Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thawing the "Frozen Chosen"

A fellow elder introduced me to a long list of comical nomenclature used to describe the Presbyterian faith one day. I was shocked at just how many of these adjectives actually come very close to describing the attitudes, practices and habits involved with our systematic approach to faith. My favorite is “the Frozen Chosen.” This pair of words attempts to describe many facets of our denomination and our very systematic approach to our worship and is not very compassionate in nature. Let’s see if I can break this up a bit and address the two words separately.

The word Frozen brings about feelings of cold, rigid and stiff. How many times have you heard someone say that something or someone is “frozen stiff.” We often think of things being hard to the touch and very unyielding when we conjure up images of frozen material. This could be saying that as Presbyterians, we are very set in our ways, our opinions, our attitudes about how this world is and how this world needs to be. There are very few correct ways to worship, and we have the rights to one of the few. This may be how other believers and unbelievers see our denomination. I, for one, do not like being referred to as someone who is stoic and somewhat set in my ways with regards to worshiping and praising our Lord. This is not a very “complimentary” adjective to describe our faith and our method of worship and does not come close to describing our compassionate feelings for the world around us.

The word Chosen conjures up the elite or privileged group of worshipers who have reservations already confirmed in Heaven and really have no need of further approval. This is also not very complimentary due to the fact that we are all sinners and fall short of meeting the ultimate goal of bringing praise and glory to God. We all would like to feel as if we are doing what it takes to be one of the selected few when it comes time to stand before God and answer to all that we have done, but I personally do not see that happening.

I feel that I have a long way to go before I can even come close to standing before God and giving him my excuses for being “frozen” at times, cold to the touch of someone needing a warm, compassionate embrace. I’m sure He will have questions concerning my overconfidence at times and will be direct when He asks the question, “what makes you any better than your friend and neighbor?” How can I prove that I have lived the life of a “good and faithful servant” so that He will welcome me in to his paradise?

I know that most Presbyterians and even most Christians do not have traits that would identify them as “Frozen,” or consider themselves among the “Chosen.” I am fairly confident that this nomenclature can only be applied to a few misled souls who tend to see themselves as privileged children of God. I feel that we, as Presbyterians, need to break free of this frosty description and loosen our minds when it comes to our praise and worship of our great and awesome God. One of the ways we could do this is in our music. When I listen to contemporary Christian music, I’m able to enjoy the Lord, embrace His glory and take in all that He has to offer. If you actually listen to the words of some of the more popular groups, you will find biblically based, heartwarming lyrics that speak to the soul. Groups like Mercy Me, Third Day, Casting Crowns and others are singing praises just as the psalmists did when they penned their praise to our King, just to a different beat. It’s amazing to attend a concert of any of these groups and see families, seniors, teenagers, young children and parents all singing the same songs, the same lyrics and dancing to the same rhythm, just as God would want it to be.

I recently attended the Life and Faith Tour at the Richmond International Raceway. This was a strange venue for a Christian program, but one that the promoters went to great lengths to have a show that provided a chance to worship, praise, laugh, learn, and sing, all in one day. This program was extremely entertaining and definitely worth the ticket price. The program included Christian comedians, Christian authors, entertainers, gospel groups, and my favorite contemporary Christian groups all wrapped up on two stages. It was an awesome experience, one that I will not soon forget.

I just wonder how many “Frozen Chosen” were in attendance. Maybe we were there staffing the snow cone booth :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Welcome Mat, Ending Hunger Edition

Apologies for my absence last week!  We were on vacation in Michigan, and I confess that I did not miss my internet connection.  At all.  But of course  I'm glad to be back, especially since we have a new member of the PC(USA) blog ring to welcome today.

A hearty summer welcome to Krista Phillips, who blogs at Rooted in Christ.  Krista is a Junior Theological Studies major at Hanover College, living each day giving thanks to God and praising God for all of life's blessings.  She loves being outdoors, reading, and working (or playing in the Presbyterian Archives).

Though she doesn't know it, Krista and I have a connection.  My father and sister are alumni of Hanover College, a wonderful Presbyterian school.

Here's Krista's description of Rooted in Christ: "This site is a blog all about what it is to be rooted in Christ. Colossians 2:6-7 says As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Included in the blog are some posts on theology, mission trips, sermons, and anything I feel led to share with the world. I hope to encourage others as well as myself to continue being rooted in Christ so the world can see what it is to live in response to rooting yourself in Christ so that you can be overflowing with Thanksgiving.

All of my posts are practical ways in which I have either acted out being rooted and built up in Him or ways in which I hope to challenge myself and others to place our roots a little deeper so that our branches can reach further in the world. The mission trips I blog about have all been local to me so far. One was to Eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains and the other was out of a response to the flood in Nashville. I also have a few blogs responding to tragedies and disasters that have happened, such as the coal mining accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine."

There's something else I'd like to highlight today.  While on vacation I got an email from Rev. Bryan Field McFarland, singer/songwriter & hunger action advocate: 
Hello Presbyterian Bloggers,

My name is Rev. Bryan Field McFarland.  I am the PCUSA Hunger Action Advocate
in North Carolina's Salem Presbytery.

I'd love to add our project - http://www.untilallarefed.net - as a topic for

We will tithe the production costs giving 10% of $15,000 to the Presbyterian
Hunger Program AND at least 20% of the profits will also go to the
Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Our project is guided by the 5 areas of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
EVERY action, EVERY event, EVERY product related to this project will reflect
at least ONE of the Five Program Areas of the Presbyterian Hunger Program:

1. Direct Food Relief
2. Development Assistance
3. Influencing Public Policy
4. Life-style Integrity
5. Education and Interpretation

Pledging ends June 30, 2010!

