Family Christmas Eve Service 2017
Family Christmas Eve
Posted by Geoff McLean on Sunday, December 24, 2017
Stewardship is one of the most misunderstood practices in Christian life. The word stewardship is only second to evangelism when it comes to the amount of baggage attached to it. Chris Goulard, Pastor of Stewardship at Saddleback Church in California, points out this reality about the term stewardship as follows:
“Over the years, many well-meaning churches have misused the term stewardship. “Many have mischaracterized it and used it interchangeably with giving or—even worse—the annual stewardship message from the pastor who’s just talked about tithing,” Continue reading
If we are being honest we are more than disappointed, we are worried. Coming off such a wonderfully spirit-filled cantata we don’t want to see it all fall apart. Rest assured that God would not let this happen. Over the past few years we have been blessed to hire some highly skilled people to help us in our ministry. Personally, I have been amazed at how God has taken anxiety and trumped it by providing the right person at the right time.
Even still, I wanted to help ease some of the concerns about our music ministry. First and foremost, remember that God has plans for our vitality. We won’t be left alone in this challenge. Secondly, this is not a time for us to reorient our music ministry or make radical changes. We will be looking for someone to continue the hard work Barbara has begun and challenge us into the future. Finally, music will still have a central place in our worship and community.
At our last session meeting I conducted a brainstorming activity with them about this transition. The final words I wrote on the white board, in BOLD letters were, “CHILL OUT”. There is no need to think that this transition is a problem. In fact, we would be more faithful if we saw it as an opportunity. Please pray that God will be ever present in leading our congregation during this time of change. Also, pray that God will lead the person specifically chosen for us to our doors. Finally, pray a prayer of thanksgiving that we have been blessed with the faithful leadership of Barbara over that last six years and that her new adventure will be a rewarding.
I am surprised at what will trigger a memory. Often the memory that is jarred from the recesses of your mind seems to have little connection with whatever has caused it to surface. Yesterday’s shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando seems like the farthest thing from the memory it brought back for me.
In the early nineties I was a volunteer firefighter while attending college. The events of this past weekend caused one of the hardest memories of that time to surface. It was a sunny Saturday in May and the tones rang out calling us to service. The report was for a rollover accident and it seemed almost impossible to fathom how such an accident could occur on the reported stretch of road. I made my way to the station, geared up and jumped on our rescue to head to the scene. The first engine radioed that the reports were true and that there were victims entrapped. The scene was a very short code 3 response from the station and we were there in moments. The scene that greeted me was one that filled me with a deep sense of foreboding. The Jeep Cherokee had driven by me many times that day with teen girls hanging out of the windows and honking their horns. It was part of a tradition based around a dance competition held at the high school. A few years earlier my friends had done the same thing.
As is the case when a first responder is on a scene, it’s all business. You put on your game face and get the job done. The only problem was that it quickly became clear that there was not a job to be done. Two teenage girls (one of whom was a classmate’s sister) were crushed to death in an instant. A moment of teenage celebration quickly turned to tragedy. Once the reality set in that the situation was no longer a rescue but a accident investigation things shifted.
You might think that this memory was brought to mind because of the loss of life, or the sight of blue lights flashing behind a news reporter, but it wasn’t. This memory came to the front of my mind because of how people have been responding to this act of terror.
The work of rescue became a time of waiting. We tried to give the victims dignity but in many ways that was lost. In an era before social media and even cellphones word still spread fast. A large crowd of teens and parents had gathered at the scene. It wasn’t long until the crowd was a mix of tears and condemnation. It was more than the question why, but in an instant conversation turned into blame. The girls, school, parents, police all became subjects of people’s criticism and anger. This was not hours, days or weeks later; it was while we still had dead daughters and friends waiting to be taken to the local funeral home. I remember while I stood holding a tarp up around the body of one girl, thinking to myself why did her parents let her do this. There was plenty of blame to go around and lots of folks on the scene were trying to place it. (Read a NY Times article from 1994) Yet in an instant the need to place blame and solve the problems that led to the accident took a back seat. As a 20 year old college student I was asked to move behind the tarp and to hold the body of this young girl in a way that a police officer could take necessary pictures. In that moment I realized that victims need time. This young girl didn’t go out expecting for this to happen. Her parents set her on a course of life and hoped that all would be well. Here with her lifeless body in my hands and looking at her sweet, innocent face I was reminded that there is always time to place blame. There is always time for anger. There is always time to make changes but there is only one sacred time in a person’s life when we can honor them with a spiritual respect that puts a hold on judgment to show love.
In the days, weeks, months and years that followed that event many people called for change and education. The next time the competition rolled around there was a clear outlawing of reckless behavior. There was also a somber pall over the event for many years.
