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This week's readings can be very unsettling, as Paul advises us to be fools for Christ while Jesus goes on a rampage at the Temple in Jerusalem. In this week's A Story to Live By, David McKirachan ponders the power of faith -- and wonders whether following Jesus means the world might see us as being not only foolish, but crazy as well. Our Good Stories show that it wasn't just the money changers in the Temple who found their lives disrupted by Jesus... lots of modern church folk also discover that spiritual renewal can "rock their world." Finally, you'll love the humorous account in this week's Scrap Pile of a fascinating Vacation Bible School experience where pastor and kids alike discover why the Ten Commandments are simple but vital rules for living together in harmony.


A Story to Live By

Bisecting a Cone
by C. David McKirachan

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.... For God's foolishness is wiser than God's wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:18, 25

I have a friend who is a therapist. She doesn't understand why I am so focused on religion. She sees me as intelligent (a flaw in judgment on her part), reasonable, and interested in having a full life. She asked me why I choose to demonstrate a religious preoccupation.

That was an interesting question. But upon further investigation, I found out she was speaking about a diagnosis listed in the encyclopedia of mental pathologies. According to the book, I'm a bit nuts. I'm not sick, just emotionally messed up (or something like that).

After some reflection, I realized that according to our cultural norms the book is right. I, and anyone else who claims faith as a priority in his or her life, am at best a fool -- and at worst completely nuts.

It's abundantly clear what the priorities of our culture are. Consider the courses required of our children in school. They must learn physics, chemistry, and algebra. There is nothing wrong with any of these skills. But to teach our children how to bisect a cone, and not teach them about relationships, conflict management, or how to deal with dreams -- are we not defining ourselves? It is no wonder that religion is seen as an antiquated tradition keeper. We use it for little else. So those with vision and sense and power turn in other directions.

Unless we are willing to embrace our faith as something more than a reasonable method for being good citizens, or being well-balanced, or being able to deal reasonably with stress, we are not remembering the maniacs who have gone before us. Faith fills us with a power that pushes and drags us out beyond safe places, reasonable places, balanced places. These are the places where only fools dare to tread. These are the places where Jesus leads us.

So if you follow Him, get ready to be a fool.

The good news is that I was never good at algebra anyway.

C. David McKirachan is pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury in central New Jersey.


Shining Moments
The Portrait
by Constance Berg

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18

Paul couldn't stand it anymore. The constant ringing in his ears was deafening. It was as if he were standing in the ocean, the waves pounding unceasingly in his ears. He knew he was going deaf quickly.

Paul's hearing loss came rapidly. The doctors tried hearing aids. But nothing made the ringing stop. And nothing made the noise of normalcy return.

Paul became depressed and withdrawn. He couldn't understand what people were saying. Normal activities like grocery shopping and driving became a terrifying ordeal. It was easier to stay home and retreat into his world of silence.

People didn't know what to do with Paul. Some came to visit, but writing compassionate little comments got tiring for them. It was too frustrating. Others would send inspiring cards, but the words seemed empty. They couldn't touch his cold heart.

Paul turned to his art for solace. He would sketch on his sunny porch. He would draw in the living room by the picture window, watching the children play in the park across the street. He would sit in the park and think of new ideas.

In time, Paul began to feel more alive. He began to paint faces, and soon he would sit and sketch portraits for free. As soon as he would come to the park, he would have a gathering. It was his pleasure to see the surprised, happy faces of his "models." He was coming out of his shell. The people understood he was deaf. The people understood he had talent.

Paul was asked to sketch a portrait of Jesus for the church across town. The pastor had come to watch Paul. Paul had sketched the pastor's daughter in an amazing likeness the week before. Pastor Tim sat with Paul and wrote his request.

Paul was quick to shake his head no. He was adamant. But Pastor Tim was adamant too, and asked if Paul would "just come and take a look at our church." It was a new sanctuary built behind the original, ancient church, and Pastor Tim wanted a fresh, modern look. He wanted a portrait of Jesus in the narthex.

Pastor Tim left Paul with the address, which Paul ignored for three weeks. But curiosity got the best of him. Paul headed across town.

Paul's world was one of silence; it helped him concentrate. Paul's world was one of a loner; it helped him notice details. Paul's world was one of introspection; his intuition was keen.

