Asked of Us

Each week in worship I share a message with the congregation.  There is always more to say than there is time to say it.  So, I’m never quite sure exactly what might be left in or what might be left out.  Not long ago I shared a message on prayer and God’s faithfulness in answering prayer.  I came to the   part of the sermon where I began talking about the two things asked of us
as we draw near to God in prayer.  The first is Honesty… we offer up the truth of our needs, longings, hopes, dreams, and desires without reservation or evasion, and sometimes the cry of our heart is simply “Lord, help me.”  Prayer can’t get much more honest than that. Then, I came to the place I was intending to talk about the second thing we bring to our prayer relationship with God… Humility.  Humility before God is the only ground we have to stand on.  As the old communion prayer says,
 
“We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness,
but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this Sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
 
That’s what I planned to say.  And then I would go on to talk about Job, who spent thirty-seven chapters listening to his “friends” attempt to explain the righteousness of God in a world of human suffering and human need… and then God showed up and Job learned that humility is the only way to approach and experience the awesome wonder of God in the world as it is…
 
“And the Lord said to Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?”  Job listened to God for several chapters and at last Job spoke, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted… Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me… therefore I recoil within myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”     
 
But I didn’t go there.  I didn’t mention Humility before God at all… I couldn’t.  I knew that I must always be reminded of how foundational Humility before God is when it comes to prayer, but looking out into the faces of a community of genuinely humble, dedicated, faithful people all that I could talk about was The Love of God and how the Love of God carries through life and death and life beyond death.  I mean, you can’t really go wrong with The Love of God.  God loves us and cares for us and all the promises of God are “Yes!” in Jesus Christ. We sang a closing hymn and went from worship out into the world.
 
Then came Sunday afternoon and Diana and I drove south of Aptos and took a walk on the long, open beaches.  And there, just like with Job, God got my attention.  It wasn’t through a whirlwind, but God did conjure up some of the same “Wonders of Creation” with me that worked so well with Job so long ago.  Remember Leviathan, and the wonders of the deep that God brought in to being.  Well, as we stood on the beach we watched whales spouting and splashing, a bit closer to shore dolphin playfully moved across the water, a little closer bald-headed seals played in the surf, and closer still a sea otter was eating its dinner using its stomach as a picnic table, riding the waves between bites.  In the sound of the ocean I thought I could hear the voice of God saying, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?”  All I could say in answer was, “I have uttered things too wonderful for me.”  But now I understand, Humility before God is the only ground we have to stand on… in prayer or anywhere else.  That’s true for all of us… all of the time… and it’s something we all need to know.
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark


Summertime means Tomatoes…

Summertime means Tomatoes…Not the tasteless store-bought tomatoes but the juicy, sweet, home-grown ones.  A thick slice of fresh tomato on a summertime sandwich… how good is that?   Or a fresh Big Boy variety tomato prepared on a plate with Bleu Cheese Dressing for an afternoon snack… or even dessert??  Or the marvelous beyond words Heirloom Tomato Stack Diana and I had last week at the Café Cruz down on 41st street and Highway 1 in Santa Cruz… the thick, fresh Tomato slices stacked up like a tower of Oreos with the role of the crème filling played by fresh slices of delicious mozzarella…lightly drizzled with herbed vinaigrette … Wow!  Praise God for the Tomatoes of summertime!
 
But Tomatoes, like virtually everything else that happens in the summertime, can get you in to trouble.  One of the people who found himself in tomato trouble is the well-known Bible translator and Seminary professor, Eugene Peterson.  His translation of the Bible is called The Message. Many of you are familiar with it.  It’s a wonderful translation.  However, in translating a paragraph in Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth concerning the Resurrection of the body, Peterson chose to translate the Greek by using the word “tomato”.  Instead of the standard translation “ You do not sow the body that is to be but a bare kernel, or seed, perhaps of wheat or some other grain.  But God gives it a body as God has chosen…”  Peterson, perhaps thinking that most folks today may have never harvested wheat but had almost certainly come face to face with a tomato at one time or another chose this translation, “You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.  Now, the trouble comes when “religious skeptics” write editorials questioning the validity of the Bible and the genuine historical reality of the Christian Faith because of the word Tomato.  One writer argued, “Tomatoes are native to western, South America. There were no tomatoes in Europe until the 1500’s. They weren’t introduced to the Middle East until around 1800!  How is it that the tomato is mentioned in the Bible (I Corinthians) when the New Testament was supposedly written around 50 AD…1500 years before those people ever saw a tomato? There were no tomatoes there at the time!  I can only arrive at one conclusion: It must be all the product of the perpetual, continual, creative license taken by the Vatican (or whoever was doing the writing in the mid-1500’s).”  Unbelievable….
 
