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This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on October 23, 2017. The text was 2 Samuel 7:1-17.

Audio of the sermon can be found here.

We’ve come a long way since last week. Last week we talked Hannah and her giving over of her son Samuel to God, to be raised by Eli as a nazirite. Since that reading, Samuel grew up, he responded to God’s call by saying “Here I am, Lord” and became the prophet of Israel. The Israelites became convinced that they wanted, that they need a king. To quote Baptist blogger Chuck Hooten, “Israel wanted a king. For years God had acted as their provider, protector, and sovereign but in the face of mounting pressure from rival nations and the innate human desire to look and sound like everyone around them Israel wanted a change. They wanted a king that was made of flesh and blood. The prophet Samuel begged them to reconsider. He told them that a king would tax them, oppress them, force them to work for his pleasure, and take their sons off to war. The people were unswayed. It was a king of flesh that they wanted and so it was a king of flesh that God would provide.

When we meet Saul in the book of 1 Samuel he is everything and more that the people wanted. He was tall, athletic, and handsome. If a group of people were in the market for a king and Saul walked in the room the search would always be over. Saul was king material…or so they thought. Saul proves to be a reflection of the people themselves. Just like Israel he was brash, prideful, arrogant, and quick to make hasty decisions that would have lasting consequences.”

It didn’t take long for Saul, to royally (pun intended) mess things up. David was chosen as a boy to be faithful to God and to serve Saul, he was taken from a pasture, he slayed Goliath, he marched in battle with Saul, when Saul and David ‘s companion Jonathan were ultimately killed David became the King of Israel, he was a warrior king, and to this day is the model for kingship in for the Israelites. He, with God’s help, defeated all of Israel’s enemies, he even conquered Jerusalem to where it became the capital of the nation of Israel, it is still called Royal David’s City, we often sing about it during Advent. The King of Tyre builds David a royal palace and then… Deep Breath

David sits down, all the enemies are defeated, he has a moment to rest, probably one of the first moments since he was a boy. He surveys home, his kingdom, and he reflects on his life. He decides that God wants, God needs the same things that he needs or wants. He decides that he will build God a house of cedar.

He takes this notion to his trusted advisor, Nathan, a prophet, who initially says, “sounds like a good idea.”

Then God comes to Nathan and gives him a different word, “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders[a] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

David is then reminded, we are reminded of how God has been with David from the beginning: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you. Then comes the promise, not only has God been with David, God promises to BE with David. “I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take[b] my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;[c] your throne shall be established forever.”

In short, God tells David, thanks but I got this. You do your job and I’ll do mine.

I will tell you, the first time I read this passage I was reminded of a catch phrase used by The Rock during his time in the WWE, he would say, “Know your role!”

It reminded me of playing football. Each person on the team has a role, quarterback, wide receivers, linemen, running backs, linebackers, defensive backs, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, cheerleaders, on and on. They all have a role, and the teams that do have players that focus on their role, they don’t try to do too much, they do their job and they do it well.

This also works in the communities, in companies, on farms, in churches, even in households. When everyone knows their role, and when others are willing to support them in that role, the whole house, church, farm, company, or community benefits.

I have a role here at First Presbyterian Church, our session has a role, our deacons have a role, our Presbyterian Women have a role, our Sunday School teachers have a role, each and every one of you has a role to play in our vision of Planting Seeds of God’s Light here in Nebraska City and throughout the world. For some this role is performed outside the walls of this church. I asked in a recent Builder article for you to start to think about where you volunteer your time, where to donate money, where do you serve? In your bulletins there is a slip of paper for you to start to thinking about that and write it down. In a few minutes during the offering I would like you to place it in the offering plate so we can compile of a list of all the places that First Presbyterian is working.

My guess is that some of you, do too much, some of you do too much not because you are greedy or controlling, but because you care, because you want to give back to God and to the community that raised you, that has done so much for you. This is not a bad thing, but it might also not be a good thing.

David was reminded of his role, he was reminded that is wasn’t his job to build a house for God, that God was, is, and will always be in charge. God had tapped someone else for that job. God promises David that he will never let him or his household go. This is the beginning of the Davidic line that leads straight to Jesus. There are ups and down, valleys and mountaintops, righteous and wicked players, but God never forgets God’s promise to David.

