A Note From Ashley – July 2017 Newsletter

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this YouTube clip before (if not, watch it before reading further). It’s Allen Iverson in a press conference. He’s just been asked about missing a basketball practice and his response is hilarious. Iverson responds at one point, “We’re talking about practice? How silly is that?… When you come in the arena and you see my play, you see me play, don’t you?”

Here’s the thing. Iverson wants to talk about showing up for the game without talking about how much more important the practice is. As followers of Jesus, we might easily fall into the same trap (or am I the only one?). We want to just be Christians without practicing being Christians. Have you ever caught yourself thinking or saying outloud something to the effect of, “I’m just not feeling Jesus these days,” or  “I don’t really know if this Christian thing is it for me.” Our feelings are important and we should pay close attention to them. BUT. Your feelings won’t sustain your relationship with Jesus. Practice will, practice that looks like:

  • spending time in scripture;
  • spending time with the “great cloud of witnesses” in your life and in the life of this church who have experienced God in a long list of ways (especially those in a different age demographic than yours);
  • worshiping together;
  • playing together;
  • looking for the things in this world that do not look like God’s kingdom come and putting our hands, feet, and voices to work to bring that kingdom.

This is what practice looks like. The mountain top highs will not sustain you or me in our faith. “Feeling” like being a Christian will not sustain you or me in our faith. Going it alone will not sustain you or me in our faith. At the very end of the clip, Iverson responds to a question,

“How in the world can I make my teammates better by practicing?” That’s the whole point! Show up. Practice your faith. It matters for others and it matters for you that you do this faith thing in community.

Don’t just wait until you feel like it to show up for the game. And don’t try to play it alone, either.

Practice? We’re talking about practice? Yes. We are.

What’s your practice this week, next week, next month that will sustain and grow your relationship with Jesus?

See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – June 2017 Newsletter

God is under no obligation to make sense to you. Do you believe that? I don’t know if I do, but I had the thought after reading the opening line in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. He wrote, “The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” I replaced the word, “universe” for “God” and found the statement thought provoking. I would never have claimed to be entitled, despite my status as a millennial, for God to make sense to me, but I have certainly spent my time, money, and resources, in pursuit of becoming a Presbyterian minister, and, in part, attempting to make sense of God. My path may be unique but my efforts are not. I meet with people who are attempting to make sense of God on a regular basis. In death, life, marriage, politics, so on and so forth, people are trying to make sense of God’s presence, or absence, in their life, this world, and beyond. Occasionally, I decide God needs to reveal more to me, as if what has been given thus far, is simply not enough. I am not alone. I know people in their 20’s and 30’s are longing to know God. That is noble. But perhaps we can take a step back and ask the question, “Do I believe God is obligated to make sense to me?” If we answer the question, “yes.” On what basis would we stake our claim? If we are willing to say, “no, God doesn’t have to make sense to me.” How will we live in the tension? What questions are we willing to let go of, or take up, in the pursuit of faith in a God that is more dynamic and complex than our comprehension? Can we consider what God might be calling us to in the midst of these questions? Certainly God does not need our comprehension in order to work in this world, not that God would require our ignorance either. Are you looking to make sense of God? Do you need to let go of a question or two? Are you slightly interested in Astrophysics? If so, let’s start a conversation over coffee. See you at church and around town. ~Josh

 

A Note from Ashley – May 2017 Newsletter

Reflection on a Sermon: The Company We Keep

The day after Jesus’ crucifixion, two friends find themselves on their way to Emmaus. “Angry and anxious,” they make their way to a city of escape, a place where one might “throw up one’s hands because, well, it makes no difference anyway.” Jesus is dead, they killed our Lord, and we might be next. What does the mission even matter? These were the words of Professor Jonathan Lee Walton, Minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, who preached at the morning worship services yesterday.

Professor Walton wondered with each of us who we might be in the story. He called out the angry among us: angry at the ways the world has perverted the gospel, angry at the ways our country continues to treat some as more worthy of care and dignity and concern than others, angry at injustice and inequality. He also called out the anxious among us: anxious that perhaps the Church’s faith doesn’t look like it should, anxious that the world is changing too quickly, anxious that “my gospel looks differently.”

Angry or anxious. Are you one of the two? If so, in what ways has that caused you to throw up your hands and retreat to your Emmaus? Professor Walton asked yesterday, “At times you may be angry. At times you may be anxious. But who is walking with you?”

It’s Jesus. The answer is always Jesus. There’s no time for throwing up your hands, retreating to your Emmaus, whatever that may be. Get back on the road. Choose to recognize the Jesus walking right.beside.you. Professor Walton challenged the congregation that “anger and anxiousness can blind us to the potential” of what God is up to, to Jesus ever and always walking along side us. If you don’t recognize Jesus, perhaps it’s because we have allowed the Jesus who calls us to embrace one another to become unrecognizable, tainted by our so often polarizing, politicized, cultural Christianity.

Don’t be fooled friends. “Jesus didn’t build walls, he built bridges.” May we be a people who recognize this Jesus, Jesus who is not at all dead but very alive, and choose to get back on the road, finding ways to join in God’s work here and now to be agents of not just concern but “active concern” for the least of these.

