Archive for the ‘The Church’ Category
If you missed this afternoon’s “Celebration of Life” memorial service for our great friend Roy Crenshaw, then you missed an opportunity not only to pay tribute to an extraordinary human being, but to learn something vitally important about what it means to walk with God.
I’ve already written a detailed post about Roy’s life (Tribute to A Life Well-Lived), so this weekend I simply want to draw attention to his testimony.
Rebekah put it well when she said that Roy’s testimony was a story he lived on a day-to-day basis. Some people stand up and share a five-minute, classic, “How I got saved” testimony, but one of the most eloquent, compelling witnesses to Jesus I’ve ever seen was the way that Roy Crenshaw told the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being.
CAN I GET A WITNESS? Roy was a “Larger than Life” man who lived faith out loud. Roy constantly challenged the darkness by being the light, and he followed Jesus with such integrity that those privileged to know him could no more argue against the truth of the Gospel than they could argue against the fact of the sun having first been introduced to the moon.
That’s my definition of a saint: a person who goes out and lives their faith while other people are arguing about it. So it was more than fitting that – after Rebekah offered the benediction – we ended with a lively rendition of “O when the saints come marching in.” Mark started on the piano, Don jumped in immediately with his trombone, I added a simple progression of chords on my guitar, and Dave danced all over the music with blues edged New Orleans trumpet that sounded like it came from the angel Gabriel himself.
As we finished the first verse, the extended Crenshaw family (plus Rebekah) all fished colorful umbrellas and parasols from beneath the pews, and commenced to promenade around the front of the church and down the center aisle for the recessional. We must have played at least six to eight repeats, and the arrangement grew more festive every time.
And when I say “promenade” I mean shimmy, and dance, and sway, and wobble a little bit, and ripple, and spin those umbrellas, and occasionally glide sideways, and circle, and do a bit of a jig, and hold out one leg, contemplating the foot for a moment before placing it on the ground again. It was a Coming Home of A Saint kind of a shimmy post-benediction move-up-the-aisle rendition of “O When the saints come marching in.”
And another fine saint went marching home.
However, and in re-reading the passage I used, I’m blown away once again by how directly God speaks into my life through The Word, and how transformational scripture can be when we let it be “a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105).
The way God continues to guide me via God’s Word is an ongoing journey, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how that works out in my experience:
- Is the Bible a series of short, self-contained, bullet-points of specific instruction?
- Or is the Bible an integrated, beautiful, complex guidebook that serves as a companion on the journey?
I really like what C.S. Lewis wrote about this when he was talking about Jesus in his epic Mere Christianity. “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ… If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
RELATIONSHIP: The whole reason that God created people (men and women) was for deep relationship with God and with one-another. Jesus came to earth to facilitate the restoration of that relationship. The Bible is the story of how that struggle worked out over several hundreds of years. It is The Greatest Story Ever Told.
We make a mistake, then, when we use the Bible in ways other than – as Lewis puts it – to draw [people] into Christ.
I believe we’re missing the point when – for example – we use scripture to prop up cultural contexts that were in play when particular parts of the Bible were written. The story of the early church, then, is the story of First Century believers working out what it means to follow Jesus, not a rationalization for maintaining institutions (in existence at the time) such as slavery, or a social hierarchy that places men in domination over women.
That’s some of the background for the following words I wrote this morning in response to one reader’s question regarding Rebekah’s role as pastor (and women in ministry in general); he said he was curious, and not trying to start an in-house debate:
No need to worry about an in-house debate – those are no fun and usually don’t achieve anything anyway!
- But, yes, Rebekah is the senior pastor at our church (we have three on staff), and God has used her powerfully and consistently as a preacher. Isn’t that the way with God, doing things “other” than what we’d expect? Just as God used Deborah as a Judge and leader of Israel, gifted Philip’s four daughters as prophets/preachers, and had Paul break out of the bounds of social convention by counting women as colleagues…. (and so much more).
- We’re always asking the question, “What else does the Bible say?” Should women keep quiet, or should they keep their heads covered when they speak in church (the New Testament says both)? Should Christians free their slaves? or treat them as brothers? or (in later letters) slip back into the slave-master relationship? There are many examples of specific instructions that are different in different places/circumstances.
- Generally there seems to be a movement from the early letters (definitely by Paul) where his Christianity was radical… to later letters (such as Timothy – consensus is that they were not written by Paul) where the practice of Christianity seems to be drawn back toward and into social convention (slavery, male hierarchy etc).
