Pastor's Weekly Tidbits

A week is too long to be out of contact with the church family.  To help with this, I send out a weekly email entitled Pastor Weekly Tidbits.  It is a relaxed email that sometimes is more whimsical than substantive.  I might reflect on a recent sermon, or something in the news, or maybe share a poem that recently delighted me.  I am sure my tidbits are hit and miss for those on the mailing list, but that is why we have a <delete> key.  Below, you will find selected excerpts from recent Pastor's Weekly Tidbits

 

From 11 December 2019

Dear Church Family,

            We are in a season of dangerous drivers and discourteous shoppers.  It always saddens me to see how so much of the world responds to the celebration of our Lord’s birth amongst us.  The challenge to Believers is to not lose focus on the meaning of Christmas, but rather to offer kindness to those who are in their own storm of “winning Christmas.”  Christ is a refuge from the storm and, by extension, we are too.  Dede and I have a little plaque in our home reminding us to “Be kinder than necessary.”  The plaque is helpful reminder.

            An even better reminder is Linus’ explanation to Charlie Brown of the true meaning of Christmas.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  Click on the link for 3 minute video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOofCTbv96s  

Ruth Sermon Series.  For Advent, we are adventuring through the Book of Ruth.  I have come to really love this book.  I am glad that we have recently studied this book in Sunday School and that our Women In God’s Service (WInGS) fellowship has also recently gone through this book.  Rather than comment on the sermon series, I thought I’d share with you a little poem I wrote this morning in the form of haiku.

Haiku of Hope

Naomi and Ruth

Hard journey without prospects

God provides new hope

 

            Okay, maybe I will make a little comment or two on our Advent sermon series.  The Book of Ruth reminds us that God is attentive and kindly, often choosing to work through Believers in surprising ways to achieve his sovereign purposes.  The Book of Ruth is also a reminder that hardships are often a significant part of the journey of God’s Beloved children.  Ruth’s difficult journey and Moabite heritage did not disqualifier her from being in the blood line of King David and our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

4 December 2019

            I trust that we are all dug out from Sunday’s snowstorm.  Worship service sure was cozy on Sunday.  Many of you exercised good judgment in hunkering down in the hills.  The roads into town really were pretty awful and only got worse during the service.  Others of you were out with illness.  As I said, it was cozy.  I gave Bob Jones a shepherd’s crook and asked him to gather everyone into just one section of the sanctuary.  There were a few uncomfortable expressions on people’s faces as they moved out of their usual pew, but I think it all added to the fun of a different worship experience (new pew… new experience).  It certainly made serving Holy Communion a lot easier, as Mike Whiteman did this by himself (another new experience).

            As an aside, I remember many years back in Connecticut when our intermediate sized church had only two families attend worship during a snowstorm.  Dede, I and our three kids were joined by the pastor’s family who walked through the snow from the manse next door.  Fond memory.  Different can be fun.

 

Blue Christmas on 12 December.  Blue Christmas is a worship celebration that is mindful of those who are in a season of mourning or sadness.  This sadness may be for any reason; it is often triggered from the loss of a loved with whom many wonderful Christmas memories have been forged.  I encourage all who are feeling the weight of sadness pressing on them this Christmas season to join us in our Blue Christmas program.  This year we shall host a meal at the church in the Fellowship Hall at 5:30 pm.  After our shared meal, we shall have a small activity to help prepare us for our worship service and then we shall caravan to and from the Bishopville UMC for a 7 pm Blue Christmas Worship Service.  Rides will be provided between your home and the Arkport Presbyterian Church for all those who are uncomfortable with driving at night.  Please let us know if you are coming and if you are in need of a ride.  We want to make sure we have the right amount of food prepared and enough volunteer drivers.   Please let Pastor or Dede know.

 

Ruth’s Hard Journey.  Because I am preaching though the Book of Ruth for Advent, I want to afford you the opportunity to catch up if you missed church on Sunday.  We spent some time comparing Ruth’s and Mary’s hard journey to Bethlehem.  We said that Mary was probably a little surprised by how difficult that travel was, given that the Angel of the Lord had told her “…you are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)  I suspect most folks would anticipate an easier time of things if an angel had said such things to them.  Yet, the Word of God continuously challenges the notion that God’s favor results in easy living.  Instead, God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.”

 

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21 November 2019

 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

~ James 1:22-25 ~

 

Hello Church Family,

            My weekly tidbits are a day late this week because I wanted to attend a meeting today before I wrote to you.

Hornell Fire: Let us pray, and then let us act.   Many of us are quite concerned about the fire in Hornell that burned down five apartment buildings and damaged three others.  I have prayed with some of you over the phone and I have prayed with others of you in various small group settings.  In our prayers, we always give thanks that no human life was lost. 

            Everyone with whom I have spoken has asked something akin to: “How can I help?”  To help answer that question, I met with pastors from four other churches and representatives from a Christian charity organization.  Others who had planned to attend, could not as they themselves got cut up in addressing urgent, evolving needs of those who survived the fire.  Some who attended the meeting were much more connected and better informed than I was.  Even so, we did not know the exact number of families that are displaced, nor could we identify the number of children involved.  Numbers were quoted, but the numbers varied every bit as much as the numbers vary in the news.

