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The Wired Word – Good News

May 16, 2013

Dear Class Member,
The nature of news reporting is usually to focus on bad news, and in doing so, much good news gets crowded out. But occasionally some genuine good news is so compelling that it takes precedence over the bad. The finding of three missing women alive in Cleveland earlier this month is one such story. While there’s a lot of bad news in what happened to those women over the last decade and in the despicable behavior of their captor, the joy when they were found was abundant and widespread.

That reminds us that amid the frequent bad news of life, there is a hunger for good news. We also note that the word “gospel” means “good news.” So we are going to use the news of the rescue of the three women as a basis to talk about this hunger and about why the gospel is, in fact, GOOD news. That will be the topic of our next class.

If you wish to start thinking about our topic in advance, below is some introductory material. The Reverend Pen Peery will be leading the class, which will meet on Sunday, May 19, 10:00am in the Pattie Cole Room.

The Wired Word invites us to contribute news story suggestions for upcoming lessons. If you have a story you’d like to suggest, post it to The Wired Word forum at

In the News
On May 6, three young women — Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight — who had been kidnapped separately a decade ago in Cleveland, Ohio, were found alive in a house not far from where they’d had been snatched. From the moments of their disappearance until the day of their rescue, nothing had been heard from the women, and their families grieved their loss while still hoping that somehow they would be found.
The women had been held as sex slaves by a man who is now in police custody.

Since the details of the rescue of the women, along with a 6-year-old girl who’d been born to one of the women while in captivity, have been widely covered in national news, we aren’t going to to repeat them here. However, it’s worthy of note that the joy in the families of the rescued women was shared widely not just among people who actually had known the women (who were 14, 17 and 21 when they were kidnapped), but also throughout the city and suburbs and, to some extent, across the nation.

The editor of The Wired Word lives in northeast Ohio, which is the broadcast area for the Cleveland news programs. He said he was struck that in almost every early report he saw on TV about the women being found, there were people rejoicing, crying tears of joy, smiling widely and cheering.

“It often appeared that whole neighborhoods had come out on the streets to help the families of the women celebrate,” our editor said.

While we found no online article focused primarily on the joyful response, several reports commented in passing on the joyful atmosphere.
The Huffington Post, for example, reported, “Cheering crowds gathered Monday night on the street near the home where police said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight had been held since they went missing and were found earlier in the day.”

The Daily Beast observed, “The news stopped everyone in Cleveland dead in his or her tracks. … All three women were taken to nearby MetroHealth Hospital, where a huge and jubilant crowd soon gathered and patiently waited for any bit of information on their condition.”

And according to, a couple of days later, when two of the women returned to their homes from the hospital, “Crowds cheered and chanted the women’s names as vehicles, flanked by police motorcycles, drove slowly to the two homes festooned with balloons, ‘welcome home’ signs and stuffed animals.”

Well wishes for the women have poured in from across the nation, and, as of last week, donations to a fund set up by the city to help the women get established independently have come in from 34 states as well as from Australia, Canada and France.

Our editor commented that the joy in the city reminded him of the song “A Little Good News” (sung by Anne Murray) that tells of so much bad news in the media, and then says, “One more sad story’s one more than I can stand … We sure could use a little good news today.”

The Big Questions

Here are some of the questions we will discuss in class:

1. Is it your impression that life brings more bad news than good, more good news than bad, or a roughly equal mix of the two? Why? What bearing, if any, do you think that one’s station in life and one’s economic status might have on how a person would answer that question?

2. Are you aware of a personal hunger for good news? If so, what do you think is the root of that hunger?

3. In the Roman Empire, the word translated “good news” was often used for official announcements. Why do you think that Jesus and the apostles used the term “gospel”/”good news” to characterize Jesus’ message?

4. What is the good news that Jesus proclaimed?

5. Can anything or anyone other than God satisfy the hunger for good news? Explain your answer.

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
We will look at selected verses from these Scripture texts. You may wish to read these in advance for background:
Luke 15:11-32
Isaiah 52:1-10
Matthew 11:2-6
Mark 1:14-15
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

In class, we will talk about these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.

Why do we hesitate? Wednesday thought.

