Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I’m going to talk about acronyms this week. I’m going to keep it very short and light. This week my blog could be considered a “blog lite.” We have all heard the acronym TGIF indicating that we are very happy that Friday has finally come, and that we now can look forward to the weekend. This group of letters can be tossed around the office in anticipation of Friday as if there were no other days of the week. Last week I overheard a fellow student utter this same phrase, and I just had to agree with him.

I think I will start another meaning to the phrase TGIF. Thank God I’m Faithful. I wonder how long it will take to catch on. I have found that there are others in this world that have very little faith, and are suffering because of it. I’m always amazed at how people manage to get through the day without having faith in our great God to pull them through. I, for one, realize that we cannot do this “life” thing on our own. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to think that there is no help for the weary, and that we are left to fend for ourselves. Faith, at the core of believing, is a necessity if we are to get through this world and on to the next assignment. Faith is having no doubts about the existence of Jesus Christ and believing that He will sit at the right hand of God to intercede on our behalf. Faith means believing that Christ will return, and that we will hopefully be prepared to leave this earth, following Him.

Faith can be a very difficult thing to muster when all is failing. We tend to lose our faith when it seems that God has abandoned us in situations of illness or losing a loved one. It is in these situations that faith can be the one thing you can count on. We know that being faithful means God is never going to leave us. He will never place us in situations we can’t handle, whether they be good or bad.

In my opinion, faith is also a verb, an action word that requires some effort on the part of the believer to examine, to believe without seeing, to understand and have confidence in a 2000 year old story told by a myriad of individuals. I will always have a faith in our God that requires action and demands my attention each and every day in order to bring glory and honor to our God. "TGIF!"

We have the opportunity to demonstrate our faith on a daily basis. When trouble comes our way, or stress seems to take over, we need to show others just how this “faith thing” works. We need to remain calm, pray, then pray again. In Matthew 17 Jesus tells the disciples why their faith is so important, telling them that with faith “nothing will be impossible for you.” Having this faith allows us to claim each and every day “Thank God I’m Faithful” or “TGIF!”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Intimate Personal Faith Experience

Okay, I'm a few hours early with this post. It's for tomorrow, Friday. But hey, early is sometimes good and, in this case, better than late.

One of the most intimate of personal faith experiences is that of prayer. It is in prayer that we are strolling, if you will, with God; strolling along, talking with each other as we go.

Presbyterians — indeed, all Christians — are people of prayer, born in it, nurtured by it. I am very much the product of the prayers of my parents. Yet, prayer is one of those things we often find most difficult.

When we read in the gospels of our Lord engaging in those long sessions of prayer and contemplation, our reaction very often is, "Heck, I couldn't do that. I don't have the dedication, nor the inclination. I'm more apt to do like the disciples and fade off to sleep. Besides, who has time, what with the responsibilities of work and family?"

The great Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote that prayer is a "strong wall and fortress of the church." It is that for the individual Christian, too. He also said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."

Can you, can I, survive on breathing only once a week? Even once a day?

Jesus, we read in the Gospel of St. Luke, 18:1, "...told his disciples a parable [the persistent widow] to show them that they should always be praying and not give up." Consistent, continual prayer is the kind of prayer where we are keenly aware of God's gracious presence in our lives, no matter what posture our bodies happen to be in.

Through Paul's instructions to the Thessalonian Christians, we are encouraged to "pray without ceasing."

When we boil it all down, prayer is simply an awareness of God's presence in our lives and our response to that presence. Far too often we think of it as providing God with a shopping list. But think for a minute of the most significant person in your life, a wife or husband or life partner, perhaps a parent or child — what would your relationship be like if it consisted solely in asking each other to do something? Wouldn't be much of a relationship, I'd venture to guess.

No, a loving, intimate relationship involves much more; it involves, at times, simply being in each others' presence; it involves the sharing of deep intimacies; it involves communicating with each other, expressing the core of that relationship — love — in a myriad of ways.

We can think of prayer like that. Sometimes our prayer experience might simply be a sense of being the loving presence of God and responding to that loving presence with our own expression of love. Sometimes our prayer might be sharing with God those things we dare not or can not or will not share with any other. That's prayer.

As an aside, consider this: the key to a successful church is not huge crowds, nor is it a vital and lively youth or missions program; it is not an exciting praise band or a charismatic leader/preacher. No, it is simply this: that we pray; that we, in the worlds of Luther, breathe — individually and as a congregation.

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, August 29, 2010, the Twenty-Second 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.)

