What it All Comes Down To

The-End
Four years ago, I started this blog as a way to reflect on the ministry I saw week to week, sometimes in drastically different settings, as a Church Relations Officers for Union Presbyterian Seminary. As I shared my stories within the office, we realized that they were stories which should be heard by as many as possible. They were stories of what I saw to be as challenging, influential, powerful ministries which, many times, were not fully seen or understood even within their own context. This is a blog about the way the Church is thriving and changing, meeting the needs of so many and challenging the norm even when that might be unpopular.

Two years ago, I accepted a new call but was asked to continue to write about what I was seeing and experiencing. I have missed my regular view into the incredible work of congregations throughout North Carolina, but I have treasured the continued and deeper view of what goes into creating successful and meaningful ministry on a daily basis. I have shared glimpses of what this continual, day to day ministry can be with the view that even the smallest things we do are important.

Today, I write the final installment of “Congregational Corner.”

I have thought about this blog for a few weeks now, wondering what I wanted to say, what I have learned along the way. What does all of this boil down to? Following a dinner with multiple generations of pastors, I think I figured it out –

The Church is reforming.

“Reformed and always reforming” is a motto of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that I have held tight to as I rationalize my younger, adventurous, and sometimes even challenging approach to ministry, but over the last few days I have spent time with this motto in light of what I have learned over the last four years, in light of what I learned at Union Presbyterian Seminary, and in light of what I am challenged with in ministry today.

I think back to the very first congregation I wrote about and the stories held within the dark, aged and creaking wood of the sanctuary. I think of the ecumenical Thanksgiving service in a small town in North Carolina, showing that a congregation which is open to a new experience can reform their community in love and grace. I think of the congregation seeking their place within the community, seeking ways to minister to a different demographic than when they began. I think of the congregations in transition, wondering what ministry will be in their next chapter.

So many congregations – almost 100 in my time as a Church Relations Officer – and so many ministry experiences spring to mind as I think about the ways we are already reforming and how we are still being called to reform.

There is no question that as God’s Church, as the people of Jesus Christ, we are being challenged today in a multitude of ways. As God’s creation develops and changes, so must the way that we discern and proclaim God’s word. A change in method is not a change in content, and I think that this fear might be what holds us back so often.

If I have learned anything in the last four years, it is that every single aspect of ministry, every single situation, every single person requires a different and intentional approach. Ministry within God’s creation is not a once size fits all, or even most. I think about all that I saw and learned on the road for Union and while much of it has guided my approach to ministry, no approach can be fully replicated and lead to a nourishing, fulfilling, successful ministry in a different venue.

Thinking about the Church and the many leaders I regularly meet, my fear is that too many have fallen into the trap which comes with successful ministry – it worked in one community and situation, so why not take the same approach in the next community and ministry opportunity?

If we don’t take into account the individual people and situations to which we are ministering to, and listen for how God is calling us for that specific opportunity, we become stagnant. We miss a chance for relationships to grow, we miss a chance for voices to be heard, we miss a chance for God’s love and grace to be fully shared; we truly become “The Frozen Chosen” whom so many Presbyterians joke about.

Everyday ministry in a consistent setting can drag a leader into a routine all too quickly. It is easiest to make one plan and follow it week to week, month to month, year to year. I have found great comfort in developing a routine. However, we must take time to regularly step back and ask the hard questions, to find out what individuals need NOW rather than yesterday, and find ways to work with one another so that we can grow together and continue to share God’s Word in the world. As long as we do this, I am convinced that we will begin to more fully see the Kingdom of God rather than worrying about a dying Church.

I find myself laughing a bit at the dichotomy between the two taglines which follow us Presbyterians around – “The Frozen Chosen” and “Reformed and always reforming.” If you think about it, the two cannot coexist… so which will you follow?

I choose to reform every single day (plus, it seems impossible to freeze right now, anyway!)