Paul sat in the church for hours on end, days at a time. He wanted to get a feeling of this Jesus. He wanted an idea for a sketch to come to him. He wanted an image to form in his mind so he could begin to sketch. He wanted something concrete.

But nothing came to him, and just as he was about to give up he heard a voice in the silence. It wasn't an audible voice -- it was a quiet voice only for Paul to hear. It was the voice of one who had suffered. It was the voice of one who understood. It was the voice of one who wanted to love.

Paul practically sprinted home. He got out a huge canvas, clean and bright. And on it he painted a face -- a face that was neither male nor female; a face that was neither black nor white; a face that was neither happy nor sad.

It was a lonely face -- a caring face; an authoritative face. It looked pensive. It looked knowledgeable. It looked curious.

After a month of daily work, Paul was finally satisfied with it. But as he stood back, he realized he had forgotten the most important detail. Jesus' reason for coming to earth was missing. On the side of his face, on the curve of his cheekbone, Paul painted a tiny tear -- a tear of happiness; a tear of sadness; a tear of understanding.

Paul was finished. He had heard the voice. Paul understood.

Constance Berg is a former missionary to Chiapas, Mexico. She is the author of three volumes of the CSS series Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit.


Good Stories

Upside-Down
by David O. Bales

In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"... The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
John 2:14-16, 18-19

Dear Reverend Doctor Fitz,

I have never written to a bishop before, but necessity compels me. Circumstances at the St. Andrew church have reached an impasse. A number of longtime members are no longer worshiping here, and the new people who have come are not supporting the church's activities, as did those faithful who have gone before us. Upon careful thought and persistent discussion with the pillars of this church, I have decided to write to you in order to state my grave concerns about, and profound disagreements with, our pastor Richard Dodd.

He has been employed here for more than a year; therefore we have endured all that he would do to us through the four seasons. But it became apparent soon after his arrival that he would be nothing but problems. In less than a week he ruined his welcome. My husband has been treasurer of this congregation for 24 and a half years. And Pastor Dodd asked him why he listed in the bulletin the contributions that people made to pay for the radio broadcast each Sunday.

"People like to see their names there," my husband said.

"We don't list money that other members give for special needs, nor do we report what people contribute week by week to the general budget," he said. "Why would we publicly announce what a few people give for a particular ministry?"

"Reverend Dodd, my wife and I are honoring our fathers and mothers in the faith by giving so generously to this mission," my husband said, very properly. "No one ever suggested printing regular giving in the bulletin."

"Mr. Murphy," Pastor Dodd said, "the Bible gives a lot of leeway on many things. But on a few, we have pretty straightforward guidance. Jesus said that we shouldn't let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. He's talking about our giving anonymously."

My husband, perfectly sizing up the situation said, "My left hand knows well what my right hand is doing, and no one has ever complained about doing it this way."

The gall! Also, on our annual children's Sunday he wore a Hawaiian shirt to worship and served communion to the children that way, saying that sometimes we need to be bright and happy at the Lord's altar instead of sad and mopey. You're the theologian. I'm sure you can judge that one.

He insists we sing some little ditties (he calls them choruses) in worship before we can raise our reverent voices in the grand hymns of the faith. When people very calmly and properly expressed their dissatisfaction with such songs, he said that as Jesus told individuals they had to lose their life for his sake, churches also have to die to the things they like in order to do ministry for people who are different than they are. He said that's Jesus' pattern. We think that's his pattern for this church.

It gets worse. He has acted as a smart aleck almost to the point of being blasphemous. He spoke hideously about our Ladies' Aid bazaar. Our Ladies' Aid has always held a bazaar the week before Easter to pay for various necessities in the church, such as kitchen supplies. Also, every year we choose one room or part of the church for remodeling and decorating. Our bazaar has been quite successful. We call it the Holy Emporium. We offer the townspeople a chance to get real bargains on beautiful crafts. Our church is much more attractive for all the dedicated work the ladies (and their husbands) have put in over the years.

