Monthly Archives: November 2012

Messiah This Sunday! Mark Your Calendar

[img_assist|nid=162947|title=Handel’s Messiah Score|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=337|height=490]
Anchorage’s eagerly awaited annual feast of orchestral splendor and choral beauty, Handel’s Messiah, will be presented this Sunday, December 2 @2 p.m. at West High’s concert hall. Tickets are minimally priced, with family rates available. The concert should prove to be one of your season’s wisest financial and spiritual choices. Bring the family.

Further information can be obtained by clicking HERE.

Abundance of Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Services Offered for 2011

A Google search located a goodly number of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services in Anchorage churches. I used the search terms anchorage church services christmas 2011 and found many pages of local church service offerings.

Additionally, the Anchorage Daily News published, in their December 10 “A Section” centerfold, an extensive listing of local church ads and services scheduled for Christmas Eve and day.

Finally, the Anchorage Daily News Matters of Faith page in the “A Section” tomorrow, will list various local church worship options of note.

As Christmas falls on Sunday this year, many people will be attending services at their local church of choice. However, I urge Church Visits readers to seek out Christmas services offering unique opportunities to discover the Christ of Christmas in new and meaningful ways. Too often glitz substitutes for content. A pageant requiring a ticket to attend may be a “feel good event” but lack heart substance. Fortunately most of the church ticket events are over. Many of you have seen the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special”, and remember the impact of Linus reading the Christmas Story out of Luke. It doesn’t have to be glitzy.

Wishing a meaningful Christmas to readers of this blog.
Chris Thompson

The Sad Reality of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber-Monday

Thanksgiving for many has sadly degenerated into an orgy of eating, drinking, entertainment and frivolity. Often there is little reference to being thankful for anything. Even the poor in our community are treated to Thanksgiving baskets with turkeys, and makings for a feast, instead of essentials for daily nourishment which many need more than the feast makings.

Thanksgiving is now followed by Black Friday, and Cyber-Monday which promote orgies of unchecked buying and consumption. In fact, for weeks now we’ve been deluged with radio, print, TV, and internet campaigns to BUY, BUY, BUY. This is the time of year people go deeply into debt to sustain these orgies of buying in our conspicuous consumption society.

Yesterday, in a Christian Post article entitled New Poverty Figures Raise Questions on Role of Church, Christians, Pastor Phillip Meek of Savannah, TN is cited by article author Paul Stanley as saying the church has failed it’s Biblical-injuncted role in caring for widows and the poor.

Meek says the issue of poverty in America is not so much an issue of starvation, but rather a motivation to improve a family’s ability to provide for themselves.

The article quotes some interesting statistics.

For example, nearly two-thirds of “poor” households have cable or satellite TV and at least one DVD player. More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, and over one-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.

More interesting is that 96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year and 83 percent of those poor families had enough to eat during the year. Others are asking if what the government is doing in terms of entitlement programs is in reality giving people little to no motivation to improve their lifestyle.

“The mindset of a poor person today is different than it was a few decades ago. Some people are not motivated to improve their situation and are only looking for a handout. Many are trying to find a job but struggle in an area like ours that has little to no new employment opportunities. Still the church and those who subscribe to Jesus Christ are tasked with the responsibility to help others.” Meek says.

He also sees “giving” as a major problem within the church.

“If Christians gave anywhere close to the 10 percent asked of them by God, not only would the church have ample resources, but in my opinion we would have enough to go around to help those who are really needy.”

“Because the church has not done what it is supposed to do, the government has taken over and as we all know, government has to have total control of anything they have their hands in,” explained Meek. “The government never looks for way to cut back and ask individual to shoulder more of that responsibility.

In addition, Meek says his church is trying to become more of a community-based church and with God’s help they will break the status quo.

“We have spent so much time fighting against one another that we have not done all we are asked to do by God to help our fellow man. There has been too much division between churches and that’s what we are trying to change in our community,” Meeks said.

“I believe in James 1:27 when he tells us ‘to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.'”

Churches could do more to fight the materialism that seems to be the sin of the age. The stark reality is that many church members also own the businesses that are promoting such behavior. As we prepare to enter this Advent season, my wish for the Anchorage church community is for it to courageously fight materialism, and help the poor among us to break away from the dependency fostered by government and non-profit programs so rampant today.

