Sunday, October 18, 2020- Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

As Election Day approaches, journalists are asking candidates a lot of tough questions. And they SHOULD ask tough questions, since our elected officials and leaders are public servants and need to be held accountable. But the questions asked are not always straight forward and honest in approach. For example, it would be fair to ask a senator up for re-election how he or she formulated their views and opinions on a particular bill they crafted or signed onto. But it would be a little unfair and misleading to ask, “Senator, why did you desert your allies and support a bill that betrays your party and our democracy?” 

 

That’s a “gotcha” question: one that is designed to entrap an interviewee, made to look like a question but actually designed to damage or discredit the reputation of the party being asked. It’s kind of like asking, “Tell me, have you stopped cheating on your wife (or husband)? Please answer yes or no.”

 

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22, verses 15-22, the Pharisees are laying a trap for Jesus by trying to get him to make a declaration about paying taxes.

 

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” Man! They flatter him, trying to get him to lower his guard before they attack. Then they ask, “Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Now, if Jesus approves of paying taxes, he’ll offend those who are rebelling against the oppression of the Roman Empire. If he disapproves of paying taxes, he could be accused of disloyalty to Rome and maybe arrested. A “gotcha” question. It’s like asking “Do you support rebellion or do you support Rome?” Either choice can be used against him.

 

Of course, this ain’t Jesus’ first rodeo. He flips the choice back to them. “Show me the coin used for the tax,” he says. They give him a denarius, a Roman coin. Then, holding up the coin he asks, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answer, “The emperor’s.”  Jesus says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus takes that “gotcha” question and turns it back on the Pharisees, slipping right out of their little trap.

 

But Jesus’ answers are never that cut and dry, you know. To this day it’s not clear that anyone yet has figured out precisely what Jesus was getting at. Some wise theologians say the passage is proof that God and politics should be kept separate. Others insist that the story proves faith and religion are a matter of the heart, and that Jesus doesn’t really care about what you do with your money. And some say the text is proof that Jesus taught that the law is the law, and our duty as Christians is to support the government no matter what. But I remain skeptical that any of these explanations fully capture the truth Jesus was expressing.

 

One thing is clear, though. By using the physical features of the denarius, Jesus brings to mind the words from the first chapter of Genesis: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26, NRSV). Maybe by using that coin he was pointing out that, as something of great value, we humans also have been made to bear the image of the ONE who we belong to, the ONE who loves us beyond words.   

 

Politics and government and money aside, even today we tend to forget the most important aspect of our being. Just like those Pharisees confronted with the question of human loyalty and the coin bearing the image of an earthly emperor.  It’s easy to picture Jesus flipping that coin in his hand a few times, and then maybe slowly looking up to stare into the eyes, confronting them with a question that would completely blow their minds: “And you, dear friends? Whose image do you bear?” 

 

Today, whatever we decide to “render unto Caesar”, or to our retirement fund, or to an election campaign, or the offering plate at church, there is one particular thing that we can’t afford to forget: that above all else we belong entirely to God. We may divide our time, and our financial obligations and our budgets. But we must never divide our allegiance.  Like that Roman denarius, or even our coins of today bearing the images of dead presidents, we too bear an image. The image of the Ultimate Emperor, God, who said: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” We must never forget to render unto God the things that are God’s – especially when that object of value and worth is ourselves.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon!

 

Pastor Alan

 


Thursday, October 15, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Special Message:

 

Hello, family and friends. 

 

I don’t think I have to express at this point what a challenging year 2020 has been. I can’t recall any classes that could or would have prepared me as a pastor for the challenges the Coronavirus and the physical distancing it has brought to our church and its members. So, if you're feeling overwhelmed, afraid, angry, especially after seven months of it … Well, I get it. So much is different. And, at times, it seems endless! 

  

And yet some things remain: the abiding love of God, the connections of friendship and prayer within our congregation, and our commitment to reach out in service to our neighbors through our participation with the food pantry. Several of you are dedicated volunteers who have kept the doors open and the operation running smoothly, and for that I cannot express enough how my heart swells when I think about it.  

 

And the ones of you who have stepped up and helped one another by staying in contact with other members, fixing meals and taking them over to one another while we are all shut-in.  Telephone calls to remind other members how they are loved and prayed for each day. All of these efforts are different ways of offering ministry, and I couldn’t be prouder of you as your pastor!  

   

But, ministry in a time like this depends on all of us. I want to thank those of you who have been faithful in your tithing and financial commitment to St. Paul.  I know many folks are struggling right now, and this year has created tight budgets.  This is true for St. Paul as well. At this point of the church calendar, we are usually in the middle of or finishing up with our Stewardship campaign.  This year has been drastically different, and we’ve lost our momentum on many operational things. With that, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that your financial contributions and gifts are what we depend upon to continue our faithful mission and ministry in this neighborhood. Your support is critical to our sustainability. 

 

I hope your circumstances will enable you to continue your usual contributions. If they have changed, please know I understand. If you find that you are able to make an additional gift or two beyond your normal amount that would be wonderful! Please know that your tithes, no matter what size, are deeply appreciated and they empower us to carry out our church’s ability to make a difference in people’s lives. 

 

I know that, together, we can support each other through this pandemic. Together, we can answer God’s call to mission and ministry, as a united church in Christ. And, above all, together we can remain spiritually united even when we have to remain physically apart. 

 

I love each and every one of you. Very much! I’ll talk with you soon, on Sunday.   

 

Pastor Alan 

Sunday, October 11, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

As you bring in the mail you notice an invitation among the bills. When you open it, you find that the daughter of a long-time friend is getting married.  
 
“Oh, my gosh”, you exclaim. “Jeannie’s getting married next May. That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to go. Dom and Susan will be there, and, oh, the Mitchells, and Tara and Bill and Ronnie and Mike – oh, I can’t wait to see all the old gang again! I’ve got to get this on the calendar NOW!”
 
But it isn’t always that way with us and invitations.  Other invitations come and maybe we’re not so excited about them. "Oh, no, Norm and Keith are having ANOTHER one of THEIR parties, don’t cha know. Remember the last one we went to … three people fell asleep in the middle of it. Nothing but a rehashing of the same old stuff, how things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be and blah blah blah… AND it’s on a Friday night, and we usually always do something with Eileen and Tony. Do we REALLY have to go to this party??" 
 
In Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, the invitations to the wedding banquet have gone out. The host is making the preparations, and has slaughtered an ox and prepared the fatted calves. This is going to be some special feast. 
 
Now, remember, people in Jesus’ day very rarely had the chance to partake of meat, because it was so expensive. So, you can imagine that serving a young calf was a rare treat. Given time, that calf would grow into a cow, which would provide a lot more meat. But rather than wait, the king has opted to serve it now, because this is a big event. A special occasion.
  
As they set the tables, the fruits and vegetables are prepared. The honey is ready. The hall has been decked out to the nines. The musicians have been hired, and now they bring their instruments into the hall. The feast is all set. All they need now is the guests to show up. 
 
The king sends out the servants to call those who have been invited. But as the servants go out with their announcements, everybody turns them down. Every single person gives some reason why he or she cannot come to the party. They all have excuses. In the end, their excuses come down to "Sorry, but I don’t have time," which really means, "I don’t care that much about this."
 
It’s true about us as well, I’m afraid. We make time for the things that are really important to us personally, don’t we? We prioritize our time and availability. Suppose someone says to us, "I want to meet you Tuesday at 10am because you have been left money in a will. I have a check for $2,000,000 to give you." Would you say, "You know, Tuesday doesn’t really work so well for me. Maybe another time." Heck, no, we’d clear our calendar for that meeting!  
 
When the king in Jesus’ story hears that all of his guests have backed out of his party, he’s a little upset. Okay, angry. He has made all these preparations – he has put a great deal of money into this party – and it’s all ready. What is he supposed to do now? 
 
So, he decides on a different approach. He says to the servants, "Go out to the streets and invite everyone you find. Anyone and everyone is invited to this party." The parable is even explicit about saying; "both the good and the bad" will be coming. Everybody’s invited. 
 
As a result, the banquet hall is full – and, boy, it’s a rag-tag crowd. Some executives, some street people, some are hungry and looking for a free meal, some are women of ill repute, some are political leaders, some are young students, some are old people. Great laughter fills the hall. Lots of people are getting to know each other, since its unlikely any of them knew each other before. Crossing social boundaries, breaking down barriers. There is a great deal of conversation. Nobody has ever been to a party quite like this before. What a joyful celebration it is, because everybody WANTS to be there! 
 
I so look forward to the day when we have a COVID vaccine, a time when our lives can begin to get back to some kind of less-than-scary normal. A time when we can resume gathering again; for worship, for meals, for celebration – because we WANT to be there. Want to be with each other. That’s the celebration I am so hungry for. Especially after these months and months and months of isolation. How about you? You won’t turn down an invitation like that, will you? 
 
I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 
 

Pastor Alan  

October 4, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

One of you shared with me recently that this pandemic has felt like a church killer, a “spirit buster”. No gathering after church on Sundays to eat and talk and laugh and visit like we used to, this person said.

It’s true. Since COVID came on the scene, worship is not the same now. It’s different. I have no allusions that my telephone messages compare to what we used to do. I get that. When we are accustomed to doing church in a particular fashion or a certain way, anything else seems foreign and not as fulfilling.  

I’m sixty years old now, and I’ve experienced many different forms of church worship in my lifetime. Different styles of song, formal dress, casual dress, big congregations, small congregations, young people, old people, brown, white, gay, straight, and everyone in between. But one particular worship experience a few years back truly changed my view on what worship could be, and SHOULD BE.

