Monthly Archives: March 2011

Best Birthday Gift-The Gift of Presence

Today, in my genealogical blog, Mixed Genes, I highlighted a landmark from the past; namely, the Haynes’ Store in Sharon Center, PA. As I wrote the little bit of narrative to accompany the pic, I found myself reliving Halloweens when we would go to Grandpa and Grandma Haynes’ place, attached to their store. Halloween meant receiving a handful (or two) of penny candy from the store, or after they had sold the store and moved into a trailer on my Grandpa Mix’s farm, it would be Chicken-in-a-Biskit crackers.

Grandma Haynes (Laura Vivien Meacham, but always called Vivien) taught me how to do a game from her childhood in the 1890’s; cat’s cradle. She also taught me how to play the card game FLINCH. She helped inspire me to get involved in genealogy, when she would tell me stories about her parents and grandparents. I especially liked the story of how her grandmother, Nancy Ann (Foy) Meacham came over to America from Ireland on a ship and all that she had to do. (You can read more about Nancy Ann Foy here).
HOWEVER, my favorite memory of all is when I turned 8 years old in 1970. It was the first birthday party that I remember having and I believe the first one ever where I could invite someone other than close relatives.

This picture of me, excited as all get out, surrounded by my great-grandpa and great-grandma. Looking at the photo now, I STILL can feel the excitement and joy of that day. I’m sure they gave me a gift to unwrap, but it is their presence I remember, not the presents.

And I remember that one of the names prophesied about Jesus was that he would be called “Emmanuel;” which literally means “God is with us.” I think that’s why my favorite saying from Jesus is ” I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He gives us the gift of presence!

OK, so this day has been a serious walk through memory lane. But it’s memories like this that help me remember the extreme importance of being there to witness my son in a first grade Christmas play where he just says two lines of about 15 words. And going to Little League practices, and on and on and on. It’s simply the gift of being present that makes the difference. A shared memory. A present of time.

And now, I have a grandson who just turned two just last week. He calls me “Poppop.” His mom, my daughter, is very conscientious and attentive, for which I’m thankful. My wife and I had that role when she was in our home. But now, like my grandparents and great-grandparents did with me, I’m the grandpa, and one of my roles is to be a giver of gifts, like my grandparents and great-grandparents were for me.

And the very best gift I can give is the present of presence.

AND… by the way, I AM present in this picture behind the camera.

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Josh Wilson "It Is Well" Instrumental

Josh Wilson “It Is Well” Instrumental

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The Homecoming

This was the second of the two part series I preached looking at the parable of the prodigal son.
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“The Homecoming”

Luke 15:14-20a

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Last week, we visited this text in Luke 15, where Jesus uses parables, and particularly, this parable of the prodigal son, to emphasize our relationships to the Father, God, and to our fellow believers, the Father’s family. Our visit then, focused more on the older son; our focus today will be on the younger son… the one that walked away, and eventually, repented and returned.

Let me start with a definition of repentance. It is one of those words that we all would probably claim to know the meaning of. Yet, I have found it hard to give a definition, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So… I looked it up.


Repentance comes from the Greek word METANOEô which means literally “to perceive afterwards, … in contrast to pronoeô, to perceive beforehand, hence METANOEô signifies to change one’s mind or purpose… involving a change for the better…and …of repentance from sin.”


The best definition I have found wasn’t in a dictionary, it was in story in Leadership Journal. There, Brian Weatherdon, tells how:

Wabush, a town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada, was completely isolated for some time. But recently a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and thus, only one road leading out. If someone would travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only one way he or she could leave–by turning around. Each of us, by birth, arrives in a town called Sin. As in Wabush, there is only one way out–a road built by God himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about-face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.





Even I can understand that. Repentance is like I’m going one direction and then realize I’m going the wrong way and so I turn completely around and face the other direction. And start moving away from my previous destination.

So that’s repentance. But turning around can be hard. Just think back (or ahead) to your driver’s license exam. And the three-point turn. It’s not always quick and easy. And if you happen to be in a big vehicle, say a school bus or a semi, and on a small road, say one made of dirt, it takes a lot of time and careful deliberation and consideration of what will happen if I turn this way or angle the wheels that way. And it requires a complete, 180° turn. You cannot go both ways. And you cannot stop halfway through the turn-around.


Sandwiched in the middle of this parable, Jesus tells of the process of how the prodigal son came to repentance… and had a homecoming with his father’s family. And I believe the principles of repentance are included there for our benefit as well.


