Para Servirle (To Serve You)

Our customary verbal exchange of appreciation goes: Thank You followed by You’re Welcome. In Guatemala, especially in restaurants, the server’s response to appreciation and thank you’s is, Para Servirle. It’s like saying, It’s a pleasure to serve you.

Although it’s a wrote exchange that probably is out of routine and manners, it comes across to me as more sincere. It says something more. And it’s about serving other people.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Water Dedication Message

I was invited along with another pastor from our team to give a sermon at the worship service last night to dedicate the water system. My part was a charge to the church to use the ministry of water to reach their community for Christ. Here is the charge, which was  preached in Spanish, and I’m indebted to Gaby for helping clean up my Spanish. A translation is below.

Muchas gracias por servirnos esta semana. Nosotros estamos agradecidos por su hospitalidad. Disfrutamos su amistad y esperamos que continuemos siendo amigos en Jesucristo.

Si Jesuchristo es su Salvador, por favor levanten sus manos.

Si Jesuchristo vive en su corazon, por favor levanten sus manos.

Bendecimos a Dios por enviar a Jesuchristo.

Cuando nosotros seguimos Jesuchristo, tenemos un opportunidad y responsabilidad como ningun otro. 

El Apostol Pablo escribe a la Iglesia de Efeso: Porque somos hechura de Dios, creados en Cristo Jesus para buenas obras, las cuales Dios preparo de antemano para que anduviesemos en ellas.

Cuando nosotros siguimos a Jesucristo, somos la hechura de Dios, formados de El Señor. Somos Sus ninos y El nos formo a su imagen. Somos trabajadores para hacer claro el amor de Jesucristo a nuestros communidades. Nosotros de los EE UU lo hacemos en nuestras ciudades y Ustedes lo hacen aqui en Zunilito. Todas partes del mundo necesitan a Jesucristo.

Este sistema de agua purificada es un opportunidad para La Iglesia Jesus Salva para hacer las buenas obras que Dios preparo de antemano. Y esperamos que muchas personas en esta Iglesia y en esta comunidad tengan buena salud y descubran a Jesucristo y que El Señor viva en muchos mas corazones.

Garcia para su fe y por compartir el amor de Jesucristo.

Thank you for serving us this week. We are grateful for your hospitality. We enjoyed your friendship and hope that we will continue bing friends in Jesus Christ.

If Jesus is your Savior, please raise your hands.

If Jesus lives in your heart, please raise your hands.

Praise be to God for sending Jesus Christ.

When we follow Jesus, we have an opportunity and a responsibility like no other.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: Because we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to live in them.

When we follow Jesus, we are God’s workmanship, created by God. We are his children and He formed us in His image. We are God’s workers to make clear the love of Jesus to our communities. We in the United States do this in our cities, and you do this here in unilito. All parts of the world need Jesus.

This clean water system is an opportunity for Jesus Salva Church to do the good works that God prepared in advance. And we hope that many people in this church and in this community will have good health and will discover Jesus and that He lives in many more hearts.

Thank you for your faith and for sharing the love of Jesus.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Peace and Chaos

We are involved with two different teaching sessions each day while in Zunilito, Mazatenango, Guaremala: in the morning we teach a group of eight teachers who in the afternoon then teach over 100 children. This sequence repeats for each of three consecutive days as we cover topics of germs, washing hands, and using clean water. Biblical stories, dramas, activities, and demonstrations  drive home the practices of clean water and it’s benefits as well as the saving work of Jesus’ living water.

The morning group is peaceful. Much like an Ameican classroom, the young adult and adult teachers (mostly women) listen attentively and participate willingly in the activities and teaching. They answer questions when asked and have fun along the way. After three hours of lessons, they plan their afternoon of teaching the children in various groups. The morning is filled with relative quiet, some laughter and singing, and moderate discussion. It’s quite close to what I’ve experienced as a learning environment my whole life.

