Thank you, mission trip sponsors!

I am really proud of our youth who served on the mission trip to Atlanta. and shared their testimonies last Sunday. If you didn’t get a chance to hear them at the service, make sure to ask a youth about the trip. Amanda Morriill did a wonderful job as a chaperon and assistant on the trip, and I am thankful that she was willing to serve at such short notice.   I am also grateful for Sally's help, who upon my return, helped me put together the video presentation of the event. Thank you, CCC friends and family for your prayers and support to make this trip affordable for our participants. Our youth gained valuable experience, and they were able to help make a difference in the lives Atlanta residents who they served during the week. We were equally blessed by those folks as a result of our efforts. You have invested in a very promising and talented group of young people in the CCC youth group and in the lives of individuals in the Atlanta area.

Mission opportunities are not limited to youth groups. You have the opportunity to serve locally with the Crossing Community team that serves regularly at Stowe Mission, and there is an upcoming opportunity to serve on a trip to Mexico. Please contact Betty Brown for more information. I also extend the invitation to anyone who wishes to serve in mission opportunities to speak with Pastor Chad or me.

 

Do Unto Others

Unexpected things happen at times when you are commuting. Such is the case when I left the church after the deacon’s meeting this past Sunday. As I turned onto Tuttle Crossing, I noticed what appeared to be an open CD wallet lying in the road with some of its contents scattered about. As I passed, it became apparent to me that it was not CD’s, but the contents of someone’s attache case. I did a quick U-turn, as did another motorist who jumped out of his vehicle to retrieve the scattered valuables. I stopped in the middle of the busy road and turned on my hazard lights to protect the other man from getting run over by traffic. Assuming he was the owner of the wallet, I waited until everything was retrieved. The man walked over to my car, I thought, to thank me for stopping traffic, but instead he asked me if the wallet was mine. I informed him that it wasn’t, but I offered to take it directly to the police station, since he was from out of town. I assured him, by giving him one of my church business cards, that I was an honest person. It turned out that the wallet belonged to a physician and it contained a substantial amount of cash, numerous credit cards and personal checks received as payment for services. The owner had placed it on top of his vehicle while getting gas, and then unknowingly drove off. The Dublin Police quickly found the anxious, but relieved owner to return his valuables, and they put him on the phone to speak to me. He offered to give a reward, but I declined, saying that between the other motorist’s efforts and mine, I was simply happy knowing that he was reunited with his belongings. I did not have to give a second thought about what to do with the man’s wallet. I did exactly what I would wish to happen if I would lose something valuable. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, NIV). Our youth group will be living out this valuable truth as we serve the needs of the residents in impoverished areas of Atlanta. In an increasingly harsh world, we must not forget this lesson. Please keep our youth mission team in prayer this whole week for safe travel and protection in the city.

Jesus, take the wheel!

Driving has always been a passion of mine, especially if it involves shifting through the gears of a manual transmission. I could not wait to get my license when I turned sixteen. My first “driving” experience actually goes back to when I was only about three years old! As the story has been told that my brother Terry, and I were sitting in our family’s 1963 Plymouth when my dad briefly ran into a store to purchase something. Notably, he left the engine running, and seizing the moment, I enthusiastically jumped behind the wheel and punched the button on the dashboard that said, “Drive.” Push-button technology was new for its day and required that the parking brake be applied, even though the car had an automatic transmission. My dad hadn’t done so, however, and the car suddenly lunged forward, and coasted away from the curb. My brother, who was about nine years old, attempted to steer the car from the back seat! Fortunately, I was too small to reach the accelerator pedal, and my dad chased the slowing moving vehicle down the street until he was able to jump inside and apply the brakes. Disaster was averted!

Sometimes our lives are like that runaway Plymouth. We navigate life’s highway with the expertise of a three-year-old, and allow other incompetent drivers to steer us toward disaster. Thankfully, we can rely on our heavenly Father to correct us and apply the brakes before we crash if we invite Him to intervene. God is always there for us, no matter how far we’ve gone off the road and in many cases, he has kept us out of the ditch.

Despite that little mishap, my dad would eventually trust my driving after I had grown considerably and matured. Good fathers know when it is time to let us go and drive for ourselves. Likewise, our Heavenly Father knows when we are ready to be in the driver’s seat of our lives. Occasionally God still has to “take the wheel” when we get off course, and lovingly steer us back in the right direction. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13, NIV). I hope you had a blessed and happy Father’s Day this past Sunday.

CAN YOU ADAPT?

