Sunday, March 27, 2011

He Speaks the Truth – By Cheri Holdridge with an assist by Kurt Young

We watch the news every morning at our house while we are getting ready for school and work. We watch CNN Headline News where the stories repeat quite often. For us, it’s a good mix of the important news of the day, and some fluff. One story has been headlining even Headline News for several weeks now. It was there before the Earthquake in Japan. It faded for a couple of weeks during all that. But the story is back: the trial of self-help guru James Arthur Ray. He’s on trial because he was the guy in charge when three people died in a sweat lodge experience on one of his transformational retreats, he was on the Secret.

I must confess I have been fascinated to hear the stories of these folks, who put their trust in this man. One by one, various students of James Ray are put on the witness stand. The two sides are to arguing about whether or not this teacher is responsible for these deaths. Did the people make a choice to stay or did he have too much power?

But I am fascinated by the stories of the people who gave their time, their money, and put their trust in James Ray. Over and over I hear the same refrains: “He was helping me.”, “I learned so much about myself.” ,“My life had gotten off track, and I went on this retreat, even though it was physically grueling, because I trusted him, and I wanted to find direction for my life.”.

They all want the same things we want: meaning and purpose, healing, connection and love. Perhaps the word “Love” is overused. It’s too bad, because it’s a good word. We all want it, don’t we? We want to love ourselves. We want to feel good about ourselves, and who we are and why we are here on this earth. We want to be healed of whatever is keeping us from loving ourselves, so we can live out our purpose in this world.

Jesus helps us do this. Jesus heals us, and tells us, “God loves you, and God wants you to love yourself.” “No matter what has happened before this day,” Jesus says, “Let’s be honest about it, and get past it, so we can live!”

In our scripture for today, (John 4:5-30, 39-42 for those following along at home or on the road) Jesus has an encounter with a woman. He travels through a part of the country where no self-respecting Jew would generally travel. They would make a huge detour in any trip, in order to avoid Samaria. Jews and Samaritans were basically the Israelis and the Palestinians. But Jesus does not see those lines. He sees everyone as a child of God, so he took his disciples on a journey right through Samaria. He sends his disciples into town to get some food and he sits down by a well.

A woman comes to the well, in the middle of the day. We know she’s a woman who wants to avoid the crowds, because all the other women come to the well early in the morning when it’s cool. This is a BAD woman. You name a rule, and she has broken it. No one respects her anymore.

She’s like some of those people who went on James Ray’s retreats. She was broken, and she needed healing and a new purpose. But I am sure she did not go to the well seeking anything that day, except a bucket of water. And then she met Jesus, and everything changed.

In worship today we showed a great video clip from a great retelling of the story. Erin Moon, an actress reads the story in more contemporary language. Go here to see it and come back because Kurt can’t possibly do it justice

“To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.” She says to Jesus, “You look at me. You know me.” This is one of my favorite stories.

Do you know you are loved? Do you know you are loved for who you are? But here is the really important question for today: Are there people in your life who will speak the truth to you, even when it hurts, or causes conflict, because they love you enough to speak the truth?

You see Jesus did not say, “I love you and who you are does not matter.” He made her face her mistakes. He held a mirror up to her life. And then he stayed there with her, and cared for her, in spite of her brokenness. That is true love: someone who loves us enough to speak the truth, even when it hurts and then hang in there with us anyway.

Do you have people in your life, that you trust, who will speak the truth to you, even when it hurts? Even when it causes conflict in your relationship? And will those people stick with you anyway? I hope you do because that is what God wants for you. And even if you don’t, I hope you will keep looking for them. Don’t give up.

You see, this is what we are trying to model here at The Village. I call it “messy Community.” It’s when we take the risk to be in conflict with one another, so that we can push through the conflict, and learn something about ourselves, and become better people together. That is authentic community, but it’s hard.

I hate criticism. I know that I tell you I want to hear your feedback about how things are going at The Village. But I still hate to hear it when people don’t like something I do. It’s because my dad was overly critical, at least that’s what I’ve come to understand in therapy. And poor Kurt has to suffer sometimes because I can’t take the least little bit of criticism without getting really ouchy. BUT I KNOW, in my head, that the only way to learn, and to honor the feelings of others, is to be able to hear criticism. And so I ask for feedback.

