Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunday Lectionary Devotions: A Pentecostal Spirit

Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, I visited a university town in Spain called Valladolid (pronounced 'baya-dolith). It was originally a castle town and had some beautiful medieval buildings, cathedrals and colleges all over it. I was there with a friend of mine who had once trained to be a priest. We were visiting his old haunts and he introduced me to a lot of good Spanish people.

One evening, we went to a school building, where many people gathered together for prayer. Handicapped persons, people in wheelchairs, and all sorts of sick people were at the meeting. We sat in a circle, and the priest, who was leading the group, began to pray. Other people followed him and then I spoke my prayer. It was in English because I didn't have enough Spanish to put a sentence together. After I prayed, the priest interpreted and re-prayed my prayer. Once he had finished, a holy hush fell upon the room, and then, suddenly, people began singing in tongues.

I had never experienced anything like this before. It was beautiful and everyone, even those who were sick or sitting in wheelchairs joined in. The sound was like a hundred songs being sung at the same time, with different melodies and rhythms, but they harmonized perfectly. Then things began to quieten down, and after another time of silence, people started to go home.

It was a profound experience and one that I have never encountered again. The only explanation I can give is that the Holy Spirit descended upon all of us, and gave us a great gift of angelic song that evening. One glorious day, I hope to sing like that again, in the heavenly halls of glory, with millions upon millions of people and angels.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank You for sending the Holy Spirit amongst us and for giving Your Church a wonderful source of comfort and counsel, guidance and love. Fill our hearts with Your Holy Spirit and lead us by His presence in our lives. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thursday Read and Learn: Angels and Demons, Book or Movie?


This summer brings another Dan Brown novel to a movie theater near you. Angels and Demons, published in 2000, is the prequel to his controversial (and wildly successful) book The DaVinci Code. The story line of both books revolves around conflicts between science and religion, and religion is represented in both by the Roman Catholic church.

PresbyBlogger John Edward Harris (Summit to Shore) posted a review of the movie version and compared it favorably to the book.

Although I haven't seen Angels and Demons yet, I did read the book and also read The DaVinci Code and saw the movie version.

I thought Angels and Demons was a better book than Da Vinci Code, but agree with Harris that the movie version of DaVinci Code was not as good as the book.

If you read either of these books or saw either of the movie versions (or both) what's your opinion?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on May 31, 2009



Here are the passages for May 31st, 2009, Pentecost Sunday (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).

Ezekiel 37:1-14
  • Why is this story told on this particular Sunday?
  • Why is this miracle done in stages? Why does God not just restore the bones to life all at once? Why does God have Ezekiel prophecy multiple times, and to different (inanimate?) audiences?
  • When Ezekiel "prophesies" in this passage, what do you think he's saying? What does he actually tell the bones and the breath (or "wind" in the KJV)?
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
  • 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 35b 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 "Praise the LORD, my soul."
  • Why does the lectionary leave out the first part of verse 35? It's just a few words.
Romans 8:22-27
  • What do we learn about the Spirit in this passage?
Acts 2:1-21
  • As Presbyterians, we probably have different interpretations of this passage than, say, Pentecostals might, and so I apologize in advance for my ignorance of how such traditions that practice active "speaking in tongues" might view this passage. But as I read this story, I am led to understand that if Peter (for example) was speaking, and two other people were in the room, each from a different part of the world, the person from (let's say) France would hear French while the person from England would hear English, even though Peter is speaking in Aramaic. Is this a commonly understood Presbyterian interpretation? Would a Pentecostal (for example) understand this passage differently? What other interpretations are there?
  • Assuming that my interpretation of the Pentecost story is not widely different from someone else's, how might we account for the difference between this passage and current "charismatic" practice? What might we learn from them? What might they learn from us?
  • Why might the Spirit have chosen to be revealed in this way?
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
  • 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 4b 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 "I did not tell you this from the beginning...".
  • The word translated here as "Advocate" has been translated a number of different ways, including "Helper," "Comforter," and "Counselor" (I find it interesting that nearly all of the translations I consulted capitalize the word). What is Jesus trying to get at?
  • Why is it necessary for Jesus to have gone before the "Advocate" can come? Why is it not better to have Jesus remain with them than to have the "Advocate" (which is, at best, not as undeniably present to outsiders as Jesus in the flesh was)?
  • What can the Spirit do that Jesus can not (or, at least, does not) do on his own?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Committee

As I looked out from the pulpit this morning,
I could see all the people
In our living Memorial Committee.

