Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


It's the most wonderful time of the year. Or so the song lyrics of the same title go. However, though, in the fullness of time, I wonder if that is indeed true of some others' experience of this season. Is it really all the time all that wonderful for all?


I had a conversation recently with a friend whose family has had many experiences of grief and loss over the years. In sharing with each other about some of our common, similarly emotional moments of remembering loved ones who have passed on to eternity, they made mention of sometimes having mixed feelings about holiday, anniversary and/or birthday celebrations.


There seems to be for some a bittersweet sense of joy and manifest pain of loss present at the same time that characterizes such celebrated life events. Questions unanswered, even such unspoken thoughts rise to the surface of our conscious being. Where might we be now, if not for…? What might this Christmastime be or have been like if they were still here with us today?


One person offered that, in their experience, not necessarily the first, but the second or third subsequent holidays, birthdays or anniversaries become particularly difficult over time. And yet, life truly does and has to go on, doesn't it? There is, as the hymn that ascribes of God's steadfast loving-kindness goes, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Because of the Lord's great compassion we are not consumed. We, above it all, experience mercies renewing every morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us of God's great faithfulness unto us amidst the challenges in and through which the Lord identifies with us.


One colleague in ministry says that during times when we may find ourselves at a low point emotionally or otherwise, s/he finds it helpful to give oneself to and for others. Whether it is unto those in need or not, the act of giving in the service of others for their greater blessing actually lifts up our own spirits for our betterment as well.


In and through the wonder of it all, we experience God's grace for us and for our loved ones both living and also on the other side of eternity. In this case, I do resonate with certain themes in the romanticism of the tune.


It is the most wonderful time of year. It is a time of year filled to the full with wonder and awe at the God of wonders who came to be born to us in awfully humble surroundings. That is certainly worth celebrating most wonderfully, even throughout the whole year.


May this holiday season be for you and yours entirely filled with joyfully fulfilling holy days of yuletide reverence to the glory of the Holy One of Bethlehem. Blessings at Christmas for the New Year to come!


In the Spirit of the King,

Rex Espiritu

Pastoral Perspective—On the Charge and Benediction of Joy inPrayer and Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The words continually ring true. The charge and benediction of my pastor at the end of Sunday morning worship services from my childhood and teenage years even now resound throughout my very being, and maybe especially so in the deep recesses of my heart and mind. I had the honor and privilege of reciting the very same words as a pastor and guest preacher six weeks ago in the sanctuary of my old home church in Mount Vernon, New York. I cannot even imagine growing up and going through life without a regular charge and benediction on a regular basis, particularly at the end of each service of worship. There may be varied incantations but the general gist of it goes something like this:


"Go forth into the world in peace! Take hold of that which is good. Do not pay back wrong for wrong. But support the fainthearted, and help those who are in need of help, for you thereby show due honor to every person. Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus our Lord. And may the love of God the Father, the grace of God the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and those whom you love this day and always. Amen."


It was a heartfelt moment. It was an emotional event. To have a sudden, immediate, keen awareness of God's hand upon you as your life seemingly flashes by before you. When things appear to come full circle in the unity of all things past and into the present future, one cannot help but stand in reverence and awe at the wonder of the Lord's providential grace in one's life. Still before the Holy One, there is a sense of speechlessness amidst the experience of the eternal presence.


Thomas Merton writes on the Feast of the Dedication of Gethsemane's Church, "Nothing could be more beautiful, nothing could make me happier." Tears of joy, peace everlasting, grace abounding. Such gladness of heart with gratitude to God. "And yet it raises again the unanswerable question: 'What on earth am I doing here?' " Yes, I hear the charge to go. Yes, I heed the exhortation to receive and live the good word. But what exactly am I doing here for God's sake? For what purpose have you and I been called?


Merton goes on to write, "I have answered it a million times. 'I belong here,' and this is no answer. In the end, there is no answer like that. Any vocation is a mystery, and juggling with words does not make it

any clearer. It is a contradiction and must remain a contradiction."


It's like that saying, "The more you know, the more you realize the less you know." Even when questions may be answered, they beget more questions. And so, it is enough to surrender in awe with great thanksgivings unto the One Who is worthy of all our praise.


