Friday, July 30, 2010

Security on the Road

Well, I'm finally back from my travels, and it's good to be home. It's great to be free from sitting in a car for eight to ten straight hours a day. Now, I can sit somewhere else.

Of course getting home after all that driving is a real relief. I mean not only is driving or even riding exhausting (at least for me), as I'm moving down the highway, I'm aware of all the stuff that could happen. For example, some pumb could all of a sudden stop pumbing or some filter could stop filtering or some plug could stop plugging. Or what if a driver next to me decided to change lanes without looking or a deer decided that the grass is greener on the other side of the road? And those are just a few things that could happen on a trip. And even though, we did what we could to make sure the car was in good shape mechanically before we left and we were defensive in our driving, it's true that you can almost expect the unexpected. In other words, it virtually impossible to be completely secure as you travel across country.

But security isn't an issue that applies just to cars and interstates. It seems as though, in life, complete security is not possible. It's not possible for countries or communities or congregation, and it's certainly not possible for individuals. And even though we may make every effort to make ourselves as safe as we can, bad things still happen. As Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley,” in other words, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” But knowing this doesn't prevent us from trying to defend ourselves from the problems and pain we see all around us.

On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we're going to talk about security, and in particular, how we might find some security in a seemingly insecure world. And then we'll consider how this awareness can impact our lives.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Pinewood Derby Held in Weirton


July 25, 2010 - By CRAIG HOWELL, Managing editor, Weirton Daily Times

WEIRTON - An event local Scout leaders are hoping can become a tradition in the valley took place this weekend with the first Summer Pinewood Derby.

The derby was hosted by Cub Scout Pack 334 at the Cove Presbyterian Church and held in conjunction with the Ohio River Valley Council.

Pack 334 Cubmaster Doug Obeldobel explained the local Scout council traditionally has held a Pinewood Derby in February for area packs, but the Weirton group wanted to provide an event for the summer as well and discussed it with the council.

Obeldobel said they sent invitations to other area Cub Scout packs, as well as local Girl Scout organizations, and would like to be able to hold similar events every summer.

"We opened it up to others in the area," he said. "We're going to try it and see how it goes."

While Saturday's competition primarily involved members of Pack 334, it did include two members from Pack 104 in Scio, Ohio and four area Girl Scouts.

In addition to having the event in the summer for the first time, this weekend's derby was set up in the parking area behind the church, situated between the Weirton City Building and the Millsop Community Center.

"This is the first time ever it's been held outside," Obeldobel said.

The derby committee already is planning for next year's event, which is expected to take place July 22-23. Obeldobel said they are looking into the possibility of adding a loop to the track.

In addition to the Scout race Saturday morning, Friday night featured races for friends and family as well as for the event's gold sponsors.

As part of the sponsor races, each gold-level sponsor who contributed at least $100 had a racer built for them. The winner of this year's sponsor race was GPC Contracting.

Other gold-level sponsors included the Brooke County Fraternal Order of Police; G&R Welding; Main Street Bank in Wellsburg; Nardone Chiropractic; Nick's Auto Sales; Weirton FOP; Dickie, McCamey and Chilcote; and Roger Criss. Additional sponsors were Dr. Cipoletti, Hood's Pharmacy, Mullenbach Funeral Home, New Heights Auto and DeFelice Bros. Pizza at the silver level, and bronze sponsors Assure America, Bowcase Archery, Chamber's Funeral Home, City Plumbing, Cross Law Offices, Dairy Queen in Wellsburg, Follansbee Pharmacy, Gabby's Cafe, J.T.'s Barber Shop, Mark's Heating and Cooling, R&D Auto Sales, Reasner Funeral Home, Weisberger's Clothing, Village Pharmacy, RPR Preowned Auto Sales, Lyle's Auto, attorney William Galloway, Autozone in Weirton, Penn Exxon and Eat 'n Park.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Remembering Our Sister, Mary Madden

MADDEN, Mary, 87, of Weirton, W.Va., passed away Tuesday, July 27, 2010, at Weirton Medical Center.

She was born Feb. 27,1923, in Logrow, W.Va. a daughter of the late Steve Tomasovich and Mildred (Sagilla) Martimovich.

She is also preceded in death by a daughter, Mindy Cassella; a son, Michael McWhorter; first husband, James Jollymore; second husband, Bill McWhorter; and third husband, Paul R. Madden; two sisters, Mildred Gutcher and Sophie Stam; four brothers, Mike Tomasovich, Luke Fey, Mike Martimovich and Dan Martimovich; step-father, Mike Martimovich, and a great- grandchild Noah Cassella.

Mary was a homemaker, sold Cutco Knives and loved to golf.

She was a member of the Cove United Presbyterian Church and the Pleasant Valley Country Club.

Surviving are one daughter, Rose Marie Clutter Buchannon, W.Va.; one son, Dan McWhorter Weirton, W.Va.; six grandchildren, Lori Perry, Crystal Roseman, Chantel Mayhew, Isreal Cassella and Chris and Daniel McWhorter; six great-grandchildren, Joel Perry, Damon Mayhew, Maryjane Mayhew, Michaela Cassella and Jackson and Isabella Hoseman.

Memorial services will be held at the Cove United Presbyterian Church on Saturday, July 31, 2010, at 10 a.m.

The family would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Ray Greco for his care and special concerns he gave Mary.

Turley Funeral Home has been entrusted with the arrangements.

Sermon: Teach Me How to Pray (Preached by Frank A. Bohach, Jr.)