Jeremiah 2:4-13
v. 5 Is this just a rhetorical question, or is God moaning, groaning, and complaining?

v. 7 This sounds like a good verse for a sermon/lesson on environmental stewardship.

v. 8 This is quite an indictment of the religious and civil authorities. How do we rate, by comparison?

v. 9 Is this is one more accusation, when and where were the other accusations? Or is “once more” used in an emphatic sense rather than a temporal sense?

v. 11 Has any other nation/people, other than Israel, acted this way?

v. 12 Note “two evils”. It is one thing not to trust in God. It is another thing to place one’s trust somewhere else. How have we, in our time and culture, dug out cisterns that are cracked and that cannot hold water? How many of today’s urban readers even know what a cistern is and what it is used for?

Psalm 81:1, 10-16
v. 10 rehearsing the same salvation history as Isaiah 2:6.

v. 11 This sounds like the same complaint as Isaiah 2:8

v. 16 A nice Eucharistic image.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
v. 1 Not an admonition to do something different but to continue what is being practiced.

v.2 And to what does this refer?

v. 3 A verse for Amnesty International.

v. 4 And how shall we read this in light of our culture wars over the meaning and “sanctity” of marriage?

v. 5 Why have we been focusing more on the previous verse than this one?

v. 6 What is being quoted?

v. 7 I think this refers to religious, not civil leaders.

v. 8 Notice “Jesus Christ” rather than “God”. Is the subtext an argument that Jesus is God?

vs.15-16 I think three sacrifices are mentioned: praise, good works, generosity. Verse 16 can be used/adapted to introduce the offering.

Luke 14:1, 7-14
v. 1 “On one occasion” sounds like people remembered this happening but no one really remembered where or when. Who are the “they” that were watching closely? Do you think Jesus was invited for the purpose of his being watched?

v. 7. It sounds as if Jesus was the one doing the watching?

v. 8-11 Where are the places of honor today? Head table? First in line? VIP Suite? Owner’s box?

vs 12-13 But what fun is there if you do not invite your friends and the people you usually associate with? Is this anything but Eucharistic imagery?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Constantly Learning, Continuously Serving

I attended my first day of school today. No, I’m not going back to grade school, or even high school. I attended my first class in my pursuit of a Degree in Divinity at Regent University. It was definitely an eye opener, a shock to the system to realize just how long it has been since sitting in a classroom with other like minded people who all come from different walks of life and different journeys to get to the same place. I was also very surprised, and very pleased at how we began the lecture and discussion. The professor stated that each week, we would start the class by having a worship service that included a couple of popular songs followed by prayer, and that each one of us would have our turn at leading this very brief worship service. This was a very unusual, yet welcome process of beginning the class. I’m getting the feeling that most all classes here on campus, whether they be in the School of Law, School of Leadership or others, have the same beginning. It is very comforting to know that regardless of background, ethnic origin, previous employment, past education or other significant aspects of one’s life, we are all considered children of God, forgiven but not forgotten in the busy confines of this wonderful learning institution.
The experience, just the first of many, has served as a clear reminder that we are all here for a purpose. It’s our responsibility to listen for God’s direction and instructions for achieving this wonderful assignment while we are here in this temporary life. My mind has been opened to the wonderful possibilities , yet I feel a strong sense of focus and confirmation that I am in the right place, just where God wants me at this point in my life. If we all look back on certain aspects of our past, we may see that it was just a part of a bigger plan to put us where we are now, serving those around us and ministering to a wide variety of people in ways we don’t even realize.
As we go about our daily routine, the mundane and repetitious actions serve as our witness to our great God. He has given us the attitude, the personality, the outward emotions that serve as proof that God has control of our life, as He should, and He is directing our actions. We may never know that we are impacting others, or that we are having a great amount of influence over the behavior of those around us. We choose to go about our day serving, smiling, devoting, giving and never asking for anything in return. It is our Christian attitudes, our faithful serving that puts us in perfect position to witness to others, without even realizing we are having the impact and influence that brings about change. Not just change in other people, but change that can be seen in our neighborhoods and communities. This is our real purpose, making change when we are not even trying to make change, just by constantly learning and continuously serving.
This is just one of the many ways we witness to our God. When others see this, they may be taking notice and wondering just what we have that they do not. There have been several phrases that describe these actions. “Live by example,” comes to mind, as well as others. A Christian friend of mine has a license plate that reads BNXPLE, or be an example. This is a reminder that we should always live our lives like God is watching, because guess what…He is. I know that I will thoroughly enjoy my next two to three years as I dig deeper into the meaning of God’s Holy Word, surrounded by those who also love Jesus Christ and know that He lives in each and every one of us. It’s up to us to show Him to the rest of the world.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Welcome Mat

Welcome to our newest member!

Rev. Jack Lohr has just finished a stint as interim pastor at The United Presbyterian Church of Middletown NY, which he blogged about here: United Interim Blog.

Now Rev. Lohr will serve as the interim pastor at The Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco, which he plans to blog about here: PCMK Interim Blog.

