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Temptations of the Church in the Wilderness

  The American church is in the throes of a wilderness experience. For Jesus, it was 40 days and 40 nights. For us, it is going on 30 years. Authors Jim Davis, Michael Graham, and Ryan Burge describe what this wilderness experience amounts to in their 2023 book The Great Dechurching . They write: The U.S. is currently experiencing the largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country, as tens of millions of formerly regular Christian worshipers nationwide have decided they no longer desire to attend church at all. These are what we now call the dechurched. About 40 million adults in America today used to go to church but no longer do, which accounts for around 16 percent of our adult population. For the first time in the eight decades that Gallup has tracked American religious membership, more adults in the United States do not attend church than attend church. More people have left the church in the last twenty-five years than all the new people who became Christ

Meditations, Ep. 3: The Way To Take

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Meditations, Ep. 2 - Sacrifice of Selfishness

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Meditations, Ep. 1: Holding Jesus Salvation

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The Stumbling Block Principle & Shame's Cure

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I’d like to first focus on our scripture from I Corinthians 8 . It is a fascinating passage. Paul gives us a principle that I think is rather important, one we would be wise to implement in our own lives. I’m dubbing this principle, the stumbling block principle. This is what Paul is getting at: For Paul, no thing is evil in and of itself. How a thing is used might be evil. The results from a thing being used might be evil. But the thing that is used itself isn’t evil. An inanimate object is neutral. Here’s an example – cyanide. Now, we all know that cyanide is toxic, a deadly poison. But cyanide isn’t evil in and of itself. It has positive uses, after all. The development of photography, that process, uses cyanide, for example. Cyanide salts are used in metallurgy for electroplating, metal cleaning, and removing gold from its ore. Apple seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide. Does that make apple seeds or apples evil? No, cyanide isn’t evil in and of itself. But as Agatha Chri

On Snow Days & the Need for Grace

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As a kid, I could not imagine what went into the decision to cancel school because of the weather. I simply wanted as many snow days school wanted to give me. I’d get upset if an expected snow day didn’t happen. There was nothing worse than going to sleep secure in your belief in a snow day, then waking up and seeing the forecast was wrong and school was happening. Oh, those mornings were the worst! As someone who is now involved in calling snow days, I assert that making such a call is an imperfect science. In fact, it is an imperfect art. Why? Because there are so many variables to consider when deciding whether to cancel an event due to weather, especially an event called Sunday worship. Think about it: there is the weather in the present, there’s the hourly forecast, and there’s also what has occurred in the last few hours such as change in temperature. Then, there’s the state of the roads, whether interstate highways, state highways, city and suburban streets, rural roads, etc

IXOYE

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Seven of the 12 Jesus’ disciples were fisherman. In our gospel reading this morning, we meet Peter, Andrew, James and John, a pair of brothers both engaged in their work.   Three of these men – Peter, James, and John -  will become the big three of the twelve. They are mentioned the most. We know the most about them. They are there at the essential events of Jesus’ adult life and ministry – the Transfiguration, Christ’s resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, and Christ’s submission in the Garden of Gethsemane. And especially Peter and John are key figures in the birth of the Church. Not only were Peter, James, and John fisherman, they seem to have been successful fishermen. How do we know this?  Peter in a parallel text from Luke is described as owning two fishing boats. He lived in Bethsaida, a thriving town deemed a kind of desirable suburb of the Galilee. He had a wife and children. His mother-in-law lived with the family, and Peter was able to support all of them as a fisherman. As for

Nazareth & Nathaniel

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  If someone were doing a ranking of Ancient Palestinian towns in Jesus’ day, Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth would certainly be on some kind of worst place to live list. So might Bethlehem, the small town in which Jesus was born. As for Bethlehem, it was a town long past its glory days. Yes, it had some religious importance. King David, the greatest King the Jewish nation ever had, was from Bethlehem. It was known as the City of David. Bethlehem was also once known as the town that took in Jews escaping captivity in ancient Babylon. However, by the time Jesus, instead of taking people in, people were moving out of Bethlehem. Joseph, the human father of Jesus, likely left Bethlehem for this reason. There were no jobs, no opportunity, no long-term security in Bethlehem. The Galilee could provide these things.  The only reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem was because there was a census that mandated men of the household take their families back to their hometowns to be counted. Jesus di

The Baptism & Communion Connection

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There are 2 sacraments in the United Church of Christ denomination – baptism and communion. It is the first Sunday of the month – and year – and normally a Communion Sunday. Today in the Christian calendar is the Sunday we recall and reflect on the Baptism of the Lord. So, both of our sacraments are a focus today. Maybe you wonder, are these two sacraments connected? They seem very different. Baptism looks nothing like Communion. But our scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark points to how baptism and communion are connected. Let’s delve into it, shall we?   I’d like to begin by looking at what John the Baptist’s baptism looked like. How Jesus was baptized, in other words. We don’t get a full description, but we get a hint in the first part of verse 10 – “as he was coming out of the water.” If Jesus was coming up out of the water, he must have first been down in the water, right? So, what this tells us is John baptized people using full emersion. The whole body is subm