Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, May 2, 2010, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Acts 11:1-18
An early instance of Church conflict. What do we do with people who respond to the Gospel but are not like us?

v. 5 Note “trance” and “vision”. When was the last time you entered a trance and/or received a vision while praying?

v. 6 What is the significance of the animals that are mentioned.

v. 10 Is there any significance to the fact that “this happened three times”?

v. 12 How does the Spirit tell us things today? How do we hear it?

v. 17 How do we hinder God today?

Psalm 148:1-14
One of the Hallel Psalms that conclude the Psalter. Is this the psalm that inspired St Francis’ Canticle of Creation? Do urban dwellers hear and interpret this psalm differently than those who live in rural areas?

v. 3 One of my favorite verses, especially on a clear night with a moon visible in the sky.

v. 4 A reference to the three tiered universe of that day. How do we translate or interpret this for the Copernican universe?

Revelation 21:1-6
I am calling a sermon on this passage “God’s Urban Renewal”.

v. 1 This reminds me of the closing scene in C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia.

v. 2 Someone once pointed out to me that while the story of salvation begins with and in a garden, it ends in and with a city.

vs 2-3 The Holy City, the home of God, comes down from heaven. People do not go up to heaven.

v. 4 How many times have you heard or read this at a funeral?

v. 5 How I sometimes wish all things could be made new NOW, TODAY!

John 13:31-35
v. 31 Who is the “he” that has “gone out”? Every passage ought to be read in its larger context, but especially this one. Do not assume that Jesus is the one who “had gone out”.

v. 33 Who is Jesus addressing as “little children”? What is the meaning of this address? Does Jesus make a distinction between them and the Jews?

v. 35 Does this verse not suggests that bumper stickers reading “Honk if you love Jesus” should be replaced with bumper stickers reading “Honk if you love one another”?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Read and Learn: Some Thoughts on Special Needs

Recently I had a great conversation with a friend of mine about how to incorporate people with special needs into the life of the church. For my friend it is a challenge as she has a son with aspergers syndrome (which falls on the autism spectrum) who has not been able to attend Sunday School for some time now. For me it is a challenge because as someone soon to be entering into ministry, these are important things for me to explore and seek to understand. But it is important for all because these are our brothers and sisters who seek the very same things we do: love, acceptance, and meaning in life.

For the most part, our culture and society tell us that those with "special needs" or "disabilities" are not capable of contributing to society. Individuals with special needs are not always able to live independently. It seems rather selfish to me really. When you serve someone who has a disability, from the get go you know it isn't going to be reciprocal. Or is it? For those with cognitive disabilities, we wonder how this person could teach us anything being that our ability to understand is better than theirs. Or are there other ways of understanding?

In our society we place a high value on verbal communication and cognitive understanding. But are these the only ways in which we learn and communicate? And to take it to the next level so to speak, are these the only ways in which God communicates to and ministers to people? If someone cannot cognitively understand that Jesus is God's Son does that mean they don't understand that at all?

There is another friend of mine who has a son who has high-functioning autism. He once told me a story about how he asked his son a question about God. I don't remember the question my friend asked and I don't remember the answer his son gave, but I do remember that it brought my friend to tears. God spoke through my friend's son that day.

Another thing that is a significant part of this conversation is the question of who is ministering to whom? In one of Henri Nouwen's books ( I cannot recall which one at the moment) he speaks about how often we go to the hospital to sit at someone's bedside and minister to those who are sick and dying. Nouwen proposes that it is in fact the other way around. After all, someone who is dying is probably a lot closer to God in those moments than we are. They are not relying on God day by day, but rather minute by minute. So it seems to me that there is a shift that needs to be made from ministering to individuals with special needs to ministering with individuals with special needs as well as allowing ourselves to be ministered to by individuals with special needs.

There is much more I would like to write about this but there are so many thoughts bouncing around in my head at the moment that are preventing me from doing so. I would invite your comments and would specifically be interested in those of you who have been a part of a church (or churches) in the past that have been welcoming of those with special needs in such a way that these individuals became integral parts of the life of the church. In closing, I must say that I am only recently entering this conversation so please let me know if anything I have said is offensive or wrong headed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Just Make the "Ask"

In these days of economic woes and wartime for the world, we can, sometimes, lose our focus on just where to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. It’s no surprise that our next generation seems to loosely grasp at anything that gives them pleasure, sometimes escape, when dealing with such dismal and traumatic experiences like the ones occurring on a daily basis here in our world. We sometimes wonder why they are all walking around with headphones plugged into both ears, as if they are trying to shut everything and everybody out of there nice, neat existence. They may have a point. Maybe we, the older generation, should take notice and try some of this form of escape. But wait, who would take care of things? Who would work to pay the bills that keep getting higher and higher? Who would put gas in the family car so that Junior could go out on Friday night and see a movie with friends? Who would do the laundry or go to the grocery store to buy less and less with what little money is leftover from paying the bills? Who would stress and worry over the fact that there’s “too much month and not enough money?” Who would be the one to “make the ask.”We are raising a generation of young people who are zoning out at the first sign of trouble. They are not even waiting for the sign, but merely zoning out so that they don’t see the problems coming.

