~ Pulpit Ponderings ~
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
(Isaiah 61:1, 3)
Here we are about to start preparing ourselves spiritually for Easter. The period of Lent starts in ashes, the remains of destruction by fire of the palms we used last year on Palm Sunday. Many Christians cut out Lent and perform an Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, though, it ends in oil with baptismal anointing, fuel for new fire.
On Ash Wednesday (which falls on February 14 this year) we receive the ashen cross on our foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” All during Lent we commit ourselves to discipline for the purpose of being discipled in a deeper way to Christ. It is like getting your car or truck tuned up before a big trip. The same for our souls. We need to tune up spiritually to properly prepare to observe Christ’s Resurrection.
If you’ve never participated in an Easter Vigil, I would encourage you to do so! The Vigil starts in the uncertainty of darkness after Good Friday’s trauma. The paschal candle, or Christ candle, is extinguished on Good Friday, perhaps dramatically. I heard of one Lutheran pastor doing this by breaking the paschal candle on the altar table of his church – perhaps too dramatic for some of us – but it certainly communicates the crucifixion’s meaning if the Christ candle is a treasured symbol. At the Vigil, the ancient fire of hope draws us to gather around it. This fire is traditionally lit by flint, associated with the divine covenant. A new Christ candle for the year is lit with the Exsultet, a glorious grand poetic praise at the news that Christ is risen! Then candles are lit from the Christ candle and carry our hope as the participants process into the sanctuary chanting, “The light of Christ. Thanks be to God!”
Then, as we humans are wont to do when we suffer trauma, we make sense of things by going back over our story. During the service of the Word, the narrative of salvation history is rehearsed with a series of readings. Different groups in the church can take the readings and be creative. I’ve been to Vigils where, as the Creation story was read, the Creator painted the beauty of creation, swatted a mosquito, and pulled a cap down over his eyes while leaning back to rest on the seventh day. At another Vigil, an elementary Sunday school class did the story of Jonah with shadow puppets. There is delight in hearing our story creatively retold from different perspectives that makes the service seem a timeless delight as it ends with the Resurrection gospel.
This is naturally followed by baptism, affirmation of baptism, and/or reaffirmation of baptism for those who have been learning what it is to be Christ’s disciples (called catechumens in the ancient church). Eucharist (Communion or the Lord’s Supper), the Dominion feast, then gathers all into the Reign of God. Wow!
If you’ve never done an Easter Vigil, consider it. If you’ve never been to one, perhaps this year you can attend another congregation’s Easter Vigil and stand as an ecumenical presence at the baptism into Christ and the universal church. Ask around to find a good Easter Vigil service and talk to the minister or priest about it. Invite others in your congregation to join you. When you do, be sure to let people know that this is not a service for the faint of heart, for it pulls out all the stops and lasts a couple hours or more.
Some of you could already be planning your Vigil service. I’d love to hear what you do. Of course, we realize that there is a “you have to be there” quality to the service. But isn’t that true of all of sacramental living in the Presence of Christ: you just have to be there.
Standing on His Promises and, As Always, In His Grip …Shalom Aleichem (Peace Be Unto You) …
Until the Nets Are Full,
Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” – Matthew 28:19 (NIV).
~ National Gathering of ECO Synod ~
On January 23-25 of this year several members of TPCG traveled to Houston, Texas to participate in the national gathering of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Christians. Along with myself and Gayle, David and Jyane Pearson, Ann and Stephen Davey, Linda Davis, and Bonnie Wolfe, thoroughly enjoyed the experience (Pastor Buddy and Elder Bonnie Wolfe were the designated commissioners for TPCG). Overall, the Gathering was awesome! Just ask any attendee and they will verify that statement.
We heard some terrific keynote speakers. Namely:
- Dr. Dana Allin, Synod Executive, opened the Gathering by speaking to the theme of the conference – “Renovate”. This theme was chosen because we were meeting in a city that is in massive need of renovation after devastating floods and Hurricane this past fall. Scripturally, Nehemiah 2:18 speaks directly to this theme: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So, they began this good work.” As he ruminated on the denomination’s role in renovation, he was struck by Home Depot’s motto: “You can do it. Let us help.” Therefore, it is ECO’s purpose to catalyze the development of member congregations by creating an environment where resources, support, and encouragement are provided to full their missions.
- Ed Stetzer, PhD., Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. Dr. Stetzer was very entertaining as he spoke to the many different church dynamics within ECO and how they can pull together in mission.
- Kyle Strobel, teacher, writer, and preacher; Assistant Professor of Spiritual Theology and Formation at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He presented ways of helping people to faithfully witness to the Lord, and therefore, addressed the Christian life in a way that seeks to be biblically rich, theologically astute and attentive to the historical realities of the faith.
