More love, less hurt

Each month our church puts out a calendar to the members with the birthdays, anniversaries and events of the month. I also put a little blurb on the back to the members. Each month I struggle with what to say. The first year, I concentrated on the weather and the season and the crops. This year, I am trying to branch out a bit and share things that we should be thinking about as Christians. I hope this is something you, too, can make some sense of.

Church Newsletter: September 2015 St. Paul’s UCC Eureka, SD

I have been troubled this week by another mass shooting in our country. Some want to claim the answer is to take away all of the means to shoot someone whether it is to make it harder to own a gun or just eliminate them altogether. I am sure that I wouldn’t have to ask more than two people in our area to find three who are against that plan. Yes I said ask two to find three. What if instead of taking away the weapon, we took away the hatred? What if we took away the pain that caused the person behind the weapon to want to use it? What if we replaced the anger with love? I remember watching a movie in high school (no clue about the title) in which the main characters were infected by a germ that made them happy. It was very contagious and everyone they came in contact with became infected. To me it seemed like a wonderful infection, but as the plot of the movie went on the disease was eliminated. Too many company executives were concerned about the money they would lose. They said sales would be hurt if people didn’t need pills or gadgets or trips to make them happy. What a sad world we live in. As I watched interviews about a recent shooting victim, I was struck that no one mentioned faith in talking about the deceased. No mention of the reassurance a relationship with Christ gives us in a time of loss no matter what the circumstances. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul makes it clear that nothing, not death, not anything can keep us from the love of Jesus, if we believe. It would be wonderful to have a world where everyone can be happy all the time, but we don’t. Thank goodness we can have a personal relationship with a Savior who loves us and a God who draws us near, so we have hope for our tomorrow.


Sincerity in belief and in action

Message from last Sunday. Scripture was James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15 & 21-23. Title in the bulletin is “Sincerity in Doing.”

As you know we own cats. Let me rephrase that, we have cats. Like most cat people, they sometimes allow us to live in our own house. Although when I was cleaning up after the old one on Friday, my mother’s cat who is now over 20 years old, I was not so sure we are really being allowed to live in all parts of the house. She has sort of made some of it intolerable. I am afraid we are going to be making a very hard decision before winter if things don’t happen naturally before then.

Part of being cat owners or cohabiters with them is the point I was intending to make and that is with them in the house, I am always paranoid that someone will be eating at my table and find a cat hair in their food. It mortifies me to think that could happen. I believe for that reason, and perhaps the low-grade cupboards we used to have, I am forever cleaning pots and bake ware and such before I use them. Are the pots and utensils really clean is always something I have on my mind, and now with the canning getting into full swing it will be the hand washing. Are my hands clean enough to handle the tomatoes and other garden produce that goes into the jars? You certainly don’t want to get sick or worse, make someone sick because you didn’t handle something correctly.

The story in Mark that we read earlier today might be seen on a superficial level as being about cleanliness in a kitchen. We might want to stop and say, “Why is Jesus scolding the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders for following a custom that likely came about because of a cleanliness issue.” If we look into some of the Jewish customs and laws, we learn that certain of their rituals and rules, like not eating pork actually came about because of the sickness that came with it at that time. If that is so then why is cleaning their pots and cleaning their hands such a bad thing?

After some digging, I found a website that said the ritual of washing their hands, this particular one that Jesus was pointing out to them was not about being clean, and it was not about being kosher. It was a ritual that developed from a superstition about how forces of evil land on your hand during the night and if you eat without washing them off a certain way, those forces will contaminate your food and enter your body thus infecting you with evil.

Jesus refutes those ideas with a pretty clear statement that you cannot be infected with that sort of evil by eating food. He is not talking about getting sick from a germ that might be on a pot or a kettle or on your hand. He is not talking about eating food that has a hair or is infected with something. He is talking about the superstition of ingesting a form of Satan and that infecting your mind with evil thoughts. He is very clear that those thoughts do not come from the outside, but from the inside of us from our hearts, from our centers. Those thoughts aren’t planted, they are there already. There was a famous radio show The Shadow that started with the line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” That is what Jesus means when he says it is what comes out that defiles. It is what is inside already, and in this passage Jesus gets very specific about the things that defile us. (Read vs. 21-23)

Jesus also in the portion of this chapter that we did not read is pretty clear with the leaders that they have sacrificed following the laws of God in order to follow their man-made traditions, and worst of all have taught the people to do so too. This chapter in Mark is just one example of many encounters Jesus has with the Jewish leaders. In this one as in many of them, he uses scripture from the Old Testament, Isaiah here, to show them how wrong they are. He says, “Isaiah prophesized right about you hypocrites.” Jesus isn’t interested in human traditions. He came to teach humans to love God and love one another and really care for each other.

