From the Pulpit: When Storms Come

No one wants to hear that a hurricane is coming to town. If you have ever been in that situation, then you know that such news results in a lot of scrambling. The lots fill up at grocery and hardware stores. Basic supplies disappear from the shelves. Gas stations run low on supplies. Plywood goes up over windows and sandbags block doorways. Roadways get congested. That is the drill.

Hurricanes do not roar through Omaha. Even so, we get our share of harsh weather that triggers emergency responses. Everyone who has lost a roof to a tornado or a car to hail understands.

What do you say when such things happen to somebody else? Is it bad luck? Or, more to the point, what do you think when it happens to you? Do you still consider it bad luck? Sure, rain falls on the just and the unjust, but that only feels okay if it is raining on somebody else.

Maybe one of the results of seeing so much destruction from Florence is a genuine sense of thankfulness that the storm did not come after us. More than that, we can feel a sense of common humanity with those who lost so much, including lives and property. And, if we are able, sharing from our abundance to help with relief efforts also makes sense. Who knows- the next emergency might be ours.

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

Theological Education Awards

Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon was the first African-American woman ordained in the Presbyterian church in 1974. She went on to become one of the foremost scholars of the womanist movement. Since 2001, she has served as the Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. She received the Excellence in Theological Education award at General Assembly in St. Louis on June 21, 2018.

She received a Bachelor of Science degree from of Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C., and a Master of Divinity from Johnson C. Smith Seminary in Atlanta. She received her Master and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

This short film (7 minutes) tells the story of her ordination, her call to teaching and her legacy as a teacher who informs and challenges her students.

Doug Oldenburg has dedicated his life to service in the Presbyterian Church. He was first a pastor, a seminary president and then moderator of the 210th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (1998).

Following his graduation from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia in 1960, he served as pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. After seven years he left and began serving as a pastor at Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church in Elkins, West Virginia. His last pastor position was in the city he grew up in at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He worked for 26 years as a pastor and then decided he was called to a new role.

In 1987, he became the seventh president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., a position he held until 2000.

This short film (7 minutes) tells the story of his calling, the impact that he made in the communities he served, particularly Charlotte, N.C., and his service as President of Columbia Theological Seminary.

– Theological Education Fund (Presbyterian Church USA)

From the Pulpit: God and Vacations

God and vacations do not mix. That is what a lot of people assume. Vacation means taking time out from all the routines of life and finding a more relaxed rhythm for a while. And, by and large, that includes taking time out from God, the church, and all of that.

It’s a very understandable attitude, isn’t it? If you are taking a long-awaited trip to a favorite vacation destination, you aren’t likely to ask the hotel clerk, where is the nearest good church we can attend on Sunday? The poor clerk might be stunned speechless.  They probably don’t get that question much.

Is there any room among the all the stuff that goes with you on vacation for God? Or, is every seat taken and all the time already committed.

Let’s be clear – even a simple, brief vacation can be an important opportunity to relax, get refreshed, and prepare for the onrush of the next thing that has to happen.  Even if it’s a one-day stay at home vacation, it can make a real difference to you. So why complicate matters with having to include God? Why not just wait until you are back home or in your routine to reconnect with your Creator?

Maybe your vacation is one of the best times to see your life in a broader perspective then usual. After all, you should, hopefully, have a little time on your hands. A few moments of solitude or a quiet prayer can be a way of reconnecting with both who you are and Whose you are. And that experience can be more refreshing and lasting than a day at the beach.

You might give that a thought when you take time-out somewhere this summer.  God will be there with you, for God never takes a vacation.
Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

Moving from Knowledge to Action

Ever notice that it’s difficult to do even that which we know is good for us? There is hard evidence that one’s health is positively impacted by eating healthier and exercising more, yet hours on the treadmill are not logged simply by knowing this information.

Similarly, as leaders in the faith, we know that our capacity to lead is positively impacted by personal spiritual disciplines such as regular prayer and scripture study, and yet we still struggle to find the motivation to maintain consistent routines. Again, action does not automatically follow from knowledge.

Where can we find the motivation to move from knowledge to action? Again, we can look to the field of exercise, where we find that one of the top strategies for staying motivated includes working with a personal trainer. The “personal trainers” of the faith world are called spiritual directors. They can help individuals to identify areas of growth, recognize and work through resistances, explore new practices, and provide accountability and encouragement.

If you’re looking for that missing ingredient to help you move from knowledge to action in your own faith life, consider finding a spiritual director. OPSF can help locate one near you.

Kili Wenburg –  Spiritual Director,  Hastings, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: With Sighs too Deep for Words

You may not be a person who prays. And if you do, you may not be someone who prays very often. That is not unusual. Perhaps you dust off a memorized childhood prayer when you draw the short straw at a holiday meal. You pray then because it’s an occasion and there is an expectation that somebody will – please – say something.

But what do you say? If it’s a meal you generally aim the prayer at the food, the folks who prepared it, and those who are gathered to eat it. Simple enough.

What do you pray when the situation is more difficult and the words don’t come? What, for example, do you say to God in a hospital room when a family member is drawing her last breaths? No memorized prayer from your childhood probably fits that moment. And who has prayerful words for the parent who anxiously checks their cell phone when a teenager is really, alarmingly late getting home on a Saturday night?

There is a phrase the apostle Paul uses in his letter to the Romans that speaks to the heart of the matter. He writes, “For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit intercedes with God for us with sighs too deep for words.”

