Category Archives: Pastor’s Blog

Scripture Reading in 2020

Have you considered attempting to read through the Bible in a year? In years past Grace Kernersville has used Scottish pastor and missionary, Robert Murray McCheyne’s reading plan. You can read more about it’s beginning HERE.

Also, the ESV Bible app is another good place to find a reading plan which you may access via their smartphone/tablet app or via their website HERE.

Or maybe you’d like to sit and listen to someone read the Scriptures and possibly gather others to listen with you. A program and app entitled, The Public Reading of Scripture is available HERE.

These are just a few ideas. If you have others, let us know! Happy New Year!

We Beheld His Glory

Before I get to this weekend’s service, I’d like to remind all that GPC’s Sunday school hour is off until January 5, 2020 when we will have a Family Sunday school hour on the topic of Epiphany. January 5 is the 12th day of Christmas, and January 6 is Epiphany. I hope to see you at 10:30am for worship and the Lord’s Supper on December 29th.

On the subject of the 12 Days of Christmas, you may enjoy listing to how the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated in this region in previous years by listing to Paul Brown’s episode on Across the Blue Ridge, entitled, “Breaking Up Christmas.”

This Sunday, we begin a three week series for the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany entitled, We Beheld His Glory. On Sunday the 29th, we will be looking at Matthew 2:13-23. Traditionally on December 28 the church remembers Herod’s killing of the children in the region of Bethlehem which leads to the flight of Mary and Joseph to Egypt. We will be looking more closely at Joseph and how his life mirrors another Joseph whose actions led to deliverance.

My favorite depiction of the flight to Egypt is painted by Henry Osawa Tanner. You may enjoy reading this article about Tanner and his painting HERE.

It’s still Christmas!

Bread of Heaven

At Grace Presbyterian’s Christmas Eve service, we heard of the the implicit connection which is drawn from the meaning of the name of Bethlehem (house of bread) and that Jesus is laid in a manger. In Jesus’ birth, Luke is showing us that the Desire of Nations spoken of in Haggai has in fact, come. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes the connection more explicit when he says in John 6:35-40,

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

I read this spoken word piece in which I re-imagined Jesus’ words and my own response in which you may listen to me read here. The text is below. Merry Christmas!

They asked him about the Bread of Heaven.
And so he told them:
“There’s no work that can earn it.
There’s no sin that can’t be overcome by it.
If you are in it you can’t resist it.
If you want it you won’t be denied it.
Moses didn’t give it.
He merely told them about it.
For it was the Father who gave them manna
And in a place they couldn’t make it.

And now, even as you hunger,
I am telling you that you are looking at it.
I am the bread come down from heaven.
The bread which nourishes,
Satisfies, sustains — upon which you can rely,
To which he testifies.
Don’t go spending your work and your toil on food that will spoil.

I am the bread.
The bread of all fulfilling,
The Cosmic Gospel-filling,
The fast-ending feast.
A table set for the least.
I have come to end the slow, hard, soul-famine
And give thrilling, life, joy, and peace.
And all fear ended.
I tell you, I am the bread of heaven.”
Now, are you hungry yet?
Do you want that filling?
Tired yet of that life you are killing yourself for
And your spouse and mother and father and friend?

He’s the bread come down from heaven.
The bread of God unleavened.
Pierced and scored in the furnace of affliction,
Bearing for us, God’s malediction.
Cursed for our benediction.

Given for you and your Cosmic Hunger-Thirsting.
Given for you–to you.
It’s him, I’m telling you.
He feeds, nourishes, satisfies, justifies, makes holy and does it solely.
The door is wide open. If to him you’ve been given,
Give in. He’s gonna win
‘Cause the Father has called you–the Spirit will draw you.
Believe in him.
Receive him. Look to him.

Are you hungry yet?
Afraid you’ve been left out of the feast?
Afraid you’re the least?
He said, “Whoever.”
That’s not you?
Never!
He said, “Whoever comes
I will never drum out of line — drive away.
Come while there’s time.”

