New Blog Title!

So, I was never really satisfied with my previous blog title “scenes from my race.” When I was putting the blog together, I couldn’t think of anything else, so I went with it. Last night, though, I began studying the Psalms with the help of Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Christ in the Psalms. The book introduced me to a delightful Hebrew word “hawgooth.” The word carries several meanings including “meditation” and “musing,” which pretty much sums up my blog posts. The word can also mean “groaning” or “lamentation,” which for the most part doesn’t describe my blog posts, but I suppose it’s nice to have that kind of “emotional bandwidth” in my blog title just in case…

I should also point out that I made the title in the Hebrew plural, but the word never appears in the plural in the Old Testament, and I’m really rusty on my Hebrew. So, if making “hawgooth” a plural requires anything other than adding the feminine plural ending, then “hawgoothoth” probably isn’t an actual Hebrew word and the title of the blog would mean absolutely nothing. Hear’s hoping I’m right… Any Hebrew scholars out there?

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Ready for a Change…

I’ve been spending most of the summer doing pulpit supply preaching in various churches. At the beginning of the summer, I was really excited about the opportunity to spend a good chunk of time writing sermons and preaching, but I’m beginning to realize that I may have had too much of a good thing.

If you’re not familiar with the term “pulpit supply,” it’s pretty much the pastor’s equivolent to substitute teaching. Just about every Sunday, I’ve gone to a different church that either doesn’t have a pastor, or where the regular pastor is on vacation. Most of these churches are in relatively remote parts of Pennsylvania where I’ve never been before. At the start of the summer, I really enjoyed this work. I loved spending the time studying Scripture and writing sermons, and I really enjoyed traveling around and seeing parts of Pennsylvania that I’ve never seen before. The experience has also been pretty affirming of my call to ministry. After any sermon, you almost always get the typical comments (i.e. “I enjoyed your message” or “Nice sermon”), but I also received some feedback from people that I will cherish for a long time. (My favorite: “When you preached, I heard Jesus speaking.”)

Despite these good things… the gig is getting old. I never realized how difficult and draining it is to write sermons for congregations you barely know. Part of sermon preparation is a process of discerning what God wants to say to your particular congregation, and it’s really hard to discern that when you know nothing about that congregation. It’s also draining worshipping with strangers on a weekly basis. Usually, I enjoy meeting new people in new churches, and seeing new parts of the body of Christ, but lately I’ve been finding myself longing to be a part of a community and not just the guest of a different community each week.

That’s why I’m REALLY excited for what’s coming this week. This Thursday, the seed group for the New Church Development in Squirrel Hill will meet for the first time. It’s just going to be an evening of fellowship where we can all get to know one another before we all dive into Bible Study, worship and life-in-Christ together, but it’s also the beginning of this new chapter in my life and the lives of several others.

I’m ready for this change. The pseudo-itinerant ministry of pulpit supply preaching was fun for a season, but I fear that season may have ended a week or two before I intended it to. It’s time to devote energy to one community and see how the Holy Spirit forms and shapes it into a temple for the living Christ.

Presbymeme the second

Alright, PC(USA) moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow has started a new meme for Presbyterian bloggers. The rules: answer each question in 25 words or less. Chris tagged me, and away we go…

1. What is your favorite faith-based hymn, song or chorus?

This is a tough one for me; I love singing. This might be cheating a bit, but I’m going to say the Sanctus (any version) while celebrating the Lord’s Supper. I love the Reformed theology of the Eucharist; that we’re joining Christ at his table. Singing the Sanctus (“Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of power and might! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”) is a profound reminder for me that we’re joining the angels, saints, prophets, apostles and martyrs around the throne. Mind-blowing.

2. What was the context, content and/or topic of the last sermon that truly touched, convicted, inspired, challenged, comfoted and/or otherwise moved you?

I was completely blown away by Ken Bailey’s sermon at New Wilmington Mission Conference this year. Check it out online. (Though you’ll probably have to cue it up in the middle of the worship service recording.) Just to give some context: Dr. Bailey was a missionary for something like 50 years in the Middle East. Sitting behind him during the sermon were career missionaries representing a combined total of more than 1,000 years of mission service.