Luke 11:1-13 - 11He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

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It hasn’t really been all that long ago when you think about it since I answered the call to preach the word of the Lord. And to be quite honest about it, preaching a sermon proved not to be the most difficult part of conducting a worship service in this or in any other church. I’m not saying that it’s easy. It really isn’t. I find it very challenging to look at the scripture each week, and find a way to interpret it so that it is, first off interesting, second relevant to the lives we lead each and every day. And 3rd, and this is the most important to me, getting the message across each week and not sounding like a broken record doing it.

Honestly though, and being that I am standing here in this pulpit, honesty is the probably my best option at this point. The part of the service that scares the daylights outta me is the pastoral prayer. That pastoral or as I prefer to call it the prayer of the people, is one of the focal points of any worship service in the reformed tradition. It is the opportunity that we have as a community of believers to lift up our thoughts our hopes, our concerns, and the things that matters to us as a group to the Lord. To me it too it is also about unity, not just as a congregation, not just as Presbyterians, but unity as believers in Christ.

And because of the importance of that prayer, I really really wanted to get it right. After all, over the years, I have heard ministers and evangelist who’s prayer are pure poetry. I have listened to Joel Osteen pray on TV and seen the reaction he gets, not only to the audience in his massive church, but I’ve seen how I react to it. And we, as a congregation have heard some wonderful prayers over the years prayed right here from this very pulpit. Prayers that have made us think, prayers that have filled us with joy, and some that have brought us to the verge of tears.

So here I am, charged with this huge responsibility to lift up to God the prayers of his people, and I darn well wanted to get it right. I can still remember the first time I lead this service, and when it came to the prayer, I practically shook. I was nervous, I stuttered and stammered my way through it, trying to make it up as I went along and working hard to make sure I didn’t forget one single prayer request that I had written down in front of me. And I was quite thankful when it was over!

So when I started my formal training as a Elder Speaker, one of the questions I asked of just about every instructor that I had was, to teach me how to pray. I just didn’t feel I was equipped enough to do it. Just like often times all of us feel like we aren’t equipped to do it. Funny thing though, all though I got all kind of help on resources, places I could get prayers to follow, nobody really gave me what I truly wanted. Til one evening near the end of our classes, when a former pastor of this very church sat down and told me something I never realized. He said, "Frank, the most important thing to remember about prayer, any prayer, whether it is a formal prayer on Sunday morning before a congregation, or a private moment before retiring for the night, is simply this. Prayer is a conversation between you and God. Nothing more, nothing less. And when you learn how to open up and have that conversation with God, then you will know how to pray."

I really believe that is a great piece of advice worth hearing again. Prayer is a conversation between you and God, nothing more, nothing less. And when you think about it, he was absolutely right! I want you all to take a moment and think about some of the times we have prayed in our lives. Haven’t some of the most heartfelt, most meaningful and most telling conversations you have ever had, been with God? We have all said things to God we would never say to another person. And I don’t know about you, but for me, some of the best time I have ever spent in prayer, the times I seem to get the most out of it, were when my prayers seemed more like a conversation than some rote memorization I had do to as a child.

And on looking at the prayers that Jesus had with his father, the ones that are recorded in scripture, they too resemble a conversation, because that is exactly what he was having with God. An example of this are his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane taking to God, about his fate and how in many ways it scared him. But it was through that conversation he reaffirmed what he had to do, what he was sent here for. In the Greatest Prayer ever, Christ talks to his father about what was to become of his disciples after he was no longer with them. He prayed for their safety, and begs God to look after them and show them special favor. To protect them in his name. On the cross, he prayed to his father, in his ultimate moment of trial, the moment the kingdom of heaven was repurchased for us with his blood. All through his ministry his disciples watched him have these conversations with God unlike anything they had ever seen. All they knew were to rote and repetitious prayers of the Hebrew faith, yet the kind of praying Jesus was doing was more of an up close and personal. It was no wonder they were confused.

And that’s why as we read in this morning’s scripture they went to him. They asked him, Lord teach us how to pray. They really didn’t know how to even start the conversation, let alone carry one on with God. So Jesus gave them, and for that matter us, a blueprint if you will of how we should start the conversation. He tells us to start out sort of by saying hi. Recognizing if you will who God is, our heavenly father. And then we should glorify him, and his kingdom which exist both here on earth and with him beyond. In this Lesson Christ teaches us to not be afraid to ask the Lord for what we want. And that we should never be afraid to ask his forgiveness for the dumb things we do against him, and our neighbors, and to give us the gift to do the same for those who hurt us. Looking at this in those terms, when you come right down to it, verses 1-4 which is in actuality the basis for what we pray as the Lord’s Prayer, is a conversation starter. A way to open up the line of communications to our Father in Heaven. I truly believe this.

And really, the scripture bears this out. Luke starts out with the structure, and then goes on relating the example Jesus gives his followers. Talking about the man who goes to his friend asking for loaves of bread to feed his guest. And how even though the man may not really want to give him the bread, it is because he is his friend that he gets up and gives him what he needs. If for no other reason because he just keep asking. And Christ tells them, if persistence got the bread from a friend, then it is the love of the Father that will get you so much more. Jesus tells us, to ask and we will receive, those who search will find, knock and the door will be opened for you.

And once that door opens, then we can get that conversation started between us and our Father. And the gifts that God has for us, the things he will provide us in the form of the Holy Spirit are far better than anything we could ever hope for or give to someone else here on earth. But there is something else this reading tells us. Christ uses the example that we would not give a snake to a child of ours that asked for a fish, or a scorpion for an egg. Since we are children of God, he will give us the good things we need, and we want.

