Pastor’s Blog

#18:Why Does The Pastor Give a "Charge and Benediction"

Why does the pastor give a "charge and benediction" at the end of the worship service? Christian worship does not end at the conclusion of corporate worship. Rather, we go forth from the sanctuary to love and serve Christ in daily living. The pastoral Charge is a distillation of the Word of the God into a formula for action. The Charge makes clear that worship guides the congregation into God's mission to the world -- you have heard the Word of God, now go and live it! This is no small task, so we need God's grace and assistance. For this reason, the pastor couples the Charge with a Benediction. "Benediction" means "blessing." Just as the ancient priests blessed the people to invoke God's mercy and faithfulness over them, the pastor blesses the congregation in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are blessed to be a blessing. Departing with the Charge and Benediction orients us and empowers us to pursue our chief end: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. 

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#17: Why Do We Offer a Prayer of Intercession?

Why do we offer Prayers of Intercession during the service? The word intercede means "to come between so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events." During this time of prayer, then, the congregation stands as an advocate for the world and the church before God. From the PCUSA Book of Worship, "we pray for the world God so loves—joining Christ’s own ministry of intercession and the sighs of the Spirit, too deep for words."  Prayers of Intercession are offered for the mission and ministry of the local and universal church; care of creation; peace and justice in the world; those in position of power; the poor, hungry, and oppressed; healing and wholeness for those who suffer; and personal concerns from within the congregation. Sometimes called the Pastoral Prayer, the Prayers of Intercession are more accurately understood as an action of the whole congregation. Everyone affirms their participation through response like "Lord, hear our prayer," and "amen" at the end. Now you know Why We Do That.

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Praying Psalm 16: Security in God

During our "Summer in the Psalms" preaching series, we are exploring how the psalms can help us draw nearer to God.

Psalm 16 reminds us that God is our greatest good. Taking time to reflect on God's role in our life helps us to combat stress. When we need to regain clarity and security in God, we can use Psalm 16 as an aid. This week, I invite you to continue musing on these points:

1. Reflect on how you have no good apart from him. (v.1-2) Every good thing we have in life comes to us from God.

2. Enjoy the godly people around you. (v.3) Notice how they are noble and inspiring. They reflect God in your life.

3. Be content with what God assigns. (v.4) God has placed you where he wants you and is working within your life structure. Within that "sanctuary" you can have a rich relationship with God.

4. Keep your eyes on God. (v. 7) Place God in the center. Set aside distractions and make God the central focus of your life. Everything can and should be in orbit around God.

5. Be assured that God gives life. (v. 11) God gives us life and leads us into joy. God always has our best interests at heart.

May God bless you as you seek him through this psalm.

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What is Trinity Sunday?

Trinity Sunday is one of our Christian days of celebration. It is different from many other celebrations because it does not focus on an event, such as the birth of Christ (Christmas), the resurrection (Easter), or the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). Rather, Trinity Sunday focuses on a doctrine. We step back from all the events, look at them together, and draw a conclusion: the ONE God is also THREE Persons. The Westminster Confession states, "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. (II.2. 3)

Admittedly, this doctrine sounds strange. How can God be both ONE and THREE? The early church wrestled with this question for at least the first two centuries of its history. The answer that was finally settled on is that we don't know how God does it, only that God does. We are inescapably led to the conclusion that God is a Trinity because of God's self-revelation.

The best way to think of the Trinity is by remembering the basic story of God: Jesus came into the world, sent by God. He called God his Father. Jesus died and rose again and ascended into heaven and is worshiped, proving he himself is also divine. He is God the Son. Then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, who is God among us and within us. So, when we put it all together, we end up with three distinct persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- each of whom is divine. Yet we believe in only one God. Hence the doctrine of the Trinity: Three Persons (tri), One God (unity).

Importantly, in the theological treatises of the early church, the fathers labored to point out that the doctrine of the Trinity was not a covert form of polytheism. We do not believe in three Gods. That would be called "tritheism." On the other hand, we do not believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are merely different masks for one God. That would suggest that God was acting out roles and confusing us. Rather, we believe in One divine nature shared among three persons who distinguish themselves from each other. The fathers devised the doctrine of the Trinity to help us to stand in solidarity with the monotheism of the Jewish Scriptures and yet also affirm that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are divine.

