Elements of Encounter

IMG_1939This is the sermon, as written, I preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on October 4, 2015. The sermon text was Exodus 1:8-2:10; 3:1-10.

You can click on the audio here.

This week as I was preparing the sermon I came across these thoughts from a group of pastors in Scotland that call themselves “Spill the Beans”. In their most recent publication they say,

“Who are we in this story? Are we the Israelites, held captive to outside manipulating forces, or are we the Egyptians who wittingly or unwittingly are the cause of oppression?

So much in the words and images of our narrative today resonate with the circumstances and emotions within our own society in our current time.

We might reflect on the fact that the Egyptian perspective, metaphorically speaking, mimics our own outlook on life and our actions more than we think. In the first section of today’s narrative we are told that the basis of the Egyptian’s actions stemmed from ‘fear’ of being overrun and the coming together of a strong army who could attack them. It was not out of hatred, loathing, the need for revenge, or desire for more that the Egyptians decided on a strong response. It was more to do with the fact that they were scared that their liberty, within their own land, would be threatened by these foreigners who would come and take their top jobs, reduce their available wealth, clog up institutional welfare provisions, limit the opportunities for their own young, and ultimately threaten their own precious values.”

This story has echoes of the way the Nazis treated the Jews, this story has echoes of the way the slaves were treated in our country, this story has echoes in the current refugee crisis in Europe, this story has echoes of the way any powerful minority treats a powerless majority. Whether it’s in Apartheid South Africa, it’s the 1% treating of the 99% in the US, it’s the echoes that give rise to movements like the Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and on and on.

When those in power encounter fear they often seek to deal with the issues “shrewdly” but that quickly gets out of hand and becomes ruthless. When those in power encounter the injustice of the powerful they are often called to speak out, speak up, and take action.

Like midwives to the Hebrews, Shiprah and Puah, in our story. The midwives who refused to follow the orders of Pharaoh to kill all the male Hebrew children. Sometimes we are called to stand in the face of ruthless oppression even if it means severe consequences. Shiprah and Puah encountered Pharoah, a man who had the power to take their life, but they feared God and chose to follow God rather than Pharaoh.

There are many times in our lives when we have encounters that challenge us, that test our faith, that cause us to change our hearts, that push us to think differently, to respond in love rather than fear.

Whether it’s standing up to a friend who uses racial, homophobic, or insulting slurs. Whether it’s standing up for a friend who is being bullied. Whether it’s fighting unjust laws or demanding justice for others. We will have the opportunity to respond faithfully in all of these encounters.

This week, we got the news of another mass shooting at a school in Roseburg, Oregon. It was the 45th school shooting in 2015 and the 142nd since the tragedy of Sandy Hook. In the midst of this horrific tragedy came the story of Chris Mintz. Mintz is a 30-year-old, Army veteran who is a student at Umpqua Community College. While the shooter was still firing, he charged him. He was at least 5 times. A nurse, also a student, on the scene, who performed CPR on several victims, sat with Chris as he repeated, “This is my son’s birthday.” Thursday was Chris’s 6-year-old son’s birthday. The day that a man armed to the teeth walked in to his classroom and opened fire. Chris knew that he could be hurt or even killed but he allowed the love for his son and his commitment to others to overcome his fear and respond even if it meant his life.

Like Shiprah and Puah before him he used what little power he had to try and save as many lives as he could.

All of us have encounters in our life that call us to use what power we have to try and save as many lives as possible.

Too often when we are faced with these encounters we shrink from our responsibility because we are overcome by fear and, certainly in our world today, we are shown a lot to be fearful of. Economic collapses, drug addiction, the next generation, gun violence, ISIS, Iran, gluten are just a few of the things that we are told to fear on a daily basis.

We know something is wrong, we know something needs to change; we are lost and scared. We no longer know how to deal shrewdly with the problems of our world. We too often like Moses, respond rashly to injustice. Then we run saving ourselves but turning our backs on our neighbors.

