Sunday, November 30, 2008


The season of advent is begun! I hope that we all find time over the next four weeks to rest our minds, prepare our hearts, and open to the joy of the Christmas season. I feel a desire to prepare myself, this year perhaps more than most.

Life gets so busy, and December can be a ridiculously over-scheduled month. But this year I plan to be deliberate and intentional about my commitments and my preparation for Christmas in more ways than just decorating, baking, and shopping.

I have advent questions for you. Does your church use purple or blue to mark the season? Is the pink candle for the third Sunday or the fourth? And what do your four candles represent?

Sunday Lectionary Devotion: Faithfulness

It's only through God's faithfulness to His Word, that we can ever be restored to His favor and love.

Podcast version here

Lectionary verse: 1 Corinthians 1:9 God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

My faith is built upon the faithfulness of God. If God was ever unfaithful to His Word, my faith would instantly diminish and be destroyed. I depend upon His words being true, which is why I hold fast to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This gets me into bother sometimes, especially with other Christians whose affinity to the faith does not depend upon how truthful God’s Word is, but on how much they believe that God’s Word is trumped by God’s Love. Acceptance and tolerance are the keys to their faith and sometimes I envy them. It would be so easy to give up on God’s Word and interpret things the way that I wanted. Life would be less cumbersome without divine rules, regulations, and readings. I could do as I please, instead of trying to do what would please God.

Now don’t get the impression that I am a sanctimonious, saintly, separationist who delights in being perfect and loves it when other people fail. I am a sinful person, whose mistakes often disappoint God, other people, and even me. Because I hold fast to the faithfulness of God’s Word, it hurts me to hurt Him. My failure to remain faithful, however, does not diminish the truth about God’s Word. He remains faithful, so that when I seek forgiveness, He pardons me through the precious blood of Christ.

That’s why my faith is built upon God’s faithfulness. Left to myself, I cannot always keep His words. At some point, during each day of my life, I am going to sin. My thoughts, my words, or my deeds are going to betray God. Whether it’s intentional or not, the result is still the same: through my selfishness, I have separated myself from God. It’s only through His faithfulness that I can ever be restored to God’s favor and love.

Perhaps you’ve separated yourself from God through something that you’ve done or said. Maybe like me, you find yourself spiritually alone because of selfish and sinful ways. It seems as though there’s no hope, no solution, and no one to turn to, but that is completely wrong. God is faithful and He will find us, no matter how lost, sinful, or unfaithful we have been.

Prayer: Lord God, we all make mistakes and allow our sinful ways to separate us from Your love. We feel alienated and isolated, spiritually crushed and totally abandoned at times. Despite what we do to ourselves, You remain faithful and offer us forgiveness through the holy sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ. Help us at this time, to turn to Him and receive Your mercy and grace. In Christ’s Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the daily 4 minute devotional Heaven's Highway. He also podcasts the devotional, in his Scottish accent, over at Stushie's Stuff. He also creates stained glass designs and religious art and posts them at Stushie's Art.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 30, 2008

Here are the passages for November 30, 2008, the 1st Sunday in Advent (The first Sunday of the liturgical calendar, so we're now in Year B of the lectionary cycle). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Isaiah 64:1-9
  • People often associate the season of Advent with Christmas. And rightly so, given that it's the four Sundays immediately preceding the Christmas holiday, and many verses to be read during this season will involve explicitly Messianic promises or the prelude to the story of Jesus' birth. But there's more to the Advent season than just the story of a baby being born. Why do you think this passage is included during this time of year?
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  • It may not mean anything, but I'm struck by the inclusion of the possessive pronoun "my" in the midst of Paul's standard greeting (he gives thanks to God for his audience in several epistles, often including this pronoun). Why is this possessive pronoun included? Does Paul doubt that his audience also considers God "their" God?
Mark 13:24-37
  • This passage certainly has little to do with the birth of the baby Jesus (which, of course, isn't covered in the gospel according to Mark at all, anyway)! As I said before, Advent isn't just a time for remembering that story. It's also a time to reflect on Jesus' second coming.
  • Or is it? When Jesus says "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened," can he be talking about his return? Or does he mean something by "this generation" other than the lifetimes of those humans hearing his words?
  • What does it mean about Jesus that he says even "the Son" (presumably referring to himself, although I'm curious to hear if there's another interpretation) doesn't know when these things will take place?
  • Might this passage have any meaningful connection to the parable we read a few weeks ago, or is it talking about something entirely different?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

"We Gather Together" sung by Celtic Woman.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jodi and Meghann Rock!

Salute to two high school youth from the First Presbyterian Church of Covington, Georgia!!

This is from

After hearing that the Community Food Pantry had to briefly close its doors earlier this month when it ran out of food several Eastside High students decided something had to be done.

Jodi Walden and Meghann Timmins decided to raise funds for the food pantry through the sale of specialized orange "End Hunger" shirts and hoodies.

"They’re both members at First Presbyterian [a supporting charter church of the food pantry.] They saw and heard about the need of the food pantry," said Dan Walden, director of Youth and Children’s Ministries for First Presbyterian Church of Covington and father of Jodi.

To raise awareness among their peers about the food pantry’s need, the two girls created a Facebook page, "HELP SAVE THE COVINGTON FOOD PANTRY!" which on Tuesday had 110 members. The group encourages students to bring nonperishable items to school where they will be taken to the pantry.

