Lent8: Samson, Justice in the Burbs

Justice in the Burbs is a book by Will and Lisa Samson about living justly and loving people while living in suburbia.  It’s a great little inside look into what life could look like, if one developed a passion for people in their neighborhood and in the urban centers.  Plus, it’s written partly as a story of a family who undergoes a transformation into agents of God’s justice – much more than church participants.  It’s a great book if this is something you’ve ever thought about, but never knew where to start.

Here’s some take-aways:

  1. p.36, “So what’s a church for? Really for?”
  2. p.46, “Yet as we mature, we must begin to see the Bible for what it is – the story of God’s faithfulness to a flawed, rough, often cruel people.  Sadly, we don’t often teach that to adults.”
  3. p.75, quoting Dr. Michael Pasquarello, “The distinctively American character of Finney’s popular, pragmatic program can be seen in his insistence that preaching must always be practical; that whatever cannot be made immediately useful is not preaching the gospel.”
  4. p.80, the meditation by Claudia Burney is simply stellar.  I can’t type it all here, but it is stellar.
  5. p.107, “According to one recent study, there is a significant relationship between being Christian in America and being overweight.”
  6. p.93, “John Wesley…preached sermons and expressed very public statements against employers who paid their workers in moonshine.  Today many who attend churches in the tradition of Wesley – United Methodist, Wesleyan, Free Methodist [and my denomination!] – tend to be teetotalers.  this practice can be traced directly back to Wesley’s campaign.”

Lent 7: Burnham, In the Presence of my Enemies

Martin and Gracia Burnham were American missionaries in the Philippines who were randomly kidnapped by the Abu Sayaf.  They spent a year in captivity and, when the Philippine army finally freed them, Martin was killed by the army in the attack. When this was going on, I was in bible college and we prayed for the Burnhams every day; it was difficult when we found out that Mr. Burnham was killed.

This book is Gracia’s story of their lives, the year in captivity, and the hope that they found in Jesus.  It seems trite to me to give 10 take-aways, so I won’t.  I will tell you that this book gripped me because of my past prayers for them and I cried like a baby all through it.  Go on amazon and pick it up, you should be able to get it dirt cheap as a used book.

Lent 6: Kushner, Jewish Spirituality

My sixth book of lent reading was one I picked up because it was on Rob Bell’s suggested reading list.  It’s written by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a prolific author who is fully Jewish and not at all messianic.  That is to say, he is still waiting for the Jewish messiah (a harsher way to say that would be to say that He considers Jesus a crazy person or a liar for claiming deity…).  I wouldn’t recommend a book like this for people young in the faith, but it is useful background information for preachers and teachers.

All the same, Kushner knows a good deal more about the Jewish culture that Jesus was raised in and it helps me understand the Bible more when I understand the thinking, customs and traditions.

Here’s some take aways:

  1. p.20, “People see only what they’re looking for and what they understand, not neccesarily what lies in front of them.”
  2. p.21, referring to Genesis 28, “Jacobe meant: ‘If I had known God would be here, then I wouldn’t have gone to sleep.”
  3. p.61, “If all people in the world were to [repair creation], our world would truly be a Garden of Eden, the way God meant it to be.”
  4. p.67, “The Sefas Emes teaches that not only is God hidden everywhere throughout all creation, but we can also bring this concealed holiness out into the open through our performance of sacred deeds.”
  5. p.94, “Most Jews have an open and even playful approachto interpreting and understanding the Bible, and this can be surprising or confusing to some Christians.

Lent 5: Peterson, Living the Resurrection

This is the first time I’ve made it through a Eugene Peterson book, although I love him as an author.  I actually wrote him a letter (just addressed to him and the city he lived in since I had no street address) once about the way he translated something in Galatians in the Message and he wrote me back.  No only was it personal, but it was thorough and inspiring to me.

Needless to say, I looked forward to putting this book on my lent schedule and it was great for me.

