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Look Up

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A Message for Good Friday 2020
Pastor Jim Melvin

Psalm 88: 1-2
O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

For me it’s worst at night, the fear, the anxiety, and feelings of near panic. My mind races ahead to all of the horrible things that could result from the pandemic–sickness, death, economic ruin, and a world not fit to live in. Darkness brings on despair; I’m lowered into the pit. It is then that I am driven to pray to God, like the Psalmist, to listen to my cries and come to help.

People suffering from dementia often suffer from what is called sundowning. As night comes on, the become more confused and agitated. In my experience, it is a universal phenomenon. The darkness creeps into the corners of our souls as the sun goes down. In our current state of siege, we are all a little bit demented; we’re all a little bit out of our minds.

The Psalmist continues to vividly describe what has driven him to cry out in anguish.

Psalm 88:3-7
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.

This Psalm is often read to remember Jesus’ imprisonment at the house of Caiaphas the night before he was tried and executed. He was lowered into a dark stone pit to spend an agonizing night. You can imagine him reciting this psalm waiting for God to rescue him. This pit is the dark night of the human soul that all of us experience at one time or another.

On Good Friday, Christians knowingly descend into that Pit with Jesus. We wait with him in our anxiety and fear. We cry out with him to God in desperation.

When we are at the bottom of the pit, we can only look up. There is nothing to see in the darkness around us, not even the proverbial hand in front of our face. When we look up, however, a glimmer of light begins to filter down to us. Our eyes see the growing light of Easter dawn, of life and hope above. Relief. God has heard our cries. God is coming to save us.

I can’t avoid noticing that the timing of Good Friday this year is serendipitous and full of meaning. It is likely that we are near the bottom of the pit of global pandemic. A glimmer, just a glimmer of light begins to shine. Today, then, in the dark night of our souls, it is time for us to look up. There’s nothing to see down here in the pit . Easter is approaching. New life is coming. God is listening.

I suspect that you and I will experience more sundowning in the days and weeks ahead. Our time of trial is not over. We will cry out in the night in fear and anxiety. So, if you see me or anybody else dwelling in darkness, tell us to look up. The same light is shining up there for all of us.

May you be blessed by peace and hope this Holy Weekend.

(Go to www.jmfaithatwork.com to listen to a my podcast from earlier this year titled “Life in the Pit.)

If Wishes Were Fishes

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Pastor Jim Melvin

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

My mother-in-law Aggie Wilson was a master of folksy sayings. One of her favorites that she repeated at every opportunity was, “If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite.” If that makes you scratch your head in wonder, let me give you a few examples. Me: I sure wish I could afford one of those new mid-engine Corvettes. Aggie: If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite. Me: I wish winter was over. Aggie: If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite. Me: I sure wish you would make one of your seven-layer German chocolate cakes for dessert tonight. Aggie: If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself right now, “I wish he’d get to the point.” Me: “If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite.”

Aggie meant that we wish for a lot of things that just aren’t going to happen. The majority of wishes that we make don’t come true. Many or most of our wishes turn out to be idle wishes. Think of all the jokes you’ve heard about someone being granted three wishes by a genie. They never seem to work out well. We all know that wishing for something doesn’t make it come true. I’ve wasted my fair share of coins throwing them into fountains, wished upon a galaxy of stars, and made wishes while I blew out the candles on more birthday cakes than I care to remember; and I have to report that my success rate is poor. I think that Jiminy Cricket’s “When You Wish upon a Star” song from Pinocchio was a scam perpetrated on generations of America’s kids. If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite; and, well, the fish don’t seem to be hungry.

But HOPE, that’s a different matter. Although the words hope and wish are often used interchangeably, our hopes are more significant and reliable than wishes. Our hopes are backed by something that gives us a reasonable expectation that the object of our desire is achievable. For example, I hope that I have the strength to make a difficult decision that lies ahead of me today. That hope is backed up by self-confidence that I have because I have made difficult decisions before. I hope that my friends will stick up for me when I am unfairly criticized. That hope is based on my friends’ prior loyalty. Hope is way more powerful and comforting than making wishes. Not to beat the image to death, but if hopes were fishes, we’d all be fed.
Our hopes can be supported by a variety of things. As in my previous examples, our hopes can be based on our past experiences. Our hopes can be based on our trust in people with certain skills or knowledge. We hope that the medical community will come up with protection against covid-19 and the cures for many other diseases, eventually even cancer. We also base our hopes on the reputation and integrity of people with authority. We hope that our laws are administered and enforced justly. We hope that America will continue to be a beacon of freedom in the world. These aren’t idle wishes. These are valid hopes.

