Sunday, May 27, 2012

Setting Priorities: Put First Things First by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Our blog is going to start a little differently this week.  Normally we don’t start with a description of something unique we did in worship, a little demonstration, but we’ll start it this way this week.

    A twelfth grade science teacher was trying to teach her graduating seniors a life lesson.  So she pulled out a large jar and seemed to fill it with large rocks.  Then she had her students try to put a large container of pebbles in.  They shook the container and worked them in slowly and sure enough the full container held another large container of pebbles.  Then she challenged them to add a large container of sand, and sure enough it fit in as well with some effort.  Finally, a large pitcher of water was added and slowly it fit as well.

    The students were amazed, but the teacher assured them that it was sound science and a life lesson.  She asked them what was the Lesson to be learned?  “You can always squeeze more into your life” was what one student said.   The teacher said  NO.

    The teacher’s response was you must always put the big, important things in first. Because then the other things will fit in around it. But if I put the same amount of sand and pebbles and water in first, I would never have been able to get those big rocks to fit in.

    If you have ever taken a time management course, this is what they will tell you. Block out on your calendar what it most important to you, and THEN stick with your calendar.

    If we were to each take out our calendars and show them, we would see what is important to us.  It show alot about each one of us. Most of us, a few times a day say: “I don’t have enough time.” “I wish I had an extra day in the week.” But here is the truth: we all have the same 525,600 minutes.

    We know it because of that great song from “Rent.” And if someone came along and said: I’ll give you a 7 day all expenses paid vacation to the place of your dreams, I imagine most of us would somehow be able to open up 7 days in our schedule just like that! We all have stuff that we want to do that we know would be good for us, it would bring us joy, but we just don’t have the discipline to carve out the time.

    That thing is the big rock that is left sitting out on the table. What is that thing for you? What is the thing that is important to you, but not urgent, so it just keeps getting put off until next week or next year? Taking a class? Giving some time in service for something that is your passion?

    I would like to write a book. One of the steps I need to take to work toward writing a book, is to write a blog. I was actually a writing major in college. I like to write. I would like to write about some of our experiences here at The Village so that people in other cities and in towns even smaller than Toledo could benefit from what we have learned. But I don’t have time. I am a busy pastor and mother of two children.

     I think God wants me to write. I have been given a gift. And so this year in order to live my dream and to live the calling that God has for me, I have to take this big rock and put it in my jar first. Somehow the laundry and the bill paying and cooking will get done. No one is going to starve at our house. The important work for The Village will get done too. I just have to set my priorities and put first things first. And, I have to trust God. I have to start each day with prayer, or the wheels will come off the whole thing. You can count on that!

    Now, in addition to our time, and feeling like we don’t have enough of that, a few of us, well most of us, say these words once or twice a day: “I don’t have enough money!”  If I had X amount of money I’d be happy.

    I have felt that one this week. I have some friends who are taking MY dream vacation this week. I am ENVIOUS of my friends, because they are taking the vacation that I have been dreaming for years of taking with Kurt. We wanted to take it for our 10th anniversary which is now long past. Now we are just hoping to take it after the kids get through college. I don’t like to feel envious of my friends. I just want to be happy for them. They don’t have kids at home. They are in a different life situation. I want to enjoy the photos of their trip on FB without being jealous.

    So, I was thinking this week, about money and budgets, because Kurt and I were discussing what we will give to The Village for the next year. This week we are going to send out Commitment Cards and invite those of us who attend here regularly to make our annual commitments of our time and our money to support The Village. And I realized that for the amount we give to The Village every year, we could easily take that dream vacation.

    But we would not dream of taking this year’s money away from our church in order to take that trip. The Village is our priority.  We have our big rocks just like you have yours. We have to pay our utilities and mortgage. We pay to send Jamie to private school because we live in a neighborhood that has a public school that has one of the lowest ratings the in the city. Those are all big rocks and so is our giving to The Village. All the other things just have to fit in around those.

