By Ellen Di Giosia
We all know summer is a ton of fun. Whether you’ve spent it at the beach, in the pool, or on vacation, it’s good to get away from the grind for a little while and hang out with family and friends. But by August, the newness has definitely worn off. The beach is just so . . . sandy, and the chlorine in the pool burns the eyes. Even vacation seems harder – bickering from the backseat, too much fast food, long lines at airport and destination.
So there may be tears from students – and perhaps from parents of kindergarteners and college freshmen – but that whooping sound you hear is from many tired parents ready to drop the kids off at school and get back into the routine. Even homeschool parents relish a return to a more structured day and the clearer expectations that come with it. The summer reading may have been haphazard, but new folders will soon be filled with book titles and parent signatures. There’s just something about a routine that engenders commitment.
And guess what? It doesn’t just apply to kids and schoolwork! Now’s the perfect time to get back to church. Discipleship opportunities are all around you at Woodland, and Sunday School is an ideal weekly routine. Whether you prefer in-depth Bible study or topical groups, there is a class for you. Most importantly, on “just a routine Sunday morning,” you’ll be making friends, growing spiritually, and finding support for life’s difficulties and celebration for life’s joys. Before long, you won’t want to miss a single Sunday!
On Sunday morning, August 25, we’ll have a Kick-Off Coffee Hour to celebrate a new Sunday School year. We have some new class names, mission partnerships for each class, and a whole new slate of seminars. It’s the perfect time find a place that works for you. Our children and youth will promote to their new grade levels that day, so everything will feel fresh and new! Join us at 9:00am in Maresh Hall to get more information and catch up with friends you’ve missed over the summer. Hope to see you there!
I preached on the parable of the “Rich Fool” from Luke 12 last Sunday. You know, the story about the man who had too much grain, too much produce. So made plans to tear down his large barns and build bigger ones to store all that he had. But, God said to him, “Excuse me, Mr. Brilliant, tonight you will die. Now what will happen to all that you have earned and saved.”
Alex Rodriguez kept coming to mind last week as I read this scripture in preparation for Sunday. The “great” Yankees shortstop, Alex Rodriguez A.K.A. A-Rod, is in trouble with steroids again. He has been called one of the most gifted athletes ever to play Major League Baseball. He was the top prospect coming out of high school in Miami, FL where he hit over .500 his senior year. He was drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners. He played a year and a half in the minors before going to the big leagues.
His first full year in the majors with Seattle his .358 batting average led the American League. And he also hit, 36 home runs and drove in 123 runs. Alex Rodriguez has been a 12 time All Star, won the MVP three times, and has a couple Gold Glove awards. He has signed two contracts each worth approximately the GDP of a small country. One with the Texas Rangers valued at about $250 Million and another with the Yankees for about $275 Million. A-Rod must have some pretty large barns to store all these goods.
Yet, it’s never been enough. In his mind, he has never been good enough. These past few months he has been under investigation for using performance enhancing drugs. He was already caught and punished five years ago. His natural talent was not enough for him.
We don’t know what he could have been without steroids, and that’s unfortunate. Maybe he wouldn’t have hit over 600 home runs. Maybe he would have. Alex Rodriguez has as much talent as any baseball player in the past fifty years. Many people have said so. Yet, A-Rod certainly didn’t believe it. If he had trusted in the treasure God had given him (the ability to play baseball) perhaps he wouldn’t have lost the treasure of his good name.
When we try to make a name for ourselves instead building upon the life God gives us we risk losing both. We are all born with certain gifts and talents God gives us to use to make this world a better place. But, we get distracted. Too often we define our worth by our net worth rather than the treasure that is already ours by the grace of God. A-Rod lost sight of his worth. In doing so, he has lost his reputation (and probably his chance at the Hall of Fame). Distractions in our lives lead us to make poor decisions because they threaten our perception of value, which leads us to invest in the wrong things. In Luke 17, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is within you. If you truly believe that treasure is within you now then that is something to invest in.
By Bob Flynn
When David went to battle Goliath he took five smooth stones. Five? Why not four? Three? Wouldn’t two stones show more faith in God? No. David didn’t lack faith; he lacked certitude. Look over one shoulder as far as you can, then as far as you can see over the other shoulder. Somewhere beyond the horizon on one side is faith and the other certitude.