But it’s hard, isn’t it, when someone who really knows us speaks a truth about us, that we don’t want to hear? During a couple of periods in our life together of 15 years, Kurt and I have had to go see a counselor to help us work through our truth, because it’s hard. Just the other day, the therapist asked if there was ever a time that we even remotely considered that our marriage would not make it. Kurt immediately remembered the biggest fight we ever had, several years ago. It was about money, and our work. I did not even remember the fight at first. It was a distant memory. Because we worked through our conflict.

Now at the time, it was excruciating. But we kept talking, and trying to understand the other person’s position, because that is what we do in healthy relationships. There will be conflict, in any relationship. Sometimes it is because we need to hear something about ourselves that only someone who really knows us, can tell us. And they know all the bad stuff. And sometimes, when these moments of truth occur people give up. They walk away from one another because the work it just too hard, and then neither one gets better. Or maybe one does, but the other does not. That’s why do many marriages end.

At our house, we’re allowed to call a “time out” in a conversation about a conflict, or a hard truth, that we don’t want to deal with. But we have agreed that we will also call a “time in.” Because Kurt and I have a commitment to one another and to our relationship. So we are willing to do the hard work.

So, how about you? Do you have trusting relationships, with friends, family members, even co-workers, where you can speak the truth? Where you can know another person, and be known honestly, and trust that the relationship will continue and you will be loved, or respected, no matter what? I hope we all do. But my hunch is this: we don’t have enough. This is an area where we do want more, and I will honor that wish. It’s ok to want more -- healthy, honest, life-giving relationships. That is something worth wanting.

But we do have enough of something. We have enough strength, to do the hard work, to find and build and maintain these relationships. We have the ability to hang in there. That is what we are practicing here at The Village. We know we are imperfect people. That is our starting place. Here at the Village, we will love one another anyway.

Jesus taught the woman at the well, that she was loved, no matter what. Because God loves us, no matter what. Jesus also invited her to hear the truth, and to own up to her mistakes, and to stay in relationship and be loved by God.

Today, this is our invitation too. God loves you. Hear that message. God loves you enough to send people into your life, to be Jesus for you, and to speak the truth to you, and to challenge you. I pray that in this Village community, we can be Jesus for one another, and speak the truth, and stay in relationship, even when it gets tough. Because God loves us enough. We need to hear that message. They all need to hear it, as the woman said. But today, we need to hear it.

God knows you and loves you. “To be known is to be loved. And to be loved is to be known.” Do you have a place like this, where you can be known, truly known and be loved, truly loved? If you don’t, go find a community like that. We are out here. If you find yourself near Toledo, come join us at Monroe & Central. We’re here, we want you to be know and be known, to love and be loved.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

God So Loved the World: Finding Our WAY With Jesus by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

So last night I was sitting quietly upstairs in our room, doing some work on my lap top, when all of the sudden Kurt and the two kids called to me from the front porch. Jamie was squealing with excitement and delight. They had spotted the “super moon” rising in the sky and I just had to rush down the stairs and come outside to see it. Jamie, who is 8, and kind of a space geek like his dad, was the most excited. He was wowed by that bright shining ball of light in the sky. We had to stand on the edge of our porch and had to crane our necks to see it between the houses and trees in our Old West End neighborhood. It looked pretty big. It was bright. I snapped a picture with my phone and posted it on Facebook like lots of other folks.

Then I came upstairs and read an article on the internet that said, yes, this is the biggest moon we have seen in 18 years! Because, of course the Moon is closer to the Earth because of the rotation patterns, I guess (it’s closer and full so it’s unique) . I’m not a scientist. But then the article said, the moon was really only 2% bigger than last month. HUH?

Well, yeah, to be honest, even though my kids were so excited, I have to confess, that the moon did not look all that different to me. It was a beautiful full moon. But it was not GINORMOUS.