- Anyway (since you did ask), it’s clear to us that God does call both men and women into leadership, that the scriptures support this, and that God gifts whosoever God chooses in preaching/teaching.
- As a family, we’re grateful and humbled by all God continues to do. God’s creativity and imagination are so much more liberating than the tendency we all have to try and make our faith look like the culture we live in, and conform to its norms. I love this from Colossians: “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules?”
- I like to say, along with Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Always reading, always praying, always learning - DEREK
My Monday morning post is simply a shared celebration. Yesterday (as always) was a powerful morning at church. Rebekah preached on “The Whole Armor of God,” and we welcomed ten young people into membership as they made a public commitment to be Followers of the Way of Jesus, and to serve God in the context of the First Presbyterian Church of Brandon.
The 8:30 Praise Service was full of life, and then at 11:00 we sung hymns like “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord…” and “Be Thou My Vision.” The swell of voices in praise and thankfulness to God was moving and sincere. It’s such a privilege to be in a place where faithfulness and generous love are so evident.
I understand that anyone, anywhere, can accept God’s love and worship God in their own way. However, there’s something compelling and healing and powerful about the community of faith, living and worshiping and serving together. I’ve said this in more than one of my books – “Christianity at its best is a team sport; we’re so much stronger and vital and alive when we are together, living out the Gospel of Love.”
So, this morning, I’m grateful to our young people for reminding me how formative and how encouraging it is to be part of a faith community where “The Main Thing” is always the challenge to follow Jesus.
Love, Peace, and Blessings - DEREK
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
Well it’s one of those weekends with too much going on and not enough time. Yard work; people coming to work on the house; more people coming by the house; prepping for a quick hop out of town; details and more details.
Consequently I may be somewhat behind on the blog posts and way behind on my work. If you’re an editor, expecting something, then all I can say is I’m sorry!
TODAY: Today – Saturday – dawned breezy and deliciously cool. It was a perfect 66-degrees when I walked Scoutie and I felt a breath of reprieve from this past week’s onslaught of early summer. The photograph (above) was taken Thursday morning, but it illustrates the constant and invitational promise of every new day.
At the monthly FPCBrandon Saturday men’s breakfast, pastor Tim Black shared a thoughtful message designed to set the stage for table-discussion around the topic of family. I left the church both inspired and anxious to spend some time putting my thoughts “on paper.”
FAMILY: I wish I could remember exactly how the conversation went at our table. I said something along the lines of “God’s intention for family is to be a place where we learn to live in the context of community, where we can be accountable to one-another in love, and to be the place where we can develop the skills of self-giving love, serving and encouraging one-another….” I also affirmed the commonly held belief that family is a key building block for community.
…I also made a comment about the fact that some religious institutions have co-opted the conversation about family by taking the idea of “strong, loving families” and narrowing the definition. But I find myself wondering if it’s appropriate to strive only for “strong, loving families that look exactly like the 1950′s prime-time television version?” Or should we be striving for “strong, loving families,” period; families that come in all shapes, and sizes, and configurations?
And what about single persons? They are the fastest-growing adult demographic in the USA. Don’t they need the opportunity to grow in love, and mutual service, and accountability, and encouragement. What are we doing to help facilitate community with those who don’t live in a traditional structure?
QUESTIONS: I believe these are important questions. And I also believe the “family of God” has room for every single individual in our culture. Not just room to show up, but room to grow; to love and to be loved; to encourage and to be an encouragement; to learn and also to teach.
This is a conversation I trust that we can continue - DEREK
Flower; Men’s breakfast; sunrise
Yesterday – in our ongoing “read the New Testament in the order it was written” class – my Sunday morning study group (Everyday Christianity) talked about the unusual but very interesting “Book of Revelation.” In the evening my “Parents of Grads” friends did the same.
Revelation, as most people know, is an “apocalypse,” a literary genre containing visions and revelations designed to shed light on what’s going on in the earthly and/or heavenly worlds, then, now, and/or in the future. An apocalypse often uses symbolism to represent visions/dreams/revelations that our language doesn’t have any words for, and that have no recognizable reference point in our common experience.
IT WAS A REVELATION! As always, I found the experience of reading the entire book in one sitting (it took me close to two hours) to be illuminating. Revelation experienced as a sweeping vision is entirely different from the typical approach of over-analyzing details, or concentrating on just a few verses, or trying to make every word fit our current experience of the world, or looking for hidden codes, or insisting that certain images are direct references to specific 21st Century political systems or weapons systems….