How much more often might we have a conversation with God if we were relieved of the burden of knowing what to say? The good news is we can be silent and listen for what God would say to us. Our prayers can be a holy silence because the Spirit already makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.

Blessed Pentecost,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska


From the Pulpit: And They Shouted, Hosanna!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, there was quite a stir. Luke says there were crowds of people who spread their cloaks on the road as his colt passed. Matthew and Mark add that others gathered leafy branches they had cut from the fields or trees nearby and tossed them into the road. Only John tells us they took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus, shouting as they went.

What, exactly, did the crowds shout when they greeted Jesus? There must have been many things that were said. In addition to cheering and calling out his name, we are told they shouted, “Hosanna!” And that seeming detail actually reveals a lot about what was going on.

“Hosanna” is an ancient Hebrew expression that means “save.” So, when the crowds shouted “Hosanna!,” they were calling out, “Save (us)!” That is, of course, more than just enthusiasm brimming over. It means that they had some belief, hope, and expectation that Jesus could and would save them.

Save them from what? A traditional Christian answer is, “From bondage to sin and death.” Just how that would be done they did not know. But that lack of information did not restrain their reactions to his dramatic entry into Jerusalem.

Imagine someone in the crowd, cheering, waving a leafy branch, and calling out, “Hosanna! Jesus! Hosanna!” All of which would have meant, “Save us!…God saves!…Save us!” That’s right. Now you know the rest of the story. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” No wonder they were filled with emotion.

And now he approaches the city gates again, a lone rider with the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Palm Sunday is near. How shall we greet him?

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: The Ministry of Encouragement

This week a fellow pastor and I were sharing stories over coffee when I asked him, do you believe in the ministry of encouragement? He responded right away, “Sure I do. Haven’t you been listening?” That answer got me thinking even more about the importance of sharing a word of encouragement with people who are going through all kinds of circumstances.

Consider the friends, family, and acquaintances you know who could use a simple word of encouragement. They may be dealing with health issues, problems at work, or family hardships. You might wonder if some encouragement would make any difference to them.  And yet, that may be exactly what they need most. And you might be the best person to offer that word.

Perhaps you recall a time in your own life when someone encouraged you. There was a decision you had to make. Or you had a task to do. And you were very unsure what to choose or how to act. And at that moment, you were reassured by the support of another person who cared enough to reach out to you with encouraging words. Their affirmation was just the nudge you needed.

In the New Testament, you will find Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement.” He was a great help to Paul and Mark in their missionary work. Though he was not one of the original twelve apostles, he is remembered as an influential member of the early church and declared a saint. Barnabas, a humble and dedicated soul, practiced the ministry of encouragement.

Who would benefit from your words of hope, support, and encouragement? You know their names. All you have to do now is tell them.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: The 2017 Thankful List

Have you ever sat down to write out a list of all that you are thankful for? A list of all the people, places, things, and experiences that make your life better? If you have ever tried to make such a list and taken the task seriously, then you know what an exercise it can be. Sure, it’s a test of memory; but more than that, it’s really an indication of how aware we are of the blessings we have received from God.

Christians say that every gift we have, whether relationships or things, comes from God’s own hand. That idea runs counter to our culture’s assumption that we deserve whatever we earn and can hold on to. Thankful people, however, are not focused on ourselves and what we can call our own; but, thankful to God for everyone and everything.

Several Psalms are about giving thanks to God. Leaf through a hymnal and note how many of the hymns are about being thankful people. Even our prayers before meals or bedtime are words of thanks for food prepared and received or rest that awaits the weary.

As a spiritual discipline, try writing out your list. Put down the names of people, places, and experiences for which you want to give thanks to God. Then spend a few minutes in silence with that list. You may be surprised by how full it is and how much the Thankful List will mean to you. Then put it away in a safe place where you can go back to it whenever you need.

And if you followed this simple reflective exercise last November, compare your 2016 list with your new one. Notice any changes? You may find, as others have done, that this simple spiritual practice will do much to revive your sense of genuine thankfulness.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: Is There a Plan?

A truism that you often hear is “working without a plan is planning to fail.” Most start-up businesses put together at least a basic “business plan.” Lenders and investors require them. They can be simple or complex; but, you have to have one.

Who would want to board an airplane, if they knew that there was no flight plan? Who would start a construction project without an architectural plan? What kind of coach would send a team into the next Big Game without a game plan? You get the idea. Planning matters.

So, is there a Master Plan for all of us? Some grand design that includes everyone and everything? A plan done not by human hands or massive computers, but a Creator’s Plan? Not necessarily an every step, every move kind of plan; but, a purposive direction that gives shape, form, and meaning to life?

Many people think so. They will tell you, “God has a plan for my life.” And they believe it. The same folks might add, “God has a plan for everyone and all creation.” They base their beliefs on what they find in the Bible and what they have heard in church and from important people in their lives. Theologians might say that they have a sense of the providence of God – that there is a design, pattern, direction to things established by a Higher Power than any of us.

Sometimes, particularly during a time of crisis, confidence in a divine Master Plan for humanity gets shaken. The cause might be a natural disaster or an alarming rise in international tensions. Our society is currently going through considerable pressure from both sources and several others. Even those who ordinarily trust that human history unfolds within a grand design are left wondering, What’s next?

What do you think about that one? If you believe that there is a Creator’s Plan, then how would that affect the plans and decisions that you make, big and small? How would it change the plans you are making today? Perhaps it is true, “We plan, God laughs.”

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska