Thursday, February 23, 2017

Called Over the Top

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.
Jesus said so.
Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.
If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”
Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyonewants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.
Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with…disturbing generosity.
Why should we do all this?
Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.
But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.
It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.
Be outrageous.
Be stupid.
Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.
Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.
Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Five Countries, Three Continents

As you probably know by now, Patti and I have returned from our mission trip to Liberia, Africa with the Farmer to Farmer mission team.  This was my first trip to Africa, and Patti’s second, having been to Kenya fifteen years ago.  But while both of us have considerable travel experience, there was a lot for us to learn and digest.  In the days and months ahead we will be sharing our stories in church and putting our photographs into some sort of presentation as we attempt to tell the story of what we did, what Farmer to Farmer is attempting to accomplish, and why we want to invite our friends to go with us on a future trip.
For now however, I just want to give you a really short outline of what we did.
Our trip to Harrisburg began with a trip to the airport in Cleveland on January 10th, where our team divided into two groups.  For reasons that I still don’t completely understand, the folks making our reservations found that the cheapest rates could only be purchased for groups of no more than four people.  So, although all of us met in Cleveland, three of us were heading toward Brussels, Belgium through Washington, DC, and four through Toronto, Canada.  Patti, Pryde Bass, and I left for Washington first and the others were supposed to leave five minutes before us.  But as we arrived in Washington (and cell service), we discovered that they had been delayed by poor weather in Toronto and would miss their connection to Brussels.  Even worse, once we arrived in Brussels (and a good internet connection) we found that they would arrive in Liberia almost a day and a half behind us.
Our flight to Brussels was uneventful and after several hours we boarded our flight to Monrovia, Liberia with a stop in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  The pilot announced that they hoped to make the stop in Freetown as short as possible but we soon discovered that wasn’t going to happen.  Apparently, the ticketing agents in Freetown forgot that although many people had deplaned, some of us were staying onboard for the trip to Monrovia.  As a result, they issued more tickets than there were seats.  What resulted was a really jam packed airplane, overstuffed luggage compartments, and I’m sure that I saw one or two passengers sitting in the jump seats that are reserved for the crew.
We arrived in Monrovia around 9:30 pm (January 11th), were picked up and swept through the VIP line and out to a waiting car (with air conditioning) while our hosts made sure that our passports were properly processed and collected our baggage.  The drive to Harrisburg took two hours and after traveling for a day and a half, I didn’t do well sitting in the back seat.  After about an hour and a half I had to ask the driver to pull over (in the middle of nowhere) so I could… um… get some air.
Eventually our team was reunited and we got to work.  While we were there we worked on improvements to the Farmer to Farmer guest house in Harrisburg to make future mission teams a little more comfortable, but we also did a great many things to help Saint John’s United Methodist Church and the people of Harrisburg.  Some of our group took steps to get a deed to the property on which we hope to build a new high school.  This is a big deal because this type of document can only be processed by the federal government and there are a great many steps (and necessary signatures) that are required.  Other members got the ball rolling with a United Methodist team (a part of the Liberian Annual Conference) that digs wells to restore a well at Saint John’s UM church, but also to repair three non-functioning wells in town for the people of Harrisburg, and to dig one more in the village of Painesville near Monrovia.  We also built room dividers, blackboards, bookshelves, and study tables for the public school, donated school supplies to Saint John’s preschool, to the Lutheran elementary school, and to the government (public) school, and donated medicine and supplies to the community health clinic.  There’s more to our story but these are the highlights.
Our return trip took about from Harrisburg, to Monrovia, to Brussels, to Toronto, to Cleveland, and then home.  Altogether to took about 36 hours, with around half of that flying and half just sitting in airports waiting.
In the end, although it sounds a little strange, what’s even greater than the things that we did was simply our presence there.  To a people who live far from the big city, in a country ruined by decades of civil war, to people who have less than most of us can even imagine, just being there is a reminder that they have not been forgotten, that people care, that the church cares, and that their lives matter to someone.  I had been told about this before we left and again after we arrived, but as we met people and made friends there, it was easy to see in their faces, and by their actions, that this was absolutely true.  Seeing that we were there, and just knowing that we cared enough to offer a little help, was enough to give people hope.
Again, wow.
Stay tuned.  We’ll be sharing more about our trip in the days ahead. 
Meanwhile, please pray and ask God if he is calling you to join us on our next trip (in a year or two).
Pastor John

Trinity Remembers Alan Lee Keller

Alan Lee Keller

May 29, 1960 - January 13, 2017 
Resided in North Fort Myers, FL

Alan L. Keller, 56, passed away at home in North Fort Myers, FL, surrounded by his family on January 13, 2017.