Goliath had certitude. He was absolutely certain he could kill any Israelite who faced him. Goliath insulted the Israelite soldiers every morning and every evening. His voice roared over the hills. He had a bearer carrying his shield before him, turning it from side to side to flash light on Goliath‘s cruel, cocksure face. Goliath waved his sword over his head and the mountains rang with cheers.
David came forth with five stones and a slingshot. If David had certitude he would have twirled his sling like a child while the high places echoed curses, jeers and ridicule. He would have held up one smooth stone, showing that was all he needed to defeat this giant. Certitude comes with a lot of showmanship and pride.
All humans live somewhere along that continuum between faith and certitude whether its news, history, religion, politics, geography, science, math, whatever. Scientists and mathematicians cling to certitude, except for the futurists who have visions and dreams that cannot be tested yet, and still look for certitude to prove their belief. Some religious people require certitude. If you keep all the laws, check off all the commandments, fulfill all the requirements, then you can be certain that you will go to eternal bliss, or at least purgatory, and not the bad place.
Some people live by faith. They accept few things as certain and many things by faith. I have little confidence in news, a little more in history by reputable writers, and a great deal in the arc of human history that includes fossil, archeological, astrophysical, chemical, biological history, with many questions, theories and things unknowable.
Leslie Weatherhead, a Methodist/Congregationalist English preacher wrote a book titled, “Christian Agnostic.” I thought all Christians were agnostics in the sense that we don’t know much about God, but we have faith in our knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. The many things we don’t know and can’t understand aren’t a stumbling block. That is the human condition and we try to walk by faith, not by knowledge.
You have to locate yourself on the continuum by finding where you are most comfortable. Do questions excite you and inspire you to find answers? Do you prefer steps and formulas? Remember the man referred to as “the rich young ruler.” He had obeyed all the laws and checked all the boxes, What did he lack?
Life is pretty amazing, isn’t it?
For example, take my Lord Baltimore Hibiscus. When I bought it in the spring of 2012, it was just a 3” high stick in a pot. It didn’t look like much. Jennie even asked me why I bought a dead stick in a pot. They told me at the nursery to give it time and consistent water and it would grow when it got hot.
Well, it got hot and we kept it watered and it grew and bloomed and was beautiful. And then when the winter came, it died. This hardy-type of hibiscus is supposed to last through a mild winter and there aren’t many winters more mild than here in San Antonio. So, I did the only thing I could…I cut it to the ground, watered and waited.
At the bottom of the left photo, you can see a stump, that is where I cut it down. In the same picture you see the new growth that finally began to erupt in late spring. On the right, you can see the same plant as it looked in early July. It is beautiful; already taller than last summer and putting out more blooms this year.
We thought the plant was dead — two different times. Yet, life was still there. We kindled it with patience, pruning, and water. God delivered the miracle of life.
Have you been to a point of complete despair? I have — both for myself and others I love. It is so hard to be patient and wait. It is hard to be gentle. It is hard to prune things that need to go (some of those things are good and some are not). It is hard to continue to water. But, God is faithful. He will provide beautiful life.
What does it take to get that beautiful life back? The patience of consistent time with God in prayer, Scripture, and community no matter how you feel (Philippians 4:6-7, Psalm 119:11, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Consistent watering of humbly serving others in Jesus’ name (Philippians 2:3-5). And trusting God to provide a miracle (Deuteronomy 31:6-8).
By Ed Twedt
It was John Wesley who once famously wrote, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.” At first glance this statement seems like a mere truism, but it has much more depth than a quick look can uncover.
First, Wesley tells us what to do: do good. He tells us how much good to do: all the good you can. He tells us how to do good: in all the ways you can. He tells us to whom to do good: to all the souls you can. He tells us where to do good: in every place you can. He tells us when to do good: at all the times you can. He tells us with what kind of energy we should do good: with all the zeal you can. Finally he tells us how long we should do good: as long as ever you can.
So, Wesley takes this simple Biblical concept of doing good, aims it squarely at each of us, and expands it to cover all the bases so to speak. When God calls us to do good, this call is all-encompassing, and extends throughout the entirety of our lives. In effect Wesley pulls together almost everything that can be said about doing good in the Biblical sense, and lays it right at our feet. God’s call to do good is a full time call to each one of us. It is like Woodland’s commitment to the idea of “every member a minister” because the ministry of doing good is a personal ministry for each one of us. How much good will you do today?
