Sunday, June 26, 2011

PUTTING TOXIC PEOPLE OUT by Crystal Goodnight and Kurt Young

When it comes to training for athletic competition, the support of friends, family, etc. are one of the keys of success. Support on issues like healthy eating, exercise, etc. play a huge role.
Encouragement and support is key to building confidence and leveling off stress for athletes in competitions. It has been shown in studies that players improve their performance in measurable ways simply by having encouraging friends and family.

So why did we talk about that in worship today? This is a church right? The Village has a biking group, a healthy living group, a hiking group, etc? They talk about a balance between taking care of the physical and the spirit, have yoga and martial arts demonstrations in worship once in a blue moon, but this is about God right? Yes, yes it is.

Do you have anyone in your life who brings you down when you talk to them? Who make you want to throw up as soon as your done talking to them? The mere act of talking to them drains you of energy?

Crystal experienced that as she first started to feel the call to ministry. She had to clean up her life. No, She wasn’t much of a drinker, not into drugs, or other bad habits. But she had toxic people in her life. Those who would, instead of supporting her, were instead mocking her in her attempt to walk with God.

She prayed to have God show her the people who were doing this to her. God did and then she broke them down into lists of family, friends, neighbors & co-workers. She then prioritized them, deciding that ones would still be a part of her life. But what Crystal did do was to decide to not let them stop this walk. She had to decide what level of contact would they be allowed to have.

And then she called each of them. Her family, well she would still have them in her life, but those toxic family members were told they would not be allowed to run her life any more. Friends, co-workers & neighbors that were toxic were told I love you, but I am trying to walk closer to God, and I’m not going to be talking to you right now.

One of these folks, we’ll call her Jackie, really stood out. On receiving her call, she called Crystal the “B” word. Crystal thanked her for giving her confirmation and said she would pray for Jackie. Ten years later, some of these folks have called Crystal and thanked her for this. They re-examined their lives and changed, even Jackie.

In worship today we read Mark Chapter 5, Verses 35 to 43. Kurt used The Message Translation (mainly cause our usual bible site doesn’t use any other we do). The story goes as follows:

35While he was still talking, some people came from the leader's house and told him, "Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?"

36Jesus overheard what they were talking about and said to the leader, "Don't listen to them; just trust me."

37-40He permitted no one to go in with him except Peter, James, and John. They entered the leader's house and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: "Why all this busybody grief and gossip? This child isn't dead; she's sleeping." Provoked to sarcasm, they told him he didn't know what he was talking about.

40-43But when he had sent them all out, he took the child's father and mother, along with his companions, and entered the child's room. He clasped the girl's hand and said, "Talitha koum," which means, "Little girl, get up." At that, she was up and walking around! This girl was twelve years of age. They, of course, were all beside themselves with joy. He gave them strict orders that no one was to know what had taken place in that room. Then he said, "Give her something to eat."

In this lesson from the Bible, Jesus got rid of the toxic people in the room. Some people just throw us off our game. Previously, Crystal was the pastor of Stryker UMC. Styker is where the NWO Regional Corrections Center is. One Sunday she had a man come up full of complaints about the church, about her hair that day, how her son left his bike outside the parsonage. Sometimes, you just have to put these people out of your life.

This does not mean you should throw all the people who say bad things to you, things you don’t want to hear. We need people in Christian love to tell us when we are messing up. But there is a difference between those who are there to help you, and those who just punch you in the stomach.

You know what that feels like, right? Getting the wind completely knocked of you. If you haven’t done it spiritually, you have to have that experience in the physical sense. Crystal told the story of getting the wind knocked out of her on the playground on a teeter totter. But Kurt decided his was even bigger in scale.

Kurt was a high school wrestler. In his senior year, he was wrestling in the Akron City Wrestling Tournament Semi-Finals. He was winning when his opponent lifted him overhead and then slammed him to the mat ala the WWE. Kurt’s Mom was many rows up in a crowded, loud gym and heard the whoosh of every bit of air leave Kurt’s body. Truly the wind knocked out of him.

At Age Twenty- One, Crystal discovered who she is, because of getting those toxic people out of her life. She, like us all are all God’s beloved children. Made in God’s image. Never let anyone tell you different. You are God’s, you are loved and never let anyone take the power to tell you that who you are less than that.