A lady in a wheelchair
Who, at the age of twelve
On her home island of Hawaii,
Watched Japanese planes
Fly across the sky
On their way to bomb
Pearl Harbor.

Across the aisle
Sat another lady,
Whose young Jewish parents had given
Her away to a Dutch couple,
Just before they were arrested
By the Nazis
And taken to a Concentration Camp
Where they died.

Three rows behind her,
Was a man who had been
Amongst the first American troops
To liberate European Jews from
Hitler’s Death Camps.

Behind him was a farmer’s wife,
Whose brother
Had been seriously wounded
On a beach in Normandy
June 6, 1944.

Four pews in front of her
Sat another man
Whose father
Had been a fighter pilot
Over the English Channel
And into France.

On the other side
Sat another woman,
Whose husband
Fought alongside
Fellow marines
Across several
South Pacific islands.

In the soprano section
Of the church choir,
Sat the preacher’s wife,
Whose father had been rescued
Off the coast of Italy
After his British destroyer
Was torpedoed and sank by
Enemy aircraft.

And sitting quietly,
At the back of the choir
In the tenor section,
Was a paratrooper,
Who at the age of twenty,
Had miraculously survived
The Battle of Bastogne
In that deadly winter
Of December 1944.

With such members
In our Memorial team,
We will never forget
Those who served
And died for Freedom.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sunday Devotion: Dunkeld

Lectionary verse - Psalm 1:3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

Several summers ago, I took a group of church people to tour Scotland. It was a wonderful experience and I personally delighted in showing everyone the wonders and beauty of the auld country.

In the middle of the tour, we visited a small town, right in the heart of Scotland, called Dunkeld. The scenery was breathtaking and all the tourists loved the buildings, bridges and beautiful gardens in and around the town. We stayed there for two days, but just before we left the town, I took the group to a secret spot behind the Birnham hotel, where we were staying.

We walked for about 500 yards and came to the riverside. There, next to the water banks, stood four ancient oak trees, about 900 years old. They were massive and the girth of one of the trunks took half of our party to ring. It was wonderful to experience one of Scotland's hidden treasures.

For nine hundred years, those trees had been planted by the water. They were mentioned in Shakespeare's Scottish play "MacBeth" in the lines "when Birnham wood comes to Dunisane hill." They had survived the most turbulent years of Scottish history, and they still thrive and bear fruit every year.

Today's verse tells us about the prosperity and strength of those who rely upon the Lord. It's a lesson for all of us to experience, for no matter what we go through - pain, sorrow, or trouble - if we remain true to the Lord, He will enable us to endure, overcome, and prosper.

Personal Prayer:    Lord God, Your strength carries me throughout life and Your will sustains me. Enable me to remain focused upon Your ways, so that I may spiritually thrive and faithfully prosper in Your kingdom on earth. Refresh my soul with the Living Water of Jesus Christ and strengthen my soul through the riches of His grace. In Jesus' Name, I pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the writer of the devotional blog "Heaven's Highway," as well as being the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Weekend Screensaver: Spirit Spectrum

Celebrating Pentecost next weekend. Feel free to copy or share.



Spirit Spectrum


You can see more of my digital glass artwork at Stushie's Art.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sunday School Lessons

On Sunday mornings, I teach a Gospel Lectionary Class using movie clips to help the class focus on the themes. I subscribe to Wingclips which is a terrific resource for downloading short clips. The subscription is about $15 a month. I use about 3-4 clips a lesson.