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian

**While this is the official close of “Congregational Corner”, Jordan will continue to reflect on ministry through her personal blog. You are invited to follow her at https://revjordanbdavis.blogspot.com/**

Take On: A Life Out of the Tomb

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Every year, I watch the posts fly about what individuals are “giving up” for Lent. The crash diets and motivation to finally clean out the closets are worthy of being posted on social media, but I question if they really challenge us to understand the meaning of Lent and the sacrifice which we remember during Holy Week. As I pondered how I would approach this Lenten season, I decided that I wanted to turn things around in my own life and rather than give something up or give something away, I will take something on, just as Christ took on the sins of the world in his own death.
Over the next several weeks, I will strive to “take on” one new thing each week, in turn striving to take on more of the love and grace which Christ exhibited throughout his life, death, and resurrection. I hope that you will join me and share your own experiences!

Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Luke 24: 1-3 (CEB)

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

With our shouts of praise and exhalation, we run from the empty tomb! The stone has been rolled away and Christ is no longer there. What does remain, however, is an additional challenge from Christ’s (now risen) life.

Leaving the tomb, we are challenged to take on a new life. We are challenged with carrying forward the pinnacle of Christianity, that life renewing and saving grace which poured out from the cross and now leaves the tomb empty.

How will you do that? Is there one (or two) things that you have taken on this Lent which will pave your path away from the tomb? Is there something else in Christ’s life that you would like to take on, following Christ’s risen example of love and grace?

Once the sanctuary is empty and the kitchen is cleaned, once the flowered cross picture is posted and the Easter shoes are kicked off – I invite you to create a rule of life for this coming year of Christ’s risen life.

I was first introduced to rules of life through the Sacred Ordinary Days calendar, and most recently at a CREDO conference. Reflecting on this now complete season of Lent, I encourage you to join me in lighting the path away from the tomb with your own rule of life. I share mine with you today, in hopes that you will not only find an example here but also help to hold me to it!

I will care for and love myself as a beautifully flawed child of God, created in God’s own image so that I can sit with my sisters and brothers and more fully share myself with them as I receive their own gifts in my life through the sharing of
experiences, emotions, and simple presence.

As a child created by and for God, I will seek to nurture all of God’s creation so that
we all might experience God’s nurturing love in a more complete way.

I will sit in the silence and listen closer to God,
just as I cry out in the midst of the storms of life.

I will give my heart and my life over to God, trusting in God’s active presence
and acting through God’s enduring grace.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Take On: A Life of Sacrifice

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Every year, I watch the posts fly about what individuals are “giving up” for Lent. The crash diets and motivation to finally clean out the closets are worthy of being posted on social media, but I question if they really challenge us to understand the meaning of Lent and the sacrifice which we remember during Holy Week. As I pondered how I would approach this Lenten season, I decided that I wanted to turn things around in my own life and rather than give something up or give something away, I will take something on, just as Christ took on the sins of the world in his own death.
Over the next several weeks, I will strive to “take on” one new thing each week, in turn striving to take on more of the love and grace which Christ exhibited throughout his life, death, and resurrection. I hope that you will join me and share your own experiences!

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[a]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26: 26-29 (NIV)

In these final moments of Christ’s life, I can’t help but find my focus falling on this ultimate sacrifice, a sacrifice we have been preparing for through so many other sacrifices. Christ sacrificed his family for his ministry, leaving the comfort and protection of the home in which he was raised by Mary and Joseph. Christ sacrificed his time to learn the Jewish traditions and to study the Torah so that he might one day go from home to home, town to town, teaching God’s Word. Christ sacrificed his relationships and friendships, even to the point of both letting go and forgiving the friend who would betray him, handing him over to his arrest and death.

Christ sacrificed his life.

Sacrifice is a holy word and a holy action, an offering to God. A sacrificial action is not something to be taken lightly or done frivolously. It is not lost on me that Christ’s life, while fully human, is so incredibly unique from our own experiences because of his ongoing sacrifice, his ongoing offering of himself to God and to the people.

As we gather around the table for that holy meal, as we stand among the crowds calling for his death, as we kneel at the foot of the cross and weep with Mary – what sacrifice are we willing to take on? What are we offering to God in these final moments, what will carry us into the next?

I hand you my life, Lord.
My joys and my fears,
my passions and my losses,
my awe struck, breathless moments
and my silent, gasping heartbreak.

