International Flags In Our Church?

This month at Covenant-First Pres, we’re flying international flags in our sanctuary.  Here’s the text of my September newsletter article that explains why:

International Flags at New Wilmington Mission Conference

International Flags at New Wilmington Mission Conference

Every month, when we partake in the Lord’s Supper, we remember that just as we receive the bread which is Christ’s body, so are we made together into the living body of Christ on earth.

But how big is the body of Christ? Certainly it includes all who call upon Him as Lord and Savior. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Galatian churches when he writes “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

We are all one great big family of faith. Every Christian on this planet is our brother or sister. Whether from Sudan or Switzerland, from Australia or Argentina, from Laos or Lichtenstein – all who claim the name of Christ are a part of his body and are our kith and kin in the faith.

On the first Sunday of October, churches across the world celebrate this truth by observing World Communion Sunday. It’s a time for us to remember that, though we may have vastly different cultures and customs, we share a much deeper bond in Christ.

To help us get in the spirit of World Communion Sunday, we’ll be displaying flags of the nations in our sanctuary through September and the first part of October. This is a way of proclaiming that the Lord is the Lord of all nations, as it says in Psalm 47: “For God is king of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God, he is greatly exalted.” (Psalm 47:7-8)

Obviously we won’t be able to display the flags of the 195 officially recognized nations, so we’ve selected a few flags of nations that have personal connection with Covenant-First, either through people who are a part of our congregation or through our extended family of missionaries. We will have a brochure available that gives more information about each flag and a little bit about the Christian church in that country. I hope you’ll have a little fun trying to tease out what the connection to Covenant-First is for each of these flags. Of course, the flag of the United States will be right there in the mix, for this land is the field of mission to which God has called us.

So let’s rejoice that we are part of a truly worldwide family of God!

Soli Deo Gloria


Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Do You Yearn For A Fresh Start? Here’s Hope.

At some point in our lives, we all want a fresh start. We wish we could get a do over and fix our mistakes. Or we wish we could undo the harmful effects of our actions.

Peter understood the need for a fresh start. With all his bravado, Peter failed repeatedly.   There was the time when, in the midst of a storm, Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and called out “Lord if it’s you, then tell me to come to you on the water!” Jesus called back “Come!” Peter got out of the boat onto the water and started to walk, but he became afraid of the waves and began to sink. (Matthew 14:22-33) Imagine the humiliation.

Later, at the Last Supper, Peter boldly blustered, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” But Jesus sadly predicted that Peter would deny Jesus three times that very night. (Luke 22:33-34) And so it came to pass, that while Jesus was being interrogated in Caiaphas’ house, Peter was in the outer courtyard denying any association with his Master. As soon as the third denial left his lips, the rooster crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’ words. He left and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62)

Much later, after Peter had received the instruction from God to receive Gentiles as part of the church (Acts 10:1-48), he blew it yet again. This time it was in Antioch, where Peter was bowing to church political pressure to exclude Gentiles from the fellowship. This time Paul called him out on it (Galatians 2:11-21). Oh the shame he must’ve felt for his hypocrisy.

I imagine that all the disciples, after their failure to stand by Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, wanted a fresh start. Certainly after the shock and horror and agony of Golgotha, the disciples yearned for a fresh start.

The empty tomb is the greatest of all fresh starts.

Resurrection. The victory of Christ over sin and death and the grave.  Yes, dark forces still work in us, but they have lost their lasting power over us. Yes, we still deal with sin in our own lives, and yes we still face a physical death. But the definitive fresh start of Christ’s bodily resurrection gives us strength for each fresh start in our path of sanctification, and it gives us hope for the ultimate fresh start of our own resurrection and life eternal with Christ.

Perhaps you are longing for a fresh start even now? Today is the day. Practice penitence, renew your faith, and joyfully follow Christ. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have faltered or fallen flat on your face, for Christ has an abundant surplus of mercy and grace.

Soli Deo Gloria


This article originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of the Covenant Courier

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tardis Theology #9 – In Which The Doctor Uses A Banana To Wage Peace

Yes, it has been almost 9 months since our last Tardis Theology, in which we left you in a cliffhanger.  I’m taking back up the series now, and hope to carry forward.  Thanks all for your patience while I put this series on hold.  

