Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I’ve been mulling some things over these past few days. Each time I sat down at my computer to write a blog entry, I didn’t know where to start, so I simply walked away. I’ve been thinking about my life lately, taking stock on where I am and where I want to go in the future. Also, the things I am currently reading and watching on television are making me think as well. The other night, I was watching a new show called quarterlife on NBC. It started off as an internet show and moved to the network lineup during this time of recovery from the writer’s strike. quarterlife is about these six friends, all in their mid-twenties, post-college, who are trying to figure what they are supposed to be doing with their lives. The main character, Dylan, writes a blog called and she begins blogging about her friends. I am intrigued by her musings on several subjects, but mainly about her desperate quest for finding the meaning in her life. I can certainly relate to her. Over these last several years, I have struggled with the very same conundrum. After spending these last seven months in Maryland, I have a clearer sense of my call to ministry and some of the areas I want to pursue within the church. Thank goodness, because I spent my first two years of seminary being consumed by the pressures of academic study and living within the bubble of Columbia Seminary. I was literally suffocating in my life and needed to get away so that I could breathe again. I don’t mean to insult any of my classmates or professors at CTS, but the pressure around that place can become rather overwhelming at times, I think they would all agree with that statement. LPC has provided me the space and time I needed to breathe again, to sharpen my skills and gifts for ministry, and open new doors of opportunity. I am grateful. More than words can express.

I really love quarterlife. I love that it is written and shot in a postmodern way, because it is rather appealing to those of us who revel in postmodernity. It portrays people in their twenties in a good light, not as slackers, but as people who are genuinely struggling with issues of life and meaning. I encourage all of you to watch it sometime. I think it will be airing on Sunday nights at 9pm for now on.

So, I am also reading this amazing book: Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren. I’ve been wanting to read it for several months now, and I planning on teaching a five week course on it in April at the church. I love the book for several reasons. One is that it has a healthy mix of politics and religion, which I absolutely love. Another reason is that it does give a new voice in the conversation about the future of the church (not just my denomination, but the church in general). McLaren speaks about a new alternative to approaching global issues by reinterpreting the teachings of Jesus Christ. I think he is really on to something here- things must change! We live in a world consumed by poverty, greed, inequality, hunger, abundance. It frustrates me to no end when I think about how our government spends money- we literally spend more money on intellengance & defense than anything else. While I do want have security, I am more concerned about feeding & educating people as well as preserving our planet. I will make a rather strong statement here, and if you don’t agree with me, that’s ok. I believe war is wrong. All war is crime. How can we continue this cycle of violence? Violence begets more violence. That seems to come up in just about all my sermons- I think it’s because it is a central belief of mine. I don’t know. I recommend reading this book. I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve been thinking lately also that I never really had much to say of great substance on this blog. So many of my friends and other blogs I read have a great deal to say about issues of faith, politics, or recommendations for good books. They have interesting, new ideas to share. I always chose to write about my life and what is happening. One thing Dylan on quarterlife said that stuck with me was the question of why do we blog? Believe me, I’ve asked that same question many times. I started this blog back at the beginning of my second year of seminary, after a failed attempt before, and thought it would be a good way to let people know what I was up to. Now, I am not so sure. I do know that I want to share more of my thoughts on faith, politics, and emerging church on my blog. So, I invite the handful of you who actually read this to stay tuned. There is more to come…

Monday, February 25, 2008

Red Beans, White Nosehairs: A Mississippi Love Story in Three & 1/2 Acts

So, I just returned from a two week journey that took me to San Diego, California and Long Beach, Mississippi. My week in California was wonderful- I attended the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators Annual Event. Rodger Nishioka was the keynoter- he was fantastic as always. I spent my week catching up with old friends, lounging in the sun, attending wonderful workshops, and I came home with tons of new ideas and more importantly, about 15 new books! Yay!

Now, onto the main event: LPC's mission trip to Long Beach, Mississippi. Wow, it was so much fun! There were 25 of us from LPC (which included 4 father-child duos) and we were joined by 2 members of Vienna Pres in VA- Randi & Beth. We worked at five different work sites, doing lots of drywall work! My team was indeed the best!! There were seven of us working at Moses & Myrtle's house- this very sweet, older African-American couple. We spent our week sanding, mudding, and priming their house (which was 2,000 square feet with 10 rooms!). After four days of long, hard work, we managed (along with reinforcements throughout the week) to sand and mud all of the rooms and prime three of them.

The best part of the week was when our lovely homeowners provided us with lunch- homemade fried chicken, red beans & rice, and cornbread. It was truly amazing. While Moses & Myrtle have very little of their own, they provided us with wonderful hospitality.