            I came away with this understanding.  There is a lot of immediate attention and help being given by various governmental and charitable organizations.  The outpouring of donated supplies has nearly overwhelmed the system available to collect and distribute them (more on that later).  If the local churches are going to bless those who have been uprooted by the fire, we are going to need to know much more than we do now and then we are going to need to coordinate our efforts to avoid duplication and unintended gaps.

Very generously, today the United Presbyterian Church of Hornell tasked their very capable Administrative Assistant to work with city’s on the ground coordinator. She has been connected to the relief effort in different practical ways, but now she is on a fact-finding mission to help the churches figure out how to plug in.  On 5 December, the pastors and Christian charity reps will meet again.

Until then, in our prayers, let us remember that many families have lost virtually all their worldly possessions, all their memorabilia, all their forms of identity, and a place to stay.   Many children are traumatized as they are being separated from their neighborhood friends and no longer have access to their favorite toys or stuffed animals.  May we pray for comfort, and strength, and housing and healing. 

The one thing that some of us may be able to do in the short term is show up at the Arts Center in Hornell and volunteer.  We could offer to be a “runner” as needed or volunteer to sort through the massive piles of donations, which are overflowing into the former kitchen area of the old Ponderosa building.  Volunteers are being sought between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit

~ Psalm 34:18 ~

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13 November 20-19

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
~ Jeremiah 33:3 ~

 

Dear Church Family,

            It got cold rather quickly didn’t it?  I swapped out my summer and winter wardrobes last Friday, just in time.  It is good to have access to long johns and heavy sweaters, when you need them.  Speaking of which, if you have extra winter clothing hanging around in your closet or cluttering up you drawers, please consider donating them.  If you don’t know how to donate them, please feel free to bring them to church in a bag and I will donate them along with some items I pulled out of my closet.

Psalm 34:1-11.  It seems our prayer lists have gotten longer and longer.  Lately, there has been a lot of traffic to and from the hospital.  And sadly, some have encountered difficult recoveries.  Aside from trips to the hospital, there are many who are combatting physical setbacks, fighting to recover their former wellbeing.  And, not all the setbacks we are experiencing are of a physical nature.  Meanwhile, the prayer lists continue to grow longer and longer.

            My spirit tells me that there is a better way for me to pray than simply asking for God’s mercy to fulfill our many desires, even when we are certain that our desires are good.  Over the last few weeks (months?), I have been led to enter into intercessory prayer time by reading Psalm 34:1-11.  In the NIV translation, it reads:

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

 

            After I read this Scripture out loud and prayerfully, I am always feel ready to pray for the needs of others.  It always feels right.  I am freed from the gnawing sense that maybe I am praying improperly.  I first discovered the power of reading this Scripture while on a hospital visit.

            Since then, I have been wondering why this Scripture might cause this spiritual shift within me, making my prayer time feel right.  It recently donned on me that this prayer has many of the elements of A-C-T-S (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication).  I am color-coding the Psalm to show you what I mean (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication)

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

[I love verse 3 because it is an invitation to others to also praise/adore/extol God.  When having a pastoral visit, the invitation is to someone in particular.  It is an exhortation.  When praying in private, my heart affirms that it is right that all should praise God.]

 

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

[Remembering and Thanksgiving are very closely related.  In this context, I see no difference in the author’s intent.]


5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.


7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who [reverence] him,
and he delivers them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 [Reverence] the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who [reverence]  him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the [reverence] of the Lord.

[While there may not be specific supplications/requests in this prayer, there seem to be answered requests in the past.  While these verses could be thought of as Remembering/Thanksgiving, they seem to have a forward-looking flavor to them.  These verses remind me of Matthew 6:31-33, below.]

[While this Psalm does not contain an explicit confession, reverence of the Lord cannot be properly pursued without confession and penitence.  We cannot be God’s “holy people” (verse 9), in the sense that it is meant, when are sins are left unaddressed.  In Old Testament times, sins were addressed by faithful confessing and sacrifice.  In New Testament times, sins are addressed by confessing and claiming the sacrifice of Christ in faith.]

 

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

~ Matthew 6:31-33 ~

 

 

            I encourage everyone to consider using Psalm 34:1-11 in their prayer time, especially in your intercessory prayer time and even more so if your intercessory prayer time feels perfunctory and disconnected from the heart of God.  If you desire an extra blessing, read through the entire psalm.

 

Please let me know if using Psalm 34:1-11 helps you in your prayer time. 

From 19 June 2019 -

All Truth Is God’s Truth.  This is one of my favorite sayings and it is a principle that informs all my thoughts.  I often use this expression when preaching and I have come to realize that it may not be understood by all who hear me say it.  Ouch!  That is all my fault and I apologize for it.  So here is what this expression means to me.  First, it means to me that Bible truth is often confirmed by evidence we find in Creation.  That evidence may come from physical sciences, sociological sciences, medical sciences or even personal observations.  Second, it means that the realities of Creation, as evidenced by these sciences, can often help us understand the correct or a deeper meaning of Bible truth. 

