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resurrection Archives | Chaplain | JM Faith at Work

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

My Lent Just Stalled

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Pastor Jim Melvin

We all hope and pray that the twin tragedies of the Boeing Max 8 crashes which occurred recently in Indonesia and Ethiopia will not be repeated. It appears that the crashes were ironically caused by the malfunction of a system specifically designed to avoid crashes. When sensors detect that the airplane is climbing at too steep an angle and is about to stall, the pilot’s control console begins to shake, and an audible alarm is sounded. If the warning is not heeded, the plane will lose lift and fall out of the sky. Unfortunately, in the case of these two recent flights, the sensors and computer systems malfunctioned and sent the planes into fatal dives.

My Lenten flight this year seemed to be experiencing an unremarkable take-off. I got ashes smeared on my forehead on Ash Wednesday and felt appropriately, I thought, repentant. I enrolled in a mid-week Lenten Bible study at my church and diligently read the assigned scriptures, studied my lessons, and then engaged with my assigned group in meaningful discussion. I even attended Wednesday night suppers and worship in addition to Sunday morning services. I felt the promise of new life rising in me even as the sap started rising beneath the bark of the trees in my yard.

Then it happened. My stall warning system went off. My flight controls began to shake, and a computer-generated voice shouted in my ear, “Warning! Stall! Warning! Stall!” Well, not really; but my lack of enthusiasm and my sudden depressed attitude toward everything told me that something was going wrong. It didn’t help that I got the flu and the weather stayed dark and grey. Every day I checked the buds on the maple tree in my back yard only to notice that the slight swelling and pinkness that I had noticed several weeks ago had failed to advance. Even the buds had stalled. Alas! (I’ve included a picture as evidence.)

At the point of panic, I determined to regain control. My take-off angle had been too steep. My enthusiasm for the promise of new life which builds during Lent (and spring) had created in me a set of unrealistic expectations. Lent is a process. Lent is a journey. It mirrors Jesus’ journey to the cross; and that was no easy path to follow. It was slow and grueling. He stumbled and fell along the way. He experienced frustration, betrayal, and fear. I guess I can expect the same in my modest journey.

For me, correcting the stall means going back to basics. I resolve to continue my Lenten study including worship, Bible study and sharing soup suppers with my Lenten companions. I’ll go outside and take a walk even though the few robins in town appear surly and shivering under the bushes. Most of all I’ll try not to lose hope. I’ll keep this plane aloft, set a heading to the east and soar into the Easter sunrise.

But darn it; I wish the buds on my maple tree would pop!

My First Breath

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I took my first breath yesterday – of spring that is. As it happens almost every year, it took me by surprise. I was taking a walk on the Ice Age trail beside the still flooded Rock River and Wham! Not only did I experience the first breath of spring, it felt like the first breath of my life. That’s what spring is all about, the breathing of new life into creation. And after this hard winter, boy did I need it.

There is something subtle and wonderful in the air at this time of year that gives it that spring quality. It’s a combination of temperature, humidity, pollen content, and smells of damp earth that combine to provide that first-breath experience. Once that first spring breath enters our lungs, however, all of our senses are re-activated after winter slumber. Alongside the trail I noticed that the tips of the branches of the trees and bushes are swollen and pink. The wind felt strangely gentle on my cheek and the soil, rock hard a week ago, yields soft under my foot. The cardinal sings unnaturally loud and clear – Spring is here! Spring is here!

It comes as no surprise that ancient religions celebrated renewal and rebirth in the springtime. It is also no surprise that Christians chose this time of year to celebrate Easter with its message of resurrection to new life. The date of Easter is tied to spring, being celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox. That first breath of spring reminds us of the first breath of eternal life.

That first breath of spring presents each of us with opportunity. It opens us up to experience life anew. Our “spring housecleaning” can mean more than just going through the closet, cleaning out the basement, and putting the garage back in order. It can be a time to straighten out damaged or broken relationships. It can be a time to look at our work in a new way and commit ourselves to new goals and improvement. And not to be overlooked, being freed from winter confinement provides opportunity for exercise and the healthy renewal of our bodies and minds.

Whether or not you have inhaled spring and new life yet, it’s not too late to take advantage of the new life it brings. It’s not just that first breath that counts, there are many more to follow. To butcher an old saying, “This is the first breath of the rest of your life.” Breath deep. Enjoy it. Be made new.

Day of the Dead

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Day of the Dead
By Pastor Jim Melvin

A Holiday called The Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos in Spanish, may sound a bit ghoulish for those of us in Anglo culture. The same goes for the skull and skeleton decorations associated with the celebration. That’s because the Mexican holiday is a centuries’ old mash-up of Aztec festivals and the Christian observance of All Souls Day. The imagery of Día de Muertos becomes a little less alien when we consider the proximity of our secular Halloween on October 31st with All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.

We live in a death denying culture. Our inability or unwillingness to talk about our own mortality can make dying something to be afraid of. If we avoid thinking or talking about the ends of our own lives, it can also inhibit us from thinking about and cherishing the memories of those who we have loves and lost. Suppressing our memories compounds our loss.

Día de Muertos is a day of celebration. Instead of skeletons and skulls being frightful images, on this day of the year they become a beautiful reminder of the resurrected life of our loved ones who have died and as an occasion to remember them. The vibrant colors and the whimsical characters that come alive on Día de Muertos are not intended to instill fear but bring joy. It is a time when the dead come to us to comfort and assure us.

The ghosts, goblins, and superheroes will be roaming the streets on Halloween in search of candy. In the next few days many people will attend some kind of religious observance of the dead; at least the names of those who have died during the previous year will be read at Sunday worship. It would also be a good time for each of us to set aside some time to simply name, remember, and give thanks for those who inhabit a life which comes nearer on Día de Muertos.

On a practical note, this would be a good time to rent the animated film Coco. It’s about a little boy named Miguel who is transported the Land of the Dead where he encounters his great-great-grandfather and tries to help him return to his family among the living. In addition to being entertaining, the film will also generate some conversation and thinking about the meaning of Día de Muertos.

God bless.