Monday, August 31, 2009

Forgive us our debts

If you read regularly on Tuesdays, you know that I work for a Catholic health system and that I enjoy being somewhere that business meetings often start with formal prayer. One of my boss's in this job is Catholic, has a Jewish wife, and has agreed to raise their children in a Jewish tradition -- a foundational conflict that I'm not sure I could completely reconcile myself. This boss had a preference to pray the "Our Father" (aka "The Lord's Prayer" for anyone else who, like me, thought he didn't know what the heck this Catholic prayer was) whenever it was his turn to lead the group in prayer.

I like the opportunity to say that prayer using another dialect, but I also feel like I'm not able to focus on the message in it. Through the first half, I'm constantly reminding myself "trespasses," "trespasses", "trespasses" and in the second half, I'm constantly wondering "when do I stop?"

Of course, I used to struggle with "debt / debtors" language, too. I've worked through that with the natural expansion of "$ debt" to include spiritual, social, emotional, and metaphorical debt. Turns out that I could have stayed more literal.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been reading The Total Money Makeover and have been reminded that simple financial debt can also have a significant impact on spiritual well being. In the book, the author tells a story about someone who loans a friend $50 when the friend is in a pinch. Not much money. However, the friend can't pay it back. Makes poor planning choices and continues not to pay it back. This, naturally, drives a wedge between them. The author's advice: simply forgive the debt. Insist that it is a gift instead. It may take some time for the relationship to recover, but that debt is no longer actively maintaining pressure on the wedge pushing these two friends apart. His advice: if you have a friend in need and can share wealth with them in a meaningful way, then give to them, don't put them in your debt. The borrower becomes slave to the lender. [Proverbs 22:7]

A lot like our relationship with God, I suppose. God forgives our debts to him. Everything we get is a gift from God. Our covenant is a mutual giving, not a give-and-take contract. That is our relationship with God and the relationship we should strive to have with each other.

Welcome Mat

We get to welcome three new member blogs to the PC(USA) blog this week!


Fresh Worship: Resources for creative worship.

"Most traditional churches do a good job with stability. What we need help with is freshness. How to do you say things in a little different way or use art or drama or video to bring God’s story alive? How do you find those resources?

The Fresh Worship blog is a place to come for those resources. It’s a place to ask questions, to jog your imagination, and to share what has worked for you."

Fresh Worship is written by Rev. Suzanne Gorhau, who says, "I am pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Centerville, Iowa. I am a child of God, wife of Frank, mother of Foster (an FIV cat), creative worshipper, coffee drinker, movie watcher, walker, reader, blogger, web surfer, contemplative, and Marion Medical Mission supporter."


Eyes On Christ: Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
by Anita Coleman.

"The two year anniversary since I came back to Christ is drawing near. Thanks to the abundant, amazing grace of God, my eyes continue to be on Christ and it seems to be entirely appropriate to journal my past and my future. That is what I hope to do and reflect in these pages, my motto: Eyes on Christ."

And here's the related devotional site: Eyes on Christ - Devotional: "This is my sacred writing space. Here, I share my spiritual writings as I meditate and enjoy the presence of Jesus, my Lord and my God through his Word, The Holy Bible. Here, I explore what it means to become Christ-like in light of the Gospel."


Q: Why hair and shoes, Margot? I don't even get it.
A: Here's why: As a follower of Jesus, I spend more time/money thinking about my hair and shoes than I would like to. (And I don't even look that good! I don't even want to think about you stylish hotties out there...) This blog is meant to be a conversation about living as followers of Jesus.

Margot Starbuck, PC(USA) clergy, writer, speaker, wife, and mother, blogs here: Thoughts on Hair, Shoes, & Other Stuff ('s really about discipleship...don't tell): because I keep meeting Christians who are itching to be a little less comfortable.

Check out the blog to learn more about Margot, or pick up a copy of her memoir, The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail.

Welcome, Suzanne, Anita, and Margot!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunday Lectionary Devotions: Anger

James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

The chances are something or someone will disagree with you today and you’ll find yourself defending your opinions or making your feelings known. There's nothing wrong with these, but sometimes we go over the top and the point we want to express is not what other people hear.

