First Church of 

PHILADELPHIA   and surrounding area. Located in suburban Wyndmoor, PA

      the Brethren

  Sermons Current Church News Calendar Pastor's Page

Home
About the Brethren
About First Church
The Congregation
Staff
Calendar
Directions
Contact Us

 

 

 

PASTOR'S PAGE - THE WORD FROM KEVIN

 

 

Something to Read - April 2010

As we move into a preaching series on First Samuel, I would invite you to read along in commentary that will make the journey a bit more interesting and potent. 

Walter Brueggemann’s commentary in the Interpretation series is a good entry point into the world of First Samuel. There is enough detail that even if you’ve spent some time with First Samuel you won’t be bored. At the same time, if you are relatively new to the text of First Samuel, this volume will be a good starting point.  Brueggemann’s style is readable and insightful.  If you are interested in a copy, speak to me and we will order copies for those who would like one.   If you would like a more technical commentary to plumb the depths of First Samuel, I would be glad to suggest an alternative guide to the text that will push beyond what Brueggemann will do in his volume.

 

April 2010

We have just finished a series of three worship services with the Drexel Hill Church of the Brethren and the Ambler Church of the Brethren.  My prayer is that you found these opportunities for worship and fellowship both meaningful and rewarding. It has been a blessing working with Christopher Montgomery and Brandon Grady in preparing and executing these worship services. 

At a very real level these are about more than just having a few Lenten Worship Services and a Love Feast together.  Beyond this there is a question about what it means for these congregations, and other Church of the Brethren congregations in the Philadelphia area, to do mission and ministry together.  After all, we could continue to do things as they have been for a number of years: each congregation operating as an isolated individual body, and I am sure that each of the congregations would be just fine.  But is that really the vision of ministry that we see played out in the Acts of the Apostles? Is that the example we see in the disciples that Jesus called?  Is that what we see in the record of the early church?  Is that what we see in the history of our denomination?  No, it is not. 

The first Christians in Jerusalem held all things in common. The gentile churches in the Roman world sent money back to aid the church at Jerusalem, and people often understood themselves not as members of a specific congregation but as members of the body of Christ.  All too often in the contemporary world we see ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, but see that body being comprised of the local congregation we attend.  Yet, what would happen if we began to see ourselves not primarily as members of “Philadelphia First Church of the Brethren”, but as members of the Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia?  What would happen if we saw ourselves has having part in the ministry at Amber, Drexel Hill, Germantown, Geiger Memorial, Wilmington or Hatfield?  What would happen if we began to share resources and talents among the congregations for the good of the whole Body of Christ?  What could we accomplish if we worked together as the Body of Christ in Philadelphia? Could we create a BVS position, take part in training a Bethany Seminary Student as a summer intern, could we help congregations with ministry and tasks, could we even think of planting a new church in the Philadelphia area?  Of course we could do all that and more. I am convinced that together we can accomplish a great deal more than any of us could do alone. 

Blessings, Kevin

 

 

Something to Read -March 2010

 

A friend of the family who is also a retired  Church of the Brethren pastor has recently published a new book. 

The book is described on the publisher’s web site in the following manner:  “This book examines the widely held belief that Christ will return to the earth at an appointed time to destroy evil and to gather His children into eternal life. The author cautions against date setting. Instead, he calls attention to Christ’s presence even now. Christ has come, He is present, and He is coming. Watch and pray lest you miss His coming.”

The book includes a wonderful look into the spiritual life of the author, Noah Martin.  We will have several copies available for the congregation to purchase that the author has made available to us. 

I highly recommend this book for a useful look into the issue of the end times.  It is very readable and quick moving and it was an overall delightful read.

 

March 2010

As we continue to look at the development of Trinitarian theology in the second century AD, we are compelled to consider the contributions of the Apologists.  It is important to remember that the primary concern of the Apologists was not to develop Christian theology, but to present Christianity to a pagan Roman world and to defend Christianity against the charge of atheism. 

Much of their work centered on what becomes known as Logos theology.  In this development, the Greek philosophical term Logos plays a significant role in their work.  This terminology was not new to the church in the second century but it seems to have been brought to bear on the concerns of the Church through the work of Jewish theologians.  The term Logos was known to Judaism primarily though the works of Philo of Alexandria. 

Philo taught that God had spoken to the prophets through the Logos and that the Logos had been the subject of the various OT theophanies.  So, what then is Logos?  The Logos was understood as the “reason” in which all humanity took part.  The Greek term means both “word” and “reason.” 

According to the Apologists Christ is the Logos, preexistent before the incarnation as the Father’s mind or thought.  We see here one of the key developments of Trinitarian thought. That the Christ was not created and a part of creation, but rather was co-existent with the Father.  In Christ, the Logos became incarnate, and we hear in this a clear reference to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “And the Word became flesh.”  The incarnation was not the beginning of his being, as was also testified by John, that the Word was in the beginning with God.  The Logos as revealed in the creation and redemption is the Christ, the Father’s expression or extrapolation. 

In this fashion the Apologists were able to maintain both the pretemporal unity of Christ with the Father and the Son’s manifestation in time and space.  They found a clear way to maintain the Jewish understanding of one God that allowed also for the divinity of the Christ.  At several points the Apologists draw on the work of contemporary philosophy to make their point. This makes a great deal of sense as they shared the Gospel with the pagan Roman world.  They found the Stoic distinction between the Logos endiathetos (the immanent Word) and the Logos prophorikos (the expressed Word) and even used these terms in their work (e.g. Theophilus of Antioch in Apology to Autolycus 22).

One of the chief concerns of the Apologists was to maintain the monotheism of the faith.  They also strived to show that the Father was not diminished by a portioning of divine substance.  Consistently they used the biblical expression of son to speak of the Logos.  They did not speak of the Logos as creature but as offspring through generation.  In this fashion they did not start to speak of Jesus as the chief angel or some other member of the created order.

 

Blessings,

Kevin

 

Something to Read- December 2009/January 2010

A book that I will be spending some time with in the new year will be “Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts.”   Unceasing Worship is written by Harold M. Best who was for years the dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College. 

Harold Best’s book was recommended to us by the  new pastor at Drexel Hill Church of the Brethren, Christopher Montgomery.  Congregation worship is very important to Pastor Montgomery and he recommend this book as a good tool for those wanting to think about worship in the Church today.

Feel free to explore this book with me. But if you don’t have time now, put it on your reading list for the near future.  I think you will find it helpful and thought provoking.

The second century saw the continued development of the doctrine of the Trinity.  One of the driving themes that we see is the need to maintain the unity of God- that we have one God and not three.  The church inherited from the synagogue the clear and distinct revelation of God as one.

The Apostolic Fathers continued to uphold this central element of the revelation of God.  They affirmed the unity of God, and kept the theology of the church in the monotheistic tradition of Judaism.  They emphasized one God who is creator of the material universe; examples of their work can be seen in 1 Clemet 8, 19, 20, Didache 10, Shepherd of Hermas, and the Visions 1.1.3.  It is important to remember that their work did not develop in isolation.  Why mention that God is the creator, for example?  In doing so it perseveres the understanding that creation is good and is indeed God’s intention, and defends the church against Gnostic tendencies in their culture.  Gnostic beliefs understood that the material universe was evil by its nature and not what God intended.

The Apostolic Fathers of the second century also provided us with evidence that they were not only aware of the Trinitarian formula, but that they employed the formula in their writings. Examples of these can be found in 1 Clement 46, 58; Ignatius’s Letter to the Magnesians 13, the Letter to the Ephesians 9.  While they may not have suggested a fully working Trinitarian doctrine, they did clearly employ formula and stressed the unity of God.

To what extent did they understand that God as tripartite we cannot state with a great degree of certainty.  However, Christ is often called “our God” and prayer to Christ is assumed (Letter to the Ephesians 18, 20.)  Clearly, they understood Jesus Christ as God, and not only referred to him as God but prayed to him as well.  As the Apostolic Fathers of the second century displayed, they understood that God was not a simple being, but complex.  This complexity further complicated by the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was regarded as inspiring the prophets (2 Clem. 3, 9) but the role of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead was yet undefined.

There is clearly some confusion as to the nature and role of Jesus in the Godhead as well.  His divine element is understood often to be preexistent spirit, and thus we will see the development of doctrine of the Incarnation.  However, at the same time, there were even attempts to interpret Christ as a supreme angel (Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes 8.3.3 and 9.1.1), and this is best understood as an attempt to maintain the unity of God, and to sustain the monotheistic understanding of God.

Blessings, Kevin        

 

 

Something to Read - November 2009

Looking for something interesting to read over the next few weeks? I’d encourage you to look at a book from one of the most influential theologians of the last century, John  Howard Yoder. 

