Thursday, November 21, 2019

Weekly Refelctions - It's the Little Things

There is a show on television that I watch all the time called "The Incredible Doctor Pol" about a veterinarian in Michigan. It's a reality show following the doctor as he and his staff treat animals.  One of my favorite parts of the show is when they take samples from the animals and look at them under the microscope. 

Ear mites and fleas, and parasites - oh my!
Okay - so maybe it's a little gross, but I am fascinated by all the things they find that we can't see. 

Because we can't see them - we don't think about them. Thankfully, the doctors on the show know how to look for things that we can not see that could be making an animal sick and know how to treat them.

So, this week - as we are approaching Thanksgiving - I am thinking about all the things we can be thankful for that we can not see. 

The scripture passage for this week - the Sunday before Thanksgiving - is from one of the Epistles in the New Testament.  Remember that epistle is just a fancy word for a letter.  This passage is from the 
the book of Colossians—which is Paul (or maybe one of Paul’s followers writing in the name of Paul) writing to the people who live in Colossae.

Our Sunday school lesson tells us Paul might have been concerned about Christians there because there were some people around that worshiped nature and sought advice from the stars in the sky.  So Paul wrote them a letter to remind then about what Jesus taught about God. 
(We used the verses from this scripture as the Affirmation of Faith during our worship service.)
 I rarely ever like to focus on just one passage of scripture by itself out of context - but this week I have been thinking a lot about verse 16. 
“For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible…”
Thanksgiving is the time of year when we think about all the things that we are thankful for in our lives and in the world.
We give thanks for the things we can see – our food, our friends and family, our homes, and for the beauty of the world. The rivers, mountains, trees, flowers, and animals of the natural world are just a few of the wonderful gifts from God. You could make a long, long list of the things we see and give thanks for in our world.
We don’t often think about those invisible things that are so important to our lives. I am thankful for the air and all the tiny cells that make our bodies work - and the invisible wifi signals that make our technology work - and the list goes on and on. 
What are some things you are grateful for that you can not see? 
The scripture starts with Paul writing that "The Son" - Jesus-  is the image of the invisible God. 
Here are some things to think about this week:
  • What do you think it means to be created in the image of God?
  • How would you describe God's nature? As you read the Bible what have you learned about the nature of God?
  • How is it challenging for you to live in the image of God in today's world?
  • How can you live according to God's nature this week? 

Friday, November 15, 2019

What We Are Reading - November 2019

Here are the books we will be reading during
Extended Session during the month of November! 

All are available through the Carnegie Library.

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I walk with Vanessa :
a story about a simple act of kindness

by Kerascoët

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Mini Rabbit is not lost

by John Bond  

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Ten thank-you letters

by Daniel Kirk 

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The little guys

by Vera Brosgol 

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The thing Lou couldn't do

by Ashley Spires 

Reflections for Youth - God is with us on the cloudy days

It's been a week! 

I missed some days of work this week because I was sick. It never fails that at some point every fall I get a bad cold. And this was my week.  Also this week, the presidential impeachment hearings began and there was another shooting at a high school in California.  I have some close friends that are going through some really tough times.  

It's been a week.  Do you ever have weeks or days like this? 
When you feel like there is a dark and stormy cloud hovering overhead? 
Yep, we all do. 

The Gospel of Luke tells a story about a time when Jesus gave the disciples some words of comfort for when they afraid and facing tough times. 

Jesus and the disciples were in view of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus was listening to his followers who were talking about how beautiful stones and all the fancy things that were used to build the building. The disciples were excited to see the temple and they thought it was an amazing building.

Jesus, in his usual fashion, responded to them by teaching them about God.  

Jesus told them: “One day, all these things will be gone and the temple won’t last forever, but God’s love will. Even when there will be trouble God’s love will be strong.”

Jesus told them that people might tell them things that are not true about God and not to listen to them. Jesus basically says  “Scary things will happen. Storms and other events will make you feel afraid. But God is always with us."  Jesus says that God will give us words and wisdom and will help us know what to do and how to respond. 

Jesus gives us words of comfort.  So, even in really scary situations when it feels like everything is falling apart - Jesus reminds his disciples and us that God is with us. 
So, this week I am reminding myself that Jesus has promised to help us when we are afraid.  My prayers are for those that I love that are processing fear, crisis, and tragedy.  I pray and continue to try to put my trust in God's promise to be with us when we are afraid. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Reflections for Youth -Time Traveling

This week I am thinking about time for a couple of reasons. 

And it's led me down several of what I like to call "internet rabbit holes." You know, those times when you are reading something and that leads you to something else - and something else. All a sudden its two hours later  - oh where does the time go?