When James was writing to the Young Christian Church, he knew that the people of God were often divided, defensive and fierce debaters. After all, they were putting their lives on the line for having faith, so they were going to be passionate about their beliefs and opinions. James was reminding them of our Lord’s example of how He was willing to listen before deciding, of how He was willing to wait before acting, of how He was slow to anger instead of acting rashly.

James wanted the church to grow and influence people. Guess what? We want the same things. Battering people with our beliefs is not productive. Patiently listening to people and quietly helping them are two of the greatest witnesses we can bring to others.

Hmmm, seems like I need a double dose of what James is dishing out....

Prayer: Lord Jesus, wherever I am today and whoever I meet today, let me be a patient, caring witness for You. Keep me free from anger and help me to heal wounds that I may have caused when my motives have been questioned, my opinions have been rejected and my beliefs have been confronted. In Your Holy Name, I pray. Amen.

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Read and Learn: Senior VBS, A Trend?

This week my friend Mary Marcotte ( who is also a certified DCE and Associate General Presbyter of Presbytery of New Covenant) told me about a very successful event at her church in Houston this summer: a Vacation Bible School for Seniors! No, I am not making this up.

I asked Mary to act as a special correspondent for QG and she graciously filed this report on the event:

Pines Presbyterian Church (about 600 members) held its first Life on the Senior Side VBS. For four mornings, folks over the age of 55 were invited to gather for "Vacation Bible School." Somewhere between 65 and 75 were present each day. The effort grew out of the request of some of the many older adults in the congregation who routinely volunteered at the traditional VBS and thought they could/should get in on the fun, too.

The format was simple - gathering for coffee and goodies at 9, singing a few of the golden oldie revival songs at 9:30, followed by a presentation lasting about 40 min. There was then another break (more coffee and goodies) and then particpants could choose workshops that lasted about an hour - discussion with the morning speaker, woodworking, crafts, table games, and writing letters to service men.The group then re-gathered for a VERY short closing and prayer. On Thursday the program ended with lunch.

There was a different speaker each day, touching on seniors in the Bible. Two days were led by older members of the church. The first day I did "Let's hear it for the girls!" (Sarah, Naomi, Elizabeth and Anna) and Rev. Doug Harper, HR, spoke on the older Paul.

Given the graying of the denomination (and of most mainline Protestant churches), Mary's church may be on the leading edge of a new trend! I always did love craft and snack time myself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on August 30th, 2009

Although I, like a lot of people, do use Twitter from time to time, I have to confess that I've never really gotten all that comfortable with it, and thus I tend to read other people's posts there more often than I make my own (although you're still welcome to follow me @NicodemusLegend). A couple of days ago, a section of the PC(USA) web site that I hadn't seen previously was brought to my attention via the Presbyterian account, containing a list of "Frequently Asked Questions" on Theology and Worship. I'm really glad that the PC(USA) web site is doing this kind of thing. There's a lot of background that those of us who have been in the denomination for a long time can take for granted that may be confusing to newcomers (or even other long-timers that have never had occasion to look at that background in depth).

Because it pertains especially to the purpose of this weekly feature, I'd like to quote from the part of that page that pertains to the lectionary.

What is the lectionary? How do we use it?

A lectionary (from the Latin lectio for “selection” or “reading”) is a set of scripture readings chosen for use in worship. Since at least the fourth century, churches have arranged selections of scripture to accompany the church year and/or to allow for continuous readings of books of the Bible from one Sunday to the next. The word “lectionary” can either refer to a simple table of readings or a book that includes the full texts of the scriptures for each day.

The Revised Common Lectionary, prepared in 1992 by the ecumenical Consultation on Common Texts, is modeled on its precursors, the Common Lectionary (1983) and the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass (1969). The Revised Common Lectionary is now used by many of the major denominations in North America. This lectionary provides for a broadly representative sample of Old and New Testament texts and themes, while taking into account the seasons and festivals of the Christian year....

