Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes (Originally Posted 2-2013)

Today, I wanted to repost this article on Ash Wednesday from 2013.  Join us tonight for our supper and service at 6:30 PM

   Ash-Wednesday-for-web-2014 I don’t know if many know that I am a cradle Presbyterian. That means I was born a Presbyterian and for the most part have always worshiped as a Presbyterian. Beyond that I was raised in a Presbyterian Church that was influenced by a Dutch Reformed mindset. As such we were less than liturgical. The only liturgical traditions I remember were Maundy Thursday and Advent. I don’t recall growing up with any traditions around Ash Wednesday and Lent in general. That’s not to say they weren’t present, I just don’t recall them being very important in the life of the congregation.
     Continue reading

REPOST: God’s Love Poured Into Our Hearts, Overflowing Into the World

 This post is from 2013… May it help you as you consider; life, death, despair, mental illness, hopelessness and those you love.Suicide-Prevention-Hotline

   Yesterday was Memorial Day in our nation, a day to remember those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and to ensure our safety.  Over the weekend a few of the news programs did stories about the struggles of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the high number of suicides.  The accounts of hopeless struggles that many silently go through were heart breaking.  Beyond those who have served our nation in the military, this week I had a pastoral colleague who was preparing for a memorial service for someone who committed suicide.  He sorrowfully expressed that this was the fifth such service he had led. Continue reading

Coffee… A Gateway To Fellowship and the Soul

coffee fellowship

Hospitality is a word that we often talk about at Christ Presbyterian Church.  A few years ago we studied Robert Schnase’s book, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.”  As one of the practices, Schnase advocated for congregations to observe radical hospitality.

“Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.”

At Christ Presbyterian Church we take great delight in being a congregation that welcomes the stranger.  We have worked consistently to develop patterns of being that make that welcome part of our congregational DNA.  Yet, as with every aspect of our life, we can do better. Continue reading

Reflections on Balance and Rejuvenation

work-life-balance    It’s hard to believe that I have served as the Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church since March of 2007. It seems like only yesterday that I was interviewing with the Pastoral Nominating Committee. I remember a conversation I had with the committee about my philosophy of ministry. In that conversation I told them that I believe that I am called to live a life that is a positive example. One area that even before I came to northern Virginia I knew I would need to model positive behavior was in the area of self care. I knew that our area was one of the most competitive and demanding climates in the country. The DC Metro area was and is an area that is engaged in the struggle to balance family, work and faith. Continue reading

Worship Announcements are Worship and Testimony

tired family'     Every week at the beginning of our worship services at Christ Presbyterian I am called upon to share announcements and highlight activities. While we have an extensive bulletin with a great deal of information and details, it still is expected that I will highlight them. When I first arrived at Christ Presbyterian, we actually passed the microphone to do this. It often took a great deal of time, so we decided that we would only announce a few items that either were impending or missed the bulletin.

Soon announcements were turned into prayers so they could be said during prayer time. I guess there are worse things to have happen than the ministries of the church being the subject of prayers. Yet, it also seems a bit strange. This wouldn’t be a problem if we were a sleepy church that didn’t do much. But we are a vital church with dynamic ministries. Perhaps you have noticed recently that I have made more announcements from the pulpit than I normally have chosen to. Part of this is because we have a lot going on. The other part of it is that it is difficult to choose what needs highlighting and what doesn’t. Inevitably someone is upset if you highlight one thing and not the other. Continue reading

Prayers for Jesus to Calm the Storms That Remain After Disaster

Jesus calms the storm      Jesus Calms the Storm was the title of today’s Preschool Chapel Time. I selected that story early yesterday prior to the destructive storms that struck Oklahoma. Today I had planned to write an article on membership. It was going to be a well-thought-out theological work that talked of commitment and testimony. Then I turned on the news and was inundated with the horror of lost life and property. I have to say that when talk of third graders losing their lives began, chills and tears were the only reaction my body I could muster. The thought of sending Colin to school, and something like this happening immediately bought up a visceral response. Continue reading

The Holy Spirit and The Shepherd of My Soul

shepherd  losttop       During worship this past Sunday I testified to the fact that I love and am amazed by the Holy Spirit on a regular basis.  As has been the case in far too many instances than I can count, when an issue or situation in the world needs to be responded to in worship, the Holy Spirit has made it happen.  “Our regularly scheduled programming”  as television networks say, have consistently provided the worshipful response to even the most challenging issues. 

