A Note from Josh – College & Covenant Newsletters, July 2020

A Prayer for such a time as this 

God of All Creation, maker of heaven and earth, sustainer of life, we give thanks to you for this day that is wrought with anxiety about this pandemic and sadness over the racial tragedies of our nation. God, if it is not one thing, it is another. It seems the bottom has collapsed from under the certainty of our old rhythms. Our normal has been replaced with more division and hatred. Somehow we always manage to find new ways to divide ourselves. If ever there was a time for a ministry of reconciliation, now is that time. Of course, our apathy and exhaustion seem to be major players in this story. Disappointment has a grand supporting role too. We know your Spirit is always about character development, so Lord, please write an end to all this that honors your name and sanctifies our past, present, and future. We are open, maybe now more than ever, to how we could do better. Do not waste our confessions and vulnerabilities. We know that you accept broken spirits and contrite hearts. Please accept ours. Receive our copper coin efforts, and redeem these ill attempts at listening. If anyone could bring life from all this death, we proclaim that it is Jesus, your son, our Christ. May it be so. Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, March 2020

A prayer for a time such as these:

God of creation, you made all things good.

You have intimately stitched the fabric of our existence together in ways that can overwhelm and comfort us all in the same moment.

Lord, we come before you in a time of sickness and uncertainty.

If the right words even exist to pray during this time, we welcome those. For now we will offer you what we have; we will offer what the prophets, martyrs, and saints of the faith have offered you all before.

Lord, we offer you our fear that comes with this sort of sickness. May you redeem our anxiety for the purposes of your Kingdom. We offer you our optimism that delicately stands on our own comprehension. Grow this optimism into a hope that rests on your eternal promises. We offer you our judgment for those that seem too concerned. Transform our judgment into compassion for those who are scared. We offer you our arrogance, which attempts to convince us we won’t be affected. Redeem our unprecedented confidence into bold humility that accepts the Lenten truth, from ash we come and to ash we will return. Lord, convert our annoyance into a sweet sense of concern for our world, nation, and community.

From the womb of uncertainty, may you birth faith in us this day, that we may hold fast to the truth that we do not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. In the name of the one who makes all things new, Jesus our Savior, amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, February 2020

Do you know the story of Lazarus? John writes about Lazarus in his gospel (chapter 11). Lazarus is sick. Some people tell Jesus, and instead of rushing to save him, Jesus waits around, and Lazarus dies. When Jesus doesn’t show up, both of Lazarus’ sisters tell Jesus, “If you would have been here, our brother wouldn’t have died.” How many of us can relate to that sentiment? “God, if you would have been here, this terrible thing couldn’t have happened.” That is a topic for another time . . . Jesus gets emotional at the scene. Jesus cries. Then, he has the stone rolled away from the tomb and calls Lazarus from his grave to life. Lazarus walks out with the linen clothes still on him. It is one wild story.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead? Assuming that guy isn’t still walking around this world 2000 plus years later, he must have died again. That would have been quite the death, or second death I suppose. Once you invite this sort of thought around Jesus’ miracles, you can start to wonder about other miracles. Like, why did Jesus feed the 5,000? It was only one meal, surely they would have gotten hungry again. This thought makes me want to ask Jesus if he is familiar with a sustainable ministry model. These questions make me want to ask Jesus, “Don’t you know that it’s better to teach someone how to fish so they can feed themselves for a lifetime?”

Andy Root, a guy I met in seminary, speaks to these questions by saying, “The point isn’t that Lazarus was resurrected, but what his resurrection means. His resurrection is the puncturing of this reality of death with a sign of the coming of God’s new reality, the coming of God’s kingdom.” Root goes on to explain that Jesus wants his disciples to experience the act of Lazarus’ resurrection so that they might believe. Not that he wants them to ascend to some cognitive understanding, but to “taste the new reality, to recognize that as Jesus’ disciples they were participating in the very action of God to bring forth the future of God. Jesus wants them to taste so they might believe, might trust, in God’s action to bring forth the new reality.” By being part of this resurrection moment, the disciples participate in God’s Kingdom come.

