Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Thanks to Dr. Stuart Baskin, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tyler for proclaiming the good news of being green.
Thinking green is a good way to start the new year, and Dr. Baskin had good words to say about "The Green Bible." Check this news story from KLTV 7:
God's word has gone green, literally. "The Green Bible" recently hit book store shelves here in East Texas. It highlights verses that publishers say help readers, "see God's vision for creation" and help them in "healing and sustaining it."
KLTV 7's Layron Livingston flipped through the pages of this green gospel.
The pages are made from recycled paper; the ink is soy-based. The cover is made from renewable cotton-linen. The publishers are practicing what they preach. The Bible has gone green.
Dr. Stuart Baskin, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Tyler said now is as good a time as any.
"The strength of [The Green Bible] is it reminds us of the fact that God has called us to be stewards over [His] own creation," he said.
Baskin said Christians have shied away from the subject in the past.
The President of the National Wildlife Federation, Larry Schweiger, said The Green Bible "offers solid context." He said, "We must heed the call to solve urgent climatic and ecological threats facing creation."
Is it a scriptural message, or a political one?
Baskin said the world, and everything in it, does not belong to humans, but rather, to God.
"It's not a left wing issue, or a right wing issue, it's an issue for all people," said Baskin. "One doesn't have to be a political activist to be a responsible steward." (Read More)
Check this video about the Green Bible:
First Presbyterian in Tyler is involved in mission ministries that include sustainability and the environment. They raised $6,000 this year through their alternative gift market.
Here are are few of their mission projects this past year:
- Children & Families: Presbyterian Camps at Gilmont, TX
- Sustainable Development: Equip a Clinic, Bolivia
- Education: Haiti Education Fund
- Environmental Protection: Healthy Stoves and Rescue a River, Haiti
- Medical Assistance: Cataract Surgery, Nepal & Tibet
- Peace & Justice: Recovery Ministries of Tyler, TX
- Emergency Disaster Relief: Aid to War-Torn Darfur, Sudan and People in Immediate Jeopardy, Global
Thanks Stuart and First Presbyterian of Tyler, Texas for reminding us that Jesus is joyfully green!
Monday, December 29, 2008
The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church Blog: A blog for the community of faith at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC. "The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is a community of faith in downtown Washington, DC. We aspire to be an inclusive, justice-seeking church. This blog is for members, visitors and friends to share experiences and thoughts about important and not-so-important moments in our Christian journey." (Also, they have a very cool snow effect on their main page.)
The Post-Yesterday Church: theological musings on church and world from a missional perspective, a blog by Josh Rowley, a PC(USA) pastor in northern California. "This blog is a modest contribution to a conversation (what has been called 'the missional conversation') that was sparked years ago by the question How should the church respond? and others like it. Put another way, it is hoped that the theological musings on church and world found here will be helpful toward cultivating a new imagination for how to be and to do church in a new world. God is up to something in this world: And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new' (Revelation 21:5)."
Sunday, December 28, 2008
After Christmas, there is always that in-between time when we all reflect about what’s happened throughout the year, and then anxiously anticipate what lies ahead of us. We may get nostalgic or melancholy, depending upon what has occurred throughout the last twelve months; we may also be fearful and uncertain about the New Year.
Throughout this limbo of a time, I like to look at different Bible verses to see if I can come up with a motto for myself and the church that I serve. I was taught this by a ministerial friend in Scotland, who served his parish faithfully and pastorally. At the beginning of each year, he found a special verse and encouraged his congregation to embrace and apply throughout the New Year.
This morning, I came across one that might fit the bill, although I have not settled on it. Because I love the psalms, I tend to choose motto verses from the plethora of God’s promises that are contained in that precious part of the Bible. Today’s verse, Psalm 91 v 14, is all about reassurance which, during these uncertain times, we all need to read, hear, and experience.
I like the fact that the verse begins with God’s love, then continues with deliverance and protection, and ultimately ends with an acknowledgement of faith. It contains all of the elements that I personally have experienced from God over the many years that I have been a Christian.
I do not know what 2009 will bring, but I believe that God’s promises will accompany me, no matter what happens, where I go, or what I do. I guess that’s what faith really is – relying upon God throughout each present day and knowing that He holds the future in His hands. May you also experience the same.
Prayer: Lord God, we thank You for loving us, and for delivering us from all sorts of problems or troubles. We claim Your promises because we know that Your word is forever true. Lead us and carry us throughout the coming year, to the glory and honor of Christ’s Everlasting Name. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the 4-minute daily devotional Heaven's Highway.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Here are the passages for December 28, 2008, the 1st Sunday after Christmas (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via BibleGateway.com, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at BibleGateway.com).
- Trying to think through the nature of the Trinity is difficult even in the best of times. What does the reference to the "Spirit of [God's] Son" do to clarify (or muddy) the waters of our understanding?
- If we are adopted as heirs into God's family, what benefits and/or responsibilities do we receive on that basis?