Yoder, a Mennonite as you may have guessed, did a great deal of writing.  He taught Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.  If you’d like to know more about Yoder, you can read his article at Wikipedia. 

Yoder is suggesting in this work a much different understanding of history that is the one often depicted in the church of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.  You may not agree with Yoder, but it is worth your time and effort to read this book which came from a series of essays and lectures on the subject.

 November 2009

One of the central doctrines of the church is that of the Trinity.  It is central to our theology and our practice, and yet, at the same time, I believe it is one of the most misunderstood and least comprehended doctrines of the church.  In the next few articles I hope to broaden our understanding and appreciation of the Trinity.  I pray that this will be both helpful and edifying for you, and an exercise that will deepen your faith and commitment to our Lord and God.

We will begin our examination of the doctrine of the Trinity by looking at the Biblical background of this doctrine.  It is important to state at the outset, the term Trinity does not appear in the scriptures - neither the New or Old Testaments.  However, there are some very specific things that inform our understanding of the Trinity found in both the Old and New Testaments.  One of the key understandings of the Trinity, one God revealed in three persons, is that God is one and that there is only one God.  The Old Testament clearly assumes the unity of God, that there is one God and only one God.  The Old Testament informs our understanding of the monotheistic nature of our faith and theology.  This primary attribute of God is the reason that we do not have three gods in our theology.  And while it may have been simpler to develop a theology that has three gods, it would have indicated that Christianity is not connected to the God of the Old Testament, and that Jesus and his disciples could not have remained Jewish in any sense.

The New Testament holds to the unity of God. While it does not explicitly state the Trinity, it is alluded to on many occasions.  While affirming the understanding of one God, the New Testament presents the formula for the Trinity, and it does so in numerous locations.  They come in two primary formats: the twofold and threefold patterns

The twofold or Binitarian formulas are found in the following: Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 4:14, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:20, 1 Timothy 1:2, 1 Peter 1:21 and 2 John 1:13.  Galatians 1:1-2a gives a nice understanding of the twofold pattern.  Paul writes, “1Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers with me.”

The threefold, or Trinitarian formulas, are also displayed in the New Testament. The following passages will show this threefold pattern:  Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1 Corinthians 12:4ff, Galatians 3:11-14, Hebrews 10:29 and 1 Peter 1:2.  Matthew 28:18-20 may well be one of the best known of these threefold patterns.  The apostle recounts the words of Jesus, “18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."   Clearly both patterns exist in the writings of the New Testaments. Arguments about which is the older, which is the earliest format are much bigger than which was written first. This is because within the Gospel of Matthew, for example, there are traditions that predate the earliest of Paul’s letters.  It is fair to say that both two fold and three fold patterns are present early in the Christian tradition, and there is good evidence that Jesus himself gave us the pattern of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What we do not find is a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity.  This doctrinal development will come as the church continues to mature and wrestle with the revelation of God in three persons, and yet retain the unity of One God.                                                                            

 

Blessings,

Pastor Kevin

 

Something to Read - October 2009

There are several good books out today, some will talk about how bad the church is, and yet there are a few talking about why we need the church.  The following is a short bit from a book review in Christianity Today. “A steady stream of books with titles like, Quitting Church, Life After Church, and They Like Jesus But Not the Church show that some of the church's staunchest critics come from within. Many Christians advocate an ecclesiology in which church is understood merely as the plural of Christian; hanging out at a café talking about Jesus is just as valid an expression of "doing church" as traditional models, if not more valid, because it is more relevant to the culture.”

As the nights get longer, find a good book.  This is one I think you will enjoy.

 

 October 2009

 In a recent conversation with another Church of the Brethren pastor, I heard the comment that the Church of the Brethren could use a greater focus on doctrine.  My first reaction was yes, that is true.  I began looking for a recent work on Church of the Brethren theology or doctrine, and most of what I found was either historical or sociological, not theological.  It, in some ways, comes back to the point of what we as members of the Church of the Brethren believe.

That seems to be a question that we as a denomination have been working to answer for at least two decades, perhaps longer.  So, what is it that we do believe?  I don’t suppose that I will be able to answer that with a great deal of clarity, nor do I have the authority to speak for the whole of the Church of the Brethren.

What I can do though is to begin looking at some of the core Christian beliefs, some being very large, like the nature of God or working to define the Trinity or the person of Jesus.  So, over the next few months I will be exploring these ideas referencing the Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments), the Patristics (the church fathers), Anabaptist writings, Pietistic writings, and the history of the Church of the Brethren.

If you have a specific question that you would like me to address over the next few months, please let me know and I will be glad to work at an answer.  I won’t claim to know it all, nor do I propose to be able to answer all the questions with a definitive answer.  In some cases, my answer will only match the clarity that the church achieved on any specific issue.  In many cases, the church has not reached any real sense of clarity, so my answers will reflect that reality. 

As I have been reflecting on this process, I chose to begin with the Trinity.  I suppose in many ways this is one of the most difficult and ambiguous doctrines of the church.  The ancient heresy of  Modalism has reappeared in the modern church. I only call it a heresy because the ancient church did, and it does not mean that those who hold to this position are not Christ followers. But it really implies that their understanding of a doctrine is beyond the scope of what is traditionally considered orthodox Christian doctrine.  In this case, that of Modalism, the issue seems to arise often when people attempt to come to terms with the notion of the Trinity.  Modalism is defined along these lines.  There is only one God.  This is something that is in itself orthodox.  And in order to preserve the unity of God, God is understood to appear in three modes or personas, as Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  The unity of God is preserved, but at the expense of the unique personalities of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  So, rather than profess one God in three persons, the profession is centered in one God known in three modes of forms, but with no real distinction between them.  This is often rooted in Scripture. As the Gospel of John asserts Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  Yet, what is lost in this is the humanity of Jesus.  Jesus is then either adopted, and never has any divine aspect and the virgin birth is then purely human.  It also leaves us with God possessing the man Jesus in the mode of Christ.  But, as we come to the cross, if it is only Jesus who dies, then it is just a man and not the Son of God, or we have God dead for three days.  The problems continue to mount.  The best solution to all of this is found in the traditional understanding of the Trinity.  That will be our topic for next month.

Blessings,                                                                                                    

Kevin

 

 

Something to Read

I have two books for you this month.  One comes from our District Executive Craig Smith.  It’s called Every Monday: Finding God on Tough Days.  Craig’s book is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel’s, and Target Books, as well at Brethren Press.  If you would like a signed copy you can contact Craig directly by emailing Craig at: CraigSmith.Everymonday@gmail.com.

The second is another with Brethren roots, and has a local connection.  It is published by CLC in Fort Washington,  PA.  Larry Dixon comes to us highly recommended by the publisher. I’m sure that you will enjoy both books.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 Kevin

September 2009

Today I read an article that gives me pause.  It is not so much the current project mentioned in this article, but rather where this line of research will lead.  To give you some of the flavor of this brief article, let me share a portion of it with you. “On Friday, controversial biologist Dr Craig Venter said that the creation of artificial life was mere months from taking place.”  Creation of artificial life, what does that mean? In this case it is the manipulation of the genetic material of bacteria and yeast. And while that in and of itself is not what disturbs me, it is what will come of this in the future.  Today we create a new species of yeast with genetic material from a bacteria.  When will this lead to new forms of synthetic life?

Technology impacts our lives and the environment of our world in ways we do not always anticipate or plan.  How many of us would have anticipated that the internet would become the new Sears Catalogue?  This tool for research and communication has become a new retail machine, (Amazon, for example) along with a large number of on-line retailers.  It has also created a huge boom in the pornography industry, as well as facilitating communications of terrorist organizations and various criminal elements. 

But, what is the impact of this on our lives?  One impact is an increased amount of screen time.  By that I mean time we spend in front of screens, be they TV’s or computer monitors.  What does this do to our personal lives, our relationships and our families?  In a time when we should be developing deeper levels of intimacy and connectedness, we continue to see that people are lonely.  Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with friends from high school and college, and to the extent that they post what is going on in their lives, I can follow their daily tale.  But, you see the problem is that amidst all the photos, videos and text, I haven’t really talked to them.  And unless we take time to talk, in some fashion, their lives essentially become a long running daily story, a form of entertainment, not unlike TV shows.  So, while we can blog our devotions and post our daily stories, it is not living in community.  It is not living  and developing a deep and lasting level of intimate communication that binds us to one another.

