Plymouth Congregational Church

God for All

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The Art of Being a Friend

I am so incredibly disappointed. I had the camera all set to roll, checked the battery at the end of the sermon and it showed me that there was still life and I got really excited about having Bill’s message taped for the whole world to share. It was powerful. It was moving. And it did not record. I was heartsick when I realized that I ran out of memory on my SD card. That thing can handle a lot of input but eventually, as with everything else (human or not) we run out of space. This translates into my highly encouraging you to send in a blank DVD and ask for a copy. It truly was a message that everyone should hear, repeatedly.

Bill brought out the heavy hitters when it came to talking about friendships, relationships, honesty, trust, and companionship. He talked about loyalty and harboring the good while the negative gets forgiven, time and time again if it is a relationship worthy of our attention.

What relationship is not worthy of our attention? Granted some relationships are best left without much effort as they cause emotional, maybe even physical, harm to those we love or ourselves. A relationship to never discount is the one God offers. His is always tried and true. He will never leave you, even if you opt to leave him for a time. God will be there when you return, opening his arms of love, comfort, and compassion. A friendship that is timeless, endless, and perfect. God’s love is the only thing in this world that is perfect.

In our lives I think we have all run across those moments where we’ve messed up in a relationship. Regardless of our efforts to right the wrong, own our errs, we find stones of harsh words. A vacuum of negativity swirls around our lives. There are times that your poor choices not only impacts one relationship but also a plethora of interconnected relationships. Yet you try to make things right and in doing so it seems to only make matters worse. Those that are still with you, your family, remind you that time erases the negative and the stones will harbor the positive.

Disconnected from the source of the trouble you still carry the pocket of emptiness and forlorn with you. That emptiness starts to change as time passes, and the negativity follows you like a shroud. It becomes bitter and frustrated. Angry. Filled with questions of why she/he/they can act in such a despicable manner and have no consequences yet you’ve owned your mistake and are still being punished. The ultimate “why”.

The answer comes in Pastor Bill’s sermon. Often times Bill’s message to the kids is a simplified version of the message to the adults. There are times that the connection is loosely correlated, but there is some general commonality that cannot be missed. Yesterday’s children’s message and adult sermon were both right on target with each other, the connection clear as the sun rising in the eastern sky on a beautiful summer morning.

Bill stood next to his friend, a close friend, looking at the children sitting so patiently at the front of the church. Bill tells the children he’s going to share a story with them and his best friend is going to help…

Bill and his BFF (best friend forever) are walking down the road, it’s a sandy trail, and his BFF slaps him for no apparent reason. Bill stops to kneel down in the sand and writes, “My best friend slapped me in the face today.” He stands up and they continue to walk. Soon the two men begin to get hot and found a lake to cool themselves. Bill jumps into the lake and forgets he cannot swim. He goes under one time, then two times, and as he goes under for the third time yells, “Help!” The next thing he knows his BFF has him by the collar pulling him out of the water. Bill finds a stone and writes on it, “My best friend saved my life today.” The BFF turns to Bill and asks, “Bill, why did you write in the sand that I slapped you in the face, but on the stone you wrote I saved your life?” Bill replies, “Because the slap will blow away in the wind but saving my life will live forever.”

What does this mean? It means that the test of true friendships comes when we can let go of the mistakes, the slaps, and allow the truly positive nature of each relationship to keep us strong and united. It is here that we can choose to write the painful events in our life on stones or in the sand, and that includes the casting of blame, hostility toward God. We all should know that God’s love, his promises, are written in stone, and when we slap him in the face they are written in sand to blow away when our human anger, frustration, or hurt subside and we call upon him as a friend again.

The mistakes we make in our human form are here to help us become better people, every day. We are made to err because there is only one perfect person, and that is God. It is in our humility that we are offered forgiveness. It is in accepting our choices that we can grow to be more forgiving and understanding. Instead of allowing the sands of time to become the stones of our life, allow the negative energy to blow away. Along your journey God will stand with you when you lose a friend or make a friend, when you err or make a worthy choice. Those that are of human nature will stand with you or walk away as is their free will, but in the event that stones are cast far and wide, remember that they too can become sand if you opt to keep your faith.

