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Who Said Family History Is Boring? 

Cyrus Byington (picture attached to this blog) was a scholar and a missionary to the American Indian Tribe known as the Choctaw Nation. He was born at Stockbridge, in Berkshire County, Massachusetts; on March 11, 1793. He was one of nine children and was born into humble circumstances. His father was a well-respected and industrious tanner and small time farmer. Therefore, Cyrus’ early education was limited. Cyrus’ early education was limited by the necessity of him working and a lack of funds. 

Cyrus was finally taken into the family of Mr. Joseph Woodbridge of Stockbridge from whom he received some instruction in Latin and Greek, and with whom he afterward studied law. In 1814, he passed the bar exam and practiced a few years with success in Stockbridge and Sheffield, Mass (at 21). 

Cyrus’ father was a moral man but was not a religious one. At some point in his adulthood Mr. Byington became, as he expressed it, “a subject of divine grace.” At that moment he decided to give up the practice of law and devote himself to becoming a missionary. With this goal in mind he entered theological school at Andover, Massachusetts, where he studied Hebrew and theology, and was licensed to preach, in September of 1819 (he was then 26 years old).  His hope was to go to the Armenians in Turkey. But Providence had prepared for him another and an even more labor intensive field. 

As he waited on an assignment, he preached in various churches in Massachusetts, awaiting some missionary opportunity. Toward the close of the summer of 1819, a company of approximately twenty-five people left Hampshire County, Massachusetts, under the direction of the American Board of Missions, to go by land to the Choctaw nation of Mississippi. They passed through Stockbridge in September, and were provided with a letter from the Board, asking Mr. Byington to take charge of them, and pilot them to their destination. He was ready at a few hours’ notice. 

They journeyed by land to Pittsburgh, where they procured flatboats, and floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to a point near the mouth of the Yalobusha River, where a land journey of 200 miles brought them to their destination. 

Cyrus Byington spent 50 years in missionary service. At the age of 41 he published his first draft of The Choctaw Grammar book. The Choctaw language was previously only a spoken language. It was an arduous and laborious task, for the language has an extremely difficult construction. The sole purpose of his work with the Choctaw language was to make it possible to translate the Bible into Choctaw. When he died in 1868; he was working on the 7th revision of his Choctaw Grammar book, and he had translated the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Pentateuch) and large portions of the New Testament.  

What do you think caused Cyrus to accept Jesus Christ into his heart, to leave the practice of law, to give up his income, and then to go to a remote Native American nation? What prompted Cyrus to learn a language that previously had never been in written form, then come up with a grammar scheme that fit the language, and then to begin to write it down? Cyrus Byington was motivated by a love for the Word of God and he was convinced that when someone read the Bible their lives had the potential to be changed! 

Cyrus Byington didn’t just sit in a room and translate the Choctaw language. He started a school for Native American children. He started a church that would reach the people with the Gospel message. In one of his classes he had a little boy named Alfred. He taught Alfred how to read and write in both Choctaw and in English. Eventually, Alfred gave his heart over to Jesus Christ. The Choctaws were eventually forced along the Trail of Tears with members of the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes. Alfred was 21 when he traveled the Trail of Tears with his dad Jon. It was on the Trail of Tears that he would meet A-Ho-Yo-Te-Ma (her name means “to give forth.”) and they would be married shortly after they settled in the Indian territory. Cyrus Byington moved his family to the Indian territory shortly after the Native people arrived. 

How do I know this? Because Alfred Wade is my grandfather. Alfred became the first Governor or Chief of the Choctaw Nation in the Indian Territory. He was known for his love of children, his zeal for the Lord, and his desire to build schools and churches. This was all possible because one person cared enough about the calling God had for them to throw off everything that hindered and venture into the unknown. Learning and dictating the grammar of the Choctaw language did not bring Cyrus any worldwide renown or make him a millionaire. One person writes that it involved a tremendous amount of unprofitable labor. What people cannot say is that the work wasn’t valuable, because it changed the world for one man who was able to change the world for so many others. Cyrus Byington had such a tremendous impact on Alfred’s life that he named his first son, Cyrus Byington Wade. All of this came about because Cyrus decided that devoting himself completely to the Bible was worth it.

Don't Blink by Pastor Jim Moon III 

Our eyes take in information at a speed that our brains cannot adequately process. This often leads to snap judgments about people and situations that leave a lot of room for error. In my view, the scariest part of this situation is that, without us being overtly aware of the information our eyes take in, we evaluate it based on factors including our family of origin, education level, social status, race, economic privilege, and spiritual values. 

Let me break this idea down for you. A homeless person is lying on a piece of cardboard that they have placed on an outdoor heat vent. What is it that you see? Some simple responses might be: “They must be drunk.” “Probably a drug addict.” “Let’s get out of here, they might rob us.” “Our city needs to clean up these streets.” “Dirty people.” Before we can blink an eye we’ve already decided so much about a person we’re encountering for the first time. 

The human tendency to “judge a book by its cover” has significantly colored our biases, characterized our discrimination, and swelled our stereotyping.  Our snap judgments overpower our decision making and it is only when we can become aware of the information, process it more slowly, and critically analyze the situation that we can treat people as fellow humans that occupy the same space. This past summer I had a life transforming experience. I led a team of teenagers on a mission trip to Atlanta, Georgia. We spent our time there learning about the rich history of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. Sweet Auburn is the neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up. The Sweet Auburn neighborhood is also home to Ebenezer Baptist Church. This is the church where both Dr. King and his father were pastors. 

A picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hangs in my office. He is a person I revere for his passion, his all-encompassing boldness, and his deep conviction that love always prevails. Even though I learned a lot about him while in Atlanta, that learning is not what changed my life. Part of our days were spent reaching out to the nearly 3,000 homeless men, women, and children that live in Atlanta. What changed my life was an awareness that rushed over me that every person has a story to tell. We all possess the ability to offer disenfranchised people a gift. The gift we have to offer is an ear to listen. Most of the homeless people I’ve met would rather have a conversation than a handout. 

Human beings are more vicious than lions, bears, or tigers. When we see other people’s poor choices, the result seems to be like blood in the ocean. The sharks start circling. We may find ourselves making snap judgments about other people’s decisions. “Well, why don’t they just….” “It’s time for them to grow up.” “Why does she keep going back?” “Can’t they keep a job for more than a week?” 

This may be earth shattering news, but people do not all process things the same way. One person’s attempt at “doing the best with what they’ve been given” may look different than another person’s method of “doing their best with what they’ve been given.” You may see options that another person has that they don’t even know exist. 

I do not want to over simplify my point, because there are many factors that create and form a human mind. An object lesson that has helped me is that of thinking about human minds as if they are similar to computers. Computer technology has taken a quantum leap in the 37 years since I was in Kindergarten. I remember going into my first grade class and seeing my first computer (Home computers were made available to the public on January 1, 1982). The computer looked like a small robot from a sci-fi thriller. It had a green screen and small green print that would go across the screen. The computer read floppy disks in order to determine what function was needed. 

A few months ago I purchased a new Samsung laptop with a CORE i7 8th Generation processor. There is a huge difference between my first computer and the one I currently use. In between the two there have been literally thousands of different computers that all process information differently.  To my way of thinking, human minds are also very different from one another. Some process like the green screen computer of my elementary years and others process like the CORE i7 8th Generation. All human minds have value but there is a full gamit of ways they process information. IQ, learning disabilities, autism, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and many other factors contribute to the way individuals process information and make choices. 

Whether you are a Christian or not, I believe that Jesus provides us with a simple way to view the differences in human minds and choices. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving our neighbor as ourselves means showing them grace. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means giving them the benefit of the doubt. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means acting with compassion towards them. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means looking out for their wellbeing. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means offering them a servant’s heart. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means speaking kindly and listening empathetically. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means forgiving when forgiveness is needed. In order to love this way, our minds- especially the judgments we make about people and their decisions, are going to have to be altered. In order to make this change, we must continually ask the question, “How would I want to be treated if I were in their circumstances?” Then we must treat the “other” in this manner. When we accomplish this, we will find that we live differently and love others more completely.

Building the Wall, Government Shutdown, and Messy Grace 

“When I stand before God at the end of my life and He says, ‘you’ve offered too much love and given too much grace,’ I will turn to Him and say, ‘I’m guilty as charged.’” Pastor Bill Bellmore 

My first mentor in ministry offered me this sage advice. Grace upon grace. I realize how great this advice actually is when I come to fully understand the depth of my own need for grace upon grace. I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong even when I had the right intentions. My motives have been pure, my logic was sound, and yet I still somehow missed the boat. The one thing I absolutely refuse to mess up is this grace thing!!! A fundamental aspect of being a follower of Jesus is to love people the way God loves them. 

Presently, grace presents a challenge for us because it seems we are moving farther and farther away from grace as a society. We are becoming more territorial and intolerant of people and ideas that are different than the ones we assume to be true. Marriages are failing at a rate that is at an all-time high. We prioritize “being right” over “being in a relationship.” Psychology Today journalist Mark D. White Ph.D. says, “Your relationships should serve you, not the other way around.” Herein lies the problem. This way of thinking is what is guiding our nation and the way we relate to other people on a daily basis. 

A microcosm of this thinking can be found in our current debate over our southern border. Most of us could agree that America needs a secure border. We do not want people coming into our country that might have ill intentions. The idea people disagree about is whether a wall is going to accomplish this task. The same logic may be applied here that is often times used in gun control conversations. Criminals don’t obey the law. They will always find a way around, up, and over any barrier we decide to put in their path. 

The only real people who will be kept out of America by a wall are those who, out of desperation, are seeking a better future for their family. Many of these people have been victims of corrupt governments, forced labor, and a sheer lack of opportunities to meet their daily needs. Many fit our own government’s requirements for asylum-seekers. 

From the information I was able to gather, there are only three official points of entry where immigrants can apply for asylum in America. These points of entry process 100 applications per day. After the application is submitted, it will take 45 days to get a face to face interview. After the face to face interview, it can take up to 180 days for the application to be decided upon. So the process to can take seven and a half months.  People line up 1500 deep attempting to be one of the 100 processed applications. After the migrant caravan arrived, it flooded an already overcrowded situation; and at this point it has caused a true humanitarian crisis. 

So my idea for a compromise is this: build the wall, but in doing so add six more legal points of entry for asylum seekers. Doing this would triple our capacity to process applications and streamline the process, so people are not languishing away as they wait to apply. If people don’t meet our standards for asylum seekers, they should be sent back to their countries of origin. 