“I am the bread of heaven,” he said.
“And it’s the will of him who sent me
That I should lose none of those he’s given me.
But I shall win for them a standing in eternity
One long, glorious Olympic victory.
Forever singing the anthem,
‘Worthy, worthy, is the Lamb that was slain!'”
Praise Jesus name.
His love-banner flying overhead in his house of wine.
The love we’ll proclaim and enjoy for all time.
Eternal banquet filling and life
And telling: we believed.
But with the angels shaking,
Stumped, a new breaking in a glorious humility
A person quake,
Shaking our heads, saying,
“Who would’ve believed, that he was the bread
Even for me?”
He said, “I am the bread of heaven.”
Do you hunger?
Do you wonder, “Will I ever be satisfied?”
Believe.
Believe in the Son who is himself now alive
Even though crucified.
And even if you die or have died,
On that the last day you’ll be there
Alive.
Justified.
Sanctified.
Glorified.
Alive.
And full for time upon time
With the Bread of Heaven.

© Randall Edwards 2010.
This is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks

The Jesse Tree: Grapes

The second Sunday of Advent brought our attention to the Promised Land which serves as both a promised home but also a metaphor for the church of the eternal home of God’s people. I write more about this in an earlier post entitled, Could We But Stand Where Moses Stood. Here, GPC artist, Adah Freeman has taken as her inspiration the image of the cluster of grapes brought back from the Valley of Eshcol in Numbers 13. As we move through Advent, we are to consider the longing for the place and reception of home, of abiding, of place, and most importantly, the abiding presence of God.

Take a moment and see what your imagination reads of the painting. How might you bridge from Numbers 13, grapes, the promised land to the coming of the Christ Child? You may read my take in the poem below.

Grapes

Grapes

When we returned from the land of flowing
Milk and honey — full and green and growing,
We carried the abundance, the grapes bursting
With the fruit-full promise: no more thirsting.

But then doubt set in, underneath a mumbling
That bubbled up to a fount of grumbling
The people, giants; their cities tow’ring
And a land full of enemies devouring.

Have we come this far only to die?
To be squashed? Skins left out under the sky?
How will the death of a generation
Bear the fruit: a promised, holy nation?
What pressing and crushing will remove our sin?
What life trod and poured, that we enter in?

© Randall Edwards 2019.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thank you.
artwork: © Adah Freeman 2019, “Grapes” acrylic on canvas.

Jesse Tree Art: Slingshot

GPC’s Advent art project, The Jesse Tree, is being installed. New pieces are on display each Sunday. One of those pieces is a plywood sculpture of the Jesse Tree which I’ll be writing more about later. The other pieces are a combination of abstract art and poetry.

Why Abstract Art?
Representational art is often viewed as being inherently more worthy than abstract art. The seemingly inherit chaos of the art is viewed in some circles as refuting the idea of transcendent truth. This is false. All art abstracts at some level. The artists eye and imagination always works to communicate and focus. Every artist embellishes, adds qualities, or makes use of symbolism. Abstract art, however, does this with an abandon. The artist hands-over the painting’s meaning to the viewer, and in so doing, the viewer’s imagination becomes as important as the artist’s imagination in order to give the painting meaning.

How Do You Read Abstract Art?
There are several cues one may use to help read abstract art. Many abstract paintings have titles. The titles give you some clue as to the artist’s intent. Next, look at the colors and lines. How has the artist used line, color, and flow to communicate? Secondly, look at the larger context used. Is there a theme to the series? What sorts of references may the artist have been drawing from or which you are aware that may help you discern a meaning? Lastly, talk and share with others your ideas. Abstract art is about engaging the imagination and discovering meaning.

Each piece of art in this portion of the Jesse Tree project is accompanied by an ekphrastic poem. Ekphrastic poems are poems which are written in response to a specific piece of artwork. In ekphrastic poetry we are offered a view into the poet’s imagination as they dialogue with the artist’s work.

Here’s the first piece in the series. It corresponds to 1 Samuel 17 and the story of David and Goliath. The painting is titled, “Slingshot.” How do you read the colors? The lines? How can you derive a story from the painting about David’s struggle with Goliath? Because this is part of the Jesse Tree project, how does this relate to Jesus? How might who Jesus is and what he has done be brought to bear in the artwork’s meaning?

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© Adah Freeman 2019, “Slingshot” acrylic on canvas. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s my attempt to read the painting in poetry. This poem too, is entitled, “Slingshot.”

Once the world was shining-new, golden-bright,
Untouched by shade or stain but brilliant-white;
Then an enemy came
To steal by dark deeds, claim.