    So we will take a vacation this summer, but we will visit friends for most of it. And if you come to our house, you will see that it still needs painting. I think I mentioned that last year in this message. It doesn’t look that bad. We listened to Kristen’s challenge to “step up” our giving to The Village last week. We believe in what this church is about and so we have decided to give an extra $40 a month over what we gave last year. It’s not a huge amount, but every little bit helps The Village live out our mission. And, as always, we will give FIRST to The Village.

    That takes me to today’s scripture.  Perhaps you were wondering when I might get to The Bible. First fruits.   We heard four short scriptures today. I could have chosen many more, because the Bible is full of these references to this idea of “first fruits.” Now, of course, the Bible was written during a time when many of the people were farmers who lived off the land. I don’t think we have a single farmer who attends The Village. But maybe some of you have a vegetable garden in your backyard in the summer. Or maybe you grew up with grandparents who had a farm. I don’t know much about farming. But I’m told this is how it goes. At harvest time, there is a day when the first crop is harvested.

    You have worked REALLY hard to get to this day. REALLY HARD! And especially if it’s something good to eat, it’s a great day to enjoy the first fruit of that harvest.  These are the best of the best of the food in harvest.

    Well, people who love God, that’s us, and that’s the people we heard about today, from the books of Deuteronomy, Exodus, and 2 Chronicles, take the first fruits to their place of worship, and give them as an offering to God. So they would take their first baskets of wheat, or corn, or figs or whatever and give them up. It’s like giving up the first tomatoes off the vine and trusting that there will be more. You know, like you hope there won’t be a big hail storm that will destroy the rest of the crop.  That’s pretty trusting.

    The reason they did this, is because they understood that they were connected to the land. They understood that they would not have the crops if it were not for God. You see, all of creation belongs to God. We are just tenants. We are just caretakers of God’s creation. Remember? God gave us this Earth to take care of. It does not belong to us. We may THINK that we hold deeds to property, but God created the whole thing. Our legal deeds really don’t mean anything. It all belongs to God and God just blesses us by letting us use it.

    So when we get something, like the miracle of crops coming right out of the ground, it seems like magic to me, we are so grateful, that we thank God by giving some of us right back to God. In practical terms, they took it to the temple so it could be used for God’s work.

    In the 21st century it works like this. Most of us earn money, in one way or another. Again, we have jobs, or we get some sort of financial benefit, because we are children of God. We are blessed. But the money does not belong to us. Everything we have is a gift from God. We can keep it all. God gives us free will. God does not come take it from us. Or as Christians, we can choose to give our first fruits to God, because this has been our way for thousands of years.

    Now that we have electronic banking systems, it’s even easier, just as I pay my mortgage and my car payment on the first day of the month when I know my paycheck is going to be deposited into my bank account, Kurt and I choose to transfer money to The Village Church every time we get paid. Because It is a priority to us. It’s actually more important to us than a new car having the premium cable package. It’s definitely more important than going shopping for new clothes or going out to eat. So we send money to The Village first. And we only go out to eat if there is money left over.

    Remember how I said we can look at our calendars and see where our values are? Well we can look at our checkbook registers and see where our values are too. Now I am not talking about this to make anyone feel guilty.

    I just saw a study on CNN this week.  We live in America. We live in a consumer society. Until recently, statistics showed that most Americans spent 10% more each year than we earned. That is why we all had so much credit card debt.  So, if you feel like you don’t have money to give, you are in good company. You are part of our unhealthy consumer driven culture in the U.S.

    Here is the good news: it does not have to be that way. I heard a study on CNN this week that said for the first time in years, Americans are SAVING money. We are no longer spending more than we are making. If you need help getting out of debt and learning how to live within a budget, there are tools out there to help you.

    Last year, the Village offered Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course last year in order to help us learn how to get out of debt. We can offer that sort of help again. Kurt and I took the class and it helped us.  It’s hard.  We live in a culture where buying and spending are the norm.  Saving and giving are counter cultural.

