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June 4, 2009

Over 2 million Iraqis of various religions have left Iraq since the 2003 invasion. The Christian community has  been decimated. In 1987, the last year of an official Iraqi census, there were 1.4 million Christians in the country. Estimates of the current figures go as low as 400,000. Most of those who have fled have no intention of going back. “Iraq as we once knew it is over.” says one Iraqi Christian in Damascus, who is waiting to resettle in Sweden. “For us there is no future there.” Ironically, under Saddam Hussein Christians experienced freedom to practice their faith, and historically made up a significant portion of the middle class (AP).


The Shallowford Presbyterian Chapel Choir

June 4, 2009

Shallowford Chapel ChoirThe Summer 2009 Concert Tour  of the Chapel Choir is presenting “The World is About to Turn” at Fort Hill Presbyterian Sunday, June 13 beginning at 7:30pm. Admission is free.

The Shallowford Chapel Choir is composed of 60-70 youth from grades 7–12. A highlight of Chapel Choir is the annual summer tour. On these tours the choir has sung in 24 states, several Canadian provinces, Scotland, and England.



The Wisdom of James (5)

May 27, 2009
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How many countless generations, regardless of class,  have found comfort in James words?

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

It is very comforting to know that we can turn to God for wisdom. I once even heard an avowed atheist say that he missed God for he had no one to turn to. Thus it was all up to him to make his own way. The fact of the matter is that our lives are unavoidably messy, no matter who we are, and  there are many times when we have need of the wisdom of others. James takes for granted that we can, and that we should, ask for wisdom from God. But here James is being very specific. “Why and what kind of wisdom does James have in mind?”

“If we let James define his own terms and seek to understand this passage in light of the whole letter, which is where any good understanding of this letter begins, we will want to ask what kind of wisdom were these Jewish Christian communities were in need of.” McKnight says, “James makes that abundantly clear in this letter: they were mostly the oppressed poor (cf. 1:9-11; 2:1-13; 5:1-6) who were tempted to find justice (1:20; 4:1-2; 5:1-6) and perhaps even by using violence (1:20; 4:1-2).” 

They are to seek a different kind of wisdom: wisdom from God which the hard living poor need as they face  grinding oppression in their daily lives. McKnight suggests we begin right here.

Why? Well, they could count on God’s wisdom because God “gives generously to all without finding fault.”  

McKnight says James is thinking like his brother Jesus in how he understands God. God is good and God is there and God is not silent and God responds: “who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

He refers us to Matthew 7:7-11:

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

James says God simply gives wisdom to those who come to God in faith. Jesus says God is good and gives to his children who come to him.

What he’s getting at here is that these people who are in the midst of so much suffering and stress and oppression can know that God is good and that God is there and that God is not silent and that God is listening. They can go to God with their request for wisdom.

Given the larger context of the letter we  see, in some ways, that James provides the wisdom they were seeking. He doesn’t give a promise that God will rescue them from their suffering. So what does one do? There are those who might internalize their anger and turn in on themselves.  Many relationships have come to an end in this way. There are others who might become aggressive toward the dominate culture and attack it with violence. This is the way to self destruction. Instead, what James urges upon these early believers in Jesus is “to gather round one another, to live as Jesus taught, and to look to God for justice. James is not advocating wimpy withdrawal or aggression, rather here is an active, aggressive stance of waging peace in the face of injustice. Take for instance James 3:17-18:

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace‑loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

What is the Missional Church?

May 27, 2009

Michael FrostMichael Frost talks about what it means to be the missional church, addressing the 2007 Presbyterian Global Fellowship Conference in Houston, TX.

The Promise Driven Life

May 21, 2009

Rick Warren became a nationally known figure in the 1990’s when his book “The Purpose Driven Life”  became a runaway best seller. No doubt we all need things  toward which we can aspire.  There is nothing wrong with having goals as they help us extend our reach and influence beyond what we can reach at the moment. Goals give specificity to the things we have to do in order to reach a certain destination. It’s in the reaching that physical and moral muscle is stretched and strengthened. By such exercise we grow and become more mature. 

But where does a sense of purpose come from? By what are we driven? What gives us our zeal and passion?  The thing about having goals is that they help give direction but can they give us passion and energy for life?

At the beginning of the new year we have a tradition of setting New Years resolutions. Supposing we decide on new goals for ourselves. How soon thereafter do we find that we have lost all interest in keeping the new years resolutions? How long before we see that we are failing and give up in resignation?  The interest I once had no longer exists.  My sense of energy and zeal fails me. What happened?  Could it be that having a purpose for my life may be the right answer to the wrong question. If I believe that my need for meaning is satisfied by having purpose and goals. Then I might ask what is my purpose.  But what if that is the wrong question. What if what gives meaning and zeal and passion for life is not having goals and direction and purpose but something else altogether. What if the fuel that energizes your life is not purpose but promise.      

