April 25, 2023
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. Hebrews 8:12
Thank you all so much for your prayers and encouragement these last two weeks as my family struggled through the death of Aimee’s mother Phyllis. Your prayers were needed and felt. It is so good to be part of the church. Phyllis died after a long, debilitating struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, but, as Aimee said shortly after her mother’s passing, “She’s home, and she’s healed.”
Alzheimer’s is insidiously awful. I had heard about it and seen it from afar many times, but this was our first experience of watching up close as it ravaged someone we knew and loved. It is a horrible thing to see someone lose their memories - all of their memories. This experience impressed upon me how much our identity is tied to our memories. Who are we, after all, without any recollection of the people and events that have shaped and defined us?
Yet there were moments of blessed holiness scattered throughout this process. Some of those moments came watching Phyllis enjoy birds nesting and singing in our back yard. We had several occasions to see them up close as we sat on our patio. Phyllis enjoyed them tremendously, which was a marvelous, perhaps even miraculous thing.
You see, for almost all of her life Phyllis was terrified of birds. Her phobia seemed to have originated from being attacked as a child by a bad-tempered rooster on the farm where she grew up. Since then she hated and feared birds and could not stand to be near them. Then, one day, she sat on the patio and delighted in the birds singing just a few feet away.
Alzheimer’s had eaten away that part of her brain that caused her to fear birds. The memory of the rooster was gone and so was her fear. Please do not mistake me. I am not romanticizing Alzheimer’s. It is a horrible, awful disease. Yet there was this time of blessed joy as Phyllis forgot to be afraid. Now I ask myself, what if I forgot to be afraid? What blessed joy could I experience if I forgot to be afraid?
It is a curious thing that our all-knowing, all-powerful God forgets. But the scripture is quite clear that God forgets our sins and misdeeds. Even more curious is this verse about God forgetting is part of a passage about knowing and remembering. The preceding verses are all about God creating a new covenant, one that God will write in people’s minds and hearts so that people will know God even without being taught, so that we’ll know especially that God will be merciful to us and remember our sins no more.
This new covenant is what Jesus inaugurated and ratified when his body was broken and his blood was shed on the cross as he mercifully prayed, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.
All of us - all of humanity - would benefit, I think from some forgetting. Oh, certainly not from the identity-ravaging, forced forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s. But we would all benefit, if we, like God, chose to forget to pridefully judge and condemn others for their sins and instead remembered God who is merciful.
There is something frightening about that kind of forgetting, so maybe we, too, need to forget to be afraid.
Peace & Courage,
October 10, 2022
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:1 (NRSVUE)
Yesterday I kicked off our new teaching series Blueprints…for Building Up the Body of Christ. We’re diving into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to learn God’s plan for us to be part of building up the church which is Christ’s body on earth. (If you want to listen to the sermon go here. For the whole Mosaic worship service go here. For the whole Heritage worship service go here.)
I said in the message that God’s plan for us to build up the church begins with blessing and that God’s blessings were for the saints. The Bible teaches that saints are not superstars who make up some sort of weird “Christian Hall of Fame.” Saints are simply those who have been chosen and set apart by God to be part of God’s mission of reconciling the world to himself - and God wants everyone to be part of that.
What I didn’t have time to get into in the sermon is that Paul adds a modifier to “saints.” Those who are blessed are saints who are “faithful in Christ Jesus.” This modifier is incredibly important and incredibly easy to misunderstand. Let’s start with the “easy to misunderstand” part.
For those steeped in western culture, particularly those raised in the church or with some knowledge of how churches in the west have taught over the years, it’s easy to take the phrase “in Christ Jesus” and interpret it to mean, “follows Jesus’ rules,” or “does churchy, religious things.” But that is not at all what it means to be “in Christ Jesus.”
To grasp what that phrase really means, we need to remember four very important things: First, Jesus is not simply a historical figure who lived a long time ago. He is alive and active now. Second, Jesus is going somewhere; he has an ongoing mission and ministry in the world to be reconciling the world to God. Third, Jesus calls us to join him in his mission. Fourth, the church (God’s people called out and together) is Christ’s body on earth.
If we put all these together it becomes clear that being “in Christ Jesus” is not a matter of following divine rules or acting out some religious duties. It means joining together with Jesus in his ongoing mission and ministry in the world. Think of it this way.
Imagine that intelligent, strong woman named Shamika started a corporation called “Shamika’s Way” and that the mission of “Shamika’s Way” was to compassionately provide adequate health-care to everyone in the world. Now suppose that a bunch of people said, “We love that mission. We’re going to follow Shamika in Shamika’s Way.” In order to be and stay in Shamika’s Way, those people would need to be consistently and compassionately providing adequate health-care to people in the world who did not yet have adequate health care.
If those people spent a month or a year doing that and then stopped. They would no longer be in Shamika’s Way. If they stopped providing health care and instead started providing entertainment, they would no longer be in Shamika’s Way. If they were providing health care but doing it in mean, arrogant or condescending ways, they would no longer be in Shamika’s Way.
To be “In Christ Jesus,” then, means that we are consistently and actively joining with the church (the body on earth of the living Christ) to be part of reconciling the world to God, or as we phrase it in Garfield Church: connecting diverse people who share a common brokenness, with Jesus.
In the first eight verses of Ephesians Paul references in or through Jesus eight times. I believe Paul is indicating that if we want to be part of receiving the blessing of God, then we need to be together with Jesus sharing the blessing of God with others. I think that is so much better than just following rules or being religious.
Peace and Courage,
June 18, 2022
Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
I want to take this opportunity to give you an update on Garfield Memorial’s MicroChurch ministry. Garfield MicroChurches gather weekly in people’s homes to share a meal and connect in community. (For a more in depth explanation and description go here and here.) If you look closely at the gospels you can see that Jesus did a huge portion of his ministry at the dinner table with diverse people. He showed that there is power in sharing a meal with others. His encounter with Zacchaeus is a fascinating example.
Jesus invited himself to the home and hospitality of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector for the Roman Empire. Because Zacchaeus was a tax collector he was considered a notorious sinner: a collaborator with the invading enemy, a greedy extorter of money, a liar and a cheat. Jesus was condemned and criticized for going to his home. But Zacchaeus, (honored by Jesus’ desire to be at table with him) is transformed and demonstrates his transformation by committing half of his wealth to care for those in need and committing to repay four times all he has stolen. Jesus declares what he knew all along - that Zacchaeus is also a “son of Abraham” - a part of the family of God.
MicroChurch is a way for us to live into and out of this power that Jesus knew, demonstrated and shares with us. We are seeing that power (the power of the Holy Spirit) at work in our various MicroChurches. I’ll not give specific examples because these gatherings are confidential, but I can tell you that diverse people are finding common community and loving connections with each other. People who would not or could not attend a Bible study or Sunday worship service are connecting in love with God’s people.
If you’d like to experience MicroChurch first hand, go here to see our current list of times and locations and let us know. Each MicroChurch is a little different, but I promise that whichever one you connect with you’ll find an extended family of people who love to see you when you're there and who miss you when you're not.
Peace & Courage,
May 23, 2022
People were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Jesus had a mission…a big mission: to save the world, more precisely to save the people of this world from soul-crushing bondage to sin and death. He knew that the decisive acts of his saving work (his death and resurrection) would take place in Jerusalem, so he had set himself to go there. Along the way he was sharing and showing the hope and reality of the Kingdom of God at meals, in the streets, along the road and in the countryside.
In the middle of all this, parents started bringing their little kids up to Jesus just so he could touch them. The disciples tried to put a stop to it. They must have thought that the Messiah had far more important things to do. Jesus thought differently.