The primary intent of the lectionary is to encourage a disciplined reading of the whole range of the biblical witness in worship. The lectionary can also be an invaluable tool in the coordination of preaching, worship planning, liturgical art, music leadership and Christian education throughout a congregation or denomination. Furthermore, the widespread use of the lectionary allows for ecumenical conversation about the texts for the week (as at a gathering of local clergy) and a resource for personal reflection on scripture.
With that background in mind, here are the passages for August 30th, 2009, the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). All links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
  • It's not all that often that the lectionary uses a reading from Song of Solomon (also often referred to as the "Song of Songs"). This is at least partly because it's a rather short book (only 117 verses total), but also (at least some suggest) because of the nature of Song of Solomon as a poem depicting a sexual romance, which (for whatever reason) isn't dealt with as explicitly in church as some would like. What do you think?
  • Personally, I think at least one other impediment to the Song's widespread use is the fact that, as a poem written so many centuries ago, it contains imagery that seems very alien to us today (there are some truly bizarre examples in parts of the poem not included in this reading). Indeed, the idea of an admirer "gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice" sounds a bit creepy, like a stalker, today. How would you attempt to communicate the intentions of this passage to a modern audience?
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

James 1:17-27
  • I'm struck by James' instructions that we should be "slow to anger. For [our] anger does not produce God's righteousness." Would James rather we never become angry? If so, why not tell us not to become angry rather than just suggest we be slow to do so. If not, does our anger still fail to produce God's righteousness? What good purpose could our becoming angry yield, as James would see it?
  • James stresses the need for "doing," for action quite a bit in his letter. Although there is no definitive contradiction with Reformed doctrines emphasizing grace over works in terms of our salvation, there is a clear tension to be had here. How can we emphasize what James is stressing with such great importance, without conveying a message that deemphasizes God's grace?
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
  • There is a sense that, even though Mark was written for an audience more or less contemporary (in time) with the culture being described, the customs were different enough that traditions such as "hand washing" had to be described in at least some detail. Why did Mark find it necessarily to go through this explanation? What might his audience have missed if he had failed to do so, that it was important that they understand?
  • In fact, there is some disagreement as to whether it was really the case that "all the Jews" had to maintain this practice, or only some (some evidence suggests that only priests were required to ceremonially wash their hands as described, even in Jesus' time). Why did the Jews maintain this hand washing custom (however many that did), and what, despite Christ's argumentation against it, was good about the practice?
  • Jesus accuses the Pharisees of "abandon[ing] the commandment of God [to] hold to human tradition." I'm sure that the Pharisees might disagree about "hand washing" being a purely human tradition, but what was it that they had abandoned that Jesus was so upset about?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Children and Play

I'm the proud (and anxious) father of a brand new kindergartener! The first week of school seemed very successful, though we didn't get as much feedback from her as we might have liked. Still, each day she was excited about getting on the bus at home, and reportedly excited about getting off the bus at school. That bodes well.

Last night was "Kindergarten Curriculum Night." The principal and various teachers spent 90 minutes describing the different activities that the kids take part in throughout the week and the approach that each teacher uses in their particular area: general education, health and physical education, art, and music. It amazes me that, at 5 years old, we're teaching our children about social interaction and kindness (PE), identification and appreciation for patterns (art), and tone and structure (music). I think teaching kids those fundamental ideas will be very powerful for their future learning and socialization.

More importantly, I love that our kindergarten teacher provides a full hour of unstructured play time for our daughter. Kids definitely need an opportunity to relax and play.

When I think about my daughter and her relationship with adult authority figures, I inevitably also think about the relationship that all of us have with God. The parent/child analogy is one that I find powerful in my own faith journey.

I like that we expect our children to play and provide them with safe opportunities to do so. I think God wants all of to have the same opportunity. Yes, life and faith are about struggle and growth and work, but all of that can appear in the form of play, too, I think. In fact, I think we have the choice on many things to see them as either work or play, merely based on our approach to them.

I'm choosing to believe that God is providing me the opportunity to play, and therefore, I'm going to look for opportunities to see play in more of the things that I do every day.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcome Mat

Welcome this week to Xan Skinner from Peaceworks: Thoughts about what it means to pursue a life that includes faith, justice, peace, coherence, integrity, and sustainability.

Of special interest to me was the recent post Using Social Media to Build Community in which the Xan links churches embracing or shying away from Social Media to the Mary/Martha/Jesus story.

Check Xan out at her "personal blog devoted to peace, justice, integrity, sustainability, and faithfulness!"

