Remain Calm 
Wednesday, July 25, 2007, 12:42 PM - Extra Christy, Radio
I spend quality time in hospital elevators, often I'm the only rider, so I am not legally required to stare at the floor numbers over the door in concert with my fellow riders. Freed from pretending to move the car between floors by group concentration, I read the emergency signs, a habit left over from my fire-fighting days. One elevator car had a small red label with the usual helpfully numbered instructions, mostly about location and use of the phone, but the command that caught my eye was the third step.

3. Remain Calm

The "Remain" part assumes that riders are still calm after realizing they are stuck in an elevator and have completed steps 1 and 2 of the escape plan without obtaining immediate freedom or purposeful motion. I think I would put "Remain Calm" at the top of any list that needed this directive. Maybe even before "Step 1". I might even assume that folks trapped in a steel box held by a cable over a chasm, might not be calm at the beginning of our endeavor and instruct them to "Calm Down", "Think Calming Thoughts", or even "Don't Panic!"

I got to see this instruction in action one day. A security guard was leaning on the door of an elevator with an out of order sign on it. I said something witty to him and he answered me, then turned and talked to the crack on floor. His gaze returned to eye level and he calmly explained, "They're stuck and I'm keeping them company until the repair person comes."

He was the calm. He couldn't get them out, but he could stay with them until they were free. He couldn't tell them how or when they would be free, but he could assure them that there would be a way out. Instead of a command to be calm, he gave the occupants a reason for being calm: You are not alone and help is on the way.

Made me think of when we are stuck in crisis and how calming the promise of Christ's presence is. Being in the presence of God is the short definition of worship; relating to God is a good description of prayer. It is helpful in times of stress (which is all the time!) to go beyond the command to "Be Calm" or even "Have Faith!", and find the reason for the assurance of faith in worship and prayer where Christians affirm the calm security in knowing that we are not alone and help is on the way.

Reasons for Calm
You have looked deep into my heart, LORD, and you know all about me.You know when I am resting or when I am working, and from heaven you discover my thoughts.You notice everything I do and everywhere I go.Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say, and with your powerful arm you protect me from every side.I can't understand all of this! Such wonderful knowledge is far above me.Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight? If I were to climb up to the highest heavens, you would be there. If I were to dig down to the world of the dead you would also be there. Suppose I had wings like the dawning day and flew across the ocean. Even then your powerful arm would guide and protect me.- Psalm 139: 1-10 (CEV)

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Running To and Fro 
Sunday, July 22, 2007, 08:23 AM - Sermon
Amos 8:1-12; Luke 10:38-42

Amos says: A famine on the land, not of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. No time has there been so many people been running to and fro seeking a word from the Lord and not finding it; at least not in churches. People report themselves as spiritual, but don't do much about it. As our material wealth has increased, so has our feeling of emptiness.

Mary and Martha had very different ways of reacting to a visit of Jesus. You can almost see the rushing to and fro in Martha's preparations for a meal. Both longing to welcome Jesus. How do we welcome spirituality into the emptiness in our lives?

Could we recognize spirituality? According to research by George Gallup and Timothy Jones (The Saints Among Us [Ridgefield, CT: Morehouse Publishing]) Spiritually mature people:

Likely have a daily time of private prayer
Sense the presence of God in the lives
Find religion to be a source of strength, growth, and healing
Are more peaceful, joyful and happy and less depressed
Are more humble
Are more often engaged in compassionate acts
Are less prejudiced

Not the people described by Amos in the first part of our readings. They view religion has something that got in the way of their busy lives of profit, and people as a means to the end of profit. Compassion had no value for people God condemns to Amos.

How can we get there? How can we become more peaceful, more joyful and more happy? Herb Miller in Connecting with God says there are over a dozen ways. Seven are primary:

1. Worship
2. Music
3. Prayer
4. Fellowship
5. Preaching
6. Service
7. Stewardship

Worship — Paying attention to God. Focusing on God and sensing God's presence. The church sanctuary is a great place to do this, we are surrounded by the symbols of the faith, pictures of great Bible figures and events in the life of Christ, and wrapped in the history of this place and this people. It is hard not to pay attention to God here. We have worship services that could welcome more people. I hear good Marthas tell me, shut down the other service and tell those people to come help me! The way I prepare for Jesus is the way all should prepare. No, there are different ways to come to Christ and each is honored.

Music — For some organ music lifts them to heaven. For others it is Jazz, or praise songs, or rock, or country. We need to broaden our God sense in music. We are doing that with two services with different music and more so next week with the contemporary service downstairs. Our music director does a great job with the music and the theme of the service. It is good, but as my Uncle counseled me, music has its own message, its own integrity and path to the heart and soul. It isn't just a servant of the preacher. Does it bring God closer to you? Then it is good soul music.