Therefore, beloved, this Thanksgiving through Advent and always: Go in peace! Do good, not wrong. Support, help, honor, rejoice, pray, give thanks each and every time! We belong here together. This is our lot in life. Let it be so.


To God be the glory,

Pastor Rex

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pastoral Perspective – On the In-Between

A few years ago, my wife Melissa read an article in a publication focusing on the notion of being sandwiched between two generations. Upon sharing it with me and in the course of our ongoing conversation, I felt led to encourage her (and myself) to reflect further on it. After writing in her journal(s), she began to experience a sense of call to this time and space in which she acknowledged in her prayer life that God had placed her to bridge the gap between one generation and another other than her own.


Last week, a friend mentioned that they had been reading a book, delving into this subject in another way. "The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions" by Jeff Manion explores the Exodus of the people of Israel as they traversed through the desert land between the bondage of Egypt and the greater freedom of the promised land.


Our own recent forays into this year's lectionary passages from the Pentateuch of the Old Testament give us pause to consider our own plight as a congregation gathered together from one generation to the next. The Books of the Law handed down from Moses through the generations of God's people provide for us an ample compendium of illustrations ripe for our application.


These ruminations serve to engender a renewed sense of call for me to share that the Lord our God indeed beckons us anew to bridge the gap that is before us in imparting the good news of the Gospel from one generation through us onto another. I believe our church is at a critical juncture in the journey of faith together as the Lord leads us further and farther to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person.


We are in an in-between time through which we have been afforded a window of opportunity to choose to discern well and re-up our commitment to the call. We must stand once again for the way, the truth, and the life that our Lord and our God has given us in Jesus Christ that the world may know that the Father has sent the Son, once and for all.


In a recent seminar that our presbytery hosted in preparation for the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent, the study at one point also led into a discussion on this topic. Like the Israelites before us, we are, beloved, chosen ones upon whom the mantle of leadership has been laid in order to effect the transition of God's people from generation to generation to generation for the glory of God to be manifest in the spread of the Gospel through the very end of the age.


May the Lord find us faithful in proclaiming the Word. And may God's presence go with us as we continue to go forth from this place.


Prayerfully yours, and His,


Pastor Rex

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pastoral Perspective on The Fellowship of Presbyterians


On August 25 and 26 in the Twin Cities area at the conference hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota, what was initially anticipated in early spring to be attended by three hundred people instead showed to be nearly two thousand strong. The inaugural gathering of like-minded evangelicals in The Fellowship of Presbyterians signaled a significant movement of the Holy Spirit already underway among presbyters concerned with recent outcomes of voting by Presbyteries which has effected major changes in polity for the Presbyterian Church (USA).


Throughout the two days filled with several seminars, workshops, breakout sessions, table group discussions and stimulating conversations, I witnessed what I regard to be the incipient beginnings of monumental transformation yet to come and in some ways already in progress. We will likely be experiencing rapid, accelerated changes in structure and organization across the denomination in what I might now more emphatically refer to as the post-denominational landscape of the new millennium.


Nearly twenty-five years ago, I saw and had to participate in the radical re-ordering and massive restructuring of a major corporation. The company I worked for was part of a global conglomerate that at the time was much hindered in its businesses by outdated bureaucratic procedures and multiple levels of organizational hierarchies which impeded their ability to act nimbly and quickly in response to the demands of their various constituencies. The varied units across the multi-national corporation were streamlined from having in some cases thirteen different levels of management down to just five layers of supervision.


I believe that this is not unlike what is currently happening or about to happen in the PCUSA today. It is not just about theology per se, as important as that is, but also the reforms necessary to more practically effect the renewal of missional ministry in the church for the rapidly changing world around us.


On Sunday , October 23, I am envisioning a shortened morning service followed by an informational gathering of the congregation to provide a setting in which we may explore further in conversation these things which are currently happening among Presbyterians in and surrounding the PCUSA. Please keep the efforts of The Fellowship of Presbyterians in your prayers as we all seek the Lord's face together in pursuing the better future God has in mind for us to discover and realize anew.


As the prophet in Jeremiah (29:11-14a) proclaims, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me. And I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord.


In the grip of God's amazing grace, with you, I remain and continue


Pastor Rex

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Peacemaking Offering – Litany of Thanksgiving (adapted for World Communion Sunday 2011)

Peacemaking Offering - Litany of Thanksgiving (adapted for World Communion Sunday 2011)

One: We give you thanks O God,

for you have made us in your image

female and male, black, brown, olive, and pale.

