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Prophetic Promise

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on November 13, 2016. The sermon text was Isaiah 6: 1-8.

Audio from the sermon can be found here.

Over the last year and a half, we have been using something called the Narrative Lectionary, it’s a system that selects the readings for us, attempting to walk us through the broad story of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Today’s reading comes from the sixth chapter of Isaiah.

It begins, “In the year King Uzziah died…”

As Rev. Marci Glass says, “Biblical scholars love verses like that because dating a biblical text is so difficult. But King Uzziah! We know that. He died in 742 BCE.

King Uzziah had reigned for five decades in relative peace and stability. King Uzziah died as Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh, Assyria which was a vast military power in the area was coming closer and closer to Jerusalem. It would be just another 16 years before the Northern Kingdom of Israel would fall to Assyria. So the year that King Uzziah died was an uncertain time for the people of Israel, there was a lot of anxiety in the country about what their future might be.

Isaiah goes to the temple, this house that Solomon built, a holy place where God is and he has this vision. He sees God sitting on a throne so high and lofty, so large, that it is only a bit of the hem of God’s robe that fills the vast temple where Isaiah is standing. There are six-winged seraphs shouting, not of God’s might, but of God’s holiness. They are praising God so loudly that this magnificent building begins to shake.

What a powerful vision! Isaiah’s response is immediately: Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Do you remember Wayne’s World from the early 90s “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

As soon as he sees God’s holiness, his own sinfulness becomes apparent to him. This is actually why our worship services are structured the way they are to this day. We begin with a call to worship and a song that gives praise to God. And John Calvin believed that as soon as you praise God’s goodness, you can’t help but recognize your own lack of the very same qualities. And so it is appropriate to go immediately to confession and then an assurance of your forgiveness.

Before we can become who we want to be in Christ, we must first be humbled to recognize how far we have to go. Isaiah had a good track record before this, he had a faithful life up until this point. Just as each of you has led a good life, you have helped others along the way. But all of us, when in the presence of holiness, know that we have fallen short of the glory of God.

Rev. Glass suggests, “The point is that in the middle of a particular moment in human history, Isaiah finds himself transported into the presence of God. There was a particular moment in Isaiah’s faith journey when he needed God in a new or different way. And I could give you a whole sermon on Assyria, Babylon, exile, and what was happening for Isaiah.

But I’m more interested in what is happening in our lives that requires God’s in-breaking now. Perhaps it is “In the year that the Cubs won the World Series….”. Or maybe it is more like “In the year my loved one was diagnosed with cancer….” or “In the year I lost my job….”

We all have moments in time—moments of celebration or moments of pain— when the particular context in which we find ourselves helps us realize that God is calling us to respond in a particular way.”

I’d like to propose a particular historical location where I think we are today. “In the year our pastor left.”

Over the last two weeks, the news that is both exciting, nerve wracking, and sad is that my wife and I have been called to a new congregation. Which means that now we are beginning a transition process.

Yesterday, members of the session met with our Committee on Ministry liaison to start to talk about the process for which you will undertake in the coming months. The session will have many decisions to make and I trust that they will make them prayerfully and faithfully. Also, you as a congregation will have many decisions to make and I trust that you will make them through prayer and discernment. Even each of you individually will need to make decisions. I know that God will be with you throughout this process.

Much like the seraph in Isaiah’s vision, they were shouting “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” God’s glory is not only in Jerusalem, not only in Israel, not only in the Presbyterian Church or the worldwide church. The whole earth is full of God’s glory. God is near wherever you may find yourself. I read a great sermon this week on this passage:

“The whole earth is full of God – all time, all space – and it is because God is here, because there is as much of the Holy Ghost in this place as ever there was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, because the forces of God are unexhausted, because the mighty river of God which is full of water is flowing through this place, that you and I are certain of blessing. I believe that if some people had been in that very upper room itself when the Holy Ghost descended, being blinded by prejudice and passion and worldliness, they would have heard only a noise, they would have perceived no flame. On the other hand, if Peter or John were sitting where you are now, their faces would be lighted up with supernatural light and they would say “Did you not see? Did you not hear? God is here. The great God has come down from the heavens to bless these people. God has promised and he has come.”

God is near. The whole earth is full of God’s glory.

Once Isaiah recognized his own sinfulness, a live coal that had been taken from the altar was touched to his lips and he was told that his sins were blotted out and that his guilt had departed. And immediately he heard the voice of the LORD saying “Whom shall I send and who shall go for us?” and Isaiah replied “Here I am, send me!” He didn’t yet know to what. But he had been called in the fire of the coal, just as we are called in baptism. In baptism, we die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ, living for Jesus in a world that needs to hear his message.