The afternoon group is chaotic. After a few minutes of singing and announcements, the lessons begin, and so does the chaos. As the teachers are teaching with a microphone (so there can be no complaint about not hearing), kids are everywhere, talking, climbing over benches, and changing from group to group. There is a baseline volume in the room that would aggravate any American teacher, who would render the situation impossible for teaching. Yet these Guatemalan teachingers press on, not waiting for or commanding quiet before beginning. Instead, they continue. I tried having a conversation at the back of the room during one if these chaotic times and because of the noise in the room while a teacher was talking, I could hardly carry on a conversation even when speaking quite loudly.

And–incredibly enough–the kids respond and seem to actually learn! When asked to participate, they immediately change activities as if they’ve been listening all along. And many of them have been listening.
My preferred method of teaching is simply my own method of teaching. It’s no better and clearly no more effective. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sheer Volume

Whenever we encounter something large, massive, or well attended, we tend to be impressed. That’s sheer volume and it’s impressive.

The plane we are on from Houston to Guatemala City is practicalky a charter plane of missionaries. There is a group of 47 (mostly of high school students) from the East Bay Area visiting children in an orphanage with whom they have ongoing correspondence. There is a young woman coming to Guatemala for one month to become certified to teach English as a second language. And there are multiple other groups marked by their team t-shirts.

The sheer volume of God’s workers is impressive. And humbling. We are a team of 15 people. That’s but a few on this one plane, which is one of several daily flights of people into Guatemala to do God’s work.

Every part of God’s big work is amazing, but the sheer volume is impressive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE story

More than other years, we’ve been hit this year leading up the Christmas with the harsh reality that there are many competing stories about this epic holiday. And many of them are fun and good.

There are creative stories about elves and their daily, surprising visits to our homes. There are heartwarming stories about generosity to people in need nearby us and around the world. There are stories about Santa and all the preparations for his overnight pre-Christmas visit. There are stories about wintertime and holiday fun, which include parties, gift exchanges, singing, and crafts. And there are stories about gift-giving to every teacher, mentor, neighbor, mail carrier, clerk, and friend we know.

While fun and good, these stories alone are exhausting. Still, with all these stories, one remains missing. And it’s THE story.

As Thanksgiving drew near, we considered what our church would do for a children’s Christmas program or play. The results of several conversations, meetings, gatherings, and brainstorming sessions were lots of creativity but no tangibles. There was no schedule, no play, and no program in place. We didn’t want our kids and other kids to miss the most important and fundamental story of Christmas. For sure, the Christ story was getting drowned out by other stories. The only thing worse than feeling like Christ was drowned out would be to let Christ be drowned out.

So, a Christmas program was created, music was chosen, children were recruited, communication happened, scripts were sent, and a few rehearsals were scheduled. I loved hearing daily the words to these songs around our house as we caught on to the melodies about Jesus and the story of God sending Jesus to us. For some reason, those melodies and words from the mouth of children are particularly pure and sweet.

And the program happen in our recent worship service. It was simple. It had reading, music, costumes. Kids, adults, families and the whole church were involved. It was focused entirely on the story of Jesus coming into the world at Christmas. And the kids were immersed in THE story.

Now only a few days before Christmas, I am relieved and thankful for so many people who helped give voice to why we celebrate Christmas. If we don’t tell the story, we won’t have a chance of remembering why this holiday is epic. If we do tell the story, we stand a good chance of experiencing this holiday as miraculous.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Happens at Home

“You’ll have a hard time finding this house, even with a GPS.” Tamara said. “Just look for the palm trees and big red barn behind the house.”

Through a friend and elder in my church, I was put in contact with a 91-year-old man and his daughter, Tamara. He lived in the house that was going to be hard to find, and he was on hospice. Just the past weekend, things had turned for the worse for him and through a friend of a friend of a friend, I came to know this family.