In the end, perhaps whatever tomato troubles we may have had will, as the old hymn says, find their way to come ‘round right.  Garrison Keillor has retired from his Prairie Home Companion radio show.  But he still writes about it.  I recently came across a confession he made about a famous story he told over the radio many years ago.  He said, “There’s a story that I told a long time ago that so many children liked so much. It was a story about throwing a tomato at my sister when I was a little kid and we were out in the garden. . .  Hundreds of little kids have come up to me after shows and they’ve looked up and they’ve said, “That, uh, that Tomato Butt story that you told, is that true? Is that a true story?” And I look down at them and I say, “Yeah! That’s true.” And I’ve never had the heart to look down at a child and to admit that the story happened exactly the opposite way. And that she threw the tomato at me. . .  It took me 30 years to be able to lie well enough so that that tomato could reverse course and go in the opposite direction.”
 
Ah summertime!  It is beautiful and brief… and filled with Tomato blessings.  May God grant us all the wisdom to share the blessings of this life with honest and open hearts… until that day when we are all changed from a seed… into something dramatically different.  
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark

 



Nine Spiritual Temperaments

I remember Pastor Rick Warren wrote, “Surrender is the heart of worship.”  Offering ourselves to God is what worship is all about… and God wants 100% of who we are.  Others have said, “Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, body—to what God is and says and does”.  These are both wonderful ways to understand worship.  But perhaps a still more excellent way to understand worship is found in the work of Gary Thomas who studied the history of worship. He found that worship is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition.  In his book Sacred Pathways, he identifies Nine of the ways people have found to draw near to God in worship.  He refers to them as Nine Sacred Pathways, or Nine Spiritual temperaments that God creates in human beings so that we can connect and worship God in unique ways.
 
  1. Naturalists— love God best outdoors. These people worship in the midst of God’s Creation. They celebrate God’s majesty and discover spiritual truths through nature
  2. Sensates— love God through their senses. These people worship through sense experiences —sights (like art), sounds (music), smells, and more
  3. Traditionalists— love God through religious ritual and symbols. These people worship through time honored traditions of the Church. They believe structure, and repetition, like weekly liturgy, leads to deeper understanding of God and faith
  4. Ascetics— love God in solitude and simplicity. These people worship through prayer and quiet time, free from the encumbrances of outside noise and distraction
  5. Activists— love God through engaging and confronting, fighting for godly principles and values. They worship through dedication to and participation in God’s vision for social and evangelistic causes
  6. Caregivers— love God by serving others, and worship by giving of themselves. They may nurse the sick and disabled, care for a stranger, donate time at a shelter, etc.
  7. Enthusiasts— love God through mystery and celebration. These people worship with outward displays of passion and enthusiasm. They love God with gusto!
  8. Contemplatives— love God through adoration. These people worship by their attentiveness, deep love, and spiritual connection. They have an active prayer life
  9. Intellectuals— love God with their mind and their hearts are opened up to a new attentiveness when they understand something new about God. These people worship through intense study, apologetics, and intellectual pursuits of their faith.

Always Remember…. We are a mixture… we rarely rely on a single approach or temperament to connect with God every time; God blesses us with a mix of several temperaments… And…

Our Temperaments change— Spiritual temperaments evolve over time. We are likely to find different ways to connect with God at different times in our lives.

You can learn more about your Spiritual Temperament in the book Sacred Pathways. Another wonderful resource is the web page of Grace Church in Overland Park, Kansas (http://visitgracechurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/SpiritualStyle.pdf)

 God has created us all to be a people of worship… but we don’t all respond to the Awesome Love and Amazing Grace of our God in the same way.  Discover your Spiritual Temperament. As we share with one another how we best connect with God we will All be blessed… like the hymn says, “In our difference is Blessing… from diversity we Praise…”                                                            

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Mark Brady

 

 



Mother’s Day

 
On The Second Sunday in May (May 14th) we celebrate Mother’s Day. We remember the incredible women in our lives who devoted themselves to help raise us and generations of children and grand children… some their own… some community kids or church kids or neighbor kids… and it didn’t seem to matter. They cared enough to sacrifice and to share the faith, the hope and the love that they held dear and we pause in the rush of the everyday to express our love, our thanks and our appreciation. While obviously we should be treating the women in our families with care, support and respect during the rest of the year and not just on Mother’s Day, a single day can be a great way to remind us to get out of our own way, to remember where we have come from, and to show our gratitude. 
 
