Reading the Presidents, Part 1

With the historic election of our current President last November, I made a determination to complete a personal project that I had started about 1982, reading a biography or autobiography of every US President.  Robert A Caro’s wonderful series on Lyndon Baines Johnson is what got me started and I am anxiously awaiting the fourth volume of his series.

So far, I have read bios/auto-bios of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Van Buren, Polk, Taylor, Lincoln, TR, Taft, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton and I am currently reading Sidney Howard Gay’s tome on James Madison. The list of what I have read so far appears at the end of this post.

Reading these books has been a wonderful re-introduction to US History and has given me a new understanding and appreciation of our nation. Here are some themes that I have caught my attention thus far.

We alternate between a progressive and a conservative political agenda.

To me this was true 100 years ago but in the opposite direction that it is today. Teddy Roosevelt, who has become one of my favorite Presidents, became a consummate reformer especially after the 1904 election that enabled him to claim the presidency outright after an incomplete first term as President due to the assassination of William McKinley. A member of his cabinet William Howard Taft who (at least from the Judith Icke Anderson biography I read) followed him with a more conservative perspective. Sometimes one agenda has operated over a longer period of time than one administration.

There is an ongoing tension between states rights’ and a strong central government.

My current reading of Madison’s bio reminds me of this tension. And today, there is a renewed call about states’ rights as a response to the tremendous government financial intervention that has many people concerned.

Religious freedom… and tolerance… is an on-going challenge and hallmark of our national life and history.

I know today that there is concern about the increasing ‘secularization’ of our nation that many people see happening in Europe. But, something I read in Gay’s bio of Madison (which was published in 1884) leads me to believe that this is not necessarily so. In a footnote about the religious freedom debate in the Virginia Legislature, Gay quotes Thomas Jefferson, then in France, about the reasonableness of the measure. “it is comfortable to see the standard of reason at length erected, after so many ages, during which the human mind has been held in vassalage by kings, priests, and nobles; and it is honorable for us to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare that the reason of man maybe trusted with the formation of his own opinions.’ What this says to me is that the freedom to believe, and not believe, is woven into the fabric our national life and that religious freedom is a hallmark of our democracy because it has (to the consternation of some, I am sure) become a right that is rejected or embraced at the individual level without government sponsorship or enforcement. A re-read of European history with the blending of church and state for many centuries should make this clear.

From the Constitutional Convention of 1787 through the Civil War, slavery cast a long shadow over national politics.

This shadow was apparent to Madison as our national leaders struggled to bring the states together to create a new form of government because the Articles of Confederacy were proving to be ineffective in governing our fledgling nation.

The evolution of the Civil Service.

This a theme that I hope to read more of as I read the bios/auto-bios of the Presidents after Lincoln and before Teddy Roosevelt. We know the Civil Service today as ‘the bureaucracy.’ And it is railed against, primarily by conservatives, as a problem. But the ‘professionalization’ of the Civil Service in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s has, in my opinion, created a measure of steady consistency over the years.

The White House itself.

It is easy to forget that the capitol of the US when George Washington took office was not Washington D.C. The White House was occupied first by John Adams, our second president. It has been renovated several times and was perhaps on its ‘last legs’ more than once. Thinking about the White House also reminds me how access to the President has been greatly limited over the years. Clinton’s note about the decision to block off Pennsylvania Avenue was a solemn reminder of how much the world has changed. 100 years ago, Roosevelt and Taft could move around more freely with some security but nothing like today.

Campaigning back then would be welcomed today!

We recall the thousand upon thousands who gathered in Grant Park to celebrate the election of President Obama… and the millions of dollars spent…and the endless amount of TV ads and direct mail…and the trips across the country. But, by in the days of Van Buren and even 90 years ago, most Presidents did not travel to ‘press the flesh’ and ask for our votes. They stayed home and the press of that day came to them! Truman’s historic 1948 election was a change in presidential politics and campaigning. Furthermore, results were not known often for several weeks instead of the almost instantaneous results (with some notably embarrassing exceptions).

I am going to take a summer break from reading presidential bios and auto-bios, and resume in the fall.

Here is the list of the books I have read so far. The ones italicized are recommended for your reading.

James Monroe (American Statesmen Series) Daniel Gilman

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream Doris Kearns Goodwin

Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency W. Barksdale Maynard

Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman Kendrick A. Clements

William Howard Taft: An Intimate History Judith Icke Anderson

Theodore Rex (Modern Library Paperbacks) (TR) Edmund Morris

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (M Library Pbacks) Edmund Morris

My Life Bill Clinton

An Hour Before Daylight : Memoirs of a Rural Boyhood Jimmy Carter

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson Joseph J. Ellis

A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford Gerald R. Ford

RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon Richard Nixon

The Years of Lyndon Johnson Robert A. Caro

Means of Ascent (LBJ) Robert A. Caro

Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson Robert A. Caro

Roosevelt (The Soldier of Freedom: 1940-1945) FDR James MacGregor Burns

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox 1882-1940 FDR James MacGregor Burns

Martin Van Buren Edward M Shepherd

Zachary Taylor: The 12th President, 1849-1850 (The American Presidents) John S. D. Eisenhower

James K. Polk: 1845 – 1849: The American Presidents Series John Seigenthaler

John Adams: Party of One James Grant

His Excellency: George Washington Joseph J. Ellis

Truman David McCullough

Ike: An American Hero David Korda

An American Life: The Autobiography Ronald Reagan

I appreciate my country!

