I was running a little late as I left the house today as it was the first day of school for us.  I grabbed a tupperware container of left over spaghetti that was way more than I could eat.  I figured I would eat what I was hungry for and safe the rest for another day.  But as lunch time approached today a family stopped by the church.  It is a family that drops by about 2-3 times a year for gas.  In my middle class arrogance I do not look forward to talking to them.  But their life hit home to me when their 5th grade child asked me if we had anything to eat because she was hungry.  No child should be hungry is the world and especially in this country.  I remembered my tupperware container of spaghetti sitting in the church refrigerator.  Now it was easy for me to pass along this spaghetti.  I knew I could easily go down the road and pull out the credit card and order anything that I wanted.  As this family sat down to eat their spaghetti, they noticed the school supplies that the church had collected.  They asked if they could have any.  They “shopped” and this same 5th grader then shared with me that she had never had a book bag before.  Just imagine how much many of us take for granted.  Thankful for the occassions when we are reminded of what we in the body of Christ are to be about.  Peace, Sam  

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A Great Conversation

Just had one of those great conversations with someone. I like those conversations with people who are willing to question, question, and question some more.  It is very satisfying to be able to listen to their questions, pull a book off my shelf, and say, “why don’t you read this book.”  It seems that too much of Christianity is about giving answers.  I am as guilty as anyone.  Of course, I am accused by my wife a lot of being too quick to give answers when all she wants is for me to listen.  But I love those conversations with people who are willing to question and search and challenge.  It seems to me that the church needs to be encouraging more of this.  More questions and less answers.  We need to trust God to provide the answers for folks and not us church professionals.

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St. Patrick’s Day honors the patron saint of Ireland who lived in the 400s and was, actually, a very humble man who was actually considered an outsider in Ireland because he refused to accept a lot of the financial compensation that was offered to a person in his position.  The St. Patrick Day celebrations that occur today bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual St. Patrick.

But Presbyterians should wear orange because in the late 1600s in Scotland the newly appointed British monarchs were William and Mary.  William and Mary of Orange.  They ruled together as husband and wife.  They were actually first cousins as well.  William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va. is named after them. 

Mary’s father was the king prior to her and he was Catholic.  Mary was raised protestant, however.  When William and Mary of Orange became king and queen, there was much fear in Scotland that a Catholic would become king or queen again.  The Church of Scotland was Presbyterian and the birthplace of Presbyterianism.

So the Scottish parliament passed the “The Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Act” in 1707 when Mary’s sister, Queen Anne, was the monarch.  By this act, the Scots made sure that every British king and queen from then on would be a protestant. 

So, therefore, William and Mary of Orange can be credited with assuring that Presbyterians could continue to worship as they wanted to without intervention from the government and Catholic Church. 

So this weekend we celebrate with our Catholic brothers and sisters that they have a new pope but we can also wear orange to celebrate that we can worship freely as Presbyterians.

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Spirituality in movies

The following link notes how many movies today have spiritual themes associated with them. Seems to me that we in the Christian Church need to find ways of engaging our culture by entering into dialogue with people outside the church while we watch movies together.


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Abraham Lincoln’s faith and the Presbyterian connection

Abraham Lincoln’s faith and the Presbyterian connection

Newest Lincoln biopic largely ignores president’s religious beliefs

by Edward McNulty Special to Presbyterian News Service

“Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s film on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s administration, largely ignores the religious faith of our 16th president, as do most films and all too many books about him.

There has long been controversy over whether or not Lincoln was a believer. He joined no church and was quite skeptical when he was a young man confronted with Holy Roller style preaching. Circuit preacher Peter Cartwright spread rumors that Lincoln was “a religious scoffer,” to which Lincoln responded via a letter to the editor denying that he was “an infidel.”

But before and after Lincoln left Illinois his close contact with two Presbyterian ministers offer plenty of evidence that, if not an orthodox Christian, Lincoln was by no means “an infidel.”

Lincoln was unorthodox in that he was more of a Universalist than most Christians: he could not see how a God of infinite love could send persons into everlasting torment. His keen analytic mind was turned off by Fundamentalist frontier preachers who appealed to emotions and scorned reason. A “free thinker,” Lincoln did not join a church, which has bolstered the belief of some that he believed in Fate rather than God. However, the latter view ignores a great amount of evidence from Lincoln’s life and writings.

In 1850, when the Lincolns’ son Eddie died, James Smith, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, preached so effectively at the boy’s funeral that Mary Todd Lincoln joined the church. Although her husband did not apply for membership, he attended the Sunday service with her when he was not out riding with the judge and his fellow lawyers on their judicial circuit around Illinois.