Okay, enough mental gymnastics. Why do we celebrate the Trinity, even though it is so mysterious and hard to explain? We celebrate the Trinity because it assures us that all our experiences of Christ are actions of God toward us. The Father so loved the world that he sent his Son. That proves God loves us. The Son died and rose again to forgive sins and open the way to eternal life. That proves God forgives sins. The Holy Spirit dwells within and among us. That proves God dwells within and among us. We believe our experiences of God are just that -- experiences of God.

In short, we celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity because it is our way of affirming that God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- has engaged us with love, redemption, and intimacy.  

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Summer Hours, Summer Tempo
Finally, summer is here! (Did the winter seem LONG to you, too?)I am sure we are all eager to get out into God's creation and play. I'm looking forward to BBQ, swimming, travel, vacation, and time with family and loved ones.During the summer our tempo slows down here at Faith to allow for more rejuvenation. The choir and Sunday school teachers get a much needed rest. The session and other teams take a summer hiatus.Summer is good for the mind and the body...and summer is good for the soul (you can quote me on that). I look forward to summer spirituality. I enjoy worshiping with Faith Church during these months. Although we miss our choir, we have special musicians who perform from a variety of genres. In lieu of Sunday school, we make more time to enjoy coffee, snacks, and fellowship before and after worship.When I travel, I enjoy being a visitor in another congregation. Joining with other communities at worship reminds me that God is at work everywhere. Sometimes another congregation will give me new ideas about what God is doing at Faith or help me to appreciate my congregation at Faith more deeply.How do you want to enjoy God this summer? God can re-energize your spirit. I encourage you to commit to attending worship on Sundays. Come to Faith to make new friendships or deepen existing connections. When traveling, visit other congregations to be blessed by them. Enjoy a sunrise or a sunset with God.Yay, it is summer! May God bless you and make it good for your soul!
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#16: Why Do We Celebrate Communion?

Why do we celebrate communion each month? Communion signifies and makes real the union that exists between Christ and the Church and among believers throughout all space and time. Just as our bodies need sustenance for life, so our spirits need the nourishment of God's grace for discipleship. Just as a meal brings people together as friends and family, so the Lord's table unites all believers in fellowship and ministry. Jesus regularly ate with his disciples, he does the same today. On the night before his death, Jesus spoke of the Passover bread and wine as his body and blood, signs of the covenant that would be based on his death and resurrection. Jesus commanded us to always eat and drink in remembrance of him, and Christians have faithfully obeyed that command. It is appropriate to prepare oneself for communion through prayer, thanksgiving, and reconciliation with God and one another. Renewed at the table by God's sustaining grace, we go out to feed others as we have been fed and look forward to that heavenly banquet when God will wipe away every tear and swallow up death forever.  Now you know Why We Do That

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Gun Violence

The adult Sunday School Class -- "Christian in a Complex World" -- spent the past year discussing contemporary social issues. Two of the hoped-for outcomes of this class were 1) a greater awareness of the complexity, enormity, and persistency of the troubling issues around us, and 2) to build trusting relationships with each other so that we could wrestle with the implications of the gospel toward these issues. I may have underestimated how much I would benefit from being a part of this circle of learners...if feeling a new weight of sorrow and dismay about the world we live in can be called a benefit.  

We recently explored the topic of "Gun Violence." And then a new rash of mass shootings erupted in our nation -- in Buffalo, NY, on May 14th, and in Uvalde, TX, yesterday. In response, I feel all kinds of emotions: sadness, anger, desperation, and more. I wish I felt shock. But sadly, as the PCUSA points out, this is no new problem: "We are, as a county, armed and dangerous -- to ourselves." (Gun Violence, Gospel Values, p.4). With two mass shootings in as many weeks, it seems difficult to deny this statement. So, we grieve again. We grieve with the families, we grieve for the communities, we grieve for our whole society which is afflicted with the ripple-effect of violence and fear and tragic loss.

