A Football Job 
Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 07:34 AM - Extra Christy, Radio
I do like to watch football. High School live and Steelers on DVR (I skip the 30 seconds between plays!) I can't imagine playing on that field. I would have trouble running the plays, even if there were only offense on the field!

But that is not how the game is played. Even with the best planning and great effort you can still fail to make your goal because the other team is also on the field, and they are doing all they can to stop you.

I thought about my life and work. I often expect the field to be clear of opposition when I make my brilliant plays. I'm surprised to find there are other players on the field that are not on my team!

A major part of the game is how a team faces opposition, the third down play where the first two downs didn't get the job done or the quarterback that runs a pattern and throws an accurate pass even when large determined men are running toward him trying to knock him down.

I suppose the greatest come from behind victory is the resurrection after death by Christ. Even with all the opposition evil could bring to the field, Jesus got up and made the saving play.

I hope you continue toward your goals despite opposition. If you suffer on your way to do good and be better, remember that is what happens when you're on Jesus' team.

Play Book

And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. -- Luke 9:22-24 (NIV)

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Talent Show 
Sunday, November 16, 2008, 08:10 AM - Sermon
Matthew 25:14-30

Talent originally meant a measure of weight. So a talent of gold or silver was used as a measure of money. The exact weight of a talent varies from 60 to over a 100 pounds. So a talent was a large amount of money.

From the original meaning of weight, talent has come to mean a skill or ability due to this parable. I think it is helpful to keep the original meaning in mind when talking about the current meaning of talent.

Having a talent can be a weighty thing. Two of the servants in this story worked one buried it. Got it off his hands, no longer worried about it. Knew how much had, not like stock. There is something to be said for burying a talent, no gain, but no risk either. Free from using it.

Procrastination is one way to bury talent. Keeping the work buried until the last minute to keep from doing your best you put off the work, the project, or the job until you have to dig it up at the last minute and turn it in. I didn't have much time. I could have done better. Risk avoidance.

Saving it is another way to bury talent. Saving is not encouraged in the Bible, the Hebrews are not allowed to save Manna, the disciples are to take only the bare necessities on their journey, parables talk about the futility of building large barns…when the trust is in things to save us instead of God to provide us, hoarding things is seen as not trusting God.

The two that get the larger amounts are treated the same way. They doubled their original gifts are praised and given even more. The reward for good work? More work!

One servants buries his talent. He does this not out of desire that is the best course in uncertain economic times, but out of the belief that his master is harsh, and reacts in fear of a demanding God not faith in a generous God. He gives back to this master exactly what the master gave him. No more or no less. The master is not pleased.

Next month, Sam Sapp is giving us a taste of next year's Sunday School using Joan of Arcadia television shows. In this television show, Joan, a high school student, is directed by God again and again to unearth their talents. She is directed to be a cheerleader, join the chess club, the debate club, work on the yearbook, get an after school job and build a boat. Each time she invests in a new talent ripples of God's love reach out and move the world closer to God's kingdom.

Imagine a Christmas when you get a gift. It is familiar then you realize that it is the exact same gift you gave the person last year! You've been regifted! The box is unopened, the gift unused. Are you even? It gift calculus run by some, it balances perfectly, you have got back exactly what you were given. No disparity of generosity exists. Yet, we would be upset, because we gave the gift to be used. We are like God in that way. God is not pleased when abilities and resources he has entrusted us with are returned unused, unshared, unmultiplied.

There were two boys. One was a boy who made it a point every time his relatives visited to get out the last gift he had received from them and play with it when they could see. The relatives were pleased to see their gift being used and enjoyed. The other boy took special care to store the gifts in the original box unused but perfectly preserved on the shelf. (Maybe he's a eBay millionaire by now!) But over time, the boy who used the toys got even more toys, because he enjoyed them and the joy was multiplied when the givers saw the joy. The boy with the toys on the shelf got less, because he hadn't even used the ones he had, why did he need more? Want more blessings from God? Then use the ones you have!

Next time you are at the front doors of this building on the church side, look at the year on the cornerstone. 1929. The year the stock market crashed. That financial meltdown took away the financing for this building. Now the congregation could have buried the foundation and just hunkered down at their building on Para, but they didn't. With some arm twisting by the Goodyear, an insurance company financed the building at a reduced amount and up this sanctuary went. What an investment! Not just in this congregation but in the future of Goodyear Heights, Akron and the country. When everything was falling down our spiritual forebearers build up. Look how the use of their talents have multiplied.