Prayer — time spent with God relating to God. Not a form or a list or an exercise. But time with God listening as much as telling. Praising as much as asking. Hanging out as much as checking in. I working on text messaging on cell phones. We send little messages to others. 160 characters or less. There is a service called Twitter. You text the answer to the question, “What are you doing right now?” and it goes to your friends cell phone, your web page, your facebook. God would like to be included too in your updates. And if you pay attention, maybe you'll get a message back in what God is doing in the world.

Fellowship — Is fellowship a waste of time? An embarrassment? I don't believe so, although many pastors do, they want people to do something! We have lots of programs going on and more needed! I believe we have four Sunday School adult classes. Three have a book, the Sanctuary Class, the Spiral Class, and the Friendship Class. One isn't on the schedule, but meets every Sunday. It is the Gathering Room class. I secretly call them the Welcoming Class. They are the scouts between services that keep the social space alive for earlier arrivals and the curious and confused. Should they go and help other real classes…I think they have a ministry and a purpose on their own.

Preaching — I try to get to people. If folk will hear God only if I'm in a pulpit and reading a sermon. Fine! If they need me to talk without notes fine! If they need to see me in a golf shirt and kahkis in conversation with them. Great! I want to get out of the way. I want to get the centuries between us and Jesus' life on earth erased. I want to bring the prophets into America and out of the holy land. Preaching is the newspaper in one hand the Bible in the other, (Karl Barth) to make God's word come to me.

Service — We always have something going now. The God's Squad has moved from Evangelism to Doism. They are doing mission. From baby supplies this month to school supplies next month. We have opportunities with projects at the church on Wednesdays. We just go through with a lot of people working in service for Vacation Bible School. It was fantastic amount of work and I know folks who worked, who service, were helped in their spiritual life not just the kids who came. Service needs always to be out there.

Stewardship — This week we are beginning to think about our stewardship efforts for this year. I just go through talking about service and how great it was, I bet no one thought, “Hurmph, giving money is important too!” Yet the givers of money get this all the time, we ask for service every week and rarely is their a complaint about too much asking. But we are sensitive about stewardship of finances. Yet people report that giving money, like giving service, or worship, or music is a pathway to spiritual growth as well. We need to include this in our mission of making spiritual mature people.

Now we look at Mary and Martha and we find that Mary choose worship or maybe preaching, while Martha choose service. Jesus affirms that people can make choices, not everyone has to come to Jesus the same way or find the depths of spirituality in the same pursuits. How can we stop running to and fro and find the Lord? There are many ways, find the ones that speak to you and make the better choice, the choice that leads you closer to Jesus.

Some of the information here comes from “The Parish Paper” by Herb Miller and Lyle E. Schaller.

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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Happily Ever After 
Wednesday, July 18, 2007, 12:39 PM - Extra Christy, Wedding, Radio
I enjoy pre-marital counseling. Listening to a couple in love talk about their relationship strengths and "growth areas" is always familiar yet new with each pair.

Like "happily ever after" in fairy tale accounts of weddings; I admit I have some stock lines I use: like asking if either of them is going to change their names. The big surprise is when I ask them why they are getting married...a question they don't expect from someone in the wedding business, and one surprisingly hard for some couples to answer.

Another surprise comes when I share the statistic that cohabitating couples are more likely to divorce than those that do not live together before marriage. (This is according to no less than the Center for Disease Control: First marriages that were preceded by cohabitation are more likely disrupted than those that were not preceded by cohabitation. Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States 2002 p. 28) Folks are surprised, because they think that "playing house" is a good way to divorce proof a marriage. This points out there is something different between cohabitation and marriage.

Which bring us back to the question about why get married. Our marriage service in the Book of Common Worship says:

God created us male and female, and gave us marriage so that husband and wife may help and comfort each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, throughout all their days.

God gave us marriage for the full expression of the love between a man and a woman. In marriage a woman and a man belong to each other.

God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children.

What is your answer? I am drawn to the part about "belonging to each other". It is good to have an answer to the question of "Why marriage?" whether your wedding day is in the future or the past.

Two Become One
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.- Genesis 2: 20-24 (NIV)

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Who is My Neighbor? 
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 08:20 AM - Sermon
Posted by Administrator
Luke 10:25-37

Ask a question and get a story. Jesus I just want to know who my neighbor is. Is it people of live on either side of me? It is people in my ward? Folks in my town? Americans? Christian people? English speaking people? What if a immigrant family moves in next to me?

It would be simple if Jesus would give us a yardstick to tell us who does and doesn't fall in the category of neighbors to love as we love ourselves. The book titled How by Dov L. Seidman tells us that a rule is a proxy; a stand-in when we cannot be there ourselves or when we don't trust others to act as we would wish. The less trust the more rules. Yet rules fail us.

1. You can't make a rule for every situation. New situations keep coming up that are not covered by the old rules. So rules fail as proxy, they can't stand in for the rule maker, because they are limited to past situations.

2. A rule sets the floor not the ceiling, as Dov Seidman writes. Rules don't tell you how to excel, how to be first or the best. They limit and protect, but do not encourage and inspire. We not have a law, a rule, of no smoking in public buildings. Yet we can't make enough rules to make people choose healthy lives.