In the midst of precarious situations, like Isaiah was in, like our church, our nation, and our world is in, the voice continues to ask us. In a broken and fearful world, with injustice everywhere, and with brokenness in our own church, our own town, our own denomination, who will speak for the Lord. By ourselves, we are inadequate. But through God’s grace, we may stand and be his lips, confident in God’s power (not ours), that we too can express “Here am I. Send me.”

God is here. God has promised and God has come. You are the message bearers in this time to that reality. The world needs to know of God’s holiness, of Jesus’ compassion, of the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

To that end, I will be inviting you to the baptismal font during the offering to remember that you have been baptized and called for such a time as this. When you come forward I will make a sign of the cross on your hand and say “Remember your baptism, remember your calling and be thankful.” To which you may reply “Here am I. Send me.”

Like Isaiah, we come for God in the sanctuary, we take God with us. Here am I, send me.

May it be so.

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Principled Promises

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on November 6, 2017. The sermon text was Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10, 4:1-11.

Audio from the sermon can be heard here.

This morning I want us to take a look at a story that many of us have heard since we were kids.

Roger Nam, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, tells us that “The book of Jonah is one of those unique Old Testament stories that easily transfers to children’s Sunday School. This has resulted in a cottage industry of Jonah-themed Bible materials for children, whether flannel board materials, coloring books and, of course, the creation of the first VeggieTales movie, which grossed $25 million in box office sales.”

Today, however, we are going to take a look at the Jonah story with fresh eyes and like many of the stories of the Bible we will see that it’s not really a children’s story about a man in a big fish.

It’s a story about the grace and justice of God. It’s a story that stretches our understanding of the width, breadth, and depth of God’s love. It broadens by a mile our original definitions of justice and mercy. We imagine a merciful God but then God shows greater breadth to that mercy that we could have imagined, and then a justice that is broader still.

Now that we have a little context, let’s dive in.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

The sailors[a] said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17 [b] But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

 

The title of this section of Jonah is “Jonah Tries to Run Away from God”. How does that work out for anybody in the Bible or now? Jonah is told to go to Nineveh and he doesn’t want to. So he flees. The more you learn about Nineveh, the more you understand where Jonah is coming from. Nineveh is the capital city of the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a violent people who regularly killed Israelites. In fact, it would be the Assyrians who would come and destroy the northern kingdom is Israel. These are truly enemies for Jonah. One commentator suggested that this would be similar to God asking a Jew to go, preach to a guard at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. No wonder he doesn’t want to go give them God’s message.

This story reminds us to be wary of any faith that tries to narrowly define who is in and who is out of God’s kingdom. It reminds us that God repeatedly tells us to welcome the foreigner, the stranger, that we ultimately are Gentiles grafted into the vine of God’s kingdom. And of course, it begs the question: Who is your Nineveh, the people you really don’t want to believe could be part of God’s salvation plan? In this week of the election, is your Nineveh Democrats or Republicans? Is it immigrants? It is Muslims? Who is your enemy? The Feasting on the Word commentary says, If God intends real salvation for all the peoples, then in all seriousness, we must at least talk to our enemies …… In this deadly serious mess, the only way to avert total catastrophe is to talk. What an appropriate message during this week of the election when the rhetoric on both sides has become so divisive, and it seems that people can’t even comprehend talking to someone on the other side. The only way to avert total catastrophe is to talk to one another.

But all of this is centered on us. How do we respond to God’s call, how are we like Jonah? What if we read the Jonah story and asked a different question? What does this story tell us about God? What about God is revealed to us in this story?

The first thing revealed about God’s nature in Jonah is that God calls us to surprising, even ridiculous things. What is the most shocking, ridiculous thing you can think God might call you to? That’s what is happening in this story. God doesn’t always work in clear, straight paths that make sense. Sometimes God works in astounding, confounding ways. And sometimes God call us to join him in these surprising things.

Let’s read Jonah 3 now and see some more about what this story might reveal about God’s nature:

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

I know that we are skipping the time that Jonah spent in the big fish, which is the part that we focus on most of the time. Some have said that it seems implausible that a big fish would swallow a human whole and then spit them out on the beach three days later, often the image of a whale is used, like Pinocchio we think of Jonah with a candle sitting in the belly of the whale. One commentator said that the idea of Jonah spending three days in a whale and coming out unscathed is more believable than what happened when he reached Nineveh.

Can you imagine all those cows and horses in sackcloth? What I wouldn’t give for a Polaroid of the whole city, including the animals covered in sackcloth. I read this week that Jonah is considered the most proficient of all the prophets. He speaks a total of 8 words and the whole city repents. No other prophet can say that.