Speaking by phone with Tamara, it was clear that she wanted the best last days for her father. We got acquainted at first, talking about how we knew some of the same people that put us in touch. After asking about his faith, our discussion turned to his faith in Jesus, particularly after his wife had died perhaps 15 years ago. Yet, he still had a prevailing sense of fear about death. Though Tamara was sure that he knew Jesus and that Jesus lived in him, she knew that her father was still concerned about where he would end up and what exactly happened after death.

He also requested through Tamara that he be anointed with oil by a pastor. We’re not sure if the unusual request came from the faith tradition of his Catholic caretaker or simply from his own concerns and recollection that anointing with oil was a significant way God seemed to work in the Bible. Either way, it was a request worth honoring. We talked on the phone about that, too.

On my way out to the house, I picked up an elder from my church–the one who called me in the first place and connected us all together. Although I wanted him to be involved in this ministry with me, it was also nice to have someone along who knew this family and knew the territory we were heading into. About 30 minutes out of town, we entered ranch land full of citrus groves. From the farm road, orange trees, lemon trees, and mailboxes were more visible than houses. Our maps app suggested we were within a hundred feet but there was nothing marking the spot. We looked up and saw the palm trees. And then we saw the address on a mailbox as we slowed down. Their driveway was a slightly wider space between the otherwise consistent rows of citrus trees. And once in this “driveway,” we found the house.

We decided to be Back Door Friends since that was the closest door and knocked on the screen door frame. Dressed for the ranch, Tamara greeted us and welcomed us inside. We went straight to the front room where her father lay on a portable hospital bed. For sure, he had taken a turn for the worse: unable to swallow, not particularly aware of things in the room. We talked briefly and then his caretaker entered the room and greeted us. We introduced ourselves and talked about why we were there. Everyone shared the same faith in Jesus and the same hope for comfort and longing for eternity.

I invited all of us to take a step closer to the bed so we could focus on Tamara’s father and on our togetherness. Reading a Psalm that seemed appropriate for the occasion, I felt a sense of quiet and peace enter our small community of faith. We held hands with each other and with Tamara’s father. I prayed. We fell silent. I asked if anointing with oil was still of interest and Tamara returned a surprise that her father’s odd request might actually happen. I said something about why anointing was special and a means through which God seems to work. And then I anointed him with oil on his forehead in the shape of a cross.

Inside the quiet of this house, this holy moment happened. Whatever else was happening next door, down the street, back in town, or even across the world, didn’t seem to matter. Or at least we weren’t paying attention to it. What mattered was what God had led us to do in this house.

In the quiet reflection of that moment after worshiping together, we all were still hovered over the bed. I glanced up and peered outside the front window of the house. And I saw another house hidden across the street. And then another an acre away. I wondered, “What is happening in those houses?”

Our holy moment happened inside this house. Nobody else in the world, the town, or even the neighborhood, knew what was happening at this house. God worked inside this house, bringing calm, peace, and reassurance. Surely, God is doing work in other houses.


Some people in the church still talk about “calling on” people. It was a common way of talking a generation ago about visiting people for the purpose of ministering to them. Whether inviting them to church, making an effort at sharing faith, or expressing compassion and care for others, churchgoers didn’t say that they were “going to someone’s house” or “visiting someone.” They always said that they were “calling on” people and everyone knew what they were talking about.

That ministry of calling on people happened in homes. It wasn’t taboo to knock on someone’s door unannounced and ask to speak with them. Often times, the people didn’t even know each other. And sometimes, the visitors were even invited inside the home.

How much ministry happens in homes anymore? Most of the time, ministry is perceived to happen in public spaces through community service, across the world in mission ventures, or in churches during worship services or programs. Those places that are designed for ministry or designated as needing ministry are anything but homes. Yet, only a few decades ago, homes were so much the attention of ministry. And indeed, ministry is needed inside homes.


