Faith and Current Events
Preparing for Advent
by Dr. John D’Elia
We approach the strangest Advent that most of us can ever remember.
This season is already a challenge, if we’re honest. Advent is a time where we discipline ourselves to wait expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. During these weeks we’re supposed to try to capture some of the longing and hope that God’s people lived in for centuries as they waited for God to fulfill his promise.
The problem for us is, we hate to wait.
Right? We have become (or have continued to become) very impatient people. Microwaves cook our meals. We watch whole seasons of TV shows at once. We want our technology to work right when we’re ready, even if “user error” is often the cause when it doesn’t. We set our appointments too close together, so that we leave one early to be only slightly late to the next.
This COVID crisis, for all of its awfulness, has forced us to slow down. Cooking and baking from scratch is on the rise (no pun intended) all over the country. Students are taking classes from home. For most of our meetings we don’t drive anywhere—we just switch on our computers or tablets. Among the many things we’ve learned during 2020, we’ve learned that it’s OK to slow down—that the world won’t crumble around us if we take our foot, ever so slightly, off the gas.
Waiting for the virus to go away.
Waiting for a vaccine to be available.
Waiting to be able to worship together.
Waiting to see our families again.
Waiting to go back to our favorite restaurants.
Waiting for the all-clear.
This past year has taught us a lot about waiting. It’s preparing us for Advent.
And so what are we waiting for in Advent? New Testament scholar Daniel Kirk helps out, in his book, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?
“We will anticipate that not only our hearts but also our bodies, our communities, our justice systems, and our use of the earth will all become increasingly conformed to the pictures of self-giving, restorative love by which God has made himself known to the world in Christ.”
That’s quite a list. Dr. Kirk is nudging us to see beyond just our own lives—to see past our own relationships with God and even our own salvation—Kirk is reminding us that the coming of Christ is meant to remake and renew everything.
This was written in 2012, but look how closely it addresses the needs we have this year. Maybe in every year. Yes we want Jesus to transform our hearts, but that’s just the start.
In the midst of this pandemic we need Christ to protect and transform our bodies.
As we ride the rollercoaster of this presidential transition, we want Christ to heal our communities.
With our awareness of racism in our nation broadened, we cry out for Christ to show us a better, fairer way to manage our justice systems.
And as we fight through the politics to understand the unmistakable ways we do damage to the earth, we need Christ to teach us healthier and more sustainable ways to enjoy its provision.
What we’re waiting for is a restoration of shalom, what one writer called “the webbing together of God, humans and creation, in justice, fulfillment and delight”.
What we’re waiting for is exactly what God has been calling his people to long for since the earliest days of the biblical record: for God to make things right again.
Friends, it’s been such a hard year in so many ways, some familiar and some completely new to us. If we can learn one tiny lesson from this year as we move through Advent it’s this: we’re learning all over again how to wait for something that isn’t in our control. That may sound like a bad thing, but it’s exactly what Advent is meant to be about.
The joy of Christmas is coming. We can see if far off on the horizon. But for now we wait.
Welcome to the Advent season.
Chaos or Community?
An Opportunity to Explore a Christian Response to Racial Tension
Sunday, November 15 at 5:00 PM
Watch on Livestream
Attend in-person: Monte Vista Presbyterian Church
3797 Lynn Road, Newbury Park, CA 91320
Reservations Recommended. Call Mickey at (805) 586-7016
Physical Distancing will be Observed – Wearing of Masks required
There will be a time of listening…
A time of asking questions…
And a time of coming together in worship.