In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul writes to Timothy: I” have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives also in you.” Paul writes to remind Timothy, and us, that the greatest gift any of us can pass on to our children and grandchildren is faith. Lois and Eunice were a mother/daughter team that raised young Timothy to grow up into a man of God, ultimately becoming The Apostle Paul’s most trusted companion and disciple. It is only in Acts 1:6 and 2 Timothy 1:5 that we find any record of these women, but what a strong commendation Paul gives to them.  The name Lois means agreeable or desirable.  And she appears to have lived up to her name!  The Apostle Paul praises her as one who passed on the mantle of faith to both her daughter and her grandson. I have heard that while there are numerous grandmothers mentioned in the Bible, 2 Timothy is the only place where the term grandmother is actually used. (Greek, mamme, actually pronounced “mammy”).
 
Eunice was, like her mother, also a devout Jewess before coming to Christ. She has a Greek name that is derived from the name Nike, which was the Greek goddess of victory.  Her name actually means conquering well and was a name expressive of a good or celebrated victory.  Eunice, too, lived up to her name.  She had victory over a culture and a society that would cast her and her family aside after the death of her husband.  Through her faith in God and her study of the Scriptures she continued to trust in the promises of God who is “a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows… in his holy habitation.” (Psalm 68:5) There is no doubt that their devout Jewish faith and knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures prepared their hearts to hear the words of Paul regarding eternal life through Jesus Christ. 
 
Paul and Timothy shared in the work of ministry for many years.  Near the end of his life journey, Paul, from the prison at Rome awaiting trial and likely execution, writes his second letter to the one he called “his own son in the faith”, calling to remembrance the faith that had sustained Timothy, and reminding him that this very faith was first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Timothy had been raised to Love God and to share that Love through living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  What better way is there to show and to share the love of God than by remembering and celebrating those from whom we have all received so much… our mothers and grandmothers and all the great women of faith.
 
Join us for worship on Mother’s Day (May 14th)… Be a part of the celebration…
Remember where you came from… Remember who you are.
 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Mark


Easter Letter 2017

According to John, the last words Jesus spoke from the cross were, “It is finished.” Whether he meant “finished” as brought to an end, in the sense of finality, or “finished” as brought to completion, in the sense of fulfillment, nobody can know for sure. It’s hard not to think he meant both. According to John, there is less mystery involved in understanding the first words of Jesus after his Resurrection from the dead. 
 
On Easter morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb before dawn to anoint Jesus body. Having found the empty tomb she quickly runs to tell Peter and John that someone has taken Jesus’ body from of the tomb and she doesn’t know where they’ve taken it. Peter and John run to the tomb to see for themselves. They find the tomb empty, but see Jesus’ grave clothes neatly folded, not what you would expect to see if someone had stolen his body. They consider what this means, and they go home. Then John tells us,
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
 
From time to time I have run across collections of the famous last words of famous people. Recently, I came across the last words of someone who is not famous, mostly because he was only 4 years old.
 
Nolan Scully was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, in November 2015. He passed away in February this year, aged four.  His mother Ruth will never forget the last night of his young life.
 
At 9pm, after watching a video together, Ruth asked if she could leave Nolan for a shower. I’ll be out in two seconds’. He smiled at me. I shut the bathroom door… They said the moment the bathroom door clicked he shut his eyes and went into a deep sleep, beginning the end of life passing. “When I opened the bathroom door, his Team was surrounding his bed and every head turned and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said ‘Ruth, he’s in a deep sleep. He can’t feel anything’. His respirations were extremely labored, his right lung had collapsed and his oxygen dropped.
 
Ruth said, “I ran and jumped into bed with him and put my hand on the right side of his face. Then, a miracle that I will never forget happened…. Nolan took a breath, opened his eyes, smiled at me and spoke his last words, ‘I Love You Mommy’, he said, and turned his head towards me. At 11:54pm Nolan Scully passed away as his mother Ruth was singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ in his ear.”
 
“I Love You”… is about as good as any of us can do when it comes to last words, unless we happen to be the Savior of the world.  But when it comes to first words, perhaps Jesus has given us an insight into what awaits us on that day when we meet those we love in the life to come. They will draw near to us once more… And seeing that we, the new arrivals, are overwhelmed with tears of Joy at the meeting, the ones we love and lost a while will simply ask us “Why are you weeping???” And they will speak our name… and there we will be together again in the love and the light of Resurrection Life… forever.
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark Brady


It’s Easter!!!