There is a special kind of hope that is more powerful than any other. That is the hope which is backed up by faith. In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Christian hope is based upon faith. It is not based on science or upon physical evidence or even human reason. Things that we hope for are by nature unseen or they aren’t even in existence yet. So, we need something powerful to support our hopes. That power is faith.

Faith and hope are inextricably linked together. To understand hope, we also have to understand faith. There’s no better place to look at the nature of Christian faith than through the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas, the one affectionately known as doubting Thomas. Old doubting Thomas when he was told by the other disciples that they had witnessed Jesus after he was resurrected famously said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” For Thomas, seeing, and in this case touching, are believing.

Thomas is one of my favorite biblical characters. He seems real to me. I can see myself having the same reaction to being told that someone I know was killed and is now up and walking around again. I admit it. I’m filled with doubts. Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Despair or hopelessness is the opposite of faith. Doubt is a necessary precondition of faith. Without doubt or uncertainty, we have no need for faith. When Jesus finally does show up to Thomas, the former doubter doesn’t even take Jesus up on the offer to touch him. He is overcome and simply shouts out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus mildly rebukes him saying it would have been better if he had believed without seeing.

Here’s the power of faith. We don’t have to see, or touch, or feel or smell. Faith is a matter of the heart and not of the mind. Martin Luther says that we don’t come to faith on our own. In part of his explanation of the Apostles Creed Luther says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith is a gift from God to us who are by nature unbelievers.

You see, faith is another word for trust. When I say I have faith in God, I’m not saying that I believe that God exists. Whether or not God exists is a question for skeptics and philosophers and theologians. Whether or not Jesus Christ was just a brilliant teacher who lived two thousand years ago or the Son of God incarnate is a question for biblical scholars who make their money writing books. I trust God and live my life knowing that God loves me and will care for me. I trust Jesus and follow him because he will lead me to live a life worthy of the coming Kingdom of God. I didn’t figure out my faith. I’ve learned it and lived into it.

Where did my faith come from? It’s too much a part of me to tell you. It’s like the air that I breath. I imagine that my parents had a lot to do with it, but maybe not in the way you would think. It’s not because they made me go to church and Sunday school, but because they taught me how to trust. I never questioned that they loved me or that they would take care of me. They gave me everything I needed growing up, especially love. They taught me how to trust. Using the words of faith, it is the Holy Spirit dwelling within me that let me learn that lesson.

That God inspired ability to trust grew and was transferred to my Christian faith. I found that the gospel message that Jesus taught in the Bible was reliable. I saw how powerful faith could be as I witnessed it in the people in my Christian community. And yes, my faith was inspired by the Christlike love of people all around me, many of whom did not even know that they were Christlike. In my life faith works and it works in the people I see around me. It will work for the world.

Do you want that faith? Do you want to trust God loves us and that Jesus Christ has the power to save us in this desperate hour? I can’t convince you of that with carefully crafted sentences and well-reasoned arguments. But I can share my faith with you. I can witness my faith to you. There are a lot of other people of faith that can do the same. Look for them in your life. Through them and through scripture you can learn to trust Jesus Christ. Even if you haven’t had a lot of reasons to trust other people as you grew up, you can still come to trust God. Look for that seed of trust, the seed of faith in your heart, nurture it and watch it grow. It’s never too late. There is no better time than now.
We need faith now. We need it to nurture our hopes. Our hearts crave good news. We need to know in our hearts that our hopes are not wishes—or fishes.

I can recommend another tool for you to live into your own faith. Start praying. You may assume that faith needs to come before prayer. Why would I pray if I don’t have faith to start with? Not so. Start a conversation with God and let God take it from there. If you need some help, do what Jesus told his disciples to do. Pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. They kingdom come. They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” That’s a good conversation starter. That conversation may give you that burst of faith you need.

I’m personally putting my trust, my faith, in a lot of things right now. I trust the scientists who are working to get the current pandemic under control and to protect us from future such disasters. I trust the doctors and nurses that are selflessly caring for the afflicted. I trust our government, economists, business leaders, and workers to help us put our lives back together again when the medical threat passes. And I trust in the lovingkindness of all the people around me who share my hopes and fears and who are doing their own part to care for those around them.