Nobody is saying that a neighborhood of spiteful people will make your life easy to move positively forward as they shed so much negative energy on your front lawn. Remembering that these are not the only people that make up your world helps, but the most important guide is God and your bible. Remember…

“Soundness not Turmoil”
(New King James version)
Psalm 37:37
Psalm 2:1-6
Psalm 37:23-24
Hebrews 13:7
Hebrews 13:5-6
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Isaiah 59: 19-20

There is not much more I can say about this sermon, about Bill’s talk. It was so profound. So incredibly moving, but I will let it rest here.


I’m In Love

I am incredibly thrilled to have captured yesterday’s sermon on video. Truly one of Pastor Bill’s best sermons that I have born witness. Scott too was moved yesterday. Sam, whom is now sitting with us, said he was just confused, but than again he is 11.

Love? Such a fickle little thing yet profound. One small word and your world can turn upside down.

Does coveting love violate Exodus 20:17? I guess it depends on which side of the fence you stand with regard to coveting. If you believe coveting anything and everything is wrong, than yes, even coveting something non-physical would be a violation. If you believe in a more literal interpretation of Exodus 20:17 than coveting love could be acceptable. It would be a violation if you coveted the love of your neighbor, but okay to covet the love of people in general, as long as it was not an obsession.

I suppose it does become complicated this coveting idea, but this conversation is far off the beaten path. I’m really here to process Pastor Bill’s sermon on love.

My good Catholic Mom would be so proud at how much I am recalling from her words in these blog postings. We did not have a very close relationship for much of my life, but I suppose in every relationship there are elements we can use as tools for growth. I was starving for love, affection, and attention… maybe it was acceptance more than the rest. I used to find it in the company of men, and I would crone over every one of them that, “I was in love and this time it was real!” She would laugh at me, my Mother, and tell me, “The word is worn out on you. You use it on everything and everyone. It has no meaning.”

I suppose, now that I am older and mature, I can hear her point. Add the biblical definition of love, and what God is giving as well as asking a person to seek tells me she was right. Love is so beyond a human understanding and misused as is the word hate.

We are so dramatic. We love french toast, chocolate, wine and cars. We hate standing in line, poor customer service, or a bad meal at a restaurant. Where do we, as regular people, draw the line and pay God the respect of allowing his love to wash our feet while we wash the feet of our friends, neighbors, and family? When do we release the anger and hatred to carry with us the burden of love that God has given?

Right now many of Pastor Bill’s daily devotionals are reaching home for me, as did his sermon. Here is a quote from Bill that really hit a bullseye:

The Message Galatians 5:13-16 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that youdon’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.

I heard this passage and nearly fell from the pew. It not only fits within my life, and a venture I had embarked upon just days before his sermon, but also that for my eldest son (in-particular). I have found the following quote from Ghandi that I think helps to enforce what Pastor Bill is trying to say, as well as helps me to see my choices were truly the acts of Love that would make God proud.

A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.
Mohandas Gandhi

Read more:

Where I live I have found that to serve my children I’ve had to eat a whole humble pie. I have owned acts I know I have not committed, as well as acts that I know I have. I have accepted and acknowledge blame for things that are unknown to me. I have accepted unjust actions against my family, and me, without seeking an apology which means I have accepted the acts of others that have caused hurt, discomfort, and ruined aspects of our lives that are irreplaceable. I have washed their feet and am trying to wash my own.

Though set in motion weeks, months, years ago, on Sunday I took the first step of prayerful resolution with a very difficult phone call. And I sincerely meant every word I shared with the recipient. I’d do it again, only sooner, if in my children’s worlds their lives are better, fuller, and never had to suffer the great losses of the past year.

I believe this is the type of Love that Pastor Bill and Gandhi were speaking. It is the Love that God himself gave to others. No I am not comparing myself, nor my actions, as a God (or even God-like) enterprise. What I am trying, and rather poorly to say, is that sometimes to really grasp the true meaning of Love we must sacrifice ourselves without prejudice, question, or doubt, and with great humility. I never thought I had the ability to take such action, nor the strength, but truly believe this was God’s message (through his portholes of delivery – mainly Pastor Bill) working through my heart. God’s Love, and Bill brought it home for me on Sunday. I needed these words, this comfort.

The talk of Love and Freedom. The appreciation and sacrifices made for me, my family. What we have lost and what we can gain. It’s so simple yet so complicated. It’s easy to obtain yet it requires effort and some discomfort. Most of all it requires honesty. Freedom and Love are built on honesty, true nature of intentions, respecting differences and allowing mistakes without lingering consequences, false rumors, or hatred. It is being human in a human form and allowing God to be the judge of our actions. Being responsible for our choices, our freedom, owning the poor choices and walking through to resolution, change.

