Tag Archives: church

Is There a New Savior in Town?

For the last several weeks I have been eagerly awaiting the premier of “V” – a new TV series on ABC.

The show highlights how the world would react if a technologically superior race of human-like benevolent aliens suddenly showed up on our front door step asking for water in exchange for advanced technology.

The show’s premiere particularly delved into how Christianity would handle the situation; and it did so quite well. Originally the world turned to the Church to see how it would respond to the situation. But as the aliens began to perform miracles that before only God could preform, people’s devotion starting turning towards the aliens and their promise of hope in a new world and away from the devotion and worship to God. The aliens set themselves up to be saviors in a broken world. It was a fine metaphorical expose on culture, religion, and politics in modern day America.

The Bible said such things would happen (minus the aliens) and to an extent they already have several times throughout history. So, while this is a weird topic, it leads to a good question. How should (and would) the Church respond if a false savior showed up offering breakthrough and hope to us in such a time as this?

anth Anthony Trask lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife Susan and his two beautiful children. He is a pastor at Fellowship Church in NE Salem. He is currently trying to figure out how to lead a community of grace, hope, and love within our culture. You can visit their website at www.fellowshipsalem.com



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Are Religious Freedoms Steadily Eroding?

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, issued a statement today in response to the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act:

“Today President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill extends federal hate-crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

“The bill is named after Matthew Shepard, a homosexual 21-year-old college student who was killed in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., reportedly because of his sexual orientation. Byrd was an African-American lynched in Texas in 1998. Members of Shepard’s family were in attendance at the White House signing today.

“Critics of the bill contend that its language creates the potential for federal prosecution of anyone whose speech (or sermon) ‘incites’ an act of violence against someone who is, or is perceived to be, homosexual, and that religious ministers and teachers may face possible prosecution if someone who commits a crime claims to have heard a religious leader speaking against homosexuality.

“Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, said although he doesn’t believe there will be ‘immediate’ prosecutions of pastors and churches for teaching the biblical injunction that homosexual behavior is sinful, ‘I think the effect on speech and religious speech is nonetheless real.’

“Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a supporter of the bill, told the media after the Senate’s passage of the bill, 68-29, that religious leaders can continue to express their beliefs on homosexuality as they wish. The bill, he added, applies only to bias-motivated crimes of violence and includes strong protections of speech and association.

“Although we don’t know the full ramifications of this bill as of yet, my staff and I will be watching closely for any possible infringement on the rights of our members and pastors to speak out against the sin of homosexuality based on the Word of God (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Cor. 6:9).

“We live in difficult times, when the traditional moral and religious foundations of our country are being slowly but steadily eroded. In the days ahead we may face persecution because of our pronouncement of the truths of Holy Scripture, God’s revealed, inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. Meanwhile, the LCMS, in deep humility and repentance, strives to remain faithful and steadfast in our calling to, ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.’ (2 Timothy 4:2).”

The St. Louis-based Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, founded in 1847, has 2.4 million baptized members in 6,170 congregations and more than 9,000 pastors. The church body, which ranks as one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, owns and operates KFUO radio, two seminaries, and 10 colleges and universities. Its congregations operate the largest Protestant parochial school system in America. The LCMS has relationships and active mission work in 88 countries around the world and is in full doctrinal fellowship with 34 other confessional Lutheran church bodies on six continents. Also, the LCMS is a founding partner of Lutheran Services in America, a social ministry organization serving one in every 50 Americans. For more information, visit www.lcms.org.


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LaGrone Answers a Higher Calling

He is 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, and still growing.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he brings back memories of Ted Hendricks, the ‘Mad Stork’ of NFL fame.

Dig into his resume, and it becomes obvious that Beavers’ junior defensive end Matt LaGrone is not your typical college football player, given that he’s been an ordained minister since he was 13, and is currently the youth pastor at Garden of Gethsemane Church in downtown Reno, Nev.

