Monthly Archives: March 2013

Happy Easter 2013!

I’ll be attending several services around town, tweeting the ones I’m at, as appropriate.

Well-known British theologian, and prolific author N.T. Wright offers some great Easter celebration advice in his book Surprised by Hope.

“Easter ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. It is any wonder people find hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? It is any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system.”

I believe and will certainly be celebrating Christ’s resurrection today!

Dear Mary…Guest Blog

Edward Fudge, noted author, blogger, scholar, and theologian has kindly allowed me to share yesterday’s guest post in his Good Friday Blog. This is awesome!

The following guest article is by Shawn Rhem Sieve, a wife, mother, Jesus-follower, and exceptional writer, who grew up in my home church. This powerful piece is reprinted with deep appreciation from her blog at . .

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dear Mary,

Some of the kids at church asked me why we Presbyterians don’t talk about you much. I told them what a pastor once told me, that it’s just not “our style.” The kids wanted a better response than that. They wanted to know why their Catholic friends revere you so much, when the best shout-out you get from us is a 5th-grader representing you in the Christmas pageant. I explained the doctrine of immaculate conception, that our Catholic friends believe you were conceived without sin, which makes you extra special in their eyes. I told them about the itchy blazer I had to wear to mass in Catholic high school. Your feast day is my birthday, which meant four years of wearing the dreaded blazer on my birthday. Consequently, I think of you at each of my birthdays. I think of you at other times, too. Like today.

It’s Holy Week. Again. Already. It comes faster each year. Wasn’t it just yesterday that my sons were little enough to let their grandmother dress them in fussy sailor suits at Easter? Now, they grumble over having to wear shirts with collars. It seems as if I’ll blink, and they’ll be fathers themselves. Maybe. I always imagine they’ll be old enough one day to plan my funeral with minimal grief–they’ll be relieved that the old lady is finally moving on. You never know, though. Some mothers aren’t so lucky. Some mothers plan their sons’ funerals.

I wanted to tell you how much I love your song, the Magnificat. I’m glad you felt that kind of joy when you learned your role in this story. It’s hard to picture, when you didn’t even ask for that pregnancy. My children were planned, desired before their conception; they arrived when we were ready for them. Even so, when I learned for sure that the first one was on his way, I cried–not from joy, but a kind of loss. I knew that I’d ever after feel vulnerable, that my child’s sorrows would matter more to me than my own sorrows. I wasn’t wrong. It’s really like that.

My boys were lost once, like yours was. They were very young, too small to be given freedom to leave the yard without me. When I realized they were missing–they’d been playing just outside the window and suddenly I couldn’t find them anywhere–I called the police. The boys had gone down the street and into a neighbor’s house. When I found them, I was angry. So relieved they were safe and shaking with that relief, but also angry.

You must have been proud of your son’s work, of the things he made (whether or not he had real talent). When he left that work behind to travel and teach, you must have been anxious, even though you believed in what he was doing. As the authorities increasingly viewed him as seditious, you probably grew increasingly afraid. And then he was arrested, unfairly. The injustice is enough to send a mother over the edge, but even worse–he came so close to being released. He had more than a fifty-fifty chance. Who would have imagined the crowd would call for his death over a murderer’s? I bet you thought the world had gone insane. And if you heard the crowd demanding his execution, saw the pack’s blood thirst gaining momentum, how could you bear their malice?

When I was younger, I used to think about that Friday and how you stood close by. He’d been beaten, stripped, laughed at. Tortured. It lasted a long time, but you stood there. I used to think, “I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t watch my child suffer like that.” Now I understand. You couldn’t leave. You wanted to take his pain away, would have taken it on yourself in order to stop him from feeling it. But you couldn’t. So you stayed, hoping he would find some comfort in your presence, wanting him to know you were near. No one bothered to write it down, but I picture you getting as close to him as you were allowed, touching him–if only his feet–when you could. That’s where I’d have been, if I were you. And if the soldiers pushed me away, I’d probably scream, “I’m here! I’m still here!” and I’d be hoping he could hear my voice above all the other noise.