About 700 employees of the US Census Bureau in Jeffersonville, IN have been placed on furloughed status. On Monday, January 21, I joined a group of care providers in an outreach to them. Our role was to help people affected by the government shut-down connect with resources in the community that may be able to offer them assistance. The problem is that for a variety of reasons there are not many resources available to them. I met one lady who has received her husband’s COBRA bill for insurance that was about $1200. I met another lady who was going to have to decide between her rent and her insulin for the month of February. I met many who have utility bills that they are unable to pay, and no entity exists that will pay them. Many don’t yet qualify for assistance because they are not at least three months behind or because they own property. I could see the desperation on their faces as I spoke with them. 

In those moments, I thought how ironic it was that America is trying to solve the desperate plight of immigrants by causing a desperate situation among our own people. As Americans, we can do better than this. As Christians, we can definitely do better to reflect Jesus Christ to the world! Offering grace to others may be messy but it is always the right course of action!

Binding Up The Brokenhearted 

Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners.” 

The Book of Isaiah is sometimes called the “fifth Gospel.” It is described this way because in the Book of Isaiah, we find prophecies that announce the mission and ministry of the Messiah who is to come. We are to recognize who the Messiah is by the way he conducts his ministry. The true Messiah will preach good news to the poor, will bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives, and release prisoners from darkness. 

This Sunday kicks off the Advent season where we begin to anticipate the coming (again) of our Savior Jesus Christ. Matthew 1:23 says, ““The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). In Jesus Christ we see the face of God. I have no doubt that Jesus will return again. This is an expectation fueled by what the Bible tells me to be true. But as much as my expectations grow for the future arrival of Jesus Christ I also realize that I have an expectation of God’s church. My expectation is that God’s church will be the way the world experiences “God with us” in the meantime, while we wait and anticipate Christ’s return. 

For us, as the church, to be the incarnation of Jesus Christ to the world, we must participate in the ministry of our Messiah. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are proclaiming good news to the poor. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are binding up the brokenhearted. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are proclaiming freedom for people that are captive. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are releasing prisoners from darkness. 

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25) we are given several examples of the acts of service God desires to recognize in His people. I believe it is no accident how much these actions parallel the ministry of the Messiah in Isaiah 61. When the King comes, He will say to those He recognizes as His sheep, “Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34b-36). 

The tie that draws it all together is the way the righteous sheep respond to this inheritance invoking invitation. They say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?” The King answers His righteous sheep saying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

The King doesn’t say that His sheep should provide this service to only those who say “please” and “thank you.” The King doesn’t say that His sheep should serve only those who are grateful. The King doesn’t say that His sheep should serve people who can give them back what they give. The King says, “My sheep should serve the least of these,” irrespective of any other conditions. 

It’s really very simple. The Bible is truly all somewhat interconnected. God cannot deviate from His divine nature. When Jesus says one of the greatest commandments is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He again demonstrates the core nature being a Christ follower. When we separate the teachings of Christ from a tangible love that touches people’s lives in practical ways, what we have left is a hollow religion that is empty at its core.  I personally don’t want to be a part of a hollow religion that consists of a bunch of filler and lacks any substance.  

As a Christian I’ve realized that God brings brokenhearted people to surround me. I only learn of their brokenness when I choose to listen. During the recent Thanksgiving meal we served to our guests from the Haven House; I heard Jessie’s story, Telesa’s story, and Denise’s story. Each one of their stories is different, but there is a single common denominator, and that is a broken heart.  Somewhere along the way, the world has tripped them up. Satan has beat them up and told them lies, and they are left trying to put the pieces back together. Psalm 147:3 says, “He (the Lord) heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Isaiah 61:1 says the Messiah “will bind up the brokenhearted.” 

If you are coming from a broken place right now, Jesus Christ declares, “I am here to hold together your heart!” This is amazing news: If we turn to Jesus in the midst of our brokenness He will put us back together. 

To “bind up” something means to wrap it up in such a way that it is held together. When I see the words “wrap up” I automatically think of the beautifully wrapped Christmas presents that you will place under your Christmas trees. I say, “you” because I’m not a gifted wrapper of presents, I can only do it well enough to get the job done. You see, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, our ministry, until we see Him again, is to hold together people’s hearts. Maybe, like my Christmas wrapping skills, we are scared we aren’t good enough to help others put their hearts back together. The beauty of “binding up the brokenhearted” is in the “try.” The “try” is the effort expended out of love that someone can recognize as the love and grace of Jesus being offered to them. 

I shouldn’t need to explain that holding together people’s hearts is messy. To do so we need to immerse ourselves in their story.  We have to truly love them as much as we love ourselves. We have to hold all of their needs at the same level that we hold our own. We have to be the church we say we are. 

One year ago, on December 10th, I lost someone very dear to me. My brother Nick passed away from an accidental overdose of his prescribed medications. You never really think that someone so young, that you genuinely care about, is going to be gone so quickly. Remembering this experience, I realize that I’m one of the brokenhearted ones. What I need, though, is not anyone’s pity. What I need is for each and every one who proclaims to be a follower of Christ to step up to “bind up the brokenhearted” and hold together their hearts. This world is littered with broken hearts waiting for someone to genuinely care enough to hold them together. Who knows? Someday, that broken heart may be your own.

Sabbath: The Donkey In A Ditch Principle 

Exodus 20:8-11 says, {8} “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. {9} Six days you shall labor and do all your work, {10} but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. {11} For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” 

I’m writing this blog with my upcoming mission trip to New Orleans, Louisiana and my vacation afterward in mind. So, I guess you could say I’m focused on the Sabbath and what it might mean for my life and our lives together. The fourth commandment makes it pretty clear that God prioritized the Sabbath and so should we. But what is the Sabbath and how do we honor it in the way God intends? The Sabbath is a day of the week, originally Saturday, that is to be set apart for the purpose of God. One of the requirements that God gives to Moses is that no work should be done on this day. The rationale for this is that when God created the heavens and the earth, God rested on the seventh day. 