For a second time, God gives Jonah the message. The second thing we can say about what we learn about God is that God journeys with us, even in our stubborn rebellion. When we try to run, God is there. When we are in the pits of despair, God is there. When we come to our senses and return to God, God is there. God journeys with us, no matter where we are or how much we are currently rebelling against God.

Let’s finish the Jonah story:

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush,[a] and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

We finally hear from Jonah why he fled to begin with. Because he knew that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And Jonah didn’t want any part of that if it was extended to his enemies. Here is what we learn about God. God’s love is extraordinary. God’s grace is for all. In this story, the just thing would be for Nineveh to suffer. They had caused and would in the future cause so much suffering for Jonah’s people.

God is asking for the right to love our enemies regardless of the consequences. When God’s grace and God’s justice come into conflict, grace wins. Love wins. Sometimes that means that we are going to get burned, we are not going to get the justice we want. The God who calls us into surprising adventures, who journeys with us even as we rebel, who chooses to extend love and salvation to all people, that God whom we worship and serve has chosen grace – for us and for all, our friends and our enemies. This is the good news that we proclaim.

May it be so.

 

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My parents have always taught me that equality matters that I should judge someone by the content of their character, but I admit that I do not do that. I am a racist. Let me repeat, I AM A RACIST.

I don’t want to be, my parents never taught me to be, but I have learned it through my existence in this world and living all over this country. It’s baffling to me to admit that when I see a black face it causes a myriad of negative reactions. It shouldn’t be this way. My friends in elementary school were of Indian, Peruvian, African, Greek, and European descent. The first people I hung out with in Dallas when I moved at the end of sixth grade were the dudes on the basketball court; they were all black; my neighbor who I spend a lot of time with is black. Yet, my thoughts persist.
I remember the first time I was more athletic than a black guy on my team. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people superior athletes? It’s what I saw when I watched sports, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Lawrence Taylor, and on and on. It was the white guys that were the smart athletes, but not the most athletic, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, John Stockton. I mean, I remember in 1990 Rex Chapman from the Charlotte Hornets, who is white, was in the Dunk Contest. “I thought that’s for black guys.”

I remember the first time a black kid was smarter than me. It didn’t compute, weren’t black people silly, loud, and ignorant? That’s what I saw on TV and in the news. I will say now, looking back, I did not understand the social commentary of In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or the glimpse I got into black culture by staying up late and watching “It’s Showtime at the Apollo”.

In high school, I thought I was being enlightened, by making a differentiation between black people and the “N” word; I even had a Confederate Flag sticker on my truck. I was, no, I am still nervous when I walk in a city and I see a group of black people. I try to play it cool, I try to act like I’m not hyper aware, but the truth is, I am.

I’m not telling you all of this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not telling you this because I want to take some kind of moral high ground. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where the treatment of people is more often than not based on the color of their skin. If you don’t know what I’m talking about there are plenty of places you can read about the struggles of people of color in this country who are just trying to live their life, have some freedom, and pursue happiness just like the rest of us.

It pains me that my next door neighbor has to have conversations with his two sons that I don’t have to have with mine about the realities of dealing with people in authority. It pains me that talking about race is labeled as part of the problem. It pains me that even though, I read about, pray for an end to, and learn about the history of racism in this country there are still deep, deep learnings that I can’t seem to let go of regardless of the number of people of color who I interact with, who are shining examples, who are role models, who are more faithful, and who are more loving than me.

I will continue to listen to the voices that are different than my own. I will continue to do my best to teach my kids differently than I was taught by society. I will continue to recognize when I am being racist, I will continue to call out racism when I see it. I will not let this continue. It can’t continue.

There was a movie that I saw my senior year of high school by John Singleton called Higher Learning. It deals with race, racism, and what can happen if we don’t acknowledge our fears and the let those fears grow into hatred, which leads to violence. The last scene of the movie is one word of text. It says, “UNLEARN”.

I will continue to try and unlearn the racial constructs and narratives that I have been taught and I will pray my kids never learn them.

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While at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last week in Portland, Oregon, I was asked to contribute a blog post to the Presbyterian Outlook regarding dependent care at General Assembly. This has been a long conversation for my wife and I, if you want to know the whole saga you can follow this link.

Here is the text of my post:

“I am so thankful for the new Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy that the Office of the General Assembly made available for the 222nd General Assembly. This solution has been a blessing to our family and is a beautiful third way that helps alleviate some of the stress of parents and caregivers who are called to service as commissioners and advisory delegates to the assembly. This, for us was a giant step forward.

