Monthly Archives: June 2011

Spiritual Changes

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Acts 8:18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

How much would you pay for the power of connecting someone with the Holy Spirit?

I can assure you that giving the Holy Spirit is a life-changing event for both the receiver and the giver! For some people, the Spirit’s action is visible in an immediate change in how they live and how they greet other people. In other people the change takes time before other people notice the change.

In the Presbyterian Church, the laying on of hands is a privilege entrusted to elders and ministers. But the gift of the Holy Spirit is always an act of God, which can happen any time.

While I was still in Seminary, training to become a pastor, I recall receiving the Holy Spirit in a nursing home from a woman whom Altzheimer’s had stolen her ability to speak coherently. I would greet her every week. On my last visit her voice became clear and steady while she recited the Twenty-Third Psalm with me. Then as I stood to leave, she patted me on the shoulder and her ability to communicate disappeared.

When have you connected with the Holy Spirit?

July 3rd: “Serving the world by reaching into the community being the hands and feet of Christ”

This week, the last two weeks, and next week, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Micah 6:3-8

Matthew 25:31-46 – In as much as you have done to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.

Acts 2:44-45 – All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-21 – But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

James 1:27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The Second Helvetic Confession

5.120 – GOOD WORKS PLEASE GOD. Now the works which we do by faith are pleasing to God and are approved by him. Because of faith in Christ, those who do good works which, moreover, are done from God’s grace through the Holy Spirit, are pleasing to God. For St. Peter said: “In every nation any one who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35). And Paul said: “We have not ceased to pray for you . . . that you may walk worthily of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:9 f.).


Cross in wallet1 Samuel 7:12 – Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

Every day I carry an anointing vial on my key chain and a cross in my wallet. Although cross leaves a distinctive dent in the outside of my wallet, these are not for others to see, but merely to remind me of who I am and to whom I belong.

The small aluminum cylinder on my key chain which hold a few drops of ordinary olive oil reminds me to pray with other people. One parishioner, who could no longer eat or drink more than a few ice chips, looked forward to receiving some of that oil and considered anointing as her communion.

The cross is a continual reminder that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

What symbols do you carry to remind you of how God has helped thus far?

June 26th: “nurturing disciples through connecting and energizing the people of God”

This week, last week, and the next two weeks, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

John 21:15-19

Luke 8:4-8a – When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’

Romans 1:11-12 – For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Hebrews 10:24-25 – Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Philemon 1:4-7

The Confession of 1967:

9.24 The new life finds its direction in the life of Jesus, his deeds and words, his struggles against temptation, his compassion, his anger, and his willingness to suffer death. The teaching of apostles and prophets guides men in living this life, and the Christian community nurtures and equips them for their ministries.

June 19th: “Glorifying God with quality worship”

This week and the next three weeks, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Matthew 4:10 – You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 4:4-6 – There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

The Second Helvetic Confession:

5.023 GOD ALONE IS TO BE ADORED AND WORSHIPPED. We teach that the true God alone is to be adored and worshipped. This honor we impart to none other, according to the commandment of the Lord, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10). Indeed, all the prophets severely inveighed against the people of Israel whenever they adored and worshipped strange gods, and not the only true God. But we teach that God is to be adored and worshipped as he himself has taught us to worship, namely, “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23 f.), not with any superstition, but with sincerity, according to his Word; lest at any time he should say to us: “Who has required these things from your hands?” (Isa. 1:12; Jer. 6:20). For Paul also says: “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything,” etc. (Acts 17:25).

5.135 And those who are such in the Church have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship but one God, and him alone they worship in spirit and in truth, loving him alone with all their hearts and with all their strength, praying unto him alone through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator and Intercessor; and they do not seek righteousness and life outside Christ and faith in him. Because they acknowledge Christ the only head and foundation of the Church, and, resting on him, daily renew themselves by repentance, and patiently bear the cross laid upon them. Moreover, joined together with all the members of Christ by an unfeigned love, they show that they are Christ’s disciples by persevering in the bond of peace and holy unity. At the same time they participate in the sacraments instituted by Christ, and delivered unto us by his apostles, using them in no other way than as they received them from the Lord. That saying of the apostle Paul is well known to all: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (I Cor. 11:23 ff.). Accordingly, we condemn all such churches as strangers from the true Church of Christ, which are not such as we have heard they ought to be, no matter how much they brag of a succession of bishops, of unity, and of antiquity. Moreover, we have a charge from the apostles of Christ “to shun the worship of idols” (I Cor. 10:14; I John 5:21), and “to come out of Babylon,” and to have no fellowship with her, unless we want to be partakers with her of all God’s plagues (Rev. 18:4; II Cor. 6:17).

