Do you find minivan/SUV window family decals irritating?

back of van

 “Can someone please explain to me why I find minivan/SUV window family decals so irritating?”  That is the status update of a friend of mine on Facebook.  As always is the case on Facebook: there were many replies to this question from people I know and care for, and people I do not know, and there are answers I agree with and not so much.  I found it interesting enough to write this.

Though I must admit that I am not a big fan of the stick figure representation of families, I do have something on the back of my Minivan.  Yes I do drive a Minivan… does that make me a soccer dad?  In that way we are almost the opposite of the stereotypical traditional family (at least of the past).  Though we both work, I drive the Minivan, while Andrea drives the corporate car (though the corporate car is also a Minivan, that is about to change with a hybrid due to GE “going green”).  So I sold my Hyundai Elantra to taxi kids around town in the family minivan.

A few years ago Andrea’s parents gave us family decals to put on the Minivan.  Andrea told me on the phone, and at first I wasn’t too happy about it.  When I got home, I was relieved to discover that they were not stick figures, nor did they have any stereotypical symbolism beyond their innate symbolism.  They familly decalswere purple sandals, I didn’t really mind.  Shortly after we put them on I saw Switchfoot (my favorite band since U2) and bought one of their stickers… also a sandal.

Another reason I like these more than any of the multitude of these stickers is that the “children” sandals do not differentiate between boys and girls.  I like this a lot, and not because I buy into the idea that there are no intrinsic differences between girls and boys (I think the notion that ALL gender identity exists in social constructs to be incredibly foolish).  Rather, I have never understood why in this day and age one would advertise “little girl here”, “little boy here”.  Why would one advertise that?  Which I guess is really the question.  Would I have these on my car if my in-laws had not given them to us… I think maybe not.

There is one thing I really do not like about my own Family Bumper stickers.  We now have a fourth child, Isaac Wilberforce Merrin.  I have no idea where to get a fourth sandal!  Plus, even if I found one, I would have to peel off my Switchfoot sticker!

So what do you think of the habit of putting these minivan/SUV window family decals on the back of the vehicle?  Does it annoy you?  Also while you are at it, check out my other sticker: if you do not know what Invisible Children is… Google it!

invisible children

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Local Radio 3 of 3

This is Christ in the Community for Friday, November, 11. Beginning in 3,2,1

Good Morning. I am Steve Merrin, pastor of Hodge Presbyterian Church. On behalf of the Trenton Ministerial Alliance, I want to thank KTTN for this opportunity to share Christ in the Community.

        Back in 1993, a Christian musician by the name of Steve Taylor released a CD called Squint. This CD was among my favorite CDs of the early 90’s. I remember reading an interview in which Steve Taylor is asked why he called his latest CD Squint. His paraphrased answer was something like: I have a history of writing songs that people misunderstand because they seem to say one thing on the surface, but when you look a little closer it may open up to an entirely different or deeper meaning. He went on to say that he sees that the parables of Jesus are like that, when you think you have the meaning of a parable down, just squint, look a little harder, chance are there is more to it.
        I would expand his point about the parables of Jesus to the majority of scripture. When we have learned about a verse or a Bible story in Sunday School, or when we read it for ourselves, there is a certain level of meaning and understanding we have. In my experience, I usually can go deeper with any bit of scripture. The deeper I look, the deeper or more meaningful it becomes. This is why you hear of the giants of Christianity (whether they are academic like Colin Brown, or pastoral like Billy Graham) still learning from scripture after all these years. I can’t tell you how many times I have read the 23rd Psalm and have found something new and unexpected there. In fact, I think that the more familiar we are with a scripture passage, the more likely we are to not learn something new from it. The reason for this is that we think we know that one already so we tune out. When this happens to you, I would encourage you to squint, and look a little more intently.
        So how about it Trenton, are you reading the Bible regularly? Are you asking questions of what you are reading? Are you thinking about it? Are you squinting at it for a deeper look. I want to share a quote with you from one of my more famous and maybe even notorious fellow Presbyterians, Mark Twin: “People say when they get to heaven, they’ll fly around from cloud to cloud playing a harp; but I don’t see too many people trying to learn how to fly or too many taking harp lessons to get ready for the event.” I would add to mister Twain’s comment that I find it interesting that so many of us believe that the Bible is the Word of God, yet we do not read it much more than once a week.
          1Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 3They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. Psalm 1:1-3 reminds us that those who squint, look deeply, and meditate on the Law of the Lord is like a tree planted by streams of water. Tall, strong, and healthy. So join me in spending just a little bit of time today meditating on Gods word.

Thank you for listening and God Bless You!