As the adults in this scenario, we need to start teaching our children how to pray to our loving God. This is a very simple process, particularly if you teach them just where everything comes from in the first place. It is my observation that we (self included) have become very lazy when it comes to prayer. God tells us in the book of Matthew that “where there are two or three gathered together, I am there in their midst.” He also tells us that if only we take the time to make our request known to Him, and that we are genuine in the request, that He will provide, as we need, but not as we want. There is a big difference between the “need” and the “want.” God is a loving God and He knows our needs before we even say them out loud. What He also knows is that we tend to “want” more than we need. We, as a nation and world, need to focus our requests upward, seeking help from our Lord and Savior. Only He can provide us with the things we are searching for. People simply need to get out a bible and begin reading and praying. You may need to remove the headphones from your child as they attempt to read God’s Word, but eventually, they too will realize that there is no other place to find answers. There are even passages where God’s Word tells us just how to “make the ask.” The answer is not in the latest and greatest music to hit the airwaves, kitchen gadget, or even the newest healthy workout machine, but in the Word of God. We just need to take the time to read, be still, and hear God’s advice to all of us. If we just spend a fraction of the time reading and listening, as opposed to rushing around trying to make our lives better, we would see that He is a caring and loving God. This sounds like a really simple solution. As we all know, things do not appear to be simple at all. Pray, then pray some more. Prayer can take on many shapes and forms, but we all know who we are talking to, or meditating with. We just need to pray. God was there when all of this began, He is with us now, and He will be there when it all is finished. There is no better resume than that.

Just “make the ask.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cool Blog!

Welcome to the Monmouth Presbytery Mission Cafe!

"The Monmouth Presbytery Mission Cafe is one blog in our medley of blogs; it has stories about our mission at the congregation, presbytery, presbytery partnership, and world mission levels. All congregations in the presbytery are encouraged to share stories about what they're doing. We have had some great stories, all of which can be accessed by clicking on the "Monmouth Congregations" label on the site or going to Monmouth Presbytery has an initiative to get every congregation connected to a PC(USA) mission co-worker by the end of 2010 so we expect to have more on that as the year goes on. We also use the site as a place to post news as it comes in, not only from congregations but from the Synod and GA. For example, when the Board of Pensions sends its newsletter, we post it on the blog and put a link to the blog in our weekly newsletter. We also post events at Camp Johnsonburg, New Jersey's camp, and Stony Point Center, a national conference center in Stony Point, NY. There are also links to other sites and live feeds from the Presbyterian News Service and World Mission Watch."

Recent posts cover Bread for the World, Cents-Ability, Westminster’s PAR Garden, and protecting human rights in the Philippines. Beside the posts are a blog roll, links to Presbyterian News Service, World Mission Watch highlights, and Newsletters from PC(USA) Mission Workers. What a useful site! Thanks, Monmouth Presbytery.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.

For those of us who grew up in the sixties, the name Tabitha will always be associated with the cute blonde haired daughter of Samantha Stephens, in the television series “Bewitched.” I can still see her smiling mischievously and touching her nose as she made her toys fly around the room. I now can’t believe that Tabitha is in her forties, has four sons, and is on her third marriage. Time moves on regardless.

As for the original Tabitha, I learned about her in the seventies, when I started to read the Bible again. I didn’t know she existed until I read the Book of Acts for the first time. In Scotland, ministers tended to call her “Dorcas,” and in the church where I worshipped, there was even a stained-glass window depicting this disciple of Christ busily hand-sewing a shirt. In the part of Glasgow where our church was situated, cotton merchants, weavers and tailors prospered, so the window was dedicated to Dorcas, patron saint of tailors & seamstresses.

Whoever Dorcas or Tabitha was, she must have been very important to the Christian community at Joppa. The fact that two men went to find Peter to raise her from the dead shows us just how dearly she was loved and appreciated. Her charitable works and words of encouragement must have strengthened the local church. Her making and giving of clothes to the poor probably saved the lives, especially amongst the destitute widows in the city. She used her gifts to help the helpless; she inspired faith in others through her kindness and compassion.

Today, or perhaps this weekend, we will each be given an opportunity to be a Tabitha in our communities. We will hear or read about others whose needs are desperate and whose plight is serious. Hopefully, when we are informed of these things, we will act accordingly by using our gifts, resources and skills to help others through tough times and painful circumstances.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the witness of true saints like Tabitha. The story of her kindness to the people in Joppa has been read, told and preached for almost two thousand years. She was just an ordinary person like us, but she did much to glorify You and to serve her people. Enable us to do the same. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Henri J.M. Nouwen on the Necessity of Prayer

The older I get the less I find that I can effectively multi-task. Yet, no matter what else I'm doing I can pray. Problem is I forget that sometimes; I think of prayer as a separate, distinct spiritual practice that is to be done at certain times and in certain forms. I've been like that pretty much my whole life. Yet, the fact of the matter is, no matter what else I'm doing at the time, I can, should I choose, always pray. Doesn't have to be an audible prayer. Indeed, on could argue that prayer is as much attitude as it is action. Either way, it is a necessity.

