Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on February 8, 2009

Here are the passages for February 8, 2009, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
  • 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 20c here. The letter "c" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading includes only the third part of the verse, in other words, "Praise the Lord."
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
  • Presbyterians commonly speak of preaching as a "vocation," a "calling" by God to a specific line of work (we use this term of secular work, as well, but it's especially common to use this language of Ministers of Word and Sacrament). Paul's argument in the first few verses here would seem to argue that, because he has been "called" to preach, he should not expect payment. Should this reasoning apply to preachers today? How should Paul's statement be reconciled with Jesus' instructions to his followers in Luke 10:7, when he tells them that "workers deserve their wages"?
  • What do you think Paul would say about modern concepts of "compromise" in light this "all things to all people" passage?
Mark 1:29-39
  • In this passage, we are told, almost offhandedly, about Simon (Peter)'s mother-in-law, implying that he was married. Of Jesus' twelve disciples, we never really learn about any of their wives. Why are we not told about the disciples' spouses more specifically?
  • Jesus forbid demons to speak "because they knew who he was." Why is it so important that Jesus keep his identity a secret? Or is it that he didn't want people to learn about his identity through demons, lest such "evil" testimony taint his ministry?
  • Why does Jesus need to go off to be alone to pray?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thursday Review -- Fifth Thursday Stuff

When we set up the monthly schedule for Thursdays, we didn't address the issue of the Fifth Thursday. Well, here it is. So, for your blogging pleasure, we have the following assortment of stuff.

Starting off with new beginnings, Stushie wrote a Bible study around President Obama's Inauguration speech for his adult Sunday School class. If you are interested, you can go to his church's blog and get more information about the study which he generously offers to share with everyone.

Although Mac at Around the Scuttlebutt is a member of an EPC church, he is writing a satirical series that any PCUSA minister, elder, deacon or member can relate to: The Adventures of Graying Presbyterian Church. This series would be an excellent basis for study and discussion in any Presbyterian (or other mainline denomination) church's session or adult study class that is interested in understanding the basis for the "graying" of the church. You can sum it all up as The Seven Last Words of The Church: We never did it that way before. To get started with the series go to the blog and you'll find the "Adventures" on the left sidebar listed in the recent posts. Join in the comments and discussion!

At Clever Title Here Teri offers some thoughts on how she is using John Buchanan's book, A New Church For A New World in an adult ed class that she is currently offering.

Finally, this week at Christianity Today they are announcing this year's Book Award winners. Two winners a day (they have a total of ten categories) are being announced. Also, see The Ten Most Redeeming Films of 2008; and on a less cheerful note, their obituary for John Updike.

If you see something out or about on the web that you think should be mentioned here, drop an email to either Quotidian Grace or myself. Love to hear from you.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inauguration Speech as Prayer of Confession

It's hard for me to imagine now, but I very clearly remember a time when I resented the weekly Prayer of Confession. In my head, I thought:
You know what - I'm a good person and I'm doing the best that I can. All God asks of me is to do my best, and since I'm doing that, there's no reason for me to be reciting this guilt-laden prayer of confession. I've got nothing to confess; nothing to apologize for.
I like to think that 5 years later, maybe I'm a little wiser: My wife and I have shared challenges in our marriage. I've served 3 years as an elder. I have one daughter (who I was convinced wouldn't survive open-heart surgery as a 12 week old) who is registering for kindergarten tomorrow and another daughter who just turned two years old (and asked for fireworks at her birthday party!)

I think I've learned something about humility over the past few years. I've learned at least enough to realize that a prayer of confession isn't about disclosing to God all of the bad things that you've done. For me, it's about rededicating myself to doing what I think God is asking me to do, and to repent (re-think) the decisions I have made in anger or in haste.

Hearing the new President's inauguration speech made me think that we, as a nation, are also growing wiser as we move through the challenges and joys of life, and that we understand the value of the prayer of confession. I'll paraphrase with a few key quotes:
Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.

...the time has come to set aside childish things...

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
The me of several years ago would have said, I'm doing the best I can considering the circumstances. There's nothing to confess. It isn't my fault that the economy is cruddy and that we're at war. Why should I confess anything.

The me of today says that we all have cause to confess and to repent - because we have hope.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Welcome! No, Really! Want a Latte?

Mark Smith's blog Mark Time has a new home!

And the rest of this month has been pretty quiet, as far as new members for the web ring are concerned.

Also, I'm suffering from a touch of blogger fatigue. So today I offer something NOT original to me, but a particularly spot-on look at some of the problems facing churches, visitors, and new members. Have all of you already seen What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?

