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.
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A Personal Reflection on the Struggle to Serve God and Country

bible-american-flag-cropped-shutterstock_182898479-400x4001Recent church and state struggles have caused me to reflect on a time in my life when I was forced to wrestle with the reality of faith and citizenship. News of a County Court Clerk, Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses based on her religious beliefs is the most recent case. I appreciate Ms. Davis’ commitment to her faith but believe that she either needs to step down from her post or face the reality of legal punishment. After all, she took an oath to apply the laws as they have been passed. She either needs to issue licenses, be charged with contempt of court or step down and become a political activist to change the laws. I don’t say this because of her beliefs on marriage, I say this based on what it means to be a Christian with convictions and also a person who has chosen to subject her own will to both Christ and U.S. law.

Let me share how I personally have struggled with this very hard dynamic of faith.

The year was 1995 and I had just entered seminary and was about to be commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy Reserves so I could begin my time as a Chaplain Candidate. It was an exciting time and I was seeing many of the goals I had set come to fruition. The very dawn of my call began at my brother Kris’ graduation from military police school after seeing an Army Chaplain at work. I saw an opportunity to serve God and country in a very needed and meaningful place. For many years leading up to my commission it had just been a natural idea. This was almost a “best of both worlds” opportunity.

Just before my commissioning I was forced to confront the fact that while this was an exciting opportunity it was one that shouldn’t entered into lightly. Someone asked me if I was ready to raise my right and swear to “support and defend the constitution of the United States of America.” It was a simple and easy answer, “of course.” Then this person asked, “what if doing so puts you at odds with your commitment to follow Christ?”

This question wasn’t a great epiphany, I knew that following Christ and being a citizen of the U.S. at times gets messy. Yet, the idea that I was going to raise my right hand and essentially say that I would perhaps have to put one over the other was a deeper reality. What does it mean to follow Christ and be a good citizen? Mark 12:17 is a passage that came to mind, ”And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The problem is that my allegiance is always first and foremost to God. My faith leads me to believe that all things in my life are from and belong to God.

I mulled this over and prayed for quite some time before the day of my commissioning. I had to struggle with the fact that if I was to indeed make an oath, which some Christians don’t even support, I needed to do so with a full understanding of the implications. What would I do if my call to be a Christian Pastor and a Navy Chaplain came to odds with each other? Was I able to keep Christ first and bear the consequences if an order I received was in consistent with my beliefs?

Ultimately, I did raise my right hand and swore to support and defend the constitution. I did so knowing that there could be a chance that one day I might be in a situation where I would have to choose between my allegiances.

I never “superseded” my commission to become a full Chaplain with the Navy. During my mandatory two year “Parish Call” I found a passion and calling to serve in the local congregation. Still this very real faith struggle has informed my ministry and preaching ever since. I must live my faith as one who is always ready to join the Apostle Paul, Dietrich Bonheoffer and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in prison for my beliefs. This isn’t just a struggle for those who are in government service. Everyone who holds religious beliefs find himself or herself in the same situation every day. If we are truly living out our faith we must be willing to make hard choices. Isn’t that what sets us apart from others.

It is easy in today’s social media world to make villains or heroes out of people plucked from obscurity. Some see Ms. Davis as religious nut case and bigot while others hail her as a modern day martyr. I don’t see her either way. I see her as one who is in the very struggle of the dual citizenship we all have as Christ Disciples. I can’t say I agree with they way she is carrying out this struggle but I hope others can learn from it.

Advent Already?? (Original Post 11/23/2010)

Advent side barIt is hard to believe that Advent is upon us. The name Advent is derived from the Latin term Adventus meaning “coming”. The season of Advent in the church is intended to help the believer become filled with expectancy as we wait for the coming of Christ. As a believer we are called to use this time to rekindle our faith in the promises that arrive at Christmas and to prepare for the coming of Christ.

I’m sure that you’re expecting the usual, “turn from the secular Christmas,” Advent reflection. I have challenged myself this year to try and have a more peaceable understanding of modern Christmas traditions and even try to have a better relationship with Santa. This isn’t because I am willing to surrender to the cultural pressures, but instead I thought this year I would see if I could bring more meaning to our traditions. Continue reading

Stewardship and the Abundant Life (with video blog extra)

We live in a culture that is full of messages of scarcity and excess.  These two ideals seem to be in conflict when looked at on the surface.    Yet, our sacristy mentality leads us to act out in excess.  The old adage, “the one with the most toys wins” is the embodiment of that reality.  The basic message is that the supply is limited and thus you need to hoard as much as you can.

This, of course, is in fact precisely the opposite of the Christian view of the world.  As a Christian, we are called to live a life that is situated in the power and providence of God.  The world’s view of life is that of a beginning, middle and end.  This is a limiting view of life.  As a Christian, we have gained a powerful insight into time and space. We know it is infinite.  There is no way to overstate what this knowledge does in our lives.  To know that God is infinite and our lives are eternal reorients our understanding of life, death and all that is involved. Continue reading

Further Conversations on the Rowboat and Sailboat Church

It is hard to write blog post that both fully expresses your thoughts while also being short enough that people read them.  Yesterday’s post Setting Sail “Is the Church a Rowboat or Sailboat?” has sparked some pretty good conversation.  As such I thought I would follow it up today with a bit more about what Joan S. Gray says in her book, “Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers: A Handbook,” says are the differences between Rowboat Churches and Sailboat Churches.  One part of this is expressed by the images below.  When I read her descriptions of the two I am more apt to think of the rowboat church as a galley ship rather than a dinghy.  That makes the oarsmen slaves not a crew.  More than once I have felt that the Church (Universal) has treated people in this way.

I think that at the heart of it all is where the starting point for our ministry and life is found.  She reminds us that we need to be dependent on the power and will of God.  Like it or not, many times the Church (Universal) has often thought of itself as the master of the mission of the church. Rather than seeking to discern, follow and work towards the “Missio Dei” or the Mission of God. Continue reading

Unity Overcoming Estrangement (Government Shut Down and World Communion Sunday)

Chidlren of the worldToday we are reminded of the reality of our two citizenships and the struggle between our earthly and heavenly commitments.  Jesus was confronted with this question in Matthew 22 when he is asked about taxes.  Jesus reminds us that God and civil authorities have their claims on us, but we should not forget what part of our life belongs to each.  Current events highlight the struggle to govern and the way that our brokenness has real consequences.  The government shutdown shows us just how hard it is to find ways to find unity in the midst of divergent world views.  Continue reading

World Communion Sunday

World Communion 2013

I want to personally invite you to a special worship service on October 2nd at 11 am. We will celebrate the love God has shown us in our diversity. A highlight of our service will be a special musical offering in Korean by our neighbor church Light Global Mission Church. Everyone is encouraged to dress in clothes that are native to your country of origin. The service will be immediately followed by an international pot-luck. Bring a dish to pass that reflects your heritage.World Communion Sunday 2


The Lord’s Prayer In Motion

Today during out chapel time with our preschoolers I tried a new way of offering the Lord’s Prayer.  With a resource from the Anabaptist Disabilities Network we offered the Lord’s Prayer with motion.  It will take a few times to get the motion and flow right but I think it was an exciting way to interact with the Lord’s Prayer for children and adults alike. (This was originally created by Helen Eickmann and Paul Bosh in 1974 and I adapted it to our specific setting.)

Click the image below to download the PDF VersionLords Prayer in Motion IconSlide2 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