First, how does this repentance start? The prodigal son has been heading down the road of sin and separation from the family. The more time that passes, the more things turn sour. He finally realizes he’s on the wrong road. How? What was the occasion that caused him to realize this was the wrong road? It wasn’t running out of money and it wasn’t the famine. Jesus tells us that “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” But still he didn’t want to leave the independent life he had chosen. He still thought he could take care of the problems all on his own. He did want not feel he needed his father’s help nor counsel. The next verse tells us his response to his new poverty and the famine: “So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country.”


How many times do we, the people who claim Jesus Christ as our Savior, how many times do we struggle on in a desperate situation and remain convinced that we don’t need help? And all the while, Jesus is ready to help and waiting patiently until we are ready to allow him to help us.


How many times, especially as parents, do we see our children trying so hard to accomplish something, and we can see that they are not going to be successful, but they are convinced they can do it on their own. And even if we offer to help, they adamantly refuse. You cannot help someone who is convinced they do not need help.


But we don’t need to throw up our hands in despair, for where there is life, there is hope. The grace of God can soften the hardest heart. But we have to come to that frustration moment when we cry out in desperation.


I remember as a child being so intent that I could do something that I would become almost obsessed with it. One time in particular comes to mind, when I was probably about eight years old and I wanted to find out how this mechanical type toy of my little brother’s worked. I remember intently working on that thing, removing screws, springs, gizmos, and gadgets in order to find out how it did what it did. When I got it all apart, it still didn’t make much sense to me. Well, I couldn’t put it back together properly. There were more springs to put back in than what I remembered taking out. And there weren’t enough holes for all the screws I had. I tried and tried and tried. And became more and more frustrated and angry and teary eyed… and scared that my folks would find out.


I was just like that prodigal son headed down the wrong road and didn’t know it. My error began when I decided I was going to secretly do something I knew was wrong. But all the way through the tearing apart process, I wasn’t worried, nor afraid. I was convinced I could take care of any problem and still fix everything like it was supposed to be…as does this prodigal as well.


He runs out of money and he’s still convinced he’s OK. He encounters a famine and runs out of food and he’s still convinced he’s OK. It wasn’t until he had to wallow with pigs and found that NO ONE was willing to help, that he realizes there’s a problem. Just like I didn’t realize that I had a problem, until I tried to put that dumb toy back together.


The prodigal’s desperate situation causes him to begin examining his situation and considering the options. THAT’S when we begin to change. When we consider how bad our situation is and how much better it could be if we repented and returned to the family.


Notice in verse 17, he doesn’t start considering his return because he’s hungry. It’s because, as the King James says: “I perish with hunger.” He’s not just hungry. He’s hungry and no longer sees any way of changing that situation. That’s when he remembers his father’s house and how he had had it good there, although he hadn’t realized it at the time.


What follows in the next three verses is the crux of my message this morning. It follows the boy’s train of thought from the moment where he realizes that there is a place where he wouldn’t have to live in such a bad situation to where he decides to return to his father’s house.


Look with me at verses 17-19 in Luke 15:


14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.


17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’


20 “So he returned home to his father.


The King James Version puts the boy’s decision like this: “I will arise and go to my father.” He will not spend any longer in this deplorable condition, but will immediately arise and return. Even though he’s in a far country, a long way away from his father’s house, yet he will return. When we walk away from our Father’s house, and our heavenly family, we too will find that there are many long walks ahead before we undo the damage we’ve done.


The son begins to determine what to say and how to approach the father when he gets back. Let’s look at what he purposed in his heart to say:


“Father, I have sinned…”


The first step after we recognize our need to return to the family and the father, is to admit that we have sinned. Without that confession, no matter how much we try, we will not be able to return. And we will be stuck in our sin, even though we won’t admit it. And we’ll pay the consequences.


But the son doesn’t stop there. He says “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He not only admits he has sinned, he acknowledges that he has sinned against his father and against God. It is important to remember that when we offend someone else, or treat them wrong, we are also sinning against God.


Next, this son acknowledges that by his own choice, he has forfeited any right to the privileges of the family. Verse 19 reads: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” He had already demanded, and received, all the portion of the inheritance that would rightfully belong to him. To return does not guarantee that he will receive more of the same. But he hopes that he can at least serve his father as a hired man for no reward other than his daily provisions.


And, still, the story of his repentance is not finished.