20140326-192434The Doctor, by nature, is not a warrior.

We know from the earlier episode “Dalek” that the Doctor had been thrust into the role of warrior during the Last Great Time War, that he ended the cosmic destruction by destroying both his own race and the race of the Daleks, and that his conscience bears deep scars.

Now, in this second part of a thriller set in the London Blitz of World War 2, we see the Doctor working to bring healing, not destruction.

Bringing healing is hard work when you and your companions are being chased by a mob of humans who have mutated into gas-mask wearing zombies.

The Doctor’s new companion, Captain Jack Harkness, wields a sonic blaster that enables them to blow a hole in a wall, and then reconstitute the wall so the zombies can’t follow.  The Doctor looks at Jack’s weapon and the following dialogue ensues:

The Doctor: Sonic Blaster. Fifty-first century. Weapons factory at Villengard?

Captain Jack Harkness: You’ve been to the factories?

The Doctor: Once.

Captain Jack Harkness: Well, they’re gone now, destroyed. Main reactor went critical, vaporized the lot.

The Doctor: Like I said. Once…. There’s a banana grove there now…. I like bananas. Bananas are good.

The Doctor none to subtly communicates that his one visit to the weapons factory was to destroy it so that it could become a banana grove.

There’s one of the touch points in this episode: the move from destruction to production.

The move from swords to plowshares.

It’s an image from Isaiah, but Micah also uses it to describe the peace that comes with the long expected reign of the Lord:

“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.   He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths….They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Selection from Micah 4:2-3)

Jesus, however, tells us that we are to be instruments of peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)  Paul, meanwhile, instructs us “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  (Romans 14:19)

In the episode, the Doctor has to struggle to bring about healing that brings peace.  He has to solve the puzzle of why everyone is turning into zombies.  But he solves it.  Everybody lives.  And the Doctor dances for joy.

There’s still a war on, though.   Remember, the episode takes place in the middle of World War 2.

And this reminds us, our peacemaking mitigates against the destructive forces of sin, but sin persists.  We are instruments of Christ, but we await His return to complete His work.   We work for peace, we celebrate with joy, and we wait for Christ’s completion of his work.

For Reflection:

Watch: Doctor Who, Season 1, Episode 10 “The Doctor Dances”

Read:  Micah 4:2-5, Matthew 5:3-10, Romans 14:13-15:4


1) Consider Jesus call to be peacemakers in the context of all the beatitudes.   How do they relate?  How do these other beatitudes help you understand the challenges of peacemaking?

2) Consider Paul’s challenge for peace among fellow Christians.   In what ways does this challenge you in your church, in your neighborhood, and with other people in your life?

3) Consider the verse: “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2).  In what ways does peacemaking go beyond cessation of hostility?  What does it mean to build up our neighbor?

4) Consider the passage in Micah.  It speaks of the hope of the peace that God will work at the end of all things.  How does this hope give you strength to work for peace in your own community?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Monthly Mini-Reviews for February 2015: Books by CS Lewis, Dick Keyes, Rory Vaden, and Ken Bailey

I’m making steady progress through the 52 books in 2015 goal.  I’ve learned that several of you are pursuing the same goal – I’d love to see your mini-reviews.  If you post your reading progress somewhere online, please be sure to add a link in the comments section.

And now, on to the mini-reviews for February:

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and HIs boyI had forgotten the plot of this book, so reading it to my youngest was like discovering it anew.  It is a lovely tale that illustrates the doctrine of Providence in a winsome way.  Given our era’s engagement with middle eastern culture, I found that this book provided an interesting view on mid 20th century perceptions of the middle east.  As a purist, I do believe the Narnian books are best read in the order of publication (rather than they way they are now arranged in the order of Narnia’s chronological timeline)

Seeing Through Cynicism by Dick Keyes

Seeing through cynicismMy generation marinated in decades of irony, cynicism, and snark.  Keyes offers a helpful treatment in recovering from the deleterious effects of this deep jadedness.  He acknowledges the benefits that cynicism purports to offer, and shows how they are indeed a sham.   Keyes shows how cynicism rightly grasps the doctrine of human depravity, but wrongly forgets that there is more to humanity than this depravity.  In the end, he shows how the posture of cynicism crumbles underneath its own weight.   This book should be required reading for anyone under 45.  (Thanks to Mike Jorgensen for this recommendation)

Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden

Procrastinate on PurposeAmong self-help books, this one is actually helpful.  Vaden offers a commitment management system that is actually manageable, especially for those who lean to the creative side.  A caveat, this is geared toward the sales professional.  Engineers might find his approach maddening, and would probably get more out of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  I also like that he takes faith seriously, without being heavy handed about it.