Local Radio 2 of 3

This is Christ in the Community for Thursday, November 10.  Beginning in 3,2,1

Good Morning.  I am Steve Merrin, pastor of Hodge Presbyterian Church.  On behalf of the Trenton Ministerial Alliance, I want to thank KTTN for this opportunity to share Christ in the Community.

        I want you to remember one of the all time great Bible Stories of the Old Testament, from the book of Daniel.  It is the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah!  Not ringing any bells?  How about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?  It is likely that those three names you have heard of.  The first three I just said were their real Hebrew names, the more well known names were their slave names.  Am I the only one that thinks it is strange that these three Hebrew heroes of faith (that wouldn’t bow down to the King, but instead get thrown into a fiery furnace, only to have God deliver them from that certain death; the Babylonian King demanded that they bow down to his huge statue and worship or be put to death, they didn’t choose the easy way out, they put their lives on the line and God delivered them)  are remembered today by us by their slave names?  I think there is a great reason for this.  I actually think that the author of Daniel was poking fun at the false Gods of Babylon.  It has to do with the meaning of all those names. 

         Their original Hebrew names, exalted Yahweh: Hananiah, means, “The Lord is gracious”, Mishael “Who is what God is”, and Azariah means “The Lord has helped”.  The Babylonian names honored  Babylonian gods.  Shadrach “Command of Aku”, Aku was the Sumerian moon god, Meshach “Who is what Aku is”, and Abednego “Servant of Nabu”, who was the Babylonian god of wisdom.  I can almost hear the original Hebrew audience of this story laughing at the repeated mention of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Neither Aku, nor Nabu (nor any other false god) protected these three men, it was the one true God who did that.

         In our lives, we constantly come into situations in which we may face our own fiery furnace, maybe not as dramatic as these three men and their fiery furnace.  Maybe we find ourselves in a situation in which we have to decide between what is easy and what is right.  Maybe we find ourselves, or those we love, in a situation that seems hopeless, painful, and we wonder if we dare trust that God is working even in that situation.  What the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego tells use about God is that we can know that, though we may not feel it, or understand it, God is in control; in the big decisions, and the little decisions, God is deserving of our trust.  God is sovereign; and we are his.  I challenge you today to trust God in whatever situation you might be facing.  To respond to your own fiery furnace situations with the acknowledgment that whatever happens, you are God’s; and ultimately that is our only real hope.

 God Bless You.

Local Radio 1 of 3

This is Christ in the Community for Tuesday, November, 8. Beginning in 3,2,1

Good Morning. I am Steve Merrin, pastor of Hodge Presbyterian Church. On behalf of the Trenton Ministerial Alliance, I want to thank KTTN for this opportunity to share Christ in the Community.

        This morning I want to talk with you about one of the most well known passages of scripture (Possibly second only to John 3:16). It is a Psalm often called the Beloved Psalm, I of course am talking about the 23rd Psalm: 1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
        In these troubled times, I want to point out two things in this beautiful Psalm. God never promises us an easy time. God promises to help us rest, to lead us, to restore us, and to prepare a table for us to eat… they all sound very serene and peaceful… but where is the setting? All this is while we are in the darkest valley (I like how some versions translate this the valley of the shadow of death), in the presence of our enemies. This psalm is so beloved because it promises that the Good Shepherd is watching over us no matter the size of the problems we might be facing.
        The second thing I want to point out is in regards to the last verse: the part that says surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Hebrew word that is translated here as ‘follow’, in the Hebrew is much stronger than merely follow. It carries with it the meaning of a hunt. That is right I said a hunt. So respectfully let me suggest that one could paraphrase this verse as saying: Surely the Good Shepherds Hound dogs of Goodness and Mercy share chase me down all the days of my life. That is a striking image, is it not?
        So whether you are having a great day, or if you feel like you are stuck in a very dark, dark valley… may God’s Hound Dogs of Goodness and Mercy Hunt you down today and everyday for the rest of your life. God Bless You!

4 Kinds of Lost

            As a relatively young and new pastor, it is hard to not preach this morning on the subject of 9/11.  We have already spent sometime on remembering, confessing and looking forward in hope, on this the 10th anniversary of 9/11… and it will more than likely come up in our time of prayer later.  But this sermon is not about that.  Neither is this sermon based on the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary.  The more I prayed, meditated and thought about this mornings sermon, the more my mind went back to a session at MoRanch’s annual Men’s Retreat.  There I heard the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, Jim Singleton give a one hour talk on evangelism (or as some Presbyterians have called it: the ‘E word’) based on the 15th chapter of Luke. 

Do not worry, I will not be up here for an hour!  In fact I do not remember most of what he said.  But one thing has stuck in my mind and came back every time I turned my heart and mind toward this mornings worship service: there are 4 kinds of Lost in Luke 15.  We are going to briefly take a look at each of them.