    We want to be a church of generous givers. We are giving you an opportunity in this next week to consider making a Commitment of your time and your money to The Village for the next 12 months. We are not a church that wants you to give because you feel guilty or because you feel pressured to give.

    We want you to give only if you feel can feel good about it. This church has already been a blessing to many. We have come this far because of the generous gifts of people who have believed in what we are doing, and people who have freely given their time and money to make this church a reality for you.

    Those of you who are attending regularly will receive a Commitment Card in the mail early this week. I invite you to pray about it and to consider making a commitment of your first fruits to The Village church. Come to church next week either way, because we want you all to come enjoy lunch with us next week. If you feel ready to make a Commitment of your time and/or your money, bring the card with you and turn it in next week. If you don’t feel ready to commit, there is simply a place where you can say you want to pray for the Village, fill that out and put it in the basket.

    Now, again, we’re not a faith community where we are going to check your financial statements versus your giving.  We give our time, our talents, our money and our service because we believe in what the Village and the wider Methodist and UCC churches are doing.  We ask that you consider doing the same.

    If you’re not a part of a faith community like ours, consider joining one.  Together we can do much more than separately.  If you’re near where the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street come together in Maumee, come join us some Sunday @ 10:30 AM.  We are following Jesus and we will change the world.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

HOPE: EVERYONE IS INCLUDED by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Well, it has been an interesting couple of weeks if you pay attention to the news. Do you watch the news on TV? Or read the paper? (I know that’s really old school but I still like to do it.) Or do you get your news on line? (I know some of you are really tech savvy and probably do that.)

    Let’s see:

·    President Obama finally came out in favor of gay marriage.

·    NC passed one of the most restrictive laws against gay marriage we have ever seen; people are really up in arms about that one.

·    The John Edwards trial over his affair and all that continues to make news (someone in my family was a BIG fan of Edwards at one time).

·    A woman in Toledo was charged with killing her baby, after the baby was found in the freezer.

·    There was that man who killed a mother and one daughter, and then they finally found the other two little girls and the man shot himself when the police arrived.

·    Oh yes, the United Methodist every-four-year General Conference (an international meeting of our denomination) met down in Tampa. They talked about some big restructuring proposals and could not agree on one. They ended guaranteed jobs for clergy which was a HUGE deal (so I don’t have a job guaranteed anymore) . And they debated once again about whether or not it’s ok to be gay. We still came down 60-40 on that one. More later on that.

·    Lots of big news.

Some of it tragic.  Some of it just causing people to draw lines; I’m on one side and you are on the other.   Some are fuzzy or in the middle in the discussions. 

    I want you to keep all of these headlines in your mind as I introduce today’s theme. Remember we have been talking about our emphasis for this year at The Village: HOPE.  Hope grows in our Village community. We are using the four letters in the word HOPE to talk about what it means to live our live together as The Village.

                    Healing for our brokenness.
                    Openness to God.
                    Purpose for our Lives.
And today – Everyone is included.

When I ask you what is unique about The Village, one of the things that you would probably mention is that EVERYONE is welcome here.

    I have been thinking a lot about how to say that this week and what that means. Because you see, all churches say they are friendly. Just about every church at one time or another puts out on their sign: Everyone is welcome. And they sincerely mean it. But every church has a culture, and when you walk in, you know if you are part of that culture or not. Another way to think about it is the tribe.

    The tribe might be race, age, economic status, but most churches are pretty narrow in who is a part of that church.   You pull in the parking lot and the entire parking lot is filled with mini-vans with soccer stickers on them.  And when you walk in, and you are not part of that tribe, you know it and they know it right away.

    We try a little harder here at the Village to be broad in our welcome.   I think one way to put it is to say: “We DARE to welcome everyone.”  Or “We are BOLD in our welcome.”

    Sometimes I like to sit and think about who might want into our church and STRETCH our ability to be welcoming.  For example I wonder, if some of these people from the news this week walked in, would welcome them:

·    The people who supported the amendment in NC that prohibits gay marriage

·    How about the people who are unhappy that Obama came out in favor of marriage

·    How about that young woman who is accused of killing her baby? Could we be compassionate toward her, and hear her side of the story.