Here's my lesson for this coming Sunday:

Opening Prayer

Intro: John 17 contains the prayer that Jesus made on behalf of His disciples and future Church. He is interceding for the protection of His followers who are going to be persecuted when they go out into the world. We should be mindful that John’s Gospel was written about 50 years after this event took place, so this prayer would be highly relevant to the Mediterranean Christian Church which was beginning to be heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire at this time.

Clip #1 China Cry – Yes or No (3.33)


First reading - John 17:9-11

9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.

11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one.

 

Q:        Why do you think Jesus didn’t pray for the world at this crucial time? How does the Church bring glory to Jesus? Why does Jesus pray for the Church’s protection through the Holy Spirit? Is that prayer still relevant today? How do we pray for the Church today?

Clip #2 – Knowing – Highway Crash (1.38)

 

Second reading – John 17:12-13

12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

 

Q:        How does Christ’s Name protect us? Have we experienced this in our lives? Who was the one doomed to destruction? Does this seem fair? Does this confirm predestination and, if so, how does that affect our own lives? How do we experience Christ’s joy in our lives today?

 

Clip #3 – UP – Russell (1.04)

 

Third Reading – John 17:14

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

 

Q:        Why did the world hate the First Christians? What was so radical about their message? Does the world still hate the Church today? Why/why not? What do you think it means to be ‘not of the world?’ How do we apply that principle in our faith today?

 

Featured Trailer – Earth (2.10) – we may not be of this world, but we are certainly stewards of the planet.

 

Closing Prayer

John Stuart (aka Stushie) is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the daily devotional podcast "Heaven's Highway."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Review -- Looking Around

Grace is moving, and I'm in trial Friday with major work events stacked up for the next few weeks, so today you are getting other people's reviews.

Christianity Today has what is really a list rather than reviews of My Top Five Spiritual Memoirs, by Lauren Winner. She lists brief descriptions of 5 books: Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy, by Frederica Mathewes-Green; Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith, by Nora Gallagher; Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Ehrlich; Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life, by Patricia Hampl; and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs.

I thought several of these looked interesting, but only one of them is available on Kindle -- so don't expect me to be reading them anytime soon. (I am blaming Grace for my addiction. There is no basis in truth for that whatsoever, but it is convenient and easy and I am sticking to it.)

Also on Christianity Today's website currently is an interview with W. Robert Godfrey on his biography, John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor. I am planning on reading this one, but it will have to wait until after I finish a humongous, but very well done, biography of Jonathan Edwards.

If anyone checks out any of the books mentioned above, let us know. We would love to hear from you some Thursday.

JusticeSeeker
JusticeSeekerOK@aol.com

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on May 24, 2009



Here are the passages for May 24th, 2009, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (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).

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
  • Here we read an (edited) account of the calling of Matthias, Judas' replacement among the Twelve. Why was it important that a replacement be called?
  • Why is the casting of lots considered a viable means of selection for the new apostle?
  • Why do we never hear of Matthias again within the Scriptures?
Psalm 1

1 John 5:9-13
  • It's almost cliche to point out that John considers "belief" in the Son of God important, but what does it mean to John to have such belief?
John 17:6-19
  • This prayer is made by Jesus shortly before his arrest leading to his crucifixion. How is it that we have this account? Who was watching Jesus make it, or who did Jesus relate it to afterwards?
  • I imagine that exegetes could ask all sorts of questions about this prayer. I'll try to limit myself to a couple. What does Jesus' prayer tell us about himself? What does Jesus' prayer tell us about those who follow him? Is he praying just for his followers present with him in first-century Palestine, or for all followers throughout all time and in all places?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Justice

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

As an employee and leader employed by a faith-based corporation that isn't strictly aligned with my own personal beliefs, I sometimes feel like I get an added struggle to my faith journey. For instance, during leadership training, the religious leaders of my organization have made a clear statement that justice and fairness are very different ideals. God requires justice; and justice will not necessarily be fair.

