G328 Prayer

Diane's Painting

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Spirit of Truth,

All honor and glory are yours

light of our world

in whose image we were created.

Thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ,

into the world to reconcile us to you

that we might be reconciled to one another.

Forgive our divisions, our ruminations about the past hurts and

our speed in blaming each other for what we ourselves failed to do.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

bring us together

help us to find unity in your community

where there is no ethnicity, no male or female, no class

to divide us any longer.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

G328 Prayer

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Prayer for Community

Ceramic churchBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit,

All praise and honor are yours

for you poured out your Holy Spirit at Pentecost

to create the church–

a pillar of faith in an faithless word,

a light in the darkness,

the aroma of your Holy Spirit in a barren land.

We confess that even as we gather

around your communion table

called out from the world and called to faith

we are broken and sinful and without merit

except for the blood of Christ.

Thank you nevertheless for your place of refuge and strength

amid the confusion of life.

Bind us together in unity;

teach us to follow your ways;

bless us that we may bless those around us (Gen 12:1-3).

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Community

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

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Praying for Cooler Weather

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Photograph of Boxing GlovesBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

We praise you for the gift of your Holy Spirit,

who provisions, sustains, and guides us

when cooler heads do not prevail.

We confess that this has been a long, hot summer,

fires burn in our forests, but also in our hearts.

Thankfully,  you are God and we are not.

You protect us when we act like mythical lemmings–

running off cliffs when stressed by competition and deprivations.

Teach us to model ourselves after Jesus Christ,

who taught self-sacrifice and unity

when the world taught war and division.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

save us from ourselves and

turn our hearts and minds to you.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Praying for Cooler Weather

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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Prayer for Unity

Noah's Ark at RPC
Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gracious Lord of Heaven and Earth,

We give thanks for the many blessings that we have received,

blessings that are lightly shared by some and lacking in others,

blessings that may evoke jealousy, envy, and strife.

Give us generous hearts, open minds, and outstretched hands,

that all might be blessed by the blessings that we have received.

We ask for unity, the opportunity of reconciliation, and the ability to accept it.

May we not gloat; may we not reject our neighbors; or cherish too greatly our own blessings.

Open our eyes to the needs around us; open our ears to the voices that we have trouble hearing; give us the patience to listen when others need to speak.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit, bring us together as a nation that we might follow Jesus’ example in all we do–this day and every day.

And grant us peace, in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Unity

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Prune, Intensify, and Apply

Life_in_Tension_web“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that
everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that
you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matt 5:27-29 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When Jesus says “Blessed are the pure in heart”, three actions come into view: to prune, to intensify, and to apply.

Prune. Jesus says later in the sermon on the mount: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) In case you are hard of hearing, he repeats the idea again in the next verse: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt. 5:30 ESV). Pruning consists of removing the sin from your life.

Jesus is serious about pursuing holiness and he assumes that it is hard work. Think about the analogies that he employs—tear out your eye, cut off your hand. These are not easy actions to take. Eyes and hands are part of the body—parts of us. Still, when our lives are threatened, amputation is a acceptable option. If sin were no big deal, the analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair.

Intensify. Jesus does not water down the requirements of the Mosaic law, he intensifies it. In his comments about adultery, he discounts the actual commission of the the act and focuses on the corruption of the heart. The sin begins, not with the act, but with a lustful look or intent. Billy Graham reminds us:

“What does this word adultery mean? It is derived from the same Latin root from which we get our word adulterate which means’corrupt; to make impure or to weaken.” (Graham 1955, 78).

If sin begins in the heart, then purity of heart is an absolute necessity in pursuing holiness, but more is required. We must not only avoid sin, we must focus our desires on Christ. The Apostle Paul writes:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24 ESV)

We must actually practice godliness [1]. Paul admonishes Timothy to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7 ESV) and so must we.

