Thursday, April 30, 2009

Paper Chase Pt. 2 -- Catholic this Time

Not long ago I posted a review of an Episcopalian woman's adventures during her first year of religious training, in that case seminary. Shortly after finishing The Close, I was poking around the biographies and memoirs section of Amazon's Kindle store and saw a book called, The Tulip and The Pope: A Nun's Story, by Deborah Larsen. I though it was an historical biography. It wasn't. The Tulip and the Pope is a story of a mid-western woman who joined a Catholic religious order in the early 1960's. She stayed for quite a few years but left before taking final vows. Approximately 40 years after leaving the Order she wrote this beautifully written and quite sympathetic telling of her time there.

In a strange way this book is everything that The Close was not, at least in the sense of the spiritual development that I am perhaps naive enough to think should go hand in hand with training for any kind of religious calling. Something that I find particularly interesting is that all of the comments to my review of The Close included a mention that their author's spiritual development had been strongly influenced by Catholics.

Now, that isn't to say that the spiritual path laid out for the novitiates in The Tulip and the Pope was without flaw. Frankly, in that respect the author was too kind in her writing; and I am probably being too kind here as well. Nonetheless, over the course of the book you can see the author growing in the spiritual stature necessary to play a spiritual role in other people's lives.

I thought it made a nice bookend to The Close. Although, unlike The Close I strongly recommend The Tulip and the Pope: A Nun's Story, to anyone interested in why a young woman would make that choice at the start of the 1960's, why she would stay for several years and, finally, why she would leave. Although, the facts and circumstances are very different; the basic concept of loving God, wanting to serve God and having to find the way in which to do that is a common tale for all of us.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on May 3, 2009

Here are the passages for May 3rd, 2009, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Acts 4:5-12
  • Last week, I asked if Peter's accusations against his audience were intended personally, or generally. I'm a bit more confident that at least part of Peter's similar accusation in this passage is direct, given the presence of Annas and Caiaphas, who played a role in Jesus' crucifixion (although I find it intriguing that the only other of mention of either Annas or Caiaphas written by Luke himself doesn't mention this).
  • Why do the elders and priests ask Peter and John about what "power" and "name" through which they healed the beggar (which was actually done before last week's reading. Perhaps it's also worth asking why the actual healing hasn't been included in the readings for this season)? In particular, why should the "name" be important?
Psalm 23
  • This is arguably the most well-known of all Psalms. Why is it so popular?
1 John 3:16-24
  • How do you think John defines "pity," as the word is used in verse 17?
  • John seems to argue for the importance of obeying God's commands. What commands does John to seem to have in mind in this passage? Does he prioritize or emphasize anything in particular?
John 10:11-18
  • As with the Psalm above, this passage uses the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep to talk about what God (in this case, in the person of Jesus Christ) is like. Shepherds and sheep are common illustrations in Scripture, but aren't things seen often by many Christians in our urban and suburban churches today. In fact, for many, I expect that everything that many people think they know about sheep and shepherds comes from Bible references and sermons given in church. How do we bring true understanding of what is meant by these illustrations to such an audience?
  • Jesus suggests that his sheep know his voice. What does this suggest for people who have doubts about their faith, in some cases perhaps even wondering whether or not they are truly Christian?
  • Does Jesus suggest that his Father's love is contingent upon Jesus' death on the cross? How should we understand what he means in verse 17, and what are the implications for God's love for us?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Welcome Mat

Welcome to Tami from Christ Unite, where she blogs about her quest to get fit and healthy over the course of the next year.

Also welcome to That Long Haired Guy from Kansas, as he starts his new blog, Growing in Faith. This Presbyterian lay preacher in today's world says, "I am a native Kansan and have been a Presbyterian all my life. I grow in my faith on a daily basis and I realize that my faith journey is far from complete. God has blessed me with a wonderful friend/wife and two great children. All that I have is a gift from God, because I know I have done nothing to earn anything I have."

Welcome new Presbyterian bloggers!

Also, we might be developing a couple of gaps in our regular line-up. Are there any dependable, regular bloggers out there who'd be interested in writing the occasional piece for the PC(USA) Blog? Perhaps a round-up of religious and faith-related articles in the news, like Stushie posted on Saturday. Or a weekly highlight of Joyful News in Ministry, great things going on within our denomination, as John Shuck used to write. Or a column about being a seminarian or being a new pastor, tossed into the fray. Post a response in the comments section to this post if you're interested or have any exciting ideas. Thanks!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lectionary Devotion: Wounded Hearts Club

Luke 24:45-48                        Then Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

The Motion to remove Amendment B has been defeated for a third time and we are all witnesses to the wounds that this has cost our beloved denomination. We have crucified ourselves with polity and policy, but this time there is no victory or resurrection for the Body of Christ.

The arguments will continue and as usual each side will affirm their positions. The church will be torn asunder and the motto for the next GA should be something like: “Battling Again in 2010.”

Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be as rare as unity and connectionalism. The letters PCUSA may as well stand for “Putting Congregations Under Separation Anxiety” as we will all be in a theological war zone for the next three years.

And as we rip ourselves apart, the world looks desperately for a Christ who cannot be seen because of all the Christians, on both sides, who get in the way.

Maybe instead of looking to theologians and scholars, radicals and reactionaries, lobbyists and laymen to help formulate our opinions, we should all retreat to an Upper Room and ask Jesus to open our minds. Our hearts are closed to each other, so only His truth will set us free.

If we expect to be witnesses of the faith, then we have to try something different. This going back and forth to the General Assembly and Presbyteries is mass suicide for the denomination. It’s also a definition of insanity - of doing the same thing again and again, expecting the results to be different.

We need a Year of Discernment and to be open minded to Christ. I’m ready to try something new – aren’t you?

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, help us. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Saturday Bible Screensaver

67 down, 83 to go....from my Psalms project


See the other 66 at

Friday, April 24, 2009

Five Faith Reports You May Have Missed

Burmese Buddhists Arrested by Myanmar Dictatorship for Praying

YANGON, Myanmar - Two members of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party were arrested and charged with insulting religion after they prayed for the release of political prisoners, a party spokesman said Friday.

National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win said authorities arrested Chit Pe, the party's deputy chairman, and party member Aung Saw Wei in Twante on Tuesday. Both took part in a prayer service for the release of political prisoners which was held at a pagoda in the township, about 20 miles south of Yangon.

