Saturday, August 28, 2010

Slipping Down the Slope

The Rev. Jane Spahr was tried this last week on the charge of performing marriages between persons of the same sex. She had been tried earlier and found not guilty through an orwellian torture of language and logic. Her presbytery judicial commission said she couldn't be guilty of "marrying" same sex couples, since such a thing didn't legally exist (at that time). Therefore, they reasoned, whatever she did wasn't a "marriage."
Complaints were filed with a higher judicatory, and said judicatory demanded another trial take place. This time, Spahr was found guilty. Had the denomination come to its senses? No. All you have to do is read the judges' remarks in the text of their decision:

The Permanent Judicial Commission, in sustaining the first three charges, recognizes that while the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr has indeed performed these marriages, which were and continue to be legal marriages, she did so acting with faithful compassion in accord with W­7.3004. These marriages were legal in the State of California, being civil contracts (W­4.9001), and are different from same sex ceremonies. The testimonies of those at court clearly demonstrated this difference.
We commend Dr. Spahr and give thanks for her prophetic ministry that for 35 years has extended support to “people who seek the dignity, freedom and respect that they have been denied” (W­7.4002c), and has sought to redress “wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples in the church, in this nation, and in the world” (W­7.4002h).
In addition, we call upon the church to re­examine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.(G­3.0401c) We say this believing that we have in our own Book of Order conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the Gospel. In this particular case, in W­4.9001 we have inclusive and broad descriptive language about marriage, “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well­being of the entire human family.” This sentence is followed immediately by “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.” The language of the second statement draws on our cultural understanding today of marriage that is rooted in equality. But it is not faithful to the Biblical witness in which marriage was a case of property transfer because women were property. Nor does it specifically address same gender marriage.
This follows a General Assembly that has recommended removing the one paragraph in their Book of Order that insists on Biblical sexual behavior. The Bible warns against this kind of false teaching:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. (2 Peter 2:1-2)

Yet, not everyone believes that Scripture is authoritative in the PCUSA. None other than the current vice moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, has declared "Sola Scriptura is dead."

"...the most important questions of our day is 'Where is the authority?'  'Sola Scriptura' is dead most places, and dying rapidly in others. So where do we lodge the authority of our faith? That's the real battle we see fought in the church." 

 This specifically means that an elected leader of the denomination (2nd highest) believes that Scripture is just another book in the denomination's library. What is the point of having a whole book of Confessions if the Source of those confession is declared dead? Why do PCUSA officers still vow to believe and teach the "essential tenets" of the Reformed faith, when no such tenets exist.

The argument over sexuality is not the central point of the church. It is symptomatic, though, of a church that has demonstrably lost its way. I wonder still why those who truly believe in Scripture maintain membership and support in an organization fundamentally opposed to the fundamentals?

There is no perfect church. There are no perfect denominations. To those in the PCUSA who slyly say this to those of us who have left, we can at least answer that there are many denominations, such as the EPC, who choose to follow Scripture first, and trends last.
Keep praying, keep the faith.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Attention on 61st Street

So much has been said about Kirk Crossing that some feel Kirk of the Hills has gone onto the back burner in terms of interest. Not so.

Since Kirk Crossing starts next Sunday, the calendar demands a lot of communication over the past few months. During this time we have not been ignoring Kirk of the Hills. We’ve been planning changes—not dramatic, but steps toward renewing our ministry.

A new emphasis on reaching out to our neighborhood.
We don’t want to wait until our congregation’s average age is late middle-aged or older. We need to continue to reach out to younger people. Demographic studies show that our neighborhoods, particularly north of 61st Street, are getting younger. Even as we’ve gone door-to-door in Jenks for the establishment of Kirk Crossing, we will do the same here.
We’ve found that one of the most dramatic demographic changes is that of single moms. That is the fastest growing segment in the radius around 61st Street. While we’ve always had single moms, we’ve never established programs strictly for them. We will need to do this soon, and we’ll need hundreds of volunteers to help.

Enhancing traditional worship.
Kirk of the Hills started with traditional worship, and it is still the most-attended style of worship here. While we have never been “high church” in terms of our worship, we still wish to have an atmosphere of the awesome presence of God as we worship Him. A few changes in the order of worship will be coming. Nothing will be drastic or unfamiliar, but the changes will be for the purpose of reminding us of God’s presence.