It is interesting that it is in the book of James that we learn some of the ways we are to act in order to carry out those teachings of Jesus. The book of James according to tradition is written by the human brother of Jesus. James in this selection gives us a pretty strong message that we need to be more than just believers and more than just someone who talks about our faith in God. James is sort of like the cattle prod that moves the animals up the walkway onto the trailer. He tells us how to act and what to do in order to be real Christians in order to be sincere doers for Christ. I can see why this book is called by some, “The Practical Guide to Christian Life.”

I am going to pick out a few phrases here to point out those practical tips that we are getting in this particular passage, starting with “he gave us birth by the word of truth.” We are born to Christianity by the word, the truth that Christ brings. Here is how James writes we are to act: “let everyone be quick to listen” in other words, listen to others, your family, your friends, and others that you know. Really listen to their conversation that you are able to share with them. We get so frustrated with the younger generation never looking up because they are constantly on a device of some type, but how distracted are we at times when we are in a conversation with someone. Next it says, “Be slow to speak, slow to anger and then later in the verses, rid yourself of rank wickedness.” So how many times do we open our mouths before we think about what we are saying and especially when we are upset about something? I mentioned last week that mouth is often my biggest issue, and here it is right in my face.

I have found it interesting lately how just when I am about to share a thought or make a comment that probably is better forgotten or left unsaid, something happens to interrupt my conversation, like a phone ringing or someone else stepping into the area, and the moment is lost and the words are, thankfully, gone. Coincidence? Maybe not always.

And James also says, “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Wow, that is a tough one. He is pretty much calling us out for sitting in the pew and thinking that is enough to get us by as Christians. There are some arguments about this. There are questions about how fair is it if I work my entire life to be a doer, a worker for Christ and God’s kingdom, and so and so down the road waits until they are on their death-bed to repent. But we know the parable about the vineyard and how the workers all receive the same pay. It lets us know that God takes all of us whenever we come. God gives us all the same reward.

Yet James tells us to be doers of the gospel not just hearers. How does that work? What James is telling us even today is that when we are born into the truth of Jesus Christ. When we become believers, true believers, if we are sincere in our belief, we will want to become doers also.

Many of you know that I am a Peanuts Cartoon strip fan. To me one of the most tragic characters or tragic situations perhaps, in the Peanuts cartoon series by Charles Schultz is the story of Linus in the Pumpkin Patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Linus is such a wonderful philosophical character; you can’t help but love the little thumb-sucking, blanket carrying guy. But when he gets all hyped up about a Great Pumpkin coming to the Pumpkin Patch on Halloween night to bring gifts almost like a Halloween Santa Claus, you know from the start that he is walking down the wrong road. There is no hope, no chance for his success.

Yet for all of the disappointment that he feels, he still blames himself. Linus says that the reason the Great Pumpkin didn’t come for him was because he was not sincere enough, he didn’t believe enough. For a short time he wavers and thinks that maybe someone around him was the unbeliever, someone sitting with him, Sally perhaps, or his doubting sister, Lucy. Mostly Linus blames himself. He feels like a failure because he wasn’t sincere in his belief. He never gets the fact that there really is no Great Pumpkin.

We don’t have that issue when we believe in Jesus. Jesus’ existence doesn’t depend on us. But we are the ones who gain when we really and truly believe enough to want to be the doers for Christ. We are the ones who benefit from the work that we will find ourselves involved in. James lets us know in his final verse that we read for today, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep one-self unstained by the world.”

If we love God as we are commanded to do, and if we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will want to do what we can to help others as much as we can, and we will do it without the question of, “what is in it for me, or what gain will I have as a result?”

Real Christianity is really wanting to be there for others and that is what God is looking for from us. When we do that, we are the ones who gain; we are the ones who enjoy the time with God and the Love of our Savior. May we be given the strength to continue doing as we are called to do. Amen!

Today my father would have been 81

So, I don’t have any pictures, and I don’t have lots of stories, but I have not been able to get a thing started on my sermon, and I finally figured out why. Today would have been my father’s 81st birthday. He hated a fuss on his birthday. My grandmother told me a story about how she had a surprise party for him when he was young and he ran out of the house. He wanted nothing to do with it. I don’t understand, and I was so astounded by the story that I never thought to ask any questions. I don’t know if it was a party with older relatives or young friends. I never did learn how old he was at the time, I just can picture him at about 8 or 10 running out of the house and into the shelter of trees near by.

