Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking towards Sunday; Sunday, June 24

Scripture for this Sunday: Mark 4:35-41

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

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Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Father’s Day 2018

Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 6:1-9.

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

This Sunday we will celebrate our fathers, and contributions that our father and father figures makes to the society.

Happy Father’s Day!

NIV2010 Deuteronomy 6: These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

May God add God’s Blessing
to Reading, Hearing,
Understanding and Living of God’s Word

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Shrek: I can’t believe I’m going to be a father. How did this happen?

Puss: Senor! Allow me to explain. When a man has certain feelings for a woman… a powerful urge sweeps over him.

Shrek: I know how it happened. I just can’t believe it.

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Happy Father’s Day! Being a father and a dad is emotionally and physically taxing. Being a father and a dad is complicated.

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I think that being a dad is about creating a path, a vision for the next generation, passing that vision and the love of God onto them and letting them run with it.

We are making these paths with our own footprints. Every family is unique, and every family lays out these unique paths for their children based on their own interactions with God.

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Amazon has an answer to everything and parenting is no exception. Amazon sells books about raising an eco-friendly child, a gluten-free child, and even a disease-proof child. There are guides to teaching children a second language, financial skills, and how to spark their interest in sciences. There is pretty much a guide on how to raise every kind of child.

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The authors who wrote these books mean well. But taken together, these books point to a trend in our society: a trend of anxiety about rearing future generations. I think that as a society we are paralyzed by much anguish and confusion when it comes to raising children. Humans have successfully raised children for thousands of years, long before Amazon was selling books by the gross. So, what causes this anxiety?

Roles of fathers and mothers have changed in the last 100 years. The roles of our children have changed as well.

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There has been a major shift in the way we live our lives. Until recently, children worked. They worked on our farms, in the factories, mills, mines, and stables. Kids were economic assets.

Child labor was not ethical, but it was reciprocal and shared. Parents provided food, clothing, protection, shelter, and moral guidance to their children, and children in return helped their families’ economic standing and survival.

Sometime between 1890 and 1930, as a society we recognized that children have rights, and we put an end to this arrangement.

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Child labor was banned, we focused on education instead, and school became a child’s new work. That is a good thing! This path paid out great dividends. We have people in this congregation with transplanted organs and artificial joints. There are human footprints on the moon, and soon there will be human footprints on Mars. We have little devices that allow us to communicate in real time with anyone anywhere on earth. We can safely fly across the country in less than 6 hours, a trip that used to take months. None of that would be possible without education.

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When children stopped working, the economics of parenting changed. I know it sounds harsh, but in the words of Viviana Zelizer[1], children became “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”

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Today sending kids to school is no longer enough. Today, extracurricular activities are a child’s second job, which in turn keeps moms and dads extra busy. Someone must drive the little tyke to soccer practice and music lessons, not to mention that homework needs to be supervised and checked. // (Illustration}

Today, the middle class pours a lot of time, energy and resources into their kids, even though the middle class has less and less of those things to give due to the socio-economic cycle that our country is currently in.

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Earlier I said that being a dad is complicated. I said that being a dad is about creating a path, a vision for the next generation, passing that vision along with the love of God onto them, and letting them run with it.

None of us have a crystal ball. We do not know what the future holds. That means that we do not know what portion of our wisdom is going to be useful to our children.

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The prophet Joel said it this way, “1:2 Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? 3 Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.”

{Illustration}

The point I am trying to make is that because we do not have a crystal ball, as a society we strive to prepare our children for every possible kind of future, hoping that just one of our efforts will pay off. We teach our kids chess, thinking maybe they will need analytical skills. We sign them up for team sports, thinking maybe they will need collaborative skills when they are accepted into Harvard Business School. We try to teach them to be financially savvy and science-minded and eco-friendly and gluten-free.

As a result, fatherhood is not for the faint of heart. Today fathers spend more time with their kids than their fathers ever spent with them. They work more paid hours, on average, and the fathers that I know genuinely want to be good, involved dads.

Like I said earlier, it is complicated. And when we are with God, all things are possible.

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Our legacy is what we will pass on to future generations. The good news of the Gospel, a relationship with Jesus, the ability to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, is not something that is automatically absorbed by breathing the air around us. This faith must be passed on and encouraged. 

The most important thing that fathers can do for their children and for future generations is to demonstrate our faith by our lifestyle and practice, by consistency between what we teach and do, and how we live out each day in the world and at home, while working, shopping, in school, at play, on vacation, in the restaurant, wherever we find ourselves. Faith is important is because when we are with God, all things are possible.