Adaptation to new surroundings or to a new routine doesn’t come easy for all of us, but I was impressed with the ability of our musicians, pastor Chuck and congregation to adapt the smaller, make-shift sanctuary in the children’s worship area when our main worship area was unavailable last Sunday. Thanks to those who set up the sound system and to Pete DeWilde who made our smaller surroundings as functional and familiar as the big auditorium. It was actually a nice change in that we enjoyed a more intimate worship setting, and I even saw more interaction between the attendees after the service. I feel that this experience was actually beneficial to prepare us for eventual growth into the larger larger sanctuary and the closeness we will share as we hear more joyful voices worshiping in unison beside us. Just think about 400-500 people in our auditorium! Now, that is exciting! Thank you to Lincoln Construction for quickly responding and correcting a potentially dangerous situation in the sanctuary. We are grateful that no one was hurt when the decorative wood trim piece fell to the floor. God is good!

Pastor Chad will begin preaching duties on July 9th. You are invited to join us in prayer for the church, Pastor Chad and his family on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. during the entire month of June. Our first prayer meeting got off to a great start with eleven in attendance, and we enjoyed fellowship and refreshments afterward. Pastor Chuck is leading the prayer  meetings in the youth room.

LAST CHANCE THIS SUNDAY: Please support our youth mission trip to Atlanta today by eating lunch or dinner at Pizzeria UNO. You must give the server the fundraiser certificate to get credit. Those certificates are available at the welcome center and in your bulletin. Please take several and invite friends and family to lunch or dinner. June 11th is the final day for the fundraiser and you can dine in or carry out up until 11:00 p.m. You may also support the youth by designating in addition to your regular tithe, a portion of your offering to the “Youth Mission Trip Fund.” Make sure that the amount is stated clearly on your offering envelope, or on the memo line of your check to make sure it goes to the right place.

Sunday school provides great opportunities to connect with church family. There are classes for all age groups beginning at 9:30 a.m. Feel free to contact me at tracy@crossingcommunity.org to discover how you might connect to the church and potentially contribute your time and talents to the Lord. I look forward to hearing from you!

ATLANTA BOUND!

Our youth group will be serving in Atlanta this summer for their annual mission trip. VBS and other scheduling conflicts made it necessary to schedule the trip much earlier this year, so our youth are presented with with a much greater challenge to come up with the necessary funds for their trip. Please be supportive of our fundraising efforts as they are announced in the coming weeks. You can also make a support the youth by designating, in addition to your tithe, a portion of your offering to the “Youth Mission Trip Fund.” Make sure that the amount is stated clearly on your offering envelope, or on the memo line of your check to assure it goes to the right place.

Last week I spent some time with the residents of Avondale Woods Senior Community. What a joyful group of people! In speaking with their resident’s council president, I found that there are several residents who would love to attend Sunday morning services at our church. Furthermore, there are residents at their facility who would like to attend our ESL classes on Sunday morning, but transportation is not available. We have church vans, but need someone who is willing to drive them on Sunday mornings. We also have church members who no longer drive, and would likewise be thrilled if someone could bring them to church on Sunday mornings. If you are interested in being a van driver, or providing transportation with your own vehicle, please speak with me or a member of our transportation committee.

As we search for a new pastor, be mindful that the interim period is not a time for us to rest at The Crossing. It is a time for us to step up our game and serve the Lord unsparingly!  There are many ways that you can help move the church forward during this interim period. Please contact me at tracy@crossingcommunity.org to discover how you might connect to the church and potentially contribute your time and talents to the Lord. I look forward to hearing from you!

A Blast from the Past

It was my pleasure to welcome Dr. Billy C. Reid as our guest preacher this past Sunday. My relationship with “Billy C.” goes way back to my college days beginning in 1982 at Ohio State University. When I began to give the announcements in the early service, I saw Billy C. sitting on the front row and I was instantly "transported" back to those days in my mind and I said, "Welcome to Lane Avenue Baptist Church!" I hadn't made that mistake since we changed the name of our church. What a blast from the past!

It was Shortly after I responded to the Holy Spirit calling me to full-time Christian ministry, that Dr. Glenn Turner, who was the pastor of Lane Avenue Baptist Church at the time, recommended that I join the Baptist Student Union on Frambes Avenue near the OSU campus. Billy C. was the BSU campus minister at the time, and he immediately made Sally and I feel welcomed into the group. It was Billy C’s magnetic personality, genuine love for students, and his commitment to Christ that made a lasting impression on both Sally and me, as he became our pastor during the next few years of our undergraduate studies. Billy C. emphasized the importance of connecting to a local church, and we also became deeply involved in the college and career ministries at Lane Avenue Baptist Church. It was through our involvement in the college and career department that we met and developed friendships with Chris and Susanne Porter, and John and Jenifer Wilkerson, among many others.

Billy C. learned that I was planning to attend seminary, so he quickly challenged me by asking me to lead a small Bible study group of college students in my apartment. I had never attempted to do anything like that before, and to this day I wonder if what I taught made any sense at all to those students in my group! Anyway, I am grateful for Billy C. and for his passionate leadership of students, and for his investment of time in Sally and me, that both encouraged us and helped contribute to who we are today. In his message this past week, Bill challenged us as church members not to be idle during the interim time in our church's search for a new pastor, but that it was a time for us to really step up our mission and work harder than ever for the Lord! I totally agree with Bill and I hope that all who heard his message was inspired and motivated by his words.