Luke 15 is a collection of three parables told as a reaction to a group of Pharisees and religious leader’s grumbling about the presence and comfort that Jesus and his disciples had in eating with sinners and tax collectors.  At this time in the Luke narrative the Pharisees where not yet enraged with Jesus… but they where more fascinated and maybe a little worried about him.  We will start with the third parable (one of the most well known parables of Jesus), the Prodigal Son (or the Lost Son).

I will not pick apart this story, most (likely all) of us are beyond familiar with it.  We find a rich upstanding family, with an ungrateful, petulant son.  Who decides that he is tired of waiting for his father to pass, he wants his inheritance now.  He goes to the Father and tells him so.  The father gives him half of everything he has, the son goes and wastes it in a foreign land.  When all his money is gone a famine hits the land and he is so hungry he finds himself eating the pigs food.  Books have been written about how scandalous this entire story would have been to the original audience.  This son personifies a kind of lost which comes from open and high handed, willful rebellion.  Before he spent his last bit of money, he was lost but thinking everything was just fine.

The second kind of lost is seen in the parable of the Lost coin.   Luke 15:8 says:

what woman, having ten silver coins/drachma; if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she finds it.  This is the only time where the word, “drachma,” occurs in the New Testament. Its value was equivalent to a denarius which was worth a day’s wage.  This coin didn’t lose itself, it was merely misplaced or dropped.  This second kind of lost is someone who was dropped through no real fault of their own.  Some of the most adamant, outspoken people in my life, who do not have any use for the church or God are that way because of some neglect, or abuse they experienced at church, or from ‘church people’.  Unfortunately Church’s sometimes can hurt people can’t they?    

            What do we do as a Church to reach out to those that we have dropped?  What does the lady do when she realizes that she has lost her coin, She tears her house apart looking for it, until she finds it. In this way, the woman of the house is equivalent to the good shepherd in the previous parable (the one will examine next) who searches for the lost sheep. There is a focused diligence as both the woman householder and the good shepherd search for what is precious to them and lost.

            Luke 15: 4 says: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness/desert and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? That was common sense for a shepherd: a sheep gets lost and the shepherd goes to find the one sheep that is lost.  Normally, there would be several shepherds caring for a flock of sheep. One shepherd would go out to search for the lost sheep, while the other shepherds would watch the remaining flock. This passage has always been an invitation for the Church to go searching for that person who has become lost from the faith.  This type of Lost is the third of the 4 kinds of Lost we are contemplating. 

            This third kind of lost is not a result of a belligerent, angry rebellion, nor is it the result of something being done to them and as a result they leave either in self defense or in a huff.  This type of lost is show by a little sheep simply, innocently wandering off.  How does a sheep wander off?  It just “nibbles its way out of the pasture.  Nibble over here… oh look that looks tasty over there, a little father away.  Until the sheep looks up and it is all alone.  What does it do then?  Most likely nothing, maybe it starts nibbling some more.

            This third kind of lost comes up in the life of a church when a faithful church member happens to miss a couple weeks in a row, maybe they were ill, visiting a grand child, or out on  vacation… maybe they went of to college and for the first time their parents were not there to get them up.  Upon missing a couple weeks, no one from the church ever tells them they where missed (even though they likely where), but they where never told.  So there is another late Saturday night and they think I have missed a couple, no one noticed, and God didn’t hit me with any lightening bolts… I think I want to sleep in tomorrow (I’ll only fall asleep during the sermon anyway).  Then it has been so long since they have come to church, it becomes an obstacle to going back.  How would I explain being gone the last 3 months, 6 months, 2 years?  What if someone in a loud obnoxious voice greats me with a: Where have you been (the Devil must be getting cold this morning)!

            In each of these kinds of lost there is not only great rejoicing when the lost thing is found, there is an effort to find them.  In the Prodigal Son the Father is looking for the Son on the Horizon, when he sees the son he runs out on the dirty dusty road to meet him (scandalous for that culture at that time).  With the Lost Coin the Lady tore her house apart looking for the coin.  In the lost sheep the Shepard leaves the flock to search and find the wandering sheep.  What are we as members of this flock of sheep gathering at Hodge Presbyterian Church doing to find those who are lost?  Evangelism is something that we as Presbyterians are a little uncomfortable with; we know we should be involved in it somehow… but we do not really know how.  How can we seek those who have become lost to us?

