Category Archives: News and Notes

February 21 – In Non-Essentials Liberty

On Wednesday we will gather at the Table and in worship to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.  Ash Wednesday we call it.  I like this service and its somber and simple mood. I hope you will join us.

Among its lesser attributes, our Ash Wednesday service is an exercise in what the Evangelical Presbyterian Church calls liberty in the non-essentials.

Sixty years ago, no self-respecting church calling itself Presbyterian or evangelical would have thought of holding an Ash Wednesday service.  That was the stuff of papists and their too-close-for-comfort Episcopalian friends.  What was the Reformation about, anyway? Vatican II changed all that as we learned to be less suspicious of others in the holy catholic church. While eschewing any sense of penitence as righteousness-inducing work, many mainline Protestants and some Evangelicals, found Ash Wednesday observances and Lenten discipline to be spiritually helpful practices.

LPC had begun Ash Wednesday worship long before I arrived.  But twelve years ago, my first Ash Wednesday at LPC, was the first time I received what we call the imposition of ashes.  An elder dipped his finger into a bowl of ashes – yes from the burned remains of a previous year’s Palm Sunday palms.  “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” he said as he marked a cross of ashes on my forehead.

I remember being a little bit uncomfortable with the practice, but, you know, the new pastor needs to adapt.  To this day some of the LPC people I respect most highly forego the imposition of ashes but come to worship in this simple and somber gathering of God’s people.

According to a decade-old Christianity Today article (which may be behind a paywall), the rite of an imposition of ashes dates as far back as the Seventh Century, and by the Tenth or Eleventh Century Ash Wednesday observances were widely practiced in the western church.  On Ash Wednesday we join a long line of saints who have been reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

While there is no direct biblical warrant for the imposition of ashes, the CT article point to the “biblical precedent and imagery of verses such as Numbers 19:9,17; Hebrews 9:13; Jeremiah 6: 26; Daniel 9:3; Jonah 3:6; Matthew 11:21, and Luke 10:13.”

A dozen years later, I have become less uncomfortable with receiving the sign of the cross marked in ashes on my forehead.  And as uncomfortable as it may be, I cannot be reminded too often that I am dust and to dust I shall return. I am in desperate need of the savior who went to the cross for my sake, who broke bread and shared a cup saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

It is absolutely non-essential that you receive the imposition of ashes when you worship with us on Wednesday.  Not just our denomination, but the gospel grants full liberty in such things.

Among the essential beliefs we hold in unity:

  •  Jesus Christ, the living Word, became flesh through His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. He who is true God became true man united in one Person forever. He died on the cross a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. On the third day He arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven, where, at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He now is our High Priest and Mediator.
  • Being estranged from God and condemned by our sinfulness, our salvation is wholly dependent upon the work of God’s free grace. God credits His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, thereby justifies them in His sight.

See you Sunday. And Wednesday.

February 14 – Speak, O Lord

We have been using a not so new Keith Getty and Stuart Townend hymn, Speak, O Lord, in our LPC worship. Getty and Townend wrote the piece to be sung in worship as a prayer in preparation for the hearing and the preaching of the Word.

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

God speaks to us most clearly and most reliably through the words of Scripture. In worship together or in our own reading of the Word, what do we hear as God speaks?

I begin most days with the Psalter readings from the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. Every psalm read every seven weeks, in what appears to be some random order; I don’t know what to expect each day – lament, praise, thanksgiving, supplication.

The first reading for this morning is Psalm 88, a bitter lament. It frightens me.

The psalm is a psalm of the Sons of Korah. It is written in the first person. Which son of Korah was this? What had happened to him?  His bitterness is more than I want to hear. Why would God give us this Psalm? Speak, O Lord? What are you saying? Continue reading

January 31 – Viagem Missionária Guatemala

Our Guatemala Mission Away Team leaves for leaves for the “land of eternal spring” tomorrow afternoon.  It will be my twelfth and certainly my last trip to Guatemala with good friends from LPC.  That’s another story for another time.

As with last year, our North American team members will join a contingent of South American team members as we respond to God’s call to serve in Central America.  That’s a story for now.

Ademar, Michael, Raissa, and Juninho form the Brazilian contingent of our team.  Each of them is a returning veteran of Guatemala mission.  I have known Ademar for nearly twenty years – he was a young university student when we met.  Raissa was one of the kids in a VBS program our church in Western PA helped run when I first met her over 15 years ago, and I’ve known Juninho about as long.  Pastor Michael has been at IPJA for seven years and I liked him the minute we met.

All friendships are a gift from God, but these four seem especially so. Continue reading

January 24 – My Pain in the Neck

I have a pain in my neck.  And thanks for your advice on what ails me, but it’s being taken care of.  The practitioner who’s helping the pain go away thinks it is stress-induced.  He barely knows me.  Unfortunately, I know me, and I think he may be right.  And, again, thanks for your advice on what ails me, I’ve already received the best advice available. Continue reading

January 17 – Megxit: O Canada

How can we worry about impeachment when the Megxit story continues to unfold?

In case you have been off-planet for the past few weeks, Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have decided to call it quits on cutting ribbons and waving to crowds.  The press has dubbed it Megxit. Oh, the pay is good and the hours aren’t bad, but it’s a younger brother job and there’s not much future in it. Harry and Meghan want out.

Apparently, the prodigal prince plans on gathering his young family and the bit of the inheritance he calls his own and taking a journey into a far country.  It turns out that Canada is the far country of choice. But not all Canadians are sure they should welcome Harry, Meghan, and the no longer senior royalty entourage. Maybe Canadians just don’t like the prospect of reckless living. Continue reading