God will not, has not, forgotten his promise to us.

We have been here for almost exactly 161 years, we have had 30 pastors, we have had over a 1,000 members. Currently our doors are open and our facilities are used by groups from around the community. Last week alone, we hosted two funerals that were attended by so many people we had to open up the wall. We have members on just about every board in the city, we have members who volunteer their time, energy, intelligence, and love for organizations on the local, state, and national level. We have members who do things for others, in the name of God, that we will never hear about or never see.

God is abounding in steadfast love here. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always a mountaintop, but even in the valleys we have seen that God is with us. Now for us, we have discerned that our job our role as a church here in Nebraska City is to Plant Seeds of God’s Light. Let us remember is not our role to save the world, or solve all of its ills, it is not our role to do everything or be all things to all people. Our role, to quote borrow from Rev. Dr. Joel Lundak, is to plant as many seeds as we can, for as many people as we can, for as long as we can. We might not get to see the fruits of our labor and we may never get to know if the harvest was good, but we do know that God is faithful and that, like David, God will never take away God’s steadfast love from us.

May it be so.

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My parents have always taught me that equality matters that I should judge someone by the content of their character, but I admit that I do not do that. I am a racist. Let me repeat, I AM A RACIST.

I don’t want to be, my parents never taught me to be, but I have learned it through my existence in this world and living all over this country. It’s baffling to me to admit that when I see a black face it causes a myriad of negative reactions. It shouldn’t be this way. My friends in elementary school were of Indian, Peruvian, African, Greek, and European descent. The first people I hung out with in Dallas when I moved at the end of sixth grade were the dudes on the basketball court; they were all black; my neighbor who I spend a lot of time with is black. Yet, my thoughts persist.
I remember the first time I was more athletic than a black guy on my team. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people superior athletes? It’s what I saw when I watched sports, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Lawrence Taylor, and on and on. It was the white guys that were the smart athletes, but not the most athletic, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, John Stockton. I mean, I remember in 1990 Rex Chapman from the Charlotte Hornets, who is white, was in the Dunk Contest. “I thought that’s for black guys.”

I remember the first time a black kid was smarter than me. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people silly, loud, and ignorant? That’s what I saw on TV and in the news. I will say now, looking back, I did not understand the social commentary of In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or the glimpse I got into black culture by staying up late and watching “It’s Showtime at the Apollo”.

In high school, I thought I was being enlightened, by making a differentiation between black people and the “N” word; I even had a Confederate Flag sticker on my truck. I was, no, I am still nervous when I walk in a city and I see a group of black people. I try to play it cool, I try to act like I’m not hyper aware, but the truth is, I am.

I’m not telling you all of this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not telling you this because I want to take some kind of moral high ground. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where the treatment of people is more often than not based on the color of their skin. If you don’t know what I’m talking about there are plenty of places you can read about the struggles of people of color in this country who are just trying to live their life, have some freedom, and pursue happiness just like the rest of us.

It pains me that my next door neighbor has to have conversations with his two sons that I don’t have to have with mine about the realities of dealing with people in authority. It pains me that talking about race is labeled as part of the problem. It pains me that even though, I read about, pray for an end to, and learn about the history of racism in this country there are still deep, deep learnings that I can’t seem to let go of regardless of the number of people of color who I interact with, who are shining examples, who are role models, who are more faithful, and who are more loving than me.

I will continue to listen to the voices that are different than my own. I will continue to do my best to teach my kids differently than I was taught by society. I will continue to recognize when I am being racist, I will continue to call out racism when I see it. I will not let this continue. It can’t continue.

There was a movie that I saw my senior year of high school by John Singleton called Higher Learning. It deals with race, racism, and what can happen if we don’t acknowledge our fears and the let those fears grow into hatred, which leads to violence. The last scene of the movie is one word of text. It says, “UNLEARN”.

I will continue to try and unlearn the racial constructs and narratives that I have been taught and I will pray my kids never learn them.

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My mom is amazing, there’s really no two ways about it.
 
