How To Turn God into A Schoolhouse Bully

By Jason Crosby
Co-Pastor, Crescent Hill Baptist Church
American Civil Liberties Union – KY Board of Directors Member

Be cautious of those who insist on posting the phrase “In God We Trust” in schools or demand that everyone says “Merry Christmas” in December. Take note that most of the time the figures we hear advocating for such measures are politicians seeking to gain and maintain power. A lot of people say a lot about which the Bible says very little (or nothing); while saying little about which the Bible says a whole lot.

State Representative and Christian evangelist Brandon Reed of Hodgenville recently pre-filed a bill that would require Kentucky public schools to post the phrase “In God We Trust.”

I do not know what God looks like in the heart and mind of Rep. Reed. I do know that those in our state and nation who feel compelled to advance the phrase “In God We Trust” typically understand God in a particularly narrow way. Those who push “In God We Trust” are more often than not white, straight, men who want to preserve white, straight, male hegemony rather than follow the God found in Christ. Jesus was put to death not so much for his moral, ethical or theological teachings. He was killed because he challenged the systems of money and power of his time.    

The voices heard in the Bible say a lot more about political and religious leaders who use and abuse that which is sacred for their own benefit than homosexuality and abortion combined. The God found in the Bible really does not like people using God for their own purposes.   

The phrases “In God We Trust” and “Merry Christmas” have been identified as effective rallying cries by some politicians that can be trotted out to win votes.

The insistence that the phrase “In God We Trust” be displayed in public spaces was not something Jesus taught.

If actualized, this proposition would infringe upon the constitutionally protected civil liberties of Kentucky citizens. A large number of people – students, teachers, and parents – do not trust in any God, believe in a God who goes by another name than the one Rep. Reed praises, or believe in many Gods. The outcome of this proposal would send a thinly veiled message that anyone who does not believe in the God that Rep. Reed envisions is subordinate and less than. This proposal would result in school bullying supported by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

All of Kentucky’s children deserve the opportunity to go to school without being berated to believe in God as understood by Rep. Reed. Our public schools be committed to teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, not a narrow view of religion.  Commonly held decency demands that we provide every student in Kentucky with this opportunity.

Followers of Jesus Christ in Kentucky should not only stand in opposition to this proposal due to Constitutional concerns, pragmatic concerns, and natural law grounds. Christians in Kentucky should stand in opposition to this proposal because they are disciples of Jesus. 

Thomas Helwys was one of the founding fathers of the peculiar group of Protestants known as Baptists. In 1612, Helwys wrote, “For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever; it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”

Why would an early Baptist advocate for religious liberty for nonbelievers and other religious adherents in addition to Christians over 400 years ago?

Helwys also wrote, “This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” Helwys’s interpretation of the Bible, particularly his understanding of the example set by Christ, compelled him to advocate for religious liberty for all.

After washing the feet of his disciples and just prior to his arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

First and foremost, Christians are called to love one another. You are not loving someone else if you demand that they conform to your way and perspective. That’s not love. That’s not placing your trust in God known as Jesus. That’s imposing your power on others. That’s bullying.  

Modern Old Time Revival

Some of the most vivid memories that pop to my mind from my childhood are those associated with revivals. As most of you know, my father was a pastor. Thus, he preached revivals at other congregations and hosted revivals at our home congregation. I still remember going with my father to Burnside, KY (near Somerset and Lake Cumberland) where he preached a revival when I was roughly my own son’s age. It was there I was introduced to fried catfish. I still love a piece of fried catfish. I suspect that has to do as much with emotional attachment as it does with taste. I also remember when the pastor of the Elsmere Baptist Church, the black Baptist Church across the railroad tracks, preached a series of revival sermons at the church my family called home.

Traditionally, revivals entailed a congregation inviting a outsider in to preach and teach. Revivals took place on consecutive evenings throughout the course of a single week. Revivals were designed to revitalize an individual’s relationship with Christ and the vchurch.

Of course, times have changed. Asking people to attend an event at church consecutive nights in a row in a single week is not feasible. However, that does not mean that the concept of revival has lost its merit. It means that circumstances dictate that revivals transpire differently.

Over the course of the first several months of 2018, I believe that Crescent Hill Baptist Church will be holding the modern-day equivalent of an old-time revival. We will welcome several guest speakers to our pulpit who will challenge us to apply the gospel presented by Jesus Christ in our own lives, community, nation, and world. I believe these guests will revive you personally and have a significant impact on what transpires beyond the walls of our congregation. 

