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Pastor’s Pen 4.4.2020

By | Events, Pastor's Pen

Pastor’s Pen 4.4.2020

Pastor Doug Smith

Pastor Doug Smith

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Thoughts for Palm Sunday

If you have followed the Bible reading schedule I suggested for the season of Lent, you should be reading John’s rendering of all that transpired prior to and including the Crucifixion of Jesus. As I stated in last month’s newsletter article, the purpose of this slow but deliberate reading of the Gospel of John is to add the spiritual disciplines of scripture reading and meditation to your spiritual discipline of fasting.

I will welcome in Palm Sunday by sitting quietly outside as the sun breaks the horizon. Once the dawn arrives, I will walk slowly as a kind of commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. If you are able to go out into your yard, I encourage you take a similar spiritual walk. If you cannot, I invite you from the comfort of your favorite chair to take this inner spiritual walk. During that walk, I will reflect on how at times I too have made a choice to not see Jesus as the suffering Messiah, but as a military leader as did the crowds on the first Palm Sunday (See Palm Sunday Sermon).

It is very easy, and very seductive to replace the Servant Christ of the Bible with our contemporary Christ, who bears little resemblance to God’s Messiah. I invite you to pray with me that God will draw us along the narrow and difficult path of righteousness and help us avoid the broad road of cultural self-righteousness.  Every day of our life we must make a choice which one we will follow: the one that leads to calling out for the powers of this world, or the one that leads us to align with the Christ.

Actually the readings for the coming week provide us with ample opportunity to place ourselves in the text, to see ourselves more clearly and to grow more deeply in our spiritual walk. Think about it – when have we claimed Christ when it suited us (as did the people on Palm Sunday  who wanted a conquering King)? They sided with those who want the power of the world as did those who wanted Barabbas released instead of Jesus.

Do you truly understand the Christ, who washed the feet of the disciples, as the humble servant of the least and the last, and that as his disciples we are to do the same? How did that work out the last time you were at a church luncheon and you were the last one through the line?

When your Christian walk got a little tough, how did you desert Jesus as did the Disciples in Gethsemane? It is one thing to say “I would die for Christ,” when things are good, it is another thing altogether to stay with Christ when people are swinging swords at you.

What was the setting where, when you had the clear opportunity to say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus the Christ,” but you demurred or said nothing at all?  Peter denied Christ in the courtyard of the High Priest, but he didn’t deny his failure to himself. That fact led him to a dark night of the soul and once he pressed through, he moved on to redemption and a closer walk with Christ.

In some way, we all should intentionally walk this journey if we really want to experience the Easter Resurrection.

Rev. Douglas E. Smith

Pastor’s Pen 3.28.2020

By | Events, Pastor's Pen

Pastor’s Pen 3.28.2020

Pastor Doug Smith

Pastor Doug Smith

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Through the Wilderness to the Light

At 8:00  on Sunday, March 22nd, I sat in the empty Sanctuary of our church; the lights and heat were off but I was strangely warmed by a sense of the presence of God and the church who were in prayer with me. Shortly after the beginning of the second hour of prayer, I began to think of the darkness Jesus’ followers  must have felt as the religious landscape around him began to shift.

Throughout his ministry there existed a measure of confrontation with the Pharisees.  Jesus walked among them in Galilee and by and large he was able to move and minister freely. Once Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, however, the moderate confrontation with the Pharisees morphed into high level hostility with the religious leaders of Judaism. Nowhere is this shift seen more clearly than in the Gospel of John. Jesus did teach in the Temple, but he was protected by the masses of whom the leaders were afraid.

The first hint of a darkening outlook for the ministry of Jesus actually came when Jesus told the Disciples he was going to Jerusalem.  Peter demurred, suggesting such a move was not advisable. Peter was actually very astute. On some level he knew that nothing but darkness lie in the direction of Jerusalem. Jesus rounded on Peter, because Jesus knew there was no way to the light of salvation without walking into and through the darkness that lay ahead of him.

