Monthly Archives: April 2011

Christ is Risen

An Easter Prayer by Walter Brueggemann

…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short

of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus

And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take
food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.

It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…

all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.

Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

It’s Good Friday 2011 in Anchorage

Good Friday marks the day Christians worldwide observe the closing moments of Jesus’ life. According to the Gospels, he was condemned, tried, and put to death on a cross (crucified) on this day almost 2,000 years ago. The day is observed with somber ceremonies in many churches. Often altars, pulpits, candelabra, and other church furniture or ornaments are shrouded with black or dark cloth.

A citywide Good Friday service is being held at West High at 7 p.m. Google searching using the search terms “good friday services anchorage 2011” shows all first page results mention this service.

Second page search results show three churches offering their own services:
-Christian Church of Anchorage
-Trinity Presbyterian Church
-First Congregational Church

Clearly other churches are offering their own services. I’ve only mentioned the top search results. As always, in a Google search, people tend to not look much further than the first couple of pages of information.

The Thursday Anchorage Daily News Section A centerfold contains a detailed listing of Easter Services, along with a few mentions of Good Friday Tenebrae services.

I wish all readers a meaningful Good Friday.

ChangePoint: First Alaska Church to Release an App!

[img_assist|nid=156698|title=ChangePoint|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=66]Apps are revolutionizing the way we use smartphones. ChangePoint, the first Alaska church to develop an app, launched theirs this week.

Developed for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch, and Android, their app offers significant benefits for those who download it. It is available for free from the iTunes store (search for ChangePoint) or, as appropriate, the Android Market. Users can listen to or download ChangePoint sermons, read or listen to the ESV version of the Bible, access an event calendar, give electronically, and read their blog.

I talked with Adam Legg, Communications Director at Changepoint. He described ChangePoint’s vision for the App.
“Our hope for the app is really twofold: First, we wanted a platform that would allow us to communicate with any person that calls ChangePoint “home”, anywhere in the world. This mobile app allows us to do that. It gives us a tool to keep our family informed and connected, no matter where they are. If you are fishing on the Kenai River, working on the North Slope, deployed overseas or visiting family out of state, you can still stay connected with your church. Second, knowing that mobile communication is growing worldwide, we hope that this app is a tool for many people here in Alaska and around the world to discover that there is life in Christ!”

Here are several screenshots illustrating the look of the app. I’ve worked with it and find it quick, and full of power. I especially like the sermons (posted the day they are given), and the audible or digital Bible. [img_assist|nid=156699|title=Sermon Screen|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=327|height=490]
[img_assist|nid=156700|title=Events Calendar|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=327|height=490]
[img_assist|nid=156701|title=Service Times, Map, and Electronic Giving|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=327|height=490]
Many churches in the Lower 48 are developing apps. While most tend to be larger churches such as Mars Hill in the Seattle area, more and more smaller churches are also jumping on board. ChangePoint is a progressive church, and recognize their church family is worldwide in scope. What a service for members and non-members alike. I believe they’ve knocked the ball out of the park with this app and wish them well as it continues to spread the “Good News”. Other Alaska churches are sure to follow. Holy Week is truly a fitting time to honor God by releasing this app.

Today is Palm Sunday 2011

[img_assist|nid=156659|title=Palm Sunday 2011|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=258]

As Anchorage is so close to the International Date Line, most of the world will have already celebrated Palm Sunday by the time I post this. Palm Sunday is the day most of Christendom commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as recorded in the gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 12).

This day is the start of Holy Week, where the events of Jesus’ last days are remembered with various events and ceremonies in many churches.

Many mainline churches use palm fronds, either with the children or everyone, to symbolize the event recorded in scripture. They are variously used but I enjoy seeing children waving them to joyful songs. I did not grow up in a palm frond waving church. I can imagine it would have made a deep impression on me as a child.

I Googled “Palm Sunday Services Anchorage 2011” and found Palm Sunday service listings for the following churches on the first two results pages. (Most Google users don’t dig down past the first two pages.) You may get other results with different search terms.

