Monthly Archives: February 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012 at Amazing Grace Lutheran

I, along with many other seekers, tend to visit churches on special church days in this manner: churches that have previously shown me true Christian hospitality, Bible-based messages, and music enhancing the service, rather than merely entertaining, draw me back over and over again.

Nothing is more depressing to any guest than to visit a church on a special day, only to receive little or no welcome, be unhospitably treated, forced to endure a long musical entertainment, and listen to an ill-prepared message without strong Biblical ties.

All of the reasons given in my first paragraph are why I chose Amazing Grace Lutheran’s Ash Wednesday service this week. I was truly blessed by this hour-long service led by Pastor Martin Dasler. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a strong Christian traditional period of fasting, abstinence, and repentance. Ash Wednesday has strong ties to two Old Testament signs: humility and mortality, and sorrow and repentance for sin. It was strongly ingrained in church practice by the 5th Century.

The service was simple starting with the Gathering Song, Lord Jesus Think on Me, the Invocation, and the Prayer of the Day. The Psalm was Psalm 51:1-17, a reminder of our sinful condition, and a petition for healing, and relief from sin. Then came the Confession of Sin, followed by the First Reading taken from Genesis 3:6-13.

A special presentation replaced the traditional homily. A small set, The Ethiopian Tatoo Shop, was used as a backdrop for the telling of a story ,The Mirror of God, which linked back to the Genesis creation story. This unusually excellent spiritual presentation was unexpected in my visit to Amazing Grace.

The Second Reading, taken from Joel 2:1-2, 12-16, was a strong reminder of the coming of the Day of the Lord. This was followed by the Imposition of Ashes when those desiring them had them inscribed on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. The ashes are a touching reminder of our mortality, and our ultimately becoming dust again, a return to man’s original state.

We sang another hymn Change My Heart, O God. Prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, were then said with a concluding benediction and dismissal via the Sending Song Abide With Me.

Each Wednesday until Easter, a similar service will be held at Amazing Grace. Beginning with a Soup Supper at 6 p.m., and followed by a Worship Service at 7 p.m., a different story will be offered at the Ethiopian Tattoo Parlor. The stories to come are:

2/29 – Gideon
3/07 – Woman of Shuman
3/14 – Curse of Fig Tree
3/21 – Boy Who Lost His Magic
3/28 – Mary of Bethany

Pastor Marty and his church comprise a warm and active lot. I was warmly greeted by a number of people on Wednesday night, despite the somber character of Ash Wednesday. If you’re looking for a warm and active church family, you’re likely to find it here.

At the risk of making this post overly long, my favorite Old Testament theologian, Walter Brueggemann, has inscribed a poem, Marked by Ashes, which helps me internalize the challenges inherent in the Ash Wednesday’s of our lives.

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Walter Brueggemann
Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008).[img_assist|nid=159820|title=Prayers for a Privileged People|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=307|height=490]

It’s Ash Wednesday 2012 in Anchorage

Ash Wednesday, steeped in church tradition, opens Lent, a period of soul searching, denial, and anxious observance leading up to Easter.

I recall my first Ash Wednesday service, years ago, at an Episcopal Service in Chicago I attended with a friend. Both of us were not from that tradition but I found the service strange and wonderful at the same time. Many Anchorage churches offer Ash Wednesday services tonight. I plan on attending one or two churches myself.[img_assist|nid=159857|title=Ash Wednesday|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=361]

I recently discovered some wonderful Ash Wednesday reflections in a sermon delivered by Rev. Margaret W. Jones, Episcopal Pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN with the title “Ash Wednesday – A Wake-up Call” “. Her words give new meaning and emphasis to the importance of this day.

“Ash Wednesday is a wake-up call. Ash Wednesday hits us squarely between the eyes, forcing us to face mortality and sinfulness. We hear Scripture readings that are urgent and vivid. We have black ashes rubbed into our foreheads. We recite a Litany of Penitence that takes our breath away, or should. It is a tough day, but take heart! This is one religious day that won’t fall into the clutches of retailers. There aren’t any Hallmark cards celebrating sin and death; no shop windows are decked out with sackcloth and ashes.

On Ash Wednesday we come to church to kneel, to pray, and to ask God’s forgiveness, surrounded by other sinners. Human sin is universal; we all do it, not only Christians. But our church tradition sets aside Ash Wednesday as a particular day to address sin and death. We do this mindful that “God hates nothing God has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent.” We are ALL sinners, no better and no worse than our brothers and sisters. This is not a day to compete (‘my sins are worse than yours are’), but to confess.”