There are many ways that you can help move the church forward during this interim period. Please contact me at tracy@crossingcommunity.org how you might connect to the church and contribute your time and talents to the Lord.

 

The Ride is Over. Thank you Pastor Wayne!

Let’s go back in time! It’s 1987, and Sally and I were fresh graduates out of The Ohio State University. We were both active members of Lane Avenue Baptist Church. That same Spring, we met Wayne Nicholson, who became our new pastor, and his delightful wife Kathy, and children. Later that fall, we would move to Louisville, Kentucky where I would attend seminary. A couple of years later we visited LABC, and I think Wayne had already forgotten my name! Fast forward to 1993, and we returned to Ohio, where I was invited to serve with pastor Wayne on the LABC staff. I had never dreamt that I would have such an opportunity!

The rest is history! Pastor Wayne and I developed a wonderful friendship over the years, serving through some memorable times at LABC. We have both been fortunate to have been around long enough to be able to celebrate the births of several of our church members, baptize them and watch them grow into productive young adults. We have the shared experiences of numerous retreats, vacation bible schools, renewal weekends, church anniversaries, graduations and the historic move of our church from Upper Arlington to Hilliard. We have both shared in the the joyous times, and we have grieved together over the the losses of beloved church members, friends and members of our own families.

Early in my tenure at LABC, when Wayne and I ran into some difficult situations, I said to him, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Buckle up, because we are going to ride this out together!” I was planning to be on the ride for about five years, which was a lofty goal for someone in youth ministry. It has now been over 23 years for me on staff, and Wayne is completing his ride after 30 years! That is remarkable!

Wayne, since we first met in 1987, I have known you for more than half of my life, and you have known me for almost half of yours, or at least the parts of it that you remember! It has been interesting and at times, a challenging ride, but now the ride is over, and it’s your time to ride off into the sunset. Thank you my friend. It has been a fun ride and a pleasure! Your Copilot, Tracy

Tear down that wall?

A few years ago, I took the youth on a mission trip to Tennessee. Our group was tasked with working on an old house that had become decrepit and overwhelming to maintain by the single, middle-aged woman who lived in it. Our team was the assignment to repair and restore the water damaged interior, as well as the installation of a new roof. It was a huge undertaking, but I knew that our group could accomplish much in a week’s time.

I soon discovered more serious defects in the home when I saw the ceiling sagging over the kitchen. It was evident that a load-bearing wall had been removed at some point to expand the size of the kitchen and build an addition to the house. It might have seemed like a great idea at the time, but the expansion was not well thought out, and expert advice had not been sought for consultation. Now, the home was in danger of collapsing in on itself! Our youth group was asked to replace the ceiling with new drywall, sand, spackle and paint it. I was uncomfortable with doing this because of my fear that our work would only conceal a much larger problem. I was assured by the mission trip organizers that an “expert” with construction experience would be stopping by to instruct us how to reinforce the sagging roof. A very young man did indeed stop by, and his remedy was to jack the ceiling up with temporary construction pillars and drive long screws into the trusses to somehow pull the ceiling back up into place. I am not a structural engineer, but I knew this would not work! We were not equipped to make the proper repairs. A qualified engineer’s assessment and instruction was needed. We proceeded to complete the work that we were asked to perform that week, and it did look much better than when we arrived. The roof, that we installed, looked wonderful on the outside and irritating leaks were no longer a problem. However, I have wondered about the section over the kitchen. A simple snowstorm could still bring it down.

This story made me think about how we may sometimes conduct our lives when relating others in our families, our churches and our workplaces. We come up with what we think is a great idea at the time, but there’s a “wall” in the way in the form of people who do not sign on to our plan. The convenient solution is to remove the “wall” spackle, and paint over any evidence that the wall was ever there. That “addition” looks great, but problems arise, when we begin to realize that the “wall” was actually an important part of our structural integrity. Without the wall, the roof begins to sag and the whole structure is in danger of collapsing in on itself. Adding a little more paint and spackling is not going to be able to cover up the obvious issues any longer. Denial and praying the problems away won’t work either, because it is the lack of prayer and careful planning that gets us into such situations in the first place. Along with prayer, putting aside our pride, admitting to our errors and seeking the advice of a properly trained “engineer,” are necessary steps to avoiding a disastrous collapse. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand,” Matthew 12:25 (NIV).

Feel free to contact me if you wish to connect with others at Crossing Community Church, tracy@crossingcoummunity.org.

Uncharted Waters

Many years ago, I took our middle school youth group on a whitewater rafting trip in Pennsylvania. It was the first time that Sally and I had ever done this, and none of our youth had ever before been on such a trip. Since this was a trip for our younger youth, I was advised to select this venue because it was more suitable for beginners. I would take the high school youth to West Virginia a few weeks later for a more challenging rafting trip on the New River.

