What happened at General Assembly?

My last newsletter article was a preview of what was scheduled to happen at General Assembly. Since our denomination gathered in Columbus, and the business items of the session were presented and voted upon, I thought it might be helpful to give you a recap of a few of the items that piqued my interest, and show how important it is for us to be a welcoming people. In addition to the resolutions I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there were three emergency resolutions that came before the assembly. Emergency resolutions are intended to deal with issues that have come to light within the last few months.

One of those resolutions, in response to the church shooting in Charleston and the burning of black churches, garnered quite a bit of debate. The resolution was co-authored by a friend and seminary classmate of mine from Oklahoma, Rev. Jesse Jackson. (No, not the more notable one…) As the assembly began, I had several opportunities to communicate with Jesse about this resolution which calls for us to continue the work of racial and ethnic reconciliation and to denounce the killing and intimidation of our brothers and sisters.

The resolution was sent to a committee, called Reference and Council, for some changes and adaptations during the first business session, when it came to the floor. Some asked for the inclusion of the names of the nine members of Emanuel AME in Charleston, while others asked for some changes in the wording to give tangible responses to the resolution. I had a moment to talk with Jesse after the changes had been made, and he said that although he was initially hurt by referring the resolution, that it was a stronger statement as it came back to the assembly for a vote. In the end, the revised version of the resolution was passed. The whole text can be found at the denomination’s website, or I will gladly print you a copy!

I have been thinking, for some time, about what kind of response to racism we can make at Marshfield Christian Church. It is my prayer that this resolution, and my renewed and deepened friendship with Jesse will open the door for some exciting and meaningful dialog and action here at the church. I hope that someday soon, we can invite Jesse to join us to talk about issues of racism. And that I can introduce you all to my friend!

The other issue that garnered a lot of attention was the resolution on Gun violence. There were actually two resolutions submitted on the topic and the General Board synthesized them into one “substitute” resolution. This also went to the Committee on Reference and Council. The major issues had to do, again, with a lack of actionable items in the resolution. There was also a call for language about the use of firearms in suicides.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, the resolution that came back to the assembly wasn’t something I could support. Specifically, there was language with which I am uncomfortable. The revised resolution calls on Disciples to “demand” the enactment of gun safety laws from their elected officials. It also included suggestions of “an assault weapon ban,” “a ban on high capacity magazines, and requiring federally enforced safe firearm storage.”

First off, I am certainly in favor of finding ways to eliminate the use of firearms in committing crimes. I am in favor of gun safety, and could have supported the original resolution. However, this new wording made me cringe, for several reasons. First, the definition of an “assault weapon” is ever-changing and vague. Second, I understand that the more ammunition that can be stored in a firearm means more potential death and destruction. However, I am also convinced that a single shot firearm could be used to deal quite a lot of damage. And, I’m not sure I really want federal guidelines on what constitutes “safe firearm storage.” Early on in the debate, it was apparent that the revisions would be accepted, and the resolution passed. However, at least the dissenting opinions were voiced. And I like to believe that they were heard by a few in the assembly.

This is one of those instances where I am glad that the General Assembly speaks TO not FOR the local congregation. There is nothing that REQUIRES us to act on this resolution. However, with the surge in mass shootings, it is important that we advocate for safe and responsible firearm ownership. The church does have to respond to what seems like the ever-increasing cycle of violence. However, I feel this resolution missed the mark. Especially for those of us in rural America, where owning firearms is commonplace.

As much as I may disagree with some of the decisions made during the assembly, and as much as I applaud others, I come away with a deep appreciation for what we strive to be as a larger community of faith. Our ideals of welcome and diversity are woven into the very DNA of our denomination. That gives me hope. Hope for our denomination, and hope for the world.

Here’s how to give…

… and maybe give us a chance to win a great prize!

There will be great prizes given throughout the day. Many of them will be drawings, with each organization getting a chance for every unique donor (you can give multiple times, but you are only a unique donor once!) So, if possible focus your giving between 7-8am, Noon-1pm, 2-3pm, 4-5pm, or 10-11pm. These hours all have $4,000 prizes! Think of how far that would go for us!!!!

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you (online at least) tomorrow for #GiveOzarks day!