This is why we participate in one off opportunities. This is why we might give someone on the street our leftovers. This is why we go to places like Panther, West Virginia for one week in the summer. This is why when we get the opportunity, if only for a moment, week, or season, we participate in God’s Kingdom. Because we get a chance to participate in God’s new reality, now, as one day it shall be. We don’t waste those opportunities. Amen? Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, January 2020

My wife continues to invite me into things I don’t think I can do. In college she asked me, “Do you want to run a half-marathon?” I said yes, but I was pretty certain I wouldn’t have to keep good on my response. However, a few months later, I ran my first half-marathon. Another time she asked me to keep a budget, and only spend money we had previously dedicated towards particular categories. I had never been that intentional with my money. However, at the end of my seminary career, we had learned how to survive on a household income of less than $30,000. In December, my wife asked me if I wanted to do Whole30. Again, I said yes, but I was fairly confident I wouldn’t actually begin the diet. However, as I write this blog entry I am 13 days into 30 days of a healthier diet. My wife consistently invites me into things I don’t think I can do, and though annoying as it may be at times, it inspires me, helps me be curious – to wonder about who I am capable of being in this world. She invites me to live out my full potential. The Gospel can have the same place in our lives.

Marriage isn’t always talked about as a source of inspiration. Neither is parenting. I am reading a book right now that is just bludgeoning people with the message, “Parenting is hard and you will find out how terrible you are once you have a child.” I have read a number of books on marriage that promote the same logic. To be honest, I suppose this message is widely used in the Christian world, “Come to Jesus and learn what a sinner you are.” It is a tried, and somewhat true, approach to life and faith, but I think it paints an incomplete picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It doesn’t get at our full potential. God wants to do more than just convince us that we are sinners. Jesus says that he came so that we may have life to the full.

In the book of Exodus, God gives the Israelites the 10 Commandments. Jesus gave his first followers The Sermon on the Mount. Both of these teachings helped people understand that they are sinners. The Heidelberg Catechism, in question three, referencing Romans 3:20, “for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” asks the question, “How do you come to know your misery?” The response is, “The Law of God tells me.” I agree with this catechism, and our longstanding tradition on this matter. However, I want to lift up what I believe is needed to fill out the picture of our faith more fully. God’s law , Jesus’ teachings, and the whole of the gospel, teach us not just that we are sinners, but what we are capable of in this world. Without the Word of God we wouldn’t know that we were able to have no other gods before our God or that we were able to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. God makes a consistent effort to help us understand our potential in this world.

My hope and prayer for our community this year is that we would be aware of our shortcomings AND that we would allow the Word of God to inspire us to be everything we were created to be. Whether that comes from an encouraging wife, the 10 Commandments, Jesus’ teachings, or another mouthpiece of God’s Kingdom come. May we enter into 2020 with a willingness to be aware of and live into our God given potential in the world. Amen? Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, December 2019

I have been reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas to my son this year nearly every night. He really likes the book, and he has a lot of the book memorized. He is only four. He must get his memory from his mother, because I don’t have that kind of memory. I was familiar with the story before this year of course. There is a green guy, who doesn’t like Christmas, but he happens to live in a neighborhood where everyone LOVES Christmas. He devised a plan to thwart the whole thing by dressing up like Santa and taking everything. Not a bad plan, so far as plans go. But to his surprise, the Whos celebrate on Christmas morning without any of the stuff that the Grinch stole. This of course throws the Grinch into quite the tizzy, and he begins to puzzle over the matter. He has the revelation that reads like this, “He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

Theodor Geisel’s book was published in 1957, but that little lesson about Christmas is still applicable. Sure, there are good things about buying gifts for people to show them you care. However, in our current context, which over consumes on every level, Christmas can quickly become just another expression of our society’s gluttonous guise. So, this Christmas season, don’t do that. Take Mr. Geisel’s lesson seriously, and consider how a Christian may celebrate that little bit more by naming Jesus’ birth in this world. Consider, what does it mean that God took on flesh and dwelt among us through the birth of a virgin? How does the fact that our savior was nursed in this world through infancy affect how we observe this season of life? May we not settle for the narrative that proclaims the news that Christmas comes from a store. May we live as faithful disciples who celebrate the gift of our savior in the most joyful way. Amen? Amen.

A Note From Josh – College & Center Newsletters, November 2019

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Next week, on this day, some of us will gather with friends and loved ones to overeat, watch football, and prepare for the spectacle of Black Friday shopping. Next week, on this day, some of us won’t gather with friends and loved ones. Some of us will eat alone, watch the game by ourselves, and prepare to observe the spectacle of Black Friday shopping from afar. Will you gather or spend the holiday alone?