It is that same terrible darkness that accompanied all the visitors to Jesus’ tomb (but particularly the women) on that first Easter Sunday morning. It was the deepest kind of darkness that completely obscured sight and sucked the air from their lungs. The walk toward the tomb was surreal.  Just weeks before they had been filled with a sense of hope that things were really going to get better. Then a betrayal, an arrest, a trial, a crucifixion and a death. The darkness had closed in and it was tight and complete.

And then, in an instant, the darkness is dispelled by the blinding light of the resurrected Jesus with the calm call, “Mary.” We don’t often think about it but the light of Jesus is made even more brilliant because of the depth of darkness through which Mary and the rest of the Disciples had walked. In part, this is because in the darkness Mary and the rest of the believers saw themselves for the lost souls that they were.

In many ways Lent is designed to make us walk through the darkness of our inner being so that we might more clearly see and more deeply appreciate the light of eternal life. As I sat in the darkened Sanctuary on a Sunday morning it occurred to me that this entire 40 days of Lent has been covered with the darkness of a growing pandemic. We saw the shadow on Ash Wednesday as the coronavirus exploded in China and had already spread to several other countries. And now the darkness of a serious virus has covered all of us, causing panic in some and serious worry in most others.

It occurred to me that perhaps for the first time in our life we may actually have a visceral understanding of the darkness that hung over the followers of Jesus as they approached that first Easter morning. Life right now seems surreal, as if we are walking around in a dream, or rather a nightmare; not sure if we will wake tomorrow to life as normal or to the news that a loved one died from this virus. This is a staggering darkness that causes us to ask the existential question, “Where is God?”

Like the original followers this is the kind of darkness where we truly see ourselves for who we are and know intuitively that we are lost without Jesus. This is the kind of darkness that causes us to know how deeply we need the light of Christ. Most of the time we actually avoid this dark place, but as Noah floated on the deep for 40 days and nights; as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years; and as Jesus faced the devil in the wilderness for 40 days; we too must walk right through the valley of darkness to see the light of Christ. After all, Noah came to a deeper appreciation of the goodness of God; the children of Israel grew into the people of God; and Jesus defeated evil. If we are serious about our walk, the darkness is to the soul as a wet stone is to the knife; it sharpens the senses, it turns dullness in to a clear focus on our Redeemer.

Perhaps our present darkness will lead us to a much deeper appreciation for the gift that is Easter!

Pastor’s Pen 3.19.2020

By | Events, Pastor's Pen

Pastor’s Pen 3.19.2020

Pastor Doug Smith

Pastor Doug Smith

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What is Really Important

I had a phone conversation with a member of the church this morning who had gotten so busy with work that church and family had been essentially pushed aside. Before long our conversation drifted to the coronavirus and the social distancing necessary to help mitigate the extent of the virus.

After talking about how the virus had brought her working life to a standstill, she reflected on how the forced seclusion had reminded her of what was really important. It was not work, it was not the push to make money, it was not even the hope for a great vacation this summer, it was her family. The full-stop brought on by this dangerous virus caused her to be thankful that her Mother is well and that she is home with her spouse and children. That is what was ultimately important to her.

That is what happens in difficult times. People begin to ask existential questions. People begin to refocus on what is ultimately important to them. When this move to the existential happens, most of the problems, irritations and stupidities of life melt away and the ultimate issues of life loom large.

This period of seclusion and distancing has reminded me of how important the interactions of the community of faith are to me. We have only gone through one reduced worship schedule and have not yet experienced the first of two planned cancelled worship services and I am already missing my faith family! I go into the office every morning and the church is empty. The building itself seems to mirror my melancholy. This period has brought to a deeper focus on my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, everything else falls away from Christ.

Exploring Ways To Engage

Since the Community of Christ is so dear to me, I have been exploring ways to engage one another while maintain the physical distance that is so necessary.

  • First, I intend to address, via email, the readings from the Gospel of John that I invited you to read through the season of Lent. They will be short, but they will help keep us in touch. You are invited to email questions or thoughts to my home email address: revdsmith@comcast.net.
  • Second, I spent a lot of time today investigating how we can use the business meeting software “ZOOM” as a way to stay in touch by streaming Worship and/or Bible Studies until we can get back together.
  • Third, I am seriously considering conducting a Drive Through Communion Service in the church parking lot , if we are not able to conduct Maundy Thursday Services. I am interested in your feedback.