By Daniel Zamora
“When the trumpets sounded…the wall collapsed” Joshua 6:20
“…David would take his harp and play. Then Relief would come to Saul” 1 Samuel 16:23
“Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang… Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud…for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13-14
Every year in June, youth choirs from all over the United States attend the Nation’s Capital Festival of Youth Choirs. I had the opportunity of going this year and not only to accompany some anthems but to admire how youth voices could make such beautiful music together opening their mouths at the conductor’s cue.
From the moment the festival began, choir directors and counselors noticed the first rehearsal went beyond their expectations. Each choir member was prepared knowing his/her respective parts and many were ready to sing from memory. At the end of the second day, I was not sure about the remaining practices because the group sang so well.
Towards the end of the last day of rehearsals, they received an unexpected visit from the manager of one of the hotels across National City Christian Church, where the practices had been held. She wanted to listen to the choir in order to invite her hotel guest to attend. Randy Edwards indicated they would sing a few short excerpts from the festival music. The manager sat in the choir loft in front of the choir. Since there was no mention of any specific order, I got closer to the front to be available for accompanying.
They began singing “E’en so I love Thee, And in Thy praise will sing” from Jane Marshall’s anthem My Eternal King. Within a few seconds, the sanctuary was filled with sounds produced by these teenagers and I could not resist to walk in front of them to observe the visitor’s face but as I began doing it, the music became so intense that I had to stop, then went back to my seat and listen while tears flooded my eyes. Yes, the power of music had changed my mind, soul and spirit.
By Nikki Finkelstein-Blair
Over the past couple of months our family has been on a roller coaster. As a Navy family, we are relocated every three years; we move to a new city, a new job, a new church, a new life–and for two years we can simply Be There. But at that two-year mark, we have the opportunity to look at the available job openings and to make a request for our next duty station (and city, job, church…. and life). We recently hit that two-year mark of our time in San Antonio, so we excitedly scoured The List of jobs that will be coming available next summer, when it will be time for us to move again.
We painstakingly shaped a Top Six list, taking into consideration every possible aspect of the decision: the best career options for Scott, the best choices for our family, our dream jobs and dream locations. We submitted our list, and then waited.
And when the Navy finally came back to us to offer us—we knew—one of those six best-possible-options…. they offered us exactly NONE of them. And of the three choices they gave us, two of them were located in a place we have never wanted to live, and the third didn’t hold any particular interest or promise.
Our immediate reaction was anger. Questioning. A sense of waste for all the time we’d put into our requests. Our instinct was to argue, to complain, to make a whole new list and ask for new options.
But over the course of a few days, I believe God spoke. He spoke through a couple of internet blogs I occasionally read. He spoke through friends we consulted. He even (I believe this!) spoke through a fortune cookie. And this is the message I heard, again and again: “What if you say YES?”
What if you say YES; a big, loud yes? Not just a “Well, okay, if you say so” yes, not just an “I guess I don’t really have a choice” yes, not just a brooding submission of a yes… but a yes full of hope, a yes of anticipation, a yes that says “I’m all in!”
“Yes” doesn’t dispel fear. “Yes” doesn’t mean everything’s going to be easy or rosy. But when we say “yes” we’re affirming that our anxieties aren’t going to rule us. With “yes” we confess our trust in the God who can convert our greatest fears into powerful expressions of faith. With “yes” we proclaim that our frightened, human, instinctive “no ways” can be transformed by the One who is the Way, and that along that Way we, too, are willing to be transformed.
By Glen Schmucker
Someone once asked an elderly black minister what he tended to pray about most as his life grew closer to the end. The old gentleman thought for a moment and then said, “I pray for three things. I pray that my body won’t outlive my mind. I pray that I won’t outlive all of my mourners. And, I pray that I won’t drown in shallow waters.”
It’s those shallow waters that are the trickiest part and the only part of those three prayers in which we have some power to fix the outcome. The shallow waters to which I think he was referring were the choices we too often make to live petty lives, lives that are not given fully to what matters most or allow ourselves to be drug down paths to places that are of no account because they are not the road of our true calling.
Awakening this morning, I realized that one of the shallowest of all waters in which we can drown is the shallowness of unforgiveness. Part of our problem with not forgiving is that we are, too often, waiting for something to change in others so that we will find them more forgivable.