I remember turning 54 and realizing that I was the same age that he was when he passed away. Each year I am always surprised that I continue to age when he didn’t. His father didn’t live that long either. Each of them died in a way that should have been prevented. I mean neither had a disease like cancer or heart attack. One died in a car accident that shouldn’t have happened. The other took his own life or so we think. We will never know the truth of either. We aren’t even sure who was driving when that accident happened. My mother always contended that my father wasn’t at the wheel when his dad died, but he was covering for the other person in the car. How do you survive those things. How do you lose a son, who you planned your whole life around. How do you take your pride and joy and lay him in a grave. My parents did that.

Sometimes, I don’t like blogging and posting what comes out as my fingers dance across the computer keys, but I have to post it. I have to get this out so that I can move on and finish my other work. Nothing will flow until this is out-of-the-way. So, I say sorry to those who end up reading this and wondering what it is about. It just is. I am trying to write on the topic of doing not just believing. I am also trying to write on the topic of doing it with sincerity. To be honest. To just say we believe in God without doing something for others is just lip service. If we are honest about our faith and our beliefs, we will go out and do something about it.

I always feel like such a hypocrite telling others about faith and how to act and believe because I don’t really do anything, I don’t do enough. I don’t share what I believe enough. But that isn’t really true. I am finally starting to see that I do share. I just don’t stand on street corners or radio shows or bring it up in every conversation I have with someone. I find it much easier to write about it than talk about it. And, mostly I find that of all the times I put on that Pastor robe and stand behind the pulpit, the time that is easiest to speak what I really believe is when there is a coffin and grieving people in the building. Perhaps it is because I can relate to them so well. Grieving the loss of family is something that a person never totally gets over. My father has been gone for 26 years, and at the end of this year, on New Year’s Eve, my brother will be gone 52 years.

I think that I didn’t believe that what I do is important until a read a recent post by Mama the Reader. She is listed in the pictures of those I follow. Scroll over the pictures and see the names that pop up to find her. She is a college professor who has recently become a single mother. Her courage is remarkable. She finally admitted that she is more than just a teacher of a few classes at a college. I seriously believed her that she just taught a class or two and I wondered how she was surviving, and now she finally admitted it. She is a real professor. She downplayed herself because she said that is what we women do too often. She is so right.

I keep thinking of myself as a no one. I only substitute teach and am only a part-time pastor. I don’t have a degree for the pastor thing, but I was a religion-philosophy major in college. That was my second major. I always thought my college degree was a joke because I majored in Health-Physical Education and Recreation. It was a joke major according to the pre-professionals and the accounting majors. We were especially considered stupid by those in biology because our kinesiology course was in the PE department and not with the sciences. But I digress.

Mostly I wanted to post this today to just get it out. Maybe now I can come up with something worth saying tomorrow as we look at the scriptures of James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15 and 21-23. Hope you stop back to see if it was worth the effort. For now, may God Bless you for taking the time to read and think about what your own beliefs are and what brought you to them.

No greater love

Every now and then it is my turn as the pastor in our small community to contribute to the local newspaper’s Faith Finder’s corner. This week I missed the deadline. I was devastated. I have never been late. One time, I was within a half hour of the deadline, but to completely forget about it, oh my. Of course, I know how local newspapers operate, since I used to work for one in the area. The deadlines are usually set a day a head to allow for emergencies and such, besides you can’t get everything proof read and placed in one day, though we used to try like the dickens some weeks. At any rate since I was under the gun, so to speak, this week, I cheated a bit. I started reading through some of the news articles in the internet feed: I found a really interesting article about the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I was glued to the TV, CNN during that time. I would stay up half the night watching. I can’t even remember where I was working at the time, let’s see that was 2005, so I was working at the newspaper and wasn’t punching an early clock, mostly a late one, so that is how I could pull off the 2 a.m. cable TV viewing. Anyway, the story was the one about Turkey Creek, Miss. It is a very good read if you are interested go and look it up. I would link it, but I am not too bright in how to do that, so hopefully the information I have given will allow you to find it. Enough… Here is my Faith Finder story….