But I really want you to notice something. Nowhere does Jesus say that God will give us everything we ask for. Time after time we hear people say that they prayed for something and God didn’t answer their prayers. Well, friends, that’s simply in my opinion not true. And there are many places in scripture that will back me up. That God does in fact listen to our prayers, and he does answer them. He just doesn’t always answer them the way we want him to. Remember, just as it says in the Lords Prayer, his will be done, not our will, but his will here on earth, as it is in heaven. We often times treat God as a vending machine where we put a prayer in and pull the lever expecting to get what ever it was we asked for. Or as you have heard me say before, we treat God as a genie in a bottle, say a prayer and poof, what ever you asked for is right there in front of you. Believe me if it were that simple, we all would have won the lottery by now! So instead of focusing on the things we want and the things we think we need, shouldn’t we just open the conversation, talk to our Lord, through Jesus, and let God decide what we need? Jesus is telling us, more than anything else that the conversation is the most important part. Not what we ask for, or for that matter how eloquently we speak. And it’s ok to tell God the things we want, as long as we understand his answer to us will be to give us the gifts we need.

You know my friends; the Lords prayer is a great way to open the conversation with God.  But sometimes, just a quick short prayer, an acknowledgement of who God is and what he means to each and every one of us can do the trick. Just anything to start, and then keep the conversation with God going, just as Jesus did, so many times in his life.

You know, over the past couple of years, I’ve become less nervous about the pastoral prayer. I do have a basic outline that I follow, but I always try to remember that this is a conversation we are having together. I might be the one speaking, but you are all a part of it too. And I quite frankly don’t get upset that I’m no Joel Osteen when it comes to congregational prayer, but then again, Joel Osteen is no Frank Bohach either!

Friends, our prayers don’t have to be fancy, They don’t have to be long drawn out and eloquent. And they really don’t have to sound like a prayer, just a conversation. It can be as simple as saying something like Thank you God for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine. Amen

Prayer 101

Luke 11:1-13 - 1And it happened that he was in a certain place praying, when he'd finished, a certain one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just like John also taught his disciples.” 2And [Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, let your name be holy; let your kingdom come. 3Our bread for the coming day, give to us each day. 4And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone in our debt. And don't bring us into testing.”

5And he said to them, “Suppose this among yourselves: A person has a friend and he goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6since a friend of mine has come from a journey to me and I don't have [anything] to set before him.' 7And he from inside answers and says, `Don't bother me. Already the door has been shut, and my children with me are in bed. I am not able to rise and give you [anything].' 8I say to you, even if he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, then because of his shamelessness, he will get up and give to him all that he needs.

9“And I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks, receives; and seeks, finds; and knocks, it will be opened.

11“But suppose this among yourselves: the son asks the father for fish. Would he, instead of a fish, give to him a snake? 12Or he asks for an egg. Would he give to him a scorpion? 13Now if you who are evil know a good gift to give to your little ones, then how much more will the Father from heaven give Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

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Considering the fact that in the passage above “a certain one of his disciples said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’” it should come as no surprise that we’re going to spent some time looking at Jesus’s answer, namely what he said about prayer. And you know, I think that’s a really good topic, because it’s something that most of us consider important. It’s part of our relationship with God; therefore, we’d like to do better, more effectively, if we could.

But I want you to notice, that my title is “Prayer 102,” not “Prayer 101,” and I’ll tell you why. In college, a class with a “101” is nearly always the very first class you take in that particular subject. And I really don’t think that’s appropriate here. I mean, whether you’re a church veteran or rookie, we all know a little about prayer. We all know prayer has something to do with talking to God, right? And we all know that people sometimes pray prayers before supper or at bed time or when they’re really, really in trouble. And I think we all know that it’s traditional to end a prayer with “Amen.” So you see, we all have some background; therefore, instead of using 101, I decided to call this “Prayer 102,” a message that I hope not only builds on what you already know but that might also broaden and refine your perspective on this very important topic. And it seems to me that any passage that has a person ask Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray,” well, I think that’s a pretty good place to look.

You see, as we listen to and consider what Jesus taught his disciples, I think we can learn five things about prayer. First, according to Jesus, genuine, meaningful, Biblical prayer can be formal, written and read. Notice that when the disciple asked his question, Jesus didn’t say something like, “Well, pray sort of like this” or “Use this as an example” or “Follow as best you can this general structure.” Instead “Jesus said…, ‘When you pray, say…’” and then he gives a very formal, structured prayer. And since this is the prayer that the disciples were taught to pray; I think we can assume that for Christ formal, written, even read prayers are at least O.K. Now understand, for a bunch of Jewish disciples, this wasn’t a radical idea. They’d been praying written prayers for centuries, and if you want to find some of those prayers, open your Bible and read some of the Psalms. And I know for some of us here, particularly those who grew up in more formal, liturgical churches, this isn’t a big deal either, but I also know, that some of us grew up like me: believing that since it should come from the heart and since it was like talking to God and since of course, it had to be done with your eyes closed, a prayer that was read, a prayer from a book, even if that book was the Bible, well that wasn’t prayer at all. Let’s face it, that’s what many of us were told and in fact, some of us believe today, and yet that’s not what Jesus taught his disciples, and that’s not what he teaches us. Therefore, I think we’d be wise to accept that both kinds of prayers have a place. Certainly, a personal conversation with God is wonderful. But so can be a prayer that we read together as God’s people, a prayer that may have touched the lives of believers for centuries and that unites us with the saints of past expressing a common human need or fear or desire. Imagine the possibilities, when we listen to Christ and accept that we don’t always have to make it up as we go along. That’s the first thing we can learn from this passage.