Wake up… It’s Easter!!! That’s right; the celebration of Easter Sunday is now only a few short weeks away. Will you be up and ready and receptive to the message of Easter Morning??? I know… Maybe as children it was easier for us to be up and ready and receptive on Easter Morning because we knew that once we got out of bed an Easter Basket filled with treats was hidden somewhere in the house for us to find. These days we can let ourselves become well adapted to snooze-alarm living, if we just keep hitting that snooze-button long enough Sunday morning will slide right on by…

Several alarm clock companies have come up with some ingenious ways to help get snooze-alarm adapted folks up and out of bed and ready to face the day. There is the Wake Up, Work Out Alarm Clock, a 1.5-pound dumbbell clock that will shut off only after you’ve done 30 bicep curls and it has internal motion sensors too–so you can’t cheat! Clocky is a clock on wheels that rolls and leaps, from up to 3 feet, off your nightstand after one snooze and it does this while beeping random patterns and hides until you hunt it down. The Twist Equation Clock requires you to twist the dials to create an equation that makes sense before you can turn it off…

Early-morning math anyone??? Clockman is perfect for those folks who can’t get up and dressed in the morning without some serious nagging. This chatty clock refuses to shut up, even after you get out of bed. He’ll greet you at your desired time, sing while you get dressed, and even yell at you if he gets angry. They say that even though Clockman speaks only Japanese for now, his wake-up-and-get-going message isn’t lost in translation. Finally, Sonic Boom With Super Shaker has a 113-decibel alarm – about as loud as a jackhammer. And if the volume alone won’t do it, the red flashing lights and accompanying bed-shaker unit (which goes beneath your mattress) should deliver the full sensory message that “Morning has Broken!” On Easter Morning God came up with something that even the world’s best clock makers can’t touch. God ushered in Easter Morning with an Earthquake, an Angel, and an Announcement!

After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move. The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised up, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. “Now, go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.” (Matthew 28:1-7 The Message)

Allan Smith tells about an Easter morning wake up call he had years ago; “our clock radio came on about four o’clock, and a woman’s voice said, “Let His joy fill your heart like a springtime sun.” I quickly turned off the radio and offered some undesirable comments as to who had set the clock that early. But when I tried to go back to sleep those words kept ringing in my ears!”

Easter Morning is God’s wake-up call for you and me and the whole world. So, Wake Up! And don’t hit the snooze button- Let His Joy fill your heart like a springtime sun!

 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark


A New Year…

We are living in the midst of an unfolding New Year… The Christian New Year began in Advent before the celebration of Christmas, The Calendar New Year began on January 1st, and the Lunar New Year was ushered in just this past weekend. Each New Year offers us opportunities to learn about, experience and discover things around us and within us in new and deeper ways… so that we can come to appreciate and understand more fully the wonder of the lives we have been blessed to live and to share. What is it that you are hoping to learn more about or experience or discover in this New Year? Perhaps you have heard or read about how just last year, in 2016, Biblical Archeologists made some amazing discoveries. These three are not only interesting, but underscore the historical validity of The Bible.
 
Stone jar factory found near Cana
 
Recent excavations in a cave halfway between Cana and Nazareth uncovered a 2000-year-old quarry where stone vessels were produced. The cave, hewn of chalkstone, revealed numerous stone vessels; cups, bowls, and large stone jars, in various stages of production. In the first century, Jews in Galilee used pots and storage jars made of stone, as they did not become ritually impure. In John 2:1-11, John tells about Jesus turning the water into wine in stone jars during the wedding at Cana. The cave’s proximity to Cana suggests it may have been the source of the water jars that were used for the wedding in Cana attended by Jesus and his disciples.
 
Lachish gate shrine illustrates Hezekiah’s reforms
 
In the ruins of a shrine excavated next to the gate of Lachish, the largest city of the kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem, archaeologists found an altar, within one of the rooms in the city gate, with the horns intentionally broken off from each corner. This is believed to be evidence of the reforms of King Hezekiah, who “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles” as part of his reforms (2 Kgs 18:4). They also discovered a stone chair with a hole in the middle, which archaeologists have identified as a toilet, in the corner of the room. This suggests an intentional desecration of the gate-shrine, and is reminiscent of the Bible’s description of Jehu turning the temple of Baal in Samaria into a latrine (2 Kgs 10:27).
 
Unsealing the tomb of Christ
 
For the first time since at least 1555 AD, the purported tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was unsealed, revealing the surface of the limestone burial bed on which it is believed Jesus’ body lay. The burial bed had been covered with a marble slab centuries ago to prevent pilgrims from chipping off pieces of the tomb as souvenirs. After removing the marble slab, archaeologists were surprised to find a layer of fill, and then a second marble slab with a cross carved into its surface. The researchers had been given only 60 hours to complete their work. Just hours before their time was up, the original limestone surface of the burial bed where the body of Jesus was believed to have been laid after his crucifixion was uncovered and found intact. While it is impossible to know conclusively that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth described in the Gospels, the historical claims of the site are significant and nothing initially discovered in the recent unsealing would contradict the long-standing Christian tradition that this is the original empty tomb of Jesus.
 
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” In this New Year may we all be blessed to make new, exciting discoveries about our lives, our faith, our families, our church, our community, our world and our God.
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark
 


Christmas Letter 2016

I went out for a walk last night through the neighborhood… to look at the lights. The red, green, white, and multi-colored lights along with displays and decorations created a scene of brilliance and beauty announcing that “Christmas will soon be here!” 