Rabbit hole #1:

On Sunday, we turned the clocks back an hour. I love "clock-back" night.  We get an extra hour of sleep and a shot at not being late for church. Of course, if you have a dog (or live with small children) they still wake up at the same time. Sigh. 

I've always been fascinated with the concept of time. And I am fascinated that we can just decide what time it is.   Here's a link that explains the origins of daylight saving time:

Time history

Rabbit hole #2: Nov. 5 was Guy Fawkes Day (you can read about it here Nov. 5.  And for all you movie nerds out there - it’s the day Marty McFly arrived in Hill Valley of the past in Doc Brown’s DeLorean.  If you haven't seen it - please watch the movie "Back to the Future."  This fictional article is amusing: Back to the Future

Rabbit hole #3: Our Sunday school lesson for this week is based on verses from 2 Thessalonians where Paul is writing to the church there. Paul is addressing the mixed messages that the church was receiving about the return of Christ. They were fearful and confused about timing. 

Read Thess. 2: 1-5, 13-17

The out Sunday school lesson plan for the week referenced an old episode of "The Simpsons" as a way to engage in a discussion about timing and fear.

And of course, I had to go find clips of the episode and read about it.  In the second season (1991 - yes, I am that old) Homer possibly eats some poisonous blowfish at a sushi restaurant and the doctor tells him that he may have only 24 hours left to live. He goes home and makes a bucket list of all the things he wants to do in the limited time he has left.  The list includes having a "man to man" talk with Bart, listening to Lisa play the saxophone, eat healthily, make peace with his father, and plant a tree.  Most of the things on the list are things that he rarely does or has avoided.  He is scared and confused, not unlike the people in Thessalonia.

So, Paul is writing to a community that has formed a church around the teachings of Jesus. But since Paul has moved on they have no one to answer their questions. They were lonely, receiving confusing messages from other religious leaders, and perhaps being made fun of by others for what they believed.  So, I imagine that they were happy to get this letter from Paul. 

It was good timing.

They, like Homer, were worried about time. They were very concerned with the return of Christ.  Daily life and worship were disrupted with concerns over how to wait, how to prepare, who would be "taken up" and who would be left.  They were listening to rumors that Jesus had already returned. Did that mean that they were left behind? Who could they trust?
Paul writes to them: “Brothers and sisters, your strong faith continues to grow in spite of the bay ways you are treated because you believe in Jesus. God calls all of you to stand firm in the message of Jesus.  May God encourage you and give you strength in every good word or act.”
I think those words are helpful for us today, too. God encourages us and strengthens us to speak good words to people and act in loving ways to everyone. We all can find things that disturb us and cause us to worry and that doesn’t feel good. It gets in the way of having fun and enjoying life, but remember that we all have a choice about the way we think. Paul talks to this group of new Christians who are just learning how to live with God’s love. They are just like us. Paul them and tells them that God loves them. He says God comforts and gives hope that will last forever.

Questions to think about:

  • How would the world be different if we focused every day on the people and things we care about? 
  • What fear or confusion do you think could arise in people in your community if they had no way of knowing what time it was? 
  • Who or what encourages you when you are afraid or confused about faith questions?
  • For whose encouragement are you grateful?
  • Who can you encourage this week?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Advent 2019 - Suggested Readings

Here are suggestions for devotionals and daily readings for Advent! Ask your favorite local bookseller to order one for you. These titles are also available for purchase through The Thoughtful Christian at and other online booksellers.

Advent A to Z: Prayerful and Playful Preparations for Families

Advent A to Z: Prayerful and Playful Preparations for Families

by John Indermark and Sharon Harding 

Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers  

by Michael T. McRay

Low: An Honest Advent Devotional

Low: An Honest Advent Devotional

by John Pavlovitz 

Advent for Everyone, Matthew: A Daily Devotional

Advent for Everyone, Matthew 
By N.T. Wright 

Reflections for Youth - Look for Your Tree

Our Gospel story this week from Luke is pretty familiar. You might know the story from the children's song we teach kids in church. 

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man
 and a wee little man was he." 

The story goes that Jesus was passing through Jericho and Zacchaeus, who is identified in the Bible as being short, climbs a tree so he can get a look at Jesus. Jesus sees him in the tree and says "Hey - I am coming to your house to stay." 

Read Luke 19: 1-9. 

As I reread this story, I think there is so much more here to focus on besides Zacchaeus being short. I mean, it is an important detail because it's one of the reasons that he climbs the sycamore tree. 