But most of all I have faith in the God and the saving power of Jesus Christ. We’re coming up on Easter. I can say without reservation that for Christians this is the most hopeful time of the year. It is through our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to new life that our hope comes. Jesus, who suffered death and the grave, was raised to new and eternal life. Truly, if you can believe that, you can believe anything And through the power of the Holy Spirit, you can believe it. . So really, you just have to come to trust that one thing, what we call the Good News. You just have to let yourself trust. God will do the rest.

Resurrection means the possibility of new life. It is our hope for the future. Instead of worrying about all of the bad things that might happen, spend your time hoping for the resurrection of our lives and our worlds. Hope for a world where people are more conscious of the blessings that they receive from God every day. Hope for a world where all are united by a sense of cooperation and compassion. Hope for a world where poverty, disease and hunger become our true enemies. And you can hope for a world where you and your family will live in health and happiness. Wish upon a star if you like. But put your faith in God.

Let me give my favorite poet Emily Dickinson the final word on hope. She writes,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

May God bless you and keep you. May God make his face shine upon you. May God look upon you with grace and mercy and give you peace. Amen.

May Jesus Calm this Storm

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Pastor Jim Melvin

And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23-27

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Recently I have felt moments of panic when I wanted to cry out, “Jesus, wake up! We’re dying here.” In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic it feels like I’m living a dream–more like a nightmare, and Jesus or my faith in him is nowhere to be found. My heart starts pounding. I guess that’s how Jesus must have felt when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We can be forgiven those moments of panic and lapses in faith. It’s allowed. These are scary times in so many ways. God seems silent and distant. Sometimes we need to cry out. Those of us who rely on physical church for comfort are literally cut off from our community of faith and sharing Christ’s presence in the bread and wine of communion. And many are cut off from the physical presence of those they love. Many are cut off from jobs and a source of income. God understands our panic attacks.

Jesus’ disciples suffered just such a panic attack in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. They were in a life-threatening situation on an unpredictable body of water known for producing waves that would easily swamp the type of small fishing boat in which they were sailing. I can picture Jesus waking up to their cries, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and saying, “What’s the deal? What are you afraid of?” and then adding accusingly in the words of the King James Version of the Bible, “O ye of little faith!”

Over the years I’ve heard and preached many sermons on this passage. Usually the “O ye of little faith!” is described as Jesus giving the disciples a good scolding. Maybe he was scolding them. Maybe not. Maybe he was just crabby because they woke him from a good nap. Whether he was scolding them or not, one thing is certain; he calmed the storm and saved them. Like I said, even Jesus would later experience a crisis of faith on the cross; and God saved him.

One of the first things that I take away from this story is the message that we are not alone in our moment of panic. Panic is a normal and necessary human reaction. When we perceive a threat to our lives or our welfare, our bodies’ endocrine systems give us a healthy shot of hormones that give us extra strength and spur us to action. And when we don’t know how to act to save ourselves, we cry for help. At least I haven’t woken up screaming yet.

When I cry out in a panic, it doesn’t take me long to come to my senses and settle down. The thing that can settle me down the quickest is the knowledge that I am not alone. None of us is truly alone. Most of us have family and friends to rely on. Those of us who are of working age have our work families. In a less intimate sense, we have the company of people who come into our homes through television and media. In America we have a citizenry bound together in a society where we look out for each other. We’re beginning to see that more and more. From what I have seen, we are being united by crisis, not divided. And we have the company of people around the world who are sharing our hardships and our hopes. We are not alone. We have billions of people with us in the boat.

A word of caution here. Those of us who do have a sense of community and companionship need to be on the lookout for those who are truly isolated and lonely. I think first of all of the residents of nursing homes and the mentally ill living on the streets. I think of older people sitting home alone and scared. It is our responsibility to find ways to be with them. With all the social media platforms, we can and are getting creative. We have the resources to keep everybody connected if we have the will. It’s a win/win. When we are there for them, they are there for us.

For people of faith, we have another constant companion. You may know him as Jesus. In the Bible he is named Immanuel which means “God with us.” He never leaves us by ourselves. The risen Christ never leaves our side. Through faith and the Holy Spirit, you can always experience his presence. If you haven’t experienced Christ in your life, think of it this way. The Apostle Paul, speaking to a community of faith that he had just formed, looked out at them and said, “YOU are the body of Christ.” I take the you to mean the church, but I also take it to mean all of the caring communities of which we are apart. Christ is in the midst of all loving communities.