There were lights of all kinds… some new hi-tech “LED” starburst-in-motion lights, some hanging down like icicles, some old-fashioned bulbs… some were fresh out of the box, others were easily on their twentieth Christmas.  There were yard displays with Santa and his sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer with Rudolph in the lead.  There were Angels lit up like the host of heaven and a life-sized crèche scene with the Shepherds and the Wise Men and Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus lying in a manger.  There was even a shining giant snow-globe of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Woodstock flying through the snow on a toboggan.

I liked the shining snow-globe.  It invited me to remember Christmas time back in Minnesota as a kid, riding the sled down the hill that ran from out beside the Hiawatha Golf Course Clubhouse down to the 18

th green… and on a day when the snow was right, you would get airborne, flying over the sand-trap on your sled and if you flew far enough you would land with an explosion of snow on the other side. (It also brought to mind the time me and Diana and the boys went to visit my mom when the boys were young and I rode my old sled down the 50th

street hill all the way down to Minnehaha Creek and came crashing to a face-first landing on the ice… but I’d rather not think about that…)  That’s what all these wonderful Christmas lights, displays and decorations do… They invite us to remember. I recently read a copy a Grown-up letter to Santa written almost 40 years ago by a man named Kenneth David Thomasson, who was an electrician and a supply sergeant in the U.S. Army. One of the things he asks for in the letter is… Christmas lights.

Colored lights on a Christmas tree–that was a big favorite of mine, but I buy those in the store. But they never shine as brightly or look so colorful as they did so long ago. There was a wonder in them then, but perhaps it might have been the angle of sight. I was looking up at them in those days, and now I look straight at them.  Maybe that’s why they’re smaller and duller, while the stars always stay the same. Please bring me brighter lights like you used to, or tell me the proper angle from which to view the lights I have.”

And that’s the trick… isn’t it.  Finding the proper angle from which to view the lights we have.  The Shepherds found it, the Wise Men found it, and Mary and Joseph found it, and we can find it too all over again at Christmas.  What they found was that the only way to truly see the Light of the World shining right where we are is to kneel beside the manger, and then look…          with our eyes and our hearts and our minds and our arms and our lives… wide open.

Grace and Peace and Merry Christmas!

Pastor Mark



Christmas Is Coming…

Christmas is coming … Have you put up your Christmas tree?

Here at the church we’ve already put up one Christmas Tree in the Sanctuary and soon we will be putting up another one on our front lawn.  Sunday December 11th, after Worship, we will have a time to gather on the lawn for Hot Chocolate, Goodies, Christmas Carols… and we will Light up the Tree! It is amazing how beautiful it looks to have a Christmas Tree lit up at night, shining in the heart of Cupertino, the Cross on one side and the Christmas Tree on the other, as a light to the Nations.

Some people say the first Christmas tree can be traced back to when Martin Luther, the famous church Reformer and theologian.  He cut a fir tree and took it home in December of 1540. The evergreen tree reminded him that life continued through the winter, when most of nature appeared to have died. He attached a number of small candles to illuminate the tree to express that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, was welcome in his home.  Others trace the beginning of the Christmas tree tradition to an eighth century missionary from England named St. Boniface.  One December he encountered a group gathered under an oak tree participating in a pagan ritual.  Boniface chopped the oak tree down.  At its foot was a small fir tree.  He cut the small fir tree and gave it to the people gathered there as a gift, a symbol of life that carried within it “the fragrance of brokenness”.  Even when life is broken, we find that we are blessed with the precious presence of God.  He called it the tree of the Christ-child.

The Christmas tree is a wonderful tradition.  But the truth is, the very first Christmas tree can be traced back to the Bible.  It is not a fir tree, and you can’t go out and buy it at Home Depot or at a Christmas tree farm. It is the most important Christmas tree of all… It’s a family tree… It’s Jesus’ family tree. And you and me, and all of our families, and all of the people we know and love, and all of God’s children all over the world are a part of it… because it is our family tree too. 

Down through the ages people have known that when this tree finds a place in our hearts it illuminates our lives and expresses that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, is welcome in our homes.  Each time we reflect on the great gift God has given us that we are all a part of God’s beautiful family, we celebrate the blessings of life and we come to know the presence of God experienced in our own families…  just as they are….  beautiful and broken and fabulous and dysfunctional all at the same time.

And

Joseph also

went up from Galilee,

from the city of Nazareth,

to Judea, to the city of David,

which is called Bethlehem, because

he was of the house and lineage of David,

to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed who was

with child.  And while they were there the time came

for her to be delivered.  And she gave birth to her firstborn

son…

Grace and Peace…  And Merry Christmas.

Pastor Mark



That Is the Promise of God

I was just about to write my first sentence.  It was going to begin something like this…

On Saturday Night we set the clocks back, and though we may feel gratified by gaining an extra hour of sleep for one night, the truth is we lose an hour of daylight in the bargain and the short days of winter are not far away and the darkness comes early and grows even darker before the first hint of the promise of spring.

I was ready to talk about how darkness impacts us in ways that we don’t often anticipate… I was even ready to quote from a recent study on the connection found between changing from daylight saving time to standard time, and depression.       

A new Danish study has found that changing from daylight saving time to standard time increases the number of cases of serious depression… Although the study doesn’t reveal why the transition may cause the increase the rates of depression, the team suggest that it may be because the change takes an hour of daylight from the afternoon and adds it to the morning –  a time when many people may not benefit from it as they are indoors at home preparing for work. When they are free to get outside later in the day, it is already dark.

Then I was going to affirm that God is with us in all the seasons of darkness that we may face… As the Scriptures affirm over and over again,

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me… (Ps 23) If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Ps 139)

I was going to say all of this… and more. But I was stopped in my tracks.  Someone in the next room turned on a television to watch a live ESPN broadcast of the Pregame show for Game 7 of the World Series. While still thinking deep thoughts, I couldn’t help myself. I had to listen. I overheard the introduction of Father Burke Masters, the Catholic chaplain for the Chicago Cubs. The announcer made the comment that he had invited Father Masters to pray for the Cubs before Game Six… and it worked! So, now here was Father Masters, offering up a prayer of Blessing before the Seventh Game of the World Series… on Live Television….

“Let us pray… In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit… Amen.  Lord, we thank you and we Praise you for this great gift of baseball. We thank you for all of these players. And just ask you to help them relax and to play to the best of their ability, and to keep them safe.  And may all that they do and the way that they play, give you Honor and Glory. And May God Bless You All. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… Amen.  (Go Cubs!)

No matter how dark it may seem… The light of God is shining and breaking through to us in ways and at times that we do not expect it.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” That is the Promise of God.  And that is the truth…no matter what happens in Game 7.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Mark



A Sunday School Prayer for Families and Teachers

     On this day and always we affirm that we are all children of God.  We are all both learners and teachers
of the faith…. A faith that is living and active… made alive and fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection and abiding presence of Jesus Christ.

     We remember how Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

     As the stories of the Children of Israel and the parables of Jesus remind us, our God is eager for relationship… seeking, finding, and rejoicing in us. We are called, as disciples of Jesus, to rejoice in You O God, and so we pray…

     As faithful learners, O God, may we seek you as you have sought us. May we carefully search our world, lighting the dark corners, sweeping away all that obscures your presence and hides you from us. Help us to seek you, O God.

     As faithful teachers, O God, may we find what we may have overlooked. May we put aside the mass of unending demands, duties and details, so that we may come to embrace the one thing that is needful, the one thing that truly matters.  Help us to find you, O God.

     As faithful families, O God, may we grow in the life of Faith, walk in the light of Hope, and share in the labor of Love…  May the Grace of the Living God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit empower us to live as forgiven and forgiving within our own families, and within the blessed family of the children of God.

     As faithful teachers, learners and families, O God, may we rejoice in the wonder of your love and share your great love for us in loving one another. May we celebrate the value of each of us and the worth of all of us, seeing your wisdom, mercy, and love all around us… And now…

     May the Lord bless you and keep you… The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you… The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you Peace.  All this we ask In Jesus Name…  AMEN.
 
Pastor Mark


Practice, Practice, Practice

I went for a walk last week, out around the neighborhood one evening and I could tell that the season is changing. It wasn’t because the nights have gotten a little cooler now than they were in the peak of summer…on that evening I could hardly notice the difference. And it’s not that the leaves are changing color, I suspect we still have a while to wait before we see the seasonal change from the greens of summer to the red, orange, yellow and gold of Autumn.  I couldn’t feel the change in the air…and I couldn’t see the change happening around me. I heard it.
 
I could tell that the season is changing because as I walked through the neighborhood I heard, coming from one house and then from another, the sound of students who have started back to school…practicing their instruments and learning their music. I heard pianos, I heard horns, I heard violins and I heard some stringed instruments I couldn’t identify either because they were unusual instruments or they were familiar instruments played in an “unusual” manner. I even heard my all time favorite – welcome to the new school year musical instrument…the Flutophone! In one home after another you could hear it…students making the time and taking the time to practice…practice, practice, practice. A new season has begun and you can tell because all around us students are practicing in order to learn and to improve and to excel and to someday come to find the joy and the wonder and the life that is written into the heartbeat of every piece of music
 
A new season has begun in the life of the church as well.  And now we, as Jesus’ Disciples – Students of The Master- have to put away our summertime routines and begin again to make the time and take the time to practice, practice, practice the life of Faith. Yes, Faith takes Practice…and Acts 2:42 tells us that we practice the life of Faith most fully when we share in, or as Luke puts it “devote ourselves to” experiences of Learning, Fellowship, Worship, and Prayer.
 