How many athletes give up a full-ride basketball scholarship to their hometown school to walk on at a different school and try to play Division I football?

LaGrone was a reserve power-forward on a nationally-ranked Nevada team in 2006-07, and played on Nevada’s NCAA tournament team in 2007-08.

And then he left, after Riley offered him a chance to walk-on at OSU, where younger brother Josh LaGrone is a redshirt freshman safety.

“I wanted to play both sports at Nevada,” explained LaGrone, a football-basketball star at McQueen High School in Reno, “but when they told me I couldn’t, I had to leave. … I’m more of a football guy at heart.”

Riley got a call last year from Carl LaGrone, the pastor at Garden of Gethsemane Church and Matt’s father.

“He asked me, would we let him play football here?” said Riley, “and I told him, let’s get some high school film and took a look. I told (the dad) we would love to have him, but we didn’t have a scholarship to give. He would have to walk on for a term, with no guarantees about the future.

“I thought that might be the last I heard from them,” said Riley.

Riley said he watched some footage of LaGrone playing football at McQueen, “and nothing told you, ‘let’s give this guy a scholarship.’ He was a stand-up outside linebacker. He looked intriguing, but …”

Carl LaGrone said Matt – as he always does – prayed on it.

“He had a dream, and a vision, that he wanted to play college football, and he went for it,” said Carl LaGrone.

“I supported him 100 percent.”

LaGrone redshirted in 2008 and spent months recovering from a torn tendon in his wrist – an injury that occurred during the Beavers’ practices for their Sun Bowl game against Pittsburgh.

The ‘Mad Stork’ of OSU football didn’t play in the spring – he said it was agonizing to stand and watch – but he’s been just short of a dynamo in camp and seems a cinch to at least be in the Beavers’ defensive rotation even if he isn’t threatening to take a starting spot away from either Kevin Frahm or Ben Terry.

LaGrone and Riley both remember their first on-field encounter with some amusement.

“The first day he’s out there, I told him, ‘what you need to do is put your hand on the ground and come off as low and hard as you can, Then I’ll tell you more later,’ ” said Riley.

Said LaGrone, “I couldn’t even get into a two-point stance with my left hand. But I kept working at it.”

Once LaGrone got the basics down of playing defensive end, it became apparent that he had some ability to go along with his size.

“He’s a hard-working, conscientious guy and it wasn’t long before our guys – Tavita Thompson, Andy Levitre, Mike Remmers – they were all having trouble blocking him,” said Riley.

The physical part of football was easy for LaGrone, who was a banger in basketball and has always loved contact. “In basketball, I just tried to muscle guys,” said LaGrone.

The muscle part is easy for LaGrone, who strikes an imposing figure on the field.

“He sure looks good in that uniform,” said Riley.

“He’s got a low center of gravity, and not many guys can come off and run like he can. I think he ran a 4.6 40 in the spring. He’s really quick for his size.”

LaGrone penetrates so quickly, he occasionally over-runs plays.

Early in camp he found himself on the losing end of a one-on-one encounter with shifty tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, a piece of practice film that was immortalized on YouTube courtesy of Beavers’ tight end John Reese.

“(Quizz) can change directions in a hurry,” said LaGrone.

“I’ll get him next time.”

Off the field, LaGrone seems to fit into the OSU program seamlessly.

“Oh man, he loves it there!” said his dad.

Matt LaGrone said he, “likes the fact you can just be yourself. You don’t have to ‘fake it’ in front of anybody. I am who I am, and everybody accepts that.”

LaGrone has a wife and a kid and another one due around Sept. 26, when OSU is scheduled to play Arizona. “I missed the birth (of the first one) and I don’t want to miss this one,” said LaGrone.

On a maturity level, he’s perhaps a few steps beyond some his younger teammates, but Riley said, “he’s always just sitting at the table as one of the guys, which I think is really neat.”

