Hope for Revenge is a Poor Trade 
Sunday, August 30, 2009, 06:00 AM - Church, Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Today's Bible Readings: Romans 12:14-21 & Luke 6:37-38

The road OUT of hell is paved with forgiveness.

This message 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.

Below is a text version transcribed by Marissa Hoover and edited by Mary Lu Ramsey. Pastor Christy thanks both of these volunteers for their ministry.

Is there unforgivable sin? The Bible gives only one unforgivable sin blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when you deny the one thing that can save you and restore you. If you deny what can save you then you won't be saved. Our lists of unforgivable sins are probably much longer. I'm sure there are several factors to determine whether lesser offenses can be forgiven. Someone pointed out that we don't forgive sex offenders. We don't forgive them because we require them to register for the rest of their lives.

How can we tell that we are forgiving someone? Are there sins that are unforgivable? What determines whether or not someone gets forgiven? There are several ways that people have used over time about forgiveness and about whether someone deserves forgiveness. One way to tell is if they show remorse are they sorry? Another way is through repentance the eternal way to change what they are doing. For some, this is what we want to see in forgiveness. Others of us want a pound of flesh. We want to be paid back and them to be punished. We want them to feel the hurt and the horror that they did. We want them to suffer as their victims did. Maybe when they've paid their debt then maybe they will be forgiven. If there is violence that occurs or a crime that is committed or something awful that happens, we often feel that it is the states job to exact vengeance and punishment. We use the statement, “You have committed a crime against the state.” Murder is not committed by one family against another or by the victim's family against another. We say that it is against the laws of the state, so we're going to prosecute you for it you owe us money and fines and several years of your life in prison. If the crime is committed against us, is it the state that needs to go after that person? Is it the state that has been harmed?

I've been trying to think of the greatest and biggest forgiveness that I've seen and I come to two of the greatest horrors from the end of the last millennia South Africa and Rwanda. Here we see violence, terror and genocide on an unimaginable scale for Americans. Americans missed what was going on because it was so awful no one could believe the things that were happening. Over a million people were killed 10,000 people a day. What do you do for forgiveness in a situation where neighbors rose-up against neighbors and took knives to one another? What can you do to forgive? So Africa had a longer experience of injustice, power and persecution. People were uprooted and moved. People were denied their birth rite. They couldn't vote. They were killed by terrorism. They wanted to cause terror and frighten them and they caused people to betray one another using spies, killing and retribution. It went on for decades and no one could sort it out. People just disappeared. Where's forgiveness there? Rwanda started prosecuting people for was crimes. Then people wouldn't say anything. Then, after five years, they convicted less than twenty people. Hundreds of thousands of deaths went unavenged. No one knows what happened to them. There is no way a handful of people killed over a million people. That's what they got in Rwanda because they went for justice of retribution. They wanted to get them.
South Africa, on the other hand, went for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the west, we didn't think they knew that they were doing. They said what they wanted was the truth. We want to know that happened to our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We want to know. They said that instead of going after someone or punishing someone, they just wanted the truth. If they come and tell the truth, they get amnesty. They get excused not only from criminal penalties but also from civil penalties. They listened to both victims and perpetrators. They came and told the truth and the commission gave them amnesty. One might say that justice fails to be done.

We contend that there is another type of justice. The concern is not for retribution and punishment. The concern is for healing and redressing of unbalances and the restoration of broken relationships by seeking to rehabilitate both the victims and their perpetrators who should be given a chance to be reintegrated into the community he has injured. This is by far the more personal approach, regarding the offenses that happened to persons and whose consequences are a rupture in relationships. In the scripture reading, it talked about what you get if you forgive. It says if you forgive, you are forgiven. If you give, it will be given to you. If we give in to hatred and all the things that are wrong and seek to get the balances the offender gets another victim. The perpetrator has another life he's destroyed.

If we come to a place where our only hope for the future is revenge, then our life has been taken over by the perpetrator. If we repay evil for evil, instead of giving good for evil, then we have been sucked in by evil. Then we have become what we hate the most. As Christians there is a little bit of faithfullessness. If we go after vengeance for ourselves because Scripture tells us that vengeance belongs to God God will get you. If you believe God is good and that God is working for goodness in the world and trust in God then you don't have to seek vengeance. Now, I'm not saying you won't want to because that's the normal, human reaction. Which is more courageous? Which is more spiritual? Which is more mature and harder to do?

