Thursday, April 17, 2014

Renewing Baptismal Vows


Holy Week. We experience in this week the full passion of Christ. Together, we celebrated his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We continue to travel with him through the Lord’s Supper, his suffering on the cross, and finally to the glory of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. 

    The Thursday before Easter, commonly referred to as Maundy Thursday, we remember the last supper Jesus had with his disciples. We remember Christ’s commandment:  "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another."  We also remember his commandment, “This do in remembrance of me.” We remember this as we celebrate communion together at the table this evening.
Cover of Baptismal Font         photo by Virginia Jones

         Another spiritual opportunity we often practice at Independent Presbyterian Church on Maundy Thursday is that of renewing our baptismal vows, an ancient tradition in the church. We are reminded of God’s gracious covenant through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

         The French Confession (1559) says, "In Baptism we are grafted into the body of Christ... Although we are baptized only once, the benefit it signifies lasts through life and death..."   By dipping our hand in the baptismal water, we reaffirm this covenant through the grace of Jesus Christ and the communion with the Holy Spirit. 
         Through this Holy Week, let us experience Christ’s journey and his sacrifices for all of us.  And let us renew our baptismal vows and respond with gratitude and obedience to our Lord and Savior. 

  Conrad

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Giving and Serving

These 40 days of Lent are leading us next week to Holy Week.  On our journey through this time of reflection, prayer and repentance, we still long to grow even closer to Jesus Christ.  To renew and deepen our faith and discipleship, we can explore two other practices of our Christian faith: giving and serving.  


Giving:  As an ancient practice of discipleship, giving allows us a way to thank God for his generosity and to recognize that all that we have and all that we are, belong to God.  Lent can be a time to establish, reinforce, and grow in our practice of generous giving to God.  And we can continue to reinforce this habit through our lifetime.

Serving:  Doing good by helping others. When we serve others, we serve Christ and acknowledge him Lord of all.

Let us pray…
Immortal, invisible and God only wise, may we honor and glorify you today through perfect submission to Jesus Christ.  May our souls crave the act of worship, the sanctuaries of which are homes, offices, shops, factories, boardrooms, classrooms, courtrooms and hospitals. May our lives be dedicated to the liturgy of daily scripture, prayer, giving and service to the suffering and least among us. May our every word and deed become a sacrament. And may our lives be lifted, broken and poured out as symbols of your redeeming mercy and changed lives celebrated in community.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Repentance and Reflection

Lenten Disciplines of Repentance and Reflection

These holy days of Lent provide us an opportunity to grow closer to Jesus Christ through acts of prayer, repentance, reflection, giving, and service. These days are especially meant to be spent in time of repentance and reflection on our lives and our relationship with God through Christ. 

Repent:  Acknowledge to God your errors, your shortcomings, the things you have done wrong or the good things that you have failed to do, and ask God to forgive you. 
Reflect:  Contemplate your life and your relationship with Christ and others. Who is God calling you to be and how is God calling you into relationship with others?

Let us pray:
O God, wherever we find ourselves this day, you are there. There is no path you have not traveled, no journey you have not made, but it is often awesomely fearful for us.  Merciful God, help us to more than discern the path today, help us to understand why. Even if understanding eludes our feeble minds, grant purpose for our journey. Grant us faith; grant us forgiveness for all our sins and shortcomings; and grant us a place at your table of salvation in Christ our Lord. Amen.

Conrad    

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lenten Discipline of Prayer


These short 40 days of Lent are an invitation to discipleship that can renew and enrich you. This can be the time to establish life-long habits of prayer and dedication to the practices of our Christian faith. I invite you to not miss out on this opportunity.  


Pray – deepen your spiritual life through daily prayer, thanking God for your blessings, seeking God’s help, asking for strength to be Christ’s faithful follower. 



Let us pray:
        Jesus, absolute truth, may your word be on our lips, your compassion in our hearts, your mercy in our actions and the praise of your name, our passion and vocation.  When all  the world diminishes, your eternal and unchangeable truth remains.  May our lives reflect and illuminate what is true and absolute:  the love of God for the salvation of humankind in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.   Amen.

Conrad

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In this Lenten Season

The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for “spring.” It is a season of preparation and renewal for the glory of Easter. Lent is a time of prayer, reflection, renewal and service in Christ’s name.  This spring, this Lenten Season, how are you preparing for the glorious Easter to come?  What have you added to your life in prayer, reflection, renewal or service in Christ’s name?
     Photo by Virginia Jones

Let us pray….

