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God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah. God said that they would be the parents of a great nation. They are, at one moment people of great faith, and then in the next they falter, resorting to their own devises. When Sarah doesn’t get pregnant, they become impatient. Sarah tells Abraham to have relations with her slave, Hagar. Some might be inclined let Abraham off the hook here, since Sarah initiated the whole thing. However, he is certainly just as guilty of unfaithfulness by going along with Sarah’s plans. The one that has no say, and really the victim, is Hagar. In the end, Sarah, jealous of Hagar’s son , now that she has her own (Isaac), orders Abraham to put her out with her child Ishmael. In a most cruel act, Abraham sends Hagar and his son into the wilderness, presumably to die. But God is gracious. Hagar is cared for, and she too receives a promise – her decedents will be a great nation too!
While our story line as Christians comes through the decedents of Abraham and Sarah, God has another family that is being cared for as well. Muslims believe that they are decedents from the family of Abraham and Hagar. Could it be that they similarly are blessed by God?
This family story may be like yours. Often families have brokenness and infidelity. It is a story, of God’s faithfulness in the midst of a sometimes very unfaithful people. It is story that can offer us hope, even when we have failed to trust in God. It provides a lesson in what happens when we choose to go our own direction apart from God. Yet, God will bring us back if we are willing.
Story of Abraham and Sarah and their off spring is complex. If we read it with an open mind, we will find ourselves in it. Abraham and Sarah were given a promise, a covenant initiated by God.
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Gen. 12:2
God has made a covenant with us as well. Will we be faithful? Will we became a blessing to others?

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

Joy and happiness are listed a synonyms yet, I think there is a difference. I don’t stand alone in this opinion. Catcher in the Rye author, J. D. Salinger put it this way, “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.” I understand him to be saying that happiness is fixed, rigid and non-flexible. Joy on the other hand can fit to the space. It won’t break and certainly is flexible to the conditions around it.
I think happiness is really dependent upon outward circumstances. We are happy when we get flowers from an admirer or friend. We are happy when our team wins. We are happy when we get to do what we want. When things don’t go our way we become sad.
Joy, on the other hand, comes from the inside. It is much more a state of being that is not dependent upon what is happening around us. There are certain people that no matter how much negativity surrounds them, just seem to be able to rise above it.
Paul was writing to the Christians in Philippi from a prison cell and yet his letter is upbeat and positive. He talks about his joy. How does one have joy while in prison?
The answer lies in not focusing on oneself. Paul writes to the Philippians, “I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy.” Instead of fixating on his jail cell, he is looking beyond himself. He remembers his friends in Philippi. When we center in on what we have or don’t have, we will happy or sad based upon how we compare to others. Paul clearly took to heart Jesus’ message that life was found not in getting things, but in giving, serving and sharing.
The Biblical writers certainly see a difference between joy and happiness. Joy is spiritually grounded. It is internal. It enables us, even in the midst of tragedy, loss, sickness and hardship to continue to experience peace and love. Joy is not transitory; it is lasting and can sustain us through the most difficult of times.
Jesus said that he came to serve and not be served. He also called his followers to do the same. I believe that he did so, not simply because it was the right moral thing to do, but because it is the secret to having joy. By moving beyond a selfish and self-centered focus, we will experience joy. For joy is found in giving and loving, as Jesus demonstrated through his life.
May your life be filled with Joy as you offer yourself in service to others.

Horses have great peripheral vision because their eyes are located on the side of their heads.  This allows them to see in virtually a 360 degree circle. This is important if a horse is going to protect itself from predators.  However, because they are literally looking all around themselves, they can easily be distracted.  So to help the horse concentrate on moving forward, it is given blinders that block the horse’s view of anything but that which lies ahead. While this is good if your purpose is to move in a straight line, blinders certainly present other problems.

 

Many of us operate as if we are wearing blinders.  It is not that we can’t see, but rather that we only see a very narrow range.  Because we are not aware of all that is around us, we are likely to make bad or wrong choices.  While it is good to sometimes focus on one thing, to do so continually will greatly impede our understanding of the larger world around us. If we want to understand fully we need to take off the blinders.

 

When we get all of our information from a single source, or only listen to those with whom we agree, we have blinders on.  When we fail to listen to the perspective of people who have different life experiences, we have blinders on.  When we refuse to move out of our comfort zone, we have blinders on.  When we choose not to read and learn about events outside our own community, we have blinders on.  When the last time we actually read the Bible was in Children’s Sunday School, we have blinders on. When we think we know the Biblical story and don’t allow it to challenge us again in a new way, we have blinders on.

 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodist movement, challenges us to take our blinders off.  He suggested that through the intersection of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience we can grow and develop as people.  Each one of these four pillars impacts the other three.  They, in a sense, interpret and expand one another.  Wesley believed strongly in an educated community of faith.  Biblical scholars are always discovering new information about the Bible.  By knowing the history of Christian development we can build upon and expand. Through science we continue to expand our understanding of how God’s creation works.  And through our shared experiences we learn from one another.

 

Do you have blinders on, that limit what you see?  Take a chance.  Take off the blinders and see what God is doing all around you.

Larry C. Clark Ph.D.

#AllAboutYou?

Well, I have gone and done it! I said I never would. And here it is. I have finally caved in. I opened my Twitter account!!!!
I can barely keep up with my text messages, e-mail, and Facebook. Now I’ve added twitter to the list. Apparently, this will keep me even more in touch, or more likely, make me feel more out-of-touch.
Twitter advertises that it “helps you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” What happened to sharing the latest news at the Beauty/Barber Shop, over the phone(you know actually talking to someone) or around the table at the diner? Today, many use twitter to let people know what they are doing, almost every moment of the day. It can be the most “All about you” social media tool. Apparently, you can follow your favorite personality throughout the day as they post every detail of their life. (You probably won’t find out too much about me, because I doubt I will post that much. Or should I say “tweet”?)
Now, as I understand it, if you use a hashtag (I always thought it was the pound sign) followed by something, you can begin a trend. People will comment on the Hashtag you created. So… for Holy Week we have created #AllAboutYou? to begin a conversation about the meaning of Jesus’ last week. We will journey from Palm Sunday, to Holy (Maundy) Thursday, to the cross on Friday and ultimately to resurrection Sunday/Easter.
We also have hashtags for you to let others know what activities you are participating in here at Sylvania First. If you are part of Run for God use #sfrunforgod.   If you are part of The Daniel Plan use #sfdanielplan. The Easter Egg hunt will be #sfegghunt and our newest bible study #sftheway. Keep up with us on Twitter as we will keep you informed of what is happening here at the church.
Hopefully, we will come to understand that we do not find the kind of life that Jesus promised by being self-centered so it is not all about you or me. On the other hand what Jesus did, offering himself, was all about you and me.
So, if you want, you can join me on twitter @larryclark1555. I am in need of followers.

I did not know there were six types of social media! Heck, I just got comfortable talking on the phone! I am not opposed to new things, it’s just that there are so many and they keep coming faster than I can keep up. I am still trying to get a handle on Facebook. I am on LinkedIn, but I am not sure why. The church has a twitter account (that I have not yet learned to use) but I am told it is something I need to do if I want to communicate with younger people. Of course that notion bothers me, that there might be more people younger than me than older. Most of the time I think of myself as young, and then my daughter reminds how out of touch I am with so many things. She badgered me for months that I just had to get an iPhone. I think she wanted me to get it so I would be dependent on her to know how to use it!

Actually, I love technology, when I know how to use it. It is just that I don’t want to have to learn how to use it. I hate spending the time it takes. There are probably a hundred other things I would rather do than learn how to do another social media. Heck, I can’t keep up with Facebook as it is. E-mail can sometimes take up hours a day. Isn’t all this new stuff supposed to save time?

OK, I do love to see pictures of my family in San Diego on Facebook (even though they kind of rub it in with all the nice weather they have.) And I keep up with friends that I haven’t seen in years when they post “Status Updates.”

For the Lenten season this year (you know that time after we put ash on our foreheads and when the Easter bunny comes) our worship theme is “Status Update.” The millions of users of Facebook let people know what they are thinking about, doing or simply where they are. I am told that this is a “Status Update.” Traditionally, for Lent, people have “given up” something (Meat, Candy or something they shouldn’t be doing anyway) as their Lenten devotional exercise, a sort of fasting. I have found it more helpful to take on something during Lent, either in the way of helping a cause or spending extra time in prayer, etc.

At its core, the idea of Lent is to take stock of who we are in relation to God. Lent is an intentional time to build our relationship with God as we prepare to remember Jesus’ crucifixion and celebrate resurrection. As each of us takes on a special devotional practice this Lent, we are encouraged to share our status. For those who have Facebook we hope you will post how you are growing in your faith. For those who don’t have Facebook, you are still encouraged to find others with whom to share your status.

