Monthly Archives: December 2011

Baxter Road Bible Church Ends “It’s Not Your Birthday” Giving Program Far Above Expectations!

All month, I’ve been featuring a unique giving program adopted by Baxter Road Bible Church. With their December theme of “It’s Not Your Birthday”, they’ve demonstrated to the Anchorage community their understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.

Where Christmas in the world at large has deteriorated to an unparalleled secular giving spree to each other, under the guise of celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ, BRBC church members agreed to donate all December giving to local organizations dealing with the less fortunate among us.

Initially, it was thought that approximately $35,000 would be collected this way. Pastor Bob Mather has just shared the final results of that giving, results exceeding estimates by a wide margin. With Christmas Sunday’s giving, BRBC members have contributed over $44,000.

Mather further noted, “As we get down to the end of the month we are concentrating on ministries that don’t have a large donor base supporting them. But we are including AWAIC & Crisis Pregnancy Center, even though they have a relatively large donor base, because they are such important ministries.”

He indicated the monies were directed in the following manner.

Love INC – $4,000 this week – $12,000 for the month.

Gospel Rescue Mission – $2,000 this week – $6,000 for the month.

Alaska Family Council – $2,000 this week – $4,000 for the month.

AWAIC – $1,000 this week – $3,000 for the month.

Crisis Pregnancy Center – $1,000 this week – $3,000 for the month.

Pastor Bob indicated approximately $3,000 remained to be distributed. They’ll wait to see if further contributions come in by December 31. Then, they’ll distribute the final amount.

You can listen to any or all of BRBC’s “It’s Not Your Birthday” sermons, or download the sermon notes by clicking here. I applaud this gentle church of individuals who have put their money where their mouth is, demonstrating to their community and each other, that this does not have to be a season dedicated to giving to ourselves. In my opinion, Baxter Road Bible Church deserves the Church of the Year award in Anchorage.

This is not a putdown of other ministries who give mightily to the local community through the year. Rather, it’s recognition that by dedicating all church giving, in a month of ostentatious display, giving to ourselves, family, and friends, the true meaning of God’s gift to mankind can be given new meaning. Thanks to all at Baxter Road Bible Church for showing us a better way.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – 2011

Last Sunday, a snowy day in Anchorage and Third Advent Sunday, I visited Our Lady of Guadalupe in Turnagain for the 11:30 a.m. Mass. The service was in Spanish and the church was packed.

December 12 was the anniversary of the tradition of the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in 1531, 480 years ago. It was very interesting to see the pageant of roses and veneration of this significant icon of the Hispanic world. [img_assist|nid=159098|title=Archbishop Schwietz, and Clergy at Mass|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=201]

In fact, the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City is one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world. I’ve had the privilege of visiting there several times, and was impressed with both its grandeur and simplicity.[img_assist|nid=159099|title=Homily Time at Our Lady of Guadalupe|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=275]

Archbishop Schwietz was present and assisted with the mass. My Spanish is rusty, and I can’t claim to understand all of the proceedings, but it was a significant day for Hispanic Catholics. I particularly enjoyed the various musical presentations and groups of dancers in native (Mexican) regalia as they presented dances and floral offerings in the grotto area of Our Lady of Guadalupe church.[img_assist|nid=159096|title=Fourth Advent Sunday 2011|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=272]

This Sunday marks the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Another candle on the Advent wreath will be lit, signifying this is the last Sunday before Christmas. The meaning ascribed to the fourth candle is peace.

Per the Revised Common Lectionary, the readings for Fourth Advent Sunday are:

First reading –2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm – Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Second reading – Romans 16:25-27
Gospel – Luke 1:26-38

Advent season is a beautiful time of waiting, hoping, sharing, and giving to those who have nothing. There is no better season to demonstrate the love of God and its effect on the heart than this season. Our churches should be the friendliest extending extravagant hospitality to all who enter its doors. My wish is that you may find the imprint of God’s love for you in every church you regularly attend or visit.

Baxter Road Bible Church’s December Giving – Truly Amazing!

Last week I shared information regarding an incredible leap of faith and devotion to the true spirit of Christmas at Baxter Road Bible Church. The entire month of December they are giving 100% of church income to those less fortunate in our community, with special emphasis on local missions.

Their church theme for December is “It’s Not Your Birthday”. Sr. Pastor Bob Mather’s sermon last Sunday was on this theme and can be accessed by clicking here.

Pastor Bob reports that so far this month, their members have contributed over $20,000 for their Christmas Benevolence Fund. He notes, “We are trying to mainly help the ministries that don’t have deep pockets behind them. After these checks go out we are going to concentrate on helping a few of the more needy ministries with greater amounts instead of spreading it out and only helping each one a little.”

He shared the names of the organizations having checks drawn for them this week.