Nyan Win said the two were charged with insulting religion, which carries a possible two-year jail sentence.

Read the rest of the story here….

Atheists Avidly Reading Evangelist’s Best Selling Book

A well-known evangelist continues to infuriate atheists with a new book.

Ray Comfort's newest book -- You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can't Make Him Think -- has been on's bestseller list and has been popular with atheists. Comfort says he has received a stack of "snail mail" from atheists upset with his book and with a related billboard that carries the following phrase: "Atheist: Someone who believes that nothing created everything -- a scientific impossibility."

Read the rest of the story here…

Twittering Churches Spread the Gospel

Not everything people see on Twitter is gospel — but some of it is.

In an effort to spread its message in the world of social networking, Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church in New York married microblogging and social networking with the Gospel on Friday when it told the Passion of Christ, the story of the crucifixion, in posts of 140 characters or fewer.
From noon to 3 p.m., a church worker posted 18 tweets adapted from the Gospel of Mark. The story was largely told through the eyes of six characters: Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, a serving girl and Pontius Pilate.

One tweet read, "ServingGirl: is so tired. Caiaphas and the priests have been up all night questioning a man who claims to be the Messiah. And I wait on them."

That was soon followed by one from Jesus: "Let the scriptures be fulfilled. It is as the prophets wrote. I am who you say I am."

"What we are trying to do at Trinity Wall Street is to communicate the story of Christ in as many ways as we can," said Linda Hanick, Trinity's vice president of communication and marketing.

Read the rest of the story here…

Mexican Churches Seek Protection for Speaking Out Against Cartels

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's influential Roman Catholic Church is seeking protection for its priests who fear they will be targeted in drug violence, a document said Thursday, after an archbishop said "everybody knows" where the nation's most-wanted trafficker lives.
Amid almost daily drug attacks, in which more than 7,000 have died since the start of last year, the archbishop of the northern state of Durango said last week that the alleged leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel lived in his state, and "everybody knows it except the authorities."

The comments, for which Archbishop Hector Gonzalez Martinez quickly apologized, sparked fear among the region's clergy.

"In various parts of the country (priests) have been intimidated or threatened in relation to the growing wave of violence," said a document from the Archdiocese of Mexico Thursday.

"The Church is obliged to raise its voice against those criminals who damage society while priests and soldiers risk their lives amid impunity," said the document.

Read the rest of the story here…

If Not for the Holocaust…

If it were not for the Holocaust, the number of Jews in the world would likely today be at least 26 million, and perhaps even as much as 32 million, says Prof. Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"The Holocaust struck a deep blow to the demographic, cultural and social fabric of the Jewish people in many ways and with long-range consequences," says DellaPergola. In 1939 there were 16.5 million Jews in the world, and in 1945 the number was estimated at 11 million, he said. In an article to be published soon in the journal Bishvil Hazikaron of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Prof. DellaPergola provides his analyses of the demographic damage to the Jewish people resulting from the Holocaust.

He points to several long-term consequences that occurred during that period: First, the destruction of cultural frameworks, an element which prevented Jews from marrying and having children over an extended period. Second, a rise in intermarriages, seen as a relatively safe way of escaping the oppressors. Third, the number of male victims outnumbering the female ones, leading to lower fertility and also in some cases to intermarriage. Fourth, the murder of so many children in a population which had a high proportion of young people.

Read the rest of the story here…

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday Read and Learn: 10 Things To Toss

PresbyBlogger Jan Edmiston (A Church For Starving Artists) had an intriguing post Monday of this week, prompted by a Washington Post feature on What 10 Things the World Should Toss. Since I'm in the process of tossing the accumulated stuff of 20 years as we prepare to move to a newer and smaller home, this particularly spoke to me.

Jan asks,
What are 10 Big Things (or 2 or 5 or 11) we should toss in the church today?
And again, it's not just for the sake of stirring up trouble. But what institutions/sacred cows should be tossed in the 21st Century Church - and why?
Here's the link to the whole post, which garnered some thought-provoking comments.

So here's the challenge -- how would you answer the question? Put your answer in the comments or if you posted on this topic on your blog, leave a link in the comments so we can visit you.

Here's my list:

1. Outdated Women's Groups
2. Vacation Bible School
3. Church groups that are social clubs
4. "Traditional" Sunday School organizations with officers, etc.
5. Stewardship Sunday ( at least on an annual basis)
6. Outdated Men's Groups
7. Bad Church Coffee
8. Potluck Dinners
9. Youth Groups That Isolate Youth From the Rest of the Church
10. Sessions that operate exclusively as boards of directors

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on April 26, 2009

Here are the passages for April 26th, 2009, the Third Sunday of Easter (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Acts 3:12-19
  • I'm intrigued by Peter's question: "why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" Even granting that this is the power of God at work, and assuming that people understood that fact, how should they have reacted? Should people who know God's power show no surprise or amazement when such power is demonstrated? Does Peter expect that people should become blasé about such things? How should we respond to miraculous works, knowing that it is God, and not God's apostles, accomplishing the deed?
  • Peter has strong words for those to whom he is speaking. Does Peter see these people, and recognize them as having specifically been involved in the events of Jesus' death (there were indeed lots of people in those crowds), or is he speaking to them as a group of people that, while they may not have individually been a part of those actions, nonetheless share in that guilt?
Psalm 4:1-8

1 John 3:1-7
  • When I was younger, I used to think of being a "child of God" in the sense of being God's creation. While this is certainly true, Bible teachers I've had as an adult have caused me to think of the concept of being God's "child" more in terms of adoption. I am God's child because God has taken me in as a member of the family. What might be the benefits or drawbacks to such a concept? How does it fit with this passage?
Luke 24:36b-48
  • One of the down-sides to is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 36b here. The letter "b" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading starts with the second part of the verse, which begins "Jesus himself stood among them...".
  • As with Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the disciples (particularly Thomas) in John (which was one of last week's readings), Jesus calls attention to his hands and feet (where he has wounds leftover from his crucifixion). Yet Luke does not specifically mention the wounds themselves. Why not? (Well, John did mention Jesus' side, not his feet. Is that distinction important?)
  • Luke also gives us the picture of the resurrected Jesus asking for, and eating, some fish. Did the resurrected Jesus need to eat to continue to survive, or is this just something he could do to emphasize that he was really present in front of his disciples? What might the implications, if any, of this be for our own resurrected bodies?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bible Study & Fellowship

I'm not surprised to see how excited I am about my church's upcoming Bible study. Based on my experience with Bible study before this spring, though, I am surprised to see how many people are attending! Maybe it's the format:

6:00 PM
Delicious home made dinner, served family style, in our cloisters / gathering space. (Including dessert! All for an insanely small suggested donation.)
6:30 PM
Clean off tables to nearby dish carts.
Drop off the kids in the nursery for play-time.
Move into chapel for a lecture/conversation style Bible study.
7:45 PM
Pick up kids.
Hope they fall asleep on the way home, but if they don't it's past their bed time, anyway, and the bed time routine starts up right away when we get home.