(Many thanks to my friend and fellow PC(USA) blogger Rob Monroe for this link.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on February 1, 2009

Here are the passages for February 1, 2009, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
  • The "me" of this passage would seem to be Moses. Almost the entirety of Deuteronomy is one long speech by Moses where he tells God's people what God expects of them. But is it? Some commentaries suggest that, since these are supposed to be the words of God (presented only through Moses), then "like me" would be an indication that the prophet to come is like God. What do you think?
  • Some commentaries (even those who don't necessarily equate "me" with God, as above) suggest that the prophet foretold here is Jesus Christ. What do you think? What aspects of this passage would lead one to assume that it is not a reference to any other prophet, or to prophets generally?
  • I find myself struck by verse 16, where it is mentioned that the Israelites specifically asked God not to speak to them (directly, I assume), lest they die. This request was made in Exodus 20:19, right after they had heard the Ten Commandments (we read parts of this passage a few months ago). Perhaps we're now seeing the results of that request, in that God will send other prophets after Moses is gone?
  • The end of this passage itself mentions the possibility that people will claim to be prophets, yet won't actually be speaking for God. How are the people (especially in this era before Scripture is written down) to know which prophets speak for God (so that they may heed the words of such a prophet) and which ones are false?
Psalm 111:1-10

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
  • Paul seems on the one hand concerned to express his freedom, while on the other he wishes to emphasize that he is to act in ways that help others. How careful do you think he tried to be to watch his eating habits around other people? Or, to put it another way, how much knowledge of how "strong" or "weak" a person is did he have to possess to alter his behavior accordingly? Do you think that Paul was largely a vegetarian, because he might never know who he was causing to stumble? Or do you think that Paul largely continued to eat meat, only altering this behavior when he knew it could cause difficulty?
  • We don't worry too much anymore about food that was (or might have been) sacrificed to idols. What other areas of our lives would the principle of this passage apply to today?
Mark 1:21-28
  • What does it mean to say that Jesus taught "as one who had authority"? How could the people around him, who heard him teach, tell? What was different about his teaching, that they would make such an assertion?
  • In this passage, Jesus casts out an evil spirit. We're only told here that it was an evil spirit. We're not shown anything that the spirit did to the person it was possessing. The only action of the spirit we are given access to was the proclamation of Jesus as "the Holy One of God." Is this how they knew it was evil? Or did Jesus' followers know it was evil because of Jesus' response? Or did they see other ways, not recorded here, that the evil spirit made itself known?

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on January 25, 2009

Sarah has left it up to me to determine how far in advance these postings should go up. While there's something appealing about the Thursday suggestion, I'm also aware that the "Read and Learn" feature is currently scheduled for that day, and since neither JusticeSeeker nor Quotidian Grace have weighed in on the discussions on where to put this feature, I am reluctant to do anything that would either steal that feature's thunder or bump it to another slot. So I'm going to try keeping the feature on Saturdays, but will start posting entries a full week ahead of time. This entry is for tomorrow, but I'll post another entry at noon for next Sunday's entry. I guess that means I'll need to fix the banner at the top. ;)

Here are the passages for January 25, 2009, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
  • I confess to have a certain affection for the story of Jonah, having been in a children's musical based on Jonah when I was in middle school. Naturally, this means that I know the full story pretty well. When I read this selection of the text, I can't help but feel that the lectionary is counting on such prior knowledge of the story. What we get here is very basic: God said "preach to Nineveh," Jonah preached, Ninevah repented, God showed mercy. There's so much about Jonah's story that isn't here. We don't learn about how much Jonah hates Nineveh. We don't learn about how Jonah actively tries to avoid following God's command to preach, even going so far as to travel in the opposite direction. We don't learn about the "huge fish" (or, whale, if you prefer) that swallowed Jonah. Nor do we see Jonah's less than gracious reaction after God shows mercy to Nineveh. Do we need all of that context to understand this passage? Or are the few verses offered here enough for us to benefit?
  • Why do you think the Ninevites are so quick to believe Jonah's prophecy of destruction (let alone actually repent)? This doesn't seem to be the pattern of response to prophecy all that often.
Psalm 62:5-12

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
  • Some scholars have taken Paul's "time is short" insistence here as an indication that he believed that Christ's Second Coming would occur much earlier (indeed, within his own lifetime) than seems to have been the case. Do you agree that this was Paul's assumption? If so, how might this affect his instructions in this passage?
  • Assuming that Paul's instructions are valid for us today, how do we communicate this to a married person, or someone who is mourning? Indeed, given the near polar opposite in "those who are happy," how does Paul expect people to act? Are we somehow supposed to take whatever state we are in, and somehow act just the opposite? What would be the point? What's Paul trying to tell us about the implications of this world's temporary nature?
Mark 1:14-20
  • At this point in Mark's telling, the term "good news" is not explicitly defined, but seems to be assumed to be already understood. If you were one of the people hearing Jesus at this point in his ministry, how do you think you would have understood the term?
  • In the past, we've had a number of occasions where one week's passage follows immediately after the previous week's passage. In this case, we're actually going just a tiny step backward in time, to the calling of Andrew and Simon Peter. The pair is mentioned in last week's reading, but they were already with Jesus by that point. Why is the lectionary ordered in this way?
  • Besides the obvious question: "What did Jesus mean when he promised Andrew and Peter that they would 'fish for people'?", why do you think this promise would have been so appealing to the "conventional" fishermen that they would abandon their work to follow Jesus? Indeed, assuming that Jesus made the same promise to James and John, why was this promise so intriguing that they would not only abandon their work, but their father in the process? (And if Jesus didn't make the same promise, what did he say that got such a reaction?)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Read and Learn -- Google maps meets the Bible

On January 4, 2007 I posted a review entitled Friday Review. . . Google Maps Meets the Holy Land. Two years later there are still 0 comments, so I am assuming that no one will notice if I repeat myself -- with improvements.

The basic premise is that a website called links Google Maps and text from the Bible, more specifically the ESV translation. You start by choosing the book and chapter, it shows the map. Within the scripture text there will be highlighted terms that link to more specific locations. The interface has improved during the last two years. There have also been other improvements. For instance, you can now link directly to any location or chapter.