$2,000 – AWAIC (Abused Women’s Aid In Crisis)
$1,000 – Alaska Correctional Ministries (HMCC – TLC Program)
$1,000 – Parachutes (Youth Ministry in Dimond Center)
$2,000 – Crisis Pregnancy Center
$1,000 – Kid’s Kitchen
$1,000 – Rodger Huntington (Kokrine Hills Bible Camp for Native Youth)

Pastor Bob and his congregation are truly excited and committed with this new venture. I’m speechless for their commitment. All I’ve been hearing since early November is “buy, buy, buy”…”special pricing”, “sale”, “spend now”, “hurry”, and “don’t be left out”. Here’s a group of dedicated Christians who are putting their faith to work by giving to others instead of to themselves. So far, no other church in our community has come to my attention with a program of this magnitude.

If you want to be a part of this endeavor, I’m certain Baxter Road Bible Church would not turn down a contribution in support of this massive act of faith. Their website is here and their phone number is 907-337-5222>.

In 1999, noted American theologian Walter Brueggemann penned an article for Christian Century titled “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity” . It can be accessed online by clicking the title.

In this article Brueggemann observed:

The majority of the world’s resources pour into the United States. And as we Americans grow more and more wealthy, money is becoming a kind of narcotic for us. We hardly notice our own prosperity or the poverty of so many others. The great contradiction is that we have more and more money and less and less generosity — less and less public money for the needy, less charity for the neighbor.

Robert Wuthnow, sociologist of religion at Princeton University, has studied stewardship in the church and discovered that preachers do a good job of promoting stewardship. They study it, think about it, explain it well. But folks don’t get it. Though many of us are well intentioned, we have invested our lives in consumerism. We have a love affair with “more” — and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy. It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the theological question facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us withstand it.>

The folks at Baxter Road Bible Church are showing they get it.

Third Sunday of Advent – 2011

It’s a chilly, winter morning in Anchorage but many worshippers will be observing the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Last Sunday, a blustery, stormy day, found me visiting several mid-Hillside churches. Trinity Presbyterian was first on my list as I was curious about their “big announcement”.

Leaving Trinity early, I moved on to Amazing Grace Lutheran about a mile away where I treated to a meaningful worship service as they have proved on multiple previous visits.[img_assist|nid=159012|title=Third Advent Wreath|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=222]

Today marks 3rd Advent Sunday and the theme is Joy.

Per the Revised Common Lectionary, the texts for today are:
First reading – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm – Psalm 126
Second reading – Luke 1:46b-55
Gospel – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

The Advent wreath’s candles will once again be lit in observing churches; first the Hope candle, then last week’s Peace candle, and finally today’s Joy candle. The Joy candle is often a pink candle, but some traditions use the blue or purple candle instead. If you go to a vestment-wearing church, they also tend to change to pink accents instead of the normal blue or purple ones.

As always, I urge readers to enjoy this day, looking for new traditions and meaning in the Advent season. Sometimes you will discover, as I have, attending a different church will lend a new perspective on this beautiful season of the year. I often attend several services on this day to drink it all in. If you find a meaningful perspective on Advent, please let me know at or by posting a comment on this blog.

Baxter Road Bible Church: A Better Approach to Christmas

I just became aware of one Anchorage church employing the right idea for selflessly observing Christmas. According to Sr. Pastor Bob Mather, “Our theme for December is “It’s Not Your Birthday””.

During this time, parishioners and staff of Baxter Road Bible Church will demonstrate to the local community, and the rest of the world, that Christmas is not primarily about giving gifts to each other, but in sharing the true meaning of God’s grace with those less fortunate. “We will be using all the tithes and offerings that come in for the month to help the poor, needy, orphans and missionaries. None of the money will be used for church expenses”, says Mather.

Continuing, Pastor Bob shared “We plan to involve people in the church to help decide just where the money will go. Love INC will help us in taking calls from people looking for help as they have the appropriate screening expertise, ensuring monies will go to those with true need. We are planning on being completely transparent about the exact amount that comes in and exactly how it is spent. Also, we are doing a food drive in conjunction with the food bank and want to feed a minimum of 100 families with complete meals.” Pastor Mather estimates the December giving program will amount to approximately $35,000, a significant sum for a 300 member church. This is in addition to the $150/month over 25 individuals or families each give to support a missionary in India. What loving generosity!

Concluding, Mather notes, “We are excited to see what the Lord is going to do.”

I too, am excited about this church and its commitment to and demonstration of the true spirit of Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing what stories emerge from this emphasis. Never before have I heard of a church devoting 100% of its finances for such a month of outward focused sharing within their community. Instead, I too often see churches devote considerable resources to “celebrate” Christmas by offering parishioners concerts, food celebrations, special decorations, and many other tangible ways of demonstrating the Christmas spirit internally, to their own people. Thanks are due to churches like Baxter Road Bible Church for showing the rest of us the way to righting the focus during the Christmas season.

A perfect closing to this discussion is theologian Walter Brueggemann’s poem, “We Are Takers”.

