Monday, September 29, 2008

Laughing Pastor

My favorite part of being involved with the PCUSA Blog is seeing all the different voices, the wide variety of perspectives offered by we who call ourselves ourselves Presbyterian bloggers.

In order to choose which blog to highlight this week, I used the highly scientific method of scrolling through the Members of Our Community list in the sidebar to determine which blog was updated most recently.

It's my delight to point you toward the Laughing Pastor!

At this blog, laughter is the only evidence i need for God's grace. "I am a pastor living in Texas. Though there are many challenges in the church that don't inspire laughter....when a laugh comes along I enjoy it with gusto. My grandmother taught me the art of laughter. Laughter has been a source of healing in my life. Laughter gets me through hard times and good times. I believe we need more laughter...even in the pulpit!"

The gorgeous photos are only one of the good reasons to visit this blog. In particular, today I'm going to highlight the post it's time for a different story...
Some stories simply need to be forgotten. Some stories don't need to be told ever again. Some stories are told for the wrong reasons. Some stories tear down rather than build up, cause conflict rather than create unity, maintain anxiety rather than encourage joy.

Leaders in the church I serve admitted this. The time has come for different stories to be told. The time has come for some stories to be over-shadowed by trust, imagination and excitement.

And that's just what we decided to accomplish.

Now this is why I became a minister. This is why I desire to moderate the Session of a plan for meaningful ways to bring healing and growth to a church that desperately needs both!

Our prayer is that stories of faith will soon overshadow the negative attitudes that have ruled the roost far too long.

In my congregation, some of those stories have names like "The Schedule" and "The Portrait." But it's not just church. My marriage has these stories, too. And I appreciate the reminder that I have the power to tell a different story, even to myself.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Devotions: The Biggest Sinner in the World

Who is the biggest sinner in the world? The honest answer may shock us.

Podcast version here

1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst.

Here’s a question that we never seem to ask ourselves: who is the worst sinner in the world? We could probably make a list of movie stars, dictators, politicians, and religious leaders and compare our answers, but the true answer would be totally missing: me.

We are only truly aware of the sins that we commit, the mistakes we have made, and the regrets we carry in our hearts. No one else knows the full sum of sins that we commit except ourselves; therefore when we ask who the biggest sinner is in the world, the honest answer is “me.”

Paul understood this simple truth, which is why he writes that he is the worst sinner in the world. He can see before him the past mistakes he made as a Pharisee; he can recognize his pride, anger, and self-righteousness that led him to persecute Christians; he carries the burden of his guilty past within his heart. He knows that he is the biggest sinner in the world and no matter how saintly we revere Paul, he would never take that merit upon himself.

Once we understand that we are each the biggest sinners in our own worlds, we need the biggest Savior in the Universe to forgive and restore us. We cannot do it on our own because we have no clout with God. We each need someone to stand before God to intercede on our behalf. God will not listen or excuse us. We cannot negotiate with God. Only Jesus can stand in the gap and declare us to be His sanctified and forgiven followers. It’s His merits that extinguish our demerits. It’s His obedience that cancels out our rebellion. It’s His sacred holiness that erases our sinful hopelessness.

We go from being the biggest sinners in the Universe to becoming the greatest heirs of God. We are given grace and mercy instead of punishment and wrath. We are granted everlasting life instead of eternal misery.

This is why the Church is commissioned to go out into the world. This is why every Christian is a missionary. Like Paul, we rejoice in our salvation and want to help others receive that joyful experience. We live in the love of Christ and the grace of God. We seek to share these bountiful blessings with the whole world.

So, if you ever hear the question: “who is the biggest sinner in the world?”, then answer “me.” And follow it up by letting people know who the Greatest Savior is in the universe. One day, they’ll want to experience the same.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, none of us are perfect, holy, or sinless. We all make mistakes and commit sins. We all are ashamed of things in the past and fearful of doing things wrong in the future. Grant us Your mercy and grace when we fail and fall. Help us to come to You constantly with our confessions, regrets, and disappointments. Cleanse us of the past and lead us towards our eternal future. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the 4 Minute Presbyterian Devotional and Christians podcast site "Heaven's Highway."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on September 28, 2008

Since this is my first post on this blog, an introduction is in order. My name is Mark Baker-Wright. I currently serve as an Assistant to the Faculty and Dean's Office for the School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, which is where I earned my MDiv over 6 years ago. Although Fuller is a multi-denominational seminary, Presbyterians make up a good percentage of the students (and professors) who come here. Even so, my personal perspective has been shaped by this multi-denominational environment. My wife, in fact, is in the ordination process to be an Episcopalian priest while also working on a PhD in Worship and Culture. Although I remain committed to the PC(USA), it is my firm belief that we grow in God's will for our lives as we learn from our fellow Christians and their various practices.

I have a personal blog, Transforming Seminarian, which alternates between reflection on the Christian life and various church practices, and more whimsical matters, such as my love of Transformers toys. I first started doing lectionary reflections through that blog a couple of years ago. My process in doing these reflections is more one of "seeking answers together" than an attempt to be the "teacher," providing answers outright. Although I hope that the questions and comments I pose to various lectionary readings here will reflect my education and experience, I'm looking for greater growth, too, and invite comments. Sometimes my questions may seem staggeringly obvious, but I really do intend there not to be a single "right" answer, and am serious when I say I welcome discussion on these matters.