He was born on May 29, 1960 in Massillon to Arvine Keller and the late Dorothy (Yatsko) Keller.  Alan was a graduate of Perry High School, Akron University and Embry-Riddle University.

Alan loved to be the life of the party. He was kind, thoughtful, generous and caring. He had never met a stranger.  He thought of life as an adventure and loved to live it. He worked as a Technology Specialist for Delta Airlines for thirty – four years.

In addition to his father he is also survived by his sister, Cheryl (Richard) Feucht; three nephews, Scott (Revital) Feucht, Cory (Maggie) Feucht and Drew Feucht; and two grand-nephews, Camden and Owen.

Friends may call on Saturday, January 21, 2017 from 10:00am-11:00am at Trinity United Methodist Church where a funeral service will be held at 11:00am, Rev. Julia Wertz, officiating.  Burial will be in Union Lawn Cemetery.

Messages of condolence may be sent to the family at

Alan has requested in-lieu of flowers that his friends and family should show love for your fellow man, give generously to those in need and live life to the fullest.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trinity Church Mourns the loss of Lann Ford

Today, Trinity Church said goodbye and mourned the loss of our friend Lann Ford.  She was an amazing woman who lived life on her own terms and fought for what she wanted.  But she was also a cheerleader for her husband, a great mother to her children, and a powerful advocate for her students.  Although she has lost the battle to her disease, she fought bravely with such humility and grace that has inspired us all.

You can find Lann's complete Obituary and Eulogy here:
(click here).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Called to Be More

Being a "follower" of Jesus isn't enough

Sunday, we begin another new year.  It is the season of making resolutions, where people promise themselves that they’ll do something different than what they’ve usually done.  Resolutions are built on hope.  We hope that we’ll do better than we usually do, but in reality, by the end of January most resolutions are already dead and buried.
People who are regulars at the gym know that the parking lots will be jammed in January but by February things are back to normal.  Running seems to be even worse.  There is a core group of dedicated walkers in our neighborhood but not a lot of runners.  Since I was often out running at the same time of day I knew which people were regulars.  There were a handful of folks who were always out, rain, shine, snow, ice, or brutal heat.  It didn’t matter, they were there.  But in the spring, there was a surge of folks just enjoying the nice weather, and then a similar jump in the fall, but once it was too hot, or too cold, these folks all disappeared. 

But blogger Michael Hyatt has noted that there is big difference between a resolution and a goal.  While a resolution is built on hope, something that we hope to do better, a goal is built on an intended destination, a target that we intend to reach.  And so, when things get difficult, some vague desire to “do better” just isn’t enough to carry us through.  But a sincere goal of running a race, losing five pounds in time for beach weather, or other reasonable and attainable targets are enough of an emotional and psychological motivation to push us a little harder.

But how does any of this make a difference in our spiritual lives?
It makes a difference in the language that we use and in the language that Jesus intended for us to use.  You see, we have gotten into the habit of calling ourselves followers of Jesus and, while that’s not wrong, it doesn’t go far enough.  Jesus called Peter, James, John, and all of us, to follow him, but he also called us to become more than that. 

Jesus called people to follow him so that they could become his disciples.

While some dictionaries use these two words as synonyms, scripturally, as well as in practice, they are quite different.  A follower is a person who likes what the leader does and follows them from place to place to watch them and see what happens next.  But a disciple is a learner who follows so that they can become more like the person that they re following.   A disciple’s goal is to learn so much from the teacher that they begin to live and act like the teacher in everything they do.  The ultimate goal is for the learner to become so much like the teacher, that they themselves are sent out to teach and to make more disciples.

