The Way Out 
Wednesday, March 28, 2007, 08:00 AM - Extra Christy
"How do you get to the second floor?" asked the frustrated repair person. "I tried the elevator, but the doors don't open!" That's odd I thought. We have a 21 year employee of Otis elevator on our board, and we get very good service on our elevator.Curious, I got on the elevator with him and went up the the second floor.

On the way up, as I watched him give the "elevator stare" to the front of the car, I realized the problem. The elevator has two doors. You get in the "front" door on the ground floor, but due to additions and remodeling, on the second floor you get off the "back" door. When he got to the second floor, as far as he could see, the way out was blocked! He never turned see the open door behind him.

If the door in front of you is closed, look around, there might be open door behind you!

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out
so that you may be able to endure it. - 1 Corinthians 10:13

Hope you always find God's way out,

J Christy Ramsey

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Do You Want the Deluxe Accessory Package? 
Sunday, March 25, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
John 12:1-8

Do our possessions possess us? Our Gospel tells us that even the person who wanted to sell the perfume and give it to the poor really wanted to keep the riches for himself. He wasn't against having costly things, just others having costly things instead of him.

Some would have you believe the answer to the dilemma of having and not having is to ignore it. To separate the spiritual from the material, and God only cares about the spiritual; forgetting he is the creator of the material and the one who blessed the material world and called it good.

Others would tell you to give up the material, sell what you have and give to the poor. Jesus tells the disciples to do just that in Luke 12. What do rich Christians do in an age of hunger? What do you do when approached by someone who asks you for a dollar? The easy thing is to give him a dollar. The smart thing might be not to make eye contact and ignore the person. I know one person who says, “I don't give money, but would you like me to pray with you?” He says it acknowledges the other person and changes the subject from the material to the spiritual. He is a little weird in other ways, too.

If you don't give away all you own to the poor, how much do you keep? There are homes where there is a little narrow path between piles of “clothes, books, magazines, spoiled food, firewood, car parts, tires, bank statements and 50-year-old tax records” (USA TODAY 2/18/2004). Called hoarding, it is uncomfortable and unsafe to be around. In extreme cases floors have buckled under the weight of several dumpsters full of possessions. While extreme forms are an exhibition of obsessive compulsive behavior, we probably all have junk drawers of various sizes. And if you ever watch programs such as “Clean Sweep” where a team tackles clutter with Toss, Sell and Keep piles, you know how hard it is to reduce the Keep pile. They always have to make them cut the Keep pile in half. If you don't have a cable show to come and help you with your possessions, preparing for a move is a good review of your relationship to your possessions. My precious books took a big hit, after lugging them from one interim position to another; ⅓ of them were given away or sold. It was hard (I might need them someday!), because hoarding supplies is emotional rather than rational process.

Our lesson last Wednesday suggested three ways to deal with possessions:

Moderation - TOSS
Moderation the old Stoic philosophy from ancient Greece: Moderation in all things. I suppose you could find some Christian support around the concept of sharing burdens, but it is a strain. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and an old song by the Byrds gives support to this idea:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

We can work on knowing when it is time to keep or a time to throw away, time to scatter and time to gather. We can look at our closets full of clothes from years and body sizes long gone and remember John the Baptist's words, to let the one with two coats give to one who has none as a preparation for the coming of the Savior. Never thought cleaning your closets would be way to welcome Jesus, did you? Gandhi is quoted as teaching “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Currently, we are being told that moderation in our energy use might be necessary to survive as an independent people and even to simply survive!

Materialism - SELL
“The second answer (to possessions possessing us) is to remember that sweet as the things of this world may be, they can never fill that empty place in the human soul that aches for spirit. Augustine said that there is a “God-shaped void” in all of us. No matter how much stuff you stuff into that void, only God will ever fill it.” (Thoughtful Christian Lent Study) We can try to substitute toys for touches, sweets for soul food, and mansions for community, but they don't fit or fill the hole we have for the spirit.

There is a story in Luke 12 where the famous quote “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” comes from. It is about a man who made great barns and filled them with all the material wealth he would ever need. He then said the famous line, “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” only to be corrected “You Fool, tonight your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The question of what and how to prepare is answered in another scripture, which we sometimes quote before our offering:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Majesty - KEEP
The third option given last Wednesday was found in our scripture for today. Mary did not hoard the perfume, saving it because she might need it some day, nor did she hold it as an investment because it was worth thousands of dollars in today's money. She kept it and used it for the glory of God. It seemed to be just what Jesus needed then, an anointing for his coming burial. A sacrifice from Mary that bonded her to Jesus' own sacrifice.