I will provide links to all four "sections" assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary for a given Sunday worship gathering:
  1. Old Testament (or sometimes Acts)
  2. Psalms (not always from the book of Psalms, however)
  3. Epistles (sometimes Acts or Revelation)
  4. Gospels
I won't always comment on all four readings. The Psalms, in particular, I find it difficult to ask questions of, although I certainly welcome any comments or reflections anyone may choose to share.

Here are the passages for September 28, 2008, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Exodus 17:1-7
  • Once again, the Israelites are complaining, and once again, God answers the complaints by providing the Israelites with what they need. What does this tell us about God? Contrast this with other passages in which God seems to punish people who commit what seem to be much smaller transgressions.
  • Put yourself in Moses' position. You are trying to do God's will, and people keep complaining and fighting with you as a result, expecting you to take care of all of their problems (both physical and otherwise, as is seen in other passages). How would you feel in that position? How do you think Moses feels about God right now?
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
  • The Psalm explicitly references what God did as told in the Exodus passage. Last week's Psalm detailed many specific events of the Exodus story. Why is remembering and retelling this story so important?
Philippians 2:1-13
  • A common meme in Christian circles of the past decade or two has been "What Would Jesus Do?" How might that thought be applied to this passage?
  • At the end of the passage, the writer instructs his audience to "work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling." It's common in the PC(USA) to emphasize God's work in our salvation, making the human contribution sometimes seem passive, at best. How is this to be reconciled with the instruction to "work out" our salvation here? What does the author mean? And why must this be done "with fear and trembling"?
Matthew 21:23-32
  • Jesus answers the chief priests' question by asking another question. Why not just give them a straight answer?
  • Why are the chief priests and elders so concerned about "authority" in the first place? Why do they ask Jesus this question?
  • Jesus' parable sets up a distinction between deeds and words. Are words unimportant, so long as the person eventually does the right thing? It's well-understood that Jesus emphasizes tax collectors and prostitutes here because they were considered particularly odious examples of "sinners" in first-century Jewish culture? But are such people still tax collectors and prostitutes after coming to Jesus, or is this merely a way of referencing what they came from in order to follow him? To put it another way, how much change does Jesus expect us to make in our lives? It's easy to say we have to give "our whole lives" to Jesus, but getting into the details of what that looks like is much harder, as important as it is.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Is Fair?

Unfortunately, Ryan is dealing with a death in the family this week and is unable to blog today. We'll have to wait until October for the follow-up to his last post, Welcome to Nuni De Community. Ryan, our prayers are with your family this week.

In the meantime, I'm borrowing from my own blog:

The lectionary last Sunday was the parable about the field laborers who were paid the same whether they worked all day or just the last hour.

All the talk about how "It's not fair! I scrimped to pay my mortgage and he lived large, but now the government is bailing him out!" reminds me of that parable.

If we focus a little more narrowly, more on ourselves and less on our neighbors, it looks like this:

I took on a mortgage. I pay it. I'm getting exactly what I signed up for. That's fair.

If we compare ourselves to others, that will never look fair. And it also doesn't help solve anything.

Let me be clear: there are terrible and unfair things happening to people right now in this economic crisis. There are plenty of people who took on mortgages that they could afford, and pay them on time, who are still hurting, and maybe are no longer able to pay what they could a few months ago, or their taxes have raised their payments exponentially. Talking about those problems is different from looking across the hedge and comparing one's own lot to that of one's neighbor.

That ways lies unhappiness. We're in a crisis. I look forward to listening to the various measures our elected leaders and their appointed advisers suggest we take to handle it. I hope that we get out of the mess soon, and trust that we'll manage it without allowing the chaos to spread into the credit sector and cause more of us to lose our own jobs, homes.

Matthew 20:14
Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?

Thursday Review -- Spiritual Development Materials

This is going to be short and sweet. Last year Willow Creek released a study of spiritual development in congregations. Frankly, it wasn't pretty. It said a lot of things that most of us know but don't want to admit about how little progress in spiritual development a lot of regular church goers actually make. Yea, I know -- shocking.

This year, they have released a follow-up based on a significant amount of in-depth study. This book looks at what things make a difference and when they make a difference. The book is called Follow Me, (it is listed on Amazon as Follow Me (Reveal)). It was written by Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson.

I've been on my church's adult education committee forever. I've read everything. Up until now I thought the best single work I had read was George Barna's, Growing True Disciples -- and it probably still is. This book is joining it on the shelf, however. Is it perfect? Um, well, no. I did mention it came from Willow Creek, didn't I? When I read spiritual development materials that treat church members as consumers to be satisfied (there is even a paragraph heading in this book "Recasting Our Primary Message"), I start reaching for the Calamine lotion.

Nonetheless, the rest of this book is worth an outbreak of hives.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thinking Out of the Box

Before we get on with those fun-lovin' Presbyterians, I thought I would pass this on from Lark:

SAN BERNARDINO — Pastor John Rainey's sermons have become virtually unintelligible as he constantly references Greek and Hebrew definitions, say parishioners at Oak Creek Presbyterian. On a recent Sunday, only 20 percent of Rainey's sermon was in English.

"We were scratching our heads the whole time," says one member. "I thought I understood the passage before, but when he got done explaining it, I was lost."

