At the heart of my ministry has been the call to be a missional church.  I hope this reaffirmation by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church doesn’t get lost amid the ‘hot button’ decisions made at this meeting.  The action item approved by this assembly is for the church to:

“join intentionally in God’s mission to transform our world and address root causes of societal injustices by following Christ’s example of service through faith, hope, love, and witness.”

I am wondering:  How are we doing?  Note at the end of this rational a listing of specific action items for churches to consider.

From the report to the General Assembly:

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a historical commitment to joining Christ’s mission in local and global communities and many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. The Presbyterian Mission Agency, in its 2013–2016 Mission Work Plan, has made engaging young adults through mission and volunteer service a priority and believes shaping multigenerational, faith-based relationships dedicated to service in local communities and the world will help the church better follow Christ’s mission.


For nearly 200 years, the Presbyterian church has served as one of the greatest forces for mission in the world. The church is called to minister to the immediate needs and hurts of people. The Book of Order states: “In the life of the congregation, individual believers are equipped for the ministry of witness to the love and grace of God in and for the world. The congregation reaches out to people, communities, and the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to gather for worship to offer care and nurture to God’s children, to speak for social justice and righteousness, and to bear witness to the truth and to the reign of God that is coming into the world” (G-1.0101).


Presbyterians have sought to be a mission-centered church from their inception and have a strong, unwavering belief that there is no other way truly to be the church. Many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. One Presbyterian scholar, Darrell Guder, has written on this vital topic for the church today. In his book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, Guder and his colleagues provide key insights into the recent missional church movement.


Guder and his colleagues discuss three themes that are important to this proposal: the shift the church must make, the purpose of the church, and the role of denominational structures. Guder argues that to be missional the church must “move from church with mission to missional church.”[1] Most churches articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they likely will have a specific pastor devoted to mission. Many churches support several overseas missionaries and are probably contributing money and service to a local mission, homeless shelter, or food bank. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. The purpose of the local church is not to be what Guder calls “vendors of religious services and goods,”[2] with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. This is the shift that the church must make.


The second major theme in Guder’s work challenges the very definition of what it means to be the church. Guder argues that it is “a new understanding of the church as a body of people sent on a mission.[3] The church is thus not only a body that gathers for a worship service. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them most effectively. The purpose of gathering is to be sent. Guder states, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.”[4] To be a missional church, worship is driven more by what must happen after the service.


What it truly means to be the church, according to Guder, is “the people of God who are called and sent to re-present the reign of God. This vocation is rooted in the good news, the gospel: in Jesus Christ the reign of God is at hand and is now breaking in.”[5] For Guder, the focus of the staff and the commitment of the resources are directed toward helping people to re-present Christ to their neighbors in their everyday lives. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. The activities of the church should model these forms of everyday interactions. Guder writes: “The ecclesial practices are never esoteric or supernatural but involve ordinary human behavior: joining and sharing, eating and drinking, listening and caring, testing and deciding, welcoming and befriending.”[6] To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about, so as to cultivate authentic, genuine friendships.


This initiative seeks to inspire Presbyterian congregations to reach out to their communities through acts of service that lead to connectivity with local communities and demonstrates the love of Christ to their neighbors such as:


•      Every congregation would determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year.

•      Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S.

•      Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities.

•      Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad.

•      “Re-presenting” Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

•      Support the Living Missionally initiative in prayer.

•      Actively engaging at least 1,000 PC(USA) congregations each year (2014–2016) to focus on becoming “Missional Churches” through acts of service in communities around the world.”


[1] Darrell L. Guder, “Missional Church: From Sending to Being Sent,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 6.

[2] George R. Hunsberger, “Missional Vocation: Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God,” in Missional Church, 108.

[3] Ibid., 81.

[4] Guder, “Missional Structures: The Particular Community,” in Missional Church, 243.

[5] Guder, “Missional Church,” in Missional Church, 15.

[6] Inagrace T. Dietterich, “Missional Community: Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,” in Missional Church, 181.


Kingdom of HeavenS



Listen and contemplate what Jesus has to teach about the “Kingdom of HeavenS”. Yes, I said HeavenS, not heaven. Ian Lynch in his short blog has reintroduced me to what Jesus actually says.


