Saturday, June 9, 2018

Call To Worship: Doing Work Of Jesus In The World Today

As followers of Jesus, our job is to bring the spirit of Christ’s
message and to do the work of Jesus in the world today.

In Luke 4:18, Jesus says that work is:
“... [t]o proclaim good news to the poor,
freedom for the prisoner, recovery of sight for the blind,
and to set the oppressed free.”

It is up to us to be the good news of love and liberation.

So as we gather, may we learn to see the world through the eyes of God,
who sees those who are suffering and oppressed as “blessed.”

May we learn to listen for the call of “Your Kingdom come,
on earth as in heaven ..." which cries out all around us
for God’s restoration, mercy, and healing here and now.

God, may your kingdom come as we give thanks and praise.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Reflection and Renewal: God Never Gives Up On Us

Loving God, you never give up on us.

Even though we fail, withhold love,
and wound others - you love and forgive us.

Even though we judge, withhold compassion,
and neglect others - you love and forgive us.

In the same way, help us to forgive ourselves for when
we’ve been less-than-loving to ourselves and to others.

Also help us to forgive others who have been less than loving to us.

May your all-encompassing love shine through in all that we do.
Restore our souls as you make all things new again.

 Amen.

Benediction: Renew Our Hearts And Minds

Loving God,
through the power of your Spirit,
renew our hearts and minds ...

… so that we may give thanks
for your life-giving presence,
follow your guidance,
and serve all of your creation in love.

Call To Worship: God's Grace Helps Us To Lean Into Life

God, even in our times of trouble,
even times when we’ve brought trouble on ourselves,
your grace helps us to stand and to lean into life
instead of remaining stuck.

No matter what, you are always moving within and around us,
still calling us back to meaningful connection with you and your world,
still reaching out to us through all of the grace-giving
things that are conduits of your goodness.

Even in our times of mournful silence
may we find hope.

Even in our times of sorrow, loneliness,
pain, and anger, may we find joy.

We give thanks for the blessings that are your grace

Thursday, May 24, 2018

'Whatever' Isn't An Option For Immigrant Children - Bethany Christian Services CEO Chris Palusky

"[Trump administration] actions are not consistent with the ideals of our nation. Instead, they undermine protections for vulnerable children."

Trump chief of staff John Kelly acknowledged in a recent interview with NPR that family separation “could be a tough deterrent” to illegal immigration. In that same interview, the White House chief of staff argued that it wasn’t cruel and heartless to take children like Jose away from their parents because, “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”

Community organizations like Bethany stand ready to help these children find loving, temporary foster homes. We were disturbed, however, to learn what Kelly meant when he said “whatever”—and it isn’t what is best for children.

Citing an email sent to staff at the Pentagon, the Washington Post recently revealed that the Trump administration is preparing to hold unaccompanied immigrant children or children who have been separated from their parents at military bases.

These actions are not consistent with the ideals of our nation. Instead, they undermine protections for vulnerable children.

As Congress and the Trump administration consider actions to curb the numbers of children and families seeking refuge in the United States, I urge them to remember these immigrants have become integral members of our communities, our neighbors, and our friends.

The full article is available here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Preaching Biblically About Justice Is More Dangerous In Trump Era - Diana Butler Bass

Even if a clergy person doesn't intend to be prophetic, if they are simply being faithful right now, Jesus’ and other Hebrew prophets’ words can't be contained - and may seem like a political attack to those aligned with or supportive of Trumpism.

Jesus -- and the Bible more generally -- say a lot of stuff that sounds political. About poverty, immigrants, outsiders, notions of ethnic superiority. About compassion and hospitality and justice.

Years ago, you could preach on any of these passages and people wouldn't like such sermons, but they didn't take them personally. They often simply chose to ignore them. 

But now? They get downright angry. 

In this time of Trump, the words the Bible contains about justice have reclaimed their power. They sound like they were intended to sound; a forceful critique of exploitative, oppressive and corrupted politics.

And even if a clergy person doesn't intend to be prophetic, if they are simply being faithful right now, Jesus’ and other Hebrew prophets’ words can't be contained - and may seem like a political attack to those aligned with or supportive of Trumpism.

I personally know a half dozen clergy who have lost their jobs over a sermon preached or a prayer prayed -- one that was interpreted as an attack on Trump or thought to "divide" a congregation.

And I know countless more who have been instructed by bishops, supervisors, senior clergy, or church boards to preach and pray on NOTHING that could even be construed as vaguely political.

Most of this is to placate conservative donors to religious organizations. But some is to protect the clergy.