Thanksgiving Thought to Ponder – Walter Brueggemann

Respected theologian Walter Brueggemann has penned this thoughtful observation about Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving is a contradiction of the values of a market economy that imagines we are self-made and can be self-sufficient. When we give thanks, we commit an act of defiance against the seductions of our society. . . We may sing all kinds of patriotic songs and feast to satiation on Thanksgiving Day. Beyond all of that is our acknowledgement that life is a gift that evokes response. We are never self-starters. The drive for self-sufficiency is an unnecessary and futile idolatry.”

Words for Thanksgiving by Pastor Tom Letts

Tom Letts, Sr. Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, graciously shares his thoughts about Thanksgiving. Trinity is also one of the few Anchorage churches offering a Thanksgiving Eve service, followed by a pie social where 1/2 of the pies are given to organizations servings those in need. More information HERE.

[img_assist|nid=140858|title=Pastor Tom Letts|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=138|height=290]
Stewart Center was the biggest, strongest guy on our freshman football team. One day I made the mistake of attempting a solo tackle on him in practice. Details remain fuzzy decades later but people tell me I had the wind knocked out of me. I do remember my mouth opening and closing, but no relief of air, just need, fear, pain. All I could see, feel, was my need for air. Nothing else, I was blind to everything but that one need.

We were created, not simply to inhale, but to exhale as well. We only inhale, we die. Such a simple and basic truth it seems silly to mention it. We go through our days with no thought to our next breath. Yet, if we take just a moment it becomes obvious that there is no absolute promise for air to return to our lungs after this next exhale (that became utterly clear to me on the practice field many years ago).

Ok, easy. But try this, “We were created, not simply to receive all good gifts from God, but to offer them back as well.” We only receive, we die. Like having the wind knocked out of us, self-ish-ness crushes our capacity to see anything but our most immediate ‘need.’

Why is this so hard for us? Why so afraid to simply, freely offer everything back to God, to needy others, just give it away. Lets look at breathing again for a clue. We don’t worry about breathing because we simply trust that the next breath will come, we have a lifetime of experience to ‘prove’ it. So, experience teaches us to trust. There you go, if we practice giving like we ‘practice’ breathing, we’ll learn to trust the Giver. Jesus said it in Luke, chapter 6, “Give, even to those who have no means of returning the favor. Then you will be like your Father in heaven who lavishes sun and rain on the good and bad alike.” [my paraphrase] Wow, God’s own eyes.

We are being offered the very character of God and settle for trinkets; our most immediate needs ‘filled’ we are blind to everything else. The Thanksgiving holiday is placed at the cusp of the Christian season of Advent for a reason. Our fore-bearers in faith saw the direct correlation between returning all we receive in gratitude and having eyes to see God (even God lying in a manger).

Can’t see my point? Selfishness creates blindness, all it sees is its most immediate ‘need.’ Offering back to God (in large part by giving to those with less) creates a clarity of vision. Father David Steindl-Rast puts it this way, ‘Thanksgiving, where it is genuine, does not look primarily at the gift and express appreciation…it looks through the gift to the giver and expresses trust.’ When I look through all gifts, into the face of the Giver, I regain true sight. I trust. I give. I receive. I see the Giver. I trust. I give… Easy. Like your next breath.

I pray the gift of returning thanks, by giving, creates in you the eyes to see The Gift this Advent.

Thanksgiving Eve or Day Church Observances 2012

Using Google search terms “thanksgiving 2012 anchorage church services” I found the following offerings on the first two Google search pages. Instead of hyperlinking each of these, use my Google search terms to find them.

Anchorage Church of Christ (Thanksgiving Day Feast)

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Thanksgiving Day Pancake Breakfast & Service)

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church (Thanksgiving Eve Service)

Trinity Presbyterian Church (Thanksgiving Eve Service)

Yes, that’s it! Just four references discovered on the first two Google search pages. If your church is not listed on these two pages, it may not be optimized for its web presence. I’m sure there are other observances out there too, but if Web searchers can’t find them, it’s like they don’t exist!

Jewel Lake Nazarene – Hard to Describe

Looked Like It Was Closed
A recent visit to Jewel Lake Community Church of the Nazarene was interesting but full of contradictions. Located just off Jewel Lake Road a half block west on 88th, it’s easy to find.[img_assist|nid=162880|title=Jewel Lake Nazarene – Empty Parking Lot (note sign)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=112]
But, approaching the church, I thought it closed as there were just 1 or 2 cars in the east parking lot. Almost turning around and leaving, I continued on discovering some cars in the west parking lot. A sign on 88th directing guests “TO ENTRANCE” might be helpful. (The picture above is a Google map picture. The church can easily correct this map, picture, and details through direct contact with Google.)