For early childhood, we know that life isn't always fair: Sometimes your sister gets the piece of cake with more frosting. Or your have to go to grandma's house over the weekend and miss a friend's birthday party. Or a loved one passes away unexpectedly. Or would-be perfect parents suffer another tragic loss. We all experience things that simply aren't fair, and we struggle to accept the idea that life isn't always fair.

Is it always just, though?

Criminals get away with murder on technicalities. Huge corporations get away with slave labor in third world countries. Natural disasters kills tens or hundreds of thousands and destroy millions of lives. Surely, there's no justice there.

What is it we're looking for in justice?

Maybe justice or injustice isn't something that is done TO anyone, but rather a characteristic of how someone chooses to behave. The text actually says that we're to ACT justly - it doesn't say seek justice or make sure others are treated justly - ACT justly.

Whose justice are we talking about?

Perhaps my definition of justice is too human and, therefore, too close to fairness. God's judgment, perhaps is the one to consider. God's judgment would be based on the things that we do in accordance with God's laws rather than human laws. I think that definition of justice would hold all of us to too low a standard.

What does it mean to act justly?
Love your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind.
Love thy neighbor as yourself.

Two of Our Own

Today I'd like to highlight two pastors who write regularly on their personal blogs in addition to their contributions to the PC(USA) Blog.

First is Rev. John Stuart (aka Stushie) at Heaven's Highway, who's done some interesting blogging about human rights abuses in China and elsewhere. Excerpt:
Before last summer’s Olympics, I wrote to you about a Chinese Christian, Alimujiang Yimiti, who had been arrested in January 2007 for preaching the Gospel. He was one of the reasons that I boycotted the Games in China. I couldn’t stomach the fact that whilst the whole world was marveling at the Olympics, a Christian brother was languishing in a Chinese jail just because he was a preacher like me.

And second is Rev. John Shuck at Shuck and Jive. A few weeks ago, I blogged about Robert Jensen's book All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, which prompted an interesting discussion about what it means to call oneself Presbyterian, or even Christian. Rev. Shuck has reviewed the book on his blog and started some interesting discussion there about Christianity and atheism more generally. Excerpt:
What is an atheist? My general rule is that if you want to know how folks define themselves you ought to ask them. When that happens you find that things are generally not so simple. People define themselves for different reasons and mean many different things. At times our self-definition changes depending upon how the categories are defined.

I agree with many atheists in that I don't believe in the god they don't believe in either. But that doesn't mean much. If a person makes a straw man of my belief, I likely won't accept his or her definition. Often the terms are defined too narrowly (by both Christians and atheists).


These two PC(USA) pastors are very different (separated in ideology and theology if not geography) and yet part of the same denomination. Which is part of why I love it so.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sunday Devotion: John 15:16 - A Good Choice

John 15:16  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. (NIV)

 I can remember when I was young playing for my street soccer team in Scotland. Before a game, the two best players lined everyone else up on the sidewalk and began to alternatively choose players. Each time a selection was made, you could see the fear and anxiety in everyone’s face. Inwardly, we were all thinking, “Choose me next!” At the same time, we were also praying, “Don’t leave me till the end!” It was a mark of shame and a dent in a young boy’s pride to be chosen last. I know that to be true, because I experienced it several times.

                Thank goodness that Christ does not choose people sequentially. He chooses us because we have gifts and talents, qualities and characteristics that are unique and much needed for His ministry on earth. Wherever we are and whatever we do, Christ always gives us opportunities to make an impact with our faith. He expects us to bear fruit with our lives, especially when we are around other people in our homes, our churches, or our work places. Today, He has chosen you and I to fulfill His work in our community. His blessing and favor are upon us. Now let’s go out and show Jesus that His choice was the right one.

 Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank You for choosing me. I am not worthy of Your Holiness, but I am delighted to be blessed by Your choice. Guide me and help me to bear witness to Your Love. Let me share Your grace with all whom You have chosen for me to meet this day. In Your Holy Name, I pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. he writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway" blog.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Christian Bumper Sticker Shock


...sadly, a lot of Christians seem to believe this...




Photo source from MTSOfan's page on Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtsofan/

Kirking of the Tartan Service

Scottish Highland Games take place all over the United States over the next six months. Sometimes Presbyterian pastors are asked to conduct the Kirking ceremony at the Games or host a kirking service at their churches. I've been doing this for 15 years, but I don't think this is taught at seminary. So here's my rendition of what a kirking should look like:

Kirkin' of the Tartan Service – Kirking of the Tartan Service

(I have done this on many occasions, at different Games & in churches in the United States. I also speak at Burns Suppers and have given humorous after-dinner speeches at St. Andrews Day events. Contact me by e-mail at 
Traqair@aol.com if you need any advice about hosting your own church service.

(The following is a copy of the service that I have used at several Highland Games)

Introduction:

On this special day, we gather for the Kirkin of the Tartan. In the middle of the eighteenth century, when our forefathers in Scotland had been defeated in the Jacobite rebellion, the wearing of the Tartan, the playing of the bagpipes and the bearing of arms were all ruthlessly outlawed by the Hanovarian English government.

On Sunday mornings at church, during the years when these bans were publicly enforced, Scots people would secretly carry a small piece of their clan's tartan to church under their clothes. Thus, when the minister ended the worship service with the benediction, that tartan was blessed and God's favor was bestowed upon the Scottish people.

Today, we celebrate their persistence and strong independence by proudly displaying the tartans and publicly parading the clans to the stirring sounds of the pipes.
Clan representatives and flag bearers are piped across the Games field. They stand in line in front of the altar.

We begin this commemoration with the roll call of the Clans. As you hear your own clan being called, please stand.

Honored representatives, proudly declare the names of your sacred clans!

Starting at the left, the Flag bearers will state the name of their Clan, Society or District. The Flags are held upright. When finished with the Roll Call, the pastor announces and gives the prayer of Dedication. During this prayer, heads are bowed and flags are tipped at a 45 degree angle.


On behalf of all Scots away from Scotland, these honored representatives present their tartans before Almighty God and ask His blessings on these sacred colors.

Let us dedicate these tartans to the One, True and Living God.

Prayer: Almighty God, who has promised that in all places where You record Your Name, that You will meet with Your servants to bless them; fulfill Your sacred promise and make this field a place of power, heritage, courage and prayer. May our worship be offered in the Holy Name of Jesus; may You bless us with the presence of the Holy Spirit; may You sanctify this time as profitable to our hearts and souls.

We rejoice in this opportunity to dedicate these tartans to You as symbols of the unwavering loyalty, steadfast faith and great achievements of our Scottish forefathers. We praise You for their ingenuity and integrity; for their respect of truth and justice; for their rejection of hype and hypocrisy; and for their regard of liberty, life and the equality of all people.

Grant us, O God, the ability to remain true to the faith of our fathers, which has enlightened, encouraged and enhanced the people of our beloved lands. Use us to bring peace and goodwill on earth and to advance equality and justice throughout the world, through the name of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Flag bearers raise their heads and hold the flags upright.

Piper, play a joyful sound to the Lord! "Amazing Grace."

The Flowers of the Forest

The pastor tells the story of the Flowers of the Forest.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Scottish people joined their beloved King James IV in a battle against Henry VIII at Flodden Field. Highlanders, lowlanders and borderers fought side by side against an overwhelming foe.

In the midst of this tragic battle, in which 10000 Scottish warriors were killed, beloved King James was also slain. Many leaders and nobles, knights and common folk lost their lives. It was later said that "the slaughter struck at every farm and household throughout lowland Scotland."