Click here for the full text of her sermon.

If Ash Wednesday is not your tradition, consider adopting it for one day. Coming after Carnival, and Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, it offers God-given relief from excess represented by the other.

I’m a huge fan of respected American Theologian Walter Brueggemann’s published prayers. This Lenten prayer is contained in his wonderful book of prayers, “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth”.

Loss is indeed our gain

The pushing and the shoving of the world is endless.
We are pushed and shoved.
And we do our fair of pushing and shoving
in our great anxiety.
And in the middle of that
you have set down your beloved suffering son
who was like a sheep led to slaughter
who opened not his mouth.
We seem not able,
so we ask you to create spaces in our life
where we may ponder his suffering
and your summons for us to suffer with him,
suspecting that suffering is the only way to come to newness
So we pray for your church in these Lenten days,
when we are driven to denial —
not to notice the suffering,
not to engage it,
not to acknowledge it.
So be that way of truth among us
that we should not deceive ourselves.
That we shall see that loss is indeed our gain.
We give you thanks for that mystery from which we live.
Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
[img_assist|nid=159858|title=Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Brueggemann|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=293|height=490]

Interesting Super Bowl Service: Christ Our Savior Lutheran

The day before Super Bowl, I noticed a posting on the Faith Matters page in the Anchorage Daily News. It said that Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church was having a Super Bowl inspired/formatted service. I couldn’t resist seeing this so I went. This church, located in my previous neighborhood of Oceanview, is easy to locate on Old Seward Highway close to where it rejoins the Seward Highway.

Super Bowl Sunday is problematic for many pastors as many of their flock prefer to worship their televisions and pre-game coverage, over their God and King. In fact, I Googled Anchorage churches for Super Bowl-inspired services and found only this one listed.

Arriving before the posted 10:30 a.m. service start I received neither a greeting or a bulletin, despite the six or so people gabbing in the church lobby. Finding a seat in the fifth-row of this beautiful, almost empty church, I was offered a noisemaker after a few minutes by a cheerful woman who passed by. Ultimately I counted no more than 35 who attended this service. The A-frame style church is quite lovely, graced by a huge stylistic stained glass cross on the wall behind the altar.[img_assist|nid=159821|title=Stained Glass Cross at Christ Our Savior Lutheran|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=467]

The service commenced on time with the ‘opening rally song’ led by athletically-attired youth waving pom-poms. In each “quarter” of the service there was a period of a ‘Word from Our Sponsors’, which were announcements of coming activities. Had I received a bulletin, it would have been significantly easier for me to follow the service. However, no guest should have to do the work of the church members, finding bulletins, seeking greetings, and locating restrooms. These first impressions add up to the decision guests make about making a return visit. Those decisions are made 5-8 minutes after arriving.

The service being broken into “quarters” worked for me, with each quarter having a lesson and music of some sort. The pastoral message was quite good and inspired by the biblical reading of John the Baptist and Herod. My “take away” from the sermon was the pastor’s assertion “The calling of a Christian is that whatever happens, God is with you. If this is the only place you come to worship God, you’re missing it.”[img_assist|nid=159822|title=Game Poster #1|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=196]

I definitely liked the youth being involved. The church choir, composed of many of those present, was quite good with their upbeat musical selection. My eyebrow was definitely raised with the rendering of Bobby Bare’s old chestnut, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life”. The prayers of the people also represented the many missing snow machiners, those out and about, the tragically missing Ms. Koenig, plus individual petitions, etc. I’m always deeply impressed with prayers which link with individual members, as it should be. The taking of the offering did not give guests a break, a visitor-friendly gesture.

The 4th quarter was a sending out into the world accompanied by an upbeat sending hymn. All were invited to the after-church potluck. I counted no more than 6 youth/young adults. In tune with my recent posts with why youth and young adults are leaving the church, I’m more aware of their presence/absence. Congregants blew their noisemakers at the close of the service.[img_assist|nid=159823|title=Game Poster #2|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=180]

I applaud Christ Our Savior’s attempt to reshape Super Bowl Sunday into something members might come out for. With all the build-up, I do not think they achieved their goal, but I’m glad they tried. I talked with Pastor Bollerud after the service, something I rarely do with any pastor of churches I visit. Too many pastor’s get defensive and try to explain away every detail of what didn’t work. From that discussion, I understand he’s tried to cultivate guest-friendly skills and abilities with his flock, something many pastors do not even attempt.

