BEM Update – Friday, 29 February 2008

Happy Leap Day!

I’ve preached and taught more often this month that I have in a few years. For the past two Sundays I preached for the Brazilian church in Newark. My first sermon was on love (it was just after Valentine’s Day and our special couple’s gathering) and the second was on faith.

Tomorrow night the two small groups will be having their monthly get-together. We will be meeting at the house of a couple from the church and I will be teaching on hope.

As I mentioned, we had a couple’s dinner and study on February 16. Our guest speaker was Mike Landon, a preacher from Connecticut who serve for a few years as a missionary in Brazil. He and his wife came, and most of his talk was based around the “Five Love Languages.” It was a very interesting lesson, and the dinner afterwords was excellent. Christiane worked with Teresa and Ricardo in organizing and preparing the dinner, and everything was very well done (all the way down to rose petals on the floor and declarations of love from husbands to wives!).

The series on spiritual disciplines continues in the adult Sunday School. We just finished a section on hermeneutics (interpreting Scripture) and will be looking at resources for Bible study this week. By next week I hope to move on to Bible memorization. Most of the members who committed to read the entire New Testament in 3 months seem to be on track, though there’s been a little confusion over where we should all be right now. So, I’m preparing a calendar to help guide our reading through to the end of this “challenge.”

Please join us in prayer for the following concerns:

– For spiritual renewal and revival in the congregation, together with numerical growth.

– For the church to find a new, better location for the annual retreat in September. To be honest, I am very concerned about our camp situation. The camp we usually use was a bit unreasonable and difficult last year, and I committed to help the church find a new campground to rent this year. Unfortunately, so far everything has been out of our price-range or unavailable.

– For my family’s financial situation. We are still looking to raise $600 from churches in monthly support so I can avoid going back to a second job.

– For my plans to return to school in the fall for further job training so I’ll be better able to support my family in ministry.

– For Christiane’s naturalization process. She received notice from the U.S. immigration service this past week that her interview and tests are scheduled for April 28. Please pray that she has energy and time to study, as well as a good memory for what she’s studying.

– For the advance of the Good News that Jesus is Lord both among Brazilian immigrants in the U.S. and other countries as well as in Brazil.

The UCC, IRS and Barack Obama

Last July Barack Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ, spoke at the denomination’s General Synod. Because he was already then a presidential candidate (although he was reportedly invited to speak well before his candidacy was announced) and apparently also because there were some tables set up outside promoting his campaign, the Internal Revenue Service of the United States is questioning the tax exempt status of the denomination.

It has bothered me for a long time that churches are legally required to give up their right (guaranteed in the United States according to the Constitution) to free speech in return for tax exempt status. I know this isn’t popular, as no one likes paying taxes, but I really think the only solution is for churches to opt for paying taxes rather than accept being gagged. I don’t see how the church can do what Jesus and the Spirit called it to do without being able to speak to the powers of the world.

Here’s the news article.

Here’s the letter from the IRS.

Here’s an excerpt from Obama’s speech last July to the UCC General Synod.

Ecumenism and “Learning Another Language” (2)

“Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, ‘You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.’ And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, ‘Let me go over,’ the men of Gilead said to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ When he said, ‘No,’ they said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth,’ and he said, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell” (Judges 12:4-6 ESV).

Yesterday I wrote a little about words and how the internal language of denominations and fellowships sets us apart from one another. As I discussed, while I was at Harding I learned to speak “a cappella Church of Christ” lingo in order to fly under the radar. Though I had no fear of being literally “slaughtered” as were those in the time of the judges that could not pronounce “Shibboleth,” many of the good non-instrumental brethren are quite debate-prone and fearful in chapter-and-verse.

A less intimidating experience was when I moved to New Jersey and got to know some folks in the Community of Christ. This is the denomination that was formerly known as “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (I think the name change was a good move, by the way). This group has little in common with the Utah Mormons, and their language reflects it. The LDS church talks about “Sacrament Meetings” but the Community of Christ does not. One phrase that caught my ear was “bringing ministry.” For instance, a couple of times I attended and volunteered to give a brief children’s sermon during worship. One of the men later thanked me for “bringing ministry” in the form of a children’s message. I also heard them speak about someone “bringing ministry of music” at one of their retreats.

So tell me, have you ever noticed any quirky terminology that only your church uses? How about something you’ve heard in other denominations that is expressed differently in your own? Tell me about it, whether you think the difference is serious, curious or just plain annoying.