Smith became a spiritual mentor for Lincoln, who studied the pastor’s book “The Christian’s Defense.” The work was based on reason as well as the Bible, thus appealing to the lawyerly mind of Lincoln. The two became friends, with Smith himself having come to his reasonable faith after passing through a period of doubt. Lincoln even gave a lecture on the Bible at First Church. The pastor and president corresponded with each other after Lincoln moved to Washington, and late in his administration Lincoln appointed Smith to a diplomatic post in Scotland.

In Washington the Lincolns attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Phineas D. Gurley, also chaplain of the U.S. Senate, preached.

Gurley’s sermons also appealed to the president’s mind and heart. As the president’s pastor, Gurley frequently called at the White House to discuss theology and Bible with his famous parishioner. Most weeks the president attended the congregation’s midweek prayer service, but he usually did not sit in his family pew because of the commotion his attendance would cause in the smaller gathering. Instead, he sat in the pastor’s study with the door slightly open so that he could hear the proceedings. A man of prayer himself, Lincoln found great comfort from the service. Gurley was present in the hotel room where Lincoln died, and he preached the sermon at the funeral held at the White House.

Two other clergy whom Lincoln respected and who also influenced him were the Rev. Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, and Bishop Matthew Simpson of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Vinton came to the Lincolns during the dark hour following their son Willie’s death, with the pastor providing Lincoln much comfort through reason and arguments from the Bible that the boy is alive in God’s loving care.

Simpson preached the final funeral sermon for Lincoln when the train carrying his body arrived in Springfield. Lincoln had attended a service in 1864 in Washington at which the clergyman’s topic was “The Providence of God as Seen in Our War.” After the service, the president, keenly interested in the subject (which indeed was to become the theme of his last great speech) talked with Simpson. One can wonder if the bishop inspired Lincoln to write the short piece that has come to be known as “Meditation on the Divine Will.” The undated document was found after the President’s death. We can see in this document the seed from which grew the president’s greatest speech that still inspires millions:

“The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

More proof of Lincoln’s personal faith is provided by the story of the visit of Eliza Gurney and three other Quakers to the White House in 1862. Gurney was different from most other visitors in that she had no ax to grind, no program to promote, no favor to seek. In what amounted to a short sermon, she stated that she just wanted to assure the president that he was an instrument of God, that his concern that “the oppressed go free” would bear fruit, and that he should continually seek God’s will. In her concluding prayer she prayed for God’s guidance for the president.

Visibly moved by her sincerity, the president thanked the visitors, “… I have desired that all my words and actions may be in accordance with His will; but if, after endeavoring to do my best with the light which He affords me, I find my efforts fail, then I must believe that, for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been; but, nevertheless, it came. If I had had my way, the war would have ended before this; but, nevertheless, it still continues. We must conclude that He permits it for some wise purpose, though we may not be able to comprehend it; for we cannot but believe that He who made the world still governs it. I repeat that I am glad of this interview.”

A decade after Lincoln’s assassination, it was Gurley — Lincoln’s pastor in Washington — who wrote to rebuke critics who were referring to the late president as an “infidel.” Gurley publicly issued the following statement in response:

“I do not believe a word of it. It could not have been true of him while here, for I have had frequent and intimate conversations with him on the subject of the Bible and the Christian religion, when he could have had no motive to deceive me, and I considered him sound not only on the truth of the Christian religion but on all its fundamental doctrines and teaching. And more than that: in the latter days of his chastened and weary life, after the death of his son Willie, and his visit to the battle-field of Gettysburg, he said, with tears in his eyes, that he had lost confidence in everything but God, and that he now believed his heart was changed, and that he loved the Saviour, and, if he was not deceived in himself, it was his intention soon to make a profession of religion.”

Most of the information for this article is gleaned from Elton Trueblood’s fascinating book, “Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish.” (New York: Harper & Row, 1971)

Edward McNulty, a Presbyterian minister, is author of “Faith and Film” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) and other books. He reviews films, including “Lincoln,” at www.visualparables.net.


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Experience – Belong – Become – Believe

My friend Mark Tidsworth from Pinnacle Associates wrote the following words in his recent newsletter.  I think these are words we in the “mainline” church need to hear.

Believe – Belong – Become.

These three words are prominently displayed on the attractive new sign, just below the church’s name. This sign, in front of the new church building, is located on a busy highway near where I live. When I saw it for the first time last week, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was, right there on a sign for all to see. Not three weeks before, no less than 3 clergy cohorts discussed this very progression. Our topic was how spiritual seekers enter into faith and church life in this Post-Christian, Post-Modern world in which we find ourselves.
We know the typical way people enter faith and church life in the 20th century; in a Christian culture during the Modern Period. They first give intellectual assent to a body of beliefs (theology and doctrine). Then pilgrims “belong” to a church as members. Then we work to develop them as believers, growing  and maturing in the faith. This linear process was more normative than not up until…well, until it was no longer normative.

