My Gospels Website
My Psalm Website
My Church
Some of My Books: Click on book for more info
My Da Vinci Code Series
in categories . . .
Professor Blogs
Resources for Leaders
Resources for Worship Leaders
Mark's Church
Visitors so far:
A Resource by Mark D. Roberts

Archive for January - April 2007

Note: This archive contains all of my posts for this month that are not included in some other series. I really don't have the time to save things in more than one place. If you're looking for a specific item, use the "Search" button in the upper left hand corner. Thanks.

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2007 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

"Hope for Peace" in 2007
Posted for January 1, 2007

As we ring in the new year, the world is hoping for peace. The symbol of our hope? A giant crystal ball in Times Square, with its 2007 theme: "Hope for Peace."

At 11:59 p.m. last night, the giant New Year's Eve Ball atop the One Times Square building in New York City began its traditional descent of 77 feet. As it touched down, precisely 60 seconds after it started to descend, 2006 ended and 2007 began. Almost a million spectators braved the freezing temperatures in Times Square to view the falling ball in person, while an estimated billion people watched on television.

This ball-dropping tradition began in 1907, and has been continued every year since then, except for 1942 and 1943, when New York City's lights were dimmed because of World War II. The first ball was made of iron and wood, and included 100 light bulbs. Later incarnations of the ball were composed of iron or aluminum. The millennial ball-dropping in 1999-2000 introduced a new ball, made of 504 crystal triangles attached to an aluminum frame. This version of the ball, still in use today, is six feet wide and weighs 1070 pounds. It includes 696 bright lights and 90 rotating mirrors. (For more information on the history of the ball, check out this link.)
The New Year's Ball from 2004-2005

If you're interested in the construction of the ball this year, there are three fascinating video clips available online. For the first, click on the image to the right. The next two video clips can be found here:

Building the New Year's Ball,
Part 2

Building the New Year's Ball,
Part 3

There's also a clip on how the the pole on which the ball falls is assembled:

Assembling the Pole for the New Year's Ball


Hope for Peace: A Few Reflections for the New Year

A few days ago we remembered the glorious proclamation of the angels: "Peace on earth!" It's a wonderful thought, to be sure. Yet as we look at our world today, we might wonder if "Peace on earth" is one of those empty religious slogans that belongs on tacky religious posters but has little to do with the real world. If the birth of Jesus was bringing peace on earth, where is that peace?

Christians affirm, not only that Jesus brings peace, but that, in some way, He is peace. This is what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:14: "For he is our peace." Reading this out of context, one might be inclined to psychologize it: "Jesus gives us peace in our hearts." Others might limit the peace of Jesus to the spiritual realm: "Jesus gives us peace with God." But, as true and wonderful as these statements might be, they're not what Paul means in Ephesians 2. Rather, the specific context is a discussion of the way in which Christ's death brings unity between Jews and Gentiles. The implication is that, through His death, Jesus brought peace, not only in human hearts, and not only between humans and God, but also among human beings. There is a social, one might even say, a political dimension to the peace of Christ.

Thus, those of us who accept the biblical view of reality are right to have a hope for peace. We believe that the death of Jesus eradicated the root cause of strife and conflict, namely, human sin. Thus peace in multiple dimensions has been secured through Christ. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the fullness of peace won't be experienced until God chooses to make all things new. No matter how hard we try, we won't be able to forge a lasting, pervasive peace until Christ returns. There is an essentially eschatological dimension to Christian peace, one that cannot be ignored.

So the angelic proclamation of "Peace on earth" states what God is doing through Jesus, but not what will be experienced anytime soon. The death of Jesus did undo that which has broken our world, but the final restoration is yet to come:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever." (Rev 21:1-4).

In the meanwhile, we are blessed to experience peace with God, peace in our hearts, and peace among people, however imperfectly. Moreover, we are called to be peacemakers in the world. Christians don't simply sit around and hope for peace on New Year's Eve and then get back to business. Rather, we accept peacemaking as our business, even though we realize that our efforts will never be fully successful.

