Thursday, December 31, 2009

Scripture snippets tell the story …

The Wee Kirk newsletter arrived and in it was the suggestion that we utilize the following “speaking points” of scripture as jumping off points to the narrative story of the Old and New Testaments … Not a bad place to start for some reflection and perhaps even some memorization …

God saw everything he had made; was very good  (Genesis 1:31a)
"You shall have no other gods before me."  (Exodus 20:3)
...I will fear no evil for you are with me;  (Psalm 23:4)
...his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  (Psalm 34:1)
...and renew a right spirit within me.  (Psalm 51:10)
...if you hear [God's] voice, do not harden your hearts... (Psalm 95:7)
But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord;  (Psalm 141:8)
"...I have called you by name, you are mine."  (Isaiah 43:1)

He has showed you, O man, what is good...  (Micah 6:8)
...I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  (Habakkuk 3:18)
"I am with the end of the age."  (Matthew 28:20)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...  (John 1:14)
"No one comes to the Father except through me."  (John 14:6)
"you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come"  (Acts 1:8)
...but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  (Romans 12:2) in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:21) everything in the name of the Lord Jesus... (Colossians 3:17) into flame the gift of God which is in you...  (2 Timothy 1:6)
...but now you are God's have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:10)
"Surely I am coming soon."  Amen, come Lord Jesus.  (Revelation 22:20)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Can Can

I have been reflecting on the discussions going around Christian circles concerning the use of Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

Here is a link to the Christmas Can Can – a very comedic presentation which ends in the realization that while Christians celebrate Christmas other traditions celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa during the the same period of time.

Yes, Christmas is about CHRIST – but the December season also includes other celebrations – including the Christmas celebrations by Christians that are sadly lacking in any spiritual value. I am much more distressed with the reality of how Christians celebrate Christmas than I am about the phrase “Happy Holidays”. I am curious when Happy Holidays became a non-Christian greeting since we’ve been saying this for many years – as in Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s = Happy Holidays.

And yes, I think Christmas trees are Christmas trees and nativity scenes should be allowed in public squares, etc. etc. in case you are curious about my Christianity … not that these things make me a Christian. Maybe it’s time to quit pretending everyone who lives in America is a Christian and set an example that attracts others to the true life of discipleship. Then Merry Christmas will have true meaning and not just be a phrase we fight over in a time when the angels announced, “Peace on Earth.”


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reflections on the Best of 2009

It would be easier to reflect on the worst of 2009, but the best way to feel thankful is to give thanks ….

1.  Camp Crestfield activities and retreats throughout the year.

2.  Leadership retreats at Antiochian Village and Camp Crestfield.

3.  Discovery of the D. Min. program at the University of Dubuque and completion of the first year seminar.

4.  Visit to St. Paul’s, our sister church in Blantyre, Malawi

5.  Installation Service at Gladden UP

6.  Ordination service of my seminary “wifey” – yes, that would be best friend.

7.  Vacation Bible School

8.  Participation in the 50th anniversary celebration of my aunt and uncle in Pinehurst, North Carolina – complete with choral works.

9.  Watching the development of our worship committee as they work to make a difference.

10.  A year of weddings, baptisms, new members and God’s faithfulness through all of our lives – even to the grave!

11. The faithfulness of our choir members who struggle against great odds to make a “joyful noise on to the Lord” each Sunday – bless them!

12.  The friendship and active encouragement given to me by our clerk of session. She has kept me sane this year with trips to the symphony and many encouraging notes and chuckles.

New Year’s Resolutions for Volunteer Ministry


by Brian Proffit

The beginning of a new year is traditionally a time for examining the past and resolving to make improvements in the coming year. Here's what I resolve to do in 2010:

I will be more of an equipper and less of a doer. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that the purpose of leaders in the church is to equip the people to do the ministry of the church--not for the leaders to be the ministers themselves. So I will spend more time consciously empowering others in ministry. I will make it clear to my staff that I won't measure their performance by how much they do, but how many they equip.