Review of Followership

“I could conclude this chapter about values by making a list of the traits and capacities of good followers, like all those other lists we have of the traits and capacities of good leaders. But I will refrain from so doing for two simple reasons. First, ideally such lists should be situation specific. For what it takes to be a good follower (and leader) is different in different circumstances. Second, such a list, would, in any case, strongly resemble those with whom we are already familiar, those that name the traits and capacities of good leaders. In other words, curiously, counterintuitively, what it takes to be a good follower looks a lot like what it takes to be a good leader. Like good leaders, good followers should be informed, energetic, independent, and so on. And, like good leaders, good followers should have the capacity to cope with complexity, to manage change, to exercise good judgment, and so on.”

From chapter 9, “Values,” page 236, Barbara Kellerman in Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders

I first heard Barbara Kellerman’s voice on Harvard Business School’s podcast, “IdeaCast 131: ‘What Charisma Really Is (and isn’t),’” before I read her book.

The title immediately caught my attention and my library contact at our local library found the book available through Inter-library Loan (ILL) from Valparaiso University’s Moellering Collections. (Thanks Kendallville Public Library and VU!)

This book causes you to sit up and take notice. In it, she speaks of four kinds of followers, “by-standers” who stand by and do nothing, “participants,” who are more involved than by-standers but less than the next two, which are, “activists,” and “diehards,” who are followers who get involved and get things done, even to the point of death. She writes of “by-standers” in the context of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust, “participants” in the context of Merck’s situation with Vioxx, “activists” in the context of the Voice of the Faithful who took on the Catholic hierarchy in regards to the tragic revelations of clergy abuse, and “diehards” in the context of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

Each of these situations are honestly examined regarding leader-follower dynamics and the impact (including life and death impact) on those involved. I also appreciate her work on the issues of values (from which chapter the above quote is taken) and how followers can meaningfully contribute to the health and development of an organization and even a nation.

I happen to agree with her about leaders having less power to do what ever and that as organizations have grown ‘flatter’ and the power that information has today, leaders have less room to maneuver than in previous years. But it was the quote above that really sealed the deal for me as to the importance of this book in leadership in the faith community as well as business, government, and the community as a whole.

Leaders are both followers as well as leaders and there is a larger ethical and social responsibility these days that we must come to grips with. Put this book on your reading list and shelf and discuss it with those you work with and for.

Slaying Our Giants

(I forgot to mention in the last post that the previous sermon and this one included references to a land purchase which our church did on this Sunday by a congregational vote. I think that is was providential that passages and themes of these two Sundays really linked to our proposed purchase. By the way, the sermon series was entitled ‘God is…” This was given on June 29, 2008 a very historic day for our church.)

(Slide 1) (The sermon began with the Reader’s Theater piece ‘The Boy King’ published by Carson-Dellosa Christian Publishing.)

(Slide 2) Have you slain any giants lately? I am not talking about the New York Giants (especially if you are New England Patriots fan) or the San Francisco Giants. I am talking about situations and even, yes even, people that seem impossible to deal with and resolve.

Then there are the inner giants – attitudes and dispositions that we are constantly doing battle with which challenge us and mock us like Goliath mocked David and ancient Israel. Fear, anxiety, anger, control, and the like can cause us to freeze up just like the Israelites did with Goliath. Listen this morning to the main text from which part of our reader’s theater story was taken. It is 1 Samuel 17:38-50:

“Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested. “I’m not used to them.” So he took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them in his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across to fight Goliath.

Goliath walked out toward David with his shield bearer ahead of him, sneering in contempt at this ruddy-faced boy. “Am I a dog,” he roared at David, “that you come at me with a stick?” And he cursed David by the names of his gods. “Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!” Goliath yelled.

David shouted in reply, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours. The Lord will give you to us!”

As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. Reaching into his shepherd’s bag and taking out a stone, he hurled it from his sling and hit the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank in, and Goliath stumbled and fell face downward to the ground.

So David triumphed over the Philistine giant with only a stone and sling. And since he had no sword, he ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill the giant and cut off his head.’

As we go through this story here are some things for us to remember, believe, and apply as it relates to slaying our giants:

(Slide 3) First, we will always have them around until we die or Christ returns.

(Slide 4) I shared this slide with you a few weeks ago and it is from Anderson University School of Theology professor Guy Brewer. Notice the names given by Dr Brewer to our spiritual formation: decisions, disciplines, dispositions, and doxology. We face inner and outer giants at each place on this rhythm or journey of our lives (and as a congregation as well.)

The ‘Inner Giants’ of fear, anger, hate, anxiety, and the like are a part of our lives at every turn and point. The ‘Outer Giants’ of ridicule, conflict, opposition, disagreement, and the like are likewise at every turn as we move through life. Why? It is because of the fallen and broken world that we live in.

Jesus said to the disciples in the hours before His death and crucifixion In John 15:21, ‘The people of the world will hate you because you belong to me…’ As we follow the Lord we face the giants of ridicule, mockery, and out right hostility because we have chosen to follow the Lord and live a certain way. It convicts some who decide to try and tear us down. It creates hostility in others who will attack us, sometimes physically, because they are either under conviction or under a strong influence by Satan.