- What do you think Simeon might have done to be granted the honor of knowing he was to see the Messiah before his death? Or, assuming it wasn't that Simeon did anything particularly special, why do you think God bestowed upon him that honor?
- Why is Anna included in this story? Is she an afterthought to the story of Simeon? What does her inclusion tell us about God, or about Jesus?
- The last verse tells us that "the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him." Why is this line included? Is there anything here that we didn't or couldn't have assumed, had the line not been present?
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Joyful News On Ministry salutes all you wonderful Presbyterians who are leading worship, caring for the downtrodden, pointing to signs of hope, laughing in the face of death, and dancing, dancing, dancing the joyous mystery of the incarnation. Merry Christmas!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
If Programming Languages were Religions
The PCUSA doesn't get a specific mention, but I'd suggest that maybe Python is also a good candidate for the PCUSA because it, unlike many languages, has specific rules about indentation and formatting to keep the code decent and in order.
On a barely related note I was thinking recently thinking about church finances and wondering how much money could be saved across all the churches in the PCUSA if we were to share some IT infrastructure. If every church spends $500/yr on web hosting, for instance, that would give the denomination a $5M/yr budget (across 10,000 churches) for a common hosting solution. Something tells me that $1M/yr would probably do it, and provide a more modern solution than most churches have today. Same might hold true for other technology solutions:
- Website hosting, including multimedia
- Conference calling
- Application hosting (finance, attendance, budgeting)
- These verses, and especially the words of verse 6, are very familiar to us as Christians as a prophecy regarding the coming of Christ. For myself, every time I read this passage, I have the relevant portion of Handel’s Messiah go though my head. These verses are very much a part of our Christian heritage, and we cannot help but interpret them through the light of Christ’s coming.
But I’d like to invite you to go through these verses again. This time, try to imagine what this passage might have meant to the follower of God who heard these words in the centuries before Jesus’s birth. What kind of a world do these verses speak to? What darkness did the people see themselves as walking in? What oppression might they envision being freed from? What would the names “Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace” have sounded like to such ears? How do the answers to these questions speak to how we look at Jesus Christ today?
- I mentioned earlier that the lectionary readings for the Christmas Eve worship gathering are the same every year. But while it's fairly easy to figure out why the passage from Isaiah was included for Christmas Eve worship, this passage from Titus seems out of place. There are no popular Christmas songs around this passage. It doesn't talk about Jesus' birth. Why do you think it was included as a part of the annual Christmas worship tradition?
- The author draws a contrast between this present age and the hope of the age to come, but actually spends more time talking about how Christians are to act in this present age. What kinds of acts of self-control and upright living do you think the author intends for Christians to live out? If the salvation of Jesus Christ redeems us from all wickedness, and makes us eager to do what is good, why do we still struggle against these noble impulses? What might still need to happen for us to do the good we know we are called to do?
- The Revised Common Lectionary considers verses 15-20 optional. Churches may use the entire reading, or stop with verse 14, at their discretion.
- “That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Since I was a child, I’ve had something of a tradition, after this passage was read, of remembering that quote from Linus from the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas special. The next time you watch that cartoon, check out his monologue. He’s quoting this passage from the King James version, starting with verse 8, and ending with verse 14.
- Although this is perhaps one of the most familiar passages of the Bible, it has so many details that pastors and priests seem to be able to find new ways to preach on this passage every year. One year, they might talk about the details of the Roman Census. Another year, they might talk about how poorly shepherds were regarded in those days. Yet another year, they might talk about what the experience of hearing from a host of angels must have felt like. I'd like to encourage you to imagine yourself in this story. If you were any one of the characters involved in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, what might have been going through your mind? How would you have responded? Why should the coming of a little baby into the world have meant so much?
Monday, December 22, 2008
A Promise for the Planet
So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds--everything that moves on the earth--came out of the ark, one kind after another.
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."
A Promise for Healing
"Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."
A Promise of Forgiveness
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
"Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.” Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
A Promise To Keep Us
Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The people gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
A Promise of Things to Come
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
A Promise Fulfilled
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"-which means, "God with us."
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
We also have a brand-spanking-new blog today, Sacred Screaming by mom and PCUSA pastor melissaderosia: The chaos and beauty of God's infinite love spins me into a place of confusion where grace and gratitude is the light that guides me. Sometimes all the spinning make me dizzy.... "...Convert, O God! my pain into delight at the lovely sight of a living, well-formed and healthful babe..." --Fanny Neuda, Untitled Personal Prayer, Published 1878. Where the pain of growing in faith is expressed and transformed into new life."
This one just slipped in under the wire before this post went live, and I'm glad it did. Welcome to West Texas Missioner: a weblog devoted to promoting the missional church, around West Texas and around the world.
And, in case you haven't finished your Christmas shopping, blog reader Pat Andrews would like you to know about a new cookbook!