During the sermon, Rainey read a passage from Obadiah and said, "The word used for 'provision' is the Greek 'kupkos', or 'chabed' in the Hebrew, meaning 'oikenatilus' or literally 'havet am rabed alshallai.' The original tells us, 'Kepkus oikenate dunamis rikesa,' a fascinating word construction, meaning not just once but continually, or, 'Akinitus kre dormitaron,' which corresponds to, 'Shevet ahim gamyahad.' If I may put it this way, 'Gelli toheron basmat evit yarna, khom harde dir shalom ette ramen novar chemyon.' Amen?" (Read More)
Today, just in time for stewardship season, we salute The First Presbyterian Church of DeLand, Florida for a creative way to "think out of the box" regarding stewardship.

I think its funny that they were able to get the Presbyterian Women to act our their dark sides with baseball bats. Check out some more
videos here!

Good job, Presbys of Deland, for taking on a tricky topic with style!

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Constant Gardener - Movie Review

Last night my wife and I finally got around to watching the 2005 award winning The Constant Gardener.  A bit heavy handed at times (big drug companies are evil and governments are complicit in the attrocities), but I think the intent was to be heavy handed.  I knew it was going to be my blog post here as soon as we finished the movie, though.  There are two things I found very thought provoking about the movie.  [Might be some spoilers below!]

The first one is the relationship between Justin and Tessa.  Justin is our primary point-of-view character, and his imperfect knowledge of his marriage to Tessa is probably typical for someone of his somewhat introverted, self-efacing, and confidence-lacking personality.  He fails to communicate effectively with Tessa when their relationship has some challenges.  She also promotes this failing in their relationship by keeping her work secret from him, to protect him from the dangers of what she's doing.  One of the things I saw in their lesson, though, was that failed to enjoy their relationship with each other primarily because they failed to share themselves with each other.

There's  irony with Justin as the constant gardener, since he fails to tear out the weeds in the garden of a relationship that he and Tessa share... until that metaphoric scene where he's cleaning up the patio outside her London apartment.

I wonder if there isn't also another God-centric angle to the metaphor of the constant gardener.  I'm not suggesting that God's taking a personal hand in weeding and tending our lives, but God has certainly been likened to a gardener.  I think there's something to this, but perhaps I'll have to leave that to someone with a stronger theological background than mine to write a sermon out of.

My personal take away from the movie is the reminder to share myself and ask for other to share themselves with me in the relationships that I develop -- note that I'm an introvert and this is a struggle for me!  We have to open our eyes and look for the weeds if we hope to keep a clean garden. 

New Members and New Contributors

First, welcome to the newest member of the PCUSA Web Ring:

Lighthouse/Searchlight Church: accepting the mission of the light of the world, by Robert Austell in Charlotte, NC. Robert is pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church and is passionate about worship, music, and God's mission to the world.

Second, welcome to the newest bloggers at the PCUSA Blog itself, roles to be ironed out as we go:

Weekly Discussion of the Lectionary:
  • Mark Baker-Wright: MDiv and Assistant to the Faculty and Dean's Office at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Monthly Bloggers:
  • Adam J. Copeland, a senior at Columbia Seminary and member of the committee developing our next PC(USA) hymnal who has just returned from a yearlong internship in the Church of Scotland.
  • Doug Hagler, a recent MDiv who's currently interning as a hospital chaplain in California.
  • Sarah Green, a part-time seminary student on hiatus.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Prayer Warrior

Today's Lectionary Psalm 145:4 - One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. (NIV)

My great-aunt Cissie was a prayer warrior. Her family had belonged to a Temperance Society in Scotland called the Rechabites. They were named after the devoted Kenite clan mentioned in Jeremiah, chapter 35. She was born before World War I and dedicated her life to the Lord as a teenager. For decades she prayed for her whole extended family, daily asking God to raise up a minister amongst them.

I knew her as a gentle old lady, and when I became a minister in the mid-1980s, her seventy-year-old prayer had been answered. Her immediate family told her the good news, and because God had fulfilled her hopes, they expected her to stop praying for a pastor. But she continued each day, and when asked why, she simply said, "After John's generation comes and goes, the people will still need ministers." She kept praying into her nineties before the Lord took her home.

We need to do the same; after all, who is going to minister to our people when we are gone? If we commend God's works to those in the generation being born, telling them of His mighty acts, and if we pray for their pastors, they will achieve far more with their faith than we have ever done.

Prayer: Lord God, raise up pastors among us who will lead our people in faith, hope, and love. Let the women and men who minister to Your Church throughout this 21st century be strong, dedicated, and compassionate. May they accomplish great things, bringing glory, honour, and blessing to Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In His Name, we pray. Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Question for the Community: Stewardship Season

This is my first post on the PCUSA Blog, so I will begin by introducing myself.  My name is Rob Monroe and I live just north of Washington, DC.  I am an Elder at Laurel Presbyterian Church in Laurel, Maryland (as well as the web site admin, so hop on over there so that I can up my hits for this week!).  I am also on the staff of National Capital Presbytery - so I have a slightly different view of the denomination.  Instead of working for one church, I get to work for all of our churches.  It's truly a blessing for me.  I also blog HERE about my family, kidney disease and life in general.

I am one of those that believes that we should be here to learn from one another and have converstation, so I plan to blog about things in a question-asking format. 

So - now onto my post:

In my role in my congregation I have been asked to help out with our annual Stewardship campaign.  Last year, for the first time in over a decade, we made a real effort to challenge people and make visits to homes and have honest conversation about the budget.  For years people were simply given a pledge form and asked to give what they could, without any suggestions or reality of what it costs to keep the church in operation.

