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Promise Land 
Wednesday, May 9, 2007, 10:53 AM - Extra Christy, Wedding
A wedding is embarking on the marriage journey that is a lot like crossing into the promised land. Your promises, your vows, will take you into marriage, a land made of promises to each other, God, God's people, your family and friends. Just like the first trip to the promised land; it is supposed to be great, where God wants us to be, yet, again like that other promised land, there is a lot of battles before us until we can claim the land and its blessings of milk and honey.

What would you like to know about the land of married you are about to enter? Surely some have come back from that land to warn you. Some probably have told you about there being Giants in the Land, maybe some problems so large and forces so uncaring that we are as insignificant as bugs before them. Almost half of first time marriages end in divorce, the cost of raising a child is astronomical, safety of your home, job and wealth is harder to guarantee. What about your freedom? What if you find someone better? Surely folks have come back to tell you about all these dangers in married promised land.

But as you take your promises today. You are like Caleb who, when all of the leaders were saying how dangerous the promise land was, said, "We can do it!" He didn't say there weren't dangers and challenges. He didn't disagree with the facts. He just didn't stop looking there. He looked around at those he was with, the other leaders, Moses, and the Israelites. WE CAN DO IT. If you look into the future, all the problems and threats and dangers; you'll turn back from the promise land. But if you look at each other, and look at God, and look at all your family and friends gathered in God's house today. You will say "WE CAN DO IT" Keep looking at each other, God, your church, family and friends and your will enter the promised land today and dwell there the rest of your lives together.

-- first preached at Allison and Geoffrey's wedding in April 2007

We Can Do It!

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them." - From Numbers 13

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How to Be A Kosher Christian 
Sunday, May 6, 2007, 07:30 AM - Sermon
Acts 18:1-18
C Easter 5

When I was a volunteer firefighter, I used to work maintenance with Stan, a truck driver and gas station worker. Stan was a guy you wanted at an emergency. Of over 40 guys, he was most likely to respond to the siren call for help for fire, disaster, and accident. One night, he told me get under a truck and remove the bolts on a piece of equipment so we could replace it. The bolts have been on there for decades, and I could not get the last one off. I gave up and Stan went under the truck. Soon, a stream of foul language came pouring out. Enough cursing for a navy of sailors. He got the bolt off. He came up from under and remembered my day job and looked a little sheepish. I said, “Hey Stan! I know why I'm not so good at maintenance….I just don't have the vocabulary!” Now, I ask you, is Stan a Christian?!

Do Christian's curse or just avoid taking God's name in vain? Do they work on Sundays or worship at Church? Do they recycle? Do they serve in the armed forces or oppose all wars? Do they pray on the courthouse steps with other Christians or in a church building with Americans of all faiths? Well the answer is Yes.

Some would tell you that there is no need for a field guide. Christians are just good Americans, and we assume that everyone is a Christian until the court or a real national day of prayer prompts us to allow for the possibility that some of our neighbors and friends might be American but not Christian! Others would have a list to present. Such one of the fundamentals of the faith, here are two lists of fundamentals, one from 1910 Presbyterian General Assembly and one from the Confessing Church movement.

Fundamentalist of 1910

1. The inerrancy of the Bible;
2. The virgin birth of Christ;
3. Christ's substitutionary atonement;
4. Christ's bodily resurrection;
5. The authenticity of Christ's miracles.

Other Christian groups adapted the five points with point two often becoming the deity of Christ rather than his virgin birth. Many lists ended with Christ's premillennial second coming, instead of his miracles, as the fifth point.


Confessing Church Movement

1. That Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation.

2. That holy Scripture is the Triune God's revealed Word, the Church's only infallible rule of faith and life.

3. That God's people are called to holiness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate

So in 1910 the virgin birth was required by most, miracles required by all, but neither is in the confession church movement list promoted as essential today. The fact the essentials list changes over time should be a sign that maybe Christianity cannot be simply defined by a list of beliefs, but we like to try.

An important list in the Old Testament times, and for some observant Jews today is that of the Kosher laws, or purity laws. How food should be treated and prepared and what is allowed to be food. In fact, if you look at food boxes today the letter “K” appears on some packages to show that this food is Kosher according to a group of rabbis who certified food quality and preparation.

In our scripture today, Peter has a vision about all the unclean animals, the ones that are classified as not fit to be food. The voice from heaven tells him to kill and eat, forbidden by the scriptures and Peter, perhaps thinking it is a test and not a revelation from God refuses to eat unclean foods. Then notice what happens when he wakes up. The test of the vision does not come as an invitation to a ham dinner, but a inclusion of people in the church thought as unclean. So here in the Bible itself we have the Bible not being taken literally. Peter rightly applies the vision of both clean and unclean, kosher and non-kosher, animals as acceptable for food to the greater and grander idea that people, both Jew and Gentile, both kosher and non-kosher, were acceptable to God as Christians.