And second, prayer starts with God. In other words, it doesn’t start with what we want or who we are or what we’ve got. That may be fine way to start a letter to Santa Claus, but according to Christ, prayer begins with a focus not on us, but rather on the Father who loves us. That’s where it must begin. And it also starts with our desire for God to be God, and to demonstrate his nature and authority. Good night, look at the first two petitions: “Let your name be holy,” in other words, remind us that you are above and beyond us, that you are God and we’re not, that we must approach you with reverence and respect, “let your name be holy. [And] let your kingdom come,” establish your rule over us, enable us to greet your sovereignty with joy and hope rather than fear and dread. You see, prayer starts with a recognition of who God is, before we ever get to what we need, and I’m talking about stuff like “bread for the coming day…” and the forgiveness of our sins and the avoidance of testing. Before we reduce God to a Barbara Eden-like genie, who grants our every wish as soon as we open the bottle, let’s remember that prayer always starts with God. That’s the second thing we can learn from this passage.

And third, we pray with and for both ourselves and others. Now, I think that’s important for us to remember, because often, we’re far more comfortable using “me” and “my” rather than “us“ and “our.” Maybe it’s because we live in a society that emphasizes radical individualism and that secular philosophy has affected our faith; I don’t know. And I firmly believe that it’s important for you and me to lift our personal prayers to God and to confess the sins that may only affect us as individuals; that’s why we have a time for silence after our prayers. Still, using Christ’s teaching as an example, I think it’s important for me to pray not only for my, but also for our daily bread and for me to confess not just the naughty things that I do, but also the lack of faith and dedication, some times the out and out evil and injustice shown by the societies and communities and congregations in which I am a member. Jesus has taught us to pray with and for both ourselves and others, that’s number three.

And fourth, we pray knowing that God always responds. I think that’s the point Jesus is trying to make in the first parable that follows the prayer, a parable which, by the way, we often misinterprete. Remember, Jesus tells this story about a guy who needs some bread for a guest. He goes to a friend, asks one time for three loaves, but his friend turns him down. In a nut shell, that’s the story, and when Jesus finishes he says, “I say to you, even if he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, then because of his shamelessness, he will get up and give to him all that he needs.” Now, usually we assume the shamelessness is on the part of the person asking for the bread, you know, pounding on the door and being a general pain until his friend gives him what he wants just to shut him up. And then, we apply this to God and to prayer. For example, last week, I had a colleague tell me that when Jesus said, “ask and it will be given to you,” he means that you have to keep on asking, you know, pounding on God’s door, and then, eventual God will answer. Well, let me tell you right here and now, that’s not what Jesus is saying at all. He’s not sending us out, believing that God is like a lazy husband who only responds to nagging. And he’s sure not suggesting that God keeps a tally of how many prayers are prayed for a particular need, like he won’t answer until he’s heard no fewer than ten. That doesn’t make sense. But look, suppose when Christ said, “because of his shamelessness, he will get up and give…,” he’s not talking about the one asking, but rather the one answering. In other words, after hearing the request, even though he’d rather stay in bed, shame, guilt, a sense of obligation will move him to give what his friend needs. And if this kind of person will end up responding to a friend, imagine, just imagine how the Almighty God will respond to his children when they pray. Therefore, “Ask and it will be given…. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will opened to you,” but not because you’re standing there with bloody knockles. God will respond; that’s number four.

And finally, the last point, as we pray, God supplies us with what we need to do the job he’s given us to do. And this we see in not only the last parable, the one about what the Father will give to his son, but also in the Lord’s Prayer itself. You know, this is not a prayer for couch potato Christians. This is a disciple’s prayer: a prayer for men and women who are doing what Christ has called them to do, for sisters and brothers who are out in the world sharing and living their faith. And I’ll tell you, that’s why, in the prayer, he tells us to ask for the bread we need for the coming day; remember, when Jesus sent out 72 disciples to proclaim the Kingdom, he told them to take no provisions. And that’s why the parable about hospitality was so meaningful; man, Jesus said that the disciples were going to have to rely on the generousity of others. And maybe most important of all, that’s why he said that “the Father from heaven[, the one to whom we pray,] will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.” You see, it’s the Holy Spirit that will give voice to the disciples at Pentecost and according to Paul, life and unity to the church. In other words, if we’re ready to do the work and pray the prayer, take it to the bank, God’s going to give us what we need. On the other hand, if we start to pray but have no intention of doing anything beyond sitting back and soaking up the blessings, I have two suggestions to make. First, remember what Christ told Satan in the wilderness: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And second, please don’t mock God and those who have responded to his call by praying a disciple’s prayer. When we ask, God will equip us. That’s number five.

As I said earlier, most of us see prayer as an important part of our Christian lives. And although we all have some background, based on what Christ taught his disciples, I think we need to remember these five points: First, prayer may be formal, written and read. Second, prayer starts with God. Third, we pray with and for both ourselves and others. Fourth, God always responds. And finally, as we pray, God supplies us with what we need to do the job we’ve been given to do. That’s the content of what I’ve called Prayer 102. And since I’ve used the imagine of a class, I think it’s appropriate that I give some home work to you and to me. This is our assignment, let’s all pray as Christ has taught us to pray.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reasons for Thanks

Here are some of the reasons for thanks that were shared during the worship service this morning:

I praise God for the MANY BLESSINGS HE has bestowed upon me! Thank God for the direction He has taken my life! Thank God that I am still able to do His work! I thank God for the wonderful friends, family and loved ones He has given me!