I’m also thankful for the work of the Committee on Local Arrangements who has provided a family room to change diapers, nurse babies, and give kids and parents a place to be while here at the assembly, complete with live streams of the plenary sessions. I am so thankful for all those that helped make it possible for more people with dependents to be a part of this, the signature gathering of our denomination.

In 2012, my wife and I, both Teaching Elders, decided that we would meet my family in Pittsburgh for the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA as observers, a chance to have a family reunion of sorts. It was a great opportunity for us to see family and connect with colleagues from around the nation, as well as, be a part of the beautiful connectional nature of our church. It was a reunion that Co-Moderator Jan Edmiston described as, “by blood and by baptism.”

We inquired with the Office of General Assembly about the options for childcare, family rooms, etc. as my son was stilling nursing at the time and my daughter was only two years old. The response from the OGA was suboptimal. At the assembly after talking to several people, including COLA, PCCCA, and OGA we were told that the office would take it under consideration.

Two years later, at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, I was elected as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery and my wife, again, planned to attend as an observer with our children. My father was volunteering in the newsroom and my mom was an observer. Once again, there were no options for parents or those with dependents; no quiet space to nurse babies, no dedicated space for children to be children, no place for them to be welcome in worship, no place to tend to the needs of people in our charge. Needless to say I was disappointed. 

That’s when Joseph Morrow of Chicago Presbytery and I submitted a commissioner’s resolution regarding, specifically, childcare at General Assembly meetings. Moments before I was to speak on the floor of the plenary I walked to the back of the hall, where I saw a woman huddled next to a stack of chairs nursing her young child. It further strengthened my belief that we could do better as particular churches, as mid councils, and as a denomination. The vote did not go our way, it was referred to the OGA in committee, after a heartfelt debate on the resolution on the floor of plenary, the assembly approved the recommendation to the committee. Our resolution had lost, we were sad and angry, but we are people of the resurrection.

I was so ecstatic to hear the news that the OGA was implementing the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy. I think that the OGA and COLA have worked together to help those of us with children and dependents to have an opportunity to be here.

There is still some work to do. An overture (05-05) that would amend the Book of Order to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy was disapproved by a close vote in committee. I would urge this assembly to disagree with the committee when if comes before you and vote to amend G-3.0106. As Overture Advocate, Kathy Stoner-Lasala, Teaching Elder from Great Rivers Presbytery said, “There are many in the cloud of witnesses who are not here. These are excluded disciples.” 

In my own presbytery, there are a significant number of teaching elders with young children, ruling elders with spouses who are sick or in need of care, there are people who have the energy, the passion, and the calling, but they can not answer the call to serve because we have not opened our hearts, minds, and souls to the needs of those with dependents. We have not listened to their struggles; we have not worked together to do better.

I believe the OGA and COLA have done their part, they have answered the call of welcome. I want to thank Joann Lee and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for carrying this mantle for so long, I want to thank the OGA and COLA for their work, I want to thank Great Rivers Presbytery , New Castle Presbytery, and Santa Fe Presbytery for picking up the mantle and taking it on. The question, now, is will our sessions, will our presbyteries, will our synods provide a policy that meets the needs of those in their communities?

May it be so.”

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A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ.

It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

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IMG_0198I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Mutual Forbearance”.

This week I wanted to take off my “dad” hat and put on my “pastor” hat. I know that I’m always wearing both but this week I wanted to focus on a foundational principle of the Presbyterian Church. It is a principle called “mutual forbearance”.

The Rev. Dr. Carlos Wilton describes it like this, “It’s a biblical concept — although it’s a little hard to locate in most English translations, because the word “forbearance” is something of an antique.  Scrupulous readers of the Authorized (“King James”) Version will recognize it in Ephesians 4:2. In the face of persistent church conflict, Paul’s prescription for good health in the body of Christ is “forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The New Revised Standard Version renders it “bearing with one another in love.” (http://monmouthstatedclerk.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-marriage-amendment-and-mutual.html)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order helps us to put it in to practice this way, “we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

A lot of that language can be confusing. The Rev. Dr. Wilton does an excellent job of speaking plainly about what mutual forbearance looks like in his recent blog (monmouthstatedclerk.blogspot.com) about issues in the PC (USA) and in an upcoming book about Presbyterian Polity.

