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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

presbytery vision

I have been very involved in the life of my presbytery (the group of Presbyterian churches in an area, united for mission and ministry) the past number of years. We, like so many presbyteries, have struggled to adapt to declining membership and giving and rediscover our primary calling to making disciples of Jesus Christ through the local church.

I've written about this vision, our process of moving toward that vision, and some of our struggle to get there. We have come through much and have entered into a tangibly new and hopeful phase of life and ministry together. This new start was much evidenced at our most recent presbytery meeting on May 21 at Paw Creek. We had all those usual things to do like voting on amendments to our governing documents and dismissing churches to other fellowships, but it all was conducted with grace, truth, gentleness, and love - none of those easy or cheap, but hard-won and deep out of a shared journey of many years.I want to share one glimpse into that day, an indication (to me) of where our eyes and hearts are set, a profound insight into where God is already leading us.

We had a visit from the Rev. Dr. Tom Trinidad, Vice-Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He was invited to give (and gave) a "from where I sit" view of the denomination, including the interesting story of how he came to be a GA commissioner and then Vice-Moderator. And then he opened the floor for Q&A. Tom did a fine job communicating and responded to many of the questions asked (and comments offered), but his part is not my focus; what stood out to me were the nature of the questions asked. In any other year (and most any presbytery), I would have expected questions about church politics, numbers, debates, sides, etc... - people looking to score points or make points, or use the occasion for such things. But I simply want to list the questions asked to the Vice-Moderator, leaving out his responses and noting that those asking were from a wide range of theological viewpoint, church context, race, geography and more. In fact, those asking the questions represented pretty well the scope of the presbytery I described earlier in the links above. Listen to where God has led us to focus:

  1. How will GA (or presbytery) help my congregation grow disciples of Jesus Christ?  I work at a struggling urban church on the verge of life and death and sense such a profound disconnect with what we talk about at presbytery and the General Assembly; I am called to serve a congregation that grows disciples of Jesus Christ... if we don't do it, no one will. I want to speak up for what I think matters most: local congregations.
  2. Does Jesus still save? Why are we losing members?
  3. What about the name of Jesus? College students are going to campus ministries that speak the name of Jesus; will we do that?
  4. What best practices have you seen for "new beginnings" like you've heard described here today?
  5. Do we still believe that Jesus is Savior AND Lord?
  6. Who do we save that Jesus is? Can we call for and commit to seeking spiritual renewal in our midst?
  7. How does the work of General Assembly (esp. resources) translate to the local congregation?
  8. What call options are there for new candidates for ministry? (many are struggling to find full-time calls)
  9. Are we hearing all the questions focusing on Christ and discipleship?
  10. Is Christ not alive among us? We are experiencing a Holy Spirit movement and react as though Christ is dead; we need to stop talking about doing and start doing! 

It sounds to me like the Presbytery of Charlotte has a vision!

Monday, May 13, 2013

bluegrass sunday: confession and assurance

On May 5, 2013, my congregation joined two other Presbyterian congregations nearby for "Bluegrass Sunday" - a regular service in terms of liturgy (and the Lord's Supper), but with all the musical portions (and then some) rendered with bluegrass music.  One such element of the service was the typical "Confession of Sin" and "Assurance of God's Grace."  I took two well-known songs - "I Will Wait" by Mumford and Sons and "Home" by Phillip Phillips - and created a "mash-up," joining them together into one song.  The verses of "I Will Wait" fit well as a confession of struggle and needing help; the verses of "Home" offered a wonderful theological counter-point of assurance of God's presence and help.  To make this clearer, we had a spoken confession and assurance before the music, using words and phrases from the songs that matched scripture. Then, when we did the song, we had two different song-leaders to help mark the back and forth of confession and assurance.  

The spoken liturgy comes first below, then a link to a YouTube video of the live song, then the lyrics of the mash-up, as presented.  The combined song was long (approx. 7 min.), but would make a good alternative to some other special music like an anthem. On a serious note, it proved to be very meaningful; on a lighter note, I finally got to try playing, singing, and stomping on a kick drum.  :)  If you would like to try this, please let me know (robert@gspc.net) and I can send a chart!

Leader: Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)
People: We will wait for the Lord!
Leader: You are not alone; God is with you and will lead you home through Jesus Christ, our Lord. (Deut. 31:8; John 14)
People: We are not alone; the Lord will bring us home!

I have yet to figure out how to default to this, but definitely click the settings and watch in HD; it's better!

“I Will Wait” and “Home” - Mumford & Sons and Phillip Phillips

Confession: And I came home like a stone And fell heavy into your arms. These days of dust which we’ve known will blow away with this new sun. And I’ll kneel down, wait for now, and I’ll kneel down, know my ground, And I will wait, I will wait for you.

Assurance: Hold on to me as we go. As we roll down this unfamiliar road, and although this wave is stringing us along, just know you’re not alone cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

Confession: So break my step and relent, you forgave and I won’t forget. Know what we’ve seen and him with less now in some way shake the excess. And I will wait, I will wait for you.

Assurance: Settle down, it’ll all be clear.  Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

Confession: So I’ll be bold, as well as strong, and use my head along side my heart. So tame my flesh and fix my eyes that tethered mind free from the lies. And I’ll kneel down, wait for now. And I’ll kneel down, know my ground. Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold, and bow my head, keep my heart slow, cause I will wait, I will wait for you.

Assurance: Settle down, it’ll all be clear.  Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

Technical Note for the curious

If you start playing around with these two songs you will notice several things: "Home" is in C major, "I Will Wait" is in C# major (first chord A#m), and "I Will Wait" is faster than "Home."  This made creating and learning the mash-up a challenge.  Thanks to some cool technology, I was able to pitch-shift "I Will Wait" down to C major (first chord Am) and split the difference in tempo (speed), slightly slowing down "I Will Wait" and slightly speeding up "Home." Then it was easier to splice the two together and experiment. That also gave us a finished sounding practice track.

Monday, May 06, 2013

jury duty, accountability, and the light

At the age of 45, I've only been called for jury duty three times. The first time (age 26) I was excused for exams in seminary. The second time was in 1999 and though I reported for service, I was not needed and went home after an hour. Then I was called last week. We were told there were only three trials, two shorter civil cases and one criminal case projected to last the week. I was called right off the bat to a pool of 40 for the week-long case. We spent the whole first day in jury selection and as we were closing in on 5pm, with the jury of 12 finally selected, I was called up for consideration as the first alternate juror. After about 10 minutes of questions, the defense passed on me and I went home. Sound boring? Far from it...

Mind you, I only heard the most basic description of the case. But the 5-6 hours of jury selection were one of the more fascinating and revealing things I've witnessed.

The Process

We were randomly selected from voting registrations and driver's license registrations in our large county. If you aren't familiar with how jury selection works, an initial 12 people are put into the box, but then the judge, prosecutor, and defense have opportunities to ask questions and dismiss jurors for a range of reasons (from "cause" - like a mother whose infant had just gone to the hospital - to either the prosecution or defense not thinking a particular juror would be fair to the case). It was not made clear how many people or times the attorneys could pass... but each juror was questioned thoroughly, either as a result of group questions or individual questions.

Humanity on Display

I have what I think is a pretty realistic view of the human condition (i.e., our ability and propensity to sin and otherwise misbehave), but I was surprised that among the original 12 jurors there were at least half with drug charges (including two who had court dates later that week), 2-3 who had been charged or convicted of domestic violence, several others who were victims of domestic violence (in one case a victim of domestic violence had to sit next to a convicted perpetrator of domestic violence). A bit later in selection, one juror asked to be dismissed because he had been convicted of a murder charge, served his time, and been released (which is why he could be called, I think), but strongly believed he had not had a fair trial and could thus not offer an open mind as a juror.  There were others as well - a nurse that was dismissed for (presumably) bringing too much compassion to bear as a juror.  It was an interesting question that elicited most of this: "Have you ever been inside a courthouse? For what reason?" In several cases, the prosecutor (district attorney) asked if his office had not prosecuted several when they mentioned drug charges. Prospective jurors were (of course) expected to answer truthfully, and the early indication I got was that they would be caught if they tried to avoid answering the courthouse question, especially for those with former appearances in this county.

In the Light

However, my point isn't the background or record of the potential jurors, as surprising or abundant as those details were. What more profoundly occurred to me was how much was brought into the light for all those present. I don't think juror ___ woke up that morning anticipating that he would have to announce loudly to a room full of people (including the defendant) that he had been arrested of domestic violence (or, in other cases, drug possession, brawling, or murder). I would have guessed that the defendant would be "on trial" for actions, motives, and more; I did not anticipate how much the potential jurors would have to reveal about themselves, their actions, and their motives. Each juror had to answer the "Have you been inside a courthouse" question and the District Attorney was not satisfied until every occurrence had been noted. Many would quickly admit to a speeding ticket or watching a friend's trial, but then the attorney would always ask, "Were there any other times?" He would continue until the answer was clearly, "No, that's it." In many cases, these admissions were whispered with heads ducked and voices low. But the attorneys and court reporter had to hear it, so the potential juror would be asked to repeat the answer louder. Again, the answer would not be loud enough, so then a microphone would be passed to them and finally this or that 'sin' would boom through the sound system, "I was arrested on a domestic charge.... she pushed my buttons."

Again, my thought was not, "What a bad person," BUT how much was being drug into the light (and amplified through a sound system). And it's not like one could easily side-step this; when summoned, you have to appear. When asked, you have to answer. Refusing in either case would just put you afoul of the law.

Spiritual Realities

My preacher-brain was firing on multiple pistons. The whole experience was a powerful (if stark) demonstration of the unyielding nature of the law. The judge was the sole interpreter of law - both attorneys made that clear on numerous occasions. All movement, speech, activity, attention, and more inside the courtroom was diligently overseen and directed, with the bailiff at hand to enforce it. And when asked a question, truth was expected.

The jurors were not "on trial" - but our pasts, presents, and hidden secrets were brought into the light. And that did have bearing on our perceived (or real) effectiveness as jurors.

I think analogies between this earthly courtroom scene and spiritual realities are imprecise at best, but there was much about the scene that struck this pastor's mind as real and true. All will be brought to light; all will be known and held accountable. The jurors were not on trial, but they were accountable to the judge and to the truth.

I believe all humanity and each of us is and will be accountable to Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Serving on jury duty was a sobering reminder of that, even as I was reminded of the great mercy shown to me through Jesus Christ.

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