All those who had fallen in battle, the best and finest in the Scottish kingdom, came to be known as the "Flowers of the Forest." To this day, Scots honor their dead and loved ones by listing their names at the gathering of the clans and playing the beautiful pipers' lament, "The Flowers of the Forest."

Please stand, as we name the Flowers of the Forest of our people gathered here today. Clan bearers, lower your flags.

Clan flags are lowered to the ground. The pastor reads the names submitted previously by the representatives. After this list is read, the pastor asks, "Are there any others?"
Once all the names have been read and expressed, the pastor then says:

Piper, play for our beloved people the "Flowers of the Forest."

After the playing of this lament, there is a ten second silence. The flags are solemnly raised to the upright position.

Let us dismiss with prayer.

The flags are again tipped to 45 degrees and heads bowed.

Prayer: May the Light of the World shine within and around you, like the sunlight to warm your heart, like a great peat fire to signify welcome and friendship, hospitality and faith.

May the Water of Life fall upon you - the sweetness of a gentle rain, growing in your souls and strengthening your heart.

May the Holy Spirit shower upon you the blessings of God, cleansing your souls and lifting you to the sacred heights of heaven.

And may the soft earth embrace you; may the land that you love enhance your spirit, lift up your heart and grow goodness, courage and faith throughout your life till that precious day in God's sacred time when you are called to be a flower in His everlasting forest, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Upon completion of the prayer, flags are held upright and the clan bearers are led off the field by the piper, who usually plays "Scotland the Brave."


If you need any other information or help, or even a Kirking children's sermon, contact me at traqair@aol.com.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paper Chase P. 3 -- The Atheist and Jerry Falwell

This series was not planned. I just happened to read a book about a seminarian. Then, cruising around the Kindle store I saw a book that I thought was something completely different; but it turned out to be another book about someone going through a form of religious education -- Catholic that time. About the same time I ran across a third book with a different twist on the combination of education and religion, and a series was born. Let me introduce you to, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. The author, Kevin Roose, spent his freshman year at the liberal bastion Brown University. He then spent spring of his sophomore year at Liberty University, founded and run by Jerry Falwell himself.

Relevant background on the author is that he was studying English and Journalism at Brown. He worked for the author of a Year of Living Biblically, so this type of experiential, Gonzo journalism was something he had seen first-hand. He was raised by essentially non-observant Quakers, and he says early in the book that before he started at Liberty he could have named the four Gospels -- if you gave him a few minutes.

Frankly, I expected a smear job. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed that, mind you. I live in the same State with Oral Roberts University. I was surprised. The author made a serious effort to bridge the God Gap, to find out what makes conservative Christians tick and who they really are as people. He claims that he wanted to learn and to understand, not to judge; and as hard as this is to believe, the book does come across that way.

We say that we want to know what non-Christians see when they visit a Church and how they perceive Christianity. Well, this is a good start. The fact that it is a pleasant and easy read doesn't hurt. Oh, and one of the great details in this story, the author managed to talk his way into doing an interview for the school paper with Falwell himself. Falwell died a few days later. That just happened to be the last print interview Jerry Falwell ever gave.

Two days ago John Shuck posted a book review on his blog, Shuck and Jive. He was reviewing a book by a Professor at the University of Texas named Robert Jensen. If the name rings a bell, you might have heard of Prof. Jensen. Several years ago he was admitted to active membership at an Austin PCUSA congregation without making a profession of faith -- because he was an avowed atheist. He was ultimately moved to the Baptized Member roles (a nice usage of that classification that I doubt I would have thought of). He has since written this book reviewed on Shuck and Jive, called All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path in the Prophetic Voice. The book review is on Tuesday May 12. On Wednesday May 13 began a discussion, connected to the book, of how we define God and religion and how non-Christians (or at least some non-Christians) perceive that we define God and religion. What caught my attention is that some parts of what I read on Shuck and Jive correlate nicely with a series of discussions I have had recently with a Seeker.