We see throughout the New Testament evidence that the Jewish people had very stringent laws governing what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. In fact, much of their groaning against Jesus was because he disregarded their extra-biblical Sabbath laws. For some reason the Jewish rabbis latched on to the principle that no “work” should be done on the Sabbath and set about the task of defining work rather than focusing on keeping the Sabbath holy. Work was labeled by the religious leaders and Pharisees as “anything that a person broke into a sweat to accomplish.” 

Jesus upends the spiritual focus of the religious leaders and Pharisees regarding their extra-biblical sabbatical laws in Luke 14:1-6. Jesus went to eat at the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. The passage said that while Jesus was there “they watched him closely.” They were trying to find reasons to discredit Jesus. Then the passage introduces another character on to the scene when it says, “and behold there was a certain man before him who had dropsy.” Dropsy is what we in modern times call edema. Edema is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body. The accumulation can be anywhere under the skin but is usually in dependent areas such as the legs or the lungs. 

Whether or not the Pharisees were trying to set Jesus up by putting this guy with dropsy in front of him, the point is that Jesus took the man and healed him and then let him leave. Then Jesus said, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, would not immediately pull him out on Sabbath day?” Jesus likened the healing of the man with dropsy to pulling an animal out of a well. If the animal isn’t pulled out of the well, it will surely die. If saving the life of an animal is something worth “breaking a sweat over” on the Sabbath, how much more should we care for a person!!! Bringing healing to a person from any condition that diminishes their quality of life is not only permissible on the Sabbath but honors the Sabbath in the direct way God intends. God intends that good shall be done in His name and in His honor on the Sabbath as a way of setting the day apart for the purposes of God. 

The Donkey in a Ditch Principle states that doing good on the Sabbath honors God’s holy intentions for our lives. Unfortunately, we often times give what I’d like to refer to as Donkey in the Ditch excuses when it comes to honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Taking a child to a soccer tournament is not a “Donkey in a Ditch.” Sleeping in is not a “Donkey in a Ditch.” Cleaning, organizing, and doing laundry is not a “Donkey in a Ditch”; and the list could go on. I no longer believe that Sabbath is confined to a particular day of the week (Romans 14:5-5). This being said, as a Christian person we are still asked to “assemble together” (Hebrews 10:25) and to practice regular Sabbath in our lives. 

The Sabbath is a day of rest. It is a day we should refrain from doing work. One day a week we are to completely focus on God’s intentions for our lives. This is one reason why communal worship was created. To start one’s Sabbath with prayer, with praise, and with biblically inspired teaching is a way to prioritize God’s purposes for our lives.  Just because we are supposed to rest on the Sabbath doesn’t mean we rest from doing good. John Wesley is quoted to have said that we should, “Do all the good we can. By all the means we can. In all the ways we can. In all the places we can. At all the time we can. To all the people we can. As long as we ever can.” Doing good in this way fulfills God’s purposes not only for the Sabbath but every other day as well!

The Lost Art of Applying Yourself 

Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” 

If I had a quarter for every time my father told me to apply myself, I’d be a wealthy man. To my father, applying myself meant giving my full attention to something that should be a priority in my life. Applying ourselves means that we will work hard and give something our most serious effort. Fully engaging in a direction that we feel is best for our lives and exerting our will-power to obtain a goal that we have set demonstrates the art of applying ourselves. Unfortunately, like many of the arts, the art of applying ourselves is dying out. It is more likely that we will choose what is easiest, the path of least resistance, and not blaze our own trail.  

We really spend the same amount of time just muddling through as we spend doing something right the first time. Sometimes we spend more time and effort having to do something over again than we would if we’d just paid attention and given all of what we had in the beginning. My father was concerned that I would go through life giving only minimal effort and expect results that can only be found in the self-disciplined way. 

Self-discipline requires us to limit ourselves in some things so we can participate in endeavors that matter. We have to improve our ability to control our feelings and to overcome our weaknesses. We must pursue what is right despite our temptations to abandon the effort. 

We are all going to have haters. We are all going to have doubters. We are all going to have naysayers. Here’s a list of statements that my doubters have uttered to me over the years: 

“You’re never going to amount to anything.” 

“You can try to go to college but you’ll fail. No one from your family has ever made it.” 

“You are too skinny to play football.” 

“You are not good enough to make the high school basketball team let alone a college basketball team.” 

“No division III collegiate rugby player has ever been the MVP of the collegiate all-star game.” 

“I know it was your first time, but I’m not sure it’s your calling to preach.” 

“No twenty-something year-old is fit to be my supervisor.” 

“A person who is divorced is not fit to continue to pastor a congregation.” 

I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could remember other statements of negativity. Our belief in ourselves and who God has created us to be has to be greater than other people’s misplaced perceptions.  One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that God is not going to just magically “poof” you into the person you are supposed to be. God may call you. God may give you giftedness, but the development of these gifts lies in your ability to master them. In order to prove our doubters and naysayers wrong, we are going to have to clench our teeth and say, “I’ll show you who is not going to fail.” If becoming what God has gifted us to become isn’t going to happen overnight, we are going to have to set small tangible goals that we can accomplish to recognize our progress along the way. 