Please let me know how I might make your bloggers aware of our new cookbook which will appeal to Presbyterians everywhere....I'm not sure what kind of topic I should start....but the cookbook includes many subjects worthy of decent and orderly discussion, including pre-revolutionary history of Presbyterianism, the importance of cooking as a tool for change in today's world, prayer as daily ritual in celebrating homelife, and our roots in Scotland, among others...
Our cookbook website is www.newhopecookbook.com
Please do take a look at it!
Thank you very much for any help you can provide ...
Patricia MacLeod Andrews
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Take for instance the Pilgrims Fathers, or the Mayflower People, whatever you want to call them. On this day, in 1620, they landed at Plymouth Rock. They were a bunch of impractical Christians, who believed that God was telling them to go to the New World, to escape religious persecution in England, and plant a new colony where they could freely practice their faith.
Can you imagine what happened in Heaven when their prayers were being said? Let’s say an angel takes their prayers to St. Peter.
Angel: Sorry to bother you, St. Peter, but we’re just receiving prayers from a religious group who are looking for God to bless them on a special journey.
Peter: Why do they want to do this?
Angel: They feel that they’re being persecuted and need to find a new place where they can start their own community.
Peter: Oh, so they’re Separationists. They don’t want to remain in the Established Church that we’ve been working on for over 1600 years. Okay, where do these troublemakers want to go?
Angel: To the New World, sir. They think that it will give them a new start.
Peter: A New World? Has God created a New World? Why wasn’t I told about this?
Angel: No, sir. It’s what they call America – all the Europeans think it’s a New World.
Peter: But that’s across the Atlantic Ocean. How are they going to get there?
Angel: On two boats. One is called the Speedwell and the other is the Mayflower.
Peter: Well, if it’s journeying mercies that they need, you should take this over to St. Christopher. He handles all the travel arrangements.
Angel: We tried that, sir, but he says that this is bigger than he can handle.
Peter: Oh I understand, you need me to get involved because they’re traveling on the sea. Being a fisherman, I know what it’s like to sail through choppy waters. Did I ever tell you about the night the Lord invited me to walk on the water during a storm?
Angel: Yes sir, many times. But I’m afraid that this group is going to need more than you or St. Christopher to help them out.
Angel: Well you see, sir. They want to set up a community, build their own cabins, grow their own food, make their own laws, and remain healthy, become wealthy, and stay strong.
Peter: That sounds reasonable. When do they want to do this?
Angel: About December 21st.
Peter: IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER! OY VEY! You’d better take this one all the way to the top!
(c) John Stuart 2008
Stushie is the writer of the four minute daily devotional, Heaven's Highway.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
As I have been doing all through Advent, I'd like to invite readers to consider how the themes of Advent are advanced by reading these passages this week.
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
- It is appropriate to think of prophets generally as people who speak God's word, but what does it tell us about Nathan, or about prophets in general, that Nathan first tells David to "go ahead" with his plans to build God a temple, only to have to come back later and say that God has a different response: "Have I asked for this?"
- I want to draw particular attention to verses 10 and 11. How did God keep this promise to David regarding Israel? Has God kept this promise? Are we (or, is Israel) still waiting?
- What does it mean to be "given rest from one's enemies"? Are the enemies to be destroyed? Is it sufficient that they simply not fight any more? What should be done if enemies continue to threaten? Has the answer to this changed with the coming of Christ?
- Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt notice that this passage was used just last week, as an alternative to last week's Psalm reading. It is listed this week in the same slot, so I expect that most churches probably won't use this passage both weeks. In any event, I refer you to last week's entry for my comments on this passage.
- As I just mentioned, the Revised Common Lectionary suggests two options for the "Psalm" reading. I'm not sure why the reading from Luke is listed first among these options this week, although this is worth pondering. Most churches will choose to read either Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, but likely not both.
- These are the very last words of Paul's letter to the Romans. Why do you think he would chose these words to be his final words to his audience?
- There is a sense in which the gospel readings throughout Advent (at least this year) seem to take place in reverse chronological order. Week 1's passage was fairly late in Jesus' life. In Week 2, we are brought right up to just before Jesus' baptism. In Week 3, John the Baptist talks about his own identity (or lack thereof) some time prior to seeing Jesus. (Indeed, the fact that John engages in baptizing at all is only mentioned at the very end). This week, we read of a time before John (or Jesus!) was even born (and, if you want to go there, the reading from Luke used as a Psalm comes from later in the chapter than this one does). Why do you think the readings are arranged in this way?
- In the story preceding this one in Luke, when Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, was told Elizabeth's upcoming pregnancy, Zechariah asked a question and was made mute until the baby's birth. Here, Mary asks a question, but the response is very different. What is different about Mary's response as opposed to Zechariah's, that the messenger of God should treat Mary and Zechariah so differently?
Friday, December 19, 2008
This is a real life scenario, not one made up to make a point.
A couple wants to join a congregation and have their children baptized. The church leadership and pastor welcome this family into the fellowship of the church. The couple is not married and is on the lower end of the economic scale. After they joined the church the pastor has a conversation with them about marriage. Here's what he finds out...