After a brief lesson by the river guide, we were ready to shoot the rapids! Megan (Morris) Bibbey and Katie Cross were the two youth fortunate enough to be on board with Sally and me. The trip began easy enough as we gently paddled down the calm river. "This is easy," I said, "It's not that challenging at all!" Then, the trouble began when we spotted the rocks ahead! We began paddling furiously when we saw the rushing waters and the tight passages through which our raft needed to pass, before being launched over what seemed to be like Niagara Falls! The guide had paddled ahead of us in his kayak and stood on the rocks shouting instructions to us that would insure our safe passage. The sound of the rushing white water was so loud, we couldn’t decipher anything the guide was saying, and I remember him throwing his arms up in frustration, when we did not properly respond to his gestures. Unfortunately, each of us was paddling in a different direction, which spun the boat around. One thing we all did remember, was him saying before we left, that if all else fails, pull the oars in and lay down flat in the boat, which we did. Boom! We hit the rocks hard, ricocheting between them, and bouncing down the falls...backwards! Ouch! The impact against the rocks through the bottom of the raft would leave me with one of the largest bruises that I have ever gotten. However, because we had listened and remembered what to do in a critical moment, we escaped mostly unscathed, except for my bruised knee. The raft didn’t flip over and none of us were ejected.

We approached the next rapids with a little more confidence. The river guide stood on the rocks, his arms again waving in frustration, we hunkered down low again, saving us from being capsized, and again, we managed to squeeze through the rocks, though this time, sideways. We traversed a  few more rapids, hunkering down again and again. The results were similar, but we got a little better each time. Finally, when the trip came to an end, we were relieved to have to survived our first rafting adventure. With adrenaline still pumping, we shared our stories of terror with the other youth who had also managed to finish the trip. Some of them did not take the advice about laying down in the boat, though, and were ejected into the water, having to be pulled to safety by one of the guides. The four of us were proud that we had stayed in our raft the whole time.

As a church, we will soon be entering uncharted waters. We will likely encounter some rough waters, find ourselves in some tight spots, and we will definitely hit some rocks. We will probably paddle in all different directions at times, and we might even end up going through the tight spots backwards. The thing to keep in mind, is to pay attention to the guide who is standing on the rock. He’s been there before, he’s seen what’s up ahead, and he knows what he is doing. When we’ve made mistakes and all else fails, he will instruct us to hunker down to keep us from capsizing. We may sustain some bumps and bruises as a result, but it is for our own good. We are all in this together. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you,” Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV).

Please contact me if you want to jump in the CCC raft with me and others by connecting with the church. tracy@crossingcommunity.org.

Politics and the Pulpit

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have transformed how we communicate and keep in touch with friends. It is great to be able wish a friend happy birthday, congratulate a buddy on his or her promotion or meet the latest addition to a growing family. I actually do enjoy seeing what someone had for dinner, the skunk the neighbor encountered in the backyard, or a family marveling at a beautiful sunset on a beach in Florida, while I stare at the winter clouds out of my office window. The jokes, the memes, the funny animal tricks and the inspirational quotes help not only to brighten my day, but also keep me involved in the lives of the people I care about. Recently, however, the social media platform has become tainted and politicized with ugly comments and mean spirited remarks. Friends and family members are now attacking one another either over their political stances, or gloating over the misfortunes of their political adversaries. Social media has lost its appeal because of this, and what was previously an enjoyable form of communication, now incites anger. Individuals have “unfollowed” friends, and others have blocked their own family members. Some have even completely deleted their accounts! The current political climate has only made things worse.

Imagine if such politicization were to occur in our churches. There is now a movement in our government to repeal the Johnson amendment, which was created to prevent non-profits from using their organizations to peddle political influence. A surprising number of church leaders want this to happen so that they can campaign from the pulpit! Wealthy corporations and individuals could make tax-deductible donations to churches and other tax-exempt organizations who in turn could use those funds to campaign for the candidates of their choice. Church denominations and congregations would begin to be identified with political parties rather than the unity of Christ. Individual church members would no longer feel welcome in their church families if they didn’t support the same party as the majority, and would have no other choice but to go elsewhere, or worse, drop out altogether. Keep in mind that repeal of the Johnson amendment also means that all tax-exempt non-profits, including Planned Parenthood, among others, could ultimately become platforms for political campaigns, supported by your tax dollars. Is this what we really want? What do you think?

Don't be a "hero!"