Also, Christ is in you. Martin Luther said that each of us are to be “little Christ’s” for each other. When someone looks at you and sees God’s love embodied in you, YOU are a little Christ. And a little Christ goes a long way. People are craving that presence. Yesterday I called a young woman just to check in with her and chat. She said, “I’ve been having a rough day. I feel a little better just to have somebody to talk to.” Sometimes that’s all it takes.

The next thing that I take away from this story is that the disciples’ cries for help are heard. Jesus wakes up. Now, this kind of contradicts Psalm 121 where it says, “Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Jesus, who is Immanuel, God on earth for us, was asleep on the job or asleep at the tiller to use nautical language.

Don’t let this throw you. Throughout the Bible, Jesus often surprises us with his humanity. Although he was the most compassionate person to ever walk this earth, he had his moments. He can be impatient and harsh like the time the Canaanite woman suffering with a demon takes a shot at him for denying her healing because she was not a Jew. She says, “Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Jesus essentially says, “You got me.” And he heals her.

I appreciate the humanity of Jesus. Because he was a human being, I can relate to him. He truly suffered. He experienced the full range of emotions that you and I do, including fear and panic. I need somebody on my level to struggle right alongside me. When we’re scared and hurting, it doesn’t help to be with someone who seems to have it all figured out and assumes that you should too. When Jesus says “ye of little faith” he is speaking the truth. Our faith is weak. That’s why we need him. In part of his explanation of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” We can’t even have faith in Christ on our own. We need Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to come to him.
So, go ahead, cry out from your own place of suffering, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You will discover that he hasn’t.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the story of Jesus calming the storm. First, it’s natural and ok to call out in our time of need. Second, we are not alone in this perilous time. Third, God hears our cries. But now comes the most important part. In the story, Jesus calms the storm and rescues them from danger.

Do you see where I’m going here? Through the assurance that we are not alone, and the promise that God listens, the storm is calmed. We are still in a small boat in a vast and changeable sea, but now we have our wits about us. Storms happen. And storms pass. And we sail on until the next one hits. Then we do it all over again. Each time we repeat this pattern, our faith is reinforced. God has been present for us in the past. God will be here for us in the future.

I think this image can help us deal with the uncertainty in our lives right now. It’s a time for us to turn to our faith and to one another for comfort and support. Then we will be calm enough to do our part to get this leaky boat to shore. Your part may be carrying on with your work to provide essential services and to keep our economy afloat. Your part may be home schooling your kids. Your part may be getting groceries for your elderly neighbor. Your part may simply be staying put at home so that you not only protect yourself, but so you don’t put a burden on the healthcare system to care for you.

In the long days ahead, we will all have time to turn to scripture. I’ll be sharing more with you in future devotions and sermons. For now, hear the storm calming words of Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

Personally, I’m going to keep reading those words over and over until they are etched on my heart. You can too. “He who keeps Israel, will neither slumber nor sleep.” We are Israel. God has been awakened by our cries. Speaking of Israel, I received a call yesterday from my friend Johnny in Jerusalem. Johnny has been our guide on many tours to the Holy Land. He reported that his family is fine, quarantined at home like many of us. Johnny says that he prays for us. Let us pray for him and for the holiest city in the world from where our help first came.

Have faith. You are not alone. God’s blessings and peace to you. Amen.

We Celebrate the Death of No One

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Pastor Jim Melvin

It is human nature, when spurred on by a sense of righteous indignation, to take joy in and celebrate the death of heinous people. We may feel like fist bumping our neighbor when a mass murderer receives a lethal injection. We saw televised images of mobs of Iraqis dancing in the streets following the violent hanging of Saddam Hussein. It is not surprising, therefore, that immediately following the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani in Iraq that social media lit up in celebration of the death of a man responsible for the death of thousands. Those who did not join in the festivities were denounced as unpatriotic.

As a Christian, I turn to scripture, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, for moral guidance. If I did not do so, I would be a hypocrite. If we bear the name Christian, we are bound by the authority of Christ as we learn to know him in scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Let me therefore turn to the words of Jesus himself that I find enlightening in our current situation. Jesus, laying out his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount told those assembled there,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

Admittedly this is a hard teaching. Loving our enemies runs contrary to human instinct. Praying for those who are doing us harm seems impossible. Few if any of us, hanging from a cross would be able to pray as Jesus did for his tormenters, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We cannot change our gut reactions toward the punishment of radical evil. We do, however, have control of and a moral obligation to be imitators of Christ in our subsequent actions. That would include refusing to join in the celebration of Suleimani’s death. If we cannot bring ourselves to pray for him, we can soberly pray that his death was just and will serve the greater purpose of peace. Peace is truly a cause for celebration.