A few years ago, I was going to host a bowl watching party to watch West Virginia University play University of Maryland, College Park in the Gator Bowl. You will note that I was hosting this party at in my parent’s basement (if you know when that game was, you’ll know how old I was living with my parents, still) anywho…I thought I’d get some beers, maybe some chips. Margaret Bolt went with me to the grocery store, when we got back, we had sub sandwiches, ingredients for dip, chips, an assortment of drinks, cookies, and some flowers for the table.
 
WVU got killed by Maryland that day, but man did we eat well. My mom is the best host, helper, organizer, creator, designer I know.
 
She also has been and continues to be the best mom I could ask for. She has been my most voracious cheerleader in sports and in life. Another story. When I was 8, I was playing little league baseball. My season wasn’t going well. I couldn’t hit a lick. My mom was also about 8 months pregnant with my little sister, Julia Bolt (who’s birthday is today.) during that particular game I made the first solid contact of the season and hit a ground rule double (my mom says it was a home run, but that’s a testament to her always seeing the best in her kids) She was jumping up and down and cheering so much that all the other parents were worried because they were afraid she was going to give birth right there.
 
I could regale you with stories about her being there, about her staying up late to help with projects, about her holding my hand through my diabetes diagnosis, about her being there when I called to give me a reassuring word.
 
My mom is the best.
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This is a copy of the text of my column that appeared in the Nebraska City News-Press last week regarding the issue of bullying in our schools.

As you may know I, and eleven of my fellow community members, are running for a seat on the Nebraska City Public School Board. A few weeks ago, one of those candidates, Matt Watkins, asked a question, “What is the one issue you would like to see the school board address?

The overwhelming response was the issue of bullying. Matt has said that one of the main reasons his kids are now attending Lourdes Central Catholic was because of bullying and the response to that bullying. I know bullying happens everywhere, and it doesn’t stop with kids. I’ve seen church members be bullies, I’ve seen board members be bullies, there are presidential candidates who are bullies, there are state senators who are bullies. I’ve seen bullying at every level of human from 5-80 year olds, I’ve seen in corporations, small businesses, non-profits, you name it. Bullying is a problem.

It’s a problem because the bully, for the most part, feels inadequate. All they know how to do is harass, belittle, and intimidate. There are as many reasons that people become bullies, as there are bullies. I would also venture a guess that if we took a long look and were honest with ourselves that each and every one of us has been a bully in someway at sometime in our lives.

According to StopBullying.gov:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

I would disagree with this definition but only because I would not limit bullying to “behavior among school aged children”. Other than that I think it’s spot on.

I will admit that I have been a bully in the past, I will also admit to having been bullied in the past. I’m not proud of any of it, but it is part of my story (and I’m not just talking about when I was a kid). I’m also sure that they are related. After being bullied, when I got the upper hand I became a bully, because I felt like I had to take control or assert my dominance or show how important I was. Luckily, I had people in my life that would tell me to cut it out.

Now, as a parent, I want to know if you see my kid bullying other kids or your kid. If my child is exhibiting any of these bullying behaviors I want to know about it. I want their teachers, staff, and administrators to tell me, I want their Sunday School teachers to tell me, I want other parents to tell me.

Don’t demonize my kid, do let me know that there is something I need to address at the home. It’s hard enough as a parent to raise kids, it takes a community to raise positive and well adjusted kids. Some kids (and some adults) in our town have a good support system that will help them learn and grow. (Sometimes that support system makes the problem worse, but that’s another column). A lot of kids (and some adults) don’t have the support they need to grow. It’s up to us do better, as a community.

We can do better by speaking up, we can do better by teaching rather than punishing, we can do better by engaging rather than gossiping. We can do better to stop bullying in our schools and in our community.

 

 

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Over the past couple of weeks several people have asked me why I was running for School Board in Nebraska City. Here is my answer:

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve never done before; I filed to run for an elected office. I am running for a position on the Nebraska City Public School Board. There are a lot of reasons that I choose to put my name in the hat, but they all boil down to a sentiment that I heard growing up. “You may lose your friends, you may lose your money, you may lose your home…but the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education.”