Indeed, it seems teammates are drawn to Matt LaGrone’s outgoing personality, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they are drawn to his spirituality.

“He’s fun to talk to. It’s been fun getting to know him,” said Jacquizz Rodgers.

James Rodgers said he has learned LaGrone’s table is not the place to bring Lil Wayne or Dr. Dre.

“He tells us to turn it down so we can listen to his gospel music,” said Rodgers.

Asked if some of the players treat him a little differently, given the fact he’s a grown man with a family and he’s clearly a man of deep religious beliefs, LaGrone broke into a grin.

“Sometimes,” he said. “A little bit. … they know when they come around me, and they’re singing to rap music, I’ll tell them to turn it off. We joke and laugh about it, but maybe that’s something they need to see in their lives. Maybe God has put me here, put me around them, for a reason.”

Carl LaGrone has five sons, three of them ordained ministers and the other two ordained deacons of his church.

He said Matt is the biggest of the lot, “and he’ll get bigger” which seems to bode well for LaGrone’s chance to play in the pros.

“I definitely want to play in the NFL, that’s my dream,” said Matt LaGrone.

“I’ll never put what God has for me on hold, and if it’s football at the next level, then I’ll do that.

“But I’ll always be a minister. Whatever I do, it’s for Him.”

Carl LaGrone said Matt “got the calling” to become a preacher at the age of 7 and he has become a very powerful public speaker.

“He moves people,” said Carl LaGrone. “And not just young people.”

LaGrone is miles away from the congregation at Garden of Gethsemane Church but he wonders if just maybe, his ministry is now those Oregon State football players who gather around this giant of a man just to listen to him talk.

All LaGrone asks is that they turn the rap music down.

Paul Buker is a sports writer for The Oregonian and is passionate about the Oregon State Beavers. Follow Paul’s at www.twitter.com/PnBuker. This article originally printed in The Oregonian and was used by permission.

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Heresy as a Way of Life

The difference between heresy and prophecy is often one of sequence. Heresy often turns out to have been prophecy—when properly aged.
—Hubert H. Humphrey

There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so
abhorrent to the church as a human being.
—James Joyce

Orthodoxy is highly overrated.

Fear not; I value informed, precise belief and have not yet found a compelling reason to abandon the ancient creeds. My theology, as far as I can tell, is profoundly Biblical and would find a welcome among the stalwarts of conservative Christian thinkers. As far as my religious constitution goes, I’m pretty boring. If you want theological innovation you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Still, I often find the company line stultifying. Rather than spark passionate engagement, our orthodoxy seems to lull us to stupor with its comforting categorical truth formulas, rendering us metaphysically limp and incurious. The closed canon of revelation has given us a solid foundation for faith, but it sometimes seems also to have contracted the spiritual event horizon, to have shrunk our capacity—and even tolerance—for spiritual exploration.

One reason, I think, is that creed comes to dominate our religious experience. Our spiritual life is less an existential journey than a reiteration of propositions, as though our experiences must conform to creedal assumptions before they count as legitimate. We hold God in thrall to our axioms, confining his field of play within narrowly prescribed boundaries. Of course, he is not confined to them, but they make it difficult for us to process, let alone embrace, what might fall outside of our precisely defined metaphysic. But this is not only a malady of the confessionally rigid; it can also be true of those who float within the airy, doctrineless church of the vibe—which is merely an orthodoxy of another kind. The very fuzziness of that spiritual vista is no less rigid a proposition and is, perhaps, even more galvanized because it cannot, by nature, allow for spiritual singularities. Vibers don’t insist that God stay inside the ropes; they insist he stay out.

Heretics—the good kind anyway—are suspicious of algorithms. Rarely do they reject either the constants or variables of orthodox conviction. They do, however, take issue with determinative formulas for reducing the divine enigma into finite units of meaning. For orthodoxy to be orthodoxy, it must do just that. The good heretic finds the very idea of solving God problematic (the bad one simply offers a different solution). This puts the heretic at a decided disadvantage; he cannot answer orthodoxy with one of his own. His only recourse is to appeal to ignorance, though an ignorance of conviction. This does not play well in the courts of religious conventionality and the heretic most often is dismissed as … well, as a heretic.