You would have wanted him to die quickly. You probably prayed that it would go faster; you must have willed your son to stop breathing already, so it can be over. When he died, I wonder how long you felt relieved before a different kind of pain started, the pain of a bereaved mother. Just a few seconds?

When he came back and made all those visits, I think you saw him. I bet he loved you a lot and understood that you needed to see him again, if only for a minute. No one bothered to write that down either, but I’m sure it happened. I hope when you did see him, that moment erased all the pain of those previous days. You probably hugged him very hard and then said, “Go — see your friends! Don’t worry about me!”

The kids at church asked what that special prayer is about you. Even though it’s “not our style,” I happen to know the “Hail Mary.” I recited it for them. “Blessed among women” . . . I sure wouldn’t have wanted to walk in your shoes. He would have needed a very special mother, someone with sharp wits who loved large. While I’m thinking about you, I wanted to say thank you for taking care of him all those years. Thank you for letting him go so that he could be ours rather than yours alone. Thank you, Mary, full of grace.

from a Protestant admirer

Good Friday Services & Art Show: ChangePoint

Yesterday I did something out of the ordinary for Good Friday. I attended what may be considered a contemporary style service at ChangePoint, a non-liturgical church.

However, before the service, an art show under the theme “Redeemed” was held in their commons area. The art show was a first for me in my Anchorage church visits. More churches should offer this form of religious expression. Most of the pieces on display were by women artists, an oddity to me. Very few men were on display, and the one key male artist was busily selling his art at this showing. From what I saw, he was alone in his commercialism. Many artistic expressions were photographs of non-religious themes. Although the art was good in many cases, I was disappointed that the Good Friday “Redeemed” theme, the locus of show, was almost totally lacking. I was told ChangePoint had about 100 artists among its members.

Several pieces caught my eye and I captured them with my iPhone camera. Shown above and below, I apologize for the quality of the images, but these artists were crisp in their dedication to the theme of the show.

Before the 8 p.m. service a poet standing off to the side of the art show, recited, slam style, an inspiring poem.

Slated for an 8 p.m. start, the service started late as many people were late arriving. It’s interesting that attendees to church services figure they can always arrive later than the announced starting time, holding up the start of the service for those who planned ahead. Pastors encourage this behavior by waiting until all are there and in their seats. Try that with a train or airline. Doesn’t work at all. I had the same thing happen at the last church I attended.

For one of the holiest and solemn church days of the year, the disrespectful din from the audience was disconcerting. I measured 80-85 db before the service with the peak decibels at 106. I’ve attended concerts at the PAC where 85 db was the normal concert sound level. Many other churches in Anchorage have extreme reverence on Good Friday with scarcely a sound to disturb the decibel meter. A church can set and manage expectations for noise during services. Normally Good Friday services begin and end with worshipers arriving and departing in silence, and in darkness.

The service started with three popular contemporary Christian anthems played and nicely sung by seated guitarists. Oddly enough, people were told to stand immediately when the singing started except the guitarist/singers remained seated. The tone would have been more reverent if people were not told to stand. This is a conditioned reflex in so many churches that do not consider the true role of music in worship.

The songs sung:
—When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
—How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
—Amazing Love

The commons where the service was held was darkened but not dark, with candles aglow in the front. I’d estimate the crowd to be 300-350, a tiny fraction of ChangePoint’s members. This is merely an observation, not a criticism. Many Anchorage churches attract only a small fraction of their members on Good Friday, one of the major Christian observances.

Teaching Pastor Dan Jarrell then proceeded with a brief sermon capped with a request to take a moment to consider the consequences of sin most grievous to one, to reflect on the cross, and its meaning, recording those thoughts on provided 3 x 5 cards. He encouraged individuals to share those thoughts. A nurse, alcoholic, college professor, middle school student, preschool teacher, soldier, and businessman briefly shared their thoughts. They were all good and brought me back to “testimonies” given in church back in my youth. People are rarely encouraged to share their faith in church anymore, and I applaud Jarrell for doing this.