This is one of the  points where our faith must come into contact with our technology.  Technology is not the problem.  The problem begins when we allow our lives to become compartmentalized.  When our lives reach the point of compartments, each section sealed off from the other, it develops within us a fractured life, one without integrity.  Our faith needs to be blended into all that we do, from how we interact with the clerk at the grocery to how we drive our cars and how we treat our neighbors.  When faith is reduced to an activity on Sunday mornings it becomes useless and meaningless. 

So,  how does our faith interact with the creation of artificial life?  We should be asking how will this artificial life impact the world?  What will its effect be on people, on the environment and so forth?  Does it end there?  Is there more that we need to ask? If such a venture would lead to crating intelligent artificial life, does that life deserve the protection of our laws, our religious traditions and our heritage?

Our faith needs to interact and inform all of our living.  Christ needs to be Lord of all that we do, not only for a few hours on Sunday morning.  Anything less is really pointless.  Claiming Jesus as Lord and not being subject to the Lord is a falsehood of the greatest kind. 

Blessings, Kevin                                

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something to Read

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a very good read. It is not devotional, nor is it going to open new doors of spiritual enlightenment, at least not intentionally.

What this book will help you to do is to understand American religious history in a way that will allow you to see more clearly into the troubles that the church faces in the 21st century.

Noll is an engaging author who has a very good understanding of a broad range of North American religious history and theology. He very helpfully engages the topic that creates the split between the mainline churches and the more traditional evangelical churches. It will also illuminate some of the tensions which exist in the Church of the Brethren today.

July and August 2009

Often we try to locate spirituality in some sort of other-worldly place where the physical is not present or relevant. The disembodies ethereal notion may indeed be spiritual, but it is not the primary Biblical Spirituality in any sense. Consider if you would Romans 12:1-2. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will." This is not Paul saying seek martyrdom, but rather to live out our profession of faith bodily. Unless our faith is embodied in what we do, we are only giving intellectual assent to an idea without doing what it calls for us to be about.

Jesus did not just preach and teach. He also did what he called others to do. If we say one thing and do another, we are only presenting a falsehood, we are being hypocrites and liars. In order to do what we claim to value, we much also have the habits of mind to enforce them, to live out our convictions. Habits of mind are important. Paul calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I will contend that this is a partnership between oneself and the Holy Spirit. We cannot of our own volition decide to be faithful followers of Jesus, nor can we progress in spiritual development without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I would ask you to consider what it means to think, to have habits of the mind. It is centered in the mental disciplines we develop. Here a deepening walk with Christ will mature or we will falter, if not fail. We often allow our minds to go to favorite places, to favorite thoughts. Some are helpful and some are destructive. Where do we go when we are alone with our thoughts? What dominates our thinking? What have we been filling our minds with as we move through the day?

Begin to examine what fills your mind, what you read, watch, what you listen to and thus fill your mind. Take stock of what goes in, of what then fills your thoughts. If we fill our minds with things of low quality, poor in character, what will become of our thinking, our lives in thought? It is here that we will either follow Christ or follow the culture in which we live. Our bodies will only do what we have placed in our minds. If we decide to live sinfully, it will dominate us to the point that we forget how to do anything else. And then when we become serious about our faith and attempt to reform our behavior, our habits of mind and body are so entrenched in the old patterns we can only struggle against the rut in which we are stuck. It is at this point we can only rely on the Holy Spirit to free us from the habits of death that dominate our living. Once free from the rut, we will want to, tend to, step back into the old ways. It is here that our transformed minds will need the new habits of mind that lead to life.

If we are not trapped in the habits of death, but often flirt with them , it is time to take control of our thinking and work to develop those habits of mind that lead to life.

Blessings,

Kevin

 

 

Theology for the Community of God  By Stanley J. Grenz is not a book that I have  had the chance to read, but it is on my list for summer reading.  The reviews of this book suggests that it is very good. This is a second edition and it is presently available in paper back.  Now, why would I suggest a book I have not yet had a chance to read? Because of the subject matter and the reputation of the book and the author.  I will be reading this book very soon.  This book helps us to think about why community is important for us as Christians, why it is important for the church doing this in a systematic fashion that will help us, as a congregation, to think more intentionally about what we do and why we do it as the body of Christ

 MAY 2009

 

There was a time when among the Brethren  there was no Sunday School, and this was true for some time after the Sunday School movement began in earnest.  The reason why we didn’t have Sunday School was because there were many who feared that with the advent of Sunday School the primary responsibility for training children in faith and practice would shift from the family to the church. N

Now some may ask, what would be wrong with such a shift?  The question then becomes one of time.  How much time does the church have to train children in faith and practice?  If we assume an hour of Sunday School, an hour of worship, and a midweek meeting of an hour, that is a total of three hours training time in a week.  In the grand scheme of things that is not much time in the course of a week.  It is less than half an hour a day if we would translate that into daily family time or education.  Would you be happy with only a half an hour of educational instruction a day for school?   Why would we be happy with only the equivalent of a half hour a day of training in faith and practice?

Before Sunday School became common in the Church of the Brethren, most families had their own times of worship.  It was a regular feature of most families.  But now, the problem is that Sunday Schools are not what they once were.  It was not uncommon in past decades for parents to send their children to Sunday School while they stayed at home.  This rarely happens in the modern world.  And in the church we find fewer and fewer robust Sunday School programs.  So who is training our next generation in faith and practice?  If you watch a ball game with your child, you may actually have provided more training in sports viewing than your child received in faith and practice this week.  Perhaps the question becomes one of what we value. What is it that we have handed on to the next generation- our passion for an activity, education, our faith or our bad attitudes and prejudices?

Perhaps I should reframe the question.  What is it that we want to pass on to the next generation in the church?  What is central to our practice of the faith and what is simply our personal preference?  There are non-negotiable points if we are going to be followers of Jesus.  Some of these non-negotiable points include: a triune understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit;  Jesus death and resurrection for our forgiveness and eternal life; the necessity of the body of Christ for our faith and growth as a follower of Jesus; the understanding that the scriptures are our rules for faith and practice.  The type of music we use in worship is not central. Some like traditional hymns, other prefer contemporary music, while others favor Gregorian chants and other ancient forms of worship music.  The point is that these musical forms help us in worship, but the style of music is not a non-negotiable. 

Spend some time contemplating what it is that you have received from previous generations in the churches life, and then consider what it is that you would like to pass on to the next generation.  If we approach this in a ad hoc fashion it will result in the next generation of believers being only partially formed, and lacking in the necessary training to take up their place in the church’s life.

 

Blessings,

Kevin

 

 

Sometimes there are books that speak to a large group of people and at other times there are books that resonate to a smaller group, even if they were not intended to do so.  Richard Lamb writes a book that is helpful for any Christian, regardless of their church background. But it is also a book that will resonate with Anabaptists, and specifically with Brethren.  The very core of this book is centered around the idea that you and I are best served by following Christ, not as individually but as part of a community.  Alexander Mack did not start a journey alone, but rather with a company of others committed to being followers of Jesus, regardless of the potential for persecution.  I encourage you to pick up this book by Richard Lamb, and in the process of reading and prayer, to recommit yourself to following after Jesus, not alone, but with a company of friends, with committed believers who support each other, challenge each other and make the journey of faith together.

 April 2009

Easter is upon us and spring is breaking out all around us.  It is time observe some very time honored traditions in the family of faith.  We will observe Love Feast on Maundy Thursday, a Tenebrae Service on Good Friday, and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.  We do not mark these observances simply because our ancestors in faith did them, but because they help us, in the present to honor Christ Jesus and to foster a deeper relationship between Christ and ourselves and between us and our neighbors.  There is a real sense that you and I cannot develop a deep life in faith without the aid and support of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That is not to say that as believers we cannot achieve some level of spiritual maturity alone. But it is to say that we will not advance far in our faith development without the aid of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Faith is not a solitary venture, it is a community venture. When we are baptized we become part of the body of Christ, part of Jesus’ church.  We are not baptized to be alone.  There will be points in our journey when solitude and silence will be part of our development in faith, but one does not develop with solitude and silence alone. 

One example comes from feet washing.  Jesus provided us the example. He washed his disciples’ feet, and so we follow his example.  Washing feet and having ones feet washed displays the role that community takes in our faith development.  We take time to wash the feet of those around us. They may well be people that we have had conflict with in the past, or even are presently having conflict with, and yet we wash and are washed.  It may serve as a reminder that many of our conflicts are petty, and that even the more serious of these conflicts pale in comparison to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  At the heart of this act is a willingness to forgive and a willingness to receive forgiveness. 