This is a big idea. There are many at this time, if not all, that believe that Christians are just another form of Jews, Jews plus, and that one has to be a Jew to be a Christian. Only kosher Christians were allowed in their mind. Here is a leader of the church, saying, no, one doesn't have to be Jewish to be a Christian! It would be a scandal as if one said you didn't need to be married to raise children together, you didn't need to speak English or pledge allegiance to the flag to be an American citizen, you didn't have to look both ways before crossing a street. Fill in your own upsetting idea.

Peter argues that the gift of the Holy Spirit shows that the lists of clean and unclean are not useful in determining who God's wants to bless, who God's wants in God's house. Again, Peter, in the Bible, departs from the literal word of the Bible and looks to experience to guide the new Christian community. It seems when we try to make kosher lists by boiling down the Bible, the story of salvation, the love story of God and humanity, into a to-believe checklist, and divide and sub-divide over who's got which checks on their list, God is not pleased and does God's work anyway.

How does one find the kosher Christian? The pure Christian, the one with the right believe. You may expect that I would say just look for the Presbyterian logo and you will find them, but I tell you something upsetting, I find in this story that it isn't what you profess or confess that makes you Kosher, but the evidence in your life.

Youth welcomed to worship; the depressed getting cards and letters, the addicted getting into treatment, the grieving visited, the sick prayed for, the hunger fed, the lonely remembered, the hospitalized visited, missions supported, easter basket delivered, cancer survivors supported with relay for life, Bible study reaching out to men and women, choir anthems sung in praise to God, help given to the needy, volunteers at Good Neighbors and in the office, Vacation Bible School for neighborhood children, a Gazebo built for the community, girl and boyfriends making a commitment to marry, a new neighbor welcomed into the congregation, a birthday card sent, a phone call made, prisoners visited, there is card carrying Christians.

When we focus on lists; when we look for kosher clubs of like minded Christians; we turn inward and lock out the ones who God has sent to us with gifts and abilities to be used in Christian work. And when we look towards mission, to what folks are doing because they are Christian, not how they are Christian, when we look for life in them instead of dissect the life out of them we can do great things together.

I see this church has having it best years ahead of it. Years of reaching out to the community in new ways, in showing how Christians can do so much good when they put their energies in to helping out instead of closing in. A place where folks from all ages and all situations in life come together and enjoy the gift of God's spirit and help each other through life.

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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Reserved for Pastor 
Wednesday, May 2, 2007, 10:48 AM - Extra Christy
I thought it was a parking sign for my car. But Sunday morning it served a much more important purpose. Under the sign "Reserved for Pastor" sat a woman needing help. She looked at me through bruised black eyes and wearily asked, "Can I use your phone?" I brought her in and, after talking, used the phone for her, dialing 911 which brought police and firefighters/paramedics who helped her with her safety and medical needs as I prayed for her spiritual ones. (And practiced hospitality of the church by getting her coffee, juice and doughnuts from the Gathering Room!)

As the police officer escorted her out to get more help, I gave her my card and an invitation to come whenever she needed help. She was glad she came to a place where she got more than a phone call.

What I thought was a place reserved for me, God turned into a place reserved for my ministry to others. Isn't that just like God? You think God blessed you with something, and then you find the true blessing is when you use that blessing to bless others. Maybe that is why we call our worship gatherings, "services", to remind us that church isn't a place reserved for us to park, but a place where we can find directions in the service of others.


Fear Not!

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,

Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with a vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.

- Isaiah 35:3-4 (ESV)


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Still Waters and Dark Valleys 
Sunday, April 29, 2007, 07:30 AM - Sermon
Psalm 23
C Easter 4

The darkest valley, or the valley of the shadow of death in some translations, sounds like a good place to be fearful. How can one be fearless in such a situation? Fearlessness is not the absence of danger, but the presence of faith. The old story is that Fear knocked at the door, Faith answered and no one was there.

How do we get there?

Self-Differentiated

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. First decide, choose who is your shepherd, who or what moves you through life? Where is your trust placed? Is your job your shepherd? Is your family your shepherd or your spouse? Another way to look at this is who do you belong to? The other verses expands on these with verbs of making, leading, and restoring. What is your mission in life? Is your chief end as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”?