I’m reminded of the way Eugene Peterson once put it. “It has always been more difficult to come to terms with Jesus as the way than with Jesus as the truth, more difficult to realize the ways our thinking and behavior” must become “fused into a life of relational love and adoration with neighbor and God, God and neighbor.” Yet, “only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life (Eugene Peterson, “Transparent Lives,” Christian Century, November 29, 2003, pp. 21-22).”
The Jesus truth and the Jesus way involve extending forgiveness before it is sought or earned. If we wait for an apology from the person who has offended us in order to forgive them, then we are not living the Jesus truth much less walking in the Jesus way.
Most all of our problems in life have some form of unforgiveness in the mix. And, the reason problems remain impossibly unsolvable problems is because we tend to think of forgiveness as a place toward which we are headed instead of the place we are to begin. It is the very character of God, as revealed over and over in scripture, to forgive first and ask questions later, if ever.
Some years ago, dear friend George Mason spoke at a Christian Life Commission conference on capital punishment. This is what he said that helps get the order of things in the proper Jesus order.
God’s forgiveness of us is “not the result of human repentance and confession that might allow us to be right with God and with one another. It is the beginning . . . While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Paul says. Not, once we prove ourselves sorry enough for our sins and provide enough restitution to our victims,” will God then forgive us (George Mason, “Capital Punishment,” BGCT Christian Life Commission Seminar, Trinity Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas, May 4, 2004).
Waiting atop the hill of piety and condescension until someone climbs to our presumed height of holiness, thereby proving themselves worthy of forgiveness in our estimation, is taking God’s place, or trying to. It is also coming at forgiveness from the wrong direction. Remember, before Jesus climbed Calvary’s mountain he first came down from heaven, to walk where we walk. Then, and only then, did Jesus climb the hill that would have proven impossible for us to summit.
God so loved the world that God forgave us before we were born into the world for which Christ died and, thereby, made God’s eternal forgiveness, past, present and future, possible. That’s not the question.
Repentance is nothing less than the choice to stop walking in shallow waters and to start walking on the higher ground of Jesus’ way.
The question is not the existence of God’s forgiveness for us and for the world, paid for before we even knew we needed it. The only question is whether, no matter how young or old we may be, we’re running the risk of drowning in the shallow waters of unforgiveness.
New International Version (NIV)
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
that they may proclaim my praise
By: Bob Flynn
John the Baptizer and Jesus were about the same age. John was a bit older and began preaching first. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Repent is an interesting word. In biology it means to creep or crawl. In religion it means to be contrite, to confess your sins and change your ways. It also means to change one’s mind. To re-think your past, your future, your goals. Some do that on birthdays, tax days, anniversaries, New Year’s day.
John called the people to demonstrate re-calculating their way by baptism. When Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized, John said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” Who among us would say that was good preaching?
There were three major religious sects in Israel at the time: Pharisees preached a strict interpretation of the law and rigorous observance of the rites and ceremonies. Pharisee means separatist, and they were called “those loyal to God.” Biblical scholars who study the religious influences on Jesus believe he was most influenced by the Pharisees and was most critical of them. That shouldn’t surprise Baptists who are often more critical of other Baptists that of other Christians and nonChristians.
The Sadducees were the aristocrats of Judea, often priests and high priests, and involved in political matters. They presided over sacrifices, and maintained the temple and its centrality to Jewish worship. They collected taxes and mediated domestic disputes. They did not believe in an afterlife for individuals except through the preservation of the tribe.
John the Baptizer is believed to be most influenced by the Essenes who denounced riches and physical comforts, including marriage, baptized, devoted themselves to charity, and prohibited anger.
That prohibition didn’t stop John. He insulted the religious superiors who came to him to be baptized. Then he twisted the knife. Having Abraham as their father counted for nothing. God could turn stones into children of Abraham. He told them they had to re-think their religious tradition, to re-calculate what the law and the prophets said.
Some are too old for new ideas from young people. And young John introduced an idea that could subvert an ancient tradition. That was a personal insult to God-favored people. They reacted as expected. “You little crumb snatcher, who are you to tell us something new? Sonny boy, when you have studied the law as long as we have, crawl back and we may listen to your childish babble.” (K-Bob Translation)
None of the religious sects came to John’s aid when he was imprisoned for speaking truth to Herod. But young John’s courage to speak the truth, encouraged young Jesus to make his own shocking statement. He read from Isaiah 61, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And those who believed in him had to recalculate their Scriptures, their traditions and their lives.