In his own words:
This blog is a chronicle of a shared journey involving Interim Pastor Jack Lohr in ministry with the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco, NY. We will be traveling through the interim tasks of:
  1. Coming to terms with history
  2. Discovering a new congregational identity.
  3. Allowing and empowering new leaders.
  4. Renewing denominational connections.
  5. Committing to new leadership and a new future.
The blog will include the sharing of my insights, questions, observations, and much extraneous material. There will be links to more stuff on the web than anyone except my mother would be interested in. The vision is an open sharing of all the information that may be useful for a full participation in the life of the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco. Key goals are openness, transparency, accountability, empowerment, and (above all) love. Some of this material will be duplicated on the church website at http://pcmk.org If anyone has a question, please contact me at pastor@pcmk.org --Jack Lohr, Interim Pastor

Blessings on your calling, Rev. Lohr!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Go Fish!: Do Not Be Afraid; Share a Little to Give A Lot

Last week I took my middle-aged self to surf camp. I - who had never surfed before in my life - spent a week at the ocean with 15 other adults learning how to surf. Was I afraid? Of course!

One of my son's reminded me of the (very slim) possibility of shark attacks. Just the idea of getting tossed in the surf, or caught in a rip tide, was cause for concern. But I overcame my fears and I got into the water and I surfed (with A LOT of help from my instructors).

One of the things we learned at surf camp is that as you stand up on the board, you have to throw your shoulders back and look ahead to where you're headed. If you remain hunched over, or look down or behind or to the sides, you will wipe out. Ironically, it was my fear of wiping out that kept me looking down at my feet to check their positions! I had to overcome that fear and obey my instructor's commands: shoulders back, look straight ahead and stand up. Only then could I ride the wave successfully onto the beach.

These days in the United States there is plenty to be fearful about. Just looking at this morning's paper I saw a few different stories about how bad the economy is. Cuts, home prices spiraling downward, more joblessness. We know that churches have not escaped the recession's effects.

It would be easy to want to hunker down and turn inward to focus on our own needs, instead of looking outward to the needs of our communities. We desperately cling to what little we have, and are fearful of giving that little bit away. But as Christians, we're called to a different way of operating. And when it comes to evangelism, looking outward and giving to others is exactly what we must do, even when our own human inclination is to do the opposite.

The story from the Bible that came to me as I thought about this was the story of Elijah and the widow, from 1 Kings, 17: 1-16. Elijah had prophesied that there would be a great drought for multiple years. God commanded Elijah to go hide out near a wadi, or stream bed, for awhile. When the stream dried up, God told him to head to Zarephath to live with a widow and her son. When Elijah arrived, he saw the widow and asked her to bring him some water, and then some bread.

"As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die," she said.

"Do not be afraid," Elijah told her. "Go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth."

The widow obeyed and just as Elijah said, the jar and the jug continued to provide enough to get them through the drought.

How can our churches - which have so little right now - deliver Good News to our communities in the midst of a huge economic drought? Why not demonstrate the Good News through service to our hurting neighborhoods? Is there a way your church could be of service right now? Does your church, or its members, have a little bit that could be shared with neighbors?

In our church we've been collecting school supplies the last several weeks to give them away in backpacks to needy children. Some churches have started job search support groups. I haven't seen this done, but what about hosting "recession potlucks", where people bring what they can and share a meal? Maybe church members could walk through neighborhoods beset by foreclosures and quietly pray for the families in turmoil.

As Elijah said, "Do not be afraid!" Let's not remain hunched over, looking at our own feet! Let us stand up, put our shoulders back and look ahead to where God is taking us. Let us not be afraid to share what little we have in God's name to bring a lot of the love of Christ to others.
If your church has done something creative during this recession to demonstrate God's love, share it here so we can learn from each other.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for for Sunday, August 22, 2010, the Twenty-First 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.)

Jeremiah 1:4-10
v. 1 Note the first person “the word of the LORD came to me” rather than the third person “the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah.”

v. 5 Must this verse enter into the culture wars debate between pro life and pro choice? Also, note that Jeremiah is not a prophet to Israel or Judea but rather “the nations”.

v. 6 Typical protest? Or feigned inadequacy?

v. 7 A divine endorsement to counter the protest, real or not. Very formulaic.

v. 9 Jeremiah gets the words of the LORD in his mouthg rather than being touched with a hot coal.

v. 10 The divine appointment

Psalm 71:1-6
A very personal, first person Psalm rather than a communal Psalm.

v. 6 Is this verse the reason the reason this Psalm is paired with the Jeremiah Reading?

