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
Each year as Pentecost rolls around on the church calendar I try to ensure that we do our best in worship to embrace the day. The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church is a powerful story about how the Spirit worked in the past as well as today. In more docile traditions of Christianity, of which Presbyterians are part of, the Holy Spirit has not always been given the attention it deserves.
For many the Holy Spirit may even be something that they have a fear of. One popular conception of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is the “Holy Roller” on the ground, shaking with convulsions, having been seized by the Holy Spirit. Even a peripheral experience of this type of experience can strike fear into the most firm of a believer. Fear also comes from the fact that when we read Scripture, we continually read of Holy Spirit experiences that cause trouble for the one interacting with the Spirit. People who are in the midst of a Holy Spirit experience have their lives changed and often are given a new mission from God. Continue reading
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 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
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?
These are times of great uncertainty. Perhaps I should say that these are times when we are highly aware of the uncertainty around us. I say this not to downplay the seriousness of how many around us feel. In one way or another, we are all being affected by the most recent cause of dramatic uncertainty in our lives, sequestration. Our congregation has many individuals and families that are at risk of being directly affected by the budget cuts. Beyond that, we have the continued concern of the overall economic recovery from recession. We can even see this uncertainty affecting our congregational budget.
I am not going to discuss the finer points of the political situations that have led us to this point. Actually, I am far from qualified to speak of such things. So the question comes, “What am I qualified to speak about in this situation?”
Regardless of the cause, uncertainty is all about the unknown. I have spoken with myriads of people who are awaiting medical test results. Time and time again the refrain I hear is that they just want to know what is happening. We are people who want answers. Knowing what is coming our way gives us a sense of control and power over a situation.
For many years I have wondered about how our national currency still has the phrase, “In God We Trust” on it. There is obvious reasons why some would seek to eliminate this phrase from our money and as our countries official motto. I actually understand others perspective on this, but am glad for Christian’s sake that it hasn’t happened. I’m thankful because for Christians, it makes every dollar and cent physically embody our theological understanding of our lives. We are reminded that it is truly, IN GOD WE TRUST. Continue reading
I find it amazing how easy it is to get distracted by the negatives in life. Truth be told, lately I have allowed some of the struggles of life hold more weight than the positives. Some of this is due to the fact that I have been struggling with a nagging sickness that seems to want to hold on to me more than I want it to. The reality of the mind, spirit and body connection is one that we often only pay attention to when it’s too late. Yet we know that when one part of our bio-psycho-spiritual being is off, the rest are surly effected.
I also know that we live in a world that celebrates the negative. We live life surrounded by bad news. In 1982 Don Henley released the song, “Dirty Laundry.” Continue reading
Today our discussion turns to the office of what is currently identified as Teaching Elder. In fact this is a return to language used earlier in the church. The office of Teaching Elder is the ordained office most commonly called Pastor, but also may be known as Minister of Word and Sacrament, Chaplain, Reverend, Preacher and sometimes with the Preschool kids, “Chapel Man.” The fact of the matter is that the Teaching Elder, like Deacons and Ruling Elders, are set apart for certain ministries. We have these diverse titles because the role of a Teaching Elder is unique to the gifts of the person and the needs of the ministry context they serve. Continue reading
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Today as we shift our discussion of the ordained offices from Ruling Elders to Deacons, I believe this is a great place to start. In this passage Paul is encouraging us to remember that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives is varied and as such enables us to perform various activities. This is a critical lesson for us to learn when discerning who is called to the different ordained offices. Each office calls for different gifts. Yet they are all brought to life in the shared ministry for the common good. Continue reading
Each year our congregation goes through the discernment process of selecting leaders for our congregation. The nominating taskforce is working to recommend a slate of officers to the Session for the next class of Elders and Deacons. This is perhaps one of the most anxiety ridden times of the year. The nominating taskforce is concerned with not only getting the people to fill spots, but perhaps more importantly, the right people to answer God’s calling. Today, I will discuss the specific calling to be a Ruling Elder.
A few years ago, Christ Presbyterian Church made a conscious effort to be more fully open to the leading and discernment of the Spirit in this process. In the past, like most congregations, our congregation would approach the selection of Elders by trying to find people who were going to be Elders for specific areas of our ministry. Examples of this would have been an Elder for Finance or Christian Education. In this model, the ability to fulfill a specific role would often trump the spiritual calling to such a leadership role. I’m sure that you have experienced in you life those who are at the top of their field for their ability, but once given leadership, fall apart. Continue reading