Zeke and Emma both ran cross-country at River Valley Middle School in the 2017-2018 season. Zeke was in 6th grade and Emma was in 8th. Running is a discipline that takes effort, and in order to master it you are going to have to overcome pain by sheer will power.  Both of my children accomplished times ranking in the top seven for their respective genders. Emma ended up making the Top 25 List All-time (#22 respectively). Zeke muddled through his 6th grade year of cross-country. Often times I would see him finish a race and wonder if he’d even tried. I would notice that he wasn’t sweating very much, and he didn’t seem short of breath. This led me to believe that he wasn’t giving his maximum effort, but was okay with sliding by protecting his top-seven position on the team. Other than that, it appeared that he had settled for minimal effort. As a side note: Zeke didn’t really have cross-country as his first choice of a sport because he had his heart set on playing football. With the recent CTE studies, I was unwilling to place him in a position where his brain could be traumatized. So he decided to run cross-country to get in shape for basketball. 

I told Zeke that he has the physical characteristics of a potentially great cross-country runner. He’s tall, he’s lean, and he’s relatively fast. But I also told him that in order to become a great cross-country runner he was going to have to decide in his heart that he wanted to apply himself and give his maximum effort to this goal. So the 2018-2019 school year was upon us. Zeke, once again, wanted to play football. I told him that he would not be able to, so he decided to go out for cross-country. From the get-go Zeke made a decision that during this cross-country year he would set a goal to get on the Top 25 List All-time for boys. For the first meet he was the 5th person on the team of seven. In the first meet he beat his own previous Personal Record by 1:32 seconds. After he did that, Zeke REALLY started to apply himself at a whole new level. Zeke decided that he would be first in every practice race and even run through half the water breaks/rest breaks. He started running on Friday and Saturdays. Even when he gets beat in practice, it is his effort that is making the other top-seven runners push themselves to maintain his high level of energy. 

In the second cross-country meet of the year, Zeke came in second for Team Jeff with a time of 12:20 seconds and made his way to #18 on the Top 25 list all-time. Team Jeff finished 5th overall out of 15 teams. Over the next few weeks of practice a rivalry began to emerge between our top-seven boys’ runners, and during practice they continually challenge each other to do better. They push each other, and during practice I like to say, “They look like thoroughbreds out there around our home course.” In our last cross-country meet, which was the Greater Clark County Meet, Zeke came in 3rd with a time of 11:46 seconds, which moved him to #14 on the Top 25 list all-time. Team Jeff came in 1st in the Greater Clark County Meet. What Zeke learned is how to apply himself. A good and trustworthy saying is, “If I’m going to put my mind to doing something, I’m also going to give it everything I’ve got!” 

Paul says in I Corinthians 9:24-27, {24} Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. {25} Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. {26} Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. {27} No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 

“Run in such a way as to get the prize”, and give this race we call “life” everything you’ve got!

Is Tithing Biblical? 

One of the greatest things about being a pastor is that I get to see and experience people’s faithfulness in ways others never get the opportunity to see. One example of this privilege was my experience with Park Memorial UMC’s own little centenarian, Olene Dismon. Olene lived to be 105 and passed away in July, 2016. I was afforded the opportunity to be Olene’s pastor for 9 years but it did not take nearly that long for me to witness Olene’s faith in Christ. 

The first time we met she had just gotten out of the hospital, but she spent most of our time together telling me about her husband, whom she still dearly loved. At the end of our visit she said, “I have something to give you.” Then she went into her kitchen and pulled a couple of offering envelopes from her table. She placed them into my hand and said, “Make sure that Carol gets these.” Olene was at a stage in her life that her church attendance was sporadic due to her health, but she believed in tithing from her $800 dollar Social Security income. Located in those envelops were two $80 checks, one for each month she had missed. Olene was so persistent about tithing that if I happened to miss one of our monthly visits she would call the treasurer and have her come pick up her tithe. Tithing for Olene was about faithfulness, devotion, and her love for Christ. 

In light of our current political and social landscape I’ve felt led to point out the apparent hypocrisy I see in Christians who point out the struggles of others while paying no attention to their own spiritual ineptitudes. My contention is that it is easy to point out in others something with which you yourself do not struggle. During my sermon preparation time I read articles, study scripture, and attempt to connect my heart with the words I will be speaking. In one of these periods of study I ran across the percentages that the average Christian contributes juxtaposed against what their tithe should be. This percentage is 1.69% for mainline denominations and 1.85% for Baptists. After some further study I’ve seen some statistics that claim that American Christians contribute as much as 2.5% of their income. 

The point I communicated to the congregation that I serve is, “If 97.5% of Christians in America are not giving sacrificially, if they aren’t tithing, then we need to get our own houses in order before we begin to talk about the sins we perceive in others.”  I wasn’t really intending my focus to be on the principle of tithing, it just seemed like these statistics covered a wide range of American Christians. I would much rather that my point be focused on the fact that we have enough issues in our own backyards that need tending so that we really shouldn’t have time to point fingers or talk about what other people around us are or aren’t doing.   

After worship I was challenged with the comment from one of my parishioners who said, “Pastor, I didn’t think tithing is a New Testament principle.” The first thing that I want to say is that good Christians disagree on this. Tithing is the kind of thing we can have a dialogue or debate over and still come out good friends. 