The full article is available here

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Some Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been "United Statesified" - Benjamin Corey

The powerful influence of U.S. culture has, for quite some time, seeped into the Christian faith to the point where, in too many instances, we have an entirely new product - and one we'd do well to dissect.

While the word “Christianity” seems to refer to a single religion, the reality is that many cultures have succumbed to a process of syncretism where there are actually many, many forms of Christianity that look nothing like the original picture on the outside of the box.

The United States is no different. The powerful influence of United States culture has, for quite some time, seeped into the Christian faith to the point where, in too many instances, we have an entirely new product.

Instead of Christianity as it was passed on to the disciples and early church, we have a church culture that is a uniquely U.S. version– and one we’d do well to dissect.

Here are some ways to tell if your Christianity has "United Statesified."

The Early Church's Pacifism, Nonviolence, and Shared Economy Seems Foreign
From a U.S. mindset, original Christianity and the first Christians appear nuts: they were universally nonviolent (against capital punishment, abortion, military service and killing in self-defense), and rejected individual ownership of property in order to redistribute their wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:35).

Your Chief Concern With Islam Is Warring Against It, Not Being Loving Like Christ
If your initial posture toward all Muslims is that of viewing them as a threat to do battle against instead of viewing them as people Jesus has commanded we radically and self-sacrificially love, you're not operating out of the chief calling of a Christ-follower; to love others.

If You Want To Cut Programs Of Social Uplift/Justice In Favor Of Charity Only
A value of the political ideology of many U.S. Christians is small government and that taxes are wage theft.  A Christian value is the elimination of poverty.  Though those who subscribe to the aforementioned political ideology also acknowledge that poverty should be dealt with, they often express that it isn't the job of the government to deal with it, and that church-distributed charity could solve the problem.  Even though that is empirically untrue, studies have shown that many average U.S. Christians don't give money to charity or even tithe to their church anyway.

You Say "We're A Nation Of Laws" About Immigrants vs Citing What Bible Says 
The Bible has plenty to say on immigrants, and consistently lists them as one of the vulnerable groups of people that God-followers are to care for.  While government does have a right to determine who can enter a country, the primary posture of a Christian should be that of radical love towards immigrants and refugees of every type.

If You Think Stopping Gay Marriage & School Prayer Are Most Pressing Issues
Culture war issues reliably drum up financial and ballot support for conservative candidates, but what of the primary admonition to Christ-followers to love our neighbors as ourselves.  In a globalized society, every creature dwelling on the earth is our neighbor. 750 million people around the world don't have access to clean water. 805 million people are chronically malnourished. Human-caused climate change is harming the planet that we're called by God to steward. 

Clearly, legislating marital opinions to achieve Christendom hegemony and attempting to enforce state-sponsored religion through school prayer - which is detrimental to both the state and to religion incidentally - are not the most pressing issues we face today.

The full article is available here

God's Grace Is Always Present - Gerald G May


Friday, May 4, 2018

Faith & Climate Science - Trinity College Biology Prof Clayton Carlson in The Banner

Science continues to find new insights about God's good creation. As it does so, the church must finds ways to engage those results productively. For the sake of our witness, our young people, and our world, we must rise above fear, skepticism, and unwarranted optimism.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 50% of American adults (and just 28% of white evangelicals) believe that global climate change is caused by human activity. 

It's clear that there is ample motivation among Christians, like everyone else, to resist scientific discoveries that demand lifestyle changes we would rather avoid.

When Christians reject science generally, and scientific findings specifically, we are deprived of more fully understanding God’s majesty as Creator, and we ignore our responsibilities to be stewards of God’s creation.

This also hurts our gospel witness. Our neighbors, and particularly our young people, are paying attention. When the church is wrong about things that are easily proven, it is difficult for people to trust the church with matters of faith that are not easily proven.

The church has blessings to offer, and the scientific community has gifts to share. In order to develop a healthful relationship within which these can be exchanged, we must adopt a more productive means of engaging challenging science, including climate change.

Science continues to find new insights about God's good creation. As it does so, the church must finds ways to engage those results productively. For the sake of our witness, our young people, and our world, we must rise above fear, skepticism, and unwarranted optimism.

I believe a more productive way of responding to the science of climate change involves critical reading, thoughtfulness, and gratitude.

The full article is available here

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Reflection And Renewal: Call Us Back To Grace And Away From Shame

Gracious and loving God,

We know we do not always live out what we claim to believe, and we can sometimes
be our own worst enemy. Sometimes we turn away from you and from being our true selves.

Often, we all-too-easily fall back into our familiar patterns that cause ourselves
and others pain, heartache, and hardship.