Our committee has met a couple of times and we are unsure of how to approach things this year, in light of last years big push as well as the slowdown of the economy.  We're in the Nations Capital and I know that the slowdown has not hit our area as hard as others, but we know that we need to be careful not to push too hard.  I think that we decided to proceed as we did last year - a nice narrative budget with targeting specific giving units to increase their pledges.

I have a question for you all:
What are you doing in terms of a Stewardship drive this year?  Are you simply asking people to give?  Are you asking people to give specific amounts?  Are you being reserved in what you ask of your congregation?  Are you using a standard curriculum or do you start from scratch each year?

Please Discuss!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Read and Learn -- Adult Study Groups

We started this topic last month with a request for materials used or those needed. One request was for something meaningful for a group of older women. Sometimes the best way to spur a discussion is to throw out an idea and see if something better comes up. So, here goes.

I just finished a group study of, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the discussion questions at the back. I wasn't overly enthused by the book, itself; but I did find that women even slightly older than I were much more impressed with it than I was.

I can come up with all kinds of reasons why I didn't care much for this book, but I am not its audience. Women older than I found a great deal of value in what it had to say.

Here are a few examples of questions:
We all face barriers to intimacy with God. Put a check by the one or two you struggle with most, then look up the verses next to that barrier. Circle the verse that is most meaningful to you. Then, it lists 6 things: unworthiness, busyness, Guilt/Shame, Pride, Depression, and Trials/hardships. The verses next to those options come from Isaiah, Ephesians, Psalm, I John, James, John, Hebrews and 2 Corinthians.
The next question is an instruction:
Meditate on the verse you circled, then personalize it in the form of a prayer to God. here is an exemple based on I John 1:9 -- and it gives a short prayer as an example.
For a book that I wrote off early as inconsequential fluff, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found at the back.

Now, I do not think that this solves Becky's request (it was Becky, wasn't it?) for something of substance for a long-standing group of older women. It might, however, make a nice stop gap and, hopefully, in the meantime someone else here will come up with a better long-term solution.

So, any ideas?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Out of Chaos, Hope

Hurricane Ike has caused a great deal of suffering and mourning. I have to take care posting about it on "Joyful News on Ministry." Yet I want to highlight the ministry of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio in response to Ike.

First San Antonio (among a network of congregations) has offered itself as a sanctuary for evacuees. Harvey Howell, a PDA national volunteer has written updates and published pictures on Presbyterian Neighbor News, a news publication for the Synod of the Sun.

Harvey writes:

This weekend the power outage extended across East Texas, including Lufkin where 4,000 sheltered evacuees faced a second evacuation.

Terri Wilson, a certified nurse aid contracted to Baptist Child and Family Services (BCFS), drove west to San Antonio. Along Interstate 10, she saw numerous families pulled over in parks, byways, and just on the highway shoulder. "They had children and distracted looks, like they didn't know where a safe place to go might be."

On Saturday night, Terri and 22 guests seeking shelter from the storm found more than a safe place to go.

First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, is one in a network of congregations partnering with BCFS in the San Antonio area sheltering evacuees.Congregation members offer more than a building and lights. They are showing Christ's love to families escaping from the devastation left by Ike.

In the midst of chaos, these Presbyterians are offering hope. Harvey posted this picture:

Sarah, a two-year-old whose family evacuated from Alvin, Texas, reaches for a doll offered by Terri Wilson, a nurse serving Baptist Child and Family Services, at First Presbyterian, San Antonio. Seated are shelter volunteers Rosemary Engstrom and Lucille Lammert. Photo by PDA/Harvey Howell

Other Presbyterian congregations pitched in to help:

Carter Dreesman of First Presbyterian (San Antonio) Church's emergency response task force, smiles after hundreds of Presbyterians from First, San Pedro and St. Andrew congregations, signed up for shifts as shelter volunteers. Photo by PDA/Harvey Howell

The slogan for the ministry of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is "Out of Chaos, Hope." That is what the message of Jesus is all about.

Thanks to these Presbyterians for their witness and to you for supporting Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

It is the dance of hope.

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Do You Hear a Call?

We've got a couple of slots open on the roster here at the PCUSA Blog. In particular, we'd like to have a preacher post a weekly "Chewing on the Word: Lectionary Ruminations" on Saturdays. And we also have a more general monthly opening, currently for the second Friday. Are you a seminary student interested in writing about your journey? A deacon interested in talking about your ministry? A Stephen Minister? A youth?

If you've got something to say about life in the church, shoot us an email (link at right) and we'll see if we can work something out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sex and Politics

Wow... if I add "money" to the title of this post, do I win some prize!?  At least I probably got your attention.  Luckily for all of us, the compound title is because there are two separate topics for this particular post.  I couldn't decide which idea to write and I'm too impatient to hold one thought for next week...

Our Sunday School class spent last semester talking about "love."  All different kinds of love, from marriage to God's love for us to love of humankind.  The most valuable part of the conversation was probably the visual metaphor that we used on and off throughout the class: the image of all of us as points on a circular plane with God located in the middle.  As we enhance our relationship with God, we move closer to the center of the circle, and consequently closer to everyone else that is moving inward; and as we develop closer relationship with eachother, we bring eachother closer to God as well.

This imagery works well for me because it actually works geometrically:  If you have two points on a circle (people) with God at the center of the circle, if you move those two points in a straight line toward eachother, the distance between each of those points and the center of the circle will decrease:  As we build closer relationships with eachother, we become closer to God.

As an introvert, I find it hard to develop relationships with other people.  Now I have another reason to work on developing that skill.