Please be in prayer for each other, for those who are ill due to this virus, for the church of Jesus Christ, and that God will remove this current scourge for our world. To God be the Glory.

Rev. Douglas E. Smith

Pastor’s Pen 3.19.2020 and What Can You Do:

Pray for each other, the ill, the church, and our world.

Look for emails from Rev. Smith and provide feedback for Rev. Smith’s possible action plan.

Worship online this Sunday. Worship will be online for the following weeks (March 22 & 29).

Tithe online. Create your account and give here.

Want to revisit a message that really spoke to you? Check out our Sunday Sermons.

Pastor’s Pen 12/17 – Cultural Christianity is Killing Christmas

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Cultural Christianity is Killing Christmas

A story is told that once upon a time, about 2000 years ago, the ruler of a vi-cious—many would call it evil—empire called for all the people under his control, to be counted. The count, according to the story, was for the stated purpose of knowing exactly how many people he could tax. It seems that all empires, particularly evil ones, never have enough money. Apparently, the inability to know when enough is enough is not just a contemporary problem.

Because there were no computers to expedite the process, it was determined the best way to assure people didn’t avoid the count was to force them to travel to their hometown for this bit of record keeping. It is estimated that this one little directive forced millions of people in the known world to undergo arduous journeys. The great storyteller Garrison Keller famously wrote that it seems to be the habit of powerful people to force their will on the masses.

While countless people were forced to follow the harsh directive, our story focuses on one couple, Joseph and Mary, who lived in Nazareth who had to travel to the ancestral hometown of the tribe of David: Bethlehem. At this juncture, Mary and Joseph are merely representatives of the hordes of powerless people who had (and have) no choice but to bend to the will of the powerful. The forced and merciless journey speaks to all those today who are forced to move to escape warring powers, to seek food for starving children, to find a better way of life. Our story is timeless because it speaks to capricious events of yesteryear and yesterday.

For all intents and purposes, the story is one of hopelessness…earthly powers throwing around earthly power. Millions of people suffer this same fate today. And sometimes it feels that the earthly powers over us have no more concern for us then did that Emperor so many years ago. We want peace, but so many make money off war that those chains are always clanging. We want to provide food for our families, but CEO’s, COO’s, Boards, and multibillionaires care only for the bottom line. Our story is timeless, because the wealthy and powerful in Mary and Joseph’s day could only retain their position if the masses were kept in theirs.

But this story, from so long ago, includes a twist that the comfortable could not see coming and the poor could not fathom. Our story reminds us that the powerful have a way of forgetting that their power is not ultimate, and the poor lose hope in the face of the onslaught of the world. The Emperor was proud of his ingenuity in moving people around to further line his pockets, but hidden in that movement of humanity was a surprise that would humble the haughty and rescue the hope of the hopeless.

Our story tells us that the powerful intended the census for selfish purposes, but that the power which is above all earthly powers used their selfish ambitions for the good of all humanity. For embedded in that movement of people was the creative power of the universe. Hidden in the very flesh of a commoner in that crowd was the power that would destroy Rome itself. It appears earthly power is a salve that blinds the powerful to their own mortality but it opens the eyes of the powerless to see eternal life!

Our story, then, is a story of both warning and wonder. It is warning to all who have bought into the ways of the world; losing sight of the God of righteousness. It is warning to the powerful who act as if their power is ultimate. It is warning to all of us that it is easy to become blind to the fact that everything in life is a gift from the ultimate power of the Universe and if a gift, then it is to be considered as a gift to God hidden in all people.

But it is also a story of wonder! It is a story of wonder because it reminds us that the God who brought all things into being can hide himself in the womb of a woman of the lowest strata of society. It is wonder because that baby destroyed the evil that was Rome. It is wonder because in a world of self-destruction it still has the power drag us from death to life. The power behind that story told so long ago still transforms selfishness into selflessness. It is wonder because it is a reminder that God, who stood in solidarity with the poor so many years ago, stands with all people of good will today.