Here’s an example: for years the rock band, The Grateful Dead, had a loyal following of people called “dead heads” who knew everything the band played and who followed them from place to place all over the country.  But even though they were dedicated, and had all the songs committed to memory, they were still just followers.  In contrast, many of you have heard Buddy Rich, the drummer who played for Frank Sinatra and who led his own band.  Buddy Rich was one of the most talented drummers in history.  I am certain that he had a great many followers, but he also had a small handful of disciples.  As busy as he was, Buddy Rich taught drum lessons, but as skilled as he was, he only taught the best of the best.  Buddy Rich taught just a few people who were both highly skilled and professionally driven to become the best drummers in the world.  Although most of them aren’t household names, nearly every one of them played in bands that you’ve heard of or led bands of their own.  Likewise, there’s a big difference between being a fan of a famous sports team, and working hard to become good enough to try out and play for that team. 

That’s the difference between following and becoming a disciple.

We often call ourselves followers, but we can’t stop there.

We are called to something bigger, something more demanding, and much more important.

The language that we use makes a difference.

It makes a difference if we make resolutions or set goals.

We sell ourselves short when we think of ourselves as followers.

We are called to be more.       

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Trinity Says Goodbye to Joy Reed

This week Trinity Church said goodbye to a dear friend and a truly fun-filled spirit as we marked the passing of Joy Reed.  She will be remembered by folks from Trinity, but also a great many students from Genoa Elementary, some of whom she scared half to death!  You can read her full obituary and eulogy here:

Joy Reed Obituary and Eulogy


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Doing What is Hard

This past week my wife, Patti, and I traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina with other members of our extended family to watch our son Noah graduate from Marine Corps boot camp.  After graduation, we spent a day on the beach and then headed home.  During those twelve hours in the car, he shared some of the stories of how he had spent the last three months, of what he had done, and some of the things that happened during his training.  While I well remember the difficult things that we did during my eight weeks of Army basic training, what he did goes well beyond many of the things that I experienced.  For thirteen weeks these young men (the Marines also have women, but men and women train separately) did things that most of them, as well as their parents, would have thought impossible only a short time earlier.  But as I listened to Noah share his stories, I began to think of how this mirrors our walk with God and I thought of several lessons that would be good for us all to remember.
  • We are capable of more than we think we are – All of these young men accomplished things in thirteen weeks that they never dreamed they were capable of doing. And yet, all of them succeeded.  Why?  They were capable all along.  They had the ability all along.  All they needed was a little training, some encouragement, and the assurance that they could succeed.  We are exactly like them.  The only reason that we do not rise to the challenges that face us is our belief that we are not capable.  We may need a little training and a little encouragement, but it is often our failure to believe in ourselves that holds us back.
  • We don’t do what we can simply because we do not try – Similarly, when we allow our challenges to intimidate us, we retreat. We fail because we are too afraid to try.
  • We often shy away from doing what we can because it sounds difficult – Not everyone is cut out to be a United States Marine, but even fewer will attempt it because what they do sounds difficult. Make no mistake, it is.  What those young men did in thirteen weeks was almost certainly the hardest thing that they had ever done.  For some of them, it will, for the remainder of their lives, be the hardest thing they ever did.  But they will always remember that they succeeded and the memory of that success will make them less afraid to attempt other difficult things.  The worst thing that can happen if we attempt something difficult is that we might fail.  But if we do not try, we fail anyway.
  • We accomplish more as a team than as individuals – From the very beginning of boot camp the Marines are repeatedly reminded that they are a team. As platoons, as battalions, and whole of the Unites States Marines they are a team.  They succeed and fail together.  And together they regularly accomplish things that others believed to be impossible.  We regularly see thing play out in church as well.  There are many things that I could never do by myself but we regularly do together.  From Vacation Bible School, to Sunday worship, to mission projects and everything in between, our success comes only through all of us working together.  This is equally true of our larger church connection when many thousands, even millions of us work together to reduce poverty, build hospitals, and even reduce the death rate from malaria by fifty percent in continent of Africa.  We may not be the United States Marines, but our team is accomplishing amazing things every day. 
I’m sure that there are more parallels that I could point out, but I hope that you will remember this:
You are capable of more than you imagine. 
Never be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to attempt big things, or try new things, because they sound difficult.  We often discover that the most worthwhile things are not easy. 
But together, with God, we can accomplish the impossible.

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