Good News, Bad news


    This week I got a card in the mail reminding me that it is time to make an appointment with John, the audiologist that programs my cochlear implant.  It hardly seems like six months since I have seen him.  Once again, I am uncertain how things will go.  On the one hand, because whatever changes are happening in my head are incredibly gradual, I don’t really notice that much has changed.  And yet, other people tell me that they can tell that I am hearing better.
    One of the few places that I notice a difference is in meetings.  Whether it is in a small meeting, or in youth group, or in a large room like the fellowship hall, I notice that I can hear more than I used to.  Not that long ago, I could barely make out anything in our youth meetings and almost nothing at all in a big room like the fellowship hall, but lately I can hear enough to keep up with some of the conversations.  I still am not where I would like to be, but I can tell that things are better than they were.
At least until last week.
    Right around Ash Wednesday, I noticed that it was suddenly harder to understand the people around me and discovered that my hearing aid was acting up.  No problem.  Since receiving a cochlear implant, I have two hearing aids and only one ear to wear them in, so I have a spare.  In fact, at one of my last visits my regular audiologist, Walt, reprogrammed them both to fit my right ear.  So when my hearing aid went on the fritz, I just switched over to the spare.  Things were kind of busy at work so I figured that I would just make an appointment after things calmed down a little.
That worked for two weeks.
    But after two weeks, my spare hearing aid quit.  I emailed Walt on a Thursday and got an appointment the very next Monday.  One hearing aid didn’t work at all and the other works as long as the ear mold isn’t attached.  Even Walt thought that was pretty weird.  In any case, both of them have been sent back to the factory.  That means that the only things that I am currently hearing are coming through my cochlear implant.
And that is my good news, bad news thing divides.
    The bad news is that I really can’t hear anything on my right side without hearing aids.  But the good news is that since I have an implant I can still hear something.  If I didn’t have the implant and both hearing aids quit, I would be in deep weeds.
    The other good news, and really sort awesome, is that even hearing only through my implant, I am doing fairly well.  I can hear reasonably well in most situations and have even been listening to the radio (a little) in the car.  Of course, any place with a lot of ambient noise is almost impossible, and conversation around the dinner table at home is pretty difficult to follow, but I am relatively functional.
Six months ago, I’m not certain that I could have done this well on my implant alone.
So I guess I’m a little excited to see John and have my implant reprogrammed again.
Who knows how much better things might get?

 

 

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Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two part series answering two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”

Part one can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

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    Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 
The bishop refused.
    Eventually, John Wesley took it upon himself to ordain Thomas Coke as a bishop (even though he technically did not have that authority), who then travelled to the colonies and ordained Francis Asbury.  In this way, the Methodist Church was born.  No one intended for the Methodist movement to become a church, but it did.  As a result, the Methodist Church structure, belief and doctrine are similar to the Church of England (which today is known as the Episcopal Church in the United States).  We are not a congregational organization, but an ecclesiastical one, which means we have a hierarchy where pastors answer to a bishop. 
    Because of the way that our church has separated from the Catholic Church, our structures and beliefs, although quite different, are also sometimes strikingly similar.  Even so, there was a lot of bad blood between the reformers (like Martin Luther) and the Popes.  Remember that in that era, the Pope controlled the Holy Roman Emperor who, in turn, controlled the Army. 
    In those days, there was no separation of church and state.  For generations, anyone who even hinted at problems within the church could be arrested, their property seized, they could be tortured or even put to death for believing anything different than what they were told.  Nations who chose (actually their kings chose) to become Protestant, were attacked by the Empire’s Army.  For hundreds of years, wears were fought between Catholics and Protestants.  In the 30 Years War (1618-1648), part of Germany fought against other parts of Germany with support thrown in from the kings of France and Spain, as well as from the Empire.  During that time, 25-40% of the entire German population was killed.
    There was also much bloodshed in England.  Although Catholics and Protestants often got along with one another, their rulers were not so kind.  As England’s Kings and Queens changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again, everyone, including the priests, were forced to convert.  Those who did not, were forced from their homes or worse.  There was much bloodshed on all sides.
    In any case, by the time of John Wesley, there were bad feelings between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.  This is evident in John Wesley’s writings as well as Catholic writings of the time.  But today, 200 years later, those bad feelings have faded and Catholics and Protestants get along quite well (particularly here in the United States).  Technically, according to some Catholic doctrine, anyone who is not a part of the “official” church of Saint Peter is going to hell.  For our part, we deny several key Catholic doctrines and emphasize that salvation if through grace alone where the Catholic Church believes that both grace and works are required.
    Despite our differences, we there are a great many similarities.  We have a similar structure (although we do not have any “rank” higher than bishop and we do not have a Pope).  We have bishops who are in charge of particular geographical areas, and we have one set of rules that govern all of our churches. 
    Today the “bad blood’ that once existed isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us have both Catholics and Protestants mixed among our families and our friends and many Catholics and Protestants are married to one another.  I had a professor in seminary that did his doctoral studies in a Catholic University.  There have even been times that modern theologians, now having the benefit of being a few hundred years distant, suggest that Protestants might reconsider some of the Catholic teachings that were thrown out during the Reformation.  Recently, the Pope has invited evangelical leaders to be his guests in Rome to discuss how we might work together. 
    During my last pastorate, I became friends with Monsignor Mark Froelich who was the local parish priest.  He and I were the only people in town who were members of both the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs and so we had lunch together twice each week (and it didn’t hurt that he was a Cleveland Indians fan).  I think we are finding that our differences may now be less than they were when our churches split during the Reformation.
    In the end when we consider what the differences are between the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, the answer is both, “A lot” and, “Not much.”