·    Would we welcome the people who love that man who killed those two little girls and offer them comfort?

·    Would we welcome people from United Methodist Church who voted against the church being accepting of gay marriage and the ordination of gay pastors? Could we sit down with them and try to help them understand our point of view? And listen respectfully to them?

·    If John Edwards and his girlfriend showed up here, or someone else who was cheating on their partner, would we welcome them?

    Hmmmm. So we say everyone is welcome. But do we really mean that?
Well, I don’t want to be too hard on us. We ARE BOLD in our welcome.

·    We do welcome LGBT folks who are not welcome in many other churches. This is an important ministry for us to provide in NW Ohio.

·    We have provided a safe place for folks who are in alcohol and drug recovery.

·    This is one of my favs: One Sunday, we probably had fifty people in worship and two of them had orange hair. One of them were 17 and the other was 70.  I love to tell that story because I wonder, what other church in Ohio had 4% of the congregation with orange hair AND nobody blinked!!

·    We have had women with us, who are pregnant and are not married, and we did not judge them, we simply welcome them and care for them.

·    Today we are hosting a Mother’s day luncheon and inviting women and children who have been affected by domestic violence. So, we do pretty well when it comes to boldness in our welcome. BUT there are always people who will stretch us. So when we say that we DARE to welcome everyone, we need to remember that God WILL challenge us. We do some incredible things, but God is going to send some folks to challenge.  And we need to be ready.

    Which brings me to today’s scripture.  The apostle Paul wrote this in a letter to the church at Rome. The book of Romans is an amazing book. It is chock full of great theology. (Don’t be intimidated by that word – theology – it just means – thoughts and words about God.)

    Listen again to some of the highlights of this scripture:
Romans 8:31-39
31-39So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.

This is from the Message Translation, a paraphrase so the language won’t be exactly the same in other versions.  It’s more modern, more relevant.

    Now, of course, there are times when we feel like experiences in the world are trying to separate us from the fullness of life that God created for us. But God sent Jesus to create a connection between us and God.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. 
Paul writes: 
I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
This is some good theology.  Don’t LET ANYONE TELL YOU ANYTHING CAN SEPARATE YOU FROM GOD’S LOVE.  It’s right there.  

    John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement called it prevenient grace – the grace that goes before us. It’s the love that is at work in our lives even before we say “yes” to God. Of course it’s important for us to say “yes.” Even when we are children, and for some of us, long into adulthood, before we say “yes” to God’s love, God has already said “yes” to us. God is in love with us and God is at work in our lives trying to get our attention, even before we are paying attention. And nothing can separate us from God’s love. It’s just that we are choosing not to pay attention.

    This is why we believe so firmly here at the Village that everyone needs to feel welcome and “at home” when they walk through these doors. We do everything we can to make this place non-threatening. We give people some coffee and treats. We have music, and some flowers and candles on the table to make it feel like you’ve come to a party in our home. We don’t dress up, so if you don’t have nice clothes or you don’t like to dress up you don’t feel out of place (Kurt wears t-shirts and sweats all the time for this reason, ask him about why sometime and it’s not because the lawyer doesn’t have suits and ties). We want to make God’s love accessible.

    Well, United Methodist General Conference met week before last in Tampa for 10 days. Some things happened there that were kind of disturbing. I need to tell you about it, because we are family, and I want to be honest with family. As most of you know, we are a mission church of both the UMC and the United Church of Christ. We are connected to the UMC, because I am a UMC pastor. I grew up in this church. The UMC has some good theology. John Wesley was a rebel in his own day that got out there with the people on the edges and took the gospel message out into the world to some of the people that the established church was neglecting (for instance he preached in bars (never heard of such a thing) and on tree stumps outside of coal mines). That was what the Methodist movement was all about when it started.  That is one of many things I love that about Wesley.

    I’m not happy that the UMC still has not joined the United Church of Christ in being fully accepting of lgbt folks but we keep hoping that those 60-40% votes will turn, because 40% of the church is voting with us.