"I try to live a life of integrity, walk a walk of faith, and make the world a better place in big ways and small. My passion is social and distributive justice pursued through nonviolent means, which encompasses more than meets the eye."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Compassion for a Killer

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

There’s been a lot of outrage expressed on both sides of the Atlantic about the Scottish Secretary of Justice’s decision to release the convicted Libyan bomber of Pan-Am Flight 103. Radio Talk shows and newspapers, TV and cable news networks have been reporting on the outburst of anger and the cries of injustice that have been heard across the land.

Families from both the United States and Lockerbie, Scotland have been interviewed. Reports of their dismay and frustration have been circulated across the Web. Many have called for the resignation of the Secretary of Justice, as well as expressing their hope that the bomber Megrahi dies a slow and painful death. And, as if to rub salt in the wounds, Megrahi’s heroic homecoming in Libya was too much to take.

I remember the night of the bombing very well. All of our churches in Maybole, Scotland had been celebrating an inter-denominational Christmas service at the Old Kirk. My pastor friend Colin, who preached the sermon, had even put a garland of tinsel in his hair. I think I was wearing a Santa helper’s hat as well. It was a wonderful service and we all went home joyfully praising God.

And then it happened. Our celebrations were over. The whole of Scotland was shocked. Lockerbie was engulfed in flames. If the bomb had gone off fifteen minutes later, it probably would have hit Maybole, which was directly under the flight path.

The Scottish people were outraged and demanded that the bombers, if caught, be brought to trial in Scotland. Megrahi was eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. The evidence against him was questionable and it seemed as though he was being scapegoated by the real perpetrators of the horrific bombing. Indeed, some of the British families, who lost loved ones in the bombing, campaigned on Megrahi’s behalf for a second appeal. It was recently denied by the Law Courts, so Megrahi was expected to languish and die in prison.

He’s suffering from a terminal condition and isn’t expected to live much longer. The Secretary of Justice released him on grounds of compassion, which is that great gift of God given to us through the suffering of Christ. Compassion, like mercy, is not given because anyone deserves it, but because someone needs it. Many are outraged and wonder why such a heinous killer of innocent people is being given his freedom. But that’s what compassion is – the turning of the other cheek, along with loving our enemies. It’s hard to practice, justify, or even accept.

I think Lord McCluskey, a retired Scottish judge, whom I admire greatly, summed it up best when he said: "There is no reason for us not to show compassion – apart from revenge, which isn't the sweetest of virtues."

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we honestly do not understand why evil occurs in the world, nor do we fully comprehend why evil people prevail at times. You give us a very weak weapon in the world’s eyes to confront and overcome evil: compassion. Help us to accept that this is our calling as Christians, especially when it is least popular. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Read and Learn -- Favorite Commentaries

Last week I was reading the book of Amos -- long story, don't ask, really should wander through it more often. The first couple of chapters were filled with cultural references that I wasn't getting. I was on my way to at a meeting with two of my Church's ministers. So, I asked for a recommendation for a good Commentary. They stammered. Evidently, Amos isn't high on their frequently read list either.

I pulled out Kindle and ran a search through Amazon on the word, "Amos". After sorting through a few of the less scriptural results, I found a commentary by Lloyd John Ogilvie on Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and Jonah in the Mastering the Old Testament series. It is quite good. I also found Calvin's commentary and a couple of others. I will work through the Calvin eventually, but the Ogilvie was really what I was looking for.

I don't doubt that if I had asked for a recommendation for a commentary on a Gospel or Genesis that I would have gotten a couple of instant titles. Amos, though, wasn't just on the tip of anyone's mind. So, I thought I would ask for suggestions on favorite commentaries covering the lesser read Old Testament books.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on April 19, 2009

Here are the passages for August 23rd, 2009, the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Starting this week, I'm going to handle links to the Scriptures differently. All links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead.

