By God’s Side: December 2, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

December 2, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesIf you have been watching the national news and managing to wade through all of the seemingly endless reporting about the coronavirus and about the unusual political scene, you also may have seen what I consider to be just about the best news of the past several weeks.

When the giant evergreen tree from upstate New York made its 170-mile journey to where it now stands as the official New York City Christmas tree, it was not alone. Well, of course it wasn’t. In addition to the usual participants in such a trip – the rig driver and helpers – there was one more passenger that no one could have anticipated: a diminutive saw-whet owl.

You may have seen the photos of this little guy. Nothing could be cuter than those big yellow eyes and beautifully feathered face. Somehow or other, he managed to be a stowaway. As the tree was hoisted into place in front of the RCA Building, and as the workers removed the twine that bound the boughs, there he was, in all of his indisputable wonder. Maybe he had heard about the Big Apple and wanted to see it for himself. Or maybe, gently held and cared for by hands that folded round it almost like a prayer, this was a kind of Advent miracle.

Can something so small bring such a measure of joy? Can an unexpected surprise brighten a world that is feeling frankly glum? Can one living being enrich lives far beyond those who will ever see it in person, or hear its voice with their own ears?

Of course, those questions pertain to “Rockefeller the Owl.” But, even more, they can serve as a reminder to us that the Messiah, whose arrival is soon upon us, comes as a small child, yet brings immeasurable joy, brightens this world with a light that shines into even the darkest of places, and offers hopefulness. The one eternal God is coming to enliven hearts and minds.

This Advent season, look for the small things, for they are the matters of everlasting worth. May you find them in expected and unexpected places.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: November 25, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

November 25, 2020

I hope you are looking forward to giving thanks tomorrow. In this year of pandemic precautions, it may look different from Thanksgivings past. But at the core of the day, no matter where you are, saying thank you is something that we all can do.

You may want to make it traditional. Or, you might prefer to begin a new tradition. You might want to recall the “First Thanksgiving” and the Pilgrims and Native Americans who gathered not far from Plymouth Rock. Or, you might prefer to think about the Thanksgiving celebration that took place some years before that in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is the first actual Thanksgiving celebration in what are now the contiguous forty-eight states. (So, yes, if you choose to put southwestern fare on your menu, that would be traditional, too.)

It seems to me that whatever the first Thanksgiving may have been, the more important matter is what the “latest” Thanksgiving is: the way that we express our thanks and praise to God, this week; how we put that thankfulness into practice, in our attitudes and in our actions; what we do with our gratitude, to demonstrate that we are truly thankful.

You know what the great Christian Meister Eckhart says:

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

And what the Apostle Paul encourages us to do:

“In everything, give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: November 18, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

November 18, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesWhoever came up with the phrase “time flies” never threw a Bulova wrist watch out of the car window. Just try it; you’ll see. Time does not fly. It obeys the law of gravity and drops down as listless and lifeless and vulnerable as can be.

Yes, I know the phrase means that, before you know it, what is here and now is long gone. But then again, maybe there is another way to think of time.

You will remember that, in the Bible, we come across two different kinds of time: chronos and kairos. Chronos has to do with the kind of time we measure with watches and calendars — sequential time. In contrast, kairos has to do with the right moment for the right action. Here is what the Apostle Paul says about it:

“As God’s co-workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, ‘In the time of My favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.’ ”  (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

So God’s time provides us with an invitation, and an opportunity. God’s time is now, and extends beyond chronos time.

Back in the day, there used to be a big advertising sign in New York City’s Times Square (interesting name, that). The sign flashed out the message, “America Runs on Bulova Time.” I believe that you and I have a different message to know and to share: “Christians Run on God’s Time.” God’s kairos — God’s expansive moment of grace. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: November 11, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

November 11, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesI follow someone on Instagram who can begin with a black-and-white photograph, or a carved marble bust, and bring them to life using sophisticated computer-aided technology.

The first time this artist came to my notice was when he applied this process in order to portray an authentic, color likeness of some of our nations’ founding fathers. He chose Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin. Using what are considered by historians to be the most accurate sculptures of these illustrious persons, he added warmth and life to the marble, by his skill.

So there you are, looking at a photo of the bust of Washington, and, as you look, it morphs into a person with flesh and blood and detail. While you watch, Washington goes from some remote figure in a book or on coinage, to someone who, if you saw him walking down the street, would be recognizable as himself, and would fit right into any gathering today.

Fascinated, I could not stop with those three. I wanted more. So I saw a wide range of people, famous as Julius Caesar, or obscure as somebody’s great-grandparents, take on all of the vividness of being there before me.

In many ways, that is what the church is called to do, with regard to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to make Him real to those around us. To take the best of what we know of Him, whether from stained glass or paintings or the pages of Scripture, and bring these into our world of the here and now.

Here is the other insight I gained from this Instagram account. I have no idea what the artist looks like. And that corresponds to our calling as Christians, as well. People do not need to focus their attention on us, as long as we do all we can to draw their attention to our Living Lord.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: November 4, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

November 4, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesBecause we like to accomplish a lot, because we have the ability to do it, every once in a while we get ourselves caught thinking that we have to do absolutely everything all on our own. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, because, no matter how efficient we are, no matter how much energy we have to offer, there are only twenty-four hours in every day.