One way not to be fearful, is to know who your shepherd is. Or in secular terms what your life goals are, what your direction and purpose is. If there is nothing you want, it is easy to be discouraged, easy to be fearful. Our Psalmist is not fearful for he knows if is following the way the Lord is leading him and that is the most important thing he can be doing, so he is able to be courageous.

Robert Heifetz says “Followers want comfort, stability, and solutions from their leaders, but that's babysitting. Real leaders ask hard questions and knock people out of their comfort zones. Then they mange the resulting distress.” Some what a Lord that serves them. They want to be Jesus' shepherd. A Jesus that answers prayers and responds to us like a good butler, “Do you want milk or honey with your tea?” when from reading this Psalm he is one who leads, who makes us move. Sometimes I point out to people in grief that the promise here is that the Lord is with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, not the Lord who lets us get over it quickly, or avoid dark times completely. We have to move through it the darkness and only looking back can we see that the Lord was with us and that goodness and mercy followed us all our life long.

As our society tries to herd us by using fears, marketing, quick-fixes, patriotism and media campaigns we will find life and calmness by staking out our individuality and integrity. Saying, with Joshua, non-anxiously without judgment or malice, “then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” The Lord is my shepherd, I choose to follow the Lord's way. Taking a stand, not picking a fight, will help you find the still waters and get you through the dark valleys.


Boundaries

The rod and the staff are not comfort tools. Jesus does not come with a pillow for our head and a cushion for our backside. The rod and the staff were not so subtle tools to grab sheep that wandered from the way of the shepherd. Boundaries. No teen will admit it, but it is a comfort to have boundaries, fences. When they don't have any, they seek to find some by pushing until a limit is reached. The struggle to find how to be separate while remaining connected begins in childhood and should be a task throughout our life.

There are less social forces than before to keep boundaries, so it is even more important for each person to know where they end and others begin. It is often difficult to say “I” when others are demanding you say “We” It is difficult not to get brought into other people's emotional muck and mire, yet still be connected with them. You will be told that you are cold and uncaring. Jesus got the same criticism, in Matthew 11:17, “ 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.'”

You can do anything you want, is a lie told by well-meaning parents, not a part of the faith experience. We have limits and boundaries, without them we become wanders without purpose, easy prey for the wolves that lurk looking for those who have wandered from the path.


Non-anxious Presence

The late rabbi Edwin Friedman popularized the idea of a leader being a “non-anxious presence”. Being calm in crisis while be connected to others. How about the image of breaking for dinner in the presence of your enemies? Now this may mean to make them jealous of your having a feast as they stand by watching, but I think it could mean, being so sure of yourself and confident in your way that you can go ahead with lunch plans even though you are surrounded by enemies.

Playfulness is one way to be connected yet non-anxious. I know of one pastor who when asked, an earlier generation anxious attack of “Would you like your daughter to marry one?” said, “I don't know, who did you have in mind for her?” He was non-anxious in that situation, but connected. Now be prepared to be labeled as uncaring or non-pastoral because a lot of people believe that caring is getting upset along with people instead of helping them with their upsetness by being calmer than they are. The rescuer of a drowning person isn't helping if she jumps in and sinks with them!

Conclusion

Know where you are going, who you are following, who your shepherd is.

Know your boundaries, what you do and don't do before you are tested; where the Lord's rod and staff are marking what is the safe course for you.

Know how to take care of yourself and your own emotions even under attack, remember no matter how bad the morning, you can look forward to lunch with the Lord.

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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God's Refrigerator 
Wednesday, April 25, 2007, 10:46 AM - Extra Christy
More from the things you didn't really notice until the Realtor pointed out files.

Over the years our refrigerator has become the data warehouse of our home. Permission slips, band concert dates, school pictures, class schedules, coupons, school notices, postcards, church calendars and all the urgent stuff of family life had a clip or a magnet holding them on the exposed sides of the refrigerator which looks more like a inside out filing cabinet than a food storage unit.

Our Realtor told us that was no-no for an Open House and showings. For one of the mind games of an open house is to let the prospective buyer see themselves in your home. So the family open source database (with built in ice maker) puts you in the house instead of them. No Sale!

Now our refrigerator has a clean, flat, outside ready for its new owner to write their family's lifestory on it. Looks lonely to me.

I got to thinking about God's refrigerator. Max Lucado in God Thinks You're Wonderful says:

"If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it."

What a great image of God's personal, involved and caring love! I imagine it covered with our schedule, our report card(!), postcard prayers, and permission slips. We are part of God's family, in God's house. Just check the refrigerator!


A Caring Involved God

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.- Psalm 139:1-12 (NIV)



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