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. 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 →
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 →
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 →
This past week in worship we reflected on the words of Paul as he speaks about Spiritual Gifts. Paul writes to the church in Corinth with regards to how the gifts of the Spirit are given:
“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 →
For many the new year marks for them a fresh start. I’m sure that many of us have already made and broken “New Year’s resolutions.” Check out this definition from Wikipedia:
“A New Year’s resolution is a commitment that a person makes to one or more personal goals, projects, or the reforming of a habit. A key element to a New Year’s resolution that sets it apart from other resolutions is that it is made in anticipation of the New Year and new beginnings. People committing themselves to a New Year’s resolution generally plan to do so for the whole following year. This lifestyle change is generally interpreted as advantageous.”
On the surface level it is probably hard to find fault with this concept. We should encourage one another to make commitments to goals, projects and reformation of habits. Yet, we all know that we more than likely won’t stay resolute in our commitment to this change. Continue reading →
Practice what you preach is one of those sayings that is easy to throw around, unless you’re a preacher. As one who consistently is called to stand before the assembled congregation and proclaim God’s Word, it can be a daunting task. Not only does it mean that I have to make sure that I am being true to the sacred Biblical text, but I also must ensure that I am a creditable witness to the text. This isn’t always easy. The news has many accounts of preachers who subscribe to “the do as I say not as I do” school of thought.
I remember when I was a Chaplain Candidate with the Navy and I was taught this very important lesson. Each summer I would spend time with sailors onboard a ship or other installation. The first summer I was stationed aboard the USS Anzio. The Anzio is a guided missile cruiser. For those of you not versed in Naval architecture, a cruiser is not a large ship. At only 567 feet long and 55 feet wide, this means that the crew live in close quarters. A crew of 367 people share every space and find themselves in almost constant contact with others. This context helped to heighten my awareness of just how important it is to be of a consistent character and to ensure that I am practicing as well as preaching. You can’t be a fake with people when you share a bathroom. Continue reading →
Each week at Christ Presbyterian Church we come together and express the unique character of community that God has called us to be. One of my favorite things about being Presbyterian is that while we have many things in common with other Presbyterians we are free to be who we are. In worship we incorporate many aspects of what people would call “traditional” Presbyterian worship, and we ensure that we adhere to the prescriptions of the Directory for Worship. Like most of our sister churches, we confess and receive pardon. We also read Scripture and hear the Word proclaimed in the sermon each week. Along with many other aspects of worship, we could be judged as being like any other Presbyterian Church. Continue reading →