I suppose it was because of what Pastor Dodd had said to my husband that led me (in the presence of three other ladies, mind you) to ask him what he thought of our holding a bazaar in the church. I mean, who knows what crazy schemes roll around in his head, especially since he took such unexplainable actions as deleting the "Gloria Patri" and "Doxology" from the worship bulletin and replacing them with "Glory Be to the Father" and "Praise God." He tells us we're supposed to figure out why.

Well, at the question of the church having a bazaar the young man smiled and said, "I have nothing against having a bazaar in the church building." We ladies sighed in relief as we turned to go. "But," he said, and we turned to listen, "if a bearded man -- about 30 years old -- in a robe and sandals comes in and starts turning over tables, I wouldn't advise trying to stop him."

The nerve. If I were to summarize his impact upon this church, it would be to say that he's turned everything upside-down. I hope and expect that you will be swift and sure in dealing with this problem, because if not, from all the evidence, this church is soon going to die.

Very sincerely yours,

Mrs. Emma O'Connor Murphy

David O. Bales is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Ontario, Oregon, and a freelance writer and editor for Stephen Ministries and Tebunah Ministries. He is the author of Gospel Subplots: Story Sermons of God's Grace (CSS).


The Weight of the Cross
by Charles W. Byrd

John 2:13-22

The restoration of First Community Church had been completed. The 150-year-old house of worship, with its fresh paint and newly installed multi-colored stained-glass windows, seemed to glow under the warm April sun. Inside the sanctuary, the old handmade pews had been carefully refinished and heavily lacquered. Bright red cushions adorned the pews and pulpit furnishings, and were matched by thick wall-to-wall carpeting. New paraments covered the pulpit, lectern, and communion table, and a large white metal cross had been attached to the high wall behind the new choir pews, just above a magnificent window depicting Christ standing on a hilltop preaching to the multitudes.

Pastor John surveyed the sanctuary with great pride as he stood before a shiny lectern and opened the church's first business meeting in the remodeled building.

"I think our first item of business should be the discussion of brass nameplates for the new windows," said George Hendricks.

"I agree!" said Harold Wickenham as he jumped to his feet. "I would like the large one in front, the one with Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount."

"No!" shouted Harriet Munford. "That window is mine! I was chairperson of the stained-glass window committee, and I think I should have first choice!"

"That's ridiculous!" replied Percy Winville. He stood, waving his arms for attention. "Nobody has given as much as I have for this restoration. And besides, my great-great grandfather was an original founder of this church! I want his name under that window!"

"Please -- please!" begged Pastor John. "This is not the way to decide the issue! Anyway, I assumed that the names of all the church's pastors would be placed under that window!"

"I will not stand for this!" said Henrietta Anvil. She stepped heavily on Harry Johnson's toes as she struggled out of a pew and positioned herself directly in front of Pastor John. "I give more money to this church than Percy Winville, and if anybody gets a name under that window, it will..."

She was interrupted by a loud tearing noise as the top of the large metal cross separated from the wall. The church members watched in shocked silence as the top of the cross fell, swinging down to crash loudly into the massive stained-glass window. The window shattered completely as small pieces of colored glass flew through the air, causing Pastor John and Henrietta Anvil to fall on the floor, scrambling under a front pew for cover. From the safety of their refuge they stared at the upside-down cross, which dangled in the empty space of the window that was once filled by the image of Christ.

Charles W. Byrd is a retired United Methodist minister and counselor. He is the author of several books and hundreds of articles and short stories. Among Byrd's CSS titles are The Christmas Stranger and If Only That Horse Were a Member of My Church.


Scrap Pile

Traffic Control
by C. David McKirachan

Exodus 20:1-17

My father always talked about the Ten Commandments as God's green lights. He saw them as rules by which we can get along better. It kind of flew in the face of the "thou shall not..." mentality with which we often approach the Decalogue.

In seminary I was given another angle on this cornerstone of our covenant. My professor spoke of a community of escaped slaves who needed something other than rules that enforced a top-down authority -- they had just escaped from such authority. God was not about to give them something that put them back into another oppressive system.

Armed with these insights I went into my first pastorate, a small church on the border of inner-city Newark, New Jersey. I had more energy than sense. We had no money for curriculum, nobody who had any opportunity or experience teaching. So I wrote a lesson plan and prepared to be the teacher, the only teacher for a two-week Vacation Bible School.