Being a faithful Christian does not make us any less patriotic and it certainly does not make us traitors to America. To the contrary, there is no higher form of patriotism than to adhere to the religious and moral values that inspired our forefathers to establish this great nation under whose flag we live. We can also pray for those who continue to celebrate Suleimani’s death, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

525,600

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Pastor Jim Melvin

If you have seen the Broadway musical Rent, the number 525,600 may ring a mental bell; it’s the number of minutes in a year. The average life expectancy of an American today is 78 years, a couple of years more if you are a female and a couple of years less if you are unfortunate enough to be a male. Male or female, our minutes are numbered, 41,776,800 to be exact if you live that average 78 years (not counting leap years).

41,776,800 is a big number; but it’s not THAT big a number. It’s way less than a billion. We talk about US budget deficits in billions and trillions of dollars. And as the popular astronomer Carl Sagan used to say with great emphasis, “There are BBBillions and BBBillions of stars in the universe.” Our lives are small and of short duration on a cosmic scale. This life is not infinite. The clock is ticking my friends; our clocks are ticking.

Thinking about this may call your attention to the clock ticking in your chest or even send you into a panic attack. That’s not my intention. To the contrary, I’d just like us to consider the opportunities for living represented by that pile of minutes so that we don’t waste them. Each minute is made more precious by its relative scarcity.

There’s an economics term that I hear my friends in business throwing around all the time, opportunity cost. Simply put, opportunity cost is the value you give up doing one thing when you choose to do something else. For example, when I choose to stay in bed for an extra hour in the morning, I’m giving up the opportunity to make money at work or the opportunity to enjoy an hour taking a walk or going fishing with my child. On the job, my boss might not be so happy to know that spending time playing Candy Crush on my phone is robbing me and him/her of the opportunity to get some work done.

It’s a matter of the choices we make on a minute by minute, day by day basis that will ultimately add up to a life well spent or a life wasted. We shouldn’t be obsessed by this kind of accounting of our lives; I’m don’t want to analyze my life on a spreadsheet. But here are some do’s and don’ts to make healthy choices about how to spend your time.

1) Cut back on screen time. Here’s a statistic that I find shocking. According to a Nielson Company audience report, the average American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes per day peering at some kind of screen consuming media. Although we spend more and more times on our personal devices, television is still the main consumer of our time. Consider the opportunity cost. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend interacting with our children or spouses. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend at exercise and healthy recreation. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could volunteer to our church or service organization. I might even devote a few of those minutes taking a refreshing nap. In short, turn off the tv, put away the phones and tablets, and spend some time in the real world.

2) Spend more time in prayer, devotion, meditation, and other spiritual pursuits. As opposed to almost eleven hours we spend looking at screens, the average American spends about 8 minutes per day in prayer. (That’s actually a little higher than I expected.) Studies show that people who spend significant amounts of time praying and reading the Bible are healthier and live longer. Try devoting just five minutes to prayer when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. See how you feel. Also, maybe try to squeeze in 30 minutes reading the Bible or other devotional material.

3) Engage in meaningful conversations. It says in the Genesis creation story that it’s not good for us to be alone. Most of us would agree that there is nothing more important than our relationships. And yet, we seldom take the time to really talk to one another about important things like our feelings, our hopes and our fears. Sitting down to leisurely meals on a regular basis with the significant people in our lives encourages us to talk. And, of course, don’t bring the phone to the table and don’t watch tv. Just talk and chew.

4) Exercise. The Mayo Clinic says that 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week provides significant health benefits. They say that 150 minutes should be a minimum goal. Just going for brisk walks is good enough. If possible, walk in pleasant and peaceful surroundings. You might even try praying as you walk. Get double benefits for each minute spent in your perambulatory devotions. (No, I didn’t make up that word.)

5) Work hard. When you are on the job, or when you have important tasks to take care of, put your heart and your soul into it. When we are working hard and accomplishing something, we don’t have to worry about the opportunity costs. We are making good use of our time. After all, we have to get things done and make a living. No regrets here.