It wasn’t too many years after I had come to St. Paul that I was invited to visit a small storefront ministry on Cleveland Avenue called Crack House Ministries. To be honest, interacting with addicts and former addicts who were seeking God in the midst of their pain and suffering and healing was all very new to me. I had never had much exposure with people walking this particular life path. I remember parking behind the building and entering through the back door of the storefront-type room filled only with rows and rows of gray metal chairs. The room was hot and muggy from the summer heat. A simple, plain wooden podium faced the chairs. Big industrial-sized fans roared from either end of the room. No air conditioning. No fancy church windows. No hymnals. No musical instruments other than an old upright piano and a guitar. No bulletins, no Communion table or baptismal font, no electronic screens or projectors. The worship area felt ... well, stripped down. Naked church, I described it to myself. Rather stark and industrial and kind of disappointing, actually.

Okay, I’m spoiled, I know. For years I had been blessed to have comfortable environments to worship in. Beautiful churches with colored-glass windows depicting the gospels. Intricately carved wooden pews with plush cushions. And air conditioning. Not gloomy and barren and emotionally cold like this place felt. Not having a skid row feeling to it.

But as we began to worship, I suddenly witnessed and felt the most profound and authentic expression of faith I had ever experienced. Stripped of all the typical dressing and material adornments of religious ritual, and of the “free” life I was so accustomed to, the men and women in this truly holy space stood before God, bare and broken. They sang uninhibited to a simple guitar accompaniment. They listened to the scriptures. They opened their hearts to allow the words to sink in. Some wept. Some laughed. Some smiled. Some got up and testified. They spoke a truth that belongs to us all, but which is so easily hidden beneath layers of polite social correctness and fancy decoration. Nothing in this place was pretty or ornamental. No one needed that. What they needed was God. They needed a love that is inexhaustible, a self-value that is genuine, a purpose that is not self-centered, a freedom that is inherent. I was standing in the midst of human redemption, renewal, restoration. And it was as if I was experiencing true worship for the very first time.  

Learning to worship in another way, to experience God in a different light, in a new environment, can be earth-shaking. And soul stirring. At first, meager and disappointing, and then suddenly, WHAM! Profound and authentic. During these past months I have managed to accept our new way of having to BE church for the moment, maybe even embrace it and use it to deepen my spiritual commitment to God, and to all of you. Maybe eliminating, temporarily of course, physical distractions that in-person worshipping can bring is not such a bad thing. It helps us to learn to depend on other spiritual elements of worship and praise, to reorient ourselves in spirit.    

Learning, or relearning, the essentials of being God’s church in a different way, by being reminded of the sacredness of life and relationship with God. Are we getting it yet?  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan 


October 2, 2020-A SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM PASTOR ALAN


During my years in school, preparing for life in the real world, I remember a passage of scripture that was shared with me by one of my professors at Asbury College in Wilmore, KY.  The passage comes from the letter to the Philippian church, chapter 2, verse 3-4 (ESV) and it goes like this: 


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to [your] own interests, but also to the interests of others.”   

 

That passage has remained a favorite of mine and stayed with me for these many years, and it’s ended up helping me in making tough choices as a pastor and church leader. It has often reminded me that my calling as a pastor charges me with the responsibility of looking after “the flock”, to guard the wellbeing of each and every member of the congregation, physically as well as spiritually.  

 

But knowing this doesn’t always make my decisions any easier. I struggled mightily in March when the decision had to be made on how to respond to the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, they don’t teach you what to do in case of a world-wide pandemic. And much prayer on my part has happened in the months that have followed.    

 

With the Fall season upon us and temperatures beginning to dip, Dale Patterson, your council president and I, have had to reevaluate our position once again. Because of the ongoing pandemic, he and I have prayerfully decided to heed the guidance given to us by the UCC Association leadership as well as the office of the UCC Heartland Conference of Ohio to continue our physical distancing measures for the remainder of this year. This will mean that all in-person church services and use of the building and grounds for church-related activities and events will continue to be suspended. Worship services, meetings, and other events and activities will be held via telephone.  


We will continue to monitor the pandemic situation in Ohio, and should it become safe for our community to meet in person before the end of this year, you can be sure we will reassess this decision. We are just as eager as all of you to return to worship together, in person. Until that time the building will only be open for staff and volunteers performing essential church and pantry operations. 


Dear church family and friends, please understand and know that this was not an easy decision for your pastor or your council president. We have wrestled with the decision to go ahead and open, risking potential viral contamination in order to be physically in touch again, and we have repeatedly decided that the risk is not worth it. We love you all too dearly. Protecting our church family members is paramount in our motivation.   

 

We know how important worship is to everyone. I, along with our music director Scot Ashton, will continue to explore ways to develop worship opportunities via Facebook by way of video downloads. Unfortunately, due to a lack of technology we simply are not able to offer full online worship services as other congregations are. For that I sincerely apologize. Our desire continues to be that we remain a valid ministry in this community and to our members in the best way possible during these unprecedented times.   

 

This year has brought many challenges to St. Paul, and we acknowledge that this decisive action is heartbreaking and difficult. But it is NOT permanent. We thank all of you for bearing with us and continuing to financially and prayerfully support St. Paul as much as you are able. I encourage everyone to keep exploring new ways of worshipping God at home, and to increase your time in prayer. And while we may feel helpless and ineffectual in many regards, try to keep this one simple truth in mind:  As God’s children, we are far more than just a physical presence in this world. With the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we are also the powerful presence of God’s love – even in these challenging times.   

 

God bless you all and thank you for your patience, prayers and support. I love you, St. Paul family.  I’ll talk with you on Sunday.  


Pastor Alan

 


Sunday, September 27, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

On my way to the church early one morning this week, I got behind a big delivery truck that suddenly stopped, mid-block, to deliver a huge box out of the back. The driver and assistant were young, probably in their twenties, but honestly – the way they moved you would have thought they were my age. Anyway, I patiently waited for them to do what they needed to do. I mean, where was I going to go, anyway? I was behind them with no way to go around, and with our narrow streets and cars parked on both sides I wasn’t about to try and back up all the way to Bruck Street.   

 

I sat there. AND I sat there! I watched them struggling with this huge box, trying to figure out how they were going to carry it to the front door. It didn’t seem to weigh that much.  Just seemed big and bulky.  Awkward, you know? They finally managed to get it to the front door of the double. Then, they had to try and figure out how to notate it on their IPhone or blackberry or whatever it is they use these days to get customer’s signatures or confirmations of delivery. After another minute or two they come back down the walkway and head for the truck, closing the big door in the back first. And, now here comes the main point I want to make – the whole point I want to get across to you all – they both get into the truck.  Not a single glance my way, not one friendly hand wave to say, “Hey, mister, thanks for being so patient”, or a smile or ANYTHING. They just drive off. The end. Hasta luego, sucker.  I had sat there for a good – oh, I don’t know – maybe three, four minutes.  And NOTHING!  I tell you, these people today. Totally rude and ungrateful!! 

 

Of course, my poor attitude came back to bite me square in the cheeks later that morning, when I stumbled across a scripture passage from Luke, chapter 6, in a devotional.  And, so I have to ask you all this question:  If we could pretend that the words we have heard from a gospel reading had come from any other source than Jesus, what would we think of the advice he gave? In Luke, chapter 6, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us and be merciful even as God is merciful! Now, if it wasn’t Jesus talking, wouldn’t we think this advice to be a little crazy? I mean, look at these rude kids I encountered. Or maybe it’s someone at the grocery store who rams us with a cart and then sneers at us, like it’s our fault.  Wouldn’t our natural reaction be to get even with those who harm us or at least to refuse to speak to them until they begged for forgiveness?  Or given us a friendly hand wave.   

 

Now, why is our tendency to respond that way so at odds with Jesus’ call to be merciful? Well, for one thing, Jesus has got a good heaping helping of God in him. Being his son, Jesus tends to reflect the qualities of his dad, which baffles us humans and annoys us sometimes to no end. This God that Jesus proclaims is not a god of retribution or just desserts. Jesus says that God urges us to “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

 

Did I mention that Jesus’ way could be a bit annoying? But, Jesus says we are to be like God. We are to imitate the ways of God with others. As God does it, so must we do it. Some sarcastic people like to call this giving someone “a free ride.” Getting something without having to work for it. Undeserved grace. It’s free! 

 

Well, it’s true. More than anyone else, God does give free rides! And being recipients of God’s free rides – because who knows better than God how many times WE’VE ALL failed to acknowledge his goodness, his mercy, his patience with us – we being receivers of these free rides should strive to become GIVERS of free rides to one another. Challenged to be gracious in our interactions. More attuned to how much we are receiving God’s grace when we don’t deserve a compliment, a raise, a pat on the back, a seat on a bus, or a, “It’s okay. I won’t hold it against you,” response from someone we’ve hurt, but they give it anyway. By learning to appreciate all the times we have received free rides, we might be more inclined to give others free rides, as we become channels of God’s unmerited love and forgiveness. Be like God, gracious and graceful! 

 

The challenge from Jesus is clear. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful! Are we up for the challenge?

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan

 





Sunday, September 20, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


“It’s not fair!”  

 

Ever hear someone utter that battle cry?  It always comes after someone feels they have been treated unjustly and they demand that the injustice be corrected. If it’s a little child, they usually burst into tears and sob “It’s not fair” upon seeing another child, maybe a sibling, get a bigger piece of cake. Or, who knows, maybe it’s an adult who REALLY likes cake!  