Our attendance has been between 50 and 80 people. I think the fellowship of dinner and the setting in our new chapel make for a surprisingly intimate conversation at a group of that size.

Are there other styles or augmentation of Bible study that seem to attract large groups of people?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Welcome Mat

I'd like to introduce John Leggett fromKairos Corner: a Presbyterian Pastor Reflects on Times Alive with the Possibility of God.

Welcome, Pastor John!

I've been wondering, and perhaps now is a good time to ask - does anyone know what happened to the blogger we used to have whose blog name was Kairos? Have I just lost track of him, or did he stop blogging after the twins were born?

This week the PC(USA) Blog received an email about a book publishing this June. Note that I have not reviewed the book, so this is not an endorsement, though I do think it sounds interesting. [A] way to look at religion as a tool with which we may create closer ties to all humanity and begin to create a just and sustainable society—to face with confidence the uncertainty of our lives.
All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice
Robert Jensen
From Soft Skull Press: Paper | 5 1/2" x 8 1/4" | 256 pgs. | ISBN: 978-1-59376-234-6 | List: $15.95

Follow the link above to the publisher's website to learn more about both book and author. Professor Jensen might be of special interest to Presbyterians because he is a member of a PC(USA) church in Texas . . . and he's also an atheist. See what I mean? Interesting!

I don't want to over-shadow the blog welcome of Rev. Leggett, so I'll give him another shout-out down here. Welcome to the conversation, Pastor John!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ten Posts You May have Missed

Presbyterian Bloggers has some great writers in its ring. Perhaps you haven't had the chance to read some of them. Here's what I consider to be amongst some of the best for this week.

Jan Edmiston over at A Church for Starving Artists has posted a blog about the newly discovered Scottish singer Susan Boyle and her quote that she’s never been kissed. Jan weaves the blog into a clever post about how we’ve all been kissed by Judas.

Encounter with the Gardener is Carl Wilton’s latest post after Easter. In it, Carl writes about John’s depiction of Christ as gardener after the Resurrection and the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden. Carl asks if John the Gospel writer is symbolically telling us something about Christ cultivating our spirits.

Train your body…prepare your soul is this year’s motto of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon that Adam Copeland is training for. Over at his A Wee Blether blog, Adam writes a post called “Jogging My Memory- I May Have Lost It.” In it, he states that he’s hooked on marathon training and how much Adam is looking forward to running in October of this year.

Bill Tammeus’s post, Facing Up To Differences, is about how we each see religious art differently. He writes about his recent visit to a sacred art exhibition and how different people respond individually to the 200 pieces art on display. Some find the works profound and deeply moving, whilst others only give a casual glance. Bill ponders if this is how we similarly respond to the sacred scriptures and holy rituals.

The future of Evangelicals and evangelism is discussed in John Schroeder’s blog, “Blogotional.” He writes about the need for institutionalism to secure evangelism in the years ahead. John’s blog also contains some great artwork and references to comic book heroes.

Rev Kim has an interesting post about John Madden’s retirement. In it, she writes about her admiration and respect for this great American football icon. Kim is an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, but she has loved the hard work, grit and super analysis that Madden has shown in the commentary box. Like many other Americans, she will miss this giant commentator in the history of the game.

Discernment is a rare and hard to handle gift from God. Nancy over at the Conversation in Faith weblog ponders when and where God has given her discernment in her calling. It’s a problem that all called people experience and she writes about how she wrestles with this gift. It’s an important subject that we all should take time to read and reflect upon.

The issued about violence among today’s youth is posed over at Stewart Pollock’s insightful blog, Not So Reserved Pastor. Stewart writes about the recent discussion at his presbytery where the Peacemaking Panel made a presentation on this very serious subject. Stewart challenges all of us and our churches to confront this culture of violence in all of our communities.

Jody Harrington of Quotidian Grace posts a history lesson for the Governor of Texas. The Governor recently stated that secession for the state of Texas could not be ruled out. Jody sets him straight on what the original Joint Resolution of 1845 actually expresses. Don’t mess with Texas Presbyterians, Guvn’r!

I may not agree with him many times, but I certainly wouldn’t ignore him. John Shuck is always interesting to read, no matter what the subject. As usual, he tackles denominational, religious, and political issues every week. His post about the tax protests this week has already stirred up a heated discussion (mea culpa – mea maxima culpa). So, if you like your theological wheetoos mixed up with some spice and broken glass, John’s blog may be your cup of tea.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bloggers Beware!

This says it all...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Review -- The Paper Chase Meets God

I recently read, The Close: A Young Woman's First Year at Seminary, by Chloe Breyer. Now, I have never been to seminary -- but I have been to law school. There is a seminal work on life in law school called, One L. (The movie based on the book was named The Paper Chase.) So, I was looking forward to reading what I hoped would be the seminary equivalent. After all, The Close was written by Chloe BREYER, as in the daughter of Justice Breyer.

I must confess that I was disappointed. One L does a splendid job of two things. First, it gives a pretty fair look at what life is really like as a first year law student. Second, it takes the reader along on the journey that turns a normal human into someone who thinks like a lawyer -- which is the real goal of law school.

Chloe Breyer is an unabashed, knee-jerk, New England liberal. I'm a good Democrat, and she is way too reminiscent to me of a lot that is wrong with the Democratic party. I really don't want to know what some of our more conservative ring members will have to say about her. Even I had to get past her perspective on life, politics and the value of a good protest.