The Inner Giants come from our fallen and warped character. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about some specific sins which are inner giants, what we could call character defects: anger, lust, revenge, and resentment. And as He continues His ministry, He reminds His audience that rules and rituals are not the source of our fallenness but that our very broken and flawed hearts are as we read in Matthew 15:15-20: ‘Then Peter asked Jesus, “Explain what you meant when you said people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes out of the body. But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the person who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands could never defile you and make you unacceptable to God!”

Later in the New Testament this same Peter reminds us of the importance of building a God-honoring character as we read in 2 Peter 1:5-9: ‘So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence.

A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop these virtues are blind or, at least, very shortsighted. They have already forgotten that God has cleansed them from their old life of sin.’

David faced other giants in his life. A couple of them were character defects and choices that caused him to grievously sin against God.

I would note that in verse 28 that his brother Eliab says to David when he arrives at the army’s camp, ‘I know about your pride and dishonesty. You just want to see the battle!’ A very prophetic statement is it not because pride and dishonesty were a part of his terrible fall during his reign as king.

We will always be facing giants in our life. We cannot live in denial about it. However… (slide 5) we cannot and must not face them in our own strength… but in God’s strength.

David’s actions and attitudes in our main text are very instructive for us. Let’s first look at his actions.

In verses 38 and 39 we read that Saul gave David his armor to fight Goliath. But, we note in verse 40, “I can’t go in these,” he protested. “I’m not used to them.” So he took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them in his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across to fight Goliath.

David worked with what he had been trained to work with. Now, there are times, more than we are comfortable with, when we are challenged to use something different in our lives and it feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable. We have to get out of comfort zones and it is hard. But most of the time we use a reliable supply of skills and abilities that, over time, help us go from day to day.

David, who fought and defeated Goliath in the name of the Lord, could not use Saul’s armor and weapons because he was not used to them. To us, knowing the whole story, he was pretty much out of his comfort zone in facing Goliath but not only did he rely on God’s power and ability to fight Goliath, he used what was familiar to him.

There is a lesson here for us. It is not the spectacular that makes the difference. The spectacular often hinders us. It is the simple, in God’s hands and used under the Lord’s power and guidance that more often than not makes the difference.

David’s choice to use the skills and the tools that he was already familiar with, against some one much more powerful in many ways, mirrors our lives. We encounter the same kinds of situations. We run up against powerful people, powerful situations, powerful temptations and we often seek to match them with power for power.

What would have happened if David would have used Saul’s armor and weapons? He probably would have died.

But what might have happened if he won? Would he have given credit to God or taken the credit himself?

David’s choice of weapons is mirrored in his attitude he had toward Goliath and the whole situation. He did not go in his name, or the name of King Saul or even in the name of his country. He went in the name of the Lord!

Verse 45 and forward, “David shouted, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours. The Lord will give you to us!

And everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours. The Lord will give you to us! And Goliath got one tremendous headache.

David by his attitude, his frame of mind and the choice he made to use the simple and familiar, tied in to God’s power and a taunting, godless giant was defeated.

Have any giants that need to be defeated? Have some situations that seem to be blocking the path that the Lord wants you to take? Have some character issues which are causing you to stumble and fall? Are there those that seem to create more and more difficulties for you?

Place your self in the Lord’s hands. Seek to move ahead in His time and His power. Use what skills and abilities God has given you to develop. Go in His name.

As we prepare for probably the most important vote in our history, I would have us think about this story as well.

There will be giants to deal with in the future. I can think of two right now: fear and impatience. We have faced them before.

We, unless God moves as He could, are not going to get out there in a year. It might be 5 or 6 or 7 years. It has taken nearly 5 years to come to this point of buying property. We have faced giants in the path that we began nearly 7 years ago when we voted to study our options as it related to this facility and our needs for a suitable facility. One big one was the long stretches of inactivity and another was the multiple times other offers were turned down.

But here we are! On the verge of starting a new chapter in our church’s history, (Slide 6) much like Joshua! Let us be strong and courageous and follow the Lord! Let us walk by faith in the moments ahead and trust God to do what is right and honoring to Him for our God is a powerful God. Amen.

God Gives

(Summer is a challenging time, in my opinion, for preachers. It is warm and its summer vacation for the kids. How to keep people coming and interested is a challenge. This past summer I decided to do a ‘Reader’s Theater’ based series. I had the book that I reference at the beginning of each of this series for a while and felt led of God to get a group of people together each week (including kids and teens) and base a sermon on each weeks read. Here is the first of that series based on the familiar story of Moses and the Israelites. Delivered on June 22nd.)

(Sermon was opened with the Reader’s Theater script, ‘Lost in the Desert,’ written by Tom Ewald in the ‘Christian Readers’ Theater’ published by Carson-Dellosa Christian Publishing © 2005)

(Slide 1) Have you ever been lost?

(Slide 2) I am not talking about being lost on our way to another destination. That is frustrating and sometimes scary.

(Slide 3) I am talking about being lost here in our heads (point to head) and here in our hearts (point to heart.)

(Slide 4) David Damico would probably call this kind of loss, a loss of purpose. A loss of purpose is a scary kind of loss. It is disconcerting. To live with no purpose is to live often with no hope and no joy and no peace and no love.

The Israelites seem to have lost their purpose; their way as they travelled through the desert.

They did not know who they were anymore. They were no longer slaves. They were a free people.

But they had no place to call their own and all the familiar landmarks and events and places they had known for a long time were no longer around. It was an unsettling time.