Message received. And highly appreciated.

Excerpt from Pastor Bill’s sermon:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on Earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisurea ctivities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted,and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you, would you, are you satisfied with heaven? (JohnPiper).

My next question is: Would you please describe what your Heaven looks like?

Now let’s ask this question; whom Or what do you love?

These scriptures declare God’s love for us: (Gal 4:4) (Jn1:1-5,9-14) (Mt 5:17) (Jn 8:32) (Rom 13:8) (Jn 3:17, Jn12:47). (Mt 9:10-13, 11:19, 21:31; Mk 2:15-17; Lk 5:30,7:34). (Lk 15). (1 Cor 1:23) (1 Jn 4:9-10) (1 Jn 3:16).(Jn 10:18) (Mt 16:45-46). (1 Cor 15:14). (Jn 16:33), (Mt28:5,10).

Do we recognize God’s love for man . . . In the creation? In the fact that He has given us His word? In His standard of morality? In His plan for man’s salvation? In the promises that He has given to us? All of this is just an exercise for me to ask you this question:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you, would you, are you satisfied with heaven, EVEN IF CHRIST WERE NOT THERE? ” (John Piper)

Who (or what) are you in LOVE with? Deuteronomy 6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. Matthew 22:37-40 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him,Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.)

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Coveting the ickies

So we missed church for the first time in a long time last Sunday. I was sorry about that too. Consequently that means I am unable to paint my verbal portrait of Pastor Bill this week. In truth, my post is so long overdue because the ickies have attached themselves to me like a babysitter to a precocious 2 year old. Multiply that by the three children and you have one household that is on quarantine. Alas, things are looking up as I am off the couch and trying to be productive this week. Too much play time on the computer is my weakness, thus creating a distraction. Would that be considered coveting?

Well, in truth, yes it would. I play for fun, these silly little one minute games, but also to compete (friendly but still with the desire to hold first place) against friends. So I covet despite what is written in Exodus 20:17 (“You shall not covet.”).

Before I continue on with the idea of coveting let me give you my reference point. I started reading a fascinating book (and yes, Bill, expect it as a gift on Sunday!) “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs. This man decided he needed to understand religion, especially since he was agnostic, so he recounts his year of trying to follow the bible literally. On page 25 he begins to look at the idea of coveting, and that sparked my own insight.

A.J. covets all kinds of wonderful things, other’s salaries, front yards, screenplays. I covet friendships, popularity, financial freedom, those perfect 10 bodies on beach blonde babes, I am being honest here. What do you covet? Is it small things? Big things? Does it really make a difference?

Back to Exodus 20:17. The full passage reads, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” I suppose that when this was written into the bible there was a lot of promiscuous coveting happening since so much revolves around relations with another person. The ox and ass raise an eyebrow to how that came to pass. Maybe the lacking of fences had something to do with this portion. All in all, it is summed up with the one words “anything”.

A.J. gave a brief lesson on the word “covet”. It is a translation of the Hebrew root “hamad”, which roughly means to “desire” or “want”.  With this understanding he went on to explain that there are two groups of opinions on how this applies to our present day society. One group is of the opinion that to desire things is fine as long as they are not your neighbor’s. A more literal approach that grants permission to your desire to want that mansion on the hill regardless of your ability to actually have that item of desire; with the understanding that if your neighbor already has a mansion on the hill you are forbidden from wanting it.

The other group, which is more a bit more cut and dry, states that you cannot desire anything regardless if your neighbor has it or not. A moderate interest in a particular item is acceptable but you cannot exert ample amounts of energy seeking the said item. Your time should not be spent in ample quantity focused on the item. For example, my nearly 12 year old, is obsessed with owning a Lamborghini. He even knows the model and color. You say car and he says Lamborghini. He would be considered in violation of the Bible’s law/rule about coveting.

What is the problem with coveting? Coveting creates a lack of respect and appreciation for what God has given you, the life you have, tossing it to the side to find something better. Why would that be a problem? Aren’t we suppose to strive to be better? Of course we are all asked to be better and carry God’s words with us. This is not about spiritual growth or coveting but materialistic. It is in our societies competitive nature against each other to have something bigger, better, newer that we find ourselves in heaps of debt as well as disappointed with that new DSi SXL that is only 2 months old because there is a new 3DSi available. So regardless of functionality, and the fact that the other “toy” is nearly new, the focus to have the newest is where we forget to appreciate what we already have, and that is where you will have problems biblically.

