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

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Revolutionary Motto

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continue to investigate “The Story”. We reached a point last week where God's people are divided. God sends them numerous folk to try and get them back on course. Our sermon from last Sunday “God's Messengers”can be found here.

Following a time of revolution in the United States, George Washington had the opportunity to become king. He declined. Maybe he recalled the murder of Charles I following the English Civil War. Maybe his eyes were on France and the outcome of the revolution taking place over there. Or maybe he was familiar with the warning of the prophet Samuel, who told the people of Israel, that having a king wasn't such a great idea.

The people of the newly independent colonies seemed to agree. In an article titled “Is America a Christian Nation?” professor of Constitutional Law, Carl Pearlston, writes;In a 1774 report to King George, the Governor of Boston noted: "If you ask an American, who is his master? He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ." The pre-war Colonial Committees of Correspondence soon made this the American motto: "No King but King Jesus." This sentiment was carried over into the 1783 peace treaty with Great Britain ending that war, which begins "In the name of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity...  * "

The story of God’s chosen people might have been very different had they adopted that same motto.  But, despite Samuel's warning, they had wanted a king.  Over the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah there had thirty-eight of them  Only five of them were good. Of the others, the refrain constantly repeated throughout the Old Testament is They did evil in the eyes of the Lord. 

Prophets appeared exhorting the people to turn back to God. God spoke through one prophet in particular, Isaiah, to tell the people of Judah that they would be captured and deported to Babylon, but afterward God would bring them back home.  The purpose? Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.  Then the whole human race will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:23).

In Isaiah 53 the prophet depicts the coming Messiah. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53: 2, 3).  God did not want the people to miss the Messiah.  But they did.  And still do.

The United States would have developed along a different route had Washington agreed to be king.  Maybe he sensed what many others didn’t.  That when we displace God on the throne of our lives, the outcome will go horribly wrong.  When we place God on the throne of our lives, we put ourselves in the best possible position for faithful discipleship.

 Adopt the motto “No King but King Jesus” in your life. Now that's a revolution! Or if you are uncomfortable with that kingly imagery, simply adopt the earliest Christian confession, and try to live into the phrase “Jesus is Lord.”

We can do that in so many different ways. Which is a great excuse to post a solid gospel song from Vanessa Bell Armstrong (with a little help from guest soloist Marvin Winans) - “He Is Lord!”
Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Note: The blog is on vacation  for a couple of weeks We'll be back :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Can You Hear Me Now?

Verizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005.  In their commercials a so-called “test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, traveled the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.

The “catch phrase” caught on.  The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down.  It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect.  Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems.  Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.

God seemed to do something similar in the days when the Kingdom was divided. God kept sending a message.  God gave the people of the Divided Kingdom over 200 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” the call.  God sent God's own “technicians” to get the message out.  We call them “prophets.”

The job of the Verizon technician is unique.  But not nearly as unique as the task given a prophet called Hosea.  Hosea appears at a bad time in the nation of Israel.  The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst.  So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment.  Hosea’s life would be his message.  He is told to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her unconditionally.  What an incredible request!  (Just imagine a young man trying to explain that one to a pastor search committee.) 

The tough assignment is made even more difficult when Gomer leaves Hosea.  She conducts her business with customers all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her.  In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.

God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does.  Hosea pays for some time with his wife, Gomer.  When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband.  It is then that Hosea tells her again that he loves her and wants her to come back home.

It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in his prophetic words.  It’s the same message God sends today.  God loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. God wants us to come back home, even though we have neglected God's love. Much like a call on our cell phone, we can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button.  We are quite capable of putting God on hold. Or we can answer the call.  The people of Israel had over 200 years to pick up. They never did.  The network is clear.  Can you hear me now?

(adapted from material by Randy Frazee in 'The Heart of The Story')

For some music... a homemade version of a self-penned ditty titled, “Can you Hear Me Now?  As I have no idea how to make scrolling video words they are printed below.

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now? Calling out your name,
Can you hear me now? I’m staking my claim.
Can you hear me now? Am I coming through?
Can you hear me now? Saying I love you, I love you.

Everywhere you go, everything you see,
I’m going to be there, you can share it with me
No matter who you are, no matter what you do,
Don’t give up on me, Because I won’t give up on you….

Can you hear me now? Calling out your name
Can you hear me now? I’m staking my claim.
Can you hear me now? Am I coming through?
Can you hear me now? Saying I love you, I love you.

Every time you fall, Every time you rise,
I’ll pick you up again, I’ll point you to the skies,
Rise up on eagle’s wings, there’s no need to compromise,
Listen to my Word, Because I want to see you fly…

Can you hear me now? Calling out your name,
Can you hear me now? I’m staking my claim.
Can you hear me now? Am I coming through?
Can you hear me now? Saying I love you, I love you.
(Repeat Chorus)

I love you, I love you. I love you, I love you.
Can you hear me now?

Rev. Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Pay Attention to the Ripple Effect

Pay Attention to the Ripple Effect

The decisions we make and the actions we take affect those around us. This week, in Chapter 14 of “The Story”, we are introduced to King Rehoboam. Rehoboam learned about the 'ripple effect' the hard way. He followed his father Solomon to the throne of Israel. Solomon had exacted harsh labor on the people. A delegation, led by Jeroboam (who desired the job of king for himself), came to Rehoboam and asked him to take away the harshness imposed by his father.