If we attempt to do faith independently, we put ourselves in the position of focusing our faith on our particular selfish wants and desires.  But, in the company of friends, seeking Christ together, we are constantly reminded that this journey is not fundamentally about what I want or think or need.  It is ultimately about Christ Jesus and his church. When we are committed to faith as a community venture, we find that the success of the whole pushes some of our selfish tendencies out of the way, and we begin to find that life is richer and more vibrant as we learn to live and practice faith as part of the fellowship. 

 

 

Blessings,

Pastor Kevin

 

 

I know that many of you are always looking for something good to read.  I’d like to recommend a book to you. This one is not new, it was published in 2007.  The author is a man by the name of William P. Young.  The book is called, “The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity.”

This book is considered by many to be a pivotal book in the lives of many people, much like significant Christian books of the past that have helped to share the culture of the church. If such reasons are not enough to read, or even reread this book, consider that it is a New York Times Bestseller with more than two million copies in print.

You may find it a bit unsettling at times and at other points very comfortable, like an old pair of shoes.  This is as it ought to be with faith stretching and comforting at one time.

Enjoy, Kevin

MARCH 2009

This year we will be taking a detour from the normal preaching schedule.  Typically we would observe Ash Wednesday and then move along with whatever preaching series we were in and then the Easter season would begin on Palm Sunday.  This year we are taking a journey though the season of Lent.  Lent in some ways is much like Advent, a time of preparation before the coming celebration of a Holy Day.  This year we will be observing Lent. It is a fast, but Lent is never observed on Sundays because the Lord’s day is always a celebration, even in a season of fasting.

Along these lines we will take a brief detour from the Acts of the Apostles and take a journey along with millions of other Christians around the world looking at the same scriptures in preparation for Easter.  My chief fear is that we will lose some continuity from the Acts of the Apostles, but I believe with a little effort we will regain momentum after Easter.

The tradition of Lent, and the reading of these scriptures on the Sundays preceding Easter, has a history that reaches back at least a thousand years, and many will contend it goes back even further into the history of the church.

           The observance of Lent began early in the history of the church. The practice evolved from three traditions: (1) the ancient paschal fast, which the earliest Christians practiced as a severe two-day fast before Easter; (2) the catechumanate—an intense process of preparation of new converts for baptism on Easter Sunday, and; (3) pre-Easter practices of the Order of the Penitents—people who had committed serious sins seeking forgiveness and restoration into the church.

           Baptism was the focus of early Lenten traditions. During the season—which varied in length—new converts fasted and were taught by church leaders in preparation for their baptism on Easter Sunday. Penitents and other church members showed solidarity with them by fasting as well. The pre-Easter season slowly evolved into a time when all believers remembered their baptismal vows through various forms of abstinence that included fasting.

           As you think about Lent, one of the ways you can deepen your walk of faith would be to renew you baptismal vows.  Spend some time reflecting about how your life in faith has progressed from the point of baptism until this point in time.  It is also a time to fast.  You can fast in the sense of not eating.  You can also fast from the world by reallocating your time so that you can intentionally pursue a deepened faith walk.

          It would also be a good time to consider service to those in need, above and beyond the normal things you do.  Spend a day in a soup kitchen, spend some time with a homeless shelter ministry, the options are seemingly endless.  It is to move us beyond our comfort zone, as Kierkegaard said, “The job of the church is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  If you are comfortable, embrace some affliction, do with less, give to others.  If you are afflicted, enjoy a time of refreshment and renewal.

Peace,

Kevin

 

 

February 2009

What a difference a day will make - yesterday snow, today sun. What will another day bring? There is a sense of that we like to be predictive about the future. Look at the extended weather forecast, and it is often less than accurate, but we go back and check it again and again. There is an image of irrational behavior in that, but it speaks to our desire to know what is coming, and our need to maintain an illusion of control and order.

Scripture speaks to our need to know, our desire to be in control, even when we don't have control, especially when we don't have control. Romans 8;28 reminds us, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." In all things God is working for our good. This is one of the sustaining principles we need to add to our view of the world. In all the trouble, heartache, pain, sorrow and discord, God is working for the good of those who love him. I know at times it does not seem that this is the case, the difficulty of the present moment is overwhelming and appears to be destructive. Yet behind this momentary pain is God's care for his people.

Here is the bigger picture. God cares for his people, just like any parent cares for his or her child. At times they much go through things that are painful in order to grow and mature. Would you want to spend any time with a child who always got its way and never had any discipline? Often we want to approach our relationship with God in this type of fashion. God only give me what I want, when I want it, and if you don't I will be unhappy, cranky and miserable. God allows us to go through the pain and difficulty of miserable days so that we will mature and grow.

Admittedly, there are difficulties with this line of reasoning. There are points where it becomes difficult to maintain that a specific set of events are directec by God to mature us. Illness, murder, war, and a variety of injuries inflicted on us by the sin of others are not always best seen as discipline from the hand of God. At times these are the direct result of other people's sin or of illness beyond our control. However, because we live in a fallen, sinful world we will suffer the consequences of these realities. While these things may not be from the hand of God, it does not mean that God is unable to use them to bring about maturity in us and provides some measure of redemption from these sins that caused events of pain and suffering.

Scripture does not say that in most things God is working for our good. Rather, it says that in all things God is working for our good. So, as a difficult day comes, or a painful experience occurs, remember that even beyond the pain of the present, God is still working for our good, even if it is beyond our sight at this time. Know that God will ultimately redeem the event and use it for our good.

Blessings,

Kevin

 

 

 

December 2008 and January 2009

I hope you enjoy a blessed Christmas season, from Advent to Epiphany!   I know, we Brethren are often afraid of being too liturgical.  Some of this stems from the concern of being dependent on ritual and not being able to experience the free flowing expression of the Holy Spirit.  While we may not embrace a high liturgy of the more formal denominations, we have developed, over the years, our own liturgy.

We have a ritual, a pattern to our worship, that is anticipated and expected.  In truth we could easily function without our bulletins.  It is not that we do not have rituals, it is just that they are different. Within the ancient traditions of the church is a real and powerful telling of the story of Jesus, and of the church.  Take Advent for example: the readings of the gospel, the psalms, the Letters and the Old Testament that tell us the story of Jesus’ birth, his first advent and, at the same time, remind us of his second advent when Jesus returns. The telling of the Christmas story through Advent takes us from the announcement to Mary by the angel, to John the Baptist, to Jesus’ birth and the revelation to the common people of Israel, the shepherds. 

The Christmas season does not end with Christmas day. It continues on to Epiphany, with the coming of the wise men.  Now, this may not seem like a profound revelation in and of itself. We are accustomed to seeing the wise men, the three kings from the east, come to the manger, but the biblical account does not have the shepherds and the wise men there on the same night.  The shepherds come first, common people of Judea, the wise men come perhaps two years later, following his star.  The wise men from the east are not from Judea, they are gentiles.  They come and worship the king.  You see here a common pattern that appears later in the story of the church, to the Jew first and then to the gentiles.   From Jesus’ birth this has been the pattern of how the world would know Jesus, from the Jewish people, then the gentiles.

This is not the only gem hidden in the liturgy of Advent.  There are numerous others, just following the Bible readings in the liturgy will reveal the way that God has pointed to Jesus throughout the Old Testament. It will also display what God revealed to the church about the second advent of Jesus in the writings of the New Testament.  At the time of the Reformation there were a great amount of problematic practices in the church, in what was the Roman Catholic Church, and in what became the main branches of Protestantism.  We Brethren, part of the radical reformation, attempted to recreate, or perhaps to use a better term, renew the ancient church.  When looking at the Didache, an early church manual, for lack of a better description, you will see specific instruction on baptism, that often reflects early Brethren ideas on the subject.  Yet, in the zeal of the reformers to renew, purify or set right the church, there was much that was lost.  Especially for Protestants, it was almost as if the church flourished in the New Testament age and then jumped to the 1500’s  without anything happening in between.

All of this is a way of saying, perhaps it is not so bad a thing for us to be intentional about establishing or re-establishing our own Christmas traditions.  We will find many wonderful examples in the history of the church, and some of them may even be in the high formal liturgy of the ancient church.  After all, as Christians, the whole history of the church is ours, the best parts and parts we would rather not own.

 

Blessings,                                                                                                                             

Kevin

 

 

 

 

November 2008

We are in the fall, the season of harvest, the season of thanksgiving.  We gather at various points to offer our thanks to God for the blessings of the growing season, to give thanks for a good harvest, a good crop, healthy livestock, and healthy children.  Yet, many of us did not plant, and still fewer of us have livestock, but we can and do rejoice for healthy family members.  So, what is it we are to do with thanksgiving. We are not tied to the earth as we were when the majority of people depended on agriculture for their survival and employment.