I hand you my life, Lord.
Every action in praise of your name,
every questioning lament.
The control of my deepest desires,
the dedication of my every effort.

You have been present in all things,
I know you will continue to carry me,
to walk with me,
to follow me,
to lead me.
You will not leave me alone,
You will not desert me in the dark.

You have given your life for me,
you have called me beloved.
You have promised to me
that I am yours.

I now give my life to you.
I give my heart to you.
I put my trust in you.
I rest my wearied soul in you.

Amen.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Take On: A New Perspective

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Every year, I watch the posts fly about what individuals are “giving up” for Lent. The crash diets and motivation to finally clean out the closets are worthy of being posted on social media, but I question if they really challenge us to understand the meaning of Lent and the sacrifice which we remember during Holy Week. As I pondered how I would approach this Lenten season, I decided that I wanted to turn things around in my own life and rather than give something up or give something away, I will take something on, just as Christ took on the sins of the world in his own death.
Over the next several weeks, I will strive to “take on” one new thing each week, in turn striving to take on more of the love and grace which Christ exhibited throughout his life, death, and resurrection. I hope that you will join me and share your own experiences!

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-figtree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10 (NIV)

I have found that when it comes to sitting with someone in their times of pain and discernment, I struggle. I am a fixer and want to help right away, fixing things based on the way that I see them, have experienced them, and would like for them to be. More often than not, my perspective and experience is so far away from the other individual’s and as I leave, I wonder if I hurt more than I helped.

Sitting in the midst of one of these moments, I looked at the table next to the individual and my gaze landed on The Big Book for Alcoholics Anonymous. The image sat with me for a while after the conversation and I realized that this book might be an entry point, not just for this individual but for so many others. I ordered a copy and promised to also make a point to attend an open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – not because I have an addiction, but because I am seeking the perspective on another.

So often we think that if we open ourselves to experience the perspective of another person, our own perspective loses value when in fact, I believe that by seeking to understand the perspective of others in a deeper way, we deepen our own at the same time.

As I consider the life of Christ, I can’t help but believe that Christ is God seeking to understand and live among the perspective of God’s own creation. Throughout Hebrew scripture we read of a tension between the people and God – the people struggling to understand a distant God and God struggling to connect with confused people. When Christ enters the picture, we see the relationship between God’s people begin to strengthen through the One who is both fully human and fully divine.

As Christ shared God’s challenging and grace filled word with the confused and struggling people, Christ also sat with them and ate with them. Christ became friends with the people and listened to their stories. Through Christ’s active presence with the people, he began to understand their perspective and was able to minister to them in a more complete and meaningful way. Christ was shaped in a new way through this understanding, yet still fully divine as he was fully human. The people were shaped in a more complete way, fully human yet understanding the divine a bit more.

When we limit ourselves to our own perspective and experiences, we in turn limit those who we minister both to and with; we limit our own understanding of the way in which God is working in creation. When we open our hearts and ears to sit with and hear from others, our world opens up and God’s love can shine brighter as the stories and lives meld together.

Rounding the corner in this Lenten season, preparing to welcome Christ into town with shouts of “Hosanna!”, let us each strive to open our hearts to hearing and reflecting on the experiences and perspectives of those around us. Reading The Big Book and attending an AA meeting does not make me an alcoholic, but it does open my heart and mind to understand that experience a bit better. What can you open your heart and mind to this week, taking on that wide open, welcoming ministry of Christ?

You have created each one us,
unique in mind and body.
You have called each one us,
joined together in one Love.
Open our hearts and minds,
empower us to our lives,
So that together we might shout “Hosanna!”
and together we might see you walk by.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Take On: An Active Presence

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Every year, I watch the posts fly about what individuals are “giving up” for Lent. The crash diets and motivation to finally clean out the closets are worthy of being posted on social media, but I question if they really challenge us to understand the meaning of Lent and the sacrifice which we remember during Holy Week. As I pondered how I would approach this Lenten season, I decided that I wanted to turn things around in my own life and rather than give something up or give something away, I will take something on, just as Christ took on the sins of the world in his own death.
Over the next several weeks, I will strive to “take on” one new thing each week, in turn striving to take on more of the love and grace which Christ exhibited throughout his life, death, and resurrection. I hope that you will join me and share your own experiences!