Also, if you click on events there are prepared maps of Paul's three missionary journeys. There are also some pretty cool mini-movies using the mapping technology on Jonah, Hosea and Quick Church History.

Oh, and just to make sure that credit gets to where credit is due. I found this by way of the ESV Bible Blog This is an official blog that provides information on new additions and, in this case, new uses for the ESV translation.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bible Study on President Obama's Inaugural Speech

I’ve written an extensive Bible study on President Obama’s Inaugural Speech for my Sunday School Class. I've put it online at my Heaven's Highway blog. You can see it at

If you would like a Word document copy of the study, please send me an email to Put “Study on Obama’s Speech” in the subject line.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Resources for Martin Luther King Day and Race Relations Sunday

During the services on Sunday, our associate pastor prayed for the out-going President Bush and the in-coming President-Elect Obama. And during the sermon the pastor talked about the fulfillment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision, and the election of President-Elect Obama, within the context of the lectionary readings (being Known to God).

This was all perfectly nonpartisan, and the pastor acknowledged that we are a congregation of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, a congregation of some who celebrate this inauguration as a long overdue course correction while others consider it a significant step in the wrong direction. Still, we acknowledged the significance of the impending inauguration of the nation's first African American president during the same week we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

And some in the congregation were visibly uncomfortable. One young man got up and left the sanctuary in anger. Later he approached both the pastor and the associate pastor. "There's a reason we have separation of church and state!" he said. "If you keep preaching about politics and government from the pulpit, I'm going to leave!"

"I am going to continue preaching about politics and government. It would be irresponsible not to do so," was one response given to the angry young man. (It's well worth noting here that our pastor's personal politics are unknown to me and certainly are not obvious from his sermons. There's a difference between not displaying partisan bias and not acknowledging that we are part of the United States of America.)

"We pray for our leaders," the other pastor responded. "We have a political arm to the denomination employing lobbyists to address our social justice concerns. This is all appropriate." (I'm paraphrasing badly here, and I'm sure that many of you know much more than I do about our denomination and its relationship with politics.)

I hope that we do get to a place in this country where we can talk about politics without it being divisive and partisan. It bothers me that we can't even pray for our president - or president-elect - without upsetting some in the pews.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Devotions: Spiritual Intimacy

Lectionary verse: Psalm 139:5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms. It describes the intimate closeness of God and how faithful people can never escape God’s presence. The whole attitude of the writer is that God is spiritually embracing the believer – and there’s no wriggle room when God holds us.

It’s a psalm that brings a lot of comfort to lonely people, or to those who are grieving a departed one. It’s a love poem about God’s unmistakable presence and complete concern for every child of His Kingdom.

I love the fifth verse of this wonderful psalm. “You hem me in, behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me.”

The Hebrew word for “hem” means to beset, besiege, surround, and confine. It’s almost as if God is making a strategic military assault on the person’s soul. But that would sound too violent for such intimacy, and so I think it means something completely different.

I think that the imagery here is of a mother and an expectant child. The mother’s body completely surrounds the unborn child – protecting it, encasing it, and confining it. Because I am a mere man, I can never know what that beautiful, miraculous, and sacred experience is like, but I truly think that this is the same experience that the NIV translates as hemming me in.

These days, it’s very difficult for us to truly experience such divine intimacy. We are constantly being distracted by the world and we don’t live in the less complicated times of the psalmist. In his day, moments of reflection, silence, and meditation were quite common place, which is why most of the world’s religious scriptures are thousands of years old. We don’t take or make the time to honestly feel the true intimacy of God, which is why most of us are going through life spiritually empty.

Perhaps now is the time to not just long for the humble beginnings of our faith, but to intentionally experience them for ourselves. Perhaps this is the moment in our lives, when we allow God once more to enwomb us with love and be divinely cradled. Initially, it might feel religiously claustrophobic to our unconfined souls and free spirits, but I believe that we will get over our discomfort and rediscover that intrusive, invasive, and intimate presence of God that so inspired the psalmist to write such a beautiful poem of divine love.

Prayer: Lord God, as a mother intimately feels the presence of her unborn child, surrounding the baby with her body, life, and love, so would we each seek to be that child of Your care, concern, and compassion. Confine our spirits and surround our lives. Be claustrophobically close to our souls and truly intimate with our being. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on January 18, 2009

Here are the passages for January 18, 2009, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

I'm sure that a few of you are probably asking, "Second Sunday? Where did the first Sunday go? Did we skip it?" (This last question is especially appropriate given the recent debate as to whether or not this feature should be rescheduled. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, that debate is not yet resolved, despite the end of the poll last week. Feel free to make your opinion known in the comments.) Basically, the answer is that not all Sundays in "Ordinary Time" (there is debate as to whether this is the best term to use) are so "ordinary" as not to be named. Last week, Baptism of the Lord Sunday, was actually the First Sunday in Ordinary Time. Other "named" Sundays in Ordinary Time include Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost) and Christ the King Sunday (the Sunday just before Advent).

