A New Year Day Any Day  
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 08:00 AM - Extra Christy
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Perhaps one of the reasons New Year resolutions don't work is that anything we can put off to the New Year is something that isn't really that important to us.

Will Shortz, the puzzlemaster on NPR's Weekend Edition, doesn't make New Year's resolutions because he believes that any day is a good day for self-improvement.

A New Year for you doesn't have to begin on January 1st. This week is the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ox (or Water Buffalo). You can have a new year any day you choose, just live in a new way.

Christianity is about newness and change. We don't have to wait until January 1st to do good and be better.

Happy New Year! Happy New You!

A New You Resolution

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."- Luke 19:5-9 (NIV)

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Change We Need 
Sunday, January 25, 2009, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Jonah 3

Pastor Christy reads the book of Jonah, the man who hated change.

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

Jonah is a short book. It is just four chapters, two pages in the Bible, but it traces a complete arc of one man's dealings with God's demands. Jonah is against change. The book with his name shows us how we deal with the demands for change in our own life, from God or otherwise.

Realize The beginning of working on a problem, or working on God's call is to realize that something is wrong. God takes notice of Nineveh. Jonah knows Nineveh, it was the big bully on the block at the time. God wanted Jonah to go and fix them. Later Jonah says he was afraid God would forgive them instead of destroy them. He wanted no part of the salvation of Nineveh, they did not deserve his help.

The problems are too big, there is nothing I can do, it will take care of itself. When we realize that we are have a part in the solution of the problem, that God has called us to make a difference in the world. We are on are way to the change we need.

Retreat The most common action after we realize we have a problem to work on, a call to go forward. Jonah runs the other way. Some put Tarshish is on the other side of the Mediterranean in present day Spain, west of Israel, while Nineveh is east. Others put Tarshish in South America near Buenos Aires. Far from Israel and Nineveh. I've meant many people who run away from the problems, literally, they move to another town, move to another church, move to another spouse instead of working on their problems. They bring their problems with them.

I remember talking to the police who pointed out that criminals never figure out that you can't outrun the radio. It is even tougher to go where God can't get you. As Psalm 139 sings, even if you take the wings of the morning to the furthest reaches of the earth will only find God there to greet you. If we make our bed in heaven or hell, we are still in God's hands.

Most of our problems are of our own making. Not the situation, but our reaction and response to the situation. This works out well for the only real thing we can change is ourselves. So fleeing from problems, either by distance or denial doesn't work for wherever we go, there we are. Running away just moves the problem, it does not escape it for you cannot outrun yourself.

Reproach Strangely, we can go right from retreat to reproach. From acting as if we have nothing to do with the problems, to taking all the problems on ourselves. Sometimes some of us can go overboard with a problem, thinking death or destruction is the only way out. Jonah's says it is all my fault, throw me overboard, I am the source of all the problems and evil.

It is also a popular game when the boat is going down, who is to blame. If no one comes forward, folks pick who to sacrifice by casting lots, by random divination. What have you done to bring this upon us? This is done in countries, churches, and families. Someone is to blame for our troubles, if we throw them overboard, all will be well. What if Jonah had repented on the ship? Decided to do what was required of him, instead of giving up on life itself? He took the beating and the blame instead of using it as a time to change and repent. He hadn't hit bottom yet, he just knew the pain was great, but not great enough to change.

Repent Jonah hits bottom in the belly of a great fish. He prays there in the dank and dark saying that he will do what God has commanded him. When we get so low there is no way out but up, we see repentance. When the pain overcomes the fear of change, we do what we need to do. Repent means to turn. Change course, go in a new direction.

Some of us wonder how an African American got elected President. We never expected to see the day. I wonder if it took a lot of pain to see a new way out. Maybe we are in the belly of the whale now. A place where we can turn away from racism, classism, greed, and forcing our way on the rest of the world. It is good when things are bleakest, when banks teeter on collapse, investments shrink, and jobs evaporate; when we got of the storm only to swallowed by a fish, to realize that maybe God is trying to get our attention to turn our course. In the belly of the beast, Jonah prayed. It is good when all has gone from bad to worse to pray God.

I talked to one person who made a huge career change. Left the ministry, he said, when all was going bad in his current position and he couldn't even get through the first interview with other churches because he was so down on himself and life…he prayed, I get I'm supposed to leave this church God, show me your way. Immediately a dream job dropped in his lap, and everything else fell into place. He was much happier out of the ministry, but it took a kick in the gut and an honest prayer to get him to see that God wanted him to move.