But it was a bright light, shining in the darkness. And I don’t know about you, but I could use some light right now. There’s quite a bit of “BAD” going on in our world. And there just seems to be a primal longing within us, for light. It drew my whole family out on the front porch last night, to look at that ball that shines in the sky at night. Of course I know the moon does not shine. It’s reflecting the sun’s rays from the other side of the earth. But if you think about it, that’s pretty cool. Even at night, God wants to give us a sign, of light. So God designed a universe with a sun for the day, and stars and moons to shine at night. So we always have light in our darkness. That is a gift!

Today’s scripture is about Jesus, who we call our light (John 3:16-21 for those following along on the Net). And it talks about those ancient symbols of light and darkness. We say, we follow Jesus. That means we follow the one who is the light. And that means that in our lives we will always be striving to move toward the light, and trusting that even in the dark times of our lives, that the light will prevail. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. Some weeks, it’s harder than others to trust in that light, and to choose light. The powers of darkness seem so strong in our world.

It was another one of those weeks, wasn’t it? Last night, after the airstrikes had started in Libya, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook: “March 19th ... same day Iraq War began 8 years ago, also with Tomahawk strikes. Please do not let us get mired in another war.” I heard a military expert say that they hope the worst of this war in Libya might only last 3 days. Let us pray that is so.
But that was not the only frightening news of this week. Last week it was the earthquake in Japan. But this week, we all watched those nuclear reactors in Japan, didn’t we? First there were 50 workers trying to keep the plant under control. Then they sent in more workers to help, I think they got up to 180 a day or two later. Experts were on all the news channels talking about what MIGHT be going on inside the plant. We were all left wondering why the Japanese government or some international atomic agency does not step in with the best and brightest minds to prevent some horrible nuclear catastrophe. This is scary stuff.

But then I read a tiny little story somewhere, about the people that work at that nuclear plant. It said that there is a great sense of camaraderie among the workers, sort of like what you see among fire fighters and what we saw here in our country on Sept 11. The story said, that before this incident, during lunch breaks, in the cafeteria, workers would get into conversations about the potential risks. They knew there was always a chance that something could go terribly wrong. Of course, like any of us, they did not want to think about it.

But just like a soldier who goes off to a war zone, or a police officer who straps on a gun every day, they are aware that going to work at a nuclear power plant, is a job with risks. The writer of the news story said that they would talk about how they would do whatever they had to do, to protect the rest of the people, outside the plant, their families, and fellow citizens of the world, from nuclear disaster. And that is just what they are doing. It will be a long time before we hear the stories of their heroism. And perhaps they are not all brave. But a lot of them are. They are choosing life for others – even over their own safety. I have NO CLUE if they are Christian, but the value they are living out is a Christian value. We choose life . . . Even if it means death. They are willing to sacrifice, because that is what it takes to save others. That is a Christian value.

This is the mystery of faith, my friends. Jesus was willing to die, so that we could know what it really means to live! This is the key scripture, one you probably memorized in Bible school: 16“For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

But this is not just a promise life eternal life in the life, in heaven. Jesus wants us to experience the fullness of life NOW. Jesus wants us to find light in the darkness of this world NOW. Jesus wants us to live with joy! Eternal life starts TODAY. RIGHT NOW. And this is how we have it. This is how we live fully – with JOY!

When we walk with Jesus every day. When we go the WAY of Jesus, in all that we say and do. When we walk in the light instead of choosing the darkness.

That’s it. It’s SIMPLE. But it’s not EASY.

We have a picture here on our video screen of a rock staircase. Walking with Jesus, on this road to what will end up with a cross, and death for him, is not easy. But it also leads to light and life eternal. So I want to invite you during Lent (the season leading up to Easter) to go along this way with Jesus anyway. Because walking with Jesus in the light, is simply better than sitting alone in the darkness. Over and over again in scripture we find this image, that Jesus is the light, and that we are to follow the light and BE the light for the world.

We are seeing lots of darkness lately, aren’t we? War and destruction, natural disaster, and humanity’s inhumane treatment of one another. This scripture says: “people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” The writer of this passage says that it’s human nature to be evil and to want to hide in the darkness. But I don’t choose to believe that. Because I believe Jesus is light and we are drawn to that light.