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
  • The Revised Common Lectionary considers verses 11-20 optional. Churches may use the entire reading, or stop with verse 10, at their discretion.
  • The passage takes special care to say that the word of the Lord was rare "in those days." What do you think the text means? Does it suggest a time when visions or other examples of God's word were less rare? Does it suggest that people were especially out of touch with the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures? Do you think the writer of this passage would say that the word of the Lord was "rare" in our time, by comparison, or not?
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
  • One of the criticisms sometimes leveled at using the lectionary is that "hard" passages are left out. I would argue that this passage goes a long way toward refuting that criticism. In many churches, and certainly in the PC(USA), what is meant by "sexual immorality" is at the heart of some of our most contentious arguments. Whatever side of the current debate one finds oneself on, this passage makes clear that sexual immorality is something that God cares about. The obvious question, then, is "what does Paul mean when he uses the term here?" Is it limited to prostitution (the example Paul cites), or is prostitution simply one example? Why would prostitution be a problem (and can we at least all agree that it is?)?
John 1:43-51
  • Philip tells Nathaniel about Jesus, saying "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law...." Since John hasn't told us anything of Philip's experience with Jesus to this point (indeed, this passage is the first time Philip is mentioned), we're left to wonder, how does Philip know that Jesus is "the one" at this point? Is it Jesus' teaching? Does it have to do with what other people may have said about Jesus? Or does Jesus just have "that special something" that causes Philip to know this about Jesus?
  • Scholars have debated what Jesus meant when he told Nathaniel that Jesus saw Nathaniel under the fig tree. One suggestion is that the fig tree is an Old Testament metaphor for a person's home, and that by saying that he has seen Nathaniel at home, Jesus is saying that he knows all about him. Another suggestion is that the fig tree stands for peace. Yet another idea is that Jesus saw Nathaniel praying under a fig tree (some go so far as to suggest that Nathaniel was praying for God's Chosen One to come) just prior to their actual meeting. Are these different options mutually exclusive? What others might you be aware of? How might we determine why Nathaniel was so impressed that Jesus would respond in this way?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Question for the Community: Robert's Rules and Technological Advances

A little over a year ago my church was in the midst of major conversation about the future of our property and whether or not being good stewards of our property meant hanging on to every square inch, or using part of it to help build an affordable senior housing project.  Please, let's not debate that topic here!

The first time that the vote came to the congregation people seem to have thought it was a sure thing, so they did not make coming to the Congregational Meeting a priority, and the motion was defeated by six or so votes.  Following that vote I was bombarded with questions such as:
  • Why could we not just email our vote?
  • Why could we not vote by proxy?
  • Could we do it conference-call style for people out of town?
The answers to the first two were easy, one thing about voting in person is that we believe that the Spirit is present when we meet and discuss, and votes should be made because of that, not because you've decided before you get there.  I know this to be true in our Presbytery as well.

But the last question, that's the one that I struggled with.  I believe my frank answer was simply "you didn't ask me that a month ago so that I could investigate."  People were obviously unhappy with both the decision and my answer.  Sometimes that's my role, though, and I'm okay with it.

I've thought about it, but I don't know how practical it would be for our congregation to try to incorporate such things into our meetings, even before thinking about Book of Order or Robert's Rules.  I'm sure that I could rig the sound system to incorporate a phone line.  What happens when someone says that we need to include video if we're doing voice?  I think that would cross a line for me, but I'm not sure why.

So my question to you is, what does your church/organization do now to incorporate technology into Congregational/Other Meetings?
What do you plan to do in the future?
What do you think would be too much?
If you've tried this, what pitfalls or perks would you share with other congregations considering such a move?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Read and Learn Thursday: Understanding the Koran

Last fall my church offered a series of classes called "Loving Your Muslim Neighbor". El Jefe and I attended and found ourselves simultaneously enlightened and challenged by the speakers, who came from all over the country and the world. Houston has a sizeable Muslim population, so the subject is a very relevant one for us. In fact, there is a mosque about 3 miles from our home in Sugar Land.

We were particularly interested in the presentation about the Koran by Rev. Mateen Elass, a Presbyterian minister from Oklahoma. Rev. Elass' father was a Muslim who came to the United States for his education where he met and married Elass' mother who is American and was raised as a Christian. Elass described his father as more of a "cultural" than a "religious" Muslim, but said that he grew up in a Muslim enviornment in Saudi Arabia where his father, a Syrian, was employed by AARAMCO. Elass' recounted his own faith journey, which brought him to confess Christ and later become a Presbyterian pastor--which caused a long estrangement with his parents.

His presentation included a brief summary of his book, Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book.

Elass sees the influx of Muslim immigrants to the United States as a challenge to the church:
In many ways, the relative success of Islam in our midst should serve as a rebuke to the church of Jesus Christ for our poor witness to the grace and truth of our Lord. For the sake of Muslims and all others who are hungry to connect with a personal god, we Christians must make sure that the dividing walls of human hostility that Christ destroyed on the cross are not rebuilt through our own sins of racism or apathy.
Although some Christians say that the Muslim Allah is different from the God we worship, Elass does not agree. He believes that the Muslim Allah is the same God we worship, but that the Muslim understanding of God is incomplete because they do not know the love and salvation available to them through Jesus Christ.

Among the topics Elass addresses in the book are how the Koran is viewed by Muslims; the origins of the Koran (including Jewish and Christian sources); Jesus in the Koran; and the understanding of heaven, hell and jihad in the Koran. Discussion questions for each chapter are included at the back of the book and should prompt some lively exchanges of opinion in any adult group.

