Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.


Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.


Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)


About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.



The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.




Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Great Divide

There is one great divide in reality between the One who alone is holy and in harmony with all of non-human creation, and then there is the human race which has in the main lost its holiness and wanders through the creation trying to find its way. But, instead of separating from us, the Holy Creator has chosen to wander with us in our flesh, struggling with us, to help us find the way back to a good and holy identity.

We humans are in solidarity with each other in this lostness. Even when we come to some sense of who God is and how good God is, we still participate in lostness even as we get some glimpses of how things really are, who we really are, who our fellow creatures really are.

Faith means to live on the basis of these glimpses, to live by faith and not by sight. Whenever some one comes to the point of acting as if they are not just living on the basis of these glimpses of the Divine, but somehow living as if they have God in focus continually, I begin to wonder if we are talking about the same faith. Paul said: "now we see in a mirror dimly . . . " He is also the one who said: "we walk by faith and not by sight."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

WORDS FROM CHRISTOPH BLUMHARDT

When we come to faith and trust in God, then God becomes able to work with us, to do something with us. But, that is only the beginning.

Blumhardt writes: "We must not be so stupid as to think, as so many evangelical Christians do, that God will never concern himself with our sins. We are not righteous in the sense that God will no longer reprove what is sinful, but only that God is now satisfied regarding our attitude. Now it is possible to do something with the person. Such a good-for-nothing cannot be left in his present state."

Faith has often been presented as the end of God's work of salvation in a human being when in fact it is the beginning. Faith is not something we arrive at once and for all that makes us "saved." It is a gift of a living relationship to God and it is in the context of that living relationship that we experience the saving presence of God with us, through us, around us, through others to us again and again.

Maundy Thursday Service at 4th United Presbyterian on April 5, 6:30 p.m.

FOURTH UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH WILL JOIN TOGETHER IN OUR SANCTUARY ON APRIL 5 AT 6:30 P.M. FOR WORSHIP ON MAUNDY THURSDAY.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bible Study this Thursday at 6 p.m. on Revelation, Chapters 1-3

Bible Study meets this Thursday, March 22, at 6 p.m. in the downstairs fellowship hall. We will be studying the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happiness and Faith: part one

If any of you have been is ear shot of my recent sermons, you will know that I have been preaching on what might be called the "darker side" of faith. Of course, the Bible itself is partly to blame for this, especially the New Testament emphasis on the crucified Jesus and the cross as a focus of Christian experience. Nonetheless, I do feel like we need to hear the whole message of the Gospel, which includes deliverances and celebrations. Our bibles also point us to the beauty and goodness of life in this world as well as the struggle of it.

And, thankfully, we have had the preaching of Rev. Peterson which has put some emphasis on the goodness of creation and focused our attention on being part of this ongoing and wonderful creation of God's.

What I am thinking about now as I write is "happiness" and where our desire for happiness is in this life of faith. Isn't it important to be happy in life? Surely faith cares about that.

As I think on this, I think about how the New Testament describes Jesus' life. And, I conclude that Jesus seemed to have been both happier and sadder than about anyone else. Now, I know that we don't have many biographical details of Jesus' life; we certainly don't have an autobiography from Jesus. But, there is strong evidence from scripture that he was deeply moved in both directions - both joy and sorrow - in this life. I will continue this on the next post.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My First Lenten Vow: What I Am Giving Up

MY FIRST LENTEN VOW

As we begin this season of Lent, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about what it means to observe Lent in the Christian tradition. First, I was raised in a Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), and we did not observe the Church Calendar, and so did not celebrate Lent. I thought that was something only Catholics or Episcopalians did.

Even though I have given some attention to the Church Calendar as an ordained minister in the PCUSA over the past 22 plus years, I had never been part of an Ash Wednesday Service until we celebrated with Central United Methodist in 2010. I had always heard about people giving up chocolate or soft drinks or beer or tv or something like that for Lent. I had started thinking about Lent seriously a few years ago at First United when we discussed Lent and talked about what it might mean for each of us personally to observe Lent.

