xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: March 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Drawing Fish Pictures in the Sand

March 24, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Recently, our older daughter Grace (8 years old last Wednesday!) was playing around with her recent discovery of acronyms.  She had fun taking the letters of every name in the family and assigning corresponding descriptors for each person.  I glimpsed at her sheet and saw the following acronym for my wife:
not Juicy
not Edible
So cool
Same as the one on top (again, not juicy)
Is a good teacher
Pretty comical, I thought.  Jessica thought it was a hoot.  Then I saw what Grace did to my name:
Good speaker
Really awesome
not Edible
not Yummy
I’m not sure what qualifies me as “not yummy,” but I suppose I’ll take it as a compliment.
Grace’s playful exercise reminds me that acronyms have been helpful mnemonic devices since the earliest days of human language.  The example that jumps to mind is from first century Rome, in which persecuted Christians communicated to one another through a seemingly innocuous symbol.  When a Christian was out in public and they wanted to determine if a nearby person was a fellow believer without drawing dangerous attention from Roman observers, they would use a stick or their foot to draw a swooping arc in the dirt.

Then, if the other person was a Christian, he would covertly respond by completing the picture.

To the Roman public, it would look simply like two nutty people drawing a fish on the ground.  But to the early church, this was a symbol with deep theological meaning.  Fish, in Greek, was spelled ΙΧΘΥΣ, or ICHTHUS in English.  And this word was – you guessed it – an acronym.  Separating the letters, one could fill in the following words:
I:  Iesus
CH:  Christos
TH:  Theou
U:  Uios
S:  Soter
Translating the words into English, you get the following profound theological statement:

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

The two strangers could walk away, having found their mutual connection in Christ, while escaping certain persecution and death.  
Both in symbol and in sentence, the earliest Christians bet their lives on the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was no mere human.  He was more than a compelling teacher, and more than a celebrity healer.  He was the promised messiah, the agent of a new kingdom, and the means to a restored relationship with God.  Such an affirmation demanded sacrifice and risk from these fledgling followers , more so than anything we face today.  

But we, too, are tempted to compromise our convictions for the sake of personal convenience, our devotion to God in the face of societal pressures, and our integrity and discipline in exchange for career convenience.  Put most simply, it is still easier to disown our allegiance to Christ than to be fully committed to it.  That’s why the season of Lent is so important.  It is, itself, a mnemonic device.  We remember the story of Christ’s passion with clarity and presence, and greet him with palms, eat with him at the table, betray him with a kiss, follow him to Golgotha, and experience the transformative miracle of the empty tomb.  It is a story worth remembering, and ultimately making our own.  

Let’s make this journey together, and:
Grace and Peace,

We continue with our Lenten series with Jesus’ fascinating parable from Matthew 20:1-16.  Come discover how God’s grace is the great equalizer among people, regardless of their past.  The sermon is titled, “Equality:  The First Will Be Last.”
We are currently taking orders for Easter lilies in honor or in memory of loved ones.  The cost is $12.00, and they will once again be provided by Rhoadside Blooming House.  Contact the church office by Monday, April 6, with your order.
This year’s VBS is called “Crocodile Dock” and promises to be the biggest and best one yet!  Come this Sunday to see how you can help with donations or your time.  For more information, contact Jill Chalstrom.  
Join the Girl Scouts in the Fellowship Hall for their annual fundraising dinner.  Delicious Lasagna, and all the fixings, will be served for $7.00 per adult and $3.50 for children.  Tickets are available at the door.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lent and the Peltzman Effect