3. If you could have all Presbyterian read just one of your previous posts, what would it be and why?

I’m going to go with “The Homosexuality Debate: Are We Completely Missing the Point?” The answer to that question is, in my opinion, yes, and you should read the post to find out why.

4. What are three PC(USA)-flavored blogs you read on a regular basis?

Lately, I haven’t been to active in the bloggin realm, since I don’t have my own internet access in the new apartment. I’m going to say Presbymergent, Presbygrow, and even though it’s not technically a blog, I do read the articles posted by Rob Gagnon on his website.

5. If the PC(USA) were a movie, what would it be and why?

I’m going to say A Mighty Wind. The movie’s a mockumentary, in which the characters take themselves entirely too seriously and don’t realize they’re actually being utterly ridiculous and are being laughed at by the audience. We in the PC(USA) are taking ourselves entirely too seriously and He who sits in heaven is probably laughing.

Now comes the part when I’m supposed to tag 5 others. I so don’t know 5 presbyterian bloggers who haven’t already been tagged and will actually post. The only one I can think of is Matt Bell. Matt, have at it.

The Lord is a Warrior

When I was a kid, I used to love watching WWF wrestling. One of my favorite wrestlers to watch was this guy…

… the Ultimate Warrior. He was always one of the toughest “good guys” there was. Every now and then one of the “bad guys” would start to beat him up, but then all of sudden, just when you thought it was all over, the Ultimate Warrior would start shaking the ring ropes and would “miraculously” get his strength back. Then it really was over, the Ultimate Warrior would go crazy and destroy everyone in his path.

Strangely enough, I was reminded of the Ultimate Warrior this past week when reading my Bible. (Go ahead and laugh… I am.) I’ve been reading Judges, and this past week took me through the stories of Samson. Samson seems to “go crazy” twice in chapter 14. First, he’s approached by a lion, you’d think the lion would destroy Samson, but nope, Samson tears apart the lion with his bare hands. Then again at the end of the chapter, Samson strikes down thirty men of Ashkelon when they cheated at solving his riddle. Samson was destroying everything in his path… and he didn’t even have ring ropes to shake.

Here’s the part that really surprises me, in both instances, with the lion and with the men of Ashkelon, what prompts Samson to do all this is that “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him.” (See vv.  and 19). Huh? When I think of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone, I usually think of Jesus’ words (quoting Isaiah) in Luke 4: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” See, I can understand the Holy Spirit coming upon someone to preach the gospel. Sometimes, I’ll even think of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon people and causing them to speak in tongues. (Not often, of course. I am Presbyterian after all.) But the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone and causing them to destroy a lion, or 30 of the person’s enemies?

I suppose this is a good reminder of the “wildness of God.” C.S. Lewis’ oft-quoted line about Aslan is true: he’s not a tame lion. God is not tame. There’s a wildness to God the Holy Spirit. We cannot tame Him, despite our best efforts. Maybe when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come, we should be more careful, we might actually wake him.

Review: Being a Christian in Science

I picked up this book, written by Walter Hearn, for two reasons. First, I was looking over a bibliography of books recommended by the Grove City College faculty. This was on the list, and it caught my attention. Second, (and probably the reason why it caught my attention), I’m entering into ministry to graduate students at CMU and Pitt. Both schools have great departments in various sciences, and I know nothing about science, so I thought this would be a good introduction.

The book is actually about 10 years old now, but I still found some of the opening chapters to be excellent, mainly because of the theology of vocation that Hearn lays out. Hearn’s basic argument is that the world of science is a subculture, and thus a mission field. Christians entering into the world of science thus ought to see themselves as missionaries to this subculture. This is actually very similar to what Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch Call for on a broader scale in The Shaping of Things to Come.

As much as I enjoyed and agreed with those chapters that had more to do with theology, I was quickly reminded in the subsequent chapters which focused more on science that I am not one of those Christians called to be a “missionary” in science. Nearly all of Hearn’s discussions about various sciences went right over my head, which is somewhat humbling considering he wrote the book with the intention that it would be accessible even to high school students considering a career in science.