Hebrews 12:18-29
v. 18 A contrast between Mt. Sinai and the New Jerusalem?

v. 24 What word did the blood of Abel speak?

v. 25 Who is the one who is speaking?

v. 26 A singular “heaven” rather than heavens, plural.

v. 27 Thanks for the explanation. Does it really help to clear up things?

v. 28 When was the last time you experienced “awe” in worship? I think “awe” is mure preferable than “fear” and reminds me of Otto’s “Mysterium Tremendum”.

v. 29 Does this verse point back to verse 18, and does verse foreshadow this verse?

Luke 13:10-17
This is the Reading that will probably be the basis for my sermon.
v. 11 What is the meaning of “appeared”?

v. 12 Note that Jesus saw her. She did not ask for intervention. What ailments “enslave” us today?

v. 13 Why do Presbyterians and most mainline Christians seem to only lay on hands at times of ordination? You Presbyterians out there, take a close look at the W-2.1005c in the Directory of Worship and the "Service for Wholeness" in the Book of Common Worship.

v. 14 Incredible insensitivity not to mention bad theology

v. 16 What, if any, is the significance that this woman is identified as a “daughter of Abraham”? What does it mean that “Satan bound” her?

v. 17 When and where might Jesus be putting us to shame today?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I don’t think there is another word in the English language that carries so much weight. The mere mention of this word can create such a response that is so incredible. There are volumes of books written about it. There are some who consider the word change a very intimidating and fearful group of letters. These thoughts of a six letter word in our English language can create emotions in a person that can actually be debilitating, leading to no change at all. As I ponder the next phase in life, my next change, I could allow myself to act cowardly and refuse to move, refuse to be a faithful servant and make the transition God is so graciously pushing me to make. I choose to take the energy created by the fear, the anticipation of the change and use it to further God’s kingdom and serve Him.
In this life, we should not fear change at all. If we truly believe that God is ultimately in control, we also believe that God has placed us in the very situation, the situation of change in order to serve Him in ways we may never know. As faithful servants, we need to make sure we are doing everything in our power to discern God’s great ambition for us, and that we are attempting to succeed in these great ambitions. When I think about what God has in store for me, I try to imagine how magnificent it will be when we, God through me, achieve His goal and move on to the next phase.
As I ponder our temporary existence on this earth, I can’t help but think about how boring it would be without God being in charge. Even though we may think we have a plan, God has the Master’s plan that, if we choose to follow it, will bring us to His glory. That’s why change is not a bad thing. We know nothing about what God has planned for us each and every day. But as true believers, we know that God is a loving God and that whatever it is, He is there with us, even through the change.

Some may face change in different ways, and at different times in their lives, but it is inevitable that we will all face change regardless of all the efforts to keep things the same. Change creeps up on us as we travel through the different phases of our lives. Change is coming for the parents of the school aged children, leaving home to start a new year of learning. Change is coming for the new graduate entering the workforce. Change is coming for the person facing the loss of a job and possibly a way of life. Change is coming for the newlyweds trying to adjust to living together and staying married despite all of society’s pressures. Change is coming for the senior having to move to a new home due to the costly medical care they need.

We all will eventually approach these changes and will respond to them in our own way. I think that if we are truly convinced that it is God who allowed these transitions in our lives, then we focus on all of the positive aspects and refuse to get bogged down in the negative. We are convinced that our God is a loving God, so we also should be convinced that change is not a bad thing, but a God given opportunity to show others how wonderful and magnificent He truly is.

This is my new definition of change now reduced to three simple words, God given opportunity. I could even shorten it further to take away the intimidation and fear. I love acronyms, so this would be Ggo. If we want to do God’s will,”just Ggo.” Not as catchy as “just do it,” but far more effective, don’t you think?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, August 15, 2010, the Twentieth 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.)

Isaiah 5:1-7
Now that we are in the ordinary time of lectio continua, this is the seond reading in a row from Isaiah.

v. 1 Does this remind you of the Song of Solomon?

vs. 2 & 3 Are cultivated grapes or wild grapes. What is the difference?

vs 5-6 This sounds like a pretty severe judgment.

v. 7 So, justice and righteousness are equivalent to cultivated grapes while bloodshed and cries (resulting from wickedness?) are the equivalent of wild grapes? Once again, what sort of grapes are we?

After reading and reflecting on this passage, it might be awhile before I can again eat grapes or drink wine with a good conscience.

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
The Isaiah reading gave us vineyard imagery. Today’s Psalm begins by offering us shepherd imagery.

v. 8 Here is some vineyard imagery. How do we deal with the changing and mixed metaphors of shepherds, flocks, and vineyards?

v. 12 This reads like a specific reflection on Isaiah 5:5-6. Are both the Isaiah reading and the Psalm perhaps reflecting on a larger cultural and religious image popular at the time?

v. 17 Who is “the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself”? How can we not read this in light of Hebrews 11:2?