Our 2018 CHBC Revival will begin with a concert on Sunday, January 14 at 4PM. Demetrius Gunn is the 2017-2018 recipient of the Simmons College of Kentucky Crescent Hill Baptist Church Scholarship. Demetrius leads a gospel group that performs throughout the region. Demetrius and his group will be in concert that afternoon.

  On Sunday, January 28, John Palvovitz will preach. John is nationally recognized pastor and author. He recently released a new book entitled A Bigger Table. John is a pastor and blogger from Wake Forest, North Carolina. His blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said, has reached a diverse audience of millions of people. A 18-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John's mission is to nurture better, more productive conversation about faith, and to help the Church become a more compassionate, loving environment for all people. He serves on staff at North Raleigh Community Church and is preparing to launch an online community called The Table, a Christian community where everyone gets a seat.

On Monday, February 12, author Richard Rothstein will present. He is the author of the book The Color of Law, which is the 2018 EmpowerWest City-Wide Book Club book. Rothstein is a Senior Fellow at the Haas Institute and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute both of which are located in Berkeley, CA. He works on policy issues regarding education and race. He currently researches and writes about the history of government’s role in the creation of residential segregation. Rothstein was a senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at Berkeley’s law school, until that institute closed at the end of 2015.

On Sunday, February 25, Paul Raushenbush will preach. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is a writer, editor, and religious activist. He currently serves as Senior Vice-President and editor of Voices at Auburn Seminary. From 2009 to 2015 he was the Executive Editor Of Global Spirituality and Religion for Huffington Post's Religion section, and formerly served as editor of BeliefNet. From 2003-2011, Raushenbush served as Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University, and served as President of the Association Of College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA) from 2009 to 2011. An ordained Baptist minister in the American Baptist tradition, Raushenbush is the great-grandson of 19th-century Baptist cleric and Social Gospel proponent Walter Rauschenbusch (name spelled differently), and the great-grandson of the Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis.

Finally, in March, David Gushee will be present for our 2018 William M. Johnson lecture series. He will present on Saturday evening March 17, and then preach on Sunday morning March 18. Gushee’s new book, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism, was released last fall. Dr. David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. Widely regarded as one of the leading moral voices in American Christianity, he is the author or editor of 21 books and hundreds of articles in his field. Dr. Gushee is the recently elected Vice-President of the American Academy of Religion and President-Elect of the Society of Christian Ethics. 

Some of the leading thinkers, writers, and voices in progressive Christian thought and activism in the United States at this moment will be with us in the coming months. Their presence among us provides us all with the chance to experience revival, collectively and individually. You can prepare yourself for this opportunity for revitalization -vitalize Ehsan by getting books penned by the authors that will be with us. I am very excited about what lies ahead in the upcoming months for our church. I hope that you are as well.              Jason

Iftar Remarks

The Path to Peace Is Justice Road
On June 7, Interfaith Paths to Peace hosted an Iftar dinner at Second Presbyterian Church. More than 500 people were in attendance. Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. What follows are Jason’s remarks that evening.

Good evening. I am honored and humbled to have been asked to share a few brief remarks this evening.

I am about to issue a challenge to us all. However, what I am about to say is primarily a challenging message for Christians. Nonetheless, I feel that it is imperative that this message primarily directed at Christians in our community be heard by Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and others in our community.  

Eboo Patel, 
an American Muslim of Gujarati Indian heritage, who also served as a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, recently wrote a Huffington Post article entitled “MLK Was an Interfaith Visionary, Too.”  Patel notes that W.E.B DuBois famously wrote that “the problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the color line.”  No one did more than King to address that problem.  Patel also points out that King showed that race was one part of his broader concern with human relations at large in one of his final books, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community: "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited ... a great 'world house' in which we have to live together -- black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu ... Because we can never again live apart, we must learn somehow to live with each other in peace."

Just as DuBois’s words were proven to be prescient, Dr. King’s words written more than sixty years ago have proven to be prescient and accurately prophetic as well. Principally due to advances in technology and the emergence of a truly global economy, we all now find ourselves living in much closer quarters to one another in the great world house. Unfortunately, the blending together of our religiously, ethnically, and racially diverse families is not going smoothly at the moment. Our social constructs and political systems and religious frameworks have not kept up with the pace of technological change. Domestic violence appears to be more prevalent in our world house than domestic tranquility. 

How may we as residents of this world house play a role in reconciling the currently raging family fued?