       This time, in the shadow of terror, I believe that the Holy Spirit spoke deeply to our needs.  One of the great blessings we have developed in our staff is that we push each other to prepare as many of the aspects of worship in advance.  In order to give  ourselves the appropriate time to rehearse choral music, pick suitable hymns and make a bulletin that doesn’t distract, we like to have as much done well in advance.  Continue reading

The Not So Low Sunday

easter season banner    The Sunday following Easter is traditionally known as Low Sunday.  This name has theological origins and is used to illustrate the contrast with Easter Sunday.  While there may be these theological and liturgical reasons for the name, history also shows that it is a good summary of attendance.  Frequently, the Sunday that follows Easter is one of the lowest attended Sundays.  This low is highlighted by the stark juxtaposition to  the often swelled crowds of Easter Sunday. 

    For Christ Presbyterian Church I believe we bucked the Low Sunday trend.  This Low Sunday was anything but low for our congregation.  Our congregational meeting and Worship were not only well attended, but also rife with the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection. Continue reading

What is Revealed During Holy Week

Holy week book mark    Holy Week is upon us. Following the excitement of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we begin to see the love of God expressed in the deepest and yet also most challenging way. Throughout this week the reality that God loves us and is for us comes into sharper and sharper focus. For some, this week is one that they would like to fast forward through. It is like a horror movie that we have seen over and over. Even though we know that the music is foreboding and we have seen the villain pop out from around the corner, we still jump. We know that this week has a joyous ending, yet between Palm Sunday and Easter there is a real darkness.
     While events of this week may have similarities to a horror movie there is one critical difference. The pain, suffering and death of Jesus is not an actor on a screen but is real. Beyond that, the suffering he bears is ours. For many years I remember being disconnected with this reality. As Reformed Christians we rightly focus our faith on the Risen Christ. Pastors are keen to point out the empty cross that stands in the front of our sanctuaries. We are part of the Christian tradition that seeks to focus on the deep love of God expressed in the fact that death no longer holds dominion over us. I’m glad that is our central focus. I’m not sure I could handle leading people to continual reflection on suffering without an overwhelming dose of Resurrection.
     Still, it is incumbent upon us to reflect on the suffering of Christ. Without this important part of our faith, we miss the depth of God’s love expressed in this week. Holy Week causes us to see God and ourselves more clearly. Holy Week is a snapshot of God’s reality in the world.
     During this week we are reminded of the gracious characteristics of God. The Palm Sunday experience reminds us that God is worthy of praise. Maundy Thursday demonstrates the deep compassion Christ has for us. In the upper room he demonstrates his service and sacrifice. In the garden we see the nature of Holy love and

obedience. Drawn to God at Gethsemane, Christ is honest and open before the Father. Glimmers of doubt and weakness are overcome with trust and submission. Good Friday is a supreme display of God’s steadfast love and willingness to do anything to restore us to full relationship.
     These very same events in Jesus’ life also highlight who we are as well. Palm Sunday gave us a glance into what life is like when we are captivated with God and offer our earnest prayer. In those who did not join the procession but scoffed, we see our ability to turn from God. Maundy Thursday demonstrates our weakness and sinful nature. Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper so as to give us a continual Spiritual connection with his love and sacrifice. Jesus knew full well that his first disciples, as well as modern day disciples, would need a powerful reminder of his spiritual presence in the world. In his service at the foot washing, he gave a definitive reminder of how his followers should live. In the Garden we are shown how our desire to serve and our ability to do so are often disconnected. How often do we find ourselves asleep while we are supposed to be keeping watch. Of course Good Friday cuts the deepest. On Friday our sin is brought to bear on Christ’s body and spirit. We also see our timid faith and ability to easily fall away. We can see ourselves in every part of this story. Whether it is the crowd spitting on him, the centurions beating him, Pilate disavowing responsibility, criminals jeering him, or the disciples who are off hiding somewhere, in them we are present.
     Many avoid this aspect of Christ’s life and our sinful nature because it almost makes us seem worthless. The fact of the matter is that Holy Week shows us just how valuable we are. God is willing to endure this suffering because in God’s eyes we are priceless. “God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) These words summarize the reason and cost of this week. God’s love for us is so powerful and steadfast that He will withhold nothing to make us one with him. While we may see aspects of ourselves this week that we don’t like, what we also see is the very nature of God expressed. That nature is one that is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all life.

How do you live out a life that reflects this ultimate love God has shown you in Christ?

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Having “God’s Eyes”

cover eyesToday, I was looking out the window of my office and noticed a playground.  No, not the one in our backyard but one off in the distance just on the other side of the woods in the Fair Woods subdivision. During most of the year, the view from our property to the community is obscured by trees.  During the winter when the foliage is gone you have a clear view of the neighborhood.  The playground peeking out of the scrubs and bare trees struck me.  I have walked the trail that goes by the playground a few times on prayer walks, and yet each time I see it, I am jarred by just how close it is. 

For me the playground is a metaphor of our relationship with the world around us as the church.  Too often even the things that are close to us are obscured and hidden from our view.   In this case the obstruction is real and physical.  We know that not all of the obstructions are physical; for many the spiritual obstructions are far more powerful.  Continue reading