April 10, 2013

On the day of the resurrection, the disciples remained hidden in fear. When Jesus appeared to them, he offered more than the proof found in his hands and side. He offered them forgiveness.

As people of the resurrection, we too have the power of forgiveness. So why are we so reluctant to live out this calling? What is forgiveness and what gifts does it offer?

Connecting leaders, past and present

December 27, 2012

On Sunday evening, December 16th, the Wood Fellowship Hall was filled with energy and conversation.  Approximately 250 people circled around tables to share a meal and think about our future as a congregation.

This was the first (but not the last) gathering of a group I dubbed “The College of Deacons and Elders.”  The intent of the night was to connect leaders in the church – past and present – together in order that we might build consensus around where God is calling us as the body of Christ.  There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the experience of our past officers.  Those whom God has called to serve as leaders in the church have something to offer even after their term on the session or diaconate has ended.  Sunday night was a chance to harvest this collective wisdom.

After supper, I shared with the group some of my vision for our church – a vision that has been shaped as I have spent time these past few months listening to various members and groups within our congregation.  Our conversation centered on four areas around which I solicited feedback from the “College.”  Those areas were:

Priorities for Ministry

I suggested that our primary task as a church was to worship God.  From that worship grow three “spheres” of ministry that are equally important and valued.  I believe our focus (and our staffing) should be organized under these three spheres:

  1. Mission – Defined by where we meet Christ in the world rather than where we take Christ to the world.
  2. Community Life and Care – Focused on building networks of care and opportunities to grow in fellowship.
  3. Christian Formation – Claiming the purpose of Christian Education, which is to shape members into disciples of Jesus Christ.



My observation is that we are generally a very healthy church in terms of stewardship.  However, we need to pay attention to some new trends on the horizon.  Notably, that more and more people give out of a sense of passion rather than a sense of duty.  This has implications for the way the church communicates its mission to the congregation.

Building Partnerships

It is no secret that we are increasingly busy people.  This is true within and outside of the church.  Paying attention to this, I see great value in forging partnerships among the variety of ministries that take place under the banner of First Presbyterian Church.  Doing ministry in partnership (instead of every group or committee carrying out their own program) will better use our time and resources, as well as create a larger impact and exposure for our programs.

Releasing Passion and Increasing Participation

As a large church filled with talented and faithful people, we need to find ways to connect more members with our mission and ministry.  We also need to make sure that we retain our identity as a church and not “run off in a thousand different directions.”

To that end, I proposed that we spend the next year discerning and articulating five to six “distinctives” or “pillars” that will ground us in our identity as Christ’s body.  What is our particular calling as an uptown church?  Where does God need our witness?  How can our gifts and history and abilities best connect with our city and world?  These are the kind of questions that will drive us in discovering our “disctinctives.”

Once we are comfortable claiming who we are I believe we will be in a position to create “a culture of permission” – where someone who has an idea or a passion can pursue it without having to navigate a lot of “red tape” from the committee structures of the church.

It is my hope that the next time we gather the College of Deacons and Elders (in January of 2014) we will be in a position to share these five or six disctinctives and make sure that they reflect who we all understand God calling us to be.

This first experience of being with such a dynamic group of leaders was, for me, a confirmation of both my call to serve First Presbyterian Church and of our calling as a congregation to be bold in the ways we embrace Christ’s call for us in the future.




Youth Ministry Architects

December 4, 2012

Youth Ministry Architects

The Youth Ministry Architects visited us recently and spent a lot of good, quality time talking with us about our activities and how to make the First Presbyterian youth ministry more sustainable and fruitful. This is what they said …

You have questions? We have answers

November 6, 2012

Our Confirmation class has the opportunity to engage worship in a new way!  They attend worship and are given the opportunity to ask questions of the Minister that preached the sermon for a particular Sunday.  Here are a few of their questions and responses from the Minister that proclaimed the Word.  We will continue to put these out there for the congregation to see as we all seek to wrestle with God’s call for us.

Confirmation Worship Questions

Rev. Peery, From 9/30/12

Scripture:  Mark 9:38-41

How can we encourage those who are different from us to serve in Christ’s name?

Great question!