Listen and contemplate what it means to discover God in the all that we can touch and see and hear – in what we can smell and taste in the world around us.


Listen and contemplate what it means to discover the presence of God not in looking up beyond the moon and stars, but rather what God has placed in and between us in human relationships and experiences?


I commend for your reflection the work of Ian Lynch found on the Darkwood Brew blog titled: “For HeavenS’ Sake” (June 18, 2014).  


Listen and contemplate this question Lynch asks:


Are you really ready to pray for the Reign of the Heavens to be visible in the heaven above you and the earth beneath you? Are you ready to bring about justice? Are you ready to care for creation as a faithful steward? Are you ready to end homelessness, and hunger, and war? You better be if you are praying the Lord’s Prayer. The revolution will not be televised…it will be incarnated in the people of God who pray as Jesus taught us.


Also, if you haven’t discovered darkwood brew, it’s worthy taking some time on Sundays to listen and participate in the discussions….



PCUSA is not BDS and is pro-Israel!

John Bell, pastor of the Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, does an excellent job in describing the PCUSA Divestment issue.

John Henry Bell's Blog

The Presbyterian Church USA has been accused of being influenced by and aligning with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and of taking action that is anti-Israel and pro-Palestine. This is simply not true. Most commissioners that I talked to had never heard of BDS. None that I talked to had read “Zionism Unsettled” and found verbal summaries of it to be disgusting. The PCUSA has long been a supporter of Israel and will continue to be. I am deeply sorry the action has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and has caused pain for our Jewish friends. Speaking for the vast majority of Presbyterians at the General Assembly, I can clearly say there was no malice intended. We too seek peace, justice and reconciliation.

This is a summary of what the General Assembly 2014 actually did (for more detail read: PCUSA Divestment):

The 2014 PCUSA General Assembly APPROVED a resolution…

View original post 282 more words

Sermon: “STRANGE NEW WORLD” (07/29/12)



Introductuction:  A year ago I began re-reading KARL BARTH and found a copy of an essay, “The Strange New World within the Bible”.  Deciding to preach on this topic, I find Barth’s writings as relevant today as nealry 100 years ago.  My only regret is giving away many of by Barth books when I was cleaning out my library.


Sermon:  “STRANGE NEW WORLD”   Preached at the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan on July 29th 2012.   


Psalm 119: 97-112  (emphasis 105)

2 Timothy 3: 14-17  (emphasis vs. 16)

John 20: 30 & 31


Psalm 119: 97-112 (emphasis 105)

97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances. 107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word. 108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. 111 Your decrees are my heritage for ever; they are the joy of my heart. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes for ever, to the end.

2 Timothy 3: 14-17  (emphasis vs. 16)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is* useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.


John 20: 30 & 31

John is talking about the purpose of his book, his gospel, the gospel of John:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But with what is written may you come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


I.  The Strange New World Within the Bible

Today’s sermon is about this collection of 66 books, bound together in one best-selling book called simply:  The Bible.  What is there within this “strange world” of the Bible, the centerpiece in our worship, that has meant so much to so many people for thousands of years?      

It was back in college when I first encountered a wonderful essay by Karl Barth, the great German theologian, titled:  The Strange New World within the Bible. 

As I read a small portion of this essay, please listen carefully.  Let these words of Karl Barth resonate in your hearing them as they did for me almost forty years ago:

“We are to attempt an answer to the question, ‘What is there within the Bible?  What sort of house is it to which the bible is the door?  What sort of country is spread before our eyes when we throw the Bible open?’


We are with Abraham in Haran.  We hear a call which commands:  ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, unto a land that I will show thee.’  We hear a promise, ‘I will make of thee a great nation.  And Abraham believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.’  What is the meaning of all this?  We feel that there is something behind these words and experiences, but what?