Otherwise, all we will know are strangers (Jesus and otherwise) on the way. See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – April 2017 Newsletter

In 2006 I graduated high school and I believed it was a sin to smoke a cigarette. I believed it was a sin to drink alcohol. I believed the Bible was best understood as a history book. I believed that I needed to try harder every day to be less sinful, and that one day, I would indeed be completely sinless, most likely by the time I was 21. I believed dating was not a Christian thing to do. I believed men were better fit to be pastors. I believed that cursing was a sin, and that if you cursed and died before getting the chance to repent, and confess this sin, than your eternal destiny was hell. I believed that anyone who did not share my views on sexuality couldn’t possibly be a “real” Christian. I believed that the Theory of Evolution was incompatible with the Christian belief of creation, as written in the book of Genesis. I believed that baptism was completely unnecessary and quite meaningless to a Christian’s life. I believed that in order to be saved one must pray a prayer that follows this formula: acknowledge every sin one can recall, ask God for forgiveness and for Jesus to enter into one’s heart, and profess faith in Jesus as savior. In this moment I believed one was justified before God. If this prayer was done correctly, then one could be sure of their salvation, unless one sinned again, in which case the prayer would need to be repeated. The same formula must be used each time. I believed that faithful Christians only listened to Christian music, explicitly Christian music too, it couldn’t be sort of Christian, or else those people simply were not serious enough about their faith. I believed that God would eventually punish me in this lifetime for all of the sins I had committed. I believed that God could not possibly have much in store for my life, because of all of my past sins. I believed everything in the Christian faith was black and white, right and wrong, sin and holiness.

Eleven years later, I think differently about everything I used to believe. Even if I believe something similar, I don’t think about it the same way anymore. I don’t think about God, the Christian faith, or life the way I used to. In every way, who I believe God to be is significantly more complex. After a lot of schooling and a few years in ministry, I still believe in Jesus Christ, but my faith looks a lot different than it used to. If you find yourself questioning, wandering, or believing something completely new, that is okay. You are not alone.

My hope and prayer for each of you is that you will be open to changing your mind, believing something different, and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance in this next season of life. My hope is that you participate in what God is up to and learn to faithfully follow after Jesus in wonderfully new ways.

I wrote this letter for the graduating seniors. After I finished, I thought, “This could be good to share in the newsletter too.” I hope you enjoy. If you are curious about any of this, I’d love to get coffee with you.

See you at Church and around town.

A Note from Ashley – March 2017 Newsletter

Oh, Lent. Isn’t it strange what our culture has done with the season of Lent? It is the season of feeling guilty about something you do too much of, vowing to give up that practice or habit for 40 days (likely for no good spiritual reason), and then feeling like a failure for not actually giving up that practice or habit at all. What a strange season in the life of the Church. Rather than trying to convince you of the real meaning of Lent or adding more guilt to your life, I’d like to offer the following. Ted Loder’s Guerillas of Grace is one of my favorite books of all time. I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Perhaps rather than giving up something this Lenten season, pray this prayer every day and see where it takes you. You just might meet Jesus on the journey.

Catch Me in My Scurrying
Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of the street people,
in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghett0-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence:
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.
–Ted Loder

 

Happy Lent, y’all. See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – February 2017 Newsletter

One time someone asked Jesus, “Are you a king?” He responded, “Yep.” (my own translation). What an odd question and an even more odd response from a Jewish carpenter who had nothing to his name and was moments away from his death.

What does it mean that Jesus is a king? In the shorter catechism the question is asked, “How doth Christ execute the office of a king?” Essentially, “How is Jesus a king?” The answer reads as follows, “Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.” In the past few weeks I have watched news outlets tell the story of our world without any reference to a god that is concerned, let alone an incarnate king. I have seen my Christian friends profess faith in world leaders and other friends declare those exact same leaders to be the antithesis to Jesus, the Christ, our King. Regardless of your political affiliation, as a Christian, a follower of the Jewish carpenter who had nothing to his name and moments from his death proclaimed his kingship, we find ourselves in the tension of living in a world with leaders who have the power to divide us, change policies, and erect walls, literally and figuratively.

My hope is that in the whirlwind that is our world, we anchor ourselves in the truth that our Savior is a King; working to draw us in, defend us, and defeat the enemy. – Josh

A Note from Ashley – January 2017 Newsletter

Are you the resolutions-making type? If so, try this one on for size. Josh referenced the poem below by the great theologian Howard Thurman in his sermon this past Sunday at The Five-Thirty.

The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
-Written by Howard Thurman

I’ve been thinking on it for a few days now and am stuck wondering: what if at least one of my resolutions for this year was centered solely around “the work of Christmas,” as Howard puts it? Put another way, what if one of my resolutions was centered around others instead of myself? What if one of your resolutions (or hopes, goals, or intentions, whichever you prefer) was centered around others instead of yourself? If Jesus is our example (hint: he kind of is), could it be that the year 2017 might take you one step further in your relationship with him in the way that you choose to live in relationship with others? Your neighbor, your spouse, the person you aren’t “supposed” to like, the community on the other side of town, the community that worships in a different kind of space, etc.? What if?

