Fourth of JulyMy ministry context happens to be in the United States, and one thing we truly love in the USA are our holidays.  Especially the big, flashy ones.  And even more, the patriotic ones.  It was not always so; I remember growing up on a military base during the Vietnam era that Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day were holidays many did not celebrate quite so vehemently because of the anti-war environment at the time.  But today’s highly nationalistic climate has engendered the exact opposite.  How do we in the church deal with these holidays?  Is it right to have an American flag on the front stage of the church?  Is it right to sing songs that are strictly patriotic during the service?  How about the congregation saying the Pledge of Allegiance during worship?  This can be a heated topic among preachers, and with laypersons as well.

First, it is important for us to remember a worship service is there to enable us to get closer to God in a corporate setting.  Period. <drop mic>.  Anything that takes away from that purpose should be closely scrutinized and potentially discarded.

Second, we should remember that our citizenship is not of this earth, first and foremost.  We have dual citizenship; we are are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and citizens of the USA.  this is what got so many people in trouble in the early church.  They refused to give allegiance to Caesar as a God, recognizing him as an earthly ruler and therefore subject to Jehovah.  Many people died while expressing that simple thought.

Third, not all people we will be hosting in our services may be US citizens.  I recently sat in a worship service on Memorial Day and the veterans were asked to stand, and then we all recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  Right next to me was a man who was indeed a military veteran, but of the Canadian armed forces.  As pastors we need to recognize this possibility.

Is it possible to reconcile these facts and incorporate expressions of patriotism in our services?  I think it is, as long as we put some thought into it.  We might, for instance, have a section of the service either before or after the worship that we dedicate to this purpose.  I usually use the first moments up front to do greetings and announcements, then a call to worship.  The announcement time is ideal for recognizing the holiday.  Sermons can use themes such as “Freedom in Christ”, ‘Faith of our Fathers”, “Courage in the face of adversity” and “Reliance on God” to dovetail with the holiday celebration.  Decorations in the sanctuary can be a problem area, but a little thought can help these as well.  Some congregations will only allow the Christian flag on the stage, and that is a choice the congregation must make; while not allowing national displays the church should note that this is not a sign denigrating veterans, but rather looking to God first.

The important thing here is to make a well thought out decision regarding your stance on the issues involved.  Let God provide the direction and work out the details.  He is King, and He will never steer you wrong if you listen to Him.


“But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”

Phil 3:20 NIV

Sometimes it is so easy to forget what we h(Source: right close to hand. Maybe being close makes you takes things for granted, maybe you get used to something and don’t even think about it. Like a New Yorker who has never bothered to visit the Statue of Liberty or a Bostonian who has never gone to see the USS Constitution. Sometimes maybe we are even intimidated by what other people think of what THEY have. I have a cousin who visited from Texas when he was about 12 years old. When we asked him what he thought about New England, he said (in that annoying way Texans can have), “I’m absolutely amazed…we drove across three states in one day. In Texas we couldn’t get from one end of the county to the other in one day!”

So when you start talking about things like National or State Parks, and how big they are or how many attractions are there, you might think of a place like Yellowstone, or the Great Smoky Mountains. HUGE places with large expanses of wilderness. Places that loom large in our minds.

This last week I spent some time in a place fairly close to us in Vermont, in upstate New York in the Adirondack Park. Small pickings compared to the western parks, right? You want the truth? The Adirondack Park is the largest park and the largest state-level protected area in the contiguous United States, and the largest National Historic Landmark. It is larger in land area than the state of Vermont (9,400 sq-miles versus 9,250 sq-miles), covering 6.1 million acres. It is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined! There are more than 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles (48,000 km) of streams and rivers. Many areas within the park are devoid of settlements and distant from usable roads. The park includes over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of hiking trails; these trails comprise the largest trail system in the nation. (source:

Yes, sometimes it is easy to forget what you have when you are so close to it. Don’t we do that in our spiritual life, too? We forget who and what we are in Jesus Christ. We forget the Kingdom of Heaven is not just for when we die, but it lives within every believer! We have a vast power contained within us, with the Holy Spirit giving light and life. But we forget, and our light is hidden under a basket, so to speak. I am convinced that our quality of life is thereby infinitely diminished.

I went back to our family’s home-away-from-home this last week, Inlet, New York in the Adirondack Park, and re-discovered what I had lost. I found myself longing for the woods, the waterways and the life that is there. I even longed for the smell of the forest. And I find myself longing for the life of the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth. It is not far, it is close. But I have hidden it away.

It is time to find it again. Would you join me?

“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ ”
Matthew 10:6-8 (NIV)

(This post was originally published by Ray Mann at ‘The View From Vermont’ on 7/22/2011

(source: is finally here; although the weather news from South Dakota today did include a blizzard the temps in New England are in the 70’s.  We will take it!  It has been a long and arduous winter.  People are looking forward to getting out of school, some are graduating, others are planning vacations and weekend getaways.  Many churches will slow down their ministries or have certain ones that will completely stop until September (a mistake in my opinion).  The question I have for you today is relatively quick and simple.  As a bivocational minister, with summer here, what plans have you made to learn or do something that will have a positive effect on your ministry?

For your own personal and professional development there are many educational institutions offering accelerated summer courses.  Perhaps you can add one of these to your summer schedule.  If you are more of a hands-on person, would you consider a ministry project or a missions trip?  No time for these?  How about doing something to set your ministry up for success during the coming fall and winter seasons…research and schedule a sermon series, perhaps?

For your ministry, how about bringing a new piece of technology on board?  It could be as simple as setting up a Twitter account for your church or as complicated as integrating wi-fi into your building.  Perhaps you can concentrate on some of the physical maintenance issues you couldn’t get to until the weather turned better.  Schedule an outreach event for the summer.  Maybe you can host a month-long, one-night-a-week movies series, complete with popcorn (and proper licensing of course!).

Summer is the ideal time to think about both your own personal improvement and the gearing up of ministries for the fall and winter.  Sunshine is burning…don;t let it go to waste!