6) Chill. This is my favorite. Just spend some time doing nothing. I remember a Seinfeld episode where Elaine is sitting on an airplane with a friend. He asks, “What are you doing?” “Nothing,” she replies. “You have to be doing something,” he insists. “No, I’m just staring at the back of the seat.” “Boy, you really are doing nothing,” he finally admits. This may be the hardest one for you type-A people, really doing nothing. Once in a while, don’t worry about the opportunity costs. Just do nothing.

Well, that’s kind of a random list; but I hope you get the idea.

On a personal note, I’m almost 71. Assuming that I make it to 82 (that’s how long my dad and brother lived), I’ve got 5,781,600 minutes left. That’s 60 minutes less than when I sat down to write this. Talk about tick-tock. Here’s the way I’ve decided to game the system. I’m going to live each minute with Psalm 118:24 on my lips or at least in my heart: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Then how can I go wrong.

What Worries You Most

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Pastor Jim Melvin

The list is long of things that we can choose to worry about. Just turn on the TV news and that’s really most of what we hear about. It doesn’t matter if we listen to Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or our local evening news. They all barrage us with things to worry about. For your convenience I’ve compiled a list of worrisome things to keep you awake at night.

1–Death
2–Climate Change
3–Environmental Disaster
4–Gun violence
5–Immigration
6–Racism
7–Economic Recession
8–Drug Resistant Disease
9–Terrorism, Global or Domestic
10–Sexual abuse
11–Gender Inequality
12–Famine
13–War, Nuclear or Conventional
14–Cancer, Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s & Other Diseases
15–Drug Addiction
16–Gangs
17–Loss of Religion (or for some, too much religion)
18–Lack of Clean Water
19–Species extinction
20–Invading Aliens from Outer Space

These are all legitimate concerns. (Well, maybe not the last one.) Not only is the list long, many of the threats have multiple dimensions. Take gun violence, for example. You may fear the number of guns in circulation and that you may full victim to a mass shooting; or, you may fear that someone is going to restrict your right to have a gun because of the fear of others. In the case of immigration, you may be concerned about the onslaught of poor people coming to America. Or, you may be concerned that America is turning it’s back on our historic openness to people seeking freedom and opportunity here. Or, if you’re an immigrant, you may fear that ICE will come for you one day.

If any or all these fears are hounding you, I have something that may help. I’m not going to string you along like some of those internet or TV infomercials that bait you to keep watching for twenty minutes only get you to send them $19.99 for a piece of obvious junk (And get an extra one free if you order now!). My suggestion for overcoming every one of these fears is FAITH.
Yada, yada, yada. Don’t tune me out just yet. Jesus had faith that God would save him, you say, and look what it got him, a painful death on a cross. Exactly! Jesus faced the most terrible struggle and abuse imaginable including crucifixion, but in the end experienced victory and eternal life. Knowing throughout his life that his path eventually led to that hill upon which he was crucified, his faith allowed him to live life courageously and meaningfully. His example inspired those who followed him in his own day and inspires millions today who put their faith in him.

The book of Hebrews we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…(Hebrews 11:1; 12:1)

Life isn’t easy. Everybody struggles, some of us a lot more than others. Every item on my list above is a real concern (once again, maybe not the aliens). Go back and read through the list again. Now cross off number one. That’s what faith does. Through faith we’ve already won the final victory. We have the assurance that the thing we most hope for yet haven’t seen, eternal life, is a reality. Now we are freed to work on all those other problems.

If only it was as easy as I’m making it out. I know that it isn’t. Faith is hard. Faith is the work of a lifetime. And faith takes a lot of different shapes in different people. I’m a child of the ‘60’s and can still hear groups of people singing, “All that we’re saying—is give peace a chance.” All that I’m saying, is give FAITH a chance.

Pastor Jim

How to Lead

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I’ve heard it said that leaders are born not made. I’ve also heard it said that leaders are made not born. Well, which is it? Let me give you what may seem like an unsatisfying answer—it’s a little bit of both.

Leaders like Queen Victoria and George Washington were born with gifts that inspired entire nations to follow them and who, in turn, led their nations to accomplish great things. Their names live in history.

On the other hand, some unlikely people have had leadership thrust upon them against their will and rose to the occasion. Prince Albert, the future King George of England, was an awkward, stuttering, insecure man forced to lead Great Britain through WW2, which he did ably alongside Winston Churchill. King George learned to overcome his deficiencies as a leader. Another self-doubting stutterer, Moses, answered a divine call to become arguably the most important leader in the Old Testament.