This year's Sunday School class is about what I think is probably one of the closest human relationships one can have: marriage.  We're working through a formal curriculum on love, marriage, and sex.  The thing that I'm struggling with from the author/presenter, though, is what the Bible and God really do have to say about sex.  When Adam and Eve were caught naked, is the implication they were having sex?  What about the various women of ill repute in the Bible?  What is the historical versus theological significance of Biblical statements about homosexual acts?  Is human sex important to God, to our faith?  I think so, but I don't know how, exactly.

I said that sex and politics wouldn't have any relationship in this post, but I can't help but stretch for some kind of segue:  Like sex, a lot of people are very uncomfortable talking about politics in a church setting.  (How was that?)

The political arena really is a special kind of human relationship that is both inevitably influenced by faith, but also somehow separate from the strictures of any particular faith.  I think it is an interesting and complicated idea to say that a political candidates positions and policies are"bigger than their faith" and that their faith is "bigger than their policies."  Back to geometry, maybe for some it's a simple Venn diagram where politics and faith overlap, but in my mind it's something more Escher-like where personal faith is both inclusive of and bigger than politics, while politics is both inclusive of and bigger than personal faith, all at the same time.  Maybe something geometrically related to the Mobius strip that has 1 continuous side and 2 oposing sides both at the same time.

All that aside, I think we need to feel more comfortable talking about politics: in our churches, in our places of work, in our schools.  Politics impacts those places heavily.  We should feel free to discuss politics there.

A Few New Friends

Adullams Cave: Musings of a PC(U.S.A.) pastor who finds himself among those gathered for refuge in "Adullam's Cave": those "distressed" with the state of the church, those in "debt" to live out the gospel as fully as they can, and those "discontented" with what passes for church growth and renewal in our time (see I Samuel 22:1-2) by Lee, from Wylie, Texas, United States.
"I'm a fifty-something emergent-missional-reformed-anabaptist-liturgical Presbyterian pastor-teacher-writer-theologian who is neither an optimist nor pessimist about the church. I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that is what is what anchors my journey through ministry and life."

Gulf Shores Steven’s Weblog: Rooted in faith, open to the Spirit, curious about everything. "I’m a pastor, husband, father of two, amature musician, and curious about just about everything. I love teaching the Bible, which I did at the Evangelical Theological Faculty (undergrad and a bit grad) in Croatia as a mission worker for the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a decade. Before that I served two years in Romania. Now my teaching is in the context of a faith community, a local congregation; they are very patient with me. I love them."

The Practical Disciple: Practical how-to help on growing spiritually.. John Arnold says: "I am a pastor, spouse, parent of two great children and great big kid at heart. I love making faith practical. My most profound experiences of God have been through prayer, studying scripture, service and observing nature. So anything I can do to help people practical experience God through these areas, is what I am about."

Welcome, all! Thank you for joining us.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

And Talking about Forgiveness...

Charles Darwin is to receive an apology from Church of England -126 years after his death

The Church of England is to officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution - 126 years after his death.

The Church the will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself.It will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin's ideas, calling "anti-evolutionary fervour" an "indictment" on the Church.

The apology has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church's director of mission and public affairs.The statement says that Christians, in their response to Darwin's theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo's astronomy in the 17th century, reports Telegraph.

An article to be posted on the Church's website will say: "Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends."

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still "a litmus test of faithfulness" for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity. The apology will be made on Monday 15 Sept.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Needing Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Colossians 1:13-14 For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

You and I are going to make mistakes today. We’re going to say something we regret. We’re going to do something that will disappoint others. We’re going to let pride overtake our spirits and let impatience damage our souls.

It’s because we are human and far from being perfect. We can try our best to avoid these things with prayer, meditation and consideration, but just when we expect it the least, someone will say or do something to annoy us and, before we know it, we will follow down that road which leads to sin.

But God will not leave us there. He has rescued us from all of these things. We may make mistakes but God will forgive us. Jesus died for every wrong thing that we do or have done or have still to do. He will forgive us if we take time to sincerely come to Him to receive His pardon and blessings.

Prayer: Lord God, You returned Your people to Your presence and loved them continuously despite their faults and failings. We know that Christ sacrificed Himself for us and that we can be rescued from guilt and despair, mistakes and sins. Thank You for all these blessings of love and patience which mean so much to us everyday. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the Daily Devotional Heaven's Highway

Chewing on the Word - Forgiveness

I recently had to wiki "Bush Doctrine." I, like Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin, wasn't exactly sure what it meant, although I had a distinct feeling it had something to do with watching bombs explode in Baghdad and going to 'war' against terrorism. The wiki article cleans up the lingo, but I wasn't far off base.

This post may be more political than I intend, but I've been chewing on something all week, particularly relating to Sarah Palin and her appeal to the religious right within the Republican Party. I recently read that we Christians are to "love our enemies," (I think that's in the Bible.) And we, as a nation, are 'at war' with our enemies, to the point where saying you're going to "talk" to them makes you naive in matters of foreign policy.

And now we have this messy saying from Matthew 18:21ff. that we are supposed to forgive someone not seven times, but seventy-seven times, when they sin against us. Most of us have a hard enough time with ONE time, let alone seven...and seventy-seven? Jesus must be crazy!

And I think he is crazy–crazy with grace; crazy with compassion; crazy enough to let people like you and me into the party. I'm just wondering if we've been 'crazy enough' for the cause of peace in the midst of war?