ASSURANCE: My thoughts – both morning and evening – ended up coming back to the words attributed to Jesus at the very beginning, and then the image of the Tree of Life at the end. Both are helpful scriptures for a Monday morning, as we face the beginning of another new week.
“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever.” (Rev 1:17)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev 22:1-5)
NO FEAR: One of the great benefits of being a follower of the Way of Jesus is the assurance that comes with accepting God’s redemptive love. Life can be as complex and confusing and overwhelming as the contents of the Book of Revelation, but the word from Jesus is – always, “Fear not.” “Do not be afraid.”
And – jumping to the second text – that gift of assurance is one way we can live our faith out loud, as “leaves of the tree of life… for the healing of the nations.”
I love the image of entering a new week and embracing the opportunity to be leaves from the tree of life, available for the healing of the nations… our families… our community… our workplace….
Grace, and peace, and blessing, and the liberating promise of the Gospel of Love - DEREK
NOTE: When Rebekah and I moved to Brandon in 1996, two of the most welcoming people at First Presbyterian Church were Roy and Virginia Crenshaw. Wednesday afternoon, after a lengthy illness, Roy’s beautiful life drew to a close.
There’s a lot that could be said about Roy Crenshaw, and I’m sure that it will be. But for today I’d like to share the following newspaper article from 2004, when I profiled Roy (and Virginia) for the Brandon edition of The Tampa Tribune. The title of the column was “Nothing But Blessings.”
NOTHING BUT BLESSINGS: Roy and Virginia Crenshaw are a remarkable couple. To know them is to un-shutter a window into the past, develop insight into the present, and revive hope for the future.
Roy was born in Charleston, Missouri, in 1922. He grew up in Southern Indiana, raised in a harsh culture of segregation. Learning all he could, he won acceptance to Franklin College. Reality, however, closed that door as soon as it opened, and he applied his considerable gifts to the Civilian Conservation Corps, first managing inventory and then becoming qualified in electronics.
MARRIED: At the onset of WW2, Roy Crenshaw moved to Dayton, Ohio, continuing his training. It was there he met his bride, Virginia, a Dayton native and student at St. Clair College. After a stint in the post office, Roy entered government service, a venue less inclined to discriminate than private industry.
In the early 60’s, the government needed Roy’s expertise with missile guidance systems, so the family prepared to move to Newark, Ohio. There, local realtors described a variety of available properties. When they met the Crenshaws in person, and discovered their race, the listings always evaporated.
For a year, Virginia stayed in Dayton with the children. Eventually, unwilling to live apart, they settled on a cramped and run-down house.
The couple knew it would take more than demonstrations and Supreme Court decisions for segregation to end. The imperative lay with citizens courageous enough to risk everything. It took people like the Crenshaws, people simply willing to take a risk and begin to live as if the ideal of integration really worked.
BREAKING GROUND: Rejecting the idea of a thirty-mile drive to worship, they looked around Newark. One Sunday morning, having found a receptive pastor, the family showed up at a Caucasian downtown church.
“Just watch what I do,” Roy told his four children. “If I do nothing, you do nothing; if I run, you run; if I fight, you fight.”
Despite a cold reception, one elderly lady welcomed the family as they left the sanctuary. It was enough, and they returned. They soon became the congregation’s first black members. Later, Roy was elected an elder. “It was not easy,” they said, “and we were criticized by the black community. But it was the right thing to do.”
There, in the context of faith, the family began to build relationships, one at a time. Simple friendship is an approach the Crenshaws still believe to be the single most effective tool for social justice.
“We knew we had to open some doors for the next generation, for our children, and for us to live peacefully,” they said.
One night, friends from a white neighborhood walked through the snow to tell the Crenshaws they were moving. “Forget the realtor, we’d like to sell our home directly to you,” they said. Consequently, the family was able to live in adequate housing for the first time since they left Dayton.
Virginia worked as a homemaker, a volunteer, and then director of a small medical clinic. Together, they served on the cutting edge of Civil Rights advances that fundamentally changed the social landscape. “Newark was a test of fire,” they said, “it prepared us for everything else we would face in life.”
It was there that Roy made a crucial career change, “The Lord just opened up things, and I got into personnel administration.” The path was set for an extraordinary chapter in the story of their life together.