Maintaining contemporary worship.
We are not moving contemporary worship to Kirk Crossing. Although that will be the single style of worship there, we will continue to have traditional and contemporary worship at Kirk of the Hills. For quite some time, contemporary worship will be exactly the same at both places, since it will be at evening worship at Kirk Crossing and morning worship at Kirk of the Hills.

Upgrading facilities.
Changes are needed in some of our Sunday school rooms. We need to find a better area than the conference room for fellowship between and after worship services. We need brighter projection so that the items on the screen in the sanctuary can be read without lowering the lights or the shades. The organ needs critical maintenance.
Since we have a complete facility there is no need to build new ones, but upgrading what we have is an ongoing concern.

We celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2011. We’re going to use the Biblical theme, “Jubilee,” as our guideline for the celebration. We will honor and celebrate our past in the context of looking ahead. Jubilee, in the Bible, was a “Sabbath’s Sabbath,” where all the people of God reminded themselves that the land was God’s not theirs. Kirk of the Hills is God’s, not ours, and we are diligently trying to minister, maintain, and move ahead with that in mind.
Keep the faith, keep praying.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Crossing is Coming

As I write, the first service for Kirk Crossing is just 11 ½ days away. Kirk volunteers will set up more than 100 chairs, sound equipment, video equipment, and whatever is needed for children who come. It’s an exciting time.

The last time “we” did this was in 1961. A group of 30-somethings came together at Carnegie Elementary School with a vision of what Kirk of the Hills might become. A few of those very people will be at Jenks West Middle School to repeat that act of faith, this time along with younger people two and three generations after them.

I am so thankful to the more than 200 Kirk members who have stepped forward as volunteers to make this a reality. Not all of those 200 will make Kirk Crossing their permanent home. In fact, our greatest hope is that we will start with a majority of people completely new to us.

I am also thankful to the Kirk staff, most of whom are doing double-duty, making sure that our programs and ministries are of equally high quality at both locations. The staff has always gone the second-mile in service to the Kirk. That’s one of the reasons that we have the resources and drive to take this step. Another big reason, of course, is all of you.

Kirk Crossing will be a second campus of the Kirk. We will be one church with two locations. Other than that difference, we will be one church, with the same sermon Scriptures at both locations, shared equipment, shared offering, shared programs, and shared mission.

I know that this process is somewhat confusing. Some fear that we will let the “home” location slide while we pay most of our attention to the new one. Nothing could be further from the truth. We cannot do a good job in Jenks without an equally good job being done at 61st Street. (In my next blog I’ll talk about some of the specific things we’ll be focusing on at Kirk of the Hills).

Some are worried that Wayne and I will shift our attention away to Kirk Crossing. The fact is, we will both be continuing the same preaching schedule at Kirk of the Hills. With five preachers on staff we have the depth to cover both places without either one feeling second-class.

Wayne and I have our anxious moments, but they are simply about entering the unknown. Once we are underway, the excitement of the work should redound to the benefit of everyone, regardless of location. Keep the elders, pastors, staff, and volunteers in your prayers as we take this great step forward.

Keep the faith, keep praying,

The Kirk Crossing property at I-75 and 114th, as seen Monday afternoon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Beginnings

I’m back. I think.
I stopped blogging in the midst of Kirk of the Hills litigation for her property on the request of our attorneys. They said that, if I continued blogging, everything I wrote would end up projected on big screens in court, with yellow highlighting to point out pertinent passages.
Ever the compliant client, I agreed. I think, in retrospect, that they were right. I wish I hadn’t stopped, though. Information is vital to a church and, when my blog stopped, a lot of what people in my church needed to hear got blocked. More on that in a later blog.
What has happened since then? We lost in court, actually never getting to present our case as we believe it should have been. Our judge decided that it was a church/state separation issue and, his words, we were remanded to the “graces of the church court system.” Sadly, he didn’t know that grace left the PCUSA some time ago. Perhaps there’s no room for her and “Sophia” in the same place ; ).
So, we paid our $1.75 million on demand. The Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery put the money in the bank and we moved on. We really have moved on—our new, second church campus, 10 miles west of our current repurchased facility, begins worship on August 22!
We are now in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church via the New Wineskins Presbytery (a non-geographical “holding” presbytery). We LOVE the people in the EPC. For the first couple of meetings (at the geographical presbytery) there was that lump in the stomach that we always felt going to PCUSA meetings—a lump based on the realistic fear that good ministry ideas would be blocked or that the presbytery would look for ways to make life better through litigation. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
When we walked into our first meeting (late) the presbytery stopped everything to welcome us in; they gathered physically around us to pray for us.
Since we at the Kirk do some things differently (ie Wayne and I are co-pastors, which isn’t in the EPC constitution; we also employ two pastors from non-reformed denominations) we worried about approval. We shouldn’t have bothered. The attitude of the presbytery was that they trusted the local church. If a matter of contention is not something involving the EPC’s published essentials, it is ALWAYS treated with grace. What a change; what a blessing!
Keep the faith; keep praying,