We rejoice in the beauty of the season, the colors of fall, the leaves, the cool crisp days, but in so many ways we are disconnected from the earth, from the land, and from the cycle of the seasons.  A bad harvest, an early frost or a dry spring do not send us to our knees as they did our ancestors.  We may complain about higher prices at the grocery, but we are not tied to an early frost with hungry families, just an increase in the price of our orange juice.  The disconnection from the earth, from God’s creation, also severs us from the intimacy and dependence that tilling the soil fosters in ones heart with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

It does not in any fashion mean that we are now incapable of having a deep and significant relationship with the Triune God. It does, however, remove from us an age old rootedness in God’s creation that I suspect leaves us susceptible to a less rooted faith as well.  It clearly creates a layer of disconnect between ourselves and the parables of Jesus that are centered in the soil and the animals of creation.  Each technological advancement moves us to a greater degree of separation from God’s creation.  It may also build in us a greater degree of greed.

John Cassian speaks of the spirit of avarice, a deadly thought, a call to temptation, and it is one that needs to be mastered if we are to mature in our faith and attempt to follow after Jesus.  Cassian writes, “Our third conflict is with avarice, which we can call the love of money.  It attacks are from without and is not natural, and it does not have its source in the monk {believer} other than in the weakness of a corrupt and sluggish mind, often with the beginnings of renunciation poorly grasped and a lukewarm love of God laid as a foundation.  The other incitements to vice seem to be part of human nature and to have their sources as it were inborn in us.  They are, so to speak, deeply rooted in the flesh, are present almost at the moment of a person’s birth, and precede the ability to distinguish between good and evil.  Although they are the first to seize upon a person, they are conquered only after long effort.”(J. Cassian, The Institutes, p. 169).

To mature in faith is not an easy road to travel, but rather it is a narrow road that is  preceded by a narrow gate. It is hard to find and many miss it.  We are called to progress in our faith, to mature, to develop and to grow into the image of Christ Jesus.  It is possible to mature, to grow, but it does come with effort and intention.  Spiritual maturity does not happen accidentally, the Holy Spirit enables us, nurtures us, but we too have a part in the process.  We are called to be more, to grow up into the head, which is Christ Jesus, but often we become stalled, stuck, or distracted by the events of life and the pressures of the culture we live in.  However, for the intrepid soul, for the wild of heart, for the one who seeks to be Christ like, the path is open to us. But be warned the path is hard, the gate is narrow, and many will miss the gate.  Choose this day how you will move into the coming season of thanksgiving, with little change, stagnant but alive, or with a robust desire to be more fully Christ-like in all that we are.                                                                                                

 

Blessing, Pastor Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

October 2008

Did you ever wonder why we do this?  Did you ever wonder why we do church, and why we do it the way we do it?  It seems to be a reasonable question after all.  If we can do spirituality anywhere, and don’t really need any organized religion why bother?  I know we’ve been, at least for many of us, doing church for years.  We like it, for the most part.  We like singing, working together on projects and the like.  But at other times it is a lot of work, and sometimes it is not the most pleasant.  So, why do we do it?

Well, to be honest, we don’t really have any other option.  We need the body of Christ if we are to be faithful in our lives and living.  Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Part of this text explains the role of individuals, and this is to encourage each other to go to the meeting of the body of Christ, the gathering.  Apparently, at the time of the writing of this letter, some people had begun to question the need of going to the meeting.  It seems we still ask if we need to do this today.  The answer is still the same. We need to get to the gathering of the saints for worship.  Our individual worship is important but it will not replace the essential nature of being connected with other believers for worship, support and encouragement.  It is absolutely essential for us to be with other believers regularly for worship and fellowship if we want to maintain a healthy life in faith. 

There are no substitutes for gathering with believers.  You can read books listen to worship services on the radio or watch them on the TV or the Web, but in the end it is not the same.  While you may enjoy a good book, enjoy a sermon or worship service via some form of media, in the end a book can not pray with you, weep with you, laugh with you.  Even if you join in with the singing on the radio, you are not really worshiping with others, you are just singing along with a recorded event that has already taken place.  And while it indeed may be enjoyable, it is in no way a substitute for actually being in worship.

All of this does not mean that we need to worship in a building with religious architectural designs.  You could just as easily worship with a group of saints in meeting rooms at the Holiday Inn or the stockroom at work.  We don’t need specific buildings to worship in.  Early Brethren and Anabaptists didn’t have church buildings, rather they would worship in homes.  The difficulty and the blessing of this is that homes can only hold so many people.  Smaller groups will have more intimacy, a sense of family that a large group will never have, but a small group will be limited by talents that are present in that group.  For example, if there is no one with musical ability, the singing will be less than professional.  Yet, we are called to make a joyful noise, not to be professional.  Perhaps our Amish cousins have remembered something that we forgot, it is good to worship together in the places where we live.  This way faith, religion and church is not something we do at the church building, but something we do at home, in the space of everyday life.

 

Peace, Kevin
 

September 2008

 

I like to recommend books for people who like to read.  And at the same time, I am always just a little unsure if I want to recommend books to people.  It is for a very simple reason. The books I like to recommend are ones that have made me think, that have challenged me, forced me to look at things from a new light and perspective.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the limited exploration of the early church fathers.  Presently I’ve begun reading The Divine Embrace: recovering the passionate spiritual life.  This is a book that I will probably like to recommend.  It has started me asking questions, thinking in some different ways and considering some possibilities I have never considered.

All that said, I’ve read much from Robert Webber. I trust him.  Yet, there is a part of the process of asking questions that stretches your faith that is unnerving.  Whenever you begin to ask a question that has the potential to rearrange your worldview, your understanding of God, your convictions and values, it has the potential to be terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.  Here is the difficulty though, it also has the potential to do damage to your faith.  This is not an amusement park ride that provides the illusion of danger without ever presenting any real danger for the riders.  But, examining your faith, your beliefs and your convictions does come with some danger, some risk, but then so does stagnation in matters of faith.

The question is which is the greater risk, damaging my faith or stagnation?  A first examination might well say don’t do anything more than what you have.  In the old expression, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”  Yet, what happens in a stagnant pool of water?  Everything dies!  This is the danger we face when we find a comfortable zone that never tests our faith or our resolve.  It is not the easy days which form us as followers of Jesus, rather it is adversity, challenge, struggle.  Jesus said, if you recall, “Take up your cross and follow me.”   Remember, the purpose you took up a cross was to carry it to the place that you would be executed.  Jesus does not expect that his followers will enjoy a life of leisure and comfort, rather one of persecution and struggle. 

I know that such a notion of faith and the spiritual life is not one that we often embrace in the western world.  In fact, we almost need to invent examples of persecution.  Yes, there are some examples, but I don’t recall seeing many people executed for being Christians. We don’t  have to hide the fact that we are believers and go to church on Sunday.  And, while it may not be welcomed in every field of employment, we live in a land where there is protection against discrimination on religious preference.  I know, it is not perfect, but then it is much better than what the church enjoys in China or Africa or the Middle East.  Yet,  here is the odd thing, the church is growing quickly in China.  So is there a relationship between the persecution of the church and the growth of the church?  We find another example in the early church. It grew rapidly while the Roman government sought to destroy the church.  Remember prior to Pentecost 500 people saw the risen Lord, and on Pentecost day some 5000 became followers of Jesus, all while being fearful of the authorities.  What does the future hold for the church in North America?  It is a good question to ponder. But, perhaps something that challenges us will also result in a renewal of the church as a whole. 

Blessings, Kevin                                                                                           

 

July 2008

If someone would be to ask you today, “How have you matured in Christ in the past twelve months?” or if someone asked you this question, “What are you doing so that you may deepen or mature your relationship with the Father through Christ Jesus?” would you have a reasonable, honest answer to give them?  We in the free church tradition often depend specifically on personal effort with little or no accountability to anyone concerning our own spiritual growth.  We have few structures to support or check for growth in the church, and as a result many of us persist in a state of not hibernation, but rather in a condition of sameness.   We are not spiritually dead, nor are we exuding vigor and vitality, but rather we continue to exist neither thriving nor withering.

                Perhaps we would all be better served knowing that someone is going to be taking us to task for our lack of progress, lack of growth.  Yet, it is not a task master that we are in need of, but rather someone who will walk with us and help us to mature.  Each of us, regardless of how long we have been believers needs someone to be a spiritual friend, a person to hold us accountable, a person who has access to our lives and will ask us hard questions.