            In our Tuesday morning Bible study, I offered this example.  Based on Scripture alone, it was reasonable for Believers to think that the earth was the center of the universe.  Copernicus and the astronomers who followed him said that physical reality was different.  Most people of faith today do not give it a second thought; our earth is the third planet from our sun, and the sun centers our solar system.  We no longer believe that the earth is at the center of the universe and so understanding of Scripture has been shaped by truths acquired from outside of the Bible. 

            One reason I like the expression that all truth is God’s truth is that it captures that God is Sovereign over all things.  The university system was sponsored by the church in the so-called Middle Ages, embracing the idea that more learning and more truth would magnify God’s glory.  There was a fearlessness in pursuing knowledge and an eagerness to see God in all that was learned. 

 

Fatherhood is a Two-Way Blessing.  I wish to revisit our message from this past Sunday, when we celebrated Father’s Day. 

We used Deuteronomy 8:3-5 as our text.  In it we found that God declared he would be a parent to us.  This was surprising and wonderful news.  The text says that inasmuch as fathers yassar their children, God will yassar us.  The NIV translated this Hebrew verb as discipline.  I think this is a safe translation, but it also misses the point.  Yassar has a broad range of translation values found in the Bible including: disciplines, chastens, corrects, teaches, instructs, trains, warns, and turns.  Can you think of a word that captures all these meaning?  This is precisely what I think about when I think of nurturing or parenting.  God is saying, inasmuch as good fathers do all these things, God is like a good Father to us.

 

In keeping with the idea that all truth is God’s truth, we are not afraid to look at sociological data to help us understand the Word of God.  In the sermon, we looked at some horrifying statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services that show children without fathers in their lives are at grave risk.  Risks of drug abuse, running away, incarceration, dropping out of school, and other dangers can increase by factors of 10X and 20X in fatherless homes.  Fathers-figures are very important to children.  It is a confirmation that God’s plan for the family is designed as a powerful blessing.

In the message, we encountered data that probably surprised some of us.  There is significant and credible research showing that fathers who are engaged with the nurture of their children, are themselves transformed.  Nurturing fathers experience a decrease in testosterone (an aggression hormone) and an increase in ocytocyn (a nurture hormone).  It is also observed that the brains of fathers who are involved with their children activate differently from the brains of childless males or uninvolved fathers.  This shows up when the men are shown photos of children who are sad or happy or expressing some other emotion.  There is even some emerging scientific evidence that fathers develop new brain neurons in response to parenting. 

In the end, we give God praise for his marvelous design of the family.  On this Father’s Day, we focused on fatherhood.  We discovered that God’s plan for the family is that fathers provide great blessing to their children in their yassar of them.  This surprises no one.  We also discovered that God’s marvelous design of the family blesses fathers, not just with the love of their children, but by actually transforming them more completely into the image of God (imago Dei) that we would love the helpless and develop a heart to nurture.  The social and medical sciences offer new, deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s plan for the nuclear family.  We praise God for his wise and kindly design.

From 12 June 2019

Fathers’ Day.  I have probably shared this article with you before, but I am not sure.  Thinking about Fathers’ Day and my Dad brought this old writing to mind.  It seems that I wrote this when I was fifty.  If it is a repeat and you remember it, I apologize.

 

Tales From Inner Brother Island

“The Trail”

 

Now that I am fifty, I like to think that most of  my fears are grounded in rational thought and held in check by calculation of the odds and cost-benefit analysis.  Of course, I still worry when my grown kids are out driving in bad weather or when I haven’t talked with my parents in a while.  But these kinds of fears don’t paralyze me with incapacitating dread, for, after all, I AM a rational man.  At least that is what I keep telling myself.

 

But as a child, I experienced many fears, not the least of which was being attacked by sharks.  My greatest childhood fear was not of shark attack but of “the trail.”  You may know that my family vacationed on a little island in Casco Bay, Maine.  The island had somewhat primitive accommodations.  There was a lovely little cabin, Tengerlak, that gave use shelter from the elements.  But the island had no electricity or running water.  No running water means no flush toilet, hence the need for “the trail.” 

 

The trail led from the Tengerlak to a cute outhouse of the one-seater variety.  There were no fancy astrological symbols cut into the door.  This was a form follows function design.  I guess it was only cute in the sense that it was painted to look like the cabin and we sometimes called it “the little house.”  So there you have it; the little house was at the end of the trail.

 

Most folks familiar with concept of an outhouse know that the trail shouldn’t be too short.  Proximity to the cabin is bad idea on hot days when the wind is gently blowing from the direction of the outhouse.  Of course, a long trial is inconvenient.  It is also down right unpleasant when the weather is bad.   One more detail about the trail on Inner Brother Island and it involves my parents’ philosophy about pruning.  Pruning should be kept to a minimum.  There were times when the trail could only be seen from ground level.  At eye level, the path was completely overgrown.  And going down the trail could  seem more like blazing the trail.  Bad enough in good weather, but when it was raining, a visit to the little house down the trail had similarities to walking through a car wash, save the suds and wax.  