"End Hunger" short-sleeved T shirts are $10, long-sleeved T-shirts are $15 and hoodies are $20. All proceeds from shirt sales go towards The Community Food Pantry.

To order shirts or make donations contact Ivy Gann at

"These shirts would make great gifts and are a wonderful way to spread the importance of helping fight hunger in Covington," said Abigail Coggin, who has been emailing her friends and family members to encourage participation in the fundraiser.

Walden said orders for the shirts will go out on Monday, Dec. 8. Shirts should be ready by the end of that week. If orders for the shirts are brisk, Walden said they would likely take more orders.

"Depending on the demand, we may do some more orders," Walden said. "We’re not going to cut off a good thing."

Residents can also drop off financial contributions to the food pantry with Ramsey’s Produce Stand, located on Usher Street.

Rosalee Thompson, director of The Community Food Pantry, which is located on Turner Lake Circle, said she has been very gratified by the response of the Newton County community in recent weeks once word got out of the pantry’s need.

"I want to thank each and every one of you who has donated in every shape and form," Thompson said.

Thompson said one resident even went so far as to bring and entire pickup truck filled with food to the pantry.

"I guess they never thought we’d have to close," Thompson said of the outpouring of contributions from the community.

Thompson said the pantry could especially use donations of canned corn, canned green beans, cranberry sauce and desserts for Thanksgiving dinner. On Tuesday alone, the pantry received 33 requests for food she said.

The Community Food Pantry will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. at Sharp Learning Center.

Great work, Jodi and Meghann!

You got Jesus dancin'!

Got joyful news about Presbyterians doing good and having a good time doing it? E-mail me!

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Religion, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Science

Sometimes, I wish that I'd taken broader studies in school. As the only engineer in my "Argumentation" class, I successfully convinced the professor that Computer Science (CS) 101 should be part of every well rounded liberal arts education. (If you aren't a student of CS, please note that CS101 has nothing whatsoever to do with how to use a personal computer. It's a class on logic and programming theory.) At times, I find myself wishing I'd taken more classes in philosophy, psychology, and anthropology, though -- not to mention theology and religion.

Times very much like the past two days. A gentleman by the name of Daniel Slack, from New City Fellowship church in Chattanooga, TN, forwarded some blog posts that's made on the nature of faith, belief, doctrine, truth, and what is required to be Christian.

I'd like to take a minute to expand on some conclusions I came to from reading this post on The Algebra of Peace. One of my challenges in reading this article was the definition of "truth," hence my desire to go back to school and study philosophy a bit more. In lieu of another $40,000 in student loans, I relied on the Wikipedia discussion on truth. Very interesting.

In Daniel's blog post, he posits the following definitions:
Fact is a piece of information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred.

Truth is not only a fact that has been verified, but also has an unconditional agreement with doctrine, with absolutely no contradiction that could be disputed in regard to translation or evidence.

Belief is an impression: a vague idea in which some confidence is placed

Faith is loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person

Doctrine is a code of beliefs or "a body of teachings" or "instructions", taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system.

I tried to understand those definitions in light of how I personally tend to think through what I do and don't believe about faith and religion. Here goes:

First, beliefs are creations of humanity, entirely of our own conception and choosing. I come up with an idea or hear something someone else says, and I can choose to believe it or not. As such, the collection of my experiences drives the beliefs I evaluate for selection into my personal doctrine. That is, based on my personal experiences, there are lots of things that I could choose to belief. My personal doctrine is defined by those things that I choose to believe.

An important thing to remember is each of is constantly imagining, evaluating, and either selecting or rejecting various beliefs into our own doctrine.

Second, facts are irrefutable observations about the past or ideas that are such simply through logical definition. "A circle is round" is a fact entirely because a circle is defined as a shape which has the property of being round. We could define a circle differently, but we don't. It is logically irrefutable. Likewise, "I woke up this morning" is also a fact because I wouldn't be writing this post if I had not woken up.

An important thing to remember about facts is that they are also always being created as time move on, as every event that happens represents a concrete fact.

Therefore, to say that "truth is not only a fact that has been verified, but also has an unconditional agreement with doctrine, with absolutely no contradiction that could be disputed in regard to translation or evidence" suggests something about the nature of a doctrine the hopes to be regarded with the attribute of truth. Remember that we've defined a doctrine to be a collection of beliefs. If we strive for doctrine founded on truth, then any beliefs that refute a known truth have to be eliminated from our doctrine, or set of beliefs. That is to say, we can't hold to beliefs that are contradictory to facts.

The fact that we can always imagine and create new beliefs as our experiences change, and we also continue to experience and understand new facts... it seems logical to conclude that doctrine is under continuous change. It can include beliefs that we choose to evaluate against the facts that we experience and understand; and must reject beliefs that are refuted by truth.

My conclusion is that life is all about the journey of new beliefs and facts straining against each other to define who a person is. It isn't about who you are, but who you were and will be.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A New Member!

I'm sending an especially hearty welcome to Brooke from :: rivervision. I've "known" Brooke online for ages and knew that she had started attending a Presbyterian church, but was still surprised and delighted to find her blog queued up for approval on our RingSurf site. Here's how Brooke describes herself and her blog:
a very liberal peace and justice activist currently on loan from eugene, ore to logan ut to pursue a phd in educational technology. these are my thoughts about the non-academic part of my life here in northern ut (but include the ramblings about getting through the phd).

