How do I spend less?

Here is the text from the sermon I preached December 4, 2011 at First Presbyterian Church. The texts were Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8.

And here’s a link to the audio. How do I spend less?

This season of Advent we’ve invited you to join us in a conspiracy of sorts, an Advent Conspiracy. An opportunity to Enter the Story of waiting, the story of preparing, the story of hope, the story of joy that we find ina manger in Bethlehem; the story of God becoming incarnate in an infant, born in poverty; an infant that would show us a new way to live, a new way to interact, a new way to be.

I will be honest this week’s question: How do we spend less? is a hard one for me. It’s hard because one of the main ways my family shows love is through the giving of gifts. All my life, whether at the holidays or just because the way that my family says, “I love you” is through buying each other gifts.

A few years ago a book came out to help married couples communicate more effectively and help them to understand their partner. This book was called the 5 Love Language. Dr. Gary Chapman explains that these love languages are ways that people show and interpret love.

My family shows and interprets love through little gifts, it doesn’t have to be grandiose or expensive it’s just something. “Hey, I thought of you today and I bought you your favorite candy bar.” “I saw this book on the half off table and I thought you’d like it.” You know stuff like that.

So when I tell my family, we are going to spend less this year and we would like you to as well, it’s like telling them not to show us that they love us. It’s really hurtful, I can hear it over the phone. Even though my parents and sister are flying all the way across country to spend time with us this Christmas (which as you know if pretty expensive and a wonderful gift in and of itself) it is necessary for them to give us and our children something, some token of their love.

Who am I to tell my family that they can’t speak in the only language they know?

My hope is that while we think about spending less, we will hear spend differently. Whether that’s a gift from the Alternative Christmas Market or a donation in honor of your loved one to a worthy cause, or a check to them in the amount you were going to spend to them inviting them to give it away to the something they feel passionate about and tell you why.  There are a million different ways to spend, that can not only show how much you love but also can do good for someone else.

Sometimes I think that we spend because that is the only language we think is out there, we don’t know or have never heard of a different way. There are tons of ways you can give or receive a gift that doesn’t cost you any money.

Let’s look at some of the ways that a gift that didn’t cost anything has touched the lives of our community.

In the passage from Mark this morning we hear about John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, standing in the wilderness saying, “Hey everybody, something’s got to change and I know that soon someone will come and show you. I can point to him. And he’s going to change everything.”

That’s what we are doing, we are waiting, we are preparing for something fantastic, the birth of the savior, Jesus, who came as an infant, not a mighty king, who broke bread with his enemies, not decimate them, who at every turn did something unexpected.

Even the one who was proclaiming his coming was unexpected. He was in the wilderness wearing camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. He wasn’t in the halls of power, he never intended to go there, John the Baptist was setting the table for the banquet to come.

He said wake up, there’s something wrong here and I know who’s going to show us how to fix it.

I think right now in our world, in our society, in our economy we are at a crisis point. We are at a point where mere tinkering isn’t going to fix it, we need to completely overhaul the systems we live in, that we have become a part of, that we have fed into. I believe God is doing something new.

Now you might be saying, “You’re crazy!” You’d probably be right. Crazy enough to think that a system that is reliant on spending more and more is unsustainable, crazy enough to believe that an economy based on speculation can’t hold, crazy enough to think that there are people in this world that are willing to stand up and say I’m tired of living the same ole, same ole.

People willing to say enough!

People willing to say that for living in a “Christian” nation we don’t live very Gospel lives.

I’m not an economist, I’m not a businessperson, but I know that some of you are. I may be too young, too naïve, too Pollyanna. But I’m willing to bet some of you are too.

I heard on the news this week that Black Friday was a success for retailers. Consumers spent millions of dollars, that they out-shined projections and that Cyber Monday was the biggest day of online shopping ever. The stock market was up; people said there might be light at the end of this dark tunnel that we’re in.

From what little I understand about the economy and job creation, we need people to spend money in order for more jobs to be created. More cashiers and stockers, more manufacturers, more everything…but we also need people to have jobs in order to make money to buy more things to create more jobs. This is wholly unsustainable to me.

I know that maybe an oversimplification or a complete misunderstanding. If so, please help me understand. I’m willing to sit down with anyone who is willing to help me understand this. Because it seems to me that we need a change. We are begging for a change, we aren’t going to make it if we don’t change.

I don’t have all the answers, really all I have at this point are questions, but I know that Christ came into this world in an unexpected way and I trust that Christ will continue to come into our lives in unexpected ways. I pray that a gift will unexpectedly relieve the suffering of some of the world’s poorest, I pray that God will call those blessed with knowledge of how economic systems work to sit down with those that understand how just systems work and try and figure out how we can have a more just economic system.