    Last week at the General Conf, there was a piece of legislation put forth to add to our Book of Discipline, which is our UM rule book. It was in the preamble to the “Social Principles” which includes our stance on a variety of social issues. They voted to add these words: “We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the Gospel.  We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s love is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

    The first part of the statement was, I believe, meant to acknowledge that we are a diverse church. We are not of one mind. There have been many attempts to put something in the Book of Discipline,  stating that we are not of one mind around belief about homosexuality and other things. Those have all been defeated. We can’t seem to agree to disagree because that would give some weight to the position that you can be gay and Christian and those who believe that being anything other than heterosexual is a sin, cannot abide giving any room for any other position. 

    You may recognize that last phrase in the final sentence: “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s love is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.” It’s a direct quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8.

    The motion passed at the General Conference and will be in our Book of Discipline. But this is the sad part. It barely passed and there was actual debate about whether or not to add it. And there was significant debate about whether to include those key words right out of scripture; “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

    This message of God’s love and grace drawing us to God is pure Wesleyan theology. But, you see, one of the delegates stated that our belief and our practice can separate us from God and bring us to judgment. That seemed to be the crux of the matter (for that delegate at least), whether or not we are going to be a church that draws people to God with a message of grace or a message of judgment (Daily Christian Advocate, Vol. 4, No. 8, p 2448, May 2, 2012).  In that person and others minds, our beliefs and actions can separate us from the love of God.

    The amendment passed 56% to 44% which means that 44% of those voting at our General Conference, for whatever reason did not want to include these words in our UM rule book: “We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the Gospel.  We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s love is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

    Now 56% voted for it, so thankfully, here at The Village we are still in the majority on that one. We can give thanks for that. And by the way, on the votes about making the church fully inclusive of LGBT folks, 40% voted with us, so we are not alone in that, we are just not the majority yet.

    What does all this mean for us? It means we keep doing what we are doing. We keep following Jesus. We keep being faithful. We dare to welcome everyone. But let’s don’t pretend that is easy, because we have our close knit tribe too. Someone could show up here in a suit and tie and feel really out of place. We need to welcome that person just as much as we welcome the person with ratty jeans and arms covered in tattoos. Everyone who dares to walk in that door is seeking the love of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. As the community called The Village we are called to welcome all and to be the love of God for everyone who comes here (and who can find out there in the community). So there can be NO EXCEPTIONS. God does not exclude us. So let us go and do likewise. Amen.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Purpose for our Lives by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    I wish I had time to sit down with each of you personally, but I don’t.  But , let me ask, do you know why God put you on this earth? Truly?  That’s what we’re going to look at as a part of our HOPE series, Purpose.  

    I think I know why God put me here. I have a personal mission statement. It gets tweaked a bit now and then but it goes something like this. My purpose in life is to lead others to know they are loved by God, and to help you claim your gifts and use them to live out your purpose for being on this earth. That’s why God put me here. And a few years back that led to me planting The Village Church as a vehicle for doing that.  We help people find God’s love and then live it out in the world.

    Well this is graduation season and I’ve been reflecting on purpose in life during this season. I’m willing to bet that there have been lots of commencement addresses about purpose – finding your purpose. Lots of smart people out there are telling lots of hopeful graduates – here’s what it takes to have a good life and be successful. I’m sure there are some great speeches being given and more will be given this month.

    This is what I would say.  Do you know what makes me most happy for someone? When they find their own purpose! I love it when I meet a person who has found their bliss, their calling, their place in this world.  They are so excited and certain.   There is no stopping that person. I am convinced that God wants each one of us to be that person. God wants each one of us to discover God’s purpose for our lives.