So in a private meeting, Rehoboam asked his elder council what he should do. They advised that he become a servant to the people, lighten their load, and the people would always be faithful servants to the king. But his circle of younger friends gave him just the opposite advice. They told him to work the people harder. He went with that option... and the result was a civil war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Rehoboam ends up ruling two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, in a Southern Kingdom known as 'Judah.' Jeroboam becomes ruler over ten tribes, a Northern Kingdom known as 'Israel' or 'Samaria.'

One of the things we have observed in our journey through “The Story” is that God can work, and often does what seems to us as God's best work, in situations that seem the most difficult. Though the smaller nation, it is Judah that God continues to bless as God's chosen people. Within Judah there arise a small number of faithful Kings who do not follow in Reheboam's ways of unfaithfulness. Through them God's promises are kept alive. It is eventually into the line of Judah that Jesus Christ is born.

At one time or another all of us are impacted by someone else's decisions or actions. When we suffer the negative consequences of another’s wrongheaded decision, God can redeem the situation.
We should always consider how our decisions and actions affect those around us.

Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s use of the South African rugby team to help heal a nation divided by apartheid. In one scene of the movie he explains to a team member, “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.” He knew his actions would have a ripple effect on those around him. Eventually the blessing of that “ripple” washed across the nation.

Pay attention to the ripple effect. You make a difference. David Lamotte's excellent book (A highly recommended read) Worldchanging101 has a message on the cover “You are changing the world whether you like it or not!” Love God first. Love others second. Serve those that do not yet know God. You will be surprised to see how far your ripple can travel.

For some music a song written by Chuck Brodsky, but here performed by David LaMotte, titled “We are each others angels”. Normally I try and find videos with scrolling lyrics, but this time couldn't do that! So you will find the words below. 

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

We Are Each Other's Angels (Chuck Brodsky)

Well I hope I see you later
'Cause it's time for me to go
That's my ride just pulled over
Sure was good to know you
Go answer your calling
Go and fill somebody's cup
And if you see an angel falling
Won't you stop and help them up

'Cause we are each other's angels
And we meet when it is time
We keep each other going
And we show each other signs

Sometimes you will stumble
Sometimes you might lie down
Sometimes you will get lonely
With all these people around
You might shiver when the wind blows
And you might get blown away
You might even lose your colors
But don't you ever lose your faith

We are each other's angels
And we meet when it is time
We keep each other going
And we show each other signs

Thank you for the water
I thought I was gonna die out here in the desert
But you quenched my thirst
Let's break a little bread together
I've got a little manna
It was a gift
From somebody who was passing by
And offered me a lift

Now go answer your calling
Go and fill somebody's cup
And if you see an angel falling
Won't you stop and help them up

Because we are each other's angels
And we meet when it is time
We keep each other going
And we show each other signs

Monday, May 2, 2016

Toy Stories

Last Sunday we were thinking about Solomon (sermon here). But this coming Sunday in the church calendar is Mothering Sunday. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we shall be marking the day with a special service with the theme “Toy Story.” Our intention is not just to speak about mother's, but celebrate all those who have nurtured our lives.

We did this last year by inviting folks to bring an item of footwear to the service and speak about how it related to their upbringing. Folks shared different stories about parents who took them special places, who had walked with them through thick and thin, and who had taught them to walk in the first place.

This year we hope to do something similar through using toys as a prompt for our memories. Our children and youth minister, Evan Stewart, is pulling everything together and will no doubt be recruiting the youth of the church to help him. Participation is not limited to our youth. There will be time in the service to share your own memories, so if you wish to participate in that way, simply turn up and bring a toy with you.

I had a conversation a number of years ago with a congregational member who told me that the one Sunday they always stayed away from church every year was Mother's Day. Not only had this person endured an extremely dysfunctional relationship with their own mother, but after they were married they discovered they were unable to bear children. They explained to me that Mother's Day was just too painful for them to feel a part of.

Given that many folk in our day live in other relationships than what we may describe as “Traditional families” it just makes more sense (at least to myself) to celebrate in a way that excludes nobody, but offers an opportunity to honor everybody who has been responsible for raising us to be the people we are today... which for many of us includes our mothers!

What we do in a public setting need not be the same as we do in a private setting. Many of you will, no doubt, honor your mom by doing something special for them on Sunday. And so you should! Mom's are special. As indeed are all those who have raised us. Step-parents, adopted parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who functioned as parents, single parents, multiple parents... the list goes on. And we should celebrate each one.

Both my parents have now passed on. I'm sure it is the same for many of you. But last year my daughter became a mother and my wife and I became grandparent's. It will be good to be able to celebrate that and lift up in prayer all those who are bringing up families in today's world. Heaven knows, “the times they are a changing” and an opportunity to lift up the importance of family life is a blessing in itself!

So, if you are able, bring a toy and a share a thought this coming Sunday. Thanks be to God, through whose grace we have been enabled to make it through to this point in our lives :-)

Of course, for music, how could I resist Randy Newman singing the Toy Story theme song “You got a friend in Me.” The lyrics apply very well as we think about those who have nurtured our lives... be they family or just good friends. Wherever this week takes you, may you find relationships worth celebrating!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.