There is perhaps our most helpful answer to free us from being possessed by our possessions, to excise the demon possession, to recover from affluenza, to examine how we use our possessions, entrusted to us by God, to the glory of God. We have another verse from Romans 12 used before the offering: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them: if service, in our serving; whoever contributes in liberality; whoever does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Moderation, Materialism, Majesty. Toss, Sell, Keep. The best way to possess our possessions instead of the other way around is to let God have them and us to use both for his glory. Neither making them an end in themselves nor tossing them out in an effort to be completely spiritual. Percentage giving or pledging a specific amount is often mentioned, too often according to some. But I know a foster parent who told me, I can't preach or give lots of money, but I have a big home and a big heart so I take in children. I know a person with a car who drives people who can't drive themselves. I know a person who can cook who makes dinners for others.

Today you can ask, do I have more of this than I will ever use or need? Get rid of it! Am I substituting this thing for a feeling or a relationship that I lack? Get rid of it? Am I using this for the glory of God! Get on with it!

Advanced permission is given for non-profit, for-prophet use of the above at no charge as long as it is reproduced unedited with notices and copyright intact. Written copies are provided after they are preached as a courtesy for the personal, private, appreciative use of the congregation of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, their families and friends to support the ministry of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church and its pastor the Rev. J. Christy Ramsey. Join us Sundays! 8:15 Traditional Worship and 10:15 Blended. Mingle in our Gathering Room between services and take advantage of Christian Education opportunities.
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Home of the... 
Wednesday, March 21, 2007, 07:00 AM - Extra Christy
Pizza parlors have a common advertising theme. Many of them proudly proclaim what they are home to. "Home of the Free Pizza & Ribs" "Home of the 2 for 1 Pizza Deal" "Home of the 24" Pizza" "Home of the Cheap Slice" "Home of the Gaint Jumbo Pizza Slices" "Home of the Big MEATY Pizza" "Home of the Late Night Slice" are some I and Google have read. ("Slice" being a classy shortcut for "piece of pizza".)

What are we home of? What sign would be on our homes? Before elections we see signs in front of homes supporting candidates, but usually the candidates themselves are not living there. Sometimes yard signs do proclaim to be home of a fan of a sports team or a student of a high school, but associations and membership signs don't match the emotion invested in a piece of dough and tomato sauce by the "Home of" pizza shops.

Matthew tells of the disciples being sent out to the lost sheep of Israel to preach the that the kingdom of heaven is near. Jesus instructs the disciples to find a worthy person and stay at the person's home, and let his peace rest on it. Now there's a sign for a home: Home of the Peace of God

The Best Peace is the One God Delivers.

Home of the Largest Peace

As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. - Matthew 10:12-13

Hope God's Peace is Always Home at Your House,

J Christy Ramsey

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Love Never Surrenders, Never Retreats 
Sunday, March 18, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Spartans Never Surrender, Spartans Never Retreat, thunders Leonidas the Spartan king in the movie 300. He has been told his situation is hopeless, that now is the time for surrender, or retreat…or death. His reply makes his choice in the silence, for of the three; Surrender, Retreat, or Death: Spartans Never Surrender, Spartans Never Retreat.

There is Surrender, Retreat, and Death in our story today. Death comes first. Strangely you might have missed it. The younger son demands his inheritance. When do children get inheritance? When someone dies. “Father you are as good as dead to me.” “Father, I'm tired of waiting for you to die and get out of my way now.” Death of the Father.

Death appears again. When the younger son loses his money, loses his freedom, loses his Jewish religion by tending pigs, loses himself. Even his conscience is dead, for it seems he only wants food, not forgiveness. His belly, not his repentance, sends him back to his father. His father knows that his son is dead when he leaves him, for when he comes back, he twice declares that despite the giving of the father's inheritance to his son, it was not he that died, but the son.

Death appears a third time, when the elder son is out in the field who states that his brother is not his brother, but only his father's son, “this son of yours.” His brother is dead to him.

Yet facing death, there is also no retreat and no surrender in the story. The father never retreats. God never retreats, and since God is Love, Love never retreats. God never surrenders; Love never surrenders.