Weak Greeting
A sole greeter shook my hand on that November 4 visit. I asked if there was a bulletin and he gestured to a podium in the entrance where several were stacked up. There were several other folks standing close by in the lobby of the gymnasium style church, but there was no conversation or eye contact with me. They all seemed wrapped up in their conversations. As I entered the sanctuary another man said hello, gave his name, asked for mine, and I gave it. As it was the website advertised time for worship, I asked him if I was late or the service over as there were so few people present. It truly felt as though there was no imminent service. He turned around, squinted at the clock and said “right on time”.

Late Start
Finding a seat in the rear, I waited patiently close to 10 minutes more until the service started with music. A praise band consisting of an electric guitar, electric bass, drums, piano, and two vocalists started playing and singing with screen-projected lyrics. All of the music was unfamiliar to me but was surprisingly loud with up to 105 decibels noted by my sound app. For the 40-50 worshipers present, I can’t believe that sound level was not annoyingly loud for them as it was for me. I’ve observed that performances at the PAC are often 85-95 db and comfortably heard by those paying good money for top-notch entertainment.

All were asked to stand for reading of scripture, and opening prayer by the pastor. He also took this opportunity to describe the just finished ’40 hours of prayer’ and other matters of interest to the church.

During the ensuing lengthy meet n’ greet, I was greeted by around 10 or so people but surprisingly, as one of the few apparent visitors, not by the pastor who went to the back and avoided greeting me.

Unusual Pastoral Delivery
The pastor, CJ Williamson, obviously fairly new at this, had a folksy, homespun way of speaking which you can hear at your leisure by clicking HERE . A couple of his remarks stood out and somewhat startled me. He mentioned that the election was coming up and acknowledged he wouldn’t use the pulpit to interfere noting “…separation of state, and all that hooey”, but urged that people let God lead them in their voting. I’m sure the founding fathers would have appreciated their hard-fought battles regarding freedom of religion as “…all that hooey”.

During the sermon, Williamson prefaced his remarks with an incredibly frank story of his retail management experience using some extremely derogatory terms about his perceptions of what type of people customers were. I was tempted to get up and leave at this point as his descriptions of customers were extremely uncharitable.

One hoped he didn’t feel the same, or describe those he was working with in his ministry, in similar terms. He is an interesting speaker, but got carried away in the moment. Another remark posited that if Jesus were alive today, billions of people would demand that He be put to death. It seemed a little harsh and overly presumptive. I think indifference to Jesus’ ministry is a bigger issue than putting Him to death. Although many of Pastor Williamson’s thoughts were good, his unusual stories, examples, and manner of sharing them detracted from his theme.[img_assist|nid=162881|title=Williamson Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=208]

Distracting Background Music
During the pastor’s prayer, the guitarist noodled away on his electric guitar, so much so that it was hard to hear and concentrate on the pastor’s words. This modern practice does more to divert people’s attention away from a critical part of the service than hardly any other thing I can think of.

Self-Service Communion
Communion was presented, self-service style, by worshipers going forward to get the bread and wine elements, and returning to one’s seat to partake of them at the appropriate time. Once again, music started playing but this time the piano. This music, too, competed with the pastor’s spoken words at this solemn moment of commemoration making it difficult to hear him.

Lengthy Service
The service ran over 1 ½ hours. I finally had to leave before it completed. This church didn’t feel visitor friendly, and appears to be unsure of how to deal with them. Most of the music was presented after the sermon, and accounted for over 1/3 of the service, a long time! Although the sermon was Bible-based, a considerable amount of material was devoted to embellishments and examples which were not. I did not note any specific words of greetings to guests, a major omission for any church. Even the potluck was only announced as being for “everyone”, even if you hadn’t brought anything. Guests should have been specifically invited, and urged to stay so the church could meet them and get to know them. In leaving, I noticed the pastor was standing in the back but seemed to take no note of someone slipping away in plain sight. Most first-time guests to a church make their 2nd visit decisions in their first 5-8 minutes after arrival. What do you think my decision might have been?