers his passion.

In an earlier scene, one of the boys, the quarterback of the football team, who has been pressured by his teammates to quit the Glee Club, it’s not cool, only the geeks are in the glee club. He finally owns up to the fact that he loves both football and singing. He says to his football team: you can’t win without me, and neither can the Glee Club – so you are going to have to deal with me doing both, a quarterback and a glee club member. He claims his joy.

Our theme for our life together this year at The Village is this: we have enough. Sometimes it takes a team or a family. Because, as a pastor, and as a human being, I hear lots of folks say, they don’t have enough. If I just had more of this, or that, THEN I would be happy! In our scripture for today, (we read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 from the Message translation in worship. Look it up online, it’s worth reading.) Paul tells us that when we love God, and live as followers of Jesus, we have enough. We have within ourselves and within that relationship with God, unlimited spiritual resources, to find our joy.

The teacher in Glee found his joy as a high school student in singing. And he wanted to help some other students, who were awkward teens, but who had the gift of vocal talent, to find their joy in performing in the Glee Club. But each one of them had something to overcome. He has to deal with the expectations of a wife who values money and things. He comes home one day to a closet full of bags from Pottery Barn and sees where her values are. The kids in his choir are bullied by the more popular kids in school. One is the quarterback of the football team who had been one of the bullies and he has to find his moral compass and stand up to the rest of the team and choose not to be a bully. That is perhaps harder, to stand apart from his peers when they are doing things that are hurtful.

So how about you? What is your biggest challenge? What keeps you from living a life of joy? Now many of us might say that outside forces have hurt us, and that may well be true. We might say that others have control over us. But we usually have more power than we admit.

What is the thing that keeps you from living the life that God put you on this earth to live? Can you name it? You see, I believe God has a purpose for each one of us. God wants us to live with joy and to make a difference in the world. God wants our lives to have meaning. God wants us to laugh, yes laugh. God wants us to look back on our lives and say, “well done.”

But most of us are not there yet. Because something is holding us back. We are not yet in tune with God’s desire for us. We have some brokenness, or some fear. We are lacking something, or we think we are lacking something so we don’t go for it. Somewhere along the way, early in life, someone told us we’re not enough: not good enough, not smart enough, strong enough, tall enough, rich enough, you-fill-in-the-blank-enough; and so we get stuck.

So, Paul wrote this letter to the new Christians in Corinth, to give them encouragement. We’re going to spend a few weeks looking at this letter to that church. It’s a great book. Paul had lived in Corinth for awhile. He had planted a church there. By the way, Corinth was known as a bad place (could have been Lima, sorry folks from Lima it fits) in Paul’s time. It was a rough town. There were lots of drunkards, and prostitutes, and thieves in Corinth. But while Paul was there, lots of people cleaned up their lives.

There were conversions. People heard the good news of Jesus and gave their lives to his Way. They were baptized and chose a life of honest living, hard work, compassion for the poor, and healthy relationships. But after Paul left, and went to the next town to plant the next church, after some time, the folks in Corinth returned to their old ways. Ever made a change for the good, but then went backwards? So Paul got a letter, reporting to him that the folks in Corinth had become weak in their faith. They had become what we call “back-sliders.”

So he wrote a letter to them, to urge them to remember their decision to follow Jesus, and to be strong in their faith. First he reminds them of who they are in his greeting: “I send this letter to you in God's church at Corinth, believers cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life.” He’s calling them to be their best selves again. And then he reminds them of all the wonderful things God has done in their lives: Every time I think of you—and I think of you often!—I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There's no end to what has happened in you—it's beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives.” He’s giving them lots of praise, like a good life coach.

We need this often, don’t we? We need to be reminded of how we have seen Jesus in our lives. When I start to feel far away from God, sometimes I get out my prayer journal and just write a list of blessings. When I remember all the ways I have experienced God’s presence in my life, it draws me closer to God. It helps me during those times when I feel myself drifting away from God.

Then Paul wraps it up with these words: Just think—you don't need a thing, you've got it all! All God's gifts are right in front of you. . . . God will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

You don’t need a thing. You have it all! God WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON YOU.

When I am feeling weak, and a spiritual mentor tells me that God has given it all to me, to be honest, I feel kind of silly and ashamed. Of course I have it all. To think that I don’t, means that I don’t trust God, doesn’t it? God is right here with us, keeping us on track. God gave us this whole world, right? That’s what we said last week, when we read the creation story. God created the Earth, called it good, and made us the care-takers of the Earth. I’m giving you each a small Earth this week (we handed out little Earths in worship this week. It’s attached to brads so we can attach it to something where we will see every day to remember that we are care-takers of the Earth, and that the Earth is God’s gift to us, try doing this yourself. Go find one).