Let me share some words of Nouwen with you about prayer. Keep in mind that we are, by virtue of being Christians, ministers.

To live in the name of Jesus Christ means first of all to live in intimate communion with Jesus, and through Him with our divine Father. One of the most painful and tragic aspects of the Christian ministry is that many, if not most, ministers are in touch with numerous people but out of touch with their Lord, are involved in many things but isolated from divine 'affairs' (Luke 2:49). Yet only one thing is necessary: to keep our eyes on our Lord, to remain attentive to His will and to listen with care to His voice (Luke 10:42).

Prayer is the basis and the center of all our ministry. The minister must be first and foremost a man or woman of prayer. Without prayer, ministry quickly degenerates into a busy life in which our own needs for acceptance and affection start to dominate our actions and being busy becomes a way of convincing ourselves of our importance. [...] Only by deep, strong and persistent prayer can we escape the illusion of self-importance through a deepening knowledge that Jesus is our Lord, our Shepherd, our Refuge and our Stronghold, our Wisdom and our Strength.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 25, 2010, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Acts 9:36-43
The raising of Tabitha/ Dorcas. Is this the only resurrection narrative in the NT not directly involving Jesus?

v. 36 Note that this female is referred to as “a disciple”.

v. 38 Did Peter have a reputation for healing and resurrections?

v. 40 Why did Peter “put all of them outside”? If they were all outside, Peter is the only person that could have reported all the events narrated here.

v. 41 At his point in acts, who are “the saints”? What is the difference between a saint and a disciple?

Psalm 23:1-6
What more can be said about one of the most popular and well known passages in the Scriptures?

v. 1 Please note that the “LORD” is the Holy One of Israel and not a reference to Jesus, even though most Christians probably hear and read it as referring to Jesus.

v. 6 Dwelling in the house of the Lord is something that happens in this life and is not something reserved for life after death. Is the “house of the LORD” a reference to the Temple?

Revelation 7:9-17
I am calling my sermon on this passage “God’s United Nations”. Living in Queens, NY is sort of like living amidst a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, but far fewer than that worship the Holy One of Israel.

v. 9 “A great multitude that no one could count” is not the same as the exact but symbolic 144,000, or is it?

v. 12 Sevenfold praise

v.14 This verse always intrigues. While blood stains are one of the hardest stains to remove from clothing, those in the great multitude are wearing robes made white by washing them in the blood of the lamb. I am surprised there is not bleach on the market labeled “Blood of the Lamb” bleach.

v. 16 What does this verse remind you of?

v. 17 Reversals of reversals, the lamb becomes a shepherd, and now we are back to the 23rd Psalm.

John 10:22-30
v. 22 What is the theological significance that this encounter took place during the festival of dedication?

v. 26 “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.” Should it not be “You do not belong to my sheep because you do not believe.”? Another reason why Psalm 23 is the Psalm for this day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Read and Learn -- Holy Week is Over

Holy Week is over. Sleep has happened. Staff meetings have happened. So, how'd it go?

This year my church added a sunrise service. I don't recall ever having had one before. A friend of mine looked at the location, the time, the circumstances and dressed appropriately -- blue jeans and a sweat shirt. She felt a tad bit conspicuous. The rest of the attendees were dressed like proper Presbyterians on EASTER for crying out loud. When she has told this to friends and family, the response has invariably been, "What WERE you thinking? It was (insert name of traditional Presbyterian church) on EASTER!"

Matters of dress aside, she loved the service, and it was very well attended. Over all, attendance was up over last year pretty substantially. Of course, the weather was better than last year too. We also made significant changes to the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services -- all of which seemed to work, and none of which seemed radically different -- even though some of it was.

So, how was your Holy Week? Did you try anything new?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Healthy Priorities

Healthy Things To Do
(My “To Do” List)

It is very difficult in these hectic times to pay attention to our own health. It is ironic that in stressful times, it is often our health that suffers first, and our wall of security tumbles down around us. It would be nice to have someone invent a magic pill we could all take that would quickly restore our bodies to perfect health, allowing us to manage and maintain everything else in our fragile lives. I can see the infomercial now, with some guy with an Australian accent pleading with the viewing public to buy his magic potion and never have to worry about exercising again. This would make millions, if it were only true, but it’s not. That’s why we need to pay very close attention to our mindset when it comes to prioritizing and analyzing our lives on a daily basis.

One of the ways to begin doing this is to put “first things first.” God would be the first thing on my list. Taking care of His requests on our lives is by far the most important thing for me to think about. As a Christian, I go to God for help in creating my “to do” list. When I do this, all the other things seem to fall into place much easier. This can be a difficult task for people, given the fact that the day just seems too short for all of the tasks at hand. Think about it this way; put God first, then you open up a means of communication for getting His help in stacking up all the other things in your life. When you forget to do this, you are left on your own to prioritize all the meaningful obligations that take up your waking hours. I, personally, could use a little help, and I go to God for that. Prayer is a wonderful tool of communication we have in asking God for help, talking to God for advice, or just simply telling him how our stressful, out of control, life is coming along. He is a great listener, regardless of the issue, day or night. When we realize that it is His will, not ours, which is played out each day, then we find it easier to talk to Him about it.