Several years ago, our late state minister, Richard Shockey, wrote a column about experiencing changes in life from the perspective of a river crossing. (Slide 5) He spoke of beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning of a change sometimes comes quickly. Sudden news – bad and good, brings change into the living rooms of our lives and we are forced to deal with new situations and new opportunities.

Then there is the middle of the river, when we reach the point of no return. Do we stay the course, or do we turn around? Do we go a new direction?

It requires us to take stock of our resources and situation… and our faith. Our main text, which is featured at the end of our dramatic reading is about both an end and a beginning and, when you step back a take a good historical look, a middle as well. Let us hear the word of God this morning from Joshua 1:6-9:

“Be strong and courageous, for you will lead my people to possess all the land I swore to give their ancestors. Be strong and very courageous. Obey all the laws Moses gave you. Do not turn away from them, and you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed. I command you—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

I suggest this morning several important things for us to remember whether we are at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a chapter in our lives.

(Slide 6) First and most important, God is with us all along the journey.

Not long into our script, and not long into the new beginnings for the people of God, memories grew short and people began to forget God’s presence.

The question, ‘What has God done for us lately?’ is a question that is asked today and often! We forget, don’t we, God’s blessings as soon as we make a turn in the next bend and encounter our next challenge.

‘That was yesterday! What has God done for me lately?’ Maybe we need to start asking, ‘What have I done for the Lord lately?’ This memory lapse is a major reason for the numerous commands to the Israelites from the Lord to ‘remember’ and to ‘teach.’

(Slide 6a) Second, how we choose to respond to our circumstances is critical in how we handle the challenges that come in our journey.

Each step of the way, the Israelites had new challenges that challenged their faith in this God who had chosen them to be their God.

And as I wrote this segment of the message it hit me that the challenges they faced were based on the lack of something.

First there was the lack (or perceived lack) of safety as they were caught between a fast moving army and a body of water. ‘Have you brought us here to die?’

Second there was the lack of resources, namely food and water, along the way. ‘Have you brought us here to die?’

Third there was the lack (again a perceived lack) of direction and leadership along the way. ‘Have you brought us here to die?’

Fourth there was a lack of patience when Moses left for a significant period of time. ‘Where did he go?’ ‘Make us a god we can see with our own eyes!’

Our journey contains the same elements as the Israelites did. Their journey and story is also our journey and story!

They developed an attitude; a mindset that was quite frankly defeatist! In my recent

We constantly deal with the lack of something – time, money, and other resources – that is also a part of the Biblical story. But, we need to remember that our story, to be truly meaningful and purposeful, is really a part of God’s story.

It was not, as we so often think today, about them, or us, it is about the Lord and His great and wonderful plan of grace and forgiveness. This leads me to the third and probably most important point of this morning.

(Slide 6c) Third, God is our great provider and leader.

When the Israelites came to the Jordan River, after a 40 year wait because of their lack of faith, God reminded them that in the new chapter they were beginning, He would be with them just as He was when years earlier they left Egypt and to take courage and strength from Him.

I would not be surprised if each of us is not at a beginning, middle, and an end in some area of our lives. Be assured that the Lord is with you no matter where you are at. But have faith in Him, let His courage and strength be a part of your life and follow and obey His words as outlined in Scripture. Remember His faithfulness to you in the past.

(Slide 7) As a church, we are at a possible beginning of a new chapter in our history. Next week, we will vote on two motions that will eventually provide us, if we approve them both, with new property that will allow us to build a facility with off street parking and better access in a very high visibility location.

(Slide 8) The first recommendation that must be approved before the second recommendation which is the actual purchase of the property is for us to use the Parsonage Fund CD that was created nearly 20 years ago when the former parsonage on State Street was sold, to assist in the purchase of the Orchard Park property. By using both the current building fund and the parsonage fund we will be able to pay cash on the property and not have to borrow any money.

(Slide 9) Now before we look at the second recommendation, I want to give us a visual view of the property and encourage you to go out and look the property over this week. It is lots 6 and 7 in the Orchard Park Development out by Parkview Noble Hospital. (Point out the hospital, traffic light entrance, and other landmarks.)

(Slide 10) The lots, which are 3.66 acres together, are in the Northwest corner of the development and is bordered by US 6 on the north, the Kendallville Day Care center on the south, Orchard Place Parkway on the east, and private property on the west.

(Slide 11) Now we come to recommendation number 2. Here as some important things to note. First the purchase price is $100,000 for Lots 6 and 7. It will require a minimum vote of 2/3 passage to be completed. (I hope that it will be much higher than 67%.)

Also in the deal is that we will help pay a prorated amount of property tax in 2009 of about 2 to 3 thousand dollars.

(Slide 12) Another important part of the deal is that the soil is tested to insure that it is suitable for building. The Ministry Council contracted with Soil Testing Inc of Ft Wayne to drill four samples down 15 feet. That has been completed and I hope to have the report here soon.

As for Zoning, I spoke with Dave Lange from the City of Kendallville who indicated to me that churches can build anywhere but need a special exemption must be sought when we are ready to build. This will also require notification of all property owners within 100 feet of our property.

(Slide 13) Very important here – this is a cash deal. With approval of the parsonage CD to be used for assisting with the purchase, we will be able to obtain the property with no debt.

Regarding our CD and other building funds, I have been told by our treasurer that with a closing date of mid-July, we will be able to cash in all of our CD’s without any interest penalty.

