Saturday, June 18, 2011

More on This Year's Mission Week

As mentioned here on Wednesday, Monday through Friday was the 2011 Mission Week for the youth of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church and the adults who assisted and supervised them throughout. It's another way the people of our congregation try to share the love of Jesus Christ in practically.

On Thursday, the group did a lot of yard work for a couple who, because of illness, weren't able to keep up. Both Thursday and Friday, the group got some painting done at another local residence. Most of Friday was taken up with cleaning, sprucing up, and mulching at the church building.

Last night, we had a lock-in at the church building.

Thanks to Glenn and Sue for a great lunch on Thursday.

Below are pictures and videos from the week.

Dick and Stephen look over what needs to be done next.

video
Lori and Kirsten do some trimming. Laikyn takes the brush to a burn pile.

video
Mike and Kayla clear a path, while Jim, Critter, Jacob, and Stephen do some heavy-duty pruning.

video
The group works while the preacher takes pictures.

Jim scrapes.

Stephen puts down mulch at Worthington Park. The group did this work for Logan in Bloom in order to help prepare for this weekend's Washboard Festival in Logan.

video
Critter did the hard work of loading the mulch brought to Worthington Park in the back of a pick-up truck into buckets, then taking them to the other Saint Matthew folks spreading the mulch.

video
Had to include this one! Jacob and Critter continuing to transport mulch from the pick-up to other Saint Matthew folks at Worthington Park. When I said that we'd have to be our own media, it refers to the fact that I had just returned from the offices of the local newspaper to see if they'd be interested in covering our mission week. They were, but with it being such a busy week in Logan, they didn't have a reporter to spare. They asked if I'd submit a story. I will.

The group pictured at Glenn's and Sue's, where they worked hard and then enjoyed a fantastic lunch provided by our hosts!

video
Stephen and Jacob tell me about the work the entire group had done that morning. We ponder the mystery of what we later learned is a defunct man-cave. But where's Critter?

In this picture, some of our group can be seen putting down mulch. From left to right: Jacob, Dick, Kirsten, Lori, Stephen, Mike, Kayla, (Jim's hat visible above her), and Critter.

Mike works hard.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scandals

In this era when there are few moral standards, a new scandal seems to hit every week. As a society, we feign being scandalized, but we don't seem to really know right from wrong.

It isn't that the so-called "puritanical" crowd goes after folks like Representative Andrew Weiner; it's, by and large, those who claim that truth is relative who get all hot and bothered about these "scandals," many of them pols who fearfully anticipate how their constituents might react if they don't respond the scandal du jour with moral rectitude.

The people least scandalized by "scandal" are, it seems to me, those seeking to authentically follow Jesus Christ. People like this recognize that the whole human race, including themselves, are faulty and sinful. They recognize sin and the need for the forgiving grace that comes from God through Christ.

If crimes or violations of ethical standards are violated, there must be consequences, of course. But Christians are "shockproof" when it comes to human frailty; we recognize the disease from the inside out and that prayer for all sinners is our weapon of choice, not the nastiness of the mob.

What a Steady Diet of Soft Drinks Will Do To You

What we in Ohio call "pop" isn't good for you. (Thanks to The News Diva for linking to this article.)

The Mission Week So Far

Today brought us to Day 3 of our local mission week.

By way of background, three years ago and again two years ago, a large group of Saint Matthew youth and a few adults, including me, participated in Group Workcamps mission trip weeks, in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Nashville, Tennessee. As had been true of a mission trip I took with youth and adults from a congregation I previously served, we had great experiences on both of those trips, working with folks from other congregation (of varying denominations) working with places like community centers, thrift shops, Christian education programs, senior centers, and so on. We cleaned, planted, weeded, mulched, sorted, built, painted, and so on.

Last year, we decided that we would "go local" and do our own local mission "trip" in our home area of Logan and Hocking County. It went so well that we opted to do it again this year.

