Thanksgiving

Life is more like a pin ball machine than a nickelodeon. In the days of the nickelodeon, we put in a coin, pressed the button and the music we desired and had chosen was played. By contrast, a pin ball machine opens the to us use of the balls and deals us “wins” or “losses” on the basis of some combination of skill and luck…or maybe a matter of luck or skill principally.

We are less likely to be shot by a thug prowling the streets of the inner city if we abstain from going to such places at times of greatest danger. We are more likely to be satisfied if we have done helpful and constructive deeds for others. If we “sow” deeds of kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness, we are more likely to “reap” appropriate fruits than if we had sown callous or vicious deeds.

Hence, operating on an assumption of probability we are more likely to have happy lives based on kindness and sympathy from others if we have sown kindness and sympathy.

However, there are people who do everything right…and still experience disaster or tragedy. I am deeply aching inside for a couple I know who have experienced one disaster after another. A son died. A daughter fell into dope addiction. A grandson died. The daughter could not maintain employment and exhausted all her parents’ assets providing housing, clothing and food for her and her children. Even though she was a badly troubled woman, the daughter’s parents loved her deeply. Recently, she was killed in an automobile accident.

Her parents are distraught to the breaking place and beyond. What comfort can a Pastor bring them? What words can be said by a friend that are helpful? What can be done for them to deliver them from anguish, depression?

The answers given by Job and Jesus are that we cannot control the outcome. We can only control the input. We CAN live with love for others. We can live generosity toward the needy. We can live gifts of service for our fellow men. We can let the beauty of Jesus be seen in us. And, we can know that we have made a positive contribution to the welfare of the society of God’s children. And, that is enough.

8.9.15

Texas and Oklahoma—where I was reared—are often thought of as the “Bible Belt.” Tulsa—with its Oral Roberts University and a number of Bible Colleges—has been called “the buckle on the Bible Belt.”   As an undergraduate, I remember reading from one of Billy Graham’s books: You are doomed, damned, crushed and bound for hell. That condemnation did not accord well with the more liberal churches in which I grew up.

Nor did the proclamations of Fundamentalist Preachers:   “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” Rom. 3:23. “There is none righteous; no, not one.” Rom. 3:10.

Waiting in our hotel room in Los Angeles where I was to preach later in the morning in 1973 at the great First Congregational Church, Bev and I watched Bob Harringrton on TV.   Harringtron ws the self described “Chaplain of Bourbon St.” He ordered the director to “pan in” on his face until it totally filled the screen.   “This is the face of a SINNER!” he proclaimed. No doubt it was.

Those of that ilk are correct.   We are all sinners.   So what?   I do the best I can most of the time; yet, I am pitifully aware of my faults.   And you may well be aware of my faults that I don’t see.   You may well be aware of your own imperfections and those of your fellow churchmen.   Mostly, however, I am aware of the magnificent Godliness I see in so many of you, day by day.

I remember a country song whose lyrics went: You always hurt the one you love; the one you wouldn’t hurt at all.” Surely that is your story and mine.   Within the past few days, I caught myself ripping into one whom I dearly love.

In his old age, Billy Graham has given up pssing out condemnations.   Now, he uses his considerable influence to build “community.”   Community literally means “with oneness.”   Our job is to bless one another; encourage one another, tolerate one another, and to live together with appreciation in community.

Thank you for forgiving me and for forgiving one another.   Thank you for blessing one another.   Thank you for praying for one another.   Thank you for allowing bubbling streams of hospitality and appreciation to flow from each other person.   Christ’s gift to each of us for blessing each other is the capacity to love and forgive.   In community of appreciation of one another in this place…we are living in the joyful Holy Spirit!   And, every day, our lives are beter than the day before.

2015 Baseball Raffle

The Memorial Day service will be the kickoff for this year’s baseball raffle of four premium club seats for a September Reds game against the Chicago Cubs.  The winner will be drawn on July 12 (Baseball Sunday).   The following link is a slide show from the Cincinnati Red’s website of the Champions Club that the four raffle tickets have free access.