(Slide 14) As for some responsibilities we will be responsible, as a property owner and a member of the Orchard Park Association, for property upkeep before we build. I will have more to say about the Association responsibilities in a moment.

As for insurance, our agent has indicated that for at least the first 190 days of ownership, there will be no additional cost to us. However, down the road there will probably be an increase in our liability coverage.

Now with regard to Orchard Park Association membership, I would encourage us to review this document prior to next week’s meeting. It contains very, very, very important information about our responsibilities. In purchasing this property we become a voting member of the Association.

Among them is that we will be paying, even before we have a building, around $400 a year for ‘common areas’ and their upkeep. Common areas include the islands at the two main entrances and the pond in front of Parkview Noble Hospital. The per year amount that is paid is subject to change depending on the desires of the Association.

(Slide 15) Included in the sales agreement is that we have 60 months to build. The current time frame is 2 years. Please remember that this is a commercial development not a residential or private development.

In the document I have just referred to, please note Article 3 which refers to ‘Architectural Control.’ This means that the developers, L.D. Baker, Inc, will need to review and approval our building design so that harmonizes with the rest of the development. This probably means no metal pole type buildings.

We also need to be aware of a potential new city ordinance that will require that any part of any new building that faces main arteries, such as US 6, will need to be made of natural materials like stone, stucco, brick, and wood. Again, I strongly urge you to read this document very, very careful before you cast your vote (and absentee votes are accepted).

(Slide 16) I like this slide. It speaks of building a nest egg. I think that we are looking to do the same with our church.

The couple on the right is our founding pastor, Cecil Asbury and his wife. He came in the early 1940’s from our sister church in Stroh to start this church, which was begun on this site. His work was kingdom building and he started our sister churches in Stroh and Ashley. He represents all of those who have given their time, talents, and money to the ministry of this church the past 65 years.

(Slide 17) All of this is truly in God’s hands but it is also in our hands. Let us believe and trust in God’s power and provision and let’s walk by faith and not by sight in this important decision. Amen.

Kids Count

(I think that kids and teens matter to God and should matter to the church. We honored the hard work and accomplishments of our kids and teens on Sunday, June 1st with a Power Point slide show and the following message.)

About four years ago a group of people here in Noble County decided that there needed to be an event for kids to learn about important things like government, the arts, and community. As a result, they created Kid City and it will be held again this year at our county fairground on Saturday, August 2.

It has grown in attendance each year and I believe that it is a very important event in our county. (And by the way, our bell choir has been requested to perform this year. As the time gets closer, you will hear more about this.)

Then about six or seven years ago, a campaign that you have read about in the paper, ‘Is It Good for the Children?’ was started. It has ‘graded’ various dimensions of our quality of life for kids here in Noble County.

That ‘report card’ has created much discussion that I believe has been good for us because our children count. We need to ask ourselves as we make decisions at home, in the workplace, in the community, at school, and in the church, is what we are about to consider ‘good for the children?’

This morning, we are going to honor our kids and teens for their hard work and we are going to have communion in a few moments.

Our text for this morning is a good text for today, it is Matthew 18:2-6.

(Slide 2) Jesus called a small child over to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Slide 3) And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck.’

Jesus is responding to a question, asked by the disciples, which appears in verse 1, “Which of us is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” His answer is important because it highlights two important things; a humble faith and the importance of children.

Jesus makes it clear that a childlike humbleness is essential for ‘greatness in God’s kingdom.’ Louis Pasteur wrote, ‘When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become.’ Bill Vaughn wrote, ‘A three-year-old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm.’

The simple-ness of children is a marvelous thing. A simple faith is a marvelous thing. The disciples were way beyond simple-ness. They were all about competition (which is a subject, as it relates to family life that needs to be addressed).

‘How am I doing Jesus?’ ‘Who is the best of us Jesus?’ ‘Who do you like more, Jesus?’

(Sounds like children, don’t they?!)

Among the disciplines of the Christian faith that have been practice, written about, and encouraged over the centuries is the discipline or practice of simplicity. What is that?

(Slide 4) Here are some single word definitions of simplicity: Ease, effortlessness,

plainness, and unfussiness. Simplicity is the opposite busyness and a mate to simple-ness.

It is a quietness that comes into the center of our souls and lives and it comes as we ‘center’ ourselves in God and allow Him to truly live in the center of our lives. Richard Foster has written that in experiencing simplicity ‘speech becomes truthful and honest. The lust for status and position is gone, because we no longer need status and position. We cease from showy extravagance, not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle.’

Jesus strips position of its power and prestige, and taking a representative from a group of people that were very much demeaned and looked down up on, children, speaks of the simplicity and humility as keys to being ‘the greatest’ in the kingdom of Heaven. It is the opposite of what the disciples were expecting. (They also seem not to learn the lesson very well or at all, because in the next chapter, Matthew 19, they attempt to shoo away some children and their parents who had come to have Jesus bless their kids.)

This humility and simple-ness is also tied, early on, to Jesus statement about forgiveness and repentance. Forgiveness and repentance crate humility in us, we become grateful for the forgiveness of God in us hearts and souls. Children seem to do a much better job than us about being humble and repentant when they need to be. We need to learn and re-learn from them.

But Jesus also does something else, he warns the disciples about causing to lose faith in Jesus by causing them to stumble. . if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck.’ Now, you might ask, how do we do that? There are two big ways I can think of.