The book opened with a brief explanation of what drew the author to seminary. She clearly feels a connection to the mysticism and wonder of spirituality. She chose an Episcopal seminary General Theological Seminary in New York City, because it was supposed to be good at spiritual development. I was really looking forward to watching that side of the story unfold. That is where I found the book disappointing.

The book does provide what appears to be a pretty decent look at what life is really like in seminary -- struggles with Greek, daily chapel, more struggles with Greek. What I didn't see, is any real walk down the spirtual development road.

Of course, maybe I missed the boat from the beginning. I am not completely stupid. I have figured out that America's seminaries are not turning out legions of spiritually mature Saints ready to change the world by faith while leading radically different lives. In the last chapter the author seems to realize that too.

This book is not, I hope, the seminarian's answer to One L. Nor is it a spiritual journey that will make you yearn for your own mountaintop experiences. It is, however, a pretty fair look at the nuts and bolts of seminary life -- or, at least, as far as this Lawyer can tell.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on April 19, 2009

Here are the passages for April 19th, 2009, the Second Sunday of Easter (Year B). Although Christians rightly talk about the resurrection of Christ pretty much all the time, not everyone realizes that the Easter season lasts beyond just Easter Sunday. In fact, the liturgical calendar celebrates Easter until Pentecost, which is nearly two months later. All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Acts 4:32-35
  • When I read this passage, I see a very short but clear account of some of the actions of the early church. How do our churches today measure up?
Psalm 133:1-3
  • Another very short passage. Modern readers probably would see a disconnect between "good and pleasant" and "oil... running down (one's) beard," so it would probably be worth some time to unpack this imagery.
1 John 1:1-2:2
  • There is a lot of symbolic imagery of "light" and "darkness" in this introduction. Do readers today understand this imagery in the same way that John would have understood it? What differences might there be?
  • John writes a lot about sin very early in this letter, but doesn't really get into specific "sins." Modern Christians seem fairly adept at understanding such generic language as refer to "other people's sins" more than to their own. Would John's audience have had similar tendencies? If so, why be so generic? If not, why were they different, and how might we change the way we so easily shift the attention away from our own sins?
John 20:19-31
  • Picking up right where the resurrection story (as told in John, anyway) left off last week, we don't see any of the "identity confusion" that marked Jesus' appearance to Mary in the previous verses, but we are told that Jesus appeared to his disciples despite the doors being locked. John makes a point of providing this detail. We also see that Jesus shows them his wounds (a wholly separate occasion of this from doing so to assuage Thomas' doubts in the verses that follow). Why does Jesus do this? Is Jesus assuaging doubts on the parts of the other disciples? Is he demonstrating that he is the same person, because they otherwise would have some of the same difficulties Mary had? Is he showing that, although he is the same person, his body is no longer the same as it was before, exemplified by his appearance despite the locked doors and/or his ability to live with such wounds?
  • Why does Jesus talk about the forgiveness of sins in this context? What brought it up?
  • Thomas often gets a lot of criticism for his doubts, but it's worth keeping in mind that Jesus was dead, and that people aren't known for coming back from death. I'm reminded of a sermon I heard while volunteering at the Montreat Youth Conferences this past year. The preacher there suggested that Thomas' statement, "I will not believe," could be faithfully interpreted not so much as a stubborn refusal, but more along the lines of "I can not believe" (however much he may want to, the difficulty is just too great). For those of you who know Greek better than I do, is this a faithful way of reading the passage?
  • The last few verses of this passage read like a conclusion, but the Gospel of John actually isn't done yet. Why do you think John is constructed in this way?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Welcome

This Monday morning we're rolling out the special Easter welcome mat - complete with pretty pastel pagan pictures, probably - for the newest members of the PC(USA) web ring. Today we're welcoming 3 pastor bloggers. Check them out!

Under the Steeple: Standing beneath the steeple, playing in the cornfields, and my first year as a pastor of a small, country church.

Sinaiticus: Reflections on faith, life, and the Bible by a Presbyterian pastor.

A Wee Dram: Occasional Thoughts from a Presbyterian Pastor

Happy Easter to you all.

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sermon - Happily Ever After

Isaiah 25:7-8 On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

According to the Bible, the wages of sin is death. In the prophet Isaiah’s time, death was a disgrace, a punishment to everyone because everyone sinned. As is still the case today, there was no escape from death, and in those ancient times, the people believed that the souls of the dead went to an underworld land of shadows, until all of their spiritual energy diminished completely, making the poor souls vanish forever.

These days, we don’t believe in that kind of macabre ending to our souls. As Christians, we look to Jesus to have transformed death so long ago; dying now is no nightmare of oblivion, but rather it has become a promise of fulfillment, abundance, and immortality.

Atheists say that we are deluded in our beliefs. They believe that we are just randomly gathered atoms and molecules that evolved into a living being. Our lives ultimately have no meaning and we are all alone in this vast universe. There is no such thing as forgiveness, salvation, or immortality. We are just a universal accident and once we are gone as a species, nothing will be left of our mere existence.

Agnostics are not so sure. Theologically, they make a trifecta bet as far as God is concerned. They will question the existence of a Supreme deity, but often hold out for some sort of Ultimate Being. They neither believe nor disbelieve. They are waiting for God to prove His existence. Faith is too big of an irrational leap for them to take. They would rather that God leapt towards them.

Christians are different from both atheists and agnostics. They believe that Christ is at the center of Creation, Nature, Time, and History. He is the reason that we exist, and that we are made to eventually come to God through Jesus. The Bible tells us repeatedly that there is no other way to God except through Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no other name under heaven given to humankind except that of Jesus that can truly and eternally restore us to God.

You would think that this would satisfy most Christian people, but sadly there are some people in churches who do not know what to believe. They don’t take the scriptures at face value anymore. They are intrigued by other faiths and curious about other religious documents. They wonder why some Christians are so absolutely sure that Christ is the only way to God. Rather than read the Gospels, the New Testament and Bible for themselves, they rely upon other sources to shape their opinions and ideas. Instead of trusting God’s source of revealing Himself to the world, they want to discover it for themselves, using their own skills, knowledge, and resources.