We are all on a journey, friends. Where will yours take you this year?

Happy New Year. See you at church and around town. – Ashley

A Note from Ashley – December 2016 Newsletter

In his book, Underdogs and Outsiders, Tom Fuerst says about Advent, “In a world too cleanly divided between sinners and saints, [Advent] reminds us that the seemingly godless often dwell closest to God, and those who seem godly often get it just as wrong as everyone else.” I don’t know if you’re like me, but I feel so beaten down by our country’s incredible ability to be so “cleanly divided” between sinner and saint, right and wrong, in and out. Remember the scene in the 2000 version of The Grinch where the mail sorting machine slams labels on packages coming in the post office? What is it about our communities that often makes it so comfortable for us to slam labels on people with little concern? And let’s not fool ourselves to believe that the Christian community is above reproach on this one.

But then Advent happens.

Less than a month after a highly contested presidential election, Advent challenges us to stop dead in our tracks and wonder about the seemingly insane decision of God’s to come to the world as a human, Emmanuel, God with us, through a genealogy of sinners, saints, murderers, idolaters, outsiders, adulterers, refugees, non-Israelites, and the list goes on and on and on. If there is one rhetoric that has perhaps screamed the loudest the last few months (from both sides of the aisle), it’s the notion of who belongs here and who doesn’t. Could it be that in Advent, God says to us, “None of you really belong here. And yet all of you belong here. None of these messy people deserve to be in the bloodline of Jesus. And yet I chose them anyway. You don’t get to decide. I do.” Fuerst writes, “Advent affords us yet another opportunity to reflect on the inclusion of those unlike us in the family of God.” That is the good news of Advent. Reverend Jose Morales writes, “Good news isn’t the same as nice news.” Whether it feels nice or not, the good news of Advent, indeed the good news of the gospel is this: in Jesus, God includes those unlike you and me in the family of God and we don’t have to pretend to be in charge of who God includes. We don’t have to respond with angst, fear, hostility, or hatred. Instead, we are invited to respond with gratitude, joy, and hope: hope for all that God is up to that we cannot even begin to imagine.

This season of Advent and in the seasons beyond, let us choose to respond to God’s inclusion of those unlike us in God’s family with gratitude, joy, and hope. It will be the greatest gift you give to God, yourself, your family, your children, those you know, and especially those you don’t. Merry Christmas, friends.

See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – November 2016 Newsletter

The great poet Curtis Jackson, also known as, 50 cent, once wrote, “Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain.” The great theologian Henri Nouwen says something similar in his book, With Open Hands. He writes, “Likewise, we pray without despair, for despair is possible only for someone who knows what it means to hope.” Jackson and Nouwen both seem convinced that despair and pain have the capacity to point towards something new and life giving.

Of course, best I can tell about myself and others, we don’t care much for pain and despair. We find the most creative ways to numb ourselves. Some choose alcohol. Some choose Netflix. Some choose another trip to plan and experience. While it is necessary at times, at some point it seems we must face the pain and despair of our life in this world. If the way of Jesus is true, perhaps there will be resurrection on the other side of the cross.

As the leaves change in this fall season, may we be reminded of the pain and despair that is necessary to experience true hope, joy, and resurrection. See you at church and around town.

 

A Note from Ashley – October 2016 Newsletter

“Why in the world did Eve eat the fruit?” I was having that conversation with a group of people this morning. We were talking about Genesis 3. One person said, “Well, scripture says it was good for eating. Maybe that’s why.” Another person said, “Maybe she took her eyes off God for one moment and saw the fruit and that’s why she ate it. Her relationship with God was severed before she even bit the apple.” It was 6:30 A.M. and I was up twice last night. My answer was less profound: “It says in Genesis 3 that it looked good. I probably would have eaten it, too. I like things that look good.” #forthewin.

(Also after reading “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other,” I had the thought, “That’s only because Anna wasn’t in the garden. She’s SUPER crafty. Have you seen her artwork?” Whoever says early morning is the best time for deep theological conversations does not know me. Am I the only one?)

There are SO many questions that come from this one chapter of Genesis. If you are like me, the chapter seems so familiar. That is, until you have a conversation about it with a group of people. We landed on the question, “What feels like the forbidden fruit in you life?” What feels like that thing at which you know you should not bite but gosh, it is just so tempting? And what is the difference between a strong desire for something fulfilling (a spouse, the promotion at work, a family, etc.) and that thing becoming a sin? We decided this: desires and longings are not automatically forbidden fruit. Perhaps what makes something forbidden fruit is the idea that having that thing would provide the ultimate meaning, fulfillment, wisdom, etc.

So… what feels like the forbidden fruit in your life? The thing that, if you could just have it, would solve everything, would answer everything, would fulfill everything in your life? Know this: ultimately, only Jesus can be that “thing.” It’s a messy ride and yet, we are invited to be a part of the journey anyway. Hop on board, you’re in good company.

See you at church and around town.

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