Jesus told them, ““Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
The first part of the statement is pretty straightforward: Let the children come, the kingdom belongs to them, too. The second part is curiously phrased. I have heard it taught for years that Jesus was telling them and us that if we want to receive the Kingdom of God we must receive it like a child: with a childlike faith that is trusting, guileless, and innocent. That’s not a bad interpretation; in fact, Matthew almost requires such an interpretation.
But one of my professors, New Testament Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, offers another possible interpretation worth considering. The original Greek sentence structure and grammar in Luke (and Mark) allow us to hear Jesus saying this: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as one receives a little child will never enter it.”
In other words, our willingness and capacity to receive the Kingdom of God is directly related to our willingness and capacity to receive little children. This interpretation offers great power and a great challenge to us in 21st century USA.
Little children are disruptive. They don’t much care what we think or what we want. They demand our attention and react quite strongly and (again) disruptively when we fail to give it. We can either bend down and receive the screaming toddler into our arms, our hearts, our lives. Or we can send them away to be someone else’s concern so that they do not disrupt our important plans and agendas. Jesus not only clearly calls us to receive little children rather than sending them away, he also ties our act of receiving or not receiving children to receiving or not receiving the Kingdom of God.
Garfield Memorial Church is committed to receiving children through KidzSpace, Kidz Club and other ministries and outreaches for children and families. I can assure you the kids are disruptive. (If you doubt me, stop by Kidz Club sometime). To receive them we often have to adjust (and even abandon) our plans, agendas, schedules and projects. Just like the Kingdom of God. And we’re doing it - not perfectly and only by God’s grace, but we’re doing it.
The most beautiful example I’ve seen of this in a long time was Logan Thomas’ Baptism at Kidz Club last week. You can watch the video here.
We are planning to expand Kidz Club to two days per week next school year so that more and more children can be received by Garfield Church. Children get rejected in so many ways at so many stages of their lives; we want to expand our capacity to receive them and love them in Jesus’ name. To do that we need more adults. We’ll be putting the call out for that this summer. When you hear it, I hope you’ll respond, “Yes, I’ll be one of the people who helps receive children and with them the Kingdom of God into our midst.”
April 25, 2022
They [the followers of Jesus in the months after the resurrection] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)
As we wrap up our teaching series on the meals of Jesus (which you can watch here and here), I want to remind you again that, apart from the stories of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, 50% of Jesus' ministry happened at meals. I think it’s worth asking, “Did Jesus’ followers continue this practice?” I think we can safely say, “Yes, they did.” In Acts 2:42-47, the author, Luke, gives us a brief and beautiful picture of the life and ministry of Jesus’ followers. This picture reveals that the early church placed a high value on shared meals.
I want highlight two things from this passage:
First, breaking bread together (that is sharing meals together) is listed alongside other things that the church still values today: devotion to the apostles teaching, prayer, social justice and concern for the poor and marginalized, praise, worship & seeing new people become followers of Jesus.
Second, breaking bread/sharing meals is mentioned three times in one short list. Prayer, worship and preaching/teaching are mentioned once. Bible study is not mentioned at all. But breaking bread/eating together is mentioned three times. When the Bible was written they didn’t have boldface or highlighters. If an author wanted to emphasize something, they repeated it. Clearly Luke wanted to emphasize the high level of importance of shared meals.
This short passage also gives us a clue as to why shared meals are so important.
Luke mentions two other things multiple times in this list: fellowship/togetherness and social justice/care for the poor. These three things (shared meals, fellowship/togetherness, and justice for the poor) are deeply (and perhaps inextricably linked. The act of regularly & consistently sharing meals, face-to-face, eye-to-eye around a table where social distinctions, divisions and hierarchies are marginalized or (better) disregarded opens the door to true fellowship/togetherness and drives us to social justice and care for the poor.
The end result of these things was that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Certainly we want and need to stay committed to prayer, Bible study, preaching/teaching and communal worship. But consider this, if we did three times as many shared meals, with three times as much fellowship/togetherness and twice as many acts of social justice and care for the poor as we do sermons, Bible studies, prayer meetings and worship services, perhaps the Lord would add to our number daily those who were being saved.
Peace & Courage,
January 25, 2022
As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples.
Matthew 9:10 (NET)
We’ve started our new teaching series “Map My Run,” and the thing that excites me most about this series is that no actual running is required! Don’t get me wrong, I know that some people really like running. I pray for those people daily because clearly they need it. Those who run, particularly those training for a race, need a strategy for growing as a runner.
Discipleship (following Jesus) can seem a little amorphous and unclear, so as followers of Jesus you may also find it helpful to have a strategy for growing as a disciple. The strategy we identified in our Vision2020 process is to Explore, Connect, Transform and Commit. (If you don’t quite get what all those mean, that’s okay because that’s what this teaching series is all about.
In this eNote and this Sunday’s sermon, I’m focusing on Connecting, specifically developing meaningful connections with diverse people. There are a lot of challenges to Connecting, challenges like…How do I connect during a pandemic? Where do I find people to connect with? How do I break free of the legacy of segregation and connect with people of different ages, ethnicities, politics, economic positions, gender identities, etc? How do I make time in my life for meaningful (as opposed to merely functional) connections with people?
These are good questions and real challenges. This Sunday we’ll be exploring two of the biggest obstacles to meaningful connections with diverse people (your own sense of righteousness and your own sense of shame) and how Jesus makes a way through those obstacles. I’ll also be unveiling a new(ish) format for being church that we’re calling MicroChurch.
For now, I’ll just say that MicroChurch is not a Bible study, prayer group, or study group. MicroChurch is a small community where people are glad to see you when you’re there and miss you when you’re not. It’s not a silver bullet for church or discipleship, but it will help you navigate through the challenges of meaningfully connecting with diverse people.
Are you intrigued? Do you have questions? I hope so. Keep listening, reading, watching & worshiping to learn more.
october 26, 2021
“Do not be afraid.”
It’s the end of October which means Halloween! If Christmas is the season of peace and joy, then Halloween is the season of fright. Whether by horror movies, “haunted” houses, ghost stories or scary costumes, lots of people seem to love to be frightened. As fun and entertaining as manufactured fright can be, fear is all too real and can be crippling.
Frank Herbert’s sci fi epic Dune and the movie it inspired recognizes the reality of threatening, scary situations and the power fear can have to ruin our thinking and hinder our acting. A group of women in Dune called the Bene Gesserit teach their members to memorize and repeat the “Litany Against Fear” as a way to face and manage fear:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
I find this a poetic and beautiful statement. It acknowledges the reality of fear, but reminds us that fear is ephemeral and transitory. It will pass, and we will remain. This litany reminds me of what God said to people over and over, “Do not be afraid.”
However, as with all things that come to us, we are wise to sift it - keeping what is helpful and discarding what is not helpful. By helpful I mean, what helps us love God and the diverse people in this world.
The part of Litany Against Fear I find unhelpful are the last two clauses, “...there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” In the Dune universe all religion and all faith in God or some other spiritual higher power is myth and superstitious nonsense used by the powerful to control and manipulate the weak and the masses. The litany ends with “only I remain,” because to Herbert I am the only one who can respond to fear; there is no God to turn to. That thought - that I as a single human or we as humanity alone - are all that we have to depend on and turn to for hope and vision - that thought frightens me more than anything else.
When God tells us not to be afraid, he’s not saying, “You’ve got this!” He’s saying that God’s got this. We don’t have to be afraid, because God exists, God loves us, and God is the sovereign Lord of all the universe. He can bring good into any situation. He can redeem any circumstance, including death itself. In God is life and light, and life and light triumph over darkness and death.