We are with Moses in the Wilderness.  For forty years, he has been living among the sheep, doing penance for an over-hasty act.  What change has come over him?  We are not told;  it is apparently not our concern.  But suddenly there also comes to him a call:  ‘Moses!  Moses! … I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt,”  and a simple assurance, ‘Certainly I will be with thee.”  Here again are words and experiences which seem at first to be nothing but riddles.  We do not read anything like this either in the daily papers or in books.  What is it that lies behind? …


We read all this, but what do we read behind it?  We are aware of something like the tremors of an earthquake or like the ceaseless thundering of ocean waves against thin dikes;  but what really is it that beats at the barrier and seeks entrance here?….


What is there within the Bible?  What is the significance of the remarkable line from Abraham to Christ?  What of the chorus of prophets and apostles, and what is the burden of their song?  What is the one truth that these voices evidently all desire to announce, each in its own tone, each it its own way?  What lies between the strange statement, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ and the equally strange cry of longing, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’?  What is behind all this?”[1]


II.  Psalmist and Second Timothy

 I have always loved the wonderful way Karl Barth framed the question:  What is this strange new world before us?  What is there for us within the Bible?

Next to these questions I place the words of the Psalmist who declares, from the Bible:  “God’s words are sweeter than honey to the mouth, the word that is a lamp to our feet and the light to our path.”

There are times when reading the Bible I wish we could touch and taste (like sweet honey) and smell and see or hear all that was going on in this land of the Bible… we could use what we can touch and taste and hear and smell and see in living our lives.

In preparing this sermon I prayed for a couple of things …. I prayed for God’s Word to be the light on our path that shines in helping us grow and be nurtured in faith in our lord.  I also prayed that our entering this Strange New World of the Bible become for us an opportunity capture and carry some of the glory of God outside this holy book in living our lives.

There are two short points I would like to make from Second Timothy that speak to the Strange New World of the Bible:

1.  First, words of scripture while providing powerful stories of inspiration and wisdom are also instructive in helping us live our lives.  Think of the number of times you hear some of the stories of the Bible….sometimes/many times over the years.  Instructive concepts from scripture that repeat themselves.   

Example, the theme of God’s love and compassion run consistently through the Old and New Testaments….people are always longing or searching for something beyond themselves, something positive, something refreshing and something good.  While there is evil in the world, the aspirations of those we find in the Bible are people struggling with evil searching to find God’s peace. And these are all themes that grow with us as we grow in faith. 

God’s Word grows and changes with us as we mature and grow through the years, always finding within this strange land of the Bible God’s teaching us new things… God’s love and peace, that can be integrated into our lives throughout our lives.

Consider this thesis:  As we grow, the awareness of God’s presence in our lives also grows.  Even though you may have been active in the life of the church for dozens of years….even decades …. God is always fine-turning this relationship …. helping us become all that God would have us become in living our lives …. within the context of the core value found in all Scripture – God’s love! 

2.  The second point in looking at Second Timothy:  This holy book becomes for us God’s inspired Word’ – a phrase we use often in our church.   What does this mean?  “God’s Inspired Word?”  Simply, what we have in our Bibles is not perfect.   Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying God is not perfect.  It is God’s inspired word that comes to us through the experiences of women and men who lived thousands of years – BIBLE PEOPLE – who give us a glimpse into the world, strange as it may be, of God’s perfection.

A good example of this:  What we read in the Bible and interpret from person to person is going to vary—depending on who is reading and doing the interpretations.  We who read the Bible are not perfect.  How we interpret what we read is not always going to be the same.

A basic, foundational Presbyterian principle:  The Bible is God’s Inspired Word.  From the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church, scriptures, quote:   “given under guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words (small w) of men, conditioned by … the places and times at which they were written.”  (C67-9.29)  These words (small w) of scripture help us through the Holy Spirit help us truly hear God’s Inspired Word (capital W).

Okay!  Am I getting too complicated?   What does all of this mean?  Simply, how do we define this book – the Bible?  From materials we use in teaching confirmation students about the Bible – in case you don’t remember some of these facts from when you first learned about the Bible: 

The Bible is divided into two major sections, the Old Testament which is made up of 39 separate books covering the period of time from Creation to the period just before the birth of Jesus. The New Testament which is made up of 27 books covers the period from the birth of Jesus on including the accounts of his crucifixion and resurrection and the establishment of the early church.  Together there are sixty-six books in the bible.” …


 “The oldest parts of the Bible are over 3,000 years old and its newest parts are 1,800 years old, the Bible is the only place we find Jesus Christ.  (The Bible) is the only sourcebook of his life, his words, and his teachings.”[2] 


The writers from Genesis through Malachi in the Old Testament and Matthew through Revelation in the New Testament were written by hands of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit …. Separate books that were in fact written at different times, over many years by different authors, various settings, different environments and backgrounds, different races of people – and host of cultural settings.  And it was men in the early church counsels around 300 ad who decided which of these books truly represent God’s inspired words….creating what we have now known as the Bible. 

To get back to what Karl Barth says in referencing our “EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S WORD” … quote:  “The Bible is full of history, religious history, literary history, cultural history, world history, and human history of every sort.  A picture full of animation and color is unrolled before all who approach the bible with open eyes.”

 What we truly need, when we open the Bible are OPEN EYES and OPEN MINDS and OPEN HEARTS to truly listen and hear all that God has to say to us – not just historically but experientially, from where we are in living our lives – from where we are sitting today in worship.

All of this comes down to one more crucial question:  Will we, in faith, open our hearts to hear God’s Word?  God speaking to us today?  Giving us something we can take with us from this worship into the world around us? 

III. The Gospel of John

As Christians we read the Bible – the only place we can go to learn about this man Jesus – as I said earlier, the only “sourcebook of his life, his words, and his teachings.[3] 

The gospel of John affirms in Verse 31:  31But with what is written may you come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is for me what the Bible is all about!  Our coming to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  We can learn about his life.  We can hear about his teachings and preaching and healings.  We also travel with Jesus, scripturally, through many experiences including his death on the cross.  We learn about his resurrection and the hope we place in this man who promises to not only be with us – always with us – but with us eternally to the end of all time – always in the almighty arms of God.

These are pretty exciting things we learn in opening the Bible in searching for God.    

IV  Suggestion

So this suggestion:  Do you think you may want to renew your commitment to open this book more often in nurturing a closer relationship with God?   Is this something you may want to do?


I hope so!  From this book we can learn so many things about God in nurturing a closer relationship with the Messiah – our Lord, whom we believe to be the living Christ in our midst.  I am always saying Christ is walking with us – in and between us in living our lives.  Opening this sacred book can help this “belief” become “reality” in our living our lives. 

Let us always remember we are a Christ-Centered church and this Bible is our operations manual.

It is my prayer that the Bible no longer be a “Strange World” but a world of familiar stories and lessons that can help us grow in faith. 

It is also my prayer that we not be strangers to what is in the Bible….always plenty for us to learn in opening up God’s Holy Word. 

Lastly, it is my prayer that God’s Word enter our lives so the story of God, through each of us, will continue to reach the world around us.

May God continue to bless us as we read and integrate God’s holy and sacred words into our lives. 





[1]  The Word of God and the Word of Man, Karl Barth, Harper and Row, 1928, pgs 28ff

[2]   Journey to Discipleship, Harvey G. Throop, pg 15 and pg 95 and 96

[3]   Journey to Discipleship, Harvey G. Throop, pg 95 and 96

From a Distance!



From a Distance!

From a distance, I decided to prepare a short blog on how I experience the General Assembly from my home as a disabled teaching elder and at-large member of the Presbytery of Lake Huron.  I just went on disability six months ago.  I am still in the process of re-defining myself as a teaching elder experiencing the church from a different perspective.

I am experiencing the meeting of 221st General Assembly from the comfort of my home. I now have extra time to log into   From this page I can get to plenary sessions, PC Biz, and various articles summarizing GA business.  I am grateful for the on-line streaming that has allowed me to catch a glimpse of what those who are in Detroit are experiencing.

I am grateful for social-media and the dozens of posts lifting up faces and experiences of those who are part of this Assembly.   I have been able to share emails and FB posts with friends and colleagues who are in Detroit.   The ‘connectionalism’ we celebrate as Presbyterians is visible / palpable through pictures and videos and short articles.  As one who has attended many of these Assemblies in the past, I can feel the Spirit of God at work. 