Elass is a scholar, so there are times when the book becomes a bit academic and difficult. I think this adds to the credibility of the author's presentation because the book is a serious study of the subject despite its brevity. Since the Koran is the true heart of Islam, this is important for American Christians . This book is an ideal introduction for church study groups. It is not easy, glib, or polemical. I recommend it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Presbyterians Pump Iron

We have aerobics at our place on Mondays and Thursdays. But we don't have anything like Highland Presbyterian Church in Fayettville, NC. The good folks at Highland are this week's joyful news congregation.

This is from their webpage:

Highland Recreation & Fitness Center provides a "total body experience" by building physical strength for the body and spiritual enrichment for the mind. Through the fellowship of Highland Presbyterian Church, the Recreation & Fitness Center is open to all members of the community and offers a family, Christian environment in which to play, exercise, and become closer to God.
The FayObserver noticed the trend of churches providing alternative to expensive gyms:

John Velandra, who runs Highland Presbyterian Church’s recreation center, said the church decided to open its own workout facility about six years ago as a way to benefit its members and reach out to the community.

Velandra said members love the quiet atmosphere of the equipment rooms, which carry gym-standard weight machines, cardio equipment and accessories. The center also has an indoor walking track and access to a personal trainer for an extra fee.

A yoga program will begin in February, said Velandra, who offers one-on-one and group fitness training at the gym through his company, Designs in Fitness & CrossFit Cape Fear.

The Highland gym is free for church members, with the exception of a $15 magnetic membership card. Nonmembers can get a membership for $30 for a single, $40 for a couple and $50 for a family. Memberships are on a month-to-month basis and do not require a contract.

Velandra said it’s one reason the Highland gym is so well-liked by its members.

“A lot of people don’t like the environment (of commercial gyms),” he said. “They don’t like that they have to have a contract for two years, and just all the negativity that comes with it.”

About 25 to 30 people visit the Highland facility in a 14-hour day, giving it the feel of a private gym, he said.

“This is a little hidden gem,” he said. “No one really knows it’s here.”

Doors to fitness rooms are enabled by magnetic card swipes, and each room has security cameras, he said.

There you have it.

I think this is a great thing. We should be using our facilities to help people in body and in soul.

But I still gotta post this:

Get in shape with Jesus.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Puppet Ministry

Our church recently gained two new members who are trained and experienced puppeteers and are interested in starting a puppet ministry at our church. I haven't seen much puppetry, but I'm excited by the idea. It seems a little hokey, but I can absolutely picture our minister bantering from the pulpit with a puppet at the lectern across the way; or at our Logos evenings; or at our Senior High Talent show.

At the same meeting a new committee member introduced our staff person to the majesty and glory of Microsoft Excel. The idea of doing our budgeting electronically (rather than on paper and having an admin key it into the computer) was thrilling to this other staff member.

It's amazing the gifts that we bring to the world.

Our church does a great "gifts assessment" survey to help you identify your gifts. When my wife and I joined the church, we took our assessment and filled out a form indicating which activities in the church we were interested in. Well, I was "interested in" nearly everything our church does, so I checked all the boxes. Our staff member in charge of welcoming new members luckily recognized my misinterpretation of the question before I was contacted by every single committee in the church.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Week Off

For what may be the first time since I started minding the web ring in July, we have a week with no new members to meet and greet.

I hope that you're all enjoying a cozy winter rest, as I am, and I hope to see you again next Monday, introducing a list of new additions to our blog roll.

Decently and in order!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lectionary Devotions - Jan 11 - Psalm 29 - The Voice of God

Psalm 29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.

When Psalm 29 was written, it took place during the Bronze Age, when human understanding about physics, nature, and the climate was very limited. Because of this, they supposed that the sound of thunder, the howling of a hurricane, the eruption of a volcano, or the roaring of a flood were all the mighty, powerful, and majestic voices of God.

And because these elements were so destructive, most of the time the people felt that when God spoke, it was to judge the sins of the people and punish them for their evil. Think about it – if the thunder announced the coming of a terrible storm, which then devastated a whole community, the religious leaders would be quick to pounce upon this as a sign of God’s retribution. And if you don’t think that that kind of misrepresentation of God occurs in our sophisticated, modern world, then we only have to go back to the 1980’s when the Moral Majority, and the rest of their self-righteous brood, declared that AIDS was sent into the world as a divine condemnation of gay people.

These days, we understand more about the natural world and what causes volcanic eruptions, thunder and lightning, and floods and hurricanes. We no longer describe them as the voice of God; instead we call them forces of nature. But that leaves us with a quandary: where and when do we hear the voice of God?

Added to that is an even more difficult question: if God is speaking to us today, are we listening?

Stushie is the writer of the 4 minute daily devotional, Heaven's Highway.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on January 11, 2009

There's a poll currently available on the side bar, regarding a possible change in schedule for this feature. Basically, it's been suggested that posting just the day before the Scriptures would be used in worship is too late to be useful for most readers. I'm open to changing the schedule, but the question becomes "to what?" One suggestion that's already been offered is Thursdays. I've mentioned in another context that I could continue doing them on Saturdays, but do them a whole week ahead of time rather than just the day before (if this were to be adopted, I'd do two entries during that first Saturday of the new schedule, so as not to miss a set of readings entirely). What do you think? As of the time I'm writing this (Friday afternoon), there are only three responses to the poll. Hardly a representative sampling. We need to hear your voice! But there's not much time left.