Friday, September 12, 2008

PC(USA) and Disability

One of the good things about this particular presidential election is that it's drawing attention to disability-related issues. As the parent of a child with special needs, this is an important topic to me. If it's interesting to you, click over to my blog on Monday for a look at the candidates, their platforms, and their political histories with regard to disability rights.

In the meantime, I thought I'd take a look at the way our denomination has addressed individuals with disabilities.

  1. First, there's PHEWA, Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association Disability Concerns Consultants. I don't know much about this program, but I think it promising that the denomination is proactive about these issues, rather than reacting to "problems" as they arise. Ahem. No one wants to be a considered a problem.
  2. Creating an Inclusive Community and Bias-Free Guidelines.
  3. Also, research.
  4. Videos, though I failed to find what I was looking for, there.
  5. There are 1410 results when you search for "disability" on the PC(USA) web site. (I wish to note that the site's search results are difficult to wade through.)

In my opinion, the denomination is talking the talk. Walking the walk, however, is not something I believe can be mandated from denominational headquarters or General Assembly resolutions.

Creating an inclusive and truly welcoming community for people with disabilities is the work of each of us, members in local congregations. It will challenge us to move out from our comfort zones, our safety. It might be hard and it might be scary. But it's what we're called to do.

Luke 14:12-24 (New International Version)
12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
The Parable of the Great Banquet
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."
16 Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'
18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
20 "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'
21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'
22 "'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Read and Learn -- Review of Just Courage

When I reviewed the Willow Creek Leadership Summit last month I rather unabashedly admitted that one of the main reasons I went was to hear Gary Haugen speak. If you missed that post and don't know, Gary Haugen is the founder of the International Justice Mission. He has devoted his life to seeking justice -- in his case, he fights the big stuff -- slavery, sex trafficking, that kind of thing. Every Christian lawyer in the country should hear this man speak, but I think his message is aimed wider than just for lawyers. After I finished this review, I realized that it will post on 9-11. I didn't plan that, but I couldn't have picked better.

I just finished Haugen's book, Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian. I don't write in books. Halfway through this one, I started over again -- this time with a combination hi-lighter/ballpoint pen in my hand.

Haugen defines the sin of injustice as:
. . . . abusing power by taking from others the good things that God intended for them, namely, their life, liberty, dignity or the fruits of their love or their labor.
He lays a strong Biblical foundation for the idea that caring for the weak, the poor and the oppressed is not charity, it is justice; and it is an action we are commanded to do in both the Old and New Testaments. It is also fundamental to evangelism:
Moreover, nothing presents a more compelling and authentic witness of Christian faith in this era than the struggle for justice. . . Few things are harder to do than to confront the violent forces of injustice the way Jesus taught -- with love and faith, perseverance and strength, hope and humility. This is the authentic transformation that earns a hearing from a tired, suspicious and wounded world: a band of believers who move out from behind "doors locked for fear" (John 20:19) and proceed by courageous love to become "these people who have been turning the world upside down" (Acts 17:6 NRSV).
Those words would be seem trite in any other context, but they were written by a man who takes on slave traders and slave owners, corrupt police and political systems where personal safety is not a given. His people have been mugged, beaten and arrested. He says that he can't do his job for more than 30 minutes without prayer, and:
In fact, if following Jesus does not feel dangerous, I should probably pause and check to see if it is Jesus I'm following. . . Doing what Jesus does -- telling the truth and loving needy people -- is inherently dangerous and unsafe in a fallen world of lies and selfishness.
Yes, I react differently to this book than most will. I am a lawyer, and I feel strongly that I am called to seek justice. Regardless, this is a stirring book, filled with captivating ideas, sparkling prose and ideas about worship and what it means to be a Christian that should have real meaning to all of us.

There are two ideas in this book that I find seriously compelling. First, that we really can trust God. His promises are true, and we are called to live our lives as if we believe that. The second is that as much as we secretly want to be brave -- we would really rather be safe, but nothing about the Christian faith should be safe.

I don't know about you, but I need to find some courage; because God didn't make me who I am and shower me with the gifts he has given me, so that I can be safe.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

PUFF the Magic Presbyterian

It is Wednesday! Time for Joyful News on Ministry!

The First Presbyterian Church of Omaha is on today's fun list.

They have created Presbyterians United For Fun (PUFF). Here is how it works:

Presbyterians United for Fun, otherwise known as PUFF, was organized in November, 2007. This fellowship group schedules various events for meals and other activities together which are advertised in the church newsletter and Sunday bulletin and on the website. Members of PUFF have toured Omaha via Ollie the Trollie, seeing Christmas lights, gone to a hockey game, seen a Omaha Royals game followed by fireworks, attended Concert on the Green, and gone to the Iowa State Fair.
Earlier this summer the congregation had a hunger awareness city-wide dinner.

You know that fun will soon be on the way when you serve baked beans.

They started a project called Presbyterian Outreach:

Presbyterian Outreach, Inc., is one of our flagship mission projects. With a very active ministry to our city, Presbyterian Outreach, Inc., is supported by many area Presbyterian churches and also by the Presbytery of Missouri River Valley. Its main service areas are:

  • School of the Arts Behind Bars
  • Christmas stockings for the incarcerated.
  • Camp scholarships to Camp Calvin Crest near Fremont, NE.
  • Senior Services Program consisting of Respite Connection, Senior Companion Program, and Interfaith Volunteer Congregational Care Teams.
  • Health and Medical Equipment Loan (H.E.L.P.) which is a loan program for those in need of medical equipment which could not otherwise be provided.
Yeah! Good job!

