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Incarnation
Category: Pastor's Blog|Daniel | 12/08/2016

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a) Written by Pastor Daniel Crowther “The virgin birth,” Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Stone for a Pillow, “has never been a major stumbling block in my struggle with Christianity; | Read More

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a)

Written by Pastor Daniel Crowther

“The virgin birth,” Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Stone for a Pillow, “has never been a major stumbling block in my struggle with Christianity; it’s far less mind-boggling than the Power of all Creation stooping so low as to become one of us.”

From the apostle John to Ms. L’Engle, believers and non-believers have tried to wrap their mind around the Incarnation. Scripture clues us in that Jesus, the Son of God (or “the Word” as John writes), left an eternal heaven for finite earth and perfect Company for sinners like us, so that we might have a reconciled relationship with God.

This is certainly a major shift from the Hebrew scriptures which tell us that no one has ever seen God and lived (Exodus 33:20). Arriving at Jesus in the Gospels brings us from taking off our shoes when standing on holy ground to God being born in a feeding trough and growing up to wash the feet of sinners, just before he eats and drinks with them. Could it be that some of us are still not comfortable with God electing to become so tangible, so real, so common in our everyday lives even after we’ve heard the Christmas story dozens of times? Early heretics tried to be debate if Jesus could have taken on a real body. Some have wanted to keep Mary a perpetual virgin.

I tend to agree with William Willimon who notes the oddity of Christians who “sometimes present Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, as something strange and mystical. Or else we self-righteously criticize everybody else for making Yuletide so ‘materialistic.’ Christmas should be an annual reminder to a sometimes overly spiritualized church that Christianity is materialistic. God not only created matter, God became material.”

Therefore, it is in this spirit, what I believe is the true spirit of Christmas that we should proceed. Gather around a table to give thanks for a shared meal with real people. Share your material blessings and use them to bless others. I can think of multiple ways to do this at Andice during the month of December. Bring non-perishable goods to the Caring Place bucket at Andice the first Sunday of this month. Give a monetary gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering to put real missionaries who are willing to uproot and live on foreign soil to share God’s love for the long haul. Pick up an angel from the angel tree and buy a gift for a child in need within our own community. Travel to Mexico with our December missions team to experience those who love or desire Jesus through preparing and distributing tamale baskets.

You may not be able to do it all; but do something that helps you and others know that God comes to us in the most tangible ways.

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When the Blues strike for the Red, White and Blue
Category: Pastor's Blog, Uncategorized|Daniel | 11/07/2016

By Pastor Daniel Crowther   (Nov. 2, 2016) “The divisiveness of this year’s presidential campaign”, according to the Wall Street Journal, “has seeped into American workplaces, raising tensions among co-workers and forcing bosses to mediate disputes.”[1] This particular research and | Read More

By Pastor Daniel Crowther   (Nov. 2, 2016)

The divisiveness of this year’s presidential campaign”, according to the Wall Street Journal, “has seeped into American workplaces, raising tensions among co-workers and forcing bosses to mediate disputes.”[1] This particular research and article goes on to provide brow-raising statistics and stories of how businesses are now longing for the conclusion of this election cycle in hopes of peace returning among their employees. Still, Jeremy Brandt, CEO of WeBuyHouses.com, optimistically hopes tensions will cease within 4 weeks following the election.

While political forecasting is not my field of expertise, I stand ready to predict that the 2016 election will reveal a winner and a loser. When this comes to pass, some Americans will celebrate and invest their hope in the victor whom they helped elect. Others, however, will  brace for the demise of their beloved country. “If only other Americans would have made the wiser choice at the polls,” they will say in thinking of their own choice, “then our country could have been rescued.”

Fueling these polarizing outlooks within churches is the belief that one candidate is more Christian or better for Christianity than the other. We have all seen the sin of each candidate highlighted along with their perceived share of goodness. These contrasts and comparisons have also paved the way for short-sighted and pre-mature conclusions about others. And it is precisely here when we must remember that salvation is based on faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ, not on who one votes for in the 2016 election.

If the decision to follow Jesus was and is greater to you than Decision 2016, then act and talk like it, no matter what the results of November 8th may be. I do not say this as a way for Christians to opt out of or minimize all critical thinking through issues and platforms put forward by each candidate. I am, however, saying that as we do so,  we must keep the bigger picture in mind.