“The essential feature of the biblical concept of mutual forbearance is the presence of a third party in the relationship: God. Whether the opposing parties are facing off across a kitchen table or a Session conference table, two individuals in conflict have little chance of permanently resolving their differences unless they first acknowledge their mutual reliance on a higher authority. Such is the message of the Ephesians passage as it recommends, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Note that unity in the relationship does not come from the parties themselves. It is unity of the Spirit. Further, the peace that reigns over the two opponents is not something that appears automatically, requiring little effort. The scripture speaks of the “bond” of peace: literally, a chain or fetter. A lifelong commitment to living and working with one another, despite our differences, means sacrificing something of the freedom we would otherwise have, were we not accountable to another.

It’s not unlike living through change as a family. Change does not typically happen, in families, in slow and incremental ways. It happens by leaps and bounds, often driven by the passions of the younger generations, to which the older members eventually learn to accommodate. The younger generations, for their part, come to accept the likelihood that they will never fully convince their elders.

What happens, then? Does the family splinter, its unity destroyed?

Sadly, in some cases this is what happens. Most observers, though, would describe that as a failed family. Its members have failed to do the one thing they were expected to do: to stick together through thick and thin.

What keeps any family healthy and strong is mutual forbearance. It must be intentional, and it must happen on both sides. We bear with each other because we love one another in Christ. That’s the bottom line.”

It seems as if in our town, our state, and our country we have forgotten the concept of mutual forbearance. We have forgotten how to be in relationship with one another. That doesn’t mean that we all have to be best friends or even like each other, but it does mean that we owe it to our neighbors to bear with one another in love. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing is.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The sunshine and the ability to go play a round of golf with my two kids.

Not Favorite: My house has been sick for the last week and a half. Hopefully, we will finally get better as the nice weather approaches.

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ImageThis evening I spoke to the plenary of the General Assembly about the need for childcare at our meetings. If you want to know more about how we get here you can find out more herehere, here, and here.

The vote did not go our way, we lost 53%-47%, but there was a life-giving debate and I felt wholeheartedly supported by the church that has nourished me and raised me to be the Christian, father, pastor, commissioner, and leader I have become.

I continue to believe that We. Can. Do. Better. and I will continue to be in conversation with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Committee on Local Arrangements in Portland. I believe that our 222th General Assembly will embrace our children with open arms.

These are the remarks that I made on the floor of the General Assembly:

I rise in favor of approval of item 03-13, this simply worded resolution requiring subsequent General Assemblies to be more welcoming to families and I trust that the COGA and COLA, given this mandate, will provide a variety of options for people with children.

I have been coming to General Assemblies since I was 10, y’all remember Biloxi? There and in every church I have ever attended I have heard the phrase, “We are hoping to have more young families…” By passing this resolution we are sending a clear message to those with children that we want them here and are willing to make it so you can be here.
 
My wife and I are both pastors, we have two small children, we are active in the life of the wider church. We love coming to GA, even as observers, heck we use GA as a family vacation. When we began to prepare to come to the 220th GA we were shocked to find that there were no onsite options for childcare or even child friendly options for our children. After repeated contact and problem solving with members of the OGA we were rebuffed and told that the barriers were too great to provide a welcoming space for families and those with children.

The intent of this resolution is to provide a strong message of support for our members with children and for whom the lack of onsite childcare and child friendly activities provide a barrier to come to know and love this church that has nurtured both my wife and I.

I have already been in conversation with the OGA, COLA, ACWC, and the committee on Biennial meetings since 2012. I’m afraid if we simply refer this to COGA it will fall through the cracks or be cast aside because it’s too complicated or it might cost us some money.

At the very least we should provide a room with comfortable chairs, low light, changing tables, and possibly sleeping mats for nursing mothers and for caregivers to find a place for their child to rest and relax.

We already provide childcare and child-friendly options for Big Tent, so why not General Assembly. By passing this Commissioners Resolution we will show that having families and children at our national gatherings is a priority as we come together to do the business of the church and witness to our calling to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Abounding in hope I believe with all my heart that We. Can. Do. Better.

Thank you. 

Here are three possible ways we can make this happen:

1. Available onsite childcare from 7:00 AM-5:00 PM in Two blocks of time during the business days of General Assembly. 7 AM-12 Noon and 1 PM-5 PM for parents and guardians to sign up and drop off their children allowing them to participate in the life of the larger church. This service would be a pay service $40/day is a conference norm. This would allow for families like mine to have a commissioner do their work, a pastor connect with the larger church, and a parent to do their job.

 

2. A space during worship specifically for children, there are many creative people in our churches that can make this a life giving and worshipful place allowing our youngest members to participate in the joy of GA worship.

 

3. At the very least provide a room with comfortable chairs, low light, changing tables, and possibly sleeping mats for nursing mothers and for caregivers to find a place for their child to rest and relax.

As always, please feel to comment here or contact me on twitter.

Blessings,

Rev. Greg Bolt

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