The Good Shepherd by Ken Bailey

The good shepherdA magisterial survey of the good shepherd tradition by a masterful scholar.  Bailey begins with the 23rd psalm and shows how the imagery used there is re-appropriated by the prophets and the gospel writers to point us to Christ’s work as the Good Shepherd.  While this is a technical book, Bailey interweaves personal insights from a lifetime of experience among the people of the Middle East.  This book breathes with wisdom and insight.  It was worth every penny of my library overdue fines.

Do you like books?  Perhaps you’d like my latest book: Geneva Two. A Parable of Christian Community and Calling.  Or maybe you’d like my other book: Prophet of the Sun.  I promise, they are not too cynical or jaded.  

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled (A Meditation on John 14:1-14)

Woman Contemplating by Kathe Kollwitz

Woman Contemplating by Kathe Kollwitz

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”


ISIS thugs wage their ghastly campaign of fear and domination, and Syria bleeds.

Russia grumbles and schemes of war, and Ukraine burns.

Boko Haram spills rivers of blood in the cause of jihad, and Nigeria weeps.

And yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”

Then Jesus clarifies, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”

Here, Jesus talks about knowing not just in the sense of “amassing data in your cranium.”  He speaks of a relational knowing, the kind of knowing that means you have been affected, moved, shaped, or changed by the other person.

When we personally experience the presence of Christ in our lives, we are strengthened against having our hearts troubled.


The merchants of fear push their catalogs of conspiracy theories.

The peddlers of doom crow about the coming societal collapse.

The salesmen of wrath whip up an angry furor over those traitors and fools on the other side of the political divide (you know who they are…)

Pinnochio's JoyAnd yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…. My Father’s house has many rooms …. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

In other words, the power brokers and pundits do not have the last say, for there is a reality beyond this material world.  It is a spiritual reality that defines us much more than the material reality we get so worked up over.

When we grasp the reality of our spiritual home, secured for us by Christ, we are strengthened against having our hearts troubled.


The nagging voice at the back of our heads accuses us of being frauds.

The challenges we face taunt us with their insurmountability.

Our churches are stymied by stagnation and fear.

And yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled….  Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these….”

That means that your spiritual status implies a mission to serve in this material world.  You know Jesus; He has work for you to do.  You have a spiritual home; that reality gives you confidence to work in this world.  Jesus promises that you will do great works, even if they are counted small by the small minds who see only a material reality.

When we grasp the reality that the work Jesus has given us is of great spiritual value and worth, we are strengthened against having our hearts troubled.

So the question is: who are you going to listen to?

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled….”

Did you find this post encouraging?  You might also be interested in my new book, Geneva Two: A Parable of Christian Community and Calling.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

New Release: Geneva Two

Now Available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions

Geneva Two Cover

Geneva Two is a modern day parable of Christian community and calling.

Written as the oral history of a fictional intentional community, Geneva Two tells the stories of people whose faith has been shaped by sharing life together. Come experience the joys, the pains, and the challenges of living in authentic Christian community.

Each chapter is told by a different character, leading the reader into a rich reflection on a particular theme of Christian living. Small groups will have plenty of fodder for a week by week study of the Biblical concepts explored in each chapter.

Written with verve and humor, Geneva Two is a book you will want to return to again and again.

Geneva Two in the Media:

Review from The Power of Story blog:

“For those interested in exploring the idea of an all-in Christian lifestyle, the modern-day equivalent of the New Testament church, Geneva Two is a wonderful introduction….”

Advance Praise for Geneva Two:

Steve Brown, Key Life Ministries:

“Take some time and spend it in Geneva Two. This book will draw you in and, more than that, you’ll yearn for the community and authenticity you’ll find here. This book is fiction, but the fiction has a reality behind it that is so attractive and so ‘doable’ that you might even create or find your own community. Who knows, that community could even be your church.”