Having said that, we now move on to the other priorities that seem to compete for the ration of time left in our lives that need to be on our daily “to do” lists. We now have things such as family, work, finances and our health that are very important, if not crucial, to our daily routine. The big question remains; how do we set our priorities? In my opinion, if we have started in the right place, then we can build on that place. If God is at the top of your list, then you have a huge block on which to stack all of the other competing issues that you deal with.

As a Christian, I am taught that your family should be a very important component of your life, second only to God. When a person realizes this, his or her priorities are set around a strong foundation of God and family. God’s Word has great instructions on this, we just need to understand and heed them more often. Paying close attention to the needs of our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and other extended family will take up a huge part of our daily “to do” list. These obligations are mentioned in God’s Word several times so this should tell us something. I get a great feeling of where my priorities should be by spending time in God’s Word on a daily basis. This helps me sort out all of the other things grasping for time in my hectic schedule. But how can we be prepared to take on all of this if we don’t plan properly. This is where the healthy mind and body come into play.

Most of us, self included, do not spend enough time preparing for the “battle.” We simply get out of bed, get dressed, deal with our morning routines, go to work, back home to deal with more routine, then before we pass out from having done so much, we go to bed only to get up and do it all over again. We often go through the same mundane routine only to find out years later we are in the same place, doing the same things, hoping for the same things, looking for the same things. We are God’s soldiers and servants, part of His family that He wants to use to “recruit” other soldiers and servants for His purposes. One of the most important things we can do is to prepare our minds and bodies for the battle. God has a purpose for each and every one of us. We need to be fully prepared to serve this purpose in this lifetime. I feel that being “all I can be” both physically and mentally will enable me to be my best for God. This is why I place my health near the top of my list of “things to do” each day. This includes both mind and body. As for the mind part, I make it a point to read, meditate, get the proper amount of sleep, and other issues that impact my mind.

As for the body part, I make sure that I allow time for exercise. This is why I run, lift weights, do household chores, walk my dog (pseudo horse) or allow him to walk me, and other physical activities aimed at improving my lifestyle. It does not take much to have an impact. Numerous experts state that if a person walks at a brisk pace 20 minutes a day for 3-4 days each week, they will see improvement in their cardiovascular health. This means that the body has improved as well as the mind. Your mind needs blood to work properly, and if you are improving blood flow, you are improving your mind. As we get older, this becomes more and more important to our daily routine. Some experts claim that this is why Alzheimer ’s disease is more prominent these days. It is a reflection of how the sedentary lifestyle is affecting us in our later years. Although it can’t be prevented, it can be pushed back, and your quality of life can be extended long into the later years.

In the Bible, Jesus often teaches in parables. This is just God’s way of forcing us to think for ourselves, to exercise our minds in order to get the real message. The Bible has a great deal of parables, proverbs and psalms all aimed at making the reader figure it out for themselves. I’m sure that if we were living in the days of Jesus, we would be far too lazy to do this. We seem to have the attitude of demanding the clear, concise version without all of the illustrations and hidden meanings. This is just God’s way of forcing us to do mental calisthenics.

When you prepare your body for the battle, all of the parts fall into place, allowing you to be in a far better place when you need to do your list of priorities. I use my time exercising as a time spent with God. I like to listen to music when running, so I have a great collection of contemporary Christian music to listen to as I log the miles. There are times when I feel the need to pray as I run, talking to God in conversation. I get the funny looks and stares as I do this, but I’m not paying any attention to them. This is when I’m letting God know my issues and listening for His advice.

We all have far too many “to do’s” in our far too busy lives. When we look for help with all of this, we just need to look and seek out His face and get help from the source of everything in our World. God has all the answers, all the priorities, all the “to do’s” figured out for us. We just need to be prepared to deal with the answer He gives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ramblings from a Devoted Servant

Welcome to the newest blogger at the unofficial PC(USA) Blog!

Dave Hutton joins us this week with a new column entitled Ramblings from a Devoted Servant. Dave is a former Sheriff's Deputy turned Christian Educator.

I look forward to hearing more from our newest contributor.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

National Day of Prayer - It's Constitutional

(This morning, I'm going to hand over the devotional to Benjamin Franklin and let him show you why the Circuit Judge who ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional is so wrong and out of touch with our history)

A Call to Prayer : Benjamin Franklin

When, after the representatives who had met in 1787 to write the Constitution of the United States struggled for several weeks making little or no progress, eighty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin rose and addressed the troubled and disagreeing convention that was about to adjourn in confusion. It seemed that their attempt to form a lasting union had apparently failed.

Benjamin Franklin said, "In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor....And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?"

"I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: 'that God governs in the affairs of man.' And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this."

"I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial local interest; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."

Benjamin Franklin then proposed that the Congress adjourn for two days to seek divine guidance. When they returned they began each of their sessions with prayer. The stirring speech of Benjamin Franklin marked a turning point in the writing of the Constitution, complete with a Bill of Rights.