Also, today the PCUSA Blog email account got two suggestions for discussion (see sidebar). I love that group participation! Feel free to send in your own ideas or burning questions.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 23, 2008

Here are the passages for November 23, 2008, Christ the King Sunday (sometimes referred to as Reign of Christ Sunday). Christ the King Sunday is the final Sunday of the liturgical year (Year A, in this case, on the Revised Common Lectionary). 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

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
  • Outside of the context of Scripture, what do you know about sheep? Why do you think the Bible makes reference to this imagery so much?
  • When God "judges between sheep," what does God do with the "fat sheep"? The "weak sheep"? What do you think the original readers of this passage (several hundred years after the life of King David) understood the language of David as the "one shepherd" over them to mean? How does this compare or contrast without our understanding of the Messiah today?
Psalm 100:1-5

Ephesians 1:15-23
  • What does this passage have to tell us about God the Father? What does it say about Jesus? What does it say about the church?
  • The letter mentions hope for the church. To what extent does it mean our hope in heaven, and to what extent does it mean hope for the present age? In terms of this present age, what does that hope mean?
Matthew 25:31-46
  • More sheep imagery here, but this time goats are added. Should the goats be considered analogous to the "fat sheep" in the Ezekiel passage, or is Jesus talking about something altogether different? If different, what are the distinctions?
  • Jesus doesn't speak in this way, but in my experience, it seems that we succeed in acting on behalf of those "least of [Jesus'] brothers and sisters" on some occasions, but fail to do so on others. Thus, sometimes we act like sheep and sometimes like goats. How should we understand Jesus' teaching in light of this experience?
  • As with last week's gospel reading, we have a teaching of Jesus that seems to indicate that our actions matter in terms of salvation. This, of course, tends not to mesh well with the Reformed teaching of election (a doctrine many Presbyterians are uncomfortable with even as we claim to accept it), and "salvation by grace alone" (a phrase that is certainly more palatable). How do we reconcile (or, if reconciliation seems impossible, choose between) the teachings of the Bible on this matter?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Question for the Community: Thanksgiving at Your Church?

Thanksgiving is less than a week away now.  In the life of churches I have attended in the past, it's simply overlooked as a Thursday before a Sunday that a lot of people will be out of town, right as we enter the time that we should be preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The church I'm currently at, though, does something very different.  Thanksgiving is widely celebrated these days as an event of the Family.  Other holidays have very specific purposes, and sometimes family is involved.  For example, the Fourth of July is celebrating our Declaration of Independence, often celebrated with a picnic with family, but the day itself is focused on other things.  Family is sometimes involved, but not always.  Thanksgiving, though, is all family, all day. 

Our church looks at the congregation as a family, and since you sit with family for a meal on Thanksgiving, they have hosted a church-wide Thanksgiving Dinner for several years now.  It's sort of like a pot luck, but not really.  Everyone gathers and sits at assigned tables with people you may know really well, or people you have never met (rarity).  The church provides the turkey, stuffing and bread, and tables decide in advance who is bringing what sides and deserts. 

There is a little singing, a little homily and a little prayer to close the evening, but the rest of the evening is built on genuine community building.  We went last year for the first time and it was an awesome experience.  It's always the Friday prior to Thanksgiving, which means we're going tonight!

Does your church do anything to celebrate Thanksgiving? 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Read and Learn -- Adult Study Groups

Once again we are highlighting one of our own, Stushie who posts Sunday Devotions here and Daily Devotions on his own blog, Heaven's Highway. For the last few months, though, he has been up to more than just Daily Devotions. He has started a second blog, Church Studies, for the purpose of posting discussions questions for either individual or group use. He has started with The Shack.

The first of each week he posts the next segment of questions to the Church Studies blog. In addition, he emails the questions to anyone who requests them by email. The questions are well written and, more than anything, force the reader to slow down and consider the material in the book as you work through it instead of simply rushing through to the end. I found them far more useful than I generally find the commercially produced study questions at the back of some books.

These would be great to give to a small group wanting to read The Shack but wanting a little direction to discuss along the way.


Got Tunes?

Thought for the day:

If we are here for any good purpose at all...I suspect it is to entertain the rest of nature. A gang of sexy primate clowns. All the little critters creep in close to listen when human beings are in a good mood and willing to play some tunes. — Gary Snyder

I am thinking that there is no better place for sound than a Presbyterian church. These buildings are built for tunes. This is a natural for churches to host concerts of all different kinds.

In a time when it is expensive to go out, the
best place to hear music is in church!

First Presbyterian Church of Petaluma (CA), knows this. Check this story at
First Presbyterian Church of Petaluma is in its third season of its Fourth at First Concert Series, which showcases local, national and international musical groups the fourth Sunday of each month.

“It’s a really high quality musical experience,” said Patty Graham, concert series planner and director of the Wings of Glory gospel choir. “I think the series is wonderful and we want to share it with people.”

Graham got the idea for the series after learning about the Old First Concerts at a church in San Francisco. “A friend of mine told me about that series and said we should do that at First Presbyterian,” said Graham. “I took the idea to our church committee and they said go for it. Being the director of Wings of Glory, I have a lot of experience in producing things, at least on a local level. I also have a lot of friends in the music business, so I called up people I knew to perform.”