30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself.
No other commandment is greater than these.”
Matthew 12: 30-31 CEB

The first post in this series focused on our call to love and care for ourselves – now, I want to think about how we love and care for others. This may sound a bit cliché but as I watch the news and observe the people around me, it seems that we still need to think deeper about how we approach our relationships with others.

Throughout Christ’s ministry, we read stories of his presence with those who he encountered. Christ didn’t just smile, say hello, and move on his way. Christ was actively present with each person he met. Christ sat with them, ate with them, talked with them, listened to them, prayed with them, and lived with them. There was nothing passive about the way that Christ related with those who he met and that is the active presence that we are called to take on.

I will be first to say affirm that always being present is hard (one of the many reasons self-care and love is needed!) but no one ever said it was easy. I imagine Christ was exhausted after many, if not most, of his encounters. I imagine there were times when that “fully human” part weighed heavily as he felt the pull of having fun with his friends, or time under a tree, against the need to be actively present with someone. The “fully divine” part is what set Christ apart though, and what we should strive to emulate in our own lives.

To be fully and actively present with an individual means that we put our phones away and don’t worry about what notifications might be coming in. It means putting our own stressors and to-do lists aside while we listen to the needs of another. It means sharing what is on our own heart and mind when appropriate and looking into the eyes of the person we are with, rather than at the clock behind them. The act of being fully and actively present is uncomfortable and draining at times, yes, but so many other times it is filling and nurturing not just for the person “in need” but for each individual who is present.

When I think about this presence, I think about the youth I work with. In several instances of service, I have stood by in awe at the way the youth opened their whole being to the people they were serving. The way they listened, spoke with, laughed with, worked with, and even sang with those who they were “serving” brought tears to my eyes. The service wasn’t the meal provided or the clothes sorted, the service wasn’t the hours signed off on for school – the service was a genuine, uplifting, loving, present relationship between individuals limited by society based on (at the very least) their age and economic status. Those are the moments in my life when I have seen Christ most clearly and those are the attitudes of presence that I strive to take on this Lent.

As our foundations shook, you sent your Son to strengthen us,
showing us that what we believed to be weak was indeed strong
and what we thought was ugly was in fact a masterpiece.
Christ ate with us when we thought we should be alone,
reminding us that no part of this journey has to be
done through only our individual efforts.
In his death, Christ showed us that our true value lies in you
and he opened the door so that we can more easily enter your Kingdom.
Creating God, remain with us as we strive to take on an attitude
of active presence and Christ’s love for all who we meet.
Amen.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

 

 

Take On: A Bit of Kindness

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Every year, I watch the posts fly about what individuals are “giving up” for Lent. The crash diets and motivation to finally clean out the closets are worthy of being posted on social media, but I question if they really challenge us to understand the meaning of Lent and the sacrifice which we remember during Holy Week. As I pondered how I would approach this Lenten season, I decided that I wanted to turn things around in my own life and rather than give something up or give something away, I will take something on, just as Christ took on the sins of the world in his own death.
Over the next several weeks, I will strive to “take on” one new thing each week, in turn striving to take on more of the love and grace which Christ exhibited throughout his life, death, and resurrection. I hope that you will join me and share your own experiences!

12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other,
God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.
1 John 4:12 (CEB)

I have recently become enthralled with a show on Netflix, “The Kindness Diaries.” this series documents the travels of a well off man, Leon, who has decided that his wealth is best used through helping others. As he travels across the world solely on the kindness of others (including both a boat ride across the Atlantic and a flight over the conflict ridden Middle East), Leon listens to the stories of those whom he meets and repays their kindness, even repaying the kindness of the man experiencing homelessness who offered his space to Leon for a night’s sleep. Long story short, go watch this show.

As I sat through one episode after another the other day, I wondered how I would respond to a stranger asking if they might stay in my home for the night. I realized that there are more times than I am comfortable with that I have completely ignored the request for something as simple as food and my heart broke as I took my place next to the hundreds who turned Leon away (and who I had been questioning up to that point).

Then I thought about Christ.