Sure would love to add http://pcusablog.blogspot.com/ to page featuring blogs
that are covering "...until all are fed".

See that page at:  http://www.untilallarefed.net/sharepublicity.html

Thanks for your consideration.

In Christ,


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Devotions: Hoots Mon! - Psalm 61

Psalm 60:4      I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. 

Things didn’t go according to plan at a wedding in Scotland yesterday. A tame owl had been specially trained to carry the wedding rings and land on a perch beside the outside altar. It was supposed to be a wonderfully synchronized event. However, the piper began playing just as the owl was signaled to fly. A scared lapwing shot out of the bushes and the owl chased its prey up into a tree. The lapwing escaped but the owl remained perched on a branch. The wedding rings were still attached to its legs!

As one of my Scottish friends wrote: what a hoot! Eventually the owl was coaxed down from the tree and the ceremony continued. If Robert Burns had been around, I guess he could have penned the immortal lines: “the best laid schemes of owls and pipers gang aft agley.”

When the psalmist wrote about taking refuge in the shelter of God’s wings, he wasn’t literally saying that God had wings. He was using a metaphor to describe his absolute confidence in God’s protection. In the midst of his personal troubles and crisis, he had the utmost faith in God’s guidance and deliverance. Even if all of the psalmist’s plans went haywire, he would be still be assured of God’s grace and love.

To me, this is what makes faith so important –it gives us a hope in God that He will not abandon us, and a love from God that can never be extinguished.

Prayer:                        Lord God, thank You for allowing us to take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Thank You for granting us unlimited grace and everlasting love. In the midst of our problems and worries, we constantly rely upon Your Presence and Guidance. In Jesus’ 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 pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s image is John’s drawing of Dunure Castle in the West of Scotland parish where he used to minister. You can view a larger version of the drawing at the following link: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4024/4718989531_b55884b457_b.jpg

Friday, June 25, 2010

NASCAR Living Ain't for Me: How 'Bout You?

If my father was still alive, this coming Sunday morning he'd be sitting (if his health allowed) on a pew at First Presbyterian Church of Anderson, SC. Later, he'd be sitting in his recliner watching TNT — watching a bunch of cars going very fast around and around in a circle. Actually, more in an oval. He loved NASCAR.

Thing is, despite his love of NASCAR, of cars going close to 200 mph chasing a checkered flag, he personally drove like molasses being poured out of a bottle on a cold winter day. In that way, his driving reflected his general approach to life. He was a plodder. I'm inclined to think that, as a culture, our driving habits do indeed reflect our general approach to life. And if being on an Interstate highway, say driving through Atlanta, is any indication, we're addicted to speed. We want it, whatever "it" may be, and we want it NOW!

A man came to Jesus. He was a man in a hurry and, in this case, for good reason. His daughter was dying. He was in an understandable panic. He begged Jesus to rush over and heal his daughter. But Jesus didn't rush. He simply plodded along and, in the process, as the story is told, a woman came up to him and touched his robe and was healed. Well, about this time someone came and told the man to forget about bothering Jesus, his daughter had died. At that point, finally, Jesus turned to the man and told him not to worry, that his daughter would be okay.

Most of us, I dare say, would fault Jesus for his reaction, or rather, his lack of reaction. If it had been us, we would have immediately stopped what we were doing and rushed over to Jarius' house right away. But Jesus didn't; he took his own sweet time. My reading of the gospel accounts is that Jesus was a person of an unhurried life.

Then why do we hurry so? Why are we racing for that illusive checkered flag? That undefinable prize?

The National Jewish Medical and Research Center lists seven thoughts that we entertain which lead us to live NASCAR lives, lives of hurried stress:

1. making mistakes is terrible
2. it is essential to be loved by everyone
3. every problem has a perfect solution
4. if others criticize me, I must have done something wrong
5. strong people do not ask for help
6. everything is within my control
7. other people should see things the same way I do

What do all of those have in common? They compare us to someone else. When we think like that we are measuring ourselves against others.

Thoreau wrote: "Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry."

Hurry, our love for speed, the need to do it better, faster — these are enemies of reflection and contemplation. Every time I sit down at my computer I find myself getting frustrated with its speed, or lack thereof, actually.

For most of my life, my mother suffered from bi-polar disorder. Back then we called it Manic-depressive. She ran in two-week cycles. For two weeks she'd be depressed, rarely leaving her bed. Then, for two weeks, she'd be manic, sleeping maybe two hours a night and the rest of the time buzzing around like Atlanta drivers on I-285. And since she was flying high, she thought I should be, too. To be honest, sometimes it would wear me out. On the other hand, I have to confess that those times were a lot of fun for me as a child, too — going here and there, doing this or that.