Most of us will neither be born to or called to lead an entire nation through a time of war. Few of us will achieve what the world considers greatness. All of us, however, will be presented with opportunities to lead. Some of these opportunities we will recognize and seize for career or personal advancement. On other occasions we may accept a leadership role reluctantly out of a sense of duty or personal responsibility. Whether inborn or learned, the skills required for leadership are the same.

You can find list after list of leadership qualities with a simple Google search. I conducted a search and found lists of 7, 8, 10, 23, and 101 leadership qualities on the first page. My list contains only one. It’s a counterintuitive quality that Jesus used to prepare his disciples for leadership, servanthood.

Jesus was clear and consistent in this regard. He had a price on his head and knew that his days were numbered. His followers would soon be called upon to lead. He seized on a teachable moment one day walking down the road when he heard them discussing who was the greatest among them. He sat the twelve of them down and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

On another occasion he employed a visual aid in his teaching. His disciples were gathered to share what would be his last meal with them. From the honored place at the table, he stood up, and to the protest of Peter, picked up a towel and began washing his followers’ feet. He said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Nothing says leadership more than be willing to do yourself anything that you ask your followers to do. My proudest and most spontaneous leadership moment came early on in my career as Senior Pastor in a large church. One day the men’s toilet overflowed, flooded the bathroom and flowed under the door into the hallway. Let me put it discretely, it wasn’t just clean water involved. Despite the protest of the custodian who was called to the scene by the office staff, and trying not to gag, I continued wielding the mop until the cleanup was finished. Believe me, I would much rather have been washing feet.

My actions that day were unplanned and fell far short of heroic. I know for a fact, however, that a simple willingness to do a dirty job that fell outside of my job description earned me the loyalty and service of other members of my staff for years to come.

I am not a born leader. I know that I lack many leadership skills written in the Google lists, some that can’t be learned. But putting servanthood first made up for a lot of deficits. I’ve worked a long list of what people consider dirty, menial jobs in my life. They were my best leadership training.

You can be a leader whether or not you carry the title of foreman, manager, superintendent, president, or CEO. You can be a leader if you are called laborer, maid, butler custodian, hired hand or just “hey you.” Whenever you act as and have the mind of a servant, you will always be a leader and you will bear the respect of a leader. And when you lead, others will follow.

How to Celebrate a Life

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Pastor Jim Melvin

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
Psalm 98:4

I was recently asked to lead a “Celebration of Life” service for my wife’s aunt, something that I always feel privileged to do. This was the type of service that her aunt specifically requested. As I was speaking with the family, we started asking exactly what a “Celebration of Life” entails. After a few days of reflection, here is what I have come up with on how to celebrate a life.

GATHER

The first thing we must do is get together. You can’t really celebrate by email, text, or telephone. Family and friends have to get together in the same place, preferably a place that holds some significance to the person being honored. Sometimes it has to be a place of convenience accessible to the most people – and that’s ok too.

I learned the power of family gatherings through my wife’s family. Coming from a small family, we didn’t get together as a group much. But my wife had 15 aunts and uncles and a bazillion cousins, so family reunions were major events. As the aunts and uncles have passed away over the years (there is only one left in my wife’s family) the reunions mostly occur when someone dies. The first thing we say when we guiltily greet each other is “We only see each other at weddings and funerals.” That statement reinforces the importance of gathering.

REMEMBER

It says in the Book of Proverbs, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” You can substitute “the ones we love” for “the righteous” if you like. Remembering allows the person we have lost to be present with us. I’ve heard of people who have their celebration of life ceremonies before they die so that they can attend. Not necessary. When we remember, we summon their presence.

One thing that I have found about remembering is that it needs to be honest. It is important to remember the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Sugarcoating a person’s life or character in a way dishonor’s them. To truly celebrate a life, we should remember them as they were, not as we wish they were. When we remember somebody in the full context, warts and all, it opens the possibility for healing where it is necessary, and a true appreciation of what has been lost. By the way, when you remember me, don’t be TOO honest.

PARTY

This is a celebration, right? So, party on. The Bible, the Psalms in particular, are full of partying. Psalm 98:4 sings, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” When the prodigal son returned the father said, “ʽBring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.” And when Jesus attended the wedding at Cana in Galilee, they ran out of wine and so they asked Jesus to come up with180 gallons more. Tell me that wasn’t a real party.

Seriously, the party, the eating and drinking together (it doesn’t have to be alcohol) are an essential part of healing. The beginning of the banquet signals that it is time for life to move on and for happiness to enter into life again. In my midwestern Lutheran experience nothing says healing more than a hot dish and bars.

LIVE

My final step for celebrating the life of someone we love is to throw ourselves back into life again. We honor their life by going out and leading the kind of life that they would be proud of. We are the ones who now have the opportunity to create a living legacy for the one who has gone before us. That applies not only to our parents and older relatives, but also to our friends for whom the opportunity to make a direct difference in the world has been closed.

GATHER. REMEMBER. PARTY. LIVE. THAT’S THE WAY TO CELEBRATE A LIFE.

Don’t Worry — Be Happy

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Pastor Jim Melvin

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Matthew 6:25-27

I had a hard time falling asleep the other night. My Fitbit, which tracks my sleep, confirmed that the quality and duration of my sleep was far less than it should have been. I drug my butt around the whole next day and didn’t accomplish much.

What was keeping me awake? My truck’s brakes had been feeling squishy and so I took it in to the dealer before I rear-ended somebody. I didn’t get much comfort from the slogan of the brake technician in the second-rate garage in a recent AT&T commercial, “If the brakes don’t stop it, something will.” I was expecting a call from the mechanic in the morning. In the meantime, I tossed and turned worrying about how much the repair would cost me.

As it turned out, it was pretty much a worst-case scenario. I needed a new master cylinder. Ouch! $688.53 later I’m confident that my brakes will stop me before I hit the driver in front of me. (Please don’t tell me if you think I got ripped off.) Here’s my point. That master cylinder replacement would have cost me $688.53 whether or not I tossed and turned all night. As Bobby McFerrin sang, “In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry. Be happy.” $688.53 is a lot of money to have to shell out; but it wasn’t the end of the world.

Bobby McFerrin got a lot of grief for his song. It’s naïve and simplistic some people said. And in some ways, it is. There are times in life when worry is inevitable and warranted. Some really bad things happen. Much of the time, however, our worry is unnecessary. We are always better off if we can at least manage our worry, because unrestrained worry robs us of the ability to deal fully with the problems we face.

I take the words of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” seriously because Jesus said the same thing. Jesus fortified this teaching with the promise that God will care for us and provides for us no matter how bad things get. Even when we face death, he offers us eternal life. Faith provided him with that assurance, an assurance that he shared with us. Faith is a great cure for fretful insomnia in the face of the greatest challenges of life.

When our faith is shaky, there is one little technique for short-circuiting worry that helps sometimes (even though I failed to use it during my recent brake incident). In my experience, worry, particularly in the middle of the night, takes the form of a recording playing over and over in my head. When you hear that recording start to repeat, press your mental PAUSE button. If it starts up again, hit the PAUSE again. You can choose to shut it down. The more you practice; the more effective you will get. The more effect you get, the less sleep you will lose.

That’s the first step; choose not to worry. Then, be happy. How do you do that? You may find your own path to happy, but the next time I can’t sleep for worry, I think I’ll hum Bobby McFerrin’s song. “Doo doo doo doo doo doo. Don’t worry. Be happy.” With that little ditty in my head I will either go to sleep or go nuts. Don’t worry. Be happy. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I pray that your worries are little ones and that God sees you through the big ones.

Don’t Drink the Poison

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I read today that the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were carried out by an Islamist group in revenge for the lethal attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which occurred just over a month ago. The Christchurch attack took 50 lives; the Sri Lanka attack claimed over 300. The perpetrators of the Sri Lanka attack are the numerical winners by an over six to one margin. Of course, there were no winners in this violent exchange, only losers. Among the losers are all civilized people.

You can google a lot of pithy quotes about revenge. “While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself” and “Seeking revenge is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill your enemies” are two of my favorites. But turn to Jesus is you want true words of wisdom on the subject. Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Since both terrorist events took place half a world away, it gives us as Americans a chance to see with greater clarity the poisonous effects of revenge. The New Zealand attacker justified his attack based on a psychopathic desire to seek vengeance against Muslims for violence against Christians dating as far back as the 14th Century. Now the Sri Lankan Islamists have extracted their eye for an eye. Everybody loses.

Jesus’ words about hatred, revenge and love of our enemies are the most challenging of all his teachings. The twisted wires of our DNA program us to hurt back when somebody hurts us or someone we love. As children of God, however, we are not slaves to our evolutionary programming. The Gospel of love that Jesus lived and died for allows us to short-circuit the cycle of violence. And the merciful God known to the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world empowers them to do likewise.

But only if we DON’T DRINK THE POISON!