Disaster was averted at our home this past week! Sally had put many hours of research and effort into a paper that she was working on for her class, when unexpectedly, it disappeared from her computer. Sally was distraught, fearing that she would have to rewrite the nearly completed paper, from the beginning. Assuming the role of the heroic husband, I calmly assured her that the paper must have been saved somewhere on her computer. “Let me handle this,” I told her. So, I thoroughly searched, but found no paper. I went through every document, every file and every nook and cranny of that computer, and still found no paper! It was nearly 11pm and I was ready to admit defeat. I wasn’t going to be a hero afterall. “You might have to call your professor and ask for an extension,” I told Sally, but then I had an idea, “Let’s call an expert!” “Who could we call so late in the night,” Sally asked. “I’m going to call our old friend, Jim Farler. He is a computer wiz and he is always up late!” Jim was our trusted typist back in our undergraduate days. He would stay up all hours of the night typing my papers as they went from my head, to pen and paper, often catching up with me. All I had to do was feed him pizza, and he would stay up with me until it was done.

So, it was decided that we would call Jim. Telling him about our dilemma, Jim assured us that the paper must still be on the computer. He calmly talked us through several methods to search the files and look for clues leading to the missing paper. It wasn’t long before we saw the paper flash up on the screen only to disappear again! After Jim guided us through a few more steps, we figured out the problem. The paper was right in front of us the whole time! The file had somehow been renamed, so searching for it under a name that did not exist was futile. Thank you Jim! The solution to our problem was actually very simple, but I am so glad that we called Jim for help. Perhaps Sally and I may have eventually figured out the problem and found the lost document, but we might have spent hours or perhaps days wasting precious time. Sally could have ended up rewriting the paper, and getting a reduction on her grade for finishing it late, only to discover later that her completed assignment was sitting in front of her the whole time.

How much time do we waste in our lives, our careers and even our churches when we refuse to ask for help? How many times have we missed windows of opportunity because we refused to reach out to someone who is an expert in the field or has been in a similar situation? The Lord often sends us an obvious rescue line, but we refuse to accept help and instead choose to work things out on our own terms. Being too proud to admit we need help will get us nowhere, and denial will not make our problems go away. Control issues and pride stifle success and may ultimately lead to failure. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed,” Proverbs 15:22, (NIV). It’s like the man who refuses to simply stop and ask for directions and ends up way off the road, stuck deep in the mud and who has no choice left but to call for a costly tow. Precious time is wasted, progress is delayed, and opportunities are missed. Don’t try to be that “hero.” Tap into the help that God provides and pray without ceasing while you are at it!

Render Unto Caesar...

Who loves paying taxes? I am so proud of myself! I have already gathered together all our tax documents, and sent them to our accountant. We will soon be ready to file! I usually wait until the last minute, but this year, I felt it was particularly important to file early in light of the uncertainty of our government agencies. I actually don’t mind paying taxes. My family and I have have enjoyed clean drinking water, curbside trash service, police and fire protection as well as an excellent public school system. As a US citizen, I also feel an obligation to support our troops and veterans of the various branches of the military. I am not so keen paying members of congress and other politicians who have so poorly represented us, but they are part of the three branches of government that form our democracy.

Paying taxes is not only the law, it is an honorable thing to do. Avoiding the obligation of paying taxes by taking advantage of the system does not make one smarter than everyone else. Not only is it unpatriotic, it is immoral, especially when it further creates hardship for the less advantaged who have to make up for the shortfall. The Pharisees saw Jesus as a rebel who was trying to upset the establishment. Trying to entrap him, they questioned him about whether or not paying taxes to the oppressive Roman government was justifiable. Jesus, using a coin as an example with Caesar’s image and inscription, replied, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” (Matt. 22:21, NIV). His answer left them speechless.

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel, on the other hand, defied orders to bow down to the king on two separate occasions and that landed the three young men in a blazing furnace and Daniel in a lion’s den. While their actions may have been seen as disobedience to the law of the authorities of the time, the laws that they were trying to enforce were contrary to the authority of God. Daniel and his three friends chose to instead to submit to God’s authority. Despite the risk of paying for their choice with their lives, God spared them. Accordingly, the midwives and the mother of Moses risked prosecution by disobeying the order of Pharaoh, so that the life of the baby Moses could be preserved. In effect, Moses was a political refugee, but was ultimately spared because of the women’s prudent actions. Although these law breaking women were guilty of civil disobedience, the Bible describes them as women of faith.

As we have witnessed several examples of demonstrations and civil disobedience in recent weeks over the building of a pipeline through the Dakotas, or the refusal of a local governments and officials to enforce immigration laws of which they find morally wrong, where do we draw the line as Christians?  Is it wrong to demonstrate or defy government orders? Have you ever been forced personally by the government to perform an act which you found contrary to the authority of God? There might be laws of the land with which we disagree, but of which we must abide. Other laws, on extremely rare occasions, may be more difficult for us to follow, if our being required to act upon it, violates our submission to God’s authority. One may have to choose between keeping a job, or not, or even being subject to arrest. What would you do?