In terms of the title of this post, needless to say, we inhailed a ton of white dust! Our team kept the mood light- lots of laughter and inside jokes, along with words of day. I got to know Erin, Elden, Steve, Barb, Mike, and Dixie on a whole other level. I love each of them & I am grateful for their friendships.

We stayed at Long Beach Presbyterian Church- bunk beds, outdoor showers, not much else. But, we had a good time. Ate tons of food - Darwells, Lil Ray's, Cajun Catfish Hut. It was fun. We're very sore, pretty darn tired, but humbled by the experience. Let's say we felt the Mississippi mojo!

Bibles, Blogs, and Ministry

My friend Adam asked several of us to participate in a guest blogger series on Ministry and the Bible. Mine is now posted on his blog along with the other eight entries. Adam is interning over in Scotland this year and always has interesting things to say! I encourage you to check out his blog!
A Bible, a Bookshelf, and a Hospital Bed
by Erin Kobs

I have this little Bible with a black leather cover. I carried it with me during my rounds when I was a chaplain at a hospital this past summer. There were times when I used it, especially when patients requested to hear some scripture. The floor where I used it the most was the inpatient psychiatric floor. I spent a good amount of time on the 5th floor. There are two times that stand out in my mind. One was with a patient who requested a chaplain read scripture to her as she was going to sleep each night. So, I spent several nights sitting by her bed, reading portions of Proverbs, which she found comforting. Another time was with a patient who was having a difficult time being in the hospital. I remember sitting with him, listening to his struggles, and I offered to read him a passage from Isaiah 54, verses 7-10. He found great comfort in those verses, and then was able to open up to me more about what was really going on for him. It was a truly powerful experience. The nurses commented they noticed a difference in him after that, and they were always truly grateful for chaplains who were able to communicate with patients on a whole other level.

My Bible went with me everywhere those three months. Sometimes, I never opened it in patient’s rooms, because conversation and prayer was all they wanted or needed, but it was always there. I treasure each of the holy moments I spent with people, all of the tears shed, all of it.

Now, my Bible sits on my desk at the church alongside my Book of Order, PC(USA) Hymnal, and my Book of Common Worship. I mostly use it to plan liturgies, write sermons, or look up passages for the coming Sunday. I never take it with me when I go on visitations in hospitals or homes. The pastor I work with does not carry one either. Instead, we have conversations with people and pray with them. Although, my Bible is not with me during these times, I know it informs what I do and what I say. I must admit, I miss it sometimes.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Being Tempted With Christ

I thought I'd post my sermon for tomorrow. I'd love some feedback (provided if anyone actually reads my blog!).

Being Tempted with Christ
Preached at Laurel Presbyterian Church
February 10, 2008
Texts: Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11

Matthew 4:1-11 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the adversary. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the adversary took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8 Again, the adversary took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" 11 Then the adversary left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Lent has begun. I don’t know about you, but I feel like it came on really fast. It seems like just a few weeks ago, we were celebrating the birth of the Christ child. Time certain passes fast these days. And, now it is time for our annual observation of Christ’s journey toward the cross. Thus, we embark on the journey; we start with the account of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days and nights, where he was faced with three tests/temptations from the adversary (which is a better translation of the Greek word diabolos rather than the contemporary word “devil”).

Temptation- it is something we are faced with on a daily basis.
One more smack of snooze button , just one more cup of coffee, that donut looks really good, if I speed up, I can pass that car & get there faster, checking my email just one more time instead of working on the thing in front of me. These all seem like simple things, but they are temptations nonetheless. Temptation surrounds us as individuals, as a church, as a society. It often looks like it has a really great & promising outcome for us. However, that might not always be the case.

We are completely bombarded with temptations in our society. It is on the billboards lining the streets & highways, on the continuous commercials on TV, in the shows we watch, in the numerous advertisements before movies begin at the theater, all of the ads on every web page we visit. We find it in political campaign stump speeches, their campaign ads on TV, and in their debate answers. It is embedded in our culture’s obsessive need to have all the biggest, best, and newest things. It is almost like we have become completely immune to its influence over us. We have simply adjusted to it, like it is a normal part of life. I know that I often fall prey to a desire for something or to give into a temptation. I am sure I am not the only one. It is so easy when we are not thinking about it.

Jesus was also faced with temptations, as we read in the passage. For him, the temptations were for economic/domestic security, asserting his close association with the powerful, and to secure the glory of political leadership. While Jesus was in the wilderness, the adversary approached and engaged him in three temptations. With the first one, Jesus is confronted with being asked to turn stones into loaves of bread. This comes after Jesus had fasted for forty days, and anyone in that position would be so hungry! The quick and easy choice would be to give in and have something to eat appear in front of you. Instead, Jesus says to the adversary, a familiar line from the book of Deuteronomy “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. God is the one who gives us our daily bread, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer- “give to us our daily bread”. All that we truly need in this life is given to us by God.