The menacing darkness blurred, broke, and scarred—
Tore with violence, crossed, mangled, marred
The field of shimm’ring gold
Whence all was lost or sold.

The darkness continued to blur and streak,
Sent giants: Despair, Dementor, Defeat
Who laughed at our fear, scoffed,
Defied our Lord, and mocked.

But God’s Shepherd descended in between,
Went outside the camp where he was last seen—
For our glory-sealing,
Bearing stripes for healing.

He flung himself at death, and slew the Night
And with his arms he slings us up in life.

© Randall Edwards 2019.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thank you.

The Suffering Servant

GPC’s Advent theme this year is The Jesse Tree. Over the course of the past year, the older primary aged children have been participating in a class called, Rooted in Christ. In this class students have been learning how Jesus’ coming was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and they have been making ornaments for a Jesse Tree which you may read more about HERE.

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This week’s sermon passage is from Isaiah 53, and it foretells of the coming of the Lord’s Suffering Servant. The Advent theme for the second Sunday is “love.” The candle we light in the Advent wreath acknowledges the love of God which is demonstrated in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant.

Now, love is more than a feeling of affection. Though love often begins and continues with desire and affection, love is most often demonstrated rather than felt. We experience love in the lengths to which we go in order to love (oftentimes in the form of our own sacrifice) and in the lengths others go in order to keep loving us. You may read more about that kind of love HERE.

The amazing grace of the gospel is that God has gone to every length in order to save us. Being rooted and established in that love? Well, it’s apparently a power which can be ours if only as Isaiah says in Isaiah 53, we may see the significance of the ‘arm of the Lord’ and believe the message of His revelation.

What is Advent?

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word, adventus for “coming” and thus describes the first season in the church calendar year. It is observed as a season of preparation for what is the “Christ-Mass” — the service in which the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, is celebrated.

In today’s celebration Advent and Christmas are conflated into one season. Sadly, we miss an opportunity to prepare. Tish Harrison Warren, writes this weekend of the significance of Advent. The title in her article in the New York Times gets to the heart of it. “If you want to get into the spirit of Christmas, face the darkness.” You may read it here.

Many churches (and Grace is one), mark the season by lighting Advent wreath candles. The use of candles during the Advent season originated in Germany prior to the Reformation. Originally, there were only four Advent candles: three purple candles and one pink candle. The purple candles matched the purple paraments (the cloth that lays on the altar and the pulpit) and signified the coming King Jesus. (Purple is the color of royalty). The Pink candle is the third candle to be lit, and it is lit on Gaudate Sunday, (the third Sunday in Advent). “Gaudate” means “Rejoice!” in Latin, and is the first word for the traditional introit for that day which is taken from Philippians 4:4-5 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” The white candle or the Christ Candle was added later and obviously represents Christ and was to be lit during the twelve days of Christmas (Dec 25-Jan 5).

GPC follows a common practice of identifying each of the candles with a theme. The themes each week are: hope, love, joy, and peace. The sermon passages will pick up on those themes.

As you prepare for the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ, you may want to look at these resources.
How December 25 Became Christmas.
Malcom Guite speaking on Advent.
Biola University’s Advent Devotional.

Could We But Stand Where Moses Stood

This Sunday we start the Christian year with the first Sunday of Advent. We will be marking the Sunday’s in Advent by lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. This tradition serves as a countdown to Christmas. The first candle in the Advent wreath is sometimes called the Hope Candle or the Prophecy Candle. “Hope” will serve as a theme of sorts during our worship service and sermon.

The experience of Israel in the Old Testament provides numerous stories in which the New Testament church understands her present circumstances. The two most common metaphors employed are that the church and the Christian are either sojourning in the wilderness as Israel did before entering the promised land or they are living in exile while awaiting the promised return. In either case the destination is the promised land where God’s people find their home and place in the midst of God’s creation and their hope fulfilled.

In the 1700 and 1800’s many song and hymn writers employed the metaphor of sojourning in the wilderness. Songs such as “I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, “Farewell My Friends I’m Bound for Canaan,” and “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” all speak to hardness of life for those in the wild beyond Canaan and hope of home and place and rest.

This Sunday we will sing a re-tuning of an Isaac Watts hymn entitled, “There is a land of pure delight. Here are Watts’ lyrics as Red Mountain Music makes use of them in their re-tuning of his him. You may listen to their version below.