She was a woman of great faith, too; raised an Episcopalian, and a dedicated member of First Presbyterian in Anderson. I will always remember a prayer she carried around on a 4x6 card which my father had laminated for her. The intention was for my mother to pull out that prayer and read it occasionally when she was manic. You may have heard it. Part of it goes something like this:

Slow me down, God. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace. Give me, amidst the day's confusion, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking 'minute vacations'... Remind me of the fable of the hare and the tortoise; that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than measuring its speed.. Let me look up at the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew slowly and well. Inspire me to send my own roots down deep into the soil of life's enduring values... that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny. Slow me down, God.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, June 27, 2010, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

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

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
The passing of the mantle: Elisha does not leave Elijah but vice versa.
A word study on “mantle” and the various Hebrew words that the English translates might be profitable; and consider comparing and contrasting Elijah’s mantle with Moses’ rod.

v.8 Elijah parts the Jordan. Is this the feat that earns him a place with that other water parter, Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration?

v. 9 What was the value of Elijah’s spirit and what would it be doubled? As for me, I might settle for half.

v. 11 What is the connection between the chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire and the whirlwind?

v. 13 What does Elijah leave his mantle behind? What does it symbolize?

v.14 What an odd question!

What is your mantle and who bequeathed it to you? Where does your power symbolically reside?

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
vs. 11-12 Deeds, wonders, work. What are other synonyms?

v. 12 Are God’s deeds ever your muse? They certainly were for this psalmist.

v. 18. Undoubtedly it was the mention of the “whirlwind” that prompted the lectionary committee to pair this psalm with today’s first reading. How does this psalm ”interpret” or expand upon today’s first reading?

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
v. 1 Who needs verses 13-25? This first verse can serve as the text for several sermons.

v. 1, 13 Next Sunday is the Fourth of July. If you want to get a jump on the holiday, this reading offers the opportunity to focus on “Christian Freedom”.

vs. 13-15, 16-25 As freedom is contrasted with slavery, so too is flesh contrasted with Spirit, and the works of the flesh are contrasted with the fruits of the Spirit.

vs.19-21, 22-23 Does it mean anything that there are more “works of the flesh” listed than there are “fruits of the Spirit” listed?

Luke 9:51-62
v. 51 What, exactly, does the author of Luke mean by “taken up”?

vs. 52-53 What is going on here? What was it about Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem that caused the Samaritans not to receive him?

v. 55 Is this perhaps the only “rebuke” in the Gospels other than Jesus rebuking Peter?

vs. 57-62 Enigmatic sayings: Notice the progression: A person says they will follow. Jesus calls a second person to follow. A third person says they will follow. Apparently none of the three do follow. What about you?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Accentuate the Positive

In this day and age, it is extremely difficult to remain positive among so many negative influences in our lives. Just ten minutes of any news show will demonstrate this problem, illustrating a world of violence, poverty, sickness and many other pictures of a world in turmoil. This can take its toll on the average viewer, creating a feeling of despair and a lack of hope that tops all others. Just take a look at the 6 o’clock news this evening and you will see what I mean. But wait, hang on, it’s not all bad. Hang on and the more positive stories will show up at the end of the newscast. These are the “good citizen” type stories where they feature some great thing the average citizen has done to improve the life of others. Why are the stories featuring a good deed placed in the final minutes of the news show? It’s because we hunger for the bad, we want to be shocked and amazed at the horrible things people do to others. We get excited when there is a plane crash, war, death or other negative happenings, and get bored with the good stuff. We overwrite all of the negativity with the answer that someone else will deal with those things, that those things are the problem of others much more influential than we are. Amazing isn’t it?

As Christians and consumers, we need to voice our opposition to the greater emphasis placed on the negative, and support those who accentuate the positive. The next time you sit down at your computer, send an email to your local TV or Newspaper and praise them for the positive stories featured at the end of their newscasts or buried in the middle of the newspaper, with emphasis on “at the end” and “buried in the middle.” (sarcasm noted) This may just send the message that the consumer is very tired of hearing and reading all of the negative, shock and awe stories at the beginning of the show or paper. It’s time we accentuate the positive using our might as Christians and consumers to change the way people think about our society.

I’m of the opinion that this could create a more positive outlook for some, maybe even changing the way the world looks at us. If we as a society manage to focus on the good versus the bad, then the rest of the world may take notice, and maybe even begin to accentuate the positive. It is also my opinion that God did not intend for His children to be overwhelmed with the sinful nature of the world, but to be blanketed with the good, and to demonstrate these good deeds over and over as we all attempt to become Christ like. How can we accomplish this if we are not separating ourselves from all the negative, sinful aspects of our world?

Take time to influence your world today and “accentuate the positive.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Go Fish!: Becoming a Good Detective for the Holy Spirit

My all-time favorite TV detective is Lt. Columbo, portrayed by Peter Falk. I love Columbo's rumpled personality, his razor-sharp powers of perception, his humor, and his ability to outwit even the cleverest of criminals. Actually, I like watching TV detectives in general, because I enjoy the whole process of looking for clues to solve mysteries.

It may be why one of my favorite parts of the book "Reimagning Evangelism; Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey" is when author Rick Richardson says we as Christians are all "junior partners" in the "Holy Spirit Detective Agency".

"We look for clues. We ask good questions of our lead detective, the Holy Spirit, and of people," he writes in Chapter 2, "Rediscovering the Holy Spirit". The purpose, he says, is to find out, "Where is God already at work?"

Detectives Not Sales People

Richardson's book is perhaps one of the best evangelism books for Presbyterians and other mainline Protestants I've read. It overcomes a couple of challenges for non-evangelical Christians. One I call the "Hit by the Bus" challenge, the other is the "Close the Deal" challenge.

The "Hit by the Bus" challenge comes when books by evangelical authors come to the "why" of evangelism. For evangelicals, there's a very real urgency. I think it was in a Bill Hybels book I read when he asked what would happen to a non-believer if they walked out the door and were hit by a bus tonight? People need to get saved as soon as possible, the reasoning goes, because they might die tonight and wind up in Hell for Eternity.