But, we often want to secure our futures all on our own. It is even considered the American way of life. Domestic security has been a hot topic in our country over these last eight years. It is all over the nightly news, in our papers, and is certainly being discussed amongst the various candidates for the presidency. Heightened security measures have become a way of life for us in the airports- with longer lines, stricter measures on what is permitted in our carry on baggage, and it seems that new issues are coming up all the time. We want to be safe, no matter what the cost. Now, no matter where you might stand on the issues of the war, terrorism, and immigration- I want to ask this question: Really, what are we doing? Are we simply trying to build walls around ourselves? How far will we go to secure our futures on our own?

This temptation is also about economic security. If Jesus had turned the stones into bread, there would be a great deal of food for the people in the surrounding areas. We want to be economically secure. However, this can quickly turn into greed and desire. I am sure many of you might be familiar with the show Deal or No Deal, which is a game show where people make strategic choices about cases with different amounts of money inside. Each round of choices is prefaced with a call from the “banker” who makes an offer based on the money levels remaining in the game- the player then must choose to make a deal or not with the banker. It simply astounds me how many people don’t make a deal with the banker- knowing they will walk away with more money than they came with, even though so many of their friends & family are encouraging them to take the deal. There is this great temptation to keep pressing on in order to grasp at the slim chance of actually having the case with one million dollars in it be the one standing at the end. What does this say about us? Why do we keep giving in to temptations to get ahead in life?

Jesus did not simply give into the temptation of turning the stones into bread. Of course he was hungry, but he chose to always use his God-given powers in service to others, not in service of himself. He did not take the easy way of securing his own source of nourishment. This is just one example of the way Jesus lived out his ministry here on earth- in service to others with deep gratitude to God. Something for us to think about along this journey…

The second temptation from the adversary is all about testing Jesus’ connection with the powerful, namely God by showing he will not be harmed when he jumps off the top of the temple. Jesus refuses and says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!” It is not about testing whether or not God is with us; it is about trusting in that very fact.

We often find ourselves putting God to the test, especially when we are faced with tough situations. We may not be as bold as to throw ourselves off of a building to prove God loves us, but we often do place conditions on God. If God answers my prayers and requests, then I will know that God is on my side. If God can heal my family member of cancer, then I will know God really does love me & hears my prayers. If I get this job or promotion I am praying for, then things will be ok and I will remain faithful in my prayers and to God.

The thing is, God does not always give us exactly what we want! God does indeed hear our prayers, but putting conditions on our love and our prayers is not living faithfully. God has unconditional love for us, why should we put conditions on our love for God? We are loved- each of us. We should not give up on God so fast when things do not work out for us, nor should we put God to the test in order to gain proof of God’s love for us. Jesus lived a life that was full of Spirit and he surrendered his life unconditionally to God, no matter what the outcome.

The temptation is great, especially when we work in areas where proof is essential and something we strongly desire. However, faith cannot be proved nor can God’s love for us. Faithful living means resisting the sometimes overwhelming temptation to find the proof and just trust that grace and love will always be there, no matter what. It is hard, but so is the journey. I believe Joel Osteen wrote a book entitled, “Your Best Life NOW”, which seems a bit misleading. The title should be, although it probably would not sell as many copies, “Your Life is Hard”. The thing is that life is hard; there is no question about it. But, it is in those hard moments, when it is essential to hold on to God’s Word for us- that the path was already blazed by Christ and love will indeed surround us and nourish us for the journey.

The final temptation finds Jesus on top of the mountain looking over the vast land. The adversary tells Jesus he can have it all, only if he bows down and worships the adversary. Jesus would have all of the land under his control, which could make things easier for him in his ministry. Instead, Jesus rebukes the adversary, maintaining his love for God and saying that we worship God alone. He refuses to give into the glory of achieving political leadership by these means.

In our world, there is a push for gaining & maintaining control. Control over things in our lives, a strong desire for control over what is happening in the world around us. There is this pervasive “having it all” attitude, which places enormous constraints on us. How many things do we have to destroy to have it all? How many people must I trample over in order to succeed?

We even see this issue of control in our current political season. The Republican primaries are “this winner takes all” system, while the Democrats have a system of dividing the delegates among the two candidates. What is the candidate giving up in order to win it all? What is this showing us about ourselves?

There is a commercial on television right now that seems to speak directly to this issue of having it all. I’m sure many of you have seen it; I think it might have been on during the Super Bowl. A wife comes into the room and says to her husband, “You’re right, honey. We need to replace the television”. Cue in the music- “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now!” At the end, they purchase this enormous television and while sitting on the couch in front of it, they look at each other with loving eyes. What is the world trying to sell us?