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Unknown

The unknown is the ultimate fuel for anxiety. I remember experiencing deep anxiety in 1982, when we were preparing to move back to the States from Scotland. We had been given an offer to stay with the church I was serving in Edinburgh. The Church of Scotland had offered me a pastorate in a small church on an island near the arctic circle (really!) I had made appointments to interview for positions back here in the USA. There were a lot of conflicting desires and no little anxiety.

One thing we knew: we were supposed to go back to the USA. Yet, it was more complicated that that. We are native Californians, and we still owned a house there. Audrey, who was 11 at the time, let us know in very certain terms that we were moving back to our old house and neighborhood. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to move back to our old church, so it wasn’t a given that we’d be able to stay at our old house, even if we moved back to California. More anxiety.

Then there was this guy—Ed Hurley—whom we had met in Scotland. He moved back to the USA and had written that there was an associate pastor position open in his church. The problem was that the church was in Tulsa. I had clearly marked on my UPCUSA dossier that I would serve a church anywhere but in Oklahoma or Texas (bigoted Californian that I was). I actually felt sorry for him when he moved back because he was going to Oklahoma!

As a “favor” to Ed, I agreed that we’d interview at Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa. Travel logistics made it the first stop home and my first interview. We fell in love with the Kirk people. We discovered that Oklahoma is greener than California by magnitudes. We liked everything we saw. We knew at that moment that we were called to come to the Kirk. Audrey was quiet. More anxiety.

It wasn’t until we took off from Tulsa airport that Audrey spoke. She simply said, “I could live in Tulsa.”

That was the beginning of a love for a church family that has never dimmed (okay, it’s flickered at rough spots in the mid 1980s, but still held). Chrissie found professional fulfillment as a teacher at ORU, where she is now a full professor. Audrey met her husband-to-be in the youth program at the Kirk. She got a wonderful education at Jenks, ORU, then graduate work at OU medical school and finally her medical degree from OSU. Our granddaughter, Emily, was born at Hillcrest and was baptized by me here at the Kirk.

All of our anxiety was replaced by repeated, resplendent blessings. I shudder to think of what would have happened otherwise.

We’re all experiencing anxiety over the unknown regarding our place of worship. We have highly-skilled, great people working on both negotiations and appeals. God is still sovereign and guiding us, whether or not we feel it at the moment. We are in good hands.

Great blessings are around the corner. God is good and will provide all that we need in order to minister to each other, to minister to our community, and to live out Jesus’ mission all over the world. I certainly hope that our ministry, whatever it grows into, will include the facilities here on 61st street. How that will happen is in the Lord’s hands.

Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways.
You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Psalms 128:1, 2

Whatever the future holds regarding property and litigation, we stand at a new beginning because we have chosen to walk in His ways. I remember how excited I was in June of 1982 as I first stood here at the Kirk. We all will soon feel the same thrill as God reveals His perfect will for our congregation. Until then, let’s let Him soothe our anxieties.

Keep praying, keep the faith,

Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm Back

I’m back on line—for good, I hope. There have been a couple of frustrated efforts in the last few months to resurrect the blog, efforts that were defeated by my lack of energy combined with extraordinary stress at this time in the life of the Kirk.

Two surgeries and many months later, my healing has progressed now to where I have normal energy; the stress continues. In fact, that’s part of why I’m writing again.

One of the greatest stresses is not knowing what is going on. I know that this is true for Kirk members, and this blog should help. I also believe that the members of EOP have largely been kept in the dark as to what exactly is happening and why. “Kirk Updates” from the EOP office are necessarily one-sided (as is this blog), but they also are filled with so much spin that they should be blurry to the normal eye.