There are several images in this reading that can be employed to address God. How many can you identify?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2
More Lectio Continua from Hebrews, and another reading devoted to faith.

vs. 29, 30, 31 Note the repetition of ‘By faith”. By comparison, what have we done recently “by faith”?

v. 33 “By Faith” is replaced by “through faith”. Is there is difference?

v. 1 The author has given us a long list of names to include among the “great” “cloud of witnesses” but I am sure the list is not meant to be all inclusive. What names would you add? What does it mean to be surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses? Does this image send shivers up your spine and cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on edge? I think it should!

Luke 12:49-56
Shall we classify this as one of the tough, harsh, or troubling sayings of Jesus?

v.49 Fire imagery

v. 50 Baptism imagery, but is it baptism by water or baptism by fire?

v. 51 Well, there goes our image of Jesus the peacemaker.

v. 53 So much for Christian family values. I wonder how James Dobson and Focus on the Family handle this verse.

vs. 54-56 Apparently weather forecasting was a more highly developed art or science in Jesus day than was social critique. Do we do any better?

This is the 26th Lectionary rumination I have authored for Presbyterian Bloggers. That means I have been writing this column for half a year. You have not left many comments over the past six months and I do not know how to interpret that fact. Even if you have nothing to comment on or ask about this week’s ruminations, I invite you to simply comment with an “I read this week’s ruminations” as a way of noting your presence and that you are reading.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Member Blog Meet & Greet

Let's just pretend it's a Monday, shall we?

And, therefore, it's time to welcome new members to the blog roll and web ring!

First up this week is Pastor James: Thoughts on faith, musings on Scripture, plus audios and videos of sermons from Boulevard Presbyterian in Grandview Heights, an older suburb just a couple miles from downtown Columbus, OH. Add your two cents to the mix.

"This is the blog of James Sledge, pastor at Boulevard Presbyterian Church. It is a place for me to explore my own thoughts on faith, including daily "spiritual hiccups" which emerge from my reading the Daily Lectionary. I also post audios and videos of Sunday sermons from Boulevard. I'm a "second career" pastor who left flying as a corporate pilot to attend seminary when I was 35. After five years at a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, I came to Boulevard in Grandview Heights, an older suburb just a couple miles from downtown Columbus, OH. I don't like labels, but I suppose I'm more of the progressive, liberal sort. I'm very much drawn to the new "Emergent" forms of Christianity, and I'm excited about the ways this movement may help transform and reform the Church. There is a lot of anxiety in the Mainline Church world these days, understandable in light of membership decline and aging congregations. But I still think the Church has an exciting future ahead or it. Of course it won't look like the Church many or us grew up in, but that's part of the excitement."

Second is Kara Root at in the hereandnow: musings on motherhood and ministry
"in the hereandnow explores the place where life is happening, where hope and despair collide and God is encountered - not the past, not the future, but right in the here and now. In this messy and marvelous moment, faith, fear, connection, isolation, triumph and utter, dismal failure combine, and Christ is there in the midst of it all. As both a parent and a pastor, I struggle to immerse myself in the present and so to meet Christ. I am the Presbyterian Minister of a small, adventurous community of faith, the Mom of two young, curious kids, and the Wife and Proofreader of a disturbed and inspiring theologian. At in the hereandnow I share sermons, reflections on particularly poignant moments in parenting, frustrations and joys of leading a congregation, and thoughts about the intersections of life and faith. I also share about the experiment of our congregation, Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis Minnesota, where we regularly take Sundays off as Sabbath rest, and we worship in varied and interactive ways that seek to cultivate honesty about life and God."

Our third new member this week is Very Truly Blessed: Striving for a servant's heart, Christian blog

"I am indeed very truly blessed and am thankful to God. I am grateful that God has given me another chance to be a better person. By God's Grace, I am here. By God's Grace, I am saved. By God's Grace, I will have a servant's heart in all of my day to day activities. Today, I am a Christian. Today, I belong to a small Presbyterian Church that is part of Presbyterian U.S.A. Today, I am honored to have been elected to the position of Elder in the church. 4 years ago, my mother passed away. I missed her and I found that her passing left a hole in my heart. It took me a while to realize that I needed God. I needed comfort and solace. I found it in a very small Presbyterian Church located within walking distance of my house. Small churches may not be for everyone but it drew me like a moth to a flame. Our congregation numbers are small but we are active. We are united even as we disagree on politics, on schooling and general philosophies. While our minister is the most conservative of all, we still love and respect her even though at times, we politely disagree. We are one: In Christ. I am indeed very truly blessed."