Now, in this Post-Christian culture, with its Post-Modern perspective, in this 21st century…now this linear progression is not the norm anymore. First of all, people wonder why we would expect them to believe this theology and doctrine we say is true, just because we say it is so. What makes it more true than all the other faith options who claim the same level of truth? The cultural norms which backed up our theology and doctrine in the 20th century are no longer present. Rarely will 21st century spiritual seekers begin their entry into the church by believing first. They have not been prepared by their families, nor by their culture at large for belief, like was common thirty years ago.

So, how do post-modern spiritual seekers enter church life? Is there a typical or normative route? Can we line up the words like we used to, with any credibility or reliability? Yes and no. The verdict is still out on what is now normative, since we are barely into this new century. But a trend seems to be emerging.
Experience – Belong – Become – Believe. I heard tell of a large church who needed a new drummer for its praise band. They were focused on quality, so they hired a gifted musician. This young adult was not a Christ-follower, but was open to playing for worship services after he completed his sets at clubs on Saturday nights. Predictably, after about a year, he became really tired….burning the candle on both ends of Saturday night. In conversation with his wife, he shared his need for a rest, intending to quit one of these gigs. She quickly said, “Quit the clubs.” He was surprised at her suggestion, since she had no personal investment in the church job (not a Christ follower). “Why,” he asked. “Because I like you so much better since you started playing in that praise band.” After brief reflection this young man responded, “You know…I think I’m one of them now. I think I’ve become one of those Christ-follower people.”

First post-modern people need to experience Christ through real live people before they can move toward belief. When they experience this genuine faith, observing Christ-followers giving themselves in love for the good of the world, then they think there may be something to this. Then they are interested in participating with this group. After experiencing this group actually loving one another (Great Commandment), then they come to identify with the group (belong). This genuine love they experience is convincing; leading to a growing awareness that something real is happening here. Then these Post-Modern seekers find they too are growing a bit more loving, authentic, and genuine. Thus, the opportunity to believe unfolds. “Based on this experience, on belonging with this group (church), and becoming a different person, then I am willing to risk that Jesus Christ is real and trust these beliefs (theology and doctrine). The outcome is the same (faith in Christ), but the predictable pathway we plaster on signs is all a-jumble.

Wow. What are the ramifications of that for church life as we know it? Are we ready for the 21st century as Christ-followers who gather together in groups (churches)? Ready or not, here we go.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

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Creation and Evolution

I read in our local paper today an editorial where Sen Rubio was being criticized for waffling on the age of the earth.  The editorial noted that Rubio was paying more attention to the book of Genesis rather than science.  My reaction to this is to say that I pay attention to science and the book of Genesis.  The book of Genesis is not a science book and it is not a history book.  This book is a collection of writings from people who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to share their experiences of God.  They did not set out to write a science book or history book.  They did not set out to answer the “how” question but instead the “why” question of Creation.  I believe the account of Creation laid out in Genesis.  It reinforces for me that God is the creator of the universe and human beings were made very good.  How God created the universe and how long it took is a question that scientists can help us answer.  Whenever theologians begin to dabble in the “how” question we are exploring a field where we are pretty primitive in our knowledge.

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Cherubs Cafe Restaurant

Today I had lunch at the Cherubs Cafe restaurant in Belmont, NC.  This restaurant has become my favorite restaurant whenever I find myself in Belmont.  The French dip sandwich was freshly made and the pecan tart was baked on site.  It was a good meal with good sweet tea.  The food is very good but the service is even better.  Cherubs Cafe is a vocational site for adults with special needs.  This restaurant is connected to Holy Angels, a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy.  It seems that over 50 years ago someone dropped a child with special needs off with the Sisters of Mercy.  The sisters took her in and raised her.  They discovered that there were other children like her and a new ministry was begun.

It seems to me that real ministry happens when a need comes to our door step and we do not turn away.  When we are open to real human need and respond in a manner pleasing to God then opportunites are created that we can never imagine.

And who knows, maybe a ministry opportunity can lead to the creation of a great new restaurant.

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Christie and Obama cooperation

It was great to see Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama working together today to address the issues associated with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  It is rare in our world today to find people who are political rivals come together to solve problems.  I realize that it was probably politically wise for both of them to respond the way they did.  But in reading Mark 10 this week where Jesus reminds his followers to love God and love neighbor, it is good to see political leaders come together and offer a glimpse of how people can put aside their differences to do something good together.  May others take notice and may this become more the norm rather than the exception.

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My blogging begins

Here begins a blog from a pastor seeking to add to the world of ideas out there.  Hopefully some of what I say will stir positive contemplation.  In my writings I will try to help folks see into my soul and maybe catch of glimpse of something similar in their own.

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