First Congregational Church
Archdiocese of Anchorage
All Saints Episcopal
Chapel by the Sea
Unity of Anchorage Church
Anchorage Lutheran Church
Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox
Faith Lutheran Church

Few Palm Sunday services were mentioned on the Anchorage Daily News Matters of Faith listings in the Saturday paper.

In closing, as always, I primarily attend church during the Easter season to privately worship rather than observe and write. Many of us recognize that Easter is a time when those who do not normally attend church, do come. During this time churches hold many special events and the air, for a first time visitor, is usually completely different than at other times.

I wish all readers a happy Palm Sunday.

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Anchorage Church Signs: Best/Worst Wk. of 4-3-11

Too many signs at Anchorage area churches violate most principles of good church signage. Each week, I’ll be posting pictures of church signs I consider to be the best examples of what a sign should be, as well as pictures of signs that violate principles of a proper sign.

Good Sign Criteria
*Clearly readable at the posted speed limit
*Name of church, church webpage address, service times (optional)

Good Sign[img_assist|nid=156558|title=City Church Sign – 100th & Minnesota|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=208]
City Church has a temporary sign clearly identifying their church name via their web address. It also highlights upcoming worship times for Easter, though not the date, an inconvenience for the unchurched who may be unaware of Easter’s timing this year. While not lighted, it provides good visibility of their church activities to offramp traffic to Westbound 100th, or north to Dimond. The sign is also visible to Northbound Minnesota traffic which travels at 60 mph in this section. The sign also features the upcoming Blessing of the Bikes on the Parkstrip in May. A few Anchorage churches are making good use of temporary signs, of which this is an example.

Poor Sign[img_assist|nid=156559|title=Muldoon Road Baptist’s Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=264]
Muldoon Road Baptist’s sign is extremely difficult to read, even when viewed close-up. This photo, taken from the parking lot close to the sign, illustrates why it’s virtually impossible to see from the road. Muldoon Road is a busy street, with many distractions. One might catch the church name, but you won’t see the worship times or any other information. This sign, if redone, might be more effective displayed lower on the church showing only the church name, service times, and web address.

It’s my opinion all signage on this solid Southern Baptist church is dated and ineffective.

Crossing @ Birchwood: Better Visit

After my June 11, 2009 visit to The Crossing @ Birchwood, I posted a less than favorable review. (Click here to read my previous review). During my revisit on April 3, 2011, I found a more congenial service.

The greeting was great, music ok, and message interesting. Still some rough spots, but I’d revisit if I were a first-time guest. With this kind of welcome, I was surprised they didn’t haul out a welcome gift and present it.

Greeting – All Out
Before I reached my seat, I was greeted four or more times; Twice at the outside door, one at the inside entrance, and upon going into the sanctuary. In preliminary remarks, Pastor Rud encouraged people to come early, get a badge, and be a part of the welcoming team. Very laudable, this was the first time I’ve heard any church encourage becoming part of the welcome team so openly.[img_assist|nid=156552|title=Pastor Brad Rud and the Praise Team|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=191]

The screen up front displayed a countdown clocking displaying minutes until the service commenced, a helpful and timely reference point for guests. Promptly at 11 a.m. the praise group took to the stage. The worship leader announced “So you can go ahead and stand with us.” Worship leaders in guest-friendly churches always invite people to stand rather than tell them.

Let the Music Begin
The Crossing’s nine member praise group sounds good. Most of the group, however, were in the dark and could barely be seen, an easy fix. This is one of the few churches I’ve seen that projects the words to the songs on the back wall for the benefit of the singers. Despite this, several key group member’s eyes were glued to their music stands. Eye contact and smiles are critically important for musicians to establish audience rapport.

The musicians covered five songs during their part of the program. My favorite was the powerful Stuart Townend song, “In Christ Alone”. If you’ve never heard it check it out on iTunes. Including brief preliminaries, there was slightly over ½ hour of music.

Why Do Meet n’ Greets?
I estimate 300-500 people were in attendance at this service, but when they were encouraged to greet those around them, I was touched by only three members. As a guest, it’s always an awkward moment to stand there feeling invisible. Why do it if it’s not working? Seriously!