Keeping the bigger picture in mind will mean guarding our hearts against unreasonable hope for any candidate. Remember God warns to “put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 146:3) The psalmist continues with how political leaders are fickle and finite, but God, who perfectly executes justice and sustains the marginalized, is the obvious One to be helped by and hoped upon.

Consequently, if we trust God, then we should not despair if and when we feel like our choice did not win. I have heard church-goers to the left and right of me discuss how both administrations could make presidential moves that would destroy Christianity as we know it. Even if these predictions are remotely true, the key phrase here is “Christianity as we know it”.

Due to many of America’s founders operating from a Judaic-Christian worldview, or at least valuing religious freedom (thanks to early Baptists), some of us have long witnessed Christianity being the moral majority in society, and  we have reaped the benefits this entails. Now, however, the ground has shifted and continues to shift beneath our feet. What may have priorly favored the sacred now moves towards the secular.

Psychology tells us that when humans start to lose something they love or have grown accustomed to, five stages of grief often follow. These stages are typically ordered: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As Evangelical Christianity moves from a majority to a minority in society, perhaps you can already see how Christians are falling into one of these areas. This, however, is the unfortunate consequence of putting our trust in a political system that advertised to once be godly, instead of God directly.

Whereas the Gospel calls us to break this cycle by ceasing to throw all hope, fear and despair upon men and women in power. They are mere human beings like us and will only let us down. And when they let us down, we will overreact towards them and anyone we find supporting them.

Alternatively, the Gospel calls us to place these things upon a different kind of King. A King whom the crowds, the leading religious officials, and the Roman government rejected and killed. But three days later, when his followers thought all was lost, rose again.

With this underlying truth in mind, Paul was able to pen these following words to believers living under the tension of the pagan Roman government. And I would suggest that these words are still as good to live by through November and the rest of our lives…

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 12:9-13:1)

[1] “Bitter Presidential Race Breeds Workplace Tensions” by John Simons and Rachel Feintzeig. Wall Street Journal: Oct. 26, 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/bitter-presidential-race-breeds-workplace-tensions-1477510115

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Violence in My Hometown & Prayer
Category: Pastor's Blog, Uncategorized|Daniel | 09/29/2016

Written by Daniel Crowther Another school shooting happened and this one hit too close to home. In fact, Anderson County was my home for the first twenty years of life. It is where I return to when I have an | Read More

Written by Daniel Crowther

Another school shooting happened and this one hit too close to home. In fact, Anderson County was my home for the first twenty years of life. It is where I return to when I have an opportunity to reunite with family. All the southern accents, red clay landscape, and road signs are now the familiar backdrop of another tragedy receiving national attention. This time a 14 year old boy allegedly killed his father before arriving on the playground of Townville Elementary School, confessing “I hate my life”, and firing shots which wounded two children and one teacher. At this hour, one child remains in critical condition.

Some details continue to emerge from this story causing some to say, “It could have been worse.” Between the courage of a volunteer firefighter who tackled the shooter to the ground and held him until Law Enforcement quickly arrived, and the thoughtfulness of the school leadership to plan prior to an active shooter situation, only three were physically harmed.

Yet what became more apparent to me yesterday, more so than ever before, was that those within the school and surrounding community will bear scars from this no one will ever see. This personally hit me when I answered a call from my mother, who works at one of the local hospitals that received two of the victims. She sees death and tragedy quite often. But this time her voice was cracking as she called to demand that I kiss my kids (her grandkids) and remind them of her love.

After such a day, I found it unhealthy to read comments from those online following this breaking story. One side appeals to ban guns while another side pushes to arm school faculty with guns. This naturally leads into continual bickering back and forth on whether Democrats or Republicans have policies that can cause or prevent such tragedy, which becomes packed with campaign endorsements for November in the midst of grief. Some even feel the need to rush to judgment on the boy’s father who can no longer defend himself, and his utterly devastated mother. Being in South Carolina, I was not surprised to find southern hospitality voiced in the sentiments of ongoing “thoughts and prayers.” Yet nestled in the call to pray from individuals and churches, I found a strong resistance to prayer during tragedy.

For many, prayer is increasingly seen as mere lip service or an excuse to evade taking preventive actions for such tragedies. I find this popular notion to be vain and short-sighted. While I do believe parents, schools, churches and governments should thoughtfully take multiple measures to cut down on violence, prayer should never leave the equation. Why?