On a prayer walk with some friends the following weekend in an evening, we prayed through our own neighborhood. We stopped at the park and prayed for children and families. We paused at the neighborhood elementary school and prayed for the teachers and students. We gathered outside another friend’s house and prayed for their neighbors who have been particularly difficult.

We saw hundreds of houses: garage doors, front doors, windows with blinds drawn. And I wondered, “What is happening in those houses?”

What might God be doing in houses all around us that we don’t know?
What could God do if we prayed for God to release God’s power in those homes?
What kind of ministry is possible inside of houses?
How can we recapture relationships that are trustworthy enough to allow us in each other’s homes?

God works everywhere–even inside homes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Presbyterian Story

The denomination that I serve in and have been part of for the majority of my life is continuing to be embroiled in theological and political controversy. In an effort to put the current events into context, here is a summary of the past 100 years.

Download the PDF (The Presbyterian Story) or read full text below.

Rev. Karl Schafer, 2014

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the Presbyterian Church was known largely for its growing congregations, reputable seminaries, and widespread missionaries. Leaders in the denomination broadly agreed on the major issues of theology and polity. These trends yielded a solid reputation for Presbyterians in America as the 1900s began.

In the early 1900s, there arose a split among Presbyterians. The conservatives were named “fundamentalists” and affirmed adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647. The more liberal members were called “modernists” and affirmed a re-examination of the Westminster Confession of Faith to determine if it was still valid.

Over the next 100 years, several milestone events characterize a denominational fragmentation that has resulted in the splintering of Presbyterians into multiple denominations and dramatically shrinking numbers of adherents to the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination today in 2014. Many of these milestones surfaced at the national meetings of the denomination, called General Assemblies, which occurred every several years.

1910 – In response to the disagreement between conservatives and liberals, the General Assembly affirmed Five Fundamentals, which were the closest to “essential tenets” of the Reformed faith that have ever come from the Presbyterian Church. (One of the questions that all ministers, elders, and deacons are asked upon their ordination is whether they adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith. While these have never been defined—and still remain undefined today—this list of Five Fundamentals was the only time that the Church has agreed on such a list). In the early 1900s, the denomination required that anyone ordained must affirm the Bible, the WCF, and these Five Fundamentals:

  • The inerrancy of the Bible
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • Christ’s substitutionary atonement
  • Jesus’ bodily resurrection
  • The authenticity of miracles

1910, 1916, 1923 – In these subsequent years, the General Assembly repeatedly affirmed that all candidates for ordination must affirm the Five Fundamentals, reminding the Church of the importance of these priorities in their faith and ministry.

1924 – Ever since the Five Fundamentals had been supported by General Assembly, objections had come from the liberal camp of Presbyterians. Finally in 1924, the liberal side acquired victory over the Five Fundamentals through The Auburn Affirmation. Authored and approved to give freedom of conscious and restriction on matters of theological interpretation for Presbyterians being ordained, The Auburn Affirmation can best be summarized as follows:

Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.

Specifically, The Auburn Affirmation affirmed:

  • The Bible is not inerrant. The supreme guide of scripture interpretation is the Spirit of God to the individual believer and not ecclesiastical authority. Thus, “liberty of conscience” is elevated.
  • The General Assembly has no power to dictate doctrine to the Presbyteries.
  • The General Assembly’s condemnation of those asserting “doctrines contrary to the standards of the Presbyterian Church” circumvented the due process set forth in the Book of Discipline.
  • None of the five essential doctrines should be used as a test of ordination. Alternated “theories” of these doctrines are permissible.
  • Liberty of thought and teaching, within the bounds of evangelical Christianity is necessary.
  • Division is deplored, unity and freedom are commended.

1927 – Adherents to the Auburn Affirmation successfully lobbied General Assembly to declare that regional governing bodies or presbyteries (instead of the national church body) would have ultimate authority to determine anyone’s fitness for ordination. Rather than having a national standard by which every congregation abided, this regional preference allowed for a wide diversity of theological positions on the Five Fundamentals and the beginning of the perspective that presbyteries oversaw and approved/disapproved ordination. Those who disagreed with The Auburn Affirmation left to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) denomination.