Coveting can also create jealousy. Growing up my Mom used to tell me that jealousy would get you nowhere. It is an evil little monster that sits on my shoulder and creates dissension. This from my good Catholic mother. As I matured I finally understood what she was trying to say. If I was coveting my friend’s boyfriend, body, clothes I acted like a silly jealous girl, and through this walls were built and friendships lost. I didn’t appreciate what I had, so I lost on many levels. Once I understood that it was me who was the problem based on my jealousy I decided to change.

I like the way A.J. talks about jealousy in his book, “Jealousy is useless, time-wasting emotion that’s eating me alive. I should focus on my family and, nowadays, God.” Jealousy and coveting are both useless. Appreciating what we have, and keeping what we have in perspective is a way to honor the bible and our relationship with God. I think if society had kept this humbleness in mind we may have been able to avoid some of the economic nightmares we are facing, and this would include my own family (I shamefully admit).

So can my family change? I intend to make it a fruitful effort. But I think we will have to take a pass on the Genesis 14:20, at least for several more years.


Born Again?

On Sunday Pastor Bill mentioned being “born again” when referencing scripture. He said that some people are uncomfortable with that term and wanted to guide them to the belief that such a term is not bad but it is a part of God’s world, his teachings, and his blessings. I will admit that I am uncomfortable with the terminology “born again”, or more appropriately the label.

In the not so recent past there was a revelation of people that had strayed from God’s teachings but were returned through one man, one group, to the Christian faith and they were labeled “born again Christians”. In this labeling there was a zealousness to their coming home and they took to the streets with wings under their feet to spread all that they have learned, accepted, and were ready to change the face of the world one person at a time. They were, for lack of a better definition, Zealots. And many people came to dread this groups appearance in the media, in their homes, and in their lives.

So really it is not the label or term as related to scripture, and God’s teachings, that makes me get all blugh inside. It was how it applied to this particular group of people. And even the people were not so bad, but it was the hypocrisy with which they used to try to manipulate others to join them.

Everyone can be “born again”. It depends on what you consider to have been the “death”. Do you believe in reincarnation? If yes, than you are “born again” into this world, and you have chosen to follow a path of God. Maybe you followed in a previous life, and then you would be “born again” into a Christian/Jewish based religion. Maybe instead of being so literal with the meaning, maybe you strayed from God out of anger, hate, frustration and came to understand that God never left you so you welcomed him back into your home, you were “born again” unto Christ. Maybe you kept the values but disassociated with any particular religious group, Church or other home of God. Today maybe you found that home and were “born again” into God’s house with new family members.

Through all the changes, through all the possible scenarios of how you can be “born again”, it is a title not to dread but to accept and relish. At some point I am sure we can all say that we were “born again”. That does not mean we have to be a Zealot, nor should we label ourselves as such, but accept that for a time we were looking for God’s home and his welcoming arms. They never left. They were waiting in the same place only this time the walls were painted a different color.

I am “born again” but I am not going to run out the door and smack the next person I see in the head with my bible. Instead, I’ll cherish my home and relationship, in the way that suits my personality best. God understands. After all, he made me.

May your week be blessed with joy.

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We had a busy year!

Plymouth Congregational Church had a busy year in 2010!  We walked in the Brain Tumor and Relay for Life walks, gathered donations for Haiti and a woman’s shelter, participated in Plainfield’s Irish Parade and the Lion’s Club Creche Lighting, held a Chili Supper and Harvest Home Dinner.  Vacation Bible School, “Are You Smarter than a Sunday Schooler?” and “Church in the Woods” were highlights of the year.  Repairs were also made to our steeple, the drainage issue in the back of the church and our sanctuary and East Room were given a fresh coat of paint.

Sit back and enjoy a few scenes from 2010 events …

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The 33 Men …

Have you been watching the coverage of the rescue of the miners from Chile? Amazing that they survived in the first place, amazing they were found, amazing that they were able to survive for 69 days and amazing how things all came together to ensure the rescue efforts.  So much to be thankful for …

But, if you were one of those miners, would you ever go back down into a mine again?

And did anyone notice the word “Jesus” on the shirts of the rescued miners?
Click here to read the story behind the “Jesus T-Shirts.”

(For an interesting blog on the miners, click:  Tim Harlow)