So, why, would we think that we are lacking anything? It’s really kind of crazy. Of course, God has already given us everything we need. God has given us the whole Earth! How can we possibly say we don’t have what we need? The teacher in Glee almost gets sidetracked, like we all do. We have the whole Earth. We have Jesus. We have life. We have breath, which is the source of life. And we all have spiritual gifts. We do. We all have gifts that God has given us to use in this world. They are all different, because God loves diversity. God does not want us to all be the same, that is obvious just by looking around this room.

So, I am going to ask you again, what is it that you are lacking? What is it that keeps you from living your life with joy? The teacher in Glee took on the Glee club because he wanted music in his life and he wanted to help students find their joy in developing their gifts. But he almost gives it up, because he gets fearful when his wife gets pregnant and she pressures him about money. She wants him to be an accountant. But being an accountant is not his joy. He almost makes a huge mistake. It happens every day. People get side-tracked from their joy.

What keeps you from living the life that God put you on this earth to live? Do you know? I think we can answer that question with this one: what do you want more of? Most of us think we will be happier if we have more of something. And the truth is, we already have enough. We have enough of it, whatever it is. We simply have to unlock it, or uncover it. We need to allow ourselves to claim it, or re-arrange our priorities.

If we want more time for what is important to us, then we have to learn to shift our time away from the things that are not so important to us. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If we want more money, then there are ways to find financial freedom and there are tools for doing that. There are methods and people who can help us learn those methods. If we want love, or more healthy relationships, then there are ways to get healthy ourselves. It may mean we have to do some hard emotional work on our part, but the work can be done. Trust me. The work can be done there are people who can help us. If we want to be physically fit, there are ways we can work on that. It will take some discipline, (something I hate) but we have the ability.

We have unlimited resources for JOY. Honestly! We do.

It’s right here in Paul’s promises to the early Christians in Corinth: Just think—you don't need a thing, you've got it all! All God's gifts are right in front of you.” I believe this! Really, I do!

Here’s where I believe we need to start today, with confession. It’s an ancient Christian practice, because it works. We confess, because it helps us start fresh with God. I’m inviting us, here and now, to confess to God, the thing we don’t believe we have enough of – the thing we want more of: money, time, love, courage, strength, health, whatever. I invite us to trust that we have it, because we do. God gives it to us. We have enough.

In worship we passed out little slips for us to write down what we feel like we don’t have enough. We have some left at The Village and you can do it later or you can write this down at home. The next thing is the instructions. We put them up at the Village so we can all confess publically and give it to God. So here’s what we got:


What do you want, but feel you do not have? This is something that is such a challenge, only God can give it to you, but you have unlimited resources of this thing. Confess to God, your lack of this thing, and trust that God wants you to have it. Pray the prayer: I have enough (your thing)_. Write in one word (or maybe two) in large letters, what your thing is, on the other side of this paper, and pin it to the burlap curtain on the stage at the front of The Village Commons.

So, are you ready to start living a life where you realize you have enough and start living in that joy, that place you should be? Come join us at The Village this year. Whatever your issue – time, money, health, whatever, we’re going to help you find what you need to start living that full life God wants you to have. Join us, we’re here every week on Sundays at 9:45 and 11:30 AM, and throughout the week around the area is small groups to help you find a way to that life. Join us.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

GOD SAID: “TAKE CHARGE” by Cheri Holdridge

I hate feeling cranky. Do you? I was not on top of my game this week. I was behind on the house work. We still have Christmas stuff to put away (we usually keep things up through Epiphany aka Three Kings Day aka Kurt’s Birthday aka January 6th). I was behind on my work for The Village. My kids were cranky because they had to go back to school. My “to do” list was this long, and my energy level was this short. By mid-week I was having a pity party. I want to be a person who is joyful and thankful for blessings. But this week, I was just feeling sorry for myself. And that just made me mad. Because I don’t want to be a whiner. So THEN it just got even worse, because I was beating up on myself. Because I felt I like be thankful that I had a lovely Christmas with my sister and her partner came here from Mississippi, my niece came here from out of state, but all I could do was whine about tired I was, and how behind I felt at work because of taking time off to be with family.

We all have choices you know. We can look at life as one of joy or one of sorrow, one of blessing or one of tragedy, abundance or scarcity. Because we all get some of both. Joy and sorrow live together. We get to choose – which we will embrace. God invites us to choose joy, blessing and abundance. God invites us to choose those.

From the very beginning, God has invited us to choose what is good. And so we are going to start there today, it’s January, the beginning of the year: at the very beginning of our story with God, the creation story. It’s a wonderful story: seven amazing days of creation. And at the end of each day, the story teller says one thing: “God saw that it was good.” You know, we could end each day with a prayer, giving thanks for what was good, it would make such a difference in our lives! Wouldn’t it? The gratitude prayer, ending each day journaling about what we were thankful for.