Last night my kids and I were longing to see the brightest light we could, in the night sky. I believe people WANT to see goodness. I think people WANT to experience compassion and healing and honesty. We mess it up a lot. We get caught up in the darkness of selfishness, and dishonesty and our own insecurities. But we want to do better.

We want to be people of the light. I believe that. We want to be like those brave people in the nuclear power plant in Japan who are risking their lives to save others. And so Jesus says, “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

When we are living in the WAY of Jesus, in the light, we want people to see how we are living. We have nothing to hide. Yes we will make some mistakes, but then we come clean when we follow Jesus. We ask for forgiveness, and then we move on into the light.

Friends the world needs some light right now, we need to be the light for our world right now. And we need to pray for God’s light to break into our world, into situations that are too big for us to comprehend and definitely too big for any of us to tackle on our own from right here in Toledo, OH: airstrikes and nuclear reactors, and governmental crises. We need a power bigger than ourselves in our world – to bring light to all this darkness.

But make no mistake. God has the power. Light always has the power to shine in the darkness, and to overcome the darkness. We are the light of Jesus, now, in the world. That is our job, as followers of Jesus. In whatever little spheres of influence we have, in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, at the grocery store in how we interact with people every day. We have the choice to be like Jesus, or not. We can be light for other people in the midst of all this darkness. And when we are light, we will point them, in our own way, to God and to God’s light. And it will be enough light.

For now, let’s pray for our world. Let’s bring a little more light into this world by lighting some candles and saying our own prayers. You can do this at home or where you are now. Take a moment and pray that you can be a source of that light. If you can’t see the light, consider joining us at the Village each Sunday or at one of our small groups. We want to help people who are stuck in the darkness of our lives and this world find the light that is Jesus, God’s love and light in our world.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

SPIRITUAL PRACTICES: FASTING by Cheri Holdridge (with assists by Shannon Kelley & Kurt Young)

So, are you giving up something for Lent? Or are you adding something to your routine for Lent? You see it’s actually just as valid a Lenten practice to add something, as to take something away. The point is, that in about 5 weeks, we are going to celebrate Holy Week. We are going to journey to the cross with Jesus again. We are going to hear the story of how one of Jesus’ closest friends betrays him, and how the people who followed him all over the countryside, and followed him, then turned on him and handed him over for execution. We are going to walk that journey up the hill to the cross and read that painful story of his sacrificial death. ALL so we can celebrate the amazing miracle of his resurrection – and the promise that God gives us eternal life beyond this temporal world.

And so, every year, Christians prepare ourselves with this season we call Lent. And we take on some Spiritual Practices. Lent began on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. We gathered here for a traditional service of marking our forehead with the sign of the cross, in ashes, to remember our mortality. We made our confessions to God and gave thanks that God always forgives us. These are the rituals of this season. And as I have said before, even though we don’t maintain all the church traditions here at The Village, we do maintain SOME tradition.

There is a reason why rituals last across time. They have meaning. We are a people who need ritual. We are spiritual creatures. We experience mystery in life, and we need ritual to help us lean into that mystery, and meet God.

One spiritual practice, a ritual of sorts, is fasting. This is a hard one for most of us. We don’t get it. Truth be told, lots of us, me included, have at times, confused religious fasting with a weight loss method. Let me be clear, they are two completely separate things. I don’t know about the pros and cons of fasting for weight loss so we won’t go there today.

But we will talk about fasting as a spiritual practice. Now, fasting can be a decision to refrain from a variety of things. Fasting is emptying ourselves so we make room for God. I will talk about some of the other options for fasting. But first, our own Shannon Kelley has volunteered to share some of her own experiences with fasting from food, so I’d like to invite her to come speak now.


I grew up in a Methodist church where we were encouraged to give up a certain something for lent – sweets one year, swearing another, etc. Also, went to a Catholic high school that practiced lent fasting from meat on Fridays. Then in college I was in a relationship where I participated in the Islamic practice of fasting for Ramadan for a few years. This fast involves not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset for a month once a year.