They love each other very much, they are passionate in their desire to follow Jesus Christ, they want their children to grow and know Christ, but because of their income levels if they were legally married they would lose the health care benefits they receive from the state for their children. This is a real concern for them. They are not trying to mooch off the state, they are simply caught in the poverty trap.
What would you do as their pastor? Tell them they need to get married because its the right thing to do? Leave the whole subject behind and forget about it?
Any thoughts, oh Presby Bloggers?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I have recently run across some small group materials put together by Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City. I did not open these to see if they are more conservative than I am -- I knew that; but I did want to see if I could live with them. I welcome materials that clearly come from a perspective I don't share. They can challenge me to defend what I believe and why I believe it. Of course, there are limits. Nonetheless, I expected to see pretty decent Presbyterian theology; and I thought they would be worth a look.
There are a number of sets of materials. Most of them cover either a single Bible book, or in a few cases a collection of related books. There are topical series as well, including one on developing a prayer life. I started off looking at the materials covering Genesis.
First of all, the materials come with a Participant's Guide and a Leader's Guide. The Leader's Guide includes the Participant's Guide at the back. Oh, and the Participant's Guide (you know, the short one) is 105 pages and covers 23 weeks. The Participant's Guide begins each section with a one paragraph introduction followed by 5 - 8 questions. The questions are serious enough that they do require that you do the reading and give it some serious thought. For the most part, they are not angled towards a right answer. I don't think they really lend themselves to small group discussions, however. One example is:
2:24-25. What do we learn about marriage from this famous verse? What do we learn about the purpose and boundaries for sexuality? What does it mean that they were 'naked and unashamed'?
The small group that I participate in would view that question as looking for AN answer. Once someone came up with an answer we liked, that would be that.
The Leader's Guide provides a substantial amount of material, which again is more conservative than I am; but would not be out of place in many PCUSA churches -- but it will bother a number of Ring members. For instance, the Leader's Guide is unequivocal that sex only belongs inside of heterosexual marriage. That shouldn't come as a surprise. These are PCA materials. Gender roles emphasize equality but still come done pretty clearly on the complementary side of the fence. One thing I found interesting about the Leader's Guide is the number of quotes from other works. In Genesis, the Leader's Guide frequently quotes both C.S. Lewis and Derek Kidner. Both the Leader's Guide and the Participant's Guide are clearly written for an educated audience.
I also found the licensing terms interesting. You download a pdf file, which, as a practical matter, you can print as many times as you like. However, if you pay $10, you are only paying for the right to make one copy of the materials. If you pay $20, you are paying for the right to make 25 copies of the materials.
These materials will help guide a small group through a study of Genesis, Acts, Romans, Galatians, and other topics. I would be more inclined to use them in solo study than in group study. I don't see that they provide a lot of value in the sense of stimulating a group dynamic. Also, if your church is very far left of center; these will be in the lead balloon category.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Here, schools were closed today because of the cold weather and drizzly stuff falling from the sky. It was only down to 16 degrees. At my parents' home in Casper, WY it was -11.... -50 with the wind chill!! Brrrr. Yes. But Christmas is about cold and snow.
We have some wonderful family friends that live in Australia. Christmas isn't about snow, there.
It's amazing what an isolated view of Holidays and seasons we have sometimes.
Does Santa have to be a white guy with a big beard?
Why doesn't Santa look more like St. Nicholas?
I have a co-worker who is raising his children Jewish. The 7 year old isn't familiar with the Jesus story, yet. They were driving around looking at Christmas lights the other day and she said to her mom, "Look! Those people have some kind of little house in their front yard. It must be for their dog."
I guess I can imagine a clever Garfield cartoon where Jesus is depicted as a dog, and Garfield represents a religiously insecure artist's depiction of how modern society is neglecting and abusing Christ...
In contrast, my daughters got to celebrate Jesus' birthday at Sunday School this week. I'm not sure they get the significance of Jesus, but they definitely get the significance of birthdays! Cake!
Monday, December 15, 2008
One of the most common phrases we hear from Presbyterians is that we Presbyterians do things decently and in order. And for the most part that's, how the Book of Order prescribes Presbyterians to live out their faith - decently and in order.
Quick question - as you read the book of Acts and the emerging church in the ancient world, does decently and in order come into your mind? In the midst of a chaotic world, where the Christians were in the minority, and where they consistently found themselves at odds with the world, do you see "decently and in order?"
Maybe that's the problem. We've become too decent, so all that we can do is decent ministry instead of a ministry that's rocking the world. We've become so orderly that we've essentially ruled out the possibility of the Holy Spirit moving the church to respond to real life circumstances with grace and openness.
Read more here.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I saw You today
In a ceramic cradle.
Your mother’s porcelain eyes
Towards Your own.
She was surrounded
By doting shepherds
And kneeling kings.
Your human father,
With a clay crook in his hand,
Stood over You
Like a stone sentinel,
Whilst a ceramic cherub
Joyfully sang a muted song.
