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
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.
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.