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A few years ago I returned to speak at the church that was my first pastorate. The church was celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and it had been more than a decade since I had stood in their pulpit. They welcomed me back with incredible grace and affection, and I was truly glad for the reunion.
As a person who speaks in front of crowds on a regular basis I often get into funny conversations with people I meet. We have five campuses across the Valley so most people in our church hear me preach at a distance. When all you know is what you see from afar, or on video, real life has a way — evidently — of surprising you. I’ve been told that I’m shorter than they thought and even that I have more gray hair than they’d expect. I’ve been told all manner of observations that catch me completely by surprise. People tend to turn off their regular social filters in moments like these. Normal etiquette falls by the wayside as blunt truth takes over.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my friend, Charles, and missing him. He was a husband, father, English teacher, social worker, canoeist, bluegrass player, therapist, connoisseur of green-apple moonshine, and a good friend.
The word watermark doesn’t tend to come up in casual conversation. Yet consciously or unconsciously, watermarks are a big part of daily life and faith. Here are a few examples. High quality stationery has long been associated with watermarks. I can still remember my mom’s special bond quality writing paper, with the curious watermark on every page. We all handle money regularly, but if you work in retail, banking, or any profession that deals with money frequently, then you’ll be more than familiar with the watermarks used in paper currency to help stop counterfeiting. The same is also true of those who work in airport security checking passports for the safety of all travelers. If you’re in any kind of construction work, home or building repair specialist, then watermarks have a whole different meaning, especially if you’re called in to deal with the aftermath of a flood or some other type of water damage. Then there’s digital watermarking used in audio or image data for copyright purposes. Other types of digital watermarks protect data integrity and computer security. Last, but not least, from a spiritual perspective, the word watermark reminds us of our baptism.
Gays are now legally marrying in Arizona.
While traveling in Central America, I had the opportunity to worship at an international, interdenominational, English-speaking church. The congregation contained Africans, Italians, Spaniards, Latinos, Americans, and Asians. We sang old Irish hymns and modern, Australian worship choruses. The service was a mixture of Lutheran, Reformed, and Pentecostal elements. The welcome was given by a Canadian, a German read the Scripture lesson, and an American did the preaching. It was a wonderful, diverse experience, and for a little while I thought the kingdom of God had come.
My friend’s daughter just turned 8 and I was recently reminiscing about having attended her baby shower. I arrived at the party, set my purse in a room with everyone else’s and joined the activities. Most of the women in attendance went to my friend’s church.
Our society loves labels of all kinds. Many of us now check out the label on packaged food products before we buy them. Perhaps because we’re watching our weight, avoiding allergens, or trying to reduce the salt in our diet. Or maybe because we’re trying to make healthier choices about what goes into our body. Some of us just like to know where our fresh food is grown. When it comes to clothing, we may prefer a certain designer label, or a brand that we know fits us well. With greater social awareness of injustices around the world, many of us also look at labels so we can shop wisely for fair trade products, or avoid buying from countries with unfair or abusive labor practices. Then there are other labels such as nicknames, or descriptors that we use to conveniently label and categorize people. These labels, which are largely subjective, quite often determine our attitudes and our treatment of others. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the cruel and hurtful labels that children of all ages use to dehumanize, taunt, or exclude others.
The newspapers now seem to have many articles about the Christians living in the mid-east being persecuted, and killed. Beheading seems to be the selected punishment for being a Christian. This bothers me, but what is happening in America bothers me more, as it is under our control.
Oct. 5 is World Communion Sunday. It is an annual event, the first Sunday of each October, in which Christians worldwide celebrate our oneness in Christ. There is a unity to the faith, scarcely as it might appear and in spite of our many differences and traditions. Special services will be held around the globe testifying to this fact.
Not too long ago I stepped up to the cash register at a local store. The young clerk was obviously new as evidenced by the hand written name tag and the looming presence of a manager-type looking over her shoulder.
Janet Hagberg was the first person who defined the experience for me. I had lived through it, but I didn’t know what to call it. In a book entitled, “The Critical Journey,” Janet called the experience, simply, “The Wall.” My summary goes like this. Many people begin their walk of faith, and everything goes as they expected. Out of genuine conviction, they attend church, learn from the Scriptures, volunteer, serve, give, and become “productive, committed, faithful, Christians” (whatever that exactly means, who knows?). But somewhere along the way things go wrong. Terribly wrong.
In a case with nationwide implications, attorneys for a tiny Gilbert congregation want the U.S. Supreme Court to void local regulations that limit the size and placement of signs to its services.
Once a picture of the auditorium at Mountain Park Community Church in Ahwatukee Foothills underwater hit social media Monday, it didn’t take long to get a response from people all over the Valley ready and willing to help.
Words are powerful creatures. Sometimes sleek and smooth, sometimes coarse and rough. Once they’re out there, we can’t snatch them back, tame them, or change them. Of course, not all words are hurtful or intended to wound. But words that hurt can kill us slowly and painfully, like a torturer. They cut away at our confidence, they eat up our self-esteem. While we might be able to maintain outward façade of normality, we inwardly shrivel and die. In those hidden depths, we can look and feel like “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch.
The Old Testament Law contains 613 individual commandments. The majority of these are negative: “Thou shalt not” do such or so. These commandments prohibit activities ranging from coveting your neighbor’s cow to wearing pants made from two different materials. The remaining commandments are positive: “Thou shalt.” These order adherents to perform in determined ways and means.
Five hundred years ago there was a group of Christians living in Europe known as the Anabaptists. These are not to be confused with today’s Baptists, though the groups do share points of common history. The name Anabaptist was not so much a description as it was a condemnation.
I love puzzles. Crosswords, brainteasers, and search-a-words to be sure, but nothing beats an old fashioned jigsaw puzzle with about gazillion pieces spilling out of the box. Right now there is a monster-sized puzzle strewn across our family’s dining room table. I have been persistently working on it for so long that I can’t remember the last evening we ate dinner at the table.
I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good
I’ve seen it multiple times, but it never fails to amaze me just how fragile our lives, as well as all the stuff of our lives really are. One of the summer storms bouncing around the Valley at this time of year brought wind and rain ripping through our church campus. It tore up trees and threw around the roof tiles like a 2 year old in full tantrum mode. The storm was all over and done in the space of about 10 minutes, yet restoring some semblance of order took several days. The emotional impact of the scene of devastation, and the physical work also took its toll, even as we give thanks that no one was injured.
The period between Thanksgiving of 1974 and December 1975 was the toughest year in the life of Diana Fisher.
Throughout the month of August, Ahwatukee Preschool will conduct tours around its campus for parents interested in enrolling their child for the fall semester.
Love others as much as you love yourself,” Jesus told his followers. These words are considerably more than a sugary Sunday-school story. For those who take these words to heart, “love others” has profound, life-altering implications, not all of which are warm and fuzzy. Consider the life of Bernard Lichtenberg, arrested seven decades ago. His crime: He loved. Lichtenberg was a Catholic priest serving in Berlin before the outbreak of World War 2. When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power, he recognized the coming terror better than most, and made it his ambition to help the Jewish people and other persecuted groups.
Here we are, deep in the Here we are, deep in the dog days of another summer. School is out, vacation days are being cashed in, and picnic baskets are being packed. Barbecues are firing, pools are splashing, and ice cream trucks are rolling. Meanwhile, thousands, yea millions, are taking to the great American highway.