The service ended with communion distributed from the front of the room.

I considered this an important service for a church wrestling with unaccustomed liturgical forms. The noise, and informality, however, distracted me from the true purposes of Good Friday.

Easter 2013 – Many Service Choices

Tomorrow is Easter 2013. There are many service choices among Anchorage churches but only eleven were noted on the first three critical Google search pages* using the search terms anchorage easter services 2013. A number of these eleven were duplicates. I’m curious why this number is so low. Many notable “big service” and denominational churches are missing in the Google search. Very puzzling.

Another good guide to local church service locations and times is ADN’s Thursday, March 28 Section A center section guide to Anchorage Easter services.

An intriguing addition was Christ Community Church who utilized a new website called Click HERE to view it. Their newly designed website is perfect. Congratulations CCC! You ended up in the top Google search position.

Easter is one of the highest moments in Christendom. From sunrise services to full church services to quiet gatherings, it’s a special day to celebrate the greatest distinctive among world religions. Christians serve a risen Lord. Wherever you worship, may you be blessed with a rich, deep seated assurance of a loving God.

Happy Easter 2013!

*Most Google search users are not likely to go lower than the first three results pages. They will either refine their search or give up altogether. Poor search results are usually due to ill-defined search terms or church websites lacking those critical searchable terms. Another possibility is not using adequate search engine optimization (SEO).

Good Friday 2013 is Here

Another Good Friday, and worshipers are planning to attend the churches of their choice sometime today. This day observes the capture, trial, death, and burial of Jesus. For most of our city this day will be the same as any other.

The houses of entertainment will be jammed with throngs of pleasure seekers while a small fraction of Christians in our city will take time to stop, think, and reflect on the meaning of the finished work of Jesus. In my lifetime, I can recall Good Friday as a day primarily reserved for work, and religious observances, but not for entertainment. I realize our multicultural society, with its variety of beliefs and insatiable desires for entertainment, no longer supports a more religious tone for this and other Christian holidays.

Yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News’ center section was devoted to listings of various church observances and times posted for Good Friday and Easter services. I’ll be out worshiping God this evening, reflecting on the meaning of this day. A Google search using the terms good friday services anchorage 2013 showed many individual church service listings on the critical first three pages*. You can also add a specific religion to the search, or even the name of a church to obtain a closer match.

Have a blessed Good Friday!

*If a church is not shown on the first three pages, a searcher will not likely go further for a result. Churches doing a poor job of maintaining effective websites will generally not show on the first three pages. Often this is due to their websites being created and maintained by well-meaning members or volunteers. Ineffective websites will have a direct impact on a church’s ability to attract new members, and retain existing ones.

It’s Maundy Thursday 2013

Maundy Thursday is currently being celebrated around the world while it’s already Good Friday in Asia.

A tradition since the 4th century, Maundy Thursday is celebrated in many ways by many Christian churches. Stemming from Anglo-French terminology meaning commandment, it refers to Jesus’ telling His disciples at the Last Supper, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, RSV).

Some churches celebrate Maundy Thursday with pancake suppers, the Eucharist, or other eating occasions. A growing number of churches are observing this day by foot washing, while others are doing a brief Tennebrae service where candles, readings, brief darkness and the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Whatever your tradition, there are many Anchorage churches observing Maundy Thursday by variants of these traditions. A Google search using the terms maundy thursday anchorage 2013 reveals many churches offering these services on the critical first three search results pages. These are wonderful preludes, full of meaning as Holy Week is concluding.

A blessed Maundy Thursday to each of you!