The series has performers from a variety of musical styles such as jazz, bluegrass, gospel and folk.

“We’ve had an Irish group from Oakland, Dockside, perform twice,” said Graham. “And they’re coming back again next year. A group from Russia, the St. Petersburg Men’s Ensemble, are another wonderful group that’s a big draw. They are a quartet a cappella group that sings Russian liturgical music and folk songs.”

Next up on the Fourth at First Series lineup is the Mark Wardlaw Jazz Quartet, which will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23.

Director of instrumental music in the at Santa Rosa High School, Wardlaw has performed as a clarinetist in the Santa Rosa Symphony since 1984. He has performed with musicians and entertainers such as Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Andre Watts, Jeffrey Kahane, The Turtle Island String Quartet, Fred Hersch, Judy Collins, David Benoit, the rock group Yes, Mel Torme, Steve Allen, Joan Rivers, Olivia Newton John, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Lou Christie.

“The people who come to the concert series love it and say thanks for having this,” said Graham. “The fact that it’s virtually free is even nicer. We do take donations, but that’s not a requirement. The fact that the concert is early on a Sunday evening is also nice for older folks who don’t want to be out too late.

“The music is excellent and we really want to get the word out to the community that this exists,” Graham added. “The bigger the audience, the more fun it is for the performers and the rest of the audience.”
Good job, First Pres. Petaluma!

They are also celebrating their 125th anniversary and put some great videos on their website. They are interviews with long-term members about their experiences at the church.

Got joyful news about your PCUSA congregation? Heard good news about another? E-mail me!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All Rocks Go to Heaven

This would have been better to post about during the height of the campaign season. Still worth a laugh, though.

Presbyterian vs. Catholic church sign debate.

I didn't do enough research to figure out if the signs were made and photographed collaboratively, or if the pictures are faked (note that the cars in the background and lighting angle never change). Still an interesting way for two churches to debate over theology -- we have Methodists and Catholics nearly within spitting distance in our community!!

That said, my favorite local sign is the one that appears near the end of the month outside the nursery down the street from our house: "...Located 1 mile East of the speed trap." Unfortunately for speeders, the sign only faces the East-bound traffic.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sad Tidings

"With a heavy heart, I ask for prayers this evening for a family who's very being has forever been changed."

Indeed, my own prayers are with our General Assembly Moderator and his family.

Prayers for my family in a time of tragedy

I cannot say it better than the others who have thoughtfully posted on Bruce's blog, but I can add my voice - and my prayers - to the throng.

Pastor, Leader, Counselor, Father, Grandfather, Husband

Fresno, California CBS affiliate news anchor Ken Malloy directs us to his blog post honoring the late Reverend Louis H. Evans Jr.: Our Valley: A Legacy runs through it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Devotions: In the Land of Persecution - Not!

Today's lectionary verse: Psalm 123:3 Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt.

One thing that I have noticed about some Christians in America is that they can be a bunch of whiners. For the past couple of years, we've seen people get very upset about Supreme Court decisions, the placing of the Ten Commandments, and the infringements of religious rights. They whine that their Christian faith is being assaulted by the arrogant, massacred by the media, and persecuted by the powerful.

Well, whoop de do. Every week, I read about Christians being stabbed, stoned, or killed in other lands. I hear about priests and pastors being imprisoned and tortured by dictatorships and communist regimes. I'm sent information about Sunday school teachers being arrested and put on trial in Islamic nations, but I don't hear about the Christian communities over in these places making a big fuss, spoiling for a fight, or over-inflating their case for freedom.

Compared to what Christians are suffering throughout the world, we're getting it very easy. If, instead of using up all of our witnessing power upon getting our own way in this land, we rather focused on the religious rights of others in far more terrible places, we might be respected across this land. But so long as we act like the spoiled brats and pampered chosen of the Christian faith, we're not going to be able to increase our influence over the length and breadth of our nation.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are so sorry that we disappoint You at times with our pharisaical and privileged ways. Instead of winning this nation for You, we're whining across this land. Instead of witnessing for Your Kingdom, we're too busy suing school systems, making court appearances, and appealing to the State for our rights, instead of looking to You for mercy and grace, patience and perseverance. In Your Holy Name, we humbly and shamefully pray. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seminary Reflections: A Day in the Life

Sometimes -- often, I'm afraid -- seminarians forget how fortunate they are to be called to the vocation of learning. It happens fairly regularly, I think. All you want to do is serve a congregation as a pastor, so seminary seems like a hurdle to get over rather than three years to enjoy. I’m of a another mindset, however. Whatever follows seminary will be great, but I’m in no hurry to skip the blessings of seminary. With this in mind, here’s A Day in the Life of a Seminarian (basically, my Monday past.)

After going to bed about 1:00 am, I wake around 7:30. Well, “wake” is more suggestive than actual because I hit the snooze for a good thirty minutes before finally getting up and firing up the coffee pot. Off to an 8:45 am men’s prayer group. I could tell you what we talk about, but I’d have to kill you.

Come 10:00 there’s daily chapel led by senior MDiv students. Monday is a service of morning prayer which you’ll probably recognize as Presbyterian, but will also have some more intentional creative elements than your regular three hymns and a prayer. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes, it’s, well, more experimental.