First we can cause them to stumble, by not only when it comes to how we use power and influence in the church but also the example we set as it relates to ministry involvement.

Second, we can cause our kids to stumble and lose faith through the tragedy of physical and sexual abuse. Now emotional and mental abuse is wrong and equally damaging as well. Such terribleness does happen, unfortunately, in the church and it is wrong.

Children are vital and important and today we give them our collective love and care and ‘pat on the back.’ Kids, we are proud of who you are and your good work this past year and we are take a few moments to celebrate with you and we thank God for you!

(2008 kids slide show)

Sources:

Pasteur and Vaughn quotes are from wisdomquotes.com

Patriots and Prophets

(Memorial Day 2008 Sermon, delivered on May 25th)

(I know that there are many followers of Jesus who do not like sermons about political issues as they believe, as I do, that the Kingdom of God is greater than any earthly kingdom. However, the Bible seems to me to point out that being responsible for order is part of Christian discipleship. War is also not glorified by many believers as well. And I don’t care for war either. But, because of my family background, service to country is very much a part of it. And I think that honoring those who have served the cause of democracy and faith (and Christianity has both thrived under democracy as well as help democracy to thrive) is a very important thing to do. Disagree? That’s fine… what do you have to say?)

(Slide 1) The song we have just heard serves to remind us that service, whether of faith, family, or country, is very, very costly. This is a weekend in which we are reminded that freedom is not free, it is a very expensive thing.

This is also a weekend that is more important than the opening of the summer driving season. It is a weekend in which wives and sweethearts (and some husbands as well); mothers and fathers and children, too, are aware of both old and painful memories of a telegram and newer and fresher ones of a knock at the door.

(Slide 2) Video clip ‘72_for_freedom’ from sermonspice.com is played here.

Yesterday, I felt strongly led to change the main text for today’s thoughts and so we will not be looking at Matthew 22:15-22. Instead, we will be reading portions of a very important chapter that speaks directly to the value and importance of remembering and memorializing those who have gone before us and sacrificed their lives for our faith, and as we so importantly remember this weekend, our nation. It is a chapter that reminds us of the importance of sacrifice for a noble and important cause.

Our text is portions of Hebrews 11, referred to as the ‘Faith Chapter’ because it recounts the cost of faith in the establishment of what we now call Christianity. We begin our reading with verses 1 through 3. (I am reading out of the New Living Translation).

(Slide 3) ‘What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.’

Faith is a vital aspect of life. I would go further to suggest that it is an even critical aspect of life.

All of us have to have a measure of faith to get up in the morning and walk out the door to work, school, the store, a neighbor, and other places. (If we did not, we would never leave the house!)

This morning, we have to have faith that the pews upon which we sit are going to hold us up. We had faith that our cars would start (even at $3.99/gallon!) and that they would get us safely here.

We really cannot live without faith at a certain level. Faith implies a trust in something or someone. It also implies a reliance on and a conviction in something or someone.

The opposite of faith is mistrust and disbelief. In its more extreme form it is paranoia in which a deep and overwhelming fear is present.

The writer of our text speaks of ‘confident assurance’ and ‘the evidence of things not seen.’ We have faith in many such things, some of them abstract instead of concrete, such as ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

This idea has given shape to our nation over the centuries. It has motivated people to take the actions of public service, elected office, and military service. It has required of them sacrifice, including the ultimate sacrifice, their own lives. As I think about our faith in ideals such as ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ I think about a line from the movie Gettysburg in which Robert E. Lee says to his second-in-command, James Longstreet, ‘they do not die for us’ by which he meant he and Longstreet.

Those who have served and died in far away places such as Verdun, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Tawara, ‘Pork Chop Hill,’ DaNang, and Baghdad, have died not for their leaders, they have died for us – their families, friends, and even for those with whom they politically disagreed.

Those who rushed into the twin towers on that fateful and tragic September morning, did not die for us, they died for those they were trying to save and rescue. Those that were recently remembered right here in our city a few weeks ago who died serving our communities and state in the line of duty, died so that we might be free and safe.

They believed in this nation. Many believed in God. They believed in this great American experiment. They had faith, they had a ‘confident assurance’ that this radical ideal of democracy would work. And it has, hasn’t it! (Not perfectly, but it has worked.)

In the New Testament, we read Jesus’ words about building a house on the sand and building a house on a rock. We spent the past two months looking at some important building blocks that need our lives need to be built on.

It also says in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 3:11 to be exact, ‘For no one can lay any other foundation than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.’ At rock bottom in our lives, I very clearly believe this morning that only as we build our lives and our faith on and in Jesus Christ, we will live the way we were created to live – personally and as a nation.

People have died in defense of this faith. Some have been burned alive. Others were tortured and then murdered.

Some have been arrested and isolated in terrible prison conditions for years at a time. Some have been discredited and mocked and kept at a distance.

Some have lived in this country and suffered for their faith. Others have lived in places where religious and political freedom was an unrealized reality.

The first group of people I have referred to this morning are called patriots. The second group I would call prophets.

There are some common characteristics and I think that we are called to be both. Now this may not mean we will go to a battlefield or a foreign country. But it does mean a commitment to our nation and our faith as we serve where God calls us.

In his book, Leading With A Limp, Dan Allender, wrote a chapter entitled, ‘Three Leaders You Can’t Do Without.’ The three, according to him, are a prophet, a priest, and a king.