- Condoleeza Rice, PhD.; author, professor, accomplished musician, and currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the 4 Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to President George W. Bush. She provided a very enlightening testimony of her faith journey. Her father, uncle, and grandfather were all Presbyterian ministers in Alabama, and staunch Republicans. She informed us that she had a young friend and classmate who died in the Birmingham church bombing during the 60’s. She participated in a healthy Q&A with those assembled. Her presentation was the most enthusiastically attended.
Each day the TPCG attendees had a choice of participating in several “Breakout Sessions” which were dedicated to discussing various subjects that impact churches, individuals, church mission, evangelism, etc. Seventy-five minutes were dedicated for each of the fifty sessions which were held over the three days of the Gathering. Obviously, we could not attend all of the sessions, so we concentrated on those that we felt would positively impact TPCG. The following sessions were attended by our people and a brief summary is provided.
- Breakout Session: “Get Off the Dime – Bringing About Healthy Change” – This session talked about a biblical process for bringing about positive, healthy change in your church. 4 keys included: asking the right questions, answering honestly, involving lots of people and then communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. He, also, talked about using a task force for any significant change. He explained the roles of the pastor, session, and committees when seeking and implementing change.
- Breakout Session: “Flourishing Disciples” – This session spoke to building on ECO’s Discipleship Initiative (Flourishing Disciples) and was designed to grow as disciples, to disciple others, and to build a disciple-making culture in the church. This requires flourishing leaders who are themselves flourishing disciples. This makes discipleship the first critical step for a flourishing church. ECO is available to help us with this process through a mentor program which would be at a cost for the church.
- Breakout Session: “The Incredible Power of a Small Church” – Basically, discussion was based on the following questions: “Does your church suffer from a poor self-image because it is lacking numbers in the pews?”; “Are you feeling inferior when you hear what larger churches are doing?” The attendees were broken up into many groups depending on attendees at Sunday worship (150-200 being the largest group to 25 or less being the smallest group). TPCG was in the 50-65 group. Each group presented one story of success. We heard several that could be appealing to our community dynamic where we could interject the church into the community while meeting evangelistic and missional goals (i.e., inviting up to 20 boys and girls from the Boys & Girls Club to attend our VBS this summer). We will present these suggestions to the Session for discussion and potential implementation.
- Breakout Session: “Birthing A Church” – Session explored the challenges of starting a new church in a community—the need to have a “vision” which addresses the ministry needs of the particular community; the need to identify a “target” population, people in need of ministry. Birthing a church involves developing relationships with people who are “disconnected”.
- Breakout Session: “How to Draw in Unchurched and Skeptical People” – Presenter discussed ways that pastors and congregants can facilitate the process by which unchurched and skeptical people are brought to Christ. A model was presented which proposed that the process is organized and predictable. It begins when the pastor/congregant establishes a relationship of trust with the non-believer, which in turn leads to curiosity about Jesus. When nurtured, this leads to a level of discontent with his/her state, then to seeking for more knowledge about Jesus. When a safe place for seeking is provided, this can lead to acceptance and to following Jesus.
- Breakout Session: “Bringing a Spirit of Generosity & Legacy Program to Your Congregation” Discussion centered around what giving to the Church means to different groups of people and how it can be used to meet daily/monthly expenses or donated for a special use – such as a specific improvement projects, Sunday School, Choir, or Mission Programs. Evaluate projects, set goals, have celebrations when goals are met, and tell members how these gifts made a difference to the Church. And they provided information regarding Legacy programs which can be set up with Texas Presbytery Foundation (TPF) and leaves money to the Church through a personal will.
- Breakout Session: “The Postmodern Path to Faith”
The presenter gave insights on how to draw non-believers into becoming curious about Jesus and the Bible. This information was adapted from the book “I Was Once Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus” by Don Everts.
The business meeting for ECO was held on the last day and consisted of electing people to various offices and the presentation of various reports. The biggest thing to come out of the meeting dealt with overtures, in the form of resolutions, related to the Confessional Standards of ECO:
- Res. 1 – God Word: The Authority of Our Confessions. Approved (543 Y / 9
“In particular, we affirm the secondary authority of the Confessional Standards as a faithful exposition of the Word of God.”
- Res. 2 – Establishing a Special Rule of Order concerning the adoption and amendment of the ECO Confessional Standards. Approved (493 Y / 58 N)
This special rule of order was adopted concerning the adoption and any amendment of the ECO Confessional Standards.