I will stop treating Christian service as optional. Jesus called his followers to complete life changes. In fact, he went out of his way to make sure people understood how much he demanded before they became his followers. Jesus made it clear that he expected people to be actively serving him. For Christ-followers, giving time to ministry is not optional.

I will be a cheerleader. In a world full of negative attitudes and criticism, I will demonstrate Christ's love by celebrating the accomplishments of others. I will give personal, meaningful affirmation. If someone fails to show up, my first reaction won't be anger that he or she let me down; it will be concern that something might be wrong. I will take more pleasure from their successes than my own. I will praise them publicly.

I will call people boldly. Rather than recruiting people timidly, hoping not to offend them, I will boldly invite them to contribute their time to the most significant cause in the universe. In John 6, Jesus called people to such radical commitment that many turned back and no longer followed him. If Jesus' focus was on the level of commitment people were willing to make, rather than the number of people who followed, then I will not be shy in asking people to give more of themselves.

I will devote resources to developing others. Equipping people for ministry is more than just giving encouragement. I will give them constructive feedback. I will pay their way to appropriate training events. I will purchase the tools needed for them to flourish.

I will forgive myself for last year. Because we take our ministry so seriously, it is easy to pile on guilt for the things we failed to do or did wrong. But God chose to do this ministry through me, knowing that I'm a broken vessel. I will spend time now consciously determining what I need to learn from my mistakes, and then I will join God in casting them into the Sea of Forgetfulness.

I will remember the one thing. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus reminded Martha that while all her attempts to serve him were good, the one thing most important was developing a growing relationship with Jesus. I will remember that ultimately it is not about my ministry or my church. It is about me and all those around me developing a growing relationship with Jesus.

And perhaps I should add one more: I will keep these resolutions longer than the one about dieting and exercise.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Five – Christmas Traditions

Jan at RevGalBlogPals writes:

Christmas traditions vary from family to family and from regions afar. I've been pleased that my oldest son's wife AA loves to be with our family for Christmas, though I don't think we do anything out of the ordinary. It helps that DC has one brother and two sisters to liven up our home.
Since I finally decorated the Christmas tree and have started baking Christmas cookies, I am thinking of Christmas only being one week away.
So for this Friday Five, tell us five things about the traditions in your family. Think of

  • traditions you always do – since we’ve been pastors, we’ve always hosted an annual open house at the manse. Our families live in other states, and the open house gives us the comfort of a “family” celebration which we seldom get to enjoy because of Christmas Eve services.]
  • traditions you always cook or eat - For at least 25 years, my son and daughter and sometimes a friend or two show up to bake cut-out sugar cookies which are then iced and decorated with a variety of toppings. These are nice thick cookies that always stay soft – IF you know the secret to the recipe.
  • traditions you would like to start – attending a midnight Christmas Eve service where I have no leadership responsibilities.
  • traditions you would like to discard – Sending Christmas cards to people I see every week. I still like to get the notes from friends I seldom see and I really enjoy the newsy letters that are included – even if we find they are usually either full of only the good stuff or only the year’s complaints.
  • anything about your family Christmases – We were always permitted to open a present of our choosing on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Storm Stirring in Two Women’s Hearts

Janet McKenzie’s work has surfaced in a number of places, leading me to share some links to her work.