You created us and continue to shape us and teach us to love you,

to love our neighbors, and to love ourselves.

With gratitude we pray….

All: Bread of life, cup of peace, we give you thanks, O God.

One: You set us in this world to love and to serve you,

and to live in peace with your whole creation.

Although we have failed to do so,

you have not rejected us but continue to call us back to your way.

With gratitude we pray….

All: Bread of life, cup of peace, we give you thanks, O God.

One: In Jesus Christ you showed us your love for all,

especially those among us often rejected by others.

Those of us who are poor, immigrants, prostitutes, suffering from illness, those whom

society has deemed

unclear or impure.

You showed us the way to a new community, one in which the last would be first,

justice would be realized,

resources would be shared in common.

With gratitude we pray….

All: Bread of life, cup of peace, we give you thanks, O God.

One: Jesus proclaimed the good news of the reign of God, healing

the sick, feeding the hungry, calling for economic

justice from tax collectors and religious leaders,

preaching about faith guided by the heart, not law.

With gratitude we pray….

All: Bread of life, cup of peace, we give you thanks, O God.

One: Yet we rebelled against his message of compassion and justice,

and he was crucified because we feared such love.

But death cannot ultimately defeat life; many waters

cannot quench love. Jesus rose from the grave,

and in the resurrection we place our hope and

assurance. We joyfully celebrate Christ's life and

resurrection as we wait for the day that Christ is fully

present with us and in us and the world is at peace.

With gratitude we pray….

All: Bread of life, cup of peace, we give you thanks, O God.

One: Gracious God, we give you thanks for pouring out your Holy Spirit upon us. Fill us with compassion that we might be moved to action that your reign might be on earth as it is in heaven.

With gratitude all God's people say….

All: Amen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pastoral Perspective… On Excellence… From the Start through the End…

In a quote attributed to William Arthur Ward, pastor Bill Teng from National Capital Presbytery recently shared a thoughtful note of gratitude on the notion that tears "prepare our eyes for a clearer vision of God". I understand and appropriate this to mean that, upon our countenance becoming awash with tears, our eyes are hence provided for a renewed clarity of insight concerning our perceptions and perspective of God. In the aftermath, we gain a keener sense of who God is, what God has in mind and is about doing, and what God has in store for us. Tears "prepare our eyes for a clearer vision of God."


As I read this, again, the passage of Saul on the road toward Damascus when scales fell from his eyes in the process of changing to Paul comes to mind. I am reminded of a personal sense of cleansing that occurs when tears are shed through one's eyes, flowing upon the face, moistening cheeks touched by the very healing power, gracious presence and tendering mercies of God.


This month, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I imagine and share in, along with many others in this nation and world, a salutary stream of solvent tears over the years. As we may find ourselves from time to time encountering some sobering times in and through life even over the past decade, the Lord of heaven and earth continually carries and brings us to and through transforming moments by which we experience the very heart of grace whose tears fell down upon the garden's ground at Gethsemane.


We are, dear ones, treasured and beloved children of God in Whose eyes we are forever eternally precious and by Whose hands, arms and shoulders we are always beheld and ever being carried forward with tender care. It is within this context and present, ongoing reality of God's love for us that we are enabled and empowered to exhibit excellence by the grace and for the glory of God.


As the apostle Paul writes to the saints in Philippi, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8) While many may experience the onslaught of terribly tragic tribulations, ever are we also presented opportunity to rise above situations in the circumstances of humanity to exercise valor and in humility display a depth of determination to persevere together in prayer.


Throughout the highs and lows of life in lives lived by faith, we are called and resolved to relieve one another in Christ toward the redemptive, reconciling purposes of the Lord. Under the sovereign grace of almighty God Whose banner over us is love that shields us, protects us, and covers a multitude of sins, we are set free in the way, the truth, and the life to glorify and enjoy God forever.


Therefore, as ones holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and above all put on love which binds all together in perfect unity. Let your light shine before others that they may truly witness and experience the glory and grace of God at work in and through you for the blessing of many in the Lord. From the very start, on to and through the end, may you exude excellence in the Lord alone Who gives you strength for the journey ahead.