 

1). Policies (conservative or liberal) do not heal the wounded.

By faith, the Christian witness has maintained that prayer through the oppressed, crucified and resurrected Jesus does heal, and gives hope to the hopeless. Christ taught us to pray in our troubles and to extend love, grace and mercy to our neighbors around us. On my darkest days, this is where I have found shreds of consolation. I have never been given much hope or healed from political opinions or judgments on my parenting skills.

 

2). No person/parties ideas, philosophies or policies are a fail-safe to tragedy.

Following 9/11, airport security changed forever. The changes were a slight annoyance to some travelers, but TSA and those like them continually have put forth a multitude of policies, procedures and technology to prevent and/or cut down on airborne terror. Yet even the greatest security measures cannot scan the disturbed mind of a co-pilot who deliberately crashes Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps, killing 150 passengers and himself.

It seems that the same problem ultimately plagues police departments, schools, churches and businesses across the country. As many thoughtful procedures, policies and changes we make   protect lives from outside threats and inside abusers; these things can never truly address the inner-workings of the sinful, human mind. There are good cops and then there are bad cops who abuse the power a badge and gun affords. Just as there are good pastors and bad pastors who abuse the power their pulpit and congregational trust affords. You can not litigate, politically correct, body cam, and/or adequately screen all of the potential wicked from human hearts. Therefore, we should not deem prayer useless, when prayer is designed for us to check our hearts and motives before God. As Mother Teresa so wisely put it, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”

 

3). We are simply not in control.

Mark 9 tells the story of Jesus walking into a town to find his disciples arguing with some religious scribes of the day. When Jesus inquired about what started the ruckus, he found his disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a child when they had previously advertised to the boy’s desperate father that they could.

I’m not saying that you and I have experience in raising demon-possessed children (although I’m sure we all wonder on certain days), but I can sympathize with the father’s desperation and sense of helplessness in this passage. Mark pictures a man worried sick about the safety of his child and willing to do anything in his power to make the situation better, but he realizes he has no power to truly change his or his child’s plot in life. More pointedly, he realizes what the teacher in Ecclesiastes realizes: most of life and the things life deals out is beyond our control.

This is a hard truth for men and women to come to grips with. How helpless a parent must feel when they are speeding to their child’s school with an active shooter. How heart wrenching it must be to take your kid back to school, kiss them on the forehead, and say, “I’ll see you this afternoon.” Any parent who parents for more than one day knows they are not a perfect parent. They need no holy rollers to remind them. Honestly, most of us are just doing the best we can and hoping we don’t screw our kids up too badly.

Some bad parents take way too much credit for the saints they raise, while some good parents torment themselves for being the primary reason their own flesh and blood are behind bars. Even Merle Haggard could not song and verse his way around this mystery. “Mama Tried.”

I submit to you that we are all at the mercy of God. When we can truly own the fact that most of life is beyond our control, then we ought to to be like the boy’s father in Mark 9 crying out to Jesus, “if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22) For as it turns out, that’s as good a place as any to start.

At the end of the Mark 9 story, Jesus heals the boy and the crowds finally disappear. The disciples then asked Jesus, “Why could we not cast that demon out?” Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

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We Are Helpers, Not Hinderers
Category: Pastor's Blog|Daniel | 09/13/2016

By: Pastor Daniel Crowther With Andice having sights set on “helping everyone know and grow in the love of Jesus”, it is tempting to see this as serving only within the church (i.e. volunteering on an outreach project or mission | Read More

By: Pastor Daniel Crowther

With Andice having sights set on “helping everyone know and grow in the love of Jesus”, it is tempting to see this as serving only within the church (i.e. volunteering on an outreach project or mission trip, working within the Awana ministry, etc.). As much as I support and labor over these unified calls to action, I realize not everyone can be involved in everything. But helping everyone in the love of Jesus is not something you can only do at church sponsored functions.

For starters, helping everyone can begin by simply striving to not hinder anyone from Jesus, by your own words and actions. I realize that completely eliminating every hindrance may seem impossible, especially within a world so easily offended. But allow me to ask a few direct questions that can help us begin.

1). What are you currently talking to God about?