10:30 = coffee break. Students, faculty, and staff mosey on over to the refectory for the ritual of caffeine, mini bagels (rice krispy treats on a good day), and conversation. A great time to see friends who aren’t in your classes, chat with a prof about non class things, or commiserate about all the work you have to do.

11:00 I’m off to class, in this case, Introduction to Christian Ethics. This day we discuss the place of faith in the public debate of global issues, specifically world hunger. If there is enough food produced every year to feed every person in the world, but if millions die from hunger-related causes each year, how should the Christian respond and is that response unique or different from a Jew or agnostic?

12:30 Lunch. Back to the refectory, perhaps, for some not so healthy food but holy conversation on Harry Potter banquet-looking tables.

1:30 Back to class: Creation, New Creation, and Ecology where we discuss a chapter of a book on how the commodification of time affects worship, church life, and service in general. This class of twelve students is team taught by an old testament and new testament professor. The old testament prof, having written a book on Ecclesiastes, invites us to whip out our bibles and reflect on the sage’s understanding of time. The new testament prof mentions Jesus or Paul or something.

3:00-6:30 Break. Or in this case, time to get some exercise in. A trip to the library is always in order. Then brewing more coffee before class.

6:30-9:30 It’s “suicide day” in pastoral care. After a lecture we break up into small groups and role-play how to talk someone out of suicide, moving methodically through the steps we’ve just learned. Back with the entire group, we discuss warning signs and theological implications.

9:30 onward Reading. Writing. Facebooking. Recovering. Sleep.

It’s really quite a great life, I’d say. But I do wonder what might follow once all my classes are completed. Then again, I’ve got some studying to do.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Review -- Advent and Lent

I cannot believe that it is already November. What is harder to believe is that Advent -- you know, that blessedly peaceful time of reflection and preparation -- yea, that Advent -- starts two weeks after this coming Sunday.

It is ok to scream now, but only once. I come bearing help.

I have reviewed an Irish Jesuit website before called Sacred Space. It may be the largest prayer website in the world. The idea behind Sacred Space is to provide a few short ideas to think about and a scripture passage for meditation every day. Millions of people (including lots of non-Catholics) pray there every month. A while ago they started putting out a book with a whole year of their prayers in it. Before that they started posting materials for a one-day, self-directed Lenten retreat. I'm addicted to their Lenten Retreat. I can no longer imagine Good Friday without it.

This year they have done something a little different. At least, I don't recall having seen this before. They have published two small booklets: Sacred Space for Advent and the Christmas Season 2008 -- 2009 (it actually ends the first Sunday in January, Epiphany, as it should -- these Catholics know the Liturgical Calendar). The second is Sacred Space for Lent 2009. The best part? Each one comes with a prepared one-day, self-directed retreat. Yes, that's right. I can now get addicted to a Lenten retreat and an Advent retreat. Oh, and the price? They are $2.25 a piece. I paid as much in shipping from Amazon as the books cost me.

If you aren't familiar with the website the daily prayers are organized into weeks. Each week starts with a kind of introduction which is used each day of that week. That is followed by the Scripture passages for each day of that week.

The retreats come with a suggested timetable starting at 9:30 in the morning and running through 4:00 in the afternoon. (Yes, there is a lunch break -- in fact, there are several breaks planned in.) Each retreat includes a preparatory period, three hour-long prayer periods with scripture and some useful supplemental material; and finally, a review period at the end.

I will use these for myself. I will do both retreats. I am already trying to figure out which Friday in December I can take off from work. I would love to know if any of you find ways to use these in your churches or a small group.

So, take a deep breath. Need devotional materials, retreat materials, something for a small group, a spot of peace for yourself? You're handled -- right up to Easter.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Place for the Homeless

The First Presbyterian Church of Waltham, MA is in the news. This is from Tuesday's Daily News Tribune:

Eben Forbes is asking residents to help the city's homeless and low-income residents.

Only three weeks on the job as executive director of the Community Day Center of Waltham Inc., Forbes is familiarizing himself with his patrons and trying to raise money.

The center, located in the First Presbyterian Church at 34 Alder St., provides counseling, Internet access and a warm place to rest during the day.

"There's shelters where people can spend the night and there's soup kitchens," the 39-year-old Cambridge resident said. "But between lunch and dinner there's really no place for a homeless person to go."

The center also provides crisis counseling and referrals to resources that can help the homeless.

"People with serious substance abuse issues or psychological issues, our hope is they are receiving counseling with mental health professionals," Forbes said. "We are here as a backstop for those people and a big part of what we do is make referrals. We'll give them crisis counseling and then refer them to a specialist."

With the winter months ahead, Forbes said he is expecting an increase in the number of people who use the facility. To prepare for this, Forbes is asking for donations and volunteers.

"We definitely do expect it to be busier with the foreclosure crisis," he said. "There are a lot of low income level populations in Waltham, who are barely living within margins, who could lose housing. This is a very easy time to become homeless. We're starting to see that already."

New Executive Director of the Community Day Center of Waltham Inc. Eben Forbes. Photo: Jeff Gilbride/Daily News staff

Forbes said the center averages about 30 patrons a day during the summer months and up to 70 per a day in the winter months.

He previously worked in a daytime homeless shelter in New York City from 1998 to 2000, helping people transition into group homes or halfway houses.

"I was a housing specialist for a large drop-in facility. It's sort of the same function as here," Forbes said. "The homeless population in Waltham is sort of different, so I've been sorting out the differences and calculating my approach to this new position."