1967 – A new confession was written and added to the Book of Confessions, entitled the Confession of 1967. Authored on the noble and timely theme of reconciliation, subtleties within this confession hint at the theological shifts happening throughout the denomination. Most notably is the diluted language about the Bible. Here, the Bible is described as the Word of God, although qualified by the influence of human personality and cultural relativism. Such language can be acceptable to people affirming the inerrancy of Scripture, but is widely viewed by evangelical theologians as introducing an increasingly relativistic way of interpreting Scripture.

1981 – The highest court of the PC(USA) upheld the ordination of a minister who answered the question “Is Jesus God?” by saying, “No, God is God.” Later, in an attempt to explain his position, he said, “Saying Jesus is one with God is a better way of saying it … but I, too, am one with God.” This and similar statements have gone unchecked by the denomination in the proceeding decades.

1993 – At the height of a cultural movement in America promoting the role of women, the PC(USA) sponsored the Re-Imagining God conference. The goal of the conference was to re-imagine ways of expressing faith in God and Jesus Christ without using male-dominated language. Many of the results were liberal theological views that shrunk any defined theology of the atonement of Christ and introduced a plethora of alternative notions of where ultimate authority comes from. The religious person’s personal experience was elevated at this conference above biblical teaching and theological tradition.

2001 – The General Assembly of 2001 made two milestone decisions that charted the future of the denomination.

  • GA discussed at length a resolution that sought to declare “the singular, saving lordship of Jesus Christ.” Convinced that this statement was disrespectful to other religions, the GA defeated the resolution. In affirmation of the decision, one speaker stated that all religions are essentially equal and Christianity cannot claim to have the one correct way. That left the argument open for others to affirm their own—equally legitimate—paths to salvation.
  • GA formed the Peace, Unity and Purity (PUP) task force to examine the causes for theological and ministry discord that continued to threaten the unity of the PC(USA).

At the heart of disagreements for the next five years was the language of G-6.0106b in the Book of Order, which read: Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. The disagreement over this statement focused on the call to remain in marriage, which is here described as between a man and a woman.

2006 – The PUP task force returned with its findings about disagreement in the denomination across a wide variety of issues. Generally, they affirmed unity and conciliation above all else. Specifically, they recommended that G-6.0106b remain in effect, but that GA issue an Authoritative Interpretation allowing presbyteries the authority to hear and decide on the fitness of candidates who disagreed with such ordination standards.

2008 – The 2008 General Assembly proved mixed on theological and polity issues related to homosexuality. The range of actions taken by the Assembly demonstrates this stance:

  • Amendment B, which was an attempt to replace the text of G-6.0106b in the Book of Order with language that removed the language about ordained officers of the church agreeing to live in fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness. This Amendment was defeated.
  • The GA passed a resolution to define again that marriage between a man and a woman.
  • The GA voted to render all preceding judicial rulings null and void on homosexuality and ordination standards. This included the 1978 Definitive Guidance that stated that “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with requirements for ordination.”
  • The GA agreed to a modified translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the confessions in the denomination’s Book of Confessions. The newly approved translation removed the reference to “homosexual perversions” as a list of sins not permitted in faithful leaders.

2010 – General Assembly voted to pass Amendment 10-A, which removed the “fidelity-chastity” language from the standards for ordination in the Book of Order (see text of G-6.0106b above). The result of the 2010 General Assembly and subsequent ratification of this action by a majority of the presbyteries in 2011 was to remove a national standard for ordination as it relates to marriage and homosexuality. Anyone ordained to the office of minster, elder, or deacon after 2011 would need to be approved according to the standards of their local governing body: the presbytery. This new structure for ordination came to be known as “local option,” which permits each presbytery to determine its own standards for ordination. While some presbyteries retained the “fidelity-chastity” language from G-6.0106b, other presbyteries immediately began ordaining practicing gay and lesbian ministers and congregations ordained practicing gay and lesbian elders and deacons.