3. Folks are very good at getting around rules. Firestone High School changed their dress code while I was there prohibiting wearing shorts. (I know it seems like a quaint worry of yesteryear now.) One boy figured out how to obey the rule yet still stay cool, he wore a skirt, which were allowed.

4. Rules require constant maintenance. Look at the income tax code. Or locally we have supreme court cases, more than one, about enforcing the speed limit in a school zone. How did that happen?

5. Rules require enforcement. If rules are not enforced they are ignored and fail to stand-in for the rule maker. The one I hear most around the church are copyright rules. “No one will know so we can make copies…” Unenforced rules devalue the principle and the morality they try to protect. We don't want to be people who only act rightly when someone is watching.

These are reasons why Jesus doesn't give us a rule of loving the neighbor. I think he senses that our friend is looking for some wriggle room, a way to do the minimum daily requirement for maximum eternal life. Jesus is about doing the minimum. John 10:10 says that Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus tells us a story instead of giving us a rule. Stories are great for building a culture, where folks can trust one another because they all know what the purposes and mission of the place are. Dov Siedman tells the story of the visits to factories and the various ways rules and culture intersects.

Dov Seidman has a story about rules and how they are limited. He imagines a group going on the tour of several factories. A person in the group, lets say he is in sales asks if he has to wear a hard hat at each of the factories. He gets a different response at each factory.

Factory #1: “Go ahead, do want you want, its your neck. It doesn't matter, when your time is up, its ups right?”
Factory #2: “Well, if it was up to me, I'd let you slide, but the boss has this thing about hard hats. If he sees you without one, I'll get in trouble. So you better wear it. Sorry about that, at least you don't have to wear these uniforms he makes us wear!”
Factory #3: “Let me look that up.” (Much page turning and study.) Hmmm. I need to ask a supervisor about that.” (15 minutes later) “Sorry the guy who could sign off on that is out of town and we can't reach him. I don't know what to tell you.”
Factory #4: “Yes, you'll have to wear a hard hat. Safety is important to us. We have had over a 1000 days without a lost time accident because we look out for each other. Even if I let you go without one. The first person who saw you without one would give you one, we look out for each other's safety here.”

Just as you can't rule your way to safety; you cannot rule you way to how and who a neighbor is.

Just so Jesus tells us a story to show us that you cannot assume a neighbor is one who is a holy person, of the same faith and culture than you. We forget that the Samaritans were hated and taboo for good Jews. They were half-breed collaborators, unclean, traitors, that couldn't be trusted. Jesus says you can't always easily identify your neighbors by country, neighborhood, ethnicity, or language. A neighbor is one who helps another when they need help, whether in the Sudan or in New Orleans, or in the next pew. Regardless of their attitude to us, or relationship to us, or if they say thank you to us for being nice.

What would this look like if the world view each other not as other, but as neighbor. If we answered the question of “Are you my neighbor” with “Yes” more than “No.”?

Washington Post reported last Friday of a family that was having a dinner on the patio with friends. In through the open gate comes a hooded man who puts a gun to a 14 year-old's head and says “Give me your money and no one gets hurt.” What do you do? Give him your money? Tackle him? Pull out your concealed weapon and let him have it? One of the dinner guests did none of these. Instead she sees a neighbor not a robber, “We just finished dinner. Why don't you have some wine with us?” The robber, I mean neighbor, took the wine and said, “Damn, that is good wine.” The neighbor said, “Keep the glass!” and the house owner said, “Here have the bottle.” The robber sat down, put his gun away and ate some cheese. He said, “I think I have the wrong house.”. He then asked for a hug. First individually, then as a group they hug their new neighbor. Who left with the wine and no money. The police found the glass placed in the alley behind the house.

Who is your neighbor? Everyone you meet. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

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 Back Way 
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 12:37 PM - Extra Christy, Radio
Years before in car GPS systems and Internet map routes, my older brother Ric was a master of the turns and twists of greater Akron. He would drive me off the beaten path into strange neighborhoods and he would ask me, "Do you know where you" "No," was my answer again and again, until, suddenly; we were at our destination.

Sometimes I could retrace the back way he took; usually not until after one or two attempts. I wondered how many tries it took him to find the connecting streets through town that enable him to pop up like a rabbit miles from where he started, but only a few yards from our target.

In our new members Inquirer's class, we have people who have been in the church all their life, some that haven't come since they were children years ago, and some who never had any contact with the church! Yet here they all are, together at one church, which, by God's grace, is part of all of their spiritual journeys.

I think of the varied and unusual routes my brother took when there were perfectly good and straight streets with names like "Market" and "Main" available for him to use for his journey. Yet he ended up at the same place those big, broad, commonly used streets would have taken him.

I like to think there are many paths to heaven and salvation; not just the standard ones most people choose. I hope that the church will always be a place where folks on many different routes can get an answer to where they are and help on their own way.

Together From All Over
Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don't all these who are speaking come from Galilee? Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done. - Acts 2:5-11 (CEV)

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