The PC-Biz is an amazing tool.   Now that committees are meeting, I am able to follow work that is being done with various overtures.  An Example:

I wanted to learn more about the new proposed Directory for Worship.  While this is not one of the controversial pieces of business, it is a document that all teaching elders need to study as they create worship experiences faithful to our Presbyterian theology.  I logged in.   Amazed, I already had a password on file!   I downloaded the document and plan to listen to the plenary discussion on this item of business.  Yes, this item is going to be pulled from the consent agenda.

I have decided that there is no predicting what this Assembly will do with the ‘hot’ issues related to marriage and Israeli // Palestinian relationships.  I have my opinion.  I have also learned, from past experience, that it is nearly impossible to know the heart of the assembly.  I will be praying for the commissioners from the Presbytery of Lake Huron, of which I am a member.  I will be praying for the new moderator Heath Rada and this Assembly doing important work on behalf of all Presbyterians. 

I am listening.  I am participating, albeit from a distance, as a proud teaching elder. 

Honestly, as a disabled teaching elder unable to attend this assembly, I am feeling connected.   Image





“Ralph and I Meet Again!”

September 15, 2013

{The day I announce my departure as church pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, MichiganImage}


Psalm 139: 1-6  and  23, 24

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;    you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down,    and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue,    O Lord, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before,    and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;    test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked* way in me,    and lead me in the way everlasting.*


Romans 12: 3-5

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.


Ephesians 4: 1-7

1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.   7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.




Ralph!  Who is Ralph?  I don’t recall any church members named Ralph.   There are no “Ralph’s” mentioned in the Bible.   I don’t think I know too many people named “Ralph”.  SO WHY WOULD WE MEET AGAIN?     


Simply, “Ralph” is not a person.  Ralph, for me, is a name given to a small trinket—a small piece of jewelry I have been holding onto for 40 years.  I don’t know what else to call this.  Along with some of my college friends, this was given to me over forty years ago.  We named this small item “Ralph”.  I just had a chance to meet “Ralph” again a couple of months ago.    


Honestly, though I have kept this small piece of jewelry for all these years, I had forgotten about Ralph.  While I may have forgotten the name, I have never forgotten what this small symbolic piece of jewelry has meant to me through the years.  On the front of this jewelry a small dove ascending into what looks like flames symbolizing the Holy Spirit.  For me this is a symbol, not unlike the Phoenix, of God leading me through the flames of trying times.  


For some more explanation:  I was a student at HastingsCollege in Hastings, Nebraska in the early 70’s.  As a pre-theology student I was active in chapel programming.  I belonged to a small worship group we called the “Road Crew”.  This is the name we were given because we would go off campus to lead worship services, along with our chaplain Chuck Messinger, in different churches more or less promoting the college with local congregations.  While I don’t remember much about the tours, “Social Media” has recently reunited four[1] of my “Road Crew” friends through Facebook…..three of us are now Presbyterian Pastors.  It is through Facebook and in renewing these friendships that we were re-introduced  to “Ralph”.    I’m not sure, but several of us still have this small piece of jewelry symbolic of that time we spent together.


The year was around 1972.  I don’t have a lot of memory about what took place on this particular retreat except that we shared in what was called an AGAPE MEAL — the breaking of bread simulating communion around a large table – much like Jesus did with his disciples.   


I recall we were near a small lake.  I remember this because we had a “Trust Walk” after dinner – blindfolded – led to the shore of this small lake and into a boat.  This is quite an experience being blindfolded while led by someone else you trust.  I recall walking on a sandy beach approaching the shore of the lake and then, to my surprise, being led onto a small board – all while blindfolded.   These were called “Trust Walks” because you really had to TRUST those who were leading —symbolic of Jesus leading us in living our lives – our walking into the future without a lot of knowledge or information about where God is leading!  For it often seems, through much in life, we are blindfolded not knowing where God is leading. 


So with news that I will be leaving as pastor of this church, this is somewhat like the trust I have had to place in God about going into a phase of life I had never thought would come…..the same trust you will need to place in each other and God as you identify new leadership and as you determine your path into the future.  The caution I have personally received from the Committee on Ministry and the Presbytery – step back—to let you, the church do it’s work trusting in God.  Trust in God to lead you as you envision and plan for the future.