The real question is what are really God’s expectations of us? Jesus remained completely faithful to God through it all, never wavering in his devotion. He was prepared to risk by sticking his ground regardless of the temptations placed in front of him. God knows that we are going to slip every so often, but we are forgiven when we confess our sins. Grace is abundant. But, we cannot keep on giving into the temptations of this world- we must place our faith in God alone.

It is a tough journey, but we know that Christ has already been there, faced enormous challenges and temptations. We are walking this journey together with him and with one another. If Christ were to give into any of these temptations, then he would be taking the easy route. But, he doesn’t. Instead, trusting in God’s plan, Christ takes the long way around. It is tempting to give into the easy route, the quick fix, the source of instant gratification. Serving the world is the easy route. But in the end, does it really get us anywhere?

God does not give us what we want, which would be the easy route. God gives us what we need, often through acts of faith. The homeless women of Laurel needed help. We, through our act of faith, are giving them a warm, safe place to lay their heads & good food to fill their stomachs. The Zahlis family needed comfort. We, again through our act of faith, opened our hearts and doors to this grieving family & community to hold a beautiful service of remembrance. Matthew & Erin needed help & support for Reese. We, in our acts of faith, opened up our checkbooks, gave generously & continue to offer many prayers to God for them, to help a family be with this little, sick boy. The people of Long Beach, Mississippi need volunteers to help rebuild their community. Twenty-five people answered the call and depart at the end of week to offer themselves in service to those in need. We all need support. We, as a church, continually care for one another through our acts of compassion, our prayers, and genuine love for one another.

These acts of faith are not taking the easy route, but following the path that Christ took in the wilderness. Choosing to follow the call of God, not the temptations of the world. It was be so easy to just hear a need and then go back to focusing on ourselves. But, this is not what we choose to do. We choose to take the road less traveled and offer ourselves up to service in God’s kingdom.

As we continue on our Lenten journey over these next weeks leading to the cross, let us remember God is always with us. Christ walked this journey ahead of us, facing all of the temptations of this world. When we are facing temptations of our own, we can know and trust that Christ has been there. We need to continue to trust that God will bring us through it all. We cannot walk this journey alone. God is with us and we are with each other. We are not alone. Standing up to the world like Christ is not easy and that’s the point. This journey of faith is not an easy one, but when we trust in God’s grace & mercy, it is not an impossible one. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Life of Ministry

I'm tired. I've been working really hard over these last few weeks! Last week, a close friend of my pastor's son died. Dominic was only 10 years old & he died from complications of leukemia. He died within a day & half of diagnosis. Our church opened its doors to the family & grieving community for the funeral. There were over 500 people in our building last Thursday morning for the service. I was particularly touched by the efforts of LPC people to help out with whatever was needed. They really do know what it means to be church. The service was beautiful & meaningful for those who were in attendance- celebrating the life of a great kid, who died way too soon.

Unfortunately, with all of that happening, we seemed to have lost a week! Lent came on too fast this year. The time between Advent and now went way too quickly. Now, we are getting ready for everything that is happening during this season, not to mention the fact I am headed out of town on Monday night for two weeks! I fly to San Diego, CA on Monday to attend APCE for the week. I am so looking forward to warmer weather, palm trees, and time spent with other Presbyterians! On the 16th, I will fly from CA to Gulfport, MS to meet up with 24 others from LPC. We are spending the week in Mississippi working with the ongoing Katrina relief efforts. I really am looking forward to that week! It will be hard work, but well worth the effort.

On top of it all, I am writing a sermon to preach this Sunday morning. It is the first Sunday of Lent and the text is Jesus' 40 days being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). I guess it is coming along...or it will be when I spend some time working this afternoon. If you are curious or have free time on your hands, you can read my sermons from my year at LPC at our website: Look under the Pastor's Message tab at the top of the page, scroll down to Sermon Archives.

Oh, did I mention that LPC is hosting homeless women in our building at night for these two weeks? Yes, there is a program here in Laurel called Winterhaven. Local churches volunteer during the winter months to host either women or men in our buildings- provide dinner, a warm place to sleep, breakfast and a packed lunch for the next day. It is a wonderful mission of this community. We are averaging 3-4 women each night. Another local church is hosting the men and they are having 25-30 men each night. I will be spending the night at the church tonight with another member. I figure it is the least I can do to help out.

Needless to say, there is a lot happening right now. Not to mention all of the normal stuff- writing liturgy, selecting hymns, attending tons of evening meetings, and producing the weekly enewsletter.

I am tired. Ministry is a full time job and not a 9 to 5. It is full of moments of joy and moments of heartbreak. There is a certain level of uncertainity- you never know what will happen next. I love it, even though I am tired. I love it, despite of the occasional 11 hour work days. I love the people. I love sharing God's good news. I feel blessed to have this opportunity.

Now, if I could just get a little nap....