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In verses 6 through 9 of today’s reading we heard, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

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  • Be consistent and honest in your own relationship with God.

  • Be consistent and honest in your love.

  • Be Consistent in Discipline.

  • Broaden Their Cultural Horizons.

  • Serve Others Together.

  • Help Them Learn to Stay with Hard Things – nothing worthwhile is easy.

  • Celebrate Right Behavior.

  • Share Your Personal Stories.

[1] Viviana A. Rotman Zelizer is a sociologist and the Lloyd Cotsen ’50 Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. She is a prominent economic sociologist who focuses on the attribution of cultural and moral meaning to the economy. A constant theme in her work is economic valuation of the sacred, as found in such contexts as life insurance settlements and economic transactions between sexual intimates. In 2006 she was elected to the PEN American Center and in 2007 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Thinking Towards Sunday; June 17, 2018; Father’s Day in the United States of America

Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 6:1-9.

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate notes for Sunday’s Message; Mark 3:20-35

Scriptures for this Sunday are:  Mark 3:20-35

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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{Link to the commercial on YouTube}

Apple had a commercial in 1997. The tag line for the commercial was “Think different.” In the commercial they showed a collage of photographs and film footage of people who have invented and inspired, created and sacrificed to improve the world, to make a difference. They showed Bob Dylan, Amelia Earhart, John Lennon, Frank Lloyd Wright, Maria Callas, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Henson, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Mahatma Gandhi, Jerry Seinfeld, and Thomas Edison, among others. In the background the viewers heard this poem:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them,
glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.

While some may see them
as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough
to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

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NIV2010 Mark 3: 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

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The Contemporary English Version says, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.”

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There is a saying that those who dance seem crazy to those who cannot hear the music. What Jesus set out to do seemed crazy to those who were invested in the status quo.

It only stands to reason that Jesus’ followers, those who make a choice to be his disciples, are called and challenged to be just as crazy as Jesus.

First, I want to say that I do not want it to seem that I am judging the Holy Mother and the rest of the family. They had a reason to be concerned. Just listen to some of the ideas that Jesus taught:

  • “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

  • “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).

  • Those the world called worthless and inferior, Jesus called blessed.

  • Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit.

  • Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate.

  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice might prevail.

  • Blessed are those who work for peace.

  • Blessed are you when you are persecuted just for trying to love and do what is good.

  • Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.

  • Jesus even prayed for those who killed him, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”

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We live at a time when we need Christians that are as crazy as Jesus. We need Christians that are crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to be assertive like Jesus, to be patient like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.

We need Christians who are crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something that resembles the dream that God has for it.

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Jesus calls us to “craziness.” The life of Mary Magdalene illustrates such craziness.

Think back to the crucifixion of Jesus. Crucifixion was the Roman Empire’s way to brutally execute those who dared to commit crimes against the state. It was public torture. It was designed to send a message that civil and political disobedience would not be tolerated. For any supporter or follower of the person being crucified, it was dangerous to be at the site of the execution. The rational and sensible thing to do was to go into hiding or even exile.

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Peter, Andrew, James (the son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (the son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot were not at the Cross. Out of all the men and women who followed Jesus, only Mary Magdalene was at the foot of the Cross.

{There were others, but she was the only one from among the followers of Jesus}

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Being a follower of Jesus means striving to change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends for all of us; it means striving to be the best version of what we were created to be. And sometimes that means marching to the beat of a different drummer. Sometimes that means caring when we don’t want to care, or standing up when others sit down. Sometimes it means speaking up when others shut up. Sometimes it means keeping your mouth shut when everybody wants to yell.

Sane, sanitized, gentrified, and domesticated Christianity is killing us. It worked in the 1950s and 1960s, but it no longer works. We need crazy Christians who dare to “Think Different.”

We need some crazy Christians today:

  • Christians who are willing not only to be involved in but also engaged in outreach.

  • Christians crazy enough to believe that the love of God is greater than all the powers of evil and death.

  • Christians crazy enough to believe that children don’t have to go to bed hungry or to be separated from their parents.

  • Christians crazy enough to believe that there is a way to lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside; that, “there’s plenty good room in my Father’s kingdom” (old gospel song), because every human being has been created in the image of God, and we are all equally children of God and meant to be treated as such.

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

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Jesus does not call us to overthrow our religious, cultural, or societal norms. But Jesus consistently unsettled and redirected the values of his time, and challenges us to do the same in our time.