Again, I’m sure your wondering what this has to do with a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. I feel a responsibility to be a voice for a peaceful spirit in times like this. I am ashamed by social media posts, news reports and political pundit statements that instantly make times like this into an opportunity to jump onto their soapbox. There is a great deal of action that must be taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Situations like this should help to shine a spotlight on issues and policies that allow or even cause this to happen. They should force us to tackle hard issues and make changes. Yet, timing is everything.
Within minutes of the news from Orlando making it to national news outlets the religious and political commentary began. While families were searching for their children and cellphones rang next to victims in the club, many were taking it as an opportunity to politicize. Religious groups quickly make it about God’s wrath or to perpetuate misinterpretations of Islam. Anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration voices quickly took their positions. LGBTQ advocates, gun control law proponents seized that opportunity to make their points.
Perhaps it is a natural response to want to do something, but much is lost in all of that talk. The pain, suffering and anguish of families, friends and a community are turned into tools to advance a cause. This is why I was transported back to that day so long ago. Too often blame and guilt leads us to dehumanize victims. As I held that teen girls lifeless body I was reminded of my own need to keep my humanity. She wasn’t just a girl who died doing something careless. She was a child of God who needed to be honored with her full humanity. The victims of the Orlando shooting deserve a time of mourning and memorial before we turn them into tools to bludgeon each other with in political or religious debates. Again, don’t misunderstand me, their deaths must lead to vigorous debate that leads to appropriate changes in our systems so that such things never happen again. Still, we need to pay them proper respect. I don’t believe that turning their deaths into statements, post or memes that tear down one another within hours of their death shows them respect or honor. These innocent victims may very well become faces of a movement that helps prevent things like this in the future. I just wish we gave them a moment to rest in peace before that time.
Recently, I was in a group of church leaders, Pastors and Elders, as we discussed how to make congregations more vital. Every time I am in this type of gathering, I am both saddened as well has filled with hope.
My sadness comes from the fact that so many of our bothers and sisters in Christ are struggling to continue their congregational ministry. Churches throughout our denomination, as well as many others, have seen a decline in their daily participation. It can be hard to see a vital future when the news of the day is continually telling us that we are “dying.”
I believe that one of the greatest obstacles facing the Church is that it is so focused on the past. Even people who weren’t involved in the church in the past have a grand impression of the church’s past. Christian cultural dominance of the past has led to what is viewed as a high water mark of the church. We are bound to that past like a stone around our neck. It drags us down and under. This is what truly saddens me. Good, faithful, loving Christians, who see what they are doing as being lesser because it doesn’t look, like the past.
One thing that I have come to value about the coach approach to leadership and life is that while the past can be informative, we must focus on future reality. We all remember when Churchill used the phrase, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It is true; we need to learn both the positives and negatives of the past. Congregationally the stories we carry forward tell us a lot about who we are. The problem is that we often allow those stories to determine who we will be. As people of an ancient sacred story, we value our past, without it we actually don’t have a common calling. Continue reading
Today, I wanted to repost this article on Ash Wednesday from 2013. Join us tonight for our supper and service at 6:30 PM
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.
This past week we had a historic storm that blanked the Washington Metro area with deep snow, which crippled our area. Here are three things I learned during this storm:
In October of 2015 our congregation participated in the Church Assessment Tool (CAT) survey. We had 88 percent of our worship attendance complete the tool. This is a strong response and has provided us with a valuable and accurate snapshot of our congregation. On behalf of the Session I would like to thank each of you who took the time to complete the CAT online or via paper copy.
In November the leadership of our congregation made up of the Session and Diaconate met with two “Interpreters” from the presbytery who were trained to help congregations understand the information gathered by the CAT. This was a great time of confirmation, discovery and challenge. Following the interpretation the leadership group was asked to spend some time considering the information.
Due to the Advent and Christmas seasons we were forced to put off our first follow up meeting until January 6. This meeting was intended to provide those who were unable to attend the interpretation with a “mini-interpretation” and to give everyone else an opportunity to once again familiarize themselves with the results. I’m proud to report that all but one Deacon currently serving was present at this meeting. Over the course of two hours we immersed ourselves in the CAT and had some discussion about the results. The CAT provides a great wealth of information and the first step for our congregation is to determine what the most important items are.
At the conclusion of the Leadership meeting each person was left with the challenge of personally reviewing the information and identifying what they believe are critical insights. At our Session and Diaconate meetings next week, we will discuss the places that we believe we need to pay close attention to. To that end I would also like to invite everyone from the congregation to help the leadership in the process of interpretation. What is it that you the congregation would like to learn from the CAT?