He has finally realized, through his frustration and anguish, that he needs to repent and return to the father. Then he purposes what he needs to do. And then, in the beginning of verse 20, he finally does it: “So he got up and went to his father. “


So many times we make a decision to respond to the Lord in one way or another, but then don’t ever quite get around to actually doing what he’s asked us to do. Unlike us, this prodigal decides what he’ll do, and then gets up and does it right away.


And the father, while the prodigal is still far off, sees him coming and runs to meet him. God, our Father, as soon as we start back to the family, runs to meet us and welcome us home as well. And as the story continues, not only is there provision for the son, there is a feast as well.


When we first addressed this parable last week, we emphasized the fact that this boy was already a member of the family before he walked away from it all into his sin. And we spoke of how there are many of us in the Christian family, and even in our local church family, who have, by their own choice, chosen to walk away from both God and the family of God.


I want to stress that. Because the whole turn around in this story today, is not limited to sinners who have never known the Lord. They cannot remember how great it was in the Father’s house, because they’ve never been to the Father’s house; Never known the Father; Never eaten at the Father’s table.

There’s still a need for non-Christians to repent, and they too must realize their need, confess their sin, and go to the Lord. But this story is an even stronger message for those of us who are already in the family. Because we may come to the place sometime where we feel we want to walk away from the family, because of whatever imagined reason. And, according to what this story seems to say, God the Father will let us go and do what we want. And will let us reap the rewards and consequences of sin. And will allow us to rot and starve in a far away land until we, like that prodigal, acknowledge that we need the Father, and the Father’s household, and then confess our sins and return to the family.


And, according to statistics, there are many of us in Christianity that have already walked away, even though we are still in the pews on a lot of Sundays. Leadership magazine quotes George Gallup, the famous pollster as saying, “There’s little difference in… behavior between the churched and the unchurched. There’s as much pilferage and dishonesty among the churched as the unchurched.”


How many of us have already hired our souls out to evil in a far country, far from the spiritual realm of the Father and the Father’s house? How many of us say we believe this and that, but yet, our hearts are full of the pleasures of sin and the telltale signs of bitterness, anger, judgmentalism, and hatred?


We need to willingly return to the Father and the family, BEFORE we face afflictions, or it becomes too late.

For the Father is just waiting for us to turn around so that he can welcome us for our coming home.

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Prodigal Sons

This is a sermon I’ve preached, building on the text of Luke 15:11-32.

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“THE PRODIGAL SONS”


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Our Scripture passage this morning is one of those Bible stories that even non-Christians have probably heard of. The Prodigal Son. Turn with me if you will to Luke chapter 15. We hear Jesus telling parables, nice everyday stories that the everyday person can relate to, yet revealing Godly lessons. This time, like so often is the case, Jesus has a crowd gathered around him; there are his disciples, there are a group of Pharisees trying to catch him in a twist of the tongue, and then there are hundreds of confused, spiritually hungry normal, everyday people– all listening intently to Jesus.


He tells a story of a lost sheep, one of 99, that gets lost in the wilderness, and how the shepherd leaves the rest in their safe pen and goes and finds the lost one, and brings it home, and then Jesus tells of the rejoicing that follows.


He then tells of a lost coin that is desparately searched for and found, and the rejoicing that follows.


And He tells of the prodigal son. Let’s look at Luke 15, starting at verse eleven (New Living Translation).



11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.


13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.


17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’


20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’


22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.


25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’


28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’


31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

This parable of the prodigal son shows the nature of repentance and the Lord’s readiness to welcome and bless all who return to him.


In so many ways, this is the perfect story of God accepting us back as sinners. But I want to challenge that idea just a little bit. While the acceptance and love of sinners is certainly a part of the meaning, I believe there’s a message there for us as Christians. For those of us that the Bible calls “the adopted sons of God.” You see, the way I read this story there were two sons. This is not a story of one good son and someone from the muck and mire of the streets that joins the family. At the very beginning, they were both sons. And I believe the problems and choices involved in this prodigal face us today.


This prodigal, as a son, while enjoying the benefits of being in the family, becomes restless. He finds the rules and rigors of being in the family too constraining, and wants his freedom. He wants the “fun” that he has never experienced. He longs to move from being just a son to being master on his own. Like the angel Lucifer before the creation of the world, he longs to stop serving and become his own master. A restlessness of this nature is the first step in becoming a prodigal.


In verse 12 we see the younger one say to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’ He demands his gifts from the father, his inheritance, as if it were owed to him, even though estates and inheritances are not ours until later. They are not ours to demand on the spot when the will happens to hit us. How many times do we see Christians approach the Heavenly Father in the same way. God becomes like a giant vending machine. All you have to do is claim the thing and believe it will be given to you and, lo and behold, you unloose heaven’s gates and presto, you will receive. I submit to you, this kind of attitude is an attitude of a developing prodigal. There is danger of falling away.