The reason we undertake mission weeks--or many of the other things we do to share God's love in practical ways with others--is pure and simple: Jesus has told us to! We remind ourselves of this throughout the week. Biblical passages we've looked at on the first three mornings of this year's mission have reminded us of this:

  • In Acts 1:6-8, the risen Jesus, just before going to heaven, told His disciples to share the Good News that all can have new and everlasting life with God when they turn from sin and believe in Him. As followers of Jesus, we're to share this wonderful news in both word and deed in our own communities and in the whole world. We do this through our mission weeks.
  • Acts 2:44-46 finds the first Christians not only being outwardly focused toward the world, serving and loving others outside the Christian family, but also looking out for others within the Christian family. We do this through our mission weeks, when we undertake projects for some folks from within out own Saint Matthew congregation.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we aren't saved by the kinds of good works we do during our mission weeks. We are saved from sin and death by Christ's death and resurrection and our faith in Jesus. But, James 2:14-17, reminds us that if you have become one of God's people through Christ, then you will undertake good works as a way of thanking God and loving God back.

Here's this year's mission week schedule for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. We...

  • meet at 8:00 for breakfast, devotions, and prayer (the devotions remind us of why we serve)
  • split into two crews to take on two projects at the same time
  • have a lunch provided for us by wonderful folks or fix our own from lunch meats we have on hand
  • do more work
  • finish up at 3:30

Among the projects we've taken on this year
  • scraping and painting a porch
  • weeding flower beds
  • weeding and mulching at a local public park
  • volunteering at a food pantry
  • made logs 
There will be more projects over the next few days.

We've been blessed with the help, supervision, transportation, and food provided by adult members of the congregation.

The youth who have participated have, once more this year, dug in and worked hard and had fun together!

I love the way the mission week brings youth and adults together.

Today, we put a little bit of fun and a great additional service project into the week's mix. We met at the church building at 7:45, then drove to Columbus, about an hour away.

In the morning, we toured the American Whistle Corporation's small manufacturing facility. This company is the only manufacturer of metal whistles in the United States. The ten employees churn out tens of thousands of whistles every year. This was interesting and the tour guide made it lots of fun. (I got the idea for doing this after seeing the tour featured on Ohio News Network. American Whistle Corporation's manufacturing process has also been profiled on the Discovery Channel.)

After the tour, we went to Tommy's Pizza's East Lane Avenue location, across from the campus of The Ohio State University. Although my pizza-eating days are largely over (except for the occasional half-slice of the real stuff or individual servings of the healthy stuff), Tommy's remains my favorite pizza on the planet. And while Martha and I ate our salads and many dove into subs, I think the rest of the group enjoyed their pizza. Before eating, the sixteen of us joined in praying a common Lutheran table grace:
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen
We had six youth, three children, and seven adults for our foray to Columbus and, after lunch, we went to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry on Champion Avenue on Columbus's south side. This is an impressive operation.

People needing food evidently screened into the process when they arrive at the pantry.

Volunteers then meet these folks with shopping carts and proceed to help to bag items from categories like grains, proteins, meats, vegetables, breads, greens, and fruits.

What I love about the process is that, for the recipients of the food, it's more like going shopping than it is sticking out their hands. That diminishes any threat to their dignity.

I also love the interaction with the clients the process gave to volunteers like us. It was fun talking about various foods and different ways of preparing them with folks as we moved from aisle to aisle with shopping carts today.

Most of our folks were involved in dealing with the recipients directly in this way. But some of our young people were drafted to bring food items upstairs from a basement storage area, replenishing supplies on the main floor. This was really needed, as some of the LSS staff told us that today brought an unusually large number of folks to the pantry today.

There were a number of volunteers from Bank of America too. They appeared to be working really hard.

I was unable to snap pictures at either the American Whistle Corporation or at the food pantry. I took some pictures and videos on the Monday and Tuesday of our mission week. I'll hopefully post those later.

In no particular order, I want to thank the following folks for their hard work with the mission week so far:
Kayla
Isaac D. (aka: Critter)
Jacob
Stephen
Laikyn
Kirsten
Lori E.
Mike M.
Jim V.
Jim K.
Dick B.
Martha S.
Bob and Carolyn
Martha
Sarah G.
Isaac G.
Megan G.
Debbie K.
Cameron
Nancy
Jim F.
Tony (aka: Chuck!)