I want to tell you a story. This past summer, I had one of the best days of my entire 20 years as a pastor. It was the day of Toledo Pride. There was a midway, with booths, a dunking tank, etc. I passed out rainbow stickers that said: “Made in God’s Image.” Everyone smiled as I said, “You look like God” and put a sticker on them. I talked to lots of Young people. People who did not expect in a million years anyone from a church to give them a word of blessing and affirmation In Toledo, OH, when two men, or two women, could walk down the street as a couple, freely, without fear, and I could tell both of them “you look like God” – your relationship is a gift from God. It was a day to claim that we are all good. We are all blessed. We have an abundance of joy. We are enough in God’s eyes. Just as we are. It was like the Day of Creation.

You see, that’s how it all started. On the day of creation, God said, “I am making you like me, and you are enough. You are good.” And God said something else: “I am giving you this world. It’s yours, And I am putting you in charge.” (What was God thinking? is a thought that crosses our mind) And that was good too.

Now somewhere along the way, things got messed up. Now the rest of the Bible is the story of that. And we are going to spend the rest of this year, and probably the rest of our lives trying to understand how that all happened and how to make it right.

But this is how it started. God made the world. And it was good. And God made us, in God’s image. And we are good and beautiful and we are enough. If you don’t hear anything else today, hear that.

But somewhere along the way, we became dissatisfied. And we got the idea that we never have enough. So this year at The Village we have a theme. This is it. Are you ready?
We want more, but we have enough.
We want more money, time, love; we want better physical health, emotional health, better jobs, smarter children, bigger houses, _____ ( you fill in the blank).
We have enough!

Now some of us do not have enough. We don’t have jobs. I GET that. But there is enough to go around. Globally there is enough to go around. We have just done a bad job of sharing. We can do better. We can be kinder. We can be more generous. We showed that in a tiny way with our Christmas offering.

Yesterdays actions in Arizona show the worst of our nation. But for every outrageous criminal act like the shooting in Arizona yesterday, there are just as many stories of courage and generosity. We can do better. We must do better.

But the change starts with here and now with each one of us. The world changes when each individual decides to choose blessing and goodness. We can choose to live believing that we have enough, rather than always wishing we had more.

In creation, God has already given us everything we need. We just have to access the resources we already have. We all have the same number of hours in a day. So we have enough time. We just have to decide what is most important for us to do with our time. There is enough money we just have to make good choices. We live in the richest nation in the world. I know it’s hard out there right now, and we are going to spend some time this year helping each other tackle those hard money issues.

But time and money aren’t even our biggest worries. We want healing in our relationships. We want love and reconciliation. And here is the thing. God gives us enough inner strength to have all that too. REALLY! God gives us the inner resources to face much more than we give ourselves credit for. We have the inner strength, the courage, the wisdom to deal with all that stuff we need to face in life. It’s just that we often choose to avoid. So this year, at The Village, we’re going to take some time, together, to tackle these hard issues: money, time, relationships, physical and emotional health. Because I believe God wants us to live with joy.

So, Here is the starting point, that’s why we started with the beginning of the Bible. On the day of creation, God gave us this earth. And God said: “Take charge.” We are connected to this planet. God made it. God made us. And God made us THE CARE-TAKERS of this earth. God put us in charge and gave us all the resources. We have enough. We have enough of everything. All the earth belongs to us. God gave it to us as a gift. But we spend most of our time fighting over pieces of it and wanting more. So this year, at The Village, we are going to focus on this idea, the idea that everything we think we have, is a gift from God. It all belongs to God from the beginning and is a gift from God. And now it is ours to care for. And because God has given us these blessings, it must be enough to give us all the joy we need in life. But God made this creation, and it was good.

We are going to take our time, reflecting on these ideas together this year. This week, I want to invite you to pray a simple prayer. Wherever you are, just look around and remember that this creation is God’s give to us, and that God told us to take charge. And then just pray this simple prayer: “We have enough.” I want to invite us all this year to pray that simple prayer this week and beyond, “we have enough”.

Don’t feel it yet, join us at the Village this entire year as we journey together on this journey. Worship Celebrations are at 9:45 & 11:30 Sundays and we will be having small groups to help with all of these issues. Come join us.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Oh Geez, I’ve Gone All Human Again by Leslie Eppler & Kurt Young

Leslie went to seminary to get all educated about who God is and she read a lot of books. She pulled a whole gaggle of books from her bag (some of them Cheri’s) showing us ones about Creation, the Laws of the Old Testament, Original sin, How to worship correctly, How to write and preach a good sermon (Leslie says she needed to study that one a little more before today), and more.