Reveal Our third chapter has Jonah reveals his message and result of his warning. All of Ninevah from the King on down makes a change in sackcloth and ashes and repents. He is a change without know that it will work. Who knows? Interesting thing has been reveled in pandemic planning, you know if another great flu epidemic rages through the world like in 1918 where 20 to 100 million people died. Planners have run different ways of coping, shutting down air travel, declaring a holiday, closing schools, distributing vaccine…they found that any change was good and helped the outcome. When something isn't working, when the present form of the world is slipping away, and the current course shows doom is certain, any change can bring a better outcome than the status quo. God does relents and lets the city survive.

Regret Now this makes Jonah a liar. Worse than that he saved Israel's enemies from the destruction of God. It is like God was like God was going to destroy the terrorists, but you warned them, and they repented so God let them off. How popular would you be back home? Jonah regrets the whole episode.

Change is like that as well. At some point the old ways seems so much better compared to the new. The Israelites mourned for slavery in Egypt, the alcoholic remembers the sweet numbness of the bottle, the abused women returns to her attacker. We forget the storm and the whale belly that got us to change and slip back into what A.A. calls stinky thinking. Jonah can't see the good in an entire city repenting and the saving of people from destruction because his pride was hurt and nationalistic desire for revenge was thwarted.

Reflect The last chapter is reflection, or a challenge to reflect. God gives Jonah a tree for shade one day and then destroys it the next. Jonah misses the tree and its shade. God says well, you miss the tree you had nothing to do with, that you only had a one day relationship. How much more do I care for the men, women and children of Nineveh? The book ends with that question, which is a cue that that the reader is supposed to answer the question.

The entire book of Jonah is about how God's care changes us. God's messengers or the recipients of that message, God's care is with us in the belly of the beast, the storms of life, and in our most wickedest moments and with our deadliest enemies. If we let God's care and love for us and others direct us from ourselves into relationship and care with others we will find not only ourselves changed for the better, but the world. Amen.

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Brother Can You Spare A Prayer? 
Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 11:17 AM - Extra Christy
Inauguration Prayers Parsed

All the discussion about the inauguration prayers and those who pray in public reminds me of a Southern Baptist student I worked with once. When a parishioner complained about a prayer he gave, he replied, "I wasn't talking to you."

Public inclusive prayer is tricky. There are so many flavors of Christianity on our national table along with other varieties of soul food. Often there are those present who skip spiritual nourishment altogether. Jesus wisely tells his followers to avoid the hollow rewards of public prayer and recommends praying in private.

In his inauguration prayer, the Rev. Rick Warren moved from a public gathering of hopes and faiths (he touched sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the opening sentences) into a personal testimony of who changed his life and in whose name he was asking all the above. (He switched from "We" and "our" to "I" and "my".)

Sharing what you believe and who gives you hope and purpose maybe be the best way to be personal in public prayer. In may also help us remember who is the audience for all prayers whether we are alone or in front of millions.

Table for One...

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." - Matthew 6:5-6 (NIV)

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Seeing Greater Things! 
Sunday, January 18, 2009, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
John 1:43-51

Pastor Christy talks about how to have faith and how to grow younger.

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

The miracle of seeing Nathanial under the fig tree was enough to convince him that Jesus was a great thing. I wonder what Nathanial would think of seeing the world on CNN or getting pictures of the airplane floating in the Hudson on a cell phone you carry in your pocket. One of the three laws of prediction by the late Arthur C. Clark is “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Profiles of The Future, 1961 I would say technology can masquerade as miracle too.

Do you know the difference between magic and miracle? There is a good lesson right in the Bible, in Acts 8, the story of Simon who used sorcery and sought to buy the Holy Spirit from Peter for his own use. Magic is the control of deity for our benefit, miracle is the act of God for God's purposes to point the way toward God.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn't rest his claims to divinity and worthiness on magic tricks or even on miracles. You will see greater things He promises. What if our faith were based not on the miracles of the past that proved the specialness of the faith to us, but on our faith and desire to see greater things from God in the future? God working in the future.

One of the best predictors of the long term viability of church, or any group, is how they answer the question, is the best years of the church behind or before us? If the answer is “behind” then the church is on the road to closure. No less a person than Thom S. Rainer, founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological seminary says that by 2010, over 50,000 churches will close. Friends, that is the death of one out of eight churches in America. He describes them as “stubborn” churches that survive deteriorating quality and attendance but cannot survive the fading of the building generation, born before 1946, that generation that supported churches out of loyalty and tradition. —

Sammuel Huntington wrote once, “America is not a lie, it is a disappointment. But it can a disappointment only because it [is] also a hope —Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 262. If you are disappointed about America or the state of churches today, it is because you have hope that both could be so much more. Unearth the hope in your disappointment.