The time is now, Christmas is coming, the savior of the world is coming to shock us, to challenge us, to call us to a new way of loving the lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Remember Christmas can STILL change the world!

May it be so!

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Simply Christmas: Less Talking, More Listening (Matthew 1:18-25)

Here is the text from my sermon last Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, OR. The sermon text is Matthew 1:18-25

The story of Joseph always amazes me. It amazes me because I’m not sure I would have made the same decision that he did. For all intents and purposes the “right” thing, the “lawful” thing was to dismiss her. The “lawful” thing to do was expose her to public humiliation, for her to stand trial for adultery. Joseph was a noble man, a man who must have built a remarkable and trusting relationship with God. What Joseph did, defied all logic. It defied reason. Joseph listened to an angel, in a dream, who told him. “Do not be afraid, take Mary as your wife, name your son Jesus.” Joseph chose to go against all that he knew because he trusted God, he trusted that his vision was from God, he listened to the vision. I don’t know how many times in my life I have felt a nudge to do something that was seemingly impossible and certainly illogical. Almost every time I have brushed it aside, I have refused to listen, I have not trusted. I imagine that Joseph taking that first step was difficult. I imagine he could not talk to anyone about his situation. I imagine he felt lonely. I imagine he felt scared. I imagine that his plans for his life were now washed away in an instant. He had to now re-imagine what his life would be like with his new wife Mary and their son. Would he be ridiculed? Would he be an outcast? Would he be killed? Joseph’s ability to trust that God would be with him no matter, must have taken time. It must have been the product of long hours of talking to and listening to God, allowing himself to trust and to be worthy of trust. As we are surrounded with the noise of the season, let us take a few moments to listen, a few moments to allow God’s still small voice to become as loud as a choir of angels. A few moments to hopefully continue to build our trust level with God and for God. Let us take a moment to breath allowing God’s breath to flow through our minds and fill our hearts with the vision of the Holy Spirit living and moving through our lives. Let us take a few moments of silence to simply be…

(2-4 Minutes of Silence)

Amen.

As I began to prepare for this Sunday, a Sunday where we are reminded to listen more than we talk. The story of my friends and colleagues Adam and Sarah Walker Cleaveland from Livermore, California, kept rattling around in my brain, kept coming up, kept being in my thoughts and prayers. Before I shared this with you I asked Adam and Sarah if they were comfortable sharing their story. Adam has written about their journey at his blog dazeddad.com. I believe his words better explain their story. This is an excerpt from his blog entry entitled “October 25: The Day I Will Never Forget

On Sunday, October 24, at around 1:15pm, Sarah’s bag of water broke, although we didn’t know it at the time. We weren’t really sure what had happened, so we went to Labor & Delivery in Walnut Creek. After a few different tests, the doctor pulled a stool over and sat down next to the bed. It was at that moment that I knew that we were in for some bad news. There was something about the way the doctor sat down on the stool, and began to share with us the news…

We really didn’t have any options – we had to end the pregnancy. We were at 19 weeks and 3 days.

We were given our own room in Labor & Delivery and we waited as Sarah was given [a drug] to induce an early labor. The night was spent trying to get some sleep; in preparation for doing something we never thought we’d ever have to do in the morning. Sarah was given some pain meds to help with the increased cramping, but around 6am, it got too painful, and she got an epidural.

It was only a few minutes after the epidural was in, that Sarah’s cramping became worse and the delivery began. It happened very quickly, much quicker than we had anticipated, and on Monday morning, October 25, at 6:49am Micah Walker Cleaveland (10 ounces) was born and at 6:54am Judah Walker Cleaveland (8 ounces) was born.

What was perhaps most shocking about the birth experience was that they were both born alive and breathing…they had heartbeats and were quickly wrapped in blankets and given to us to hold. Because of where I was standing when they were born, I could see them when they first came out. Micah, who seemed significantly bigger than Judah, was kicking and I could see his tiny little arms moving around.

We spent about 3 hours with them that morning. Sarah and I took turns holding them individually and together. Shortly after their birth, one of the pastors from our church came by and spent time with us. Sarah decided that since they were alive for about a full 1-1.5 hrs while they were with us, that we should baptize them. Our pastor was there at that time, and so we baptized them and prayed for them.

Right now I can’t describe what it was like to hold them – to know that I was holding my sons in my arms…I was a dad. I am a dad. And that is a crazy thing to think about.

At around 10am, we decided we were ready – as ready as we would ever be – to say goodbye to Micah and Judah. And so the nurse came and took them….

Even as I type this post, it still feels unreal. The whole time at the hospital feels like it never really happened. Yet, each day, we are reminded that we have suffered a huge loss. Every time we receive another flower delivery, or another comment left on my Facebook Wall, or another meal delivered to us from wonderful people at our church, I am reminded that we are grieving.