The first couple of weeks, it was difficult and I found myself asking God for help to make it through. And I often would have to remind myself that I was doing this because God has given so much to me. And why couldn’t I do this once small thing when Jesus gave up His life for me.

But after some time, the difficulties of fasting get taken over by a feeling of getting closer to God. With something (in this case food) gone that takes up my time and effort, I was able to see God more in my life. This fasting brought me closer to Him. Maybe it can be related to a small scale feeling similar to missionaries that strip themselves of excess in search of greater faith.

It was a new way to experience religion with my whole body. I found myself not looking forward to eating dinner as much as just the experience the rest of the time. The absence of “stuff” reveals the God that is always there at work. Fasting is about you and God – it can strengthen your relationship with Him. It is your commitment to Him, so no one will care if you trip up (I sure have on occasion).

Therefore, if you have even considered fasting this lent, you should just start now. So what if you’ve missed the first 4 or 5 days. You make it your own. That’s what I’ve come to realize in all of my wise 24 years. It will be your own, so your experience won’t be the same as mine. It could help to participate in one of the lent connection groups to have someone you can talk to to help keep you accountable or just someone to talk about your experience.

When Shannon spoke with me about her experience this is the statement that stuck with me: “Emptying yourself you see all the excess in your life. You can see God more at work.” By giving up food, she made space to see God.

I believe we can use fasting is an amazing spiritual resource available to us, and it is one that for the most part, it untapped.

Here are some ideas:

· John Wesley’s fast, dinner one night until dinner the next night

· Give up something that eats lots of time;

a. Facebook

b. Tv

c. Radio in the car

d. White noise

· One thing you really enjoy eating or drinking

a. The desire for the thing is a reminder to put your attention on God, say a prayer, give thanks, remember the sacrifice of Jesus,

· Give up a bad habit

a. Purpose is to use this season, to turn to God for strength to do something that we know we need to do anyway; If you can break a habit for 40 days, it might just stick

b. Negative talk about anything or anyone you find yourself wasting too much time and energy on

c. Over-committing

d. All of these things will free up time and energy for God – for something more positive in your life.

· One last thing about fasting. Every Sunday is like a little Easter, so you are allowed to enjoy the thing you are giving up on Easter. Now of course, you can decide your own practice, but that is the tradition.

So, what will your Lenten practice be? What are you going to do (or refrain from doing) in order to move closer to God during this season? We have talked about several options in these past few weeks:

· Deepen your daily prayer life

· Join a Connection Group

· Almsgiving – give money to help the poor

· Service in the community

· Fasting

Join us as we journey towards that miracle that is the Easter story.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

“Spiritual Practices: Part Three -- Sharing our Money (Almsgiving)” by George Howard (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I bring greetings this morning from your brothers and sisters at the United Methodist Church for All People (a church in Columbus, Ohio that has been a huge inspiration to the Village’s leadership) where I usually worship. I am pleased to be back at The Village. I have been here a couple of times and a few of you have actually been to my church as well.

I am following my call in ways I never dreamed of. I recently resigned from working for the United Methodist Church on the Conference level (George was one of the people who helped secure the support and funding for the Village at the statewide level - Kurt) and now work fulltime at the Church for All People, but that is a story for another day.

Today’s Topic is about Spiritual Practices : The Christian church has determined that we value our time, our money and abilities. They are gifts which we treasure. These treasures are often those things which take us further away from God as we rely more upon ourselves than God.

They can also become spiritual practices or disciplines which help draw us closer to God, closer to one another, and they can form you and me into the Disciple that God sees in us. This month you are hearing a series of sermons on Spiritual Practices.

At Church for all People we rehearse each week that God love us just the way we are, and God isn’t finished with any of us yet. Can you repeat after me...Our disciplines are one way in which God continues to work within us.