I have always been repelled by the idea of “giving up” this or that. Maybe that’s because I just don’t have much will power to not do something I enjoy doing. But, something about giving up things never caught on with me. For me, it is almost as if deciding to give something up causes me to want it even more. So, no I have never given anything up for Lent. Well, until this year, and you are not going to be too impressed about what I am giving up.

It was the day before Ash Wednesday this year, and I had gone back and forth with the Blount County Sheriff’s Department about why my client was still being held in jail even though the Judge had ordered her release. Turns out someone in the clerk's office hadn't sent the release order down to the jail. And, about 4 p.m. that afternoon, it came to me out of the blue: “I am going to give up ‘being nice’ for Lent.” I said it out loud, one of our legal secretaries laughed, and then I said it again with some real conviction and smiled.

Now, I know it might sound bad for a minister like me to say that, but the more I thought about it, the more firm I was in taking my first Lenten vow of my life. Maybe what I really liked about this vow was that if I failed in it, it wouldn’t be so bad. Being nice, after all, isn’t a sin, is it? But, there was something deeper in this thought and in this resolution. It was about committing myself to truth and doing what was right more than worrying over whether others liked me or were happy with me.

As a lawyer who represents poor people charged with crimes, I am forever “being nice” with D.A.s and Judges to get the best deal I can for my clients. Every once in a while, the process becomes openly adversarial, but most of the time, it is a matter of using your wits to get a deal. So, I have had it “up to here” by the time I get home each day with ‘being nice’ to people who I am really not very happy with. I am ‘being nice’ because it is part of thinking about my client’s interests, not my own.

But, there is a time and place for all that being nice stuff. But, there is also a way to be decent without worrying too much about keeping everyone happy. There is even a place for that in law practice. If you don’t pay enough attention to your need to tell the truth or at least your need to stop covering up the truth, then a couple of bad things can happen to you personally: you can explode on someone, often the person least deserving of it; you can become a dishonest person and lose a real taste for what is honest and true.

So, yes, with all that said, I have given up being nice in the sense that I have chosen to value honesty and truth above keeping others happy with me. I’ll see how it goes. So far, it is going pretty well both in court and out. If I speak the truth too plainly in court one day and get thrown in jail, could you ask session to approve a fundraiser for my bond?

Rev. George H. Waters

Some Thoughts About Nietzsche, Church and Honesty of Mind

“It is not a matter of going ahead (-for then one is at best a herdsman, i.e., the herd’s chief requirement) but of being able to go it alone, of being able to be different.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who wrote most of his major works in the 1870’s and 1880’s. He died in 1900.

Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor, the only son with several sisters. As Nietzsche grew into his own as a thinker and writer, he struck out in an independent direction as a philosopher. He revolted against both the prevailing philosophy and theology of his day.

At the very center of Nietzsche’s philosophy of life was the rejection of Christian morality. He regarded Christian morality as slave morality, not a morality fit for free, self-determining human beings.

Nietzsche once said: “There was only one true Christian and he died on a cross.”
He called Christianity an unnatural morality born of the resentment of those who were weak in mind and body . . . those who despised life and despised the strong who were able to embrace and celebrate life. Nietzsche thought that at the very bottom Christianity taught a person to think: “I am not worth much,” and then translate that value judgment into a religious/moral judgment: “I am guilty; I am a sinner.” Nietzsche says that human beings then decide they would rather consider themselves guilty than feel bad for no reason at all.

So, for Nietzsche, Christianity creates the miserable condition of the individual and then purports to offer salvation from the darkness through the offer of forgiveness and faith. Christianity is a religion that promotes, even creates guilt in the individual conscience, and then promises relief with the “Gospel.” Nietzsche apparently found that the cure was just as bad as the disease.
A Christian might wonder: “How does this atheistic philosopher know anything about faith?”

But, it is worth remembering that Nietzsche grew up in a Lutheran household (Lutherans are a lot like us Presbyterians except they have Octoberfest). Nietzsche grew up as a preacher’s kid, and had come to the conclusion from his experience that all Christianity offered him was guilt and the feeling that any effort to embrace and celebrate his strengths was a sin. He felt that to live fully and to be who he felt destined to be he had to renounce the Christian faith.