                We often operate from a notion that faith and our spiritual lives are essentially a private affair, and that you and I are free to believe as we like.  Yet scripture does not describe faith essentially as an individual venture, but rather as one of the body of Christ.  We are baptized into a community, we partake of communion, the Love Feast, not as individuals but as a community of believers.  We worship together, we pray together, we study scripture together, we work together.  And yet, we persist in thinking that faith, life and following Jesus are essentially private matters.  There is a disconnect in this assumption that will cause you and I to live in less than ideal conditions.  It may be that this is where we fail to thrive, fail to put down deep roots and live the abundant life.  When we separate faith from the community we are left like a branch severed from a tree, it withers and it dies.

                When we attempt to do faith apart from the body of Christ it leaves both the body and the individual impoverished and lessened.  Through the summer months it will be easy for us to allow our lives to drift from the body, to allow our patterns of worship, study and service to change and diminish.  But, my prayer is this that you will use this as a new opportunity to reconnect with the body of Christ in significant ways.  Invite people to your home for fellowship, call a person in the body you haven’t spoken to in a while, ask how you can pray for someone this week, take the initiate to know people more completely and more intimately.  Deepen your bonds with fellow believers and see the way that your spiritual life is invigorated and stimulated, you will not be disappointed.

 

 

                                                                Blessings,

 

                                                                Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 2008

The Church faces increasingly difficult terrain in the near future.  As we continue to move into a postmodern landscape we find that the tools of the modern world do not enable us to engage the world as we once did. The result is a church that seems to be outdated, irrelevant and archaic.   There is little wonder that larger amounts of Americans find church attendance less and less compelling. 

We could make the argument that our worship services are not formatted to engage as the contemporary media does; with animated graphics, news tickers, computer generated special effects and a well choreographed sound track.  But is our lack of techno-savvy really the problem?  Is it our lack of a wi-fi hotspot that keeps people from worship? 

Perhaps there is something in our message that is less compelling than sleeping late on Sunday or spending some extra time with friends and family. Actually, what is the message that we are presenting to the community?  What is it that we as a church communicate about ourselves, about our God, about our Lord and Savior?  

Perhaps our lack of ability to easily identify our message is part of the problem.  If we are unsure or unable to articulate what it is we want to say to the community about Jesus, about his church and about the community that we belong to, why would anyone listen?  Let’s say we can manage to efficiently express our message to the culture. Will that compel people to be present with us for worship?  In truth, I doubt it.  It would be helpful, but just being able to articulate the message will not translate into effective communication of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tim Conder writes, “The history of the church is filled with times of great concern about and intervention against social evils and injustices.  Our Scriptures provide historical narrative, common-sense wisdom, and liberating theology that speaks to both personal and corporate ethics.  If the church hopes to transition into the emerging culture with credibility, relevance, and authenticity, then a broadened interest and vision for social ethics is an absolute necessity (The Church in Transition, Zondervan 2006. P. 75).   In this prescription for churches, there is not only an identified blind spot in the churches’ interaction with culture, but also an underlying realization that what the Apostle Paul said is so very accurate, then and now.  We must love the people around us, not just those in the church, but also those outside the church.  This, much like faith, is not just an intellectual or emotional affirmation, but one that involves us in direct action to work for the good of our neighbor.  Now let’s be upfront about this.  Our concern, ours for our neighbor, is not about filling pews, nor is it about creating a more just and harmonious world.  We cannot create” heaven on earth”, because that, after all, is God’s role and his responsibility.  Ours is to be obedient to the commands of our savior.  Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  That means that when do good for our neighbors, whoever they are, we ought to go to some of the same lengths that we would do for ourselves.  This revolves around another command of Jesus to, “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”  If you needed shoes and had none, would you rather receive your neighbor’s old pair or a new pair?  Now, I realize that if you had no shoes, you would be grateful for even a used pair, but when was the last time that you replaced a worn out pair of shoes with a used pair of shoes?  What does it mean to love our neighbor?  To give them our cast off shoes, or to put a new pair on their feet?

Without love, our words are nothing but a clanging cymbal or a resounding gong.  If we do not fill our actions with love, no, if our actions are not driven by our love for our neighbors, then they will be nothing but an empty gesture.  Are we ready to love as Jesus loved, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do unto others what we would want them to do to us?

 

                                    Blessings,

 

                                    Kevin

 

May 2008

At times we in the church forget that we are to be like Christ Jesus. Or should I say, we forget at times that we need to reflect the full image of Jesus, not just the portions we find comfortable.  So there are points when we need to speak the truth, always in love. There are points when we need to be willing to be persecuted, even killed.  There are also times that you and I need to reach out to those on the edges of our culture, those who are marginalized and left for dead, like the man that Good Samaritan helped.  We need to move beyond the comfortable confines of our homes and church and be like Jesus.

Dick Staub writes in The Culturally Savvy Christian, “In today’s highly divisive culture war, Christians have become characterized as those who know or claim to know the “right answers,” or truth, rather than being known for our love.  We cannot escape the Apostle Paul’s admonition, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  If we are genuinely transformed by God’s love, our agape should drive us out of our cocoon and into the world, out of combat and into compassion, and out of conformity and into transformative truth, but above all, we will be known for our love” (118).

Yet, this is not what we are known for in our culture. The under 35 crowd often assumes that Christians are racists, sexist, greedy, and self-righteous.  Christians in North America have an image problem and the disturbing part is that there may well be some truth in the culture’s criticism of the church and of Christians in general.  The most segregated hour in North America is Sunday morning between 11:00 and 12:00.  Much of the church does not accept women in roles of leadership, and when we do, women are often relegated to small and under resourced churches.  Consider recent headlines about churches and denominations fighting over property. As if this were not enough, add on the sex scandals in the church over the past few years and   add the occasional story where the treasurer runs off with the money or the pastor with the organist.  It only makes the whole image of the church all the more degraded.

But it is not only the image of the church, it is also the image of Christ Jesus himself that is distorted and corrupted in the eyes of the world.  It leaves us with no reasonable place to stand.  We are arguing for righteousness, for holy behavior and all the time living in a fashion that negates our claim to truth and holiness.  Perhaps part of the problem is that we become too focused on some very specific areas of life and forget the rest.  Perhaps, we forget the most important tool we have to use, the love of God.  What would happen if we just started loving people, just as they are, no conditions, no preconceived notions about what they have to do, and just cared for people.  That does not mean we compromise ourselves, but rather we take the example of Jesus himself, and love people without condition, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.

                                                                                 Blessings,  Kevin         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2008

           The weeks after that first Easter Sunday were weeks of fear of being arrested and killed and the uncertainty of what the empty tomb meant. It was also a time of exceedingly joy- filled moments when Jesus was powerful and wonderfully present with the disciples.  The disciples knew Jesus had risen, but still didn’t understand what this would mean.  It would become clearer on Pentecost, but that was still a few weeks away.  It seems one of the most difficult places for us to live, in the place of uncertainty.

           That is the place where the church is presently, at least in the western world, a place of uncertainty.  As we continue to enter the postmodern world we will find that many of the standard answers and programmatic approaches offered by the last few generations will continue to miss the mark with the newer generations.  It indeed may be nice to think that this is just another example of the generation gap, or the confusion between two generations. The reality of the postmodern world is much different.

            Tim Conder writes, “This emerging culture is shaped by a philosophy known as postmodernism, which encourages the pursuit of truth along new avenues of inquiry.  According to theologian John Franke, postmodernity interprets truth and reality with predispositions of “finitude” and “suspicion.”  The postmodern mindset tends to reject global, one-size-fits-all-communities-and-contexts explanations of truth.  Since the human ability to know truth is finite, postmodern thinkers tend to be wary of any person or institution that offers or demands a universal and infinite view, suspecting such perspectives are often rooted in a desire to control and manipulate, or even do violence to others” (2006. The Church in Transition: The Journey of Existing Churches into the Emerging Culture. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, Mi.)

            The philosophical underpinnings of modernity rested heavily on a strong notion of universal truth, this is true in both the religious and the scientific communities, even though at times their goals seem to be in competition, their understanding of truth was rather similar.  Postmodernity is much different in its assumptions of truth.  For postmodern thinkers, truth is much less universal, and much more subjective.  There seems to be an inherent distrust of authority and the institution, which ever one it may be, government, education, church or the like.

            For the disciples of Jesus living in this uncertain time will be marked by a different set of troubles than the disciples knew between Easter and Pentecost.  But, we can fully expect to encounter Jesus in these times, in the same fashion.  At some point we will more fully comprehend the calling that we are receiving as followers of Jesus in these unsettled times.  There are a few things we can hold onto in the present: Easter is always followed by Pentecost, and Jesus still leads his church.  We may need to think more like cross-cultural missionaries, we may need to employ new language, we may need to think in some new ways, but as we hear the call of the risen Christ, we will find life and hope and joy.

                                                            Blessings,  Kevin         

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2008

In 2008 we find that Easter Sunday is rather early.  Often we find it later on the calendar, but not this year.  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 6, and as we have for the past several years, we will observe the beginning of the Lenten season with a service and a prayer vigil.  If you have not signed up for a time slot, you may want to do so quickly, the spots are going fast. 

You will be able to get a copy of the guide for praying the psalms.  Last year was our first experience with praying the psalms for Lent, and this year we will again experience this ancient pattern of prayer in the life of the church.  It is a disciplined approach to prayer, and hopefully it will yield a deeper experience of prayer and communion with the Living God.  After all, this is the reason we practice the disciplines of the faith, to know the Holy Trinity, to experience the living God.  There are many ways we can experience God and deepen our knowledge of the Trinity.  Yet, the ancient practices of the church offer us a new path to employ, new only because the free church has often declined these disciplines, sometimes from ignorance and at times from a fear that it may lead to a cold and lifeless formality.

Lent is a time when you may want to consider some additional disciplines from the history of the universal church.  One that has often been practiced in Lent is fasting.   There are many ways one can fast in Lent.  One is setting aside days for fasting, and in that time to refrain from eating anything while only drinking water.  Another way fasts have been practiced is to remove a meal from your daily schedule and to use that time for prayer, devotions, study or service.  While fasting is often associated with food, one could also fast from various forms of media in order to spend time in mediation, devotion or service.  It is not about weight loss or habit modification, but it is about knowing God more deeply and more fully.

Regardless of the disciplines that you use, and I do encourage you to use them, set the goal of deepening your life in faith, deepening your connection with Christ Jesus and his body, the church.

 

                                                                       Blessings,

                                                                        Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 2008

In 2008 we find that Easter Sunday is rather early.  Often we find it later on the calendar, but not this year.  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 6, and as we have for the past several years, we will observe the beginning of the Lenten season with a service and a prayer vigil.  If you have not signed up for a time slot, you may want to do so quickly, the spots are going fast. 

            You will be able to get a copy of the guide for praying the psalms.  Last year was our first experience with praying the psalms for Lent, and this year we will again experience this ancient pattern of prayer in the life of the church.  It is a disciplined approach to prayer, and hopefully it will yield a deeper experience of prayer and communion with the Living God.  After all, this is the reason we practice the disciplines of the faith, to know the Holy Trinity, to experience the living God.  There are many ways we can experience God and deepen our knowledge of the Trinity.  Yet, the ancient practices of the church offer us a new path to employ, new only because the free church has often declined these disciplines, sometimes from ignorance and at times from a fear that it may lead to a cold and lifeless formality.

            Lent is a time when you may want to consider some additional disciplines from the history of the universal church.  One that has often been practiced in Lent is fasting.   There are many ways one can fast in Lent.  One is setting aside days for fasting, and in that time to refrain from eating anything while only drinking water.  Another way fasts have been practiced is to remove a meal from your daily schedule and to use that time for prayer, devotions, study or service.  While fasting is often associated with food, one could also fast from various forms of media in order to spend time in mediation, devotion or service.  It is not about weight loss or habit modification, but it is about knowing God more deeply and more fully.

            Regardless of the disciplines that you use, and I do encourage you to use them, set the goal of deepening your life in faith, deepening your connection with Christ Jesus and his body, the church.

 

                                                                       Blessings,

                                                                        Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2008

What role will the church play in the future of North America?  That may sound like a question that is too big to be considered in a short while.  This question may not be one that is best left to a committee in a national meeting of the religious folk of North America.  In reality, it is a question that is more than not determined by the way that every day believers display Jesus in their day to day interactions with those who are not believers.

The role that the church will play is not determined by national advertising campaigns, slogans or tag lines.  It has little to do with what translation of the bible we read or promote, and it has nothing to do with the architecture of our buildings.  However, it has everything to do with the way that we portray Jesus in the difficult and comfortable situations of living. 

Our tendency is to push this to a moral standards argument, or at least it has been this way for the past several decades.   While living a moral life is clearly part of following after Jesus it is not ultimately what Christianity is about.  If we are only a moral code, and if you follow the code you go to heaven, then none of us will ultimately make the cut.  It is one reason we Christians, are often spoken of as hypocrites, because we don’t often practice what we preach.  This is the logical outcome of defining Christianity by a moral code.  Please do not misunderstand my point.  I do believe that we, as followers of Jesus, should be living an exemplarily life before the world.

Here is the question that I do want us to consider in the New Year. Is it the grace of God, the forgiveness we receive because of Jesus’ actions that define us or is it a moral code?  If we are defined by the grace of God and forgiveness, it will then be displayed in our behavior and our interactions with the world.  If we define ourselves by a moral code, even one biblically constructed, it too will be displayed in our behavior and interaction.  Being defined by grace and forgiveness would hopefully result in Christlike behavior, but if we are defined by a moral code, my fear is that it will result in a harsh moralism and a legalistic faith, centered not in following Jesus, but in following the rules.

In the recent book “Unchristian” many people who know Christians and are not Christians assume we are more concerned about the rules than about people.  We are often perceived much like the Pharisees in the New Testament.  My prayer for the coming year is this- that each of us would more fully represent Jesus to the world.  Notice I said, Jesus, not the church, not faith, not religion, but Jesus.  At the end of the day, it is not the church that saves, that gives life, it is Jesus. And our role is to point people to Jesus.  Let’s be sure that we point people to Jesus and not drive them from Jesus.

 

Blessings,

 Pastor Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in North America we are awash in Christmas traditions. Some find their origin in the life of the church, and others seem to find their origin in the marketplace.  While we may devote a great deal of time and money to this celebration, we are not alone in celebrating Christmas.  Many around the world celebrate it in different and unique ways.  In some we will see common reflections of our own traditions; in others we see new ways to honor Christ our King and Lord.

The website, www.thehistoryofchristmas.com speaks of the many different ways that people around the world celebrate Christmas.  I want to share a few of these with you.  These come from places where Christians are a distinct minority and in many cases a persecuted minority, and yet we find the celebration of Christmas.  Perhaps as we move through the Advent season this year, we could remember our brothers and sisters who celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus, in our prayers and in our thoughts.

Syria

In Syria on December 6, a special mass is held in churches in honor of Saint Nicholas Thaumaturgus, whose legend has said was a kind and generous man - not dissimilar to Saint Nicholas after whom Santa Claus is modeled.

On Christmas Eve everyone in the family carries a lit candle and stands around an unlit bonfire outside their house. The youngest child, usually the son, of the family reads the Christmas story, after which the bonfire is lit. The way the flames spread shows the luck of the house in the coming year. When the fire burns, psalms are sung, and when it sinks, everyone leaps over the embers making wishes.

Early on Christmas morning everyone goes to mass. At this mass another bonfire is lit in the middle of the floor. While the wood is blazing, ancient hymns are sung and the celebrant carries a figure of the Christ Child around the building. After this the celebrant then touches the nearest person in a "touch of peace". This touch is passed from one to another until everyone has received it.

Christmas dinner is chicken, oranges, nuts and pastries. But it is on New Year's Day that children receive presents. They are brought their gifts by the youngest of the camels that carried the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. The children leave water and hay outside the house of the camel. In the morning the water and hay are gone, replaced by presents. 

Iran

Christmas in Iran is known as the Little Feast. For the first 25 days of December, a great fast is observed, during which no meat, eggs, milk, or cheese is eaten. It is a time of peace and meditation; a time for attending services at the church. When the fast is over, the feast is begun, and plenty of meat is prepared for the Christmas dinner.          

Christmas Eve is the last day of the fast. Almost before dawn on Christmas Day, the people attend mass to receive communion and it is not until they have received this communion that they are permitted to break fast.

The boys and girls of Iran have never heard of Santa Claus, so they do not exchange gifts at Christmas. But they do receive new clothes, which they proudly wear all during the happy Christmas week.

A dish eaten for Christmas Day is a kind of chicken stew called 'harasa'. It is cooked in large quantities and lasts several days.

Iraq

On Christmas Eve, Iraqi Christian families gather together and one of the children reads about the birth of Jesus while other family members hold lighted candles. After the reading, a bonfire of thorn bushes is lit and everyone sings. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted for the coming year. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish. On Christmas Day another bonfire is lit in the churchyard. The bishop, carrying a figure of the Baby Jesus leads the service. Afterwards he blesses one person with a touch. That person touches the person next to him or her and the touch is passed around until all present have felt the "touch of peace."