 

But none of these things caused me any fear.  At least not in the daytime.  But at night, it was entirely different.  For at night, escaped criminals sneak on the island, the field mice and voles are transformed into their blood-sucking cousins, “count rodent” and evil beasty things emerge out of the ground.  Oh yes, nighttime on the island was fearsomely different.   

 

The walk down the trail at night was an awful journey.  The lack of pruning meant that with every trail blazing step one might walk directly into a waiting fugitive or malevolent entity (of the largish, rodent variety).  The trail was dark.  The cabin offered no light.  A flashlight couldn’t shine beyond the next sumac branch.  I wonder what my heart rate would have been had I ever gone down the trail in the middle of the night?

 

That’s right, I never did go down the trail in the worst of circumstances.  The latest I would journey to the little house was just before bedtime when there was still activity in the cabin and some hope that a rescue could be mounted.  Even so, I experienced much fear walking down the trail.  Perhaps, walking is too casual a word.  It felt more dangerously adventurous than walking.  Coming back from the little house was no casual stroll either.  Turning my back towards all that threatened me did not give me extra courage.  If someone was watching the trail from east beach, they would have seen the dim illumination of my flashlight beam on the shroud of sumacs dance back and forth, looking up trail and then down trail.  It would have looked like an iridescent ping-pong ball during a good volley, back and forth, back and forth. 

 

It is a little surprising that I never hyperventilated myself into feinting, but I never suffered that indignity.  Eventually, I would emerge at the trail head near the cabin.  The grassy area in front of the kitchen would be dimly illuminated from the kerosene lamps within.  And from the trail head, I could see my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading a book or working on a chess puzzle.  It was a great comfort to see him.  I no longer needed to look over shoulder to see what might be chasing me.  The presence of my Dad meant that I was safe from evil.

 

This life experience prepared me later in life to appreciate the comfort of God’s abiding presence.  As an adult, knowledge of God’s presence comforts me in the same way as seeing my Dad through the kitchen window.  And I know that God promises to abide with me down all the trails of my adult life.

From 5 June 2019

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

~ Hebrews 4:16 ~ 

Reflection on the Scripture Text.  Without the benefit of context, Our Hebrews 4:16 text above may sound like receiving mercy and grace is somehow dependent upon how confidently we approach the throne.  That would be an incorrect understanding.  If we removed the expression “with confidence” we would retain the correct sense of being invited to approach God on his throne to seek his mercy and grace.  The inclusion of the expression “with confidence” is a reflection upon the previous verse that tells us the we have a high priest in Jesus Christ, who is able to empathize with our suffering.  Our confidence is that in the throne room there is understanding of our condition. In a much broader context of entire counsel of Scripture, we can approach God’s throne with confidence because we are God’s beloved children, eternally adopted into his family and having a secure inheritance of glory. 

Tiananmen Square v. Kent State. We are upon the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.  In that massacre, the army of the People’s Republic of China slaughtered hundreds and perhaps thousands of seemingly peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators.  This massacre occurred with forethought and was carried out systematically.  Following the massacre, there was an orchestrated national cover-up.  The massacre and the cover-up are the evil acts of a government that wishes to survive, even if against the wishes of the people.  These are the evil acts of government that regards democracy, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion as existential threats. 

As I have been reflecting on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, thoughts of the Kent State Massacre come to mind.  On 4 May 1970, during a mass protest against the bombing of Cambodia by United States military forces, twenty-eight guardsmen fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others.  This was not a premeditated event and there was no coverup.  The country agonized over this event for months and years.  Images of frightened students and even frightened guardsmen were published in newspapers all around the country.  There were congressional hearings.  People talked about it openly in coffee shops, barber shops, grocery stores, around the family table, schools, and just about anywhere people gathered.  There were vigils held.  It was a painful time for this nation.

I am grateful that I live in country where we agonize over events like Kent State.  I am grateful that we are free to think as we wish, assemble as we wish, speak as we wish, and to vote as we wish.  More than all of these freedoms, but related to all of these freedoms, I am grateful that we are free to worship as we wish.  As I reflect on the meaning of the contrast between the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the Kent State Massacre, I am grateful that this nation was founded by so many who had a vision that it might be a “shining light upon a hill.”  Reflecting back on our Memorial Day message, I am grateful for the many servicemen and servicewomen who secured and continue to secure the freedoms that we enjoy.

From 22 May 2019

Reflection on our Joys and Concerns Time.  One of the pleasures of being a small congregation is that we can take the time to express our Joys and Concerns with one another as part of our worship service.  (Just try doing that at a mega-church!)  This last Sunday, a joy was shared that reminded us that we often fall into the trap of praying too small.  We tend to see a problem and pray for a resolution to the specific problem as stated.  Recently, we have been praying for someone who has need of provision.  God’s response was surprising both in the magnitude and the breadth of blessing.  I pray that this would remind us once again to be bold in our prayers.  For example, when a child breaks a leg, we usually pray for healing; we seldom pray that he or she would excel athletically.  When someone asks for prayers before an exam, we seldom pray that they would succeed in all their academic undertakings sufficiently for a joyous life and fulfilling God’s purpose for them.  We seem to forget that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b (NIV).  And make no mistake, the person who believes in Christ and who confesses his/her sins, is a righteous person.  If it feels right to you, try to be bolder in your prayers.  By this, the objects of our prayers may be more greatly blessed and our faith may be more bolstered.