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43
  • The Revised Common Lectionary allows churches the option of reading--or not reading--the verses in parentheses.
  • As I read of Solomon's actions regarding the newly built temple, I'm reminded of David's interactions with the ark that we read about last month. What's different here? What's similar?
  • I'm especially struck by verses 10 and 11, whereby the priests "could not stand to minister" because of the cloud that the LORD brought. Why should God appear in such a way as to overcome the priests in this way? Does this tell us anything about the priests themselves?
  • When Solomon prays before the people, he reminds God of the promises that God has made. What is the purpose of such a reminder?
  • What do you make of the fact that Solomon includes foreigners in his prayer?
Psalm 84:1-12

Ephesians 6:10-20
  • Why does the author of this passage use the imagery of physical armor to describe how one should "be strong in the Lord"? Why do you think he has attached certain attributes (such as "righteousness") to certain armor parts ("breastplate," in that example)?
  • As the passage ends, the author requests prayer that he "may declare (the mystery of the gospel) boldly." Why might he not be bold about such a declaration (apart from the power of God)?
John 6:56-69
  • Last week, I commented at how Jesus' listeners took Jesus' words about "eating his flesh" literally. This reading (which repeats a couple of verses from that one) makes this even more clear, and indeed makes it appear that it was Jesus' intention that his audience understand these words in this way. Why would Jesus say something so clearly offensive? Does he not want people to follow him?
  • Why does Jesus respond to the questions of his disciples by talking about the ascension of the Son of Man, as if this would be somehow more offensive than the cannibalistic imagery he's already used?
  • What do you make of Simon Peter's response to Jesus at the end of the passage?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Keeping It In

Monday was a highly emotional day: my eldest daughter's first day of Kindergarten.

Sunday night, none of us slept well. We've been preparing for this day for several weeks, but there was still a lot of clear anxiety from everyone. My wife and I were up late reviewing paperwork to make sure everything was filled out (for the 3rd or 4th time again, it seemed). Just as we were getting ready to go to bed, our daughter woke up, excited, and said something like "Hi, Daddy! I had a nice nap!" After a few more hours of intermittent sleep, it was finally time to get ready for the bus to arrive.

After we finally got her to school (tailing the bus the whole way), I was truck with a sense that I can only describe as a fullness of joy with an outer rind of anxiety. My wife thought that was a good description. If you're a fruit person, you might imagine something like an orange; only with a peel that is thinner and tastes something like bile. If we can make it through that outer skin, then the rewards are sweet and delicious.

For this message, today, I was searching for a way to tie into this anxiety that I feel around the first day of kindergarten ,when it struck me that my faith is something like the combination of joy and anxiety that I've been feeling about the first day of school.

The church has such a rich and beautiful core, but there is a bit of a skin on it that keeps true joy from from really shining. Perhaps those people who are most truly, fully joyful people are those that have been able to tear off that rind and life more connected to the joy.

What makes up the rind? Mine is made of sin, weakness, pride, avarice, gluttony, sloth, judgement... all those things that keep me from accepting and loving myself and other people. How about you? What's your rind?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Welcome Mat

Welcome to the newest member of the PCUSA webring!

After Sunday: looking for God the rest of the week
by Mike Garrett, A forty-something Presbyterian pastor who believes in life after Sunday.

Mike doesn't blog often (so far) but I like his new title and hope to see more soon.

That's it from me today because it is - gasp - the first day of Kindergarten for my eldest!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lectionary Devotions: Ordinary 20 - Of Psalms and Songs

For Sunday Aug 16 - Today’s Lectionary Verse:

Ephesians 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.

There are some remote congregations in the Scottish highlands and islands who have been singing the same worship songs for nearly five hundred years. They don't get caught up in the hype of modern Christian music; instead, they faithfully praise God singing the psalms that their ancestors composed in
Scotland when Presbyterianism started to take root.

They sing the psalms unaccompanied and usually in the Gaelic tongue. For someone who comes from the outside to one of these services, the singing is eerie as ancient Scottish melodies and rhythms blend with Shakespearean written psalms. It sounds like a clash of cultures but eventually those psalms were re-sung and the tunes were re-introduced to the mountain people in this region. Sometimes, when I hear us singing Appalachian hymns in church, I can ‘hear’ the Scottish parts in the song.

I would have loved to hear the hymns and psalms that the first Christians sang. I am sure that they reflected parts of the Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures that they came from. It must have been wonderful to be part of a new faith group, with new ideas, and a new excitement about life. Those things would have made Christians sing out with hearts and voices.