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/ticketing/premium_seating.jsp?loc=champions

Below are more details:

  • Game is on 9/30/15 against the Chicago Cubs.
  • Seats are undercover on the shaded first base line
  • Tickets include:
  • Free parking pass
  • Free access to Champions Clubs
  • Free food and beverages (excluding alcohol)

$5 for 1 ticket

$20 for 5

All sales go to support the historic Mt. Adams Meeting House which is listed on the National Register.

 

Good Living

Last Sunday, the Message was on Jesus: The Great Strategist.   It laid out important elements of a successful strategy, arguing that Jesus had a successful strategy, and THAT strategy is a model for successful, meaningful and joyful living.   It begins with a magnificent objective.   It proceeds by daily actions to achieve the objective.   It includes assembling necessary assets (in Jesus’ case, it was the people, and people are almost always an important asset.)

The enactment of Jesus’ strategy included wisdom in its prosecution.   Politics is sometimes defined as “the art of the possible.”     Sailboats must sometimes “tack;” that is, sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind.   When sailing against the wind, the sailor must set his sails at an angle which is partially in the direction he wants to go.   If he wants to sail west (and into the wind), he might sail Southwest for a time; then change course to northwest.   At the proper angles the sails will fill and propel the boat more or less toward the goal.   So it is in achieving in life.   Sometimes we must be adroit and artful, courteous and diplomatic; understanding and empathetic, taking our time to “get there.”

The “mini-goals” and the main goal must be pursued with un-relenting determination.

For Jesus, the cause was bigger than He was.   For Him, to live in that authentic and “God pleasing” manner was more important than ease, comfort, fame or even life itself.     And what Jesus did, has been inspiring and life-changing for the hundreds of millions who have followed Him, including not only Christians, but some have been and are Jews, Buddhists, and those of no religion.     Millions can sing “He lives in my heart.”

So, for us, too, there needs to be a GREAT PURPOSE or life objective.   We need a great strategy for living.

We also need to assemble the right assets: developing our talents and learning, enlisting allies, and marshaling personal, inter-personal and spiritual resources. Like Jesus, we need unrelenting perseverance, and 10,000 hours practice. And, it is so much easier if (as is sung in the hymn)   “Jesus is all the World to me….”

3/8/15

We are into the classic Christian observation of Lent.   Lent comes from an old English word for springtime.   The lenten season is a time of introspection and listening….for the still, small voice of the Spirit within each of us.

Lent is culminated in RESURRECTION DAY (Easter) on April five.   Then we celebrate the ultimate victory of life over death.   We celebrate our faith in the ultimate triumph of the good over evil.   We see the emergence of life, as what appears to be “dead” plants sprout new leaves and blossoms, and reproductive animals bring forth a new generation, each of its own kind.

As Christians we look to Jesus, that special Rabbi whose greatness and power were such that His contemporaries called him “Lord,” and the community gathered about him and in his memory, called him “Son of God,” “Lord of Lords,” “God from God,” “Light from light,” “Our judge,” “Our hope.”   We see that the animating Mind, Purpose, and Spirit of Jesus at work even in our modern world.

“Christ” was not Jesus’ surname.   His surname was “bar Joseph.”   Christ was a title given him by followers.   It was the highest title they could conceive.   It meant someone who had been anointed as a King or priest.   For most of us in this time “Christ” means that divine inward spark and purpose and mind that we can experience in our own souls.   It is so much easier for us to understand it as personified by Jesus.  This “mystery” can never be quantified.

Thus, Jesus’ words– “I am in you as you are in me.” (John 15:4),   “As the Father has sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21), “Where I go you know, and you know the way;” (John 14:4), “I will be with you always.” (Matt 28:23)—are easy for us to internalize, to form mental pictures, and inspire us.

Many Christian hymns are love songs to Jesus: In our “hearts” and at this level of mind we recognize that Jesus is with us IN SPIRIT; but, it is comforting to sing this great poetry, to express our feelings of love and our commitment to a new and better way of life.   We can literally feel the Presence of God and the Mind of Christ.   We can be and are renewed, made clean, made strong, and filled with joy in “the inner man.”   That is why worship is important, and also why we become motivated to truly be the “brothers and sisters” of Christ who was “the first born of many brothers.”

Veteran’s Day

As a 13 year old boy, I took the Boy Scout Oath and the Scout Law.   I recited: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country; to help other people at all times, to obey the Scout Law and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

The Scout Law followed: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, friendly, cheerful, thrifty, obedient, brave. clean and reverent.”

