Internships

Last week I was out of the pulpit on study leave prepping for our new series on the book of Jonah. The usual details of my vocation—minus preaching—remained. One of those was meeting with a man entering seminary next fall about the particulars of internships and how they prepare ministers-to-be to become ministers.

I couldn’t help think about that as I made the near 150 mile trek out to Jacumba to pray and consult and encourage one of our former interns who is pastoring a small church out at the ends of the earth and across the street from—literally—the Mexican border.

And then I started thinking about our former interns. The church planters in El Cajon and North Park and the one in Ireland who finished his Ph.D. and the one pastoring in downtown, bullet ridden Philadelphia, and the missionary in Thailand … Read More »

Eastertide

By those within and outside the church, this Sunday is commonly designated Easter Sunday. While that designation is most certainly true it can also lead to an unfortunate reduction in the historic observance and celebration of Easter. Contemporary observances of Easter–both within and outside the church–often focus on just one Sunday designated Easter. Like with many Christmas celebrations, it’s here today and gone tomorrow. But this is not the way the vast majority of Christians have and will celebrate Easter. Historically and traditionally Easter–similar to Christmas–is an extensive celebration lasting fifty days and has come to be known as the time of Eastertide. This Sunday is actually the first Sunday of Easter and there will be seven more after it. For the next seven weeks we will sing pointed songs about the resurrection and begin the service with the Easter … Read More »

Good Friday

The cross is the most pointed manifestation of the wrath of God in all the Bible. Sometimes we don’t grapple with this as much s we should. It is not uncommon to hear folks pitting the “God of the Old Testament” against the “God of the New Testament.” The God of the New Testament is a God of love, we are told, while the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath. That false dichotomy crumbles, however, when we rightly gaze upon the cross. The cross is also the most pointed manifestation of God’s love. We tend to emphasize this more and, if we are ot careful, an be guilty of subtly embracing the aforementioned dichotomy. Of course this raises massive questions, questions, like “Are God’s wrath and love in conflict with one another?” This has been answered … Read More »

Maundy Thursday

Tonight we are here to walk with Jesus through one of the darkest nights of the church calendar.  This was Jesus’ last night, a night which was marked by betrayal—by Judas and Peter— his passionate prayer in Gethsemane, his arrest and the charge by the high priest that he was guilty of blasphemy.

The title “Maundy Thursday” is derived from the Latin Mandatum Novum which means “a new commandment.”  Maundy Thursday was the day that Christ uttered those powerful words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).  He did not issue this commandment in word only, though.  Just prior to giving this commandment he demonstrated it in symbolic action when he girded himself with towel and humbly approached the basin to … Read More »

Lent, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I re-published an article I wrote last year on the topic of Lent. I concluded with two points. Here is the first.

I know some folks are uneasy about Lent. Some of my closest friends and colleagues don’t think that reformed Christians should have anything to do with it whatsoever. But my response is two-fold. Number one: The church calendar is not a restaurant menu. That is, there are not a la carte items. You can’t pick and choose your favorites and leave the others out. You can’t have Easter without Lent. You can’t have Christmas without Advent. Like the five points of Calvinism, they all go together. In the church you eat what you have been served—all of it.

When I wrote that I had in my sights the inconsistency of those who like to pick … Read More »

The Great Dialogue

Liturgies are like excuses: Everybody has one. Simply put, liturgy is what people do when they worship. So, no matter how much a church may insist that there is no liturgy, one will inevitably emerge. Equally important to recognize is that liturgies are shaped by a theological paradigm. Therefore, Presbyterians should not expect to worship like Charismatics and Anglicans and Roman Catholics because our theological convictions differ.

What is it that shapes, most fundamentally and at the most basic level, our worship? The answer is: The Covenant of Grace. Our system of doctrine as articulated in the Westminster Standards is arranged according to the doctrine of the covenant. Hence, we confess a robust covenant theology. Likewise, our worship is to be arranged accordingly.

A covenant in Scripture is the expression of God’s voluntary condescension wherein he bridges the great gulf which exists … Read More »

The Apostles’ Creed

When someone asks you, “So, what do Christians believe?” How do you answer that? Where and to what do you point them? The reformer Martin Luther would have us answer that question by turning to the Apostles’ Creed. Speaking of the Creed, Luther couldn’t have been more succinct, “Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”

It’s for this reason that the Creed has for millennia now stood the test of time as an accurate summation of what we believe as Christians. Philip Schaff highlights the pride of place given by Christendom to the Apostles’ Creed when he says, “As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.”

For this reason alone, we cannot be ignorant of it.  It might be compared … Read More »

Epiphany

Epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

The above definition is usually the one we are using when we speak of something being an epiphany. A moment of clarity breaks in. Insight and perception is found in an otherwise difficult situation. Just a couple of weeks ago I said to my wife: “I think I had an epiphany” speaking of a situation we had been trying to navigate.

The above definition is from dictionary.com and it is the third of four given. The first on the list is more distinctly Christian.

Epiphany: a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.

Epiphany is the celebration of the … Read More »

Advent, Part 2

Living in a post-Christian world means that often our cultural calendars are in conflict with the church calendar. One such example of this happens every year after Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, most Americans begin to celebrate Christmas or the Christmas season as it is often called. You hear familiar carols in the mall, sales and advertising are in full swing, and gatherings of friends and families and co-workers abound. Then December 26 comes and all the decorations and Christmas talk are put away until next year. This is how we generally celebrate Christmas in our culture.

This is not how the church celebrates Christmas. Christmas on the church calendar begins December 25 and runs for 12 days after that. Think here, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” Now you know where the 12 days of Christmas … Read More »

Advent, Part 1

Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday in Advent, which is regarded by Western Christianity as the beginning of the liturgical year. Sometimes Christians mistakenly think of Advent as being synonymous with the birth of Christ or with Christmas. But it really isn’t. In fact, Advent’s primary focus is on what we usually call the second coming of Christ. It’s for this reason that you will find the lectionary readings of the church focusing on this topic, this year.

I like what Laurence Stookey says about this, “What may seem to be an anomaly is a very important theological point: The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.” (Christ’s Time for the Church, 121)

This is important because beginning at the end equips us to make sense of the rest of Jesus’ life and … Read More »