Outrageous Easter Money Grab

One of Anchorage’s illustrious churches has mailed out what may be considered by some to be an offensive appeal for Easter offerings. This mailing suggests that not giving at Easter is equivalent to betraying Jesus just “…as Judas did”.

At least three-fourths of this one-sided single pager is consumed with the monetary aspects of this poorly worded appeal for money. It suggests the only way to thank Jesus for His sacrifice is to send money to this church for unspecified uses. I seem to remember a man called Martin Luther who started the Protestant reformation over issues regarding church collection of monies with the statement “The just shall live by faith.”

All identifications have been removed from this ill-guided mailing, but if you read it, it can clearly be seen that almost its entire focus is on this church’s perception of the monetary aspects of Easter. In reality, the true purpose of Easter is to celebrate with thankfulness and joy the resurrection of our Lord, and our ransom from sin. It’s focus is not to take Easter offerings, cajoling parishioners into “thanking Jesus” by giving money in outrageous amounts as suggested such as “…thirty one-hundred dollar bills”. Christians are Biblically urged to give money, but never as an Easter thank-you gift. Earnest seekers after truth are urged to give Jesus their hearts however.

This Easter, many of us will remember Jesus and His infinitely powerful sacrifice in word, singing, celebration, and prayer having prepared our hearts throughout this Lenten season. This mailer is damaging, especially to those seeking church connections who sadly feel that the only thing many churches care about is the money.

A photo of the scanned copy of this mailer is attached. (not currently available)

Palm Sunday 2013 – Tomorrow

It’s Palm Sunday tomorrow, March 24. Palm Sunday is celebrated in many Christian churches to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the week he was captured, tried and crucified.

Reeds or palm fronds were thrown into the road to giving Jesus a carpet of green in celebration, like a King, to his arrival in Jerusalem. It also marks the start of Holy Week in which many of the preliminary events are also commemorated.

Palm Sunday, in most churches, is celebrated with joyful music, singing, and praise to God, a significant departure from how the week ends with the darkness of Good Friday.

There are many good Palm Sunday services in churches tomorrow. I would estimate over three-fourths of Anchorage churches celebrate this day. A Google search using the words palm sunday anchorage 2013 revealed fifteen different churches on the first three pages of the results.

You can search for my previous Palm Sunday write-ups by clicking HERE. It’s possible you might find an ideal church in my reviews.

Have a happy Palm Sunday as we enter Holy Week.

Lenten Reflections: Another Methodist Perspective

Lent is almost over, with March 30 marking the last day of Lent. The pastors who shared their thoughts about Lent were most generous with their time*. This Lenten Reflections post is from Pastor Carlos Rapanut of Chugiak United Methodist Church.

More than Just Chocolate

A common question that we hear a lot this time of the year is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” This, of course, pertains to the spiritual discipline of fasting that’s usually associated with, but not exclusive to, Lent. So for 40 days, we give things up sacrificially, things we love like chocolate, coffee or soda. And after Easter, we call it good, and get on with life as usual.

But Lent is more than just giving up chocolate.

A reading of Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness usually opens the season of Lent, inviting us to go on our own spiritual wilderness journeys. It’s what Lent is all about- dealing with our inner demons so that we may come out of it as better people. Before Jesus began his ministry, he had to go through a time of purging. He had to give things up – the focus on personal needs and comforts; the attraction to worldly wealth and authority; and the temptation to show off his divine power. Jesus struggled with these temptations and learned how to give up the things that were hindrances to his life’s mission.

So Lent is a yearly wilderness journey where we confront our greatest temptations head-on and try to identify things in our own lives that we need to give up because they hinder us from fully following Jesus. These are issues like anger, bitterness, judgment, apathy and inaction, pride and control. Lent is serious soul work. It’s not a mere sentimental revisiting of Jesus’ suffering and death. It’s a season of preparing our selves to truly live.