 

Fun with Riddles.  If you were in church on Sunday, this is old hat to you.  But there are many on the Weekly Pastor Tidbits distribution who do not currently attend our church, so it will be new to them.  For the Children’s Message, I handed an invisible (and imaginary) cube to a youth.  I asked if he could tell me what it was.  Of course, he could not.  I asked if he was familiar with the movie The Hobbit.  He was and he was also familiar with the battle of riddles between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum.  I asked if he was game for some riddles to help him figure out what he was holding in his hand.  These were the riddles:

1.     Sometimes I’m big. 

Sometimes I’m small. 

Sometimes I’m not at all. 

What am I? 

 

2.     I’m not always there,

But in times of fear,

you’ll wish I was near. 

What am I?

3.     I am invisible,

but I can come into view

by things I enable you to do. 

What am I?

 

I sent these three riddles to 10 family members.  I do not know for certain how many played but two of them got it right on their first guess.  So, the riddles are not impossibly bad.  If after you think about it, you feel you need another clue, go ahead and read 2 Timothy 1:7.  This text does not provide the answer, but it offers a very strong, fourth clue. 

From 15 May 2019

Children’s Message Reflection. On Mother’s Day, our Children’s Message focused on how our visible moms have the high purpose of helping children to understand God.  Children cannot see God nor can they climb into God’s lap.  God’s hand cannot wipe away a tear nor can God kiss a boo-boo.  So, until children mature mentally and spiritually, moms are God’s visible representative of His ever present, attentive, selfless love.

We looked into a mom’s purse to see some of the ways moms model God’s care.  In her purse we found many things for her child.  We found a hair brush.  As God’s children, God cares how the world sees us.  In the purse there was a box of raisins.  Moms meet their child’s practical needs, like hunger.  Similarly, God takes responsibility for meeting our practical, as well as spiritual needs.  Mom’s purse contained a flashlight, reminding us that Jesus is the light of the world and that God’s Word is lamp unto our feet.  The purse contained hand-sanitizer.  Just as the sanitizer kills germs that make our bodies sick, God washes away the sins that make us soul sick.  Mom’s purse had a pack of tissues for wiping away the tears and snot of crying child.  Mom gives comfort; later in life, this comfort will come directly from our heavenly Father in a way that older children can feel and understand.  The first aid kit is rather self-explanatory; God is eager to heal our every hurt.  There are many more items in the purse, but a Children’s Message shouldn’t be too long.  Bottom line is moms are a tremendous blessing and God gets the glory.

Amazingly, motherhood is designed to be a two-way blessing.  The children are blessed by having a loving mom, who models God in their lives.  Moms are blessed by the most character stretching experience of their lives.  Nothing calls someone into selfless love more than having a child to care for.  God blesses moms with children to help moms better understand God’s powerful love and extreme patience with us. 

From 8 May 2019 -

Biblical Archaeology 

Biblical Archeology.  Some years are blockbuster years and others are what I call filler years.  Last year, 2018, was more of a filler year, where some details are filled-in and suspicions are verified.  Today I report on what came in at #6 on the Christianity Today list of top 10 biblical archeological discoveries in 2018.  It has to do with a discovery at Tel Megiddo.  [A tel is man-made mountain that results from building a fortified city upon the top of a destroyed fortified city.  When this happens multiple times, the city rises above the surrounding landscape and takes on the appearance of mount.  There are no fewer than 26 layers to Tel Megiddo, dating all the way back to the Copper Age.] 

The #6 discovery pertains to a Canaanite burial site dating to around 1,700 B.C., during the Patriarchal period of the Old Testament.  The Canaanite burial site was royal tomb and it had not been looted, which made it a rare find that was rich in artifacts.  In the tomb was a jug with residue of vanilla bean.  It is believed that vanilla bean was not grown in this region at that time.  The implication is that the vanilla bean arrived as a result of spice trading.  This is not a disruptive discovery, but it helps us understand a little bit better what this region was like during the time Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

From 1 May 2019 -

Book Review: Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. 

Book Review: Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus by Dr.  Jodi Magness

Biblical archeology is a hobby of mine.  This book was a very welcomed gift from a colleague, who is familiar with my passion for biblical archeology and with the author, Jodi Magness.  Dr. Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She is especially keen on the period from first century B.C. to first century A.D. 

This is an excellent book for me, but perhaps would be too dry for many readers.  It is written more as a reference book than as a popular archeology book.  There are over 300 citations to Scripture and many other ancient writings.  There 204 different modern authors cited in this book and there are 1,041 endnotes.