Apply. If the heart and mind both make us a unified person, then all of us is affected when we pursue holiness and practice godliness. In the Hebrew mindset it makes no sense to talk about faith being separated from action. When James, the brother of Jesus, writes:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25 ESV)

James would almost certainly share Jesus’ assumption that unity of person implies unity of faith and action. In fact, one meaure of sin in this context would precisely be the amount of sunshine between what we say and what we do. After all, Jesus was the first one to use the word, hypocrite, to mean two-faced—saying one thing and doing another [2]. Prior to Jesus, an hypocrite was an actor on the Greek stage.

This unity of faith and action reflects the unity of our Triune God whose love is simply a reflection of his person [3].

So we must prune, intensify, and apply if we are to be pure in heart and see God.

 

[1] Bridges (1996a, 7) writes: “The Pursuit of Holiness [also a book title] dealt largely with putting off the old self—dealing with sin in our lives. The Practice of Godliness [also another title] focuses on putting on the new self—growing in Christian character.

[2] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matt. 23:25 ESV)

[3] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5 ESV)

REFERENCES

Bridges, Jerry. 1996a. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996b. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

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The Communion of Saints

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The phrase, communion of the saints, connotes two things: unity and holiness. A communion is a fellowship and, in the Christian context, implies a table fellowship—the Lord’s Supper. In Greek, saint and holy one are the same word. Unity in holiness is rare these days.

The Garden of Eden was initially a picture of peace and unity. Adam, Eve, and God were all at peace with one another (Gen 2). Satan broke this unity with temptation that led to sin (Gen 3). After leaving Eden, the death of Abel at the hands of his brother, Cain, amplified the family disunity. Disunity was further magnified in the line of Cain which led to Lamech, who introduced polygamy, further murder, and revenge killing. In a nutshell, sin broke our relationship with God, with one another, with our communities, and with nature itself.

To combat this disunity, Adam and Eve had a third son, Seth, who replaced Abel as the righteous son of Adam (Gen 4). Seth was “fathered” in his image of his father, Adam, much like Adam was created in God’s image (Gen 5:1-3). The righteous line of Seth maintained a special relationship with God and became a living witness to the world. Being this living witness was the mission of Abraham (Gen 12:2), the nation of Israel (Isa 2:1-5), and, after Pentecost, the mission of the New Covenant community of Jesus that became the church (Acts 1:8).

Jesus taught unity. He said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) He encouraged the disciples to minister in pairs (Luke 10:1). Shared ministry was not only a lesson in evangelism; it was a lesson in unity. It is no surprise then to hear how Jesus remarked at the report of the seventy-two disciples: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)

C.S. Lewis (1973, 10–11) gives a visual image of disunity when he pictures hell as a place where people move further and further apart. At its best, the church is a place where people move closer and closer together. In the tradition of Seth, the church stands being created in the image of God through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The church’s sense of community, post Pentecost, is the metaphorical return to Eden (Acts 2:42-45).

The Apostle Paul painted an image of unity when he likened the church to the body with many parts. He observed: “if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” (1 Cor 12:16) We are all special and yet differ in the spirit gifts that we bring to the church through the Holy Spirit. This is why we celebrate the gifts of others. For our unity is in Christ and Christ’s mission, not in our idiosyncrasies and differences. Still, the need for reconciliation is evidence that our differences are real and ongoing.

REFERENCES

Lewis, C. S. 1973. The Great Divorce: A Dream (Orig Pub 1946). New York: HarperOne.

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The Holy Catholic Church

Ceramic_church_April_16_2012By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Does this phrase, the Holy Catholic Church, mean that we are all Catholic?

The Westminster Confession of faith writes that: “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head.” (PCUSA 1999, 6.140) The universal church includes the elect of the church through the ages, and is invisible in that only God himself knows their identity. The visible church, which we can observe, consists of those elected and those not elected by God. Jesus’ parable of the sower makes this point by talking about wheat and the weeds (tares): “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matt 13:30)

The elect are holy—set apart—by God for reasons that God alone understands. Catholic means we are united in diversity (catholic with a small “c”); it does not mean that we are all Roman Catholic (Catholic with a big “C”).