Pastor’s Pen – November 2017

By | Pastor's Pen

There is nothing like the wave of color that spreads across the trees of this great sate to cause one to slide into a “Fall” state of mind. As the colors deepen and drown out the last of the green leaves, my mind turns to all things autumn. I love the deep brown of dead corn stalks and the rust brown of soy beans waiting to be harvested.

Nothing is more beautiful to me than a lawn carpeted with leaves of various shades of brown, red and yellow. There is something in the crunch of leaves under foot during a leisurely stroll that satisfies the primal soul as it drains away the demands of our rushed modern world. Such a scene is surpassed only by leaves animated by the wind. Released from captivity they run along the ground and interact with each other like carefree children; or suddenly they take flight and ride the currents like  great raptors soaring on unseen thermals.

But Fall is more than harvest season or colorful leaves playing in the streets. It is a reminder that we live in a world of constant change. Autumn didn’t just drop out of the sky suddenly, but it has been in a subtle process for weeks now and it slowly but inevitably will dissolve into Winter.

This slow but continual change is as good an analogy for life as can be offered.

For example, I don’t remember when I began to experience physical pain every morning when I move to get out of bed. I only recognize it now that it has reached a certain threshold. Kind of like missing the first few leaves that hint at the approach of fall, but then suddenly catching a sundrenched mountain side of full color. Our perception of change only kicks in when that change reaches a certain threshold and then we are suddenly struck with the reality that things are different. It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the 4th of July!

To a very great extent, the same is true of life in general. The pile of leaves I jumped in when a child looked just like the pile of leaves I rake up today, but my body will no longer tolerate a belly-flop into that deceptively soft looking pile of leaves. When did this change happen? Like the season itself, I suspect my  physical limitation did not suddenly happen, but it evolved over the course of many years until one day the suddenness of the subtle but relentless change happened.

It was the suddenness of that slow but relentless change that really rocked me just a few days ago. Karen and I were discussing how we would celebrate Thanksgiving Day (the epitome of Fall for me) now that Dad sold his house and would be coming to live with us. Without much thought, I said that perhaps Dad would want to celebrate one last Thanksgiving meal at his house . . .and the suddenness of the change that has been coming for 50 years hit me like a ton of bricks.

I will still stroll in leave covered woods, but it will not be in the woods where my brother and I  played cowboys and Indians. I will still celebrate Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, but after this year, it will never again be in the house where I was nurtured and my parents spent their entire married life. On some level we actually do see change coming, but it almost always takes some defining moment for that change to really hit home . . . and that defining moment always seems sudden.

It is the suddenness of that defining moment that causes many to become reactionary. Change may have been on the horizon for many years, but the suddenness of recognition causes us to try to stop the change. But herein lies a fundamental truth, I cannot stop the leaves turning from green to gold because I do not like the season that follows (here envision winds howling and snow blowing).

I like what the great story teller Garrison Keller says about falling: “It’s not the fall that hurts us, it is the things we do to try to keep from falling that hurts us.” Generally change in our world is not what hurts us, but it is the things we do to try to stop the change that causes us damage. We are living in a time of great national distress but that distress is not so much from how things have changed as it is to the lengths and tactics many people are willing to employ to stop that change. Hate, blaming, finger-pointing, demonizing, warmongering, belittling and division will not stop the change that has been coming my entire life anymore than yelling at the trees will stop them from changing colors.  The above mentioned actions only make living in the season harder. Winter is coming whether I like it or not.

It is time for Christians to quit engaging in, accepting, tolerating, or ignoring the current atmosphere of the Harlot Rome and to reclaim the humility of Jesus the Christ. This season is the perfect time for confession and healing. We can reclaim Christ by nurturing the spirit of Thanksgiving.

When you read about the very first Pilgrims you don’t get the sense that they blamed their very bad plight on the government in England, or their provincial leaders , or people of a different color for their terrible circumstances. They thanked God for the life they had, for the food they had, for friends and families they had in the midst of the bleakest of times. Our current national distress speaks more to a loss of the Christian spirit of thanksgiving than anything else.

I wonder if we learned to appreciate the colorful leaves instead of complaining about them blowing on our lawns, if we slowed down and noted the subtle colors of the harvest instead of  the complaining about the smells of farming, if we appreciated the multicolored children playing as God’s diversity instead of complaining about them being in the streets,.  If we could simply thank God for our multiple blessings instead of focusing on manufactured woes, wouldn’t life be better?