Of course, those who won’t gather may wish to have a few people to get together with for the holiday. And some of us who will gather with family and loved ones will wish that we were spending our time alone. The holidays have a way of being an interesting cocktail of emotions, memories, and experiences. How will you handle that drink next week?

Depending on our personality, some of us may withdraw and simply numb out from the experience, spent alone or with others, in an effort to avoid whatever reality the holiday brings us. Some of us may continue to look to the others gathered, hoping to find a cue worth replicating. Still others may enter the day ready to pounce on the first relative who chooses to confirm their ill informed political ideology that everyone has suspected they may have. Someone once told me, “Your personality is what shows up when you don’t.” Will you show up next week?

Thanksgiving may be the easiest secular holiday for a Christian to express their faith. Yes, the history behind the event which birthed the holiday is dynamic, and that should be acknowledged. But given some of the foundational characteristics – a day to gather with others who may not be like you, and offer thanks for what has been given – all that seems like the right kind of mix for a very faithful meal. Will you receive the opportunity to live into your faith next week?

There is a quote from the Talmud that I appreciate. It goes like this, “A person will be called to account on Judgement Day for every permissible thing they might have enjoyed but did not.” May you not miss the opportunity to enjoy the holiday. May you show up and live into your faith in a way that proclaims gratitude for every good thing God has given you.

Amen?

Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, October 2019

“I am a long way from Jonesboro Indiana.” I cannot repress that thought because of the distance between Jonesboro and places like Princeton and First Presbyterian Church Nashville. The kind of Christian I am, the kind of pastor I am, the kind of person I am, has everything to do with that distance. That distance, moreover, creates the space that makes the good news I have to tell possible. (This paragraph is reworked from Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir, Hannah’s Child, Pg. 17)

I was born in Marion Indiana, but I grew up in Jonesboro, mostly. Less than 2000 people live in Jonesboro. It’s small. I enjoyed growing up there as a child. There were plenty of other kids to play with in my neighborhood, and interesting enough surroundings to keep a young one entertained. There were ponds, creeks, and parks. The main road was all brick, which never seemed all that unique until I moved away.

The woes of growing up in a small town like Jonesboro didn’t become apparent until I got old enough to realize that most teenagers would say something like, “there is nothing to do in this town.” That sentiment was the womb which birthed the addictions that plague my family still today. I have two older brothers, and both are in prison. Growing up, it was known that I was “Diann’s youngest son.” That meant I didn’t act like my brothers. People knew me in our small town as, “the good one.” That always made me pause, because I knew I had gotten into my fair share of shenanigans, but I always had a way of keeping them more hidden, or so I thought. It’s hard to hide in the fishbowl that a small town in Indiana can be.

On occasion, I am struck by the distance I have traveled in this world; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In Dr. Seuss’ book, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, as he writes about all of the different things, he says, “Where do they come from? I can’t say. But I bet they have come a long, long way.” My sense is that most of us have traveled long distances in this world; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In my most sanctified moments the distance I have traveled evokes gratitude and wonder – gratitude for where God has brought me, and wonder for where I may end up.

May we be a community that names the roads Jesus has traveled with us, and remains curious for where the Holy Spirit may guide us. Amen? Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, September 2019

John O’Donohue was was an Irish poet, author, priest, and Hegelian philosopher. He wrote a book of blessings before he passed in 2008. I have been longing for beautiful words of hope and healing in the midst of so many other words in our world today. I have found a bit of what I am looking for in O’Donohue’s blessings; perhaps you will too. Consider his blessing For a New Beginning at the start of another season of life.

 

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Amen? Amen.

A Note From Josh – College & Center Newsletters, August 2019

My barber’s name is Joe. Joe can give a mean haircut. Joe also works on cars. Well, to be more specific, he works on car. Each time I get my haircut I ask him how the car is coming along. He has been working on it for years, and definitely has years ahead of him. He talks about how the car has parts that no other car in the world has. Some of the parts are made specifically for his car, and don’t exist anywhere else. He has collected parts for years from all over the world. The car is one of a kind. I asked him if he was going to race it when it was finished, and he responded, “Probably not, it’ll probably just sit in my garage, and I’ll tow it to some car shows.” I couldn’t believe it! How could you not race this thing?! No other car in the world is capable of what this car is capable of!