They do not trust the institutionalized Church, or its 2000 year old message. They would rather listen to narcissistic scholars, best selling authors, and puffed up celebrities to validate their beliefs. Rather than reading and believing what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have written, they would rather hear and accept what Oprah, Dr. Phil, Suzanne Somers, and Tom Hanks have to say. The Gospel of the globalized, televised, and much publicized gurus is much more meaningful to them than anything that a backwoods carpenter turned prophet and preacher might ever have to say.

It’s a shame really because if they would just simply learn to trust in Jesus, most of the issues, crises, and problems that many modern people face would be less difficult to endure. If the world would just draw closer to Jesus, this planet would be a much better place.

Sing: Jesus, Draw Me Close.

Mark 16:6, 7 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

You've heard the old saying, "Seeing is believing." Unless some people see proof of a fact, they won't believe it. There's a Scottish play, which is set in a pub, with a bartender who doesn't believe that elephants exist. His customers keep trying to convince him by describing what an elephant is. No matter how hard they try, he doesn't believe them. They bring in pictures from encyclopedias and even cut out photographs from National Geographic, but he still won't buy it. "Unless I see one with my own eyes, I still don't believe elephants exist."

The customers invite him to visit the local zoo, but he's too busy. And when a circus comes to town, they try to get him to come with them to see the show, but he says he doesn't like clowns. Throughout the entire play, they try to convince the bartender that elephants exist, but he remains stubborn and refuses to accept what they say.

At the very end of the play, all the customers enter the pub, after visiting the circus, with a large smile on their faces. From offstage, an elephant trumpets loudly and is heard charging the pub door. The bartender let's out a cry, "Oh, my God!" to which the customers reply, "Naw, it’s no God; it's jist an elephant."

Dear friends, there’s an elephant in this room today that some people have trouble believing in. It’s called the Gospel which tells us the stories, the teaching, the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. Through the Gospels, we’re introduced to a man who is greater than Gandhi; a teacher who is wiser than Solomon; a king who is greater than Caesar; and a leader who is far more charismatic than anyone in history.

He is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and the One for whom our faith is named. Billions of people have followed Him throughout 20 centuries, accepting Him in their hearts and using His teaching to shape their lives, make their choices, and finalize their decisions.

If someone was to condense the whole of history into one person, the evidence of the influence of this one solitary man would lead them to say, “Jesus Christ.” He is the center of who we are today, whether it be as a faith, a nation, or a civilization. Too many Christian decisions have been made over the last two thousand years that they cannot be eradicated. If we take Christ out of Time, then our history, our culture, even our own individual lives, would not exist.

But today is not about the past; it’s about the Time, the world, and the life that is yet to come. You see a new order of creation was miraculously established when Christ was physically resurrected by God from the grave 2000 years ago. Death, which was as a disgrace, a defeat, a punishment, and a failure, was broken by Christ. The deadly dimension of diminishment and nothingness came to an end. Christ purchased not only the forgiveness of sins when He died on the Cross; He also procured for each one of us a new, abundant, and everlasting life.

For some people this is just too much to believe. It’s a crazy delusion meant to comfort frightened people who fear death. My friends, let me put it to you this way – it’s not delusion, it’s an invitation. It’s not a religious fairy tale, it’s a divine gift. It’s not even a daft or crazy notion dreamed up by desperate fishermen and manically depressed disciples. It is a Gospel truth that the God who created us wants to share all of life, the universe, and everything with us. We only have to accept the gift from Christ in order to receive the greatest blessing that human life can ever hope to experience.

It’s great to have you all here today, for God called you to receive this invitation. He knows how busy you are, how much pressure you are under, the problems you are facing, and the fears you experience. He wants you to know this day that Jesus is still here for you, waiting for you to make a decision, a commitment, a step in the right direction. He’s here to touch you with His Spirit, to renew your faith, restore your lives, and resurrect your hopes.

Do not be alarmed. One day we will see Him. One day we will know. Jesus is up there, ahead of us, waiting and still willing to invite us. Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thank You!

A big and hearty thank you to Jody, Sarahlynn, Doug, and Wes who wrote devotions this week. I hope that you all enjoyed the short series and perhaps it's given you all material for next Easter. God bless you all.


Friday, April 10, 2009

A Feast of Easter

The Easter Story, as told through my Christian contemporary art.

You can view more of my art at

John "Stushie" Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Seven Last Words of Christ (7)

Luke 23:44-46 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.

A lot of the divisions that we have in our churches today usually involve issues about how we live our lives as Christians. For some people, complete loyalty to the word of God is essential. For others, treating everyone as a child of God is of paramount importance. We battle each other constantly about how we interpret the scriptures by what we preach and practice. In other words, both groups use the Gospels as a means of showing us all how to live.

But in today’s scripture, we are not taught how to live. Instead, Jesus teaches us how to die. After enduring agony, suffering, and shame for hours, Jesus is ready to die. Mustering all of His remaining strength, He cries out loudly for everyone to hear: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” He completely surrenders Himself to God and unequivocally declares His faith in His Father. He does not mumble or mutter those words. He declares them openly, publicly, and loudly.

It is a complete validation of His life. He has lived it according to His Father’s will. Jesus now yields to death, but does not give Himself over to darkness or oblivion. He places His spirit into God’s hands. He confidently gives Himself over to God with His last dying breath.

One day, there will be an unavoidable moment in our own lives when we will take our last breath. It may be at home, in a hospital, or at a hospice. It could be unexpected, unintended, or accidental. Whatever the case or circumstances, Jesus has shown us how to die.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we don’t like thinking about death or dying. We live our lives fully, doing our best to survive each day by trying to be healthy and happy. But one day, death will come. Help us to be spiritually prepared for that expected or unexpected moment. Come to us at that mysterious time and enable us to surrender our spirit into Your hands. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Seminary Reflections: Pluralism, Baseball, and the Classroom

(I'm playing two games with this post as it's also appearing in Adam Walker Cleaveland's Plurality 2.0 series. Check that out. The post was also intended for this seminary reflections column, so enjoy it here too. Oh, and by the way I'm a senior M.Div. student at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.)

Seminary Reflections:

Plurality 2.0 is as Matt Diaz describes his baseball swing. No, really. Last week, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Carroll Rogers interviewed the Atlanta Braves outfielder and asked, “So how would you describe that swing of yours?”

Diaz replied, “It’s something that works for me, but I never teach it to anybody. I used to give hitting lessons when I was in the minor leagues and they’d be like, ‘Well, I see you do this,’ and I’d be like, ‘No. No. No.’’s helped me understand that not everybody hits one way.”