Rev. Dr. Wayne C. Hopkins (D.Min. 2020)
First Timothy Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles
Rev. Tom Stephen
Monte Vista Presbyterian Church, Newbury Park
Rev. Ron Urzua,
Living Hope, Port Hueneme
and First Presbyterian Church, Santa Paula,
Rev. Dr. Grace Park (D.Min. 2020)
Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church, Pacific Palisades
Rev. Mickey Fenn, Moderator (M.Div. 2019)
Pastor, The Way Station, Camarillo
Words of Comfort and Strength
I Fit the Description
Rev. Dr. Wayne C. Hopkins
NTSWest, Class of 2020
The Year of Our Lord was highly anticipated, and those of us (old enough) partied once again in 2019 like we did in 1999 – and how soon were those hopes dashed.
World War III loomed in January, next we lost Kobe, then in March came Corona with her evacuations, masks and global quarantine. Before we could brace ourselves, mourn or even be tested, we were hit with waves of grief brought on by gunfire and strife. America’s shame had once again clawed its way to the surface, and we were all safe at home, watching in horror.
On Monday, May 25, 2020 I celebrated a birthday. After a brief moment of non-pastoral rest and self-care, I could barely digest my cake as I saw the news of George Floyd being detained, later dying at the hands – and the knee – of a police officer who felt he had not been detained enough. Was George a violent criminal? A robber, murderer, rapist or such? His charge may be fraud, but he would have no due process of the law. He was not innocent until proven guilty – he was strangled until he died. His screams resonated, the nation began to erupt in hurt and anger, and I realized something far more tragic:
I fit the description.
George Floyd and I were briefly the same age. Only, I celebrated a birthday that he will now never see. Minnesota and Michigan were now exchangeable for Mississippi and Missouri. Race relations were not supposed to be this way in modern cities, where a century ago, people migrated so that a black man could have a better opportunity to work and earn, protect and provide, to be and to become what America promised we all, and he could be.
We know George was guilty of sin, as we all are. He may have even been guilty of crime, but he was NOT guilty of being an animal, a threat or ‘doing too much’ by waking up and clothing himself once again inside black skin.
If George is thus guilty then so am I, or at least:
I fit the Description.
The Bible teaches against lust. The easy kind is sexual, but the more dangerous kind is sensual, as the sense and sensibility of some people is offended by black men jogging…bird watching…minding their business… being American citizens. Before George there was Ahmaud, who could not allegedly comply with the ‘reasonable’ commands of good ‘Christian’ men who merely wanted to question why he was existing, then running, then resisting – then reaching to snatch the rifle that threatened his life. If only he had complied he would not have died… Yet the lust to see him run, to make him beg, and to make him an example was too deep and too hot to resist pulling the trigger – on just another – I fear:
I Fit the Description.
Before George and Ahmaud, there was Trayvon and another George. Before them there was Emmett, in between there were others. They broke the hearts of their mothers – and fathers who feared – that the next call would be THE call that confirmed the lust of evil illogical hate had birthed another angel, and we would bury another brother, like whom, shockingly:
I Fit the Description.
The Bible also speaks of idolatry. Perhaps it’s not a golden calf, or a wooden statue, but maybe a black and white photo. The old days when lynching was legal (well, in places it may still be); where silence was golden (don’t ask, don’t tell); and where everything was nice and simple – Us and Them.
But what about the “Them”? Are we not all one in Christ? Are we not all new creations in Christ? Are we not all under the blood? Are we not all under the same death, burial and resurrection? It is a sinking feeling to know that some may worship Christ, but they PRAISE the image of my suffering, my defeat, my subservience – and they fear the image of my success.
In 2020 I have pressed to meet deadlines as a pastor, a corporate manager and as a student. I have raced through airports, rushed to beat curfews and I’ve transplanted my congregation from sanctuary to digital discipleship.
NTSWest calls me coordinator. My congregation calls me pastor. Christ calls me beloved, My diploma calls me doctor.
However, I pray with all my heart that no one will have to call my mother – and call me “The Late…” all because:
I Fit The Description.
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June 4, 2020
A Video from Rev. Dr. Ivan Pitts
Pastor and Educator
I am so tired! Where are my white brothers? #Georgefloyd!