When we gather together on Sunday, we have a glorious opportunity to share our faith, our cultures, and our music. God brings us together to praise His Son Jesus Christ with our psalms and hymns. It’s wonderful part of what we do as Christians. It’s a wonderful experience to behold. One day, when we gather again at the feet of Jesus, we will sing songs from all over the world, from different times, places, and cultures that we will instantly know in our hearts and beautifully sing forever.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You love singing which is why our churches are full of people who love to sing. We praise You with ancient words and modern tunes, with organ music, pianos, and harps, with stringed instruments, drums, and horns. Thank You for the gift of song that You have inspired in the hearts of our people. In Your Holy Name, we sing and pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the regular devotional blog Heaven’s Highway.

Today’s image is taken from John’s ongoing Psalms Project, in which he is creating a drawing for each of the 150 psalms in the Bible.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday Read And Learn: Ministry To Moms

PresbyBlogger Jan Edmiston wrote a thought-provoking post yesterday at A Church For Starving Artists: The Secret Needs of Moms. She said that "there is a huge market out there for someone to have a ministry of spiritual direction just for moms."

I sure could have used that back in the day when Portia and Babs were very young. Moms with young children often form peer support groups in churches but these usually focus on practical questions of parenting, working, and volunteering and not on the spiritual side of life with a young family.

Jan asks what that ministry might look like. One of her commenters responded by describing a back to school event that the older women in her church were hosting for the younger women in the congregation with children. The event centers around packing school kits for Lutheran World Relief, but the older women will be giving "survival kits" to the younger women as a thank-you and encouragement for them. The kits include tea bags; bath & body shower gel and hand sanitzer; a votive candle: and OF COURSE dark chocolate! As the commenter observed "they are reaching out... to say 'hey I've been there... let me help".

In what ways does your church reach out to mothers of young children to encourage, support and feed them spiritually?

(Cross-posted at Presbyterian Bloggers)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on August 16th, 2009

Here are the passages for August 16th, 2009, the Twentieth 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

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
  • Chapter 3, verse 3, points out a difference between Solomon's worship and that of his father David: that Solomon "offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places." Why didn't David do this? What might be the significance of Solomon's behavior in this regard? (Verse 2 of chapter 3, omitted by the lectionary, may provide a clue)
  • After mentioning David's death, the lectionary glosses over a span of time in which Solomon must solidify his right to the throne before returning us to the story at Gibeon. How much time do you think has passed before Solomon has his dream?
  • Solomon makes clear in his conversation with the LORD that he considers himself unprepared for his role as king. Is he really this unsure of himself, or is this simply the kind of humble language one uses when talking with God?
  • Solomon asks for (and is granted) wisdom (or, more precisely, "a discerning heart"). While there are certainly stories where Solomon's wisdom is on prominent display, there are other stories where one wonders if Solomon turned that wisdom "off" and instead did something rather foolish. What do you make of this reality?
Psalm 111:1-10

Ephesians 5:15-20
  • I have to admit, the writer of this passage comes off as sounding a bit like Jiminy Cricket.
  • Why are the days "evil"? What kinds of opportunities should we be looking for?
  • When listing specific items to be "wise" about, why is not getting "drunk on wine" at the top of the list?
  • Acts of worship are particularly prominent in this passage. Should we see the acts mentioned as items we should be careful to include in our worship, or is the act of worship itself what the passage has in mind?
John 6:51-58
  • Jesus' words here sound a lot like like the Lord's Supper, and indeed these words are used in the sacrament of communion quite often. It's worth noting that John places this story early in the gospel, completely separate from the context of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Is this significant?
  • It's easy for us today to hear Jesus talking about "eating his flesh" and think about bread, but even without the context of the sacrament, the statement seems so extreme that many today would assume he must have meant something else. It seems fairly obvious that the Jews in verse 52 took Jesus literally. Why do you think they were so quick to arrive at this conclusion?
  • Because we've seen people continue to live out their lives and die natural deaths for the past 2000 years, we've come to understand that Jesus' promise that anyone who "feeds on this bread will live forever" must mean something eschatological, as opposed to being a promise that our bodies will never die. How do you think Jesus' original followers understood this promise?

Monday, August 10, 2009


Sunday school this week was a group discussion about the separation of church and state, where that comes from, what the constitution reads, and where some legal precedents have come from. Very powerful issue that probably warrants decades of study and five or six doctoral degrees worth of study before I fully understand the boundaries of my own positions.

