Monday, December 31, 2012

Hard But Worth It

Yesterday I watched as the Dallas Cowboys football team lost their bid for the playoffs to a Washington Redskins team led by a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back.  For those of you not into football, experience is a major factor in achieving your goals in the National Football League (NFL) and for these two rookies, it is amazing to see what they have accomplished.  I believe they are where they are because of 1) considerable natural talent, 2) hard work and 3) remaining focused on the task at hand.  Oh but if we could approach our pursuit of good things for our new year in the same way.

When I think of stories like the one above, I think truer, better and more important stories from Scripture which have been teaching us these virtues for a long time.  One such story is that of Paul.  Paul was possessed of 1) considerable natural talent (he was trained by the best), 2) great work ethic (it took time, dedication, energy, sacrifice and sweat to learn and become what he called a 'Pharisee of Pharisees') and 3) stubborn persistence (Paul pressed on toward the goal [for a while the wrong goal] well before he was called by God to be the greatest evangelist ever).  Paul applied these virtues toward the persecution of this new group called "the way" (i.e., the early Christian Church).  He followed them.  He watched them and participated in their persecution (see Acts 7:58).  But God has a way of calling us to higher purpose and better use of those traits that can be used for good or for bad.  God used the natural talent of Paul ... his knowledge of Scripture ... his ability to pursue logical argument ... his understanding of the Law and its dangers.  God used Paul's work ethic as the Holt Spirit inspired words like, "But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me." [Philippians 3:12].  God used Paul's dogged focus to give him strength to persist in places like prison, shipwrecked on an island, in court and pressed on every side (2 Corinthians 4:8) by troubles.

2013 will be a year when we can choose to stay the course, go backward or go forward.  Staying the course will be easy ... just do nothing and next New Year's day we can wonder why our world has the same issues and problems.  Going backward is simple ... just revert to behaviors and practices that have brought us down every year up till now.  Or ... just maybe ... we can go forward.  We can embrace and apply our natural talent God gives us all to do His work (these are called Spiritual Gifts [1 Corinthians 12]).  We can do the hard work of (every day) making hard choices, putting one foot in front of the other and reminding ourselves that following God isn't a microwave (instant) process, it is a crock pot (slow, persistent, methodical) process.  And, we can realize that we are called to "run with endurance the race the God has set before us [Hebrews 12:1]."  You don't have to be an experienced Christian to see results from this process.  You only need to be open, usable and willing.  In fact, you can be a rookie.  All God needs is your yes!  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Big and Small

Our Christmas Eve service revolved around a term from Scripture that is spoken of in the Pentateuch (the first five books of Scripture) and that is carried (thematically) through all of Scripture.  The Christmas term is Immanuel, meaning "God with us."  We really need God with us ... because we are the people Jesus spoke of when he said "Come all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest."  We need God with us when we are confused and need someone with an eternal perspective.  We need God with us when we have lost someone close to us.  We need God with us when a disaster has happened and we are just trying to survive.  We need God with us when we are "geographically-challenged" by being born in a place where God is not welcome or where someone who looks like me is oppressed.  We need God with us when we are tempted to enter back into an addiction and need a higher power to help us through one more day.  We need God with us when our teenage son or daughter is out of control and we need wisdom beyond our years.  We need God with us when we wait in the doctor's office for a diagnosis that might be hard news.  We need God with us when our adult children are struggling and we have helped all we can.  We need God with us when we just cannot forgive without God's power.  We need God with us when it is hard to pray.  And we need God with us when our choices have made us alone in this cold, hard world.

C.S. Lewis had an amazing image of God which is both Biblical and helpful.  He said God was the only power in the universe big enough to create the universe, direct the affairs of nations and princes and kings and yet make himself small enough to step down into our worst hurts and deepest miseries.  God with us came into the humility and lowliness of our world.  God with us lost friends to death.  God with us was chased by people who wanted to kill him.  God with us was beaten, spit on, insulted and nailed to a cross.  God with us laughed and cried.  God with us was a son ... a friend ... a preacher.  God with us walked hard roads and served the Father placing His (Jesus') interests below God's plan.  And God with us did something that only someone fully God and fully human could do ... he took all the sins of Adam's race upon himself.  This Christmas remember that God with us made a promise that should give us comfort when we hear that God has been sent out of places like schools, our nation, our halls of legislation and any other place that allegedly has had God 'removed.'  First, we have no power to remove God from any place God desires to be.  We can ignore God and God can chose to remove His Spirit, His blessing and His peace.  But we cannot do it.  Second, God has (in Matthew 28) told us He will be with us even unto the ends of the earth.  So ... carry Him in your heart.  Let Him into your workplace.  Invite Him into your day.  Let Him into the little things and the big things.  Watch for God with us in the comfort, bravery, grief, struggle and stories of places like Sandy Hook Elementary, 911, Afghanistan, the Mexican border, the inner city and the jungles of Brazil.  For where the brokenhearted are ... God is close by.  That gives me strength, comfort and calm.  God with us is as big or as small as He needs to be to meet us, lead us, save us and carry us to our destination with Him.  THAT ... is Good News.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Changes

OK ... usually we devote the blog entries to those things that might make you think ... about your relationship to God ... about your relationship to your church ... about things less logistical and more reflective.  Today we are going to change course for a week.  The reason for this is simple.  We (Good News and the Church in general) is charged with making meaningful connection to people so that we might introduce them to an amazing, holy and awesome God who is declaring His past/present/future reign constantly.  We make these connections in many ways including interpretation of Scripture, preaching, teaching, fellowship, sacrament and nurture.  In today's world we also make these connections through the communication systems in place today ... our website, the local newspaper and the tried-and-true word of mouth.  Sometimes being consistent in these communications requires us to have some continuity in what we do on a weekly basis.  Over the past several years a 'glitch' in this consistency has been our custom of having a joint worship service on the 5th Sundays which fall about every three months.