Diaz gets Plurality 2.0 because he understands there is not one way to hit well, one perfect swing that all must emulate.

Jump back to the religion classroom and consider American Religious History. In the 19th century, different seminaries used to have very particular theologies. If you went to Yale, you were taught one thing by one like-minded group of professors. If you went to Harvard you got the “Harvard School” of thought. If you went to Union Seminary in the early to mid twentieth century you had to choose a camp: Niebuhurian or Tillichian. Theological education used to be pretty darn segregated. You got taught one swing, the one and only one that was right for you and everyone in the entire world.

Not anymore. Not as I’ve experienced at Columbia Theological Seminary, at least. Take the example of preaching. I was taught preaching by three different professors, all of whom are phenomenal preachers. But I didn’t actually hear any one of those professors preach until after I had taken my preaching courses. Preaching professors here go out of their way not to make homiletical “mini-mes”, not to have students imitate their styles. And so students learn about the variety of preaching out there, and we try out a variety of styles and preparation and possibilities ourselves to see what works for us. At graduation, then, we’re not preachers like our professors, but preachers in our own right. We’ve got a lot more to learn, and we’ll do that on our terms and incorporate the new stuff into our styles -- the individual persons God made us to be. Preaching pedagogy 2.0 is Plurality 2.0 as well.

So this Plurality 2.0 comes with great challenges: no two swings are alike, no two theologies are identical, no two preachers could preach the same sermon let alone in the same style.

Some see Plurality 2.0 as political correctness gone amuck -- every man, woman, and child for one’s self. And, sure, there’s a part of me that gets a little anxious when I think about it. What if all our sources and norms go out the window? What will we cling to? What if we become so diverse we lose any unity whatsoever?

But then I see Matt Diaz swing for the fences. And a new theological concept rocks my world. And a preacher hits one out of the park. And I think about the exciting time in which we live and I ask myself, “What will my hit be?”

Seven Last Words of Christ (6)

John 19.30      When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

I strive to be a perfectionist, and yet I fail miserably at it.  It never fails, after every paper that I have turned in, after every project I have completed, after every sermon I deliver, instead of feeling satisfied with what I accomplished, I always feel that twinge within me that second guesses.  What if I had done that instead?  Should I have added more to this or done less of that?  I wish I remembered to do this or had not said that.  And it never fails that ultimately, I drive myself into a temporary depressed state over unfinished work.  I cannot let it go.

At times throughout my life I have often transferred my “What if’s” to Jesus.  The gospels tell us Jesus began his public ministry around the age of 30 and continued until his death on the cross about three years later.  I hardly can imagine doing everything I possibly would like to accomplish in just three years.  I have at times wondered what if Jesus had more time.  What if Jesus had taken his ministry beyond Galilee.  What if Jesus went took his message straight to the Greeks or even to Rome itself.  Was there something more he meant to say or do before he gave up his life at such an early life?  I’m sure the disciples also held many of these questions in those two days before the empty tomb.

But as Jesus hung on that cross, grasping for his very last breath of life, looking upon his mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene, and the disciple whom he loved, John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus knew all was now finished.  And as he released his final breath, he proclaimed, “It is finished.”  In other words, he fully accomplished what his Father sent him to do in the sake of the world.  There was nothing else, nothing more, nothing less that he was to do.  

I am comforted to know that through all of my own flaws, faults, and inadequacies, there is one who completes me.  And the assurance is that there is nothing more I can say or do as my Savior Lord said it all on that cross on my behalf, "It is finished."  And for that I am eternally grateful.

Prayer:  Gracious Lord, help me to better know your will for me today so that I can accomplish the work you have set out for my life.  Give me the courage, strength, and discipline through your Holy Spirit to tend to work you set before me.  I pray my work to be finished when it is my time for you to call me to my heavenly home, saying, “Well done.”  It is in Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen

Wes Brandon is the pastor of Bensalem Presbyterian Church in Eagle Springs, North Carolina.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ (5)

"Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty” - John 19:28

Here Jesus is at the end of endurance. What must be done has been done, and the light is fading from his eyes. He says "I thirst". We might imagine Jesus saying even now, "I thirst".

Let me say the simplest thing: in desert times, we thirst. Not only is Christ our living water - Christ thirsts with us. Our God enters into and experiences our most basic needs as immediately as we do. We do not come before one aloof who does not know us, but we come before One who comes alongside us, who is with us always; who goes ever before us, even into suffering and death.

Let us not be ashamed of our limitations, our weaknesses, our needs.

Thirsting God, we thirst for you. You know our every mote, our every thought and feeling. You are wracked with thirst when we thirst, and rejoice with us when cool water is found. You are not above our suffering; you do not turn from us or hover above us and merely watch, but are always present with us in love. We rejoice that you are with us always.

Seven Last Words of Christ (5)

Depiction of "I Thirst."

Seven Last Words 5

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ (4)

(For Holy Week, we’ll be posting daily devotions about Christ’s Last Words from the Cross. Some of our regular contributors – Sarahlynn, Quotidian Grace, Doug, and Stushie – will be writing them. If you have any comments, meditations, or prayers to add to each post, please put them in the comments section.)

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi,lama sabachthani?" — which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Matthew 27:45-46 NIV

I am hesitant to speculate about what Jesus might have been thinking or feeling while he was hanging on the cross, when he was uttering these words. My own life experiences have taught me that I rarely feel what I would have expected to feel in any situation, and that I really can't experience anything the way someone else has. Especially not this event, especially not this Someone.

But I think that it is significant that Jesus quoted King David here:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:1 NIV
Of course God had not forsaken King David at all. Jesus knew that, and must also have known what the Psalmist said soon after:
In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

Psalm 22:4 NIV
Even in his own despair, David trusted God. And God was with David. So, too, did Jesus trust God, even during his hours on the cross. God was with Him. And God is with all of us.

Several members of the congregation to which I belong participate in something that's listed in the bulletin and newsletter schedule as INAM Book Club. I often wondered what that meant, and felt excluded from the group by my ignorance. Last year, one of our associate pastors, a member of the INAM book club, asked me to attend one of their meetings.

"What does INAM mean?" I asked her, feeling a bit ignorant and foolish, thinking that I was probably already supposed to know.