Two very different views of Christianity from the outside. Personally, I prefer the atheist from Brown -- but I'm from Oklahoma, I've never been a Longhorn fan.

JusticeSeeker
JusticeSeekerOK@aol.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on May 17, 2009

Here are the passages for May 17th, 2009, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (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).

Acts 10:44-48
  • As this passage begins, Peter is still visiting with centurion Cornelius, and has been explaining how it is that God has brought Jew and Gentile together, coupled with a basic version of the gospel message.
  • There are some clear similarities between this incident and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Does Luke imagine that this kind of experience happens often when believers get together? If not, what occasioned the Spirit's action in these instances where he writes about it?
Psalm 98

1 John 5:1-6
  • Conveying the importance of carrying out God's commandments can be hard with many Presbyterians, as there's the obvious risk of sounding like one is preaching a "works righteousness." Do you think John has in mind any particular commandments when he wrote this down? If so, what?
  • How can John claim that God's commands are not burdensome? How can we tell other Christians this message today in a way that they might actually believe this word?
  • What is John getting at when he spells out that Jesus came not "by water only, but by water and blood"? What is he trying to correct, that he feels people might be leaving "blood" out? What would a "water only" Jesus look like?
John 15:9-17
  • When Jesus connects keeping the Father's commands to remaining in the Father's love, it again sounds a lot like "works righteousness." Is it? If not, how is it not so? How might this be conveyed to a congregation?
  • Jesus talks a lot about love here. How might Jesus define love?
  • Jesus makes a point of calling the disciples friends, and no longer servants. Is this deeper than just what language Jesus uses for the people that, in practically the next breath, he gives instructions to? Can both roles co-exist?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Calvin Saw this Coming


July 10, 2009 will mark the 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformer John Calvin's birth. If you'd like to contribute a short piece honoring Calvin for this blog that week, please let us know (either by leaving a comment here or clicking on the "suggest comment for discussion" link at right).

Kicking off the celebration a little early, USA Today ran an opinion piece last week called "Calvin saw this coming: The Protestant Reformer, born 500 years ago, could teach us a thing or two about fiscal idolatry, diplomacy and democracy. But would we listen?" The author of the article is Henry G. Brinton, pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, PC(USA) in Virgina and author of Balancing Acts: Obligation, Liberation, and Contemporary Christian Conflicts.

It's an interesting article, and worth a quick read, I think. Although I'm not entirely comfortable presupposing Calvin's responses to current world events, I did enjoy seeing quotes from Calvin and various scholars applied to a modern context.

"In ethics, Calvin was not comfortable making sharp pronouncements about good and evil. Political talk about and 'evil empire' or an 'axis of evil' would have struck him as overly simplistic, since he believed that sin corrupts every person, community, and nation on earth. He realized that all people were good and valuable, but also distorted and dangerous."


Sidenote: Yesterday was our last day of Sunday School for the year, and my small group discussion class finished up 8 months of marriage enrichment using Adam Hamilton's Making Love Last a Lifetime: Biblical Perspectives on Love, Marriage, and Sex. For next fall we've chosen another Hamilton book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White. Brinton's book sounds interesting, and might inform our discussions. I'll definitely be checking it out for the fall.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thursday Review -- Conference Announcement

Anybody looking for an excuse to spend a few days in San Antonio in late June?

Renovare (www.renovare.org) is having a major conference there. Speakers list includes Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, John Ortberg, Richard Foster, Max Lucado and everybody else you've ever heard of. Here is the link: http://www.renovare.org/journey_events_2009ic.htm

The conference, itself, is relatively cheap. There are tons of breakout options, several tracks for different types of spiritual development training. Great location, great time, it is on the Riverwalk. If I weren't out of town already 3 weekends in a row in June, I'd be there. As it is, if anyone does go; please let Grace or me know. We would love to have you blog about it here. The Conference ends on a Wednesday -- the next day is Thursday. So, check it out and let us know if you go.