In the past three weeks, Rob Mark, the former executive director, has been helping Forbes transition into his new role.

"I've been in the unique position that Rob Mark, the outgoing director, he's still physically here during various times during the week," Forbes said. "He's now co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. He's here to ensure a smooth transition so I'm grateful for that."

The center is currently collecting Christmas stockings and items such as food and toiletries, to place inside.

This is an active church. Check out Rob Mark's blog, too.

Joyful News on Ministry from Waltham, MA!

I would love to hear about your congregation! Send me your joyful news at this E-mail.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


It's November again, which means the leaves are beautiful where I live and the temperature is getting back down to "normal." It's also National Novel Writing Month, which means that my wife is busy working on a novel, and I'm substitute teaching our Sunday School class on marriage. This week: "What Men Wish Women Knew about Men." The answer (in part)... Ephesians 5:21-33.

If you aren't familiar with those verses, they contain the infamous "wives must submit to their husbands" line. Huh. I think I got the short straw.

I've done a fair amount of internet research on this and have yet to find anyone that can provide me with a reasonable way to get in touch with this message that I hear as sexist and take offensive with. I found several explanations that wanted to tell me the message was "husbands are supposed to be in charge" and that "that isn't sexist; it's just what the Bible says." I found a number that say "it's just a way for Paul to provide a relevance of his message to the practices of the time" (which were sexist).

Since I'm not entirely comfortable with just "throwing out" parts of the Bible to suit my fancy - I feel like there's got to be a deeper understanding.

One thing that I've considered is the idea that the real message to focus on is the fact that Paul is writing about the relationship between Christ and the Church. That's of his purpose in writing the epistle, at least.

Any thoughts to help me out with my struggle on this scripture?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Big Week!

We have four interesting new member blogs to highlight this week:

1) FilmNut: Reviews from a guy who likes movies by Castaway, a Presbyterian Pastor for 38 years, now doing an interim in Los Angeles. (And, I might add, a guy who looks a lot like my Uncle David and therefore like someone I'd love to go see a movie with.)

2) United Interim Blog by Jack Lohr, an Interim Pastor in Middletown, NY. Rev. Lohr has some lovely things to say about the recent presidential election, including a wonderful affirmation preceded by this:
So, let me invite you to sit upright, with your feet flat on the floor. If you're comfortable doing so, please close your eyes. Now breathe deeply. Feel the air being drawn in through your nose, filling your lungs, expanding your chest and pushing out your diaphragm. Breathe out through your mouth, feeling your chest deflate and diaphragm rise again. With each in-breath, think "PEACE." With each out-breath, think "RELAX." With each in-breath, feel the peace of God enter your body, and with each out-breath, sense any tension draining away until your whole body feels relaxed, warm and heavy.

3) A brand-new blog, Theologyman: Look! Up in the sky, its an icthus. Its a wheel. no its Theologyman!, by Clint Mitchell, Associate Pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who says, "My hope is that this blog will create a little more light in the face of all the heat generated by the current controversies shaking Christ's church."

4) Finally, I'm thrilled to introduce The Road to Africa: A blog by a student named Lauren describing the time before, during, and after her 3 months in Tanzania working with HIV/AIDS orphans.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Flashlights

Lectionary verse: Matthew 25:3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.

It used to happen every winter. Heavy snow fell on some local power lines, snapped the cables in two, causing all the lights in our house to go out. Instantly, I would head to the kitchen cupboard, in the dark, to find the flashlights. After scrambling for a while, I would locate them at the back of the topmost cupboard, above the refrigerator. Then the real fun would begin.

I would switch on the flashlights, only to discover that the batteries were dead. Either they were so old that they had corroded, or my two darling daughters had been using them to read their books under the bedcovers. Whatever the reason, it always ended up the same way - stuck in the dark and everyone absolutely miserable.

This year is going to be different. I purchased an emergency flashlight that is plugged into an electrical socket. It's constantly recharging itself, so when the snow falls this year and the lights go out, I'll be able to easily locate and use this kind of flashlight. Then I can get some candles out to light every room. The only thing I'll have to do is to remember to buy some matches!

In the darkest of times and the deepest of troubles, our faith shines brightly and helps us overcome our fears. But this only happens if we keep refueling our spirits with Christ's teachings and God's love. If we neglect our faith, then like the lamps of old and out of date batteries, it diminishes, flickers, and fades away. But if we keep recharging our faith through worship, scripture study, and daily prayer, then no matter what happens, the light will still be there in the midst of the darkness and it will not be overcome.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Light of the world and the Holy One who extinguishes the darknesses of fear, anxiety, and despair. We turn to You to illuminate our minds and souls, to enhance our faith and brighten our lives with Your love. In Your Holy name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 9, 2008

Here are the passages for November 9, 2008, the 32nd 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

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
  • One of the down-sides to is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 3a here. The letter "a" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading stops at the end of the first part of the verse, closing with "...and gave him many descendants."
  • I read this passage feeling a certain sense of foreboding. Joshua begins with a bit of a history lesson, telling the other Israelites about the gods their ancestors worshiped long ago. Then, he issues a challenge, to them: "if you can't serve the Lord, choose which god you will serve." When the Israelites give, essentially, the right response: "No, we know what the Lord has done for us. We'll serve the Lord," Joshua tells them "you're not going to be able to serve the Lord," and emphasizes the fact that they are witnesses to each other that they have made this commitment. Of course, most of us as Christians read passages like this with some knowledge of the rest of the history of God's people, but even if we didn't know what was to come, I can't help but read something like this and say "You fools! You're doomed, now!" Am I wrong for thinking this way? Like I said, they gave the right answer, didn't they?
Psalm 78:1-7