Many Presbyterians I've talked to don't spend a lot of time focusing on what might happen to a non-believer in Eternity. Which is why some evangelical books fall short for mainline Christians who don't feel that same urgency to convert people.

Actually, I have a feeling none or few of my non-Christian friends worry about Eternity. They either don't believe there is one, or they've adopted the theory that most everyone is going to get there, as long as they are basically good people on Earth. It makes using the "Hit by the Bus" reason a poor talking point. Most of my friends are more concerned about the here and now. As I said in an earlier post, there are plenty of reasons to share why following Jesus on Earth improves, enhances and enriches life.

The "Close the Deal" challenge has to do with the end-game of most evangelical books on evangelism: conversion. We as Christians should be able to help someone "cross the line of faith", readers are told. I absolutely believe that if given the opportunity, I should help someone step over the line of faith. However, many non-evangelical Christians I know are turned off by what they perceive are veiled sales pressure tactics. I've heard some folks say they worry they have to be like sales people getting customers to sign on the dotted line.

Richardson provides the perfect antidote to these worries. "Reimagining Evangelism" is more about working in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, and acting as one of many touch points along the way of a person's spiritual journey. The responsibility for a non-believer's conversion rests with the Holy Spirit, not with us. But we do have to cooperate!

Skills of a Good Detective

How can we be good junior detectives? According to Richardson there are three primary skills necessary:

1) Listening for the "whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit to show us where God is at work in the lives of those around us."

2) Asking good questions of people "to find clues for where God is already at work in their lives."

3) Collaborating with God in prayer "for seekers and skeptics and with seekers and skeptics." (author's emphasis)

If you are looking for a book or curriculum - there is a DVD teaching series - to share with your Session or congregation, consider using "Reimagining Evangelism".

And as Lt. Columbo would say, "just one more thing": consider yourself deputized into the Holy Spirit Detective Agency.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for for Sunday, June 20, 2010, the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

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

1 Kings 19:1-4 (5-7) 8-15a
This coming Sunday I will read the narrative straight through, including the optional three verses.

v. 2 Why did Jezebel send a messenger to Elijah? Why not just kill him? She swears by her gods?
v. 3 Having spoken truth to power, why is Elijah only now afraid?

v. 4 I s there any significance to the mention of a days journey and a broom tree? Why Jezebel swore by her gods, Elijah prays to the LORD.

v. 5 The beginning of a Big Dream, but where does the narration of the dream end?

v.8 How much has this influenced the Gospel traditions of Jesus’ wilderness wanderings?

v.10 Is Elijah really the only faithful Israelite remaining?

v. 12 What is the sound of sheer silence?

Psalms 42 and 43
I can almost hear these words coming from the lips of Elijah. These two pslams contain some of my favorite Biblical images and lines. 42:1, 5, 7, 11 and 43:3and 5 especially.

Galatians 3:23-29
v. 23 Is faith revealed by Christ?

v. 27 What does it mean to be clothed with Christ ans how does baptism accomplish that?

v.28 Do you think Paul meant for this list to be complete, or just the beginning on an infinite list? Black/white, rich/poor, gay/straight, republican/democrat, etc?

v. 29 Are we not also Sarah’s offspring?

Luke 8:26-39
vs.27 & 29 Why the shift from plural (demons) to singular (demon)?

v. 32 Obviously Jesus has authority over the demons

vs.35 & 37 Why were the people afraid?

v. 39 Read this verse VERY carefully. Read between the lines. What is it saying?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I wanna Be Like Job...

In the book of Job, the lead character loses his family, his wealth, his health and is then criticized by his friends. This is all brought on by a challenge given to Satan by God to prove a point. Wow, I hope God does not choose me to make any points with Satan! But then again, God can do anything, and if I’m here to prove a point then so be it. Sometimes I get the feeling that God is using me to prove something, but is keeping me from knowing exactly what that something is for my own good. He wants me to learn, grow, mature and become aware of just what my purpose is before making it very obvious. In this way, I will become the servant I was meant to be and my purpose for my earthly existence will become very clear.

Like Job, I have faced many trials, many downturns in my life, suffering only a few scars to show for it. Literally, I have several scars from the brain surgeries as a reminder that God is with me always. Like Job, I have been faced with the strange looks from friends who felt that I was not making sound decisions, or that I must be doing something wrong to justify all of the bad things that have come my way. Like Job, I have not lost faith. One of my favorite lines from this book is Job 19:25…”For I know that my Redeemer lives.”

As devoted servants of our Lord and God, we must never forget the proven fact that He lives. It is too easy for us to get lost in the mundane activities of life that seem to grab our attention away from this very fact. Before we know it, we can be plagued with the same things that brought Job to his knees. We must be prepared to play the lead role for our God, suffering the many terrible things this world can throw at us, and play the role of Job, winning an Oscar for our performance. If we take on the faith and trust displayed by my hero Job, then we can be the example for the rest of the world. We can bring unbelievers to Christ just by living a life that demonstrates our faith, trust and ultimate belief that God is with us, through thick and thin.