You looked perfect;
And the holiness
Of Heaven hailed You
As the Coming King,
Whilst the worldliness
Of the store
On a shelf,
© John Stuart 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
As I did last week, I'd like to invite readers to consider how the themes of Advent are advanced by reading these passages this week.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
- This will seem an obvious question to some, but it needs highlighting. Where else might you have seen the words of the first two verses?
- Having answered the first question (and if you haven't already, here's a hint), does seeing these words in this context change your understanding of these words in any meaningful way? Are the differences in wording between one version and the other significant?
- Note the footnotes, which indicate a significant interpretive issue, whereby some scholars believe that the passage is talking about the "restoration of fortunes," and others argue that it refers to the "release of captives." This isn't an issue that is simply a matter where modern (post-KJV) findings make a certain interpretation more likely. Note that the NIV actually alternates between the two (see verses 1 and 4, and their footnotes). And the NASB actually translates verse 4 as "restore our captivity"! Clearly, this is a hard translation to "get right." What are the implications of these issues for our understanding?
- The Revised Common Lectionary suggests this reading as an alternative Psalm. Most churches will choose to read either Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55, but likely not both.
- As with the Isaiah reading above, this passage is already well-known to many, but it's worth noting (since it's not explicitly stated in the verse here) who's speaking. Does the identity of the speaker add meaning to these words?
- I find myself remembering something I wrote just this past Thanksgiving in regard to this passage, so perhaps it's natural that my own mind reflects back on that as I read these words again. I won't rehash those thoughts again here, but invite discussion on those ideas.
- I imagine that the idea of what it is avoid "treating prophesies with contempt" and the command to "hold on to what is good, reject whatever is harmful" will be interpreted differently by different people. Indeed, I imagine that people on opposite sides of the "liberal/conservative" spectrum will have very different ideas on what it would mean to be faithful to these instructions. On what areas might we find common ground?
- In this passage, John the Baptist spends a fair bit of time telling people what and who he is not. What can we tell about what and who he is from what is written here?
- Does John actually answer the question "Why do you baptize?" What do you understand from his response?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
As the semester draws to a close, final exams are written, and papers turned-in (or clicked-in, as is the case when one submits a paper online), I’m aware of the inherent beauty of the academic calendar.
Work twelve weeks, HARD. Big push at the end for finals. Then, rest. Sabbath. It’s almost Biblical, even, since from time to time we all need take a break to reconnect with God, with others, with ourselves, (and yes, with those non-academic to-do lists).
One of the differences between my full-time church internship last year, and my full-time student life at seminary this year, is that last year I actually had time to read for fun, to come home from a day at work and not have to worry about homework or studying. I enjoyed an almost nightly sabbath from work, a feeling very difficult to achieve during the school year. It helped me break and connect with Megan, with friends online, with God.
Advent, to some extent at least, is about sabbath, a sabbath from our normal secular-driven holiday thoughts to another a focus on something else entirely. A sabbath to ponder Christ having come, a sabbath to hope for Christ’s coming again. A time to wait, to be allowed to rest, to reconnect with God, with others, with ourselves.
Maybe these feelings are more intense for one who has just finished a semester’s work, but I hope that we all might use our sabbath time whenever it’s each night after work, or a Sunday afternoon, or early in the morning to rest, to wait with God, to hope for the time when all will be well, for Christ is surely coming.
One of the great things about these Advent efforts is that congregations tend to be very forgiving when things don't go as planned if children are involved! Nonetheless, those in charge tend to suffer from nervous stomachs and anxious hearts until it's all over.
What's your favorite Christmas pageant/program story? Please share it in the comments--it can be a good memory or a story of comic disaster.
A few years ago we attended the "children's" Christmas Eve service at Tall Steeple Church in The Piney Woods to watch my niece's family participate in the program. My niece and her 3 very young daughters were angels, decked out in white robes, wings and halos. The church very cleverly arranged a high Mom-to-child ratio in this particular band of the Heavenly Host.
Her husband was one of the 3 Kings and thus separated from the rest of the family since the Kings were the last to appear--fortunately the time was conflated so we didn't have to wait until Twelfth Night!
Back to the story. The pageant was done tableaux-style--with a narrator and no other speaking parts. The Heavenly Host took the stage first and remained onstage for the entire presentation. This tested the patience of my niece's youngest daughter--then 3. She began wiggling and I could see her mother hissing at her to be still.
Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus appeared. Our littlest angel gradually began inching her way further and further away until finally she was out of Mom's reach.
The shepherds saw the star in the east and came to worship. Her oldest sister, seeing what was up, moved in the opposite direction with her best "I'm not related" look on her face. Mom's angelic smile turned into grimace.
Then the Three Kings started down the aisle. "Hi Daddy!" she shouted, when she saw him. Mom lunged forward and pulled her back into position. She pouted.
As the program ended with the congregation singing "Joy To The World", our little angel escaped from Mom, pranced forward on the stage and pulled her angelic rainment up over her head, flashing the packed sanctuary.