If you are like me, you love your study Bible with its helpful explanations at the bottom of each page.  These explanations often help us understand: historical context; idiomatic expressions; and customs that are being referenced.  I often wonder whether or not the footnote I am reading is grounded in strong scholarship.  Jodi Maness’ book is a testimony to idea that the culture of Jesus’ time is solidly reconstructable.  Her book allows me to have greater confidence in the footnotes in a study Bible.

While I am not certain that I can point to many new things that learned, it is a terrific book (for me) and I am glad that I read it.  I gained a richness and depth in my understanding of Jesus’ ministry context.  Here are few of my most satisfying take-aways:

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         Ceremonial cleanliness is not the same as purity from sin.  Ceremonial cleanliness was hotly debated by various communities (Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) and even within each of the communities.  One source of aggravation expressed by Jesus in the Gospels was the imposition priestly ceremonial laws on the masses.  Jodi Magness cites many writings that capture various sides in the conflict.  Quoting primary sources to provide details of the debates was interesting.  One particularly lengthy and complicated debate involved how corpse impurity (derived from Numbers 19:11-18) is transmitted and whether there are distinctions between primary impurity and secondary impurity.  This lengthy discussion helped to make the Luke 11:43-44 text come alive. “Woe to you Pharisees! You love the chief seats in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, which men walk across without even noticing.”

 

         A better understanding of burial practices in Jesus’s time is to be gained in this book.  A rock cut tomb is very costly and used only by rich families and for many generations.  The use of trench burials was the norm for the poor working masses.  I was intrigued by the historical references (e.g., Heggesippus’ account) to the headstone (stele) at the site of James the Just (Jesus brother) who was thrown from the temple and having survived the fall was stoned to death.

 

·         Apart from a number of facts about archeological sciences and insights into the meaning of several Scripture references, I also developed an appreciation for the community at Qumran (i.e., the Dead Sea Scrolls community).  Most other authors seem to treat this community as a peculiar and hyper-devout religious community.  They almost always point to their abstaining from going to the bathroom on the Sabbath.  Jodi Magness’ book casts this community in a different light.  First, she captures the many voices of the contemporary debates on ceremonial purity.  I come away with the sense that this community was trying to be faithful to what they believed and that they lived with great integrity.  This integrity caused them to shun the established church of the high priest and the temple, but it also precluded them offering sacrifices upon an alternative altar. 

 

This book has a lot of richness and depth to it.  Its use of primary sources allows the reader to immerse in debates on various topics that guided the life of Jesus, his followers, and the culture at large.  It helped bring into focus that there was a lot of tension on almost every imaginable element of religious life in Jesus’ time.  Jesus did not so much disrupt the peace, but rather spoke Truth into the turmoil of his day.

From 24 April 2019 -

Reflections on Preaching. 

Reflection 1.  Purpose of Preaching.  I think of three objectives when preparing a sermon.  I wish the message to glorify God; edify listeners; and fortify (equip) believers.  Even so, the audience must always be considered.  What are their circumstances, their felt needs, and their level of spiritual maturity?  Based on the audience, my try to craft my message to have one of three flavors: evangelizing; discipling; or pastoring.  A church that is full of seekers should be especially mindful of evangelizing.  A church that is full of young families should be mindful of the need to disciple.  A church that is full of older folks or going through a tough season should be mindful of the need to pastor.  So far in my calling to this church family, I have generally favored pastoring over discipling and discipling over evangelizing.  Still, when there are special services, that will attract people who are not familiar with the Good News, I feel an obligation to present the Gospel.  This is true for funerals, for weddings, and for special holidays.  Such was the case this last Sunday, Easter, where the Gospel message was preached out of Acts 10:34-48.  

Reflection 2.  Evangelism.  It was a privilege and pleasure to preach this year’s Easter message out of Acts 10:34-48.  The main teaching point was that, TO RECEIVE GOD’S BLESSING, WE NEED AN ATTITUDE OF YIELDING.  [This is not an absolute and categorical truth, but it is true enough to be a helpful adage.]  The truth of this principle is exampled in the story of Peter preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his household.  This text contains a terrific outline of what should be worked into an evangelistic dialogue (perhaps over the course of time or perhaps all at once, as in the case of Peter and Cornelius).  Here are four evangelistic points we find in this Acts account:

  1. Who is Jesus? – Amongst other things, Jesus is Lord of all!  He is also the means of peace with God (Verse 36). [The Trinity might be better left for discipling rather than evangelizing.  Peter does not identify Jesus as the Son of God, but he does work God, Jesus and Holy Spirit into the Gospel message.]

  2. What is the proof that Jesus is Lord of all, etc.? – Jesus preached the Good News, healed people, and cast out demons (Verse 38).  All the prophets testify to Jesus as Messiah (Verse 43).  God resurrected Jesus after his death to continue to verify his earthly ministry (Verse 40).  [We might want to add that Jesus taught that he was God’s pre-existent, forever Son and that many tried to kill him for this claim.]

  3. What did Jesus accomplish? – Jesus makes peace with God a possibility.  Everyone who yields to Jesus has his/her sins forgiven (Verse 43).  [We call this Salvation.  A lot could be added here (e.g., Jesus makes adoption by our heavenly Father possible).]