Ever come to church and GET MONEY? Well, it happened at least once. As a young pastor I signed a personal note for $500 and gave out $20 “talents” to twenty-five people. The sermon was on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. After inviting a response, I had people sign out $25 to invest for the Lord and return in two months. I bought an Ad with my money and gave computer lessons and help. Others bought ingredients and baked pies for sale, others put up preserves, one did a quilt. One added $25 to his day trading amounts and played the stock market! And yes, one buried the $25 bill and turned it back in, unopened, just like our Bible story.

The money was turned in at the end of the two months and I paid off the note. We also had money left over to give to mission. The most important dividend was in the life of one of the participants. He was working at solid but unfulfilling job, but always wanted to draw. So he bought inks and canvas and created beautiful drawings. His wife saw them and “invested” in him to do more for her talent investment. Her talent was recognizing and encouraging talent in others. They sold well, which encouraged him to quit his day job and become a full time graphic artist! When I left several years later, he was happily using his talent as full time employment!

God gave us talents, personally and corporally to use, not to bury and preserve, but to spend, invest for the growth of his kingdom. Do not fear Don't be afraid to use your talents! God will bless you just as Jesus promises in Matthew 25.

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Lighted Windows 
Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 11:33 AM - Extra Christy, Radio
I had a second meeting with an engaged couple this morning. After we met, the groom wanted to see the stained glass windows in the sanctuary. When we met in the evening, he just saw dark shapes outlined in gray. (After all, stained glass windows are solar powered.)

The windows were alive this morning! The light revealed the beauty hidden during his last visit. There was no change in the building or the windows between visits. The difference was that this time, they were lighted from beyond.

Jesus talks about being the light of the world. In the Gospel of John he describes himself as that light. In Matthew, he tells his followers that they are the light of the world as well.

Seeing the difference that the addition of light makes to the church windows, bringing out hidden beauty, helps me understand the role of Christ and his followers in a dark world.

We are to show the world the beauty that is already there, but unnoticed and overlooked without light. Be that light.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.' -- John 8:12 (NRSV)

'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)

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God's Choice 
Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 11:31 AM - Extra Christy
It's the day after election. Some of the people and issues I supported lost and some won. I imagine that this is the experience shared by most Americans this morning.

For the parts of the election that our choices didn't prevail, I offer a part of our worship time Sunday. Rather than asking the "God's choice" win, our prayers acknowledged that whoever wins the election will become God's choice for God turns all things to the good. Our prayers were that however the elections turned out; we would continue to work together to do God's will in God's world.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even election results. I pointed out that our scripture for the day was from Revelation (never Revelations) and gave Reverend Tim Shapiro's commentary on the last book of the Bible: "No matter how bad things get; God will save God's people." Now things get pretty bad in Revelation, yet God saves God's people and prevails over all the evil in the universe. So, I believe that God will get us through this election cycle too.

Whether or not you are pleased with the election results, rest assured that the most important contest has been decided in our favor. God wins and so does humanity.

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. - 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 (NIV)

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Wiping Away Tears 
Sunday, November 2, 2008, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Revelation 7:17

The message below is available as podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the image at the right to download this message in mp3 file format.

The families we welcome today know tears. We come together today to celebrate the saints, to wipe away the tears if only for a moment in anticipation and hope of the day when all tears are wiped away.

Even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Tears come in times of grief, when we lose someone or even something. Some believe that the presence of tears is proof of the absence of God. Yet God does not prevent tears, God is the one who wipes the tears away. The tears are real, the tears are blessed. In the book, The Shack, author William P. Young has the Holy Spirit collecting tears in a bottle because she values them enough to collect them.

How is this possible? With the grief and suffering in the world, how can even God wipe away every tear?

She was born screaming. The bright light and open space assaulted her as she passed from warm, dark, quiet, confinement of the womb to the delivery room. Eyes squeezed shut and mouth super size she let out a cry and pegged the Agar score as if it should be the Richter Scale of earthquakes. But a few moments later laid on her mother's chest, she quieted down as her mother kissed away the tears of her newborn. She had wiped away her tears, for all the pain and discomfort, as real and overwhelming as there were moments ago, now, though no less real, were wiped away with the warm bundle of promise fulfilled and yet to come on her chest.