Back to “Ralph” – this small red triangle with an ascending dove on the front.  On the back are the words that have had an impact on me my entire ministry.  These words—hard to read:

                                    “Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten Me!


Working from memory, I believe we were told on this retreat some 40 years ago that this glossy red stone with the ascending Spirit was to remind us of something known as Gestalt Psychology—the kind of psychology that maintains the principle that the “human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Again to repeat this:  The human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  


It is like my looking at the church.  We see the church building.  There are lots of working parts…..people and programs.  We are a worshipping community. 


I think back to the wonderful time we had last Sunday – almost fifty people in attendance in worship and the luncheon—almost completely filling the Geneva room.  In reflecting on last Sunday I am now seeing the whole experience – more than all the individual parts that came together to make for a successful day.  This is seeing the WHOLE before perceiving all the individual parts—the personalities and YOUR hopes and ambitions and dreams for this church that make up the whole.  THIS CHURCH IS MORE THAN A BUILDING FILLED WITH PEOPLE!  THIS CHURCH IS MORE THAN SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS.  WE ARE IN FACT THE LIVING BODY OF CHRIST—THE WHOLE THAT IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ALL IT’S PARTS.  WE ARE CHRIST’S CHURCH!


More than a group of congregants – we are unique and special and gifted children of God with interests and talents and longings and needs.  The sum of all of who we are is so much greater than the TOTALITYH OF ALL OUR PARTS.  We may be 40-50 active members worshipping together today—but who we are and what we are doing is so much greater than the sum of all we do….all we have done in the past and all we will do in the future.   For together we become and we are the living, vibrant Body of Christ – THE CHURCH! 


There is so much more to this church than what meets the eye!   We are more than any one individual or leader or pastor.  The Gestalt in our experience as a church:  “The human eye sees the church in its entirety before perceiving or understanding the intricate working of all the individual parts that make us who we are – a church that is truly greater than the sum of all our parts.” 


To put this personally:  my leaving should be for this church but a bump in the road when it comes to all that God has planned for this church as a whole….the mission of this church isn’t dependent on any one individual or leader or pastor….but rather, God working with that which is greater than all the little things we do.    


III.  One more thing in reflecting on “Ralph”.


One more thing I would like to share this morning.  The decision to leave this pastorate has not been easy.  For months and even years I have thought I could go on forever.  My prayers these past weeks and months has been: 


Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten me.

Reflecting the Psalm 139:  Search me.  Know me.  Help me with this decision.  Enlighten me. 

Come Holy Spirit, guide me and show me Your path.



I would like for this to be your prayer.




Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten us.

Guide us and show us your path.

Reflecting the Psalm 139:  Search us.  Know us.  Help us with the important decisions that will need to be made….we all have known we would eventually reach this point in needing to ask important questions about the future.  The time has come—God’s time has come!

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten Us!


[1]   Doug Waldbaum, Rev. Kitch (Brock) Shatzer, Rev. Bill Nottage-Tacy and myself..


A peoples guide for study and conversation

 The issue of gay marriage has become a ‘hot potato’ topic in church and society.  I found this study guide produced by More Light Presbyterians a helpful guide to add to the arsenal of resources for study and conversation.   You can download it from this link.  

Keep this prayer in mind from the Book of Common Worship.  

 “Through the embrace of love and the bonds of godly affection, make us one in the Spirit by your peace which makes all things peaceful.  We ask this through the grace, mercy and tenderness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Book of Common Worship pg. 812

Sermon: The CROSS and the COMMANDMENTS

In meeting with a group of church members in 2012, I asked which sermons they remembered.  This sermon was on the top of the list.


“The Cross and the Commandments”

Thomas B. Cundiff

March 14, 2010


Exodus 20: 1-7

Romans 13: 8-10

Matthew 22: 36-40



Exodus 20: 1-17


1Then God spoke all these words:   2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  3you shall have no other gods before me.  4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.   5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the  thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.   7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.  8Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  10But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  13You shall not murder.  14You shall not commit adultery.   15You shall not steal.   16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.   17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.