Ecumenism and “Learning Another Language” (1)

In his article on the World Convention of Churches of Christ, Mr. Wetzel mentioned “Learning Another Language.” Though he didn’t go much into that topic, I’ve experienced it first hand.

A member of the independent Christian Churches, my first couple of months at Harding University’s School of Biblical Studies involved a lot of silence on my part (let the reader understand!). Harding is affiliated with the a cappella Churches of Christ, one of three main branches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement in the United States. Since before 1906 the division had existed, and the progress of time and passing of a generation or two had not only crystallized the division, but changed the way we speak.

The first or second week I was at Harding, one of my classmates asked if I wanted to go to a “Gospel Meeting.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Not wanting to reveal that I was an “outsider” to the a cappella churches, and also fairly curious, I agreed.

It was a Revival.

At least, the independent ChristianChurches as well as Baptists and most evangelicals would call it a Revival. Not the Churches of Christ, though. For them, it was a “Gospel Meeting.”

Soon I learned a few other verbal cues that would indicate a person’s insider status. One was that Christians from one Church of Christ moving to another one did not “transfer” their membership, but rather “placed membership.” Another terminology difference that interested me was that my Church of Christ brethren spoke not of “witnessing” or “sharing the Gospel,” but of “studying the Bible” or “conducting a Bible study” with non-Christians.

To be honest, a cappella Church of Christ people used to scare me. They seemed so strict on “doctrine” (meaning those matters they had decided collectively were most important) and so quick to debate that I felt intimidated. This impression was only confirmed by the atmosphere at Harding, especially in my program, where the focus was on understanding the Bible so we could explain it to others.

My judgment of Church of Christ brethren was a bit unfair. Though I’ve had a few “run-ins” with some of them, the majority seem to be very kind and sincere, though a bit too certain at times. Further, my training at Harding and subsequent experiences (sometimes not terribly pleasant) has helped me have courage with them. I’m still not interested in a debate, but I have no problem with a little face-to-face sparring.

I’d much rather share a coffee and chat about God’s new creation and the task of the church, though.

World Convention in the Christian Standard

The majority of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement has long resisted the formation of permanent structures over the congregations. Of course, with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and formal denominational bodies in other countries, parts of the movement have formalized structures beyond the local congregation. Perhaps it is the general dislike of these types of ecclesiastical bodies that has kept word of the the World Convention of Churches of Christ (WCCC) from getting out. Even so, most of us are convention-goers, so our avoidance of hierarchy doesn’t explain why so few of us know about the WCCC. It’s really not a governing body of any kind.

The first time I ever heard of the World Convention was at the National Missionary Convention in 1997, when I heard Mr. Lyndsay Jacobs speak to a small workshop. At the time he was president of the the WCCC. Perhaps this is the first you’ve heard of this. If you are from the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ or Disciples of Christ, I think you should know about it.

The Christian Standard has published four articles about World Convention. Check them out:

The World Convention: Christmas Truce or Reclaiming a Heritage?

An Invitation from the World Convention’s Executive Director

Southern Hospitality at This Year’s World Convention

The 2008 World Convention: Program, Speakers, Registration

A Little Fun in the Snow

Just a block behind where we live there’s a city park with a nice slope for sledding. My wife and kids went Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I just went with them yesterday (Saturday). My wife seemed surprised I went, but I actually went sledding quite often in my childhood. Growing up on a hilly farm gave me plenty of opportunities.

Anyway, here are some pictures from Saturday. They were taken on my wife’s cell phone, so no flash and the pictures came out a bit dark. It took a little doctoring to lighten them up.

In this last photo, the figure in the center with the orange sled is me, and the little guy to the left is my son.

Try Driving In It

Yesterday was a challenge. We got several inches of snow here in north New Jersey overnight from Thursday to Friday. They never seem to plow roads here until after the morning commute. I left my house in Kearny at 7am and got to work in Paramus at 8:10am. It took that long to drive 25 miles.

Still, I thank God I made it to work before my start time, and that I had a calm day of work. A lot of people didn’t come in, and as the snow continued during the day more and more people opted to use vacation time and leave early. I stayed.

The company bought us pizza for lunch. So, that was nice.

Really, I can’t complain. My mother in Missouri has had far worse weather this winter than I have here in New Jersey.

The picture? It was taken in Paramus, NJ by someone from my company. It looks sunny in the picture, but that was around sunrise and the sun didn’t last. More snow came after that picture was taken.