"Well," said her grandmother, "at least she had her panties on!"
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Today's Joyful News on Ministry Congregation is Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. The congregation and its pastor were featured on WJBF news. Click here to watch the broadcast. Here is the text:
Augusta, GA—Churches depend on their people to keep the doors open, even when their people may be hurting financially. “All across the nation from a variety of different denominations, I’m hearing from other pastors, and they’re saying our pledging is down for next year, or our giving is down for this year,“ says Dr. Leslie Holmes.
Dr. Holmes, at Augusta’s Reid Memorial Presbyterian says his congregation is digging deep and has pledged to give more next year than they did in 2008. The pastor says he’s seen this trend before. “Frequently you look back, you say, ‘Wow! They actually gave more during tough times than they do in good times.‘ Because people realize this is a test of what I really believe and if God is big enough to take care of me, He’ll take care of me now.“
In tough times, needs of the less fortunate don’t cease, people still get sick, and missions here and abroad continue.
“I think that’s the time you need to give the most if you can, of course. The more you give, the more you get back,“ says Farrah Raeisghasem, of Augusta.
Some who’d like to donate more, say they can’t help but cut back. “Because you’ve been someone who’s donated the prior year, then when they call you back. It’s like I really can’t this year because of the way the economy is. It is what it is. Hopefully, next year everything will be back on track,“ says Elizabeth Boyd of Augusta.
Dr. Holmes challenges his parishioners to look at the big picture. And as the message from the pulpit often goes, there’s a reason for everything. “Frankly we came to the point where we said in the 80s and also in the 70s, Thank God for that recession. People rise above it.“
These interesting times are a test of what we really believe. Thanks to Rev. Holmes for urging his church toward discipleship.
Got a joyful news on ministry story? email me!
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
So, my question to everyone is what do their corporate employers (we aren't all clergy or church staff here) do for holiday celebration:
- Does your company discourage "Chrsitmas" in favor of "Holiday" celebration?
- Does your company try to cover a variety of holidays, all explicitly?
- Does your company do a secular Christmas, emphasizing Santa and Elves?
- How much vacation time do you get around this holiday season?
- Are people allowed or encouraged to decorate their work area?
- Does your company celebrate Christmas with annual lay offs? (Ack!)
- Does your company have a Christmas/Holiday/End-Of-Year party?
- Does your company adopt a family and give gifts, or participate in some other kind of charitable program?
- Do you receive a Christmas Bonus?
We've been struck with the question of "do we have a Christmas party or not?" in this economic downturn? Some of our hospitals have made large cuts in staff this fall, luckily well before the holidays, but it still makes you wonder if we should have a Christmas party or not. Some of our hospitals and choosing to minimize that expense as much as possible with a small reception and donated treats. I'm always torn on this kind of question. We don't want to fire people just so the remaining can have more, do we? But we also want those who remain to feel secure and be productive. Tough management decisions.
But the real question of this post is corporate holiday traditions -- So, what are yours?
Monday, December 08, 2008
Is believing in God, believing in the spiritual brotherhood of mankind and being willing to do the will of the Father in heaven enough? Are the doors of the Presbyterian Church open to that thinking?
I responded, unofficially and all that:
1) I believe that some in the PCUSA believe as you describe.
2) I believe that there's room in the church for those who believe such.
3) But when we join the denomination, we profess faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. In fact, that's really the sole criterion for membership. So I believe that the official position - should one choose to take a hardliner stance - would be: No, belief in God is not enough; to be Presbyterian is to be Christian, and to be Christian is to profess faith in Christ.
Daniel replied (again, paraphrased): Most or many or some Christian denominations may well take the same stance. Many of the above mentioned may also lack attendance of youth????? Seems that if it was God's will it would be fine with Christ, seeing how he does His work and is His son. One may have to ask the Holy Spirit.
So, what do you think?
- I've not heard that it's faith in Jesus that's linked to declining membership in mainline denominations. Declining membership trends don't seem to be affecting evangelical Christian denominations, and if anything (in my experience) they talk about Jesus more than their mainline cousins.
- What's the point? Is the point simply to live as the Bible teaches us, doing all the right things? Or is belief also necessary? If a denomination gains members, but they are members who do not believe, is that a reasonable gain? Is the denomination richer or poorer, in spirit as well as in numbers?
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Podcast version here
Today's Lectionary verse:
2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
I grew up at a time when the world was constantly threatened with a nuclear holocaust. I don’t know where or when I learned about the US-Soviet arms race, but I can remember worrying about a nuclear war even during the best of my younger days.
It was a terrible fear to live under. It tainted every aspect of life. As a teenager, I wanted to try anything and everything before the world was wiped out and blown to smithereens. I didn’t care about what I did or who I hurt, because the world didn’t care about hurting me.
And then things changed. Several movies on the TV and the big screen made us all aware of our madness. “Threads,” “War Games,” and even “The Martian Chronicles” showed us all the futility of nuclear deterrents and Cold War antagonism. A shift in the philosophies of Western and Soviet leaders brought about concord and pacts were made to avoid the holocaust that I and billions of other people on earth dreaded.