There was a story about a little girl that is abducted on a camping trip and is later found tortured and dead. That really happened to a family and their story is included in Bishop Tutu's book. The woman, who lost her seven year old daughter, Susan, met the killer and told him she forgave him. This is how she describes the experience. She says, “I have finally come to believe that real justice is not punishment, but restoration. Not necessarily to how things use to be, but to how they really should be. In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, from where my beliefs come, the God that rises up to them is a God of mercy and compassion. A God who seeks not to punish, destroy or put us to death, but a God that works constantly to help heal up, rehabilitate and reconcile us. Restore us to the richness and fullness of life for which we have been created. This is the justice I wanted for this man, who had taken my little girl.” She spoke at the sentencing and was able to get the death sentence reduced to life in prison for the man who killed her daughter. She said, “Even though I wanted to kill this man with my bare hands, by the time of the resolution of his crimes, I was convinced that my best option was to forgive.”

She says that in the twenty years she has been working with victims, she has found this to be true. Anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness and revenge are all death driven spirits and they will take our lives. The only way to be whole, happy and healthy is to forgive. Some of you will wonder, “Doesn't that let people take advantage of us?” My answer would be that forgive and forget is not the message. I'm not saying to trust a person who stole your credit card or to marry a person that beat you. I'm saying, forgive and remember; remember who you are; who you are meant to be; who you want to be and who you should be. How do you know you have forgiven somebody? When you have truly forgiven someone, you wish the best for them. You wish that God would be gracious to them. Then you will be at peace with them. You don't have to let them back into your life or trust them. You do have to give up your thoughts on revenge and vengeance. If you don't forgive then you won't be forgiven.

We'll be showing a clip from the movie Gandhi at the eleven o'clock service. The clip shows a clip of Gandhi fasting for violence. When the violence breaks out in India, Gandhi stops eating until the violence stops. One of the men that had been fighting in India comes up to him and tells him to eat. He says, “I am going to hell and I won't go to hell with your death on my conscience. Now, just eat.” Gandhi said, “Only God decides who dies. “ The man said, “I am going to hell because I killed a child. I took his head and I bashed it against the wall.” Gandhi asked, “Why?” The man said, “The Muslims killed my child so I killed one of theirs.” Then Gandhi said, “I know a way out of that hell. Find a child, whose mother and father have been killed and raise him as your own. Make sure he is a Muslim and raise him as a Muslim.”

The way out of hell is to restore things: not to balance the scale again in retribution and vengeance, but to restore relationships and to work for the restoration of creation as God would want it. That's the way out of hell follow the path of forgiveness.

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Before You Ask... 
Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 03:16 PM - Extra Christy
Posted by Administrator
Faith Comes Before Prayer

Our friend Andy is proposing at Disneyland. You might be wondering, "Did it work?" "What was her answer?".

I wonder about what led up to the proposal: the relationship, the trust building, the listening, the shared experiences.

A valued friend and attender at the church I serve, declined to join the church recently. She did say that being with us has reduced her doubts about God. Our relationship (courtship?) continues without a "Yes! I'll join you!"

What if the answer our friend Andy received was, "No, but being with you has reduced my doubts about love"?

Would he just hear the "No"?

What kind of world would it be if Christians focused on living and loving so that others would "reduce their doubts about God" instead of striving to convert others to join them?

I hope I reduce some doubts today, about love and about God.

Leave No Doubt

We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. - 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

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The Answer to Prayer 
Sunday, August 23, 2009, 06:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Psalm 100 & Luke 11:5-13
Click to see scripture.

How God answers prayer.

This message 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.

Below is a text version transcribed by Marissa Hoover and edited by Mary Lu Ramsey. Pastor Christy thanks both of these volunteers for their ministry.