Those that say, “No, tithing isn’t a New Testament principle,” are doing so on the basis of tithing being part of the Sinai covenant (we must also remember the Ten Commandments are also a part of this covenant). This is the covenant that God made with Moses on Mount Sinai. Their claim is that the New Testament makes it clear that we are no longer under the Sinai covenant. Tithing described in this way is the idea of giving one-tenth of everything produced in a single year. This idea originated as the tax that Israelites paid from the produce of the land to support the priestly tribe (the Levites), to fund Jewish religious festivals, and to help the poor. These funds went to the Temple, Tabernacle, and the priests. In actuality, the Old Testament commands other offerings above the tithe, which if and when they were given would bring the total giving of a faithful Jewish person to around 17%-20%. 

Those that argue that tithing is not a New Testament concept are failing to take in consideration several factors that I believe are important. First, Jesus was a law-abiding Jew (I Peter 2:22, Hebrews 4:15). This means he broke no part of the Sinai covenant. The sinlessness of Jesus Christ is an essential component to our understanding of how His death paid the ultimate price for our sins. This in turn also means that Jesus tithed. 

Secondly, in Matthew 23:23 Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” In Jesus’ famous “woe to you” statements he is pronouncing judgment upon the subjects he describes. In this instance Jesus clearly says tithing even in the small matters should be done, but with our minds also on the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. When Jesus says, “without neglecting the former” he means without neglecting our tithe. 

We must also take into consideration that the New Testament Church as described in Acts 2:42-47 says they, “held everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” The earliest representation of the church lived communally and sold all that they had and placed it together so that everyone was given what they needed. It is widely understood that they did this in response to the immediacy of the time when they believed Christ would return. At some point, the church removed communal living as a requirement. 

As Paul began establishing churches, they continued to teach generosity and giving. II Corinthians 9:6-7 says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It is obvious to me that Paul is caught between a rock and a hard place. He is teaching non-Jewish converts of the faith how to live out their faithfulness and devotion apart from being raised Jewish. Here the Apostle Paul teaches cheerful generosity as evidence of our devotion to God. Lastly, Paul mentions in several different ways an offering he is collecting to aid the Jews in Jerusalem that are being persecuted for their new found faith in Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 16:1-4, II Corinthians 8:1-9:15, Romans 15:14-32, Acts 24:17). 

Finally, in Matthew 22:15-12, Mark 12:13-17, and Luke 20:20-26; we have a wonderful story that points to a deep and important truth. Here Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees about whether they are obligated to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus calls them hypocrites and takes one of the coins and asks whose portrait is on it. They replied, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The Pharisees heard what they wanted to hear: they heard that they should pay the tax. But those who had ears to hear might have asked the question, “What isn’t God’s?” In saying this, Jesus is spurring us on to give everything to God in total obedience. We are to render unto God that which is God’s and God wants our “everything.” 

My conclusion is that the church throughout the centuries has interpreted the bulk of the biblical witness to say that an amount equaling a ten percent tithe-plus more best represents the sacrificial giving commanded of Christians in the New Testament.  One of the ways to “love the Lord your God with all your heart…” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” is to give sacrificially a tithe-plus.

Virtue Signaling 

I recently posted an article entitled “God Hates Gun Violence” written by Christianity Today author Mark Galli. My heart is broken by the images of yet another school shooting and the loss of 10 innocent people. In the article, the author says, “We Christians should work to ban weapons whose main purpose is to kill a lot of people very quickly, to keep guns in general out of the hands of unstable personalities, and to ensure that everyone who buys and owns guns can demonstrate they know how to use and store them safely.” I spent Monday writing a blog about gun violence but then decided to put it on hold and do a lot more research. After my research my conclusion is that we cannot legislate an answer that will keep our schools safe. Every school shooting is unique. 

For instance, the 17-year old Santa Fe, New Mexico school shooter used a sawed off shot-gun and a 38-caliber handgun. Sawed off shot-guns are illegal already but they still exist. In New Mexico you must be at least 19 years old to own a handgun and 21 years old to have a conceal and carry permit. So legally the Santa Fe school shooter was in violation of the laws that are already on the books. 

The Parkland, Florida school shooter had a long history of documented mental illness and had been a threat to himself and others. However, no person took the initiative to use the Florida law that states that a “person who is a threat to themselves or someone else cannot legally purchase a weapon” (Fla. Stat. § 790.064(1); Fla. Stat. § 790.065(2)(a)(4). As early as February 2016 people were telling school administrators, peer counselors, the FBI, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Department that the Parkland school shooter was capable of carrying out such an attack. So legally speaking the Parkland, Florida school shooter was in violation of the laws that are already on the books. 

My brother, Nick Moon, was involved in a workplace related shooting on February 25, 2016. He was shot in the leg while working for Excel (Hesston, KS) by a person who worked with him in the paint department. Three people died and fourteen were injured.  The shooter was a convicted felon. In Kansas it is illegal for convicted felons to own firearms. The shooter was on drugs and distraught after receiving a restraining order from his girlfriend. In Kansas it is illegal for people who have domestic violence protective orders to carry firearms. In fact, his estranged girlfriend had police help her remove the weapons she purchased from the home they shared only to give the weapons back to him on another occasion when he threatened her. So legally speaking the Hesston, KS workplace shooter was in violation of the laws that are already on the books. 

In saying that we cannot legislate an answer that will stop school shootings, I am not saying that some of our laws do not need to be addressed. One of the things my research called to my attention is the fact that federal laws cannot be enforced by state and local officials. So if there is a federal law that is not picked up and matched by state law, it is pretty much useless unless a federal agent is enforcing it. For instance, in Indiana, if you commit an act of domestic violence against someone you don’t cohabitate with, or are not married to; you can still carry and conceal a weapon. If you are married to the person or if you live with the person you committed an act of domestic violence against, then you are legally unable to carry a concealed weapon. This is called the boyfriend/girlfriend exclusion. Currently, 29 out of the 50 states have closed this loophole but Indiana is still lagging behind. 