I’m soooo thankful for my children. and my daughters first flight to be safe and her entire travel overseas (20 days) He has been sooo good to us. I love him with all my being. He is my strength and my salvation.

Keep it up. Our Lord is happy about your project to win souls, with a sound knowledge of the word.

Thanks be to God – Dylan is back home with his mom, dad, and big sister where he belongs. Praise the Lord.

Thanks for special friends and Christ in my heart. Thanks for “Foot Prints in the Sand.”

I am thankful for a great Mission Trip! We met some truly remarkable people and God was definitely at work this week to bring people hope after a flood! I am also thankful for all the love and support of this congregation.

Thank God for safe travel, meeting and helping people in need and seeing the Spirit of God work to help others.

Sermon: Listen First

Luke 10:38-42 - 38As they were going, he went into a certain village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him. 39And she had a sister called Mary, and after she sat at the feet of the Lord, she continued to listen to his words. 40But Martha was continually dragged away by much service. After she came up [to him], she said, “Lord, you care that my sister left me alone to serve, don’t you? Then speak to her so that she might do her part with me.” 41But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and disturbed concerning many things. 42But there is need for one thing. For Mary picked out the good portion which will not be taken from her.”

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As most of y’all know, over the last two Sundays, I’ve either been attending or driving home from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Now this is the highest earthly level of government in the denomination. And as such, the General Assembly considers the rules that the whole Presbyterian Church will follow. And although at this past assembly not all the decisions went my way, a shocking development, there’s one thing about the process that I really like.

You see, the Presbyterian Church is really slow in making changes. For example, almost everything that we considered started in presbyteries over the last couple of years. And then they were referred to committees and the committees met and referred them to the whole assembly, and that’s over seven hundred elected representatives from all over the country, sort of like the House of Representatives. But even when the assembly decided to make a change, it still has to go back to the one hundred and seventy-seven presbyteries for their approval. And if a majority of them say “yes,” the change is made, that is until the next assembly in two years when the process starts all over again. And you thought changing health care was tough.

Now, I’ve got to admit, sometimes all this stuff drives me nuts. You know, everything seems to take so long, and there are times when I wish there was just a group to say, “This is the way it’s going to be.” Of course, I only want that if they always do what I think it right. Still, all things considered, I really appreciate this imposed slowness, because it simply gives everybody involved the chance to slow down and listen for the voice of God speaking most clearly through scripture but also through his people. Now whether we decide to listen or not is ultimately up to us, but the opportunity to do that is built into our system.

And like I said, I think that’s a really good thing, because I’ve got to tell you, American Christians seem to be a whole lot better at talking and doing than in listening. I mean, think about it. We really don’t seem to have any trouble telling people both inside and outside the church exactly what they should be doing and what they should be feeling and what they should be thinking. And we can spend hours and hours talking about and sometimes even setting up programs to reach out to a certain group. Man, I can’t tell you how many times I, a fifty-year-old plus minister, have talked to fifty-year-old plus members about what teens want in a church, like we actually know.

You see, that’s what we seem really comfortable doing, and even though our motives are good and there’s really nothing wrong with our suggestions and ideas, often what we say and do falls flat on it’s face. For example, that youth group that worked in Weirton twenty years ago and that’s going gang buster’s at our son’s church in Houston, that same style group goes no where here with our kids. And all the changes that we make in our worship service and our education program to reach out to young adults, often within our congregation, seem to only tick off some of the folks who sincerely believe the church should be the one place in our world where things don’t change. And all of our suggestions about how people should live, the values they should follow, the hopes and dreams they should have, things that we believe work, when we announce them out there in the world and even in here among some of our members, well, they seem to roll off them like water off a duck’s back. In other words, sometimes it seems that all our talk and all our planning and all our activity goes no where.

And when it dies, well, then we begin to change. I mean, our words stop being ideas and suggestions and become grumbling and complaints. And instead of trying to figure out how we can be loving both within and outside these walls, we spend far more time trying to find the people we can blame for our lack of success. And rather than acting with joy and enthusiasm and hope because we’re sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and even though we know that people are attracted to a positive atmosphere, we allow our frustration and disappointment to come right to the surface so everyone can know just how unhappy we are. And I’ll guarantee, nobody wants to be a part of a frowning, sulking community. But you know, that’s almost bound to happen when we talk and act before we do anything else.

As a matter of fact, we become no better than good old Martha, the sister we read about in our passage from Luke. You see, Martha was a doer, and I’ll tell you, there was absolutely nothing wrong with what she was doing. In fact, Luke called it service, in Greek διακονία, the word from which we get “deacon,” something that becomes an important part of the church’s work in Acts. Put another way, Martha was ministering to Jesus. She was trying to meet his needs, trying to relieve whatever pressure he felt. She was doing something good. And yet, where did it get her? Luke wrote that the more she did, the more she was literally being “dragged away” from what was most important. I mean, think about it. All her work, all her service caused her to resent her sister whom she felt wasn’t pulling her weight. And then, it led her to say something that, at least to me, seems pretty inappropriate when directed at Jesus Christ: “Lord, you care that my sister left me alone to serve, don’t you? Then speak to her so that she might do her part with me.” And finally it resulted in her Lord saying to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and disturbed concerning many things,” something Jesus will specifically say we shouldn’t be, especially after we consider how God cares for the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field. All her service actually led Martha away from Christ. And I think the same thing happens to us.