The Crenshaws volunteered for overseas service, launching a saga of travel and adventure that did as much to shape their thinking as the ongoing struggles with sectarianism in Indiana and Ohio.
FAR EAST: Assigned to Japan, the couple sought housing off base, so they could directly experience the culture. “If we were going to be in a foreign country, we wanted to live like the local people.”
In order to rent a house, they first had to pass muster with the community leader. This involved, more than anything, respect. The Crenshaws learned an elaborate tea ceremony, brought gifts for the twelve immediate neighbors, memorized a complex greeting in the local dialect, and bowed lower than the host when introduced. Virginia even consented to walk behind her husband, not an easy exercise for an American woman who understood the downside of deference only too well.
The plan succeeded, establishing a pattern of interaction with other cultures they repeated throughout the Far East, where Roy continued his work as a supervisory classification specialist in Korea and the Philippines.
In every setting, these emissaries of America took deliberate steps to engraft themselves into the local culture, to value the customs, and to learn all that they could from everyone they met.
The stories are endless, but the message is consistent. Roy and Virginia Crenshaw love and respect other people, no matter what their cultural background. It is a truth that defines them, as well as their experience of the world.
Roy Crenshaw returned to Newark in 1983, where he served as the Air Force Station’s Equal Employment Opportunity chief until his retirement in 1984.
BRANDON: Here in Brandon, the couple has continued their quiet but eloquent commitment to social justice through personal relationships, volunteer work, civic organizations and, most especially, the ministries of their church (First Presbyterian of Brandon).
Over the years, the Crenshaws have traveled to 48 states, and over thirty nations. They are always open to learn. “All this we have done has just been blessing after blessing,” they said. “It’s just been a walk with God, that’s all there is to it.”
This morning’s post is very much influenced by the tragic loss experienced by two families over the weekend. I don’t personally know either the Warren family or the Smedinghoff family, but my heart goes out to both of them because I know the worlds they inhabit so very well.
Anne Smedinghoff is the 25-year old diplomat killed by terrorists while delivering textbooks to schoolchildren in Afghanistan. Anne died bringing education and hope to young people; she was doing what the Taliban fear most.
Matthew Warren is the 27-year old son of The Purpose Driven Life author and mega-church pastor Rick Warren. Matthew, who had struggled with mental illness for years, ended his own life.
I’m referencing Anne Smedinghoff in this post because her spirit of adventure and love for the world reminds me so much of our son Andrew, and our newest family member, Alicia. Not just a love for travel but a compassionate love for the people of the world. While so many people spend their energy complaining about what other people aren’t doing to make their lives easier, people like Andrew Maul, and Alicia Pashby, and Anne Smedinghoff are out there making a difference.
Then the Matthew Warren suicide story makes an important point about faith, especially after another joy-filled Sunday with our vital and dynamic church. Matthew was part of a vital, dynamic, joy-filled church too. When we’re not thinking too clearly, Christians tend to try to sell the message that following Jesus makes life easy, that going to church makes us happy all the time, and that a life of faith makes problems disappear.
But that’s not true. Jesus promised neither an easy life nor a trouble-free spirit; what he does promise is the gift of presence: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age“ (Matt 28). I also appreciate the message from Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….” God doesn’t steer us around the dark valley, but assures us of God’s presence while we go through it.
And that is the promise faith can provide for both the Smedinghoff and the Warren families right now, the promise of the presence of God. “Peace I leave with you;” Jesus said, “my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14).
CLOSE TO HOME: Rebekah and I are a pastor’s family; we have young adult children; and we know only too well that there are dark valleys along the road. It’s called “life,” and raising children is both more wonderful and more difficult than I could ever express. And God is there in both the wonderful and the difficult, the abundantly joyful and the excruciatingly painful.
Well I’ve run out of space for words this Monday morning, and I haven’t gone where I intended with this post. So I’ll close with this prayer for peace, not only for the Warren family in California, but also for the Smedinghoff family in Chicago.
PRAYER: “God, please make your love and your presence and your compassion abundantly evident, both to the family of Anne Smedinghoff and to the family of Matthew Warren. Amen.”
I know this may be hard for many people to understand or even imagine, but I wake up every Sunday morning – without fail – literally jazzed and excited that once again I have the privilege of going to church.