We grieve, and then what? The PCUSA asserts, "Ours must not be a grief that immobilizes us or is expressed only in sympathy to victims. Ours must be, instead, a godly grief that calls us to transformation." (GVGV, p. 6; 2 Cor. 7:9-10). As people who believe that God offers us a promise of a "new heaven and new earth where weeping and cries of distress are not heard" (Isaiah 65:17-20), we are called to take steps toward building a community with peace and safety for all. This is God's vision, and it should be our vision too. 

I recognize, as you do, that solving the problem of gun violence will be difficult. People will diagnose the problem differently and competing solutions will be offered. As I said, the issue is complex. But the call to do something, to care deeply, and to seek a real change, seems convincing. As a starting point, you may choose to read the PCUSA point paper on this topic. I hope you will find some helpful perspective or call to action which will help you be a disciple of Jesus.

For me, I am trying to embrace the feelings of sorrow and dismay about the world we live in as a benefit. These feelings point to problems that should not be ignored. They prompt me to align myself with those who suffer, to think carefully about what is going on around me, and to look for, pray for, and work for a better community for us all.  

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#15: Why Do We Baptize People?

Why do we baptize people during worship? Baptism is a sacrament instituted by the Lord Jesus himself when he gave the Great Commission to his followers -- Go into all the world, make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28). A sacrament is both a physical sign and a spiritual gift. The application of water signifies many realities: we are members of the Universal Church and the local congregation; we have died to sin and have been raised to righteousness by being joined to Christ's death and resurrection; we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry; and we are beloved by God as His children. Baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life. Many Christians are baptized as children and spend their lives growing into their baptismal identity. The baptism of children reminds us that God claims people in love even before they are able to respond in faith. Adults are baptized when they make a profession of faith in Christ, reminding us that the gift of God's grace calls for our grateful response. Other rites of the church are built upon baptism -- ordination, commissioning for special ministries, and services of healing and wholeness. In short, Baptism is the font, or well-spring, of the Christian life. Now you know Why We Do That.  

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#14:Why do we make an affirmation of faith?

Why do we make an affirmation of faith on some Sundays?  An affirmation is an expression of agreement, support, and solidarity.  Making an affirmation of faith is one of the ways that we respond to the truth of the sermon. Having been addressed as the People of God, we identify ourselves as God's people by stating what we believe and what we intend to do. We may loosely compare an affirmation of faith to making a pledge of allegiance. The most common affirmations of faith are the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed, both of which are traced back to the earliest centuries of the church. Every major tradition of Christianity around the world recognizes these two creeds. The Apostle's Creed is spoken in the context of the baptismal liturgy, while the Nicene Creed is traditionally associated with the Lord's Supper. Affirmations of faith can also be drawn from sentences of Scripture or from the creeds, confessions, and catechisms in our Book of Confessions. In addition to clarifying and strengthening our communal and historic identity, affirmations of faith also equip us to share our faith with the world. Creeds, catechisms, and confessions may be employed as evangelistic tools. Affirmations of faith can help us fulfill the Biblical injunction, "Be always ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (I Peter 3:15) Now you know Why We Do That.

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#13: Why Do We Take an Offering?

Why do we pass the plates to collect money every Sunday? Let us first dispel two misconceptions: 1) the church is not expecting anyone to "pay for" the service. There is no admission fee to worship. 2) The church is not begging for donations to maintain its existence. The church could come up with other ways to obtain funding. No, we pass the plates to allow God's people to give. Self-offering is the only appropriate response to the gift and calling of the gospel presented in the sermon. We pass and fill the plates to show our joyful gratitude for God's self-giving in Jesus Christ and to commit ourselves to discipleship with our lives, our service, and our material goods. Although many members give online, they put an "I gave online" token in the plate so that they can enact their response to God. Giving is part of worship. "Tithing" (10% of one's income) is a form of committed, regular giving while"offerings" are prompted by special sentiments or occasions. Taken together, tithes and offerings are dedicated to God to show our stewardship of creation, demonstrate our care for one another, support the church, and provide for the needs of the poor. Now you know Why We Do That.    

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