 

Part One of this series can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.

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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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Who Watches the Supplies? – A Football Meditation


    In the books of first and second Samuel we read the story of King David.  Many of us have heard stories about David, but there is at least one that we don’t often remember.  In 1 Samuel 30, we find David and 600 men who had just returned from fighting alongside Achish the king of the Philistines.  As they return home they discover that the Amalekites had raided their town, captured their wives (including two of David’s wives), their children, their livestock, as well as anything of value.  After consulting with their priest to find the will of God, David pursues the Amalekite raiding party.
    As they hurry to catch up to the raiders however, David finds that two hundred of his men are too exhausted to continue and so he leaves them behind with all their gear, supplies and what is left of their town.  David and the four hundred remaining men pursue the Amalekite raiding party and find them celebrating over all the loot that they had plundered.  David and his men attack and fight with the Amalekites from dusk that day, until the end of the following day, defeat them, and recapture every single animal, personal belonging, wife and family member.
    But when they return to their camp, the troublemakers began to stir things up.  They argued with David that the two hundred men who were left behind should not receive any of the plunder because they didn’t fight to get it.  They argued that these men should get their families back, but receive no share of the loot and plunder that they had taken from the Amalekites.
    David fights back.  David makes an argument that is important to every single one of us and one that is important to each of you on the football field.  David said:
“No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. 24 Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” 25 David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this.
    It is important to remember that when you win, it isn’t just the superstars and the heroes that win the game.  Every member of your team had a part, Every coach, every water boy, every trainer, every teacher you ever had who helped you to earn the grades you needed to play ball, it took the guy on the sidelines who sprained his ankle before the season started, every football booster, every friend who gave you a ride home from practice, every relative, every parent, and every brother or sister that comes to watch you play.  As David said, these are the people who “watch the supplies” for you. 
    When you win, it isn’t just because of the guy who threw the touchdown pass, or who caught the interception, or who made the big tackle.  Your victory didn’t come because of the superstars; it took every single one of you. 
And that includes the people who just watch the supplies.

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Youth Questions: What is Communion? Why do we do it like that?


Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.

Question: Why do we do communion the way that we do?

    Before we talk about how we “do” communion, we ought to talk about what it is, and why we do it.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Luke 22 is a good example) all tell the story of the Last Supper.  This was the Passover meal that everyone in Israel shared together every year to remember God rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  In some ways, this meal was a lot like some of our families celebrate Thanksgiving.  Often a lot of the same people were together, if you were anywhere close to home you usually met with your family, and every year there were traditions, speeches, and toasts that everyone had memorized.
    This particular meal was the last big meal the disciples had together before Jesus was arrested and crucified and Jesus was the host.  But during the meal and he did some really unusual things that the disciples didn’t understand (until later).
    First, when Jesus broke the bread, instead of saying what everyone usually said, Jesus said this is “my body” broken for you.  Later, during the second toast of the evening, Jesus completely changed the script.  Instead of saying the usual Passover speech, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This toast had all sorts of connections to Jewish culture, from being a reference to the first Covenant that God made with Abraham, to having amazing similarities to the toast where a Jewish groom seals a contract (a new covenant) to return and marry his bride.  The disciples were understandably confused by this because it didn’t fit with Passover.  It all made sense to them later though after Jesus ascended into heaven and they began to understand that Jesus was the bridegroom and the church was to be the “bride of Christ” after his return.
    In any case, when Jesus broke the bread and drank from the cup Jesus asked his followers to “do this in remembrance of me.”  And so, just as the Jews celebrated the Passover every year to remember what God had done for them, we celebrate communion as we remember what Christ has done for us and also remember that Christ is coming back.
    But returning to the original question, there are lots of ways to “do” (we usually prefer to say “share”) communion.  We can have communion by intinction, in which we tear a piece of bread off of a loaf and dip it in a common cup.  In some cases, people all drink out of a common cup, but because of concerns about unintentionally sharing germs, that method is not often used today.  We also share with little pieces of bread and tiny cups, or with unleavened bread (which might be flat breads like pita bread or something like saltine crackers).  For very large groups there are plastic cups that include a small wafer of “bread” under a foil seal and a cup of juice under a second foil seal.  In that way, the ushers only have to pass out one basket that includes both of the communion elements.  At one large youth gathering I heard about, they wanted to share communion but didn’t have enough bread and juice so they used potato chips and cola (there are some theological problems with this, but their hearts were in the right place).