No! screamed the two year old with all the power and force of a toddler determined to bend the universe to her will. She was tired but nap time was the enemy within, to be resisted with screams of outrage and tears of rage against the grasp of unconsciousness pulling at her eyelids. Her father knew the tears could only be cured by sleep and walked around the house, his words like a whisper in a hurricane. But the demon spawn was transformed into an angel as sleep soothed out the stormy creases in her face. Gently he kissed away her tears, the salt stinging his lips in an echo of the siren wound down. The calm after the storm he thought, as he thanked God for his daughter and for the gift of rest; for both of them.

She looked at the back of her preschooler, running away toward her class. Will she look back? She didn't know if she wanted her to or not. Darn, I told myself I wasn't going to cry. Now I hope she doesn't look back. She didn't look. My baby is growing up, she thought, ready to take on the world, at a preschool level anyway. And the tears were caught with a satisfied, even proud smile.

Where is she? It is passed her curfew and no call and no daughter. Maybe he should give in and get her a cell phone. Yet he could get home on time without one. What if something had happened? Who was she with? Jenny? Sarah? He should have driven her, no matter how much she hated parental baggage. He jumped up, ignoring the drone of the television, was that a car door? Yes, the front door was opening and there she was. He didn't realize how tense he was until he saw her, then he caught himself slouching as the relief unlocked his joints. He dabbed at a little tear, he was supposed to be angry not weepy! She was late, but she was safe. What to do? “Sorry, I'm late. I told them I had to be home.” Relief won out, “Well, I'm just glad you're home safe.” And joy replaced the fear.

The room was still full even though she had moved to college. How is that possible? Is there some law of conservation of mess? She picked up a few clothes to provide a path through the storage closet with windows that used to be her daughter's room when she uncovered her varsity hoodie. How many times had she tried to get her not to wear that beat up cover up? She even had it on Easter Sunday! Now it was benched, new players were in the game. She said she wanted to do other things in college and just like pre-school, left the home field for new challenges and hadn't looked back. Now why was she beginning to cry over the pull over she didn't even like! Silly, she thought, it is for the best, as she dried her face with the discarded hoodie.

How many pictures are too many? Everyone had a camera at graduation and the combinations of friends, parents, parents of friends, classmates, dormmates, and roommates multiplied by the tsunami of emotions from squeals of victory to tears of separation made no face safe. The commotion of commencement covered the tears shed during the student's speech, when she realized that beginnings and ends are not halted by being captured in digital devices. No matter how many cameras were focused on the moment, commencement ends college as it begins adulthood.

Everyone cries at weddings. No matter how much others tell you not losing a daughter, but gaining a son…you still “give away the bride”. You go back to your seat without her, you don't take them both back with you. Going down the aisle, the vision of her playing dress up intrudes, as if the moistness of your eyes wasn't troubling enough. She has been planning this day for years, you've seen it coming the first time you saw them together, why are there tears now and not then? Denial was easier back then comes the answer. Here it is, undeniably, another sad happy time together. Why does newness spring from tears like flowers from rain? Is the only way to happiness, through the sadness? She is happy, no, they are happy. The two shall be come one.

At birth, tears were wiped away by a new life, so too does Christ give us new life in heaven.

At two, tears were wiped away by rest richly deserved, so too does Christ grant us rest from life's burdens.

At preschool, tears were wiped away by a task well done, so too does Christ welcome the servant whose task is completed.

At sixteen, tears were wiped away by arriving safely at home, we are safe from all in this world and the next by the love of God of which nothing can separate us.

Going to college, tears were wiped away by a covering no longer needed. We no longer need the body, for we have new ones waiting for us in our next dwelling.

At her wedding, tears were wiped away knowing that the loved one was in care of one who loved her. So too we can trust the one who is the way the truth and the life to lead us safely in love to our eternal home.

Every tear shall be wiped away. As Christ gives us new life, rest from life's burdens, welcome to the servants, safety from evil, freedom from the limits and failures of the physical, and a life joined with the one who loves us like no other from either end of time.

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