I think the key to your question is found in the word “encourage.”  Sometimes I have seen Christians (of every kind) make the mistake in believing that they can “make” someone who is different than them serve in Christ’s name (or believe in Christ).  I don’t think it is our job as disciples of Jesus to “make” people do something or believe something.

What we can do is be clear about what it is that we believe.  Then we can be clear about what motivates us to do those things that Christ wants us to do: share love with others, forgive, feed the hungry, offer welcome to those who don’t have many friends.   We don’t practice those acts of compassion just because we want to be nice people.  We do those things because we are grateful for the life we have in Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was raised for us and for the whole world!

There is an old song I used to sing at Camp Grier called “They will know we are Christians by our Love.”  I think being the best Christian we know how to be is the way we can encourage others to follow in Christ’s path.

Rev.  Peery, from 10/14/12

Scripture:  Mark 10:17-31

Are we really supposed to give up everything to follow God?  I like my stuff.

I like my stuff, too!

There are lots of things that Jesus says that are…quite simply…HARD.  Jesus sets the example for how to live the ideal life that God had in mind when God created us.

And no one BUT Jesus has ever been able to lead that kind of life.  The rest of us – always – fall short of the ideal.  So the question is, do we just give up?  Do we not even try?  Or – instead – do we do the best we can to be faithful and depend on God’s grace to pick us up when we’re not?

One of the questions I always try to keep in my mind about “my stuff” (money, car, iPhone, 1982 UNC National Championship coke bottle) is this: which do I love more?  God?  Or my stuff?

And one of the ways we practice making sure that we have our priorities in order is by giving our “stuff” away.  The fancy church word for that is “stewardship.”  That’s why we pass the offering plate.  Not just to take up money to pay for running the church, but to create a spiritual discipline of giving back to God some of the stuff that – by the way – came from God to begin with!!

Rev. Peery, from 10/28/12

Scripture:  Mark 10:46-52; Job 38, 42: selected verses

Why did God ever take a bet, even if he knew the outcome?

Why didn’t Job stop loving God after everything that happened?  Why would God make a bet on the happiness of a man’s life?

Both of these are great, and difficult to answer, questions.

I’ll start answering them by talking about the library.

When you go to the library (whether in person or online), the first thing you do is to look at what section you are in.  If you want to study history, you don’t check out a cookbook.  If you want to read a novel, you don’t browse the encyclopedias.

Now imagine that the Bible is a library.

There are 66 books in the Bible.

Many of those books are in different sections.

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) talk about Jesus’ life.  These are in the non-fiction section.

The Psalms capture a whole range of feelings about what it means to follow God that are summed up in just a few short verses.  Psalm is in the poetry section.

The book of Revelation reads like a sci-fi adventure.  It is in the fantasy section.

The book of Job starts out with God making a bet with Satan and then ruining a man’s life for no reason other than to prove himself.  Do I think that is the way God does things?  I certainly hope not!!  But what if you don’t read the book of Job as if it were history?  What if God and Satan didn’t ACTUALLY sit down and ruin Job’s life?  What if Job is a story that is written to try to make an important point?

Does that make it less true than the other books in the Bible library that are non-fiction?  I don’t think so.  What the Bible reveals to us is God’s truth: about who God is, who Jesus is, and who we are.  The Bible is not a history book.  It is the Bible.  It’s bigger than history!  It is the revelation of God’s word!

The character of Job is a remarkable person.  He sticks with God even in spite of his sufferings.  He loves God through the difficult times.  He just keeps waiting for things to make sense.  And when they don’t – he finally flies off the handle and expresses his anger at God (read chapter 30 to see what I mean…).  It makes for a good story.  It sets up “the point” of the book: that the only one who is able to make sense of the world is the one who created the world.  That would be…not Job, or his friends, or us…but God and God alone.

Sounds kind of heavy, huh?  Like God is distant and cold and removed from all of us.

Maybe…but don’t forget that the way we know God is through Jesus…who came to the earth, lived among us, loved us, died for us, and was raised for us.

So while we may not ever know all there is to know about why things happen the way they do in our lives or our world, we do know what God thinks about us: because we see how much love has when we look at Jesus.

Can I get an AMEN???

Hello world!

October 19, 2012

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