“Transit and Transitions”

“The Lord is your keeper...he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” — Psalm 121:7-8

Summertime is here! When you think of summer, what comes to mind? I think of visiting family, hitting the beach, cookouts, the pool, enjoying longer days, Vacation Bible School, home improvement projects, mission projects, and summer jobs. I also think of those who are moving: to a new city or to a new home in the same city; from one grade level to the next; from high school to college; from college to the working world or graduate school.

Summer is certainly a time of transit and transitions. More than at other times of the year, we seem to be on the road, out and about, on the go, here and there, on the move. Because the summer months are so synonymous with transit and transitions, Psalm 121 often comes to mind. In that psalm, we read: “The Lord is your keeper...he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”

When I’m on vacation or otherwise “in transit,” I enjoy worshiping at other churches. And from the bulletins that members leave my box at the church, it’s obvious that you do, too! I enjoy seeing these and encourage you to drop bulletins from the churches you visit in my box when you’re back in town. I like to read them and glean ideas from them.

Worship is essential! That’s why we print “WORSHIP” (along with “GROW” and “SERVE”) in our publications. Indeed, the weekly rhythm of worship gradually molds us more and more into Christ’s image by (re) focusing our hearts on him, by challenging how we see the world and our role in it, and by reminding us of how God would have us live. In addition, the prayers renew and redirect us, and the music and hymns imprint the Gospel message on our souls. Worship is truly one of the best commitments we can make every week in response to the God who “keeps our lives.”

And always remember that—regardless of the transit and transitions in your life—the Lord “will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” For God in Christ through the Spirit is with us to the end of the age. May the Lord bless you and keep you in your going out and coming in this summer!

Will

Pastor

Summer Reading

Books can be vessels of God’s Spirit to us, enriching our faith by reminding us of Jesus’ teaching and by opening our eyes to God at work in the world. For this year’s summer reading, I’m recommending two books and a devotional. All three have been vessels of God’s Spirit to me.

Wendell Berry is a farmer, Christian, and award-winning author of many works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Christian friends recommended him, and when I asked what I should read, they said Jayber Crow. It’s a novel I enjoyed because of its relatable and amusing characters; engaging plot; and simple, memorable writing. The book gets you thinking about change and life and death and friendship and community and what matters. The Spirit spoke to me especially through comments like: “But the earth speaks to us of Heaven, or why would we want to go there?”

Like Berry, Annie Dillard is a prolific, award-winning writer and Christian. Her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (it’s setting is nearby Tinker Creek!) won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1975. On practically every page, I learn something I didn’t know, and it’s opened my eyes much wider to the manifold wonders of our natural world. I often pause to reflect on her observations. For example, she writes: “There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with [unwrapped gifts and free surprises] cast broadside from a generous hand.” That generous hand, of course, is God’s.

Finally, I recommend “Pray As You Go,” a daily devotional available as an app (in the App Store or Google Play for Android devices) and online. It’s based on the spiritual practices of St. Ignatius of Loyola and includes music, Scripture, and questions and brief commentary to help you engage with and reflect on a Bible story or passage. Though you can read it, I enjoy listening to it, particularly because of the music and singing. It’s my go-to devotional, and I encourage you to listen to it (or read it) regularly to foster your own faith in the Lord.

Enjoy!

Will

Pastor

“Resurrection Then and Now”

“We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” — Romans 6:4

On Easter Sunday and during the season of Easter (which we’re celebrating), we usually think about eternal life. As we should! It’s a sine qua non of our faith! The apostle Paul declares: “Death has lost its sting!” The poet John Donne writes: “Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so...one short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.” And we sing: “Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son; endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won!” Yes, when we proclaim “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” we proclaim the essential, non-negotiable, and hope-full promise of life everlasting for us and our loved ones.

But there’s more. Resurrection isn’t only about life then, everlasting life after death. It’s also about life now. The apostle Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the church in Rome when he writes: “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In the words of one of our Presbyterian catechisms: “By Christ’s power, we too are already now resurrected to a new life.” A new life as subjects in God’s Kingdom. A Kingdom where we turn the other cheek rather than retaliate. A Kingdom where we forgive as the King has forgiven us. A Kingdom where we extend hospitality to the stranger and the refugee, and where we help the poor. A Kingdom where the lost are found, the first are last, and prodigals are welcomed home. A Kingdom of love, where we love even our enemies.

Especially during this fifty-day period of Easter, let’s pray, asking God’s Spirit to empower, lead, guide us to live as loyal subjects in God’s Kingdom, to live our resurrection now—as individual Christians and as the church!