What is Give Ozarks day?

You’ve seen us posting about Give Ozarks day, but you’re still not sure what it is… Listen to this

The Bread of Life ministry here at Marshfield Christian Church is seeking donations to enable us to expand our ability to store produce donated by the local Wal-Mart. Keeping these vegetables fresh will add much-needed variety and nutrition to the food boxes we distribute every month to over 175 Webster county families!

Grace or Grudge

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:12 (NRSV)

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)

Grace and forgiveness are hard. I’m sure you’re not surprised by that statement. Actually, I’m pretty sure that at least one instance where it is, or has been, hard to forgive came to mind when you read it. If so, you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Grace and forgiveness are hard for me, too. And, for most people I know.

In our third article about building and maintaining healthy relationships, I want to spend some time unpacking this difficult, but essential, part of being a community of faith. I’ll warn you, though, that this may be a difficult article to read. I may step on your toes a bit. I give you that advanced warning because it has been a difficult article to write, as I’ve been stepping on my own toes repeatedly in the process.

Inevitably something goes wrong in every relationship. One person shows their humanity in any number of ways. It could be something as small as a misspoken word, or moment of inattention when attention was needed. Or it could be something major, a lie or intentionally speaking ill of the other person. Whatever it is, from the smallest of offenses to the largest, I can pretty much assure you that in every relationship there will be at least one offense.

In every relationship something will happen that will jeopardize the relationship. Something will happen that will put the covenant into question. We are human beings, and part of being human is breaking trust. We do it all the time. When someone hurts us, breaks our trust, we have a decision to make, are we going to offer grace, or hold onto a grudge?

Before you ask, this is something that happens over time. In the moments right after I find out I’ve been wronged, in the midst of my pain and hurt, I’m not going to make healthy long-term decisions. That’s why most of us heard something to the effect of, “Take a deep breath, and count to 10 before you say anything.” Maybe in a small offense grace can be given almost immediately. But larger offenses take longer. Still, over time, we are faced with a choice; grace or grudge?

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of a slave who, though forgiven, does not offer forgiveness to another. In the story that slave’s status as forgiven is revoked. Jesus links our forgiveness to our ability (and willingness) to forgive others. Jesus calls us, as believers, to be both forgiven and forgiving children of God. That story immediately follows Peter’s question about forgiveness in the church. I believe there is a reason.

You see, the church is made up of forgiven people who are learning to forgive. It’s important to note that we are still people, and still make mistakes. If it hasn’t happened yet, I can promise you that there will come a day when “the church” will let you down. It’s inevitable, we are still broken and hurting people. We still sin. We still fall short of God’s ideals for us. We still need forgiveness.

But how much forgiveness? Peter asks if forgiving seven times is enough. Jesus says, “Not quite, try seventy times seven.” We know that this is an example, that Jesus doesn’t mean that we are to forgive 490 times, but not 491. We know that Jesus means that we are to forgive, and forgive, and forgive … infinitely. Because we have been forgiven, we forgive others. We extend grace because we have received grace.

Holding a grudge, or extending grace, is a choice we all make in all of our relationships. May we strive to become more and more like Jesus who, even while dying on the cross, called out to God “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NRSV)

Christian Education

I want to take a moment and let you know about some needs we have within the Christian Education program here at Marshfield Christian Church. But, before I do that, I want to thank our faithful volunteers who have helped with this important part of our community’s life in the past few years.

Jacque and Greg Cook, Jennie Ruth, Tammy Winters, and (until recently) Kathy Ruth have diligently led our Sunday School classes for the past couple of years. Jacque and Greg have given leadership to the Young Adult class, Jennie and Tammy to the Preschool/Elementary class, and Kathy Ruth to the Adult Sunday school class. Since mom (Kathy) moved to Springfield, I (Alex) have taken over the responsibility for the Adult Sunday school class.

While each class is going fairly well, there are some deep needs for leadership in the near future. While Tammy and Jennie are trying to involve school-age students in their classroom, there are widely different needs between 3-year olds and 5th graders. We simply need to have two classes, no later than this fall. That means more teachers. Additionally, the youth have been invited to attend the Young Adult class, but high school students have widely different needs than young married couples, and young parents. We need a youth Sunday School offering, no later than this fall. And, it wouldn’t hurt us to add a third adult class that met the needs of adults in their upper 40’s through their 60’s. They have different concerns than their younger and older counterparts.