If you are working on a project right now that seems a little daunting, maybe there is someone else you can invite to share it with you. Just like the concept that, when you travel, getting there is half the fun, half of the joy of working on a worthwhile endeavor is sharing it with someone else. If you look around, you will see lots of fellow Christians who would be glad to share with you. So ask them to share.

Sometimes all it takes is someone else to hear what you are working on, who can say something along the lines of, “Have you thought about this?” or, “Have you considered that?” Because we get so focused on the details that we do not see the big picture, it is always good to have someone else to give us perspective.

Recently, I came across this quotation by the Christian writer Richard Rothe:

“God does not require that each individual shall have capacity for everything.”

To me it was like breathing a deep sigh of relief – a special reminder firmly placed in what we believe as part of our Presbyterian and Reformed theology, that, although each one of us brings unique gifts, it is when the gifts are shared that we accomplish what God calls us to do. Do not feel that you have to go it alone today, or any day. And remember most of all that, through prayer and contemplation, you can invite God to be part of that project alongside you.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: October 28, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

October 28, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesI am a tremendous admirer of the senior pastors who have served Shadyside Presbyterian Church down through the years. I have to confess that sometimes here in the church office, I will look around and picture one or the other of them right here. I am glad that I have some of their writings, because that makes their presence even stronger. It helps me wonder. “What would Bob Holland do? What would Howard Scharfe have to say on this particular matter? I wonder how Craig Barnes might approach this idea? What insights might I gain from Hugh Thomson Kerr?”

It reminds me in some ways of my visit to the Reformation Museum just across the street from the church where John Calvin preached for so many years. It is in the building where he taught classes. I did not know what to expect when I went to the Reformation Museum. It was new enough that I had not read anything in great detail about it. Although I liked many of the exhibits, the one I enjoyed the most was in the dining room. You were to imagine the great Reformers having dinner around a long table. All around the table were chairs; of course, they were empty. But the exhibit was designed in such a way that we were to envision a conversation underway between the various great figures of the Reformation: Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, Luther, and many others. It was a big table. As we watched, spotlights shone on the various chairs, one at a time. As the spotlight came on, one Reformer expressed his strongly held convictions about a particular matter facing the Church. Then, that spotlight dimmed as another spotlight came on, and another church leader presented their viewpoint. Sometimes there was similarity in the various viewpoints, and other times they were quite divergent, one from another.

The general thrust of the conversation had to do with the well-being of God’s people, as they live the Christian life together. That is what our wonderful leaders from the past years at Shadyside Presbyterian Church would also say, if a spotlight would come on here, and there, as they engaged in a conversation.

May the kind of insights that we glean from such conversations keep us close to God’s side this day, as we walk faithfully into the future.

Speak to one another with the words of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing hymns and psalms to the Lord with praise in your hearts.
Ephesians 5:19

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: October 21, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

October 21, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesMy kids will tell you that I have been taking a particular kind of photograph, one year to the next, of the two of them.

The first one happened when they were about five and six years old. We were at the beach, and I had my camera at the ready. We were taking a sunset stroll. The light was just right. The kids were standing side-by-side, looking at the ocean. I was a few feet from the back of them. That is when inspiration struck.

I asked them to hold each other’s hands. So picture, if you can, two cute kids, looking straight out on the ocean, while they were holding hands. Great picture! Snap, snap, snap, went my camera. Then, I said, “Okay, try this: look at each other.” Well, they got the giggles, of course, looking at each other, standing there holding each other’s hands. I snapped my camera a few more times. The pictures were not bad.

Then the best moment of all came. I said, “While you’re standing there, keep turning your heads, until you’re looking at me. And keep smiling.” Today, if you come to my office, you will see that picture, because it is a classic. There are the waves. There are Anne and John, in shades of light blue, so it looks like it was all planned, even though it was all happenstance. They are smiling back at me.

Each year after that, I tried to take an updated version of that photo. Many years, I did. Some years it did not happen. But I remember saying to them, “When you are fifty, and forty-eight and one-half, whether I’m around or not, I hope that you manage to get to the beach and take a picture just like this.”

It speaks volumes about love and family and togetherness and joy and support. I think, in many ways, it is a picture of how we relate to one another in the church. We find ourselves in a setting unlike any other, one that we can savor and enjoy. That savoring and enjoying is always best when we do it together in Christian love.

Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
~ John Fawcett

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: October 14, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

October 14, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
(Psalm 119:105)

Years ago, my great aunt mailed me the family Bible. All the way from San Jose, California, to Pennsylvania, it came. I was excited because I felt certain that when I opened the front cover, I would find the records of births and deaths and marriages of the family going back longer than I had any record. So I opened that big old Bible carefully. Guess what? Not one inscription was to be found, except the notation that it was a gift from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother on the occasion of their first wedding anniversary, in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.

