Two from Two Three 
Wednesday, September 27, 2006, 11:04 AM - Extra Christy
The best known Old Testament passage is probably Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd..." A funeral director told me that he always prints Psalm 23 on his funeral announcements because of two words out of the 115 that make up the entire Psalm. They are in verse 4:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. - Psalm 23:4

"Walk Through" is what he focuses on in this psalm. He counsels folks that one does not get over a death or around it, or anything but through it. The other word, "walk", tells us that the grieving process takes time to get through, it is a walk, not a sprint.

Maybe that is why Psalm 23 is a favorite psalm of folks. Faced with shallowness and hurriedness of modern life we yearn for depth and tranquility. Sadly, it often takes a death to make us slow down enough for God and loved ones to get through to us.

Try walking through part of your day today, you just might find the comfort of God waiting for you.

Photo by AV4TAr on Flickr used by permission

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Business as Usual 
Saturday, September 23, 2006, 08:08 PM - Other
Although I had planned to be a minister since my high school days, I chose business administration as my undergraduate major. My reasoning was that I would get plenty of religion in seminary, and my business knowledge would help me relate to my congregation and the rest of the "real world".

My first clear example of the value of a business background was when my supervisor handed me a scrap of paper on which was written the following:

One of the members of the congregation had found dozens of scraps of paper with these words and numbers written on them all over the house. They had been written by his recently deceased wife. He was confused why she would have written this message over and over. He asked his pastor, (my supervisor), what these messages meant.

My supervisor confessed that this was one of the hardest questions he had been called on to answer, since he could think of no sane reason why his wife would repeatedly write this phrase and then count the letters.

I looked at the scrap of paper, and remembering some of my Marketing 101, I asked my supervisor if this woman had been involved in retailing. He said she kept the books for a local store for years. I told him that some merchants use a ten-letter phrase that doesn't repeat any letters to code their costs on sales tickets and other documents. Maybe this was her store's code.

A phone call to the store proved that this was the case. The husband was relieved to know his wife wasn't fixated on the numerology of “Fear Thy God”. She had just taken her work home.

This first appeared in Monday Morning magazine in the early eighties when I was in seminary.

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Holiness Per Hour 
Wednesday, September 20, 2006, 04:34 PM - Extra Christy, Technology

I bought a computer last month. Of the dozen or so I've purchased over the years, this one is special. It is made for the car! It plugs into the OBD-II diagnostic connector under the steering wheel. (What a great geek connector name, much better than boring USB!) Among other functions it displays information about gas mileage: Current, Today, Yesterday, and Tank. (I have it in a drawer so I don't watch it instead of the road!)

Now that someone is "watching", I'm more fuel conscious about my driving: no more stomping the gas pedal between red lights! I don't idle while I'm parked and find myself using my windows instead of the air conditioning. I even changed my route to church to a more fuel friendly commute. I love seeing how high I can get the MPG reading: Can I beat yesterday's reading? Improve the overall tank mileage?

I wonder if I would react the same if there was a Holiness Per Hour readout I could check constantly. What is my HPH currently, today, yesterday? Would I change my behavior to inch the gauge toward a more efficient faith?

Be Happy at all times; pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God...1 Thessalonians 5:17- 18a

Maybe I need more gauges than general Holiness: Happiness, Prayerfulness, and Thankfulness indexes would be helpful in my daily faith walk as well.

Today consider your HPH readings, this week find someone you trust to talk about your HPH. You can find mileage tips in inspirational books, Bible study groups, Sunday School or church. Whether it is breath prayers throughout the day, counting your blessings by thanking others, volunteering or making time for your loved ones: You will probably be pleased to find how you can increase your faith mileage and go farther on your spiritual journey without running out of gas.

Hoping the spirit moves you!
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What Did You Say? 
Sunday, September 17, 2006, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Mark 8:27-38

I think for most Jesus is a good man with some interesting if impractical ideas who lived long ago and far away. The idea of praying for those who wish us harm, forgiving our enemies, losing our life to save it, doesn't seem practical today.

For some he is a big brother who you can call on when you are in trouble or don't know what else to do. Church attendance surged five years ago after the 9-11 attacks, but quickly returned to pre-attack levels.

Some say Jesus is part of the morals police and are careful not doing what Jesus doesn't allow. Rather than follow Jesus into the world, they hide from the world, using him as a shield.

Note how Jesus moves from who do people say that I am, to who do you say that I am. There is a difference between reporting what other people say and stating your own beliefs. When someone comes with reports of what “some people” say, I try to remember to ask what they themselves think. You can't have a conversation with people who aren't present, but you can have a meaningful talk with the person who brings the report. Jesus doesn't correct or comment on what other people are saying, he talks to the people who are with him. Relating to those with you and not arguing with “them” is the only thing you get out of this passage, it is a good lesson.

Peter gets it right, “You are the Messiah.” The chosen one of God! Anointed, in Greek: Christos, or Christ. Now Jesus starts explaining what Peter has said. Not that chosen one to restore Israel and throw off the hated Romans, but the chosen one to suffer, be rejected, die and rise again. This wasn't the answer that Peter gave. Can you imagine Peter, “But that's not what I said!” You are supposed to be the great powerful leader, not the suffering martyr! So he takes Jesus aside to tell him what he said.

