Saturday, April 2, 2016

Heaven, Hell...and Getting Our Lunch

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”
God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”
Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
The man said, “I don’t understand.”

God smiled. It is simple, he said, Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves… [Author unknown]

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Collection of Story Ideas/Metaphors from SermonCraft 2015

Forgiveness: Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson -

Coaching 3 & 4 year-old soccer as a metaphor for life: "herd ball" - might go in the right goal, might go in the wrong goal - might fall flat on our face - might leave with no notice to use the bathroom....mob mentality: the direction you are going isn't a direction....sin...Directives from the Y to coaches: 1) this is the ball; 2) this is the goal; 3) the ball goes in the goal; 4) don't touch it with your hands...a little older: trying to get 4 year olds to learn position: "stand here". Ball goes by because they have been told to "stand here"...It's okay for little kids to be really bad at soccer - they're having fun! But we expect they will mature in their ability to grasp the purpose...Do we have church members who are not willing to mature beyond 4-year-old soccer?

Losing a child in the community worked together to bring her back to me...before Mom could see her, calling out her name....child's face when she found her mother...could tie into personal story of a time you were lost and what you felt...different story of being lost and worried and having a strange adult yell at you: "You need to be with your mother!" Opposite experience to having community come together...another story of a lost child seeking an adult who looked trusting (grandmotherly)..."If you're lost, who do you go to?" (a mom with children, etc.)...Can we equip our church members with "where do you go when you are lost?" easy to shut down when we are lost; can't imagine forward momentum...Joseph & Mary leaving Jesus behind in Jerusalem..."People of Wal-Mart" came to help - this website disses people who shop in Wal-Mart; but these are the people who worked together for good. How do we judge others? "Aren't there churches for people like that?" Film people in the congregation telling their own "lost" stories...Shouldn't churches have a plan for people who are "lost" (been gone for 6 months?)

Only do 52 children's sermons - repeat them every year, so children (adults), over time, internalize these messages.

Doubt: Woman climbs into trunk of car and shuts it to see if light goes out (WHY????). Brings keys in with her....Police have to come to get her out. "It seemed like a good idea at the time..." There was a witness to this!  Mob mentality, we condone this..and then, someone is locked in...perspective of doubt: if we let doubt overwhelm us, it can take us to places we don't want to go....Woman took a home pregnancy test, came out positive, she didn't believe it, took 3 more of different brands, husband comes home, doesn't believe, he pees on the stick to prove that this test can work...Driving back home, habitually, to see if the garage door is down....old SNL skit, family imagining what could go wrong, then drive off a cliff...parents tell you "don't ever touch the cigarette lighter," but you do...when doubt overrides common sense....we know better than Jesus...Do we have to be burned to believe?...another part of the spectrum: people sometimes do "dumb" things because they believe Jesus wants them to (unexamined spirituality)...How do you know about the faith if you don't step into it.

Purpose of the camera...from taking pictures of treasured moments/loved ones...evolution to selfie...focal point has moved to self...Focus as Christians varies: God, Others, works both ways...Emmy Awards - Julia Louis-Dreyfus and producers of Veep, she is trying to take selfie with veteran presenter, he turns phone around as if to say: no, this is the future, take pictures of them...Kid President: We need to live in a world with fewer selfies and more "other people-ies"...perspective: story of family taking a long time to get pictorial directory picture made, parishioners behind them thought they were very rude; but really, they didn't have any idea that people were waiting, they didn't know how many rooms there were, how many salespeople, etc. Had to communicate with angry people to explain the difference in perspective...Wendell Berry poem: Once there was a man who filmed his vacation..."Screen Time" from Ted Radio Hour..Ted Talk by Monica Lewinsky on shame...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Follower, or Admirer?

Brian Stoffregen shares this story:

There were two brothers in Georgia during the 1950's. One decided that in opposition to the dominant culture of the day, he was going to support and participate in the formation of a multi-ethnic community. The other worked as an attorney for a prominent law firm. Both were Christians and attended church regularly. As the multi-ethnic community formed and social pressure forced them into court proceedings, the one brother asked his attorney brother to help them with the legal work. The brother refused, saying that he could lose his job. The pressure increased to help with a reminder that he was a Christian. The lawyer responded, "I will follow Jesus to his cross, but it is his cross. I have no need to be crucified." To this his brother replied, "Then you are an admirer of Jesus, but not his disciple."

[Original post can be found here.]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Do I Have to Forgive?

They say lightening never strikes twice.  John Rogers knew better.  Everyone said how amazingly he had coped with redundancy.  It is no easy task to begin again, aged 55, after a lifetime working for the same company.  With a lightness of heart he sank all his redundancy money into his new enterprise.  If his wife thought it foolhardy, she didn’t say so.  Just a few said, “What an idiot to blow it all, he’ll be bankrupt in a year;” though never to his face.