I don’t know what the future holds. I can’t even look past the next few days – it’s too hard. But I do know that we are surrounded by an amazing community (both online, from folks in our church, close friends, friends I haven’t heard from in a long time, etc.) who is praying for us and loving us and eager to find ways to support us. And that means more than you could ever imagine.

Adam and Sarah’s story is tragic, it’s gut wrenching it reminds me that there are no words that can be said to “make it better”. Even though we, even though I offer up words to fill the void that is felt by loss. I am reminded of my time as a chaplain when we were told, “don’t just do something, stand there.” I am reminded that all I can do for Adam and Sarah is be there. All I can do is pray. All I can do is listen.

For all those who are grieving, grieving the loss of a loved one, grieving the loss of a job, grieving the loss of time, grieving the loss of comfort, all I can say are the words offered by Adam’s religion professor and friend, Jerry Sitter, “I have no words. This is horrible. And I’m here for you.” God is here for you. In his book “Grace Disguised” Dr. Sitter says, “A willingness to face the loss and to enter into the darkness is the first step we must take.”

As we take a moment to listen for God to meet us in our time of need, let us together and as individuals take that first step into the darkness of those things that we have lost during this year and let us be drawn to the light of the Christ child, remembering that it is though hope in him we are saved from our darkness. Let us take a moment in silence to simply listen…

(2-4 minutes of silence)

Amen.

Blessings,
Rev. Greg Bolt

Simply Christmas: Less Worry, More Hope

Here is the text from this week’s sermon at First Presbyterian Church, Bend, Oregon. The sermon texts are Isaiah 40:1-8 and Romans 8: 18-25

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the season of the church year where we wait expectantly for the coming of the Christ child. The story of Mary and Joseph and their harrowing tale of parenthood gets told over and over during the next couple of months. There will be family get-togethers, holiday parties, white elephant gifts, fun, laughter, good tidings, and lots and lots of cheer…or so we’re told. During this time of year, everyone is cheery and happy celebrating the chance to get together with friends and loved ones remembering and being thankful for the year that is drawing to a close…or at least that’s what the ads say.

This season, for many, is a season that is anything but joyful. This season brings up painful memories, adds to already busy lives and ultimately becomes so overwhelming that the thought of doing it again next year seems too much.

A lot of times during this time of year I just feel…stressed. There are certainly moments during this season when I sit back and feel the wonderful spirit of God around me when I sit around a table with my friends and family remembering that BEING with people is what’s important in this or really any season.

It just seems that during this season we are worried about making sure we SEE everybody we can, even if that means not BEING with any of them. During this Advent season we are inviting you to slow down, take a breath, worry less, hope more and experience a simple Christmas.

I know that by saying that some of you are instantly stressed out.

I’m a little stressed out about thinking of simplifying Christmas.

I have a confession to make; one of the main ways that I show love is through gifts. I don’t buy things for a lot of people during the holiday season but the people I do buy for, especially my wife and now my daughter, I tend to go over board. I have a real hard time staying on budget. I’m worried that my family, those around me won’t understand how much I love them and celebrate them in my life if I don’t buy them some thing REALLY expensive.

Now when I say that out loud I realize that just doesn’t make sense. I also look back on the gifts that I have received over the years and the ones that I remember are the ones that took care, were hand made or were re-gifted. The thing that really jumps out at me are the people that were there, the stories that were told around the table and the memories that I have are of who was there not what I got.

Even with that knowledge we still worry that some how we’re not going to live up to some one else’s expectations. We worry that we’re not going to do enough or have enough or give enough. I worry…that somehow if I don’t get my child the “right” present for her learning or my wife the “right” keepsake to let her know that I love her or my parents the “right” picture of their first grandchild that Christmas won’t happen. That the one we’ve waited for, the one we’ve hoped for won’t be born to a teenage mother in a feeding trough. That somehow the birth of Christ is dependent on us.

I am thankful that I am not responsible for the coming of the Christ child.

I am thankful everyday that Jesus Christ is with us constantly, that while I am grass and I will whither and fade, God’s word will live forever and I can trust that even though I didn’t get a new Xbox, God IS with me and with you and with the world, God WILL BE with me and with you and with the world and will be my wife and child and with you and with the world long after I am gone. This is not something that I can see but it is something that I can hope for.

At this time in our country with this economy it often feels like a lot of us are withering or fading away. We feel like we can no longer do the things that we used to we can no longer provide the kind of experiences that we have become accustomed to and sometimes we feel less than, we feel lost, we worry.

The hidden opportunity in that is we can choose how we react to our changing situations. We can choose to hold on to the past, clinging to memories of what used to be or we can open ourselves to new possibilities of what can be. Instead of an iPod or the latest Call of Duty video game maybe you can write your kids a letter telling them how important they are to you.