Here’s some take aways:

  1. p.10, “As a culture, we are great at beginnings.  We set magnificent goals.  But in the in-between, we don’t have much to write home about.  When things get bad enough, we just make a new beginning, which we are very good at doing.  Or we set a new goal or “vision” or “mission statement,” as we call it, which temporarily distracts us from what is going on right around us.”
  2. p.11, quoting Pope John Paul II, “Don’t look at the Western nations for models in your development.  They know how to make things, but they don’t know how to live with them.  They have acquired a mind-boggling technology, but they’ve forgotten how to raise their children.”
  3. p.58, Interestingly, [Christian spiritual regression] often takes place at the same time we’re becoming successful in the eyes of our peers, associates, employers, or congregations.  But the life is leaking out.  God and life have become disconnected.”
  4. p.81, Dom Gregory Dix notes a four time repeated sequence of verbs that come from Jesus at meal time: Taking, Blessed, Broke & Gave.
  5. p.84, “Jesus doesn’t criticize or condemn or reject our offering.  ‘Two fish is all you can come up with?’  Can you imagine Jesus saying that to you at the table?”
  6. p.96, “Jesus doesn’t seem to require a unanimous vote before proceeding.”

The Grove Report, March 2010

This is the [edited for the internet] text of my annual report, presented last night at our leadership meeting with the Conference Superintedent.  It was such a refreshing meeting – my favorite kind!.

Pastor’s Report
March 2, 2010

The Grove Church
Albany, OR

For The Grove’s big official launch service we rented a popcorn machine.  It was fun and added to the festive atmosphere as people were coming into The Grove for the very first time.  It was such a hit, that a couple people from the launch team decided to go ahead and buy one for The Grove to use every week.  Now, while The Grove was holding its first services at North Albany Middle School there was also youth football programs going on and one of the mothers of a football player came over to the school because she could smell the popcorn and thought we were running a concession stand.  She asked one of the men at the door if this was the case and he got to tell her we weren’t selling popcorn, but we were handing it out for free – because we have popcorn for church!  The woman was pleasantly surprised and asked when church started.  The welcome team member told her we were starting at 10 o’clock.  She replied, “Great!  Then I’m right on time!”, came into the cafeteria, got some popcorn, worshiped Jesus and got hear about the love God has for her.

I share this story not because it’s unique (in fact the opposite is true), but because it seems to encapsulate the favor that God has given to His brand new church, The Grove.  While we have taken Jesus seriously and been diligent in our preparation and planning – God continues to be working among us beyond what we have even hoped for.  In Ephesians 3 we find a verse that gives The Grove a lot of direction,

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”

Here we see that God is the one at work (even within us!) as we, the church, see to it that he is given glory in the church, in Jesus and in all generations.  Truly, God is the one who deserves all credit for what I can share about The Grove.  What we will do is continually ensure that the church is glorifying God, lift up Jesus and share him in all generations.

First let me share what God has done in The Grove and then (and even better) let me share what God has done through The Grove…

On opening day at The Grove there were 222 people in attendance.  Then in October, November and December the average attendance was 193, 195 and 194.  We held a Christmas Eve service for our community and hosted 277 people, many of whom heard of the service because of the door hangers that about 20 Grovers passed out in North Albany.  Since then, in January the average attendance was 232 and in February it rose again to 239.  Just this past week, we had 258 people with us (67 children 5th grade and under!)  It is amazing to see the way that the Spirit of God is prompting people to come to The Grove to hear about Jesus.

We also track the number of new people at The Grove as a measurement of our health.  In the October, November and December we hosted 49, 35 & 15 first time guests (On launch Sunday we recorded 25 first time guests!).  Alongside this, we welcomed back 26, 15 and 10 second time guests.  In January and February The Grove hosted 13 and 21 first time guests and welcomed back 13 and 22 second time guests. The rate at which people have chosen to return to The Grove a second time is stunning.  Experts in these areas have told us that this is not the way it’s supposed to work – you aren’t supposed to have just as many second time guests as first time – apparently people are supposed to be turned off by church – Whoops!!  We simply give credit to God!  We glorify Jesus and thank Him for trusting us with people that He dearly loves.

The big blessing in this for me is seeing people who are brand new to The Grove find roles and relationships in the Grove.  Amazingly, there is a whole welcome team that is all brand new to The Grove.  There are now 2 worship bands because God has brought us an abundance of great artists.  Recently, The Grove has started Life Groups (from middle school to adults) with about 90 people participating.  The groups tend to have people both from the launch team and who are brand new.  We’ve set high goals for participation because we believe that being in small groups of people to discuss life and Jesus helps people grow in their faith in a way that can’t be found elsewhere.