Your son is dead, and wishes you dead. Surrender; go inside, quit looking down the road, retreat into the house. Yet we find no retreat, no surrender…the father sees his son a long way off and runs to him. Imagine you see me running somewhere, you know something important was happening. In ancient times, elders did not run, they never even hurried. But here we have the father running to the son. Retreat? No Charge! Run! Hug, embrace, grab. Before words get out of his mouth, the father is welcoming him back.

At times we face death, disappointment, and defeat. In these times, we might identify with the younger brother, the loving father, or the elder son.

Younger Brother
The younger brother: Our choices have led to disaster and ruin. We are so far down, we can't even see where we started. We don't have to stay wallowing with the pigs. We can at least take some beginning steps back. The surprise to all people in recovery is that when they take a few steps back, God and others reach out across the distance. You don't have to travel the whole way alone. When you stumble back toward God and goodness, God comes running to embrace you.

If you are down and out. Do not look at the whole journey back, look at the next step. In the words of the long version of the Serenity Prayer: “Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;” Turn your face and your steps toward God's home and don't be surprised when God comes bounding out to welcome you home before you get even a chance to confess your sins and errors.

Loving Father
Sometimes we are the loving father, or mother, or friend. We see a loved one heading off to ruin over and over. It tears our heart again and again. We want to stop them, but know we cannot. We want to go and get them and drag them home and knock some sense into them. But for one reason or another, we can't.

If you are watching disaster. Know that you can still love even the most errant person. You don't have to rescue them again and again. You don't have to pay their debts or restore their fortunes. You can welcome them when they come home and make sure they know there is a place in your home and heart for them. In between, you can consider prayerfully, that your suffering is linked to God's who mourns over everyone who is lost, who turns away from the heavenly home and blessed inheritance God freely offers. God never retreats from love, never surrenders hope that the lost will be found.

Older Son
Sometimes we are the older son. Most of us are. Do you know that the older son was a Presbyterian? Who else but a Presbyterian, on the way home from work, hearing the noise of fun and partying would stop and start an investigation into unscheduled happiness? What?! People are having fun and rejoicing?! I'll have none of it! We've been there. It is my favorite place. We don't like the people God has welcomed. Or we see the unfairness in earthly rewards and happiness between those we determine good and those we determine undeserving of blessing.

If you are out and alone. Listen to the loving father, the lost are found, the dead are alive. So it is required that we rejoice. It is not where people have been, but where they are going that is important to God and should be the focus of God's people as well. Never retreat from restoration, charge on it to the party.

God never retreats, God never surrenders, and unlike Spartans and all things human, God can even overcome death. No matter your situation, lost in sin like the younger son, broken hearted like the father, or smoldering about the unfairness of this world, God has a way out. God is waiting. The party is waiting. Come home to God, he hasn't given up on you.

Now young faces grow sad and old
and hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
Now I'm ready to grow young again …

We made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, believe me, no surrender
Blood brothers in the stormy night with a vow to defend
No retreat, believe me, no surrender
— Bruce Springsteen, No Surrender, Born in the USA 1984

Advanced permission is given for non-profit, for-prophet use of the above at no charge as long as it is reproduced unedited with notices and copyright intact. Written copies are provided after they are preached as a courtesy for the personal, private, appreciative use of the congregation of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, their families and friends to support the ministry of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church and its pastor the Rev. J. Christy Ramsey. Join us Sundays! 8:15 Traditional Worship and 10:15 Blended. Mingle in our Gathering Room between services and take advantage of Christian Education opportunities.
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The Cookie Barn 
Wednesday, March 14, 2007, 08:30 AM - Extra Christy
Girl Scout cookies are famous. They have their own website and even a MySpace page ( cookies on MySpace ) where you can "friend" the cookies.

I selfishly buy my own Girl Scout cookies. This goes back to the tragic year I had no cookies. Ironically, it was the year my wife was in charge of the entire county's delivery of Girl Scout cookies. For a few days, every Girl Scout cookie sold in Fulton County, Indiana was stacked shoulder high throughout my garage. What a sight! I thought I was the King of the Cookies. But then, in the process of filling orders, after ensuring that all the girls got all their cookies, it ended up that our family was left with none.

Since then, we have never had that many Girl Scout cookies under our roof, yet we have always had more cookies then the year we had them all.

There is a story in the Bible about a man who thought he had everything he wanted but wound up having nothing he needed (see below) A full barn is not a guarantee of security, but a life full of God, where one stores up treasures of faith, hope and love in heaven's garage will last longer than a mountain of Thin Mints.

Hope your enjoy cookies now and God forever

The First Cookie Barn

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."- Luke 12:16-21

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