That being said, I get the impression that a lot of the science chapters are outdated. The few parts I actually did understand seemed to be such. For example, you may as well skip the ten-year-old chapter on the internet. Nevertheless, I would still recommend this book to Christians entering any of the scientific fields, if for no other reason than for the theology of the opening chapters. The world of science needs missionaries, and preferably missionaries who can understand the second half of Hearns’ book.

Catching Up On Blogging

It’s been a while since I last updated on here. I’ve been meaning to post for a while, now. The problem has been that the past two weeks have been a combination of being busy with not having immediate access to the internet, which has resulted in no new postings since mid-July. There are a number of things I’ve been wanting to write, and that list keeps growing. So, I’m going to catch up right now by covering everything in one fell swoop. Buckle your seatbelts, here we go….

 

New Wilmington Mission Conference

 

This is the third year I’ve worked on the conference staff, and in terms of speakers, this has to be the best of the three. If you have a chance, I strongly encourage you to check out the sermons from the conference by Jim Martin (of International Justice Mission) and Ken Bailey. The impact of Jim’s sermon was incredible. It felt as if he took the whole congregation through crucifixion and resurrection. Ken Bailey is always brilliant, but in this particular sermon, his intellect as a New Testament Scholar is combined with his passion as a missionary of Jesus Christ.

 

Thinking About Patience

 

I’ve been spending time lately reading the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Victorian-era poet and Jesuit Priest). I’m planning on writing a full post about him once I finish the volume I picked up. But for now, I just want to share a portion of a poem that stuck out to me:

 

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,

But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks

Wants wars, wants wounds; weary his times, his task;

To do without, take tosses, and obey.

 

Reading this showed me that when I ask for patience, what I’m usually asking for isn’t patience at all, but simply relief of my hardship or discomfort. But asking for patience is a dangerous thing. Asking for patience means asking for wars and wounds. It means asking for contentment within hardship, not relief of hardship. Maybe we need to recover some of the earlier translations of scripture that, instead of using the word “patience,” use the term “long-suffering.”

 

From Fantasy to Imagination

 

I can’t remember now whether I read this recently or heard it in a sermon. (My best guess is that I read it either in Dangerous Act of  Worship or Shaping of Things to Come). Somewhere, though, someone talked about serving God with imagination. Something that stuck out to me is that a defining characteristic of imagination is practice. Having creative ideas about ministry (or serving God more generally) is useless if we don’t put those ideas to use. Imagination that stays in our heads isn’t imagination at all; it’s fantasy.

 

I’m noticing that I’m much better at fantasy than at imagination. Maybe it’s because fantasy is safer. If ideas stay in my head, they won’t be criticized by others, and more importantly, they won’t fail. Fantasy, though, is also useless.

 

As Chris and I continue with the church planting work, we’re beginning to grow restless. We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about plans and ideas with others, writing about them in a grant proposal, and praying about them. I think our restlessness, at least in part, comes from a strong desire for this new church not to be a fantasy, but a reality brought about by God’s Spirit gifting us with imaginative vision.

 

Church Basement Roadshow

 

The Church Basement Roadshow, a book tour featuring Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and Mark Scandrette, came through Pittsburgh last Saturday night. I appreciated what all three had to say. One thing that disappointed me, though was who attended, or perhaps it’s better to say who didn’t attend.

 

The event was hosted by Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community (with help from the Open Door and Emergent Pittsburgh). As much as I like Hot Metal, I’m not sure that was the best location for the event. This isn’t because I have anything against HMB. I think they’re one of the best examples in Pittsburgh of how to do church faithfully in a particular neighborhood. And that’s just it. Most of the people at Hot Metal Bridge (and the Open Door and other Emergent churches) already get it. The people who most needed to hear and learn from Jones, Pagitt and Scandrette are those in mainline churches who are struggling to do ministry faithfully and effectively in a 21st century context. It’s a shame most leaders from those churches didn’t come.