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We need crazy Christians who recognize that the old values are NOT necessarily flawed simply because they are old or established. But we need crazy Christians who recognize God’s presence in the world, manifested through Jesus’ teachings and the Holy Spirit’s actions. We need crazy Christians who recognize that God repeatedly and consistently upends conventional assumptions about what is “real” and what is “normal.” God upends these values not to change them for change’s sake, but so we might reconsider just how they can be authentic manifestations of who God is and how God can be known in the time and place that we live.

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Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them,
glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do
is ignore them.

Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
While some may see them
as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough
to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; June 10, 2018

Scriptures for this Sunday are:  1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20; Mark 3:20-35

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Graduation Sermon; Updated for 2018

This Sunday we will celebrate and honor our graduates.

Scripture for this Sunday: Ephesians 2:4-10; Philippians 1:3-11

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

We will also celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion

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{ { {    Updated for 2018 } } }

To all of our graduates: Congratulations!

You have worked hard to get here. You have completed a set of academic requirements and you have taken tests to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Your graduation celebrates a destination point in your life’s journey.

This graduation is a short season in your life that celebrates your hard work, your perseverance and your achievements. Savor this time; may it inspire and empower you for what comes next.

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There are moments in life when we stand at the crossroads between the ending of what has been and the beginning of what is yet to come. You are at such a juncture in your lives, and it is one of many that you will face on your journey through life. What you will become in the future depends to a large degree on what you do next. Your graduation is a process of something new being brought into existence. That “something new” is you and what you will become.

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Your graduation is a new beginning in your exciting but not trouble-free journey. Have faith in God, have faith in yourselves, have faith in your abilities; don’t be afraid to think and you will be OK.

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When I set out to write this message I was driven by this question: What would have made the biggest difference in my life if I knew it at the time that I graduated high school, from college, from seminary? I made an attempt to answer this question through the lens of what I know is happening in the world now.

You are inheriting a complex world. Whatever the level of your education is at graduation in 2018 (High School, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate), your class, and a few classes that preceded you and will follow you, will have to deal with a very different world than your parents and grandparents dealt with.

To give a few examples,

  • UBER is a software company. UBER does not own a single taxi or employ a single driver, yet they are the biggest taxi service in the world.

  • The forecast is that in the next 30-40 years there will be 90% less lawyers and paralegals because most of the research will be automated.

  • Driverless cars are not as “science fiction” as they were 20 years ago. Can you imagine the world where you will never own a car, do not need a driver’s license, and do not pay for car maintenance or insurance. Can you imagine a world where fields are ploughed or crops are planted and harvested by self-guiding equipment?

  • By 2022 electric cars will become mainstream.

  • Production of renewable electricity has been rising for 30 years. In the last 2-3 years, more solar energy was produced worldwide than fossil. In the next 15 years the price for solar will drop so much that most coal companies will be out of business by 2025 (7 years from now). Can you imagine what it will do to the cost of desalination of water, and what having an abundance of clean water will do around the world?

  • Robotics are becoming more and more advanced. Pretty soon you will be able to walk into a restaurant, talk to an “R2D2” who will take your order, bring your food, make sure that your water is replenished and process your payment on the spot.

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The point I am trying to make is that tens of millions of jobs will be replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks, self-piloting transport ships, fully automated eateries and stores. That is just the tip of the iceberg, we cannot even imagine what the big changes will be. What you will call “work” in 10 or 15 or 20 years will be very different from what your grandparents or my generation called “work.” All of us need to be able to adapt.

That does not mean that there will be no jobs. That means that jobs and what we call “work” will be fundamentally different from jobs and what we call work today. It will not happen overnight; it will be a gradual process.

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Never stop learning, because life should be a never-ending quest for self-improvement. We need to develop skills that transform data into information, which in turn help us to act and react to changes in the world. More than ever, our society today needs people who know how to be compassionate and how to relate. More than ever, our society needs people with skills that are not only cognitive and technical but also emotional and relational. Be diligent in developing your emotional and relational skills and intelligence. One of the signs of education is the ability to consider different points of view without espousing them as your own.

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In Philippians 1:9-11 Paul writes, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

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I am not telling you anything new here. Lots of things that your grandparents’ generation took for granted, your parents’ generation was unsure of because the rate of change in our society is rapid and it is increasing every day. It is nothing new; the world has always been changing. What is new, however, is the rate of that change. Just fifty years ago someone was considered to be illiterate if he or she could not read and write. In our society today, the ability to read and write is assumed. In our society today, the illiterate are not those who cannot read or write, the illiterate are now those who do not know how to learn, unlearn and relearn new skills, who do not know how to reinvent themselves with changing circumstances.