The First Prayer offered in Congress

"Lord our Heavenly Father, High and Mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech thee, on these our American States, who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent on Thee, to Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give; take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle! Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst Thy people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. all this we ask In the Name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.
September 7th, 1774 by Jacob Duche in Carpenters Hall, Philadelphia

Friday, April 16, 2010

Go Fish!: Easter Questions vs. Pentecost Questions

In a meeting recently the conversation started down the "how can we grow the church?" path. As a lot of questions were raised and ideas bandied about, I was feeling uncomfortable, but I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't until I was in the car (of course) that I realized what was making me uneasy: we were asking the wrong questions.

We were asking the "if we build it they will come" questions, or rather "if we make it better/more interesting to young people they will come" questions. Questions that worked 50 years ago, but in our new cultural environment don't work anymore.

Here's the hard truth: they aren't coming anymore and if we keep doing what we're doing now by asking the wrong questions they probably will never come.

Just a few days ago I saw Billie Joe Armstrong of the band Green Day say on Bill Maher's HBO show that all organized religion is bull-you-know-what. The audience cheered, Maher was delighted. Armstrong and his fans are never going to come to our churches no matter what we do to our worship/buildings and grounds/programs. They think they know what we offer and they are not interested.

We have to start asking new questions of ourselves if we're to find a way to share the Gospel with today's non-Christians. I've broken this down in two ways, Come and See vs. Go and Act. Another way of putting it would be Easter Questions vs. Pentecost Questions.

Come and See used to work for churches. And there are still times it's relevant, like Easter. My church did a lot of come and see a couple of weeks ago, and I fully support that. But Easter is over, and now we're living in the times after Pentecost. Our questions have to shift from Come and See to Go and Act. How can we go and act in a way that brings the Gospel to non-Christians in our communities?

There's a lot of Come and See in the Gospels. In John 1 Philip tells Nathanael that he's found the Messiah, son of Joseph from Nazareth. When Nathanael asks, (and don't you love this part) "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Philip responds, "Come and see." Throughout the Gospels there are times when people tell others, come and see this rabbi, come and see this man who heals, come and see this man who is saying new things about God.

Even after the tomb is found empty, there's Come and See. In Matthew 28 the two Marys go to the tomb, the earth quakes, the stone is rolled away, and an angel tells them Jesus is raised from the dead. Come and see the tomb is empty, he tells them. Then he tells them to go tell the disciples.

Toward the end of Jesus' time on Earth, there's a shift to Go and Act. In John 21 there's the famous fish breakfast on the beach when Peter gets to atone for previously denying Jesus three times by proclaiming his love three times. Jesus implores Peter to "feed my sheep," "tend my sheep," "feed my sheep." The time is coming for the disciples to act.

As he is about to ascend into heaven, Jesus gives his disciples - and us - The Great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations. And at the start of the book of Acts, he says he is leaving them, but he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them. Pentecost arrives, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, and their ministry of acts begins. Go and Act. And not just act only, act AND proclaim the Good News.

Let's start asking the Pentecost, or Go and Act, questions. How can we Go and Act in our communities? Can we go to where people are hanging out already? Here in the 21st Century that could be literal places, like physical places in our communities where people hang out, or it could be virtual places, like social networking sites. What sorts of acts can we perform for others? How can we be prepared to proclaim when people ask, "why are you doing this?"

A great resource I've mentioned before, but bears repeating is Reggie McNeal's The Present Future; Six Tough Questions for the Church. His latest book is also good: Missional Renaissance; Changing the Scorecard for the Church.

If you have a great Go and Act story from your church or your own life, share it with us. Let's learn from one another and encourage one another on this journey.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 18, 2010, the Third Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)
The Revised Common Lectionary includes a six verse reading and an optional longer twenty verse reading from Acts. I will probably opt for the six verse reading.

This is just one of two or three recollections of Paul’s first encounter with the risen Jesus, How is it the same and how is it different than the other recollectios?

v. 2 Why was “the Way” eventually abandoned as a way to refer to Christianity?

v.9 Is the reference to “three days” any other than an allusion to the three days between the Crucifixion and the resurrection?

v. 10 God speaks to Ananias “in a vision”. Do verses 1-6 also describe a vision?

Psalm 30
v. 9 An appeal to God’s sense of logic?

Revelation 5:11-14
Don’t forget, the following is a “vision”.

v. 11 How many is a “Myriads of myriads”?

v.12 When was the last time you heard anyone singing a hymn “with full voice”?

v. 13 Fourfold praise

v.14 who are these “four living creatures”

John 21:1-19
My wife refers to this reading as “Grilling With God”.

v. 2 What might it feel like to be a no name disciple like one of “the two others”?

vs. 4-7 Why is it that the disciples never at first recognized the risen Jesus?

v. 11 What is the significance of 153?

vs. 14, 17 What is the significance of the occurrences of the number 3?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Read and Learn -- Requests for Opinions

A friend of mine suggested I read this book, Christianity by Diarmaid MacCulloch. I'm a pretty voracious reader, but I must admit to pausing to consider before jumping into 1184 pages -- especially with a Kindle price in excess of $20.