But that wasn’t the case with her sister, was it? I mean, instead of running around, Mary “...sat at the feet of the Lord [and] she continued to listen to his words.” In other words, she did exactly what Jesus said must happen for the good seed to take root in the good soil. It’s what sets his brothers and sisters apart from the rest of the world. “Blessed . . . are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” And even though that irritated her hyperactive sister, what Mary chose moved Jesus to say to Martha, “But there is need for one thing. For Mary picked out the good portion which will not be taken from her.”

And you know, I think he’ll be able to say the same thing to us when we look to Mary rather than Martha as a guide. In other words, instead of “shooting first and asking questions later” maybe we need to reverse the order. Maybe we need to make an intentional effort to listen, and I’m talking about listening to our neighbor and one another, but most importantly to Jesus Christ first. Of course, that means we’re probably going to have to do a few things that aren’t nearly as fun as either talking or moving.

I mean, first, we’re going to need to put ourselves in the position to hear, which means we better take the time and make the effort to read our Bibles, but more than that, to attend worship services and Bible studies that do more than just confirm what we already believe. You know, sometimes I get frustrated when I hear a Christian horribly misquote scripture to tell another person what they should be doing. Before we talk, we need to go to the source so we might know the truth. And I’ll tell you, I think that applies to what we plan and do as well. If we’re want do to anything about concerns and needs, to me it just makes sense to go to the ones who have the concerns and needs. For example, if we really care about reaching out to and helping teens, we may need to go to someone under fifty.

But just putting ourselves in the position to hear isn’t enough, because second, I think we also need to quiet ourselves. How often, during a conversation, have you thought about what you were going to say when it’s your turn to talk? That’s not listening. If we ever want to hear God or one another, I think we need to settle down and shut up.

But again, that by itself isn’t enough, not if we’ve decided to be closed to what God or the other person might be saying. Man, we’ve got to be intentionally open. And I’ll tell you, putting yourself in the position to hear and becoming quiet is child’s play compared to this. I know, when I’m forced to hear something I don’t want to accept I start feeling hot under the collar. The muscles in my face start to tighten and I can feel myself getting ready to defend myself from this “attack.” Now, when I do that, am I listening? I don’t think so. You see, I think to listening we need to be willing to hear stuff that we don’t like. And if we ask questions, our goal should be to understand not win the debate. But like I said, this kind of openness is hard, in fact, some people would rather cut and run than to do it. Now I’m not saying we should believe everything that comes down the pike, but if we decide that we’re only going to listen to what we want to hear, how can we ever hear God speaking to us in new ways and moving us into a new and exciting future? I think stagnation is the best we can expect if we don’t listen.

But suppose we do, suppose we seek out opportunities to hear and quiet ourselves down and become as open as we can, in other words, suppose we take the time to sit at our Lord’s feet and listen to him and to others, well, I firmly believe the results will be well worth the effort. I mean, just imagine how it could transform our congregation, to say nothing of our marriages and our families and all our other relationships, including our relationship with God. Because we’re listening to him, we’ll understand what God has called us to be and to do. And because we’re listening to people inside and outside the church, the words that we use and the action that we take will finally have focus. We’ll no longer be answering questions that nobody asks or spinning our wheels meeting concerns that no longer exist. Put another way, we’ll no longer be “continually dragged away by much service,” nor will Jesus have to say to us, “...you are worried and disturbed concerning many things.” Instead, we’ll be able concentrate our words and work on the will revealed in God word and the needs shared by our neighbors. We’ll be able to do this, because like Mary, we will have “...picked out the good portion which will not be taken from [us].”

And like I said earlier, this kind of listening is actually built into the presbyterian system. Of course, we still have a choice whether we’re going to do it or not. And I’ll tell you, that really applies to all of us here this morning. On one hand we can certainly choose that for the sake of time, we’re going to start by talking and doing. And although doing this is satisfying on a lot of levels, if that’s what we choose, well, we really shouldn’t be surprised or frustrated if our words and acts have little real impact. And we certainly shouldn’t run around looking for someone to blame, unless that is, we happen to walk by a mirror. But that’s not our only choice, because right here and now we choose to be more like Mary than Martha. And we can intentionally put ourselves in a position to hear and quiet ourselves down and open ourselves up. And if this is what we choose to do at church, but also at home and work and school, we just may be amazed at what can happen when we listen first.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hello from Shirley Deluca

Dear Ed and Friends at Cove:

Praise the Lord! So far so good. I've been blessed with good health and energy.

Teaching is exhausting but exhilarating.My students are outstanding The weather is extremeely hot.

Our orientation week focused on the Beatitudes and we had a meaningful worship service at the beach on the Baltic Sea.

The pace is fast: potlucks,games and tea, barbeque,and talent show for the students.

I really like Lithuania- the people and the culture.

See you in 2 weeks.

Shirley Deluca

Friday, July 16, 2010

To Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations:

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38)

Just one week ago, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) convened with Scripture and music and prayer. Commissioners and advisory delegates from every presbytery across the church gathered around the baptismal font with hopeful expectation of what God’s Spirit would do in and through them as they sought to discern together the mind of Christ for the PC(USA).

As the week progressed, prayer was a foundational part of each day’s deliberations and decisions, and the presence of the Spirit was palpable!