Sixteen kids between the ages of 6 and 15 years signed up. The plan was simple; survive and keep them engaged. This demanded a lot of hands-on group activity. So what better way to engage a bunch of kids than to build a few pyramids and make a few bricks? I turned them into slaves under the lash of Pharaoh's rule. Naturally, I was the king/god of the Upper and Lower Nile. We did exercises with work and family dynamics and food and random authority.

All week long they did and undid things at my whim. They got snacks or none because I said so. Along the way we did crafts, sang songs, prayed, read the Bible (a lot from Genesis and Exodus), and played games.

They all came back for the second week. I was amazed.

We went through the story of Moses and the exodus -- plagues and all. (They really liked the frogs.) The passage through the sea and the destruction of Pharaoh's army was fun to act out -- they had to bring extra clothes that day. (The water fight went on for quite a while.) Finally we made it to the mountain of revelation, the mountain of the Law. Moses went up the mountain into the cloud. I asked them what rules, what guidelines for getting along in their new freedom, they thought God would give them.

After much hassle and discussion they came up with five rules. These kids blew me away:

1. Nobody's God but God.
2. You get to keep what belongs to you.
3. Nobody gets to kill anybody else.
4. Families can't be broken up.
5. Everybody gets a day off.

Aside from the clear harmony between our Decalogue and the kids' pentalogue, it became very clear to me that the commandments that were given to us on that mountaintop were not arbitrary or esoteric, but were totally linked to the experience of the community to whom they were given. God's inspiration can be seen in the harmony these simple rules create for all who seek to live them out in the promise of freedom and hope -- whether they are escaping from Pharaoh's yoke or are seeking to live in community in the land of milk and honey.

The pizza guy down at the corner gave us six pies for our final party. He told me he was grateful to me for keeping the little monsters off the street. So much for enlightenment...

C. David McKirachan is pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury in central New Jersey. He also teaches at Monmouth University. Two of his books, I Happened Upon a Miracle and A Year of Wonder, have been published by Westminster John Knox Press. McKirachan was raised in a pastor's home and he is the brother of a pastor, and he has discovered his name indicates that he has druid roots. Storytelling seems to be a congenital disorder. He lives with his 21-year-old son Ben and his dog Sam.


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How to Share Stories
You have good stories to share, probably more than you know: personal stories as well as stories from others that you have used over the years. If you have a story you like, whether fictional or "really happened," authored by you or a brief excerpt from a favorite book, send it to StoryShare for review. Simply click here share-a-story@csspub.com and e-mail the story to us.


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StoryShare, March 19, 2006, issue.

Copyright 2006 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 517 South Main Street, Lima, Ohio 45804.
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In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (vv. 14-16)

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At the beginning of his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, John Milton articulates a part of his task in writing as to “justify the ways of God to men.”1 That may be an ongoing task for us. Fallen humanity is like a perpetual adolescent, always questioning and challenging (and disobeying) the parent. And so there is a continual need for the ways of God to be explained and justified to human beings.
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The Village Shepherd

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There once was a report in "The Sunday Times" about the claims of Francis Crick to have located "the cells of our soul." Fifty years ago, Francis Crick and James Watson won a Nobel prize for their discovery of the DNA double helix, which has been responsible for huge leaps forward in health care and criminal detection.

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It was a new church for Sam. It was his grandmother's church, and because Sam loved his grandmother, he sat on the edge of the pew and tried hard to listen. "Are you saved?" the preacher asked from the pulpit far away. Sam remembered when he had saved pennies for a new plant for Mother on Mother's Day. "Maybe Mother saved pennies for me," Sam thought. The preacher continued, "Will you give your heart to Jesus?" Sam wondered where his heart was. But if Jesus needed Sam's heart he would be glad to give it.
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Jesus in the temple -- oh, didn't he show those money-changers who were desecrating the temple grounds with their money-grubbing business? Not to mention the mess that all the livestock were making! Out! Out! Out! He cleared them all out, those traders in things that didn't belong in God's house. And he had every right to do it, we tend to think. Serves them right, despoiling sacred space with their commerce -- profiting off of the desire of the faithful to do something pleasing to God. Exploitation. Good riddance!

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