Aliens Among Us

A friend posted a meme on Facebook that caught my attention. The meme quoted verses from the Book of Leviticus, of which I don’t often find myself quoting, but I found this passage particularly relevant to the current immigration issues we are facing as Christians and as a nation.  When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NRSV). How are we to respond to the flood of political and religious refugees in our country? The country is sharply divided. Some communities and churches have responded by establishing sanctuary sites.

A Sanctuary City is a city that has adopted a policy of protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws of the country in which they are living illegally. There are currently over 140 sanctuary jurisdictions, states, counties and cities, in our country where local governments have either by law or practice refused to prosecute undocumented aliens. While, more than half of our states have sanctuary sites, Ohio is not among them. As this has become an increasingly controversial issue, new leadership has threatened to to cut off federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to enforce immigration laws and deportation efforts. Churches and houses of worship have responded by offering assistance and sanctuary for illegal immigrants through the Sanctuary Movement. Although the Sanctuary Movement has been around since the 1980’s to provide a safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict, the number of churches involved has doubled to over 450 in just the past couple of months! US immigration policy prevents agents from raiding churches and houses of worship to extradite individuals except when it can be proven that they pose a security risk. Therefore, a number of these churches have provided housing in their facilities for individuals and families who face deportation. Should that policy ever be at risk of being abolished, we could soon witness a number of ugly confrontations in our nation’s churches!

The idea of sanctuary havens for immigrants seeking religious or political refuge in either government jurisdictions or religious institutions is not something new. It goes back thousands of years and has been associated with Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism among other faiths. The book of Numbers, for instance, lists six cities of refuge in which the Levites would live and where even perpetrators of manslaughter could find refuge from reprisal before a trial could take place. The involvement of churches providing sanctuary sites continued to be controversial early in the Holy Roman Church and on through medieval England, pitting citizens, governmental and religious leaders against one another over the issue. Christians are still divided over this issue today. What do you think? Are sanctuary churches breaking the law, or are they justifiably responding to a moral obligation? These are the sort of things that I hope can lead to discussions that will make us more committed and responsive to the needs of others in our society.

 

Do Something!

I woke up this morning, Saw a world full of trouble now, Thought, how’d we ever get so far down, How’s it ever gonna turn around, So I turned my eyes to Heaven, I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?” Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of, People living in poverty, Children sold into slavery, The thought disgusted me, So, I shook my fist at Heaven, Said, “God, why don’t You do something?” He said, “I did, I created you” If not us, then who, If not me and you, Right now, it’s time for us to do something!

“Do Something,” the song written and performed by Matthew West was inspired by the real-life story of a Andrea, a former University of Colorado student who went to Uganda for a semester to study micro-financing. While there, she happened upon an orphanage where the conditions were deplorable. The children were being badly neglected and even abused. Her heart so broke for these children, who had no advocate, that she announced to her parents at the end of the semester that she was not coming home. She refused to leave until something was done to improve conditions for the orphans. She decided that she needed to “Do Something!”  By sheer determination, Andrea, with the assistance of her sister, convinced the Ugandan government to shut down the orphanage. This left about 40 orphans with no place to go, and the government handed their fate over to Andrea. Andrea in turn took her need and vision back to the states which led to the creation of of a new orphanage where children could grow and learn in a safe environment. Today, “Musana,”  which means “sunshine,” is a thriving orphanage in Uganda that houses over 100 children who now have potentially bright futures.

West also drew inspiration from Matthew 25:40 (NIV) when he wrote his song: The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me." There are many ways that we can “Do Something.” One way is to help area residents with some of their basic needs. You can do that by contributing to the “Souper Bowl of Caring” campaign. Please bring food donations to the collection bins at the church by February 5th.

Who is my Neighbor?

An innovative, yet simple charity drive is is taking place across America. NPR reports that mini-pantries are springing up in homeowners yards, in front of business places and churches. A mini-pantry is typically a wooden box, mounted on a pole and stocked with free food and personal care items like shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes and diapers. Maggie Ballard of Wichita, Kansas, calls hers a “blessing box.” People are free to take what they need, and others are free to help keep the box stocked. There is no lock on the box, so access is 24-7. Jessica McClard, of northwest Arkansas created what she calls the “little free pantry.” “The need is tremendous,” she cites, as the turnover of product in the pantry only takes 30-45 minutes. Ballard has only seen a few people come to her pantry, because most of them come in the dark of the night. There are no forms to fill out and a sense of anonymity is more desirable for some.

What do you all think of this idea? Perhaps some of you would like to place a mini-pantry in your own front yard, however, most homeowner associations wouldn’t allow it. Another idea may be to have such a mini-pantry available at our church. Please contact me if you are interested in starting such a ministry in our neighborhood. “Who is my neighbor,” an expert of the law asked Jesus. After sharing the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus ask the expert of the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert of the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:29, 36-37). Our church has an opportunity, in such a small way to make a great impact on families who have needs in our community. In the coming weeks, you can also support local food pantries by bringing food donations to our church. The CCC youth group is collecting non-perishable food items for the “Souper Bowl of Caring” food drive between now and February 5th. Please place your donations in the collection bins in the church foyer or by the youth room.