The fourth and final new member to join our conversation this week is Coffee with Calvin: My daily journey through Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion while enjoying coffee brewed with my Keurig coffee maker.
"Coffee With Calvin is a blog started to help my quest to read Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion in a year. I read and comment on the Institutes nearly everyday. After the first year, I intend to keep the blog going by reading other works of Calvin. As I read each day, I enjoy a cup (or usually multiple cups) of coffee brewed with a Breville coffee maker that uses Keurig K-Cups. I will sometimes mention the coffee in my blog, especially if it is a particularly good cup, a new roast that I am trying for the first time, or even if my beautiful wife brings it to me in bed. I am a part-time seminary student at Reformed Theological Seminary as well as a lifelong Presbyterian. My journey through the Institutes is really helping me understand what it means to be "reformed" in my faith. Calvin's Institutes are very thorough in laying out a guideline for Christian faith. I am also often humored by Calvin's little jokes and jabs at his opponents. I try to point some of these out to show everyone that theology is not boring, but it can actually be fun as well as spiritually fulfilling."

Welcome, one and all!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Greatest Self-Help Book Ever Written

I will make an attempt this week to bring this blog home to a personal experience I have had over the past couple of years. My goal in this endeavor is not to shine a light on this rambling servant, but to be a witness to the awesome power and righteousness of our great God. The greatest self-help book ever written, the Holy Bible, has served as a reference guide, steering me towards the ultimate solution of “letting go and letting God.” This phrase has been repeated over and over since the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets in the creation of God’s Word. Through the prophets, God spoke to us and told us over and over again to give everything to Him and He would provide for our needs. God, through the enormous sacrifice of His son Jesus, forgave our transgressions and assured us that all we needed to do was to believe that Christ is the son of God, have faith, let go of our troubles and witness His wonderful intervention. In my past blogs I called this process, “Just make the ask.” Christ, as our intercessor, has worked His miracles over the ages in our lives and in the lives of our ancestors countless times and in countless ways. So how do we, as God’s children, continue to be so adamant about our own strength, our own abilities and our own talents when we know that we are nothing compared to our great God. Our society seems more tuned to helping us help ourselves, when the greatest self-help book was written years before the concept even existed. The Bible should be found in on several different shelves of our popular book stores, including self-help, counseling, non-fiction, among others. This way, everyone looking, seeking, would be able to locate it very easily.

Over these past few years, during my “transformation,” I have experienced Christ’s love and mercy over and over. It was because of this gentle love and encouragement that I have chosen to take the huge leap of faith to return to school, pursuing a Master’s in Divinity from Regent University. I am convinced that this is part of my purpose, my plan that God has laid out for me. When I finally gave up my wrestling match with God’s plan, I began a journey that has placed my trust in our great God, and has shown me how He works on our behalf, providing just what we need, just when we need it. Where I imagined problems with no apparent solutions, God showed me opportunities already laid out for me to grab on to. I consider that to be the greatest idea ever conveyed by an author who has our best interest at heart. I have yet to find a better one in any of the proclaimed self-help books.

I have gone through the motions of resigning a very lucrative job just two years shy of a full retirement, gaining admission to Regent University as a full time Master’s candidate and relocating to Virginia Beach. Some would look at this as a normal move to pursue a Master’s Degree. To put it mildly, this would be “playing it down” just a bit. Things have fallen into place on His time and for His plan, to the point that even I have been amazed, shocked at times at how “letting go and letting God” has actually worked. There was the problem of surviving when I decided to leave my employer with nothing to fall back on. None of the proclaimed self-help authors addressed this like it is addressed in the Bible. Persistent Prayer and meditation, giving my needs to God, brought about a stream of unanticipated refund checks from the IRS and HMO’s of all places, with the IRS increasing my refund due to a new tax break I had missed. These refunds would show up as my bank account and gas tank were both growing cold from inactivity.

I was given further signs as I searched for an apartment close to campus and was placed in the office of an apartment complex that is geared toward clients with pets, large pets. They have been very accommodating to Bruce, my very large Great Dane, who demanded a first floor apartment in order to avoid waking someone below as he galloped across the room. I have received additional signs of the “just in time” God as he once again sent my retirement money as my bank account and gas tank were drawing dust. This taught me that there is no shame in walking to the grocery store to cash in pennies saved over the “good years” in order to purchase bread for PB and J’s and a few dollars for gas. This was another blessing in that the total was well over $20 in pennies and loose change. I am still finding it very difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that I had saved that many pennies.

During this “transformation,” I am also providing funds for my son’s college education, a daunting task as I, too go back to school with questions of how to pay for it. When I received my award notice, the college and federal government were very generous and have provided the necessary funds for me to begin my education, and have done the same for my son. All of these things are happening despite my continual worries and anxieties of how to pay for it. He has provided an opportunity that I never thought would have existed, and now it has presented itself in fine fashion. Once again, I can’t seem to locate this chapter in the self-help books.