And as a fellow short person, I can relate. I get it. I see you Zacchaeus.  I mean, this is usually my view at a concert or a parade: 

Photo from Google Image

I think the bigger deal is more about who Zacchaeus was and how he was known in Jericho. 

Take a second and think about someone nobody likes.
I'll wait. 
See - that didn't take any time at all.

Zacchaeus was one of those people. He was a rich tax collector and nobody liked tax collectors in Jericho. Not only that, but the scripture says he was the chief tax collector. The money Zacchaeus collected from the people in Jericho went to the Romans. And he could take even more money than needed and keep some for himself. That’s how tax collectors earned their living. People did not like or trust them because most of them kept a lot for themselves.  Zacchaeus is part of the corrupt system of economic oppression.

So, when he goes to the road to see Jesus I am guessing that being short was just a little part of the problem.  (Pun intended!) The crowd maybe didn't let him have a prime spot because nobody liked him and didn't care if he could see Jesus.  

(I wonder if the Pittsburgh thing of putting out a chair to save your spot would have worked back then? But I digress...)

Jesus sees him in that tree, calls him by name, and tells him that he’s coming over to stay at his house.
And Zaccheaus says “Whaaaat?”
And the crowd that had gathered probably said “Whaaat?”
Because Jesus saw someone who everyone despised and called him by name.
Luke tells us that Zacchaeus stands before Jesus (Joyfully in some translations) and says that he will repay what he has taken from people and even give them more.  He is moved to repent.  Then Jesus tells him that God wants everyone to be part of God’s family and to care for others.
So, instead of this story being about a short guy who climbs a tree - perhaps it's about searching for God and being recognized by God.  If you think about it - it's pretty ridiculous for someone of Zacchaeus' wealth in the community to be willing to climb a tree and look foolish.  But he's obviously searching for something - searching for Jesus.
And Jesus is looking for him, too.  He looks up and invites himself over to the house of someone who is an outcast - reminding us of God's relentless search for us.  

This story is yet another example of how time and time again Jesus acts against social expectations and religious tradition by associating with those people that nobody likes. 

We can interpret this story in many ways - but here is what I am thinking about this week:  We don't have to climb a tree to see Jesus. This story reminds us that God will find us anyway.  We just need to be willing to come down and meet Jesus on the ground.

But, if we are feeling lost in the crowd and can not see God - we should look for our tree. 

Some questions for the week: 

How have you been welcomed into a friend's home?

How do you welcome someone into your home?
Who can you think of in today's society that might be like Zacchaeus?
Have there been times where have felt like Zacchaeus? 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Reflections for Youth - Measuring Up

Apples and Oranges.

The old saying goes that we can't compare them because they are different things. 

But they are both fruit - right?

Comparing ourselves to others is a very human thing. 

But we can't determine our self-worth in comparison to others. Every one of us is unique in our own way.  Apples and oranges are both fruit but they grow in different ways and conditions. 

Think about how we measure things. We use different things to measure different items.  We use a measuring cup for recipe ingredients and a yardstick for distance. Both things measure and determine value - but they are not the same.  We can't measure flour for a batch of cookies with a yardstick and a measuring cup can't help us determine our height. 

When we make comparisons with other people it's easy to judge others and ourselves. Of course, Jesus has something to teach us about this. 

In this week's Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus tells a parable about measuring or comparing ourselves to others in order to see who is best.

Read Luke 18: 9-14
Two people went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. This person made a big deal about going to the temple and strutted past everyone and stood in the middle where everyone could see him praying.  The other person was a tax collector.  Back in those times, tax collectors had no friends and people didn’t like them because they collected money for the Roman rulers.

The tax collector came quietly and went into a dark corner so we would be seen. The Pharisee prayed with his hands above his head and said “God, thank you that I am not like other people (especially that tax collector.) I fast and I give a lot of money to the temple.
Over in the corner the tax collector quietly prayer with his head down. And he prayed “God, I am a sinner. Have mercy on me.”
After he told the parable Jesus said the tax collector will go home from the temple feeling forgiven, but the Pharisee will not. People who lift themselves above others will be brought down.  People who know what they have done wrong will be lifted high.

We are human so it's natural for us to play the comparison game. We can too hard on ourselves and think we do not measure up to others. Or, we judge others and think we are better than them, like the Pharisee. 

Our worth or value, what kind of person we are, can only be measured by God. God loves each one of us no matter what. Jesus teaches us the leave the measuring to God. God can truly see the goodness in our hearts.

So the moral of the story? Perhaps when we stop thinking we know it all and ask God and others for help then we are more open to being able to learn and be better.  