Do not give up meeting together and being wholly present to, with and for one another as some are in the habit of doing. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, praying and sharing in the Word with each other. Raise the standard, lifting high the cross of Christ, fixing our gaze upon the Holy and Anointed One Who is the very healing of our lives—the author, pioneer and perfecter, finisher of our faith. Let tears "prepare our eyes for a clearer vision of God." The One Who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it.


In Christ Jesus our Lord,

Pastor Rex

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pastoral Perspective: On Times of Transition

Rick Warren, pastor, author of "The Purpose Driven Life", recently remarked on the subject of grief in the following comment posted via Twitter.
(This may be timely even for our community in light of yesterday's accident.)


@RickWarren Rick Warren

You never get OVER grief; You get THRU it. Grief is God's tool for transitioning thru life's losses. Grief is healthy.

19 Jul via Twitter from <!/RickWarren/status/93337220592836609>

Pastor Rick's statements on this topic speak to transitional events which bear some striking similarities of resemblance in my own recent, personal experience—of grieving and otherwise. I have also heard others in grief groups from other settings for whom these same remarks sound resonant with their situations.

The occurrence of grief at the loss of a loved one is an ongoing process that one goes through. Rather than attempting to "get over it", it can be more helpful and beneficial to actually allow oneself to experience it.

Now that may mean different things and/or different ways to do so for different people. But I can tell you that whenever I have tried to either ignore, suppress, or dismiss a wave of grief that may suddenly begin to wash over me, sooner or later it eventually backfires on me and an ensuing backlash seems to imminently happen upon me with sometimes even greater intensity. These bursts of grief can at times be, if you will, a beast of a burden.

As emotional creatures, our humanity appears to bear witness all the more from Scripture with regard to our being "fearfully and wonderfully made" in the image of and by our Creator. The words "human" and "humility" can be derived from the Latin "humus" which pertains to the ground of our being from the soil and dust of the earth. We had best remember this while navigating through the transitions of our lives.

Whenever we are tempted to deny that reality and the truth of where and how God has placed us in the grander scheme of things in space and time, the opportunity presents itself for us to either embrace the experience or be braced by it. We are after all, as the saying goes, only human. Who do we really think we are… to act as if we could control such an involuntary event of the soul? That belies the essence of our substance. What pride and arrogance for us to posit that we can ultimately hold the reins of our destiny!

No, dear beloved ones. The Lord of life is either the one and only Lord over all, or He is not Lord at all. If there is one constant, continually echoing strain of thought from the theology and tradition of our reformed faith, it is that Jesus Christ is Lord. Indeed, a high view of God's sovereignty is the very hallmark of our belief as God's people and children of the Lord. And this bears witness in and through all things, including the experience of grief and loss itself as they might be used as the Lord's instrument to help us in and through times of transition to the glory of God.

So whatever happens, come what may, let the power, presence, comfort and healing grace of God's Holy Spirit carry each and everyone in and through the challenges of the days before us. The times ahead hold the promises of God to find their yes anew in Christ Jesus our Lord!

To Him be the glory,

Pastor Rex

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Do you know any self-identifying "ex-"church attenders?

"I'm an ex-Catholic." That's what some folks from the Roman Catholic tradition are apparently referring to themselves these days. On NBC's Today show, host Matt Lauer and company recently visited the Vatican. In an interview with the archbishop from New York, Timothy Dolan, they remarked in conversation together that for the first time, there's a sizeable group of Catholics who are saying, "I'm no longer Catholic." Father Dolan acknowledged that we've always had a group of Catholics who say, "I'm kind of lax [in attending church]", but "these are people leaving [the church]".


"42% say they don't attend services on a weekly basis. That can't be good news for the church. Have you been able to get your arms around the main reason... the main reason why it's happening?" the archbishop was asked. He responded:

"Those are chilling, sobering statistics and we bishops have to look at it square in the eye. No pastor is going to be content with statistics like that, to get our people back, to excite them about the faith. That remains a high pastoral problem.

Why are people leaving? I think some of them are leaving because of scandal. I think some of them are leaving because of materialism and temptations in life. I think some are leaving because they're on one side or the other that maybe the Catholic church has modernized too much and others because it hasn't modernized [enough]."