One particular interesting thing that came our of the small group discussions was a brief comment about the role of morality in religion and the role of morality in government. So, here's my working model for what morality is and how it relates to religious constructs and forms of government.

In this model, it is religion that feeds the articulation of the morality of choices that we make. For this model, think of "religion" in very broad terms. When we make choices, those are governed by a system of beliefs (that may change over time) that we use to judge the validity of one choice or another (consciously or subconsciously). Those choices create both a negative and affirmative possibility that can be used to define that whole gray mushy area of "morality." Where a particular system of government comes in to the picture of morality is that a form of government, by definition, is an authority that defines rules to govern, restrict, or define a boundary of acceptable behavior.

In my model, religions have an inspired sense of morality whereas a particular government applies a human selection of moral choices to a society.

What does this mean to the conversation about church and state? It reduces the argument that the federal government should not be a moral influence, or that the only place for moral teaching is within a religious setting. What I believe the First Amendment tells us is that America's morality is intended to be an American decision to happen in the context of American political constructs, rather than one to be decided in Christian or Jewish or Hindu polity. I believe that the American ideal is one that both transcends religious boundaries and one that cannot exist without their influence.

And that always seems to make for richer conversation!

Welcome Mat

This week's PCUSA Blog welcome mat is made from recycled tires!

We have a brand-spanking new blog to introduce this week:

God is Green by Bob Barr from First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida.

"The story of creation says that God saw that all things he created were good, and he put us in charge as stewards of His creation. Green is more that just conservation, it is maintenance of peace and justice, and nurturing all creatures to be in right relationship with each other and God. I am learning these things as I explore what it means to be Green and see an opportunity for unity among Christians of all denominations in living Green."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sunday Lectionary Devotions - Battlefield

Sunday's Lectionary Verse

John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Years ago, when I was nineteen, I moved into an apartment in the south side of Glasgow, my hometown. I stayed in a place called Battlefield, which was named after a Scottish civil war struggle in the sixteenth century, in which Mary, Queen of Scots and her army were defeated.

The apartment was leased by one of my insurance co-workers, who hailed from Aberdeen. He had as heavy a drinking reputation as I did, so it wasn't the best of circumstances for me to put myself in. I had to pay a month's rent in advance, and I owed my Dad a month's rent in arrears. When I paid my debts in full, I had practically nothing for food and transport, but I made certain that I had enough for beer and whisky.

It was one of the longest months of my life. The only thing I ate was bread without butter and some peanuts in the bars I frequented. I don't know what sustained me, but I can remember trying to chew grass and eating daffodils. My life was messed up because of drink, but it never occurred to me to ask for help to stop being an alcoholic, or to seek God's wisdom at that time. I believed in the lie that I could handle it all on my own. I was much too proud, and utterly wasted by my addiction.

I never reached the point of starvation, but I did know the pangs of hunger, which I experienced through my own stupidity. It was a hard lesson to learn. When I read passages like today's and hear Christ speaking to me through them, I'm reminded of my past foolishness, but at the same time, of my wonderful recovery, which only came through Christ's grace and His mercy.

He is the Bread of life. He is the One who sustains us through good and bad times. He has the power to lead us beyond our problems and enable us to discover a better way, a truer life. That's why we call Him 'Savior'. That's why we need Him to be our Lord.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes our own stupidity puts us into desperate and dangerous positions. Sometimes we make a mess of the lives that You graciously give to us. Thank You for being patient, for watching over us, and for giving us the opportunity to see in You all our hopes and dreams, all our goals and purposes being fulfilled. In Your Holy name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the regular devotional "Heaven's Highway," which he sometimes podcasts with his Scottish accent.

Today's image is taken from a new series of free worship bulletin covers that John aka Stushie illustrates.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Read and Learn -- Read and Reread

I was talking to someone at church today who has been rereading Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy. Yea, I know, great book. Anyway, he made the observation that he is seeing the book in a whole different way than the last time he read it.

That got me thinking. What are the books that need to be read more than once? (Ok, besides the Bible.) There are some books like the Chronicles of Narnia that are frequently read as children that really do need to be read again later in life. There are books like Richard Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home that cover so many different kinds of prayer that you can't begin to internalize them all in one trip through the book. Then there are the books, like for Divine Conspiracy for my friend, that are so rich that what you bring to them makes them almost completely different.