So, anyone read it? Thoughts? Comments?


Monday, April 12, 2010

Welcome Mat

Carl Wilton of A Pastor's Cancer Diary is also the author of our newest member blog, Monmouth Presbytery Clerks' Corner.
This is a place for Clerks of Session of Monmouth Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and others interested in local church governance to receive tips on doing their job better, and to engage in mutual support. The job of Clerk of Session is a crucial one in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Very often, elders respond to the invitation to take on these responsibilities out of love for the church, and without fully realizing all that this job entails. There is usually quite a learning curve associated with the position. It's my hope that this blog will prove to be a place where Clerks from this Presbytery and beyond may go to become empowered and confident. Besides being Stated Clerk of Monmouth Presbytery - a position which requires me to be a resource person to the Clerks of Session of our various churches - I am also a Pastor. I'm also an adjunct Professor at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, teaching Presbyterian polity to the PC(USA) candidates for ministry enrolled in that Reformed Church in America seminary.

Recent posts include "Is Your Church Incorporated?" and "Who Can Be a Clerk?"

Thanks for sharing your new blog, Rev. Wilton!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Seminary Reflections: Justly Social

I have spent this semester in an exegesis course on the Letter to the Ephesians. While there are significant parts of the letter with which I continue to struggle, and some places I still don’t particularly understand, I have deeply enjoyed exploring what I think of as being an elaborated theology of community.

In Ephesians, “life together” is not simply a characteristic of everyday life meant to be regulated by codes of Christian ethics. To the contrary: community is the very characteristic of our salvation. God has by grace “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (2:6, NRSV). Later, the Gentiles to whom the letter is addressed are welcomed into “the household of God,” which by Christ “the whole structure is joined together” (2:19-20). The Greek verbs here use the same syn- prefix we see elsewhere in synagogue; this is a community gathering, not just a personal transaction.

I see this as a key distinction. Often in the Epistles, and likewise at certain places in the Gospels, we find proscriptions for community life, as in Paul’s exhortations in 1 Corinthians on food offered to idols or on appropriate behavior at the Lord’s Supper. It is tempting to understand these exhortations as directions meant to help individuals, brought together by shared belief, to put up with one another. Something like, “You’re in this thing together: here’s a few thoughts to help you deal with it.”

But Ephesians flips this on its axis. Christian community isn’t something we have to deal with: it’s something we have to strive for; it is at the very root of our Christian vocation. Yes, Ephesians later moves into some very controversial language as it proscribes rules for households, and I find myself deeply at odds with some of what it says. But I nonetheless take as its central theology the idea that we are called to live out, on this Earth, the community God has already created for us.


It’s been a few weeks now since Fox News pundit Glenn Beck created another political firestorm by suggesting that churches promoting “social justice” might just as well be promoting communism: “If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. ... Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” Beck has received no shortage of tirade from his usual opponents, and from some new ones. And yes, I’m here today adding my objection to the record.

But I want to do more than simply object. I’m neither a linguist nor a political philosopher. I can’t explain the background of the phrase “social justice” to the degree I might like. But it strikes me that there’s an ambiguity in the phrase not unlike the ambiguity over what it means to be a Christian community.

Christians should work in homeless shelters, fight poverty, fight for the marginalized, advocate for human rights, and a thousand other “social” issues. The question I pose is: why? Are we doing “justice” in the realm of the “social” – doing good deeds in the world around us, helping “others,” making it easier for all of us to live together in this world?

There’s nothing wrong or bad about that rationale. But I just want to push it for one moment. In Ephesians, we don’t get “justice” until first we heed our vocation to be “social,” to be in community. The first flows from the second: we are called to be community, and so we act upon each other accordingly.

Christ has broken down the dividing-wall of the temple, bringing Gentiles and Jews together (2:14). What other dividing-walls has He broken down? Where are the dividing walls that help us to define our community? What about the ones that separate our neighborhoods from the ones across the tracks? The ones that separate our churches from our neighborhoods, or from the churches down the street? These, certainly, are the first ones that Christ has destroyed.

Christians should pursue social justice. You’ll get no argument from me. But Christians should also pause just a moment to consider what it is that we mean when we articulate the term. I suspect that what we’ll find is that, if we can ever figure out how to be “social,” the justice will roll down like water.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 11, 2010, the Second Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Acts 5:27-32
During the Easter Season the Revised Common Lectionary opts for First Readings from the Book of Acts rather than the Hebrew Scriptures.

v. 28 The disciples have been engaging in an unauthorized work. The religious authorities had even told them to cease and desist. What does it mean to “teach in his name”?

v. 29 Peter and the apostles challenge denominational authorities and the status quo.

v. 30 An appeal to tradition and religious pedigree (the God of our ancestors) in order to subvert the dominant paradigm.