It may suffice to say at the very least that this is a multi-faceted challenge for members of the church in leadership to grapple and wrestle with in attempting to address. One aspect that comes to mind has to do with our sense of self. What does it really mean for us to find our true identity in Christ? How do we view and regard "the church"? Do we have right thinking and well informed understanding of God's intended purpose for the body of Christ that is "the church"?


These are questions of ecclesiology and missiology that challenge the ongoing formation of our theology of the church of Jesus Christ. How we view ourselves in the greater missional context of the whole community of believers in Christ worldwide will in a fundamental way impact our actions and/or inactions in matters of religion, faith and spirituality.


One thing I have come to in thinking further upon these things… It's going to take more than just any one person. But it can and does begin with one encouraging another. Do you know any self-identifying "ex-"church attenders? Encourage them to attend again! Find a way to winsomely invite them once more to experience God's ever welcoming, loving, open arms of embrace with kindness and grace.


With our New Castle community's inordinate amount of snow days used this past winter into spring having extended the school year into the middle of June, you and I may be tempted to take as big and as long a break as we can from the regularity of scheduled activities throughout the short summer months we have left. And yet, I want to encourage you and me/myself, all of us to consider and/or reconsider.


The writer in Hebrews (10:24-25) exhorts the hearer of the Word in this way: Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


As king David proclaimed in the Psalms, may each and every one of us in Christ also say: I was glad when they said unto me, "Let us go into the house of the Lord!"


Pastor Rex

Monday, May 09, 2011

Living Every Day In Faith

"There remains
for us
the very narrow way,
often extremely difficult to find,

of living every day
as though it were our last,

and yet living in faith and responsibility
as though there were to be
a great future."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Christ Resurrection Event

The Resurrection of Jesus the Christ from the dead

was, is, and continues to be of significant impact

upon and beyond the realm of our understandings....


It's staggering to even try to begin and attempt

to comprehend the full depth, breadth, and gravity of it all.


Earth shaking, ground breaking, universe transforming,

landmark event of Biblical proportions to the utmost in the world

that humanity, all creation, history itself has experienced... ever! extraordinary paradigm shift for the entire cosmos! though the total created order of the space-time continuum

throughout the known and unknown universe

was and is continuously, infinitely, eternally folding unto itself

at the singularity of the Christ event.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Theology of Lament in Worship on Good Friday

As I have found myself repeating upon reflection through this Holy Week, the saying continually comes to mind that "you can't have Easter without Good Friday." In his piece for Reformed Worship "On Good Friday", Dr. John D. Witvliet writes of our liturgical need for lament in the spiritual life of those seeking to live out their faith in Christ.


Professor Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, states that, ideally, worship on Good Friday ought to "include [a number of] elements. We should narrate Jesus' death. We should sense the profundity of his passion. We should acknowledge the world-changing ramifications of the cross for the salvation of the world." He goes on to say that "lament is a key ingredient in worship that arises from honest, soul-searching faith." <>


As some may imagine, I myself have recently experienced blessed occasions for receiving comfort and peace over the last year as the Lord has led me to find solace in the psalms of lament throughout the scriptures. There is a sense in my own journey of faith, especially of late, and indeed, a deepening experiential knowledge, of that which makes for a more holistic encounter of the holy.


Among all the reasons we might have for coming to worship, we come, I believe, in order to meet with God. I certainly do not come to be entertained, wined or dined. Nor do I attend or intend to be amused. When I come to church, I come with a sense of adventure, awe and expectation that the Awesome Lord God Almighty is coming, too, waiting to welcome and warmly embrace every one of us with such love, mercy, grace and generosity.


Our experience of the divine, while we attempt to live the Christian life as Jesus' disciples, is meant to encompass the whole of what it all means for us to follow the Holy One Who was and is both fully human and fully divine. Can you try along with me to grasp and get this in any way at all, beloved? It seems way too big, writ large, overwhelmingly huge for us in our humanity to wholly comprehend. It's a mystery. It is the mystery of life in faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The sinless, holy God in Jesus Christ went through it all in order to identify with you and me. Huh?!? What was that? Come again? You're telling me… (as the Word tells us) that He Who was and is without sin, suffered, died and became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God! Woe, hold on there, wait a second…. How much love can there be? So much for the whole world to see…


John Witvliet continues to write…


Fairly early in the medieval period, the Roman church was in a process of paring down the typical Sunday service. One of the places for trimming was the lengthy intercessory prayer (even then, the "long prayer" was perhaps too much for people's short attention spans). Yet several liturgists, probably quite conservative ones, stepped in to preserve that lengthy prayer for use on one day of the year—Good Friday. For centuries thereafter, Good Friday was the occasion for the longest and most intense prayer of the entire year.