Do you need a place to remind you of that? There are faith communities like ours out there. If you are near the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo (or soon in Maumee) and need a community like this, join us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sabbath Summer by Cheri Holdridge

The flowers outside the front of The Village have died. Well, most of them. Not all. We planted a few flowers in some pots a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the Spring planting season. But the person who was going to water them, got sick and couldn’t do it. It happens. And her back-up person fell through. It happens. And so, most of the plants have died. And so this morning, our kids are planting some new flowers. They are reading the story of creation, and getting to have some fun digging in the dirt and being part of God’s creative work in the world. The plants died, because we simply did not have the people resources to water them, and give them some plant food. I learned in talking to the folks at Barrow’s Nursery yesterday, that those flowers like plant food every week or so. Wow! They need some attention to look beautiful and healthy!

Don’t we all? Don’t we all, need some care and attention to feel good and to look good, down to our very souls?

This is actually God’s design. We read about it in the very first chapter of the very first book in our collection of holy books called the Holy Bible, in the creation story in Genesis.

In Genesis, we read about God creating the world. Day by day, so the story goes, God created the heavens and the earth, the sea creatures, the plants, the birds of the air, and at the end of day one, two, three and so on, God pronounced it good. And on day seven, God rested.

And so God calls us to have a rhythm to our days as well: to work on some days, and to have a day of rest, a day for our souls to be fed. God calls us to have a rhythm so that our lives do not become dried out and weary like those dead plants outside. Instead, we find ways to feed our souls.

Now in some religious practices, this idea of Sabbath has been really structured with lots of rules about what you can and cannot do, and in some other practices, Sabbath simply means that we remember to slow down.

This summer, I am inviting us here at The Village to practice that second kind. Let’s have a Sabbath Summer.

Over the next few weeks in worship, we are going to have some fun, as we give ourselves an invitation to take a breath, and rest in God. After all, Sunday is our Sabbath. This is our day, to reconnect with God. This is our day to ask God to feed and water the dried out places in our lives.

One of the practices I have found most useful in my own spiritual life, is the prayer walk. Perhaps this is something you do already. But if not, I invite you to try it this summer. There are many variations. The prayer walk is a spiritual practice that has deepened my own connection to God over the last 5 or 6 years. You see, one interpretation of Sabbath, is that you set aside a whole day for God. But sadly, for some of us, that is just never going to happen. Another way to practice Sabbath is to think about it as a state of mind, a moment, a few minutes, a break in the day, when you pause to take a breath. It’s a time to remember that you belong to God and that when God created the world, God asked us to take a break now and then to STOP. And so a Prayer Walk is a great way to take a Sabbath break, anytime, anywhere, for any length of time.

I often take a Prayer Walk in the morning, after I get the kids off to school (and Kurt off to work). I might have a cup of coffee, sitting on my front porch. I might read one of the on-line devotionals that we have links to on our Village web site, or do a bit of journaling, or just sit and listen to God in some centering prayer, and then I take a walk. I look at the beauty of God in creation. I try not to think about the news of the day, or my to-do list. I just open myself to God. I just open my eyes to what God is showing me in creation. I just listen for what God has to say to my soul. I breathe deeply. I tend to stroll. It could be a brisk walk, for a bit of exercise, but this is not really a cardio work out, this is a soul work out.

I cannot tell you how much clearer my head, and my soul feel, when I start the day with one of these Sabbath walks. Now, there are other variations. I might also take a Prayer Walk when I am in turmoil over something and I just need to clear my mind and create space for God. Many times I take a Prayer Walk when I need direction and I just need to calm myself and breathe, (again, breathing is crucial). On these prayer walks, by the end, I often find that God has given me clarity for a decision I need to make.

But most of all, I connect with God. This is the rhythm of Sabbath. This is why God asks us to take a day for God. This is why we come to worship every week. This is why we take a break to pray every day.

Because, you see, the world pulls us away from God, away from the God of creation. And we are the only ones who can decide to pay attention to God, and center ourselves back on God on a regular basis. God can ask us to do this. God can do all sort of things to try to get our attention – create beauty in the world, give us gifts of wonderful blessings, but we have to pay attention, and remember these gifts come from God. We have to pause, to remember the source of beauty and blessing.

So, I invite us to practice Sabbath this summer. There is a wonderful book, I suggest to you as a resource if you really want to dig into this. It is called “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller. In my own spiritual life, Muller’s book has helped me dig into the gift of the rhythm of Sabbath. I am going to read this book again this summer. It has wonderful exercises we can do, like the Prayer Walk, that encourage us to experience Sabbath moments throughout our week.

I also invite you to participate in our Summer Spiritual Retreat with our Village Spiritual Directors, Sr. Sandy and Sr. Breta, on July 16 at Swan Creek.