So much is happening at the Kirk that it is almost impossible to keep up with it in normal channels. These things include:

  • Ongoing legal issues with Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery (EOP) and the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA)
  • A judgment on September 9 that EOP used to make an ultimatum against us
  • A change of the judgment on October 6 to some kind of order that is not a judgment
  • A pending decision from the Judge about the proper wording of the September 9 and October 6 rulings.
  • A razor-thin congregational vote to settle by paying EOP $1,7500,000.
  • The train-wreck of our settlement when the PCUSA added a new demand after our congregation and EOP approved a specific list of terms.
  • EOP had told us that the PCUSA would abide by any agreement reached between KOH and EOP

Add to these things the normal life of a healthy church and you begin to realize just how complicated life can get (they never taught us these things in seminary).

  • We are excited about the formation of Joppa. a new church.
  • Old ministries thrive and new ones are gearing up as we speak.
  • We continue to worship five times each Sunday
  • A congregation united to begin with (even though we can disagree on some votes), but never more united, due to the scrapping of the settlement by EOP or PCSUA.

One housekeeping item:

When I previously blogged, almost any comment was allowed, so long as it used decent language. Even so, comments morphed into attacks and/or debates between a couple of commentators. That won’t happen here. My staff will carefully vet all comments, allowing only reasonable and helpful ones on. You’ll be able to judge for yourselves if we are even handed in this.

Keep the faith. Keep praying,

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tom's Preparing for Surgery

Tom is now in California preparing for his surgery which is scheduled for Monday, December 3, 2007 at 7:30AM pacific standard time. If you would like to keep up with his progress during surgery and recovery a website has been set up on at the link below. His site is listed under "pastortom", his wife Chrissie will be updating the information.

You can also leave messages for Tom and Chrissie on the guestbook on the site.

Thank you for your prayers,

The Staff of Kirk of the Hills

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We're Back

I’ve been away from the blog for a long time. Truth is, I was wearied with the subsequent dialogue between blog commentators on each post. What I intended to be informational (with an edge to it) developed into extended battles between those outside my blog. I’ll try something different.
I’ll start again, this time with stricter controls on comments. I had previously blocked anything that used inappropriate language or attacked people other than me. From this point on, I’ll be far more discriminating. What I’m most concerned about is extended debates. Enough is enough.
What’s changed since I last wrote?
· I have a new cat, Max (best cat in the universe, google “bombay cats”).
· The Kirk is still in the legal process, almost in the same place as last reported. We have a short hearing with the judge late in November, asking him to require the denomination to respond to our discovery requests, as we have already with theirs.
· The Kirk has had the best year in its history by every way in which we measure.
· My granddaughter, Emily, is a LOT taller than last year and she’s become an ace volleyball player on her mid-high team.
· The Kirk and pastors are now full members of the EPC. We feel a new sense of freedom and a wonderful sense of welcome.
· My daughter, Audrey, finished her internship and is now a resident at OSU Medical Center, Emergency Medicine.
· Dan Bair finished his D.Min., so four of us five pastors have doctorates. (I wonder who’s left??)
· The Kirk has renewed our mission relationship with our sister church in Zelenograd. Three Kirk pastors met with Pastor Pavel, Zelenograd church members, and even an official from the Presidium of Moscow regarding work we can do together.
· I’ve lost a lot of weight.
This last item brings up a big event for me. My weight loss, in part, is due to a problem with my esophagus and stomach. I had a fairly common surgery in 2000, designed to control severe reflux. The surgery was successful but, in the last couple of years, I’ve had to deal with the effects of scar tissue and a constriction of my esophagus. It’s been hard to eat and, at times, very painful.
The reconstructive surgery for this condition is not a common one, so I’m going to have it done by the Head of Surgery at USC Medical School (Los Angeles), a surgeon renowned for this kind of repair. The surgery is scheduled for December 3rd. I’ll be in the hospital for a week to ten days and then in recovery for a few weeks. I’ll be out of my regular schedule until early 2008.
I’ll blog on until then and hope to continue it through the recovery. I treasure your prayers.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Trivialization of Memory

It seemed, at the time, a pleasant—even innocuous—idea: take all the national holidays you can, consolidate them if you must, and place them on Mondays. In this orderly way there would be no interruption of the middle of the workweek. Factories wouldn’t have to pay time-and-a-half or more to close down mid work-stream. Offices and schools wouldn’t have to deal with a mid-week hiccup interrupting the flow or the curriculum. Oh, and—by the way—this would give everyone a long weekend that could be dedicated to the holiday.