Psalm 118:14-29
How can we read and interpret a song of victory in non-militaristic way? While we might easily interpret this psalm in light of Christ’s victory over death, its original setting referred to a military victory.

v. 17 How and when do we recount the deeds of the LORD?

v. 18 What sort of punishment was the Psalmist thinking of?

v. 22 Quoted in Mt. 21:42, Mk. 12:10, Lk. 20:17, Acts 4:11, and 1 Pt. 2:7.
vs. 26-27 Refrains of Palm Sunday this Second Sunday of Easter. See Mt. 21:9, Mt. 23:39, Mk 11:9, Lk. 13:35, Jn. 12:13

v. 29 Another familiar refrain. See 1 Ch. 16:34, Ps.106:1, Ps 107:1, Ps. 118:1 as well as this verse, Ps. 136:1. Thus, this is the only place in the Psalter where this refrain appears in a Psalm other than the first verse.

Revelation 1:4-8
Six out of the ten occurrences of lectionary readings from Revelation occur during the Easter season of Year C. Thus this and the following several weeks offers an opportunity to preach a series of sermons focusing on Revelation while sticking with the Lectionary.
Does it matter whether or not if the author of Revelation is the author of the fourth Gospel?

v. 7 I cannot read and interpret this literally but only as highly stylized and symbolic mythopoeic description of a vision, in spite of the best selling “Left Behind” series.

John 20:19-31
v. 19 It is still the day of resurrection. Less than 24 hours have passed.

Vs. 19-22 Apparently not even locked doors can prevent the risen Jesus from appearing among his disciples.

v. 26 What is the significance that Jesus appeared a week later, not six days or eight days? What does this say about gathering on the Lord’s Day?

vs. 27-28 Does Thomas ever feel/touch, even though invited, or is “seeing” enough to prompt his confession?

v. 29 See v. 31.

v. 31 Must we “see” the resurrected Jesus as Thomas did in order to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, or are we able to believe by reading in this book (John) about the signs Jesus did the presence of his disciples?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Read and Learn: Generation to Generation

One of the classes I am taking this semester is called "The Self in the System." It is a pastoral care class that focuses in on various schools of though regarding pastoral counseling. It has been a very interesting, challenging, and thought provoking class. Part of our grade involves five counseling sessions with a fellow student to practice some of the concepts and ideas we are learning. That's five sessions as a counselor and five sessions as a counselee. One of the books we have read for this class is called Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin Friedman. Though I am still in seminary and don't have "real world" experience to back this statement up, I will go on a limb to say that this book is a must read for anyone in pastoral ministry. If you are an ordained minister, some of the ideas in this book could definitely be put to use in pastoral counseling scenarios and congregational dynamics of your church. From the dust flap, "Friedman compares the emotional processes at work within individual families to those in church and synagogue, suggesting that clergy can often do more to help families by the way they lead their congregations than they can through specific counseling interventions." If you are a lay leader, I can definitely see how it would be beneficial to see some of Friedman's ideas pan out in the lives of those on your committees, ministry teams, and small groups. And whether or not you fit into either of those two categories or not doesn't really matter. The personal perspective that can be gained from this book is phenomenal. In a culture where we mostly focus on the individual person, taking a step back and realizing the effects the systems/families we are a part of have on us is tremendously helpful. Friedman is a fairly blunt and straightforward individual, which won't jive with everyone's personal style to be sure, but there is undoubtedly fresh insight that can be garnered from this book.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Devotion: My 2010 Easter Window

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once, upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save, Alleluia!

But the pain which He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation hath procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He's king, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing, Alleluia!

Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
Praise eternal as His love, Alleluia!
Praise Him, all you heavenly host, Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia! 

Friday, April 02, 2010

Faith and Dogma in Science and Religion

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Grand Dialogue Conference in Grand Rapids, MI. The speaker was Allan Wallace and his topic was "Experience, Reason, and Faith in Science and Religion: A Buddhist Perspective". Today I want to bring just a few of his ideas to you. His entire talk will be available soon at the Grand Dialogue website. His PowerPoint presentation is available now.

Wallace began by talking about the role of faith in both science and religion. It’s not common for us to think of science as a “faith based” enterprise, but if you ask working scientists they will tell you this is true. Wallace is in the presentation using a particular definition of faith - by "faith" he means "trust".

Science is based on faith in the discoveries of others. Scientists trust the results of others. No scientist redoes every experiment to prove its correctness for themselves. Scientists simply must trust each other. Scientists also have faith in the reliability of the equipment and methods they use. Galileo may have made his own telescope but today, few scientists make their own equipment. They must have trust in the people who make the instruments and they must trust those who maintain and repair them. Scientists must also rely on the public's faith in them and their work. They must have faith that others have faith in them. As Wallace pointed out, doing science is very expensive and science will not be funded it people don't have faith in the scientists and their results.

Faith plays a remarkably similar role in religion. Religions have faith in the revelations of "saints and sages". Religion has faith in the practices and teachings of the tradition. Finally Wallace says out that religion has "faith that the insights and realizations of past adepts can be replecated in the present." Now for people of faith, this discussion of faith is incomplete, but isn't it interesting the ways science and religion are both deeply dependent on the trustworthiness of others?