“Out of the believer’s heart…

While all assemblies are significant, this one holds particular significance in the life of the PC(USA). Among the assembly’s decisions – to be ratified by presbyteries – are the addition of the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions and a revised Form of Government. Both of these items give a clear signal that we are a church that is not afraid to change – an important perspective to have in these days of great change in the church and the world.

The assembly celebrated and was greatly encouraged by the commissioning of 122 young adult volunteers and 17 new mission workers for service around the globe. Commissioners voted unanimously to renew the call to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” and were inspired by the stories of congregations that are growing in evangelism, discipleship, diversity, and servanthood. They celebrated the generosity of Presbyterians who have contributed more than $10.5 million to relief and redevelopment work in Haiti in the wake of January's devastating earthquake.

The assembly also engaged in discussion about significant matters of faith and life – ordination standards, justice and peace in the Middle East, and civil union and marriage, to name just a few.

Information on the more than 300 assembly actions is available. We commend these resources to you for their accurate and straightforward information.

Civil Union and Marriage FAQ
Form of Government FAQ
Middle East Peacemaking FAQ
Middle Governing Body Commission FAQ
Ordination Standards FAQ

While the content of the assembly’s decisions is important, what may be of equal or greater importance is the manner in which commissioners and advisory delegates did their work. They debated, but did not fight. They tackled tough issues while refraining from tackling each other. They placed great value on finding common ground as they displayed gracious, mutual forbearance toward one another. They sought the will of God within their actions, rather than regarding their decisions as the will of God. One commissioner called the experience of seeking – and finding – common ground truly “miraculous.”

In short, this assembly exhibited to the whole church and, indeed, to our society and the world a way to engage in difficult issues while maintaining respect for one another. To put it another way, they exhibited well what it means for the church to “a provisional demonstration of what God intends for the world” (Book of Order, G-3.0200).

…shall flow rivers of living water.”

Just a few short hours ago, the 219th General Assembly ended in the same worshipful manner with which it began, as well as with a similar same sense of hopeful expectation that the hard work done in Minneapolis will continue forward across the church.

Michael East and Caroline Sherard, elected by their peers as co-moderators of the young adult advisory delegates to this assembly, shared their thoughts in a blog entry:

If all our commissioners and advisory delegates returned to their places of community and encouraged others to continue similar stories, what great things could be next for the PC(USA)? These narratives have the ability to inspire discussions on new, creative, and innovative ways of being the Church. At the heart of being Presbyterian is the principal belief that our discernment is best done when we gather together. Being able to gather in one place, as one people, for the one Church is a powerful and transformative experience--one which dramatically shapes future generations.

The assembly has commended to the church a number of items for further study, out of which is hoped will come, as Michael and Caroline write, “new, creative, and innovative ways of being the Church.”

May the good and faithful work begun in Minneapolis truly be just the beginning of a season of respectful, earnest, and gracious engagement – both in our words and in our deeds – all for the sake of the gospel.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,

Elder Cynthia Bolbach
Moderator, 219th General Assembly

The Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

The Rev. Landon Whitsitt
Vice Moderator, 219th General Assembly

Elder Linda Bryant Valentine
Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Council

One Final Look

On Monday, I got back from my Minneapolis adventure. Even though I enjoyed being at General Assembly, I'm glad to be home. And looking back, I have a few observations that I want to share with y'all. First, I firmly believe the people who gathered in Minneapolis were sincerely seeking out the will of God for their church. Although we didn't all come to the same conclusion about what that will might be, I think the folks with whom I talked and who spoke to the Assembly were trying to hear the voice of God speaking in 2010. And as we dealt with these difficult issues on which Christians might disagree, our discussions were respectful and considerate. I could feel the movement of the Holy Spirit as believers from across the spectrum talked about how we might apply our faith in the real world. Second, as I looked around at all the different people who came from different backgrounds and possessed different gifts, I feel as though I saw the body of Christ. This was refreshing to see. It seems as though the church is becoming more and more monolithic, like a body made up of only eyes. Our diversity is actually a strength, as different parts compliment one another. And third, I'm more convinced than ever that the church of the future is going to be much different from the church of the past and present. God is doing a new thing; therefore, we all have a decision to make. We can be led by the Spirit and move into that future, or we can struggle to stay exactly the way we are and slowly fade into the past. But regardless of what we choose to do, God's will is going to be done.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Last Message from General Assembly

Later this morning, General Assembly will end, and I'll be coming home. And as I leave Minneapolis, I'm both excited and concerned.

On the excited side, I think we elected a wonderful moderator. Cindy Bolbach will represent the Presbyterian Church well. By-in-large, I'm pleased with the content of what we did. In approving the new form of government and the Belhar Confession, I believe we prepare the denomination to move into the future. And by approving changes to the ordination standards and not changing our position on marriage, I think we've shown that we're in the theological middle and that interpreting and applying the word of God is more challenging than finding a passage or verse that supports our position while ignoring passages and verses that don't. Regardless of what you may hear, we are firmly in the center, and that gives us the chance to communicate with both sides. The workshops were informative and the worship inspiring. But most exciting of all, I felt the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the week. For me, General Assembly was a profoundly spiritual experience, and I'm grateful to Cove and the Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery for giving me the opportunity to grow in my relationship to Jesus Christ.