Any of us who have studied the Bible know that Jesus’ greatest commandment was that we love one another. In the gospel of John chapter 15:13, we read, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend.” In our times of one mass killing after another, I found a heartwarming story today. I am known to search the internet news sites and found an interesting article. It was from The Washington Post and written by DeNeen L. Brown. My high school English teacher background tells me I need to give credit to the original writer when I write about something that I have read. Brown’s article was titled, “The town where nobody died in Katrina.” It was the Katrina thing that caught my eye. I can’t believe it has already been 10 years since that horrible event. It was the second time in my life that I was glued to the cable news networks. I couldn’t get enough of that story. I wanted to get in my car and head to the coast and help with the clean up, but I knew that I would be more in the way than of any real help, and so all I could do was put my meager little check into the church offering plate and hope that it helped. The story that I read on Thursday was about Turkey Creek, Mississippi and how one man realized that others needed help, and he convinced friends to go with him to rescue the people living in the lower part of their town. The author called the man who organized the rescue group a hero, the town calls him, “the Storm Walker.” He says that what he did was not heroic; it was just what any decent person who cares about others would do. I say this is one of those things that we wouldn’t have to stop and ask, “What would Jesus want us to do?” We know that what was done was the right thing to do, the loving thing to do, and that is what Jesus wants us to do. Someone deciding to or stab or gun down or run down others with a vehicle to take out their own frustrations are all things we have heard about or read about in some sort of news story in the past few days. Some have been in national stories, others more regional, but all are senseless. Jesus asks us to love each other as he loved us, even if it means we give up our lives because that is what he did for us. Hats off to the Storm Walker!

Sunflower/garden update

Just a note that all information about Life in the Dakotas and the gardening done by lucindalines will be posted on lucindagardens until further notice. Stop by that site to see the update on the sunflower and read about the windstorm that tore up some of the garden.

Message in Church Aug. 23, 2015

The scripture for today was: I Kings 8:22-30, *Ephesians 6:10-20 and John 6:56-69. The title was, “God’s Armor.” Thankfully the church secretary caught my spelling errors for the bulletin. I am not sure what will happen next week when she is on vacation. I may have to be a bit more careful when putting it together. Here is our message.

What has happened to our summer? Yesterday we went from having the air conditioner on to the windows open to sitting on the couch with a blanket around my shoulders. Good Grief. It is true what they say, if you don’t like the weather around here wait a few minutes, and it will likely change. Maybe it isn’t so bad that we are already at the point that school is starting, like one teacher said, most youngsters are ready to be getting back to the classroom and schedules and such, but I would really have liked a little more gradual of a change. Maybe my problem is that now our house really is empty. Even the cats were wondering what to do yesterday when no one was there to pester them.

Seriously though, that weather was really crazy yesterday. James and I had to get the little house ready that my sisters and I own. This is the weekend of the Rodeo in Herreid and my sister had a request for a place to house four Rodeo queens. As we were checking it over and getting it ready, it was pretty warm and humid in the house so we started up the air conditioners and fans. Later when I stopped over to drop off a few things, I realized it was cooling off outside, so I turned the air conditioners down and turned off the extra fan.

Closer to evening I talked to the gentleman who was operating the hotel office for my sister and asked if the girls had checked in yet, and he said, “You mean the Snow queens, no they aren’t here yet.” By that time, it was cold enough that I wasn’t sure it might just snow, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was Rodeo queens, so I just told him where the key was and went home. I figured by the time they got to the house they might be Snow Queens. Amazing how things change when a weather front moves in.

I wonder what the weather was like when Solomon stood in front of the altar and declared that this temple was God’s. Yet Solomon understood, as we do that there is nothing on this earth capable of housing God; in fact Solomon acknowledges that God is greater than the entire earth and that what we build, what we set up as God’s house is really only a house in name. These sanctuaries are for us to gather, for us to worship in the name of God.

I think I have mentioned this before, about how it seems to me at least that the whole idea of God is easier to believe when outside in the grandeur of nature. Maybe that is one of the reasons we send young people to summer camp in a majestic setting. The concept of a divine being seems to grab hold of them better in grand areas. Places like the mountains, or forests, maybe on open lakes, or even in middle of a hayfield on a beautiful summer day; or perhaps at Placerville. In those places it seems that talking about God becomes more real, more believable. More certain.

Last night I got to wondering if a dark and wet and even stormy night has ever brought any to the reality of God. Maybe those sorts of days or nights in that bad weather might make us believe in the other forces a bit more. Those are the times we probably don’t want to venture outside to close the garage door or check the chicken coop across the yard, but some of us have to go anyway. And perhaps God is with us, through the dark days as well as the good days, maybe more so. God is there in summer and fall and into the winter, too.