5.220 THE METHOD TO BE EMPLOYED IN PUBLIC PRAYERS. As in everything, so also in public prayers there is to be a standard lest they be excessively long and irksome. The greatest part of meetings for worship is therefore to be given to evangelical teaching, and care is to be taken lest the congregation is wearied by too lengthy prayers and when they are to hear the preaching of the Gospel they either leave the meeting or, having been exhausted, want to do away with it altogether. To such people the sermon seems to be overlong, which otherwise is brief enough. And therefore it is appropriate for preachers to keep to a standard.

The Westminster Confession of Faith:

6.012 2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself;(23) and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them:(24) he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things;(25) and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, ori upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.(26) In his sight all things are open and manifest;(27) his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature;(28) so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.(29) He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands.(30) To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.(31)

6.112 1. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.(1) But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.(2)

6.113 2. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone:(3) not to angels, saints, or any other creature:(4) and since the Fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.(5)

6.114 3. Prayer with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship,(6) is by God required of all men;(7) and that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son,(8) by the help of his Spirit,(9) according to his will,(10) with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance;(11) and, if vocal, in a known tongue.(12)

6.115 4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful,(13) and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter,(14) but not for the dead.i (15, 16)

6.116 5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear;(17) the sound preaching,(18) and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence;(19) singing of psalms with grace in the heart;(20) as, also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God:(21) besides religious oaths,(22) and vows,(23) solemn fastings,(24) and thanksgivings upon special occasion;(25) which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.(26)

The Larger Catechism:

7.214 Q. 104. What are the duties required in the First Commandment?
A. The duties required in the First Commandment(1) are: the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God;(2) and to worship and glorify him accordingly;(3) by thinking,(4) meditating,(5) remembering,(6) highly esteeming,(7) honoring,(8) adoring,(9) choosing,(10) loving,(11) desiring,(12) fearing of him;(13) believing him;(14) trusting,(15) hoping,(16) delighting,(17) rejoicing in him;(18) being zealous for him;(19) calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks,(20) and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man;(21) being careful in all things to please him,(22) and sorrowful when in anything he is offended;(23) and walking humbly with him.(24)

The Confession of 1967:

9.36 The church gathers to praise God, to hear his word for mankind, to baptize and to join in the Lord’s Supper, to pray for and present the world to him in worship, to enjoy fellowship, to receive instruction, strength, and comfort, to order and organize its own corporate life, to be tested, renewed, and reformed, and to speak and act in the world’s affairs as may be appropriate to the needs of the time.

Who Owns This?


Psalm 89:11 – The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it — you have founded them.

When I was a child, when a rival taunted me, I would have retreated to my yard, warning them not to trespass, I might have fled inside my house, considering it a fortress controlled by my family.

But one year water oozed across our yard from a spring in the corner of a neighbor’s yard. When our family and another neighbor channeled the water across our yards to flow into a drainage pipe I began to understand how our properties are interconnected.

The Psalmist orients our understanding of property away from a child’s understanding of “mine”, beyond the adult concept of interconnections, to one of divine stewardship. I do not own the house where I live, the yard atop where it stands (not even with the bank). Instead I get to hold this corner of the earth in trust from God.

How does acknowledging divine ownership change how we maintain our homes?


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Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

When a computer executes a program, it always does exactly what it was told to do. It might not do what I wanted or intended it to do. If so, it does so not out of willful disobedience or neglect, but only because of a programing error on my part or by one of the many programmers who built the system. On the other hand, a computer can never give me a break or give me what I need, it can only give what it was asked to give. A computer has stone cold logic.

But God does not give us a heart of stone to coldly follow divine ordinances, but a heart of flesh to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Too often life presents us with difficult decisions that pull between multiple divine ordinances. For these situations we need a heart of flesh that can discern God’s will and sympathize with those affected by our decisions.

How do you let God guide difficult decisions?

June 12th: “A Full Toolbox”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Pentecost

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1. Presuming that the Corinthians’ question was how to “test pneumatics for gifts of the Spirit” (Harper’s Commentary), is this significantly different from today’s discussion discerning who should be ordained on the basis of what constitutes repentance from sins.

2 How are we still lead astray by “mute idols”?

4/5/6 Is Paul telling us about the natures of each person of the Trinity: Gifts from Spirit, Service from Christ, Activities from God?

5/6. Does Paul mean to differentiate “service” and “activities” differ? Or is Paul only expanding on the presence of God?

