From the Well 4/27/2017

Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory. 

All the rain reminds me of these words from Wendell Berry's poem, Meditation in the Spring Rain:

In the April rain I climbed up to drink of the live water leaping off the hill, white over the rocks. Where the mossy root of a sycamore cups the flow, I drank and saw the branches feathered with green. The thickets, I said, send up their praise at dawn.

The Ephesians text for this Sunday is one long, sweeping sentence in Greek, an extended song of thanksgiving and praise to God for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is also a summary of the faith that has nurtured the people of God. The text is about God who loves us so much that He sends down His love and blessings like April rain. Like the rain we've had over the last few days, God's love is almost more than we can absorb.

Easter and spring remind me that we are a blessed people. The writer of Ephesians clearly recognizes and lifts up the blessings that are gifted to those who are in Christ. As followers of Jesus we must decide if we are going to live as people who are blessed by an ever present and loving God. We have to decide what we are looking for in life. It's like this story told by Leonard Sweet:

Two birds that fly over the California desert are the vulture and the hummingbird. All the vulture can see is rotting meat because that's all it looks for. It thrives on that which has died. But the hummingbird ignores the carcasses and the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, it looks for the tiny blossoms of the cactus flowers. It buzzes around until it finds the colorful blooms, almost hidden from view by the rocks. Each bird fins what it is looking for. We must decide what it is we are looking for in life. Will we be followers who look for the negative and darkness or will we be people of the resurrection, followers of Jesus Christ, who look for the blessings of God? Think about it.

Pastor Matthew

From the Well 4/12/2017

There are many stories and images from my life that are as vivid and real to me as when they first happened. From 1968 to 1971, the Burton family lived on the Quechan Indian Reservation in Yuma, Arizona. After moving to Yuma and getting settled into first grade my teacher noticed that I was having a hard time seeing the chalk board so my parents took me to the local optometrist. After an examination it was determined I needed glasses.

After my appointment, my dad struck up a conversation with the optometrist and learned that he owned a gold mine. The Rob Roy Mine, as it was called, got its name because it was started as an attempt to "rob" from a lost vein of gold of a much larger and more productive mine on the other side of the mountain. The Rob Roy mine was a small operation that was never profitable.

The optometrist purchased the mine in hopes of working it in his spare time. It was a long time ago and I was young so I don't know for sure but I suspect the optometrist had dreams of finding the lost vein of gold and striking it rich. Like so many dreams of wealth or fame, it never happened.

What I do remember is the optometrist inviting us to visit the mine on several occasions. I remember looking down one of the vertical shafts. I laid on my stomach with my dad holding my belt so I could shine my flashlight into the darkness. I also remember asking the optometrist, "What would happen if someone fell into the hole?" he matter-of-factly replied, "You would be lost forever."

When Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb on that first Easter morning, she was sure that Jesus was lost forever. The triumphant entrance on Palm Sunday was only a shadow in Mary's memory as she struggled to deal with the loss of the one who had pulled her back from the darkness and despair of a former life. It was if Jesus had fallen into a bottomless black hole leaving those who loved him behind. Three years of excitement and anticipation for a better future was over. There was no hope. The disciples were in hiding out of fear for their own lives. The teacher, the healer, the story teller was gone.

Only Mary had the courage to go to the tomb under the cover of darkness. What a shock it must have been to arrive at the tomb and discover that the stone was rolled away. Had she interrupted grave robbers? Were they still there? What would they do if they saw her? There was nothing else she could do but run and hope for the best.

She ran to Peter and the others. Out of breath she exclaimed to the disciples, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." In a panic, Peter, Mary, and another disciple ran to the tomb and find it empty. Then, as if forgetting all about Mary and her emotional state, Peter and the other disciple leave her crying at the tomb to run and tell the others.

Slowly and carefully Mary gathers up enough courage to peer into the tomb. There, in the place where Jesus body should have been, there were messengers who ask Mary why she is crying. When she turns from them (Maybe to run away again) she sees a man who she assumes is the gardener who also asks her why she is crying. "They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have placed him," she tells the stranger. When the man says her name, "Mary," her eyes are suddenly opened and she realizes it is Jesus. Suddenly, Mary is running again. This time she doesn't run out of fear and despair but from excitement and joy.

That first Easter morning was life changing for Mary Magdalene and the disciples. I would suggest that as we gather one Easter Sunday morning after another to celebrate an empty tomb and a risen Christ, we become part of the story as it transforms our lives and the lives of others through us. Think about it.


From the Well - 3/30/2017

Galatians 5:16-17 (NRSV)

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Humans are like a dog I used to have. The dog came from a litter of puppies my brother and I found in a barn located close to the parsonage where we lived at the time in Haysville, North Carolina. We quickly recruited all the neighborhood children to help us find good homes for each of the puppies who appeared to have been abandoned by their mother. After a day of knocking on doors, we found homes for all of the puppies except for the runt of the litter. My brother and I ended up taking him home hoping our parents would agree to let us keep him.

We named the puppy "Ha Cha," the Quechan Indian name for "Dog." The name suited the puppy since he was nothing more than a Heinz variety mutt. After a year or two, the residents of Haysville started calling him "The Mayor." Everyone in town knew Ha Cha. Every afternoon he made his rounds visiting the uptown businesses and a variety of homes, mostly places where he could get food.