I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. When faced with adversity, pain and suffering, we must always wear a smile, an outward appearance that we know we will be taken care of no matter what the final outcome. We must be His messengers, shouting to the world that there is a God, that Jesus Christ was born, crucified, and rose from the dead, and that these things are real, true and evident in us. As a brain tumor survivor, I try to do this in my actions and words. I try to maintain a positive outlook, conveying to others that there is a God and that no matter what happens to me, He will be there to take care of me. When I run marathons after dealing with the five rounds of brain surgery, ankle reconstruction, rotator cuff surgery and more, I am shouting (figuratively) to everyone …”for I know that my Redeemer lives.”


Monday, June 14, 2010

A Round of Applause

Applause Pictures, Images and Photos Many, many thanks to Quotidian Grace, JusticeSeeker, and Pinkhammer for their work with Wednesday (or Thursday) Read and Learn posts on this blog.

Our faithful - and, in the case of Jody and Elaine, longterm - bloggers are ready for a rest.

So today I'd like to express my appreciate for all of their hard work and valuable contributions.

Thank you!

I'd also like to ask the rest of this community - fellow bloggers, readers, Presbyterians, fans, friends, foes - what you'd like to see in the Wednesday space.  Is Adult Ed still of interest?  Or is there another topic more compelling for us today?

Are there any volunteers for the Wednesday spot?  Perhaps a monthly blogger interested in moving to a weekly column?

Please send your responses, requests, and interests to pcusablog@gmail.com.  

Thanks again, Quotidian Grace, JusticeSeeker, and Pinkhammer!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sunday Devotions: New Life

Acts 5:20         "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life." 

On Thursday, I watched parts of the live concert that was taking place in South Africa to celebrate the World Cup. It was wonderful to see so many people of different cultures and colors coming together to party. Twenty years ago, this would not have been possible. New life has come to the South African people and it was evident in their music, dancing, and celebrations.

When I see joyful and energetic events like that, I wonder if Christ’s Church will ever get together across the world by ridding ourselves of our historical divisions and theological barriers. It would be wonderful to experience a global Christian event where Christ’s people all gathered at the one time to celebrate His Victory over sin and death. If we could have an international festival of faith, the whole world would see that Christ does indeed breathe new life across the globe. I know that one day this will happen when Christ returns, but wouldn’t it be tremendous if we could organize such an event here and now?

Perhaps we can begin this process by making worship on Sunday mornings a priority in each of our lives. If we could all focus our energy into praising God enthusiastically, then we could turn those hollow services on Sunday mornings into holy celebrations. That would be a new life worth preaching and presenting!

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, You brought new life into a deeply divided and dead world. Your message has touched millions of lives across the centuries and we are blessed with Your Spirit in the Church. Empower and encourage us to enthusiastically worship and praise You, especially on Sunday mornings when we meet with our faith communities. 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 pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Today’s image is a drawing called “African Cross” which John created for his daughter Lauren’s mission trip to Tanzania. Since then, it has been used by several African seminaries, conferences and congregations throughout Africa. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3079/2554574595_18e55d4243_b.jpg

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, June 13, 2010, the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

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

1 Kings 21:1-10 (11-14) 15-21a
v. 2 Eminent domain?

vs. 4, 6 Note that as Ahab ruminates on Naboth’s refusal he fails to bear in the mind the reason for Naboth’s refusal.

vs. 7-10 Behind every evil ruler is an even more evil spouse?

v. 17 How does the “word of the LORD” come to Elijah. Here is a perhaps archetypal example of someone called to speak truth to power. Elijah the Tishbite is about to take a bite out of the tush of Ahab the King. (Yes, that is an original play on words. If it works for you, use it.)

v. 21 Who is speaking here, Elijah, the LORD, a mixture? Why the shift from “you” to “Ahab”? I

Psalm 5:1-8
vs. 1-2 How shall we hear this plea? Is it the plea of Naboth? Elijah? Anyone and everyone who is trodden under the boots of tyranny or find themselves buried by bureaucracy?

v. 7 What does it mean to be “in awe” of the LORD? How often do we foind ourselves in such a posture?

v. 8 It is often hard enough to follow God’s ways. The least the LORD can do is make those ways straight so there is no moral ambiguity. But we live in a world that is rarely black and white and are often confused as to which way is God’s way.

Galatians 2:15-21
v. 15 Who are the “we” Paul is speaking for? Does his statement suggest that Gentiles are “sinners” simply because they are Gentiles?

v. 16 Is there any way to read this without thinking “justification by faith”?

v. 20 Is there any way to read “who loved me and gave himself for me” without automatically thinking of theories of the Atonement?

Luke 7:36-8:3
v. 36 I wonder which one of the Pharisees extended the invitation. (Verse 40 tells us it was Simon.)

v. 37 What does it mean that the woman was a “sinner”? What is meant by this? Why is it mentioned? What does it matter? Is there anything special about alabaster jars?

v. 39 If the Pharisee said this to himself, how do we know what he said or was thinking? Could this be a constructed story rather than the report of an actual historical event?

v.40 Inspite of his doubts, Simon calls Jesus “teacher”.

vs. 41-42 So love can be bought

v. 46 There was no mention in verse 38 of the woman anointing Jesus’s head.

v.47 If you are going to sin anyway, you might as well sin boldly.

v. 49 so the issue is that Jesus forgives sins, not how many he forgives, in spite of v. 47.

v. 50 So this woman was saved by her faith (rather than by God’s grace)?

v.2 The woman introduced in verse 37 is not named, so why do we jump to conclusions and link her to “Mary, called Magdalene”?

v.3 So these woman have been paying the bills? Times have not changed much.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Life and Baseball...