7. The Spirit is distributed universally for the common good, and by which each person might ultimately be saved.

8. Wisdom: The application of knowledge. Knowledge: Awareness of data/facts.

9. faith, healing, miraculous powers [how different from healing?], prophecy,

10. These represent lost gifts in the Main Line denominations: Potent activities, Prophecy, Distinguishing between spirits, Speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues.

12/13 Metaphors often used by Paul. But were they used by others also?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Preceded by a question on serving the Lord’s Supper.
  • Verse 1 starts the discussion on spiritual gifts.
  • The preceding chapter is about the right ordering of worship. Here Paul enumerates various gifts for the right ordering of the life of the community of faith.
  • In the next chapter Paul moves into the proper use of the gifts of the Spirit by noting their uselessness without love.
  • Beginning with verse 14 Paul makes the metaphor of comparing gifts with a human body more specific.
  • Paul continues to expound on the variety of gifts of the Spirit in the famous chapter on love then in chapter 14 Paul expounds on speaking in tongues and the right ordering of worship. Chapter 15 seems to move on to a new question, possibly about the veracity of being raised from the dead.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Letter to a conflicted church answering several questions that the church asked. Paul wrote this with Sosthenes (?) in ??.
  • The interest of the Corinthians in matters of sex, marriage, conscience, and church order, make this letter very applicable to the Church today.
  • Roy Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians, 1987) muses if this letter was written to a church that created a structure to deal with glossolalia or if to a church trying to understand Christian glossolalia in the context of pagan rants.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Romans 12:4-8 focuses on coordination of gifts within the Church, while 1 Corinthians focuses on recognition of the variety of gifts and not to expect that everyone has the same gifts while having the same spirit.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • /Peri de twn pneumatikwn …/ (verse 1) can be translated as either “Now concerning spiritual things …” or as “Now concerning spiritual persons …” The former is favored as the reminder of the paragraph deals with spiritual gifts rather than people. But earlier Paul designated spiritualists as mature Christians. If this was intended, then Paul might have been dealing with an hierarchy of Christians based on the gifts they had been given.
  • /diakoniwn/ (v. 5) – NIV & NRSV translate as “services”. Root of “deacon”. Brown and Comfort suggest “ministries”.
  • /energhmatwn/ and /energwn/ (v. 6) – variously translated as “activities” and “active”, “operations” and “operating”, or “working” and “at work”.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • This is a polemic piece. Designed to cast a vision beyond what might be easily achieved.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Presuming that Paul is responding to a letter from the Corinthians, their question might be: “You kept us in the dark about spiritual gifts. What spiritual gifts should we look for to tell who has been accepted by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The letter implies a conflict between Paul and the church at Corinth. Paul is arguing that receiving the Spirit is not noted by a particular set of gifts, but rather that the Spirit endows several with unique gifts for the up building of the entire body.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • It may raise the question: “What are my particular gifts?”

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Roy Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians, 1987) notes Paul provided in verse 7 a test for discerning between spirits, namely: “for the common good.” He thoroughly refutes speculation of a hierarchy of gifts, emphasizing vv. 6 & 11: “the same God who inspires them all in everyone” and “all these are inspired by one and the same Spirit.” He analyzes the impact of glossolalia and other charismatic gifts (NB: carismata = spiritual gifts which is etymologically related to caris = grace).

J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “First Letter to the Corinthians”, 2002) notes the confession “Jesus is Lord” had daily implications for early Christians in all matters in contrast to separating sacred and secular matters or presuming self autonomy. None-the-less, confessing and living “Jesus is Lord” is a gift from God. Building on divisiveness noted in other portions of 1 Corinthians, Sampley interprets this section as confronting a heresy of ranking various gifts, especially glossolalia, and those who practice those gifts, above the gifts given to other Christians.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

God gives gifts by the Spirit for service to the Lord.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

All divine spiritual gifts contribute to the common good without preference.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Reconsider a place for prophecy, spiritual acts of power, and speaking in tongues.

A Lesson for June 1st

Child's First Prayer
Childs First Prayer (From Library of Congress collection)

James 5:14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.

While I was in Seminary several things I had enjoyed doing the previous years while serving a congregation as an ordained Elder were no longer available to me: serving communion, assisting with baptism, and participating in Session meetings.

Visiting the sick, praying with the lonely, and assisting the needy became an outlet for my desire to participate in the work of the church. And what I discovered was that the people I ministered with (not “to”) validated my ministry and deepened my faith. But the greatest surprise was learning that visiting, praying, and assisting, did not require a degree from Seminary, did not require ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, not even as an Elder or Deacon. What I learned was that my baptism was enough. For with the Holy Spirit, all things are possible.

With whom might you share the gift of prayer?