March 17, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Can feeling safe be bad for you?
In 1975, Dr. Sam Peltzman, a University of Chicago economics professor, argued that federal regulations designed to make automobile driving safer actually encouraged riskier driving. In an unexpected response to mandatory seat belts, crush-resistant windshields, and dual braking systems, people drove less safely, because they felt it was potentially less costly for them to do so.  
The “Peltzman Effect” was evident in a later British study that measured how close drivers pass by bicyclists who wear helmets, as opposed to those who do not.  The conclusion:  drivers will approach those with helmets more closely, convinced that their helmet alone would lessen the potential damage of a collision.
And then there’s Tom Vanderbilt, author of
Traffic:  Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us).  Driving in Spain, where the roads were filled with hairpin turns and few guardrails, he remembered: “I drove as if my life depended on it.”  But when the roads were wider and the traffic was less, he said, “I just about fell asleep and ran off the road … Lulled by safety, I’d acted more dangerously.”  
Of course, this is no argument against having such important safety precautions.  But it is a reminder that nothing replaces alertness and vigilance. A false sense of security can lead to destructive errors in judgment.
I’m certain Dr. Peltzman never intended his theory to be applied to matters of faith, but the Peltzman Effect applies to our spiritual lives as well.  The more comfortable we are in our faith, the more likely we are to dance on its edge.  The more we rely on God’s grace to forgive us, the more likely we are to test its limits with errant decisions.  
That’s why the season of Lent is so important. It calls us to strip away all of our manufactured safety mechanisms that promise comfort but angle us toward disaster:  
·     Our false notions of self-reliance that convince us that we are self-made;
·     Our propensity towards avarice that defines our worth by our wealth, and our status by our possessions;
·     Our dependence on political, economic, and military systems to offer a kind of security that only the kingdom of God can provide;
·     Our feelings of self-righteousness that result from being satisfied with the shallowness of our faith, rather than pushing ourselves toward mission, self-sacrifice, and witness to others.
Preacher and author A.W. Tozer offered a pointed summary:
"The answer is that we are too comfortable, too rich, too contented. We hold the faith of our fathers, but it does not hold us. We are suffering from judicial blindness visited upon us because of our sins. To us has been committed the most precious of all treasures, but we are not committed to it. We insist upon making our religion a form of amusement and will have fun whether or not. We are afflicted with religious myopia and see only things near at hand.  (A.W. Tozer, The Set of the Sail)

In faith, as in driving, comfort can lead to complacency, and feeling protected can lead to pride.  The apostle Paul was right:  
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

So have you become too comfortable in your faith? Maybe it’s time to introduce some hairpin turns and narrower roads along your spiritual path.  Daily disciplines of prayer, scripture reading, fasting, confession, and service will invite fresh alertness and sobriety in your faith.
“Enter through the narrow gate,”  Jesus said,  “for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

This Sunday, join us for our ongoing sermon series
“Upside-Down:  How the Cross Changes Everything” as we explore the many ways that following Jesus inverts our preferred ways of thinking, behaving, and relating to others.  Our journey makes a stop in the book of James, which calls us to consider trials and difficulties as opportunities for spiritual maturity and joy.  If you have not done so, visit our website and download the daily scripture reading bookmark, the road map for our Lenten journey.
In the words of Mr. Vanderbilt, “Let’s drive as if our lives depended on it.”  Keep awake, and stay alert.

The newly formed Caring Committee is looking for caring individuals with a desire to help folks in our church in need.   We would like to match your skills and interests with those who contact us for assistance.  Go to the website and click on “Helping Hands.” Print and fill out the survey and bring it to the church or contact Sheree Hausmann (
LHSH50@msn.com).  Thank you for putting God’s Love into Action!

And speaking of driving:  Youth…start your engines!  Join us this Sunday from 4-6pm as we criss-cross through town on a wild and crazy scavenger hunt.  Drivers are needed to help shuttle kids around town.  Call the church office if you are available.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reality Shift