So, may You have Happy New Year, in which you experience God's peace and live it out whereever you can make a difference.

If you're looking for a more extensive discussion of peace from a Christian perspective, you might check out my series: Seeking the Peace of Christ: Christianity and Peacemaking.

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

YOU are the Time's Person of the Year?!?!?!
Posted for Friday, January 5, 2007

When I first heard it, I thought it must be a bad joke: Time's person of the year is "YOU." That's right, YOU, as in you and me and every other sucker who falls for the joke. But then I learned that the bad joke was true. You and I are the persons of the year, according to Time. Not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not Kim Jong-il. Not even Britney Spears, but "You."

In its cover story on the person of the year, Time explained its choice of "You" as person of the year by pointing to the power of the Internet and the way it is transforming society. Through the Internet, "the many [are] wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing." This will "not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes." I believe Time is right on the money here, unlike many other mainstream media dinosaurs that are continuing to argue that the Internet ice age isn't anything to worry about.

What seems to have had the most impact on Time's choice is not the Internet in general, but YouTube in particular. YouTube's story is certainly impressive. Three guys in their twenties start up a website that is meant to let people post their own videos for public viewing. Less than two years later they're getting about a million visitors a day. Then they sell this site for a measly $1.65 billion. Not bad for a site that tries hard to keep everything PG-13 or less!

How do I respond to all of this? Well, after I get over my pride at being chosen as Time's person of the year, and my envy, since my website gets .3% as many visitors as YouTube and nobody's offered me a red cent for it, I'm inclined to bemoan the rise of "You" as evidence of pervasive narcissism. The much-maligned 80's were the "Me Generation." But, really, what's so different between the "Me Generation" and the "You Generation"? So a good part of me says amen to Douglas Groothuis's poem, "YouWorld," which begins,

Welcome to YouWorld. YourWorld, all the time, for You.

You matter to us. You do. You are worth it. It's all about You. You can do it. You have done it. You can have it. You have it all. You will do it. We know You. You are special. Everyone will like You; it is guaranteed. You deserve the best. In fact, You are the best. You for You, in You, ever You, world with You, Amen.

YouTube. YouAudio. YouAuto. YouFood. YouRest. YouWork. YouDress. YouPerfume. YouLotion. YouPotion. YouMotion. YouBody. YouMind. YouMate. YouLover. YouSpirituality. YouOrientation. YouMultiTask. YouSpace. YouPlace. YouTime--all the time. . . .

But the pragmatic/evangelistic part of me, the part that seeks to be "all things to all people, that I might by all means save some," looks upon all of this "You-ness" as an opportunity. After all, as a pastor, I'm trying to communicate with people who are caught up in the "You generation" and its technology. If I stand back from them in the comfort of my criticisms, I doubt I'll get heard by many of the people I'm trying to reach with the gospel.

So, what to do? Well, there's one obvious step, and that's to gain a bit more familiarity with YouTube, even, gasp, to put up some videos on it.

I've visited YouTube several dozen times in the last year, usually when I'm looking for something a friend has recommended, like the classic Star Wars Kid or Numa Numa Kid. I explored the YouTube site long enough to discover that there's tons of junk there, as well as some pieces of genuine interest (click here for a funny little clip of Dennis Prager and Hugh Hewitt). I also read with interest YouTube's statement of "Community Guidelines," which emphasizes the honoring of copyrights and the prohibition of sexually-explicit content and violence. (Nevertheless, I found plenty of videos which I'm quite sure do violate copyrights.)

I took a few days off from work after Christmas and decided this would be a good time to learn more about YouTube, and even to try putting up a couple of sample videos. Anyone can view YouTube clips without registering, but only registered guests can submit material. Registration was a snap, taking only a minute or so, as well as responding to a confirming e-mail.