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June 2, 2020
Devotional Prayer for Clergy
by Rev. Dr. Charles Marks
Former chaplain and founding Board member of NTSWEST
Scriptures: Psalm 46 and Isaiah 50:4
Almighty, All Wise and Everlasting God,
We gather, today, at a time when the roles of ministers, ministries and congregational life are being re-imagined and re-configured due to the deadly pandemic that stalks our nation and our lives. Each day, O Lord, our conscience is gripped by the growing number of persons infected by the Coronavirus; and the mounting number of deaths that today has reached the heartbreaking number of 101,000 precious people who weeks ago walked this earth as we do. We pray for persons suffering from the Covid19 virus whether in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, apartments or in tents along city streets.
And we pray for all the essential workers, related to the health care system, who serve them; and who reach out to them from behind protective gear with healing hands, hearts, medicines and technologies. But we also mourn for families who grieve the lost of loved ones as they make their way, tearfully, to the valley of “dry bones;” with aching hearts to say goodbye.
In the quietness of this hour, O Lord, we pray for ministers, congregations, chaplains, elders and deacons actively engaged in ministry to those affected by the Coronavirus. With bowed heads and brooding hearts we come to you,
O God, Our Refuge and Strength
Seeking comfort for those frozen at life’s crossroads who have lost their jobs and livelihood; and those from poor and minority communities on whom the pandemic has landed the heaviest.
O God of Mercy,
We seek to hear your word to the weak, the weary, the wounded and the worn
that you would have us to speak and pray when you send us forth.
Leave us not O Gentle Savior;
But stay with us and
Be the Light who guides us in these uncertain and turbulent times.
And as we encounter one another
Soften our hearts we pray
Sweeten our words
Sanctify our prayers
Stiffen our faith
Strengthen our patience
And sanitize our love we pray; disinfect it of its hypocrisy; its sense of racial or ethnic superiority; and its implicit biases.
And now Lord, we pray for the family of George Floyd who died a violent death two days ago as the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on his neck cut short his breathing and his life; we pray for the family of Breonna Taylor an emergency medical technician who, a few weeks ago, was shot eight times by Louisville police officers while in her own apartment; and we pray for the family of Amaud Arbery who was shot and killed by white assailants while jogging in Brunswick GA.
In these trying times when the Twin Pandemics of Coronavirus and Racism stalk many in this land, we pray that you will stay close Precious Lord, and take our hands and lead us on, and help we Ministers of your Holy Gospel to stand and to bear witness to the love and justice of Jesus Christ wherever you call us to serve; so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we Teaching Elders, in the words of Isaiah 50:4 “May know how to sustain the weary and the wounded with a word from You.”
In Jesus name we pray. Amen
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April 9, 2020
A Vlog from Janna Gosselin:
Greetings to my NTSW community,
I have been thinking of all of you and made the attached video to give you hope and comfort in this challenging time.
Dear Beloved NTSWEST Family,
I love foliage, but I am shamefully a brown thumb. Recently, I purchased a little baby fiddle tree from Trader Joe’s in the hope that it would last more than a few days in our house! I did everything I could to make sure he was comfortable; well fed, but not overfed; had enough light, but not too much light, and I hoped that his life was not doomed under my care!
As I write to you, I am looking out my back patio door, and I see before me my new little fiddle leaf plant. When I saw those fresh new little baby leaves, it made me marvel at God’s provision, goodness and hope in the midst of adversity and challenges. Those leaves reminded me that there is joy and life all around even when things are difficult.
I hope that this season of the corona virus will make us all stronger in our faith while we are challenged. This is the season where our faith can become more real, when we can love in so many different ways.
Thank you to those of you who have contacted us asking how you can help. Please call one another, email one another, PRAY for one another! Reach out to one another, and give each other an encouraging word. We can love in so many different and new ways!
May God bless you all. Remain strong in prayer!
I remember Romans 15:13 as I think of you today:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.