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • In verse 13, we learn that the teaching to follow is given so that the audience "will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope." Does that mean that Christians aren't supposed to grieve? Or how is our grieving supposed to be different from those others, assuming that ours is characterized by hope?
  • Verse 15 references "the Lord's word." What "word" is Paul writing about? Is he referencing something that we might find in Scripture? If so, where? If not, what else might he be writing about?
  • Verse 17 references something that some Christians refer to as part of the doctrine of "the Rapture." This is not an interpretation common among Presbyterians. How else might we interpret this passage?
Matthew 25:1-13
  • This parable clears tells followers of Jesus to "keep watch," but what are we watching for? How are we to prepare for what is coming? How should our lives be different as a result?
  • This parable is one of several teachings that seem to argue that some people are not "included." How should we respond to this teaching? Is this a call to greater evangelism? Can we do anything about these people at all? Is this parable one about salvation, or something else? (Indeed, if it is--to the degree that Presbyterians argue that salvation is based solely on God's election, without regard to any action we have taken, how are we even to "be wise" and "keep watch"?) Why is Jesus teaching us this parable?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ask the Moderator: How is it going?

So it is about 9:oopm, Thursday night, November 6th, California time and it just dawned on my that the first Friday of the month is tomorrow and I am supposed to post my monthly "Ask the Moderator" posting.

Hmmmm . . . somehow that was missed by someone. Two choices, put something together on the fly or look over the table at my Eldest child hurriedly finishing her homework, and try something a little different this month.

So many people have asked how things are going so far with the whole moderator thing is going, I thought why not find out the real deal and interview my daughter. So . . . here it goes, my unedited interview to find out, "Just how is this moderator thing going?" Now of course there is an Office of the Office of the General Assembly Moderator's Report given last month, but it is pretty safe to say that the video might be a tad bit more interesting.

Thanks for taking a listen. If you or any others are interested in getting a greetings done for a meeting or gathering, let me know and I'll do my best to get something to you.

Til next month,

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, November 06, 2008

Book Club -- Tribal Church

The first Thursday of next month Book Club will resume with Tribal Church written by Carol Howard Merritt who blogs at The book, Tribal Church, is available at among other places.

Carol writes about ministering to young adults on their terms. Certainly, a topic that almost all of our denomination's churches need to be thinking about. There are a number of reviews of this book available online, and if you go to Carol's web page and click on the page called, "The Book" you will find links to many of them.

Since Carol's blog is a member of our blogring, we are offering you a deal. Carol has agreed to take some questions before book club next month. So, if you are wondering why you should spend your copiously available NOT spare time reading this book -- ask. If you want to know if this book applies in your ministry -- ask. Leave your questions in the comments, and check back for more reasons why you should be ready to participate in book club on December 4, 2008 -- exactly four Thursdays from today.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Personal Faith Reflections: Barack Obama is not the Messiah

Say it with me: Barack Obama is not the Messiah.

(Neither is he, for our ardent Republican readers, the Antichrist.)

There is a tremendous amount of excitement around the election of our 44th President in this country and around the world - for what I think are a number of good reasons. Who could have imagined 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, that we would have an African American President of the United States? For years, we've told our children that anyone can grow up to become President - with this historical election, that statement moves a little closer to actually being true, and that in my mind is a good thing.

You can't just say that a racial barrier has been broken - you have to break it and watch the pieces fall away in the light of day.

There is more I could say about this election, but this blog post is not actually about politics - it is about idolatry.

I've been disturbed for some time now about the messianic language used to describe Obama. I think that being a firm member of a "third party" might give me a slight outsider's view, since it is not in my interest to buy into Obama-messianism, nor am I really encouraged to believe that he "pals around with terrorists", or whatever other garbage the partisans of the other side come up with.

To me, Barack Obama seems like a human being, just like John McCain - a human being that I agree with on a few more issues than McCain, but just a human being. He has his limitations, his failings, his hypocrisies and self-deceptions just like everyone else. Sometimes these show, but he is as savvy as any national politician in allowing us to project upon him our hopes and dreams and highest aspirations. We can't possibly vote a human being into national office, so we vote a projection, we vote for the lies we tell ourselves about them, or the lies we allow others to tell us, believing they are somehow different from the everyday humanity that surrounds us.

They are not different. They are just like you and me. And that thought should terrify you around election time, just as it terrifies me.

This whole time, when I've had the chance, I've tried to talk about Barack Obama the man, the politician, because I already have a Messiah who I am comfortable naming as such.

Likely many who read this blog know that being Messiah has to do with being anointed - being the anointed one. I like to think of anointing as a catalyst, like a conductor which enables a charge to pass from one thing to another. There is no question that Barack Obama is the anointed one of the Democratic party and of what seem to be most of the liberals in America, as well as tens of millions of others - Evangelicals, moderates, etc. He is also, in a sense, the anointed one of the electoral college, and they will transfer power and authority to him by the authority of our Constitution.