In the culture that The Grove gathers and ministers repentance and salvation looks much more like a process than an event, but we’re pretty sure that we have seen about 8 people become Christians through the ministry of The Grove.  We’ve gotten multiple requests for baptism, which we’re just waiting for warmer weather to start baptizing.  We’ve also seen 4 different families dedicate 7 children to Jesus.

Now, the even better part, what God has done through The Grove…

In the summer of 2009, the Grove launch team was at every event that was happening in our city – serving and helping to make Albany a great place to live.  We really think that Jesus loves Albany, so we love Albany too!  We figure we want to be the kind of church that is good news for our city – after all, Jesus lived, died and rose again for the people of Albany, so that they could have full lives of hope, faith and love.  Who better to let them know than the Christians who already live in Albany?  Through these partnerships and serving, The Grove gained a great reputation – as a church that actually wanted to help!  We’ve already been booked to help at community events this summer and we look forward to making Albany everything that Jesus dreams of it being!

In the fall of 2009, The Grove sent about 50 shoe boxes with Christmas gifts overseas through Samaritan’s Purse.  We had the opportunity to adopt children from a local school and gave Christmas gifts to about 30 kids – bringing joy on Christ’s birthday!  Then, on Christmas Eve we received an offering which was fully given away – not even the rent for the school that night was taken out, regular Grover’s giving took care of it.  By God’s great grace we were able to divide up that offering and give the 5 agencies in Albany and Corvallis about $425 each, helping the homeless, the hungry, the lonely, and those suffering abuse and domestic violence.

We don’t share these stories to say, we think we’re awesome or that people should look up to us.  Rather – we share these stories because we hope that they put the same emotion we feel into other people’s hearts.  That is, the greatest joy and awe in humility that the God of the universe has chosen to move in a special way in North Albany.

And we don’t think he’s done…we even think there’s greater stories still to be written.

For His glory in His church, His people, and His world,

Pastor James Carmichael

Lent 4: Chan, Forgotten God

Last year I read Francis Chan’s first book, Crazy Love.  It was super moving.  This is his second book, on the Holy Spirit, , and it is much more of and inspirational theology.  I liked it a lot, but it wasn’t as epic for my life as Crazy Love (which is a silly evaluation, I know).  Admittedly, the Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity who always does the unexpected crazy stuff – he’s impossible to control – so I’ve always been a bit suspicious.  The Holy Spirit loves to have a good time…but I never know when and where – He just goes nuts whenever and wherever he feels like it.

On the other hand, that’s what I love about the Holy Spirit!

Here’s some take-aways:

  1. p.56, “This is why orthodox (as in ‘committed to exegetical living’) and radical (as in ‘willing to do whatever and go wherever the Spirit leads, even if it doesn’t make sense’) community is vital to living lives that comply with the leading of the Holy Spirit.”
  2. p.60, Instead of creating a marketing strategy for the church, get the members to live like Christians – for real.  The newspaper will write stories about their radical lives that will be better than any marketing campaign.
  3. p.84, “Why do you want to be healed?  Why do you want to stay on this earth?”
  4. p.110, “After all, Jesus merely walked beside the disciples; the Spirit would actually enter their human bodies (John 14:17).”
  5. p.121, “Nowhere in Scripture do I see a ‘balanced life with a little bit of God added in’ as an ideal for us to emulate.”
  6. p.143, “[God] cares most about the faithfulness, not the size, of His bride.  He cares about whether people are lovers of Him.  And while I might be able to get people in the doors of a church or auditorium if I tell enough jokes or use enough visuals, the fact remains that I cannot convince people to be obsessed with Jesus.  Perhaps I can talk people into praying a prayer, but I cannot talk anyone into falling in love with Christ.”
  7. p.161, “My hope and prayer for you, the reader, is that church people don’t try to normalize you.”
  8. At The Grove we say, ‘no perfect people allowed’, perhaps we should add, ‘no normal people allowed’ because we want to help people be extraordinary!!