There is a land of pure delight
Where saints, immortal reign
Infinite day excludes the night
And pleasures banish pain

There everlasting spring abides
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er
Not Jordan’s streams nor death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore

O could we make our doubts remove
Those gloomy thoughts that rise
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er
Not Jordan’s streams nor death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore

You may listen to the song on Youtube HERE.

Christ the King

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday and marks the last Sunday of the church calendar year. Christ the King Sunday is the culmination of the Christian year and celebrates the church’s hope that Jesus Christ shall return again to establish his Kingdom forever. The hope of Christ’s second coming is a consummation of sorts. The courtship begins with the promises of the Old Testament which are veiled in poetic prophecies. The sincerity of those promises are pledged by the gift wrapped in Christmas’ swaddling cloths; that gift is Jesus. The promise of rescue which God accomplishes through Jesus Christ is realized during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. The resurrection inaugurates the betrothal of our salvation which Jesus has secured, and the promises of that salvation are applied by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Since then, the church continues to await her wedding day when the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, returns to take his bride, the church, to be with himself. And so, Christ the King Sunday speaks not only to a promised event and to an orthodox view (as the Creed says, “[I believe]…he ascended in heaven, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and dead“), but it speaks to the fulfillment of our deepest desire: to enjoy the full-peace, beauty, and goodness of the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Sunday at GPC we will also begin a new sermon series entitled, The Jesse Tree, which will also serve as our Advent series. I will share more about the Jesse Tree next week. This Sunday we will be doing double-duty as we look at kingship and particularly at King David. The events recorded in 1 Samuel 16 and 17 show us that the kind of king we want is oftentimes not the kind of king we need. It is so important for us to recognize the differences. We want a mighty man, but we get a shepherd. We want our choice, but we need a man whom God choses. We want someone who will lead us in victory, but we get a man who is a go-between for us. We want a king who will straighten others out, but we get one who takes away our shame and disgrace.

What will help us grow in our faith is to see the kind of king Jesus Christ is. Over and over again God shows us that his ways are not our ways. We will always be quick to co-opt the Kingdom of God in order to enrich or advance our own kingdom. It never works. Those who do so are constantly disappointed and mystified. Eventually, they lose interest and move to more profitable deities. We however, must be ready to receive him when he comes to us. We must be ready to humble ourselves. In fact, Jesus tells us in the parable, that he does and has come to us and often in many little ways, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me'” (Matthew 25:35-36). As we await his final coming, let us not miss the many ways he comes to us daily.

Happy Christ the King Sunday! It is a festival day for us to feast on God’s grace. Enjoy feasting on his promises and our hope.

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artwork: The Jesse Tree in the Lambeth Psalter, unknown English miniaturist, c.1140s

Grace in Ordinary: Daily Gratitude

This Sunday marks the end of what the church calendar calls Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time falls during two seasons in the calendar year. It first comes for several weeks in winter after Christmas and Epiphany and then comes again several months later to mark the season after Pentecost.

Ordinary Time is a season in which it seems nothing is happening. There are a few special days which come, but there are no special seasons or holidays such as Christmas, Epiphany, or Easter. I tell the children that when they see the green banners (aka paraments) in the church, they should remember that “green means grow.” By this time in ordinary time, the green is tiring, and the daily, weekly, monthly work of doing what the Lord and Christ has commanded as we await Jesus’ second coming, seems unending.

Experiencing the fullness of the gospel in the Ordinary may sometimes feel difficult. We like verbs or descriptors that are action words that speak of the special, radical, extreme, and powerful. Words or actions which speak of the every day such as duty, discipline, making your bed seem to wear us down. Ordinary just seems so ordinary, and who wants that?

A couple of those words which are ordinary words but which get pulled down into the mundane and unexciting of the life of waiting are “gratitude” and “thanksgiving.” Depending on when you hear the word it may be that you either ought to be more grateful or should be ashamed that you aren’t. And so we muster up the strength, rally our sluggish wills and write the note, send the text, or say the words, “Thank you.” Those moments seem a far cry from the flying high, powerful experience of the extraordinary.

The question we’re confronted with in Ordinary Time is, “Can I get to gratitude from where I am right now? In the wreckage of life, in the tediousness of details, and the pang of waiting, is there any way into gratitude which is full and humbling and joyful?” Psalm 75 gives us map, and we will be looking at the map this Sunday. I hope you can join us.