March 10, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
So, have you recovered from losing that hour of sleep last Saturday?
Last weekend’s spring forward to Daylight Savings Time reminded me of Cassandra, a woman Jessica and I knew during our college years in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Cassandra grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, which, up until recently, never observed the annual time change.  
I’ll never forget the day a bunch of us tried to explain to her what Daylight Savings was, and that she needed to adjust her clocks like the rest of us.  It all seemed utterly ridiculous to her.  “I need to do what?” she stammered.  Wake up an hour earlier, change her whole time reference, have more darkness in the morning, more daylight at night, and call it normal?  How could the whole country be in on something that had been hidden from her for her entire life?   And how could she be sure that this wasn’t just some outrageous joke we were all playing on her?  Cassandra was right to be skeptical, for this time shift was no small matter.  It would demand a change in her pattern of behavior, her frame of being, her way of life.  Readjusting her biorhythms would take much longer than simply resetting her watch.  
I think about all this in light of this Sunday’s scripture text, the classic Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5.  I wonder if skepticism and bewilderment are accurate descriptors for how the first followers of Jesus would have received these greatly provocative, highly controversial words.  Jesus wasn’t just calling for minor adjustments to their lives, but a comprehensive and definitive realignment of their thoughts, behaviors, and relationships with others.  This was life-altering stuff.
Imagine what the responses must have been:  
“Blessed are the poor in spirit?  Those who mourn? The meek?  Are you kidding?  This makes no sense!  Am I missing something here?”
Jesus was calling for a fundamental shift forward in the way his followers behaved.  No longer to be aligned with the standards of the world, but to a new set of ideals framed by the Kingdom of God.  It called for a complete inversion of conventional wisdom and cultural norms.  The hungry would be filled, the persecuted rewarded, and the meek inheriting the earth.  All of this must have come as a seismic shock to those still stuck in standard time.  

John Wesley captures how much this must sound like folly to those on the outside looking in:   
But all this wisdom of God is foolishness with the world. The whole affair of mourning and poverty of spirit is with them stupidity and dullness….And it is no wonder at all, that this judgment should be passed by those who know not God. (John Wesley, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.”)
Forget about merely losing an hour of sleep here or there; the Sermon on the Mount calls us to an entirely different way of viewing reality, just like two men who view a situation in stark contrast:  one who sees a canyon below, and the other level ground.  Wesley continues:
Suppose, as two persons were walking together, one should suddenly stop, and with the strongest signs of fear and amazement, cry out, "On what a precipice do we stand! See, we are on the point of being dashed in pieces! Another step, and we fall into that huge abyss! Stop! I will not go on for all the world!" -- when the other, who seemed, to himself at least, equally sharp-sighted, looked forward and saw nothing of all this; what would he think of his companion, but that he was beside himself; that his head was out of order; that much religion (if he was not guilty of "much learning") had certainly made him mad!  
Throughout this Lenten season, we are exploring the various ways that the cross challenges us to see reality, and calls us to be realigned with the values of God’s kingdom.  It is called “Upside-Down:  How the Cross Changes Everything.”  And this week we make a stop on the mountaintop, to hear these provocative words of Jesus, with particular focus on the seventh beatitude:  
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  
Together, let’s spring forward, into a new life of commitment and discipleship.  
Grace and Peace,

Matthew 5:1-11
1  When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Under the authority given by the recent Charge Conference, the Building Committee and Board of Trustees have entered into a contract with Lundell Construction for the purpose of demolishing and clearing the two recently purchased 6th St. properties at a cost of $25,000.  This is significantly lower than the amount approved at the Charge Conference.  Demolition is expected to begin anytime in the near future.

We give thanks to God for Dr. David Klee, professor of music at Buena Vista University, who has offered to develop a new praise band at St. Paul’s.  The Administrative Board two weeks ago approved the addition of this new program to our worship ministries, and we are currently looking for vocalists and instrumentalists for this exciting new opportunity.  We are particularly looking for drummers, guitarists, keyboardists, and horn players.  If you are interested, please contact David at klee@bvu.edu.  David will be promoting the new ministry in an upcoming article in the Chronicle and in a Cherokee Connection radio spot a week from Thursday.

Attention, youth grades 7-12!  Buckle up and start your engines!  We’ll gather from 4-6pm on Sunday, March 22, for a crazy time scouring the town for our next car rally!  Come along, and bring a friend!  Adult drivers are needed to help escort teams around town.  If interested, please contact the church office.