I am a not a Southern Baptist, I am a Baptist from the south. There’s a big difference between the two. Baptists originally came to these shores in search of religious liberty and tolerance after being persecuted on the other side of the Atlantic. Baptists played an important role in preserving religious liberty and the separation of church and state in the United States Constitution when it was written. Religious tolerance is an important part of the process toward learning to live together in our world house, but at this moment we need more than that.

I am firm believer in the transformative power of relationship. It’s one thing to tolerate someone else’s religious believes and practices, but it’s another to be in relationship with those who practice another religion. Tolerance does not require investment. Relationship does. Tolerance does not make a person vulnerable. Relationship does. Tolerance does not open the door to change. Relationship does. Tolerance endures the presence of another although often begrudgingly. Relationship demands that parties respect one another. Respect requires a shared sense of equal standing and worthiness. Interfaith relationship through which people come to better understand and respect one another is an important part of the process toward learning to live together in our world house, but at this moment we need more than that.

To suggest this evening that religious tolerance and entering into respectful interfaith religious relationship is all that is needed to help resolve the serious global, violent conflicts we face would not only be naïve, it would be blasphemous. It’s would be akin to the Governor of Kentucky swooping to predominantly black neighborhoods in our community that have been ravaged by violence to tell them that the solution to the violence in their communities is prayer. People of faith know that prayer is important and that tolerance and relationship are important, but those matters are only parts of a process that requires utilizing other tools at our disposal.

Allow me to suggest that if we want to really help resolve the problems we face in our world house, in addition to practicing religious tolerance and in addition to developing respectful interfaith relationship, we need to link arms with one another, move forward together, and lift our voices in unison for justice. Many have often stated that peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.

Our World House will be justly arranged when as the Declaration of Independence states people’s unalienable rights are protected – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When people have the economic and educational resources to live life and laws and policies in place to live life freely, then they can pursue happiness and not be tempted to as quickly resort to violence. Unfortunately, violence may be woven into human DNA, but when our human predispositions are sown into fields of injustice fertilized by poverty, lack of education, and hopelessness, violence is much more likely to grow.

We are at an Interfaith Paths to Peace organized event. I believe that the name of the path that leads to peace is a road called justice.

What times such as these call for are people from different faiths walking this road together as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did side-by-side over a bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. History has proven that when people from different faith traditions walk the path of justice together then the likelihood of peace increases significantly. Thus, we must march together and work together in various forms and fashions in opposition to policies and proposals that curtail life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for anyone who is a resident of our shared world house such as refugees or immigrants; the impoverished or sick; no matter their religious tradition or nationality. All of our faiths call upon us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

However, these days I am not sure we even have neighbors anymore because now we’re all in the same house together. Thus, it’s even more imperative that we live in right, just relationship with our roommates whom we cannot avoid like we can a neighbor we might be able to avoid for weeks or months on end. May we not just tolerate. May we not just relate. May we coordinate. Our world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love and justice.

Advent Devotion 21

Prayer of Thanksgiving

By Ranti Adenijo

 

Psalm 138

I will praise You with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praises to You.

I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your loving kindness and for Your truth: for You hast magnified Your word above all Your name.

In the day when I cried You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.

All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O Lord, when they hear the words of Your mouth.

Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord.

Though the Lord is on high, yet He regarded the lowly: but the proud he knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me: You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me: Your mercy, O Lord, endures for ever: do not forsake the works of Your hands.

 

It is a good thing to thank God all the time for what He has done and for all that He shall continue to do in your life; but if you don’t know how to think deeply about His daily benefits in your life, you may not know how to give quality thanks to Him. If you fail to give Him praise and thanksgiving, you may not experience His goodness in full. You can give thanks to Him by singing, jumping, dancing, and rolling wisely on the ground. As you do so, you are showing to Him that you appreciate His goodness and that He owns your life.

 

The above Psalm will be helpful to you as you begin to thank God before you start to ask anything from Him.

 

God, Give us thankful hearts. Amen

Advent Devotion 20

Church Hats

By Dorothy Spurr

 

Acts 2:44   All who believed were together and had all things in common.

Much like First Century Christians we at Crescent Hill meet often, get to know each other, take meals together with “glad and generous hearts,” and share. That’s how I came to be blessed with the vintage hats I call my “Taylor Collection.” 

Some of you may have noticed that I sometimes wear a hat to Sunday Morning Worship. ( I grew up in the 1930’s and 40’s, when a lady always wore a hat in public; it was absolutely mandatory in church!)  In the Spring I am often asked, “Is that your Derby hat?”  I reply, “No, it is my church hat.”