Also, now is the time for us to be planning our Vacation Bible School this summer. This year we will be offering a weekend VBS called “Outback Rock; Where kids venture into solid faith.” We need a group of leaders to come together to make this a reality. In the immediate future we will be picking a date and begin publicizing this important Christian education opportunity.

I can try to twist arms and get people to help, but I much prefer informing you all of the need and asking you to honestly and prayerfully consider if God is calling you to serve in one of these capacities. Educating our children, and ourselves, in the faith is important. It is one way we are FED THROUGH GOD’s WORD!!!

I understand you may question your ability to teach, or even your knowledge of the Bible. I understand that most of us don’t want to commit to an assignment that may be never-ending. So, let me assure you, these are time-limited commitments. They will begin in August and run for one year. At that time you can commit to another year, or choose to step back. And, we will be providing curriculum and resources to make your teaching experience a success. You will be equipped and empowered to serve God in this vital ministry.

If you are willing to respond to God’s tug on your heart, please call, or email, or stop by the office, or catch me after church. We simply cannot let our Christian Education programs languish without leaders, and I haven’t been able to clone myself (yet.) May God guide and sustain us as we journey together in faith.

 

It is Finished.

Betrayed.

Subjected to a mockery of a trial.

Beaten.

Ridiculed and jeered.

From waving palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” to a whipping cat-of-nine-tails and shouts of “Crucify Him!”

As the nails are pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet. As he struggles for each breath on the cross. As he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It seems the world has won. Jesus has failed. Night has fallen and the light of hope has been extinguished. It is finished.

—-

From the darkness of Good Friday we enter the quiet shock of Saturday, unsure of what the future may hold, waiting and wondering how it could all end so suddenly. Wondering, “Where did it all go so wrong?”

But the story doesn’t end there. I hope you will join us on Easter Sunday morning to hear what happens next. Sunrise service is at 7:00 am, around the fire pit (weather permitting). Easter breakfast (benefiting the youth) is from 8:00 to 9:30 am. Sunday school begins at 9:30 am. And our worship service begins at 10:30 am. Come and experience the joy of the resurrection with us!

Teaching Tuesday

Tuesday of Holy Week is a day full of teaching. So much so, that we will only deal with a small fraction of the texts. However, after the busy-ness of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples take a day of rest in Bethany on Wednesday. That bit of rest will provide the opportunity for us to reflect on some more of today’s teachings in tomorrow’s devotions

As Jesus and the disciples pass the fig tree, which just a day before was cursed for its lack of fruit, they notice that it has withered away to the root. In only twenty-four hours Jesus’ curse has come to fruition. Jesus uses this to teach about the importance of faith, saying “truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” (Mark 11:23, NRSV) It is this text from which we get our saying, “faith that moves mountains.”

Do you have this kind of faith, doubt-free, mountain-moving, faith? If you are anything like me, and most people I know, the answer to that question is a qualified, “sometimes…” At times like that I rest on the faith of the father of the possessed boy who proclaims “I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24 NRSV) This week, my prayer for us all is that we deepen our faith. We may not be able to move mountains, but let us work toward moving at least small hills!

After Jesus and the disciples arrive at the temple, they are approached by some Pharisees and some Herodians in an attempt to trap Jesus. Immediately Jesus realizes it is a trap. The Pharisees and Herodians are usually at odds with one another, so when they approach Jesus together it is a sign that something strange is happening.

They ask Jesus whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. The problem is the biblical prohibition against idolatry. The Roman coins of the day identified Caesar as a God, and displayed his picture. Jesus immediately turns the question back on them by asking whose image is on the coin. Effectively he accuses them of idolatry, so when they answer “Caesar,” Jesus instructs them to “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17 NRSV) In effect, Jesus says, “The money belongs to Caesar, but YOU belong to God!”

Are we living our lives in that truth? Are we, like the Pharisees, seeking to bracket God’s presence in our lives? Or are we giving God our whole selves?