In Indiana, there is no law that says a person that is involuntarily committed into a psychiatric facility cannot own a firearm even though there is a federal law that states this. In Indiana, there is no law that says that if a person is found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity they cannot own a weapon even though there’s a federal law that states this. In Indiana, there is no law that says that if you have been found mentally incompetent to handle your own affairs you can’t own a weapon even though there is a federal law that states this. So there are obviously laws in Indiana that need to be passed in order to keep the public safe. 

The big question that many people are talking about is, “Would a federal assault weapons ban help decrease violent crime?” This is like asking, “Would an automobile manufacturer that closes in Detroit, Michigan decrease the number of automobiles on the road?” The answer is no, there are still the same number of cars on the road today as there were yesterday minus a few. It would take years to see a noticeable difference of cars on the road. During the federal weapons ban that spanned 1994-2004 the drop in violent crime was negligible at best. This is because the number of assault weapons on the street did not dramatically decline and people’s access to these weapons remained the same. 

I think that a federal assault weapons ban would help decrease violent crime; but in my estimation it would take 50+ years to actually see a difference and for a ban to be effective. I think a ban plus a law that takes the assault rifles off the streets would be most effective; but no politician would even come close to speaking this, little lone acting upon it. My estimation of how long it would take for a weapons ban to be effective may be low due to the oldest fireable weapon being a revolver from circa 1597. But as my above research bears out, criminals don’t obey the law and law enforcement can only enact the law when a law is broken. If a criminal believes an assault-style weapon would be most effective in the crime they are going to commit, they will procure one from an avenue other than the legal marketplace. 

Since I posted the Christianity Today article publically on our web-site people who don’t personally know me could potentially comment. Apparently it’s a thing now to tell pastors to “stick to preaching the gospel and not worry about social justice.” 

Pastor Sherman Burkhead (Boron, CA) responded by saying, “Christians should evangelize the lost and make disciples of all nations and stop pretending that evil doesn’t exist! Naïve virtue signaling is not God honoring.” I had to look up what virtue signaling actually is. It is “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.” 

Through parables and analogies Jesus used the cultural ideologies and politic of his day to bring about His Kingdom principles. Posting blogs, reading articles, preaching, and small groups are ways to communicate the Kingdom principles of Jesus. 

Let me be clear that in posting the Christianity Today article and this blog that I believe Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the God of a non-violent way. There is no amount of religious hopscotch that will stray my mind from Jesus’ central teaching in Matthew 5:21-26, Matthew 5:38-42, and Matthew 5:43-45. 

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus captures the common thought on retaliation “an eye for an eye” and turns it on its head saying, “don’t resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek turn to them the other also.” When I see Jesus’ teaching I reflect on the fact that this is exactly what He did for me and for you on the way to the cross. 

C.S. Lewis got it wrong in his essay “Why I Am Not a Pacifist.” He considers Jesus’ injunction regarding “turning the other cheek,” to not be intended to rule out protecting others. “Does anyone suppose,” he asks, “that our Lord’s hearers understood him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?” 

To this I say, “Jesus would have stood in the way and been killed on behalf of the person standing behind him.” Hopefully, in the act of doing so, the killer’s heart would be so moved by the sacrificial act that it would lead him/her to change. I’m not sure that I’m spiritually mature enough to follow in my Savior’s footsteps and allow myself to be killed without retaliation for the benefit of someone else.  I do, however, know with absolute certainty that Jesus would not pick up a weapon whether it be a rock, a knife, a gun, or an assault rifle in retaliation to a threat for this is just not His Kingdom way.

Karma: Doing Good Travels 

Karma, what goes around comes around, or cause follows effect; no matter how you say it the meaning is the same. In scripture this principle is stated this way, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).  Reaping what you sow is a principle that is easily understood by a gardener like me. I know that when I plant my jalapeno plants that I will get a much desired harvest of jalapenos. This principle is at work in our world in more ways than plants can describe. 

I am from one of the largest wheat producing states in the nation (Kansas) and the farmers there know that you must sow before you reap, you reap much later than you sow, and you also reap much more than you sow. Farmers sow wheat and its wheat they get; and Paul, in writing about this principle says, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). 

Someone leaves me little treats on my desk on Sunday mornings. I suspect I know who they are but their identity still hasn’t been made know. One of the recent treats was an Epic 100% Bison bar. There are 7 grams of protein packed in a very small bar. I opened it and it tastes like bacon and cranberry. I thoroughly enjoyed it so much that I kept the wrapper in my truck so I could remember what it was called. I’m sure that Tawnya saw that wrapper lying there and judged my cleanliness (but I knew exactly what I was doing). 

There is someone in my life that has been asking a lot of my family lately. We don’t mind giving but this particular person seems to always be in need of something. Tawnya and I constantly have to check ourselves to make sure that we are not enabling. Today, this person asked me to bring them an item because they were tight on time and couldn’t drop by and get the item themselves. I was right in the middle of calculating my reimbursements for April and really too busy to drop everything and go; but I said I would bring them the much-needed item. 