We're also thankful to all who have donated items and money. I'm especially grateful to all who are praying that God will keep us safe, teach us to serve in Christ's Name, and have fun. (I hope that I haven't forgotten anyone!)

More volunteer names will be added as we come into the last two days of the mission, which will include a Friday night sleep deprivation...er, lock-in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

These Lines Will Go Into a Song, If I Ever Get It Finished

The tentative title of the song is The Stranger, not to be confused with the Billy Joel composition of the same name. In this case, the Stranger is a real person. These words come from the perspective of somebody who knows the Stranger:
When I say the things they want to hear
They're quick to smile and lead a cheer
But when I speak truth that they despise
They mock and spit and roll their eyes

"I'm announcing that in a week, I'll be announcing"

This sort of thing is just one part of the utter lunacy with which we elect presidents. John Huntsman has announced that he's going to announce his candidacy for president. Until then, I know, the suspense will be almost unbearable for you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

There Are No Second Class Believers!

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today. Today is Pentecost Day, the third great festival of the Church Year.]

Numbers 11:24-30
Acts 2:1-20
If there’s nothing else you remember from today’s sermon, please remember this: There are no second class believers!

Our Bible lessons from Numbers and Acts for this Pentecost, the festival of the Holy Spirit, drive this point home. In the whole history of the world, any person who has called on the Name of the Lord is saved from sin and death and futility. That includes you!

Bob Dylan once sang that “even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.” It was a reminder that all human beings are equal in their failings, flaws, and sins.

Dylan was right. But those who believe in Jesus Christ are also covered by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for sinners like you and me. We are covered by the grace—the charitable forgiveness and acceptance of God—given to all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ. There are no second class believers!

There are differences in function among us. But that doesn’t make a preacher more important than a plumber, or a theologian more of a Christian than a teacher. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

God always grants the Holy Spirit to every believer, no matter what their individual talents or professions, all for the same single purpose.

Please pull out the special insert and look at our first lesson from Numbers. Now, to those of you who have been participating in Read the Bible in a Year, the background of this particular passage will be familiar. Numbers recounts some of what happened when God’s people, Israel, after more than 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, wandered in the wilderness for forty years before arriving in the land that God had promised them.

Numbers tells us that God’s people tested God (or rebelled against God) seven times in this period. (Likely they tested God even more than that. But Numbers tells us about seven major incidents.) Our text comes in the narration of the second test, a time when not just the people of Israel rebelled against God, but their leader Moses did too!*

Just a short time before, the people had been on the brink of starvation when God started daily to provide them with manna, a mysterious bread-like substance. The people had been grateful for God’s provision for a time. But now the people were whining about wanting to have meat to eat. “We’re tired of this manna!” they said. Fed up with the complaining of the people, God tells Moses, “The people want meat? I’ll give them meat. I’ll give them so much meat that they’ll end up vomiting it through their noses.”

That’s a lot of meat! And it’s this overabundant promise and threat that saw Moses rebel against God. Totally forgetting who had been providing Israel—and him—with “daily bread,” Moses asks where on earth he was supposed to get so much meat? He also wonders what God expected him to do with such a people. Here, Moses is expressing two feelings: doubts about God’s power and frustration with having to be Israel’s earthly leader.

To Moses’ doubts, God asks, “Is the Lord’s power limited?” (Or, more literally, “Is the Lord’s hand too short?”) Here, God was reminding Moses that He was no less powerful than He had been on the day He delivered them from Pharaoh. In the midst of crises, we need to remember that the God Who was helping us yesterday can still help us today.

To Moses’ frustrations, God orders that seventy elders of Israel be gathered near the tent containing the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence lived among His people. There, God poured out His Spirit on the seventy. They began to prophesy. That is, they spoke God’s Word. Moses didn’t need to go it alone in sharing God’s Word with the people. Just as happened on Pentecost ten days after the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, the elders with Moses in about 1400BC, were empowered to tell about “the mighty deeds of God.”

After this amazing event took place, two other Israelites, Eldad and Medad, neither one an elder, who had drawn close to God just as the elders were getting together, gave evidence that God’s Spirit had come to them, too. They began to proclaim God’s greatness. They prophesied.