So this last Summer, when Diane and Rae Taylor were clearing out his parents’ house, they asked if I would like to see if I could use any of Rae’s mother’s hats.  I could hardly wait.  When I went to view them I found a large array spread out on chairs in the living room, and on beds in the bedrooms.  There were hats of finest quality, some, I would guess, as much as 60 years old; winter ones of 100% wool felt, real feathers, veiling and ribbon, all made in the USA. I could only take a few hats since my apartment has little storage space; choosing was difficult. I learned that Mrs. Taylor was an art teacher, and obviously a woman of taste and refinement.  I asked Rae if they were church hats.  He said, “Oh yes, she certainly wore them to church.”

When I first saw them I told Rae that if he took the hats to a vintage shop he could sell them for a nice sum.  He graciously replied, “We would rather give them to someone we could see wear and enjoy them.”  

Father, help us not to neglect gathering together, learning about each other, and sharing our lives and possessions.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 19

Joy!

By Glen Skaggs

 

Luke 1:13-14   But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah,… you will have joy and gladness,…”

Luke 1:28-30  And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one,…” And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…

Luke 2:10  And the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy …” (RSV)

These three passages in the story about the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke each contain the word “afraid” but only the first and last contain the word “joy.”

Zechari′ah was doing his duty as a priest in the Temple.  He probably was not thinking about why he and Elizabeth didn’t have any children, though he probably had prayed about it in the past.  Suddenly an angel tells him his wife will have a child.  He was incredulous, but quickly believed when the angel told Zechari′ah who he was.  Zechari′ah was left speechless but had joy and gladness.

While the passage related to Mary doesn’t have the word “joy”, it does use the word “hail.” Some translators think a better word is “Rejoice” with its connection to the term “favored one” (TDNT, vol. 9, p. 367, line 7).  This form of greeting is used only in connection with divine grace (TDNT, vol. 9, p. 393, line 11).  This is the kind of joy that continued for Mary during the ministry of Jesus (IDB, 1962, vol. K-Q, p. 292). 

Shepherds had a hard life because they had to work out in the fields and into the night.  They watched over their flocks so they would not be stolen or marauded.  They were “socially despised and economical depressed” (BBC, vol. 9, p.29).  The shepherds provide a model for the ministry of Jesus. 

Each of these passages provides a way to interpret or to receive and be blessed by joy.  You must be diligent in the duties of your faith, expectant that there will be a good outcome, and intentional in your efforts.

Gracious Lord, we thank you for your steadfastness of always being there for us and the grace and care you provide us. Amen

Advent Devotion 18

The Force

By John Arnett

 

 

John 1:1  In the beginning was the Word:  the Word was with God and the Word was God.

One cosmology theory holds that there have been an endless number of “big bangs” with subsequent expansions and contractions of the various universes formed.

By faith we hold that the “Word” or “Force” (to use the Star Wars imagery) has been present in all of these cycles.  In our particular universe the “Force” encourages “Life” (with all its naturally selected diversity) and “Love” (as the key to our species’ survival).

When Jesus entered the world over 2000 years ago the “Word became Flesh” and the “Force” made itself known and “personalized” in the human image of the “Father-Son” relationship.  Through the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation and death we become children of God and eternal advocates of the “Force.”

 

May the Force be with you. Amen.

Advent Devotion 17

Preparing For Company

By Gail Tucker

 

Matthew 3:1-3In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him."  (NIV)

The word "Advent" means coming in Latin and we spend this time of the year reflecting on the coming of Jesus into the world and the coming of Jesus into our lives. To truly experience Advent, preparation of our hearts and minds is needed.

This joyous season of the year often includes the coming of friends and family into our homes. That type of "coming" requires a different type of preparation.

For me, my thoughts turn to cleaning, decorating the house and preparing food. My least favorite of those three things is cleaning. While I had a friend years ago that talked about how she had a system of cleaning a room or two each week resulting in an always clean house and never being overwhelmed. I must confess, I have no such system!

I wait until "my days are numbered" and begin the cleaning tasks. Of course, it doesn't all get done and then there is the frantic "stuffing" of items in places where they won't be seen! (No, I won't tell you where!) But that technique means when the company leaves, the items have to be retrieved and dealt with again.

My cleaning technique is not unlike the way we deal (or don't deal) with spiritual issues that could produce growth and more Christ-like qualities.   It takes some preparation for the Lord to come into our lives and homes.  John proposed repentance or cleaning up/turning away from messes in our lives.  As we hustle about to prepare our homes for guests, let us remember who the most special guest of this season truly is and make preparations for His coming.

Dear Lord, help us to be prepared for your coming.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 16

Fire Truck

By Jason Crosby

 

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When you have small children, sometimes you just have to get out of the house. A few years ago following a December weeknight dinner, the Crosby family needed to do just that. We decided that night to drive around our neighborhood to check out the Christmas lights. We slowly wound our way through the streets enjoying the familiar displays – lights wrapped around trees and strung along rooflines, glowing Santas and reindeer, wreaths, and nativity sets. As we turned onto another street, we saw something unusual up in the distance. A fire truck seemed to be parked up ahead. Its lights brightly spun. People were gathered around it. “Uh-oh,” we told one another. “I’m afraid a home is on fire.” We drove closer to investigate the matter. As we neared, we did not see or smell any smoke. The look on people’s faces was not one of concern, but of delight. “What is going on here?” we wondered. “Look on top of the fire truck,” my wife said. Lo and behold, atop the truck stood Santa, smiling and waving.

We are living in a heated moment. Our national discourse is fiery. Many of us are feeling burned by hateful comments and acts. Our natural impulse to “fight fire with fire.” There are times when we must turn up the heat. However, we must be cautious not to let the fire that burns within us become so heated that we burn ourselves. As Shakespeare put it, “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.”

In these days, when it is so easy for the flames within us to become overheated, may we continue to do good deeds that provide light in our world. May we speak out boldly for love and justice for all people in dignified, appropriate ways, as well as concentrate on doinggood to all people. May we not just give off heat, but bring forth light that will lead us toward a brighter tomorrow. That December night we feared that we would see a burning hot fire destroying someone’s home. What we ended up seeing was bright light and Santa Claus, which made us smile from ear to ear. Don’t forget the power of light.

 

Thank you, O Lord, that you have blessed us with the opportunity to let our lights shine through our deeds of goodness.  Amen.

 

Advent Devotion 15

Campfires

By Brittani Bair

 

Leviticus 6:13   The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out. 

There is something primal and gratifying about creating fire, particularly campfires in the fall. As the leaves ignite into orange and red, the autumn season brings all nature into glorious flame and the cool air dares us to collect some dry wood and strike up a conversation with the elements.

 

Fire speaks a language. I have not yet decoded enough of the syntax to speak back to it in its native tongue, but I hear in the crackling a message that challenges me to be more fully alive. The best response I have been able to muster is to gather a group of young people to sit around it in a circle and sing about the Kingdom of God and to poke at it with marshmallows. Then after we have sung and eaten, we pour a bucket of water from the nearby lake over the flames and bid farewell. I usually insist on witnessing the extinguishing of the flames on our youth retreats. But this year the group was not done enjoying the campfire when I was needed back in my cabin to tend to my infant. I left three of our more responsible college students to tend to the fire and I returned an hour later. I found a group still gathered, cozy around the fire, telling stories. I had come to make sure the flames were out, but I found myself unable to call an end to the gathering. I told the chaperones to make sure to have campers back inside by 9:30, and I ventured back into the darkness toward my baby. As I made my way away from the circle, I questioned myself as to why I was so compelled to let the fire continue burning. I sensed as I left that cozy circle that I was leaving the presence of a presence beyond myself, as if there were more people gathered around that fire than I could see with my eyes, that at the edge of the light there were gatherings taking place that I dare not cut short between old friends, hallowed saints, and ghosts of youth groups past. I felt like I'd be sending them all to bed early and couldn't bring myself to shut down the reunion. So the fire burned on into the night, adding a layer of memories to the memories that seemed to have been ignited by those flames, year after year, ghost upon hallowed ghost, speaking on into the fire.

 

God of life, as the Advent candles burn, ignite our hearts with hope, peace, joy, and love. Kindle within us an altar fire that never goes out. Amen.

Advent Devotion 14

God Has GOT This!

By Anne-Britton Arnett

 

Jeremiah 29:11   For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

 

Morgan and I had the opportunity to hear Christine Caine in September at a Joyce Meyer conference.  She was very high energy, which Morgan loved, and had some fantastic insights.  In this time of uncertainty, with the change in leadership of our country, she shared an amazing point of view that I thought would be good for all of us as Christians to reflect upon.  To paraphrase what she said:  Do you think God is up in heaven saying, “Oh my – what will happen to us?  Look at the United States of America!  What are they doing with their election??  O-M-Me!!!!”  (I love that humor.)  She continued, saying:  No – of course not!  God has GOT this.  His plan is bigger than our plan, and we need to learn to trust Him.

Let us all to continue to pray Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

The plans HE has in mind are bigger than us!  He has amazing plans in mind for each of us, during the Advent season and continuing on into 2017.  I’m so excited to see the path He has laid out for each and every one of us.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for continuing to hold us in the palm of Your hand.  We know that your eye is on the sparrow, so how much more do You have in store for us!  Continue to give us strength and hope in our times of doubt and fear. Amen.

Advent Devotion 13

The Prairie

By John Birkimer

 

 

Matthew 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  (NRSV)

A pleasant woman’s voice on my phone: “Sir, I hope you haven’t started yet. We are short some staff and won’t be able to do any tours today.” Me: “Well, we’re already on our way so we’ll come on out and just look around.” We had driven to Kansas City the night before and were on our way to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, north of Strong City. I had signed up for a bus tour but this message seemed to cancel that plan. My wife, Sharleen, had grown up on the prairie of North Dakota and had seen tall grass before; I had not but wanted to and wanted her to see this, one of the few remaining tracts of the original tall grass ecosystem that once covered so much of the Great Plains.

Upon arriving we entered the visitors’ center and were greeted by a youngish woman ranger. She asked if we were the Birkimers and when we agreed she said “We’ll be able to do a tour after all. I arranged with another worker to cover here for me so we can go in a little while.” We thanked her with great appreciation. A second couple shortly joined us and the five of us were soon riding across the prairie, listening to her story of the origins of the Preserve and watching small herds of bison in a distant field and cattle in another. When the bus stopped, the deep silence was broken only by the infrequent call of a bird. We left the Preserve after more thanks to this generous ranger. We had been strangers and she had welcomed us.

Lord, help us to always welcome the stranger, and to show gratitude when we as strangers are welcomed. Amen.

Advent Devotion 12

What the Wise Men Forgot

By Quinn Chipley

 

Luke 1:41-42And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” 

 

I was a conservative child with a stubborn aesthetic. When the Sears Christmas catalog came, I was struck more starry-eyed over the lights and ornaments than by the toys and candy. The Christmas colors in my palette matched a fantasy shaped by Alps and fjords:  Spruce greens, holly-berry reds, midnight blues, and snowy whites.  I dismissed the faux boxwood wreaths -- stuck with the travesties of lemons, oranges, and grapes -- as the peculiar error of miscreants. These Della Robbia dalliances kept too-close-company with that lady who floats with her infant in a vaporous shell of robin-egg blue. Some folks just cannot keep Christmas and Easter crayons properly apart.

 

But here it is in Luke. “Blessed is the fruit.” Fruit must ripen. It cannot be rushed. I too can grow.

 

Prayer:

                                                “All this was a long time ago, I remember,

                                                And I would do it again, but set down

                                                This set down

                                                This.” --- T.S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi

 

What the Wise Men Forgot

 

After all that taxing travel, for her

to find no inn at the end of the trail

in labor, left-hand kneading doughy ankles,

the right cupping a spine skewered on pain,

 

she surely must have welcomed that last turn

of her travail,  now matured in spasm

strong enough to expel a mewling head

amid indifferent asses and manure,

 

a place where blood and afterbirth clot straw

and dirt to taunt her magnificent plot:

fierce song of toppled thrones, the hungry fed,

the poor avenged, comeuppance for the rich.

“Later for all that,” she thought. “Words must wait

for my flesh to heal and for his to grow.”  Amen.

Advent Devotion 11

Love in a Plain Brown Wrapper

By Mera Corlett

 

Nehemiah 8:10   Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

 

An apple. An orange. A candy bar.  At nighttime worship on the Sundaybefore Christmas, those were the benediction after all the churchy things were over. There’d been angels donning tinsel haloes, shepherds in bathrobes bathed in candlelight as a narrator told the biblical story “by heart.” There’d be carols picked out on an old upright piano. Sunday School classes had drawn names weeks earlier. Just after they’d been handed out, there’d be jingle bells outside the church doors. Enter: Santa Claus! He’d hand out plain, brown-paper sacks to every child of God. It was said in hushed tones that some member of the congregation provided those sacks. Imagine! Someone in our little country church with enough money to see no one went away empty! I speculated it must have been a wealthy farm owner. When I reached the age of accountability regarding Santa, I learned “Miss” Fannye Wallace, one-room-school-teacher who later became elementary principal, was behind those sacks. (She was also the church superintendent, a pretty extraordinary thing for a woman in the 1960s.) Why, “Miss” Fannye wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination!  She just loved God, loved children (of all ages) and gave from her heart.

 

I was brought up to believe true wealth was measured in generosity. Gifts given, however humble, were reminders of the best Gift ever given.  That plain-brown wrapper was metaphor for a straw strewn manger. The fruit and candy bar were bounty found in the bottom of the bag.  This season, surrounded by della Robbia, may we be reminded of the bounty of God’s love. May we give and receive in the Spirit of graciousness. And, may we ponder the mystery that multiplies the beneficence found in an apple, an orange, a candy bar, and a manger.

 

Gracious and Generous God, Teach us to be more and more like You. Amen.

Advent Devotion 10

No Fear in Love

By Eugina Robertson

 

I John 4:18    There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

 

Last year during Advent, after reading about seeing the world like a child hanging upside down from monkey bars, I had an interesting conversation about how most children today don't even get that experience. Many playgrounds, including the one at the daycare where I work  had them removed because they were too dangerous.  I also noticed that some other playground equipment that I loved as a child had also been deemed too dangerous, such as the small merry go rounds and teeter totters. Even some of the children at the daycare have complained, there is nothing to do on the playground but swing and that gets boring after a while . 

 

 I find it sad that children are growing up without the opportunities to explore the world from different perspectives and new ways.  That was the fun of playing as a child that when you grow up you can remember fondly because you will never have that same freedom to play as when you are a child. I understand the adult fears of keeping our children safe but at what cost. Wes Moore has often quoted his younger sister who said, "To me hell would be God showing me all the things I could have accomplished if I had only tried."

 

I pray that perfect love will cast out all fear, so we will not be afraid to try. Amen.

Advent Devotion 9

The Waiting Responsible Father

By L. Lee Whitlock

 

Luke 12:32  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

 

The Greek word for “flock”, ποίμνιον (poimnion), appears just five times in the New Testament (Luke 12:32, Acts 20:28,29, 1 Peter 5:2,3). It is a word that a grandfather might have used addressing his grandchildren. It was also used for Christ’s disciples.  I understand the sentiment. When Jenny and Cortney were babies, I could discern their different cries: Feed me; Change me; Pay Attention to Me. I loved all three. My favorite was the latter, especially late at night. I would pick them up, pat their backs, and they would nestle their heads between my neck and shoulder.

Bill Thomason in his wonderful book Real Life Real Faith notes: “G-d simply wants us, sins and all….” (59) Indeed! G-d wants to give us, His children, His flock, all that He has. For all of my daughters’ cries, it was my good pleasure to give them the same. Bill makes a startling claim: it is G-d’s responsibility to do so! He is not responsible because He has to be, He is responsible because He wants to be.  We know our responsibilities as Christians, but as Bill points out G-d is the Loving Father, and like all loving earthly parents, it is our responsibility to love, nurture, and provide for our children. Remember the Prodigal? The Good Father waits, looking into the distance, for the son to come home so He can give him good gifts: robe, ring, fatted calf, party! That’s Father Love. At every juncture, victories and defeats, when I began returning from the Far Country of sin, G-d has been waiting for me holding out all the good graces that my Father who art in heaven wanted me to have. He is always at the edge of His Kingdom, eyes toward the distance, waiting to give us His Kingdom.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, thank You for being our responsible Parent. Thank you for hearing and answering our cries. We were hungry, and You fed us: thirsty for the Living Water, and You gave us drink; naked in our sinful ways, and You clothed us with forgiveness; sick, and You comforted us; prisoners to our addictions, and You released us. Most of all, we were strangers to Your Kingdom, and you invited us to come in and be sons and daughters and inherit the gifts of the Kingdom, and found joy in the fact that it was Your good pleasure to do all of these things. In the name of Our Father, as sons and daughters of the Kingdom, we give You Thanks. Amen.

Advent Devotion 8

Two Sides of the Same Cloth

By Kevin Corlett

 

John 3:16   For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, so that everyone who believes in that Child may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

Matthew 2:11  … and when they had opened their treasures, they presented the child gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

On Friday nights when I was twelve, I would watch the television show, Kung Fu.  I found the teachings of the Shaolin masters to be interesting and, sometimes, applicable to parts of my life.  I was attracted to Caine’s pursuit of peace and his desire to follow this path.  Each week, he would help those he met on his journey.  Recently, I discovered that the show is back on cable TV at two in the morning.  In the early hours one morning, I watched an episode that focused on serving others and being served by them.  After teaching young Caine about service through the example of serving Caine and being served by Caine, the master wrapped the lesson up with this statement: “Serving and being served are two folds on the same cloth.”

I confess I always seemed to get the message about serving; however, I have often had difficulty being served by others.  The message I received from my parents was to not depend on others, to rely solely on myself in order to avoid being let down or manipulated.  I am still trying to unlearn that message.  When I saw this Kung Fu episode, I started to think about who exemplifies both sides of service and thought about Jesus. 

Christ provides the full example of service throughout his life.  As an infant, just as when we were infants, he needed nurturance.  The story of the magi is a clear example of persons gifting Jesus.  Later, as he moved closer and closer to the cross, he allowed his disciples to serve him.  Mary’s extravagance in washing his feet is only one instance.  Giving and receiving are important elements of this and all seasons. I realize if I do not allow or ask for help, I am denying the very joy to others that I feel when I am of service. 

    

Most Holy Jesus, In this season as we celebrate your birth, let us remember you came as servant to a world in need.  May we claim the truth in knowing that serving and being served are two folds of the same cloth.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 7

The Natal Cross

By Dale Tucker

 

Matthew 2:2 Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.

Colossians 1:19-20 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Above the choir stands an important symbol of the Christian faith.  Actually it is two symbols--the star and the cross--combined into one prophetic symbol.  The wise men from the east are seeking the King of the Jews who has been born and they have come to worship him.   What happened afterwards must have been confusing to many people.  These astrologers see a sign of importance and promise and follow it, probably thinking to see an infant king living in a palace but they end up at a humble house in a backwater town. (Don't confuse the shepherds finding him in a manger with this which happened later) And then they are warned to return another way to their homes.  Herod sought a potential threat and tried to eliminate it.   During this Advent season, we also recognize the promise of the star--He is coming!  We say "Wise men still seek him." 

But, of course, there is more to the symbol and the story.  We would not be in this church without both the birth symbolized by the star and Christ's death symbolized by the cross.   His death and its meaning are also confusing.  Why would a father send his son to die for others?  Of course we have seen that when sons go off to war and we see afterwards the pride and the sorrow of parents whose child has paid the "ultimate price."   We can reflect upon what was going through the minds of the Father and the Son, not to mention mother Mary.  But the death of one human (yet God's son) that covers the guilt of all present and future sinners.   Even we in the church still try to wrap our heads around that mystery.

Promise and sacrifice all in one symbol.  Yes, we are waiting for His birth during this time, but we are aware of the rest of the story and what it means to those who follow Him.

May we always reflect on both the promise and the sacrifice and how this has changed the lives of millions through the years.  Let us be like the magi from the east and seek Him.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 6

Mourning and Dancing

By Brittani Bair

 

Ecclesiastes 3:4  A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

At 2:30 am the morning of November 9th, 2016 I turned off the Live CNN Election Results and cried myself to sleep. In the morning I realized I had held out hope longer than many. In fact, it still bothers me as I write this, that six precincts in Philadelphia have not reported and Michigan is only at 96%.

 

For some in our country, in our churches, and in our families, November 9th was a time to laugh and dance for joy. But for me, November 9th was a day to weep. Not only did the election not go as I had hoped, but a longtime pillar on our congregation, Tom Sherwood passed away on Election Day. 

 

As I sat through Tom's funeral the following Saturday morning, it occurred to me how much I had been needing to grieve the events of the week. I needed to grieve not only the passing of such a kind and gentle person from our midst; who greeted me on Sunday mornings coming from youth Sunday school in the West tower to worship in the Sanctuary and handed me nearly 1000 church bulletins over the years; but I needed to grieve the other events of November 8th as well.

 

I pondered what it would be like to observe a funeral service for the dreams I'd been dreaming of for a woman as President of the United States, for better healthcare, for solace for refugees, for cleaner air and water and all the things I'd hoped Hillary would bring if elected. I felt truly blessed by Tom's funeral, which was a beautiful celebration of a life well-lived and also an opportunity to cry into my sleeve when Bill Johnson talked about Tom Sherwood handing out bulletins in that "second balcony" above.

 

As we move into Advent, a time of waiting for the Christ-child, let us take time to weep for what needs to be mourned, and dance for what needs to be celebrated. Let us prepare to fight when it is time to defend others and embrace our fellow Americans when it is time to come together. Let us give a handshake and a word of welcome at the door when it is time to enter worship. And when Christmas finally arrives, may we be prepared to welcome Jesus into our hearts anew.

 

God of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, grant us each of these blessings during this time of Advent waiting. May this time ready us to be transformed by the baby in the manger. Amen.