Israel

Bethlehem, the little town where Jesus is said to have been born is the site of the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations every Christmas. On Christmas Eve natives and visitors alike crowd the church's doorways and stand on the roof to watch for the dramatic annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by a solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession solemnly enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus.

Christian homes in Bethlehem are marked by a cross painted over the door and each home displays a homemade manger scene. A star is set up on a pole in the village square.

I hope you enjoy these windows into the lives of other believers.  I would ask that you begin to include in your regular prayers, a concern for these believers who live in much different circumstances around the world.  I know the Advent and Christmas seasons are filled with activity and many things that you need to attend.  Yet, I would ask, that as you move through this season when you hear of these countries, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Israel, that you would remember and pray for the believers who are living there.  These are small communities, and from the reports I read they are becoming smaller. And while they may speak a different language, worship in another format and sing different songs, they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Their stories are often untold here in the west, but they are still part of the family to which we belong.  Pray for them.

 

                                    Blessings,

                                    Pastor Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 2007 Newsletter

We live in a time and place where religion, especially organized religion is being increasingly marginalized and depicted as bad, evil or simply out of touch.  Many people will say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.”  It is an interesting idea, and what it often means is that I will take a little of this tradition, along with a bit of this and mix it together to make something that is tailored just for me.  It will be very heavy on things that make the person feel comfortable or good.  There will be very little that will challenge a person to grow, mature or ask hard questions about life and living.

Dick Staub writes, “Throughout history, humans have conducted their spiritual journeys within the context of ancient religions, which were rich with lessons from the past and offered disciplines useful for growth and for the progression to maturity.  At their worst, religions have been used to abuse and manipulate their adherents. But at their best, these loving, intergenerational communities have been preservers of community, timeless truths, and practice.  In Hollywood, spirituality is in and religion is out.  Roma Downey, Star of the 1990’s TV series “Touched by an Angel,” observes, “We have always reminded people that there is a God, that it’s just the one God: the God of Love.  We were more spiritual than religious.”  In one episode of “The Simpsons” son Bart ask his father Homer, what his religious beliefs are.  Homer replies, “You know, the one with all the well-meaning rules that don’t work in real life.  Uh, Christianity[1].”

At one level we are fighting an uphill battle because, the simple fact is that we represent an organized form of Christianity; we must deal with a trust issue and bridge any credibility problems generated by the entire Christian world.  This task becomes increasingly more difficult with younger generations.  Those in their late teens and early twenties will be especially suspect of a person talking about church.  In previous generations it was almost necessary to have a denominational affiliation to be taken seriously.  Today simply removing a denominational tag from church signage typically results in a ten percent increase in worship attendance.  This whole issue is raised to another level by the persistent scandals revolving around sexual misconduct by both Roman Catholics and Protestants.

All together the scandal issues with authority and the rapidly changing culture leave the church in North America in a difficult place.  We can continue to do what we have done and found successful in the past, and that will work for a limited portion of the population.  The majority of people here in North America will not find it helpful, interesting or different than anyone else wanting their attention, time and money.  When you consider how we typically present the church, we often employ a model from Corporate America.  We are organized with a board of directors with various divisions under them.  Consider if you will that churches often employ the same practices as a successful fast-food restaurant chain.  The church and the restaurant both employ logos and signs to make their brand quickly recognizable to the public.  Both will work to have good parking.  Both will offer special goods and services for children, youth and older adults.  Both will ask you to give money in exchange for the goods and services you have received.  One will give you a quick meal, the other a spiritual package.

If there were only one chain (denomination), perhaps it would do well in such an environment.  We live in a world where there is fierce competition for the portion of the market that is interested in consuming spiritual goods.  There are several chains, some more formal, and some more casual.  We are no longer competing against other Christians, but against every religion that can offer spiritual goods in our market.  I can’t help but ask if all this pleases God.  My gut tells me that the answer is no. 

Jesus did not set out to establish many churches, but to establish the Church, the Kingdom of God.  At some point we must come to the realization that we are not in this for our church alone. We are not in this for the denomination alone. We are not in this for Protestants alone. We are in this for the Kingdom of God.

When we begin to comprehend the world from a kingdom perspective rather than a personal or “my church” perspective there will be a change in us.  This can be a terrifying and difficult transition to make.  What it is about is the beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle back together, to see the whole picture that is the body of Christ.  And, yes, there will be parts of the big picture that are difficult for us.  But, we know that in our families there are people we don’t get along well with, but that does not make them any less a part of the family.  At the heart of this is not loyalty to a local church or a denomination but rather loyalty to Christ Jesus.

The next thing we must do is to ask how God intends for us to impact the current culture in North America.  This is a radically different culture than it was just thirty years ago.  Just the changes in communications are staggering alone.  We are more mobile, more connected to information sources, less connected with each other and we are rapidly seeing regional distinctions disappear.  As a culture we are increasingly distrustful of large organizations, authority and increasingly wanting our news, entertainment and recreation tailored specifically to our individual tastes.

Can the church impact this culture?  Yes!  I have no doubt that we can.  However, I am also convinced that we must begin to think and interact with this culture in radically different ways.  What those forms need to be is a good question, but I will say without hesitation that they will be different than anything we have done in the past.  The time that we find ourselves in can either be the most terrifying time to be a part of the church in North America, or it will be the most exciting time to be a part of the church.  I suppose it comes down to our attitudes and our willingness to follow Jesus into this new wilderness and see where he will take us.

Blessings,

Kevin Derr, Pastor

Staub, D. The Culturally Savy Christian.  2007.  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 2007   

Many experts will tell you that we are at a point of radical change in our culture and in our world.  It is a time of discontinuous change, when the changes that are coming reflect little of the world that we knew before.  A time when not only have the rules to the game changed, but the game itself has changed.

How are we in the church to survive in this turbulent storm of change and upheaval?  How are we to speak of the good news in this time and place?  How are we to share the message of Jesus with people who are culturally disconnected from us? 

Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk writing in The Missional Leader, state, “For more than a century, North American churches were at the center of culture; they were an essential part of most people’s belief and value systems.  Therefore, leadership skills and capacities were developed around how to most effectively engage people when they came to church.  It was about training men and women who would faithfully run effective branch plants of the denomination so that when people came they would be well served with a set of expected resources, experiences and programs” (8).  Today the picture is different.  The church is no longer at the center of culture, it is not essential to the belief and value systems of much of our culture.

We can no longer operate under the assumption that people will come to the church seeking answers, connections or faith.  The church in North America often operates from a consumer model.  We have a set of goods and services, spiritual and religious in nature, and so we market ourselves as a dispenser of such goods and services.  In many ways local churches are seen and understood as franchises of a denomination, each with its own specific focus and specialization.  Much like McDonalds or Burger King: we can see signs with logos and trademarks; we see specialized buildings with well lit parking lots and special accommodations for children; we see each employing staff, and even a cash transaction. Some churches use a cash register like we use an offering plate.  It is easy to understand why people distrust the church, in many ways we look and feel like any corporate player in the modern world.  We even employ some of the same language, a board of directors for example.  The more professional we become, the more slick our presentation, the more we seem to be another commercial entity seeking to extract time and money from people.

Perhaps we have positioned ourselves in a very poor fashion.  We cannot compete with the world.  We do not have the skills, the money or the resources.  But even if we did, should we?  In reality do we want to present the church, the gospel, Jesus as another commercial interest competing for people’s time and money?  Do we want to reduce following Jesus to a cash transaction conducted in our franchise?

So, what would we like to see the church doing?  Perhaps a better question, what would Jesus like to see in his church?  The question we need to be asking is how do you and I faithfully live out Jesus’ intent in the twenty-first Century.  The answer to that question will not be centered in a building, in a franchise, but in relationships with people, those who are followers of Jesus and those who are not.

Jesus did not limit his interaction to those who were his disciples, but rather embraced not only irreligious Jews but gentiles and Samaritans as well.  Jesus never allowed his followers to pursue their own agendas, but rather called them to radical obedience.

Yet, how do we translate all this into our cultural setting?  How do we begin to talk to those beyond our circle of fellow followers of Jesus?  How do we begin to speak the good news of Christ Jesus into the lives of those who have no idea who Jesus is?

My hope and prayer is this, that over the next few years we will work to answer these questions, not in the safe and comfortable ways of the past, but in ways that will make sense in the present, to an increasing unchurched and perhaps even hostile world. 

In our time of uncharted change and new directions and developments, we can find answers.  Remember Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.”

 

 

                                                Blessings,

                                                Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

8707 W. Cheltenham Ave.  / Wyndmoor, PA 19038 / Phone: (215) 836-5083

Copyright © 2013-2016 Philadelphia First Church of the Brethren