As the psalmist says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.“

Even though Moses fled to Midian, God had a plan for him, God saved him from death as a child, he was raised in the house of Pharaoh to learn what it meant to be a leader, he was cast out to know what it felt like to be oppressed and lost. Then God found him, searching for his lost sheep. Moses encountered God in the form of a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, challenging him to speak for God’s people. Calling him to return to the place of his birth and free the Hebrews who had been enslaved for over 400 years. God persuaded him to speak truth to the God of Egypt, to give voice to the powerless by confronting the powerful.

We know the end of the story, so we know that eventually Pharaoh let God’s people go. But in this moment, in this encounter Moses did his best to avoid the challenge, the call from God. The great I AM spoke to Moses and Moses was scared. In the midst of his fear God said, “I will be with you.”

So often we get so wrapped in reasons why we can’t do something that we can’t hear the voice of God speaking words of peace to us.

Today is World Communion Sunday. Today we share the Lord’s Supper not only with those here in this room but with Christians around the globe. Christians who come to this table, this holy place and give action to the words of God, I will be with you.

World Communion Sunday started on the east side of Pittsburgh, PA at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in 1933.

In an article by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles published in the October 2, 2002 edition of the Presbyterian Outlook. Rev. Dalles relates that this initiative was, the pastor, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr’s attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.

Rev. Dalles also asks the question, “What was the world like, in the autumn of 1933—that first World Communion Sunday?” Surprisingly, not much different from the world this autumn of 2015. 1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety—fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future.

As a faith response to the fears of three generations ago, in 1933, a group of leaders at Shadyside Presbyterian Church sought to do something both real and symbolic, to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock. How, they wondered, might one church counteract the pessimism of the larger society? How might they succeed in eliminating the walls of separation between Christians?

So here we are, with what often feels like the walls closing in around us. Even in our own sleepy little town we have stories that feel like we are losing our grip on our safety, but still we encounter God. We encounter God through this meal; we encounter God through our interactions with our friends, family, and neighbors. We encounter God throughout our lives. Oftentimes that is scary, almost always it’s uncomfortable, and every time it causes us to risk something, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of God and our neighbor. So like the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, like Moses’ response to the burning bush, like the 30 year old Army vet, Chris Mintz in Roseburg let us use these encounters to respond to God’s call with the sure and certain knowledge that God is whispering to us, “I will be with you.”

May it be so.


Prayer is like learning styles. Every person has their own and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. Pray like a Gourmet offers up suggestions for prayer that are varied and appeal to lots of different personalities and styles. David Brazzeal’s writing style is relaxed and conversational. The way he offers up the different prayer practices invites the reader to try them without pressure of “getting it right”. He makes it less intimidating to try new types of prayer.

With the title of Pray like a Gourmet, I was hoping for more prayer practices that incorporated food but the title is simply a metaphor for prayer used throughout the book and doesn’t translate to actual food prayer. Also, the layout of the book and style of the pages sometimes makes the print hard to read because there are dark and light colored type.

Overall, I am glad to have this book as a resource for my own prayer life and for helping to teach my children about prayer and also to use some of the prayer practices in the church that I lead. If you are looking for a nice entry into prayer that is easy to understand and simple to read, this book would be a great choice.

Learn more about the book and author here:  http://davidbrazzeal.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


This is why Rocky and I get along. We have similar philosophies of ministry.

Originally posted on YoRocko!:

I have a nagging critique that dogs a lot of my ministry work, especially work with youth: not Christian enough.

That our relationships with youth must issue in distinctively Christian expressions, like prayer or devotional lessons–and that interactions with youth that lack those expressions are fine but not really “ministry”–is a weight that I think a lot of us are bearing for no good reason. It’s the “They could get ‘relationships’ anywhere” dig.

The problem with that thinking is that trusting and reciprocal relationships with adults who aren’t their parents and aren’t paid to spend time with them can’t, for most youth, be had anywhere. We have multiplied the number of adults in relationship with teenagers to include coaches, teachers, tutors, scout leaders, college advisers, and so on. Yet all of those adults, in addition to being paid for their time with youth, have an agenda for them. It’s a good agenda…

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I think this articulates what I try to say about this particular platitude far better than I could.