Our story, our gospel, our history is about life, death and resurrection. We do a pretty good job of living, we are terrified of dying and I’m afraid we don’t trust in the resurrection.

I know in my life there have been times where part of me has died. I am not the same person that I was when I was younger. It was hard to grow up. It was hard to let that part of me go, but the new life that has come is far more than I could have ever imagine.

At this point in our world, in our denomination, our church, in our community many of the things we have been accustomed to are no more. Part of our society is dying, is changing. We can choose to hold on unwilling to change or see the possibilities of the hope of the resurrection. We can choose not to accept that for some there are different ways to interact with God than the way we have accustomed to. Comfort, O Comfort my people, you are forgiven.

I know change is scary especially in a time such as this; a time when we can’t see the other side. I know that the life that we lived has been from God. I know it will help us shape things to come. I hope, I trust that we can be reborn into a new and vibrant life of abundance as we wait patiently for the coming of the Savior to all.

Nazarene Scholar, Dennis Bratcher said, “I think that the true meaning of Christmas is about possibility. It is not the kind of possibility that comes from a confidence in our own skill, knowledge, ability, or a positive mental attitude. It is possibility that comes solely from the fact that God is God, and that he is the kind of God who comes into our own human existence to reveal himself and call us to himself.”

In our Bible reading from Isaiah today we reminded, “the grass withers and the flowers fade but the Word of the Lord lasts forever.” We also know that “in hope we are saved.” God looks down upon us and says, “Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

This may sound a little hokey but those simple words give me a glimmer of hope of possibility; light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t a train but provides warmth that draws me closer and closer to recognizing that God has been…is…and will be with us no matter what.

Even if we don’t get our Christmas cards sent out, if we don’t make that special meal, if we don’t go to every party, if we don’t buy our boss a gift or get your neighbors a fruit cake or you don’t get up the lights etc. etc. etc.

I actually think that the hope of this time of year is much deeper than simply doing less, simply not buying one present, simply holing yourself up in your house and saying, “I don’t have to go to parties or be with people because I’m being more simple.” The hope of this season is the hope that often seems hidden under all the noise that the season can create. The hope for this season lies in the belief that there is a God that bigger than us, bigger than our stress, bigger than our worry. The hope is in a God that is always reaching for us, holding us, guiding us; a God that came to earth in the form of a helpless infant, a God that desires to be in relationship with us, a God that promises that, ultimately in the end, it will be OK even if we can’t see it, even if it seems impossible, even if we feel like we are lost, even if we can’t see God. We trust God is there.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before he was Pope Benedict XVI said, “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to [people]. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.”

This Advent we trust that you will be awakened to the mystery, excitement, and hope that is the coming of the Christ child. You will be transformed by the spirit of possibility of what could be if we continue to love like Jesus. What could be if we worry less about all the extraneous tinsel of this season and open ourselves up to the hope that the Spirit of God will make Godself known to us in the coming of a poor, homeless child, a child who became a man living through the stress and worry that comes with being human, a man who spoke of hope and who lives in all of us, calling us to be open to the warm and challenging embrace of Emmanuel, God with us.

May it be so.

Blessings,

Rev. Greg Bolt

Advent Devotion 2009

I asked some of you to try out this journaling Advent Devotional for this Season of Advent. I was wondering how it was coming, if you were writing or drawing at all or if you would like to share.

Heidi and I decided to do ours in the form of a blog. You can check it out here: Reflections of a Pastor Couple.

If you want a copy of the devotional let me know, I still have plenty.

Blessings,
Greg

Journey Toward the Light- Online Advent Devotional for BendFP

This Advent season has got me to thinking. Sometimes I think, I want, Jesus to come charging in to this world on a white horse “taking out” all the people who are are sinful (read here people I disagree with). Every year I am reminded that what I want and what God does are often radically different.

Every year we celebrate the incarnation of God on earth in the birth of a small, fragile infant. As I anxiously await the birth of my first child I am reminded that the light is powerful, but it does not exert it’s power in ways that I expect. The power of Christ, the light that I am journeying toward, is in his frailty.

God could send a representative to come charging in on a white horse to lay waste to the wicked, instead Emmanuel, God with us, comes into the city on a donkey, comes into the world not as a powerful triumphant conquerer, but as a small child in need of nourishment from his mother. This image is a constant reminder that God rarely if ever does what we think God should or is going to do.

God who called a child who “lacks self-discipline and self-control” to grow into a man called to be a minister of Word and Sacrament, is certainly not what I expected. If God can call me on this journey I trust that God is calling you in ways you might never expect. This advent and every advent I am reminded that my journey toward the light is never straight, is often unexpected, and always beautiful (not easy).

This year especially I await the coming of my own child as I await the coming of Christ.

Blessings,
Greg