            I have been listening the last six weeks since I have become your Pastor.  I have heard many of you saying that you wonder why so and so has not been to church in months or years.  To be clear I am not suggesting that if someone is absent from Hodge Presbyterian Church they are lost to God, that is not my point.  But there may be some who are these kinds of lost we have talked about from our congregation.  Well, I have a suggestion for you, something simple to begin moving in this direction.  Next Sunday is National Back to Church Sunday (check out the video on our Church’s Facebook page).  Let us quietly observe this.  I want you to pray about who you can ask to come to church with you next week.  If there is someone you have noticed has not been coming to church in a while… or if there is someone that doesn’t go to any church, someone that God has put in your mind or on your heart.  This is what you should do: call them up and simply say would you like to go to church with me, I’ll take you out to lunch afterwards.  Sometime it can be as simple as that.

            For those of you who really thrive on lists and numbers, you may be thinking: that is only 3 kinds of Lost, what about the fourth?  The 4th kind of loss is found in the Older Son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  This kind of lost is one that church people can really suffer from time to time in their lives.  As we all know, when the lost son returns, the father joyously kills the fatted calf and throws a party.  The Older Son is out working in the fields, hears the party, and when he discovers the reason for the party he refuses to come in.  He never left the father’s household, always did what was right, but yet somehow misses the point.  Might it be correct to say that the Father leaves the party to visit with his Presbyterian son?  This fourth kind of loss depicts someone who is Lost at Church.  They come every week.  They are active in helping with everything, but occasionally they wonder what is the point?  Members, Elders, even (maybe especially) Pastors are endanger of becoming this kind of lost from time to time.  Where they lose sight of the life, of the party that church is supposed to be.  Just like the other three kinds of lost, God through Jesus has already done everything that is necessary for the lost to be found, God is actively seeking all those who are lost (in any sense of the word), the Father went out from the party to meet with the son.  Tony Campolo wrote a book called the Kingdom of God is a Party!  Let us invite others, and ourselves to that party.

 

Blessing and Glory and Wisdom

and Thanksgiving and Honor

and Power and Might

be to our God Forever and ever!

Amen.

About Sermons

Some people have expressed their desire to be able to read the sermons that I preach at Hodge Presbyterian Church in Trenton, MO.  I am happy to do so but feel the need to make a qualifing statment on the grammar and style of my writing a sermon.  Especially when it comes to things like sentence structure, run on sentences and the use of certian punctuation marks. 

When I write a sermon, I am not writing them for anyone to read (other than myself).  Because some have asked, I am willing to post them as they are; but I do not have the time to rewrite them to any level of grammar perfection.  So if you chose to read them, please read them with this in mind.

The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, Author: Phyllis Tickle. If you are at all interested in the social/political/economic/intellectual/cultural shift that we have been going through, and its impact on Christianity: I whole-heartedly recommend this book to you.

I have read many books on post-modern Christianity, the emerging/emergent church, and church history… this book is the best one I have read. It is simultaneously comprehensive and concise. As a result of reading this book I understand this subject at a deeper level; and this is a subject I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the last 20 years of my life. In fact before I read this book I thought I had a fairly comprehensive understanding of the subject. It turns out that I was only familiar with part of it. As a Christian and as a Pastor I am simultaneously alarmed, more than a little nervous, excited, and hopeful for the implications for our culture and for both the Holy Catholic Church and for my denomination.

The Right Book at the Right Time

As I was packing up my house in Fort Smith, preparing to move my family to TrentonMissouri, I had a delightful interruption.  The doorbell rang, it was Tom Cutting, a retired pastor and member of the church I had just severed my Call as their Associate Pastor.  Tom wanted to say goodbye, he shared with me some wonderful words of encouragement, and gave me a present.  He handed me a book written by Eugene Peterson called The Pastor: a Memoir.  He told me that he found it very relevant and on point for anyone in the ministry (and so did his wife).  I took the weeks between the ending of my first Call and the beginning of my second to read the book.  It was a very enlightening read; it gave me many things to think about as I begin my new ministry inTrenton. 

In this book Eugene tells of a time that he was told by a Scottish church member that his pastor was: “Invisible six days a week, and incomprehensible on the seventh”!  Though I did laugh at that, as a Pastor it is also a bit sobering.  I do know that I do not want to be the type of Pastor who is either invisible or incomprehensible. 

This book was not necessarily a page turner, but it is a book that provokes the reader to think.  I found that I was shocked by how much I felt I had in common with Peterson the more I wrote.  I found it encouraging reading about his internal distrust of many pastors that he knew, and of the journey he took to get to the heart of his own sense of calling as a pastor. 

To quote an old friend from college, Shane Claiborne (from the back cover endorsements for the book): “A good book for folks who like pastors.  And a good book for folks who don’t.  The Pastor is the disarming tale of one of the unlikely suspects who has helped shape North American Christianity.”  I will add to that endorsement, I think this book should be required reading for any Presbyterian Pastors who are just starting to live into their Callings as Ministers of Word and Sacrament (or is that Teaching Elders now?).