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In the Gospel of John chapter 3 we learn about Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of darkness, and what he was concerned about was that Jesus’ teachings were turning his world upside down. Jesus’ teachings challenged what Nicodemus believed to be right, true and beautiful.

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Jesus taught that we need to allow the Holy Spirit into our lives (“you must be born again, you must be born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:6-7, paraphrase), whereas what Nicodemus aspired to and knew up to that point was how to perform rituals and to navigate complexities and intricacies of doctrines. In the end we know that Nicodemus was able to learn what Jesus was teaching him. Nicodemus was with Joseph of Arimathea when they claimed Jesus’ body (John 19:39). Nicodemus was able to change his life based on the new understanding. Learn from Nicodemus. Be proactive and open to letting God into your lives. Allow yourself to be born-again as your circumstances change.

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{Illustration}

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That brings me to the next point. So far your experience has taught you that knowledge is having the “right” answer to the question in front of you; that is how you passed all your tests and exams. Today I want to make a point that education is not about having the “right” answer but about ability to engage the process that will get us to the answer.

Allow me to use an example; it is contrived but it makes a point. Let’s say I want to know how high the Cross on our steeple is. Some of you know that answer because you were part of this church when it was built, let’s say that the answer is 70 feet. Education is about knowing how to think, and knowing how to think empowers you far beyond knowing what to think or what the “right” answer is. In my illustration, education is about someone walking out of this building, measuring the length of the shadow of the church, measuring the length of the shadow that they themselves cast and using a ratio to figure out an approximate answer.

So far your experience has taught you that education comes from books and college degrees. Today I want to suggest to you that books and college degrees are only pathways to open your minds and encourage you to learn. Your formal education gave you a glimpse of the tools available to you to help you learn and to think. Embrace new experiences, learn from different ideas whether you agree with them or not, travel often, expose yourselves to new ideas, learn from all people and be open to positive influences from our exciting world. Strive to enrich your mind, expand your thinking and elevate your language. These are some of the ways that God guides you.

Knowledge is a platform, a taking off point to develop your intelligence. Intelligence is about facing a problem and asking the right questions, questions that will help you to find a solution. Be diligent about developing that kind of intelligence.

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You were raised and educated in the era of instant messaging, instant coffee and instant stars from reality TV. All that “instant” stuff makes it difficult for many of us to be patient and to remember the benefits of long-term thinking. One of the things that you will need to develop in your lives is the ability to think strategically, to focus on what is important, and concentrate your energy on accomplishing your goals.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul writes, “… we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works …”

In conclusion I want to share a couple of final points that I picked up in the course of my life’s journey.

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  • Earlier I encouraged you to build knowledge and to develop your intelligences. I stand by that. I also want to suggest that perseverance and resilience is far more important than knowledge or intelligences in accomplishing your long-term goals. It is also important to know when to say “when.” Some goals may prove to be irrelevant or not achievable.

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  • There is no substitute for hard work, but we should not only work hard, we should work smart! Albert Einstein was fond of saying, “Doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for different results is the definition of insanity.” Don’t be insane.

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  • Meaning is rarely found within ourselves. Success is rarely complete or satisfying when we do things just for ourselves or for our family. I want to encourage you to think about this and do something for others, be part of something that is inherently bigger than yourself. Do not allow others to turn your idealism into cynicism — every one of us can and should strive to change the world for the better!

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  • I am not saying that money is unimportant or irrelevant. But I also want you to know that money, power and fame are NOT a true measure of success. The most influential person in Western culture is Jesus. Jesus was not an earthly king, or industrial tycoon or a movie celebrity; while living his earthly life among us, Jesus was a carpenter. Yet, His life affected all of ours.

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Every generation has its defining stories. To give a few examples:

  • Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon less than 50 years ago (1969).

  • The American Civil Rights struggle (roughly 1955 – 1968) officially ended racial segregation and inequality (at least took a bite out of it) in our country.

  • The Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression between 1931 and 1936.

  • Suffragists won the right for women to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 19, 1920.

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These accomplishments represent years of struggle, debate, and a sense of purpose for all those involved. These achievements defined their respective generations and became a part of our national DNA. They gave our country a sense of accomplishment and pride and proved that we can do great things.