- Res. 3 – On Including Various Standards. Approved (541 Y / 15 N)
The following documents as the exist (excluding any commentary) in The ECO Book of Confessions, Version 1:Spring 2017 be included in the Confessional Standards:
- Nicene Creed
- Apostle’s Creed
- Heidelberg Catechism
- Westminster Confession (was amended to exclude PCUSA wording)
- Westminster Shorter Catechism
- Westminster larger Catechism
NOTE: A review of the various proposals arising out of the review of the confessional documents by the different presbyteries indicates unanimity on the inclusion of these six documents. The resolution fixes the language to match that of the documents contained in The ECO Book of Confessions, Version 1:Spring 2017 until an orderly process to build consensus around any language changes can be implemented.
- Res.n 4 – Inclusion of The Scots Confession. Disapproved (235 Y / 318 N)
Was disapproved because of not including women in the ministry of the church and other divisive language.
- Res. 5 – Inclusion of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. Approved (384 Y / 157 N)
Based on the discrimination of Christians that currently prevails in the country it is necessary to protect that religious right which this declaration provides.
- Res. 6 – Inclusion of the Second Helvetic Confession. Approved (275 Y / 259 N)
Pastor Buddy and Elder Bonnie were neutral on this one and it was hotly debated.
- Resolution 7 – Inclusion of the Confession of 1967. Disapproved (103 Y / 441 N)
It was felt that this confession was redundant to ECO’s Essential Tenets and constitutional statement which protects all races, genders, and circumstances.
- Res. 8 – Inclusion of A Brief Statement of Faith – PCUSA. Disapproved (235 Y / 318 N)
It was felt that this statement allowed too many theological interpretations and was redundant. Pastor Buddy spoke against this stating the same. He also offered that ECO should not adopt anything PCUSA uses and he hoped if it was felt that a brief statement was needed, ECO should write its own statement.
- Res. 9 – Postponing Indefinitely Other Resolutions on Confessional Standards and Establishing a Process for Further Review of Confessional Standards. Approved (384 Y/157 N)
That the ECO Synod Executive Council, after consultation with the ECO National Theological Task Force, shall implement a process that, drawing on the work done in the last year by the different presbytery task forces and the National Theological Task Force, works to develop a consensus around the proper composition and role of the Confessional Standards within ECO with a goal of considering any changes to the Confessional Standards. (NOTE: Proposed by the Texas Presbytery and supported by 5 other presbyteries.)
The Business Meeting was adjourned at 11:50 AM and it had to be the shortest business of that magnitude in history. We accomplished a lot. Also, we met and made many new friends. We also heard many stories of churches extracting themselves from PCUSA and some were more horrendous than ours. All in all, I sincerely hope more members of TPCG can attend the next ECO National Gathering which will be held January 2020 in DALLAS, TEXAS. They must like Texas very much.
If anyone has questions about any aspect of the Gathering, please contact one of the participants or just ask them what they thought of the time spent with other ECO churches. Lastly, thank you all for the prayers for safe travel while away on church business.
~ A Big Thank You from the Care Center ~
We have received the following note from the Care Center of Gatesville: “410,365 lbs …… Thank you for your part in making this Good for Families food drive a great success and with another record-breaking total. You cannot be commended enough for your generous support in making sure the needy in our community are taken care of. For one more year, we are able to feed, with our current client total, approximately 480 families every month. What heart! What community! What teamwork! Thank you, thank you and thank you.
Wishing you a blessed and happy New Year!!!
Deral McWhorter and Debbie Blanchard”
~ The Lighter Side ~
The church baritone soloist was delighted when one of the church members spoke to him after service and said, “You have a very mellow voice.”
When he got home, he went directly to his dictionary and discovered the meaning of “mellow.” He read, “Mellow: overripe and almost rotten.”
At the close of the service a visiting preacher remarked to the minister that he thought the singing was terribly poor and asked what the problem was. The home-team minister replied, “Yes, unfortunately the agnostics here are dreadful.”
With a booming voice, the Minister of Music bragged to his congregation, “Two years ago I insured my voice with Lloyd’s of London for $750,000 dollars.”
The crowded sanctuary was hushed. Suddenly, an elderly woman spoke out. “So,” she asked, “what did you do with the money?”
A minister is walking down the street one sunny afternoon when he notices a very small boy trying to press a doorbell on a house across the street. But the doorbell is too high for the little boy to reach. After watching the boy’s struggles, the minister decides to give the lad a hand. So, he crosses over and goes up to the house and gives the bell solid ring. Crouching down to the little boy’s level, the minister smiles benevolently and asks, “And now what, my little man?” To which the little boy replies, “Now we run!”
A family is greeting the pastor after the service. Junior looks up and declares, “My dad says my mon is a pagan because she serves burnt offerings for dinner.”
(NOTE: Unfortunately, the following little tidbit has some truth today for some churches)
A Sunday school teacher challenged her children to take some time on Sunday afternoon to write a letter to God. They were to bring their letters back the following Sunday. One little boy, Benny, wrote, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today. Wish you could have been there.”