A Storm Stirring in Two Women's Hearts
Janet McKenzie’s The Visitation haunted me for days. There was simply lurking in it behind the obvious, more, I thought, than the common awareness of the binding female power of pregnancy.
The fact that women share a common life-giving experience in the very chemistry of their bodies—whether they themselves ever experience pregnancy or not — is commonplace. The very word “woman” rings of “wombness” for many. But the haunting look on the faces of The Visitation says more. Much more.
The faces of Mary and Elizabeth, dark and somber, thoughtful and aware, in McKenzie’s Visitation say something far beyond either the exultation of pregnancy or the creative power of it. This is not a picture about the delirium of motherhood. There is a storm stirring in the hearts of these women — deep and different than most at such a moment as this, something epochal and eruptive. The facts of this pregnancy are clearly different than the simple, natural dimensions of it.
This pregnancy, The Visitation implies, says that these two particular pregnancies are changing life in ways no pregnancy before them ever implied. These women, the picture is clear, are bound together in ways far beyond the physical. This pregnancy says that both the older woman — for whom pregnancy means a need for more vigorous energy than her years would commonly allow — and the younger woman — for whom a first pregnancy means new stature in the human community — are bound by something far more impacting than gestation.
The picture captures a moment in time — full of awareness, heavy with universal meaning. These two women know that what they are about to go through is not really two separate moments of life at all. The very act of pregnancy binds them together, yes, but it binds them to all of life differently, as well. It has not only changed them but it is about to change the history of the world. It is of them, of course, and it is far outside and beyond them at the same time.
This is life beyond their own small lives that they are facing now. This is life layers above the physical, oceans below the conscious.
–from The Art of Janet McKenzie: Empowering Holiness, “The Visitation” by Joan Chittister (Orbis 2009). Click here to order.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas can be frightening …

I’m been reading Bonhoeffer and it has me thinking …

"It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The ups and downs of ministry

OK … this morning was by all standards a wonderful worship experience … no major snafus in the liturgy, wonderfully prepared music which coordinated perfectly with the text from Mark … a voice cries out, prepare ye the way of the Lord. The sermon was a take on the importance of each voice preparing the way of the Lord in our lives, families and in the community. The sermon was complete with its own unexpected sermon illustration as a newborn voice erupted and interrupted our perfectly planned worship service thus illustrating that it is possible for ONE VOICE to make a difference.

All in all, about as good as it gets in a small congregation.

Left the church feeling pretty good about things here in my neck of the woods.

Lots of warm fuzzies following at the annual church luncheon, including a surprise present from a local funeral director and his wife, who is also our toddler room coordinator.

But, by 4 p.m., the voices started sounding distinctly less supportive beginning with a phone call from someone who hadn’t attended church services, but telling me that she was looking for a PREACHER.  You know someone who doesn’t preach so closely to scripture … you know someone who sounds like the preachers of my youth … hmmm….. do you really mean you’d like a preacher like those preachers who made your grandmother uncomfortable attending because she was divorced so she sent your mother alone to church … that’s what you said … yes, I realize you are medicated. I PREACH every Sunday, but no, I don’t preach those sermons. Sorry! I also don’t preach television evangelist sermons – sorry again!

Then a random email in response to one I had written earlier … note to self … people really don’t want any advice they just seek affirmation of the decisions they’ve already made. GOT IT!

I do not like roller coasters – not the mechanical ones or the emotional ones … I think I’ll be listening to my veteran pastor, husband’s advice – do not believe anything you hear before or after church on Sundays. If they remember it six weeks later, it was a good sermon. If it’s negative, it can wait to Monday – do not answer the phone or read emails on Sundays.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What I’m Not Doing for Christmas this Year …

Rev Gal Blog Pals Friday Five is easy this week … Name five things you are not doing to prepare for Christmas this year ….

1.  No outdoor lights are going up which is a shame because to me Christmas lights in the dark of night really speak the Christmas message. But, alas, no kids at home, and I have decided I don’t need to be crawling across the roof this year.

2.  Cookie baking has been pared down to the bare minimum. The remainder of my cookies are coming from the American Cancer Society Cookie Walk at the South Fayette Fire Hall. I will be making the cutout sugar cookies with icing that have been my trademark of Christmas for 20 years.

3.  Very little Christmas shopping being done in the stores this year. What shopping I’m doing has been done online.

4.  I have a basement full of decorations and only my favorite ones are coming out this year.

5.  Not stressing about the house being spotless for our annual Open House for the congregation. Hmm… I’ll let you know how that goes.

My favorite Advent song this year is a choral piece by Lloyd Larson. I don’t have an easy way to link you to it but this one takes you to a place to listen:

A Voice Cries Out by Lloyd Larson