The instincts of these liturgists have much to teach us. For part of what we celebrate on Good Friday (and the word "celebrate" is crucial) is that Christ has completely identified with us in suffering, even to death (Isa. 53:12; Heb. 4:14-16). On Good Friday we hear again Christ pray the lament of Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? On Good Friday, we remember how wondrous it is to have a savior-intercessor who is able to sympathize with our weakness (Heb. 4:14-16; 5:7-9).

What better time than this to practice a spiritual discipline of lament? What better time than this to express solidarity with those who suffer, including Jesus himself? On Good Friday, we lament not to Jesus, but with Jesus.


Dearly beloved ones in the Lord, if Jesus did all this so that He could be identified to be with us, shouldn't we in return take Him up on His invitation and come join with Jesus in solemn intercessions before the throne of grace?


Lord, though we may like the disciples before us fall asleep in the garden of yours and our prayers, may you find us faithful in, to and for the end of your glory in praying for us all.


In solidarity with you, together in Christ, we pray


Pastor Rex

Friday, April 08, 2011

He has set eternity in their hearts....

When one has well and deeply loved another, one experiences deeply the recurrent pain of grief suffered upon their loss of the other. The deep sense of loss over time deepens one's gladness with gratitude in joyful appreciation for the blessing of precious moments shared together in love. The inherent preciousness in such depth of relationship encountered abides in eternity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Giving Up for Lent

"Giving up for Lent."


I sometimes wonder at meanings we may give to words and phrases arranged and/or uttered in a particular way.


Take the sentence fragment quoted from the title above. Is it referring to what one may be giving up during the Lenten season? (I read a Facebook status recently that stated something like, "It seemed to work well for me last year, so this year I am again giving up fasting for Lent." :) Which leads me to wonder what anyone might indeed be "giving up for Lent." And not just giving up, but doing in place of. That is, instead of just refraining or abstaining from a particular item and/or activity, the person "giving up" something substitutes another thing or action in its place. For example, when fasting, the time one would have spent eating may instead be devoted to praying.


Another way one might interpret "Giving up for Lent" is to take it as a report of how contributions are currently coming in so far this spring. (In other words, one could understand it to mean that the giving of tithes and offerings is up higher for the forty days in the months of March and into April.) In this case, I would imagine that these words could be found especially encouraging as among some favorable signs of health and recovery for the leaders of a church congregation to consider with recent challenges in the world's economy.


In these lengthening days of Daylight Savings Time throughout the season of Lent, how will you be spending your time? What are you "giving up for Lent"?


During this season from Ash Wednesday leading up to Holy Week and Easter, I am "giving up for Lent." I am giving up to God the events of the last year or two in the life of my family and household of faith. I am increasingly continuing on in giving up any semblance of any effort on my part to try to make it through the rest of my life by myself on my own apart from dear friends and family in the Lord in our community. I, literally, give up! I am giving up, so that, to paraphrase the lyrics of a song by The Beatles, I may more than just "get by with a little help from my friends."


Friends, what is more, I am giving up everything I have experienced and may continue experiencing for, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:8), "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things." As James (1:2) tells us, "Consider it all pure joy!" Give it up! Give it all up. Give it all over to Jesus. He can take it. He'll take what ever we may have to offer our Lord. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) He'll carry us on through toward greater grace and heights for God's glory and our good. This Lent, let one and all giving up for Jesus be ever so


in His Peace,

Pastor Rex

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

on our understanding of God's election

According to Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, written by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Office of Theology and Worship, "No one is saved apart from God's redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of God . . . Thus, we can neither restrict the grace of Jesus Christ to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith.
Grace, love and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine." W. A. Visser't Hooft wrote, "I don't know whether a Hindu is saved: I only know that salvation comes in Jesus Christ."


This may be unsatisfying for those who wish to leave no question unanswered. Hans Küng and other Catholic theologians have criticized it as being irresponsibly neutral. It is, however, in harmony with the attitude of humility that Jesus commanded in discussions about the reach of salvation. Repeatedly, he cautioned against judging, that is, thinking that we know God's judgments. Jesus' parables and other statements about the last day are full of surprises and reversals. "Reformed theology has always taught that salvation is ultimately in God's hands, beyond the pale of human understanding." According to John Calvin, "We must leave to God alone the knowledge of his church, whose foundation is his secret election."


The admission that we do not know the limits to God's wondrous grace does not lessen the joyous responsibility of Christians to share the good news of Christ with others. To be a Christian is to be claimed by Christ, to know that we are loved by God, and to be called by God to a life of purposeful service. To withhold this knowledge is to be indifferent to the needs of others. As Christians we are entrusted with the biblical story of God's way in the world, and especially with the good news of Jesus. We must tell that good news to others — not because we do not respect them, but because we love them. Many non-Christians may be better, godlier persons than we are; but we are the ones who have been called to share the story. We are to share it humbly, without coercion, trusting the Holy Spirit to use it to touch the hearts of those [with] whom we speak.


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Solitary Vocation

...can perhaps be caught and held in a picture....

like a photograph of a bird in flight... Such is the solitary vocation. For, of all.... the solitary knows least where they are going, and yet more sure, for there is one thing they cannot doubt: they travel where God is leading them. That is precisely why the solitary doesn't know the way. And that too is why, to most others, the way is something of a scandal. (Thomas Merton)

What's next? - the next nexus in the navigational narrative

As we have traversed through wintry snows and icy storms, the intensely frigid cold of this winter's weather appears to have taken its toll upon our region. Even today it took some doing to drive over some still frozen patches of recently iced country roads and driveways in our area. By the time you read this, some warmer temperatures may very well have melted the ice on our streets, signaling the seasons' incipient passing from winter into spring. In the wake of Epiphany, the order of the day through ordinary time with the days' continued lengthening is for us to approach the Lenten season in faith.


What's next up for each of us in our journey together? As a people of faith in the One Who continues leading us onward and upward in Christ, what does the next season of mission and ministry hold for this gathering of believers in Jesus? To what and where might we find ourselves following our Lord anew for God's glory?


One exciting answer could be that God is yearning to expand our horizons and stretch our fellowship to welcome in more meaningful ways and with deepening relationships some among us who have been worshipping with us for some time now. It has been awhile since I/we have had the blessing, honor, pleasure and privilege to receive and recognize folks expressing interest as inquirers to explore joining with us in the ministry and mission we are called to undertake together in community.


As we find the early disciples in Scripture when first following Jesus, they took care to invite and come alongside others who would also then follow their Lord together with them. In the gospel of John (1:41-42), we see afterward that the first thing Andrew did was to tell Simon of the Messiah and then bring him to Jesus. Might our Lord be calling us to re-up with renewed intentionality our forth-telling and bringing of one another to Jesus Christ? What equipping and action will we experience and take toward the evangelization of each other in this fellowship?


I am sensing in these days a warming up to God's embrace of us as we face the future with hope and faith, love and joy in the Lord. The thawing out of the very sinews of our faith is taking place in order for us to exercise our religious muscles once again for the sake of God's kingdom. Something else needs to be put aside so that we may make room for the new thing our Lord is doing in our midst. As the saying goes during this time of year, "What will we give up for Lent?" What would Jesus have us do anew?


The blessing of renewing one's spiritual disciplines in preparation for the greater works God has prepared in advance for us to walk in is waiting for us to discover just around the corner. As a conference seminar and intensive workshops in emotional intelligence have emphasized for me recently, a growing and deepening self-awareness of where one is in the journey and in conversation with others can be key to discerning well with effective wisdom and insight to bear upon our success in navigating through life's challenges.


From a personal as well as corporate wilderness experience of exile, through times of unease and distress as individuals and a community of faith, into exuberant life as God's vibrant people, we are called anew to be the Lord's witnesses of God's grace in this place. And as is stated elsewhere by some leaders in a letter to Presbyterians:


"…it is in our places of brokenness that the work of Jesus Christ has always been most miraculous. …in the certain faith that this is Christ's Church, …we engage in the re-formation of this church into the church we are being called to be."


To God be the glory!

Pastor Rex

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Hope... in God.... The Source of All Hope

"Our hope in God pulls us into the future. Hope allows us to affirm the reality of the abundant life that is ours in Christ. Hope allows us to stand with those in pain and to hold them until they are able to feel the love of God for themselves again. Hope allows us to work to bring God's reign upon the earth even when we see no results. Our hope begins and ends in God, the source of all hope."
- Mary Lou Redding
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Freeing Truth

you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free (John 8:32)


These are words that ring true. They are Jesus' words. True words. Freeing words. Words of truth. Truth that sets you free. Free to live the truth.


In an address given at the 2010 conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Joseph D. Small, Director for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Office of Theology and Worship, shares from a piece entitled "Internal Injuries: Moral Division within the Churches". In the course of his discussion, he asks the following question.


"What would it mean, within our churches, to serve truth consistently, purposefully and articulately, and equally important, to organize this service?"


In answering the question, he posits that living the truth "requires more than the effort of individual pastors and congregations; it requires organizing this service." The question then begs the query of: How might this service become effectively organized? Here, Joe Small refers to the work of Václav Havel whom he describes as "playwright, essayist, dissident, resister, prisoner, and then, improbably, last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic." Drawing from Havel's "The Power of the Powerless," in Václav Havel: Living in Truth, he suggests that:


Organizing this service entails the creation of a different culture within the church. "When those who have decided to live within the truth," says Havel, "begin to create what I have called the independent life of society, this independent life begins, of itself, to become structured in a certain way." What is this structuring like? Havel begins with a term borrowed from nonconformist music and art – "second culture." For him, second culture refers to a broad ranging expression of independent and suppressed culture in the humanities, social sciences, and philosophical thought, as well as the arts. The second culture is a way of being that does not accede to "the way things are." It resists prevailing patterns and expressions by creating new arrangements and articulations. A second culture resists the predominant culture by way of innovation rather than negation.


Two things resonate with my own thinking upon pondering this further in my own recent reflection.

One refers to the parables of Jesus from Scripture about the kingdom of God, particularly that of the leaven. In the gospel of Luke (13:20-21), the Word tells us:


He also asked, "What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough."


To borrow from Havel's usage, the very "second" culture introduced however tiny or slightly into the batch would eventually transform the entirety of the culture in which it resides, rising to newness of life unlike its previously known existence. I believe this is what we as the church in this community is and are called to do and be—living witnesses of the truth that would set us and the world around us free.


The second resonance of thought through personal currency of lamentation emerges as increasing understanding of a growing emphasis on fostering creativity and encouraging generativity. I have observed increasingly a growing sense of call among our leadership to expect great things of God and, in cooperative partnership with one another in the Lord, attempt great things for God. As we may appropriate from the psychology of Erik Erikson, there has been an expressed need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation.


One of the things impressed upon me through my own theological experience of seminary education at Princeton is an audacious boldness in taking on the challenges of learning to live the truth in the context of varied ambiguity. That even and especially in the midst of uncertainty and doubt, we are called in leadership to forge ahead into uncharted waters. Despite any naysayers, expressed pessimism, rampant criticism, and no matter come what may, whatever the circumstances, regardless of any situation encountered, leaders are tasked to move forward together in faith, placing their trust in a Sovereign Lord Who engenders hope for the better future yet to be more fully realized and revealed by God. God Who is with us and is for us. And if God is for us, the apostle proclaims, who can be against us!


Next month, your leaders, officers of the church have set a date to meet in a kind of leadership forum by which we might begin to discern together the leading of our Lord for the next season of mission and ministry at First Presbyterian Church in New Castle, Indiana. I exhort all in the gathered community of faith with us to entreat the Lord in prayers for wisdom and insight to bear upon our proceedings that God's kingdom might be advanced further to the glory of God. Pray without ceasing as the apostle Paul says. Keep up to the heavenly realms in the Spirit! Pray Until Something Happens.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Responding to Tragedy

The Faith & Politics Institute's Weekly Reflection

For the week of January 10th, 2011


Towards a theology of hospitality...



"In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in... My favorite poet was Aeschylus.  He once wrote, 'Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'"

- Robert F. Kennedy, bearing news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968



Holding Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her family, and her staff members especially close to our hearts in prayer, we pray also for everyone else wounded or worse in Saturday's shootings in Tucson.

May our nation gain wisdom through the awful grace of God.





Past Reflections


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