Had I received a bulletin before the service, I would have found it very guest-friendly. There was even a wonderful note about cell phones! “Leave them on, just turn off the ringer…We are in the year of Mark, where everything happens Right Now. Feel free to text, tweet, facebook or blog during the service to let your friends know what is happening in worship and inviting them to join you next Sunday.” Their Communion practice and policy was described in the bulletin, leaving no doubt as to it’s openness. I applaud them for being so detailed and open. Pastor Bollerud is an articulate, enlightened pastor who knows what it takes. But like Moses, during the Israelites battle with the Amalekites, who needed his arms supported so the Israelites could prevail, good pastors also need their arms supported by their parishioners so they can similarly prevail.

Well-known and respected theologian Walter Brueggemann, penned a poem about Super Bowl Sunday in his book, Prayers for a Privileged People. Although it may offend some Christian football worshipers, I find it appropriate for this occasion.

Super Bowl Sunday
“The world of fast money,
And loud talk,
And much hype
Is upon us.
We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly.

We will eat and drink,
And gamble and laugh,
And cheer and hiss,
And marvel and then yawn.

We show up, most of us, for such a circus,
And such an indulgence.
Loud clashing bodies,
Violence within rules,
And money and merchandise and music.

And you — today like every day –
You govern and watch and summon:
You are glad when there is joy in the earth,
But you notice our liturgies of disregard and
Our litanies of selves made too big,
Our fascination with machismo power,
And lust for bodies and for big bucks.

And around you gather today, as every day,
Elsewhere uninvited, but noticed acutely by you,
Those disabled and gone feeble,
Those alone and failed,
Those uninvited and shamed.
And you whose gift is more than “super,”
Overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient.
The day of preoccupation with creature comforts writ large.
We pause to be mindful of our creatureliness,
Our commonality with all that is small and vulnerable exposed,
Your creatures called to obedience and praise.

Give us some distance from the noise,
Some reserve about the loud success of the day,
That we may remember that our life consists
Not in things we consume
But in neighbors we embrace.

Be our good neighbor that we may practice
Your neighborly generosity all through our needy neighborhood.”

Taken from by Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People.[img_assist|nid=159820|title=Prayers for a Privileged People|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=307|height=490]

Don’t Miss This Great Gospel Presentation!!! February 11, 2012, Last reminder!!!

Anchorage churches rarely present anything of note for the local community. When they do, it seems attendees tend to support these events along denominational lines, although that truly has little to do with sponsoring churches or their theology.

Saturday night, February 11 @ 7 p.m. Wendy Williamson Auditorium at UAA, people of faith have a wonderful opportunity to see a gospel presentation taking you back to the time the gospels were in development. This program concerns ALL who are covered by the Gospel of the Good News.

Previous Church Visits blog post on this performance: Click here to read previous Church Visits blog post about this performance

Who: HOPE worldwide – Alaska Chapter
What: Steve Johnson’s “A Play for a Purpose: The Gospel According to John Mark”
When: Saturday, February 11, 2012, 7 p.m.
Where: Wendy Williamson Auditorium, UAA Campus
Why: To generate funds to help pay for Lisa Johnson’s (Steve’s Wife) cancer treatments, and HOPE worldwide – Alaska Chapter local projects

Ticket Information:
Tickets can be bought online @:

and at CenterTix

What is this play about?

Steve Johnson’s “A Play for a Purpose: The Gospel According to John Mark” is a one man, dramatic presentation of life during the first century. “The Gospel According to John Mark” will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you feel like you, too, are an eyewitness to the most extraordinary story ever told.

John Mark was there. When Jesus fed 5000 and walked on the water. When Peter was freed from prison by an angel and when Paul was lead away to execution. He knows who wrote Hebrews and what Jesus wrote on the ground. He’s the last living eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. He’s going to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about…


What do past audience members think about it?

“ ‘John Mark’ was phenomenal. We were inspired and encouraged, entertained and convicted. Steve has done a masterful job with this one-man act. He will have your church both laughing and crying. HIGHLY recommended.”
Justin Renton
Johannesburg, South Africa

“What an amazing performance! Attentions were riveted, imaginations were stirred, and hearts were moved. It was not only super entertaining, but also spiritually enlightening. From the youngest children to the oldest disciple to the newest visitor: everyone loved it!”
John Lusk

“Imaginative yet Biblical. Artistry wrapped in truth. John Mark… a powerful performance that will make you laugh and make you cry. A fascinating monologue that opens your eyes to experience Jesus. In the end, you’ll only wish for more.”
Randy McKean
Elder / Evangelist
Northern Virginia