As I got into my car I thought, “Well at least where they are located is close to Kroger so I’ll stop in and grab some almonds for lunch so I’ll be able to get all my work accomplished for the day.” But when I slid my water bottle into the cup holder, I noticed the Epic 100% Bison bar wrapper sitting there. I thought, “Well, I’ll check Kroger to see if they have those while I’m there.” I dropped off the needed item and pulled into Kroger. I went immediately to find my almonds and then to the health food section. There was a worker there scanning something and I asked her if they had Epic 100% Bison bars.  She said, “Yes, we do. They are one of my favorite snack choices. If you hold on a second, I’m about ready to mark them down to 50% off because we are moving into our new store soon.” I agreed to wait and got a case of Epic 100% Bison bars for $14 and they are usually $28. 

You see, someone did good for me and I in turn did good for someone else. Me doing good for someone else allowed me the specific timing to be blessed by something good. Doing good travels!!! John Wesley offers us some very wise counsel when he says, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” 

Unfortunately as much as this is true the reverse is also true. Doing bad begets bad. I see people around me who are making choices that are leading to the unraveling of their lives but they just can’t grasp the big picture yet. Whatever a person sows they will reap. Sowing and reaping is a law of nature and a law of God. Job 4:8 in the NLT says, “My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.” 

Many people are sowing wrong things-lust, jealousy, control, lying, drinking too much, taking drugs, shoplifting, cheating on their taxes, etc.  Billy Graham said, “Some people live by the philosophy that you can sow your wild oats all week and then go to church on Sunday morning and pray for a crop failure.” If you want good in your life then do more good. The choices we make are powerful for they can lead us into abundance or they can lead us into famine. Let us choose abundance by doing all the good we can!

Punctuation Matters 

I come from a family where punctuation and spelling didn’t really matter. Spaghetti noodles could be spelled “spagetti” on the grocery list and it was fine as long as you purchased the right ingredients. I managed to make it through Honors English in high school. I tested out of English 101 in college and was bumped up to English 102. What I learned from all of my studies was that the English language can be tricky, especially as far as punctuation is concerned. 

Part of obtaining a B.A. degree in Christian Ministry is a requirement that you take two years of biblical language. I took Koine Greek, which is the language that was spoken during the Hellenistic period of the Roman Empire. The easiest way to describe it is that it is like what Old English is to our modern English. Koine Greek is no longer a spoken language; so it is difficult to fully understand how to pronounce, and therefore translate, words and phrases. Remember I said difficult not impossible. 

I was mesmerized by my seminary professor, Dr. Tim Dwyer, who could open up the Greek New Testament and translate, as he read it, into English. Hearing him talk and explain scripture was what helped me fall in love with the Bible. Every seminarian was required to take New Testament for a year. At Anderson School of Theology our New Testament classes exhaustively covered every book of the New Testament. As electives you could take a more in-depth study of a biblical book. I decided since the book of Romans is Paul’s magnum opus, that I should study it more in depth. I learned so much, I even memorized the 3rd chapter, but one discovery changed my life forever. The craziest thing about my discovery is that the average Christian believer passes right over it, and classifies it as part of the “junk reading” in scripture. What I’m referring to is part of the formal salutations and greetings in Romans 16. 

In Romans 16:7 it says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Some of the translations have “Greet Andronicus and Junias…” In my opinion never has so much hung in the balance over proper spelling. The earliest and most frequently occurring manuscripts have the rendering “Junia.” Someone at a later time decided in some manuscripts to “correct” this name to “Junias.” The question is, “Why would someone want to do this?” 

In my opinion, a patriarchal church realized that Junia can never be found in ANY Greek literature in reference to a man. Junia can be found in at least three other occurrences, always referring to a woman.  The person who added the sigma at the end of Junia was attempting to make the name masculine even though there is no record of ANY kind of that name ever being used in literature. The closest we can come to is the Latin name Junianas. 

This matters because in Romans 16:7 we have a woman named Junia who served alongside Paul in his ministry. She was effective enough to be considered a threat to local authorities and was imprisoned along with Paul.  The Apostle Paul thinks so highly of Junia and her co-laborer Andronicus, that he commends them as being “outstanding among the apostles.” If a woman is an apostle working beside Paul, then we have to conclude that Paul’s other remarks concerning women in leadership are contextual (1 Tim. 2:12, etc.). Any theological inferences we might make from these contextual passages are shaky at best. We must then permit women to have authority over men in the church, because the only scriptural evidence to the contrary is trumped by an apostle named Junia who Paul commends. 

I have two daughters, and it is hard for me to look at them and think that someone might discourage them from being whatever God calls them to be. It’s hard for me to understand how people with daughters (and wives, mothers, sisters, etc. for that matter) would choose to be a part of a church system that would tell them that God cannot call them into ministry: and if he does, it wouldn’t be a ministry where they would hold any authority over a man. I would challenge women to not follow husbands or family traditions into churches that subtly say they don’t matter. A point of irony: every Christian fundamentalist running around with a King James Version (because it’s the only God-inspired version) of the Bible, touting that women should sit under the feet of a man, has in their hands the truth that God has already had an apostle that was a women; but they just haven’t read deep enough yet to discover it. 

I had the opportunity to name one of my daughters, and her middle name is Junia. I would like to think that both Emma and Phoebe have the opportunity to listen to God and become all God is calling them to be. I think of Junia as a woman of power, a woman who is fearless and willing sacrifice herself for God’s call on her life. These are characteristics that we should all aspire to be.

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Mission Statement: Park Memorial UMC exists to SERVE others by WITNESSING to our faith through ministries of CARE that enable people to realize what Christ has done for them. We endeavor to DEVELOP personal relationships with Christ so that we may GLORIFY God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.