This doesn't go well for Peter, minutes ago the star pupil! Jesus said “Get behind me,” which is the same words that Jesus used to call Peter and the disciples, although we are used to hear it translated: “Follow Me.” Rather than throwing him out, Jesus is calling him back. Get in line behind me! For now you are like Satan who sets his mind on human things and not divine things.

How often do we get in front of Jesus? Like Peter pulling Jesus the way we want him to go? How many of our prayers are out in front of Jesus instead of behind him? What if we dedicated a portion of our prayer time and spiritual walk to seeing where Jesus is going and trying to follow him? What would be a difference between a leading prayer and a following prayer, a prayer that looked to divine things and not human things?

Lord, I need more money for the rent payment. That would be getting out in front of the Lord. Lord, here is the problem and the solution, hop to it! What would be getting behind the Lord? God, I'm broke. It is worrying me something awful. I don't know what I am going to do. It is grinding down my faith and dulling my hope. Help me trust you, Lord. Show me where you are leading me. How can I be faithful to you in this?

I surprise people when I ask for prayer requests when I visit folks. I try not to get ahead of them, putting what I think others should say to God instead of their own prayers to God. Sometimes I'm surprised, “What did you say?” I exclaim as they tell me about a family member who is worrying them much more than the surgery I was ready to pray for, or a hurt from long ago that needs to be brought to light in prayer instead of the distractions of the present moment.

We are like our stained glass window. We want to be in front of Jesus, where he can see us and come to our aid on our way. We call him to us, to where we are suffering and struggling, to rescue us. Yet the window is reversed. We need to go where Jesus is. We need to follow Jesus' call to come to him, even if the path is through tears.

When we set our mind on something and then tell God that's the way it should be, when we try to lead Jesus instead of follow him…we are on the wrong side, the human side, Satan's side. If Jesus is your co-pilot…you're in the wrong seat! Even the good saying WWJD what would Jesus do is misleading. WWJHMD What would Jesus have me do is closer to a follower of Jesus.

There is a story about the renowned Rabbi Zusya, who, as he was dying began softly to weep before the disciples gathered around his bed.

“Why do you weep?” they asked. “Because I am afraid,” said Rabbi Zusya. “I am afraid of what God will ask me when I die. I know God will not ask me, ‘Why were you not like Abraham?' -- for who am I next to the man who first recognized the Almighty? And I know God will not ask me ‘Why were you not like Moses?' -- after all, I am not a great prophet or leader. But when God looks upon me and says, ‘Zusya, my child -- why were you not Zusya?' What shall I say then?”

You see it isn't about who other people say Jesus is, not even about who we say Jesus is; it is all about who Jesus says we are and our accepting the job description. Our task is to move from in front of Jesus pulling him after us, even declining a place at his side as an equal to him, and getting behind him as a follower. There we will find our cross, our task, the purpose in our life: once we deny ourselves, put our mind on things divine, cease trying to save our human life and seek after eternal life.

Who does Jesus say you are? You will find the answer when you take up the cross he has for you for his sake and the sake of the good news of the gospel. I don't know what your cross is; I'm working hard on finding my own. I hope that Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church will help you find your cross. I can tell you that it will not be the same as mine. I do know it will not make you rich on a human scale. I suspect it doesn't even make any sense economic or otherwise from a purely human point of view. I know it is service to others. I know it is good news to share. I know it has more questions than answers. I know it will cost your life, just like anything else you choose to do or not do, for none of us can save our life, even doing nothing life is still spent. But of all the ways you can spend your life, I know that following Jesus carrying your cross, becoming the person Jesus is calling you to be, is the wisest way to spend the life you have been given.
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Sunday School Dating 
Wednesday, September 13, 2006, 08:19 AM - Extra Christy
Sunday I'll be speaking at the small Presbyterian church of my childhood about growing up among the faithful at the corner of Market and Rose. I was there from kindergarten through my ordination in my early twenties.

My most significant memory is when the social and sacred mixed one weekend when I was in high school. I took a date to my Sunday School teacher's house! It was his idea of getting to know us better. We went bowling and then over to his house for dessert. I took a young woman active in Youth for Christ, she was intrigued with going on a Sunday School class outing, which I was counting on when I asked her.

The date was uneventful; I thought. The surprise came the next morning when my Sunday School teacher pointed out to me how different I acted on a date than at Sunday School! I denied it of course, but he wouldn't give up. He pointed out it wasn't bad way of acting, just different. Reflecting later, I realized he was right and began working on being one person wherever I was. (Much to the surprise of folks who put on their Sunday Best personalities for church and expect everyone else does too.)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.- Galatians 3:28

I've always read this verse about differences between peoples, but I think it can also be about different identities within ourselves. We have several identities: worker, spouse, ethic group, gender, friend, family member, club member, parent, economic status, political perference, etc. But if we are Christian, that identity takes precedence over all others.

Growing up in a small church where folks knew all the different "yous" helped me become the person I am today, perhaps more importantly, it helped me become the one person I am today: One in Christ.

Hope You Listen to Your Teachers!

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