Is hope for greater things related to age? The older one is the less chance that greater things will be coming. It is rare thing to grow young, as Benjamin Button finds out, in the current movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button about a person born as an old man in his eighties and then moves through his life and times growing younger while everyone else grows older. “You can only understand life backwards, but we must live it forwards” is the way Soren Kierkegaard put it. By that Kierkegaard was advocating living your life with the end in mind, it can transform your life. The best is before us indeed.

What if we were growing younger? What great thing would God is calling us to? How can we turn from filling slots and maintaining programs, groups, and systems that served us so well in the past and work on the programs, groups and systems that will serve us well in the future we are trying to live into.

How do we grow young? By living with the future in mind. The best is yet to come. What a great time to be in a church! No one is saying that the market is the answer to everything, that greed is good, we barely hear a peep about how Social Security should be privatized and given to the wizards of Wall Street. We have an opportunity to preach things of the spirit to folks who have had things of the world fail them. The future isn't one of grander houses, massive debt, and unending consumption. Our values and investments in things of the spirit didn't go bankrupt. Christianity still has a future that is bright. We have an opening now! The old way has come crashing down, we can mourn it or offer a grieving, confused world an alternative to the marketplace and the golden calf. One of community, faith, and sharing. Do we give up our cars for mass transit? We have a great new station downtown, bus riding is up and builds community. Molly Becker, Metro's director of communions says it is “like a little travelling neighborhood”. — Beacon Journal 6/10/2008 This community has been know to track down folks who have missed the bus commute to make sure they are okay. Great things might come of this move to mass transits. When we move from selfish, private individuals goals to a shared hope and common vision we find a greater hope that outlasts our individual disappointment.

How do we grow young—look at our Old Testament story. It is the difference between, stop bothering me and go back to bed and “Speak for your servants hears.” Three times the youth has to ask the elders what to do about God's call. Young people, let that be a lesson for your hearts. If God is calling you and no one listens the first or second time, rejoice, you are following in the footsteps of the prophet Samuel! Young folks listen to God's call. Kent Presbyterian Church is spending over a million dollars to invest in student housing connected with a 400 seat auditorium/gym/shared living space. It will be 15 times more valuable than the church itself and be a place for community life for decades to come but take years to build. That's young thinking. Looking at the what God is calling us to do and going into the future with it. The Presbytery is on the hook with them for the initial financing of over a million dollars, so we are part of this young project as well.

It is a great time to be at Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church. We have more pledging units this year than last, as those detectives have figured out by increase in your numbers on your offering boxes. (I think we are going to upgrade our report on the stewardship efforts in the future.) Look future talk! We are going to burn our mortgage under our new roof at the annual meeting in February! We are seldom unanimous on anything, but we can all rejoice over paying off projects of the pass and making room for the future!

We are going to add video to our worship service. I hope this allows us to compromise and have a service that communicates the gospel to the future people who are more video than audio, just as we were more audio than ritual. That's right Protestants changed from ritual and rite of the Catholic, to dumbing down the service to the vulgar tongue of English instead of the Lord's own Latin Mass. One of the first Catholic masses I went to when I was in High School, the parents of my friend, apologized that the mass wasn't in Latin. We survived that change, and even dragged the Catholics down to our level of using language the common folk could understand instead of just the trained and learned ones. Now as the orators are replaced by the visual, as TV shows replaced radio dramas, we are ready for the future.

I got a Christmas letter from a former church. The contemporary service has taken over, it has moved from the basement to the sanctuary and is the main service growing with life, youth, and purpose. It cost them several members and a pastor but the congregation is growing for the first time in years, maybe decades. We didn't take 5 years to the move the service up to the sanctuary, I look forward to writing the same letter to her.

How to keep young.
1) Look to the future not the past
2) Dig out the hope in your disappointment
3) Get on the bus! a purpose that lives beyond yourself
4) See, hear and answer God's call to you
5) Embrace the good signs all around us.

You will see greater things. Do not base your faith on miracles of the past but on God's call to you into the future that he has prepared. Our faith is not a history lesson but a travel plan. Let's grow young together!

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God of Greater Things Prayer 
Sunday, January 18, 2009, 05:15 AM - Prayers
God your greatness surprises us. We seek small signs while all creation trumpets your glory. We look for you in the intermissions of our lives, forgetting that you are the author and director of the play. Forgive us for settling for entertainment when you offer enlightenment, for playing with the box instead of enjoying your gifts, for looking at ourselves in small pools instead of sailing on the ocean of humanity who you love beyond all our dreams. Hear us now as we move from ourselves to you...

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