Once registered, I found a short help page on "Uploading Videos." It alls seemed quite simple if one has some experience with making digital videos. If you've never before made a video (with Mac's iMovie or Windows' Movie Maker), then getting something ready for YouTube would require familiarity with new software, unless you uploaded raw footage from your camera or cell phone. In my case, I've been working with iMovie for a few years, so this wasn't a high hurdle to cross. I took some low-resolution video clips I had made some time ago, added a few stills and some music, and made a quick little video on "Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park."

Once my video was finished and saved in a form suitable for YouTube, I visited the "Video Upload" page, which, near as I can tell, you can't access until you've registered as a member. This page made everything easy, and in a couple of minutes I was uploading my first YouTube video. Two minutes later the uploading was completed, but I still had to wait maybe ten minutes before my video was viewable.

If you'd like to see my first online video creation (apart from a couple of clips I've put up on my own site), you can view it by clicking on the image to the right. The quality isn't great, of course, since YouTube requires low-res submissions. (Even so, their bandwidth usage must be astronomical.) I'm not suggesting that I have a future in film production, by the way. Nor do I expect that I'll be filling the Internet with my amateur video efforts, since I don't exactly have lots of extra time in life. But I'm glad to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how YouTube works. And, who knows, this knowledge might actually come in handy at some point in the future. At least for now you can see what it's like to hike the Narrows in Zion, one of my all-time favorite hikes. (For more on this hike, click here.)

Note: I didn't pixillate the faces. This is simply part of what comes with low-res streaming clips.

I can now boast of having joined the club of "You." This is, no doubt, the closest I'll ever actually come to being Time's Person of the Year, so I'm going to enjoy it.

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

I Have a Dream
Posted for Monday, January 15, 2007

Over the years I've adopted certain traditions for my blog. For example, early in December you can count of some Advent-related blogging, and after my summer vacation I put up some of my best pictures. Last year I began a new tradition that I expect to keep, at least for the forseeable future. On the day when we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I print the text of his most famous speech, known as "I Have a Dream."

I can think of no better way of honoring Dr. King than by remembering the speech he delivered on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. As part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Though lasting for only 16 minutes and consisting of a mere 1620 words, this speech epitomizes Dr. King's vision. It is, in my opinion, one of the great rhetorical moments in American history, on a par with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural. I also believe that the vision of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech needs to be reaffirmed by Americans of all colors today.

I'm going to print the entire speech below. I'll also include an audio sample in the text. It's a wonderful thing to hear the moving cadence of Dr. King's voice. If you want to listen to the entire speech, you can visit the American Rhetoric website. This site also features a YouTube video (of exceptional quality and length, by the way.)

"I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.  And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

(To hear these last three paragraphs, click here [.mov file, 168 K].)

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of  "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

The Joys of Nature, Texas Style
Posted for Friday, February 23, 2007

On a recent trip to Texas I was delighted to see in the wild two animals I had never seen before. I understand that if you live in Texas, these may be commonplace. But they were a happy surprise to one who has lived on either coast, but not in the middle of the country.

First, I saw a cardinal. Actually, I saw several cardinals. As is common among birds, the males are more colorful than the females. Pictured to the right is a close up of a male cardinal. You can just barely see the crest on top of its head.

Then, while hiking in the hill country outside of San Antonio, I saw my first "in the wild" armadillo. It looked like a giant rat, better yet, like an opossum with a coat of armor. According to the Armadillo Online! website (yes, of course there is such a thing), the armatillo is a mammal, and is not related to the opossum or other rodents. The first armadillo I spotted ran away from me before I could get a good picture. But my second armadillo seemed mostly unimpressed by my presence, and much more interested in digging for its dinner. At one point it did rear up on its hind legs to get a good look at me, but then it returned to its business.

I never cease to wonder at the beauty and diversity of God's creation.

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

Finding God in Amazing Grace
Posted for Monday, February 26, 2007

As you may know, the film called Amazing Grace debuted this past weekend. It's off to a fine start, earning $4.3 million in only 791 theaters. I have not seen this movie yet, though I'm eager to do so. Several of my friends have seen it and have raved about it.

Amazing Grace tells the stories of John Newton, author of the song, "Amazing Grace", and William Wilberforce, a British politician who worked tirelessly over many years to bring an end to the slave trade. Wilberforce was a strong Christian who saw his politics as an expression of his faith. If the movie gets these stories anywhere near right, it will be a compelling and inspiring film.

I want to draw your attention to another fine resource that complements the film version of Amazing Grace. It's the book called Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace, by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware. Bruner and Ware have written together before, coauthoring Finding God in the Lord of the Rings and Finding God in the Land of Narnia. Their books are always a delight to read, filled with lots of information, wisdom, faith, and joy.

Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace is no exception. In this 161-page book Bruner and Ware tell the true stories of John Newton and William Wilberforce. They've done their homework, so their history is both accurate and revealing. Yet this book is not dry history, but history told as a series of engaging, short narratives.

Moreover, this book is not just engaging history, but an inspiring look at God's grace. Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace would be wonderful for personal devotions, for small group conversations, or simply for someone who wants to grow in faith.

Let me close this brief summary of Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace by quoting Jim Ware's conclusion to the book:

Amazing grace! How seet the sound! I've always found it so. But it will be all the sweeter to me now that I've walked a mile with John Newton, the former servant of slaves, and William Wilberforce, the tireless and unassuming liberator of the oppressed. Having traveled with them for this short time, I will forever after sing their song in a new and different way. And I will strive to live in the hope that echoes thorugh the sixth and final verse of Newton's hymn:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be for ever mine. (p. 161)

So here's the bottom line: See the movie. Buy the book. Tell your friends about both. You'll be glad you did.

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

Encouraging Signs in Church Property Disputes
Posted for Friday, March 2, 2007

I'm interrupting my series on Loving Your Enemies to deal with a significant story that I've been following, and that I expect will tweak your interest as well. I'll get back to the series soon.

This post is not about loving your enemies, though given what often happens when a particular church decides to leave a denomination, you might think to the contrary. Sadly, it sometimes seems that when a church says to a denomination, "After much prayer and consideration, we believe that we no longer fit with you, and need for the sake of our faith and mission to find a better denominational fit," the denomination declares that church to be the enemy. Then, given the litigious society in which we live, such "enemies" usually end up in secular court, spending lots of God's money fighting over who really owns God's property, and in the process both taking God's money away from God's mission and violating the plain teaching of God's Word. 1 Corinthians 6 makes it abundantly clear that Christians are not to sue Christians in secular courts. The passage concludes:

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that. (1 Corinthians 6:7-8)

Jesus's teaching on "loving enemies" by "turning the other cheek" and "walking the second mile" might indeed be relevant here, after all.

But I've been following a story that gives me hope, hope that my own denomination might find a way to deal with church property disputes in a manner that is consistent with Scripture and with the teaching of Jesus. Just maybe . . . .

The story began when the Presbytery of Mississippi voted last November not to enforce the property clause in the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church USA. This clause states that all church property is "held in trust . . . for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)" (G-8.0201). This clause is usually interpreted to mean that if a particular church chooses to leave the denomination, that church cannot keep its property. But the Presbytery of Mississippi, in a carefully worded statement, voted in November 2006 to put the larger unity of the Church of Jesus Christ ahead of denominational ties.

The presbytery statement included the following affirmations. The presbytery:

1. Desires all its particular churches to remain in fellowship with each other under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery;

2.  Resolves that pure preaching of the gospel and right administration of the sacraments are constitutive of the church, that our unity, purpose, and mission are found in Jesus Christ and nowhere else, and that decisions affecting ownership of property are subordinate to, and should support, our spiritual unity in Christ;

3. Resolves that the Great Ends of the Church found in G-1.0200 summarize the mission of this Presbytery and explain the purpose for the existence of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.);

4. Resolves that whenever particular churches of this Presbytery pursue the Great Ends of the Church they are in fact using their property for the benefit of this Presbytery and of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.);

5. Trusts its particular churches to make their own decisions concerning how best to use their property to accomplish the Great Ends of the Church;

6. Resolves that property has not been, is not, and shall not be a basis for our unity or an opportunity for division among us; . . .