Lately, I’ve been wondering if my faith isn’t like Joe’s car. I have traveled on mission trips all over the world. I have read books and sat through classes that only a fraction of Christians have access to. I have profound spiritual experiences that are unique to me. I wonder, “Am I putting all this to good use? Am I going to race this thing?” I’ll pose the same question to you. Are you putting everything you have learned, experienced, and have access to in your faith to good use?

I’m not trying to condemn anyone here. I don’t care to offer condemnation. But I wonder, what would it look like if we saw our faith more like, well, a car? What would it look like if we considered all of the worship services, bible studies, and mission trips an opportunity to build our car and then take it on step further and race these things?! What would lit look like for someone like you, in all of your God formed uniqueness to put your faith to practice in every way possible? Who could be clothed, fed, and cared for that isn’t currently? Who might believe, repent, and trust who isn’t currently? What person or situation needs your understanding of God, your take on the text, and your view of the Kingdom of God?

What if for the next season you committed to as many opportunities to put your faith to task you did to forming your faith? To be clear, I don’t think faith formation is near as sexy as living out your faith, but a lot of us settle for formation in the name of living out our faith. It’s easier. You can plan it and check off the box. However, we are meant for more than liturgy and exegesis. Let’s get our faith out of the garage, get it off the tow truck, and take the cover off. Let’s see what these things can do! Amen? Amen.

Josh

A Note From Josh – College & Center Newsletters, July 2019

Summer is here! And with this season comes new rhythms and a new pace to life, which of course brings about potential. My life gets more hectic in the summer; maybe yours does, too. It is my traveling season. This year I went on the Mystery Trip, will be on the Taize trip when this newsletter goes out, and before the summer season ends, I will return to Cuba for a fifth time to continue our relationship with our sister church in Varadero. But now, I want to talk about the Mystery Trip. This year we went to . . .

Northern Ireland! Ashleigh O’Sullivan was a year long intern in the youth ministry, and if you could tell by the name, she calls Northern Ireland home. It was a no brainer when she suggested the destination for our trip this year, and I couldn’t be happier that we let her run with the planning. She set up opportunities for us to learn about the government, which is much different than ours and is currently shutdown, but I was told “collapsed” is probably a better word, and has been for about two and a half years. We got to partner with different ministries of reconciliation in the country – everything from Habitat for Humanity to Project Surf, yes that is right, we surfed in Northern Ireland! Who knew that was a thing? We also learned about “the troubles”.

“The troubles” are what Northern Irish call the years from around 1970 or so until the early 2000s . . . ish. (I sense that depends on who you ask as to how they would date them.) those decades were plagued with violence from different paramilitary groups – everything from car bombings and mass shootings to an RPG attack on an inmate from the road that overlooked his jail cell. It’s hard to know exactly what has created “the troubles” entirely, certainly a week is not long enough to say anything too definitive on the matter, but one dynamic that was most difficult to learn about was the one between Protestants and Catholics.

In Belfast, there are “Peace Walls” or “Peace Lines” that divide communities between Catholic and Protestant. They were originally built up to about 20 feet or so, but were extended once officials learned that people from both sides would throw rocks or even flaming bottles of gasoline over at random, the last of which was thrown about four years ago. Most everyone in our group at some point expressed confusion and disbelief as to how something like that could happen. A few questions that were asked were, “How are there still walls like this standing?”, “Why would people do that to one another?” and “How can someone claim to be a Christian and do such a thing?”. Of course, it didn’t take long for the conversation to come up that, though our context is quite different, and we do not have the same physical walls as our Northern Irish brothers and sisters, there are certainly divides in our nation, city, and personal lives that testify to the same division.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of his reconciliation to us. Se we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I couldn’t help but think, our nation is just as divided as the Northern Irish. Our hate for others runs just as deep. We attack at random and accept violence as a means to an end in all sorts of ways in our country. We are different, but we are the same, too. Despite this harsh reality, it is not what we are called to. Paul was convinced that in Christ we are new, and in him we have been reconciled, and we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. Can you imagine if Paul could see the walls we have created in this world? What might he say?

As you go through the summer season, a season of different rhythm and pace, with all sorts of potential, consider where you might be an ambassador for reconciliation. Consider, where does there need to be reconciliation? I’d guess it won’t take long for each of us to answer the question. It may take longer to know what to do, but, brothers and sisters, that is our task. May we risk being disturbed and changed, that we may experience Kingdom come through ministries of reconciliation. Amen? Amen.

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