In the meantime, here are the passages for January 11, 2009, Baptism of the Lord Sunday (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Genesis 1:1-5
  • I've commented that the first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the liturgical calendar, but it's hard to ignore the feeling like this is the first week when these verses are brought out. It may be worth noting that this passage is not used every year, and indeed is used in what the Revised Common Lectionary calls "Year B," (i.e, not "Year A"). Why do you think this particular Sunday was chosen for these verses?
  • Why do think this reading only takes us to the end of "the first day," rather than giving us more of the creation account?
Psalm 29
  • Oddly enough, this Psalm is used every year on this Sunday. Why do you think this passage is emphasized in this way?
Acts 19:1-7
  • In the Presbyterian tradition, not only do we tend to baptize infants, in addition to those adults who profess faith in Jesus Christ, but we also tend not to witness newly baptized Christians speaking in tongues and prophesying immediately afterward. What should we make of the fact that it seems to happen in this instance?
  • It is also common for Presbyterians to emphasize that there is "one baptism" (especially in light of the teachings from the book of Ephesians). It is implicitly suggested that John the Baptizer's baptism was not the same thing as the baptism we experience as Christians. Is there a contradiction here? Or is this distinction no different than, say, the "baptisms" of certain quasi-Christian groups (such as the Mormons) that are not recognized by most Presbyterian churches (note the language of W-2.3010 in the PC(USA) Book of Order)?
Mark 1:4-11
  • John also emphasizes a difference between the kind of baptism he performs and the one to be performed by Jesus. Yet, we in the Christian tradition, following the pattern of the apostles in Acts (as seen above), do use water. What do we think it means to be "baptized with the Holy Spirit"? Does this happen at the baptisms performed in our churches, or is this something separate?
  • This is one of the many passages of the Synoptic gospels where a slight difference may be found in the parallel versions. In this version, the voice of God is directed specifically to Jesus: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Indeed, the language of Mark would seem to indicate that only Jesus saw or heard this message. Matthew's version says that "he (presumably Jesus, the immediate antecedent) saw the Spirit of God," but the voice from heaven is spoken in the third person: "This is my Son...." And Luke's version doesn't seem to indicate that Jesus was the only one that saw/heard in regard to the pronouns, but the voice from heaven is again specifically directed to Jesus alone. Are the differences important? What do you think happened? Did others see and hear God's activity in this event? Or did Jesus tell someone about it later (and if so, who and under what circumstances?)?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Seminary Reflections: An Image of the Church

Apologies for posting a bit late in the day, but I wanted to write this seminary reflections piece after my class this morning. It’s a class of all seniors, and together with three professors we’re attempting to integrate our seminary experience up to now, our knowledge of the church, and our hopes for a resilient future in ministry.

Today’s activity called us all to bring in an object that represented our view of the church today. Some of us thought of the PC(USA), some of us thought wider, others about their own denominations. I admit, going in, I thought the activity was a bit elementary and cliche, but at the end of the morning I walked away with my mind changed. It was fascinating --and moving-- to hear my colleagues’ various descriptions of the church. Here’s a few...

The church as an old barn. People love the barn, it served a great purpose in its day, and it’s still wonderful to look at. You can throw great nostalgic parties in it and people have a fantastic time together, but if it rains, well, the roof leaks a bit. And it’s not very fitting for today’s farm needs. And the trouble with old barns is, they keep getting even older and it’s hard to know when to fix them, or whether to just knock them down, whether a tent might work better, or whether you just need a bigger better barn.

The church as an NCAA basketball March Madness bracket. At the beginning of March Madness everybody picks who they think will win, how they are sure the future will ensue. But, almost never, does anyone completely pick correctly. In fact, once folks get to the final four it’s pretty rare that they even have two teams correctly chosen. We can’t see the future, and when we think we do, we’re usually wrong. Maybe the church is like that. We think we’ve got it all figured out, that our bracket is picture perfect, then God comes along and reminds us what we’ve got is all wrong, shows us the true way forward. And our entire bracket, or worldview, changes.

The church as a double dog leash. When you walk two dogs on two leashes that are connected, one dog may veer off to the right, and another to the left, and you may want to go a completely different direction. You may have to follow one dog, or the alpha dog may drag you to a place you’ve never been before, but is really great. When the dogs are pulling different ways it may seem as if they’re at odds, but they’re really trying, in their own way, to discern what’s best. Maybe we’re just like dogs smelling our ways forward, and would do well to stop and remember who is leading us.

The church as a hip flask. Acts 2, the story of Pentecost, tells how the early disciples got taken as drunks because they were so consumed by the Spirit. It’s good to be drunk on God, but sometimes, often perhaps, we in the church get drunk on other things: the way things were, money or power, buildings or prestige. Instead of gathering at the Lord’s table and sharing the wine with the community of saints, we’re drinking the cheap liquor of our own ways not God’s. It’s fine to drink, to get drunk on the Spirit, but we need wisdom to discern our tastes are true and good.

And there were many more. Legos. Phones. Shells. Tool boxes. Olive trees. Sure, these are playful exercises and we all know every image is incomplete, flawed, and broken. But I found it quite fun, and perhaps telling, to consider.

So if you could choose an image to describe the church today, what would you choose?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thursday Review - The Life You've Always Wanted

It has been several years since I read Dallas Willard's book on Spiritual Disciplines. I recall that it had a tremendous emotional impact on me. It made me want to be a better Christian. It made me understand -- to some extent -- why the disciplines were an important part of becoming a better Christian. It was also dense, demanding and expected real commitment up front.