My Boy Scout experience was a foundation stone for building my life.   It has made my life much better than it otherwise might have been.

After the same manner, young men and women who join aour Armed Services take an oath: I (name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against al enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, So help me God.

After the same fashion, there is the U.S. SOLDIERS CREED.   It reads as follows:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a warrior and a member of a team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I will always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America, in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American Way of Life.

I am an American soldier.

Let it here be recognized that these men and women of arms deserve our respect and ongoing support. On this Veterans Sunday, let us salute them and promise them OUR respect and support.

Secrets to a Long Marriage

Lately I have been asked, “How does one stay married for 60 years?” My lady and I are in Iowa celebrating our 60th Anniversary. How DOES one remain married so long? Truthfully, I can only answer this from the point of view of a male, Protestant American. First you get married young and you live to be old. And you must practice patience, forgiveness, determination, and a willingness to grow and change in your love. Above all, grow in your love.

Second, you must learn to fight fair. In all marriages, there are disagreements. Fighting fair means sticking to the issue and not introducing exaggerated things about your mate’s attitudes, family, his/her behavior or statements. Sometimes one must forgive huge transgressions; but forgive we must.

Take 3-4 day “mini-moons”; to get away for revival! Renew your love and your FREINDSHIP!

Play together. Don’t be afraid to work together.

Support your spouse through terrible times of great stress from career change, illness or depression. Simply forget yourself and do what needs to be done for your “other”. Do it with grace, love and patience. Try to put yourself in his/her place.

Keep no secrets from one another about job pressure, financial problems, romantic attraction to someone else or terrible weights.

Have a friend or other friends, and do things with him/her that are special to that friendship. I have gone away for a few days each year for many years to play golf with my pal.

Sometimes, of course, marriages do grow apart and marriages fail. Divorce may be the kinder and better road than continuing a bad marriage. If that is the best answer, do it with respect, courtesy and grace. Throw out your anger, defensiveness or judgment.

For Bev and me, having a long marriage meant being Christians (as best we could be). It meant being “regular” at church attendance, and being “tithers;” that is, giving 10% of our taxable income to the church. During the several years I experienced a “burn out” in the ministry, we were involved in the church in the same way as were laymen. Tithing can be a difficult challenge. Because of that difficulty I have never pushed others to do it. However, I do know it has helped us in our effort to be Christ-filled people.

Love God, love each other, and practice courtesy, kindness, and generosity to everyone.

Voice From Within

This past week I heard a young man who had been a Pastor in Louisiana, give his testimony. He had studied the Bible very carefully, and had come to the discovery that there are untenable contradictions in the Bible. Because he is an honest man, he forthrightly proclaimed that he had lost is faith and is now an Atheist. In his small town in LA, this brings rejection, insults and abuse. He is now a pariah. How sad. His new Atheist friends have been kind to him, and have reassured him.

He had learned some things that all mainline Protestant ministers know: different historians writing on the same subject and at different times are often contradictory, just as some books in the library contradict others. So it is in the Bible. The Bible as the “Word of God” means that a divine message can be found in it.

He had not learned some things that religion is about meanings, values, relationships, conduct, and faith (meaning “trust” more that “belief.”) He had not learned that at the Heart of it all is Mystery, Holy Mystery. Science presents far better tools for understanding physics, astronomy, biology, paleontology, etc. But nothing in science contradicts liberal religion.

As seeking, learning, growing Christians we must always remain humble about what we know. Often today’s “truth” is disproven and replaced tomorrow by a more accurate understanding. At one point in my life, I taught science. Science heightened my appreciation of our universe, and the mystery and wonder at the heart of it.

In the Christian scriptures, we read “God is love: God is spirit,” God can be seen and felt in others. We learn that keys to happiness in life are in our internal lives and in our relationships with each other. Be in an attitude of thankfulness and appreciation as much as is possible. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Respect others. Respect your own body and mind. Hold on to the resoluteness of Jesus. Live so that your death will be a door to a new dimension. (Scriptures call it “the resurrection.”)