I was concerned that I would have a difficult time leaving my rental house with just thirty days notice, but my landlord could not be more obliging and is very supportive of my decision. I was concerned that my son would have issues with saying goodbye to his hometown friends, but has been helpful in the move and his return to college. I have suffered a traumatic accident while riding my bike, but was blessed with protection from a God who is not finished with me. I was concerned that my lack of employment would cause issues with my apartment application, but with God’s intervention, the complex has chosen to use my anticipated financial aid package as income on my application and I was easily approved. I plan to search for employment once I relocate that will allow me to serve God in the way He has planned, possibly getting involved with a Christian Counseling service or some similar program.

This is just a small sampling of all the blessings God has shown me on this journey and is demonstrating His support in each step. There is no other valid explanation. I have been witness to God’s greatness, His faithfulness to the promise so profoundly spoken throughout His Word that “He will not leave us, nor forsake us.” But I’m not a privileged character having any type of special status when it comes to positions in God’s army. I am but one of many who struggle with just how big our God can be, and how His timing can be impeccable, defying all the norms and demonstrating His mercy. My goal is now to convince others, even fellow believers, that He is just who He says He is, and that there are times when despite all of the ideas put forth by the self-help books, we are not in charge, not in control of our destiny and that our Creator has already mapped out these things for us. We just need to try harder at discerning just what God’s plan is, pay attention to the detour signs along the way, and begin working with Him, not against Him. My hope is that if you are reading this, you too may have that issue that seems so out of reach for anyone to resolve. Just remember, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said “fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you. I will uphold you in my righteous right hand.” I just seem to still be hanging on to my abilities when I have been shown over and over it’s far easier to get advice from the greatest self-help book ever written.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Bridging the Gap: Science and Religion

Is the gap between science and religion unbridgeable? There are people who hope so. There are scientists who are as afraid of religion (in particular Christianity) as there are Christians who are afraid of science. Each side fears that the other is determined to destroy them. While this is a sad state of affairs, there is more room for optimism than one might think.

Elaine Howard Ecklund has written a very interesting book, Science vs.Religion: What Scientists Really Think, (2010: Oxford University Press). Over four years as part of the Religion among Academic Scientists Study, she surveyed nearly 1700 scientists and conducted 275 one on one conversations with scientists at 25 of the top research universities in the US. The book contains some fascinating information. Today we can only touch on a very few items.

When scientists were asked about their belief in God, 34% said they did not believe in God (vs. 2 % of the US population). Nine percent of scientists “have no doubts about God's existence” (v 63 % of the US population). Thirty percent of the scientists surveyed are agnostic (v 4% of the US population). And here is the interesting figure, 27% of scientists say “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God” or “I believe in God sometimes” or “I have some doubts, but I believe in God” (V 31% of the US population). (Ecklund, 16)

So 36% of scientists at elite universities believe in God or some sort of higher power. That is a sizable percentage and more than I would have guessed.

Regarding the religious affiliation of scientists, not surprisingly, 53 % have no religious affiliation and only 2% are Evangelical Protestants. However, 14 % are mainline Protestants. (Ecklund, 15).

Sometimes people assume that serious engagement with science causes people to lose their faith. Ecklund's work suggests otherwise. While there are some scientists who lose their faith because of their training in science or because of damaging religious experiences, most non-believing scientists come from non-religious or nominally religious families. (Ecklund, 13-27) These scientists did not lose their faith, because for all intents and purposes they had no faith to lose.

This is important to recognize because this means, among other things, that these scientists have limited experience with Christians. They do not know the range of Christian belief with respect to science. All they know are the extreme caricatures of Christianity that are present in society. This also means, that these scientists lack the language, the vocabulary to speak with people of faith. They don't know who we are or how to talk with us.

Two more bits of data:

When these scientists were asked their opinion about religious truth, 26% agreed with the statement “There is very little truth in any religion. Three percent agreed with the statement, “There is the most truth in only one religion. But 71 % agreed with the statement, “There are basic truths in many religions”. (Ecklund, 35) There are a substantial number of scientists who are willing to acknowledge that religious truths exist.

Approximately 28% of scientists are part of a religious tradition but do not know if they believe in God or not. Scientists may self identify as agnostic because as scientists they have been trained to seek a high level of certainty in their beliefs. The level of “evidence” required for a scientist to claim certainty may temper their statements of belief. (Ecklund, 36)

Ecklund makes two other interesting observations (actually, there are many interesting observations in her book and I am just mentioning two). Scientists who are Christians feel very alone at work. They feel that their colleagues would not approve if their faith were known. They are concerned about ridicule and harassment. They are concerned that their work as scientists would be devalued if their faith were made public. There is a perceived culture of religious intolerance in science departments at elite universities. (These same scientists are also often uncomfortable in church, thinking that their fellow believers disapprove of science.)