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Now it is your turn to do great things. No one knew how to land a man on the moon, or how to achieve equality, or to build a dam as large as the Hoover Dam when they started. Ideas do not come out fully defined and formed. You hone your ideas by being diligent and by making the necessary adjustments along the way. You just have to start.

I know that I have dumped a lot of information on you today and I realize that it is hard for you to process everything that we talked about today. That is why I printed copies of this message for each of you; I hope that each of you will take it and read it every few years. I pray that it will help you to evaluate where you are on your life’s journey.

I hope and pray that you find the courage to live your lives in such a way that you are a blessing to your neighbors and to future generations.

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Never stop growing in wisdom and always strive to understand.

Thinking towards Sunday 6/3/2018; Scriptures

This Sunday we will celebrate and honor our graduates.

Scripture for this Sunday: Ephesians 2:4-10; Philippians 1:3-11

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

We will also celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion

Thinking Towards Sunday; Memorial Day Sunday

Scripture for Memorial Day: Psalm 91.

You can read this Psalm here: {NIV and ESV}

Pentecost Sunday: News Reel; Pentecost Message Illustrations’ supporting docs

I use these examples during the message. If you want to know more, use these links.

  1. {Click ME}  – “‘My next call is to ICE!’: A man flipped out because workers spoke Spanish at a Manhattan deli”

  2. {Click Me}Shooting in Santa Fe High School

  3. Traditions and divergence from tradition at the Royal Wedding last weekend (just ask Uncle Google)

Approximate Notes for the Sunday’s Message; Pentecost 2018

NIV2010 Genesis 11: Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

May God add God’s Blessing
to Reading, Hearing, Understanding and
Living of God’s Word

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The scripture from Genesis that we just heard, the story of the Tower of Babel, seems like a strange scripture to read on the Day of Pentecost.

But there is a method to my madness. The reason I started with that Scripture is because it describes what is happening in our country and culture right now.

You cannot go anywhere without hearing people arguing about politics and about our cultural and religious institutions. I hear people talking about how bad things are, how terrible everything is. It is everywhere.

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We are divided across racial, gender, ethnic, generational, socio-economic, and cultural lines. These divisions make it easy to become jaded and cynical; to lose the fire and wonder of God’s love and grace.

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As long as I have lived in this country, we have been taught to avoid talking about politics and religion. That led to a certain lack of understanding of politics and religion. We have generations of men and women who have never been taught how to have a civil conversation about these difficult topics.

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As a result, when we have those discussions, we listen with the intent to respond instead of listening with the intent to understand each other. Because of that, many conversations end in upset and angry feelings instead of empathetic understanding. Too many of us, citizens of this country who pledge allegiance to the same flag, make a choice to refuse to hear opinions that are different from our own. We may all speak the same language, but our emotions are so confused that our language may as well be different.

Civil conversations start with the realization that we cannot change someone’s point of view. Rather, the reason we hold conversations is so we can understand a point of view that is different than our own, even if we don’t agree with it. Notice I did not say, change our minds, internalize it, and make it central to our lives; I said understand.

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Hysteria is defined as an exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement or agitation, especially among a group of people. I think that what is happening in our culture is that we learned to meet “other” opinions and points of view with an exaggerated and uncontrollable burst of emotions; hysteria is met with more hysteria and it becomes a vicious circle. When that happens, we all lose.

As Christians, we are not supposed to match such uncontrollable emotions or even get locked into resisting or pushing against them. What we must do, however, is to see this moment in time for what it is. It is a phase in the life of our culture, it is a phase in the life of our country, and we will get through it. As Christians, we are called to see through it and then transcend it by focusing on what God is doing. That is how we will overcome the vicious sniping, the trolling, the mean-spirited partisanship on both sides of the aisle.

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And that brings me to the second Scripture from Acts 2.

NIV2010 Acts 2: 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

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It is impossible to hear the story of Pentecost and not be blown away by God’s wish to include all people, every nation in his Creation. Beginning with a small group of Galilean Jews, the Church that Jesus came to establish and to commission is characterized and defined by its love, its inclusiveness and its diversity. Listen again to how diverse was the crowd that morning: “9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs…”

God sent his Holy Spirit to break down the barriers that divide us.

To accomplish that, God gave his followers the ability to communicate across cultural and ethnic barriers.

In our context, God sent his Holy Spirit to men and to women, to young and to old, to those who speak English like Queen Elizabeth of England and like Granny Clampett, to those who speak Spanish and Russian, and Arabic and Farsi.