2014 – Several landmark decisions were made at the 2014 General Assembly meeting.

  • The Session of each PC(USA) congregation must decide (1) whether its property may be used to conduct same-gender marriages in states where they are legal, and (2) whether it permits its pastors to perform same-gender marriages in states where they are legal, should pastors choose to. (Vote at GA: 371-238)
  • GA approved and sent to presbyteries for ratification a re-definition of marriage. Traditionally, the Book of Order has stated that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” The recommended change is to define marriage as “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” A majority of presbyteries must approve this language for it to affect a change in the Book of Order. (Vote at GA: 429-175)



Various groups have initiated organized efforts for the past 50 years to address the continued theological disunity in the denomination. This section summarizes each of these groups, why they started, and what their goals were.

Presbyterian Lay Committee – Formed in 1965 in response to the Confession of 1967, the PLC sought to protect the theological integrity of Presbyterians. The PLC are the publishers of The Layman magazine.

Confessing Church Movement (CCM) – Launched in 2001, the CCM reacted to the actions of the GA that could not affirm unequivocally that Jesus Christ alone saves people. This movement asked adherents to re-affirm their faith with three main tenets:

  • The Bible alone is the Word of God and our sole authority for faith and life.
  • Jesus Christ alone is the Way of salvation, the Truth of God’s Word and the Life of the Church.
  • The Holy Spirit continues to work to bring people into conformity with the will of God, toward holiness, including living within fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.

New Wineskins Initiative (NWI) – Following the General Assembly of 2001, concerned pastors and elders met to form a renewal movement that was situated within the PC(USA). Rather than leaving the denomination at this time, these churches affirmed the need for renewal and sought it from within the PC(USA) between 2002 and 2005.

The New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC) – Out of the NWI came the NWAC as a more official renewal effort with defined intentions. Comprised of about 200 congregations at its height, the NWAC existed officially from 2005-2011 with the intention of finding a safe harbor from the theological and polity problems they saw in the PC(USA). Many of the churches that formed the NWAC left the PC(USA) and many eventually formed a partnership with the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) denomination and formed a non-geographic presbytery within the EPC called the New Wineskins Presbytery.

Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR) – After years of arguing within the PC(USA) about theology, social justice and the morality of homosexuality, leaders called for renewal and gathered to form PFR in 1989. The organization consistently called for evangelical perspectives on faith and conservative-moderate views of Scripture as the denomination continued to argue about the same issues for the next two decades. In 2014, PFR joined with the Fellowship of Presbyterians to form The Fellowship Community as it continues its internal renewal efforts.

Fellowship of Presbyterians – In response to the increasing disagreement and lack of partnership that should characterize a church denomination such as the PC(USA), a group of pastors proposed in January 2011 the formation of a new movement called the Fellowship of Presbyterians. Designed as an internal reform group, the Fellowship became a movement that offered a place for missional-minded, evangelism-focus, theologically conservative PC(USA) congregations to engage in ministry with like-minded congregations. At the time, there was not a firm plan to defect from PC(USA), but to partner together in ministry without continuing the debates that had overtaken the denomination for decades.

Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) – Stemming from the renewal efforts of the Fellowship of Presbyterians, ECO established itself as a new Reformed body (or, denomination) in January 2012. Theologically conservative and aggressively missional, the denomination has grown dramatically in two years by accepting mostly conservative-leaning PC(USA) congregations disenchanted by the continuing liberal actions of the General Assembly. As of September 2014, ECO claims 148 congregations and 254 ordained pastors.



The last year of membership growth for the PCUSA was in 1967. Since that year, the PCUSA has lost between 2 and 5 percent of its members annually.

In 1967, the PC(USA) had 4.25 million members.

In 2013, the PC(USA) 1.76 million members.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments