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Do You Hear What I Hear? 
Monday, October 17, 2005, 03:24 PM
Eastminster Presbytery came to install me as pastor yesterday. Elders and ministers gathered in worship to receive both the congregation's and my promises to the responsibilities of being pastor and people together in ministry.

I struggled with all the fuss around my installation service and reception. Good people gave up precious time to participate, some traveling hours to attend. Even my children were shocked to find out that the installation service was a complete additional Sunday service! Considering all this, I wondered if installations were really needed.

“The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said a angel has spoken to him” — John 12:29

I like the imagery of spirituality as notes in the bass cleft of life. The busy melody line gets all the attention. Just as many people believe that the melody is all that is needed for a song, non-spiritual people fit all of life into a single simple tune.

The spiritually minded hear more than the easily recognized melody. They listen for the fullness of the song. Spiritual folk find more complexity in life than what can be described by engineering blueprints or legal documents. They hear God's music in their life's soundtrack.

So, listening to the melody, the installation service is a familiar tune sung yet again. A person starting a new job is hardly a show stopper heard amidst the din of daily life. Yet, listening beyond the almost sing song recital of questions and answers...we can hear God's symphony swelling, adding purpose, depth and breath to the foreground notes of “I do” and “I will”.

Hoping to make God's beautiful music together…



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Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?  
Monday, October 10, 2005, 03:22 PM
I used to call it: “Stump the Pastor”. Our youth leader had a better name: “Meet Godzilla”. It is a time for youth to quiz the pastor on Life, the Universe and Everything.

The questions ranged from where dinosaurs are in the Bible to a thoughtful question about how I decided to be a minister. Maybe there is youth that is feeling a call to ministry...or perhaps they can't believe that I got one! (Let's pray it is the former.)

A couple of the questions were about theodicy, how the existence of a good God can be reconciled with the existence of evil. Or just call it: “The Problem of Evil”. One of them was the question made famous by Rabbi Harold Kusher's 1983 book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”

Besides Rabbi Kusher's work there are volumes written on why bad things happen to good people. But for a start, last night I pointed out what Jesus has to say about that assumption that there even were good people for bad things to happen to:
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” — Mark 10:18


Whoa! If Jesus isn't good...who am I to say I or anyone else is worthy of the good person position in our question? The lack of anyone that is good fits in well with the Presbyterian tradition that gives us the Prayer of Confession in our Sunday worship...all of us have sinned.

So the question is turned around: Why does the Good God care about the non-good people; why does God care about me? Why is any part or time of my life blessed? Another question without an answer; for nothing we did earned us God's love. God decided to love us; God decided to love me for no good reason.

Trying to wrestle with the more profound question of the problem of good….

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Homecoming and Reunion 
Monday, October 3, 2005, 03:18 PM
This week finds me returning from my first college homecoming in a quarter of a century. My 25th college reunion was last Saturday at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

Seeing friends and acquaintances from years ago who were at once same but different was a spiritual experience. It seems like yesterday we were together but when the litany of jobs and children, triumphs and tragedies were shared it was apparent that much had gone on since we were last on campus together.

While in college we were separated by real and imagined insults, the Greek system of fraternities and sororities, past and possible romances, politics and lifestyles, last weekend we were all together talking of jobs and careers, mapping the places we've lived, and sharing pictures of our children just a little younger than we remember each other being.

We were the same people, but our relationship was different. The pressure to jostle for position in class rank or popularity was gone. All the differences between us as classmates were dwarfed by the overwhelming unity of being part of the same class in time and space now gone.

As I walked in the homecoming parade with my class of familiar strangers, receiving surprising cheers from onlookers, I thought maybe this is what heaven is like, what is called resurrection hope. Not an escape from the world, but a transforming of it. All of our divisions and problems so important and large redeemed, and a new community formed by our realization that we shared a common bond...and those around us cheering us for coming home.

Looking forward and working toward my next college reunion...and my ultimate one in heaven with God's alumni.


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An Act of God is a Hard Act to Follow 
Monday, September 19, 2005, 03:17 PM
It is a rainy Monday in Ohio, remnants of hurricane Rita, a hurricane that drenched Texas and flooded New Orleans again is just an annoyance to me. The gentle rain that used to be a fearsome hurricane got me thinking today about “Acts of God”. Why do I have gentle rain and others have raging floods?

In the face of senseless tragedy it is very human to seek patterns and reason to calm our fears. We want to know “Why!” so that we can avoid both the survivor's guilt of being spared and the fear that we could be next to lose our homes, community, and livelihood by an “Act of God”, such as a tornado, flood or lightning. What is Act of God anyway? Here is one definition:

An act occasioned exclusively by forces of nature, uncontrolled and uninfluenced by the power of man and which is of such a character that it could not have been prevented or escaped from by any amount of foresight or prudence.

Americans rebel at that definition. There are things we can not control, prevent or at least escape? That is tough for Americans to admit. Yet as Presbyterians we are taught that we do not save ourselves.

Resist the temptation to find spiritual fault with victims of tragedy as if God was selective with sunshine and rain on the basis of morality.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” — Matthew 5:45


We are saved from the eternal devastation
not by our great spiritual earthworks holding back the storm surge of sin but by God's great grace in Jesus Christ which places us eternally safe on the high ground of heaven.

Happy to be dry and saved by God's grace…


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The Mark of Christ 
Monday, September 19, 2005, 03:16 PM
Yesterday I asked the good folks at worship to write down a blessing in their lives. There were quite a range of answers from sobriety to new jobs, but the overwhelming choice was family.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines:
to bless 1. “to make sacred; to hallow (something)”. The word “bless” is from the Old Teutonic (German) bletsian, from heathen blood sacrifices. German: das Blut. English: blood. “The meaning, then, was ‘to mark (or affect in some way) with blood (or a sacrificial animal)'.”

How appropriate that “blood” relations (either biological or by choice) are considered a blessing!

Yet looking through Christian eyes…we are marked by the blood of Christ, becoming brothers and sisters in the Christian family. (This is why in baptism only the Christian name of the child is used…the “family” name of the baptized is “Christian”.) So by Christ's blessing we are blessed with our Christian family.

Now when I say or hear the phrase “blood of Christ” I will experience not just the sacrifice of Christ but the blessing of Christ bound up in it as well. And isn't that what the best families are…blessing and sacrifice that marks us with love?

Sometimes the congregation blesses the preacher with a sermon and it leaves a mark….

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