There is something that I have always liked about Nietzsche since I first read him in college . . . unlike other philosophers who dismiss God and faith or criticize Christianity and then move on to other topics, Nietzsche couldn’t move on. He was, in a sense, obsessed with arguing against Christianity. He has been described by one scholar as an “anti-Christian.” Nietzsche’s work cannot be understood without understanding its relation to Christianity.

Surely, Nietzsche had experienced the teaching and authority of the church. He was a preacher’s son, and at one time, he had probably taken this religious faith very seriously. And, in time, he had found that faith as he experienced it made him feel like he was nothing. And, Nietzsche knew deep down that he was really something, and he was.

So, he looked for something else to base his life on . . and that something else for him was his will to live, his will to think, to claim space for himself in the world. Nietzsche said once: “The real thing is not so much that you move forward, but that you learn to go it alone, that you have the strength to be different.”
I think that Nietzsche could never forget Christianity, because it raised his hopes so much and then disappointed those hopes so badly. Nietzsche is the one who said: “There was only one Christian and he died on the cross.” He seemed to have a deep respect for Jesus, and no respect for his followers. You might say, ‘the man Jesus, his teachings, the reports about him in Scripture raised Nietzsche’s hope, and the faith of the Church disappointed and crushed his hope.’ At least that’s what I think.

As we look back through history, if we are honest, we see that the Church has broken the faith and hearts of some very special individuals. Galileo was considered a heretic because he spoke the truth that the earth orbited around the sun, not otherwise. Origen, the great theologian of the 2nd century was branded a heretic, because his hope was too great, his mind too high. Charles Darwin was a son of the Church whose desire for truth and his desire to reconcile his scientific studies with his faith was disregarded by the Church of his day. And, Friedrich Nietzsche, who I believed yearned for something much more pure and life-affirming than the gospel being preached in his day, was given nothing but falsehood from a religious culture that was as afraid of Jesus truth as they were of Nietzsche’s criticism.
There are many people in our time who yearn for truth, the truth of God, but have found falsehood in the Church. They have found a church unwilling to deal with scientific truth, a church that can’t deal with evidence from neuroscientific studies about sexual orientation. They have found a church that dismisses those who have a real desire for intellectual honesty.

The doctrine of Biblical Innerancy stands as a cloud over our efforts to deal honestly with each other in faith. The teaching of a type of Creationism in churches that dismisses the great service offered the world by Charles Darwin is also a sad sign for the wider church.

We do not need to continue a tradition of intellectual dishonesty, but let me change that language a little bit. Intellectual dishonesty sounds a little too removed and fancy. What I am talking about is having lazy minds, dishonoring the God who gave us our minds, and lying about the way things are. That’s what I mean about the tradition of intellectual dishonesty in the Church. And, it is continued by people like Rick Santorum who doesn’t like the fact that a good number of us in the Church don’t think we have to check our minds at the door before we come to worship or Bible Study.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a liberal Christian. He studied religion as a man of faith, and he studied it from within the academic tradition as well. He appreciated what he learned about how the Bible was formed. He wasn’t afraid of the truth of science, but found it liberating.

Of course, human science is limited as is inquiry in other areas, and when we think science is going to resolve all our problems, we show that we don’t understand the limits of science. And, human science itself can get arrogant and think that truth is limited to what science can demonstrate empirically. But, in our day, science is much more humble than it was when I was growing up. And, a real dialogue is possible in our time between scientists and theologians.

When we are ready to be honest and ready to really think and discuss openly in our churches – then, maybe people who value real questions, real discussions . . . then maybe people who value real learning and honesty of both the heart and the mind will find their way back into our fellowship in the Church.

We ought to repent during Lent as Christians because of all the good, even brilliant people we have destroyed over time with our dogma, with our lack of imagination and our lack of appreciation of the gifts God has bestowed on many human beings and with our refusal to really investigate and seek the truth no matter what it costs.