Are the two of you on speaking terms? Now certainly one could say, “I speak to God, but God never speaks back”. Yet I have found that people who pray do notice God responding more than those who don’t. These non-audible responses seem to cause them to feel closer to God. I wish Christians who rarely prayed could report the same, but most of the time they report feeling stuck, dried out, or stagnant in their faith.

If there is something holding you back from talking to God, like a relational problem with another, or God himself; address it in a healthy way “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) You can’t even help yourself to know and grow in the love of Jesus, if the communication lines are down. Start there.

2). Who are you including in chances to know God?

During Jesus’ ministry, the Gospel writers tell us how “(people) were bringing children to him (Jesus) that he might bless them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God..” (Mark 10:13-14)

I suppose that a thousand sermons have been preached on the disciples rebuking those poor kids. The connection typically made is that church-going adults who are made nervous by children and youth in the church need to shape up. This certainly can continue to preach. The bigger question for me is, “When did people stop bringing their kids to a place where they could continue to be blessed in hearing the words of Jesus taught?”

Yes, disciples posing as bouncers for Jesus and His church need to be dealt with, but one can’t blame them when it’s our own idleness hindering loved ones from making worship a priority. If you’re going to help everyone know and grow in the love of Jesus, start with not robbing yourself and your own children of worshiping Jesus and receiving a blessing come Sunday.

3). Is the light you’re shining for Christ helping people see or blinding them?

Jesus calls his followers to be “the light of world” in a way that helps people see the way to God (Matthew 5:14). Therefore, we shouldn’t hide our devotion and primarily allegiance to Jesus in this world. From baptism onward, we are to live for Jesus wherever we are. The Apostle Paul underscored this well by calling us to “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

With inflammatory acts and words circulating throughout our current culture about race, religion, gender, law enforcement, politics, and so on; we must remember that Christ called us to be light bearers, not fire starters. This does not mean we should throw away our convictions, remain silent about injustice, or praise sin and hypocrisy. But it does mean we should be Christ-like with our words as we engage friends in person or online. If you want to help others know the Prince of Peace, speaking truth in love and respect will provide a much clearer route.

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Smelly, Stinky Church
Category: Uncategorized|Daniel | 07/08/2016

Written by Pastor Daniel Crowther “The church, is like Noah’s ark: it stinks, but if you get out, you’ll drown.”[1] Perhaps some have never had a negative experience of church and would disagree with Jimmy Dorrell. If you happen to | Read More

Written by Pastor Daniel Crowther

The church, is like Noah’s ark: it stinks, but if you get out, you’ll drown.”[1] Perhaps some have never had a negative experience of church and would disagree with Jimmy Dorrell. If you happen to be that person, I’d like to hear your story. A bit of sweetness could help offset the lot of us who have left the houses of God with a bitter taste in our mouths. No matter the denomination or location, we all know the church can “stink”. But do we really believe that getting out can cause us to “drown”?

Staying with the metaphor, most of us can imagine swimming toward a rather nice island, away from the problems felt in the close proximity of the ark. Yes, islands can come with isolation, but isolation could be a negative connotation for peace and quiet. Peace and quiet from all that church chatter which begins to sound less and less like Jesus. Or here’s another way to think of it:  If you were going to an island and you could take one item, what would it be? A Bible? Yes, take your Bible with you to the island and read those red letters. Who says we can’t stay Christian in our own space reading our Bibles through our own lens? So perhaps, Dr. Dorrell, we will not drown at all. Maybe we can be more comfortable and more like Jesus by getting on our own little islands or navigating our own little boats.

Of course, this is all a convenient and common way to think of church. Many of our church critiques are also very understandable and founded. Jesus and Paul made their critiques of church too. But neither of them used those shortcomings as a way to dismiss the church altogether. If a small church in Corinth ridden with moral dilemmas could still be labeled the “body of Christ” or an idolatrous-hearted group of baptized people could be called the “bride of Christ” then there’s no good biblical excuse to jump ship.

So what is the point of church? C.S. Lewis summed it up well in Mere Christianity by saying, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ, to make them little Christs.” Becoming “little Christs” is a lifelong process for which the church provides us all a great practice field. Will someone offend me? Will I have disagreements? Will I grow weary of serving or apathetic towards worship? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But if I remember one thing about Jesus and have any interest in becoming more like him; then I must forgive because he forgave me. I must persevere in love towards God and others because his love endures

[1] Dorrell, Jimmy. Dead Church Walking. Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2011. pp. 17.
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