But the way of heresy—and by this I mean spiritual latitude—is a way that best approximates God as creative presence within human experience, as opposed to God as mere fact. Heresy is not its own end. It is, to reference the poet Robert Frost, the road less traveled by, a path open to new paths. The good heretic is not a reactionary, but an explorer whose passion is for the uncharted territory which surrounds the cartography of creed. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is by definition limitation. At its best, heresy is a suggestive breach in the wall. Those who go through it do indeed risk stumbling, but, as history can attest, sometimes the view from outside the wall can reshape the entire map.

I’m a child of the Enlightenment and I appreciate the rhetorical certainty of orthodoxy as well as the next guy. Yet I’m thinking that those formulations aren’t everything there is out there in Godland. An orthodox boundary is not a fault-line but a survey mark upon an extensive landscape. The marks may help us negotiate our way through that wilderness, but they can also give us the illusion of a tamed land. The good heretic knows the land is not conquered. Yes, the survey marks of orthodoxy are a great blessing, but there is much, still very much yet to see.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

Fred Allen heads up Burning Bush Ministries, teaches literature, draws cartoons, and writes a lot. He is the author of Our Daily Fred, an alternative online devotional, found at http://ourdailyfred.wordpress.com. He and his family live in Salem, Ore.

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Imago Dei

Anxious. Twitchy. Out of my element in more ways than one. But I’m here. I made it. When I finally got out of bed this morning, I raised my hands in triumph and did a victory dance into the bathroom.

Church. I am going to church today. I’ve felt a similar anxiety before job interviews and court appearances. It seemed extremely important to spend more time than usual on personal hygiene, even trimmed the nose hairs.

On the way, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry while I was there. I always sob like a baby during worship; it’s a mess to clean up-snot and salt water everywhere. I can’t help it. God is beautiful, I get emotional.

Heading north on I-5, I didn’t feel like I was on my way to see the Prince of Peace, the God that is Love, my Redeemer. No, instead I felt like I was preparing for a confrontation, an appointment with the Righteous Judge, the God that is Truth, the Almighty; He knows me, knows my sin and rebellion. I have no excuses, no ignorance to blame for it, and I don’t want to hide anymore.

Here, at church, alone but still together with my God family and our Father. My lungs feel shallow. My muscles are tight. Stomach feels like a pit. I feel like the ant beneath the magnifying glass. I stood there by myself, near the front so I could see. I still couldn’t see, but I was as close to the front as I dared. I really need to visit the eye doctor soon.

I’m here though. I made it. Let’s see what happens. The absence of hype at this church is eerily refreshing. It feels less like church and more like a bunch of people gathered because they want to be together with Jesus.

The worship songs are unfamiliar and not loud enough to bury my own wretched voice. During the second worship song I felt a familiar lump in my throat. I sat down and started tapping this into my iTouch. I couldn’t genuinely sing worship songs at this point anyway, too much unresolved mess.

I feel like a barefoot field worker at a fancy plantation banquet, draped in rags and feeling self-conscious in the presence of so much fine linen. It’s all in my head. I barely hear Pastor Rick McKinley’s sermon (about the trinity and our inclusion into Father God’s love for His Son) over my own gurgling thoughts, thoughts of conviction.
I am paper thin. My flesh is a heavy costume, beneath I feel like water evaporating into

The sermon is over. It’s Communion time. The worship song is about Gods love and grace for us. I feel that lump in my throat, again. I stuff my hands in my pockets and try to tune it out. Then the song says something about being a child of God “wrecked by the fall.”