If you find yourself afraid this Halloween (or any other time), may I suggest a revised litany against fear. Try something like this:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, God will be. Only God, my sisters and brothers in Christ, and I will remain.
We all experience fear, but fear need not kill our mind or obliterate our hopes. Fear may tell you that you are alone, but Jesus said, he would never leave you or forsake you. Face your fear. Fear will pass. You, God and the beloved community will remain.
august 12, 2021
Click here to help with the Renaissance of Reconciliation Festival!
A Renaissance of Reconciliation
Renaissance: (noun) renewal; rebirth of life and vigor; a revival of intellectual or artistic achievement and vigor
Reconciliation: (noun) the act of reestablishing a close relationship between; the act of settling or resolving a dispute; the act of making oneself no longer opposed.
As part of igniting a Renaissance of Reconciliation, Garfield Memorial Church is hosting its first ever Renaissance of Reconciliation Festival on Saturday, September 11 at our South Euclid Campus. How will this Festival help ignite a Renaissance of Reconciliation?
First, we are intentionally inviting very diverse groups of people including the MACE Islamic Center, the South Euclid Police Department, Jewish Synagogues, Buddhist organizations, our Catholic neighbors across the street, and many others.
Second, we’ll be sharing a free community meal together. Each group (including several groups from Garfield Church) will be bringing food to share that represents them. We’ll sit down at tables to eat, talk and laugh together. Much of Jesus’ most significant life-changing ministry happened at the dinner table with people who were divided from each other, but they came together around Jesus and the table.
Third, we’ll be fostering and sharing one-on-one conversations with people we don’t know. We’ll have two “Fishing Holes” set up where strangers can Meet a Friend & Make a Friend as they ask and answer pre-written, “ice-breaker” questions. We already know some of what makes us different from each other. At the Festival we’ll share conversation to learn more of what we share in common as human beings.
Fourth, we’ll share diverse music from local performers (including our very own Dre & Leah Bracey!!!). We’ll have a Main Stage under a big top tent. We’ll hear and see a variety of performers from different backgrounds and with different styles.
Fifth, we’ll have other fun activities for kids (midway games, face painting, balloon bending, & more) and adults (cornhole with the cops, ladder ball & more).
Sixth, throughout all of this we will be intentionally & radically hospitable & prayerful. We will be welcoming our neighbors, meeting them, greeting them, and getting to know their stories. And we’ll be praying for them.
Seventh, while the Festival gives us a chance to intentionally focus together on reconciliation with our diverse neighbors, face-to-face worship at South Euclid (like at Pepper Pike) gives us time and space to focus together on reconciliation with God. Worship at South Euclid on 9/12 (and every Sunday after that) will start at 10:00 AM. Pastor Steve Furr will be the primary preacher at South Euclid and Justin Mackey will be the primary worship leader. We’ll have Kidz Space, including nursery & pre-school. And we’ll have ample time and space to connect with other people before and after worship.
That’s a lot for one Festival, but neither Renaissance nor Reconciliation happen without effort. God was in Jesus reconciling the world to himself and he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). So we are calling you to commit to the Renaissance of Reconciliation Festival. Mark your calendars and come to the Festival. When you see us post about it on social media, share the post. Invite your friends. Follow this link and sign up to help. Be part of igniting a Renaissance of Reconciliation!
Click here to help with the Renaissance of Reconciliation Festival!
july 14, 2021
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” …Nearby stood six stone water jars...each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. John 2:1-3, 6-9 (NIV)
This Sunday, July 18 is Garfield Memorial Church’s first ever Summer Soak Fest! If you come to the Soak Fest (and I hope you do!!!), you’ll get to share a lot of things in common with Jesus’ first disciples at the wedding in Cana. Don’t believe me? Here’s the list…
- It’s a party!!!
- There will be a lot of water! (Actually there was only 120-180 gallons of water at the wedding, we’ll have soooo much more!
- LOTS of people from the community will be there!!!
- You’ll get the chance to interact and connect with people in the community!
- You’ll get to see Jesus do (almost) the same miracle he did at the wedding!!!
Excited about 1-4 but suspicious of 5? Of course, Jesus isn’t going to be turning our water into wine at the Soak Fest, but check this out: At the wedding Jesus turned 120-180 gallons of water into 120-180 gallons of wine for people who had already had a lot to drink. Why? It was a party, the people of the community were celebrating a wedding and God makes wine that gladdens human hearts (Psalm 104:15)! The Hebrew word for “gladden” is the root for the Hebrew word for joy! So...
Jesus didn’t just turn water into wine (as cool as that was) he turned water into joy! He gladdened the hearts of the people at the party so they could celebrate and connect in the celebration.
Jesus will be doing the same thing on July 18! He’ll be turning water into joy as children,youth (and maybe even a few adults) slide down slides and across slip-n-slides, as they dance in a sea of foam to the amazing beats of DJ Hope! He’ll be doing that to gladden the hearts of all who gather so we can celebrate and connect in the celebration.
Don’t miss the miracle! Come to the Summer Soak Fest. Bring your kids, grandkids, neighbors and their kids to our South Euclid Campus (1534 S. Green Rd, South Euclid) from 2:30-5:30 on Sunday, July 18. I’ll see you there!
june 15, 2021
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
- John the Apostle, Revelation 7:9a
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
- Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
This coming Saturday, June 19 is Juneteenth. If you don’t know (and until relatively recently, I didn’t know either), Juneteenth is our nation’s second independence day. It is a remembering and celebration of Union General Gordon Granger arriving in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 and informing the enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were free.
Why is Juneteenth our nation’s “second independence day”? Because, as Fredrick Douglas asked, “What to a slave is the Fourth of July?” The Fourth of July brought only a partial freedom to this nation, an “imperfect liberty,” as Mary Elliot, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, described it, “because slavery still legally existed in the nation.” Ms. Elliott says that Juneteenth is important because, “It’s important to remember what we went through and that we were able to get out of the bondage of slaver as a nation” (emphasis mine).
Juneteenth is not a celebration for African Americans only; it’s a celebration for all Americans, because all of America was held in bondage by slavery. To be sure, African Americans suffered the lion’s share of pain, suffering and indignity from slavery, yet as Soon-Chan Rah and Mark Charles point out in their book Unsettling Truths, slavery and the racism that fueled and sustained it, inflicted deep wounds upon the white people of this nation as well: wounds such as the lie of white cultural supremacy, the false pride in achievements obtained at the cost of the enforced indignity of African Americans, and the deeply rooted fear and insecurity that oppressors feel when the oppressed gain freedom and strength.
The wounds of racism including slavery and the Jim Crow apartheid that followed it still linger and manifest themselves in heartwrenching and horrific ways in our nation, but Juneteenth marks the beginning of true liberty and justice for all in this country.
Garfield Church has proclaimed over and over again that the Kingdom of God is not segregated, and the church shouldn’t be either. We are diverse, and we are connecting diverse people who share a common brokenness with Jesus.
That’s why I was thrilled when the City of South Euclid asked Garfield Memorial Church to host the city’s Juneteenth Celebration. We’ll be doing that this Saturday. The celebration starts at 6:00 PM and the movie on the lawn will start at approximately 9:30 PM. In between there will be a DJ, spoken word poetry from Egypt Speaks, vendors, snacks, face painting and lots of diverse people. We’ll be celebrating freedom and reconciliation together.
This is a great opportunity (a God-ordained opportunity, if I may be so bold), for Garfield Church to carry the word of reconciliation to the community of South Euclid and beyond. Please buy a Garfield eRacism shirt at the event or here, wear it to the celebration, and mingle with the guests: welcome them, engage them, get to know some of them, love them in Jesus’ name as we ignite a renaissance of reconciliation in South Euclid and beyond.