Christian fatalists, who used today’s verse with glee as a means to get people fearfully saved before the impending holocaust, were disregarded as a new hope blossomed throughout the world. Books like “The Late Great Planet Earth” and songs like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” were set aside. Instead of fear being used as a method to convert people to Christ, peace and love, along with redemption and reconciliation, were offered as a means of getting to know Jesus.
Perhaps you’re anxious about your family and friends, and worry about their salvation. Maybe you come across as being fearful instead of faithful, crushing instead of Christian, or hellish instead of heavenly. Think about how Jesus loved and embraced sinners in order to gain their trust. Think about how He employed compassion and reconciliation in order to open hearts and minds. Think about these Christ-like things and then apply them. Don’t be hostile or holocaustic with your faith; instead, become helpful and holistic.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, save us from using fear to bring others to faith. Instead, allow us to be compassionate and loving, gracious and generous in order to attract people to You and Your Kingdom. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the four minute Presbyterian daily devotional, Heaven’s Highway. He also post’s his own stained glass window designs at Stushie’s Art
Saturday, December 06, 2008
One big question for all the passages below: How are the themes of Advent (and ask yourself "What are the themes of Advent?" if that helps) advanced by reading these passages this week?
- This passage starts out as a word of comfort to God's people. Why might they need comfort?
- The people are told that they have paid "double for all [their] sins." This sounds to me like they were punished beyond their actual crimes. Hardly fair. What's going on here?
- There is language here indicating human frailty compared to the endurance of God. Yet there is no indication here that the people should be afraid. Rather, the language is consistently that of encouragement. Why would being reminded of our frailty be a comfort?
- I'll have a couple more comments in regard to how part of this passage is used in the gospel of Mark below.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
- One of the down-sides to BibleGateway.com is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 15a here. The letter "a" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading stops at the end of the first part of the verse, closing with "...our Lord's patience means salvation."
- Believers have come up with varying (if subtly so) interpretations of what it means that "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." Does this teaching (however you interpret it) have any practical implication for your own life?
- There's some fairly dark and fearful imagery in this passage. Assuming that this letter was intended to be read by fellow believers, why do you think that this is so? How is this balanced out by more positive promises?
- If you had to choose (and be glad that we don't!), would it be better to know Christ out of fear of the consequences of failing to do so, or out of hope for the rewards of doing so? How might your life look different if you picked the other choice?
- Having read a later part of this gospel last week, we now get to read the beginning. Why do you think the framers of the lectionary chose to hold off on this passage until the second week of Advent?
- Why does Mark introduce the prophetic quotations by mentioning Isaiah by name, but then first quotes from Malachi, getting to the quotation from Isaiah only afterward (and, as you'll notice by comparing it to the reading from Isaiah just above, not even completely)?
- As a corollary to this point, note that the quotation marks are in different places in the two accounts in the TNIV. The Isaiah passage has the wilderness within the quote, indicating where the preparation is to be made, whereas Mark has the wilderness outside of the quotes, indicating the location of the one crying out for preparation. Since quotation marks, per se, don't exist in the original manuscripts, this may be attributed to the interpretation of those who translated the Scriptures. But this discrepancy is hardly unique to the TNIV. Most other translations seem to have it, too (a notable exception is the KJV. Here's the KJV of Isaiah, and here's Mark). What's going on, here?
- Mark's account of John the Baptist (leading up to Jesus' baptism, although we don't read those verses here) is fairly short compared to the other gospels. Why does Mark choose to include the details (but only these) included here?
- On the other hand, all three of the other gospels have lengthy introductions before getting to John the Baptist. Mark only quotes a couple of verses of prophecy. Why does Mark open this account of the good news in this way?
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thank you to so many who have continued to lift up my family during the past few months in response to the tragic death of my brother-in-law. While our lives have been changed forever, we are moving forward as we can as we begin to figure our what our new normal is.
I have hit the road again and during part of my trip I will be holding the second live webcast of "Moderator Musings." Mark your calendars now to get online as I chat a bit with Beau Weston, author of "Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment" [PDF] published out of the The Office of Theology and Worship. Needless to say this paper has generated a great deal of conversation throughout the church both lifted up in some places as well as raising great concern in others.
Using the webcasting technology found at ustream.tv you will be able to join the conversation via chatroom. I will act as host, there will be a moderator to help track questions and we will take some time to talk with Beau, gets some responses and interact with you all.
Here are the details:
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Facebook Event Page
Facebook "Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment" Group
Twitter to #RPE
If you were able to join in on the last webcast, it is up and you can relive the joy that was shared as well. If you plan on joining in on the conversation on the 9th, you should go on over to register now so you can follow the show and be sure to be part of the conversation.
See you Tuesday!