This morning, I would add a fourth, a patriot, to that list.

(Slide 4) According the entry at thefreedictionary.com a patriot is ‘a person who loves his or her country and passionately supports its interests.’ Do you know anyone who fits that definition? Look around you this morning are there any patriots in view? I see quite a few patriots present this morning.

(Slide 5) A prophet, according the same website is, first, a person supposedly chosen by God to pass on His message. Second, a person who predicts the future: a prophet of doom. And third, a prophet is defined ‘as a spokesman for, or advocate of, some cause.’

Now look around again, do you see any prophets? I see some prophets this morning and they are defined by the third entry of this definition. They are spokespersons for God by the very nature of how they live for Him in their daily lives.

These definitions would suggest that there is overlap of the roles and functions of patriots and prophets. And I would also suggest this morning that each one of us are both patriots and prophets: lovers and advocates of God and country.

Let’s return for moment to Hebrews 11 as I read selected portions which appear on screen:

(Slide 6)It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did.’ Verse 4

(Slide 7) It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“suddenly he disappeared because God took him.” Verse 5

(Slide 8) It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about something that had never happened before. Verse 7

(Slide 9) It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. Verse 8

(Slide 10) All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith… Verse 39

There is more to the list that just those we have mentioned. But those named in this chapter were lovers of God and His Kingdom and purposes. They, by the way they lived, imperfectly and with faith, were also prophets because they were often called upon and required to be God’s spokesperson.

I would not call them patriots because their ultimately loyalty was to God and not to a specific country. But they demonstrated a loyalty and a love that should and must challenge us today to do the same.

In saying all of this I am making two points this morning.

(Slide 11) We need and must be good patriots. To me one of the most sacred places on earth is the ballot box and as we all know by now, this is a Presidential election year. We need to vote and it is one of the best ways to be a patriot. We cannot afford to be distant and uninvolved in our community in this vital way.

Christianity has thrived and done much good and great work under the cover of democracy. Now the two are not the same thing because our ultimate loyalty to God as His people must come first. But our system of government has allowed us to create a missions movement that has enabled Christianity to spread across the globe as Jesus said it must.

(Slide 12) We must also be good and humble prophets. We must say, by our lives and not just by our words, ‘thus saith the Lord.’

Prophets are truth tellers and so must we be, even when it is hard and costly.

Just because we love this country does not mean we should not or cannot call it to account on its moral and spiritual health. I believe that our nation is in need of God’s movement and transformation in our hearts and souls because we have morally decayed and we are far from God. We need to

Further more just because we love this country does not mean that we cannot disagree with our government’s policies. (I for one, think that our current educational policies are leaving ‘children behind.’ We need to stop looking a test scores as a soul measure of a student’s educational progress. We to help our teachers help our kids l-e-a-r-n to be learners and good and moral citizens.)

So what does all of this have to do with Memorial Day?

This day and weekend is a time in which one important act of loyalty and advocacy is that of remembering (and honoring) those who have served us over the years on far and distance fields, air, and water to keep us free. Jesus Himself said, ‘the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.’

That is what patriots and prophets do, they love. They love with their words and they love with their actions of sacrifice.

And today we remember those who have expressed that love through self-sacrifice and we say ‘thank you.’

As I conclude this sermon, I would ask you to reverently stand for this next video clip and for the concluding hymn.

(Slide 13) sermonspice.com clip, ‘133_taps.’

Sources:

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/patriot

http://www.thefreedictionay.com/prophet

Soul Food

(2008 Easter Sermon preached on March 23, 2008)

(Slide 1) I begin with a question, ‘What are you having for Easter dinner?’ (Congregation responds)

(Slide 2) Who are you eating dinner with? (Congregation responds)

I wonder what our two Lenten guides might be having for Easter dinner… let’s find out!

(Slide 3) (Dramatic reading from ‘Living Lent; the animals tell the story, the fish reveals a risen savior’ by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2008)

Anybody having fish today for dinner?

Today is a family day for many people and that means lots and lots… and lots and lots of food, maybe not as much as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but if we leave the table hungry, that’s our fault. (A lot of people we know perhaps are eating in a warmer climate that we are today!)

I think that all of us have had the experience of eating during a difficult time such as a family member’s serious illness, a death, or other stressful times. We are grieving, we are anxious, we are tired, we are stressed out and the last thing that we want to do is eat.

In our main text for this morning, we read about a meal that the disciples were having that was a difficult one to eat… until Jesus showed up! Here is Luke 24:36-38:

‘And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” But the whole group was terribly frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost! “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why do you doubt who I am? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do!” As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his feet.

Still they stood there doubting, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.’

The ‘they’ in verse 36 refers to the two who had encountered Jesus as they walked from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, a 7 mile trip one way. After their incredible encounter in which Jesus revealed Himself to them at the end of their journey, they had come back (and maybe ran until they were out of breath) to Jerusalem to tell about it and as they began to share it, Jesus appears before all of them!

I think that the care and compassion of Christ is evident in this passage as He helped the stunned group deal with their shock and fear at His appearance. He did not mock them or make fun of them, He knew how they felt and so He sought to reassure them that it was truly Him and He was truly alive!

I also think that Christ’s compassion and care was expressed in how He chose to give solid proof that He was truly alive and not a ghost. He asked for something to eat.

Still they stood there doubting, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.’