I felt fortunate that on a church retreat in 1987, I found Christ, and gave my life to Him. I had grown up in the Methodist church with my father walking to church, my brother and I, ages 6 and 8,not far behind him discussing those elementary kid things and the mischief we could create in Sunday School. My brother Steve and I would attend Sunday school with the other younger aged children while my father taught the teenagers. Now fast forward to 1987, where my wife Kathy and I were attending a wonderful Presbyterian Church in downtown Baltimore Maryland. We had moved there in hopes of building an empire from a simple Traffic Safety supply company owned by her mother. The church was on a retreat in the beautiful Maryland Mountains, and it was the first time Kathy and I had attended a church retreat, sleeping in a small tent for the weekend. It was here that I began to hear God speaking to me, urging me to listen and helping me to understand what was happening. It was here that I finally got it. I was elated to understand things, to have a vision of something better, and to be able to share with other Christians. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, wanting to dedicate my life to accomplishing His will.

It’s just when we think we have everything figured out, and life returns to the blinding pace we are accustomed to, that God throws us a curve ball. After all, He is a “major league” caliber southpaw who can blaze a pitch across the plate before we are even aware he has thrown the ball.

I have been thrown many curve balls in my life. These would include kidney stones in High School, where the doctors claimed I was drinking too much milk, go figure. There was the knee surgery that came out of no where, discovered on a High School tennis match, when I was having knee pain only to discover it was a benign tumor that was quickly removed. Then there was the big bang, the brain tumor discovered when I was 29.

Just when you think things are moving in a positive direction, God sends you a challenge to test your faith, your strength, your will to remain a faithful servant. These are typically things we do not see coming. Pitches that seem to cross the plate before we are aware they are even thrown. These are events or illnesses that seem to appear out of the blue, testing our fortitude and our belief in God. My “big bang” did just that. Our lives seemed to be finally taking shape. We had moved back to the Richmond area (Colonial Heights, VA) in the fall of 1988, and I found work in the very place I had resigned from two years prior. I returned to my position as a Deputy Sheriff for Chesterfield County.

While on a relaxing vacation with the family in Myrtle Beach, I began to suffer severe headaches. We all just thought it was food poisoning because it went away overnight. God was sending me a message, a fast pitch across the plate, and it was a "swing and a miss." In the fall of 1991, after a promotion to the position of Captain by the new Sheriff in town, I felt we were on our way. Our two young boys were growing up in a small town as I had, and were well adjusted, growing up in a village that seemed to surround them with love, and a small church that did the same. The headaches continued, and I sought relief, first with a visit to my General Practiioner, then a neurologist. The neurologist suggested treating me for stress induced migraines, brought on by a very stressful and chaotic work environment. I could not convince the doctors to take a look with a CT scan, so I just did what I was told and took my medicine like a good little boy. The pain would become so severe that I would have to be taken to the emergency room because I could not hold down the medicine prescribed for the pain. They would give me the same prescription in a shot and send me home.

After four trips to the ER, Kathy and her sister threatened the ER doctor within an inch of his life in order to get him to order a CT scan. The doctor very reluctantly agreed to do this, but was very concerned about second guessing the very highly respected neurologist I was seeing. He was blown away by the pictures. There it was, right in the center of my brain. The scan showed a golf ball size tumor that was creating a life threatening situation.

When I was returned to the emergency room, he called Kathy and her sister over to the stretcher. The doctor was visibly upset, and was very apologetic about the entire situation. It was when he spoke of the large mass found on the scan that her sister had to brace my wife from fainting to the floor. I immediately found myself in a very calm, unusually peaceful place. I felt God’s hand on my shoulder and was ready to swing at any pitch He would throw at me this time. My response to the doctor was something like “ok, what do you plan to do about it.” He immediately contacted a neurosurgeon and the rest is history, a very eventful history to say the least. I have since gone through trials such as demotions at work, divorce, treated for depression, and other mild setbacks, but nothing compared to the challenge of a life threatening brain tumor. Since the original surgery, I have had four other brain surgeries related to the original tumor, including the removal of yet another tumor created by the radiation to rid me of the first one.

My pastor has the best and most thought provoking benediction each Sunday as he prepares us to go out into the world. Each Sunday he finds different ways to say basically the same thing. “Go out into the world, knowing that God has put you wherever you are for a reason.” I was put in the Chippenham Hospital ER for a reason that day. This reason was explained in a very heartfelt note I received months later from the ER doctor. His wife began to experience severe headaches, and was quickly seen by a neurologist because her husband remembered my situation months prior. This resulted in discovering a brain tumor, and being able to take action immediately. He was very thankful that my experience gave him the wisdom to courage to support his wife through this trial in their lives. I have since lost touch with this doctor, but I’m comforted by knowing my experience actually had a good outcome.

We sometimes really question why, we often utter the phrase “why me, Lord.” We can rest assured that “wherever we are, God has put us there for a reason.” I can safely say that I hit one out of the park for the team. I question why each time I begin to suffer headaches and wonder if God is getting ready to throw his best at me across the plate. I am now convinced that each time I deal with the brain tumor or some other challege, God is placing me at bat because He has confidence in my swing.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Welcome Mat

Blogger's working again! First I didn't post a welcome last week because of Memorial Day. Then I log in to post last night and . . . no Blogger. Alas. But today - belated as this welcome is - please don't miss our newest blog ring member:

Onesimus Online: history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff.