From a fellowship standpoint this has made some sense.  In practice, however, it has not done what we would have intended.  It has made communicating through our media outlets (website, newspaper, verbal) confusing and inconsistent.  It has created confusion for people who are visiting and have come to worship only to find that that particular Sunday there is only one service.  The 5th Sunday has been consistently our lowest attendance Sunday.  Finally, some of our people have been confused over whether the service will be traditional or contemporary.  So ... we will be making a change.

Beginning immediately we will have all Sunday worship follow our usual (and advertised) pattern.  Our traditional worship will be 8:50am each week and our contemporary worship will be at 11:00am.  This means that December 30th of 2012 we will have two normal worship services ... 8:50am and 11:00am.  For those who like their normal style of worship this should make life easier.  For those who can't keep the 5th Sunday idea in their heads or on the calendar, this should give you the comfort and consistency that every Sunday's pattern will be the same.  For those who might visit or be coming here for the 1st time, this should make their choice of worship services simple.

And remember ... we WILL be having our amazing Christmas Eve communion service at 5:30pm on December 24th (oddly enough, Christmas Eve).  I hope you will invite family and friends to this time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the promise of new life, the love of a giving God and the life that we are offered through one small child, born in Bethlehem.  Come and see the hope ... hear the songs ... and remember that night when everything changed.  Pastor Randy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Ever had a time in your life when you needed someone?  Someone who might be a bit wiser ... someone who has a different perspective ... someone who will tell you like it is ... someone who will say what needs to be said while being your best friend?  Those someones are very hard to find ... but Mary had someone.
The someone for Mary was her cousin Elizabeth.  Older ... dealing with issues of her own ... and someone who, at that very moment, was sharing an experience that would be part of this world-changing event we call Christmas.

Elizabeth lived about nine days journey from Nazareth where Mary lived.  Isn't it odd that Mary's family would allow her to make a nine-day journey through rough country to go and see Elizabeth?  I believe it says a lot about the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth.  The Bible calls Elizabeth barren in her old age ... Mary called Elizabeth friend and confidante.  These two women were both drawn together by relationship and pulled together by the common experience of what was about to happen.  Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist.  John would be in charge of announcing the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.  He would live an extraordinary life and die a horrible death, all in service to a God who could redeem all of it.  Elizabeth would give birth to John about six months before Jesus would be born, but Mary would spend months sharing stories, hearing her advice and receiving Elizabeth's encouragement.  I believe both women were blessed by their relationship. And their love and friendship was honored by God.

This part of a larger story reminds us the value of that someone in our lives who will love us no matter what and will share our deepest desires, our greatest failures, our biggest successes and our most painful hurts.  When you have a friend like that, never let them go.  Cherish them.  Hold them close.  Pray for and with them.  And be as good a friend to them as they are to you.

Sunday we will share some of this story and this great friendship as Mary is encouraged by Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is helped in her pregnancy by Mary as they both share part of the greatest story of all time.  We will learn about the Biblical meaning of 'blessed.'  We will learn that Elizabeth and John knew the identity of Jesus 10 days after conception (I think that baby was pretty viable at 10 days of life).  And we will learn not to ignore this story as we move through the Christmas season on our journey to the manger in Bethlehem.  Join us!

Monday, December 3, 2012

What I Couldn't Say

Those of you who were at church Sunday get the meaning of the title of this blog.  Truly, I couldn't talk ... a condition which came upon me quickly and got worse as the morning progressed.  I appreciate all of the help from Josh, Jerry, Leah and everyone who basically put up with my laryngitis attack.  It was difficult for me because I had lots of Mary and Nazareth facts to convey ... so this blog will, I hope, give you a start on our Christmas Journey through the characters and places of the first Christmas.

First, Mary ... 12 or 13 ... scared ... hearing the news from the angel that she was with child ... traveling to stay 3 months with Elizabeth (her formerly barren cousin, also pregnant with a child who would become John the Baptist) ... returning to Nazareth where she would have probably (at the very least) been an object of scorn and (at the most) could have been in danger for her life since she was pregnant and unmarried.  Her last statement in the story of the annunciation (the announcement by the angel that she would bear the Son of God) was "I am God's servant."  Pretty mature resolve for an early teen.

Then. Nazareth ... the site of a spring that became a town (reminds me of Isaiah's prophecy about "streams in the desert").  This town with a few hundred shepherds, laborers, workers and (according to John 1) folks with a poor reputation would become Jesus' boyhood home and the place where he would begin a Galilean ministry that would change the planet.  Nazareth was halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.  The people were generally poor and would have lived in simple shelters such as limestone caves.  It was a meek and humble beginning for our journey to Bethlehem.  The town's name might have come from the word 'netzer' which means sprout or shoot ... the growth from a chopped-down stump.  Some believe that the prophecy in Isaiah 11 ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;  from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lordand he will delight in the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:1) relates to this obscure name for Nazareth since Mary (thus Jesus) was from the lineage of Jesse, descended from King David.  Both the Northern Kingdom (Israel in 721 BC by Assyria) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah in 586 by Babylon) had been chopped to the ground, this prophecy was a hope that the nation of Israel would be restored.  It is interesting that this restoration comes from a lowly place and will take shape in a much different way than was expected.

As I take in and savor this story, I am reminded that God's great work happens in ways that we would never choose never expect.  Mary's comment about being God's servant reminds me, like Sunday when your preacher couldn't say much, that God doesn't need much to work with.  Just our willingness and our action (not so much our words, our knowledge or our resume').  As John 1 states, "could anything good come from Nazareth?"  I would say what the story of the annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) states ... "Nothing is impossible for God."