The thing about purpose is that it is something that arises from within the self, but the energy for that thing within has to come from somewhere else. Does it not? The passion that arises from within depends upon an energy source  that comes from outside the self. I suggest that promise and not purpose is what drives your passion for life. A sense of purpose comes from within the self, but it is fueled by promises. Promises have to do with your relationships: your connection with God, community, spouse, child, brother, sister, colleague, friend and even the enemy.  Promises are what inspire, motivate, transform your life. These are the things that make for passion, for a life worth living.

Promise is what drives purpose; know who is important and then the purposes of your life will fall into place.

The Wisdom of James (4)

May 19, 2009

Scot McKnight says, “James sees the testing of faith — the ability to see through a bad situation to what God will make of it — as an opportunity to set off a chain reaction:”

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Here are these Jewish Christian communities under duress. They could go on the offensive and return the attacks tit for tat; they could internalize the criticisms and attacks of others as personal failings; they could  assimilate back into their original communities, “because that is just the way it is.” James is urging upon these tiny communities another alternative, to choose to see through the situation to what God will make of it. Suppose someone does just that. McKnight says, “that person sets off a chain reaction for moral formation:

1. Perseverance leads to…
2. Maturity and completion…
3. Lacking nothing …

When suffering pain our natural response is to find a quick way out. But what if there is no way to avoid suffering? What if  we need to choose the suffering because the suffering is part of what gets us to where we need to be (The athlete endures pain in order to be a better athlete)? What do we do then? James is suggesting a way of dealing with suffering which seems outrageous to so many of us, shaped as we are by our expectation that the desires of the self are almost alwyas to be indulged and satiated, if the self is to be healthy and whole. Maybe Bernie Maddoff buys into that mindset, but not James. Suffering for James is an education in moral formation. “Again, we are unwise to think James would suggest this for all suffering; after all, he protests much against some kinds of injustices. Like mothers everywhere, he didn’t need modern medicine and psychology to know that grinding, unrelieved suffering is very destructive.  What he’s talking about here is either something they can do nothing about or a temporary situation.” But he also knows that suffering has an impact on character. It can be educational, even transformational. And anyone who has suffered knows the same thing.

Does God bring the suffering? The question of suffering is one of the most difficult questions we ever deal with, especially as we are still living in the shadow of the  most destructive century ever in human history.  Such a big question requires massive if not volumes of books for the question to be addressed honestly. Likewise if we are to respect James we cannot make him address questions that are not being asked. What we can be sure about is that “James does not say here that God brings the suffering; he does not say everything they suffer is an act of God. Instead, his focus is on God as one to whom they can go for wisdom and one in whom they can trust and that God, in spite of the suffering, can use that suffering to make something of it.”

Many of us get a bit confused with James’ use of the word “perfection” , translated “maturity” above. He’s not talking here about flawless behavior, sinlessness or sinless perfection. As the teacher who can control his tongue is perfect (3:2), so the sufferer can learn the same by learning to look through the situation to what God can do. “Perfection here is about wholeness, maturity, holiness, love, peace, etc. and not about attaining a level below which one will never fall again. An unskilled laborer learns maturity (perfection) through being joined to a master craftsman as an apprentice. She learns  to work and take responsibility through the freedoms and assignments given by the master craftsman, and the decisions she makes in those activities allow for growth as the skills of the master craftsman are acquired. Her choice to give attention and focus to the specific disciplines of various master craftsmen; to take again and again a thousand steps in the same direction, undeterred by her own inertia and the resistance of others, pushing through trial and error. These are the things that make for maturity.

The Leathrums and the Poindexters

May 15, 2009

The Foothills Presbytery is taking a rare and deep look into the world of two families faced with the needs of their children with developmental disabilities. Their stories highlight a mission — and a calling — to reach the hand of Christ toward a great need that’s too often invisible.

Westminster Presbyterian member, Jill Cogdill, led the production of a video on behalf of the InDwellings Ministry. The video showcases what the homes will mean to families facing the crisis of adult children in need of a home the family can no longer provide.

This video features two families. The first is the Leathrums, an Upstate family whose youngest son has Down syndrome. Roger, now 36, could live somewhere other than his parents’ home, with supervision, if only such a place existed in the Upstate. InDwellings wants to build just such a place, where folks like Roger can live with the dignity and sense of community they long for, providing a deep sense of peace for his family. The second family is the Poindexters, whose 2 1/2 year old son, Calvin, also has Down syndrome. Calvin’s mom, Katie, is already thinking ahead to what sort of home will be available when Calvin is an adult, and wants to live as independently as he is able.

Because many of the parents of adult children with developmental disabilities are now more than 55 years old, the need for these homes rises urgently by the day. If a medical or other crisis arises, these parents want to know that they have an option for housing these very special adult children.

Producer Jill Cogdill is an InDwellings’ board member, who secured the services of well-known photojournalist, Mario de Carvalho. For more than 30 years at CBS, Mario shot some of the biggest stories in the world. He has received numerous national Emmy Awards, and his passion and heart for this project are immense. (Many of you may know that Mario is married to the Upstate’s own Jane Robelot, former anchor of the CBS Morning Show, and treasured member of our community.)