Thursday, June 23, 2011

Re:told... A Summer Sermon Series

We’ve (the newly ordained associate pastor and me) begun a new summer preaching series. The series “Re:told” will be study of popular children’s Bible stories. Noah and the ark, Sampson, David and Goliath, Daniel and his 3 buddies… just to name a few. But we will put on our big boy pants as we look at these stories. They are memorable for kids because they are fantastic. But often, our understanding of these stories, their meaning, and their place in God’s word doesn’t grow as we do.

Did you know that of men involved in church there is virtually no discernable spiritual growth from the age of 20 to 60? This statistic is based on research (not mine) which sought to discover patterns of involvement within a Christian community or church, being proactive in spiritual disciplines like prayer and scripture study, the role of faith in life decisions, and growth in biblical and theological knowledge. That being the case, I can assume that most of the men in my church know as much about the story of Noah and what it means as the kids in our church do. And frankly, it is on me to make sure they don’t die thinking that the story of Noah is about a bunch of animals on a boat with a rainbow ending.

Basically, this sermon series is going to move our understanding from exhibit A to exhibit B. At least it will attempt to. Rev. Jon Tony kicked us off last week by teaching us that Jonah isn’t really a story about a man who got swallowed by a fish so much as it is about a God who desperately desires his creation to know him through a grace that is hard for us to live with.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Congregational Letter

To the Saints and Church Family of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs,
Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Exciting things abound in the life of our church for which those in leadership are very grateful. Many are coming to a fuller understanding of God and discovering more and more what it means to know Christ and to make Christ known. God is at work in our church!

Many of you may know too that the denomination of which our congregation is a part, the Presbyterian Church (USA), continues to struggle within itself. What some call a new move of the Spirit others deem as heretical. What some hold as essential, others see as having little or no value. There is always value in the struggle over what God’s Word says and means.

The most noticeable and vehemently debated denominational issue centers on human sexuality. A proposed change to our Book of Order appears headed for approval, which would replace our current ordination standards, requiring Deacons, Elders, and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament to live faithfully in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. The new statement simply says that ordained persons must lead while “joyfully submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” The concern is not in what the new language says, but in what it leaves unsaid.

These changes may garner national attention in the press because they omit a clear articulation of biblical standards concerning marriage and sexual ethics. However, these changes do not represent the conviction of the leadership of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs or the Presbytery of Mississippi. Our submission to Scripture as God’s Word as our authority and its clear expositions found in the historic confessions of the church will continue to guide us in our leadership and define for us what it means to be the people of God in grace and truth in all aspects of our lives.

While the issue of human sexuality is in the forefront of our denominational discussion, it is by no means the root of our disunity. Weightier theological tenets like the authority and inspiration of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone have long been the points of great pressure at the seam of the PC(USA).

You can be confident that the leadership of this church remains undeterred in its goal “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We do this with an unrelenting pursuit of our mission to know Christ and to make Christ known to all people.

Many great things are happening at local and national levels with hundreds if not thousands of churches just like First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs even as we deal with this potential tear in our denominational fabric. A great thing will come of this eventually.

There are many who share our convictions and hope for the future of Christ’s bride, the church, and her part in the PC(USA). The Presbytery of Mississippi is discerning how to respond to this new denominational landscape, and many like-minded churches will be gathering in Minneapolis this August to discuss a way forward and discover together what it means to be faithful in the midst of the confusion many have about what Scripture teaches. The session decided to send Pastor Scott, Pastor Jon, and Elder Mike West to this meeting to be a part of this discussion.
In spite of this conflict within the PC(USA), we must remember that God is sovereign and works all things for his glory and the good of those who love him. God is still King, working in our denomination and calling us to faithful actions. These actions requires patience, prayer, and courage to discern God’s leading and direction for us as a church and as a denomination, as fractured as it may seem.

We are asking you to do two things as our denomination finds its way. First, we need you to pray.
- We ask that you pray daily for our congregation. Pray that through the Holy Spirit we might enjoy the unity of the body of Christ even though our denominational unity is tested.
- We ask you to pray daily for your church leadership. Pray that we might strive to listen and have ears to hear God’s direction for us in this time.
- We ask you to pray for an awakening. As we join with people and churches of similar conviction within our Presbytery and around our nation to look for a faithful way forward, pray that God would bring a fresh wind and fresh fire as the Holy Spirit moves to revive us.

Secondly, we ask you to remain committed fully to the life of our church. In staying committed to our church life as a family of faith, you are not staying committed to a denomination, but rather to a community of which each of you is a vital part.
- Stay committed to fellowship. Continue to meet and encourage one another regularly as a church family.
- Stay committed in giving of your self. Your time, your voice, and the gifts God has given you are vital to the good thing God continues to do here.
- Stay committed in your generosity and giving. We assure you that the money we receive will not go to support the denominational offices or affairs of the General Assembly of the PC(USA).

We are encouraged by your faith. We are humbled that through you the Lord has called us in to leadership for such a time as this. And it is our hope to glorify our Lord in the way that we lead this church through humble service.

Grace and truth,