First Presbyterian of Omaha has Jesus dancin' in Nebraska!

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Subversive Faith

Things that I do (or almost do) on a regular basis that feel pleasantly subversive:

"Our God, who art in heaven..."

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow... Praise God... Praise God... Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost."

Invisibly scowl at people who tell me that God wouldn't have given my wife and me a child with Down Syndrom, unless we were the kind of people who could handle it.  Especially when they say "I'm not sure I could do it."

Encouraging people to participate in the Advent Conspiracy.

Reminding fellow coworkers that they should be focussed on what's good for the company, not on the personal goals that will get their boss a bigger bonus -- draw your own faith-relate connection based on the fact that I work for a faith-based healthcare system.

What are you quietly, or not so quietly (as in the case of my singing the Doxology), trying to raise awareness on?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Reflections on Ecclesial Transformation for Missional Ministry

A Big Presbyterian Bloggers welcome to Rex Espiritu, husband, father, pastor-theologistechnologian of the Rex Espiritu - blog (Reflecting Upon Ecclesial Transformation for Missional Ministry in the Spirit of the King).

There's some interesting reading over at, and I've enjoyed my time at the blog. Thanks for joining us, Rex!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Devotions: True Confessions

Lectionary Verse: Matthew 18: 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

It’s called ‘church discipline’ and it’s usually only employed these days against misbehaving pastors. I wonder what would happen to the members of our congregations, if they knew that being Presbyterian means that the local Session has the power to question and rebuke them over their selfish actions and sinful lifestyle choices? There would probably be a riot in the pews and a couple of lawsuits thrown in for good measure. People would be offended and go join another denomination, unbeknowingly subjecting themselves to whatever ecclesiastical hierarchy or spiritual oversight that church practiced.

Way back in 19th century Scotland, a seat was set in front of the congregation where Saturday night rabble-rousers, drunken good ol’ boys, and brazen hussies were brought before the congregation to repent of their public sins. Usually, one of the elders read out a list of names and if the ‘sinners’ were present, they had to come down to the front, be publicly rebuked, prayed over by the minister, and sent back into the community of the faithful. Going to church on Sundays was sometimes like a public hanging; there was more glee in seeing neighbors properly chastised than in joyfully worshiping the Lord.

Those days are over – thank goodness – instead we offer prayers of confession and silent moments to ask God for mercy, forgiveness, and restoration. We are left to inwardly get things right with God by telling Him quietly about our mistakes and regrets, our selfish choices and unfaithful moments. Church then, becomes a safe sanctuary where we can come to the mercy seat of Christ and seek His pardon. It’s no longer a public execution of our wayward spirits; it’s an act of individual repentance within our hearts.

Perhaps, as a denomination, we should confess our self-righteous divisions and self-inflicted wounds to Christ each Sunday, asking for His mercy, grace, and healing. After all, if this prayer process is good enough for individual souls each week, surely it must be thousands of times as effective if we confess our parts in causing what hurts the PCUSA, and seek in turn what Christ offers to heal us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we all are guilty of offending You and dividing the Church. We allow our pride to pander to our prejudices, and we permit our hard-heartedness to hinder our hearing. Forgive us for being fractious and foolish, arrogant and offensive. Teach us to tolerate one another and to celebrate our kaleidoscopic Christianity. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ask the Moderator: Denominational Future?

This question was posed by Beth
I have read/heard comments from people of influence in the PC(USA) talk about the possibility of the end of the PC(USA) as a denomination. Do you believe this is a real possibility? What, specifically, do you see as your role in preventing this? What are our roles as members of congregations? How can we calm the fears of those who believe we are splitting, and how are we, as a denomination, working to unite?
Thanks for asking this question, Beth, as I think there are certainly many folks for whom this is the question of focus. And of course there are many for whom, at this point, denominational health/unity is the least of their concerns. Not surprisingly as I have talked with folks in these brief few months is that we are of the same mind on few things, including the future of the denomination.

But since you asked ;-)

What I think is clear is that some part of our country's denominational/institutional life must die in order for future generations to have new life. Now we, those who have taught our children how to live well, we must also teach them how to die well. To embrace the end of a life stage with dignity, passion and confidence. The ways in which people interact, see the world, experience community, etc. have changed and the mechanics of how we operate as a national denomination, for the most part, has not. As I have said repeatedly, this is not political or theological, but simply a dramatic shift in the way people see themselves as part of a larger community. There was a time when denominational loyalty made sense and folks could buy into the idea and purpose of these highly structured institutions (congregational or national) because they served a purpose to act as a conduit of information, direction and service.

That time is gone.

Whether you embrace the changes in communication, technology and media or not, we can no longer pretend that these changes have no impact on our life as a church and denomination. We might be able to get away with ignoring the changes around us if we were walled off from those who live and breath this new world, but guess what . . . there is still something that draws them to the church universal and yes, the Presbyterian Church (USA). Like it or not, we have something to offer the world and I firmly believe that folks know it.

They are already here.

So this is where the future vitality, health and unity of the church lies. First, we must embrace and make room for those who are pushing us to see the world and church differently. And, second, those who feel a kinship to new ways of being church, we must step up and out into the fray in order to also teach and be taught. If we can find ways to do this, I have no doubt that we can become a denomination that is again as vibrant and meaningful as we have been in the past.