Ha Cha was a scrapper, a fighter. It wasn't unusual for him to come home with a cut or scrap of some kind. His left ear was in two pieces as a result of being torn or cut during one of his escapades. Ha Cha loved chasing cars. This left him with all kinds of battle scars including the eventual loss of the part of the left ear that was previously torn in two.

Ha Cha was not a handsome dog. In fact, he was ugly. Ha Cha was homely but he wasn't dumb. We trained him to roll over in order to receive his dinner. He became so skilled that when we called him for supper he would come running through the neighborhood, start rolling at the edge of the yard, and roll all the way up to the front steps landing on all four of his legs, panting for his food.

As hard as we tried, we could not stop Ha Cha from chasing cars. One day Ha Cha chased a Ford Mustang down the road after it passed our house. The front wheel caught him, pulling him under the car. As he came rolling out from underneath the speeding Mustang, I figured he was well on his way to dog heaven. But Ha Cha emerged from underneath the car landing on all fours just like at supper time. He took off yelping and crying. Several hours later he appeared in the yard licking his wounds. By the next day, he was back to his old shenanigans-chasing cars, putting his life at risk.

If there was a twelve-step program for car chasing dogs, Ha Cha needed to be in it. Unfortunately his lust for chasing cars caught up with him. When we moved from Haysville, we gave Ha Cha to a neighbor. The neighbor reported to us several months later that Ha Cha died after being run over by a car.

Ha Cha reminds me of our propensity to do those things over and over again that can harm our spirits and kill our souls. We desire those things that we know are harmful and yet we continue to seek them out like a dog chasing after a car. Lust (misdirected desire) as someone has said, is like being "shackled to a lunatic. It is craving for salt by a person who is dying of thirst." Lust confuses us into thinking that what we pursue is what we need.

What we pursue is, at least to some degree, an indication to what we desire. God wishes for us to desire him. God is always pursuing us hoping for a relationship that will transform our lives. So, are you pursuing those things that will bring positive and healthy change in your life? Are you pursing God and God's ways or are you like Ha Cha chasing every car that comes along thinking that will bring satisfaction and fulfillment to your life? Think about it.


From the Well 3/23/2017

Philippians 3:17-21

            Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

            In staff meeting this week, Matthew mentioned the airport in Haiti and how when mission teams disembark from their planes the first thing they see is a fence lined with hungry people hoping to receive a little something of value from the arriving passengers. His memory reminded me that when I went to Haiti, we were warned beforehand not to give anything to anyone in the airport or at the fence but go straight into the waiting van or we would be swamped with people who may even get angry because they hoped to receive a helping hand too. We were there to help and our warning seemed counter intuitive but seeing their slender bodies and their hands reaching through the fence helped me realize the extent of their overwhelming poverty.

            Over and over again on that trip I felt like a glutton as I compared our simple meals to their lack of food. I will never forget the look of horror on our guide’s face as I cleaned up after breakfast and without a second thought poured the leftover milk in my cereal bowl down the drain. He didn’t say a word but I realized that my easily obtainable food and wasteful eating habits had to be examined…again.

            The word gluttony is derived from the Latin gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow and means over-indulgence and cover-consumption of food or drink. So when do we cross the line? Is it a sin to order two desserts? Think about it.

Pastor Paula

Luke 12:13-21 (NRSV) 
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

The main character in Leo Tolstoy's short story, How Much Land Does a Man Need?, is a peasant farmer named, Pahom. Pahom would often say to himself, "Busy as we are from childhood tilling mother earth, we peasants will always die as we are living with nothing of our own. If only we had our own land, it would be different."  By sacrificing, scraping together meager savings, and even hiring out his son as a laborer, Pahom and family managed to buy a 40-acre farm.  Harvests were good, the family prospered, but Pahom was not content.  He wanted more land.

A stranger arrived in their village one day who told of a distant country, where land could be acquired very cheaply.  Pahom cashed in his assets and traveled to the distant land where he learned that for 1000 rubles he could purchase all the land he could walk around between sunrise and sunset.  The procedure was simple: find a fixed starting point, deposit your money, walk out your boundaries, but by sundown you must have returned to the starting point or forfeit the 1000 rubles.

Before daybreak the next morning Pahom was ready.  He was taken to a broad, fertile plain where officials helped him select a starting point.  Pahom paid the rubles and started toward the rising sun.  But each time he reached a point of return, he decided he could encompass more land and so he walked farther.  At noonday he realized he had tried to take in too much.  "If only I had not wanted so much," he moaned.  So he made a diagonal move and hurried back to the starting point.  He increased his pace to a run as the sun slowly descended to the western horizon.  He ran so hard that he was on the verge of collapse, but he heard the officials shouting and, summoning his last bit of strength, he sprinted toward the starting point.  As the final rays of sun disappeared, he gave a cry and fell forward before the officials.  "Ah, you're a fine fellow," they said.  "You have gained much good land."  But Pahom could not hear their comments, for his heart failed and he died.  They dug a grave for him, six feet long and three feet wide, and buried him--all the land he needed at the end.

The Greek word for greed, pleonexia, literally means: "The yearning to grasp more than is needed." So how much is enough? Enough to feel successful? Enough to feel secure about the future? Enough to find some kind of recognition and status? How much is enough? Think about it.