Our next phase in the CAT process is helping the congregation understand what has been learned from the assessment. As promised we are continuing to ensure our visioning and goal setting process as a priority. The leadership of Christ Presbyterian Church is committed to making sure that this doesn’t become just another exercise we complete and put on a shelf. Please continue to pray for the Spirits leading in our congregation as we look towards the vital future we know God has planned for Christ Presbyterian Church.
This is a cross posted article with www.geoffmcleancoaching.com.
Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. It seems right to think of a new year as a new opportunity to make oneself better. “A new year, A new you,” is one of those catchy ways to sum up our newfound hope that comes with a fresh calendar year.
Even still, most of us also make those resolutions with little to no expectation that we will achieve them. It is easy to throw out standard resolutions that make us feel like we have turned over a new leaf. Herein lies the problem; making generic “commitments” to change are not very helpful.
This is a great place for us to apply the SMART goal setting. You may employ this practice in your work life. Many corporate organizations use the SMART model throughout their planning. SMART is an acronym that highlights what a goal should be all about.
M- Measurable: It is critical to decide how you will determine success. What will you use to gauge your movement towards achieving your goal?
A- Attainable: Goals should challenge you to move beyond your current state but not be so out of reach that you set yourself up for failure. Be willing to push yourself, but also be realistic.
R- Relevant: Check to make sure that the goal you are setting is in line with your “big picture.” It is easy to set up competing goals that inevitably mean that neither goal is achieved. Does this new goal fit into your overall objectives?
T- Time Bound: Setting a schedule for your goals helps you to move forward. An open-ended time limit allows you to push it back for an indeterminate amount of time. Finite time limits encourage action. It is also good to set waypoints along the way to see how much daily, monthly or quarterly progress is being made.
It is not enough to just say you are going to do something. The adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is attributed to Ben Franklin. We often think that setting a goal is planning. An end point (goal) is not a plan it is a dream. To achieve dreams it is critical that we set ourselves up with SMART goals that encourage us to actually accomplish what we are dreaming about. I know that dream is a big word. After all we don’t necessarily think that higher sales numbers or a little less weight as a dream. Yet, without an actionable plan that is all our goals will be, far off dreams.
As a coach it is my role to encourage and help coachees take their dreams and begin a process of formulating SMART goals to achieve them. Do you feel like you have a bold vision for what could be, but don’t know how to get there? A coach is a valuable resource to help you sort through all of the competing claims on your time and energy and to help set a plan to achieve the dreams you have for your life.
If you want a partner in your SMART goal setting and are looking for a coach, please contact me at www.geoffmcleancoaching.com. A new year, a new you can be more than just a trite phrase. It can be your future.
The rattling of sabers is loud. The fear and danger are real. The warring madness of God’s creation is palpable. While in the sanctuary, God’s people are lighting candles and speaking bold words about the promised peace that comes in Christ.
Are the words of our worship simple and empty platitudes or do they have deep meaning and power in our lives? Sadly, I believe that the former is too often the truth. Like saying God has a plan to someone who has just lost a child, peace talk in the midst of war or threat of war seem like hollow words.
In recent years I have had Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” ringing in my ear long past the Christmas Season. His words from 1863 have been used as lyrics to the song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In particular the struggle between the bells that ring “Peace on earth, Good will to men” while “hate is real and mock the song.” I, like Longfellow, find my “head bowed in despair.” Even as my faith points me to the hope of peace on earth I can’t help but to be struck by the sorrow and pain that surrounds us.
Longfellow wrote this poem following the death of his wife and his own severe wounding in a fire. Along with these tragedies his son was also severely wounded during a Civil War battle. These personal struggles led Longfellow to have a deep crisis of faith wondering if God was even present in this calamitous world.
Rather than writing a poem that professes the death of faith, he writes a modern psalm of hope in the promise of God. The hope of the Gospel is that despite the overwhelming darkness of the world around us, the light of Christ shines through. I wonder how it is that Longfellow was able to find this hope even in his dire situation.
In the end it is the fact that in despair, in times of war, hatred and even when it seems that God is dead, the bells of Christmas ring. For our age this is still the timeless truth. Today, most churches don’t have physical bells in a tower and even if they do they are kept silent. In our day the bells that ring are the lives we live. We are the bright sounding bells in a world of despair. That is what it means to be the body of Christ. (Sorry about the metaphor shift) To live the Christian faith in times of terror and fear means that we not only have to personally find the strength of our trust in the Prince of Peace, we also need to allow that strength to resound from our lives.
“Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men”
I pray that in your life you might find the sounds of the bells of peace are louder than the sabers that rattle.