10. Resolves that it shall take no action to enforce any general trust interest claimed by any higher governing body against any property, real or personal, held by any of its particular churches while they remain under its jurisdiction;

11. Resolves that it will not resist any particular church of the Presbytery of Mississippi which would ask the courts of the State of Mississippi to clear its property of any claims made by higher governing bodies against that property; and

The statement includes a lengthy and biblically-based theological rationale for its various affirmations.

One of the churches that sought to secure the title to its property is the First Presbyterian Church of Pascagoula, Mississippi. This church was hurt but not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The picture above shows the church sanctuary under repair. (Photo thanks to Ed Brenegar.)

Following the passing of this statement, three churches in the presbytery sought to have title to their churches clearly and legally vested in the churches. Several lawsuits ensued. Yet in the February 24th meeting of the Presbytery of Mississippi, the body voted strongly to settle the lawsuits amicably. In other words, the presbytery will not fight to keep the title to the property of its individual churches. (This story was reported in The Layman Online.)

What impresses me in this story is the vision of the Presbytery of Mississippi, one that extends to the whole church of Jesus Christ and not simply to its Presbyterian wing. Rather than using up God's mission money to fight over the legal ownership of God's property, the presbytery sees that it may be consistent with the interest of the Presbyterian Church USA to allow a church to own its own property, even if that church chooses to withdraw from the denomination. The presbytery is saying, in effect, that the Presbyterian Church USA is not about self-preservation, but about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry of His whole church. This is a gutsy move, and a controversial one. It is already being tested in the courts of the Presbyterian Church USA. How sad it would be if these courts ended up deciding that Presbyterian interests outweigh the interests of the broader kingdom of God!

I believe the Presbytery of Mississippi has provided a way out of a bind that has the potential to further divide and weaken the Presbyterian Church USA (and other denominations, notably the Episcopal Church USA). Since our Constitution says that property is held in trust for the denomination, this seems at first to imply that the denomination must hang onto ownership at all costs. But the Presbyterian Church USA is not committed to itself, but to Jesus Christ. Our "Great Ends" are not about self-preservation, but about the kingdom of God. If we could ever admit that to allow a church to leave the denomination might be better for the kingdom, then we could also grant that such a departure would be consistent with the true mission of the Presbyterian Church USA.

I have no idea if this holds up legally. But I am persuaded of its theological merit. And I'm not saying this simply because the churches that might leave the Mississippi Presbytery are more conservative ones. In fact, I'd much rather that conservative churches do not leave the PCUSA. Furthermore, my own presbytery, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, tends to be a more conservative and evangelical presbytery. Some of our churches don't line up with the majority theologically, however. If one of these churches, after a careful and prayerful process, decided that it could fulfill its mission better in another denomination, I would be willing to examine its situation and to vote to release it with its property, even though this would theoretically weaken my own presbytery and diminish our property holdings.

The great challenge for denominations such as mine is to realize that they might need to decrease so that the Church of Jesus Christ can increase. This realization would come only if a denomination were to recapture its proper identity as a servant of Christ, and, indeed, a wineskin of the gospel. In fact, this sort of insight would require no less than a miracle of Christ. But miracles are possible. The example of the Presbytery of Mississippi convinces me that they still happen today, even in the Presbyterian Church USA.

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

A Sad Loss for Orange County
Posted for Thursday, March 15, 2007

  The top two pictures show Santiago Oaks Regional Park as it looked in the past. The picture immediately below shows how it looked early this week. The lowest picture shows what the firefighters faced in Anaheim Hills.

As you may have heard, the Windy Ridge Fire in Orange County, California is now fully contained. It began last Sunday morning when someone set fire to a stolen car along a toll road the travels through the hilly wilderness of Orange County. Before long the fire was blazing, fanned by winds of around 30 m.p.h. and unseasonably high temperatures in the mid-90s. Quickly the fire burned within a few feet of homes, but firefighters did an amazing piece of work and saved all the homes.