In the past couple of years the school board and the administration of Nebraska City Public Schools have be working hard, not only to provide the best education possible, but also provide as many options for learning as possible. With the announcement of the purchase of the old clinic building on 14th and the old Food Pride building on Central I’m looking forward to see what’s next for our students. My hope is to do my best to clear the way for our students, all our students, to have an opportunity for success. An opportunity to pursue education after they graduate from high school, if they want, at a four year school, a two year school, a trade school, or in the military. I also hope to help set the stage for our students to be successful in the classroom, on the athletic field, the performing stage, and, ultimately, in our community.

We are blessed with many caring teachers, administrators, and staff. I have done my best in the short time that I have lived here to get to know them. Whether that’s been serving as a chaperone for After-School programs for Hayward and the Middle School, working with United Against Violence to host a Kids Day Out, or meeting with teachers, principals, and even folks in the Central Office to find out what they need. I have tried my best to listen and to learn. My hope is to help lift those great, skilled, and caring educators up so they can do their job. My role on the School Board will be to insure they have the infrastructure they need to succeed. It’s all part of the puzzle and we have to work together in order to insure that our students, and our community, have something that no change in the stock or agricultural markets will take away, a solid well-rounded education.

My children are just starting out in the education system here in Nebraska City and we have been very excited with their teachers, the paraprofessionals, and the support staff at Northside. I hope that having young children in the system I will be able to give voice to parents, who make up a key piece in the education of their children. I also want to show my children that it is far more important to get involved than it is to sit on the sidelines and hope for someone to listen to you.

When I was in seminary, I found myself complaining about some of the administrative decisions of the faculty and staff. Someone said, “What are you going to do about it?” I decided right then and there that I would no longer sit on the sidelines and complain or judge the actions of the decision makers. I would become a decision maker. I ran for student government and served as vice-moderator and moderator of the Student Government Assembly. I meet monthly with faculty, twice yearly with trustees, and almost daily with other students. I think we were able to get a lot done and make some positive change.

Now, I know that being the student body president of a small school is very different from serving in an elected position here, but that started my commitment to be a positive influence in my community and I think this is the next step.

I would really appreciate your vote in the upcoming election.

If you have any questions or want to share your thoughts I love to connect on social media. You can see more of my writing and thoughts on my wife’s and my blog (nebraskabolt.wordpress.com) or follow me on twitter (@ggbolt16) or show your support by liking my Greg Bolt for Nebraska City School Board facebook page.

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This is a spoken word piece that I wrote a few years ago that I revisited recently, it’s entitled “You Said Don’t Be Afraid”

You can listen to the audio by following this link

You said don’t be afraid

It is finished?

It can’t be finished…It can’t be over

You said follow me and I did,

You said pray with me and I tried,

You said trust me and…well that one was hard.

How can I trust you now?

You were the one; you were the Christ, the Messiah, the one who fed us, who healed us, who challenged us
All that you said seems a lie,
You’re dead, just like the criminals next to you,

Just like all that have come before you,

You were executed just like your cousin John. He even said you were the one.

You were supposed to be different,

You were supposed to change everything

You were supposed to fix it.

You said don’t be afraid.

How can it be finished?

Do you know how hard it has been to stand with you?

Do you know all the trouble you’ve caused me?

I had to watch you on trial

I had to watch you be humiliated

I had to watch you take it

You didn’t even fight back

You didn’t even stand up for yourself

I had to run for my own safety

I had to hide who I was

I had to watch you be whipped and beaten

If you were who you said you were why didn’t you do anything?

And now you’re dead

What now?

I can’t go back

I can’t start over

You spoke of freedom but everywhere I look there are chains

You said don’t be afraid

I was supposed to have an easier life

I was supposed to have a seat at the table

I was supposed to be part of something.

I was supposed to be a part of the change

I was going to be special

I was going to be safe

It was going to be easy

I was going to be able to be open about who I was

It was going to be different

You said don’t be afraid

But how can I not be afraid?

You’re dead

They won

And now they are coming for me.

I guess you’re right

It is finished.

(image by Pabak Sarkar)

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A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ.

It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

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