Most of all I invite you to make space for God this summer. Don’t take a vacation from God. Take a vacation TO God. Come worship here with God. Take walks in this beautiful creation with God. Sit and pray with God. BE with God. Practice Sabbath moments. Breathe in God’s presence. This can be a wonderful summer for all of us. And at the end of it, we won’t be like the dried out plants in front of our building. We will be blossoming glorious flowering creations of God ready to change the world! May it be so!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

“ON FIRE” by Cheri Holdridge (with an Assist by Kurt Young)

Have you ever been stuck? Once I got stuck in the Detroit airport. And I was on my way home. I had already been on my trip. I actually caught an earlier flight from wherever I had been to Detroit. But my luggage did not. So I had to wait in Detroit for my bags to catch up with me. The airline would not pay to deliver my bag to Toledo because it was on the correct, original flight, you see. So I waited in the airport, tired, waiting for the flight to arrive. When my bag finally arrived, I got in my car, drove out of the parking garage, and then my credit card got stuck in the machine. I had to sit there and wait while a maintenance truck showed up with a guy with a key to get my card out of the machine. I was tired and I was stuck in the Detroit Airport. I just wanted to get home to see my husband, my kids, and to sleep in my own bed. But I was stuck. I was never so happy to be freed from the Detroit Metropolitan International Airport. Do you ever get stuck? And just want to be free?

Today is the day we in the Church of Jesus Christ call Pentecost. It is a day of getting “unstuck.” On this day, fifty days after Jesus’ had been crucified and rose from the dead, his disciples were left behind here on Earth, and they really did not know what to do without their leader. They didn’t know what to do. They were sitting in a room, moping around, waiting, and wondering how on earth they could lead this movement without Jesus. They had lost their momentum, their fire in the belly. They needed vision, they needed a plan, and they needed power to face the opposition in the world that had put Jesus to death. They loved God, but they were discouraged. They were stuck.

So, as this wonderful, powerful, mysterious story goes, God came to them – in the form of the Holy Spirit, some old school churches still call it the Holy Ghost. The people described it like a gale force wind that just blew the windows and doors all open. It was like fire that burned in their hearts. Do you know the feeling, when you are so full of passion and energy and NO ONE can stop you? That is how they felt. God filled them with power for the mission of sharing God’s love.

They were unstoppable. They had skills they had never had before. They all started preaching in all the languages of all the people from all the surrounding countries. There were visitors in Jerusalem from all these other countries, and these poor, uneducated disciples from Galilee started preaching in the languages of all these other places. It was surely a miracle!

We call this day, Pentecost, the birthday of the church. It’s the day the first followers of Jesus, got unstuck. They were on fire with the ministry of telling other people how their lives could be changed by the love of God.

Well, do you remember our picture from last week? It was someone trying to start a fire. It was a metaphor for the Spirit of God inside each of us, a tiny ember that begins to grow. When we invite the Spirit of Pentecost to come into us, then that tiny fire has the ability to grow and it can eventually blaze like a roaring fire inside of us. That empowers us to go and change the world.

So, what does this mean for us, as a young church, The Village Church? In many ways we are still like that tiny ember from last week. God is still stoking the flame. We have already had some moments of blazing, haven’t we? Do you remember the day we baptized Jesse, Sarah, Vanetta and Faith, and some others? What a great day of claiming folks as part of the family of God! As tiny as our ember is, remember the day we had 100 people out front, for a rally against bullying? It was a powerful day! With 50 or so people in worship, less than a week to plan, and Facebook, we got a 100 people outside to fight injustice. We certainly felt God giving us strength to work for justice in our world on that day. And remember when we raised close to $4000 for our Christmas offering to help people living with AIDS. Surely the power of the Holy Spirit was with us in that amazing act of generosity!

But sometimes in the last few months, I think it would be safe to say, our flame has been a little weak. It happens. No fire can be roaring every day. This past week Kurt, Pat, Cindy, Crystal and I (and our kids) were up at Lakeside at the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our brothers and sisters in the UCC were in Tiffin at the same time. The theme for the week was “Unleashing New Life: New Places, New People, Renewed Churches.” Kurt got to speak to the laity session on Sunday night and talk about The Village and he did a great job (Kurt was fired up by over a thousand people repeating the Village Statement and cheering us on). There were some workshops about church planting. I must confess, I was a bit discouraged as the Conference approached. They asked some pastors of some bigger church plants to lead a workshop and tell their story. Sometimes, I get find myself comparing The Village to other church plants and I feel that, because we don’t have as many people as some others, that maybe I’m not working hard enough or I’m doing something wrong.