    A few days ago Becca and I went to go visit baby Avi and her mom Jessica. Jess was the first Village kids leader when we opened back in 2009. Jess is very special to my kids and to our family. She moved here with her husband from out west to do a doctorate at Wayne State. This week she will graduate with her PhD, and on Tuesday they will load up a moving truck and move to Logan Utah where she will teach at Utah State. When Becca and I hugged Avi good-bye yesterday I found myself silently giving Avi a little blessing. She is a happy little girl. Her parents love her very much. I want her to grow up knowing that she is a beloved child of God. As Becca played with Avi, I just found myself thinking about Becca and baby Avi.

    My daughter is turning 13 this week, which is a pretty big milestone. As I look at these two girls what I want for both of them, is for them to find their purpose in life. I want them to find their bliss.  Isn’t that what we all want? To know why God put us on this earth.

    I believe, without a doubt, that we all have a purpose. Maybe the way we live out that purpose gets tweaked a bit in different seasons, but I think we each have pretty much one clear God-given purpose. And I pray that little baby Avi, and that my daughter Becca, and my son Jamie will find their purpose. I pray that each of you will find your purpose. As I told you, I’m blessed to feel confident that my own purpose in life is tied to helping others claim their gifts from God and use them in the world to live out their purpose.

    Today’s scripture (Exodus 3 & 4 for those reading along on the net)  is just such a story of finding one’s purpose. Are you familiar with this story from the Old Testament? You may have heard about the part with the burning bush. God speaks to Moses in a bush that burns, but is not consumed. That is to say, the bush is on fire, but it does not burn up.

     If you don’t know that Bible background, let me give you a quick re-cap. Moses was born a Hebrew baby during a time when they were killing all the Hebrew babies. His mother hides him by sending him down the river in a basket and Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and saves him. Moses is then raised as an Egyptian in Pharaoh’s house as a child of privilege.

    One day Moses has had enough of how the Egyptians are treating the slaves, who are the Hebrews, his people. He gets into a fight and kills one of the Egyptian over-seers. He knows he’s in trouble so he flees. He goes to Midian, where he meets Jethro and marries one of his daughters. He works there for awhile. This is where we find our story for today. Moses is tending the sheep, and God comes to Moses and gets his attention with this bush. God says to Moses: “I have seen the affliction of my people. They are suffering. I need you to go down to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go. In essence, God says to Moses: “This is it. I have put you on earth for something much more important that tending sheep. It’s time to do something important. Moses replies with a list of excuses.

    Do you know anyone who has ever done that? An opportunity comes along to do something great, and you just say: “Um, no, I don’t really think I am up to that. I’m not smart enough. I don’t think my parents, or my girlfriend or boyfriend would want me to do that. I don’t have the training, or the money to do that.” What other reasons might we give? Moses gave a whole bunch of answers
God just kept countering. God gave Moses a staff that would turn into a snake and then back into a staff. God told Moses what to call God.

When Moses said, “But God I can’t speak eloquently, I stutter,” God said, “You have a brother, Aaron, who can speak.”

    You see, when God gives us a big task,  we don’t even have to have all the skills. That’s why we have teams and why we have community. God gave Moses Aaron to be on his team. Aaron was part of the team and he had a purpose too.

    Finally Moses wore down, and accepted his calling. He chose to accept the purpose God laid out for him. And he became the leader that the people needed. He went to Pharaoh. He led the people out of slavery and into the promised land. But only because he was willing to listen to God and to submit to the idea that God had a purpose for him.

    So how does this play out in our own lives?   Do you know what your purpose is?  Maybe you have a hint, but maybe you’re trying to finalize the details. Well part of the Christian life is paying attention along the way to the markers God give us.

    Do you see that pile of stones in the picture? Some of you have been wondering what that picture is about. These man-made piles or stacks of stones have been used since ancient times as trail markers, also called cairns. Sometimes they are “placed at junctions or in places where the trail direction is not obvious, and may also be used to indicate an obscured danger, such as a sudden drop, or a noteworthy point such as the summit of a mountain. Most trail cairns are small, a foot or less in height, but may be built taller so as to protrude through a layer of snow. Hikers passing by often add a stone, as a small bit of maintenance to counteract the erosive effects of severe weather.”  ( Source:

    I like to think of these markers as similar to the signs or signals God gives us along the way in our lives. God uses people and experiences to show us the direction God wants us to go. When an experience is positive, or when we learn something, or people seem to grow or benefit in some way from our presence, then this might be pointing us toward our purpose in life. This is a marker for us.