In this Lenten Season, O God, sunshine or not, a new day dawns. Open before us this day a clear path through the narrow gate lighted by your eternal Word which shines as brightly this day as the day of creation.  As the world scurries to acquire and achieve what is not of lasting value, grant us stillness.  Let us rest from the crowded, anxious concerns of the human heart and mind.  Direct us to your Word in scripture and your Holy Spirit in truth that we might be led as you deem fit.  Grant us the patience and wisdom of the ages, O God, that we might not waste this day in pursuit of things but in joyful accord that is everlasting.  Help us to pursue Christ-like relationships with those all around us and give us hearts rich with mercy, forgiveness, and hope.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Conrad

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fasting and Feasting

The season of Lent has begun.  Discussions always arise about fasting and feasting during this time.  I’d like to share with you a piece that is very meaningful to me during the Lenten season.

                        Fast and Feast
                         photo by Virginia Jones


Arthur Lichtenberg, when presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, quoted this Lenten advice:

Fast from criticism, and feast on praise.
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.
Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.
Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment.
Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.
Fast from pride, and feast on humility.
Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.
Fast from fear and feast on faith.

      ~The SourceBook of Wit and Wisdom

Conrad

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Remembering

          We’ve recently welcomed quite a few babies into our church family. When I see these precious little ones, I often think of a heartwarming story I once heard. A little girl was very excited about the birth of her new baby brother. But she kept repeating one unusual request that concerned her parents. She insisted everyone leave the room so she could spend a moment alone with her brother.

Her parents denied this request, thinking it might be some form of sibling rivalry. After lengthy discussion, however, the parents reassured themselves of their daughter's innocence and yielded to her request. They agreed to leave the room for a moment and stood by the infant monitor in the next room.  Once alone, the sister rose on her toes to look down into her infant brother's bassinet and whispered, "Tell me about God. I keep forgetting."


Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when we mark the beginning of Lent. This day will be a day of remembering

We will be reminded of our human mortality and our repentance to God. We will also be reminded that we are God’s children, and we are loved. I believe this Lenten season  provides us a great spiritual opportunity to spend sacred time with our creator, share thoughts and listen for God’s voice. It’s also a time for reflection, a time to remember significant moments and events in our lives. 
Perhaps in the last year your family has experienced the joy of new birth, or perhaps a loved one has died. Each year is filled with precious moments of joy, and some of sadness, too. But every moment we live is a gift from God. Every day is a blessing. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism instructs us: our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.

Like the child seeking the insight of her infant brother, we too must join with other
Christians to remember and give thanks for the many blessings of God's presence in our lives. This is one of the main reasons we gather as a community of believers, for here we not only remember and give thanks, but we are also nurtured, comforted and strengthened for our faith journey. 

Throughout this Lenten season and beyond, let us continue to gather to worship God and remember. To reflect on our lives and our relationship with God. To witness to our redemption in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.

Conrad

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Prayer's Power and Love

This description of prayer is by one of my favorite authors, Henri J. M. Nouwen in his book With Open Hands. As you read this and the prayer below, try opening your hands in front of you with your palms facing upward. Feel the Power of God and feel his love for you.


“When you pray, you open yourself to the influence of the Power which has revealed itself as Love. The Power gives you freedom and independence. Once touched by this Power, you are no longer swayed back and forth by the countless opinions, ideas and feelings which flow through you. You have found a center for your life that gives you a creative distance so that everything you see, hear and feel can be tested against the source.”
            Henri J.M. Nouwen


As we face our own spiritual and emotional battles this day, O Lord, we pray for the Power that you so freely give us. Refocus our attention and, therefore, our hearts upon this powerful love that is eternal. Instill in us the courage of a conqueror, like that of Christ. Let us set our gaze upon him who has overcome all things, not for self, but for the world.  Christ taught, healed, fed the hungry, and when the time was right, suffered even for sinners like us.  Help us to open our hearts to receive this great Power. This love. This strong center for our lives. In Jesus’ name.  AMEN    
                     Conrad

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Save us from the fear


What are you afraid of? What fears keep your heart and mind blocked from a loving and personal relationship with God? 