As I heard some of the pastors of these other churches talk, thought, I was reminded of what my coach, and other trusted colleagues have told me over and over again, “it’s apples and oranges.” Every church plant is different. We have our own unique challenges. And as I kept telling our story to people who asked, everyone was so thrilled to hear of how we are doing so far. Our friend, who is pastor of the biggest church of our conference, and the head of our delegation to our big, nationwide, General Conference, thanks God for us and is praying for us every day. And they just wanted me to tell you, that we need to hang in there, and have faith, because the ministry we are doing here is so important.

It is hard work to plant an urban church, reaching out to progressive minded folks who are disillusioned with the Church. It is hard work to plant a church in a city like Toledo where the economy is so bad and where people are so discouraged. This is WHY our work is so important. This is WHY God put us here for such a time as this. People in this city NEED HOPE. We need God, don’t we? We need the love of God, and the power of God, and the promise that God can give us new life.

So my friends, on this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the Spirit of God coming to us and filling us with power and getting us unstuck. I have an invitation for you. Will you join me in prayer? Will you pray for our Village Church? Every day? Will you pray for God’s Spirit to infuse us with new life?

God has already blessed us so much already. We have an amazing community here. Just look around. Think of the people here and what they mean to you. Think of the people who are not here today. Give someone a call today and tell them you missed them. It will matter to them, trust me.

And then, pray for God’s vision for next steps at our Village. One of the ideas I have been pondering, is a way to expand the use of our space here on Monroe Street to open it up to our community. One idea that Kurt and I keep coming back to is developing our place as a music and arts venue, especially for young musicians and artists. Since the coffee house down the street, The Ground Level, closed last year, there has been a need in Toledo for an alcohol free venue in town for musicians to perform. A few of us have been talking about how we might use The Village for such a space, a music & arts venue for Toledo. If you think God might be speaking to you about this idea, would you let me know? Contact Cheri via email at to talk about this idea.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to focus our worship on prayer, and listening to God. And Sr. Breta and Sr. Sandy are going to lead a prayer retreat in July, and I hope you will attend. It will continue to center yourself personally and prepare to be a part of what God has next for you and for your community. In my own life, when I feel stuck, like I did in that parking lot at the Detroit airport, I always have to call upon God in prayer to help me get unstuck. I need space in my life to breathe and listen to God.

The Day of Pentecost is about an amazing time when God’s people opened themselves to God, and God came to them. Join me in prayer today, and in the days to come. Let us pray for the power of God to come upon the Village Church, and to take those embers we have for ministry and let them blaze into a roaring fire. I pray that God will use us to bring hope to our city. Will you pray with me?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Starting a Fire and Turning the World Rightside Up by Cheri Holdrdige (with the usual assist by Kurt Young)

I get text messages from the local TV station on my cell phone. They are called “breaking news” and sometimes they are what I would call important: a local hostage situation, the capture of bin Laden, or even one telling me that I-75 is closed because the President is in Toledo.

On Monday, I got one of those that personally did not mean much to me, but I knew would have significance to my community. I am a pastor, so I like to have the pulse of my congregation and my city. I like to stay in touch with what’s going on. (That’s why I read People magazine every chance I get. I like to keep up on the important stuff J). This was the message on Monday: Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressel resigns.”

Now, I will confess, I did not know entirely the ins and outs of this story, but I have lived in Toledo long enough, here on the border, with the Ohio State Michigan Football rivalry and the Ohio State football obsession, to know, that this was news of EPIC proportion.

Some of you know the rest of the story, but for those who don’t, here are a few highlights: he had an amazing winning record over 10 seasons, a national championship, and a few wins over that school to the north that shall not be named out of respect for my church members who are Michigan fans (oops).

But this is what brought the man down. He knew that six of his players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, had violated rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association when they traded memorabilia at a Columbus tattoo parlor. Not only did the coach fail to report the infractions. Apparently there is a time every year when a coach has to sign an NCAA compliance form stating that he knew of no player violations. He signed the form, which was a lie. Tressel, a respected coach, who by the way, is a Christian who often speaks in public about his faith, lied.

Oh, and people have been talking about it – of that you can be sure. I heard about it on the side lines at my son’s baseball game this week. Should he have lost his job or not? That is the question. Because, of course, we know he’s not the only coach whose players get perks for playing. He’s not the only coach who crosses his fingers behind his back and signs the NCAAform, right? Come on, this is football!!