Questions to think about this week:
Who do you compare yourself with the most?
How do we be accepting of others without making comparisons?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Talking about Stewardship

Talking about Stewardship

As we head into the stewardship season, we encourage you to sit down with your family and talk about what giving of time and money to the church means to all members of your family. 

From the very beginning of our faith story in Genesis being a good steward of creation is a 
task set to all people. We strive to include our youngest members fully in the life of the church, and that includes learning about receiving and giving. Including your children and teens in your decisions and commitment of time and money to the church is an important way to instill a lifelong approach to giving and help develop a deep sense of community.

Below are some thoughts on stewardship and service that can be conversation starters for your family.  The dinner table or the car ride or walk home for church can be great places to begin the conversation. 

Stewardship: In its most simple form is taking care of the world and the church on behalf of God.  We can encourage the young people in our lives to continually respond to God's creation by caring and enjoying what God has given them, personally and in the world around them. 
Questions to start the conversation:
  • How do you think God wants us to take care of the church?
  • Disciples of Jesus kept sharing stories of all the good things he did for others, how are we disciples today?
  • What are some ways that the church can help take care of the world?
  • What are some things you can do to help the church in its ministry?
  • What can you do to help take care of God's world?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reflections for Youth - Prayer and Hopeful Persistance

This week our Gospel passage from Luke is about prayer and persistence.  If you have ever spent time with kids or dogs, you know a little something about what it's like to deal with someone or something that just doesn't give up. 

Persistence is "firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition," according to the dictionary.  The dictionary should just put a picture of my dog with her rock and her ball next to the entry.  You probably can relate if you have ever trained (or been trained by) a puppy. There is nothing in this world that my dog, Weezie, loves more than her ball and a certain rock she found in the yard a while ago. One of them has to go with her everywhere. She loves to play with them. She loves to get you to try to play with them. And when she loses one under a piece of furniture she is relentless about letting you know where they are and that she is waiting for you to help her. She doesn't give up. 

Jesus uses a story about a woman who doesn't give up to teach us some things about prayer and dealing with injustice. 

The parable is about a widow who has been treated unfairly. The scripture doesn't say exactly what or who caused the injustice, but the woman goes to the judge in her city for help.  The judge is known throughout the whole city as a person who doesn't care about people and has no use for God. 

You can see where this is going, right? 

The judge tells the woman to go away. Don't bother me, I don't care.  

But Jesus tells us that the woman didn't give up and came back day after day after day after day. 

"Give me Justice," she would say.“Don’t bother me, ” The judge would say. 

But then one day the Judge decided he was tired of it all.  And he decided to grant the woman justice so she would stop bothering him.

The scripture says Jesus tells this parable to his followers to emphasize the "need to pray always and not lose heart."

Be persistent, he seems to be saying.  He is reminding us that by praying often we will be more receptive and feel more connected to God when something changes, something new happens, and when there is injustice in the world. 

Soooo, is Jesus telling us that if we keep asking for what we want and never give up then we will get it?

I doubt it. 

I do think there is a difference between praying to God and the story that Jesus told. The judge in the story doesn't care about anything, He also doesn't care about God.  But God cares very much about the disciples - and all of us. So unlike the judge, God wants to hear from us.  
God cares if our rock or our ball is stuck under the couch. 
I think prayer is just as much for us as it is for God. If we keep checking in with God about what is going on for us in our lives then we will be better able to sort things out. We will be better able to see and recognize the ways that God is working in our daily lives and in the world.  And when this happens, we will also be better able to share God’s wisdom and care with the people around us.

I do think  Jesus is using this parable to remind us that we need to be persistent in prayer and not give up on finding ways to feel connected to God and others.  It might be a cliche to say that prayer is powerful. But here's the thing - it makes me feel better.  Being persistent in prayer helps me keep my heart and mind pointed in God's direction and give me hope.  And God has yet to tell me to stop bothering her. 

Also, Jesus says through this story that God is calling us to persist in our prayers for those in need, even to the point of embarrassing the authorities in order to induce change.  Our prayers are important to God.  Working to right injustices is important to God. God calls us to (like the hymn says) "Live into Hope." Feeling hope and connected to God can give us a reason to work, in whatever ways we can, for justice and peace in the world.

What do you think? 

Here are some questions to think about this week:
  • The scripture tells us that Jesus used this story to teach about prayer, yet nobody in this story is praying.  How do you think this story teaches about prayer?
  • What do you learn about fighting injustice from this story?
  • What are other examples of injustice that you could both pray for and act upon in your school? Community? The world?