I am going to kick leaves, watch the harvest, enjoy the cool air, eat a Thanksgiving meal with my 93 year-old father, and thank God for all that is! 

Pastor’s Pen – September 2017

By | Pastor's Pen

Since late last Fall, the Staff and Lead Team of Gravel Hill have been engaged in a pro-cess of re-evaluating the ministry of Gravel Hill. We have undertaken this process with a two-fold purpose in mind: 1. Evaluate what we are doing to see if our ministry is actually in line with our stated values and Mission statement. 2. Identify weak areas in our ministry for improvement and identify new ministry areas.

To undertake this extensive review of our ministry and practices, we decided to revisit our “core values” as well as both our Mission and Vision for the ministry of Gravel Hill. Core Values are basic beliefs from which our sense of ministry is derived. In essence, core values are those things we believe must happen in any group for that group to actually be the church of Jesus Christ. For example, a group of people might come together around both beneficent and beneficial ideals but not include worship as part of their raison d’etre (reason for be-ing). The group may be valuable but it is not a church.

After many months and much prayerful consideration, we have identified eight core values that any group must be doing to be the biblical Church of Jesus Christ. I should add that while some of these values are more basic than others, the following list is not hierarchical. Our Core Values are: Worship, Prayer, Spiritual Growth & Discipleship, Mission, Hospitality, Fellow-ship, Generosity and Innovation & Vision. I want to note at this juncture that the preceding list is not exclusive of all faith-based values, nor may it include a value you hold dear. Our goal was to distill Christian values down to the basic group of what simply must happen to be the church of Jesus Christ. During the months of September and October both Pastor Smith and Pastor Lochinger will offer a series on these core values.

We are currently evaluating our ministry to see if reflects our stated core values. For example, if we have identified “Mission” as a core value of Gravel Hill, then mission should be well represented in the ministry of our church. For this example, at least, I am very pleased to report mission (local, national, inter-national) is very well represented in our overall minis-try. I suspect the same can-not be said about every core value. But this is the very reason for this re-evaluation of our ministry. We want to identify both what we are doing well to see if we can improve upon it, but we also want to see where we are lacking so that we can make the necessary changes. Additionally, however, this inquiry will help us plan for the adjustment we will need to make to address a rapidly changing ministry landscape.

After we identified these core values, we spent some time considering our Mis-sion Statement to see if it is still relevant for today’s world. The mission statement for our church is: To Learn (about Christ) To Live (out Christ Likeness) and To Share (Christ with the World). We believe this is our raison d”etre (our rea-son for being). The church does not exist to meet my needs nor does it exist as a portal for heaven. The church exists to educate children, youth and adults about Jesus Christ. That teaching, however, is not for mere education’s sake. We are to learn about Christ for two specific reasons: 1. To live out those learnings in our everyday actions and 2. To share who we have be-come, in Christ, with the world (i.e. To be the living, breathing embodiment of Christ in the world).

We are currently developing a new Vision Statement for Gravel Hill. The Vision State-ment is what we believe indi-viduals, our Church and the community would look like if we could live into our core values and our mission (purpose) 100%. The Vision, then, is the God dream of a God future. Such a dream has the potential and power to drag us into a God in-tended future. Remember, nothing happens that did not first begin as a dream or

a hope. We are dreaming big. We are dreaming of a church that is a spiritual leader among churches and in the community. We are dreaming of a community that is directed by God’s call to justice and righteousness not the distorted notion of justice for some.

We are asking you to join us in practicing one of our core values in particular. Please be in prayer for the Leadership of Gravel Hill. Please pray that God blesses this evaluative process. Pray that God so directs this process that our work will be exactly what God desires. Pray for the future of the Gravel Hill so that as we look to minis-try options for the coming years we may catch the wave of God’s Spirit and not swim against the tide. Pray that God uses you in this process as well . . .your prayerful comments and suggestions are welcome. Pray to see if God wants you to serve on the Lead Team or another Leadership position. Be bold, be open, be willing to serve, be willing to let God use you to God’s own glory.