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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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Graduates: Tomorrow, No One Will Care


    First, I want to congratulate all of the young people who have recently graduated from high school.
    Second, as hard as it is to say, tomorrow, no one will care.
    That doesn’t mean that what you have done for the last twelve years of your life doesn’t matter, but that what you have done is just the beginning.  You have accomplished an important milestone, but it is a milestone that we all expected you to reach.  You have achieved what most people consider to be the minimum standard for education. 
    And so you ask, “What’s next?”  While your recent accomplishments are important, they are just the beginning.  We expect you to do something with them.  Up until now, what you have done has been mandated and required.  Nearly every step along the way has been mapped out.  Your education was paid for by your family, your friends and your neighbors because we believe in its importance.  We paid for the teachers, the buildings, the administration, sports, protective gear, and the buses to get you there and back.
But tomorrow is up to you.
    Tomorrow, a new chapter begins.  This fall (or sooner) many of you will start your freshman year in college or begin trade school.  Some of you will become apprentices to master trades people, some of you will begin working in a job of some sort, and a few of you may spend some time trying to “find yourself.”  All of those things are okay but be warned, you have been given great gifts, life, health, education, and many other things, but the world is watching to see what you will do with them.
    Of course, not every high school education, nor every student, is the same as every other.  Some schools provided phenomenal opportunities and others struggled to exist.  Some of you worked hard and some coasted through school.
    But tomorrow is a new day, and the question everyone is asking is, “What will you do with it?”
    Think of it this way.  Every one of you has been given a home, a building, a place to being a new life.  Granted some of you, by virtue of your parents, your school, or your own hard work, have been given more than others.  Some of you have a small apartment and others a more spacious home, but all of you have a place to start.  Today that home that you have been given is unfinished.  The drywall isn’t finished, there’s no siding on the outside and nothing has been painted.  Your new place, your life, is just a shell. 
What it will become is up to you.
    The building you have been given can become a library, museum, bank, school, hospital, factory… or a crack house.
    By your eighteenth birthday, between your parents and your community, statisticians tell us that we have invested nearly a half million dollars in your life and education. 
We have high hopes for your future.
    Two or three months from now, no one will care where you went to high school or what your grades were like.  What everyone cares about is your destination and how well you are doing.  If you start working your boss will only care about how hard you work and how well you help her to accomplish her goals.  Your past won’t matter.  If you skip class, get drunk and flunk out of college it won’t matter whether or not you were a great student in high school.  Likewise, if you work hard, at whatever you choose to do, no one will notice, or care, if you were a poor student in high school, if you had poor parents, or grew up in a town with two hundred people.
Tomorrow is entirely up to you.
    We have invested in your life because we believe in you.  We believe that you are capable of building something amazing.  We believe that you can change the world.  We believe that you can build factories, hospitals, banks or something entirely new and wonderful that none of us have ever imagined. 
   But today, none of that matters.  Our hopes for you, our investment in you, don’t matter.  All of your hard world yesterday doesn’t matter.
    From here on we can only offer encouragement and the occasional helping hand. 
Whether you build beautiful and wonderful things…
…or crack houses…
…is up to you.

Answer the Phone!


    What would you think if one of your friends complained that you never called or spent time together?  Even though you saw this friend on the street or at work, both of you felt that you needed more.  But now, whenever you saw one another, you heard complaints.  Finally, encouraged by the complaints, you called your friend and there was no answer.  You sent a text message, but received no reply.  Still hearing complaints, you eventually begin calling and texting at all hours of the day and night (sometimes knowing that your friend was certainly at home) and still, there was no answer.  During this time, you set aside money so that you could take your friend out to eat… but there was no answer.
What would you think of your friend?
What would you thing of their complaints?
    Often we complain that we have not heard from God, that God seems far away, or that we have not seen God at work.  But despite our complaints, we fill every waking hour listening to music, radio, watching television, playing video games, with Facebook, Twitter, and all manner of other distractions with no time left for silence.
The psalmist wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
How often do we embrace the silence?  
How often are we simply still?  
When God calls, are we so surrounded by noise and distraction that we don’t even notice?
How often do we listen?
Are youthe friend that isn’t answering the phone?