But interestingly, Ecklund also discovered, “What religious scientists fail to realize, is that a significant proportion of their colleagues, although not religious themselves, are open to talking and thinking about matters of faith. Some are even looking for scientists with faith traditions to help them connect better with a religiously believing American public. These “open but non believing” scholars are looking in particular for models like Francis Collins- even though he is an outspoken evangelical- to serve as boundary pioneers leading the way crossing the picket lines of the science and religion debates. But because religious scientists rarely talk candidly about their faith in the science environment, they are not aware of these open but non believing scientists. The actions, then, of both groups end up perpetuating closeted faith, further hardening an embedded custom that religion should not be discussed in universities and science environments." (Ecklund, 48)

What Ecklund found is that the people most able to bridge the gap between science and religion, religious scientists, feel that they cannot be open about their faith. There are many scientists who lack the basic information they need to seriously engage people of faith because they come from non-religious or nominally religious backgrounds. In addition, there are also non-believing scientists who are interesting in discussing the ways science and religion interact.

My question to us in the mainline church is, “How can we facilitate this discussion between scientists?” Is there a way for us in the mainline protestant churches in particular to create safe places for conversation? How do we support the scientists in our congregations? What do you think?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, August 8, 2010, the Nineteenth 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.)

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
This is the first of several readings from Isaiah, so if you think you might be preaching a series of sermons or leading a series of Bible Studies on the First Reading, this is a good week to lay the foundation.

v. 1 Does it make any difference that this book begins by referring to “The Vision of Isaiah” rather than “The vision of the Lord”?

v. 10 Why does Isaiah bring up Sodom and Gomorrah? Will most worshipers be able to hear this reference without thinking about “the sin of Sodom” and “sodomy” as wrong as that might be?

v. 17 How will Glen Beck deal with this verse?

vs.10-17 This appears not to be a contrast between Religious/Spiritual but rather a statement about true religion being known by its social ethic.

v. 18 A verse often used as a Call to Confession of Sin. I like the NRSV “let us argue it out”. What does it mean?

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
A Psalm suggesting that God is not just the Mighty One of Israel but rather the Mighty One of the Earth. Does this Psalm suggest universalism?

Vs. 6-7 There seems to be a transition from the third to the first person.

v. 23 If you interpret this Psalm in light of the Isaiah Passage rather than interpreting Isiaah in light of the Psalm, how does today’s reading from Isaiah influence our interpretation of “the right way”?

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
v. 1 A classic Biblical definition of faith.

v. 8 What did Abraham obey?

vs. 8, 9, 11 Three times we hear “by faith”.

I think we usually read this as a passage about faith, but reading it again, it seems more like a passage about how we live in this world. I am thinking of the Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas

Luke 12:32-40
v. 32 What is this “little flock” language?

v. 34 Here is some Liturgical language to introduce the Offering. I hear of echoes of last week’s Gospel Reading.

v. 35 Is this an example of Apocalyptic and eschatological language? How many of our members, how many of us, are “dressed for action” and have our lamps lit?

vs, 39-40 How do we make the transition from the master returning from a wedding banquet to a thief?

v. 40 Haw many people in the pew, or in the classroom or discussion group, are familiar with “Son of Man” terminology and symbolism?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Father Knows Best

When we think of where to get our instructions, our guidance on how to live a life based on solid principles, there are several different places we seem to look. We keep all of the so-called self help books at the top of the best seller lists and all of the authors on the talk shows. We should look no further than God’s Word, particularly in the book of Proverbs. This compilation of intelligent advice is chocked full of great philosophy aimed at how to live, guide, advise, demonstrate and teach all wrapped up into one neat package. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” This is an excellent starting point for any teacher as they pass advice on to a younger student. But it’s just that, a starting point.

We tend to always put the “cart before the horse” and try to hit the ground running midstream, hoping to jump ahead of the rest of the pack and not concerning ourselves with the basics. As a people, we tend to be very competitive, wanting to stay ahead of the game, out in front leading the way as opposed to following. King Solomon tells us in the very next verse to avoid being “wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” He warns us to follow the Word, and not to always be out in front, plowing ahead without listening, understanding and obeying God’s great life changing advice.

If we turn our focus on how to avoid the negative, and accentuate the positive, we will find ourselves in a much better place and frame of mind. God’s wonderful advice is not aimed at getting us out of a bad situation, but directed at how to avoid those situations in the first place. That’s why is so important to make sure our children and grandchildren are being brought up in a warm, caring environment that is full of biblical teaching. This way, they know where to find the best advice before getting into the binds and worldly snares of life. These binds and snares typically come from “left field” and impact our lives before we even know what hit us. This emphasizes the need for good grasp of how God would want us to deal with these issues before they rear their ugly head.

We need to get back to applying the Word of God to our daily lives. Proverbs is a great place to start, laying out a design for wisdom and truth, and the reliance on God to get us through, and not our own foolish belief that we know what’s best. I believe it’s been said several times over, “Father knows best.”