The doctrine of election is a necessary condition for the sovereignty of God to have any real meaning. God created us and Christ redeemed us before we were born, which implies that we cannot earn our creation and redemption (Eph 2:1–10). Our total dependence on God for salvation becomes obvious when we truly acknowledge and grieve the sin in our lives. Although our inclination to sin has been passed down from Adam and Eve, we also actively sin for ourselves. It is like our spiritual ancestors chose to live in enemy territory, and we grew up living there speaking the local dialect [1].

So, none of us have earned our creation or our redemption. The gift of faith is both free and priceless. The mystery of election is that we do not know who is saved or why. Jesus simply said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Our task is to spread the Good News, to pray for the lost, and to trust that God is good, just, and always honors his promises.

[1] The effect of this personal sin becomes most obvious when we have children of our own and experience first-hand how our sin and brokenness impacts them.

 REFERENCES

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

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1 Corinthians 16: Unity and Diversity in Christ

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love…If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (1 Corinthians 16:13-14,22 ESV)

Many study groups fast forward through the final chapters in the Apostle Paul’s letters thinking that the names listed are difficult to pronounce and the overt lesson is over.  This is a mistake.

In Chapter 16 Paul deals with at least 3 very controversial issues in the church:

  • Mission giving and financial integrity;
  • Support and acceptance of church leaders; and
  • Boundaries on the Christian community.

Missions and Financial Integrity.  The Jerusalem council imposed 4 requirements on Gentile converts: …abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts15:29 ESV) [1].  Paul mentions only one requirement:  remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). By that, he particularly meant the poor saints in Jerusalem.  He reasoned: For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings (Romans 15:27 ESV).

It is interesting that Paul, who took no support from the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9), was especially careful to request that they appoint their own trustees for the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (v 3).

Church Leaders.  In the middle of church divisions, Paul sends in a turnaround team and highlights the work of theologically sound, local leaders.  In commending the household of Stephanas, he highlights their spirituality (first converts) and conduct:  they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (vv 15-16)

Boundaries on the Church.  While the church is open to everyone, the church does not consist of everyone.  Paul states:  If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (v 22) [2]  The mark of a Christian is love for the Lord, not affiliation or family ties.  Given this presupposition, Paul advises:  Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like adults, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (vv 13-14).

The mention of the household of Stephanas (v 15) as well as Aquila and Prisca (v 19) [3] underscores the importance of family ministries, especially husband-wife teams, in the early church.

 

[1] This list contains 3 food requirements and behavioral requirement.  Each requirement focuses on sins of the body.

[2] “Our Lord come” is written in Aramic (μαράνα θά; Marantha) suggesting again that the earliest confessions included statements of Christ’s divinity and expectations of the second coming.

[3] Also:  Acts 18:2,18, 26;  Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

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1 Corinthians 11: Identity and Unity in Christ

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (v 1).

One of the greatest challenges of our times is to find our identity in Christ, solely in Christ.  Many other voices cry to be heard; sometimes demanding total allegiance without warrant.  Whenever these voices win, we find ourselves denying Christ in some aspect of our lives and end up practicing idolatry.  The Apostle Paul cautions us to imitate him as he imitates Christ (v 1).

In chapter 11, Paul focuses on two areas of contentious debate in the church in Corinth (and our own churches):  gender (vv 3-16) and class (vv 20-34) relationships within the church.  In beginning to discuss these verses, it is helpful to remember that Paul has repeatedly emphasized our unity in Christ:  There is neither Jew nor Greek [cultural equality], there is neither slave nor free [class equality], there is no male and female [gender equality], for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 ESV).  The questions at hand explore how to maintain order and respect within a context of our equality before God.

The social context of Paul’s comments on gender is frankly not well understood and confusion about how to translate Paul’s instructions has led to conflicting advice followed by different churches and denominations.  The common lectionary simply skips over these verses.  Notwithstanding, Hays[1] (183) notes 4 points about gender relationship which are well-understood:

  1. Paul endorses the freedom of women to pray and prophesy in the assembly; the only question is what sort of headdress is appropriate…
  2. The patriarchal order of verses 3 and 7-9 is set in counterpoint with a vision of mutual interdependence of men and women…
  3. The passage does not require subordination of women…but a symbolic distinction between the sexes.
  4. The immediate concern of the passage is for the Corinthians to avoid bringing shame on the community.