"It's not about me," she said, simply.

Indeed! (Of course the acronym was used for space reasons rather than as a secret code, and was just another of the unintentional ways we Presbyterians occasionally close off our communities.)

Prayer: God, please help me to remember that you have not forsaken me; that, indeed, it's not all about me. It's so easy for me to become inwardly focused and forget about the example I might be for others. Remembering how others might see me reminds me of who I want to be and how I want to behave. Most of all, it reminds me about why I want to be this way, and whose example I attempt to follow. Thank you for your continued guidance. Amen.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ (3)

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 19:25-27

A small group huddled at the foot of the cross. The disciples had already fled. The crowds of followers that cheered Jesus with “Hosannas” just a week before as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey evaporated as soon as he was arrested. Only his mother, his Aunt Mary, Mary Magdalene and the “beloved disciple”, who tradition identifies as the author of John’s gospel, stood by Jesus in the agony of his crucifixion.

The gospels tell us the disciples fled out of fear. Where was the rest of his earthly family--his half-brothers and sisters? Although his brother James later became a leader of the early church he is absent on this day. Like all the rest, he too afraid to stand by Jesus.

Jesus not only suffered humiliation, torture and desertion by his closest friends--but also desertion by most of his family as he lay dying. His words show his concern for the welfare of his mother. Since no mention is made of Joseph after Jesus’ childhood, we assume he died sometime between Jesus’ twelfth year and the beginning of his ministry. Mary was a widow and widows had to depend on the protection of family members--usually a son or brother--or else fall into poverty and neglect. The New Testament does not tell us who was supporting her during Jesus’ ministry.

With these words, Jesus tells John to treat Mary as his own mother, take her into his home for the rest of her life so that she is not left without support and protection. In a way, this is Jesus’ last will and testament. He leaves his responsibility for his mother to the one he can trust to stand by her in every circumstance-- just as he stood by Jesus at the foot of the cross.

Dear God,

We praise you for the faithfulness of those who have stood by their witness to Christ throughout the ages despite humiliation, persecution and death. Grant that we may be inspired by their example to share the good news of salvation. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.


Holy Week Welcome Mat

Your previously scheduled Holy Week daily devotions are briefly interrupted by a new member welcome!

Hello to Sam, Slightly damaged Christian, trying to find her way. Handle with care. Approach with caution. Meet her here: Crying in the Night.

She's definitely worth a visit!

(For Holy Week, we’ll be posting daily devotions about Christ’s Last Words from the Cross. Some of our regular contributors – Sarahlynn, Jody, Doug & John – will be writing them. If you have any comments, meditations, or prayers to add to each post, please put them in the comments section.)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ (2)

(For the next seven days, we’ll be posting daily devotions about Christ’s Last Words from the Cross. Some of our regular contributors – Sarah, Jody, Doug & John – will be writing them. If you have any comments, meditations, or prayers to add to each post, please put them in the comments section.)

Today, you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:39-43 NIV

Long before there were Itunes, mp3s, and CDs, only vinyl albums and LPs existed. My Dad had a great LP collection of some of the best singers and entertainers in the world. These included Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett.

He also had a terrific collection of original soundtracks of musical movies. One of my favorites was that of the musical ‘Kismet’, starring Howard Keel. The movie is set in ancient Baghdad and is all about a poetical con artist who uses his charisma to charm his way to the top. It’s a highly entertaining and very funny musical. Most of the music is ripped off from a classical Russian composer called Borodin.

For me, the best song in the movie is sung by Vic Damone, who plays the young Caliph. It’s called “Stranger in Paradise.” It’s one of the most beautiful love songs ever heard or seen in the movies. Borodin’s melody is wonderful. When my Dad died in 2002, the organist at the crematorium in Scotland played it as we left his memorial service. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to my Dad, who sought to find God all of his life.

When Christ mercifully hears the thief’s prayer from the Cross, He is putting into action the Gospel of salvation in its most basic form. The thief cannot perform any good deeds, nor can he serve Jesus as both of them are painfully dying on their crosses. All that the thief can give Christ is that which Jesus has asked of many people throughout His ministry: his heartfelt faith. For Christ, this is all that is necessary to be with Him – a pure faith that is not a means of escaping punishment, but a way of surrendering completely to Christ and of allowing Him to save the sinner’s soul.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are all guilty of sin and steal moments from our lives that should belong to You alone. Help us to faithfully give You our hearts this Holy Week, and to gratefully experience the loving salvation that You graciously offer all of us. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John “Stushie” Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the daily devotional “Heaven’s Highway.”

Today's artwork is called "Two More Days."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ (1)

(For the next seven days, we’ll be posting daily devotions about Christ’s Last Words from the Cross. Some of our regular contributors – Sarah, Jody, Doug & John – will be writing them. If you have any comments, meditations, or prayers to add to each post, please put them in the comments section.)

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Luke 23:32-34 (NIV)

It’s highly appropriate that the first words from Christ, as He was being painfully nailed to His Cross, should be about forgiveness. His whole ministry repeatedly emphasized peace and reconciliation, mercy and restoration. In the face of such excruciating pain, Christ does not forget His mission or message. Even from the Cross, He practices what He preaches.

Jesus puts Himself between God’s wrath and those who crucified Him. He cries out for mercy, not for Himself, but for those who abuse and attack Him. He advocates on their behalf, even although they do not know who He is, what He is praying, or what they are actually doing. They are killing God. They are destroying the One Hope that the world has of salvation.

Christ is the King of all Creation, and He is also King of His Crucifiers. They are sinfully ignorant; He is divinely tolerant. Anyone else in such pain would curse those around them, but Christ passionately cares for them and asks God to forgive them.

In this holiest of all weeks in the year, let us seek such mercy, discover grace, and offer forgiveness to those who hurt us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, even from the Cross You teach us lesson of faith, hope, and love. Give us the courage to forgive one another; to be reconciled by Your grace; and to be reunited through Your amazing and fearless love. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John “Stushie” Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the daily devotional “Heaven’s Highway.”

The artwork is called “King for a Day,” by Stushie.

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on April 12, 2009 (Easter Sunday)

My apologies for missing the Palm Sunday entry last week. Life events got the better of me, and by the time I'd realized that I still needed to write the entry, it was already far enough past when the entry should have shown up that I decided it was better just to accept the loss and move on towards Easter.