Practice Learning – Tuesday morning Bible Study begins on Tuesday Sept. 6th at 10:00. Thursday evening Bible Study begins on Thurs. August 25th at 7:30. This year we will be studying The Parables of Jesus. Come, be a part of learning and living the life of Faith.

Practice Fellowship – We practice Fellowship through our Sunday morning Fellowship Teams.   And a wonderful Fellowship Experience coming soon that you can be a part of is our annual – Great America Autumn Adventure together on Sunday September 11th after worship. Sign Up in Calvert Hall or just contact the Church Office (408-252-4478 or admin@unionchurch.org).

 
Practice Worship  As Pastor Rick Warren points out, God has given us the great gift of experiencing Joy and Gladness and of sharing Joy and Gladness with God.  We were made for God’s good pleasure…and God finds pleasure in those who Worship Him and Trust in His Love.
 
Practice Prayer – Join with our Deacons in the ministry of Prayer…by becoming a part of our Prayer Team.  Share your joys, your sorrows, your needs and hopes and dreams in a prayer request with the Pastor. Take time to pray…every day…in the midst of a busy world.
 
It is time to practice, practice, practice, practice our Faith…that we might find the fullness of joy and wonder and life that is written in to the heartbeat of every child of God.
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark


Follow In His Steps

Well, the Bible certainly doesn’t list Jesus’ top summertime activities in descending order. But we can get a clear sense of what Jesus did and how he spent his days, and follow in his steps.

First, Jesus did A LOT of Hiking. With a very few notable exceptions when he rode a donkey or took a boat ride, Jesus walked everywhere he went. The Gospels tell us that Jesus walked the length and breadth of Judea, Samaria and Galilee visiting from village to village and town to town. He walked into the mountains. He walked in lonely places. He walked by the sea. He even walked on the water! So, this summer… Go outside and take a walk!

Second, Jesus went out of his way to Help people. Jesus went throughout all Galilee healing every disease and sickness among the people. He even went so far as to cross the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum to the eastern shore to help one man whose life had reached a dead end. Wherever Jesus went he helped people. Word spread as far as Syria and Jerusalem and The Decapolis and they brought to Him all that were sick with infirmities and torments, and He healed them… often with only a Word… Because sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Third, Jesus would Head for the Water. Whether it was the Jordan River, The Sea of Galilee, or the Pool of Siloam… Jesus always seemed to find his way to the water. On sunny days or stormy days, it didn’t matter. He would go out in a boat sometimes to tell stories… sometimes to sleep. He would find a quiet place to pray, he would reflect on what God was up to, he would restore his soul… and the souls of those around him. And there were times when he just stirred things up by inviting those who followed him to get in over their heads.

Fourth, Jesus would Hang out with the kids. The Disciples thought that Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with little kids. But Jesus helped them see a bigger, more beautiful picture, gathered the kids around Him and let everybody know that the kids were more like the Kingdom of Heaven than all the adults who thought they had it all figured out.

Fifth, Jesus invited and encouraged people to Have Less Stuff. Jesus knew, long before the experts on clutter and organization came along, that one of the secrets to being truly free was to have less stuff. Because in some strange way all the stuff we own really owns us. Downsize your life… Live more simply, if only for the summer, and find your treasure in Heaven.

I don’t know what you plan to do this summer, but I plan to follow in His steps. And I’m looking forward to a wonderful, blessed summer adventure. I hope you are too.

 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark


Christianity

2000 years ago, Jesus and his disciples were walking at the far northern edge of the land of Israel at the headwaters of the Jordan River in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks the disciples a question… “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah or one of the Prophets.” Then Jesus asks the disciples THE question, “But who do you say that I am?” It was Simon Peter who answered saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus responded by saying… “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock (The Rock of his Faith Declaration) I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
 
Do you ever wonder how that whole “On this Rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” thing is working out? I wonder about it from time to time.
 
I recently read an article that helped provide some insight into how the church is doing these days. Brian Douglas, a former professor at Boise State University and now a pastor on the staff at All Saints Presbyterian Church in Boise brought together some interesting information that gives at least a glimpse of the big picture of the life of the Christian Church today.
 