Some Awkward Moments
-Guitar strumming during prayer distracting
-Long pauses/rests during some praise group songs
-Guests not excepted from morning offering
-Guests not welcomed or mentioned
-Pastor speaking on main floor. Couldn’t see him.[img_assist|nid=156553|title=Pastor Rud Speaking from Main Floor|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=144]

Pastor Speaks
Starting his message, Sr. Pastor Brad Rud asked all to turn to Philippians 4. He then proceeded to take an unnecessary swipe at those who use iPods, iPhones (me), iPads, Kindles, etc. for their scriptures. Rather, he encouraged people to read real Bibles in church. The world is in a vigorous change, in many ways, from printed to digital printing. If The Crossing @ Birchwood wants to be relevant to all comers, this argument should possibly be discarded. We were then asked to stand for the reading of the scripture.

Rud’s sermon, Part 2 in a study of Philippians, was well delivered. He’s a good speaker. To listen to this sermon, click here. Dressed in jeans and a dark shirt, Rud uncharacteristically did not look like a typical Baptist preacher. I liked it. A few more Baptist preachers ought to try it. Suits and ties came in during the 1700’s.

Altar Call
Rud ended his sermon with a characteristic Baptist altar call. The pianist came on stage 20 minutes before the altar call. At the appropriate time, she began to play the piano softly. To me, it interfered with my concentration on Rud’s remarks. Music seems to be used in many churches, like the soundtrack in a movie. Almost every facet of the service has music over or behind the activity. It can be distracting. It plays too much to the emotions.

After the offering (Did I mention guests were not excepted?), the praise group took to the stage for a closing song. This time we were invited to stand with “Would you please stand and join us?”. I enjoyed this second visit, with exceptions noted, and would have revisited if this had been my first visit. It’s my opinion they still have a ways to go in becoming more guest-friendly, but I can see why The Crossing @ Birchwood is quite popular.

Thoughts About Anchorage Church Music – Prelude

During my Anchorage area church visits, I see many types of music being performed. Some good, some bad, and a few great! The musical climate in churches is currently the subject of a contentious national debate within the Christian community. From time-to-time, I’ll be presenting some of the streams of this debate in my posts.

As a prelude to these posts, I’m sharing a brief YouTube video Christianity Today’s Editor Chief, David Neff, created to introduce CT’s March 2011 issue devoted to worship and worship-music. These articles were fair and balanced, offering various perspectives on this critical topic.

(Click here to watch Christianity Today’s Editor, David Neff, comment on church music)

Anchorage Church Signs: Best/Worst Wk. of 3-27-11

Too many signs at Anchorage area churches violate most principles of good church signage. Each week, I’ll be posting pictures of church signs I consider to be the best examples of what a sign should be, as well as pictures of signs that violate principles of a proper sign.

Good Sign Criteria
*Clearly readable at the posted speed limit
*Name of church, church webpage address, service times (optional)

Good Sign[img_assist|nid=156494|title=Baxter Road Bible Church Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=245]
Baxter Road Bible Church has an attractive sign clearly identifying their church name, and worship times. It is lighted to provide night and day identification of their vibrant and growing church community. While currently missing their Web address, they normally display it as well. The speed limit on Baxter Road by the church is posted at 35 mph making their sign clearly visible and readable at the posted speed limit.

Poor Sign[img_assist|nid=156497|title=Anchorage Bible Fellowship|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=187]
Anchorage Bible Fellowship’s sign on Elmore Road south of Dowling is hard to read at the posted speed limit of 45 mph. Elmore, a busy Anchorage thoroughfare, has only one church, ABF, between Tudor and Abbott.

The trees on the city park strip will probably obscure the visibility of the sign, from the road, by the time they leaf out. A Biblical admonition dominates the sign (see photo below) while service times and a website address are totally omitted. I cannot believe this church is unaware of the problems this sign presents for them now, and into the future. It’s almost as though they are saying, guests not welcome. If ABF were a business, they simply could not afford to have a poorly performing sign such as this.[img_assist|nid=156499|title=Anchorage BIble Fellowship Sign Close Up Looking South|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=165]