For this and everything, let us turn to God in prayer. 
        Arise, O Lord, and save us. Assist us in casting off every fear that would hold us back from effective discipleship and a personal relationship with you.  If the field erupts in battle today, grant us the courage to not shirk our duty nor avoid the conflict, for in the midst of affliction, the most able leaders rise.  We pray for inner strength to defeat the fears that imprison us.  Purify our thoughts like precious metal.  Test our hearts and make us strong; gather our wits and grant us confidence of character not upon our own wisdom, but upon humble dependence on your promise that you will not abandon us or let us down.  Arise, O Lord, and save us, not from conflict in the world or in our own souls but from the fear that mangles and destroys our hope and our faith.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.

   Conrad

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Recognizing the love of Christ

In our recent unexpected and very treacherous snow and ice storm, many of us were caught unprepared and in dangerous conditions. Some of us were able to offer food and shelter to strangers who had to abandon their cars on the icy roads. Others were the ones in trouble, who in unfamiliar circumstances, had to rely on the kindness of others. Both ways, we were able to recognize the love of Christ in each other.

Let us pray together:

O God, our Rock and Redeemer, may the overwhelmed and those in need find refuge in you. May we, who are your children, who usually lack nothing, share what we have.  Help us to assist and encourage the downhearted to cast their burdens upon you; to seek your mercy and protection; and to find strength through perfect weakness that relies upon you alone.  O God, Christ has come to redeem. Assist us then, to be his disciples that with joy we might bind up the brokenhearted, feed the hungry and offer shelter for those in need.  And in so doing, help us to recognize Christ in each face. Increase our faith and your footprint in the world through our ministries of compassion and justice, for it is in your holy name we pray.  AMEN 

Conrad

Friday, January 24, 2014

A higher standard of success

          We’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics. Watching top athletes perform.  Yes, we all love winners. But to win, succeed, and achieve from a standpoint of faith demands a definition of what true success looks like.
           It reminds me of my college soccer coach. One of the things that frustrated him most was to see potential lie dormant, to watch a gifted athlete refuse to accept a challenge, to witness a player give up on what he could be. 
          The drive of my college coach to push his athletes to their highest potential flashes in my memory as I read Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
Our church Youth volunteering their time with children.

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3: 12-14, 23-24)   

You know, the world never likes hearing this kind of challenge: to live holy, righteous and acceptable lives together before God. This is why we as a church must speak with great clarity and live with conviction. God calls us to live (and succeed) by a higher standard in every aspect of our lives. 
Let’s be the kind of people who go beyond the bare minimum of what it means to be a disciple (if such a bare minimum even exists!). Let us allow the Holy Spirit to rule over our hearts and actions as we seek to demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, generosity and love that Christ first showed us. Let us live in such a way that the world notes the difference and therefore also takes note of the Lord, Jesus Christ, whom we serve.     
           
                       Conrad

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Communicating without words

          The 911 emergency system is amazing. When 911 is dialed, a person is connected with a dispatcher who sees on a screen the exact location of the phone from which you are dialing, the name of the telephone listing, and the closest police, fire department and paramedic units.
This is important because a caller might not be able to communicate the problem.  Someone might be having a heart attack, or be so hysterical over the needs of a loved one that he or she cannot communicate effectively. The wonder of 911 technology, however, is that to send help, the dispatcher doesn't need the dialer to say anything. 

In life we all face times of uncertainty and distress. Sometimes in desperation, we are unable to even put our thoughts into words. At times like this, we should rejoice, for God in the person of the Holy Spirit already knows our circumstance and our need.  Even though we might not be able to speak, or don't know the right words to say, we are assured in scripture that the Spirit will intercede on our behalf.
Even if you can't verbalize your need today, approach God in prayer, confident of the Spirit's ability and desire to intercede. God stands ready to help.

“In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.” (Romans 8:26, 27)

Conrad

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Good Tip

Thinking of others.
I’ve read a lot lately about unbelievable tips people have left waitresses and other servers. One story this week described a customer, a complete stranger, leaving a struggling young waitress a check for her college tuition. What a tip!  I immediately thought of another “tip” I witnessed years ago. Not so extravagant as tuition, but extravagant in its sacrifice.
After an evening stroll through our town, my family and I entered a local ice cream/coffee shop. While my wife and children examined the flavors available behind the glass, I happened to notice a young boy, eight or nine years old asking the person behind the counter the cost of a hot fudge sundae. I don’t recall the response because I only saw the distressed look on the boy’s face. Re-examining his change, he asked for simply a chocolate ice cream cone.

