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March 22, 2015

One of the joys of teaching is to see the students in your class excel in other areas of their lives. I teach in the religion department at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Ty Green was in my History of Christianity in America class last semester. Ty is an outstanding basketball player for the University of South Carolina Upstate. The Spartans’ senior guard was named the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year. Ty finished the regular season ranked first in the A-Sun and 14th in the nation in scoring with 20.1 points per game. Ty is an exemplary student and president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The USCU Spartans missed an automatic bid to the National Colligate Basketball Championship Tournament when they were defeated by the Ospreys from North Florida.

Ty and his teammates were extended an invitation to compete in the Postseason Tournament. On Tuesday night they defeated James Madison 73-72 in the first round.

As students filed into my New Testament class last week, I asked if their favorite college basketball teams had received a bid to the Big Dance, the NCAA basketball tournament. One student said, with obvious excitement, that Georgetown University had indeed been invited.

“The Georgetown Hoyas?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. That’s my team!” he replied.

I asked, “What is a Hoya?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a bulldog of some kind?”

He was completely stumped. I assured him the question would not be on the next New Testament test. The truth is that I didn’t know what a Hoya was either. Read more…


March 15, 2015
Four-leaf clover

One of our grandsons has a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. Recently, when he stooped to pick one, I was reminded of the legend of Saint Patrick.

The story of the life of Saint Patrick is a mixture of fact and fiction. Captured by pirates and taken into slavery in Ireland, Patrick learned the language and culture of the Celtic people. Years later, when he returned to Ireland as a Christian bishop and missionary, Patrick is said to have converted the entire country in less than thirty years. He convinced Druid priests and peasants alike that they would become the people of God by accepting Christianity.

Historically, Ireland had very few Christian martyrs. The willingness of the Irish people to accept Christianity was due in large part to Patrick’s familiarity with their culture and Celtic beliefs. The genius of Patrick’s approach was to mesh the symbols of Christianity with those of their ancient religion. The Celtic cross, for example, combines the most recognizable sign of the passion of Christ with the circle of life central to the fertility cults of the Celts.

According to legend Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to teach the Irish the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its green color and the number three were already considered sacred in ancient Celtic religion. The shamrock has since become a symbol associated with Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17. Read more…


March 8, 2015

Dr. Bill Arthur was a man of many talents. Bill was a gifted preacher, a faithful pastor, and a delightful storyteller. He served a number of churches as an interim pastor. First Presbyterian Church of Spartanburg was one of them. Bill was always a source of light for people and for churches going through difficult times.

After Bill’s retirement he returned to Spartanburg to serve as a part-time Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church. Among the many other ways he ministered, Bill led what became known as the BBC, Bill’s Book Club. Because he was an avid reader and a dear friend to many, Bill Arthur and the BBC were a perfect fit.

Following Bill’s death late last year, the folks at First Presbyterian invited me to lead the BBC. I did so with some hesitation and with the understanding that we would just see how the arrangement worked. We all knew that there was no way I could replace Bill. Filling his shoes was an impossible task. I had known and respected him as a friend and colleague in ministry. So, since January 2015 I have been meeting with the BBC each month. It has been a delightful experience.

At our most recent meeting we were discussing the book Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. It is a spiritually enriching read for many people. One of her suggestions is that we regain our sense of lunar rhythm. We have flooded our world with artificial light to the point that we have lost touch with the experiences of night and especially an appreciation of the moon.

One of our members recalled a childhood memory of a calendar on the wall with the phases of the moon indicated. Another remembered reading the Old Farmer’s Almanac. I called to mind David Tanner. Read more…


March 1, 2015
Chris Barrett

The Friday after I retired my friend and younger colleague Chris Barrett called from his hospital bed to ask if I could preach for him the very next Sunday. So on my first Sunday after I retired, I preached at St. James United Methodist Church. The congregation was very gracious to me. All of us were, of course, concerned about Chris, Elise, and their children.

For several years Chris has battled the same form of cancer that my brother-in-law Bruce Cash had. Chris has been in and out of remission over the past several years. The people of St. James have been steadfast in their support of Chris and his family.

Last week I spoke with Chris and Elise by telephone. He was at the University of South Carolina Medical Center in Charleston. He was very sick with a fever of 106. His cancer has returned with a vengeance. Still, the three of us were able to talk and even laugh together. Clare and I along with many others have been praying for the Barrett Family. We will continue to do so.

When I spoke with Chris last week I said that sometimes what we give up for Lent is more significant than chocolate. He agreed saying that he was learning to give up the idea that he was in charge. He had decided that for Lent he would relinquish control.

I commented that Easter was going to come just in the nick of time.

Today, I received a copy of a letter that Chris wrote to his congregation this week.

On our Journey to the Cross it is important to keep in mind that the Cross was not the final word. Beyond is resurrection, the core of the Christian faith.

Please pray for Chris, Elise, their children, and all of the family.

Here is the letter Chris wrote to the good folks of St. James. Read more…


February 28, 2015
Dr. Seuss

Clare and I still have children’s books in our home – a lot of children’s books. Clare treasures books as much as I do. Children’s books are among her favorites. She has saved books from her childhood, and most of the books our five children enjoyed as they were growing up. Now our grandchildren love coming to our house and delving into Miz Clare’s Children’s Library. Clare has even set up her own check out system so the grandchildren can borrow books and return them after enjoying them for a while.

My job is to keep the books in good repair. I patch the treasured volumes with tape when little hands accidentally tear a much-handled page.

I was at that task not long ago when I realized how many books we have that were written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

The Cat in the Hat is regarded as the defining book of Dr. Seuss’ career. The popular book was developed through a joint venture between Houghton Mifflin and Random House. Houghton Mifflin asked Dr. Seuss to write and illustrate a children’s primer using only 225 new-reader vocabulary words. Random House obtained the trade publication rights because Seuss was under contract to them, and Houghton Mifflin kept the school rights. With the release of The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss became the America’s best known children’s book author and illustrator. Read more…


February 24, 2015

On this Lenten Journey to the Cross we find Jesus in the wilderness facing three-fold temptation. Here is the account from Matthew.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:1-11 Read more…


February 22, 2015

I watched television several times over the weekend paying special attention to Christy Henderson of WSPA Channel Seven, John Cessarich of WYFF Channel Four, and Kendra Kent of FOX Channel Twenty-one and their ever-changing forecast for winter weather in the Upstate.

All three meteorologists kept mentioning various models that were helpful in predicting the severity of temperatures and the amounts of precipitation. I don’t think they had in mind the annual appearance of swimsuit models in Sports Illustrated. The weather models are computer-generated cyber images showing a big capital letter L gilding across the southland. They say the virtual pictures are useful tools in prognostication.

In winter, many of us become amateur meteorologists. We try to discern the winter forecast, whether we observe the color of wooly worms, the number of acorns, hickory nuts, or pecans, or the thickness of our pet’s hair. The phenomenon of El Nino, the groundhog’s shadow on the second of February, the perils of global warming, or even a copy of The Farmer’s Almanac will probably not improve our accuracy. Weather forecasting for the Upstate is an inexact science. Read more…


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