An Encouraging "Sign" of the Times

In a country that has become increasingly divided over political, racial and economic differences, here is a bit of encouraging news that I read on an online source. Multilingual “neighbor” signs are popping up in yards across parts of the mid-west and eastern United States with this message: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The message on the signs is printed in English, Spanish and Arabic. The yard sign was spotted in the the D.C. area by blogger, Drew Schnelder who posted a picture of it on Instagram. The responses to his post were so positive, he decided to contact Conrad Gross, the homeowner who displayed the sign in his yard. It turns out that Gross was not the originator of the sign, but rather a Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In response to the rhetoric of last year’s primary debates, the church’s pastor, Matthew Bucher erected a hand-painted wooden version of the sign outside his church. People in the Harrisonburg area expressed an interest in the sign, so a reproducible version was created and was available for sale at $10 each to cover costs. Initial runs of 300 and then 1,000 signs, quickly sold out! The message had resonated so quickly that the church decided to make a digital copy available to the public. You can download the file to make your own signs at the church’s website, immanuelmennonite.wordpress.com.

What a great testimony of love and acceptance this church is making to its community and our nation! I am proud to also be part of a church that welcomes and reaches out to our international friends and neighbors. Every Sunday morning starting at 9:30 a.m. Crossing Community Church members teach English classes to students and adults from every part of the world. That takes place in the rooms on the east side of our building every Sunday! If you know of someone who could benefit from the ESL classes, let them know that they are welcome here and the classes are absolutely free. We also provide programs for their children while they are here. Also, if you wish to volunteer and become a part of this ministry, please check with me or contact Debbie Oliphant. As Jesus commanded us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” he also added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t say only to love those who are like ourselves, but our “neighbor.” As Christians we can make a difference in reaching out to our international friends and help change the hearts and attitudes of those who have bought into the rhetoric of fear.

R.I.P. VCR: 2016

R.I.P. VCR: 2016. This year marked the end of the road for the venerable video cassette recorder. The very last VCR was produced by the Funai Corp. in July of this year. What has been a common fixture in nearly every home for over the past 30 years has gone the way of the Dodo. While it served us well during its time, it has been replaced by far superior technology in the form of Blu-ray players, streaming video, DVR playback devices and even virtual reality. I don’t expect the VCR to ever make a vinyl record type comeback either, because alongside the nostalgic aspect of vinyl, it is arguably better sounding than the convenient digital formats. I don’t think anyone will desire to watch grainy VCR recordings or sit and wait 5 minutes for a VCR tape to rewind, ever again. Fortunately, time marches on, and we are fortunate to enjoy the conveniences of modern innovation.

One thing that audio/video technology will never replace, is a live performance. Many years ago, a phone company used to boast that their connections were “the next best thing to being there.” Despite the incredible changes in wireless technology and even video calling, that still hasn’t changed. Sally and I are thrilled to converse with our daughter on a Skype video call while she is in San Francisco, but it is nothing like having her back home, and being able to embrace her. Watching the Buckeyes play on a 70 inch 4k flat screen television is incredible, but it is not even be close to the experience of watching the game in person with a roaring crowd. I have watched many concert videos on impressive a/v systems, but they don’t hold a candle to being on the front row of a Billy Joel concert where you feel the beat of the drums and hear the ambience of his voice echo throughout the auditorium as I did several years ago. Yes, there is nothing better than “being there.”

Technology has been very beneficial to churches as well. State of the art lighting, sound and video technology can help enhance the worship experience. Caution must be advised, however, that it doesn’t replace it. A growing trend among some churches is rather than have a pastor delivering a message to the congregation in person, on a given Sunday morning, an individual from another location preaches a sermon that is delivered via live video to a screen in front of another, or several other audiences in other locations. While this technology may be utilized during special occasions and events for some congregations, others may rely on it solely for their source of spiritual nurture for the week. That may work for some, but since I have always thought of the pastor as the shepherd for the flock who would also equip and be present with the members of the congregation, I am a bit uncomfortable with the practice. Perhaps some of you have participated in such a gathering of Christians. I haven’t had the opportunity, and I welcome your feedback.

 

Who is my mother and who are my brothers?

Genealogy studies are becoming increasingly popular. Tracing our roots has never been easier with new technology and relatively inexpensive DNA testing kits. A few months ago, I sent a sample of my saliva to the lab for DNA analysis, and I promised to share the results with all of you. It turns out that I am primarily of Irish/Scandinavian descent. I am 39% Irish and 28% Scandinavian to be exact. While my white hair and blues eyes are a dead give away for the Scandinavian part, I was still surprised that I am only 2% British. I do have the characteristic Irish freckles, but some of my other family members were recipients of the bright red hair. Broken down even further, my DNA revealed that I am of 17% Western European, 7% Iberian Peninsula, 4% West Asia/Caucasus, 2% Northern Africa and less than 1% Finnish/Northwest Russian descent. I found this so fascinating, that I ordered Sally a DNA testing kit for an early Christmas present! She can’t wait to get her results!

While it is intriguing to know the origins of our lineage and ethnicity, it is even more interesting to discover where some of ancestors lived and what they did in their lifetimes. I can imagine that some Viking ancestor of mine fell in love with one my Irish ancestors after their land was being pillaged by Viking invaders. It probably wasn’t that simple, nor romantic. It was likely very messy. Some ancestors may have come from very humble origins, while others may have held positions of high prominence. In tracing my roots, it was revealed that I am directly descended from a line of several royal and historical figures! Sally obviously isn’t impressed as I certainly haven’t been treated like a king around home! When I told one of my cousins about our “royal” bloodline, he remarked, “Then, what happened to us?”

Even more fascinating is tracing the genealogy of Jesus. Through his mother Mary’s and earthly father, Joseph’s lineages we find a variety of interesting people from the humblest of circumstances to the most powerful. From Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Rahab, Boaz, Ruth, Obed, Jesse, David and Solomon, we find the faithful and unfaithful alike. We find there are notably effective and faithful leaders, such as David, but who also committed adultery and murder. We have the story of Rahab, who while being a prostitute, also assisted the Israelites in capturing Jericho by allowing the Israelite spies to hide in her home. The genealogy that led to Jesus is filled with stories of people who made bad decisions, committed atrocious acts and repeatedly made mistakes. Our genealogies are likely no different. However, it is by the grace of Christ that there is hope for us and for the generations that follow us. An added bonus is that we can all claim “royalty” in kinship with Him! Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” (Matt. 12:46-50, NIV).

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Higher than "The Man in the High Castle"

Season two of “The Man in the High Castle” finally aired this week on Amazon Prime Video! It seems like an eternity since we were left with a cliffhanger at the end of season one. “The Man in the High Castle” depicts a dark dystopian society, set in 1962, in which the former United States is under totalitarian rule of the axis powers of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The alternate history story line, where Europe and the United States has fallen to the axis powers in World War II, is imagined by novelist, Philip K. Dick. While it is intriguing think about what would be different in such an alternate reality, it is frightening to imagine a world where the evil deeds of a Fascist society were able to advance unchecked. I won’t spoil the story for you by revealing too much. You’ll have to watch it for yourself.

    Try to imagine an alternate history where Jesus was not able to conquer sin and death. What would our world be like today? Would there be a United States of America? Would there be any hope? Would we even exist? Certainly, it would be a world without hope, without purpose and without a future. This would be the result of such an alternate history for humankind. God was able to actually see such a scenario for a world absent of his involvement. Fortunately, God loved us enough to intervene. He sent his son into the world to wipe away sin and abolish death. He gives us hope, a purpose and a future. We are reminded by the words of the prophet Jeremiah,  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

While there are certain things that may seem quite unsettling about our future in this messy world, we can still be assured that God is ultimately in control of the universe, and that He is madly in love with all of its inhabitants, not just the ones that we select. It is our job to love one another and to love Him back.

"A SAD DAY, BUT IT COULD BE WORSE"

"A sad day, but it could be worse.” Those were the words of my cousin Tim Fannin when he posted pictures of his burned down condo in Tennessee on Facebook. His beautiful home, classic automobile and all possessions were reduced to ashes, and Tim was still able to find hope and joy in those circumstances. Tim, had in recent years, moved to Tennessee after retiring from building Jeeps in Toledo for much of his adult life. He had purchased a rare Chrysler Crossfire as a retirement present to himself, and retreated to his mountain home to enjoy a quiet, stress free life.

Little did Tim know the adversity that he would face in Tennessee. After being able to return to see the remains of his home, Tim stopped by a local restaurant to order take out. He ran into a neighbor who said she was having a bad day. After talking for awhile, the woman revealed to Tim that he “always had her back and was her rock.” As he went to pay for his carryout order and leave, the cashier said that an anonymous person had already paid for his meal. Tim was overcome with emotion. He said on his Facebook page, “I definitely know one thing, I will never forget the chapter I have gone through here and the way people pull together. If you don't think America is great and kind, come to Sevierville Tennessee and you will change your mind.”

It was a sad day indeed for many of those who lost possessions in the Tennessee fire. Several lives were lost as well. Many will find it difficult to rebuild their homes and their lives. We are reminded in the book of James, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).  Our source of hope and joy is in God and it is through His people having one another’s “backs” that this hope and joy is found. Tim may have lost his possessions, but he is not lacking that which is important. He still finds hope and joy in his circumstances. Please pray for Tim and those in Tennessee who have lost much in this catastrophe.