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.
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.