This site shares my perspectives on history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff. I teach theology at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology to masters-level students from all over sub-Saharan Africa. With the center of global Christianity shifting to Africa, the issues and struggles we face here are increasingly the most important issues facing Christianity. There is so much good here, and so much that has gone way wrong as well. Too few people educated in the West are even aware that a Western perspective on theological issues is no longer THE perspective. Though political colonialism is a matter for history books, Western intellectual colonialism on the part of both conservatives and liberals is still the assumed posture on the part of Western Christians, academics and do-gooders. I am hoping to provoke discussion of these sorts of issues, as well as highlight both strengths and weaknesses of not only the Christian movement in Africa, but of the West as well.

By: William Black
Karen, Nairobi, Kenya
"I'm presently a lecturer at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST), teaching courses in theology and Christian history. As to experience, I've been a staff member with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the pastor of several churches in the USA and Ethiopia. As to denominational affiliation, PC(USA). As to academic pedigree, Duke, Gordon-Conwell and Cambridge. As to zeal, a missionary. But whatever advantages I may have had, I regard as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing the Messiah Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11). If you know of anyone in Karen who would be interested in getting together at the local pub to talk theology over a pint, let me know!"

Friday, June 04, 2010

Octopuses, Humans, and the Imago Dei

Last month I delayed writing about Octopuses to write about the oil spill. Who knew then that the oil spill would still be news a month later? (But finally a bit of good news ). For those who want to talk more about the oil spill, come over to Conversation in Faith . But here, this month it's octopus time!

Octopuses are simply fascinating creatures. At the National Geographic site you can read short pieces about the Giant Pacific Octopus (average size 16 feet!) and the Common Octopus . You can read about Octopus intelligence, here, here, here, and here.

Interesting creatures, I think. But there is something more to think about besides the “gee whiz” factor.

Many of us have a memory from biology class of a “Tree of Life” or to use an older term, the “great chain of being”. This memory shapes our perception of the world. We think of animals as more or less advanced, more or less complex and as more or less intelligent. Unthinkingly many of us place value on animals based on their location in the “Tree of Life” The higher in the tree you are the better. Mammals become more valuable than reptiles. Vertebrates more valuable than invertebrates.

That's why I'm telling you about the Octopus. If we think hierarchically about the animal world, the octopus is fairly low on the ladder. Not a mammal. Not even a vertebrate. They are in the same phylum as snails and clams.

And yet, in a simple way, they use tools, they solve problems, they might even play. While we are not the same, humans and octopuses, we are not a different as we once thought.

So here is the theological question, What is it that makes us human? Traditionally Christianity has defined our humanness by declaring we are not animals. Or at least animals of a decidedly different sort. But the more we learn about animals the more blurred that distinction becomes.

When the Bible tells us we have been created in the image of God, historically and even today some Christians believe that means we are distinctly and particularly unlike other animals. And then science becomes a problem when it ascribes traits to animals that we have reserved for humans. The things that made us different and special, things such as language, culture, empathy, the ability to mourn and the ability to be self aware. This is disturbing for many people. It causes them think they have to choose between science and Scripture.

The answer to this problem is found in understanding how images functioned in the ancient world. Images didn't depict the god, they depicted certain attributes of the god. Kings were believed to bear the image of a god and thus the representative of a god and therefore ruled on the god's behalf.

To be created in God's image doesn't mean we are physically distinct from creation ( remember, in Genesis 2 we are made out of mud). It does mean that all of us function as earthly kings. There is no hierarchy here, all humanity shares in the privilege and responsibility of rule. And we are to rule as God rules. For Christians we find our best understanding of the rule of God by following Jesus.

The fact that science blurs the distinctions between humans and the rest of the animal world, needn't be distressing. Our status in the eyes of God really hasn't been changed. As those who bear the image of God we are elected, not for privilege, but service.

There is much more that could be said about this, but I think this is enough to get the conversation started. I'd like to know, what do you think?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for June 6, 2010, the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

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

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
Now that we are in Ordinary Time we will be encountering a lectio continua of First, Second and Gospel readings from 1 Kings, Galatians, and Luke, offering the teacher and preacher an opportunity to develop and present a more narrative series of lessons and sermons that develop over several weeks.

v. 8 It is my usual practice when reading aloud a passage such as this to insert the name ”Elijah” in verse 8 so that listeners know who is being spoken of. In this case, how and when did “the word of the Lord” come to Elijah?

v. 9 Is there anything special about Zarephath or Sidon?

v. 12 Eat, drink and die.

v. 13 Do not be afraid of what? Dying? Helping Elijah?

v. 14 And once the rain comes, then what happens?

What is the point of the story? How many levels of meaning and interpretation are there?

Psalm 146:1-10
One of the five “Hallel” psalms that concludes the Psalter

v. 3 In light of this verse, where did the widow of Zarephath place her trust? Generally speaking, where do most of us place our trust?

v. 9 Here is a verse for Bernard Madoff and the Executives at Bear Stearns.

Galatians 1:11-24
v. 11 What does Paul mean by saying that the Gospel he proclaimed was not of “human origen”?

v. 12 Is Paul claiming that he received “the Gospel” during his Damascus Road experience, or does he have something else or more in mind?

v. 15 Roots of our Reformed doctrine of predestination and election?

v. 16 Is it true that Paul “did not confer with any human being”?

v. 17 Is there any other reference, in Paul’s writings or in Acts, of his trip “into Arabia”? Where and what is this “Arabia”?

v. 20 Might this be an example of "The Apostle doth protest too much, methinks."?