    If something just doesn’t seem right, then it’s a marker trying to guide away, and get us to head in another direction.  These trail markers are the experiences that point us in the direction toward or away from God’s purpose for our lives. Spiritual discernment is the messy process of learning to pay attention to these markers.

    You see a few years ago, it became clear to me, that I was put on this earth to plant The Village Church. It took at little while for me to be sure, but eventually the markers were all there and I began to see that everything in my life had brought me to this moment. I could look back and see experiences and situations since I was a teen-ager that had all come together to leave my job, take a step where there was no promise of having the money to pay my own salary, to be ready to take this leap.

    They had all formed me, and prepared me to be a church planter in the right place at the right time plant this kind of church in this setting. No one else was in a position to do it, and nothing could stop me from doing it. It was a God given calling. As I said, I had previously written a personal mission statement: to lead others to claim that they are beloved children of God and to use their gifts in the world. You can see how that purpose ties into planting a church can’t you?

    Well, let me tell you, it sounds clear now, but it was not so clear at the time. It came together in God’s time. But it was not easy when I was in the midst of discernment.  And it will not be so clear and easy for Avi and Becca. How many young adults do you know right now who are drifting from one thing to another, trying to find their focus? They don’t know what they want to do with their lives and you wish they would figure it out. Maybe you don’t know what you want to do with your life! And maybe you are not so young! It happens all the time. It’s hard to discover our purpose. So many other factors can get in the way. So many other people will try to tell us what we should do or be. So many extenuating circumstances can throw us off course at any age.

    The priest and prolific spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, spent the last years of his life, working as a care-giver in the L’arche Community. He was the daily companion for a man with mental and physical disabilities named Adam Arnett. Now before he took this position, Nouwen had spent some time on Bolivia and Peru and contemplated living with the poor. Nouwen had been a university professor. He was sought after as a speaker and teacher. He could have had any number of jobs at prestigious universities. In the last years of his life he chose basically to be a direct care worker in a home for people with disabilities. He said Adam became his unlikely spiritual guide. Henri Nouwen often wrote about the spiritual state of brokenness and our need for God’s healing. He said that working in this community with Adam and others helped him look at his own brokenness and how we can find our way toward healing.

    Henri Nouwen found the purpose that God laid out for him. His work has made an impact on the spiritual lives of countless people across the world. More than 2 million of his books have been sold in more than 22 languages. I am sure there are people who thought Henri Nouwen was crazy for choosing that job and that life. But he knew this was God’s purpose for his life, and it was the most meaningful thing he could do.

    So how about you? Where are you in your discernment these days? Do you know your purpose and are you living it? Are you restless? Is God trying to speak to you and are you making excuses like Moses?  We’ve all been there, there is no shame.  Has it been a long time since you hear God speak, and it is time to try to re-open communications? There are probably people in this room at all of those stages, and others. That’s ok.  We are all on a journey and God just wants to be on the journey with us. But if you don’t feel you are living God’s purpose for you, then I encourage you to look a little harder for those trail markers, and seek out some companions who might help you pay attention to the signs.   There are people in our community here who will help you walk the trail with them, help lead you along the way. 

    We’re going to listen to the band play a song and then we’re going to take a few minutes to talk to the folks around us (come to the Village Facebook Page or this thread if you want for those following along at home)  about today’s message. I want to ask you to consider this question, if God sent you a trail marker today pointing you toward your purpose in life, and it had a big sign on it, what would be written on that sign?

    If you need some help finding a trailhead for this journey, think about stopping by the corner of Conant Street & the Anthony Wayne Trail at the Maumee Indoor Theater Sundays at 10:30 AM.  There are many folks here, on various trails, walking at many speeds, to walk with you.  Come join us.