Then of course, we read in verse 13, “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” The Scriptures let us know that time passed where he was in possession of all that was “his” yet still living as a member of the family. But, having all that we want, coupled with the attitudes of “I want to be my own master” and the attitude of “God owes me” makes it nearly impossible to stay in the family long. And the rest is downhill.


How many times do we see Christians, and even ministers, be blessed of God and exalted to high places, only to read about them on the front page later, exposing their wild living? How many times do our career minded Christians go from a heart desiring God, to being blessed and exalted in their career, and then those Christians are absent from the church for decades, and unfortunately, separated from God as well?


However, the other son, the older one, has a prodigal attitude as well, and ends the story as a prodigal, although he didn’t think so I’m sure. Look at his part of this parable again.


Luke 15:25-28a (NLT)
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.




Listen to him arguing with his father as to why he will not go into his family.


In verse 29.we read, “Look! All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused a single thing you told me to.” First, he boasts of his own virtue and obediance. His brother had started with a heart attitude of wanting to be his own master, this son starts with a heart attitude of “I’ve already done all that I need to do, I’m already good!”


The older son then begins complaining. Look at verse 29 again:
“but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.”

He reveals how far his heart is from the family already in his complaint. He laments that he never got a goat for a party with his friends. A goat would be a very small token of the father’s love, yet it is what this son longs more than a fatted calf, because he doesn’t want to party with his family, he wants to party with his friends.

And then, in verse 30 we read:

“… when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!”

He looks down his self-righteous little nose and tries to set the younger son in as negative a light as possible. He had no way of knowing what the younger son had done with all his money. He hadn’t even known that he was home, let alone to hear his stories about what had happened. But he was willing to spread the filth anyways, in order to appear more righteous. And he doesn’t even acknowledge the younger one as his brother. He refers to him as “this son of yours.”


How many times do we Christians look down on the prodigals in our midst? We see that God the Father has welcomed them home and renewed their position in the family, yet we refuse to call them “brother”…first, only in our hearts, but then, out loud, and even to the Father’s face. And we go out of our way to make sure that others see them in the worst possible light. What arrogance!


Well, the father’s dealing with each son is similar. He goes out and meets them before they reach the house. He shows his acceptance and willingness to include each, but only one son will bow his heart enough to allow the father to do so. And when the story ends, the younger son, who had sinned deplorably, is included inside the house, in the party, amongst the family. And the older son, the “righteous” one, yet the one who had never dealt with the brother or the family in truth, is on the outside, turning his back on all that he had known. And not even the father cannot even convince him to rejoin the family.


As Christians, as “sons”, we need to see the message of this parable. For we need to remember that even as members of the father’s family, we are all still sinners. There were two boys. Of the two, the wayward prodigal is by far the most likable, the most attractive, the most honest and open. Both were equally lost–the prodigal amongst the pigs and the other in his pew. The father loved them both. Yet they each chose their own way of responding. But where were they at the end of the story?We overlook it quite often, but there is as much prodigal son in him as his little brother.

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Genealogy posts: Family Tree

DID YOU KNOW…

– that I also write a blog regarding my genealogical discoveries? I call it MIXED GENES! Many times they are ancestors and relatives somehow related to either my wife or me, but often they are simply genealogical nuggets I’ve discovered while searching my own family tree.

CHECK IT OUT!!!
http://www.mixedgenes.blogspot.com

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Pastoral Care & Suicide (CEU)

PASTORAL CARE AND SUICIDE

May 24, 2011

9:00-3:00

First United Methodist Church,

Reynoldsville, PA

As pastors and ambassadors of Christ Himself, we regularly are faced with questions of life and death day in and day out. But how do you begin to share the hope of Christ for an abundant life when the person you want to help just wants to die?


Topics will include suicide prevention, warning signs, clinical assessment, and ministering to families who have been impacted by suicide.


Gay is a Nationally Board Certified Counselor with an M.A. in Community Counseling from Indiana University of PA. Dayton is pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Reynoldsville, having earned his M.Div. from United Theological Seminary.


$10.00 will cover handouts and lunch.


In order to provide lunch for participants, reservations are needed by calling 814-653-8593 by Thursday, May 19th.

(NOTE: This was originally scheduled for March 2nd, but had to be rescheduled)









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Steve Harvey: Introduction To Christ

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