This is good news. The sad news is that the fire burned over 2,000 acres of wilderness, including over 90% of one of Orange County's former hidden gems, Santiago Oaks Regional Park. This 350-acre park is tucked away in a canyon. Until this week it was filled with unusually lush trees and bushes. In fact, it was one of the most "Eden-like" places in all of Orange County.

Santiago Oaks Regional Park was a haven for hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. Out in the park on a weekday you'd feel as if you a thousand miles away from civilization, when in fact you were within a quarter-mile of homes. But the thick vegetation hid all of that as you roamed about the park.

Now all of this has changed owing to the carelessness and criminality of some arsonist. Though a portion of Santiago Oaks Regional Park was saved, most is now toast, or worse. Of course I know that fire is a normal part of nature. But it catches me up short to realize that I will never see this park as I once saw it. If I live to be 80, the trees in the park won't be as large as they were last week. Many of them were planted in 1959, 48 years ago. I suppose if I live to be 98 I'll get to see Santiago Oaks in its former glory, but I don't expect I'll be doing this from a mountain bike.

Though the Windy Ridge Fire didn't destroy homes or take human life, thank God, it stole a treasure from Orange County. Moreover, it bodes poorly for the future. We're in the midst of extreme drought in this part of California, one of the driest years on record. Odds are we'll see many more terrible fires in the months to come.

So, if you happen to live near a brush area, be sure to clear your property per the instructions of the fire department. And be extra sure to be careful with fire.

Sorry this post is such a downer. But I wanted to share a bit of my sadness over the loss of Santiago Oaks. Thanks for lending a listening ear (or a watchful eye, perhaps?).

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.

A Whale of a Sight
Posted for Friday, March 16, 2007

Above: the boats that had gathered about a mile offshore. Below: a blow-up of part of the picture above, showing one of the whale's fins.
Below: My daughter watches some dolphins from a whale-watching boat.

Yesterday I saw a whale of a sight. Literally. I had gone down to Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, California, just north of Laguna Beach. This wonderful park sits right on the coast, including three miles of secluded beaches. I often go down to Crystal Cove when I need to quiet for study or prayer (or usually both).

Today while I was sitting on the bluffs working on my sermon, I noticed that several boats had gathered about a mile offshore. Knowing that this is the season when gray whales pass by Southern California on their way from Baja California in Mexico to Alaska, I pulled out my binoculars to see what the boats were up to. Sure enough, in a matter of seconds I saw the telltale spout of a whale. This was followed by a few additional glimpses of the whale, including tail and fins.

I scurried to get my camera in the hopes of perhaps getting a decent picture of the whale. Unfortunately, it was mostly out of sight by the time I had my equipment ready. I did manage to get a shot of fin sticking out of the water. You can see it in the second of the two pictures to the right. Now I admit this isn't a very exciting picture. But at least you have proof that I'm not just telling a fish tale.

This is the second time I've seen a whale from the bluffs of Crystal Cove State Park. The last time was even more spectacular, because the great mammal was only a couple of hundred yards offshore, rather than a mile. Unfortunately, that time I didn't have my camera with me.

Three years ago my daughter decided to do a report on gray whales for school. Since it was whale-watching season, we joined a whale-watching excursion out of Dana Point, a town in southern Orange County. We saw no whales that day, but we weren't completely out of luck because the company had a guarantee: If you don't see a whale, you can go on another trip for free. So in a week we tried again, and once again struck out. On our third trip Kara and I didn't see any whales, which was disappointing. But we did see hundreds and hundreds of dolphins. Many performed for us right next to the boat. In the third picture to the right you can see the dolphins. My daughter is the blur to the right of the photo.

So, there you have it. If you read my blog regularly, you know I get excited about nature. Last month it was a cardinal and an armadillo. Next month, who knows? Maybe the Easter Bunny?

Send an e-mail link of this page to a friend.

E-mail Mark D. Roberts
Visit the guestbook.

Go to the homepage.