Luke 7:11-17
A resurrection or resuscitation Miracle. How does it prepare us for and inform us about the resurrection of Jesus?

v. 11 Is there anything special about Nain?

v. 12 Why was the death of an only son of a widow particularly tragic? Note that there was a large crowd with her. There was a also a large going with Jesus. What must it have been like for these two large crowds to meet outside the town’s gate?

v. 14 It seems odd that Jesus touched the bier rather than the dead man.

v. 16 What type of ‘fear” must have seized all of them. Who is “all of them”?

v. 16 Are “us” and “his people” the same group?

Where do we find ourselves in this story?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Wednesday Read and Learn: Middle East Report Perspectives

GA will receive a report on the Middle East that has stirred up a lot of controversy in PresbyLand. The report and recommendations of the Middle East Study Committee are now available on the denomination's website.

Presbyterians For Middle East Peace, a group that is critical of the report and opposed to its recommendations, have put together their own website which includes a lot of materials, including a video, in support of their position. You can link to it here.

This report will be one of the "hot button" issues at GA, so those of you going as commissioners can take advantage of the opportunity to read both sides of the argument.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

Summer brings back all the memories of sand and surf, and for me, the day my dad took the family to see the movie Jaws. This was by far the most frightening thing I had encountered in my young life to this point. We always enjoyed summer vacations at Myrtle Beach, SC, and we were looking forward to another “adventure,” as my parents would call them. My parents would wake us up in the middle of the night, pack us in the car, and begin the six hour trip south to the beach. These were the good old days, until the movie of a decade created a fear, and made even looking at the ocean a frightening scene. It was a fear we all got out of our system after the first foot hit the water and the movie left our minds. Imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water. God’s Word in the book of Matthew demonstrates how fear and doubt of God’s promises can cause chaos. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, some felt it was a ghost, but immediately Jesus quieted their fear and doubt by announcing it was He. Peter beckoned Jesus to allow him the honor of doing as Jesus was doing. Jesus response may have been something like, “come on in Peter, the water is fine as long as you believe.” Peter was amazed as he climbed out of the boat, walking on the water just as Jesus was doing. But, as we all do sometimes, Peter soon lost trust, doubting Jesus at His word, and found he was sinking. Jesus reached out and picked him up, causing Peter and the other disciples to be convinced that He was just who He said He was.
We all come to our time to get out of the boat. We all would prefer being in shallow water near the beach, feeling the comfort of the sand beneath our feet. This would allow us to walk without the fear of “getting in over our head.” There comes a time when we really have no choice but to take that huge first step and trust that the water is not too deep, or too cold. We find comfort in knowing that there is a lifeguard on duty to rescue us if needed. Our personal lifeguard, Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer, has been there for us in the past, and will be there for us in years to come. We take these plunges into the water knowing and feeling His presence. These “plunges” can be events such as graduation, a marriage, a new job, a major illness or some other life changing experience that puts our faith and trust to the test.

The bigger question is, “where will you be when you need to take this life altering leap from the boat?” Will you be in the middle of some crisis pushing you further and further away from God? Will you be in the middle of a very prosperous period in your life and feeling very confident in your own ability to handle any situation? Will you be at your wits end and struggling to get by? God chooses to test us at some of the most trying and difficult times in our lives. He has already mapped these things out and is now ready to let them play out, according to His will. It may seem that we have done everything in our power to avoid these particular situations, but what is our power compared to the awesome and majestic power of our God? When we stop searching for answers in His Word, when we stop praising His name in prayer, when we stop our daily worship of Him, then we have no choice but to jump in and start swimming for the shore. God gives us everything we need, and more, to get through this life He has scripted out for us. It’s then our responsibility to put His wisdom and knowledge to work in our lives. We may have more good days than bad, but it’s all about His math and not ours.

There are several chapters and verses in the Bible that assure us of a prosperous life, but they all come with a few requirements on our part. Among other things, we must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He sits on the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. This way, we have no issue with getting out of the boat, because if we sink, He will reach out to us. If we sink, then He will teach us to swim. It’s taking the first step that is the most difficult. As human beings, we always want a definite outcome, a very predictable result of stepping out into a new challenge or event, knowing what awaits us at the end. The most difficult proposition to handle is the mystery, the absence of that definite result as we face these dilemmas. Our human nature seems to work against the idea of the unknown. We fight this idea of not being in control, not being able to individually overcome any obstacle. This goes against everything we are taught by our parents, teachers, coaches, mentors and others involved in our upbringing as they boost our confidence. We are even taught to swim at a young age in order to deal with the situation of jumping out of the boat.

As we mature in our faith, we must make a concerted effort to be the example, to be a devoted servant. We must make time to visit God’s Word daily, making sure we take in all of the wonderful wisdom and knowledge offered freely by the Holy Spirit. We need to make sure we are questioning, searching for the truth found in the pages of the Word. We need to make sure we do a systems check on our faith daily and verify that we are on the right path. As devoted servants, we must always seek His will, His purpose for our existence. We know that we cannot make this trip on our own, for it is God who freely gives us the faith to get through any challenge and the grace and mercy to deal with the outcome, regardless of our perception. His will may not necessarily be our favorite outcome, but then again, if we firmly believe and trust in our Lord, we will be taken care of. He will be “on duty” every day as our personal life guard, ready to come to our rescue any time we “get in over our head.”