So, what book, or books, have been a whole new experience for you?


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on August 9, 2009

I'm going to have to beg your indulgence this week. My wife and I had to put our cat, Turtle, to sleep this past weekend, and although I'm sure I could wax eloquent about grief using the loss of David's son in the 2 Samuel passage below as a starting-point, I'd rather not make this feature about me in quite that way. Fact is, I'm not up for the usual reflection right now, but don't want to ignore this week's reflections completely. So, with that in mind, here are the passages for August 9th, 2009, the Nineteenth 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

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Psalm 130:1-8

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

In lieu of my usual comments, I'd love to see what comments readers have on these passages. If you want to read a bit more about Turtle, you can do so over at my own blog, Transforming Seminarian. Your prayers are appreciated.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Don't Make Me Come Down There!

Have you seen those billboards that read:
"Don't make me come down there!"
I'm sure that a lot has been written about the various theological interpretations that could be read into this quote. (In fact, Google says there have been about 173,000 different things to say about those billboards.)

Today, I received a relevant old testament reference, Numbers 12. In this chapter, Miriam and Aaron show some jealousy or resentment of Moses for the nature of his relationship with God. In the end of that story, God comes down to scold Miriam and Aaron for their behavior and puts Miriam in "time out" for 7 days.

I don't personally take well to threatening language. I would much prefer if God just started counting, like we do with our kids: "That's one. That's two. That's three... take five." Then we sing the time-out song to make sure we aren't showing too much anger: "Uh oh, little bit of time out, coming up now. That's soooo sad." I can picture James Earl Jones as the voice of God singing that song.

Again, I don't personally like threatening language, but if I think about it with the way and reasons for disciplining my children, I can appreciate the message. We aren't always our best. We make mistakes. I guess that we can be put in timeout, with love, too.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Why Presbyterian?

Bruce Reyes-Chow, the moderator of the last PC(USA) General Assembly asks on his blog: “Why are you Presbyterian?” He’s just written a church wide letter on the topic, and is asking members far and near to chime in as well.

Here is PC(USA) Blogger Adam Copeland's response.

I love Adam's response because I feel like I could have written the same thing about myself, with the exception of the ordination stuff. And the addition of the fact that I feel at home in worship with the rituals and services that have been a part of my faith journey since I was a child. There are times to stretch outside of one's comfort zone, and times to rejoice and feel at home within it.

Why are you Presbyterian?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Lectionary Devotions: Psalm 51 - Joy Seekers

Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Years ago, I went to a conference in Los Angeles. One of the speakers was H.B. London, who is known nationally as being a pastor to pastors in crisis. He spent over twenty years leading churches, so he experienced first-hand the trials and tribulations of being the target of church members, especially when they were frustrated with his preaching or annoyed at his decisions. He called those people ‘joy-suckers’ because they literally sucked the whole joy out of his being and, funnily enough, they did the same to the happiness of the congregation. Many pastors at the conference understood how he felt and, at that time, I also knew what he was talking about.

Nowadays, I take a different view. I’ve discovered that the people who H.B. London labeled as ‘joy-suckers’ usually have undergone a tragic or traumatic event in their lives, which overshadows their spirits. They carry burdens in their hearts and souls which affect their relationships and sometimes they become spiritually depressed. It’s not that they are ‘joy-suckers’; they are really ‘joy-seekers’ trying hard to cope with life and courageously carrying on despite the hidden heart breaks within them. They know the prayer of David, when he pleads with God to restore the joy of His salvation. They seek this above all things and desperately try to lead a normal, happy life.

Perhaps we are going to come across people who carry painful and heavy burdens this week. Perhaps our first reaction is to avoid or show a disinterest in them. They need to know that we love them, so we need to be patient and listen. We need to be open to hearing their hurts and help them to find the joy, healing and strength that their spirits yearn.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep us from being dismissive of others who appear to be ‘joy-suckers’, but who are really ‘joy-seekers.’ Teach us to be patient and help us to help those who are trying to cope with the hurts and hardships of life that we may never know or ever experience. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on this message, please send him an email to

Today's image is taken from John's 3 year Psalms Project of creating a drawing for every psalm in the Bible. You can see his progress at