It felt like a steam valve opened up. I’m falling apart. Trembling, I went forward and quickly took the sacraments, then retreated in search of a quiet place. I sat in the back with my face buried in my hands and sobbed. The wine soaked bread turning to a soggy mush in my mouth.

I wasn’t really praying or looking for any sort of experience. It just hit me. Weird huh? I think I cry because it’s God, and He is big and beautiful and overwhelming. I mean, how do people not cry?

Seems like it’s always the same, somewhere behind closed eyes in a quiet place, a Beloved Son Savior is holding my battered broken self in His loving arms, lifting me up to His Father.

Unconditional love, grace and mercy; inclusion and acceptance crash against me like waves. My Judge is my Redeemer. That God is Love. He is Truth. That’s all. I don’t need to be excited or inspired; I just need to accept God and the fact that He accepts me. He loves me.

I’ve been ‘born again’ now for over ten years, and I remember when I used to be able to tell Jesus that I loved Him. And I did so, often, and meant it, too. These days those words don’t come so easy. Not because I don’t believe or accept Him; but in my mind, for me to tell Jesus ‘I love Him’ means that I would forsake all for Him. It means that I would pick up my cross and follow Him anywhere, and give anything to be near to Him. I honestly can’t say that now, and I wish I had a good excuse.

Do you love Him?

I want to. I want a lot of things. When I think of how much He loves me, I really want to more than anything. I think it’s probably the hardest thing in the world to really do, to just love Jesus. Thank God, His love is the easiest thing in the world to accept and receive.

So I went. Now what?

Driving south on I-5, it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. I feel a little lighter than before. I resolve not to make any more promises I can’t keep. A while back I promised myself I’d stop doing that. I just hang my left arm out the open car window and enjoy the buzz of getting outside of my comfort zone. I laugh at myself for still crying like a baby in church even after ten years. I cross my fingers and promise that I will go to church more than a few times in the next ten years.

Gabriel McGraw Montgomery currently resides in Salem, Oregon where he enjoys feeling at home with his friends and family while simultaneously day-dreaming about distant lands. Gabe is interested in all sorts of creative expression and is almost convinced that his mom is right, and it’s not too late to go back to school. Gabe likes people and can be reached at gabemcgraw@yahoo.com.

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Messy Spirituality

The first time I donned my green apron as a new barista, things moved quickly. Espresso shots descended faster than cups to pour them in, and drinks that were so easy to enjoy on one side of the counter seemed to suddenly morph into complex mathematical equations on the other side. But pouring espresso shots seemed elementary compared to the most daunting of challenges: language. Never before had I given so much thought to what constituted a tall, grande, venti, or worse yet, the mysterious “short.” It wasn’t enough to say that someone wanted an Americano with white mocha syrup, an extra shot, and some steamed 2% milk. Rather, it had to be called out as a “quad grande white mocha steamed 2% Americano.” It took a while, but I learned that being a barista involved adapting to a new language and culture. Not just occasionally visiting, but actually becoming the culture in a way that made the actions and choices almost secondary.

But despite the hard work of learning, I persevered. I’d spent a few years learning Greek and Hebrew. Why not barista? Little was I to know that being a barista in the community in which God was calling me and my wife to start a new church was to be my first class in missiology (the idea that Gospel becomes indigenous within a local culture).

You see, language and culture run deep. Deeper than we are able to put into words. Language and culture aren’t things that you simply read about in a book or dabble in for a couple of weeks. They represent the ways in which you choose to do life. Your belief system. Your philosophical outlook on who you are and the world you live in. They determine the decisions that you make each and every day. And all too often, they happen without us being aware of them.

And that’s why it becomes so troubling to conceive of a God who simultaneously is anything but human and, yet, chooses to contextualize himself in such a scandalous way as to be both human and divine. He takes up residence among us, his creation. Eats food. Listens to music. Wears sandals. Walks along the same road that everyone else does. And to be honest, if it were me, I would have most assuredly done things differently. Don’t get me wrong; entering the world in humble circumstances is all well and good, but he’s the creator of the universe. Why not throw a little flair into things. Maybe enter on a flaming chariot that says Easy Rider on the side.