Wallace also talked about dogma. His definition of dogma is:

"A coherent universally applied worldview consisting of a collection of beliefs
and attitudes that call for a person's intellectual and emotional allegiance. A
dogma, therefore, has a power over individuals and communities that is far
greater that the power of mere facts and fact- related theories. Indeed, a dogma
may prevail despite the most obvious contray evidence, and commitment to a dogma
may grow all the more zealous when obstacles are met. Thus, dogmatists often
appear to be incapable of learning from any kind of experience that is not
authorized by the dictates of their creed."

Based on this definition, he then discussed dogmatism in religion and science. Religious dogmatism holds that the source of its beliefs is infallible and therefore its beliefs are true. Because its beliefs are true, its religions practices are the only valid practices.

Materialism on the other hand, claims that there is no other world beyond the physical, natural world and this natural, physical world is the sole source of knowledge. The only way to know about the world is by physical evidence.

Notice that Wallace has changed from talking about "science" to talking about "materialism" because certainly not all scientists are materialists. As a method, science excludes all supernatural or nonphysical entities because they can't be quantified or measured. Science as a method cannot have an opinion about the non physical. If the non physical exists, it exists outside the area of expertize of science. Also notice that he does not talk at all about God in his discussion. I suspect his goal was to point out particular areas of similarity and not give an exhaustive discussion of faith and dogma.

Wallace in his talk has quiet a bit more to say about knowledge and truth and his proposal for a way forward. You are invited to listen to his presentation to learn the rest. His presentation of faith and dogma reveal some interesting similarities between religion and materialism/scientism. So I would like to know, what do you think? Does this juxtaposition work? Is it valid? Is it helpful? Does discovering this common ground help us understand each other better?

I will have limited or no Internet access for the next several days. I have asked several questions and I am interested in your response but I won't be able to actively participate for about 10 day. until I return. So please discuss among yourselves and I will check in on April 5th.

Good Friday Art: Bloody Sunset

From Stushie's 2010 Holy Week art series

Bloody Sunset

You can view more of Stushie's art at

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 4, 2010, the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day) (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed!
(No fooling!)

The Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday suggests six different readings that can used in various configurations. In previous years I have opted to use the Acts passage as the First Reading but this year I will opt for the Isaiah passage. For the Second Reading I will use the pericope form 1 Corinthians. Since John is my favorite Gospel (thus the photo at top right) I will stick with it rather than abandon it for the reading from Luke.

Acts 10:34-43
One of Peter’s Sermons

vs. 38-43 The Gospel in a nut shell? What more need one say?

Isaiah 65:17-25
By placing this reading on Easter, is the New Revised Lectionary suggesting that with the Resurrection of Christ, the “new heavens and new earth” envisioned by Isaiah have come to pass?

I have used this reading and verses from this Reading at more than one Service of Witness to the Resurrection. Isaiah 65:17-25 is one of the Readings suggested for use at a Funeral by the Book of Common Worship (pp. 953-954). I hope that when mourners hear it read at a Funeral that they might remember also hearing it read on Easter.

v. 25 I think I hear echoes of Advent, or at least Isaiah 11:6.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
vs. 1-2 and many other verses from this reading could be adapted for use as a responsive Call to Worship.

vs. 17-18 Easter’s defiant proclamation in the face of death.

vs. 22 “The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” because another stone had been rolled way (Luke 24:2) or removed (John 20:1) from the tomb.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26
v. 19 While we might be pitied if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, will we be pitied if for this life and the life to come we have hoped in Christ? Pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye no longer cuts it in this postmodern world. Where is the realized eschatology?

v. 22 This passage is one of many where Paul portrays Christ as the new Adam.

v. 26 Death might be the last enemy to be destroyed but it will still be destroyed. Who or what are the other enemies that will be destroyed before death is destroyed?

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I did not hear in this reading or in the reading from Acts any theory of, or even mention of, the atonement.

John 20:1-18
v. 1 Unlike the synoptic gospels, John has only Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb.

v. 8 What did the “other disciple” believe? V. 9 simply does not seem to logically follow from v. 8.

v. 10 Is this anti-climatic, or what? How often do we witness or even participate in some great event and then return to our home as if nothing happened?

v. 11 Peter and the other disciple go home but Mary sticks around.

v. 14 How is it that Mary sees the resurrected Jesus but yet does not recognize him, mistaking him for the gardner? What makes us think our powers of recognition are any better?

v. 16 The power of a name, but not the name “Jesus”; rather, the name “Mary”!

v. 18 Is “I have seen the Lord” a statement of faith?

Luke 24:1-12
v. 1 Who is the “they”? If you use this reading, I suggest you identify the “they” even if they are the same women identified in v. 10.

v. 7 Why is it that the moniker “Son of Man” does not appear in any of our Creeds or Confessions, or on bumper stickers? How about "Honk if you believe the Son of Man was raised on the third day."

v. 11 “Idle tales” are in fact the Gospel. Let it be note that in Luke, these women are in fact the first evangelists, the first bearers of the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.

v. 12 Did Peter not believe the women and have to go see for himself? Peter might have been “amazed” but he still “went home.”