We are takers
You are the giver of all good things.
All good things are sent from heaven above,
rain and sun,
day and night,
justice and righteousness,
bread to the eater and
seed to the sower,
peace to the old,
energy to the young,
joy to the babes.
We are takers, who take from you,
day by day, daily bread,
taking all we need as you supply,
taking in gratitude and wonder and joy.
And then taking more,
taking more than we need,
taking more than you give us,
taking from our sisters and brothers,
taking from the poor and the weak,
taking because we are frightened, and so greedy,
taking because we are anxious, and so fearful,
taking because we are driven, and so uncaring.
Give us peace beyond our fear, and so end our greed.
Give us well-being beyond our anxiety, and so end our fear.
Give us abundance beyond our drivenness,
and so end our uncaring.
Turn our taking into giving… since we are in your giving image:
Make us giving like you,
giving gladly and not taking,
giving in abundance, not taking,
giving in joy, not taking,
giving as he gave himself up for us all,
giving, never taking. Amen.
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
Prayers of Walter Brueggemann
Fortress Press

Second Sunday of Advent – 2011

Second Advent Sunday’s theme is peace. At services, the second candle in the Advent wreath will be lit, joining the first candle, the candle of hope. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah (“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God…”) embodies one of the most beautiful passages of scripture we have. Made more familiar, as Handel used it extensively in The Messiah, it prefigures the ministry of John the Baptist as recalled in the Gospel reading in Mark, also used by Handel.

Per the Revised Common Lectionary, the texts for today are:
First reading – Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm – Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Second reading – 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Gospel – Mark 1:1-8

Theologian Walter Brueggemann has penned an awesome prayer in keeping with the Advent theme for today, and in fact, the entire Advent season.


In our secret yearnings
we wait for your coming,
and in our grinding despair
we doubt that you will.
And in this privileged place
we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we
and by those who despair more deeply than do we.
Look upon your church and its pastors
in this season of hope
which runs so quickly to fatigue
and this season of yearning
which becomes so easily quarrelsome.
Give us the grace and the impatience
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,
to the edges of our finger tips.
We do not want our several worlds to end.
Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case
and make all things new.

Walter Brueggemann
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
Fortress Press 2003

Enjoy Second Advent Sunday and visit a congregation that cares and shares. I’ll be out there too.

St. Mary’s Episcopal: Warm First Advent Service

This time last year I spent Advent by my mother’s side as her long life slowly faded away. Before I left Anchorage, I stopped by St. Mary’s Episcopal for a service. The Episcopal way is not in my family tradition, but during my life I’ve found meaningful moments in several of their churches.

When leaving that service, I was one of the last out as I’d talked with several individuals. I mentioned to Rector Michael Burke that I was leaving for Tennessee to be with my mom in her last hours. He immediately dropped everything he was doing and took me back in the sanctuary, asking to pray for mom. Before praying, he asked her name. I’ve never heard a more honest, earnest prayer to God, presenting her name before Him in a way I’m unaccustomed to. It was a moving experience and taught me much about effective, meaningful clergy action.

Last Sunday, first Sunday of Advent, found me back at St. Mary’s reconnecting with this great congregation at their 11:30 a.m. service. I found meaning in their Advent commemorations, warmth to guests, musical presentations, and excellent sermon by Rector Burke. The memories of last year are still real, and very painful, but this service showed me the power of a congregation that cares.[img_assist|nid=158911|title=St. Mary’s Advent Candles (after service)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

I see a growing awareness at St. Mary’s of the guests who enter their doors. Any guest here will understand what is happening, and clearly be included by word and action.

The 11 a.m. service at St. Mary’s offers inspired music by a folk group led by Wade Hampton Miller. Often the group sings one or two of the many original pieces Mr. Miller has written. This is not light, pop Christian music, but strong themes containing words like: God, Son of God, Father, Creator, King, Spirit, good news, hosanna, praise, preparing the way, love, joy, hope.[img_assist|nid=158910|title=Rector Burke & Assistants Lighting Advent Candle|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=290]

The lighting of the first Advent candle, the Hope candle, was a reward in itself. First Advent is the beginning of the church year in many major denominations.

Clergy at St. Mary’s alternate in delivering sermons/homilies to the congregation. Rector Burke gave an excellent first Advent sermon in keeping with the true spirit of the day, that of hope, longing, and preparing one’s heart for the coming of the King. You can download his sermon below. St. Mary’s does an excellent job of providing sermon copies the day of the sermon.

All guests and members were invited to the hospitality room for coffee and refreshments following the service. I really like this tradition as it allows an additional informal opportunity to connect with others.

I did not attend St. Mary’s last Sunday in anticipation of writing a review. But, because the service carried me to a different place, brought relief for my pain, and redirected my thoughts, a blog post has resulted. I appreciate churches like St. Mary’s who have a heart for each other, the community, and the stranger who enters their gates. They are not the only one in Anchorage like this, but their light clearly shines brighter than many.