Romans 13: 8-10


8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.


Matthew 22: 36-40


36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”






Once a year during Lent, the Old Testament scripture takes us to the powerful and timeless TEN COMMANDMENTS.  These commandments were given to Israel right after they entered the wilderness.  These commandments then and now are road maps that help us move forward in living our lives in relationship with God.


There was a pastor who used to give members of the church an orientation to the TEN COMMANDMENTS by drawing on a piece of newsprint a stair case — complete with ten steps……each step represented one of the ten commandments.    At the top of these steps was the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.  The implication was clear: One would need to travel through life, faithfully following ALL the commandments, in order to get to KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.  This pastor would often try to “stump” the members of the church by asking the question:





One or two people would usually raise their hand.   Of course this is a trick!  Who is perfect?  Don’t we all, from time to time, fall short in keeping God’s commands?


The truth:  following the commandments as steps to get into heaven is  BAD THEOLOGY.  It is much better to look at the TEN COMMANDMENTS as ethical guidelines on the road map of life leading toward the Kingdom of Heaven – that a series of specific steps.


The bottom line:  The TEN COMMANDENTS are important ethical and moral guides to help is in living our lives.  It isn’t until God gave us his only Son, Jesus, that we come to fully understand what these commandments mean.



There is another preacher[1]  who asks:




Three short points in addressing this question:[2]


  1. First…. the Ten Commandments are to be interpreted through Christ, who teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God and one’s neighbor (Matthew 22: 37-39)


  1. Second….Paul teaches in Romans 13: 8-10 that the person who truly loves the neighbor fulfills all that God commands in regard to other persons.  His words in Romans 13 are that the commandments, ‘do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,’ and Paul adds, ‘be it any commandment whatsoever,’ they are all comprehended in this commandment, ‘you should love your neighbor as yourself.’


  1. Third….‘love does no evil to the neighbor, and so is love the fulfillment of the law.’ — These are words we always need to remember when we think about the Ten Commandments.   We find the Ten Commandments, the essence of all ten, scattered throughout the New Testament.


Thesis:  To put this as simply as possible:  we must look at the Ten Commandments as relational: how we relate to neighbor and how we relate to God. 


The anchor for us in the Christian community is the fact that God always loves us and through the cross of Jesus offers us forgiveness.   This is not to say that the Ten commandments aren’t helpful when we need to find ‘hooks’ or ways in which to hang our shortcomings as we travel on various journeys throughout life – including this journey through Lent.  We don’t want to (nor can we) throw out the Ten Commandments.  They contain valuable lessons for life that are worth thinking about.


But it is the summary of the law that bring us to the cross of Jesus and his suffering and dying – the ultimate gesture of God’s love for us!



The best way to describe the blending of the Ten Commandments with Jesus summary of these commandments”




The first four commandments focus on “REVERANCE FOR GOD – LOVE FOR GOD”.



          2.      DO NOT WORSHIP IDOLS


          4.      REMEMBER THE SABBATH.


The last six commandments, no less demanding, focus on what Jesus teaches is LOVE OF NEIGHBOR..



          6.      DO NOT KILL

          7.      DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY

          8.      DO NOT STEAL

          9.      DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS

          10.    DO NOT COVET.


One of the neat things in blending the TEN COMMANDMENTS with Jesus summary of the law:   THEY FIT PERFECTLY IN OUR UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING OF THE CROSS OF JESUS!


  1. The Cross of Love


There is a wonderful connection between God’s covenant with Moses, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ giving us a great NEW COMMANDMENT.  The commandment of love can be easily visualized in looking at the Cross of Jesus.










  1. Conclusion


Throughout this season of Lent we have been thinking about the cross of Jesus.  Next week you will hear from each other YOUR reflections on the meaning of the cross.   In the coming weeks we will sing hymns like:







In all of our worship we invite you to gaze upon the cross remembering the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Great Commandment.


