It’s Better Than Getting Pinched

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Acts 8.14-17

Sometimes people ask me about specific things related to Presbyterian beliefs and practices and living here in our unique context, as kind of a religious minority. There are many who are curious about what we believe and what we do as Presbyterians.

Well, I have found a book that is helpful and I just wanted to lift part of up to you. In a way it offers a lot of information in the way of the meaning of Presbyterian and its history and theology, and it also gives some practical advice. It’s called The Presbyterian Handbook, and it’s got many useful chapters in it. Just to give you kind of a taste: it’s got some basic biblical information, the Five Grossest Bible Stores, the Five Weirdest Laws in the Old Testament, Ten Bible Villains and Ten Bible Heros, the Three Most Rebellious Things that Jesus Did.

It has some helpful history: the Six Most Notorious Heretics, How to Explain Pre-destination to Your Friends, and (this is one of my favorites) How To Avoid Getting Burned At The Stake.

It also deals with modern church life, somethings that you can use when you come to a Presbyterian church. Later this summer you might want to read the chapter: How to Survive For One Hour In An Un-Airconditioned Church. And this one is a favorite of mine: How to Respond When Someone Sits in Your Pew. The short answer to that is that they are all God’s pews. You can find out what to bring to a church potluck, and that’s helpfully differentiated by region.

But there’s one chapter that I kind of wanted to focus on this morning and that is a very important chapter for many of you and it’s a chapter entitled “How To Stay Alert In Church.” Well, first of all, one might ask what does it signify when a book of Presbyterian belief has to include a chapter that says “How To Stay Alert In Church.” Well, let’s just move on from that one.

Here are eight helpful hints. The first on how to stay alert in church: “Get adequate sleep. Late Saturday nights are Sunday morning’s worst enemy. Resolve to turn in early or a good night’s sleep on Friday night is equally important to waking rested.”

“Hint number two: Drink plenty of water, though not too much. It is easier to remain alert when you are well-hydrated. Consider keeping a small bottle of water with you in worship. Just a sidenote, one quick bathroom break is considered permissible; two or more are badform.”

“Eat a high protein breakfast.”

Here’s a good one for our Utah context: “Arrive early and find the coffee pot.”

“Focus on your posture. If you have difficulty focusing on the service, divert your attention. Occupy your mind, not your hands. Look around the worship service for visual stimuli, keep your mind active in this way while continuing to listen.”

“Stay alert by flexing muscle groups in a pattern. Clench your toes and feet, flex calf muscles, thighs, glutei, abdomen, hands, arms, chest and shoulders. Repeat. But avoid shaking, rocking or other movements that attract undue attention.”

“And if all else fails,” finally, “consider pinching yourself. Dig your nails into the fleshy part of your arm or leg, pinch yourself, bite down on your tongue with moderate pressure. Try not to cry out.”

And it’s got pictures in case you wanted to see them later. Helpful pictures.

Do we need that? The honest answer is… sometimes, yes. With all of the busy-ness and confusion in the rest of our lives and world, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we get sleepy. We get tired. We lose the sense of God’s presence. We lose contact with God’s spirit. Then when it comes to a time in our lives when we need to hear God’s voice, when we call out, “God where are you? I need you!” we don’t know where to go and what to do because we’ve fallen asleep. It helps, my friends, if we are alert in the spirit.

An essential part of both bible stories this morning is the Holy Spirit, that’s what ties them together. The third person of the triune God. When Jesus came down to the river to pray, he was baptized. And the text tells us that the Holy Spirit descended from heaven in bodily form like a dove and voice came from heaven: “This is my son. My beloved. With you I am well pleased.” The spirit blessed Jesus as God’s son, it affirmed his place in God’s plan, it proclaims God’s love and favor on the one who was about to give up everything. The one who was entering the danger zone.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Sabbatical

    Well my friends, this is my last point of contact with you for the next three months, barring unforeseen circumstances. I am taking a sabbatical this summer, granted to me by you (through a congregational meeting some time ago). Clergy sabbaticals are designed for rest, recovery, and restoration. It’s a healthy thing to do, of course, and the Presbytery of Utah recommends that congregations grant their pastors a sabbatical every seven years (serving the same church, that is). It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been here in Logan for eight and a half years.

    The end goal for such a time is to provide pastors with opportunity for spiritual and mental rest and restoration, to help re-energize pastors, and to prevent burnout. Pastors have a fairly high rate of burnout, but providing time for spiritual, mental, and physical self-care is one of the best ways to prevent such things.

    It’s not only about rest, however. I’ll be studying and engaging in some healthy spiritual practices too. I will be worshiping at other churches each Sunday to experience the ways that other congregations praise the Lord, so that I might observe and consider new things for the ministry life of FPC Logan. I have a small collection of books I plan to read, including Canoeing the Mountains (a book about Christian leadership in uncharted territory) and One Long River of Song (recommended by someone at FPC), and a few others that I hope will inspire good preaching and pastoral leadership when I return. These readings will go along with daily scripture study. Due to the Covid pandemic I didn’t attend any continuing education conferences last year, but I plan to use part of this sabbatical time to so some individual continuing education. There is always something more for me to learn about my role as your pastor. I look forward to sharing some of this with you upon my return to First Presbyterian Church in September.

    Summer Worship—

    A reminder to you all that during the months of June, July, and August worship will be at 9am and 10:30am. If you show up at 11 you’ll miss half of the sermon!Masks will be required until Session determines otherwise, and worship will be in Bruner Hall for both services (this allows us to space out our seating). I have carefully chosen guest preachers for you on the Sundays that Pastor Meg won’t be preaching. They range from experienced pastors to seminary graduates, but I fell they will all bring a wonderful message to you each Sunday. Please give them the warmest welcome when they help lead worship.

    We have a system in place to live stream worship to YouTube, but there are a few technical challenges with this that I’ve been trying to work out over the last month (with audio and live streaming the video). If you choose to worship from home and the live stream is not available on Sunday mornings (because of some technical difficulty), we will try to post the recording for your viewing on Monday morning when the office is open. Please extend us some grace with this. I think it will all work out, but it’s not always a simple process and complications arise.

    Praying that you all have a wonderful, Spirit-filled summer. I’ll see you soon.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all, —Derek

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