A young man heard this and found it highly irregular. This guy was like the person who says at a Church Council meeting, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Or even worse, the person at the same meeting who adds, “And we never will.” He didn’t think that Eldad and Medad were authorized to have the Holy Spirit. So, he ratted them out. Hearing this complaint, Joshua begged Moses to stop Eldad and Medad. But Moses wouldn’t do that. “Are you jealous for my sake?” Moses asks Joshua. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!”

Pentecost celebrates the day when God’s Holy Spirit came to the first followers of Jesus. Just as Jesus had instructed them before He ascended into heaven, they had prayed for the Spirit’s power to come upon them. And He did, empowering them to tell, in ways the thousands gathered in Jerusalem that day could understand, the mighty works of God. That included the mightiest work of all, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true human being, so that all who turn from sin and believe in Him can live eternally with God!

The odd thing is that the Holy Spirit had already been given to these believers. In John, chapter 20, the risen Jesus breathed on the first Christians and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But you see, the Holy Spirit can breathe on us anew, even when our enthusiasm is waning or times are tough.

That’s because the Spirit is infinite. He’s not like gas you pump into your car that runs out. And even if you’re full of the Spirit, He can fill you up even more. The Spirit can be “pressed down, shaken together, running over” in us. The Spirit ensures that there are no second-class believers. All who believe in Jesus Christ are given the capacity to trust in God and the ability, within their own spheres of life, to share Christ with others.

Of course, some Christians would rather remain second-class believers. That way, they don’t feel the need to live or share their faith. The excuses are many: “Let the younger ones do it. I did my time.” “I’m not very good at that.” “I don’t know my Bible very well (and I’m not going to try to do so either).” And so on.

But others are happy to have the Spirit’s power to fulfill their calling to spread the Good News of Jesus in their own ways. At a conference, I heard a pastor recount the day he told a carpenter (God likes carpenters, you know) that even in his carpentry shop, he could be an ambassador for Jesus. Tears welled up in the man’s eyes as he asked, “I can do that?”

In recent days, I’ve read about other Christians who have claimed their God-given places as first-class believers who share Jesus with the world. I read about an engineering student who graduated magna cum laude who’d had offers from top firms. But during his junior year, he’d given his life to Christ and subsequently decided to take a lower-paying job with a firm that worked to provide engineering for people in Third World countries.

I read about a teacher who had worked in a suburban school district, but decided that her way of following Christ must take her to an inner-city classroom instead. But she went the extra mile, visiting her students’ homes, trying in her own way to share Jesus. At one home, she discovered that the girl in her class was one of five children, aged 3 to 15, being raised by a single mom in a few rooms, with a few beds, their apartment heated by the kitchen oven being turned on and left open. That teacher didn’t go to the church council to ask for permission to be a Christian. She simply went to some of her prayer partners from church and together, they began taking care of this family, telling them about Jesus as they did.

I read too, about a retired couple who spend most of their time going to the sites of natural disasters, bringing help. The husband even went to Sri Lanka during a civil war. When asked why they do what they do, this guy asked, “What else would we do in our retirement years?” Besides, he went on, his main object in life is to share Jesus with as many people as possible.

All of these people—and millions more—have shaken off the lie about some Christians being more important than others or being more able to spread the Good News of Jesus than others. They’ve committed themselves to sharing Jesus where they are, with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to them.

Another person like this is our own Mike McGonagle. Once again this year, Mike will be working with our youth on their local mission “trip.” Mike can share Christ in ways that I never could because the Spirit has blessed Mike with gifts I don’t possess. And Mike will tell you that last year’s mission was one of the most gratifying experiences of his life. The service God may call us to render in Jesus’ Name will vary widely, but the Holy Spirit can empower each of us in our own individual serving.

Martin Luther said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is [also] a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” In the power of the Spirit, we are both lords and servants, all in the Name of Jesus. There are no second-class believers.

Let today be your Pentecost. Claim all it is that God has called you to be and that the Holy Spirit has empowered you to be: In your own way, dare to tell others about Jesus.

In a word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, take the life God has given to you and LIVE! Amen!

*Moses did this again during the sixth rebellion of the people against God recorded in Numbers.