The only problem is that the holiday and the memory are lost in recreation. Case at hand is Memorial day—the day I’m writing this. While the local and national news feeds featured appropriate remembrance, the greater focus was on the long weekend. Gas is more expensive, so people won’t travel as far. The lakes are suddenly up, creating floating hazards for boaters. It might rain and ruin the weekend.

Yesterday we remembered in church those who gave their lives for our country. There was a somber moment as we read together the official Memorial Day statement from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Since I preach three of the five Sunday morning services we have at the Kirk, I had time to consider my own thinking. The somber moment in worship changed into an at-the-door series of greetings, “Happy Memorial Day.” While I don’t want people to be inordinately sad, the “Happy” seemed out of place. This day of remembrance was for those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, but most of us—myself included—were already focused on the barbeque and the time off the next day. At the end of subsequent services, I reminded people that we would have a happy day tomorrow because people gave their lives to provide our pleasant security.

Today (Memorial Day) I watched the President’s address from Arlington Cemetery. I found it on Fox News. Perhaps CNN had it live, as well. The broadcast networks kept to their regular Monday schedule so that no one missed The Price is Right.

Is Memorial Day truly a memory for those who gave their lives for us, or is it just time off? Does Labor Day truly remain a celebration of labor? Are the memories of particularly important presidents trivialized because of a joint holiday that focuses almost entirely on recreation?

Recreation is so important to us—the free weekend being the sacred time of secular society—that nothing is likely to change. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a future long weekend “celebrating” a rescheduled Christmas, or even a change to “Easter Monday.”

We might get some extra time off, but what we lose is priceless.

Keep praying--keep the faith,

Monday, April 30, 2007

Will the Evangelicals Please Stand?

I find it frustrating when progressives insist that they are “evangelical.” I have had such people complain that people like me have robbed them of the word. "After all," they say, "we are all evangelical." But progressives use the term in an overly literal, limited sense. When evangelicals such as I use the term, we not only mean we have "good news," we mean some very specific things:
  • Salvation through Jesus alone is our primary message: the Good News begins with Him.
  • The Bible is the only accurate, reliable revelation of God to humanity.
  • We are called to the Great Commission: tell the world about Jesus.
There are all kinds of news items but only some are good. According to Scripture, there is only one perfect good and that is the revelation of God in Jesus. The Good News that came from him, through the apostles, and to us is very specific: the Good News is only through the person of Jesus Christ.

Progressives have altered this term by pointing most often to the prophets of pre-Christian times. Their premise is that orthopraxis (right action) trumps orthodoxy (right belief). There is no question that Jesus used the words of the prophets when He made his pronouncement at the synagogue in Nazareth, but He had a new end in mind.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19)
Jesus was announcing a Good News that begins and endures in Him alone. Progressives, on the other hand, tend to be loathe to share that Jesus Himself is the Good News, preaching that good actions are the Good News. The rulers of the faith in Nazareth tried to execute Jesus because of His statement. They weren’t opposed to good deeds—they were opposed to His claim to be the source of the Good News.

This is the progressives’ most egregious departure from orthodox Christian faith: they have, I believe, substituted right-thinking and good deeds for the power that comes from a life personally transformed by Jesus. Having found a religious replacement for the “evangelical” Jesus, they are freed to reinterpret the Scriptural moral code and, even, reject the uniqueness of salvation in Jesus Christ.
"We don't know God; we experience progressives we are always progressing, never letting it [our theology] get tied down in a simple orthodox answer....Our theology must be based on more than our own [Christian] scriptures…. We are too parochial, I think."
So—back to my frustration over the assertion that we’re all “evangelicals.” If the Good News is not first about the person of Jesus the “evangelism” is no more than a theology of works. Jesus calls us first to faith in Him, and in Him alone.

As an aside, I’ve challenged some progressives who claim to be “evangelical” to do something for me: put that description (i.e. “I am an evangelical Christian; this is an evangelical church) in their bulletins, their church publications, and on their business cards. So far there haven’t been any takers.

Keep praying—keep the faith,