For years, that big Bible stayed with me – because it was a treasure. It was not the Bible from which I read, so it ended up carefully stored in a box, unseen. It moved with me from Lancaster to South Bend, and from South Bend to Pittsburgh – still in the box.

Fast forward to when we were unpacking our house after we moved from Pittsburgh to Florida. In one big box, as it was opened, there was the big old family Bible. Judy was seeing it for the first time. She said, “Oh, this is really beautiful; we should have it out somewhere. How about on the desk in the living room?” I thought, “What a great idea!” So we put it in the middle of the desk, and then, because it was going to be displayed open rather than closed, I opened it. And, of course, what did I open it to, but the very middle, at Psalm 23.

Right in the middle of the Bible were twenty or thirty clippings from newspapers or bulletins from churches – all of which had something to do with our family history.

That experience is a great reminder to me that you never know what is in your Bible until you open it and pay close attention. Sometimes we will find what we expect to find there: comfort, strength, guidance, support, information. And sometimes we discover things about ourselves we did not even know were there. It is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: October 7, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

October 7, 2020

If you but trust in God to guide you
And place your confidence in Him,
You’ll find Him always there beside you
To give you hope and strength within;
For those who trust God’s changeless love
Build on the rock that will not move.
~ Georg Neumark

It was a cold, blustery day in northern Indiana. I was driving from South Bend to LaPorte, in order to attend a subcommittee meeting of a Presbytery committee. Presbytery gets a bad rap sometimes; you mention Presbytery and people roll their eyes, because they think that it is going to be a lot of stuffy minutiae. It can be. But sometimes, even in the most unexpected places, something different happens.

This particular committee was in charge of all of the worship services at the Presbytery meetings. I had not been in South Bend at my first church for long, when, out of the blue, Carol McDonald called from the Presbytery office, and invited me to serve on this subcommittee. And I said yes. While serving on it, I found that I enjoyed the people and the process of planning worship – because the goal was to design worship that was meaningful but not trendy, that pastors and elders could adapt for use in their own churches.

At this particular meeting we were planning a worship service having to do with Pentecost. And one of the members of the subcommittee looked at me and said, “John, there are no good hymns for Pentecost. You like to work with words. Why don’t you write one?” And kind of like the bumblebee that didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to fly, I said, “Sure, I’ll do that.”

Now, I did not know when I got up that morning and got dressed and got behind the wheel and drove the 45 minutes over to LaPorte, that it was going to be a life-changing moment. It never once occurred to me before to write a hymn text. But I enjoyed doing it. And when it was sung, Presbytery people seemed to appreciate it. And when the editorial committee was planning the blue hymn book that we have in our pews, they seemed like it, too. It ended up in there. Wonder of wonders. And down through the years ever since, I have been writing hymn texts when people request, for special events at their church, or to address particular concerns before the church.

God puts us in the place we need to be in order to grow. That is just one example of many that I could cite. I am grateful that God does that. I know that you are, too. Don’t be surprised if you set out to do something fairly ordinary today, and then it ends up being a life-changer. In Christ may it be so.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.

By God’s Side: September 30, 2020

Weekly Inspirational Reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles

September 30, 2020

The Reverend Dr. John A. DallesI was walking around the church one morning not that long ago, just enjoying being back at the church building, rather than working remotely. I was taking in the sights and sounds. There were workmen in front of the building, from the landscaping company that is redoing the landscaping as you enter the Sanctuary. They were hard at work, with power saws, shovels, and clippers.

I went around the corner and came down the circular drive toward the doors to the Parish Hall. And as I passed by there, I looked down and saw twenty-eight acorns, which is no surprise considering the huge oak tree that sits there. I believe it is at least as old as the church building, probably older. This is the time of the year when acorns fall. Acorns were scattered here and there and everywhere, in random patterns. But the acorns on the front step of the church – those twenty-eight acorns – were not in a random pattern.

Someone had gathered them, and then arranged them in such a way that together they formed a heart, which immediately brought me a sense of surprise and joy.

I do not know who did it. I probably will never know. I assume it was a young child, but it could have been done by anyone whose outlook on life has not grown old. I took a photo so I would have it, because I assumed, before long, neighborhood squirrels might come along and scatter the acorns again. I wanted them to be remembered as a sign of love.

It is possible for us to look at ourselves like those acorns. We are beautifully made in and of ourselves, by God the Creator. And then, to think of the fellowship that we have in the church, like that heart shape, made of many different people, joined together by the grace of God. Isn’t it great that the body of Christ can convey the love and compassion of Jesus our Lord?

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

The Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles
Interim Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church

About Dr. Dalles

Read more about Dr. Dalles.

Watch a brief video introducing a series of conversations with Dr. Dalles.

About By God’s Side

Shadyside Presbyterian Church publishes By God’s Side, a weekly series of inspirational reflections from the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles, to support you in your spiritual journey. These pastoral messages appear in the blog section of the church website each week. (Our weekly e-newsletter includes an excerpt to remind you to read along with us regularly; click here to subscribe to the e-newsletter if you do not already receive it.) We hope this regular feature will help you to draw closer to God’s side in your life of faith.

Read more reflections by Dr. Dalles from By God’s Side.