He rented a unit at the new Craft Park; one of those out of town shopping sites with a large car park, a cafĂ©, and a play area for the kids.  The unit was really an elaborate shed, one of about thirty on the sight.  Equipping it with tools, buying in wood, and creating a display and sales area took all his cash, but it didn’t matter.  What was important was that he could now make things.  His speciality: wooden toys.  Sometimes very traditional things—rocking horses, the grain of the wood dictated the racing shape of the animal.  Sometimes new things that seemed strange as wooden toys—alien space creatures that came apart, and docking satellite stations with flashing lights.

The business advice woman at the bank said his margins weren’t large enough.  He was covering his costs and making enough to live on - just, but he’d never be able to expand, and if supplies and sales got too out of kilter he’d have cash flow problems.  He nodded and made some encouraging noises, but in his heart he didn’t care.  He was making things.  He was happy, perhaps the happiest he’d been in his whole life.

The arson attack was so mindless.  A teenager fooling about, oblivious to just how paint, and wood, and varnish, would blaze.  He was a lad newly come to the area, in a foster home to prepare him for life on his own.  John knew nothing of him.  He was pleased that the magistrate thought the matter so serious; pleased that the sullen youth got a custodial sentence.  But that didn’t make up for what he’d lost; somehow all his motivation had gone up in flames.

The insurance company paid out.  The site manager was efficient in the rebuilding of the unit.  Customers urged him on.  But as the smell of the burning lingered about the place, so did the dead weight of John’s wounding.  It was as if the fire had burnt from him all the enjoyment he’d once had.  He was a victim, and he couldn’t shake it off.

And sure enough the business began to fail.  His toys didn’t have the same originality about them anymore.  The first Christmas after the fire John just got-by.  The second Christmas was a disaster.  “It’ll not survive,” they said, “It was obvious from the first that it wasn’t a sensible thing to do with his redundancy money.”

The last thing people expected was that he would take on staff: a young fella called Andy with a beard and a pony tail, a ring in his nose and in one of his ears.  No one knew where John found him.  It was all so unlikely; another indication that John had really lost it.

How surprised the scoffers were when the business started to turn around.  Andy had a talent for working wood, and John was soon able to build on it.  Teaching Andy rekindled his enthusiasm.  For the first time for two years he had ideas for new toys.

And Andy brought something new to the business as well.  Computers were his thing.  Before joining John he’d been on an intensive course and he put his learning to good use.  When their work featured in a Sunday supplement orders started to come thick and fast.  They started selling from their own website.  The woman at the bank was impressed.  “The business has turned a corner,” she said.  When people asked John, “Are you thinking of retiring?”  “Never,” was the reply.

But lightening can strike twice.  The lad who broke into the workshop was after the computer.  Why then did he smash the rest of the place up?  Wrecking the stock, smashing the lathe, throwing customer files everywhere, and pouring varnish over the lot.  The police seemed to know who he was, but there wasn’t enough proof to arrest him.  “We’ll start again.  There’s nothing here that a few weeks’ effort won’t put to rights.”  But John’s optimism found no echo in Andy.  The younger man burned with anger.

John had no idea how Andy knew who the suspect was.  He had no idea either of the revenge he intended.  It wasn’t until the police came to tell him that Andy was charged and in the cells that he knew anything was going on.  Andy had followed the suspect to a local pub, cornered him in the toilets, and beaten him until an arm and a nose were broken.

Minutes after the police left, John put the notice on the door.  It simply said, “Closed Down.”  With a heavy heart he turned off the lights, and locked his workshop for the last time.

A few days later the site manager came to see him.  “Don’t you realise how much money you’re going to lose giving up the lease without notice?  The business has got such prospects, why end it now?  You recovered after the fire, you can recover now.”  And sensing the real cause of John’s hurt, he added, “Surely the court will take into account why Andy did it?  They’ll be lenient on him.  After all it was his first offence.”

“No, not his first,” said John, “he’s already served time for arson.”

Jesus ended his story, “The Lord was angry. So he handed his servant over to the courts until he had paid all his debt.”  And he added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you unless each of you sincerely forgives those who wrong you.”

[Found at:]

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oppressor and Oppressed

This story comes from a sermon on Jeremiah 29:11 by Nathan Colquhoun (1/11/10):