Here are the passages for April 12th, 2009, Easter Sunday (Year B). I think that I can safely say that Easter is the most important holiday of the church year, and celebrates the most pivotal event in all of history. It is my firm belief that without a doctrine of the resurrection, none of the other doctrines that we Presbyterians (let alone Christians in general) might argue about have any significance whatsoever. All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
  • What about the church in Corinth made Paul feel that a reminder about the nature of the gospel was necessary? How might modern congregations compare?
Acts 10:34-43
  • Peter makes a point of talking about how only a few people (those whom God had chosen) actually saw the risen Jesus. Why should Jesus have appeared to so few? Why should Peter make such a point of mentioning it?
John 20:1-18
  • The different gospels tell the story of the empty tomb in different ways. In this version, we aren't told that Mary looked in the tomb (although she seemed to be aware that Jesus' body was no longer inside), but rather that she ran to disciples upon seeing the stone rolled away, and that Peter went inside. Peter is given great emphasis here. Both Mary and the unnamed disciple with him had reached the tomb first, but Peter was the one to actually go in. Why does this telling of the story go to such great lengths to highlight Peter's actions here?
  • I'm curious about a translation issue in regard to verses 8 and 9. We are told that the other disciple "saw and believed" (why isn't this spelled out in regard to Peter?), but immediately told that "They still did not understand... that Jesus had to rise from the dead." Did they still not understand upon seeing the linens? If not, what did the disciple believe at that point? If they (or just he?) did at this point understand, why doesn't the translation say that they "hadn't" understood (a tense which more clearly suggests that they do understand now that they've seen the empty tomb)? Surely the Greek would have been able to carry that sense (I know Koine has a past perfect tense), if the author intended it. (Of the 20 different translation I've consulted, only two seem to use language implied that the disciple finally figured it out: the paraphrased "New Living Translation," and the "Worldwide English" New Testament. I honestly don't know much about the latter, but it appears to be a translation written by a single person, rather a group of scholars, as is the case with most translations.)
  • It's clear enough that people don't always recognize Jesus immediately when they see him after the resurrection, as is the case with Mary here. Is this due to a difference in Jesus' appearance (he looks different enough not to be immediately recognized, but similar enough that they can eventually figure it out), or is it something on the part of each of the people we read having this difficulty (i.e., they simply can't bring themselves to believe a dead person is alive again, or perhaps God is somehow preventing them from recognizing Jesus until the appropriate time)?
Mark 16:1-8
  • Although there are verses in Mark that follow after the end of this passage, none of the earliest manuscripts include them. How is it that this could be deemed a satisfactory end to this gospel, at least in those manuscripts that were circulating with nothing else afterward? We see the empty tomb, but Jesus hasn't appeared to anyone yet, and the people to whom the angel has spoken are left "trembling and bewildered" and too afraid to even tell anyone else what they had just witnessed.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Thursday Read and Learn: A Presby Prof Looks at Lincoln

A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White is a fascinating biography of the greatest American president and is appropriately published in this 200th year since his birth.

The first half of the book is devoted to Lincoln's early life on the western frontier and his emergence as a self-educated lawyer and political leader in Illinois. The second half covers his rise to national prominence and his terms in office until his assasination. White focuses on Lincoln's public life and work rather than on his private life and family. Unlike many recent biographies, White portrays Mary Lincoln in a very sympathetic light.

One of the major themes of the book is the development of Lincoln's spiritual life and thought as he struggled with doubt and Christian belief throughout his life. This is not surprising, given the fact that the author is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and was dean and professor of American Religious History at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

My PresbyReaders will be interested to learn how Lincoln was influenced by the Old School Presbyterian minister Dr. Phineas Gurley, the pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington where Abraham and Mary Lincoln rented a pew and regularly attended worship services (although Lincoln himself never formally became a member of the church).

According to White, Lincoln "had chosen to attend rational nonpolitical Old School congregations over experiential, antislavery New School congregations in both Springfield and Washington." White traces the development of Lincoln's belief in a God of providence who guides men and nations during this time and links it to Gurley's sermons.

Lincoln's belief is evidenced in a fascinating fragment that was not published until many years after his death. Found by his secretary John Hay, it is known as A Meditation on the Divine Will. Although I have read several biographies of the Great Emancipator over the years, I don't recall another that gave as much emphasis on Lincoln's spiritual development as to the development of his political opinions and his mastery of military strategy.

A. Lincoln is a superb portrait of a complex, great and good man. Kudos to Dr. White!

(Cross posted at Quotidian Grace.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Midweek Devotion: A Great Savior

Hosea 14:4 I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.

Podcast Version here:

Sometimes when I make mean mistakes or selfishly sin, I think that God is deeply disappointed and angry with me. I find it difficult to approach Him with the right contrition and sincerity, so I end up wondering if I will be forgiven. I don’t feel worthy enough to be saved or good enough to be pardoned, and sometimes a darkness overwhelms my soul. It’s a frightening thing to fear God and to think that He will harshly judge me.

And then, just as I need it most, the Spirit leads me to a biblical verse which turns out to be a wonderful promise of God’s grace in action. Even as a pastor, I need to hear God speak to my soul. And He does today through these wonderful words of Hosea. It’s as if God is saying to me: “I will heal your waywardness and love you freely, for my anger has turned away from you.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie, ‘Amazing Grace.’ It’s all about William Wilberforce, the great anti-slave trade opponent who gave his life seeking to abolish slavery throughout Britain and her colonies. In one scene from the movie, Wilberforce is seen talking to John Newton, the slave trader turned preacher. Newton is agonizing over his sinful past and despairingly expresses his deep regrets. At one moment, he is almost overwhelmed with his past wickedness. Then he boldly declares: “I know two things – I am a great sinner and that Christ is a Great Savior.”

We all carry burdens of past mistakes and each of us have moments when we feel our guilt before God. But His grace through Jesus Christ is so almighty and complete, that all our sins can be forgiven, our past burdens can be relieved, and our future hopes can be restored. We just need to come to Christ in prayer to receive these wonderful blessings.

Prayer: Father God, we know that we offend, disappoint, and anger You with our sinful ways and selfish choices. We confess to doing stupid things and making serious mistakes. We seek Your mercy and forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice and grace. In His Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to