Forgive us. We know that your grace and love for us is endless.

Help us to have open ears, eyes, and hearts to notice how you call us -
again and again - back to love, back to grace, back to your light …
and away from the selfishness of and shame from the things we’ve done wrong.

Give us the courage to be willing to be continually made new.

Amen

Call To Worship: Brokenness That May Be Our Own Doing Sometimes

God, we come today as people whose lives contain brokenness.
For some of us, a portion of our brokenness may be our own doing.

But you’ve promised that you don’t brush aside the bruised and the hurting.
Instead, you welcome all who come seeking.
You reach out to all of creation with open hands.

So meet us where we are.
We need your boundless, overflowing grace.

You're a God of limitless love and mercy.
For this, we give you praise

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Praise Music Industry Has Led Many Churches To Exchange Worship for Emotionalism - Les Lamkin, longtime church music leader

Consider what (not who, but what) is being adored in much of current Praise Music. It is certainly not our Triune God’s great saving work celebrated throughout history and in our own lives. Rather, it’s our own emotional status, our own emotional wants, our own psychological selves.

With the sweeping popularity and utilization of songs produced by the Praise Music Industry - specifically those from non-denominational megachurches like Bethel and Hillsong - the having of an emotional experience has trumped all other criteria for determining faith and practice during Sunday services.

Here's the problem; the Bible never connects worship to emotion or music. It encourages emotion as a response to experiencing God - but it also warns against allowing emotion to be our sole guide regarding faith and practice.


Worship is supposed to be the gathered congregation together accepting God's invitation into God's way of life; into the Divine Life of God as it is expressed in selfless and absolute love of God lived out forever in the Trinity as community.

Worship is meant to be formative too, not merely expressive.

The music currently coming out of the Praise Music Industry has reversed all this and made worship about us individually, our individual wants, our individual feelings, our individual emotions..

Consider what (not who, but what) is being adored in much of current Praise Music. It is certainly not God’s great saving work celebrated throughout history and in our own lives. Rather, it’s our own emotional status, our own emotional wants, our own psychological selves.

Current Praise Music Industry culture has substituted the Divine Communal Life of the Triune God with borderline-sensual, manipulative, emotional neediness and instant emotional gratification.

The full article is available here

Friday, April 20, 2018

How Christians Should and Shouldn't Speak About Creation - Brian Zahnd

Instead of saying un-Christian things like, “This world is not my home,” “It’s all going to burn,” and “Environmentalism is idolatry,” listen to how wise Christians have always spoken about Creation.

This year Earth Day falls on a Sunday.

So I thought I’d say a few words about how Christians should and shouldn't speak about Creation.

First, Christians should never say…

"This world is not my home."
This world is our home! And it’s the locus of God’s saving work. The blessed hope is not “we’re going,” but “Christ is coming.” Our eschatological hope is resurrection, not evacuation. The risen Christ is not a ghost, he has flesh and bones; he eats fish and honeycomb.

"It’s all going to burn."
What a horrible, ghastly thing for a Christian to say! Especially when it’s given as an excuse for justifying environmental exploitation. In Christ we have a hopeful eschatology that says, “It’s all going to be renewed.” (And if you want to work from 2 Peter 3:10, say, “It’s all going to be refined.”)

"Environmentalism is idolatry."
Never say that. Instead say, “This is my Father’s world.” In giving humanity “dominion,” God made us park rangers of Planet Earth. Environmentalism isn’t idolatry — it’s the original vocation given to humanity. Environmentalism isn’t idolatry — but greed is! In Revelation we’re told that God will judge “those who destroy the earth.”

So ...

... instead of saying un-Christian things like, “This world is not my home,” “It’s all going to burn,” and “Environmentalism is idolatry,” listen to how wise Christians have always spoken about Creation.
  • The first step for a soul to come to know God is contemplation of nature.
    –Irenaeus (120–202)
  • The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.
    –John of Damascus (675–749)
  • If we learn to love the earth, we will discover what it means to be truly alive.
    –Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
  • A wrong attitude toward nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude toward God.
    –T.S. Eliot (1888–1965)
  • How we treat the earth defines the relationship that each of us has with God.
    –Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (1940–)

The full article is available here

A Tribute To Jack Casey: One Of The Greatest Men I've Ever Known - by Jeff Wiersma

I’m far from the only person who has given this kind of tribute to Jack in the days since his passing. That speaks to the far-reaching impact he had and his legacy of being a humble, kind, and giving man. I will never forget how he always greeted me with his trademark, “Heeeey theeeere” and a handshake

A great man, Jack Casey, has completed his life’s work. This has caused me to reflect back on the 40 years that I was blessed enough to know Jack and be in community with his family.