Here is an example of someone who tried to do what Jeremiah was telling Israel to do.
Mike Pfotenhauer is a man who started a backpack company called Osprey.  You have probably heard of them because they make great backpacks.  If you are serious into hiking, mountain climbing, then you would most likely be using an Osprey backpack.  Eventually they got pretty good that they moved to Colorado and bought an old factory outside a Najavo Native reserve.  They did their best to hire almost all local people for their workforce from the reserve.  They even got profiled in Fortune Magazine for being one of America’s best companies.  They keep growing bigger an bigger.  They were one of the first companies to start integrating recyclable materials into their packs and they kept innovating and coming up with new ideas.
The hard part is that other companies started coming in and offering backpacks for really cheap because they were making stuff cheaper overseas and the competition started getting really tough to actually sell backpacks so they had to start making layoffs and it was hard to keep up.  So eventually they made the decision to shift some of their production overseas to Vietnam.  Now we all know about overseas production and the types of conditions that the workers go through a lot of times just so we can get low prices on all of our stupid stuff we buy.  They have to work very long hours, under harsh conditions and for very little pay.  So Mike and his wife decide that if they are going to do this, they want to do it right.  So they move overseas so that they can be with the people who will be building their product.  They packed up their family, and moved to Vietnam so that they themselves could experience first hand the conditions in which they were asking people to work.
Where the average wage in Vietnam is $40, they pay an average of $80 a month.  Where the average work week is 63 hours, Osprey’s average is 48 hours.  Osprey pays time and half for overtime and double time for holidays.  This is all going on where their top boss is working alongside of them in the same community and living in the same conditions.  Mike was unwilling to exploit people just to increase his bottom line and keep his business in tact.  Mike chose to understand and be with the people he would typically be oppressing.  Not only that, he chose to pick up everything he knew and was comfortable with and built a house and planted gardens in and amongst them.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

From the Inside Out

Pastor Anthony Evans tells about the night that darkness descended on New York City during the blackout of 2003. It was a chaotic night, you may remember. Evans happened to be there that night. Manhattan, including Wall Street and the United Nations, was completely shut down, as were all area airports and all rail transportation including the subway.
There was one exception to that darkness. Evans happened on a restaurant where people were lined up to get hot food. He reports that in this dark situation there was this one place with all this light and joy and music and laughter and excitement. He went over to the assistant manager and said, “Mister, I don’t understand. It’s dark everywhere. The airport is right over there and it’s dark. My hotel is right over yonder and it’s dark too. Everything is dark, and yet you are lit up like a Christmas tree. How can this be?”
The manager said, “It’s really fairly simple. When we built this [place], we built it with a gas generator. We’ve got power on the inside that is not determined by circumstances on the outside. Even though there’s nothing happening out there, there’s plenty happening in here.”
Anthony Evans goes on to say, “When you accepted Jesus Christ, He came into the inside. So what’s happening on the outside shouldn’t determine whether or not you’ve got a lighthouse on the inside. What’s happening out there shouldn’t determine your joy. God has given us a generator of life and liberty in our souls – through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We don’t have to live our lives determined by life’s circumstances.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

I Want to be God

    "Once upon a time there lived a fisherman and his wife.  Their
       home was a humble two roomed cottage with a tiny garden and a
       well.  Every day the fisherman would go out in his little boat
       and in the evening bring home his catch, sometimes good,
       sometimes poor.  This was their livelihood.

       But the fisherman's wife was discontented.  "Why should I have to
       live in this hovel?  Is it too much to expect a decent home with
       water and electricity and a kitchen?   I wish I was a lady."  
       Her continual grousing made the fisherman quite miserable.

       One day, something happened which changed their lives.  The man
       caught a strange and beautiful fish which startled him by
       speaking.  "Please thrown me back into the sea and I'll grant
       whatever you wish."

       The fisherman thought a bit and then replied, "So be it.  I wish
       my wife was a lady and lived in a proper house with water,
       electricity and a kitchen."

       When he returned that evening he found that his wish had been
       granted, and his wife was very pleased.  But as the months passed
       she began to grumble again, "Is it too much to expect something
       better than this pokey house?  I wish I was a Duchess, with a
       mansion and servants and a carriage.  Why did you ask for so
       little?  I'm sure the fish meant us to do better than this."

       Driven by her complaints nagging, the fisherman tried to contact
       the fish again and rowed his boat to the spot.  No sooner had he
       called than the fish appeared and agreed to his request.

       But the duchess was still not satisfied.  Within a month she was
       grumbling and complaining again.  "I wish I was a queen, go and
       see your fish again".  And so he did.

       Life in the palace was luxurious, but the fisherman's wife, now a
       queen, wasn't content for long.  "What I would really like" she
       said, "would be to be God.  I'm sure your fish will understand
       that this is what I wanted all along."

       When the man returned from his last visit to his fishy friend, he
       found no palace on the shore, no mansion, not a  house.  Not even
       his little old cottage was there.  But then he heard crying, and
       noticing a cave in the cliff face, he went closer.  Inside it was
       fashioned into a rough stable.  There were 2 oxen and a donkey. 
       And in the manger a little baby lay crying."

       The fisherman's wife had her wish.

The wife in our rewrite of the story had, of course, forgotten what God is
like in this world, in human flesh.

She'd forgotten about Christmas and Passiontide.  
       She'd forgotten about the manger and the cross.  
            She'd forgotten that our God is a God who comes and who
identifies with his people, and especially with the poorest and the most
humble of people

It is so easy to forget what it cost Jesus to come to earth as one of us.

[from Rev. Richard J. Fairfield:]