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Tribal Church is a book aimed at how to bring younger adults (those under 40) back to church -- or to church for the first time. To my way of thinking, it is much more cross generational than its author realizes. The book discusses issues facing young adults and ways that the church can more effectively address those issues. One of the recurring themes in the book is that churches need to understand the extent to which financial issues affect young adults. Since I am a Bankruptcy lawyer by trade and we live in very interesting financial times, that was a theme that attracted my attention. It is not a long book, and it is a fast easy read. So, if you haven't read it yet -- do.
Let's see if we can't get some good discussion going in the Comments section. Here are a few questions to get you started.
1. What does your church do to be family friendly? Consider facilities, equipment, childcare, programs, anything else that you think you do well.
2. What attitudes about money, and particularly debt, does your church project? Is that what you want?
3. What have you tried to do to foster Inter-Generational relationships?
4. What parts of this book do you think have application to older adults as well?
5. How do you use the sense of community within your church to further your church's mission?
Jump into the comments, and let the discussion go where it may!
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The Clinton Presbyterian Church of Clinton, New Jersey, is this week's featured congregation in "Joyful News on Ministry."
This is from LehighValleyLive.com:
One of the church's youth leaders came up with the idea for the balloon nativity fundraiser. The local school held a fundraiser last month. According to a family member:
CLINTON | The Hartrum family has received the support of friends and community since Luke Hartrum, 8, was critically injured after being struck by a car a year and a half ago.
This weekend, it will also receive gifts courtesy of the three wise men.Starting Friday and lasting through the weekend, Clinton Presbyterian Church on Center Street will have on display a Nativity scene that the church youth group is making from more than 5,000 balloons, project organizers said.
Following the town's annual Christmas parade at 7 p.m., the church will hold a reception and accept donations from anyone who comes to see the display.
Becci Curtis, an associate pastor, said the money will be split between two causes. Half will help a longtime church family that is now doing mission work in India. The other half will go toward personal medical equipment that will help Luke, whom many at the church met for the first time over the weekend.
Luke was badly hurt in June 2007 when he tried to dart across the 6700 block of Weaversville Road in East Allen Township and was hit by a car. His family had moved to the township from Bethlehem two days earlier.
He spent six weeks in a coma at Lehigh Valley Hospital and was moved to the Children's Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, N.J., that July. Luke underwent surgery to relieve swelling on his brain as well as treatment for multiple other injuries. (Read More)
"These people have gone above and beyond what we expected," she said. "This has all just snowballed from people being completely generous."Thanks Clinton Presbyterian for your generosity and creativity!
Know of a congregation that has Jesus dancin'? E-mail me!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Anyone would want to claim this one as a miracle of some sort - but it isn't easily attributable. If anything, it is a kind of generalized miracle.
What it reminds me, once again, is that there are things at work in this world greater than our theological imaginings or our dogmatic categories. Greater and more subtle. Sometimes, you just accept that a good thing happened, which was unforseen. I don't know if it was because of the prayers of the righteous, or because this patient suddenly joined the right religious team in the depths of his heart.
What I do know is what I feel coming away from this whole experience - a sense of gratitude and of hope, on the one hand, and sense of humility on the other. The world is what the world is. God is who God is.
Neither one owes me the courtesy of fitting into my categories; good things do not come because we understand them.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Revelation 14:19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath.
In the early eighties, when we first diagnosed HIV/AIDS, a majority of evangelical church leaders preached that this was the result of God’s wrath being unleashed upon the homosexual community. Pastors gleefully berated the gay community and scornfully sentenced homosexuals to a slow, agonizing, and isolated death. Instead of recognizing the disease as an opportunity to show Christian compassion, churches delighted in demonizing, leperizing, and shunning a whole community of people who needed love, comfort, and acceptance.
The consequences of the mistakes that the church made way back then are still with us today. Because we allowed false prophets of hate to take over our pulpits, we lost all credibility. A whole generation has grown up since those hellish days, and now the church is faced with its own terminal condition, brought about by our reckless rhetoric and inhumane attacks on those who were defenseless, destitute and dying.
Perhaps we will never regain the trust of society because of our persecution of those whose lifestyles were different from ours. I guess it all depends upon whether we are willing to listen to our critics, or if we only want to hear what we say about ourselves.
Today is World AIDS Day and many people of different faiths, including Christians, are praying for the victims of this disease. If every Christian Church was to see this as a day of repentance for our past abuses, and act upon it by supporting those who suffer though AIDS around the world, then just maybe our planet would be able to see Jesus. At the moment, most people cannot see Christ because of the Christians that get in His way. For once, myself included, we need to step back and let the true Christ emerge – the Savior of the Dying, the Healer of the Nations, and the Loving Lord of all the Earth.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive us for allowing our pride and prejudices, our self-righteousness and severe spirituality to hinder Your work amongst the lost and unloved, the diseased and dying. Help us to see every person as a child of God in need of hope, love, and care. Keep us from demonizing those whom we do not fully know or understand. In Your Holy Name, we pray for the complete healing of AIDS throughout the entire world. Amen.
Stushie writes the four minute daily devotional Heaven's Highway.