Recently, I read John Ortberg's book on spiritual disciplines, The Life you've Always Wanted. The Preface concludes with:
In particular, I want to express a debt of gratitude to Dallas Willard, whose thinking and writing about spiritual formation have had an enormous impact on my life and ministry, as it has on so many others. (In fact, one of my private working titles for this book was Dallas for Dummies.) While I wouldn't want to saddle him with any of its deficiencies, much of whatever merit this book has is due to him.
I think that Dallas for Dummies would have been a better title. Don't get me wrong. The book has much to recommend it. It is engaging, easy to read and charming in the way I have come to expect from John Ortberg; but when I put it down, I put it down.

This book is an excellent introduction to the idea of spiritual disciplines. There is nothing to be afraid of in this book. There is also nothing terribly challenging either. Now, I don't mean to imply that the Holy Spirit can't transform lives through any tool it chooses; but throwing this group into your local Womens' book study group will probably do little more than keep them entertained for a few weeks.

Now, to be fair, I thought the small group questions at the back were really very good.
Describe a time when you hurt someone through a sinful choice, humbly confessed, and saw God bring healing and restoration. How did this experience act as a catalyst for future obedience and willingness to confess when you recognized your sins?

What possible extremes might we face if we confess on our own without the leading of the Holy Spirit?
I also think that there are far more people who will read this book and be exposed to the concepts than will make it through anything written by Dallas Willard, and there is value in that.

On a more secular note, Quotidian Grace posted a review earlier this week of some historical fiction that looks quite interesting. I have run the author's name by a friend of mine who is a fantasy novelist and reasonably well credentialed medieval historian. She confirms Grace's opinion of this author's work. So, if you are looking for an addition to your non-professional reading pile and you like historical fiction, check out Quotidian Grace's review of Devil's Brood, by Sharon Kay Penman.

Until next week,

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Refusing to be Comforted

It is Wednesday and time for joyful news on ministry.

I am having some difficulty being joyful this week. Hard for me to imagine Jesus dancing today in light of what is happening in the land where he lived.

Today I imagine him weeping for his sisters and brothers who don't realize they are sisters and brothers.

This is from the PCUSA worldwide ministries page:

Learn more

United Nations News Centre on the Middle East

Middle East crisis from the BBC

Gaza Humanitarian Situation Report - The impact of the blockade on the Gaza Strip 15 Dec 2008 by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)


Give to support humanitarian efforts through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Call the White House comments line at (202) 456-1111.

Send an email to the President and your Senators and Representative through Churches for Middle East Peace’s email system.

Sign the ecumenical Christian letter to President-elect Obama urging him to make Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority.

Download the Christian Call for Holy Land Peace Campaign Organizing Packet PDF icon from Churches for Middle East Peace. This packet is intended to help congregations or other groups organize to send a strong message to President-elect Obama that Israeli-Palestinian peace must be an immediate priority during his first year in office.


A prayer as we hear the news from Gaza and Israel

God of the ages,
we watch the images,
we hear the words,
we see the articles,
and our hearts break,
our souls ache,
our words falter.
We yearn to respond,
to reach out to Israelis and Palestinians,
all our sisters and brothers.
Show us ways to show our care.
Guide leaders of nations and people
to break the cycles of violence;
to seek the ways of peace;
to do justice; and
to walk humbly with you.
We pray in Jesus’ name.

The Crucifixion, Stavronikita Monastery , Athos

Middle 16th cent.

Theophanes the Cretan

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Business

First: a new member blog this week. Welcome to Paul Andresen's A Rock and Roll Devotional: Song involves the entire body in prayer; both the individual body and the Body of Christ. Let the body rock. Paul is a pastor in Arkansas, and he already has two blogs over there on our blog roll (check out Time Loves a Hero and There's a Fat Man in the Bathtub with the Blues). This new blog ties popular music to scripture!

Second: blog reader Ken Malloy sent a wonderful Christmas meditation, All I want for Christmas is .... Peace, "based on the Pastor's notes of Pastor Lloyd Ogilvie. His sermon was delivered to the Congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood on Sunday December 21st 2008." It's worth a read, and is a lovely reminder to extend the feeling of peace throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Third and finally, a potential new change to the blog schedule. What would be more useful to you, for those of you who check out Mark's lectionary ruminations here: post/discussion on the Thursday before the appropriate Sunday, or the Saturday (one day) before? A poll is posted a right, and, of course, comments are welcome here!

And, now, to Epiphany! And beyond! (I've been watching a lot of Toy Story this year.)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday Devotional - Comfort and Joy

Lectionary verse: Jeremiah 31:13c I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

I love to sing the old Christmas hymn "God rest ye Merry Gentlemen" all year round. You'll sometimes find me walking down the church hallway whistling it to a jazz beat. Our band, Glenfinnan, even played it last Advent during the worship service, and I just delighted in the words and music.

The best part of the hymn is in the refrain, you know, the bit that goes, O Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, etc."
I love those words and the feelings that they convey, and I always thought that they echoed what the angels sang above the hillside in Bethlehem, so I was really surprised this morning, to find those words in Jeremiah's prophecy.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, the one who was always wailing and whining because of the harsh times he lived in. But in this passage, he is declaring that God will be able to turn things around; that all the calamities, which the people suffer, will one day come to an end; and that comfort and joy will replace mourning and grief.