The sermon today is about the answer to prayer. Has anyone ever had an unanswered prayer? The picture on the front of the bulletin shows a man waiting for the phone to ring and it never does: unanswered prayer. In our scripture it talks about seeking and asking. More importantly it says that if we seek, we will find; if we knock, the door will be opened; that if we ask, it will be given. How does that stack up to your experiences? Some of you might have learned that it is true but I'm sure that would be rare among you. Some of you might say that you've learned not to ask for those tough things or impossible things. Some of you'd probably come back with a classic answer that I've been knocking, seeking and asking; but God's not ready to do that just yet I just need more patience.

I believe that it doesn't go into this deep, underlying part of this message. It doesn't talk about cause and effect or a mechanical view of the universe that somehow you can push a button or pull a lever and get back what you need. What it does show you is how you can be related to God, and what you have to do to ask and seek or knock. You have to believe that there is something out there worth asking and seeking or knocking. You have to put yourself out there. You have to go out in relationship. You have to show some faith in that there is good in the world. The last line of Psalm 100 is saying, “Hear, Israel, God is good. God's steadfast love endures forever.” If God's steadfast love endures forever, then you can confidently seek, ask and knock.

What if you never ask, never seek or never knock? You would be without relationship and wrapped up in yourself. You wouldn't be able to do anything in relationship. There is this great drug awareness commercial. It has this little girl that goes and asks her dad for a puppy. So, her dad goes and gets her a puppy. The next one, the girl is a little older and she asks if she can stay up late and he says, “Yes.” So, it goes on and each time the girl is a little older and taller. Finally, as a teenager, she comes to her dad and says, “Dad, I'm having some friends over. Can you buy us some beer? We'll stay right here to drink it and you can watch us.” He says, “No.” She says, “I hate you! You never give me anything I want!” The dad just looks at her.

My son, God bless him, had an hour between the end of school and the beginning of band practice. Those of you who are parents know that this is a recipe for disaster. One day, my son was walking to the store with his friends after school and he looked up because I was honking the horn. I was there in the parking lot between the school and the store. So, I took him and his friends to the store. So him and his friends get out and get what they want and come out and I had got them ice cream to eat. Then I gave them a ride back up to the school. All his friends got out and then Robert turned and asked me what I was doing there. I then told him, “I want you to know that at anytime, any place I can show up.” I told my kids, “I'm not your friend I am your parent. My job is to keep you safe and to make you a decent human being. Now, if you don't like me because of it or you're mad at me about it then, too bad. If I have to go through your room every night, read your diary, look under your bed, check out all your friends, or call the police on you to keep you safe then that is what I will so. I don't want to hear that I invaded your privacy because I'm telling you now that you have no privacy and you have no rights. I'm in charge of keeping you safe and making you a decent human being; and, I'm going to do whatever it takes to do that.”

My daughter went two weeks without speaking to me. It was lovely. She thought it was a punishment. Our argument was over phone usage. We don't know it and when we think we know how everything works our right to privacy or phone usage - then we get mad when it doesn't work out the way we wanted. We get sucked into the idea that we can pull a lever or push a button and get the results we want. One of the great tranquilizing drugs of all time, “Valium”, would not be approved today. It's tested more rigorously today against placebos sugar pills. Neither person in the study knows whether they get Valium or a sugar pill and more studies show that there in no difference. More pills are being washed out because their no better than a sugar pill. It's a sugar pill with people telling you it's a drug. It comes with a brand name and color and it's sugar. It won't do anything.

It turns out that cause and effect isn't everything. It turns out that relationship is the basic unit of the universe. When people have some relationship with the doctor they find the placebo effect goes up. It does better than a multi-million dollar drug. So when you compare cause and effect to relationship there isn't one. That suggests to me that there are things working in this universe that we do not understand and I call that God. I know that God is good and that he's looking out knowing that at any moment, God could pop up on the road and say, “What are you doing here?” Relationship is the essence of prayer. There is something called quantum entanglement. It is the understanding that just because you open a door, step through it and an alarm goes off, doesn't mean your stepping thorough the door caused the alarm to go off. It was just a coincidence.