Our passage in Ephesians today, the passage that I picked as our focus, seems to fit for those days that are not exactly summer sunshine. This story is written up in figurative language. This might be a fun story for a youth group or a Sunday School, and I am pretty sure that I was a visitor at a youth meeting in a different church the first time I ever heard this story.

This would make a great “dress the dummy,” game, as in manikin not someone you are calling mean names. You could use an actual manikin or maybe a figure on a flannel board or if you had the fancy technology, you would use something like a smart board that they have in school. You could have different participants put the various pieces of clothing onto the character, and they could read a paragraph or a leader could explain what each part means.

The different pieces would be: start with a belt called truth, next put on a breastplate termed righteousness, if we were to modernize the clothing this might be like a bulletproof vest. The shoes, whether sneakers, heels or hiking boots, would be something that could get you from place to place to declare the gospel of peace. You would wear some sort of helmet or cap that would be salvation and you would carry two things, one a shield of faith to protect you from whatever the world throws at you and the other the sword or some sort of weapon which would be the Spirit of God.

As much as I enjoy a good work of allegory, I am really starting to see how having the visual would make much more sense. I certainly see why it is hard for a young person raised in this age of touch screens and tactile learning how trying to convert these abstract ideas into something tangible or concrete could be confusing. Paul wrote this as a way to explain to the early Christians how they were supposed to keep themselves from falling into sin. How they were to keep themselves safe from the powers of evil.

It is the same for us as we read this passage today. But Paul doesn’t explain what specifically the sin might be that we need to be wary of. He does this because we likely each have our own issues. We are all different, but we all know ourselves well enough that we know what our weaknesses are. For me it is my mouth. I have constantly got to be aware of what I say and how I say it. It is so easy for me to fall into old/bad habits. Not just bad words, but bad ways of saying things, my attitude as I say things, negative comments. I have to find the humor in situations to let go of frustrations, and then it feels much better….

Paul writes this passage in Ephesians as an allegory, where things represent other things to try to explain better how we need to keep up the fight each day, each hour to keep ourselves on the Christian path, on the way to loving God and sharing that love with others.

Let’s go through that list again. If we wear those shoes as Paul mentioned every place we go we will try to bring the gospel with us and have an attitude of peace, not one of stirring up trouble. If our belt is truth, we carry the truth of God and Jesus in the center of our being. Wearing the helmet or cap of salvation is carrying the thought that Jesus died for us in our mind at all times.

The shield of faith in God and bulletproof vest of striving for righteousness protects us from whatever it is that brings us down. This is different for all of us, but we all know what gets us. A good strong faith and working daily to do what is right, those things hold us up and protect us from all the things that can penetrate us and hurt us. And, if all of that is not enough, God gives us the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God to be with us and guide us and protect us from anything that might be bad for us.

According to Paul, all those things together are the armor of God, and that is what we need on a daily basis to protect us. When I think of armor, and knowing when this was written, it likely meant things of metal. Thinking of that on a wet, stormy night like last night, I wanted to change a few things to maybe a tough water proof rain coat like the cowboys would wear with a large hat to keep out the rain, or maybe some waterproof under armor and rubber boots, probably knee-high or better. Mostly last night, I was happy for a house with secure walls and warm blankets.

Whatever the case, God comes to us and meets us where we are. Solomon knew that God isn’t able to be contained in a temple, a structure built by human hands, yet he also knew that God is where we are/ drawing us to him, helping us to do his will as long as we seek him in times of prayer and devotion and worship. God is not just in our world, in our inner most sanctuary, as the people of Israel thought of God as dwelling in the holiest of holies with the ark of the covenant, but God is within us when we are willing to accept Jesus and the spirit that we are given. And small as we might seem, I sort of think living in each of us is probably where God is most pleased to dwell. Amen!

Moving Day or Off to College

Yesterday was Paulina’s moving day. She finished with BSC last May and this year it is off to the University of Jamestown. She will be the first member of the family to attend the U of J. The rest of us went to Jamestown College. It is the same school just upgraded. Of all things, I took no picture of the place as we dropped by the campus. Probably the reason is that being a junior, she won’t be staying in the dorms on campus. Paulina will be staying in the home of one of the North Dakota District 12 Representatives. Ha, Ha! She is staying with her sister, Jessica. Here is what we moved and how her room looked when we left. If she is anything like me, it will change a few times before she is ok with it. I was going to post some pictures of the move, but it seems that I have maxed out my uploading ability on this site. Until I decide what to do next, I invite you to visit my blog at lucindagardens to read the rest of what I am writing.


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