Michael Card, musician, author, and Biblical scholar:

“Around 1515 Thomas More wrote a book about a perfect society on an imaginary island. Whether it was tongue in cheek or “pulling a fast one” he named the place “Utopia” which means “no place.” Perfect societies are an impossibility and so too is writing believable books about utopias. But my friend Russell Smith has done it. With his wonderful gift for language he presents his utopia, Geneva Two through substantive interviews with realistic characters. Ultimately utopias simply cannot work and Russ shows us why. But genuine community can exist and he reveals the secrets of that too.”

Kathy Callahan-Howell, pastor of Winton Community Free Methodist Church and author:

“Geneva Two takes an unblemished look at what intentional Christian community aspires to and what it does not. As a pastor I identified with much in the story and hope the book will inspire believers to risk community and intentionality in their relationships. “

Aaron Klinefelter, Minister for Young Adults and Families at Hyde Park Church of the Redeemer and host of the Praxis Podcast

“This is rich storytelling! You can almost hear the whir of the grinder and the whoosh of the steam wand at the local coffee shop while listening in on Hatcher’s interviews. Smith paints a vibrant picture of a deeply Christian community living authentically in the world.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Monthly Mini-Reviews: books by Joel Osteen, Will Durant, Miles Unger, and CS Lewis

52 books this year – that’s my goal.

If you’ve been following on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you know that I check in with a photo each time I complete a book.  It’s turning out to be an interesting little community project – I delight in the commentary that follows each book selection.   Over on Instagram, one of my friends asked if I also reviewed these books.

Alas, there’s probably not time enough to do a full review of each volume.   Nor does each volume merit a full review.  So, as a way of furthering the conversation, I’m offering these monthly mini-reviews as a digest of the 52 book project.

So, without further ado, here are the books from January 2015:

Fallen Leaves by Will Durant (completed Jan 12)

fallen leavesWill Durant charmed me with his “Story of Civilization” series.  I had great hopes for this posthumous work, containing his thoughts on life, God, death, and society.  In some ways, he represents the best of mid 20th century middlebrow thought: romanticism tempered by moral rootedness, broad curiosity enriched by intellectual depth, good taste unfettered by judgmentalism.  However, Durant is a citizen of a different millieu.  His generous agnosticism feels quaint in our era of militant atheism.  His views of women are frankly patronizing.  All told, I found this volume to be an interesting insight into a great mind of a generation past.

The Silver Chair by CS Lewis  (completed Jan 15)

The silver chairI’m reading my younger daughter the Chronicles of Narnia for bedtime.  When I was a child, The Silver Chair was not one of my favorite books.  But I must admit that this time around, the story grew on me.  I still think it has a sluggish, clunky start.  I was, however, re-acquainted with one of Lewis’ great heroes: the dour, yet steadfast, Puddleglum.  In the climactic scene, Puddleglum’s courageous actions and thoughtful speech are a rich reward for the reader’s investment of time.

Michaelangelo: A Life In Six Masterpieces   by Miles Unger (completed Jan 29)

MichaelangeloMake this a must-read for the year!  A masterful book about a magnificent mind.  I came away with a renewed appreciation for and an enriched understanding of Michaelangelo’s works.  Unger depicts the artist’s flaws and his virtues, his faith and his foibles.  And on top of it all, I learned much more about how the Renaissance gave way to the Reformation, and how art played a role in both those ages.

You Can.  You Will.  By Joel Osteen (completed Jan 30)

You can you willOsteen takes a lot of flak from people in my circles, and I wanted to to be able to say of this book, “It’s not that bad.  Cut him some slack.”  Alas.  After completing the book in about three hours (for that was all it merited) I concluded that it was a cliche-ridden self-help book sprinkled with God-talk and a woefully deficient view of grace.  It simply lends support to the maxim “Don’t bother with books in which the most prominent feature of the cover is the author’s smiling face.”  If you’re looking for self-help, pick up John Maxwell’s books instead (though admittedly, I’ve seen his smiling face on a cover or two).

Do you like books?  Perhaps you’d like my latest book: Geneva Two. A Parable of Christian Community and Calling.  Or maybe you’d like my other book: Prophet of the Sun.  I promise, my smiling face is not on either cover.  

Posted in book reviews, books | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments