Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trinity Youth Conference


Next week I'll heading out to Camp Living Waters, in Schellsburg, PA, to be part of the leadership team of the annual 'Trinity Youth Conference'. A couple of our youth will be in attendance. Please pray with me that they have a fruitful and inspiring time.

'TYC' is a week-long event for high school youth and college-age young adults. The conference focuses on spiritual and leadership development, discipleship, and evangelism through daily worship, small group activities, and various workshops with topics based on the theme, which this year is “For Such A Time As This” (based upon Esther 4:14).

The conference has been in existence for over 40 years. Originally it was a part of the Synod of the Trinity, but these days is self funded by 'Friends of TYC'. Some of the current leaders first came as campers many moons ago and have stuck with it. One of the longest serving, Rev. Mitch Miller, who is attending for his 21st year, not only met his wife at the camp, but through it's ministry felt a call to full-time Christian service. He now annually drives a van load of teenagers and young adults all the way from Oklahoma so they can experience it!

One of the unique features of the conference is the mixing of college aged young adults with High School participants. The college age folk (who are mostly those who have attended for a number of years) often become marvelous mentors to the younger ones and let them know what college life is really like, in particular in regard to holding onto faith.

A number of pastors, youth ministers, church leaders, lawyers, engineers, top chefs, and others have said that T.Y.C. was the primary place where they grew in faith and developed the leadership skills they use today.

A former participant, now an ordained Minister in the PC(U.S.A.), writes; "Trinity Youth Conference is the place God really started to make sense to me. While at TYC, I started discovering that God isn't just out there, but living right here in community with people who believe Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of their lives and this world. TYC helped to shape my faith. If it wasn't for TYC I don't know where my faith might have gone."

As of writing this year we have 92 participants registered for the conference. My role at the camp has been everything from music leader to preacher. This year I'll be responsible for leading one of the workshops. Leadership is only by invitation of the 'Planning Team', a group of adults and youth who are elected annually by the camp participants.

For me it is a HUGE privilege to be part of the leadership team for another year. The youth and young adults teach me so much about what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is like in today's world. Hopefully I can pass on some thoughts that will enable them to continue along that road!

In my absence, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we will be welcoming to our pulpit Rev. Heather Bobbitt, from Severna Park, MD. I'm told she always brings a good message and I'm hoping folk will turn out to hear her. Wherever we are, may God's blessing be with us all in the midst of these hot summer days!

For some music (and to give a taste of the Trinity Youth Conference)  a video from TYC 2013.
 
Rev. Adrian J. Pratt.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Camp Discovery


'Camp Discovery' is the name of our Vacation Bible School this week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church. The whole place has been decorated with an outdoor theme, lawn chairs, a tent, trees, a camp fire, a teddy bear on a zip-line and lot's of animal pictures. Folks have really gone to town creating the right atmosphere.

The kids have rotated through a series of craft making, science projects, storytelling, song times and game times, each coordinated by a willing group of volunteers, many of whom are young people – 'C.I.T.'s' (Counselors in Training). Their enthusiasm matches the kids exuberance. I'm sure as the end of the week draws near, we'll all feel a little more tired and a little less enthused, but for now the adrenalin keeps us moving along!

This congregation is blessed with so many wonderful folk who give of their time and talents to make this a fun week for all involved. I know we couldn't do it every week, but it is great we can have one special week to 'Discover' together, in a camp setting, more about the gospel message.

The bible verse we are focusing on is 1 John 4:19 “We love because He first loved us”. We are exploring how God can work through our lives to help others. This is a lesson that everybody, is sharing in, volunteers and participants.

We have thought about the virtues of different bible characters. The courage of young David who faced down a giant, the wisdom of an early Israelite Judge named Deborah who led the nation to victory over a feared enemy. The tenacity of Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, who refused to bow down and worship an image of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and faced a fiery ordeal, yet discovered God was there for them.

We have talked about a blind man, called Bartimaeus, who received a new vision from the touch of Jesus upon his life, and we'll be talking about character called Ananias, who was sent to minister to a one time opponent of Christianity called Saul; though we know him these days as the apostle Paul.

When talked about in a communal setting like 'Camp Discovery' it can really bring these characters, and the message of their life, alive to us. We hope and pray that our Bible School will be a positive influence on young lives, and that we will all know we are loved by God and grow in the desire to share the love of Jesus Christ with others. 


If you are around on Sunday and wish to join us for worship we'll be having a V.B.S. themed service. Come and be part of the fun!


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Story-Tellers


Stories have tremendous power. They are capable of carrying great truths in a way that makes them extremely memorable. Whenever Jesus wanted to say something really important He usually told a story. Many of His stories, like the 'Good Samaritan' or 'The Prodigal Son' immediately remind us of a message, just with the words of the title.

Much of the content of the 66 books of the bible is offered to us as story. Those who dismiss religious writings, as being myth and fable, seem to forget that it is through such vehicles truth is often revealed. Likewise, those who hold to a literal interpretation of scripture passages, seem to have lost the awareness that truth is a many faceted jewel. To insist that such and such really happened, in this actual way, at that particular time, can obscure the deeper meaning of many a text. Biblical literalism can destroy biblical stories.

As an example take that story about the 'Good Samaritan'. (Luke v10:29-37). It's a classic story about loving our neighbors. Among other things Jesus reveals the arrogant self-justification of the questioner, challenges Jewish prejudice against their Samaritan neighbors, ridicules religion that was all talk and no action and lifts up compassion as being a far greater virtue than legalistic observance of ancient traditions.

The sting in the tale comes with the final words 'Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The truth the story carries does not depend on there having been an actual incident where a man was robbed and three different folk reacted to him in different ways. Two, who should have known better, walk on by. One, of whom not much was expected, becomes a true friend to a fellow human in great need. Compassion wins! "Go and do likewise." Even if this whole conversation were a fictional account, it would still carry exactly the same truth.

We know very little about the childhood of Jesus but can presume that, like youngsters of every age, He was raised by folk who surrounded His life with stories. We do the same today for our own children and grandchildren. Stories have power. They take us to the dark side. They teach us right and wrong. They instill values. They stretch our imaginations. They stay with us.

At Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are approaching our Vacation Bible School week. Bible School is a time for telling stories. Over the last few weeks in our services we've been looking at biblical characters. (Last weeks sermon on Ananias is here). It is important that children hear stories about people of faith. The actual historic details of characters such as David, Deborah, Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, Bartimaeus and Ananias are probably lost to us. What we do have are stories about their lives, to inspire us to adopt virtues such as courage, wisdom, fearlessness, faith and service.

On Sunday morning, during our outdoor service, I'll be offering to the congregation some Jewish stories that Jesus might have heard when He was just a lad. Will they be true stories? Did Jesus really hear them? Was He influenced by them? Who first told them? It doesn't matter. What matters is the truth the stories contain. Stories matter!

For some music here is a song called 'Storyteller' by Morgan Harper Nichols (with Jamie Grace).

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt. B.D.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ananias - Praying beyond the Fear Factor


Last week we thought about a guy called Bartimaeus (sermon here). This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we'll be talking about a character from the book of Acts called Ananias. You can find his story in Acts 9:10-19. He is another one of the people that will feature as part of our Vacation Bible School this year.

Ananias is first mentioned in Acts as simply being a 'a disciple in Damascus'. Damascus was the town that Paul (then known as Saul) was heading towards when he had his dramatic conversion experience. It left him blinded by the light and wondering what might be next for his life. He had been on a mission to arrest followers of 'The Way' in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem on charges of heresy (which could carry the death penalty). He had held the coats when a disciple named Stephen had been stoned to death, an action that met with his approval.

When Ananias set about doing his daily devotions that day, little did he know that God would send him to meet Paul. We don't know exactly what the spiritual practices of Ananias were, only that God spoke to him in a 'vision' that offered specific directions. He was to go to a certain street, at a particular time, to a certain persons house and there he would find the great enemy of Christianity, Saul, in prayer. He was to lay his hands on him that his sight might recover.

The vision is very clear and extremely specific. We don't know if Ananias had experienced such intimate contact with God in the past, but we do know he wasn't pleased by it in the present. To put it bluntly he is terrified. He knows about this Saul character. He knows that he was traveling to Damascus with death threats towards disciples like himself. He complains to God 'I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done...' The fear-factor is at an all time high.

God insists. Paul is described as a 'chosen instrument' through whom God's purpose would be accomplished. The amazing thing is that Ananias responds to this vision and things unfold just as had been revealed to him. He goes, he prays with Paul, his sight is recovered, and the rest is history. Paul becomes the greatest evangelist of 'The Way'.

The prayers of Ananias take him beyond his fear factor. In our own lives we all wrestle with fears. They may not be as dramatic as those of Ananias, but they are nevertheless 'fears'. We may not enjoy exactly the same level of communion with God as Ananias experienced, yet we all have experiences and insights that shape our personal vision and understanding.

This passage encourages us to pray through our fears and reach beyond our personal fear factors. It encourages to see that God is not only at work in our personal lives, but also at work in the circumstances of others. It suggests that sometimes reality shifts and we have to modify our perspective accordingly.

In a world which seems to be in a constant state of flux, I find it encouraging that prayer is one of the things that can help us navigate a path though the craziness! For some music, this reflection by 'Sanctus Real' titled 'Pray'.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt. B.D.