What made this entire episode stick in my mind (and I think in the waitress’ mind by her gratitude) was that once the young boy had paid for his ice cream cone he put a tip in the tip jar sitting on the counter. A big tip, considering the purchase!  A tip nearly large enough to have covered the hot fudge sundae.
The young boy could have had what he wanted most of all, but he chose a less expensive treat so he could leave a tip, an extravagant tip! I think the only person who was more surprised than I, was the waitress, who called out to the young man, “Thank you!”
I love the minds of children. Sometime they seem by the standards of our world so pure and unsoiled,  willing to put others first simply because it seems right. Child-like humility and self-sacrifice are not only refreshing thoughts in our world, however, they are also virtues in the world to come. In fact, Jesus used the example of a child to help his disciples understand these spiritual truths.
In Matthew 18 we read that Jesus called a little child and had him stand among his disciples. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3,4) 
Self-sacrifice. Putting others first. Humility.  I would not call these attributes childish, but they are child-like.  And I believe that the purity of being child-like is what our Lord desires.
As we begin this new year, let’s ask how we might better serve God and share the gospel, by being child-like and by humbly putting others’ needs before our own. The possibilities to do this are endless — and the call to do so is sure.
   Conrad

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Epiphany of the Lord

                                   
Lord, lead us in your way everlasting and grant us peace in the assurance that wherever we are, you are there with us. As with the wise men from the East in search of the star, order our steps in this new season and make your path known to us. Let us delight in seeking you all the days of our lives in the knowledge that though we may stumble and fall, you are loving and kind. Lift and renew us, O God, that we may walk humbly with you.  Equip and prepare us, Lord, for the journey that this year promises so that we may glorify you and enjoy you forever.  In Jesus' name.  AMEN

Conrad

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Listening for the Mystery


Emmanuel, God with us.
     On Christmas Day, we rise to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  In the gentle cry of the baby Jesus we hear something different: the mystery of the incarnation: God in human flesh.
 


Grant us clarity of heart and mind, O God, as we consider the divine humility of the cherished child of Bethlehem who would grow to fulfill the role of the despised and rejected man of Golgotha; innocent and yet obedient for the purpose of your glory and our redemption.  Fulfill the desires of Jesus this day Father, and grant us hearts, minds and wills of faith and service: Christ the Lord is born! AMEN.

                
Conrad

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Divine Revealed

As we prepare and await for the coming of the Christ Child, let us open our hearts to the rich joy of the incarnation in our lives.


O God, as you love us, you reveal glimpses of your divine nature to us in the Christ Child.  We discover as we mature that riches are uncertain, health can fade and all nations can teeter and fall.  May our security and true confidence then, be found not merely in trusting you but in obedience to your command to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Indeed, how poor and vulnerable we would be if not for the fleeting recognition of the divine waiting to be discovered and honored in humanity, a desire to be one with you and each other.  In this world of chaotic violence, racism, indifference, injustice and self-consumed lifestyles, reorient our being with your own, loving you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength as evidenced in our pursuit of divine mercy and compassion toward others.  In Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

                 Conrad

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learning the real meaning of Christmas

       I remember years ago when he asked me to come see him one day after church. I had only been in ministry about a year and had not really gotten to know this “saint” or his brothers. All three were bachelors in their seventies and eighties. Only one came to church, and he was rather shy — even backward some would say.

       The brothers all still lived on and worked the small farm on which they grew up and were by the standards of the area what was known as “dirt poor.”  They lived like Spartans. They had so little and conversed even less. You can imagine my curiosity about the request to come and visit them. When I arrived, I noticed in the bare kitchen something very much out of place — several packages that contained brand-new household appliances along with toys and a bright doll nearly two feel tall still wrapped from the store. 


      These items were their response to my plea to the congregation to help settle into the area a refugee family from Southeast Asia. As my eyes slowly scanned all the many items I was amazed because there was at least several hundred dollars worth of gifts on the table and floor.
     