I’m not sure that I can adequately express what Jack and the Casey family have meant to me in my life ... how they influenced who I am as a person, how they helped to shape my spirituality from my earliest years ... but I'm going to try.

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Jack specifically helped to shape my concept of how a man with integrity and emotional honesty served in leadership in a church (along with my dad of course, another old softy). He was kind, welcoming, authentic and accommodating.

He and Lois - along with my folks, the Van Dyke's, the Dykstra's, and several others - were brave enough to start a brand new church. Part of the reason they did this was so that people who weren’t churchgoers would have somewhere that they could feel comfortable attending; where broken people could be real and didn’t have to fit any mold - somewhere they could come as they were to find some acceptance, unconditional love, and hope. (If you know even the first thing about me, you know how deeply that example has been imprinted into my DNA).

Jack and Leo took on preaching in addition to their busy work and family lives. (Jack was always better at keeping sermons under 25 minutes. I take after my Dad I think).

So many benefited from that courage and vision that it can be easy to take it for granted, but it wasn’t a sure thing by any means. It was a definite risk in a community in which they and their young families were all deeply ingrained church and school-wise.

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The Casey family opened their home to me as a child and were a second home when my parents were off visiting my older siblings at college/etc when I was in grade school. Being the youngest and therefore closest in age to me (4 years my elder), Scott made me feel welcomed, included, and at ease. He clearly had that modeled for him by his parents.

The Casey family continued this kind of hospitality, opening their home as foster parents for Bethany Christian Services.

I cut my teeth as a church leader (both band and generally) under the leadership of Jack’s oldest son John, who led me with the same empowering and enabling qualities that his father lived out. 

While getting my feet under me leadership-wise, Jack always made sure to seek me out to encourage me and tell me "nice work" and "good job."

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I’m far from the only person who has given this kind of tribute to Jack in the days since his passing. That speaks to the far-reaching impact he had and his legacy of being a humble, kind, and giving man.

As Mike O'Brien once said, “No one gets extra points for loving Jack Casey, bc EVERYONE loves Jack Casey.”

I will never forget how he always greeted me with his trademark, “Heeeey theeeere” and a handshake.

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“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

- traditional Gaelic blessing

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Disconcerting Rise Of Self-Proclaimed Megachurch Apostles - Jeff Wiersma

A group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through alleged "signs and wonders."

In August 2017, Christianity Today's Bob Smietana interviewed authors Brad Christerson and Richard Flory about their book, The Rise Of Network Christianity.

Their book is about the group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through alleged "signs and wonders."

The following are some insightful, albeit disconcerting, excerpts that resonate with what I have perceived and discerned.  To me, these observations are disconcerting to me - because it always concerns me when emotionalism, devotion to a “chosen” leader, and financialization are driving forces in a movement.

I've seen first-hand the abuses of power that often result from the lack of oversight and accountability and celebrity-leader dynamism.  I've observed the kind of misguided teaching and psychologically damaging cultures that result from it.

I know many people who have suffered long-term emotional and relational trauma from attending these types of churches. 

Multi-level marketing reaps millions 
Many of these "apostles" run megachurches, among them Bethel Church in Redding, California. But their real power lies in their innovative approach to selling faith. They’ve combined multi-level marketing and Pentecostal style alleged signs and wonders to connect directly with millions of spiritual customers. That allows them to reap millions in donations, conference fees, and book, MP3, worship cd and DVD sales.

Trickle-down spirituality, devotion to the leader
The leaders of this movement don't have the same "priesthood of all believers" theology as the Protestant Reformers, because their power flows down from particular "apostles," and then others who are "under them" can access it.   
Despite being similar to established prosperity gospel preachers, this group is unique in that they really think God has put these "apostles" on earth to transform the world.  It's a sort of trickle-down Christianity, which spreads its ideas through marketing and media production.

No oversight and accountability, lots of hype. 
They consciously avoid any kind of formal organization or denomination (aka "oversight and accountability").  They can just go straight to the market activities.
Between social media, the internet, and conferences, they have figured out ways to leverage big, hyped-up, (emotionally-manipulative) experiences.  It is a completely different discipleship than the weekly rhythm of church life in community.   
These leaders don't engage in a lot of self-reflection about the dangers of holding major power without any oversight.  We haven't seen a lot of self-awareness on their part.  They think they are an instrument of God - and that's all they need.  There's a suspicion of accountability structures.