  

In the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16, “It’s not fair!” is the cry from the men who had worked all day in the vineyard. And, to be honest, they seem to have a point. They had put in a full day’s work, toiling since six in the morning, working until six in the evening on a hot day — only to see those people who arrived an hour before quitting time get paid the same amount that the early birds had gotten.  Now, what’s the point of putting in a full day’s work when others get the same amount for “loafing”? It’s not fair! 

 

“It’s not fair!” 

 

We hear that same cry from Jonah. He had been sent by God to visit the wicked people of Nineveh, and God decides to spare them of any punishment for their crimes.  Jonah just KNEW that would happen, which is why he initially ran away from God’s instructions, which caused him to end up in the belly of a whale, smelling all fishy – but that’s another story.  God tells him to go to Nineveh to proclaim God’s judgment on them, and Jonah thinking they were so stubborn and rude they’d never repent figured it was a waste of time. But low and behold, what happens?  They do!  They repent, and God decides not to destroy the city.  So, Jonah, a little irritated at this point with God that he let them off the hook so easily says, “I just knew you’d do something like this, treating these lousy pagans like good religious people! It’s not fair!” 

 

We adults can be such immature brats at times, can’t we? 

 

The all-day workers in Jesus’ parable represent the good, religious people who had tried all their lives to be faithful to the God of Israel. They’d tried to obey the law of Moses and to do their duty. And, then, this Jesus comes along welcoming crooked tax collectors and prostitutes and saying that they can get into the kingdom of heaven after living lifetimes of ignoring God’s commandments. Now, how is that fair? 

 

Sometimes we may mutter something like this under our own breath, to ourselves in our own churches. We’ve tried to be faithful, worshiping regularly and taking on tasks to get things done in our church. Then we’re told about the first being last and the last being first, prodigals being welcomed, and the shepherd leaving the flock to go and find the one who got lost and wandered off.  You know, we want to be gracious and welcome sinners who have “seen the light” as we call it.  Had that awakening, that BIG epiphany.  But sometimes we think, “Doesn’t staying where we belong and doing what we’re supposed to do, coming to church and serving on committees or teaching children, doesn’t any of that count for anything?” 

 

Well, if Jesus had been talking about ordinary business dealings, like we humans conduct it, the owner in his story would be considered unfair and the workers would have a right to complain. In our 9-to-5 world, you expect that those who put in a full day’s work will get paid more than those who do much less at the same job, and Jesus isn’t arguing with that. The owner’s words in the parable — “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” — that’s not a justification for unfair labor practices.  Not by any means.  The owner of the vineyard is God.  The vineyard in the story is representative of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is teaching us that God’s kingdom is very different from how we humans operate on the economic fairness scale. If it were a matter of earning our way into that kingdom fair and square – HA! – nobody would get in.  All of us would be out of luck!   And that’s Jesus’ point, precisely.   

 

The kingdom of heaven is given to us freely, but not because we’ve earned it.  Complaining about what could be perceived as unfairness badly misses the point. God is much more than fair. God is incredibly gracious.  God is amazingly forgiving.  We’re saved by grace.  

 

So, while we aren’t working to earn our way into the kingdom of heaven here in our own churches, we ARE most certainly called to work.  We work out of gratitude.  Out of appreciation for all God has done for us.  All of us contributing our part, our gifts and talents, together, so that we can ALL share in the kingdom together.   

 

I look forward to working with all of you when we resume our “church work” in-person.  

 

I love you. St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan 

 



Sumday,September 13, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


There’s an old hymn that truly sums up what church and being a part of the Christian family is all about.  It begins like this: 

 

     Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love, 

     The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. 

 

These words perfectly describe the intended closeness that Jesus had in mind for those who love God and choose to follow his son for a lifetime. I emphasize “intended closeness” because in our modern world that conception can be rather difficult to imagine or achieve, wouldn’t you say? In John’s gospel (17:21) we find Jesus praying “that they may all be one”, a particularly special scripture to our United Church of Christ denomination. Jesus’ prayer focused on all who believed in him.  A prayer for all who believe in Christ’s vision for us today. A prayer for you and me. 

 

One look at our world, our society, even our church shows that we haven’t quite lived up to that vision just yet. It’s rather obvious. Will that prayer ever be answered, do you think? Well, all we can say is that it is definitely the desire of Jesus and God the Creator. But have we truly embraced that vision for ourselves in order to live into it as a reality in our own lives?  I wonder sometimes.

 

One of my favorite Mark Twain antidotes expresses it this way. He said: “I built a cage, and in it I put a dog and a cat.  And after a little training I got the dog and the cat to the point where they lived peaceably together.  Then I introduced a pig, a goat, a kangaroo, some birds and a monkey.  And after a few adjustments, they learned to live in harmony.  So encouraged was I by such successes that I added an Irish Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Muslim from Turkestan, and a Buddhist from China, along with a Baptist missionary that I captured on the same trip.  And in a very short while there wasn’t a single living thing left in the cage!” 

 

The problem, of course, is our human inclination to sin. Yes, I know, it’s that BAD word; the one we don’t like to mention very much. The one that points the finger at our rebellion against God, which produces no small amounts of false pride, egotism, quests for power over others, and an unwillingness to seek unity and fellowship with those who differ greatly from us. 

 

It’s always painful when “the fellowship of kindred minds” breaks down and is no longer a reality. That unattractive part of our human nature flairs up and causes splits, bitterness, hurt feelings, and divided communities. We end up with broken congregations, and broken hearts and spirits. 

 

And, then, on a larger scale are the conflicts and battles that arise higher up between various denominations of the church. Even mentioning certain trigger issues that Christians disagree on can raise blood pressures and almost start holy wars, causing some to forget the words of our Lord who said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”  

 

We can forget to sing with others outside our fold: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” We can forget to sing together of Jesus’ vision of a unity that can only be achieved by his intentions, by his spirit, by God’s design. Forget to sing of love. Sing it and live it. Intensely and sincerely. 

 

Dr. Karl Menninger, that brilliant and gifted psychiatrist, said once that “love is the medicine for the sickness of the world.” Now, who could argue with that? 

 

Genuine love has the ability to heal anger and meanness of spirit. True love can restore dysfunctional families to normalcy and health. Christlike love can bring about the healing of the nations of earth. God’s love can heal our spiritual sickness and bring about the healing of the Christian church so that once again those of other beliefs – or no beliefs at all – may be prompted to say, “See how the Christians love one another.” 

 

Yes, I know. It all sounds like pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking, like the dream of a naive soul who is out of touch with reality. But we Christians are duty bound to believe in the love of God and in the responsibility to follow Christ’s teaching that we love one another. We must sing the song of love because that is the tune our Lord sang. 

 

Oh, how great is the fellowship of kindred minds!

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, September 6, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


The death of a dear friend or beloved family member is never an easy happening in our lives. Even in the best scenarios, where the death is peaceful and quiet, we still must deal with the loss of someone we felt an attachment to. For Christians, we can find ourselves torn between two realities; one being the emotional/physical battle in this world of letting go while spiritually wrestling with the conviction of knowing by faith they are not dead but living now in another place, beyond our ability to see or experience.

 

When we temporarily closed the church in March due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, I would have never in my wildest imaginings believed that we would lose 5 members of our church family in six months’ time. Eva Moore. Evelyn Brinkman. Coty Slayton. Bertha Martin.  And, most recently, Carolyn Bolin. All special people in their unique ways, all children of God, all – with the exception of Coty – a presence in this church for many years.  Each one beloved by the other members.  

 

One particular passage of scripture, from the book of Revelation, kept coming to mind as I received news of each individual’s passing. From chapter 21, verse 4:   “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  

 

I will gladly admit that I have shed many tears over the course of these past six months.  Coping with the new normal of social shutdown, and then on top of it having to say goodbye to these special life forces that, how can I put it – seasoned my life with joy and surprise so much of the time.  

 

Of course, there is the aspect that we don’t fully comprehend death. What’s it like when it happens? I don’t know. What will we see upon slipping out of this world and moving toward the light?  I don’t know. How will we feel in the process? Happy? Sad? Confused? I don’t know. Maybe this is why we avoid the topic, try not to think about it more than we have to. Maybe all of that unknown is more than we WANT to ponder.

     

There’s a poem that I have frequently used for the closing of memorial services, written by a pastor by the name of Henry Scott-Holland. It has given me great comfort in times of loss. It was actually written as part of a sermon in 1910. It goes like this: 



Death is nothing at all 

It does not count. 

I have only slipped away into the next room 

I am I and you are you 

Whatever we were to each other 

That we are still 

Call me by my old familiar name 

Speak to me in the easy way you always used 

Put no difference into your tone 

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow 

Laugh as we always laughed 

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together 

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me 

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was 

Let it be spoken without effort 

Without the ghost of a shadow in it 

Life means all that it ever meant 

It is the same as it ever was 

There is absolute unbroken continuity 

What is death but a negligible accident? 

Why should I be out of mind 

Because I am out of sight? 

I am waiting for you for an interval 

Somewhere very near 

Just around the corner 

All is well. 

Nothing is past; nothing is lost 

One brief moment and all will be as it was before 

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again! 

 

While I may not be able to fully comprehend death, or know what lies beyond my earthly perception, I can say this: that I will continue to try my best not to fear death. Yes, my present body will perish, but will be replaced by a body in heaven that’ll never die. Though we are all mortal now, if we’re in Christ when we pass from this life to the next, we will be immortal; living forever with God and with Jesus in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:54)! And we will be in a place where there are no tears, no pain, and no suffering.  

 

Eva? Evelyn? Coty? Bertha? Carolyn? We’ll see you all at the party!    

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.      

 

Pastor Alan  

 




Sunday, August 30, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

It’s a curious thing, when God breaks into our reality in ways that baffle us.  It’s truly amazing how on-time these spiritual interruptions can be. If we’re not paying attention, we might miss or delay these grand moments.  And just one of those mystical moments happened to me recently. 


It wasn’t too long after we closed up the church at the beginning of the pandemic. I was a little down. Okay, maybe spiritually challenged is a better description. I felt lost. It was as if the sheep had been scattered. I kept telling myself that maybe this shutdown would only be for a few weeks.  

 

And, even though I knew I’d be here working my Huntington job in the safety of the church office 5 days a week, I also knew my time in the building would not be the same as when we all come together for worship.

    

I started taking a few moments in the morning, or maybe at lunch time, to just sit and reflect in the quiet peacefulness of the sanctuary.  It was during one these occasions when I was feeling particularly deflated in spirit, that I noticed something lying on the pulpit.  A small, light brown book.  I picked it up and examined it, wondering where it had come from, having never seen it before. “Strength for Service to God and Country”, it read.  A compact little devotional book.  I opened the front cover and noticed there was a dedication written in pen. 

 

“Presented to Herbert Kaufman, by Rev. Paul C. Kaefer”.  The inscription was dated December 3, 1952.   

 

Well, I recognized both names right away. Rev. Kaefer, as most of you know, was the longest serving pastor in this church, from 1928 – 1962. The other name, Herbert Kaufman, belonged to an older gentleman I had had the pleasure of meeting at a church spaghetti dinner my first year here. Mr. Kaufman, it turns out, is Anne Lehman’s eldest brother.  

 

I noticed the book’s ribbon page marker and opened it to May 3rd.  The devotional for that day was entitled, “The Helpful Presence of God”. The scripture for it was taken from Psalms 139, verse 7: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” 

  

Then, I looked at the devotional itself. It said, in part: “In these words is revealed a majestic conception in which God transcends space and boundary lines, and becomes at home in all the world. It is natural for us to associate God with specific places like a house of worship, or a city in which we grew up, or a holy experience. We need to learn there is no place to which we may go but God is there, there is no experience in to which we can come but God’s companionship is possible.” 

 

The devotional closed with this passage from Deuteronomy 33:27; ‘The eternal God is thy dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’”  

 

Can I tell you, that short devotional took me by surprise. It spoke so specifically on how I felt in that moment. Distanced. Isolated. Sad, because I was unable to worship with everyone in our church on Sundays. Alarmed, because everything happening in our world, in our lives, was beyond my control. God had seemed anywhere but close by. But that little devotional reminded me that God is not just here at St. Paul in the sanctuary. God is not confined to this or that spiritual moment, or memory, or place. God as spirit is flying freely, everywhere.  

 

I put the book back on the pulpit, and felt a slight sense of security and reassurance come over me.  

 

I finally got the chance to speak with Anne Lehman recently about that little book I had found. “What book?” she asked.  

 

“The little brown devotional book I discovered on the pulpit. Your brother’s name is written inside. ‘To Herbert Kaufman, from Rev. Paul C. Kaefer; 1952’”. Anne had no clue what I was talking about.  

 

I asked Kathleen, our devoted housekeeper. She had no idea how the book had ended up there. Well, I certainly knew Mr. Kaufman hadn’t left it for me to find. Anne’s brother has been gone for quite a few years.  And Rev. Kaefer, even longer.  

 

Maybe it’s not for me to know how the book showed up, or happened to be on the pulpit that day. But, I do know this – I don’t believe in coincidences, or strange little ghostly happenings.  It can only be one other thing.  And, for that, I say “Thank you, God. I needed that reminder.” 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.       

  

Pastor Alan

 

Sunday, August 23, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


Well folks, we’ve just recently passed the five-month mark. Five whole months since closing the church because of the virus. A member of our congregation, completely frustrated by the challenges of the COVID virus and everything it has affected including our church being closed, asked me by telephone, “Why doesn’t God just fix things?”  

 

“What do you mean, ‘fix things’?” I asked, wanting clarification. 

“I mean, look at the mess this virus has created,” this person went on. “Life just seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.  I want to believe that God has our best interest at heart, but it’s really hard when things are in such a mess. So, I want to know: ‘Why doesn’t God just fix things?’” 

Maybe some of you are asking the same question, muttering it under your breath. Go ahead, admit it. Or maybe you already have been asking, “Lord, when are you going to fix things?!” 

Jesus’ disciples once had the nerve to ask him the same question. Look it up, in Acts chapter 1. Jesus’ reply was both encouraging and discouraging, all at the same time. It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”   

Now, it may not sound all that encouraging at first glance. But it does somewhat imply that one day, in the wisdom of his authority, God WILL fix things. God will wipe out all illness, sickness and suffering. Dry the tears from every tearful eye, cause wars to cease, and lead our world to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  God will bring about a time where poverty and hunger and injustice are no more.  In other words, GOD WILL FIX THINGS. 

But these words from Jesus are also a tad bit discouraging. The disciples wanted instant action, immediate resolution to their trials, troubles, and tribulations. Do you blame them? Unfortunately for them, Jesus informs them that their timetable and God’s timetable do not always coincide. In fact, they may be entirely different calendars altogether.  Yes, God will fix things – but only when God is ready.  

So, what do we do now while we are waiting for the “times” and “periods” to be revealed.  How do we live in the interim as we wait for God to fix everything that is wrong about this world? 

Now, let’s keep in mind that this pandemic hasn’t totally paralyzed us. There are present things we CAN fix. Things we SHOULD be doing. And we are to continue to manage those things to the best of our ability.  But for those other matters, the ones that are out of our hands, Jesus gives us only one word of instruction regarding what we are to do in the meantime. He tells the disciples that they will just have to wait. WAIT. Not exactly the kind of answer we want to hear.   

A teacher-friend once told me that the most hated word in the English language was the word NO! That may well be true. But I am sure that a very close runner-up would be the word WAIT!  Our culture is spoiled, prone to seek instant satisfaction and immediate gratification. We want what we want when we want it – and not a moment later. We hate waiting. We live in a world of fast cars, fast food, instant pudding, instant coffee, and microwave ovens. The last thing we want to be told is that we need to WAIT. 

But learning to WAIT is extremely important. Those who have learned to WAIT – especially when it comes to our faith – are people who have learned more about what it means to have faith in the first place. Waiting teaches us to hold on, to trust, to depend, and to rely upon God.  

No, it isn’t always a comfortable place to be.  Waiting seems passive and inactive.  Unproductive.  Unfruitful.  Even if we can’t change things, we usually figure it is better to just jump in and do something anyway.  But, sometimes WAITING is the only viable choice we have. Oh, and maybe a little PRAYING wouldn’t do us any harm, either. Sometimes WAITING and PRAYING is just where God wants us.   

Are you in a place of waiting now?  Are you finding yourself in a place where answers elude you?  Then, WAIT!  And, PRAY!   

Oh, and that business about God fixing everything? Don’t worry. He intends to. You just WAIT! 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan 





Sunday, August 16, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  

courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  

 

Most of us are familiar with this quote. It’s appeared on posters and plaques, on laminated cards to carry in our wallets, on bookmarks, on web pages, and emails the world over. I can even remember it written on the chalk board of my Sunday school room as a teenager.  

 

It comes from one of the most popular prayers of the 20th and 21st century. It’s commonly referred to as the Serenity Prayer. Written by Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971), the prayer has been widely used in sermons and Sunday school groups. In the early 1940s, Alcoholics Anonymous began to use it in their twelve-step program. 

 

I recently decided, during this new age of the Coronavirus, to revisit the prayer. You know, to put it into the context of my daily life now.  Funny how something you are so familiar with can take on new life and new meaning when examined through the lens of different circumstances. 

 

The original prayer is much longer, and I hope all of you will read it sometime. You can Google it on the Internet. But, choosing to use just the abridged version of the prayer, like the quote above, I read and reread the words: 

 

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”   

 

Oh sure, that’s easy. I’m not one to complain if things change, or challenges come at me without warning. I can handle the unexpected with total grace and acceptance.  NOT.   

 

The truth of the matter is, I usually fall into the trap of trying to work harder at controlling my life and the situations around me. Micro managing to the nth degree. Can you identify? Or maybe for some of you, you’re more prone to just throw up your hands in frustration and totally give up. Either way, peace and serenity usually become very elusive and hard to find in that moment. 

 

I’m often reminded, either by the wise words of a friend or maybe a devotional I am reading, that falling back on my reliance on God is my only avenue to truly finding that peace and serenity I lose in moments of panic. Knowing I don’t have to “know the details” or have all the answers to my problem allows me the freedom to turn my concerns over to God and rediscover his peace. 

 

“The courage to change the things I can.”   

 

Being aware and knowing specific factors in my life are out of whack is one thing. The courage to act on changing those factors and taking the appropriate steps to make better decisions is totally another. I am not the bravest individual when it comes to taking steps to implement life-changing measures. Like walking away from unhealthy relationships, or choosing better lifestyle choices (eating, exercise, getting adequate sleep) – all the things that are necessary in order to live happier, healthier and longer lives. Without God’s strength to enable me, courage can be as elusive and hard to find as that earlier mentioned peace and serenity.     

 

“And, the wisdom to know the difference.”   

 

In this world of many choices and various paths to take, I know I am not equipped all by my lonesome to make the really heavy decisions. Wisdom that comes from prayerful discernment helps me to accept and follow through on what I know I need to do. Just knowing God is with me and guiding me, even in those most challenging and dark moments, helps me to make the necessary choices to reach the destination that’s best for me. God can guide us in all our decisions and lead us back into the light, if we just ask him to.  

 

I hope this little reflection enables all of you to reflect on this prayer, and seek to discover all the ways YOU can find peace and serenity, courage and wisdom, in these challenging days.  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, August 9, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


It’s easy to “love” God and have faith when all is well.  When everything is good, our love and faith aren’t being tested. 

Testing that comes through human suffering tends to shake us from our safe space. But it can also enhance and refine our love and faith in God. One pastor from my youth taught me that difficult and challenging times could be very fruitful spiritually. I’ve never forgotten that.   

While it’s hard to believe at first blush, I can look back now on my own losses and difficulties in life, and see where spiritual treasures showed up even in the midst of very trying times.  

A book I discovered sometime back, called “Learning to Fall: The Blessings of An Imperfect Life”, written by Philip Simmons, reaffirms that view for me. Simmons, a young college professor, husband and father was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at age 35. Suddenly, he was forced to see his life through the lens of dying.  

In his book, Simmons shares this: “We have all heard poems, songs, and prayers that exhort us to see God in a blade of grass, a drop of dew, a child’s eyes, or the petals of a flower. Now when I hear such things, I say that’s too easy.” 

Simmons goes on to explain that the “greater challenge is to see God not only in the eyes of the suffering child but in the suffering itself…to thank God for broken bones and broken hearts, for everything that opens us to the mystery of our humanness.”   

He continues: “Don’t talk to me about flowers and sunshine and waterfalls: this is the ground, here, now, in all that is ordinary and imperfect, this is the ground in which life sows the seeds of our fulfillment. The imperfect is our paradise”. 

Can you see God only in good times? Or are you able to see God and believe even when the going gets tough?  

Let’s pray together. Dear God, when I get down, or angry or troubled due to difficulties I endure, help me to use that struggle as an opportunity for greater trust. In Jesus name, amen. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan    


Sunday, August 2, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message


One of my favorite books as a child was Watty Piper’s "The Little Engine That Could", the story of tiny train engine that was able to overcome adversity and achieve success. 


Most of us smile at the story, with fond memories. We get it. But does the simplicity of the children’s story have the power to help us in our adult endeavors? When faced with a difficult circumstance, does it help if someone says, "Come on, you can do it! Remember the little engine that could"? 


Maybe. But sometimes the challenges we face are more daunting than simply pulling a heavy load over a big hill. Life for us is more like multiple heavy loads, and mountain ranges to cross. Having a "can do" attitude doesn’t always cut it.  


Jesus knew he was calling his followers to a difficult task. Living and sharing the message of the Gospel is a life-long challenge. Jesus also knew that there would be success and failure along the way for his followers. No matter how hard we try, or how skilled we are in our efforts, preaching and living the Gospel life is always a mixed bag. There will be times when we will succeed in our efforts, and there are other times we will fail miserably. 


It is important to understand this. We’re tempted to think that simply because we love and serve God that it guarantees our success, all the time. We think that by playing on God’s team and running God’s plays means we win every game. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 


Proverbs 19:21 (NIV) reminds us that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” 

We will experience setbacks in this life. Our daily lives will not always be like a "little engine that could". But understanding the truth about our situation will help us work faithfully, and with realistic expectations. And always remember that where we fail, God ALWAYS succeeds.  


I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.   


Pastor Alan 


Sunday, July 26, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message

 

This week the U.S. reached a grim milestone of 4 million Coronavirus cases, doubling the total number of infections in just six weeks. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000 since the beginning of this pandemic in January.

 

We do not know, and we cannot know, everything about death and dying. But we do have, as Hebrews 12:1 attests, “a great cloud of witnesses”, some of whom have gone on before us and others who are still with us. Hearing what they have said in the face of, or when thinking about, death can help us in our faith. Here are two statements for us to consider:

 

The first is from Corrie ten Boom, the author of the book “The Hiding Place”, which detailed she and her family’s life in the Netherlands during the Nazi reign. The ten Boom’s actively resisted the German occupiers by hiding their Jewish neighbors to save them. The entire family was eventually arrested, and her sister, Betsie, died in captivity. Corrie survived the Nazi camp. As a strong Christian woman, Corrie had this to say about death: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

 

The second statement is from Elizabeth Gilbert, an American author best known for her 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love”. Her statement is this: “Faith is walking face–first and full–speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; … it would just be … a prudent insurance policy.”

 

Even with that insight, life is still hard. Death is still a mystery. And yet we can still affirm our faith; we do so from this side of the cross, knowing that our Savior walked this road before us and invites us to follow.

 

What do YOU say about death?

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan

 Sunday, July 19, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

 Defeat. I’ve heard this word quite a bit lately. About this pandemic, about our lives, about many things. Many years ago, a spiritual mentor gave me a passage of scripture to memorize. He said if I prayed and called on God to fulfill the promise of the passage, it would knock “defeat” out of my ball park — EVERY time.  Send it packing!   

What’s that scripture, you ask? It’s Isaiah 41:10:  “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Feeling defeated can send us into a tailspin and make us feel all alone, as if nobody understands what we’re experiencing. We can sink into that trap of self-pitying, too, that quickly becomes a security blanket for us; a way of hiding out when feeling overwhelmed.

Let’s look at Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you…” God tells us that we can have courage by remembering that we are never alone. God is always there. Whatever our feelings may tell us, the truth remains: God never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Then – “…Be not dismayed, for I am your God…”  You know, it helps to consider this ever-present God that’s talking to us isn’t an amateur, and is the same God who:

  • Parted the Red Sea
  • Helped his people to overcome impossible odds
  • Restored sight to blinded eyes, made the lame walk, and raised people from the dead

Truly, is anything too hard for our Lord and God? He promises to strengthen us, helps us, and hold us up. All on his power and might. Who else could promise us that?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, pull out your Bible and read Isaiah 41:10. And thank God that, with him, nothing can truly defeat us.

 I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan


Wednesday, July 15, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

Romans 12:12 tells us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

 

I was ten years old and really looking forward to Christmas that year! Why? Because I’d been tipped off that I was going to be getting a 3-speed bike to replace my old, small kiddy bike. I couldn’t have been more excited.

 

And then – the bottom fell out.  I contracted pneumonia three days before Christmas. I was very sick. On top of the pneumonia, my brand new 3-speed bike that I hadn’t even seen yet was stolen off our back porch. I was crushed.

   

Disappointments and losses are a part of everyone’s life. I know that. You know that. Unexpected happenings come along and kill our joy, and threatened to dampen our spirits entirely. This Coronavirus has been a game changer for ALL of us. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus. Many folks are out of work, and unable to find replacement positions. Our lives are hampered and turned upside down. And fear of contracting this virus is always present.

 

For me, the hardest aspect has been not having worship together. I miss seeing everyone. Your council members and I had met recently, and even established a date in July to resume worship – carefully, of course, under this new normal. And, then – the COVID case numbers started going up again. And up. And still up.  It became clear to us we would not be able to open in July. 

 

I know that it is frustrating for all of you who wish to resume meeting together as a church family. I want that, too. But for the time being, amid these rising numbers, we all need to continue doing what we have been doing, but always with that hopeful eye on the calendar, Our day of gathering together again WILL come.

 

I encourage all of you to stay up-to-date and knowledgeable about this virus. Governor Dewine will hold a COVID update today at 5:30 pm on our local channels. Please watch.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, July 12, 2020: Pastor Allan's Message:

A recent article in a magazine sparked the thought in my head that after what we have all been through these past four months, there’s no going back to normal. We may want to be back to normal, and pretend everything is back to normal.  But, it isn’t. Nothing is normal, and nothing WILL BE normal. Not now, not later. Maybe ever.

 

This thought may make us a little crazy, because we LIKE normal. We WANT normal. We don’t like change and being forced into new ways of having to exist and think and – well, you know. We want what we’re comfortable and familiar with. How it USED to be.

 

We’re kind of like the Israelites in the book of Exodus, chapter 16 who complained about their deliverance from slavery. Pulled from what they were familiar with, used to, and now out in the wilderness they began to long for the good ol’ days back in Egypt.  

 

Never mind that our own personal upheaval here has enlightened us in ways, maybe made us see things from a different view point. Recognize changes that need to happen. In the world. In our lives.

 

Becoming too comfortable.

 

You know, our appreciation for “comfort” and "familiarity" is sometimes the problem with us. Being comfortable and familiar means not having to think outside the box. We can keep focused on ourselves. The NORMAL routine. No outside factors to consider.  

 

But, this virus-experience has changed things. We’re aware now. More aware that we might have been before. Shaking up our “normal” causes us to see how distracted we’ve become from important things. Like family time. Like taking better care of ourselves, and our loved ones. We’ve had time to sit quietly in a remote place and watch a sunset, or sunrise, instead of rushing off to work. Taking us out of the daily grind for a while. Giving us more time with God. And prayer. A respite from being pulled deeper and deeper into an abyss of, truthfully, unimportant activity and focus.  


This pause, this rare opportunity to reset, has given us a chance come to a halt, re-examine our priorities, maybe even rearrange them. After all this, nothing can be or should be “normal” again. Because, normal and comfortable are NOT beneficial to us. Not really.


I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 


Pastor Alan Hicks


Sunday, July 5, 2020: Pastor Alan's Message:

This weekend, Americans celebrate freedom. The Fourth of July, our Independence Day — a day which marks the signing of our Declaration of Independence. Breaking free from the rule of England. Freedom is a blessing we hold dear and defend boldly.