JusticeSeeker
JusticeSeekerOK@aol.com

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on May 10th, 2009

Here are the passages for May 10th, 2009, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (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).

Acts 8:26-40
  • We learn here the story of an Ethiopian eunuch, who even before meeting Philip was already worshiping Jerusalem and was reading from the Hebrew prophets. Was this eunuch a Jew, was he a proselyte, or might he have had some other reason to travel to Jerusalem to worship?
  • Why does the eunuch seem to believe that it would be impossible for him to understand what he is reading unless someone explains it to him?
  • What might Philip have mentioned, while teaching the eunuch, that would have suggested to the eunuch that being baptized was a good idea?
  • What's going on with Philip in these last two verses? Did the Spirit suddenly teleport Philip away, that the passage would be worded in this way? (Why, for example, would the passage stress the immediacy of Philip's departure, so as to place it so "suddenly" after they "came up out of the water," and then use the word "appeared" to show where Philip ended up next?) Why would the Spirit do this (and why not with other disciples)? What other explanations might there be?
Psalm 22:25-31

1 John 4:7-21
  • The last few verses of this passage stress that we are to love our fellow believers. What about non-believers? Why are fellow believers emphasized?
John 15:1-8
  • Much as I mentioned in regard to shepherds and sheep last week, vines are not as commonly available to many modern Christians as they were to followers of Christ in the first century. What might need additional explanation, that congregations that don't work with vines might understand Jesus' point?
  • How might someone fail to "remain" in Christ? What would be the consequences to that person? Is Jesus thinking primarily about consequences in this world, or is he thinking eschatologically? (Or perhaps both?)

Monday, May 04, 2009

It's Sort of a Whole-Family Job

Welcome to a new pastor's wife blogger! Well, she's not new to being a pastor's wife, just (relatively) new to blogging. Without further ado, here is Mrs.ReverendDr.: The life of a full time, head Pastor's wife, offering a variety of posts about ministry, hospitality and Church-clergy relations in the PC(USA) church. Mrs.ReverendDr. describes herself as "an ultra conservative PC(USA) minister's wife and young Mom."

I'm excited to have another pastor's wife in the ring, and have enjoyed reading some of her advice for other pastors' wives. (Growing up as a PK, I watched my mom struggle with some of these same situations.)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Lectionary Devotion: Carrying Lambs

John 10:11 (Jesus said) "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  NIV

Years before she was married, my mum used to work on a farm which, strangely enough, was in the heart of the parish that I ministered to for nine years. She usually worked alongside the shepherd and learned many of the skills of looking after sheep.

One day, she came across a young lamb, whose mother had died during its birth. My mum realized that the wee lamb would have to be brought back to the farmhouse where it could be fed and taken out of the cold, chilly wind. The shepherd offered to carry the lamb for her, but my mum insisted on doing it herself. The farmhouse was two miles away across the fields, but the lamb was light and cozy in her arms.

Halfway to the farmhouse, it started to rain. The field became muddier and muddier, making it difficult to walk. The rain also started to penetrate the lamb's woolen coat and it soon became heavy and soggy. As the weight of the lamb became greater, the shepherd helped my mum carry the lamb. The mud made each step more difficult and the farmhouse seemed to get further and further away. Eventually, after a long struggle with Nature, all three reached the comfort and warmth of the farmhouse.

Years later, in rare moments of sanity and clarity, my mum would tell us this story over and over again, always ending it with the phrase, "If it wasn't for the good shepherd helping me, I could never have saved the poor wee lamb." It was a lesson that I never forgot.

Christ is our Good Shepherd and we are His sheep, the flock of His pasture. In the midst of our struggles with life, He will carry us safely.

Prayer:     Lord Jesus, at times we need You to guide us and walk with us; in other pressing moments, we need You to help us and carry us. Whatever we do today and wherever we are, be our Good Shepherd. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the daily Presbyterian devotional blog "Heaven's Highway."

Today's image is taken from Stushie's Digital Art Psalms project