Paul’s more lengthy discourse on the relationship between husbands and wives in Ephesians 4:22-33 basically prescribes men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands in a context of equality before God.  What this means in the context of communal worship is basically that neither party should flaunt their independence or sexuality in dress or conduct in a manner that would embarrass the other or the community.  Obviously, a lot more could be said about this subject.

Paul’s comments about classism in the church’s celebration of communion probably come as a surprise to those accustomed to reading this passage causally.  This is because the communion practice in serving communion is to skip over the context of Paul’s comments which have 4 parts:

  1. Paul observes divisions and factions in the church (vv 13-19);
  2. Paul accuses the Corinthians of not celebrating communion properly because some eat and some go hungry;  some get drunk and some have nothing (vv 20-22);
  3. The words of institution (vv 23-26); and
  4. Warning about improper celebration of communion (vv 27-34).

The key verse here is: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (v 29).  What does it mean to discern the body?  At a minimum it means that communion is taken together; more importantly, it means that the celebrant needs to consider the needs of the community (unity and equality) before taking part in communion—communion is a communal event.

If our identity is in anything other than Christ (culture, class, gender, race, and so on), then taking part in communion invites God’s judgment.  When we remember Christ, we should not have other things in our minds or on our hearts.

 

[1] Richard B. Hays. 2011.  Interpretation:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

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Unity in Christ’s Mission

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This past summer at General Assembly (GA) in Pittsburgh, I served as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) representing Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) in Charlotte, NC.  One of the highlights of GA for me was getting to meet both outgoing moderator, Cindy Bolbach, and incoming moderator, Neal D. Presa.  Neal later contacted me about serving on GA committee looking at the Belhar Confession (Belhar)[1] which I was unfortunately unable to follow up on because of my commitment to finish seminary.

Belhar arose as the South African Churches began to reflect on their role during the apartheid years (1948 to 1994).  The confession remarkably anticipated the abolishment of apartheid rather than simply ratified it. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church formally adopted Belhar in 1986[2].  By contrast, the secular response to Jim Crow legislation (the U.S. template for apartheid) was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which the PCUSA ratified in the Confession of 1967.

Reflecting on Belhar, the question arose.  What are the core principles of the PCUSA and how would Belhar enhance them?  Core principles normally reflect one’s deepest, jointly-held convictions. The Confession of 1967 guides our reflections on questions similar to Belhar. Does putting forward Belhar again suggest that we should amend the Confession of 1967?

The real story in South Africa is not that white churches adopted a confession; the real story is that they threw their doors open to all of God’s children.  What led these churches into revival?

Part of the South African revival story is a mission story.  A recent book by Rollin Grams, Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962[3] documents part of this story.  Rollin is an NT scholar at GCTS and the son of Pentecostal missionaries, Eugene and Phyllis Grams, who labored most of their careers in South Africa among the black townships before it was politically safe to do so. Rollin writes their story in their own words. The book is, however, more than an oral history or a travel diary. Salted throughout the book are asides (he calls them capsules) to explain to a non-Pentecostal audience what is going on.  Far from dry, Rollin poses a sense of humor that makes the stories come alive.

An absence of priorities, not confession refinement, remains the PCUSA’s biggest challenge. Our membership is growing older and our young people are not joining the church.  Furthermore, our members are mostly Caucasian and wealthy while the young people in our communities are increasingly multi-ethnic and poor.  In this sense, the journey of the white churches in South Africa is also our journey—even my own personal journey during seminary.  How do we move from ratification to reformation?  What will lead our churches into revival?

This month Centreville Presbyterian Church welcomed its new associate pastor, the Reverend Dr. Jesse Mabanglo.  Like Neal Presa, Pastor Jesse hails from the Philippines.


[1]Download Belhar at: www.pcusa.org/resource/belhar-confession.

[2]Belhar is now one of the standards of unity of the new Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa.  Closer to home, the Reformed Church in America adopted it as a confession in 2010.

[3]Rollin Grams. 2010.  Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962.  Eugene:  Wipf and Stock.

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