We invite you to think about your relationship with God as you gaze upon the cross – God reaching down to embrace each of us and love us as we reach up to God in worship and praise.[3]


We invite you to think about your relationship with friends and family as you gaze upon the cross – the arms of Jesus reaching out to embrace all of our neighbors.[4]


Finally, we hope these biblical directives, the Ten Commandments and Jesus summary of the law, the law of LOVE, will remind us each and every day of the redeeming power of God known to us through the living Christ….Christ alive with us and in us.


We stand beneath the Cross of Jesus, knowing that God will always embrace us and love us love.


May God continue to bless us all.





[1]  Sermon preached at the Westminister Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Jnuary 29, 2006.

[2]   Ibid


[3]   From the Mission Statement  REACHING UP TO GOD IN WORSHIP AND PRAISE

[4]   Also from our Mission Statement:  REACHING OUT TO OTHERS…..





 Most gracious and glorious God:  Guide me in prayer for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting in Detroit June 14-21st.  I ask for you to surround elected commissioners with your spirit of discernment.   Empower committee leadership and staff as this assembly seeks to do Your will in doing Your work.

Hear the prayers of your church for sacred worship.  May worship and fellowship fuel this assembly through Word and Sacrament.   Fill our congregations with faith and hope and love as we live out our baptism.    

 Hear my prayers.   AMEN





My first meeting of General Assembly in the former United Presbyterian Church was over forty years ago.   I believe the first Assembly I attended was in Denver in the mid-1970’s.  I have been able to attend about one-third of these Assemblies throughout my career.  [I would have gone to all of them but for the work I was called to do as a pastor.]    


I didn’t really become a true “junky” until elected to the General Assembly Council twenty years ago. It was while serving on the GAC and the COGA (Committee on the Office of General Assembly) that I grew to appreciate all the efforts of staff and elected leadership in creating a balanced national conversation on issues we face in church and world.  It is these conversations we hold officially as an assembly among elected representatives that lead to decisions that help build this part of the church we call ‘Presbyterian’. 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) now meets biennially in even-numbered years.   It saves money to meet every other year.  This also gives the church to deliberate and implement as congregations and mid-councils the work that has been done nationally.   The General Assembly consists of commissioners elected by each of its 173 presbyteries. The GA consists of ten long days, worship, business sessions, committee meetings, an exhibit hall, and tours sponosred by the Presbytery of Detroit—the host for this 221st Assembly.   These assemblies create life-long memories for ruling and teaching elders as well as those who visit these national meetings.

The first day of this Assembly on Saturday, June 21, will consist of worship and the election of a new moderator.  I am biased.  A friend and colleague, John Wilkerson, is running for moderator.  (see  In my mind and heart, I cannot think of a more qualified person to lead our church with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love”.  I wish I were a commissioner so I could give him my vote.  My voice of support is what I can offer through this blog.

From the official web page of the General Assembly:  

The General Assembly has several specific responsibilities outlined in Chapter 3 of the Book of Order. The assembly seeks to protect our church from errors in faith and practice, is responsible for assuring that the expression of our theology remains true to the biblical standards in our historic confessions. The General Assembly presents a witness for truth and justice in our community and in the world community. It sets priorities for the church and establishes relationships with other churches or ecumenical bodies.  


There are literally hundreds of issues that go before various committees as commissioners meet.   This is always an intense, joy-filled meeting in giving glory to God for the gift of Jesus God’s beloved Son.  At the same time as in all family gatherings, this national meeting of Presbyterians also has a fair share of controversy and healthy debate.


There will be those issues that threaten to divide us as Presbyterians. For me two issues top the list – the issue of same-gender marriage and Middle East Peacemaking top the list of controversial issues where the Assembly is unlikely to find full consensus.  The challenge, as I see it, is lodged in the HOPE that those who don’t always agree on complex issues will not forget we all are called to be “One in the Spirit, and One in our Lord”. At the same time we pray for our polity that allows us to move forward even if it means agreeing to disagree.    We are called to seek God’s will committed to pray for God’s love and peace to build us up and bind us together.

Finally, may we join in regular prayer for this Assembly.  Let’s take time to follow the work that national leaders are doing on behalf of us all. 

May God continue to bless Christ’s Church and the denominational family named ‘Presbyterian’.