In the Messiah's case, the anointing comes from God - it does not come from here. It does not have to do with our moral decisions, or our value judgements, or the ways we make meaning. It has to do with something happening that is for our highest good, for the salvation of the whole world, but which conducts its power from outside the world we live in. The Messiah is an invader from the un-fallen world, anointed by God for the purpose of making God's person and God's purpose known.

This Messiah has a lot to do with how we behave politically, with how we treat each other in every situation. This Messiah makes claims on our lives that limit what we can do, how we can act. This Messiah does not arise from any political machinery, and if we were all to vote "no" this Messiah would remain. This Messiah is not a referendum nor a proposition on a ballot; this Messiah is God's Messiah. This Messiah shows us who God is and who we are.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, like every national politician, arises out of political machinery composed of greed and fear and vice, of occlusion and deception and fabrication, of half-truths and messy logic and compromises. Barack Obama is not the Messiah of God - is not a Messiah at all. Barack Obama is a politician - an exciting one for some people some of the time, but that is all he is.

He will not save us. He will not make us whole. He will not restore us. He will not redeem us. He will not reconcile us to God and to each other. He will not bring us Shalom. He will not remake the world.

I urge everyone to think about this in their own way. Remember who the Messiah is, what the claims on you are, and remember the limits of any human being, even a President, even a historic President of which we can be very proud in many ways.

One more time: Barack Obama is not the Messiah.

Mountain Music

Jesus is foot stompin' in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The First Presbyterian Church is one of the hosts of a traditional music festival:

Traditional melodies will echo in performance and instruction this weekend during the Heartland Dulcimer Club’s 14th Annual Traditional Music Festival.

The festival begins 7 p.m. Friday with a workshop and jam session at the Country Hearth Inn in Elizabethtown. It will continue all day Saturday at First Presbyterian Church on Pear Orchard Road, also in Elizabethtown. The festival concludes with a hymn sing on Sunday.

Previous events have drawn crowds of 100 people from Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri. Club president Claudia Tamplin said people have a lot to learn and enjoy at the festival.

“Learn a new song or two and maybe a new playing technique,” Tamplin said. “Have some fun, meet new people and hear good music played by old or new favorite musicians.”

Good music. Good fun. It's the Presbyterian way.

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, November 04, 2008


No matter who wins today, I am so proud of how many Americans are turning out to vote. Democracy and freedom are big winners today. It truly is a time when we can say , "God bless America."

And just for your enjoyement, here's the Freedom speech from Braveheart

From Stushie, who writes Heaven's Highway and who proudly became an American citzen in 2002

Monday, November 03, 2008


Welcome to this week's PCUSA web ring applicants, which have also been added to the blog roll at right:

Announcing the reinvention of . . . Central Park Bench by Stewart Pollock (Creature of dust, child of God, transplant to Western Pennsylvania) as Not So Reserved. The new description of the blog is: Welcome to my park bench from which we can notice and discuss the traces and signs of God's presence and activity in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Have a seat. Relax and take a look around. Something big is happening, and you are invited to participate.

And a fresh welcome to The Hucke Blog: Occasional thoughts about God, church, culture and life by Doug Hucke in Peoria, Illinois. Hucke says: I'm all about the G's.... God, Girls (wife and daughter), Guitar and Golf.

Let's give 'em both a warm welcome!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Old Blog Roll and Less Recently Updated Blogs

In an attempt to control the main page of the blog, I'm moving the old roll blog over here. This is where you can find blogs that are former (but not current) members of the unofficial PC(USA) web ring and blogs that haven't been updated in over a year that might still have some really neat stuff in their archives and are worth keeping around.

More old or inactive blogs (added May 2010):

Always Reforming

Catechisms and Cataclysms
First Presbyterian Church of Vernon, Texas

Growing In Faith
Make of yourself a light
Ministry as Clergy Couples
Mo Leverett - Rebirth International
Monday Morning Letters
Musings, Questions, and other Ramblings
My Backyard
pastorjayban’s weblog
preacher, blogger or procrastinator
Rebel Without A Pew
RevJavaDude's Cafe
The Quest
Toddled Dredge

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 2, 2008

Here are the passages for November 2, 2008, the 31th 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

Joshua 3:7-17
  • The miracle of this passage: the crossing of the Jordan, seems in many ways similar to the crossing of the sea in Exodus. What aspects aren't the same? How might these differences tell us about the distinctiveness of this situation?
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
  • "Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story." Do you think the writer had in mind a specific story, shared by all those being addressed, or was this an invitation for each person to tell their individual story? Does it make a difference?
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
  • As Paul continues (and we read with no break from the epistle reading last week) describing his relationship with the Thessalonians, why do you think he chooses to highlight the items mentioned here? Might he be preparing the Thessalonians for something he is about to say later?
Matthew 23:1-12
  • This passage picks right up from where we left off last week, too. Part of the "Godly Play" curriculum (which I mentioned a few weeks ago) asks at the end of every story, "Is there any part of the story that we could leave out, and still have all the story we need?" Why do you think that the lectionary goes from week to week, in some cases picking up directly from the previous reading, and in some cases skipping several verses or chapters?
  • What does Jesus mean when he says that "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat"? How does this help us understand their roles?
  • Jesus tells his followers not to take on certain titles for themselves, nor to use them in reference to others. Why are these specific titles chosen? How might Jesus respond to church leaders (and members) today in this vein?