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We serve God who calls us to be his ambassadors of love, and through the coming of His Spirit calls us to wait with hope, to go out and declare His goodness in such a way that everyone can be included. The Holy Spirit of Pentecost challenges us to transcend our cynicism and to transcend our jadedness, to open our hearts to the new voice rising like a fierce wind.

Open hearts lead to open minds and open doors. We are surrounded by a community that is very different from us, it represents people from all corners of God’s Creation. And yet, we are all children of God. When we hear the story of Pentecost from Acts 2, it tells us that the Holy Spirit came for us and for them. It is our challenge to learn to listen to what they have to offer, to value their stories and experiences, and to build bridges between our experiences and theirs so together we can make this world a better place.

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 20, 2018; Pentecost Sunday

This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Pentecost.

Scriptures for this Sunday: Genesis 11:1-9.

I will also use Acts 2 in the message preparation.

You can read these Scriptures at this link: {NIV and ESV}

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 13, 2018; Mothers’ Day in USAmerica

This coming Sunday, we will celebrate Mother’s Day.

Scripture for this Sunday: 1 Kings 3:16-28. You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Word of the Day

Suffoncified: Satisfied or satiated, particularly in appetite.

Approx. Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, April 15, 2018; Acts 3:1-10

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Acts 3:1-10

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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It is impossible to say everything that is worth saying about today’s reading in one sermon. There are layers upon layers of meaning there.

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The man that was healed in today’s reading had been deformed since birth (Acts 3:2). After healing, his legs were so strong that he was able to walk and jump. Peter made it clear that the healing happened only by the power of the name of Jesus (Acts 3:12, 16).

The lame man was a wise business man. He had staff, or friends, who situated him each day at the Beautiful Gate outside the Temple, so he would have the best chance of receiving alms from those entering the Temple (Acts 3:2). I wonder how much energy they had to expend to defend and protect their spot from other beggars. He begged outside the Temple from those going inside. He was a fixture, but he was not there as part of the worshiping community. All he wanted was their money and charity. Peter had to say to him, “Look at us!”

In the NIV translation of the Bible the whole story is approximately 200 words. When we read the story, it is tempting to think that everything happened in a span of 10-15 minutes or so.

I do not think that this is correct.

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I think that when Peter and John encountered the lame man, they indeed told him that they did not have money to give him, but they could offer him Jesus. I think that they spent some time (days, maybe even weeks) listening to the man, understanding his plight and his hopes – I think that this is the “Look at us!” part of today’s reading. I think that they had a chance to develop a relationship with him and I think that they trusted that he was open and willing to make changes in his life, and was not going to waste the gift of God’s Grace and healing. They prepared him to encounter God face-to-face.

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There is a saying that holding on is like believing that there is only the past; letting go and moving on is recognizing that there is also a future. Peter and John took the time to understand what the lame man was holding on to, and then they helped him to imagine a different future. The healing came when the man was ready.

After the man was healed, we hear that “he went with [Peter and John] into the Temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8).

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To enter the Temple, the man had to show himself to the priests and to undergo a cleansing ritual. We know that because in Luke 5:14, Jesus commanded a man healed from leprosy to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” {Also check out Leviticus 14, aft.} That would take some time. That is why I think that there is more to this story than meets the eye at first glance.

After the healing, the man went from sitting outside the Temple to freely moving inside it; the man went from being an outsider to being part of worshiping community. He went from living off of the charity of others to being a contributing member.

Church, do you hear me! Worship brings us closer to God; the Grace of God offers all of us healing. The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.

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As a church we are called to listen to our neighbors, to understand their plight, to find commonalities, and when we have built relationships, offer them opportunities to interact with God and a place to belong and to heal. By and large, most of the churches that I know are eager to offer lunch or financial assistance, but get strangely timid when it comes to offering Jesus. We offer pamphlets instead of personal testimonies.

I can totally relate to that. I used to be an outsider. You cannot be more of an outsider to the Church than an atheist. Something happened, and I experienced God. Many men and women from Gloucester County Community Church, and then from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church, loved and cared enough to give me place to belong and to grow. They gave me Jesus.

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Many of us came to Jesus because somebody took the time to meet us outside the “Temple,” to spend enough time with us so that we were willing to “look at them” and to hear them, and then helped us to experience God’s grace.

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In Memoriam: Charlotte May McLeod

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It is with a deep sense of regret I am posting this to let everyone know of passing of Mrs. Charlotte McLeod.

Her obituary is posted at this link {Click Me to go to the Gebhart Funeral Homes Website}

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