  4. What is Jesus’ current status?  God has appointed Jesus as judge of the living and the dead (Verse 42).  This is related to being Lord of all.  [A lot could be added here (e.g., Jesus lives within us and Jesus is now interceding for us before the Father).]

 

The main point, TO RECEIVE GOD’S BLESSING, WE NEED AN ATTITUDE OF YIELDING, can be one of evangelism, discipleship, and pastoring.  It is simple enough to be grasped by those without Bible knowledge or church culture.  It is something that each Christ-follower needs to reflect on, especially when trying to go deeper with Christ.  And sometimes, when we are suffering, this question may help us to find Christ’s comfort, as we learn to “let go and let God.” 

From 27 March 2019 -

Is Christianity a Religion of Violence?  You may have heard about an Iranian who converted from Islam to Christianity and recently sought asylum in the U.K.  There is good reason for seeking asylum as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its 2018 report that “in the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate … with the government targeting Baha’is and Christian converts in particular.”[1]  This application for asylum had been denied on the basis that Christianity is violent religion.  In the rejection paperwork, quotations from the Bible (from Leviticus, Matthew, Exodus, and Revelation) were cited as proof.  After much publicity and a loud outcry, the Catholic Herald reported yesterday that the rejection has been nullified and the asylum application is currently being considered.  While grateful for this correction of injustice, we should take notice how the world is becoming increasingly hostile the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Christianity is a Religion of Peace.  The visible Church is made up of both the saved and the unsaved.  And even the saved, those who are spiritually rescued from this broken world with loving knowledge of our Lord, all arrive into the Church with their broken baggage in hand.  Until the Second Coming, the visible Church is destined to operate imperfectly.  But how should the visible Church be evaluated?  I offer these two thoughts: 1) by the character and teachings of its founder and 2) by its actions, evaluated within the historical contexts in which they occurred.  Let us remember that when looking at the visible Church, we are considering a large portion of the world population for almost 2,000 years.  It therefore is not proper to cite isolated, egregious events of the past and then judge them by 21st century western ethos.  It also is not proper to judge actions based on identity, if the identity was not causative.  For example, to say that World War I was a Christian war, may be no more helpful than saying it was a war of people over 5 feet tall.  The war was not caused by Christian beliefs or by people’s height. 

            Without mounting a strong defense, let me remind us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  He shunned earthly power.  He lived a life of service with special care for the needy and marginalized.  He preached submission to authority.  He taught that we were to turn the other cheek when struck and forgive without limit.  It is little wonder that Christ-followers have always had many pacifists among them.

 

           As for the actions of the Church, evil acts, with which the visible Church are necklaced, are often a reflection of the times and context in which they occurred.  Care should be given to distinguish between the Church instigating an evil that would not have otherwise occurred and the Church participating in evil that it did not prevent.  Again, without mounting a strong defense, let me remind us that the visible Church, propelled by the true Church, has greatly blessed the world and continues to do so.  Because of Christianity, the Roman Empire developed an elevated regard for human life.  Additionally, the early Church was seen as a radical feminist movement in which the recognized worth of women was spectacularly revolutionary.  It is no coincidence that democracy flourishes mostly in nations strongly influenced by Christianity.  It is Christianity that brought the care of charity hospitals and schools around the globe.  Christ-followers were and continue to be instrumental to the abolition of slavery.  Christ-followers were and continue to be instrumental in the civil rights movement.  Christ-followers are leaders in prison reform around the globe.  Peace, love, and justice are core values to Christianity.  These are more than words; these core values are manifest in the deeds of visible Church throughout history and around the globe.  God is blessing Creation through the Body of Christ, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

[1] https://catholicherald.co.uk/news/2019/03/26/after-outcry-uk-to-reconsider-rejected-asylum-application-of-iranian-christian/

Weekly Pastor Tidbit 190320

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

~ 2 Timothy 1:7-8 ~

Greetings Church Family,

Musing.  Is it just me?  As spring gets closer, 32 degrees feels colder and colder. 

Presbytery.  I wanted to provide feedback from our presbytery meeting that was held yesterday at the Canisteo Union Church.  It was co-hosted by the churches in our cluster, mostly by Hornell, Canisteo and Arkport.  It was fun working within our cluster, to make possible what one small church alone would have had a very difficult time doing.  Arkport hosted breakfast (arrival snacks) and also contributed 3 soups for lunch.  I received a lot of positive feedback on our baked goods, variety of foods (yogurts, fruit, juice, trail-mix and more) and the welcoming presentation.  In additional to feedback that was provided to me directly, I overheard many very favorable comments that were shared.  The three crockpots of soup were hit hard at lunch, so I guess they too were a hit.  There was hardly any soup left in our three crockpots.  [This was true even for the spicy peanut butter SPAM slaw soup.  I barely had enough for my supper.]  Thanks to all who provided hospitality to our presbytery.  Great job!