Guess that would be too easy.

I had the opportunity to catch some coffee with a pastor much older and wiser than I. He has been at the same church for over 20 years and leads a faith community that has spearheaded new church plants in the past 3 years. We talked about the differences between our two cultures: him being from Arkansas and me from Oregon. We talked about what it means to be Jesus to people on a daily basis. Part way through our conversation he paused, and striking the pose of an ancient sage, he made one of those wise comments that only comes from years of tested experience, “You know Dwayne, for the past few years we have been describing church planting as a way of starting a church and reaching out to our surrounding culture. But you guys aren’t doing that. You are raising up a church with your surrounding culture.”

Quite frankly, I think the first option would be a whole lot easier.

In fact, it would be downright cleaner. Incarnation gets messy real quick. It’s much more sanitary to live within the confines of a Christian bubble and create artificial barriers that will prevent germs from spreading. We don’t like to say this, but we do it. Perhaps we buy interesting Christian trinkets, talk about the latest Christian bands, or just end up socializing with, you guessed it, Christian friends. All done in a concerted effort to make life within the bubble more comfortable and guarded from the world. Sprinkle in some pithy, insider Christian lingo that is sure to keep outsiders out and we effectively inoculate ourselves within a bigger, more secure bubble. And all the while, in our attempts to keep life safe and secure, we succumb to nothing more than a Christian subculture that prevents mess from entering in. Or worse yet, from good news from ever going out.

Somewhere along the way we took up a mantle of defense, guarding ourselves from the onslaught of what was perceived as a detestable culture. But ironically, it is now that same culture that feels as though it is defending itself from us. Maybe it was when we assumed that the “church” existed in a position of power and prominence, as though our role were to command moral solidarity with short-sided behavioral adjustments, such as no drinking, smoking, or dancing. Perhaps it was when Christ followers stopped listening to the world around us, in effect communicating disdain and blatant hatred. Or possibly it was when our self-understanding withered and we assumed a defensive, fearful posture. And maybe, just maybe, we made our own bed of distrust when we effectively pushed the mess to the margins.

Nonetheless, we ended up choosing the easy way.

But what if Christ followers changed things up a bit? Took a different posture. Became listeners again. And here’s a wild one: spent more time with our surrounding culture listening to the rhythms and values that make people tick. Perhaps even popping the mythic bubble so that, God forbid, we might actually rub off on the world around us. Not as people who are better or even more valuable in the eyes of God, but as followers of this Jesus who genuinely care about the world around us. To be Christians, literally “little Christs” in a world that isn’t even sure of what it believes and, yet, is hungry for something. To be humble and respectful in a way that gives power and privilege away rather than hording it for ourselves.

To wear a green barista apron, if you will, and take the time to speak a new language.

Dwayne Hilty is the lead pastor at Soma: A Church of the Christ located in the Edgewater District of West Salem. Dwayne is married to Julie, has 2 energetic boys (Riley and Logan), and loves to be involved in his local community through the Polk County Service Integration Team, West Salem Neighborhood Association, the West Salem Urban Redevelopment Advisory Board. Dwayne insists that life would be made better if everyone grew a coffee plant in their backyard.

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Keep Your Coins, I Want Change

By Bo Lane

I was 13 years old when I got my first true glimpse at homelessness – volunteering for a new outreach ministry in our church. At first it wasn’t so bad. I made some sandwiches, opened some extra large cans of peaches and watched elderly ladies smile as they poured their hearts out, giving their best possible, in a way they knew well.

We collected as many boxes and paper bags as we could, stuffing them full of our freshly made bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches, fruit, and then topping them off with an NIV Bible. One of the ladies prayed a nice prayer, including something about protection or wisdom and we all felt this sense of closeness to one another and to those who would receive these blessings.

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