       In my youthful ignorance I asked, “Why such a generous response?” The only brother who generally spoke said, “Well, we have been saving to go on a fishing trip for a few years now — but it just didn’t seem right. They have so little and we have so much.” I managed to hold my composure until I was driving home alone in my car. (They didn’t even own a car.) It was mid-December, and all I could think of was how much I had learned that day of the true meaning of Christmas.

       This Christmas as we share our plenty with family and friends, we need to remember the sacrifice that God has made for each and every one of us on the cross. And in light of that, give God thanks in every aspect of our lives. If we have Christ — we have all we need!  We just need to explore ways to share him with others, not only today, but every day.

       If we have Christ, we have all we need.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16,17)

Conrad

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Where is Jesus?

       If it hadn’t happened twice I would have thought nothing of it. They were just small, plastic, inexpensive nativity pieces: Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, sheep, a donkey, Wise Men, a camel  and,  of course,  the baby Jesus in a small trough.  Jesus was the smallest piece,  and I always built the scene around him and kept it on a small table in my office.

I noticed one day that the baby Jesus was missing from the arrangement and looked all around the table for the piece, with no success. Later that afternoon,  a mother who had visited my office called and apologized because when emptying her toddler’s pockets,  she discovered the baby Jesus. The child must have been playing with it and put it in his pocket.  I told her to let him keep the baby Jesus figure because when I bought the set I got two (they were really inexpensive).   A few years later, however, Jesus went missing again.  Sure enough,  this time he was discovered in the play purse of a little girl who visited my office with her parents.
Truly, I think this says something more about the human drive to possess what is mystery, than the kleptomania tendencies of young Presbyterians.  Even children want to hold Jesus. They could have had any one of nine other plastic figurines, but they took Jesus!   Jesus is recognized even by children since they look at the world with their hearts as much as their intellect, and hence often see what is most important.

In so many ways this is why Advent is so special:  it provides us an opportunity to stand near the manger – to stand near the mystery of Immanuel, “God with us.”  This is a season of great spiritual opportunity.  It is a good time for reflection as we celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends. It’s a time ripe for growth in the things of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
But Jesus does not desire for us to put him in our pocket or purse. No, Jesus desires our hearts, minds, spirits, and strength. Jesus wants to be in our relationships with others.   Children may know the great mystery of Jesus and desire to possess him. But do we desire that Jesus possess us and by the great mystery of God’s irrational love toward humanity, come to us once more?   Not as a child celebrated in a manger but as the returning, glorious Son of Man.
  Matthew tells of Jesus sharing the mystery of his second Advent. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)

The truth of the Christian faith is that it is best celebrated in tension between a child lying in a manger and an innocent man hanging on a cross. You see, the line from these two points extends in infinity into the mystery of what we cannot possess but by the grace of God.  God’s Kingdom is coming. God’s reign will increase until all know Christ as Lord. It is both a great and terrifying reality, and it is good news. Like innocent, expectant, awe-struck children, let us celebrate the mystery of Advent with our eye on both the manger and the cross.

     Conrad

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Beginning the Advent Season

Advent begins the first day of December this year. The first season of the church’s liturgical year. Our prayers begin a season of hope.

   This is a season full of promise, O God, for it is a season of your making. May I treat it, then, as a new journal prepared to receive the thoughts and entries of a disciple, a servant, a child of God and heir of Christ. May the potential of this Advent season not be shrouded in anxiety or routine, but clear and compelling. May my response to whatever comes be a sincere expression of trust in you. Help me to write these Advent days as days of miracles, laughter, friendship and faith so that when the nights fall, I may be filled with joy from days well-lived to the glory of Jesus Christ.  AMEN

     Conrad

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christ the King

Sunday, November 24 will be Christ the King Sunday. We will celebrate the end of the liturgical year as we start a new year with the beginning of Advent on December 1. In recognition of Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian Year, we will be hearing readings and singing hymns that celebrate the life of Christ.

Let us pray as we celebrate together the life of Christ, our Lord, and remember his great love and sacrifice for us all.

Christ Shall Reign 
      In a day when all seems routine, O God, remind me of the true measure of all things: the love of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice of pure love and obedience to you.  As he favored the lost with your mercy, turn my favor in the direction of the less fortunate and remind me in the midst of daily life that with you all things are possible. Help me to not simply surrender to the expected schedule but rather yield to what could be, not only by your power and grace, but by your design: a new kingdom and a new day in which Christ shall reign.  Amen.

    Conrad