She explained “we learned to ask all kinds of questions and read books by some scholars and some who thought they were scholars who thought they had figured out the answers. You know, questions about poverty, sexuality, feminism and other stuff like did Adam and Eve have belly buttons or do dogs go to heaven?” As Christians, we’ve spend a couple of millennia trying to figure all this out. All the rules, doctrines and dogma.

Christian history is filled with thinkers wondering and writing about who God is; and making complete messes and tangled webs of the subject. And to try to straighten out and to come to some sort of consensus we take the next step, we make rules and tell each other what to think about these things. After all, we are only human, right? We need some rules to help us along and keep us civilly right?

Well, there is some truth to that, we do want to drive on streets where everyone generally respects the traffic laws. Imagine the whole world deciding, those first few seconds and last few seconds of a red light are, at best, a courtesy thing (Kurt has driven in a city where this seems to be the case, believe me, it is not fun, exciting, but not fun). However, what has happened through the ages is that Christians making up all these church rules (only members can receive communion, only X can be ministers, ministers can’t dance, you can’t play cards, you have to give X dollars a week to the church, etc) , Christians spend a lot of time telling each other how they will or will not be righteous and holy.

Here's the problem, we can't live up to the rules. We’re human and we screw up all the time. Sometimes big; a lot of the time just a little. Jesus own followers did that. They picked grain on the Sabbath. They dared to work on a day of no work, so they could eat. And you know what, Jesus forgave them. But they, and we ,kept making mistakes, over and over again. One of Kurt’s favorite segments of the Old Testament (the part of the Bible written before Jesus’ birth) contains multiple of the line “ and the Israelites did what was evil in the sigh of the Lord”.

Leslie works somewhat of a stressful job, she has to manage 30 to 40 people with all different expectations and personalities in a very small space. They have rules that some do like. And there are a lot of folks that get on other folk's nerves, including mine. Her goal at that job is to remain calm, compassionate, balanced and unbiased at all times…(wait.) That didn't happen once. Ok, Ok, that's a lie. It didn't happen twice… she says she screws that up a lot. She gets tired and hurting and her buttons get pressed. She is not the compassionate example of Christ always. Even though she is a minister (gasping is appropriate).

We all have stuff like that. Some times in our lives it is bigger stuff, more devastating things: maybe its an addiction, or an affair. Maybe it's abuse. We carry those things with us and know we haven't met the standards of society or the church and we swim in our guilt and pain.We believe that we can't show those things to anyone and we can't go before God, because we are too sinful. But that is why God became one of us.

That is why the first Chapter of John speaks to us (for those who could not join us, we read John 1:1-5; 9-14 from the Message during worship), “14The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.” God said, I love the HUMANS I created so much that I want them to know this and I want them to know me. I am going to go to them, because they are afraid to come to me. They have forgotten how much I love them. So God came in the form of Jesus and lived with us; ALL OF US: the Average Joe, the ones who had secrets, the ones who had been abused, their abusers, the murderers, the thieves, the liars, the untouchables, those with mental illnesses, those with egos as big as gods… Jesus lived with all of us. Jesus became human. And he hung out with “The Wrong People”. Jesus lives in our neighborhood, and what’s more, HE WANTS TO LIVE THERE.

Why? For one simple reason. God loves us and wants to be with us. All those centuries of reading, writing, fighting over dogma and doctrine. Trying figure out who God is. All the many years of schooling and books, .;. they are important… Leslie would trade her education or her chance to read and study these things… She cannot and must not forget THE MOST IMPORTANT thing, and the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS… GOD LOVES ME GOD LOVES YOU. Who is God? God is love.

As we start our new year, both individually and as a church, we must not forget God's love for us. We will reach out and tell that to others, and sometimes will fall into the trap of not believing we are worthy of it ourselves…how can we tell? It is when we have a hard time forgiving ourselves or others. Let's make sure we keep this message foremost in our hearts and minds this year. God loves us.

Take a minute a feel that love. Just sit there, and no matter what you feel about yourself, no matter what your brain may tell you about you, and accept this: GOD LOVES YOU. Sit there silently for a minute and try to accept that. Sometimes, that’s easy, often, that’s not easy. If you’re somewhere where you can, and know the words, trying saying (if you’re like Kurt and can’t sing) or singing “Jesus Loves Me”. Yes, we know it sounds a little hokey, but you need to hear those words, the ones the world and life will deny you.

If you need a place to repeat that message to you, and don’t we all, think about joining us here at the Village. We’re at the corner of Monroe & Central. Our worship celebrations are at Sunday at 9:45 AM and 11:30 AM and we believe God loves us all, no exceptions, no conditions.