In a country which is still to this day grappling with the concept of “freedom for all”, we as free people need to be reminded that freedom isn't free. In this world, someone always pays the price for people to be truly free. Consider the signers of the Declaration of Independence, all 56 of them. Did you know how much they risked for your freedom as an American?

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, few survived long enough to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes burned to the ground. Two of them lost their sons in the Army; one had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 died in the Revolutionary War which continued to rage on until 1783. All 56 signers learned that liberty is so much more important than security, and for that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. They fulfilled their pledge; they paid the price, and freedom in America was born.

It's hard to imagine paying such a price so that others might be free. But then, we're reminded of the price Jesus paid for our freedom; not just politically for the moment, but eternally for all time. God in the form of his son literally came into our earthly predicament, to live our life perfectly, to die a horrible death, and to give us the eternal life he earned as a gift, received by grace alone, through faith.

When it comes to freedom, I pray that you yearn for the freedom that comes in Christ alone, more than any of the other freedoms combined. No other greater blessing is there. No greater freedom, either.
  
I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan





Sunday, June 28, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Hello, St. Paul family and friends.

Even though we're only halfway through it, 2020 has been such a stormy year for many of us. Family deaths, a global pandemic, social imbalance and upheaval, and an economy thrown into turmoil. A world without peace.


Many of us have hearts filled with unrest and anxiety. An article I recently read said, "The dark side of human experience, and a global culture of hatred and chaos…have left many of us with post-traumatic stress symptoms…disrupted sleep patterns, irritability, difficulty sustaining attention, hyper-vigilance, and a general sense of vulnerability."


Everything happening at once. One big global societal meltdown.  We try to block it out. But we can’t escape it or wish it away.


It’s important to remember in these stormy times that we are God's children. Of course, that doesn’t make any of us immune to trouble or bad things. Not by a long shot. But, when I feel my heart is overwrought with turmoil, I silently tell myself that God is still in control. And in that moment of prayer, a sense of calm and peace will envelope me, reminding me that God loves me and has not forsaken me.


Psalm 91:4 (NIV) is one of my favorite scriptures for such a moment: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."  


I remember a story I heard once about an art contest in search of artist who could best represent peace in the midst of uncertainty.  The winning entry was a painting depicting a raging storm, trees bending in the wind and rain. And in the center of the picture, on a tree branch, was a tiny bird's nest, and a mother bird with her feathers of protection spread over three tiny birds who were oblivious to the storm.


That, I think, is my favorite mental image of God’s peace. As God's children, we can face the storms, knowing that we are sheltered by the Almighty no matter how strongly the wind blows.


I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  


Pastor Alan

 

Sunday, June 21, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Hello, St. Paul family and friends. Happy Father’s Day!

Scripture tells us in Psalms 68:5 that God is a father to the fatherless.

I’ve learned through years of ministry that not everyone can say they were fortunate or blessed to have a great father.  I personally DID have a great father. But his father (my grandfather) was another matter altogether. My father left home at 16 and lied about his age in order to join the Navy. That’s about all he would ever say. I later learned from my aunt Ethel that their father had been very, very strict, not one to openly show compassion.  

If you didn't have a father growing up; or you had a difficult father, or an abusive father, maybe a cold father who didn't provide the right kind of love or guidance; or if YOU are a father who is hurting today, not feeling particularly appreciated, I want to remind you of something. Our God is a great Father! He has promised that he will take care of you and that he will never leave you.

Psalm 103:13 (NIV) says that “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.”  Now, this isn’t “fear” as in the sense that he will beat us or abuse us. This is “fear” as in respect. He desires our love and respect. God wants to comfort us in our pain and trouble and hardship. When our hearts are broken, God the Father is our heart fixer.  

I’m an orphan now. My dad has been gone 31 years.  And yet, I know that I am not without a father. None of us are. Today, on this Father's Day, let's all celebrate our eternal God who is the father of the fatherless, and the fixer of broken hearts and dreams.

Happy Father's Day, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

 




Sunday, June 14, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Black Lives Matter. That’s a phrase we have all heard quite a bit lately. In rallies across the country, in television interviews, and in news articles.

Some people take exception to the phrase. Not because they dislike black people, necessarily. They just feel that ALL lives matter, not simply black ones. As a Christian I think I understand what they’re trying to say. We should not put importance on one life over another, kind of like “God loves all people”. Right? ALL Lives Matter.

Growing up in Miami, Florida many of my childhood friends were brown skinned. This was normal to me. I saw my friends as equals. No less important than I. They were just as smart, just as energetic, just as funny, and loved by their families just as much as I was loved by mine.

Becoming an adult. though, shattered that innocent view of equality. I soon realized that my brown-skinned friends weren’t seen by the world around me as my equals, but as my inferiors. Less-than. Not as smart intellectually. This new-found awareness drove a wedge between me and my friends – for a time.

Romans 2:11 tells us that God shows no favoritism. All lives DO matter to God. That’s a no-brainer. But the world doesn’t always agree with God. Old prejudices die hard, too. Even today, in our society black lives are still regarded by many as not of equal value. Lower on the scale of importance. Oh, we may not personally feel that way. But our society does, by and large. Black lives continue to be discounted and disregarded, looked upon suspiciously more often than whites are, and given less opportunities to succeed. To many, black lives are expendable.

So, when we hear the chant of “Black Lives Matter”, we shouldn’t assume it means All Lives DON’T Matter, or that Black Lives Matter MORE. We should hear it, instead, as a cry for help – because in reality that’s what it is. Black lives are in danger.

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, June 7, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

My neighbor Tom and I talked last evening about all of the happenings of this past week; the justice marches and protests, the looting and destruction happening everywhere. Tom asked me if there was a particular Bible verse that came to mind as I watch the news.

Several, actually, I answered. All scriptures that I had memorized as a child.

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  (Psalm 34:14)  

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)  

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)   

And then there is: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:5)  

These, I told him, were the scriptures instilled in me, the passages that come to me now as I watch cities burn; as I pray for peaceful protest; as I sympathize with people washing their eyes with water to remove tear gas, sharing pain remotely with families who have lost loved ones killed unmercifully. Yes, these holy verses represent for me the key to healing, to rebuilding, to reconnecting with others, remembering that God will in his time level the playing field so that we are all on one ground; all of us, no matter our race, our heritage, our faith.  God’s children.

They stop me from acting out with vengeful intent. They remind me that seeking God’s peace is paramount in importance, that we will only succeed in destroying God’s creation if we insist on having a divisionist mindset.

As I started to leave him, I remembered one more. From John 3:17; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 31, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

The events of this past week have been horrifying and heart-breaking. As if our world didn’t already feel as if we’re in a tailspin, something else happens that grabs our nation by the throat and threatens to crush our spirit as a united country, and divide us EVEN MORE than we already have been.

As the riots in downtown Columbus and around the nation raged on Friday evening, I expressed to Scot Ashton by telephone our need to be praying hard as a united people. My words of prayer as he and I joined together in spirit were: God, give peace to the whole of your creation, as well as to each of us a right spirit of empathy and concern for others, and not just for ourselves.  

We have a choice. We can either allow the current climate to rip us apart, separating us not only from each other but from God’s intentions for his creation – or we can agree to band together in spirit, body, and mind to see beyond our differences of race, of culture, of political opinion, in life experience, in ALL the ways that evil powers utilize in an attempt to bring our human house crashing down. Let us all join together and pray for God’s peace, a HOLY peace, that will calm and soothe the anger, the fears, the suspicions, the hate, the divisive intentions that exist today. Let us believe, as God’s children, holding tightly in faith that God will hear our pleas for the healing of our wounds.  

Let’s pray together: Dear Gracious God, let the hearts and souls in your blessed creation agree to see that a right spirit of empathy and a compassionate concern for others is what you have always intended for this world.  Make us one, in you and in each other.  In Christ Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen. 

I love you St. Paul family and friends. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan  

Sunday, May 24, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

A professor of mine in Bible college used to warn us, “Don’t pray for patience unless you are prepared to learn them God’s way.” 

Most of us are lousy when it comes to waiting, whether it’s standing in long grocery lines, or finding ourselves stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  

Waiting can be miserable. A child waiting for Christmas to come. Or those long road trips that seem to take forever – with very few rest stops! Or teenagers counting down the days to get their learner’s permits to drive. Waiting can be a real test. Especially when it’s waiting for something we really care about.

For example, I’ve not exactly been a model of perfection in waiting for us to resume worship services. My closest pastor friends will tell you I’ve been downright unpleasant to be around.

Psalm 130, verse 5 says this about waiting: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (NIV)

My whole being waits! Boy, I can relate to that. Totally invested, longing for a sign from God, seeking that flicker of light in a dark unknown. That’s Faith-Wrestling, as my professor would say. The psalmist pivots back and forth between crying out to God, then being reminded of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Yep, waiting is hard. Especially if fear creeps into our waiting. That makes our wait even more unbearable. We have to remind ourselves, like the psalmist, to keep our eyes fixed upon God who the source of our hope. Nothing is out of God’s reach. Especially the things we most care about.

I know we’ll get back to worshipping as a church again. It’s going to happen. I just have to -- wait a bit. What are you hoping and waiting for?

Let’s pray together.

Dear God, we cautiously pray for patience as we wait for those things most important to us. Keep us firmly grounded in your love and promises.  In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

I love you, family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 17, 2020-Pastor Alan's message:

Hello, St. Paul family and friends.

Well, after months of isolation and sheltering-in-place, life is about to change again. Businesses that had been closed are starting to reopen. Restrictions are loosening up a bit. I’m already getting inquiries on when worship services at St. Paul will resume.

Everyone feels differently about this re-engagement in our world. Some are a little apprehensive, some are grateful. I must admit that I am cautiously guarded – but hopeful. It’s true that I would love nothing more than to throw open the doors of the church and resume life as it was. RIGHT NOW!   

So many people in our world seem to be throwing caution to the wind, forgetting all that we have experienced and learned in recent months. But, I know we can’t do that. There is still so much we don't know about COVID-19. We must be thoughtful and prayerful about reopening, careful to consider many details we’ve never had to consider before this pandemic. Life cannot be as it was, and neither can worship.

A passage from Romans caught my eye the other day. It said: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Soon, your church leaders and I will be meeting to discuss how to accomplish reopening, giving consideration to all the critical aspects of bringing our spiritual family back together. Social distancing will be a factor. Facial masks will be expected on all attending worship. Frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizer an absolute must.

Yes, change must happen. But, I know we can do this.  And we will need all of you to be a part of that new way of gathering and worshiping our Lord and God.

Please keep your church leaders and I in your prayers as we try to find a way forward. To all of you, in the meantime, we continue to say:  Be safe!   

Let's pray together:  Father, as we move to venture out into a different world, give us wisdom and caution in all things, remembering that wherever we go you will be right there with us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 10, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:
Hello, St. Paul family and friends.

May 3rd would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. It hardly seems possible that she has been gone since 1998. I can still hear her laugh, and her soft but reassuring voice. I can feel her touch. But most importantly, I remember her heart and spirit.  

One of my favorite scriptures is found in the book of Proverbs: “Her children rise up and call her blessed...” (Proverbs 31:28, ESV) 

As a child, I didn’t always appreciate my mom. Her blessedness is most certainly more obvious to me now as an adult. Billy Graham once said that only God could fully appreciates the influence a mother can have in the molding of character in her children. He said, “The influence of a mother upon the lives of her children cannot be measured. They come to know and absorb her example and attitudes when it comes to questions of honesty, temperance, kindness, and industry.”  That influence mothers have over us is often missed in the moment.

So today, we honor our mothers – or maybe it is someone who has been like a mother to us. Maybe a grandmother, or a foster mother. An adopted mother. Maybe it was – or is – a woman who lives outside of our home, who God has blessed our lives with. Someone who serves as a mentor, an affirmer, a loving guide who helps mold our character and sets us on right paths when we need it.  

Let us think about these amazing women and their examples; their support, their humor, their counsel, their humility, their hospitality, their insight, their patience, their sacrifices. Most importantly, their faith, hope and love.

Yes, we rise and call our mothers blessed – because we realize how blessed WE ARE to have them in our lives.

Let’s pray together.  Dear God, thank you so much for our mothers who love us and bless our lives. May their influence be felt throughout our lives and throughout our world. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan



Sunday, May 3, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:
I’m easily touched by examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Our television and computer screens are filled with images these days, from first responders, doctors and nurses, risking their lives to help others in this pandemic, to people of all ages using creative ways to reach out, to give of themselves to family or neighbors – even strangers.

My mother use to say that facing times of trials makes us stronger, that difficulties build character, boldness, and allow us opportunities to help others. She was right. There is something fulfilling about stepping up and facing the challenges in order to “do the right thing”.  

Scripture is full of examples of giving to others who are poor and needy.

But Jesus took it a step further, by showing us the ULTIMATE in giving:  In the Gospel of John 15:13 (NRSV), Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The Message translation puts it this way: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.”

How in this pandemic are we giving of ourselves? Are we actively putting aside our own interests in order to come up with ways to help others?  Like sewing masks? Or maybe cooking a meal for someone?  How about sending greeting cards or making phone calls?

There are a plethora of ways we can all contribute. Let’s get creative. I can’t think of a better way of dying to self than offering a gift of love to someone affected by this pandemic. What will you choose to do?

I love you, family. I’ll talk with you all soon.

Pastor Alan


Sunday, April 26, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Hello, St. Paul family and friends.


These days can be worrisome, wouldn’t you say? I love that our holy scriptures can provide a salve to ease that wound. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) says: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

 

This scripture has been especially comforting to me this past week as I was diagnosed with the sudden onset of Bell’s Palsy.

 

These are strange days we are living in, enough to jar us from a place of security, and give us pause to maybe even question our God’s devotion to us. The Coronavirus pandemic seems all too real to us by now, especially since it has taken one of our family, a lifelong church member, from us. We can feel helpless, as if we have no control over what is happening day in and day out. Facing the dark unknown is intimidating and spiritually challenging.

 

That is why I say was are blessed to have the testimony of saints that have preceded us; writers who compiled holy inspired words we now call our Holy Bible. Promises from God that assure us this world and all that is in it, whether light or dark, is under the power of the Great Creator who cares for us so very deeply.

 

How remarkable! How glorious! No matter where we are in this world, no matter how helpless we may feel, no matter how removed from God’s protection we may think we are, God is forever there.  Present.  Loving us, guarding us, holding us in gentle faithful arms.

 

With that simple, short passage comes the reassurance I need to resist crazy thoughts of giving up or giving in. I hope you, too, will choose to hang on with me.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. Thank you for your prayers. I’ll talk with you soon!


Pastor Alan   

Sunday, April 19, 2020-Pastor Alan's message:

Hello, St. Paul family.  Have I got a little story for you!

 

A shopper at the local mall decides to stop for coffee. In addition, she buys herself a little bag of cookies and puts them in her shopping bag.   

 

Finding a seat in the crowded food court, she sits down, takes out a magazine and begins to sip her coffee. Across the table from her sits some man reading a newspaper.

 

After a minute or two she reaches out and takes a cookie. As she does, she notices the man reaching out and taking one, too. This put her off a little, but she doesn’t say anything.

 

A few moments later she takes another cookie. Once again, the man also takes a cookie. Now, she’s getting a bit upset.  But she still chooses not to say anything.

 

A couple more sips of coffee, and she takes another cookie. So does the man!  Now, she is fairly bursting with indignation. How dare this guy! Especially since there was now only one cookie left!  The man must’ve realized there was only one cookie left, too, because he takes it, breaks it in two, and gives half to her, eating the other half.  He smiles, tucks his newspaper under his arm and leaves. What a nerve!     

 

Boy, is she irritated.  What as obnoxious man. This has absolutely ruined her day!  She’s already thinking ahead of how she will tell her friends and family about this.  She hastily folds her magazine, opens her shopping bag to shove it inside and – what do you know? There, in her shopping bag, is her own unopened bag of cookies.

 

I like that story - it makes me think how I, sometimes, don’t always notice or appreciate God’s grace in my life.

 

Romans 5:8 describes God’s grace this way: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

Long before we are even aware, God’s is already loving us, extending his mercy and care for us. AND his grace.  

 

So, what have you taken for granted today? Maybe a little "thanks" is in order.   

 

I love you, family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan

Sunday, April 12, 2020-Easter Sunday message from Pastor Alan:

Well – it’s Easter. Resurrection Sunday. A day when Christians everywhere exclaim with joy and authority, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Honestly, I have to admit that I am lacking a bit of that joy this morning. It’s an Easter that’s Easter, but not really Easter. You know?  It’s Easter, but not Easter yet. I just can’t seem to get worked up about Jesus’ resurrection when, frankly, I feel he’s still missing. (Or maybe it’s me that's missing.) There’s been no worship services to get me here. I guess I’m just one of those that needs the visuals.       

Actually. if we were characters in that first Easter story, what would our reaction be to finding an empty tomb and a stranger sitting there, telling us not to worry?

The gospel of Mark, chapter 16, tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb: “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

This is kind of how I’m feeling now. A resurrection I’ve somehow missed.  I hear it’s happened, but I can’t witness it. No worship services. No music. Just me, myself and I – alone.  

I know many of us feel trapped in a place where Easter isn’t Easter yet.  Our Lenten/COVID-19 wilderness walk isn’t over. But to believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, regardless of when it happens on our liturgical calendars, is timeless. There’s no set schedule. We can celebrate yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever.  

So maybe our resurrection from this pandemic is still down the road bit. That’s okay. You can still celebrate. Right now. Right where you are. By yourself, with your family, or a friend.  

CHRIST HAS RISEN!

He has risen, indeed!

Happy Easter, St. Paul family! I love you all! 


Saturday April 11, 2020-Holy Saturday Message from Pastor Alan:

It’s Saturday. I am sitting in silence in our darkened sanctuary. No one else is here.  

What an odd Holy Week this year. This virus has taken away our getting together for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday. It’s heartbreaking. I’m still trying to adjust to this new normal filled with absence and isolation.

Holy Saturdays are traditionally spent reflecting on how the world would be without the hope of Christ’s resurrection. I find myself doing exactly that.  

Indeed, without the resurrection of Jesus, where would we be?  1st Corinthians 15:17 says: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…”  The disciples most likely spent their first Holy Saturday hiding in fear. Their world was now upside-down and uncertain.

This pandemic has changed our lives, our church life so dramatically.  “Easter doesn’t seem like Easter this year”, one member shared with me.  I agreed.  Yet, in a way, I know that this Easter is probably closer to what Jesus’ followers experienced in their day. We’ve been yanked from our comfort zones and forced to experience life and faith in a new way. With raw feelings. With different eyes. 

I think of Psalm 62:5: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.”  But, I can’t help asking, “Will Easter come? Will we see resurrection?  When does this present darkness leave us and the light of a new day come?  When can we stop being afraid? When?”

A voice inside me quietly says, “It’s coming, I promise. Resurrection is real. God hasn’t left you. The story of Jesus isn’t finished. Not then. Not now.” 

I know we all feel we’ve lost so much. And, yet, have we truly lost what is most vital and important?   

Keep hanging in there, family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan



April 10, 2020-Good Friday Message from Pastor Alan:

I can remember my last Thanksgiving dinner with my mother. The woman who had nurtured me, feed me, taught me, shaped my thoughts and faith and, oh, so much more. And then, suddenly – she died. Gone. I remember that feeling of disorientation. That emptiness. That feeling of utter loss and devastation. I didn’t know at first how I would navigate my life.
 
I wonder if that is how the disciples felt at the sudden turn of events.  Jesus, there one day, sharing the Passover meal with his “children”, his followers, and then suddenly apprehended, arrested, and crucified on a wooden cross like a criminal. Gone. Gone too soon. How did the disciples deal with his sudden death?  How did they feel at the loss of a valuable friend? Brother. Father-figure. Teacher. Did they miss his voice? His words? His wisdom? His loving presence? How did they survive their loss? How do we survive after our losses? 

In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 4, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.  I’ll tell you, mourning sure doesn’t feel much like a blessing in the moment. Good Fridays are hard stuff. Good Fridays are sudden, dark, and seem anything but GOOD.  

But Good Fridays also remind us that death is not the final chapter in life. For Jesus, for our loved ones, for ourselves. Because Jesus ultimately triumphed over death. And because of that, we can be assured that one day we too will live in a world without disease and sickness, without mourning, without cemeteries. Knowing that Jesus has overpowered death offers us comfort when we mourn.

I love you, St. Paul family. 
Have a blessed Good Friday!
Pastor Alan

Sunday, April 5, 2020- Pastor Alan's Palm Sunday Message:

Lent began just six weeks ago with ashes, and the remembrance that we are dust and to dust we shall all return. Palm Sunday marks our transition from Lent into Holy Week. 

As Christians we treasure our memories of church celebrations when palm branches were waved, songs of cheer sung by the choir, all to proclaim us followers of this great King. 

We all know the story. Jesus, this anointed king of David, enters the royal city of Jerusalem on a donkey. No powerful war horse, no king’s wardrobe of armor and fancy duds. No, he comes impressively.

His worldly monument to his victories would be erected a week later – not a stone arch, but a wooden cross.

With this COVID-19 virus, our Palm Sunday has become more than just a party of celebration and song; this pandemic has actually given us the opportunity to live into the story Jesus. We can all welcome him now with a more personal awareness of his love and humility – and his vulnerability.

In a recent message, Pope Francis noted that this pandemic crisis has exposed our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily lives, along with our habits and priorities.

If there is one truth that comes out of Palm Sunday, it is this: The path to salvation is most certainly not one of self-assertion, of relying on our own greatness, but instead through acknowledging our absolute dependence upon God.  Jesus revealed this by example during his final week upon this earth.

Let’s all remember Jesus’ example of humility and trust in God this Palm Sunday, and going into Holy Week. For it is ultimately our only way of surviving in this time of COVID-19, a tiny microbe that has effectively brought the world to its knees.

Keep well, family. And keep following the recommended precautions. Have a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

Pastor Alan


Friday, April 3, 2020

In times when I am afraid of what lies ahead in life, I will often go back to the writings and thoughts of wise and learned Christians of the past. One of my favorites is Charles Spurgeon who lived and preached in the 19th century. Listen to these words of his that I found, so appropriate for our current times:

The joy of the Lord in the spirit springs from an assurance that all of the future, whatever it may be, is guaranteed by divine goodness; that being children of God, the love of God towards us is not of an inconsistent character but abides and remains unchangeable. The believer feels an entire satisfaction in leaving themself in the hands of the eternal and unchanging love. However happy I may be today, if I am in doubt concerning tomorrow, there is a worm at the root of my peace; although the past may now seem sweet in retrospect and the present fair or bearable, yet if the future be grim with fear, my joy is but shallow. If my salvation is still a matter of hazard and jeopardy, unbridled joy is not mine and deep peace is still out of my reach. But when I know that He whom I have rested in has power and grace enough to complete that which He has begun in me and for me, when I see the work of Christ to be no halfway redemption but a complete and eternal salvation, when I perceive that the promises are established upon an unchangeable basis and are in Christ Jesus, ratified by oath and sealed by blood, then my soul will have perfect contentment.

Family, our future is known by God. Completely. Sealed by His promises and unwavering in His devotion for us. Relax, and be at peace.

I talk with you all soon.

Pastor Alan

Wednesday, April 1, 2020-Pastor's Message:

According to an article in the Washington Post this morning, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering altering the official guidance to encourage people to take measures to cover their faces amid the coronavirus pandemic.  The new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers.  Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings. It is thought this effort would be a way to help “flatten the curve”. 

 

With that in mind, here is a link to a cute and very brief video on YOUTUBE showing how to make a no-sew face mask made out of a handkerchief and two rubber bands. If you are even the slightest bit crafty, this should be a breeze! Even Pastor Alan thinks he can do it!  Enjoy!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE0EuDHMfZ4


Tuesday, March 31, 2020-Pastor's Message:

In the book of Philippians chapter 1, verses 3-6, the Apostle Paul writes: “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” 

Three weeks ago, we announced that St. Paul would temporarily suspend our worship services and church meetings through the end of March. But with this pandemic, change seems to happen daily. As the expected peak of this virus is still several weeks away. we are slowly accepting the fact that we will in all likelihood not be meeting for worship until sometime after the month of April. This is a bitter pill to swallow.  Still, I know the day will arrive when we shall all gather in warm embrace, welcoming each and every member and friend back through the church doors. I encourage all of you to continue to find alternative ways in gleaning spiritual nourishment, through online streaming worship services as well as printed devotionals.  And I am hoping each of you is maintaining contact with your brothers and sisters in faith.   

I also need to say thank you to those of you who have faithfully continued your tithing. I encourage everyone to do your very best in keeping up with your financial support of St. Paul.  Your gifts and tithes help to keep our doors open so that the work of serving this community will continue.

Thank you for prayers and for supporting one another in these challenging times. And thank you for your generosity and participation in being the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors.  I miss each and every one of you, and I look forward for our glorious reunion in the near future.

God bless you all!

Pastor Alan 

Friday, March 27, 2020 Pastor Message:

I’ve been working out of the church office this past week, and had the chance to visit with some of the pantry volunteers.  (Oh, yes, our faithful pantry workers are still at it!  Can you believe it? Even during this Pandemic. I am so proud of them!)  I must admit that I am a little amazed at how many volunteers, especially in these days of uncertainty and fear, chose to be here to serve our pantry clients. I know I personally move with a little more caution these days, always wondering in the back of my mind if I’m doing anything that might be “unprotective”. I asked one volunteer if she gave any thought as to whether or not she was putting herself at risk, being out in the public and all. She smiled, and without a word she reached into her pocket and pulled out this small prayer card with a picture of Jesus on it. On the flip side these words were printed, in BOLD letters:  

TRUST ME!

Honestly, the words nearly knocked me off my feet. How beautiful and powerful those words were. I have thought of that moment several times over the past few days, and I wondered how many times I have feared and doubted in these early days of confinement and not knowing what is coming next. How about you?  

The truth of the matter is, these are very dark and scary days. Feeling as if we have no control over something can absolutely petrify us and shut us down.  But as those words “TRUST ME” immediately reminded me, we CAN trust Jesus and his words. Because he trusted our Almighty God, in whose hands we all rest.

If you are feeling anxious or alone in this time of darkness, FEAR NOT (as Jesus often said!), for we are neither alone, defenseless or without God’s love and protection.

I’m praying for all of you.  Pray for me also, and for your church family and friends. Remember, do not fear or be troubled. Our faithful God is still in control, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.

I love you family. I’ll talk with you soon! 

Pastor Alan


A MESSAGE FROM ST. PAUL UCC REGARDING THE COVID 19 VIRUS

 

Scripture tells us in Proverbs 1:5 that “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…”

 

Dale Patterson, your council president, and I have struggled the past few days to acquire wise counsel regarding the COVID 19 virus, trying to determine our next WISE steps together as a faith community.

We have sought the wise counsel of folks connected to the Ohio Department of Health and various governmental agencies. And we also have sought the advice of our fellow churches within and outside the UCC. And we listened carefully as our Gov. Mike DeWine updated us at a press conference Thursday afternoon. After much consultation and prayerful deliberation, your leadership at St. Paul has made the difficult but (we feel) necessary decision to not hold public worship services for the remaining Sundays in March. Those dates would be this coming Sunday, March 15th, as well as March 22nd and March 29th


As much as we treasure and enjoy worshiping our gracious God with all of you, we must also look out for the safety of each and every member and friend of this congregation. It is my sincere hope that we will resume worship on Sunday, April 5th, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy week leading up to our celebration of Easter. Our church office will continue to operate, and Heather and I will be available to answer any questions you may have.

 

I invite all of you during this downtime of Lenten reflection and self-care to utilize your devotionals for Lent, and to keep the citizens of this earth, as well as your immediate church family, in your prayers as we move through this unusual experience together. Remember, God is Still Speaking.  Keep heart, and know that you are loved.  God bless you.

 Pastor Alan   




All Are Welcome!
 
Photo Credit: Tracy Doyle Photography



Past Events:


Bagging of Blessing Bags

June 12, 2016

Pictures to come!

Pentecost Sunday 2016










 






 
 
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Pastor Alan Hicks


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St. Paul United Church of Christ
225 East Gates Street
Columbus, OH 43206
P (614) 444-1311
email: stpaulucc@live.com

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