I also leave with some concerns. I know there are people within and outside the denomination who'll misrepresent what happened here to advance their personal agendas. I hope my brothers and sisters pause, think and pray before jumping to conclusions. I'm also concerned that the commissioners weren't the most fiscally responsible people around. In some ways, the Assembly is like another world; therefore, it's easy to forget that what we decide have financial implications to our churches. As a commissioner, I take responsibility for that irresponsibility. On a personal note, I also regret that our overture, The Covenant Nature of Membership, didn't pass, and my lack luster presentation on the floor of the Assembly didn't help. Finally, as I wrote in a prior message, I hope we don't let the insider stuff that happened here distract us from what we're called to do in the world. Those on the other side of stained glass need to hear the gospel we have to share. They don't care about the internal wrangling within the denomination.

And so I'm about to go to the last business meeting. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts. And I'll see most of y'all next week.

Yours in Christ,
Ed Rudiger, Commissioner and Pastor

Friday, July 9, 2010

Greetings from the General Assembly...Again

Greetings again from the General Assembly. I'm taking some time between our afternoon and evening meetings to give you an update.

We have been unbelievably busy these last two days. During this time, we passed three items that are important for the denomination. First, we approved the Belhar Confession (attached) to be included in our Book of Confessions. It originated in South Africa and addresses racism in the same way the Theological Declaration of Barmen, also among our confessions, addresses Nazism. It'll be the first confessional document from the southern hemisphere included in our constitution. Second, we approved a new form of government, something different from our current Book of Order. Rather than being a manual of operations, it moves us toward a real constitution. It also gives more authority to the regional bodies to determine their sense of mission and ministry. In other words, it transfers power from the central authorities to the presbyteries and congregations. Third, we changed the standards for ordination by adding the following:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

We also eliminated the following:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

As anyone who's been in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a while know's these standards have caused a lot of grief within the church, even to the point of setting Christian against Christian. I will tell you, outside of a few threats to leave the denomination if the vote didn't come out a certain way, the debate was respectful, prayerful, and loving. And after the vote was taken, there was no celebration; rather, the moderator called us to prayer.

Now, before anyone becomes too excited or upset about the changes, I think there are two things we need to keep in mind. First, nothing changes until a major of the presbyteries approve them. For the Belhar Confession, there needs to be a 2/3s majority. Second, I also think we need to keep this in perspective. I'm convinced that outside members of our denomination (and not all of them), very few people really care about the structure of our church government and other internal issues. In fact, those outside the faith care more about earning a living, raising their children and finding hope in a chaotic world. They want to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. This should be the focus of the church.

Well, I need to get back. I'll write to y'all a little later.

Yours in Christ,
Ed Rudiger, pastor and commissioner

Thursday, July 8, 2010

From the General Assembly

Greetings from the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Having been here for four days, there's one thing of which I am absolutely sure; the Holy Spirit is moving in Minneapolis. Of course, I also believe the Spirit is moving in Weirton too. That's good news. As I get ready to go to the third business meeting, there are three things I'd like to share with you.

First, I had a great experience in my committee meetings. I was assigned by random draw to the one dealing with General Assembly Procedures. Although it wasn't considered one of the glamour committees, we had some important issues to consider that affect the way the denomination does business. The most important thing I learned, though, came from the chair of the General Assembly Nominating Committee. We were discussing whether the General Assembly permanent committees should be mandated to have theological diversity (something I think would be a good idea). During the discussion, the chair of the nominating committee, a self-professed conservative, said that he's already been instructed to seek this kind of diversity. His problem is that few conservatives volunteer to serve. To any conservative who might read this, please stop complaining about not being heard and put your money where your mouth is and offer your name to serve on a GA committee, please.

Second, the worship services and workshops have been wonderful. For me, two stand out. At the opening worship service, Bruce Reyes-Chow gave the one of the best sermons I've ever heard. He spoke about what it means to be a Presbyterian in the modern world, and he suggested three things we might need to do. One, we may need to move away from a "one size fits all" mentality and start claiming the diversity that surrounds us in order to proclaim Jesus Christ to a diverse world. Two, all sides should stop acting like we're an American political party and start being a community unified by a shared faith. And three, we need intentionally to speak to a younger generation that doesn't speak the language of an old church. The other experience that was particularly important to me was a presentation by Dr. Andrew Purves, emphasizing that we need to claim our theological past as we move into the future.

Third, last evening our presbytery had it's commissioner dinner, and someone took a picture of me with a rather dashing comb-over. If you should see the picture, let me assure you, I'm being a very good boy. And if I should step out of line, our brother, Rob Starck will get me back on the straight and narrow.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

From the General Assembly - The Election of a New Moderator

I just got to my room, and since I have a breakfast to attend at 7:00 a.m., I'll make this short. The General Assembly has begun. And as always, I can feel the power of the Spirit at this gathering. In fact, this year it may be stronger than ever. I'm not sure whether that has to do with the meeting or my personal growth.

Anyway, this evening we elected a new moderator, Elder Cynthia Bolbach from National Capital Presbytery. Of course the one for whom I voted not only lost but came in last. Still, I believe Ms. Bolbach will do a great job leading the church. She has the organizational ability we may need during the next two years. But this year, I can honestly say that any of the candidates would have made excellent moderators. They were a very impressive group. Because each had their own skills and strengths, I hope they work together. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, God will do great things through our church.

Tomorrow we have the big worship service, and then the committees begin to meet. I'm on the GA Procedures Committee. I doubt that you'll read about anything we do in the papers. Rob Starck is coming in tomorrow to advocate for an overture from our presbytery. But I'll keep y'all informed.