Grace and peace,

Will

Pastor

“Journey to the Empty Tomb”

The angel said to the women, “He is not here, for he has been raised!”...So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. — from Matthew 28:5-8

People use “journey” language to think and talk about many things in life, such as relationships, behavior, and even life itself. The reason we do so is because we travel daily from place to place—to work, school, the store, home, etc.—and because we often hear or read about the vacations and travels of others and do the same ourselves. These common, everyday experiences of travel explain why we often think of Lent as a journey, too.

As I post this, we’re in the fourth week of that journey, one that began on Ash Wednesday (March 6). Like other churches, on that day, a cross of ashes is pressed on our foreheads. At Salem Presbyterian, the words—“Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ”— are also impressed on our hearts. Since that day, we’ve tried to live those words by answering Lent’s call to repentance and renewal so that we would obey our Lord and not sin, so that we would recommit ourselves to living our new life in him through the Spirit.

To help us do that at Salem Presbyterian, in worship at 11:00 AM this Lent we’ve been plumbing the lives of people with Christ at the cross—such as Mary Magdalen and the centurion—to learn the lessons they teach us. I pray that you’re also strengthening your relationship with the Lord through a Lent devotional guide or a resource such as “Pray As You Go.” The latter is one of my favorites; it’s available online and based on the spiritual practices of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

This forty-day journey will soon lead us to Holy Week, beginning with shouts of“Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday and ending with shouts of “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. At Salem Presbyterian, each of our Holy Week services (see our most recent worship bulletin posted on this website) is an opportunity to experience anew the life-transforming and world-changing power, meaning, and significance of God’s never-ending love for us expressed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of his Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let’s continue this one-of-a-kind journey to the Empty Tomb together.

Will

Pastor

“Staying Put in the Country of Grace”

“When we went under the water [in baptism], we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” — Romans 6:3 (The Message)

We used to live in the “old country of sin.” In that country, sin was our master. We were its slaves. We obeyed sin by doing things that opposed God and God’s good purposes. For those of us who’ve been Christians all of our lives, it’s hard to believe that’s what our lives would be like: that sin would have such dictatorial power to rule whatever we said or did.

Thanks be to God that we don’t live in that “old country of sin!” Instead, we live in the “country of grace.” How is this possible? Because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us and the work of the Spirit in us. Jesus is our Master now. We are his servants and friends. So, we no longer have to obey sin. Rather, led by the Spirit, we obey our Lord Jesus.

Of course, temptation and sin are still able to lure us back to the “old country of sin.” Though sin is not our master anymore, it and its sidekick temptation still have the ability to lead us astray…if we choose to listen to their voices and to obey them instead.

The holy season of Lent is a special opportunity—a forty-day period before Easter—to steel our commitment to follow the lead of the Spirit, to tune out the voices of sin and temptation and listen instead to the Master’s voice and to obey it. When we do that, we stay put in “the country of grace.” That’s our home; that’s where we belong!

We’ll begin the Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, March 6, at 6:30 PM in the sanctuary (see this website’s front page). With ashes in the form of a cross pressed on our foreheads, we’ll hear the words, “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ.” It’s a reminder that we have “a new life” in this land of grace.

On this Lenten journey, we encourage you to do things that enhance life in this land of grace: worship the Lord on Sundays; begin or end your day by reading Scripture or a devotional (see the March Tower Talk newsletter on this website to learn more); pray in your car, at work, reading the news, whenever; give sacrificially of your money and time.

However the Spirit leads, I pray all of us will leave the season of Lent more faithful citizens in the country of God’s grace.

Grace and peace,

Will

Pastor

“Love”

“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” — John 15:12

Like many, when I turn the calendar to February, I think of Valentine’s Day. We don’t know much about its history or its patron saint. We do know that Valentine’s Day has deeps roots in both Christian and Roman tradition. As for St. Valentine, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of them martyrs with varying legends about what led to their demise.

One legend holds that Valentine was a priest in Rome in the 200’s AD. When the Roman emperor decided that single men were better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine defied it by performing secret marriages for young lovers. When the emperor learned of this, he ordered Valentine be put to death.

The legends of all three saints highlight a heroic and romantic figure. As a day of romance, Valentine’s Day celebrates that legendary status. It wasn’t until about the Middle Ages, however, that the day was definitively associated with love. Valentine greetings date to at least the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t emerge until after 1400. The oldest known valentine is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

As we commemorate the day with spouses, friends, and loved ones, I hope we’ll also remember Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us. Let’s particularly remember those who may feel unloved or unworthy of love, another’s or God’s. In short, may we embody the Lord’s love, wrapping our arms around not only those we know and love but also around any who need to know that love in their lives.

Grace and peace,

Will

Pastor