So………, this Lenten season I have decided to take on leadership of the “Run for God” program. This is a spirit filled twelve week program to prepare the participant to run a 5K race (3.1 miles for those who can’t convert :-). I will be posting how the group is doing. It is designed for even the person who has never run before. I hope you will consider joining me. Just e-mail me at lclark@sylvaniafirst.org

Church Closing?!?

I was born in North Dakota, so you would think I would, if not love winter, at least tolerate it. When I was a youth, I was always outside, either sledding or playing hockey. My guess is that I just got my quota of winter. Now my toes always seem cold, even when I put on two pairs of gloves my fingertips freeze; so now I will do just about anything to avoid venturing out into the cold. However, even I have been amazed at the number of closings we have experienced this month.
My dad tells me that while growing up in Minnesota, they never cancelled school. If the school bus got stuck in the snow, one of the farmers would come with a tractor and pull the bus out. While the subzero temperatures are unusual for here, in Minnesota and North Dakota they are pretty common. However, I do understand that we don’t want children to get stuck walking to school in these temperatures, especially since many do not have the appropriate clothing.
In the last couple of weeks we have seen many church closings. While we have been open at Sylvania First, many people have called to see if we were having worship. My rule of thumb is this. If I have my sermon done, I am going to have worship.  Why would I waste that effort and inspiration from the Holy Spirit? However, I think I would take it as a sign from God, if I didn’t have my sermon done and there was a heavy snow, that maybe the Holy Spirit hadn’t given me anything to say, so church should be cancelled.
Anyway, I want everyone to pray for an early spring. I don’t know if I can keep my positive attitude much longer. 
Peace, Larry

I rode my bike to my office at church today.  This is the third time this year.  It is about ten miles by the route I take.  I am what you would call a recreational rider.  I have the luxury of not being dependent upon my bike for transportation, as would be the case for many in this world, if they even had one.  My Lutheran pastor friend, Howard Abts, has chosen the bicycle as his sole means of transportation.  For Howard, it is a matter of social responsibility.  Howard lives his life in such a way that he seeks to leave the smallest carbon footprint possible.  However, he has been doing it so long that I actually think he really likes it.  He even claims that snow doesn’t bother him!

I am a fair weather rider.  I don’t ride in the cold.  And I avoid rain if at all possible.  So that means I have only ridden to work three times.  (The first time I got a flat on the way home!)  Now I would like to leave a smaller carbon footprint.  I also would like to get in better shape.  However, I guess I tend to sell out to comfort and expedience far more often than I should.

I was having a great ride today.  The weather was perfect.  I took my usual route through Wildwood Metropark and picked up the bike trail for a short distance.  Then I turned on to Holland-Sylvania Road.  There is about a two mile stretch I have to take.  It is a four lane road with a posted speed limit of 45 mph.  I am not crazy about riding on Holland-Sylvania.  I look in my mirror often to see what is coming up behind me.  On a morning like this, it isn’t too bad since the traffic is light.  I ride in the right lane.  Cars can easily pass in the left lane.  Today, however, an SUV came speeding up behind me, began honking and then swerved around me a lot closer than I would have liked.  I suppose one day I might get used to this and be able to let it go.  However, not today.  I screamed back at him—while gesturing (no I didn’t give him the middle finger J)—“What’s the matter with you?  I have a right to the road, too!”

Now, I think when we get behind the wheel of a car, we forget our manners.  All that steel (and plastic) surrounding us makes us change into people we would be embarrassed to be if we were walking on the sidewalk.  Drivers seem to think that they are the only ones on the road.  Many also apparently don’t think bicycles should be on the road, never mind that traffic law says that is where bicycles are supposed to be, certainly not on sidewalks.[i]  Some drivers expect you to ride on the edge of the road.  Have you ever seen the edge of the road?  There are grates, cracked payment, debris, parked cars, yard waste and branches.  It is far more dangerous to ride there.  If you fall because of one of these hazards you could end up in the street in front of a car.

Now, I don’t know what the SUV driver was thinking.  Perhaps he was in a hurry, but there was a red light up ahead and I ended up stopped right behind him.  I do know what I was thinking, and I had to mentally stop.  I entered into a conversation with God about forgiveness.  And it occurred to me that I could share my thoughts with you, so  perhaps the next time you see bicyclists on the road you will give them space and perhaps even give a friendly wave.

Larry Clark, Pastor – Sylvania First UMC


[i] Bicycles on sidewalks are dangerous to pedestrians and to cyclists.  Cars backing out of driveways do not look for them.  In some places it is even illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk.

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