It's a beautiful prophecy and one that a lot of people, including myself, need to read and hear again and again. No matter what we go through or all that we endure, pain and sickness, suffering and sadness will come to an end, to be replaced with gladness and love, comfort and joy.

Isn't God wonderful?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You came into the world to save it from suffering and to heal all our wounds. You saved us forever through Your own sacrifice and we are blessed with a great comfort in Your strength, along with a wonderful joy in Your salvation. Help us this day to share from our hearts all the blessings that You give us with the people we love and all whom we meet. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the 4 minute daily devotional, Heaven's Highway.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on Epiphany

I had originally planned to post these reflections on January 5th, in keeping with the "day before" schedule we've been following here at Presbyterian Bloggers. However, it occurred to me that many churches will celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday preceding January 6th, and so if the reflections are to be of any use at all, they need to go up now. So here are the passages for Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on January 6th. These readings are the same every year. 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 60:1-6
  • Light is a common symbol of revelation. What does the light in this passage reveal? What did the land look like before the light came? What do the other nations see in this light that they should be drawn to it? What should our response to be the coming of this light?
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Ephesians 3:1-12
  • Paul talks about the revelation that he has received from God. If someone in our own time talks about having revelation from God in this way, how do we respond to them?
  • On what basis can we determine that someone claiming to speak by God's revelation is telling the truth? Or perhaps they honestly believe what they're saying, but may in fact be delusional. How would we appropriately determine this?
  • How should we respond to the words of this passage of Scripture?
Matthew 2:1-12
  • It is traditional to read the story of the Magi on Epiphany. This passage is the only place in the Bible in which this story appears. What do we know about the Magi on the basis of this passage? How much of what we know (or think we know) do we have to gather from outside sources?
  • As Matthew tells of Herod asking his chief priests and teachers of the law to tell him where the Messiah was to be born, we are given a paraphrase of Micah 5:2, 4. How does Matthew's use of this Old Testament prophecy differ from its original context? Is there any significance to such a difference?
  • The story tells of how gold, frankincense and myrrh are the gifts given to the baby Jesus. Most of us are more familiar with gold than we are with frankincense and myrrh. Why should the Magi have given these gifts? What might Mary and Joseph have done with these gifts, given to their new baby? (I reflect a little on the possibilities over on my own blog, if you're interested)
  • The other main character in this story is King Herod. Especially if you read the verses which follow this passage, it's clear that Herod is the villain of this story. The verses we have here show that the Magi are warned not to return to him after meeting the baby Jesus. What is Herod afraid of? Are his fears valid? Do we as Christians sometimes also act as though we are afraid of what God is doing?

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on January 4, 2009

I'm a strong believer in the power of the well-placed question. Often, I'll ask questions that I either already know the answer to, or at least think that I do. Other times, I'll ask questions that I honestly don't know how to answer. Hopefully, I can hide my biases enough that it won't always be clear which questions are which, but that's for others to decide. I at least hope that readers will take the questions seriously, and that God will use them to lead us all to greater understanding of the Scriptures.

Here are the passages for January 4, 2009, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (Year B). All links are to the TNIV via, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at

Jeremiah 31:7-14
  • When a prophesy is apparently about some event that God will bring to pass, I always like to ask, "When?" While we can safely assume that it was to be "some point in the future" from the vantage point of the original audience, is this something that God has already accomplished in the more than 2500 years that have passed between then and now? Or is this prophecy about something that is, even now, yet to come? On what basis do you make this determination?
Psalm 147:12-20
  • At the end of the song of praise, extolling many of the blessings God sends to the people of Israel, the Psalm reads "He has done this for no other nation." Obviously, this is written in the pre-Christian era, but what are we to make of this kind of message today? Is it appropriate for us to praise God by proclaiming that God has withheld blessings from unbelievers, for example? Why or why not?
Ephesians 1:3-14
  • Obviously, this is a passage that Presbyterians and other Reformed Christians have made much of. What manner of "predestination" is Paul really trying to describe here? How can we make sure that we do not try to make more of the text than Paul and/or the text is really saying, but ensure that we at least have taken these teachings and their implications seriously?
John 1:(1-9) 10-18
  • The Revised Common Lectionary considers verses 1-9 optional. Churches may use the entire reading, or start with verse 10, at their discretion.
  • Why does John open his gospel by personifying "the Word"? How did he understand Jesus to be "Word"?
  • John also uses the language of "light" in a personified way, as well. Why does John write in this way? What is he trying to accomplish? Does he make his point more or less clear by using such imagery?
  • How does John understand God's revelation?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Read and Learn -- Resolutions

It is that time of year again. Time to make New Year's Resolutions, and we have resolved to make a few -- with the usual expectations for keeping them of course.

First, we resolve to maintain the Book Club -- but to make it quarterly.
Second, we resolve to involve more member blogs (and their authors) in Thursday postings.
Third, we resolve to stay flexible in order to provide content that is as engaging as we can make it.
Fourth, we absolutely resolve to read more, think more and enjoy it all more in 2009!

Oh, and finally, we resolve to ask you what you would like to see here on Thursdays. So, since by the time you will be reading this, it will be the New Year; please tell us. What would you like to see here on Thursdays during 2009?

Happy New Year to all.

Quotidian Grace
Justice Seeker