A Question of Control
Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NIV)
Last spring Aimee planted some bulbs in the small bank behind our house. After a hard winter only a few have bloomed so far. The other day a plant blossomed with yellow blooms. Aimee wondered whether it was a weed or was from one of the bulbs that she had planted. The blossoms are pretty, but I told her it was a weed. That got me thinking...What’s the difference between a weed and a flower? The difference, I think, is simple: human intention and control.
If it’s a plant growing where the human(s) in control of the area want it to grow, it’s a flower (or shrub or herb or whatever). If it’s a plant growing where the human(s) in control do not want it to grow, it’s a weed. I had a serious gardener tell me once that a rose growing in a vegetable garden is a weed.
Many of us humans place a great deal of value on our intentions and control. We think of things that happen according to our intentions as “good” and things that are not what we want as “bad.” Things outside of our control are dangerous and often disturbing. We want to bring them under control to make sure they are good and right.
But Jesus’ words to Nicodemus (quoted above) suggest that the opposite may be true. Most English translations suggest that Jesus is comparing the Holy Spirit to the wind which “blows wherever it pleases” - outside of human control or intention. But Jesus’ statement is actually more profound than that. In Greek the word for wind and the word for spirit are the same: pneuma. So what Jesus actually said was, ““The Spirit blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
God - the Holy Spirit - who is truly good is outside of human control and intention. What’s more, everyone born of the Spirit is the same: outside of human control and intention, going wherever God sends them.
If you are not where you intended to be and your life and circumstances are out of your control, this may be a good thing. It may be that you are where God intends you to be, and God can bring good into all circumstances. Rather than trying to control things to make sure our intentions are fulfilled, perhaps we need to let go of our illusions of control. Bloom where you are planted. If others call you a weed, pay them no heed, and remember that this is not their garden.
And if different flowers are blooming around you than you expected or would prefer, remember that this garden is not yours either. It’s God’s.
april 13, 2021
Peter said to Cornelius and his guests, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.”
On one hand, Peter had a Jewish cultural and national identity that said he could not associate with gentiles. On the other hand Peter was a follower of Jesus, and Jesus had told him and his other followers to go into all the world - to all ethnic groups - and make more disciples of Jesus.
Peter’s confusion reminds me of the confused boy in Emmanuel Katongole’s book Mirror to the Church. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Katongole for our 24 Billion Stories playlist on the Garfield Memorial Church YouTube channel. (Please subscribe if you haven't already.)
In the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990’s the Huto majority attempted to exterminate the Tutsi minority. The boy Dr. Katongole spoke of was a Hutu by birth, but he had been raised by Tutsis. When the mob came to kill the Tutsis, many Tutsis fled and hid. This Huto boy fled and hid with them. Soon though the Tutsis reminded the boy that since he was a Hutu, he had nothing to fear and did not need to hide, so the boy returned to the Hutus. The Hutus tried to get him to join in killing Tutsis. The boy was confused. He knew he was a Hutu and that Hutus were supposed to hate and kill Tutsis, but he knew Tutsis, too. He loved them and thought of them as his people. He could not and would not kill his people.
The boy was confused and that confusion was good. I pray that all Christians, all followers of Jesus, would be as confused as that boy.
You see we have many forces, factions and tribes making claims upon our identity, demanding our allegiance, calling us to take action against the others. But if God created all people and Jesus died for all people and Paul is right that we are all one in Christ Jesus, then there is no “other,” not really.
When we are baptized, the waters of baptism wash our old self away and it dies. The waters of baptism wash away old allegiances, loyalties, tribalism and factions. We are born from above with a new identity - a child of God, a brother or sister of Jesus - and a “new we” (as Dr. Katongole says it). Our new loyalty is to Jesus and to this new we that includes every tongue, tribe and nation.
I pray that the waters of Baptism and the blood of Jesus would in truth run deeper than our old tribalism, partisanships, biases and bigotries. I pray that we become so fully new that when we are called upon to exclude, demean, hate or do violence against the “other” that we are confused, and say, “What other? I see no other. I see only my sisters and brothers whom God made and Jesus died for and whom I am to love as Jesus has loved me.
I invite you to listen to my conversation with Dr. Katongole. I will be uploading a portion of the interview every week for the next several weeks. The first part is already up, second part will be up by Wednesday, April 14 at noon. I also encourage you to watch the “Mirror to the Church” Teaser and intro videos to get some context for the interview. You can find all those videos by clicking here.
march 22, 2021
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
If you are not familiar with our 24 Billion Stories playlist on our YouTube channel, I invite you to check it out by clicking here. Due to other responsibilities, I haven’t added much to the playlist so far in 2021, but that is about to change in a very significant way.
This Thursday I will be interviewing Dr. Emmanuel Katongole via Zoom. Dr. Katongole is a professor of Theology and Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and is one of the founders and principle leaders of the Bethany Land Institute in Uganda. He is also the author of numerous books including Mirror to the Church:Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda. You can learn more about Dr. Katongole here.
I will be talking with Dr. Katongole about Mirror to the Church and what we as Christians in the west can and must learn from the Genocide. Mirror to the Church makes it clear that the western church actually fostered the genocide Rwanda simply by doing what was (and tragically still is) culturally acceptable for the church to do.
My conversation with Dr. Katongole will not be live streamed. However, I will be sharing it through a series of videos on 24 Billion Stories following Easter. To help prepare to hear, understand and receive what Dr. Katongole has to say, I will be uploading a few videos to the playlist between now and Easter. One has been uploaded already, another will go up on Wednesday and the third will go up next week. I hope you will watch these videos and the interview with Dr. Katongole. In fact, I believe it is vitally important that we listen to and receive what he has to say.
The verse above may seem morbidly self-obsessed. David wrote these words after the prophet Nathan informed him that God was displeased with his treatment of Uriah & Bathsheba. What David had done to Bathsheba & Uriah was acceptable to the people of his culture but was sin to God. In those situations where God’s values and understanding are radically different from our culture’s, it is vital to keep our “sin always before” us, or we are likely to slide easily and quietly back into destructive cultural values and expectations.
The genocide in Rwanda is a mirror that will help us see dangerous and destructive values and practices in how the west has done church for 1,500 years. We need a long lingering look in this mirror if we want to repent and change what we see.
Also, please take some time to check out our worship services for Holy Week and Easter. You can see what is happening when, and you can register for face-to-face options here.
february 15, 2021
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. (You can join Garfield Church in celebrating Ash Wednesday face-to-face or online; just follow this link.) Ash Wednesday is the start of the season the church calls “Lent.” The word Lent comes from the Old English word lencten which means lengthening, as in the lengthening of the hours of daylight during spring. It refers to the forty days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday & Easter Sunday. (Lent should not be confused with “lint” which refers to the fuzzy stuff found in dryer filters, pockets and belly buttons.)
Lent is a time set aside for followers of Jesus to prepare to receive Easter. The forty days reminds us of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation during which he prepared for his earthly ministry; consequently many Christians practice some form of fasting during Lent. It may sound strange to talk of “preparing to receive Easter” and stranger still to consider fasting as a way of preparing ourselves for Easter. But if we dig a little deeper it’s really not strange at all.
We must first remember that fasting (abstaining from something - usually food - for a certain amount of time) is not an act of self-punishment, self-disciplined achievement, or a strategy for weight-loss. There are at least two dimensions to fasting: On one hand, fasting is about not allowing ourselves to be ruled by our appetites (whether physical, emotional or spiritual). On the other hand, fasting is about making space in our lives for God.
It is a fairly well-known phenomena that we humans tend to use natural, healthy appetites to meet needs they were not intended to meet. We eat, shop, work, watch TV, engage in sexual activity and a host of other activities in an attempt to satisfy emotional, spiritual or relational longings that those activities were never intended to fill. Since the need is real and unfulfilled, we end up over-indulging in one or more activities in a futile attempt to meet the need.
Fasting is a tool for breaking that cycle (which can become viciously destructive). By fasting in prayer we say, “God, I am willing to live with an unfulfilled ‘want’ to make room in my life to be filled with you. Like Jesus I need ‘bread’ to live, and also like Jesus, I need more than bread, I need you.” It is no coincidence that early Christians spoke of being filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are constantly filling ourselves with other things, there is no space or opportunity for the Spirit to come in.
To prepare Jesus for his earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit drove him into the wilderness where he experienced unfulfilled wants. The past year has been a similar wilderness experience for many people. We’ve been driven away from many normal sources of comfort, strength and hope. We have experienced many unfilled wants.
I am not saying that God sent COVID-19 to teach us a lesson, but what if we prayerfully say, “God, I offer this time to you. All the things that I have had to give up, I give to you. May your Spirit fill up those hungry and thirsty places in my life. God, use this experience of unfilled wants to prepare me to receive you and to receive Easter as a new beginning of love-filled, humble ministry of justice and reconciliation in my family, my communities and your world.”
I invite you to embrace this season of Lent as a time to prepare to receive Easter by saying no to some of your appetites, so that you might be filled more and more with the Spirit of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
january 25, 2021
Then Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. (Genesis 2:7)
A few years ago (after watching the first two Twilight movies), I posted to Facebook some critical comments about Bella (the main character, for you non-Twilighters). Within hours a “friend” replied to my post with a scathing, dissertation-length defense of Bella and attack on me. Clearly I had struck a nerve for this friend. She deeply empathized with and (dare I say loved) Bella. She was eager to defend Bella against my callous, and insensitive remarks. My primary thought in response was, “Bella isn’t real.”
To be fair I have grown fond of many fictional characters myself...Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Paul Atreides, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister and others. (And while I enjoyed the Twilight books, no, I am not on Team Edward or Team Jacob.) I’m a big fan of stories in multiple mediums. Well-written and well-acted characters can inspire, encourage, and comfort me. I respect these (and other) characters, and the authors, writers and actors who have given them “life.” I confess that I can become too attached to fictional characters and at times care too much about them. (I await with deeping dread and suspicion Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series.)
I have to remember though that (no matter how badly Amazon may distort and exploit Tolkien’s characters), they are fictional not real.
It amazes me how easily we humans (me included) become attached to and even love fictional characters. I include real-life actors, politicians, and other celebrities in this. Unless we’re part of their inner circle all we know is the positive PR generated by their allies or the scurrilous rumors spread by their enemies. Both of which are likely to be far more fiction than reality.
At this point, if you are still reading, you’re probably saying, “Very nice, Blevins, but so what.” Here’s what…
I find it fascinating that one of the first and oldest names of God that we have is Yahweh which literally means “He Exists.” In Genesis 1 where we see God creating the vast cosmos, God is called Elohim which can be translated as “Powers,” “Most Powerful” or “The Mighty One.” But in Genesis 2 where we see God stooping down, molding humans out of dirt, breathing his breath into us, and walking and talking with us, God is called Yahweh: He Exists.
Names in ancient Hebrew were not like names in much of the USA. For many in the US a name is a sound or collection of letters that identify a particular person. In ancient Hebrew names described a person's character, identity and even place in the world. And one of God’s names (some even say God’s first and true name) is He Exists.
Let that sink in.
In a world where it is increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction and fake from real, He Exists. In a world where PR and gossip substitute for the real person, He Exists. In a world of fake news, CGI, virtual reality and phony social media, He Exists.
As early as two decades ago (and probably before that), futurists were predicting that one of the most important and necessary skills to have in the 21st Century would be the ability to distinguish truth from fantasy. And He Exists.
At one level this encourages me to invest more time in getting to know He Exists than I spend in getting to know fictional characters and celebrities of all stripes. But this encourages me at a much, much deeper level, too. Because no matter how hard it becomes to distinguish real news from fake, PR from the person, conspiracy theories from actual conspiracies, no matter how hard it is to know who’s really being real and who’s really speaking the truth, He Exists. God is real, Jesus is truth, no matter what you, me or anyone else says about him.
december 15, 2020
Christmas, Pressure and Expectations
We put a lot of expectations on Christmas: It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year; it’s supposed to snow so our dreams of a white Christmas will come true; It’s supposed to make us not just merry but also holly and jolly (jolly I get, but I’m still not sure how to have a holly Christmas); even if we had a bad romance last Christmas, we want Christmas to grant us that man or woman of our dreams this year; since Santa Claus is coming to town we have to get ready for him; Christmas is supposed to provide everything from two front teeth, to curly-haired dolls that toddle and coo, to a ring (and I don’t mean on the phone); we’re supposed to go caroling and wassailing, AND we’re also supposed to have a silent night. That’s a lot of expectations.
With all those expectations, I hope you’re not disappointed this CHRISTMAS@HOME.
As a kid I often got disappointed at Christmas. I wrote my letters and asked Santa for lots of stuff, but never got nearly everything on my list. If Santa and his elves make all of the toys and they don’t cost him anything and he’s magic, why in the world wouldn’t he give me what I asked for. (One year I wrote a long letter trying to explain this to Santa himself...It didn’t help.)
With all the expectations we put on Christmas, it’s easy to be disappointed. Compared to the fantasy, the reality of Christmas can be quite underwhelming. The first Christmas was like that...underwhelming, I mean. The Jewish people had been waiting for centuries for their Messiah to be born, but when Jesus was born almost no one noticed (except for Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds who got special invitations). Why? Because Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting. They were expecting a glorious, powerful king who would kick out the bad guys and make everything right.
Jesus was so not glorious, that God had to send an army of angels, just so someone would know that he had arrived. Jesus was a poor kid born to a poor family. There was nothing about him that distinguished him from any other poor kid.
Instead of showing off his glory, he gave it up.
Instead of overwhelming people with his power, he surrendered it.
Instead of awing people with his greatness, he became the least of people.
Instead of punishing the sinners and kicking the bad guys out, he gave his life to woo them back.
No, Jesus and that first Christmas did not live up to people’s expectations. Thank God! Jesus was so much more.
So...If you find that this Christmas is not living up to your expectations, take a deep breath and thank God for that. Then ask God to help you see and hear him in the ordinary people and circumstances around you. When you see him or hear him, quietly give glory to God in the highest and thank him for an O so holy night.
october 26, 2020
What’s in the Way?
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” Acts 8:36 (NIV)
This Sunday, I was reminded of a story from my family history. My Great Grandma Mary Ann “Don” Blain, loved to tell the story of her own baptism. At every opportunity, with great enthusiasm she told how they had to break the ice on the Kanawha River near her home in the hills of West Virginia so that she could be baptized on a cold January day. For my Great Grandma nothing was going to stand in the way of her being baptized.
Garfield Memorial Church has celebrated two baptisms in the last two weeks. On the 18th we baptized Tyron Folds (an African American man), and on the 25th we baptized Eleanor Shaffer (a white infant girl). A lot stood in the way of these two being baptized in the same church.
First, it’s no small miracle that Tyron is even alive. He was shot and the bullet missed his heart by a centimeter. You can hear him tell his story here: Tyron’s Story.
Second, even though Jesus commanded his disciples to make and baptize disciples from people of all ethnicities, most churches in the United States are still racially segregated. Thus it is a tragically unusual thing for a black person and a white person to be baptized in the same church.
Third (just in case you missed it) we’re in a pandemic. Sadly, many pastors and other church people have lamented that their churches have been closed by the pandemic. How can you share the Gospel and baptize anyone if you’re closed? But we have never closed Garfield Memorial Church - not for a single day. Although our use of buildings has been limited, the church has remained open, alive, and actively pursuing our mission throughout the pandemic.
Fourth, it was cold on Sunday as Pastor Terry placed the waters of baptism on little Eleanor outside at our drive in worship. More than one person remarked to me, with a pained expression on their face, how cold it would be for the baby - triggering my memory of Grandma Blain.
All of this reminds me of another baptism from long ago. The church was still very young, but it was growing and bringing joy to the city as it grew. There was a man who had come to Israel seeking God but a lot stood in his way. He was ethnically different from the Jewish majority, and he had been sexually altered which barred him from participating in temple worship. But as far as God was concerned nothing was going to stand in the way of this man hearing the Good News.
God sent one of his followers, Phillip, to meet with him in the wilderness. (You can read the whole story here.) After Phillip shared the good news with him, the man saw some water along the road, and said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” The short answer was nothing: nothing was going to stand in the way of his being baptized.
This is Garfield Church’s answer too: Nothing will stand in the way of us sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, of making and baptizing disciples of all ethnicities, not a pandemic, not face coverings, not cold weather, not racism, not election-stress, not fear. Nothing. It’s why we are here: to widen the circle of Christ’s love, to connect diverse people who share a common brokenness with Jesus. Nothing can stand in the way of that.
october 13, 2020
So the LORD sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story... 2 Samuel 12:1 (NLT)
Have you heard a good story lately? By “good” I do not mean exciting or entertaining or emotionally gripping. I certainly do not mean popular or marketable. A good story certainly might be any or even all of those things, but that is not what makes a story - a book, a movie, a song, a TV show - good.
A good story is a story that reveals truth and falsehood, sickness and health, functionality and dysfunctionality about ourselves, our cultures, the world we live in and our relationship to God and others. A good story might inspire hope, inflict pain, tear open old wounds, or expose hidden infections.
The Bible is not only a story, it is also full of stories and stories within stories. One of the most potent of those is the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah. Here’s a brief summary:
While one of King David’s close friends and comrades, Uriah, was away fighting in a war at David’s command, David compelled Uriah’s wife Bathsheba to have sex with him. She got pregnant. To cover himself and satisfy the demands of honor, David brought Uriah home and encouraged Uriah to have sex with Bathsheba so everyone could pretend the baby was Uriah’s. Uriah, like everyone else, knew what was going on and refused in an attempt to shame David. David then arranged for Uriah to be killed and then married Bathsheba. Everyone knew what had happened, but no one cared much. David was the king and what he did was within the prerogative of a king. This was the sort of thing kings did. The story then drops this ominous line: But the thing David had done displeased Yahweh (2 Sam. 11:27)
Yahweh sent his prophet Nathan to reveal His displeasure to David. A difficult task especially since neither David nor his people in general perceive anything wrong with what David had done. (We are not told what Bathsheba thought of the situation. She’s given no voice in this part of the story, probably as a way noting her powerlessness and of saying that she bears no fault for the wrong that was done.) What did the prophet do to communicate Yahweh’s displeasure to David in a way that David would understand? He told him a story (which you can read here.)
The story was a good story, one of the best stories ever told, not because it had a happy ending (it did not) or because Nathan would be able to monetize it or because some publisher or playwright would pick it up and make it popular. It was a good story because it revealed a whole range of painful truth to David, truth that would lead him to repent and pray, “Have mercy on me, O God, …according to your abundant mercy...cleanse me from my sin… Against you, you alone, have I sinned…” (Psalm 51-14 NRSV).
Clearly David didn’t comprehend all the truth (otherwise he would have acknowledged sinning against Bathsheba and Uriah), but he comprehended enough to change his thinking about what he had done and admit his sin toward God. Oh, the power of a good story.
We have just launched a new broadcast on our YouTube channel. It’s called 24 Billion Stories, and you can find it here. We are searching for and exploring good stories. Some of the stories will be hopeful and encouraging - like the stories told by the shepherds after the birth of Jesus and the story told by the Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus. Many of them will be painful, though, like the story Nathan told David.
If you listen to these stories and are hurt by them, I urge you not to judge or condemn or walk away to avoid the pain. One of my favorite storytellers, Frank Herbert, has one of his strongest characters say this when she is judged for telling painfulful stories:
Is it defeatist or treacherous for a doctor to diagnose a disease correctly? My only intention is to cure the disease.
And Jesus told us clearly that it is only those who are sick and know it who come to the Great Physician for healing.
So check out 24 Billion Stories. This month we’re looking at Scary Stories. We even have an interview with Alan McElroy, a gifted, professional writer of scary stories. While you are watching, please hit the “like” button and subscribe to our channel.
august 11. 2020
“The Gospel in Film”
“So the LORD sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story…”
2 Samuel 12:1
The prophet Nathan had a tough assignment from God. He had to communicate to King David that David had done something horribly displeasing to God. The problem was that no one else, including David, seemed to realize that David had done anything wrong. What David had done was a perfectly acceptable thing to do according to his cultural norms and standards. So what did Nathan do to communicate this profound and disruptive truth to the King? He told David a story.
Stories and storytelling are deeply embedded in human culture and psyche. We are storytelling and story hearing beings. We are shaped at the deepest levels by the stories we hear and believe and especially by the stories we tell ourselves. This is one reason why movies and television have such a large place and significant impact in our culture. It is also one reason why we need to tell and hear good stories.
Jesus seems to believe that stories are powerful, too. The Gospels give us only two sermons that Jesus preached (the sermon on the mountain in Matthew 5-7 and the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:12-49). But the Bible gives us more than 30 different stories that Jesus told.
For the next four weeks the teaching pastors of Garfield Memorial Church will be preaching from their favorite movies. No, this doesn’t mean we’re abandoning the Bible and the living Word of God. I believe C.S. Lewis said something like, “Every good story points to the Great story.”
The movies we are preaching from are not just (in our opinion) great films, they are also good stories that point to the Great story - the story of God’s redeeming, sacrificial love for humanity.
We want this to be fun, so we’re making a game of it. Each week we’ll be posting a list of five movies that the preacher that Sunday likes, and you get to vote on which of those five you think is that preacher’s favorite. (You can see my list for this week and vote here.) You can vote until the sermon title is announced each Sunday. If you guess the favorite for all four pastors, you’ll win the grand prize! If you guess three of the four, you’ll win second prize! (Prizes TBA...but it won’t be a puppy or a pony.)
But wait! There’s more! This Sunday, I invite you to watch the movie after worship. (It’s available on some of the major streaming services, but I’m not saying which one’s yet because that would be a hint.) At 4:30 PM I’ll host a zoom chat, and we can talk about the movie. If you want to be part of the zoom chat, just email me at Scott@garfieldchurch.org and put “Movie Talk” in the subject line. I’ll send you the zoom link.
Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” I hope the stories we hear about the next four Sundays inspire you to learn more of God’s story and to tell your story!
may 26, 2020
“Do this in remembrance of me.” -Jesus
In early May 1868 General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a national day to remember those killed in the Civil War. He said, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” What was at first called Decoration Day, later became known as Memorial Day. War is a brutal thing. When we ask (and sometimes demand) others fight in wars, we ask and demand that they do and experience horrific things.
It is good and right that we set aside a day to remember those who gave their lives in such service to our country. Cut flowers placed on a grave are a fitting memorial. What was once beautiful (both the flower and the person) have been cut off from life and will decay - transient, insubstantial beauty to remember a transient, insubstantial life.
Jesus asked for a different kind of memorial:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)
He asked not for cut flowers or ribbons or decorations of any kind. For his memorium Jesus told us to eat bread (which nourishes and brings life) and to drink wine (which brings joy to the heart), and he told us to eat and drink together.
Jesus does not wish us to remember his death with morbid, inconsolable grief. His death, though horrific, was also beautiful. It was the offering not just of a life but of Life itself, so that those of us who are dead may live. When we eat bread and drink wine we receive what was once alive, and what was once alive gives life to our bodies and our spirits.
We must not forget to eat the bread and drink the wine together, for Jesus died not just to give us life but to give us life together - to tear down the barriers that divide us. The forces of this dark age constantly seek to divide us - by race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, education, age, economics, or any of countless distinctions that have no place or role in the kingdom of God beyond the inherent beauty of diversity and difference.
Jesus died to unite us, not as some sort of homogenous soup, but as a garden with manifold plants and creatures of diverse sizes, shapes and colors.
How fitting to remember Jesus’ death (and his life) by eating and drinking together. In this sense the memorium Jesus asks of us is akin to the picnics many of us enjoy on Memorial Day - a time of coming together in life and joy and love.
May we remember Jesus as we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of each month and eat and drink together this summer.
march 2, 2020
When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.
Easter is almost here! (I know, time flies, right!?!) Currently we are in the season that the church calls Lent. Lent (the 40 days before Easter, not including Sundays) is a time to prepare for the crucifixion and the resurrection. Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for this, too. The heart of his preparation was a meal, specifically a Passover meal, which he shared with his disciples.
At this meal, Jesus and his apprentices remembered what God had done for his people in the past. They recalled the bitterness of their bondage, how God has saved his people from slavery through the death and blood of a lamb, and the sweetness of the promised land God had prepared for them.
At this meal, Jesus focused his disciples on the hard realities of the present: He would be betrayed by one of them; All of them would abandon him. He also focused their attention on the beautiful realities of the present: As Jesus washed their feet he reminded them of his love for them and their capacity to love and support each other. As he shared bread and wine with them, he reminded them that his death would bless them.
At this meal, Jesus gave his friends a vision of the future: He would die, but he would come back from death to new life. He would go, but the Holy Spirit would come and remain with them. They would abandon him, but he would forgive and restore them. He prayed that his people would live together in the same love and unity as Jesus, their Father and the Holy Spirit. And this unity would show the world who Jesus really is - God with them.
At this meal, they talked and touched. They ate and drank. They worried and argued. They hoped and dreamed. Together. At the table. As family and friends.
The church typically celebrates this meal at a service called Maundy Thursday. (Maundy comes from the Latin for commandment, reminding us that it was during this meal that Jesus commanded his apprentices to love one another.) Normally this has been a large group experience that includes singing, prayer, preaching and a sharing in the sacrament of Communion.
This year, though, we are inviting you to an experience that is much closer to the experience Jesus had with his disciples. We want you to share a meal with a small group of others who want to connect with Jesus and prepare for the crucifixion and resurrection. You can either host a meal in your home (training provided) or be a guest in someone else’s home.
At this meal we hope you’ll experience something very much like what Jesus and his disciples experienced. We hope you will eat and drink, talk and touch, hope and dream together. You’ll probably even worry and argue a bit, too. You’ll remember the past, take a clear look at the present and peer into the future. You’ll also share in the bread and the cup - the body and blood of Jesus. As you gather for this meal you’ll be gathering in the name of Jesus, and he will be there with you. Is there any better way to prepare for whatever is to come in your life?
Sign up and put it on your calendar today. Just go to www.garfieldchurch.org/LENT.
January 27, 2020
The sporting world has seen two highly publicized brawls in the last two months: first Myles Garrett, Mason Rudolph and a handful of other Browns and Steelers squared off then the Kansas State and Kansas men’s basketball teams went at it. Both fights happened with only seconds left in the game and both completely overshadowed what would have been impressive victories for one of the teams. Certainly lots of factors contributed to those fights, but there is one important factor that I have not heard mentioned. Both fights happened because participants had a loss of vision.
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint…” For a moment men on all four teams lost the vision of why they were there. They were there to play and win a game - a contest - against the other team, and by winning the game take a step toward advancing as a team to the next level of competition. When they lost sight of that vision, they also lost their restraint and did things that were diametrically opposed to their vision.
The vision we have as a church is to Widen the Circle of Christ’s love to welcome those of every tongue, tribe and nation. This vision is easy to say and easy to remember. It’s both a joy and a challenge to live this vision. Part of the challenge is, as we’ve said throughout this month, that vision requires continual maintenance. Losing the vision, even for a short time, can have catastrophic consequences.
I’ve seen that in churches: I’ve seen churches that have stopped being churches and become exclusive clubs that serve the members. I’ve seen churches descend into factions that vie for control within the church. I’ve seen churches that have become focused on preserving their resources. And, although, I haven’t seen it personally, I’ve heard of churches in which the leaders have had actual fist fights in the sanctuary. All of this happens at the expense of the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all ethnicities.
This is why we have to continually check our vision, to make sure our focus is clear and clearly on the right thing. Our vision guides what we do, shapes who we are and determines where we go. (Our Core Values do much the same thing with the addition of shaping how we do what we do. We’ll be taking a deep dive into those in February.)
How do you check your vision? It’s simple, keep focusing on Jesus. He shows us who we are becoming (Ephesians 4:11-14). And how do we keep our focus on Jesus? Keep coming to worship in person or online (we’ll be checking in on vision throughout the year) and commit to a small group (we have a great dinner group every Monday evening at 7:00 PM at our South Euclid Campus). And keep reading your Bible and praying.
Pastor Scott Blevins
november 26, 2019
Love, Friendship & Friendsgiving
“I no longer call you servants… Instead, I have called you friends…”
Something amazing - something truly miraculous - happened at our South Euclid Campus on Sunday, November 22, 2019. Over 100 youth (grades 6-8 and 9-12, from both our campuses plus friends they invited) of diverse race, ethnicity, economic status, educational background, neighborhood, social status, political mindset, and family structure sat down at one long, winding table to break bread and give thanks. It was beautiful. (If you doubt me, just watch this video.)
It was also very, very, very unusual.
If you don’t believe me about the unusual part, ask a teen what the lunchroom is like at their school. Let me give you a hint...divided into mistrustful, suspicious, and sometimes hostile cliques. Cliques based on income, skin color, athletic ability, academic ability, gender identity and social acumen.
Jesus disrupted those kinds of tables. Leonard Sweet observed that since Jesus did not have a home (you do remember that our Savior was homeless, right?) every table he ate at was in someone else’s home. He was always the guest, but he seemed to always become the host. And he welcomed people to the table who were definitely not part of the homeowner’s clique.
There will be no cliques in heaven. Jesus was too much a clique buster on earth for their to be cliques in heaven. He was continually extending friendship to the outsiders and the outcasts, not ultimately so they would serve him, but to widen his circle of friends.
Jesus often depicted the Kingdom of God as feast, a banquet, a party. No one wants their party to be filled with servants - people who are paid to be there. People want their parties to be filled with friends, friends who feel safe enough to eat, joke, laugh, play and sing karaoke together. (And yes, there WILL be karaoke in heaven! The Bible does say to make a joyful noise to the Lord!)
That’s what Friendsgiving was. It was an honest to goodness Kingdom of God feast. I am so thankful for Dre, Leah, Nikki and the dozens of volunteers who let this happen. Heaven broke through in South Euclid at Friendsgiving.
Sunday, November 22, 2019 will likely not be remembered by historians. It will get lost in the shuffle of celebrity breakups and hookups, power politics, multinational business deals, and football scores. This is tragic, because I believe that the GMC Youth Friendsgiving was ultimately more important than all of those things. Afterall, Jesus never promised to be present for any of those things, but he did promise to be present when only two or three gather in his name. We know he was present when a 100+ youth of incredible diversity gathered as friends in Jesus name to give thanks and share a meal. We know Jesus was present, and we know he was smiling.
PS You can see more about youth ministry at Garfield on our website here. and the "Did You Know" video about youth ministry here.
november 12, 2019
Do Not Be Afraid
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…
Last week the Garfield Memorial Church staff along with some other leaders in the church attended the 4th Mosaix National Multiethnic Church Conference. The conference was stunning in both the amazing and painful sense.
It was amazing to receive the teaching, preaching, worship leadership and testimonies of so many faithful, insightful and prophetic women and men of diverse skin tone and ethnic backgrounds. We learned a lot and were inspired even more.
It was painful, though, to hear testimony after testimony of lives broken and almost destroyed by past and present acts of racism and bigotry. By their testimony they would have been destroyed but for the saving and redeeming power of God. As painful as it was to hear those stories, though, I have to remind myself that it is far, far, far more painful for the people who have to endure these experiences.
It was amazing to see how far the church has come since this movement began in earnest only a decade or so ago. It was painful to see how very far we still have to go to have truly healthy multiethnic churches and multiethnic lives.
This multiethnic race we are running is a marathon, not a sprint. Like a marathon, it won’t be finished quickly, and it won’t be finished without pain, suffering and sacrifice. We know where we’re going: a church, a world, and lives in which people are judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin, including churches in which we truly value multiple cultures, not merely diversity of color. We know what it will take to get there: the increased prioritizing of the voices and leadership of people of color and the humble surrendering of power and privilege by men who look like me. (In this I am continually challenged and encouraged by Pastor Chip’s reminder that Jesus, who had all the power and privilege imaginable, gave it up, to come to us in humility and grace.)
In the context of multiethnic church and multiethnic living, it’s not a matter of not knowing what God wants. One of the speakers, a brilliant Latina woman named Noemi Chavez observed, “We want what God wants to do next, but we're afraid of what it will cost us.” Fear is a powerful force that wrecks many churches, communities and nations. It drives us to run away from God, his will, his way, and his presence. Maybe that’s why one of the most repeated instructions we have from God in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”
One of the workshop leaders, Michelle Higgins, a brilliant African American woman who is a worship leader and an activist with faithforjustice.org, shared that she reached a crisis point in her life and ministry in which she had to stop seeking safety and instead start seeking not to be afraid. In the midst of this crisis she recalled the words of David, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” She recognized that David did not “fear no evil” because he was safe, but because God was with him.
I want to join Noemi and Michelle (and David and Jesus) in this kind of living, particularly as it relates to multiethnic living and multiethnic church. There will be costs involved in living and loving this way, but as another conference speaker, Bryan Loritts said, “If you ain’t payin’ a price, it ain’t love.”
October 8, 2019
The Circle Keeps Getting Wider
On Saturday, October 19 an amazing thing is happening. I’d like to say it’s a new thing, but it’s really a very old thing. It began around 4,000 years ago when God promised Abram that he would bless all the ethnicities of the world through him and his descendants. It continued when Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman at a well. It kept going when Philip went to Samaria to proclaim the good news about Jesus, when Peter went to the house of Cornelius to share the good news about Jesus, and when Paul and Silas were appointed by God and the church to share the Good news of Jesus with the diverse ethnicities of the world. And it continued to continue when God called Chip & Terri Freed and Terry McHugh to widen the circle at Garfield Memorial Church. So what’s happening on October 19 is not a new thing, but it’s still amazing.
On that day we will be hosting and leading The Hate U Give Community Conversation at our South Euclid Campus. We’ll screen the movie The Hate U Give then share a meal and conversation about race with youth, police officers and the community. That’s right, teens and adults (black, brown and white) will be sharing a meal with local police officers and discussing race face-to-face across the table at the Garfield South Euclid church building. Where else does that happen?
Through the leadership of Kimberly Chapmon-Wynne and Melissa Thompson from the SEL Schools, we have already screened the movie and begun processing it with a group of Brush High School Students, the police chiefs of South Euclid and Lyndhurst, and other officers (including the SEL resource officers). The conversations have been eye-opening and heart-opening.
You need to be part of this conversation, too, so please register at www.THUG-GMC.com. We will be receiving a grant from South Euclid MyCom to cover all expenses for the event, so 100% of the $10.00 donation we are asking from all participants will go to support our Kidz Club! It’s a win-win-win (win-win). Sign up today. Invite your friends and family. The movie starts at 9:00 in our worship center. If you can’t be there in the morning, watch the movie on your own and come for lunch and conversation that will begin at noon and end by 2:00.
If you have any questions, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 5, 2019
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
I’ve been a Browns fan for as long as I can remember. I cheered like crazy when they won. I was devastated by “The Drive” and then by “The Fumble.” I was stunned and heartbroken when they left Cleveland to become the Ravens. But I’m excited and hopeful for this season.
I’m also cautious...though maybe not for the reason you think. Sure the Browns might have another losing season whether due to injuries or under-achieving, but that’s not why I’m cautious. I’m cautious because they might win and win big.
Two memories and years of experience feed my caution. First, I recall a moment in a sermon I heard while I was in seminary. The preacher was Dr. Fred B. Craddock. He was one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever heard. He was also my advisor and preaching professor. In one of his sermons he was questioning and wondering about the time, energy, money and emotion that people invest in celebrities.
Then as now many of us were obsessed with celebrities whether actors, singers, musicians or athletes. Dr. Craddock questioned why people invested so much in these people. His gaze seemed to bore into my soul as he said, “They don’t care about you.” He went on to point to that they won’t be there if someone you love is in the hospital or if you lose your job.
He was not attacking celebrities. He was just pointing out that they are not the ones who will be around in our times of greatest joy and deepest suffering. The ordinary people - friends, family, acquaintances - will be sharing those moments, and he encouraged us to invest ourselves in loving them more than adoring celebrities.
As I was chewing on what he’d said, I remembered something else: the 1992 Elite 8 matchup between Duke and UK. I was as big a fan of the Wildcats as I was of the Browns. The Wildcats were on the verge of beating Duke to advance to the Final Four when Christian Laettner hit a last second shot and Duke won instead.
Again I was devastated. Their loss sent me into an emotional slump that lasted for weeks. I thought about what Dr. Craddock said, and had to conclude he was right. They don’t care about me. I began to wonder, why would I entrust so much of myself - my emotional, mental and spiritual well-being (my joy and my sorrow) to people who do not know me and do not care about me.
As we go into football season (and baseball postseason and a new basketball and hockey season). I encourage you to be cautious about how much of yourself (particularly your mental, emotional and spiritual state) that you entrust to total strangers who don’t know or care about you.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t root and cheer for the Browns (or whoever your favorite team is). In fact, we’re having a Browns watch party at our South Euclid campus this Sunday at 1:00. Come on over to enjoy the game, some hotdogs and a lot of wonderful people.
I am saying be intentional about investing yourself in and entrusting yourself to Jesus who knows you better and cares about you more than anyone else. In like manner invest yourself in the lives of the people around you. Rejoice when they rejoice; weep when they weep. Put more mental, emotional and spiritual energy into loving them. After all, loving them is like loving God.