There is something about eating together that causes walls to come down and doubts to clear. I learned that many years ago when I asked Susan and a group of young adults at the church to which I had just been appointed as youth pastor if they like to go out for pizza. She later told me that it made me a little more real and a lot less snobbish!

We have had a good breakfast this morning and we will, I trust and pray, have a good Easter dinner. But there is food that is more important than the food we eat (and overeat at times) it is the food that we feed our souls with.

In Mark chapter 7 Jesus makes clear that there is another kind of food necessary to our existence and He addresses it from the perspective of the kind of nourishment, or in this case, non-nourishment, it provides. We begin with verse 14:

Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!” Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowds, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the statement he had made. “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that what you eat won’t defile you? Food doesn’t come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then comes out again.” (By saying this, he showed that every kind of food is acceptable.)

And then he added, “It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.”

With Jesus’ words echoing in our minds and hearts, I ask us this morning, (Slide 4) ‘What’ are you feeding your soul?’ Is it good for your soul?

The Bible uses the images of mind and eyes in speaking about matters of spirit and soul. They are the entry points through which ‘soul food,’ if you will, passes into your heart and soul. Several passages in both the Old and New Testaments reveal the important role that our eyes and minds play with regard to our hearts and souls.

In Proverbs 6:16-19 we read, ‘There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:

haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that kill the innocent,

a heart that plots evil,

feet that race to do wrong,

a false witness who pours out lies,

a person who sows discord among brothers.’

In Romans 8:5 -8 we read: ‘Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

In Romans 12:2 we read, ‘Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.’

Then in Matthew 6:22 and 23 we read, ‘Your eye is a lamp for your body. A pure eye lets sunshine into your soul. But an evil eye shuts out the light and plunges you into darkness. If the light you think you have is really darkness, how deep that darkness will be!’

All of these verses talk about our soul and the condition of our soul because what we feed our soul through our eyes and our mind is revealed in and through our character and conduct that comes out of our heart and soul.

Have a conflict in a relationship? What have you been looking at or for and thinking about in regards to said conflict? Do a soul check about attitudes and expectations.

Financial issues? What have you been looking at or for and thinking about money? Do a soul check about priorities and habits.

‘Now, Jim what does all of this have to do with Easter?’ I’m glad you asked! It has everything to do with Easter! The death and resurrection of Jesus is about (to use a very current phrase) the need for an ‘Extreme Makeover’ of our souls. It is about a major renovation in which our minds and our eyes and thus our heart and soul are redone by the power and work of God in our lives.

Easter, in response to the video clip we have just seen, is not about bunnies or whatever you believe it is, it is about a deep and significant change that only God can make happen in us.

What have you been feeding your soul? Is it good for it? Is it God centered and God honoring? Is it Biblical?

As we move toward our conclusion this morning there are two things that I want to have you take with you today to think about and use this next week.

First, I want us to take a step back and look at the current human situation in light of Easter and what it truly means because we need to more clearly understand and believe that the Resurrection is not just about Jesus and me but Jesus and us.

Today we are in two nations fighting a potent enemy. During this past week one of our Presidential contenders has again addressed the race issue because of comments made by a pastor.

Today we are concerned about the ‘carbon footprints’ we are making as it relates to our environment and how we can reduce use of fossil fuel so that our environment can become healthier. Then there are the economic indicators and the mortgage crisis that indicate financial turbulence.

It gets overwhelming doesn’t it? (I feel sometimes like it is 1968 because of current events.)

What does Easter have to do with all of this? EVERYTHING!

Race issues are spiritual because all of us are created in God’s image and what we choose to take in with our eyes and think with our minds about people directly affects our souls and hence our actions. Environmental issues are spiritual because God has given us the responsibility to care for this planet; what we take in with our eyes and think with our minds about how we treat our earth affects our souls and hence our actions. Economic issues are spiritual because treating others fairly regarding money issues is in the Bible and so what we take in with our eyes and think with our minds regarding our spending habits affects our souls and hence our actions.

What the resurrection makes possible is a renovation of our minds and eyes and hence our heart and soul; because as we allow the power of the resurrection to operate in us and truly change us for the better, we begin to see things and think about things from God’s perspective because as we are ‘born again’ through the spirit of God enacting the salvation that we celebrate today through Christ’s death and resurrection, our relationship with God is restored, and then, in light of the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, our relationships with others can begin to change for the better. For only when our souls are transformed, not merely fixed, not merely cleaned up, but changed; deeply and profoundly changed, can we get back on the right path. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Second, take an inventory of what you are filling your eyes and your mind with these days. .. Is what you are looking at and what you are thinking about feeding your heart and soul in the Christian way?

Do you seek an inner peace? Do you seek a resolution to a conflict that has caused you grief and pain? Are you tired of the emptiness of life?

I invite you to come home today. Come home to Christ. Come home to the forgiveness of your sins and the establishment of a new way of life and a freedom from the past with its pain and alienation.

Let the Lord feed your soul by helping you, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8, ‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’

The power of Easter is not just a one shot deal… it is an everyday deal as we allow the Lord to open our eyes and minds and thus our hearts and souls to the love and grace of God through Christ.

Eat well today! Eat well everyday! Feed your soul and become the person that God has created you to be… because He is Risen! Amen!

Power Points for this sermon are available by e-mailing me at pastorjim46755@yahoo.com and asking for ‘032308slideseaster’ Please note that all slides for a particular presentation may not be available.