First, do the math. In a 2014 address at the Spurgeon Fellowship in Spokane, Michael Kelly described the growth of Christianity worldwide since the first century. While the church’s growth was initially slow, it has progressed steadily over time. In A.D. 100, there was only one professing Christian for every 360 non-Christians in the world. Today about one third of the world’s population claim, as Peter did, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
 
According to Kelly’s data, the church’s growth hasn’t just continued it has accelerated. In the church’s first 1,000 years, the ratio of Christians to non-Christians lowered from 1:360 to 1:270. By A.D. 1500, it was 1:85—almost triple the growth of the previous millennium in only half the time. Since then, the rate of growth has continued to rise steadily, with the ratios hitting 1:21 in 1900 and 1:13 in 1970 before reaching today’s 1:2. Today there are 2.2 Billion professing Christians in the world, over 30% of the people on earth, and that number is growing.
 
Now, study the geography. While Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been at the center of much recent church growth, consider contemporary China: in 1976, when Chairman Mao died, few envisioned hope for the life of the church in China. Now, however, just two generations later, Christianity has spread across China like wildfire. According to a 2014 article in the Telegraph, there were one million Chinese Protestants in 1949. In 2010, there were 58 million—a 5,700 percent growth in 61 years. If current rates continue, China is set to have more Christians than any other nation by as early as 2030.
 
There are also signs of similar growth in the Islamic world. Studies show that Christianity is growing faster in Iran than anywhere else on the globe at about a 20 percent increase per year. From very small groups of Christians hidden on the margins of society there are now roughly 1 million Christians in Iran. So ask yourself, “Why would people predominantly of Muslim background, leave the comfort and security of being Muslim, and convert to Christianity—a faith persecuted by the ruling regime? More pointedly, why would these individuals convert, when apostasy—or “leaving the Islamic Faith” is illegal and punishable by death?
 
The answer to that question is the same, no matter where you go in the world… even here.
 
We are Christians because we know and profess and provide a living witness to the truth that Peter proclaimed 2000 years ago; “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And even now, Christ is building his church through us, in this time and in this place… to the Praise of his Father in heaven.
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Pastor Mark


Go Warriors!

The NBA playoffs have begun. The Golden State Warriors are vying for their second NBA Championship in a row. And when I think of basketball I think of………………Church! How about you?

When I entered in to “Probationary Ministry” for the United Methodist Church in 1990, I was ordained in the gym under the basket at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield College is the birthplace of basketball. As Bishop Skeete prayed for the power of The Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, I’m sure that the spirit of James Naismith was praying right along with the Bishop. Naismith, who was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, was convinced that he could better exemplify the Christian life through sports than in the pulpit, he moved to Springfield, Mass., to serve as a physical-education instructor at the Young Men’s Christian Association’s International Training School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College). Naismith’s vision? “To win men for the Master through the gym.”

James Naismith believed that with good coaching basketball could produce the following results: “initiative, agility, accuracy, alertness, co-operation, skill, reflex judgment, speed, self-confidence, self-sacrifice, self-control, and sportsmanship.” He saw self-sacrifice as “a willingness to place the good of the team above one’s personal ambitions,” saying, “There is no place in basketball for the egotist.” Sportsmanship was described by Naismith as “playing the game vigorously, observing the rules definitely, accepting defeat gracefully, and winning courteously.” In short, basketball meant playing by the Golden Rule and loving your neighbor.

Today that Spirit of bringing “Others to the Master through the Gym” (OMG) is being carried forward by The Golden State Warriors and NBA League MVP- Stephen Curry. In a recent interview Curry reflected on his faith saying, “Looking back, my childhood was filled with the Lord’s presence. My parents raised us to believe in God, and we were at church every Sunday for services… God’s given me talents to play basketball for a living, but I still have to work hard to improve every day. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is just a game that can be taken from me at any moment. But I love that basketball gives me the opportunities to do good things for people and to point them towards the Man who died for our sins on the cross. I know I have a place in heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top.”

In spite of all the attention, Curry retains a sense of humility and balance rooted in one of his favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In an article he wrote that was posted on Breaking Christian News he says, “… I am just trying to use this stage to share how God has been a blessing to my life and how He can be the same in everyone else’s… There’s more to me than just this jersey I wear, and that’s Christ living inside of me.” He summed up his life in basketball and his life of faith this way, “I love to play the game, and I love when good things happen,” he said. “But when I get home, it’s about my family and just enjoying the blessings in my life without letting [basketball] define my personality or my character.” The time with my wife is huge so we can continue to grow and not be complacent with where we are in our walk with Christ. Obviously, we can all be better at that.”

Go Warriors! I’ll see you in Church.

Pastor Mark


Easter 2016

Everyone who proclaims the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead says one thing.
 
John’s Gospel tells us that it was Mary Magdalene who was first to proclaim it when she ran to tell Jesus’ disciples the Good News.  What she said was, “I have seen the Lord!”  Later that night, the disciples would tell Thomas the same thing.  Thomas had not been there when Jesus appeared to them, but when he returned they shared the Good News…“We have seen the Lord!” Thomas didn’t believe them.  He said he would not believe unless he saw for himself.  One week later, he did.

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