I grew up in Texas, with Texas high school football. I was a band geek and even I understand the pressures of a winning football team.

But here we have a man who was a role model to young people. He spoke for example at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in Perrysburg a few years ago. He was a Christian role model. And now we find out he had systematically lied and covered up, to keep his athletes protected and to keep his winning record.

Now of course, he is not the only one involved. What about the adults who offer these gifts to athletes? What about parents and other school officials who see this happening do nothing? The NCAA even postponed a punishment against some of these athletes for a similar infraction last year so they could play in the Sugar Bowl. I could go on and on.

I don’t know Jim Tressel, and I do not mean to attack him personally. He is part of a system. I can only imagine what sort of process of soul searching, self-reflection he might be going through right now.

Here at The Village we say “there are no perfect people” and so Mr. Tressel is simply one more example of that. God has already forgiven Jim Tressel, just as God forgives us when we make mistakes, little ones, and huge ones.

But this is what I hope we can learn from this story. Jesus came to turn the world upside down, or right side up whichever way you want to think of it. Jesus came to give us the power to do the right thing – even when the systems of the world – and the ways we have always done things – are not right. We all know there are traditions out there, systems, “good old boy networks” and such that are not right. They are downright DISHONEST. And yet we all just go with the flow and let them happen. We don’t want to be the one who stands up and says “ENOUGH.” Because we are afraid.

Listen again to these words from the scripture for today (Luke 12:49-56 (Message) for those following along at home).

Jesus said: 49-53"I've come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I've come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice?

Jesus came to start a fire! That fire is us. This fire of the Spirit of Jesus living in us, gives us the power to do the right thing in those tough situations in our world. They might be situations a work, in our neighborhood, or even in our family. If nothing else, that fire of the Spirit living in us gives us the power to be honest.

Can you imagine what this world would be like, if we would all just be more honest with one another? Think about it. Just pause for a moment to consider how much better our world would be, if we would all just follow the rules that we have all agreed, for the most part, are good to live by. Respect one another. Don’t take what is not yours. Don’t lie.

Jesus said he came to turn the world rightside up. That’s because the world was – and still is – so messed up. But he goes on to say some things that have always been really hard for me to hear. When I was younger, this was a part of scripture that I just wanted to skip over this scripture because it made absolutely no sense to me.

Jesus says: Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice?

Not so. I've come to disrupt and confront! From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be—

Three against two,

and two against three;

Father against son,

and son against father;

Mother against daughter,

and daughter against mother;

Mother-in-law against bride,

and bride against mother-in-law."

What? Those are really hard words. It is counter-intuitive for us to think that Jesus would turn family members against one another. But here is what he is saying. He wants us to choose his way: the way of honesty and respect and doing the right thing. And if our family members won’t go there with us, then we need to follow Jesus and leave them behind. It’s hard, but we have to choose the way of life. And honestly, they will see the fullness of life in us. We can hope and pray that eventually they will choose this life with Jesus too.

But we have all seen what it is to live that other way – trying to live without Jesus – and to live by the values of the world. It does not work. It does not bring life – it brings death.

Trying to go for the win, at any cost, did not work out so well for Jim Tressel and his players in the end. Finally, his career ended abruptly, in an embarrassing scandal. I am glad he has faith in Jesus and I hope and pray he will find his way to a new life in Jesus, because we all deserve a second chance (and a third, and fourth, and whatever it takes).

So what does this scripture mean for us today? I believe we all have situations where we need to follow Jesus by creating some disruption in the status quo. We need to set things on fire. We need to be Jesus’ instruments to turn things right side up. Maybe there is a situation where we need to speak the truth where no one else will. Maybe there is a place where we need to be more honest and we have not been. Or maybe there is a cause that is burning in our hearts that we have not acted upon because we have felt powerless.

But here is Jesus’ message to us, we have the power. We have the fire. We have the Spirit of God living in us. And that powerful Spirit of God is limitless.

In response to the message today, We gave each other a few minutes to talk in small groups, about how you might be feeling called to respond. Sometimes it’s good to test out our thoughts and feelings by saying them out loud to some other people.

Listen once again to these words from Jesus:

"I've come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I've come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished!

Now, at home, you’re not going to have a small group. So think about this for a few minutes. What situation in your world is Jesus calling you to turn rightside up? And what might that look like?

Want a place where you can explore this? We’re at the corner of Central & Monroe Sunday mornings and out in the world the rest of the week. We’ve got lots of chances to help change the world, and we’re always looking for creating more, or connecting people with more chances to do so.