Notes from Pastor Jon

The Reformation Still Matters

Five hundred and six years ago this month, something happened that changed the church forever. A college professor in Germany, who was also a priest, took a piece of paper, and, using a nail and a hammer, posted it on the outside of a church door.

This was not a unique act. In those years a University church door in Germany was regularly used as a community bulletin board. So I imagine there were many nail holes in that door, and other papers may even have been covered up by the newest posting. People passing by the church on the street could find out the latest news.

Have you ever seen a wooden power pole full of staples where papers have been posted over the years? The papers might have announced a yard sale or a missing pet or music lessons. Maybe the church door was like that.

The paper nailed to the door in 1517 was an invitation to a debate (something you might expect to happen on a University campus). The professor/priest was Martin Luther. The church door was in Wittenburg, and the date was October 31. I don’t think anyone kept track of the hammer or the nail, though it would be really cool if they had.

This event is, in my opinion, in the top four events of two-thousand years of church history. What are your top four events of church history? I think that would be a great Sunday school topic.

On Sunday, October 29, thousands of congregations across creation will celebrate Reformation Sunday (the Sunday each year closest to October 31)-FPC included. The reason for our celebration is two-fold: First, we believe the Reformation shows God’s faithfulness to guide the church through difficult years, and secondly, our own Presbyterian beginnings belong to the decades following Martin Luther. 

The Reformation and its legacy still matter. In an age where people care less and less about history and may miss its lessons and value new, modern expressions of the church, we live in a neighborhood in the Body of Christ that looks backwards and celebrates where God has brought us. When we look backwards, however, it should never be more than we look ahead to where God is leading us next. It’s good to be on this journey with you.

Together in Christ,

DNA and Our Spiritual Ancestry

A few years ago, my older brother gave me a DNA kit for my birthday. Have you sent in a kit to see your DNA ancestors? It took several months for my results to come back, but when they did, the results confirmed that my parents’ families emigrated from Europe. We already knew that my mom’s family arrived in the early 1900s in Boston and then headed west for California. I don’t know when my dad’s family first arrived.
The DNA results also included a surprise. The kit showed that my ancient ancestors moved…a lot! They started in Africa and moved north through modern-day Turkey and then west and north. The results include a map showing the many places where my ancestors lived. That map gives me a different perspective about how I am connected to people around the world. I have only lived on one continent, but my DNA ancestors have come from the other side of the world. Who were these ancient great grandparents and why did they move? Maybe they moved for some of the same reasons people move today.
Some might have been refugees fleeing war or the threat of war. Some might have lost everything in a natural disaster and moved to a new place to start over. Some might have been like the American pioneers of the 1800s who heard about a better land (or riches) over the mountains and went to find it. Some might have been like Jacob who was caught up in a family fight with Esau and left to make a new start in a new place. One more? Some might have been like John Muir who had a wandering spirit and went in search of the beauty of a new place.
Genesis tells the story of Abraham’s several moves. The first was when his father packed up the family and all their belongings and moved eight hundred miles from Ur to Haran. The second time Abraham moved was when God said to him, “Go, to the land I will show you.” With that move, God began a new chapter in the spiritual story of a people and a covenant. Abraham moved after that, too, but that second move is his most significant. Paul writes that, because of that move we are spiritual descendants of Abraham. (Galatians 3:6-7)
First Presbyterian is full of spiritual descendants of Abraham, and we are on the move (but not in the same way Abraham was on the move). We are on the move into a new program year with our early and traditional worship services, our new Sunday school classes, monthly fellowship lunches, a new weekly Bible study, youth programs, and music opportunities.
In a previous congregation someone once asked me, “When everything else in my life is changing, can’t the church be the one thing that doesn’t change?” Here was my answer: only God never changes, and God is always at work to stir the church to expand and adjust its mission and ministry. We have always been a people who are spiritually on the move, and God, faithfully, travels with us. I am looking forward to all God has for us to do together this fall.

Laborers in the Lord’s Harvest

In Luke 10, Jesus sends the disciples into the villages of Galilee to announce the news of the Kingdom. He said to the disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. When the disciples returned, they shared with Jesus all they had accomplished.

I have been thinking about that text from Luke ever since last Sunday when the youth gave their Acts Alive report from their mission trip to the Dominican Republic. They were like the disciples returning from their mission and sharing with Jesus the work they had done. I was sitting on the left side of the newly painted sanctuary about six pews back from the front. It was also a rare occasion that I was sitting with Susanne and Jonah. Susanne was on vacation from FPC Thomasville, and Jonah is with us for a couple of weeks before he returns to UNC Charlotte.

The Acts Alive presentation was wonderful and spirit-filled. All of us, in the Sanctuary and watching on the livestream, heard about the mission team’s work, the relationships the youth built with people in the DR and strengthened with each other. I am grateful to God for the adults who led this trip. They are to be commended for their dedication and leadership.
I could see a difference in the youth when they returned from this trip. Could you? You may remember many of these youth led worship on May 7 for Youth Sunday. While they did a fine job leading us back in May, there was something noticeably mature and more spiritual in the way they led us in worship last Sunday. I think that was directly connected to their experience of mission, and a testimony to what can happen when you engage in God’s work in the world.
The joyful surprise of a mission project (serving as a laborer in the Lord’s harvest) is not just that we pray we are able to make a difference in another person’s life, but that we are also changed by sharing in that work. Like the disciples in Galilee, we see what God is doing and the impact it is making on others. That is true for a mission trip to the DR, but it’s also true for those who serve dinner on the third Wednesday each month at the homeless shelter, on a Sunday at Grace Episcopal, or in whatever way you are engaged in God’s work.
It’s a joy to labor with all of you. 


Field Service

Last month while serving with Marines in California, I led two field services. It was Sunday morning, June 18. I had only planned to lead one service at 8:00am, but when that service concluded, a few Marines approached me and asked if I could lead a service for them too, because they weren’t able to attend the earlier service. Sometimes Marines are not able to leave their assignments to do other things.
There are several steps to scheduling a field service. The first step is to determine the safety of the location. You can imagine how critical that would be in a hostile environment. For us, finding the right location was about making sure the Marines were out of the way of traffic. Step 2 is to coordinate the service time and location with the chain of command. My commanding officer is extremely supportive of my work, and he regularly tells me to “take care of my Marines.” Step 3 is to pass the word about the service, so I let each Company Commander know and asked them to pass the word to their leadership.
The above photo was taken during the second field service. At first only three Marines were there, but just before we started, several more Marines came over from their bivouac site. I wished everyone a happy Father’s Day and read the words of Psalm 100. Earlier in the week, I had visited the base chapel and met the Active Duty Base Chaplain. He asked if I needed any Bibles, and I said yes and took about ten. Following the services on Sunday, I asked if any Marine wanted a Bible, and I was able to give almost all of them away. The Bibles were printed and provided to the military without cost by the American Bible Society ( 
I returned to North Carolina on Sunday evening, June 25, pretty tired from nineteen days of Chaplain work. The next morning, I was at the church, guitar in hand and ready to sing with children for a week of Bible school. That week refilled my tank. It was a blessing to sing with Ed Snider and Ken Davis, and a whole group of children. I can’t imagine a better way to jump back into the work in the church.
Together in Christ,