I love everything about Sunday morning. I’m drawn to the wonderful people; I let the amazing music flow through me; I drink in the inspirational, encouraging messages; I can sense the authenticity of spirit; I am captivated by the reading of God’s word; I thrill at the exhilaration of being with so many people who are bound together by a common love; I’m overwhelmed by the profound sense of God’s presence in worship; I look forward to the smiling, the hugging, the shaking hands….
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: And then there’s my Sunday morning study group. Our church offers, I believe, eight different “Christian Education” classes for adults (plus Sunday-school for kids of all grades). My class – the one I co-teach with the inestimable (and inimitable) Charles Willard – is deep in the process of discussing the entire New Testament at the breakneck pace of one book per week.
Today we’re scheduled to talk about Ephesians. This amazing book is dense with memorable passages and challenging ideas. What a cool conversation to enjoy with a bunch of intelligent, thoughtful co-travelers along the Way of Jesus.
Ephesians includes the following gems:
- “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…” (chapter 2)
- “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God…” (chapter 3)
- “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God….” (chapter 5)
- “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light…” (chapter 5)
- “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm…” (chapter 6)
- “Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (chapter 6)
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe on me, even though they die, will live. and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
- Crowds of people…
- triumphant music…
- joyful singing…
- festive atmosphere…
- a challenging, hope-filled message…
But that was yesterday. What about today? My book Reaching Toward Easter concludes with an Easter Monday chapter that’s designed to keep the momentum of Easter Sunday rolling into the day-to-day experience of being an active Follower of the Way of Jesus.
That’s where the idea of “The Eighth day of Creation” comes from. Easter ushers in the beginning point of resurrection-powered re-creation. We have the opportunity to be truly alive in the fullest sense of “the life-charged life” only because of Jesus.
So there’s the “pre-Easter creation,” and then there’s the “New Creation,’ in and because of Jesus. Which creation are we going to live into from this point forward?
“If we leave the church [yesterday] as confirmed Eighth-Day believers, then what we’re really doing is signing up to join Jesus in the re-creation business.” (p. 136)
SO-WHAT? In her Easter message at First Presbyterian Church, Rebekah put it something like this. “The details in the Gospel accounts may vary, but everyone agrees that something remarkable happened, something amazing, and that the tomb was empty; the fact of resurrection completely transformed the followers of Jesus” (link to the Easter Sermon Podcast here)
Simply put, that’s the “So-What?” question in front of us this morning. Is the same enthusiasm, wonder, excitement, passion and sense of celebration we experienced at church on Easter morning going to animate the way that we live forward from this point on?
“Once Resurrection Day initiated the new order Jesus moved on, because in part-two of the plan the responsibility passed to, and remains with, his followers.” (p. 136)
So I’d like this short blog-post to leave us with the following thought; it’s the way Reaching Toward Easter concluded: “We’re no longer spectators. We’re now participants in the new creation. If our journey through Lent together has prepared us for anything, then I pray it has prepared us for this.”
We’re no longer spectators. We’re now participants in the new creation. If our journey through lent together has prepared us for anything, then I pray it has prepared us for this.
Glorious Easter Morning! Seriously, folks, it doesn’t get any better than this! The very reason the church even exists is the stunning fact that Jesus defeated death and reclaimed the life-charged life for all creation.
Jesus, in all his resurrection glory and power, didn’t just stare death in the face but he literally entered into death – only to emerge more alive than ever before. Christ’s remarkable achievement means that we can confidently face both life and the end of life without doubt, without uncertainty, and without fear.
The Resurrection is (in equal parts) both victory over death and the transformation of life into new life.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: But it doesn’t stop there! Even more amazing is the effect Christ’s Easter Dance has on my life (and yours, too, if you’re interested) between now and the day our bodies finally give out and we transition into eternity. The transformational reach of Easter is to make life possible now, life in all of its fullness and literally soaking in love.
The transformational reach of Easter is to make life possible now, life in all of its fullness and literally soaking in love.
Showing up at church this morning to worship with my faith community is one way that I can raise my hands and shout “YES!” in response to God’s invitation to embrace all that is possible in life.
This is why we were created! We are designed for relationship with God. That first Easter morning re-calibrated the harmonics of our spiritual nature and set the stage for the whole world to enter the song.
That’s a song worth singing and a story worth telling! Not just on Easter Sunday but every Sunday. Not just every Sunday but every single day of the week. Not just for today but for all of eternity.
Hallelujah, He is Risen!