When we look at results of prayer and unanswered prayer we're due or when we bought into the limited understanding of the universe that science wants to try out, the only things in the universe are things we can fit inside our head and understand - when we start to measure prayer to that - then we have already lost. Prayer, in its essence, is relationship. It is the belief in something good that somewhere you can risk yourself. Somewhere you can ask, you can seek and you can knock. There is goodness in relationship and in trust and in going out with others. That is a prayerful life. There was an experiment done on prayer. So the scientists make sure there is no relationship between the people the study showed prayer didn't work.

One scientist turned the question around and asked, “What if prayer is relationship?” So they studied only happily married couples. They electromagnetically isolated each of them to try to find a spiritual connection. So they showed the man a picture of his wife for 10 seconds. They told him to think good thoughts about his wife or say a prayer for her when they showed him her picture. The wife was hooked up to machines and monitors that show your body's and brain's responses. The study showed that within two seconds of the picture being flashed in front of the husband, the wife's brain's response spiked. There is no way cause and effect did that. They say that the chance of that happening is 1 in 11,000. That tells me that cause and effect doesn't explain everything. Ask, seek, knock not because of what you get and not because of the rewards of it; but, because of the relationship it testifies to - if you are with people when they need you and are there for them, and you believe that ask, seek and knock makes a difference, you believe that life is worth living, you believe that God is good and gives good things to his people.

A pastor friend of mine was devastated when, after she found the perfect church, she was voted down. She was really upset because she felt it was the perfect church for her. She was serving another church at the time. She went to their meeting and said to the Presbyterian Church Session, “My contract's up next month; we should probably talk about what's going to happen.” They said, “We don't have to talk about that.” They gave her a letter on church letterhead that was signed by everyone. They said that because of her greatness and compassion and leadership, we have come to find you to be an excellent pastor. We have decided to ask you to stay with us as the pastor. We will work out things such as travel. We want you to stay here, with us. I said, “What if that other church had said, “Yes?” Then you would have been torn between the two churches. God has spared you the agony and God's mercy did answer your prayer.

Yesterday started the holy month of Ramadan for our Muslim brothers and sisters. I'd like to close with a poem from a Muslim author about prayer.

“I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve. I have asked for prosperity and God gave me brains and strength to work. I asked for courage and God gave me danger to overcome. I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help. I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities. I received nothing I wanted. I received everything I needed. My prayer has been answered.

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Unanswered Prayer 
Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 08:52 AM - Extra Christy
Posted by Administrator
Yes, No, Not Yet, Not in that Way

Garth Brooks has a song about unanswered prayer. A prayer request is seemingly ignored, what he asks for doesn't happen. Years later, he finds out that his prayer was answered. God's answer was "No." And he sings his thanks for God answer which was better than his wish.

All prayers are answered sometimes the answer is: "No." Other times it is "Not Yet." or "Not in that Way."

In the movie, Bruce Almighty the title character playing God decides to answer all prayers with "Yes!" Chaos breaks out. One of the reasons for the riots is that 433,000 people win the lottery; but they each won 1/433,000 of the jackpot amount: 17 dollars.

Prayer is much more than a wish list. Prayer helps us to see God's work in the world (see "Prayer Prepares" July 16th) Sometimes that work takes a lifetime. And once, about 2,000 years ago, the answer was a life.

Prisoners Pray - Jailer Escapes!

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, 'Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.' The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before 6Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' - Acts 16:25-30

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tips and Tithes 
Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 08:03 AM - Extra Christy
Posted by Administrator
Tip Comes off the Top, Tithe Goes Deep

At our 8:15 AM Pastor Preview this Sunday, we talked about the difference between tipping and tithing.

The first difference comes from percentage. Tithing is always 10% where tipping ranges between 10% to 20%, usually toward the higher end of that range.

But the real difference is that tipping is based on the cost of the meal or service, what you spent. Tithing is based not on what you spent, but what you kept. Instead of saying, I tithe 10%, (or give, as the Gallup polls find, of between 3% to 5%) look at the other side, "I keep 90%" (or 95% or 97%).

The idea of tithing is that giving should make a difference in your life, just as God made a difference in yours. Christians believe that Christ died for them, he kept nothing back for himself. Everyone can benefit by counting what they kept for themselves, instead of what they give to others.

Hope you think about what how much you have to keep instead of how much you have to give.

Tip and Tithing at the Temple

[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.' - Luke 21:1-4

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