Rabbi Jesus promised abundant living to all those who enter in the kind of relationship He had with God (the eternal source of life and light.) Abundant living is not all about “getting all you can and canning all you get.” Abundant living is about appreciation of everything and everyone in your life. It is about escaping worry by working at solving whatever problem causes the worry. It is about generosity and giving. It is about faith in yourself and faith in others. It is about laughing a lot. It is about playing hard, praying with reverence, singing and dancing, and “listening for the still, small voice within!”

Abundant Living

This past week I heard a young man who had been a Pastor in Louisiana, give his testimony. He had studied the Bible very carefully, and had come to the discovery that there are untenable contradictions in the Bible. Because he is an honest man, he forthrightly proclaimed that he had lost is faith and is now an Atheist. In his small town in LA, this brings rejection, insults and abuse. He is now a pariah. How sad. His new Atheist friends have been kind to him, and have reassured him.

He had learned some things that all mainline Protestant ministers know: different historians writing on the same subject and at different times are often contradictory, just as some books in the library contradict others. So it is in the Bible. The Bible as the “Word of God” means that a divine message can be found in it.

He had not learned some things that religion is about meanings, values, relationships, conduct, and faith (meaning “trust” more that “belief.”) He had not learned that at the Heart of it all is Mystery, Holy Mystery. Science presents far better tools for understanding physics, astronomy, biology, paleontology, etc. But nothing in science contradicts liberal religion.

As seeking, learning, growing Christians we must always remain humble about what we know. Often today’s “truth” is disproven and replaced tomorrow by a more accurate understanding. At one point in my life, I taught science. Science heightened my appreciation of our universe, and the mystery and wonder at the heart of it.

In the Christian scriptures, we read “God is love: God is spirit,” God can be seen and felt in others. We learn that keys to happiness in life are in our internal lives and in our relationships with each other. Be in an attitude of thankfulness and appreciation as much as is possible. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Respect others. Respect your own body and mind. Hold on to the resoluteness of Jesus. Live so that your death will be a door to a new dimension. (Scriptures call it “the resurrection.”)

Rabbi Jesus promised abundant living to all those who enter in the kind of relationship He had with God (the eternal source of life and light.) Abundant living is not all about “getting all you can and canning all you get.” Abundant living is about appreciation of everything and everyone in your life. It is about escaping worry by working at solving whatever problem causes the worry. It is about generosity and giving. It is about faith in yourself and faith in others. It is about laughing a lot. It is about playing hard, praying with reverence, singing and dancing, and “listening for the still, small voice within!”

 

A Repeat Essay from the Past

Will Rogers was quoted as having said “I am not a member of an organized political party.   I am a Democrat.”

Irrespective of partisan politics, democracy may be messy, but it best respects people.   When any group of people gathers to discuss or decide most any question, there are differences of perspective and differences of opinion.     That is one of the reasons I love being a minister in the United Church of Christ.   In the UCC we debate many issues and we hold a variety of views.

But, these efforts are always to find the Mind of Christ, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

The Christian Church is in a transition period.   Is it our duty to venerate ancient culture, ancient values and ancient thought forms?   Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins, a biologist, has written books and articles attacking the idea of God, published several months ago in the WALL STREET JOURNAL. At the bottom of his argument however, is an attack on trying to use ancient views for contemporary understanding.   Before the solar system, or the atom, or microbes and viruses were known, mankind explained the world in ways unacceptable to knowledgeable people today. It is a huge challenge for “traditionalists” to hold that all spiritual truth was recognized in one ancient culture before there was scientific knowledge of the universe.

To me the Biblical declaration “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever” speaks of the unchanging power of divine love.   It does not mean that we must perpetuate ancient culture, ancient thought patterns, ancient language and ancient values. We must apply eternal principle to contemporary needs in relevant ways.

UCC believes that we ought not be prisoners committed to maintaining the ancient culture where women are uneducated chattels; nor should we uphold ancient culture where slavery was tolerated.   Even in the Holy Bible itself, Saint Paul writes of a slave that he should be content with his slavery! (Philemon 16)   Does this not fly in the very face of the notion of divine love that recognizes the dignity and worth of all people? That direction is culture conditioned; not eternal word!

While “the faith once delivered to the saints” may be the same from age to age, its understanding must always be in terms of the contemporary age and culture.   As the poet wrote “new occasions teach new duties.”   That is why justice is so important to UCC Christians.