Early in the history of Christianity, converts went through Lent as a season of purging and learning. During this time, they learned the teachings and ways of Christ and unlearned their old beliefs and lifestyles. It was a period of dying to their old selves and taking on new life in Christ. Then on Easter morning, they were baptized and welcomed into the fold. Baptism, the act of being plunged into the water and pulled back up, symbolized their dying to their old lives and rising again with Christ. They also discarded their old robes and were given new ones signifying their new life in Christ.

In order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. During the season of Lent, we are to die more and more to ourselves so that Christ may live in us. We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live. So really, it’s more than just giving up chocolate.

P.S. I just concluded a Lenten sermon series entitled “More than Just Chocolate” where I used Jesus’ Seven Last Words on the cross to talk about the things God may be calling us to give up, not just for Lent, but forever. When you have time, I invite you to listen to them by clicking HERE .

*But unbelievably a number of other pastors who were asked to share their thoughts about Lent, declined, promised but did not submit, or were non-responsive because they were too busy. Sadly, I hear the “pastor’s too busy” words too often, even in emails and comments from the readers of this blog. It plays a role in the perplexing drop in church attendance/membership in the 18-29 year-old group. The Internet is full of amazing references to “too busy” pastors not meeting expressed needs and requests of parishioners, or simply just ignoring them. Alaska is one of the lowest church membership and attendance, and religiously interested areas in the U.S. Church Consultant Tom Rainer has discovered through surveys and interviews that the #1 thing people are looking for when they consider churches and pastors is ‘what they believe’. The pages of this blog are an ideal place to draw potential seekers to what various churches believe and have to offer. If pastors are too busy to share their thoughts with the church seekers, it’s an opportunity lost forever. ct

Super Bowl Sunday 2013: Christ Our Savior Lutheran Again

Last year I visited Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church for a special Super Bowl Sunday service. So many churches in our country cut services because parishioners would rather worship football instead of worshiping God. This year was no exception.

My blog post on last year’s service at COSLC is here. (Hyperlink not currently available.) In the year since, I’ve come back to this South Anchorage church more than once as I’ve discovered they’re an unpretentious, fun-loving, and friendly congregation. When people ask me for names of a few solid congregations, I often share COSLC’s name.

This year I attended their special service again. The football themes were the same as last year with the service separated by 4 quarters just like the game, etc. There was a slightly larger crowd than in the previous year, but, all-in-all, I considered it a most enjoyable service. Curious about the background of this service, and to put it in context, I asked Pastor Dan Bollerud to share his thoughts.

“I believe worship should embrace not only the rich traditions of church history but also be culturally contextual. I also believe worship can embrace both the serious and the fun elements of life. A few years ago, someone in the congregation mentioned that their home church had some fun with Super Bowl Sunday and suggested that our congregation might consider something like that. On that particular weekend, whether you are a football fan or not, you are caught up in the football mania of the world around you. There are the games leading up to the Super Bowl, the predictions of who will be going and who will not, and of course, in more recent times, the interest in who will be running those famously expensive ads.

For the majority of people, football and especially Super Bowl is where their heads are on Sunday morning come worship time. Rather than fight it with another narrative, we embrace it and inject the spiritual, which always leads us back down from the spiritual mountain tops and into the world, into that Super Bowl experience. This year including the spiritual was made easier with the two brothers fighting it out with opposing teams who, following the game, would remain brothers. In addition to many of the football trappings in the worship space, the goal posts entrance, the center aisle with yard lines, the team logo’s with religious themes, we sing the old Bobby Bare song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life”.

Just as the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness following his baptism, so too we are driven out into the world to be the presence of God’s love and grace and forgiveness in a world that all too often hands out only bitterness, condemnation and shame. Super Bowl Sunday allows us to have a fun worship while embracing where people’s heads are — with the ancient and eternal message of God’s love for the whole world.”

If you are looking for a new spiritual experience, I urge that you try Christ Our Savior Lutheran. You’ll find them friendly and hospitable, with solid Biblical messages, and music that is pleasing but clearly not entertainment.