October 2017


October 23: What Can the Church Learn from African Wild Dogs?

I love animals. They are breathtaking, funny, awe-inspiring, terrifying, and inspirational. I enjoy going to zoos and just watching the animals, and I enjoy nature documentaries like Planet Earth.

Recently, I was watching a segment about African Wild Dogs. African Wild Dogs will hunt prey much larger and faster than themselves. They don’t have the size of a lion or the speed of a cheetah. They can only achieve a successful hunt if they work as a team to overcome their size and speed deficiency, but the success of the team goes way beyond the sum of their parts.

Despite the smaller size and slower speed relative to other African predators, the African Wild Dog is the most efficient hunter of all carnivores. A lion will achieve a hunt-to-kill ratio of 20-30%. A cheetah will average around 30%. Both animals are well-known for their prowess and capabilities. An African Wild Dog hunt to kill ratio is around 80%!

The reason: teamwork. Before a hunt, the dogs huddle up and touch noses and then fan out and go to seemingly predetermined positions. The lead dog identifies a target and begins to run it down, directing it to the next dog in line. When the first dog gets tired, the second dog, already in position, takes up the hunt. This continues down the line to the third dog, fourth dog, fifth dog. Whenever a dog gets tired, there is another one to continue the work. The prey can’t keep going full speed forever. As it slows, all the dogs catch up and bring it down together.

For lions, once a kill is made, the dominant lion will feed first after chasing the other lions away. He will be followed by the females and then the cubs. This keeps the strongest strong and the weak, the cubs, will often starve.

Because the African Wild Dog pack have a shared vision of how the pack survives, the cubs always eat first ensuring that they grow to strengthen the pack. Sometimes the dominant mother will eat first by herself, so she can provide food to the younger cubs.

What can the church learn from African Wild Dogs? We have to have a shared vision and goal, then work together toward that goal. Each of us can do our part, using our strengths, skills, and resources. We help each other. When one person gets tired, another person steps up. When someone needs a break, we fill in. We make sure each person is cared for and has what they need, and we look to the future by providing enriching worship, education, mission, and fellowship opportunities for our youngest members.

A church is a team. We work together toward a common vision and mission. We are stronger together. By working together, and leveraging our time, talents, and treasure, we’ll continue to be rooted, giving, and growing.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen 


October 16: The Subject of Stewardship

Several decades ago, the British writerand lecturer C.S. Lewis, was asked to speak on the subject of Christian stewardship. He began with these words: “On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him."

I feel that way, too. Sometimes it is much easier, and safer really, just to skirt around the whole subject of stewardship, of how we give shape and substance to our love for God.

But there is another side of that coin. A young Scot once told his pastor, “I’m fed up with the church and Christianity. All I ever hear is, “Give, give, give!”  The pastor, Donald Ross, fixed his steel blue eyes on the man and in his soft Scottish accent replied, “Well, can you think of a better definition of Christianity than that?” “Give, Give, Give!”

We may choose to skirt the subject entirely, but the fact remains that stewardship is the way we define our faith and make it personal. It’s how faith becomes concrete and part of our lives----- and not just a feeling we have or something we say is important to us.

For each of us, stewardship is what we do after we have said what we believe. Generation after generation of Christians before us have put their love into action in order that we might have a future in the church. We have received this legacy because of their gifts of gratitude. Now it is our turn.

Our actions are part of the unfolding of God’s love in this place. It’s the unfolding of the story of the church: rooted, giving, and growing.

Derry Church is the inheritor of a legacy far more important than any endowment account we might ever have. And the legacy is this: It is a legacy from history, and from a long history of being the church from the time of the Protestant Reformation.

Prior to that time, during the middle ages, people’s wealth was most commonly used for personal adornment, for grand houses, and for conspicuous and extravagant display. John Calvin, however, taught that money, just like life itself, was a blessing from God -- a blessing entrusted to God’s children for God’s use and glory.

No longer was money considered sterile and barren, as it had been before the Reformation. Now it was regarded as dynamic, as a tool for active use in the service of God and of all humanity.

So how do we manage our finances so that our finances do not manage us? How do we use the financial gifts God has entrusted to us to continue the legacy of faith passed down from saint to saint through the generations?

I hope you’ll think about this as you consider a financial commitment to Derry in 2018. The gifts we give help continue to tell the story of God’s love for us. Stewardship is living out our story of being rooted, giving, and growing in God’s abundant love.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


October 9, 2017: What We Do With Our Blessings

There are so many people in need right now. There are victims of violence in need of comfort, healing, answers, and change. There are victims of natural disasters in need of some life’s most basic resources: clean water, shelter, medical attention, and clothes. There are people struggling with disease in need of treatments or the hope of a cure.

There are always needs; it’s one reason the church exists. Saint Teresa of Avila, from the l6th century said:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.

Christ meets the needs of the world through us and through the blessings we have received.

Our God is always there for us when we need God, and so our church is always here for those in need. It’s our mission, and mission is who we are. We do that through working with Love INC, Downtown Daily Bread, Mobile Mission, and many other local missions. We send money and supplies to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance when disasters strike, and we support international missions that provide the needs of clean water, shelter, and education.

Mission isn’t just giving money. We have so many blessings that go beyond our finances. We have social capital, we have community, we have talents, we have education, we have resources, we have voices, and we even have votes. We also have the opportunity to share these blessings and make a real difference in the world.

Mister Rogers said, “The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away.”

Yes, we have blessings. We have more than we can begin to count and name. The question is, what are we going to do with them? What are you going to do with yours? You’ve raised over $13,000 for hurricane relief, but that is just the beginning of what we do with our blessings. There is so much more we do, we can do, and we dream about doing. Together, if we are generous with our blessings, we can change lives, share love, and bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ. We will proclaim God’s word, embody God’s love, and promote God’s justice with the blessings we have.

Thank you for the blessings you share with Derry Presbyterian Church. What you give and what you do makes a difference, and it is appreciated. Thank you.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen


October 2, 2017: Take to the World

Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, a Sunday in which we remember a fundamental truth: communion is for everyone. That doesn’t just mean we put out an open invitation and leave it at that. It means we have to be intentional about reconciling with people who have felt, for one reason or another, excluded from the Table. It means not just welcoming people to the table, but inviting people to table and making a space for them.

On October 14, at our more casual Saturday night worship, we’re going to sing one of my favorite communion songs: “Take to the World” by Derek Webb. He gets this concept. My favorite line is:

may the bread on your tongue leave a trail of crumbs to lead the hungry back to the place that you are from.

We all need to be fed at the Table. We need the sacrament of a meal that proclaims we are loved and cared for by God not because of who we are, but because of who God is. We are welcomed at God’s Table because God doesn’t create distinctions. Every single time we partake of this meal, we experience a radical hospitality that transcends all other forms of welcome. It is one place we will never be turned away. All are welcome at this table. The world is welcome!

The world needs this good news. People hunger and thirst for a place to be received. It is my hope, as participants in this divine meal, that we can leave a trail of crumbs in our community, leading us all back to the glorious presence of God. We don’t just invite the world into our church to know the love and welcome of God. We take it to the world.

Take to the world this love, hope, and faith. Take to the world, this rare, relentless grace. And like the Three in One, know you must become what you want to save. ‘Cause that’s still the way, that He takes to the world.

I hope you will join us at 5 pm on October 14 to share in this meal of welcome and grace, and to sing this song as a mission statement for who we are called to be as the church of Jesus Christ.

This link takes you to the song so you can hear and learn it for our worship on October 14.

In common calling,

Pastor Stephen