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:


That phrase.

We’ve all received it personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones, and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions; a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.

It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail:

Everything happens for a reason.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in. In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of The Greater Plan that this suffering all fits into.

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and…

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gift-coverSummer is upon us and we will be exploring the gift of imperfection in our lives using a book entitled “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by, author and researcher, Brené Brown.

Here’s a description of the book from Amazon.com:

“Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, What if I can’t keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn’t everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, PhD, a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she’s learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living–a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.

In her ten guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough, and to go to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.”

Together we will talk about how through the power of God in Christ we can live Wholeheartedly and find worth and belonging.

Below is a tentative schedule for the series, we hope that you will be able to join us along this journey and to help us find our place of belonging.

June 7, 2015-          
Authenticity and Self Compassion 

(Letting Go of What People Think and Letting Go of Perfectionism)

June 14, 2015-
Resilient Spirit
(Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness)

June 21, 2015-
Gratitude and Joy
(Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark)

June 28, 2015-
Intuition, Trusting Faith, and Calm and Stillness 
(Letting Go of the Need for Certainty and Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle)

July 5, 2015-
(Letting Go of Comparison)

July 12, 2015-
Meaningful Work
(Letting Go of Self Doubt and Supposed To)

July 19, 2015-
Play and Rest and Laughter Dance and Song
(Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self Worth and Letting Go of Being Cool and Always in Control)

If you would like to purchase the book you can find it following this link at Amazon.com

Today, is my dad, John Bolt‘s 63rd birthday.

I was going to do the typical facebook status complete with embarrassing sweet photos, but instead I decided to write a little more about how I feel about my dad, and why I’m so glad that he is my dad.

My dad’s parents never told him that they loved him, that may be a generational thing (I don’t know), but my dad swore that he would never stop from telling his kids that he loved them and he hasn’t. I can never remember a time, even through my teenage years, which were no picnic for him (I’m sure), that I didn’t know deep down in my core know that my dad loved me. My dad always encouraged me to try stuff, to do what I loved, and to get back up when I fell down.

We would spend hours in our driveway in Atlanta when I was in elementary school shooting hoops, throwing a baseball, playing football, or making up games with frisbees. (I’ll take this opportunity to say “I’m sorry” for pushing you off the side of driveway during a competitive football game and causing you to tear the ligaments in your ankle.) Even on your crutches you would zoom around not letting a little bump in the road stop you from pursuing your dreams and your love of journalism while making sure me and my sister could pursue ours.

I could write a book full of stories of why I love my dad or how he showed me how to be a good person, a good partner, and a good father. Stories of little league baseball coaching, high school baseball umpire arguing, watching him perform in community theater, hearing others praise him for his work and, more importantly, for his presence. Stories of challenging me in my screw ups and standing with me when I failed, stories filled with laughter and tears, joy and pain. Stories that all point to what a wonderful, inspiring, faithful, amazing role model my dad has been and continues to be.

Now for some sweet, embarrassing photos.

I love you, Dad!

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My friend Derrick is wise, thoughtful, and faithful.

Originally posted on derricklweston:

I’ve been in Baltimore for going on three months. It’s hardly any time at all. There’s a part of me that doesn’t feel entitled to what I am feeling tonight. I’ve fallen in love with this city pretty quickly. It has been a refuge for me, a place to start over. As a Steelers fan, I am predisposed to wanting to hate this city, but there is so much more to life than sportsball and the people of this city are pretty lovable. Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods. Baltimore is more so. I work in three neighborhoods separated by mere blocks. They each have a distinct flavor to them despite their proximity and overlapping concerns. Baltimore is about twice the size of Pittsburgh. It has all of the amenities you would want in a major metropolis while feeling interconnected enough that you could easily find yourself running into the…

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