Pray with me please: We give you thanks Lord for the blessings you have given us and the gifts you have embedded into our very being. We know that no matter what we do, we can not match the gifts we have received. The sacrifice you made for us that we might have life and have it abundantly. Bless our time together this day that we might hear you more clearly and use the gifts you have bestowed upon us more boldly. Amen

For those who have been here the last couple of weeks, you know that Pastor Cheri is talking about Spiritual Practices. I was thinking about them as I read today’s Scripture… I heard loud and clear. Develop these disciplines for the right reasons. Do them because they are the right things to do and because they will draw you closer to God.

a couple of verses later in the Message Translation, Matthew says “the focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

So what are Spiritual Disciplines: They are actions which over time invite God's blessing; They are practices which keep Christ central in our lives; When they are repeated over and over again, they enhance our lives; they transform us.

One of those practices or disciplines is Prayer. Two weeks ago Cheri talked about prayer and the power of that when you practice it daily. I wish I had heard her for I confess that my prayer life is not as strong as I would like it to be. Prayer is one way to connect with God, keep God central in my life & in my actions. What is your commitment to prayer?

Last week she talked about service and the many gifts which are represented in each one of us. If I had been here I would have told you the story of Maryellyn Dunlap and the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio.

Between 2004-2008, the number of adults in Franklin County who did not have access to needed prescription medications increased by 40%, from over 104,000 to over 146,000. According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, 18.8% of Franklin County adults are uninsured, with 36.6% living at or below the Poverty Level

Mariellyn is a United Methodist missionary in Columbus, a church and community worker. She receives clients who do not have insurance and can’t afford their medication, screens them to see who is qualified, and then after they fill their prescriptions, she connects them with other services across the county.

In their first 6 months of operations she qualified 691 patients and filled over 6,500 prescriptions valued at more than $500,000.

If you have helped make the Village a reality, Mariellyn is your missionary and is making a huge difference as she uses the gifts and abilities she has been given. What is your commitment to using the abilities or talents you have been given?

If you are a visitor today I hope you come back and hear Cheri. You will get a better feel for a normal Sunday and hear a great preacher. Today however, we are talking about money, the spiritual practice of giving of our finances.

A number of years ago my former church had a stewardship campaign. My wife Eileen and I began moving toward tithing - one step at a time. First, we Increased our giving 2%, and received a 3% pay raise, later a 3% increase in giving was followed by a 3% pay raise. But we never got to a tithe. This was in the time when we got raises which I have not seen in the past four years.

Jennifer, our 12 year old daughter challenged us. She said “What do you mean you don’t tithe daddy. I do. I thought everybody was supposed to”. The first lesson is be careful what you tell your children, they listen. That year we leapt towards tithing, jumped to 6% and the next year we just did it.

Jennifer is now a seminary student and will graduate from Wesley Seminary this coming May. Even though she is taking out student loans to pay for school, she and her husband tithe the stipend she receives working in a nearby church. I continue to learn from the example of my children.

I am also learning from those on the margins about what it means to give out of a sense of extravagant generosity. One Sunday at The Church for All People I was counting the offering and opened an envelope with the most worn coins I had ever seen. I knew that one of our members had been walking the streets of Columbus picking up coins so that he had something to put into the plate on Sunday.

Another man, Mike lived on the streets. He had two pairs of shoes when another homeless man came in with shoes which were broken and held together with rope. Mike asked him what size he wore and then reached into his backpack and quietly gave him his good pair.

Do we lean on our own resources for security or do they help us lean on God? I thank God for the blessings of my financial income and my tithe is my gift back to God. What is your commitment to give your gifts of finances?

The Church exists in order that we might change the society we live in beginning with ourselves and our community. The mission statement of the UMC includes the words “For the Transformation of the World”. That transformation begins with you and me. When we talk about transformation we begin by asking “how are we preparing ourselves?” How can we develop our spiritual practices?

I have discovered these disciplines are avenues that God uses to continue to transform me and help me keep Christ where I said that I want Him. At the Center of my life. Thank you for being a part of the community which reminds and challenges one another to continue to grow in Christ.

Let us Pray

Almighty and most merciful God. We come together today seeking your presence in our lives. Seeking your will for our lives. Seeking your guidance that we might be your instruments. Help us to be the servant leaders you have called us to be. Help us to be faithful disciples committed to transforming our community. In Jesus name - Amen.