Christ’s journey to the cross would have been very similar to Leon’s, travelling from town to town and likely looking for a place to sleep each night and a meal to fill his belly. Even as he wondered what each day would hold, we mostly learn of his kindness toward everyone else; the same kindness that ultimately took Christ to the cross.

We never know what will happen when we open ourselves to share a bit of kindness in our world – sure, we might get “burned” but we are more likely to change a life, even our own. We never know the story behind every person’s ask, or fear of asking. When we take on kindness and share it with each person we encounter, God’s word travels into the heart of each person. God’s grace binds us together and our act of kindness shapes the future actions of all who witness it.

Kindness takes time though. Kindness takes intentionality. Kindness takes courage. Kindness is only complete when shared in a genuine, love and grace filled manner. Christ’s kindness was shared without an ask for anything in return and we should follow that example.

During this fourth week of Lent, I invite you to join me in the challenge to share a bit more kindness with those who we meet. Maybe that will mean simply helping a colleague when you are busy and maybe it will mean opening your home to someone seeking a place to eat or rest. We never know who God sends our way, but we can find confidence knowing that each and every one of us is a chosen and beloved child of God, all seeking a little extra kindness in our lives. When we share a bit of kindness with a stranger, we might as well be sharing that kindness with Christ as he makes his way to the cross.

As we seek the kindness of others,
May others find kindness through us.
As we question and challenge, offering excuse after excuse,
may our hearts be opened to difficult change.
May we follow Christ’s example,
Opening our lives to our neighbors
This and every single day.
Amen.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ‘14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Take On: A Moment of Silence

Every year, I watch the posts fly about what individuals are “giving up” for Lent. The crash diets and motivation to finally clean out the closets are worthy of being posted on social media, but I question if they really challenge us to understand the meaning of Lent and the sacrifice which we remember during Holy Week. As I pondered how I would approach this Lenten season, I decided that I wanted to turn things around in my own life and rather than give something up or give something away, I will take something on, just as Christ took on the sins of the world in his own death.
Over the next several weeks, I will strive to “take on” one new thing each week, in turn striving to take on more of the love and grace which Christ exhibited throughout his life, death, and resurrection. I hope that you will join me and share your own experiences!

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17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message,
and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:17 (NIV)

There are four main types of spiritual and faith practices – social justice, head, heart, and mystic. The first two practices in this series focused on heart (loving your-self) and social justice (earth care). This week, I want to move toward the mystic corner of this spirituality and faith wheel.

I have to admit that this will likely be one of the harder weeks of Lent for me. I live a very busy, noisy, and fast paced life. Even in the car, I tend to have the radio on or call my sister to talk. Mystic spirituality leads an individual to slow down and bring more focus into their life.  In some cases, it encourages the individual to find silence in the midst of chaos. It is both a dream of mine to enjoy this and a great fear!

While in seminary, a classmate made it a regular habit to take Saturday mornings to be quiet and have Sabbath time. As I think about how this might play out in my own life, I wonder how and when I can find the time to just be quiet! I think that is the challenge though – what am I doing in my life which can be set aside for a time of quiet, focused on listening to God through scripture and my life?

Over this next week, I hope to take 30 minutes of each day
to sit with one verse and simply listen –
not to the TV or radio, not to someone on the other end of the phone –
to God.

It can be quite difficult to have faith when God can’t be heard. So often we say that God isn’t listening or responding to our prayers. I have even found myself complaining about that recently. I wonder though, how much of God’s response do we miss because of the noise around us? How much of God’s Word for us do we miss because we only open the Bible on Sunday morning or when we are preparing to teach and preach?

A colleague recently suggested that the area of spirituality which makes us most uncomfortable might be where we need to spend the most time during Lent. I would venture to say that as our world grows busier and noisier, many of us might find that discomfort in the silence even as we crave it. I invite you to join me this week as we listen through the noise for God’s Word for us today! We just might be surprised at what God has been trying to say to us all along.

In the midst of the cheers and the laments,
You called back to us.
In the midst of the emails and the writing,
Your Word waited for us.
Calm our minds and open our ears,
quiet the storms and speak through silence.
We are listening, we want to hear.
Remind us that you are indeed near.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)