Lastly, you will notice that I have not given much space to the topic of "splitting" as I am not sure that is a good use of our energies at this point. And quite honestly, I do not want to spend my time trying to "convince" people to stay, go, wait, fight, win, etc. From what I have seen, people are having the conversations that need to be had with the people that need to have them and, in the end, folks will do as the Holy Spirit leads them. To believe otherwise, would discount the many who are engaging in faithful discernment about their spiritual and denominational journey.

Hope that is helpful. See you next month!

[merri-go-round image: anakdewa]

Ask the Moderator comes out every 1st Friday of the month. Please feel free to add your voice to the growing list of questions [HERE].

Thursday, September 04, 2008

PresbyBloggers Book Club: The Shack

The Shack is a publishing phenomenon--rejected by more than a dozen publishers but now a best-seller with more than 2 million copies sold. It even has its own website where the book can be purchased and readers can make comments about it.

I learned of the book from my brother who enthusiastically recommended it to me. Eugene Peterson, the well-known author and creator of The Message, endorsed it heartily, saying: "When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack. This book has the potential to do for our generation what Paul Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" did for his. It's that good!" So I read the book and wrote a review of it for my own blog.

The Shack has drawn criticism as well as praise. While some dispute its theology or literary quality, others think it is a powerful spiritual allegory.

Now it's your turn to add your thoughts about The Shack in the comments!

Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:

1. What do you think about the author's personification of the three persons of the Trinity?

2. The book is critical of the organized church. Is the criticism fair or not?

3. In what ways does the theology of the book depart from traditional Reformed theology? Did that bother you?

4. Mack Phillips, the protagonist of the story, is seeking the answer to the question of why God permits the innocent to suffer unspeakable evil. Did the author answer that question?

5. Would you recommend this book to others?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Praying Church is A Joyful Church

It is Wednesday and time for Joyful News on Ministry.

My joyful news story is about a colleague of mine down the road in Erwin, Tennessee who is featured in this month's Presbyterians Today.

Steve Rembert and his congregation, the Erwin Presbyterian Church, found a simple, inexpensive, and compassionate way to reach out to the community.

They have a prayer box outside the church so people in community can submit their prayers and the Erwin congregation will pray for these folks. What a cool thing.

Many churches have prayer request boxes inside the building for members to make known their needs for supplication. But at Erwin Presbyterian Church in Tennessee, there’s a box for prayer requests outside the church.

Noting that the inside box was primarily used by members only, pastor Steve Rembert asked, “Why shouldn’t we put up a prayer request box outside for anyone in the community to use?”

Now he and the group of women who gather Thursday afternoons to pray can respond to requests from the entire community. The outdoor prayer box even earned the church some publicity as the local newspaper did a story that featured a photo of Rembert with the box in front of the sanctuary.

“You can’t be better than to be known as a praying church,” he says.

Amen to that, Steve!

Erwin Presbyterian is also mission oriented. They support seven missionary families located in Thailand, Philippines, Austria, Turkey, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti. Here are some of the other mission projects they support:

• Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship
• Living Waters for the World
• Presbyterian Outreach Foundation
• Heifer Project
• Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
• Somali Outreach
Puentes de Cristo border mission

Thank you, Erwin Presbyterian Church! You just got Jesus dancin'!

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

The Perfect Christian

Following on an earlier post on How to be the Perfect Pastor, I thought I'd tackle the question of how to be the perfect Christian. Luckily, I didn't have far to go looking for the Answer.

Whew... I thought it would be mysterious! Aparently the answer is so obvious that there are approximately 1,390,000 web pages out there with the answer. I'm so glad to see it.

What do I blog about next week!?

Well, if we take the information age search to more specific criteria, we narrow it down to 115 results. On just that first page of results, we've got advice on parenting, being the perfect Christian housewife, current politics, and comedy... and some theology, too.

My advice for the week: do some Google searches for those tough spiritual and theological questions. The Answers are out there! If you happen to find any Answers you'd like share, share them as comments here!

Caveat: your search results will vary. Google personalizes search results based on your past search and selection history, if you use the Google toolbar or have a Google account.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Welcome to All of You!

New members this week include . . .

  1. RevJavaDude's Cafe: Check here for Theology - Church - Culture - Imagination - Served with a Cup of Coffee by RevJavaDude, a Presbyterian pastor in his mid-forties, a spouse, father, brother, son, favorite son-in-law, who believes that imagination is essential for theology & Biblical work and would consider adding coffee as a third element for communion.
  2. Wine Ministry: This blog is a place for fellow wine ministers (and those who need ministering) to share good wines and the stories that accompany them. About Wine, Friends, Food and Theological Musings.
  3. Ministry as Clergy Couples: Exploring the unique ministries of Clergy Couples, and hoping to build connections between clergy couples in the PC(USA).
  4. The Rev's Rumbles: Honorably retired progressive Presbyterian minister, a religious naturalist who follows the historical Jesus of Nazareth, standing with the weak against the powerful: feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, bandaging the wounded, caring for those who cannot care for themselves, taking the side of the oppressed against the oppressor, and hopefully becoming more fully human (though I still have a long way to go).
  5. ...Hammer and Nails...: A weekly blog with mullings, prayers, thoughts and insight into the crazy place that is this Youth Director's mind. By Stevie P, a 24-year-old law with politics graduate from Northern Ireland, working as Church Youth Director in Allen Park Presbyterian, Michigan.

We're glad to see you here! You're all on the new blogroll now (look at the bottom of the page, on the right, for Members of Our Community - In Development) so that everybody else can check you out!