I had the privilege of leading worship at presbytery.  I preached a sermon on Christian unity out of Ephesians 4:1-9 and John 17:20-23.  I challenged our presbytery to consider how Christian unity is different from worldly unity.  In the world, unity is grounded in men and women agreeing with each other.  Christian unity is grounded in men and women of faith agreeing with God.  In either case, unity is much more than a 51% majority.  I urged our presbytery family to consider whether unity is important to God.  In the Ephesians passage, Paul argues that unity is essential, if we are to live out our faith worthily.  In the gospel of John text, Jesus is praying that our unity would be complete to glorify the Father and to witness to the world.  I challenged us to consider how pursuing 51% votes may be a faithless approach to matters.  Do we not preach that our God can change hearts?  Do we not preach that our God can change circumstances?  Do we not preach that our God is the sovereign of history and often works out his purposes over the span of generations?  Does God really need us to pursue 51% victories at the cost of unity?  Does not God call us instead to protect unity, living out a life of faith that cherishes that “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)  My sense is that the sermon was at the same time both disagreeable to many and still hearable.  It is in this intersection between what is uncomfortable and still hearable that we can be most challenged.  May God bless all who made written commitments to respond to the message.  [For our offering, we collected written commitments to respond to the message and then prayed over them just as we pray over our weekly collections.]

            One last reflection from the service.  I desired to share with presbytery our tradition of holding hands while singing The Lord’s Prayer after Holy Communion.  When I said that we would need to “self-organize into a big circle,” Linda Badger Becker responded, “Presbyterians self-organize?  I’m getting my camera.”  It was a fun moment as well as sacred and tender.  This tradition of ours was very well received.  It may have been the highlight for many.

From 8 May 2019 -

All Truth Is God’s Truth.  This is one of my favorite sayings and it is a principle that informs all my thoughts.  I often use this expression when preaching and I have come to realize that it may not be understood by all who hear me say it.  Ouch!  That is all my fault and I apologize for it.  So here is what this expression means to me.  First, it means to me that Bible truth is often confirmed by evidence we find in Creation.  That evidence may come from physical sciences, sociological sciences, medical sciences or even personal observations.  Second, it means that the realities of Creation, as evidenced by these sciences, can often help us understand the correct or a deeper meaning of Bible truth. 

            In our Tuesday morning Bible study, I offered this example.  Based on Scripture alone, it was reasonable for Believers to think that the earth was the center of the universe.  Copernicus and the astronomers who followed him said that physical reality was different.  Most people of faith today do not give it a second thought; our earth is the third planet from our sun, and the sun centers our solar system.  We no longer believe that the earth is at the center of the universe and so understanding of Scripture has been shaped by truths acquired from outside of the Bible. 

            One reason I like the expression that all truth is God’s truth is that it captures that God is Sovereign over all things.  The university system was sponsored by the church in the so-called Middle Ages, embracing the idea that more learning and more truth would magnify God’s glory.  There was a fearlessness in pursuing knowledge and an eagerness to see God in all that was learned. 

Fatherhood is a Two-Way Blessing.  I wish to revisit our message from this past Sunday, when we celebrated Father’s Day. 

We used Deuteronomy 8:3-5 as our text.  In it we found that God declared he would be a parent to us.  This was surprising and wonderful news.  The text says that inasmuch as fathers yassar their children, God will yassar us.  The NIV translated this Hebrew verb as discipline.  I think this is a safe translation, but it also misses the point.  Yassar has a broad range of translation values found in the Bible including: disciplines, chastens, corrects, teaches, instructs, trains, warns, and turns.  Can you think of a word that captures all these meaning?  This is precisely what I think about when I think of nurturing or parenting.  God is saying, inasmuch as good fathers do all these things, God is like a good Father to us.

In keeping with the idea that all truth is God’s truth, we are not afraid to look at sociological data to help us understand the Word of God.  In the sermon, we looked at some horrifying statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services that show children without fathers in their lives are at grave risk.  Risks of drug abuse, running away, incarceration, dropping out of school, and other dangers can increase by factors of 10X and 20X in fatherless homes.  Fathers-figures are very important to children.  It is a confirmation that God’s plan for the family is designed as a powerful blessing.

In the message, we encountered data that probably surprised some of us.  There is significant and credible research showing that fathers who are engaged with the nurture of their children, are themselves transformed.  Nurturing fathers experience a decrease in testosterone (an aggression hormone) and an increase in ocytocyn (a nurture hormone).  It is also observed that the brains of fathers who are involved with their children activate differently from the brains of childless males or uninvolved fathers.  This shows up when the men are shown photos of children who are sad or happy or expressing some other emotion.  There is even some emerging scientific evidence that fathers develop new brain neurons in response to parenting. 

In the end, we give God praise for his marvelous design of the family.  On this Father’s Day, we focused on fatherhood.  We discovered that God’s plan for the family is that fathers provide great blessing to their children in their yassar of them.  This surprises no one.  We also discovered that God’s marvelous design of the family blesses fathers, not just with the love of their children, but by actually transforming them more completely into the image of God (imago Dei) that we would love the helpless and develop a heart to nurture.  The social and medical sciences offer new, deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s plan for the nuclear family.  We praise God for his wise and kindly design.

Arkport Presbyterian Church

A local gathering of the family of God.