Thursday, February 25, 2016

Whiteboard: We Need Community

As our "We Need..." Lenten Sermon Series continues, this week we'll be bringing the focus on "Community."

That's right, We Need: Community!

In preparation for the sermon I'm not just reading and studying Ephesians 6:18-24 (our sermon scripture for the day, which is itself a prayer that "Peace be with the whole community"). I've also been studying up on what theologians, sociologists, and thought leaders have to say about why we need community. Below you'll find a few of my favorite articles so far. 

So read up, let me know what you think, and then come and join us in community on Sunday as we worship the Lord!

Community–and Why We Need It
by Art Lindsley, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute
"Without community (the church), love and good deeds are not provoked or stimulated. Love is in fact impossible in isolation. Love demands another: God or our brothers and sisters."

6 Reasons We Need Each Other
By Jen Waak
“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.”

Choseness: Quoting Henri Nouwen
by Nancy Janisch, Conversation in Faith Weblog
"It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-comparing love and feel safe, not only with God, but also with all our brothers and sisters."

You Need a Community, Not a Network
by Brook Manville, Harvard Business Review
"A big goal requires a “thick we” network — a community of people who feel responsible for collaborating toward a shared purpose that they see as superseding their individual needs. Members of a community — as opposed to a simple network — expect relationships within the group to continue, and they even hold one another accountable for effort and performance."


Ephesians 6:18-24 Peace and Community

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts.

Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Whiteboard Week of Compassion

Okay, so I cheated this week on The Whiteboard. But trust me, that Week of Compassion Poster is WAY better than anything I could draw! And, the words of Rev. Vy Nguyen (Executive Director of Week of Compassion) are significantly more eloquent than anything I could write in describing the life changing ministries that your Week of Compassion dollars empower.

So below you will find the full text of Rev. Vy Nguyen's Week of Compassion Letter and below that you'll find the text of this week's scripture passage from Ruth 1.


Hello Friends,
I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. We have chosen the theme “Where you go I will go; and where you stay I will stay” for this year’s Week of Compassion special offering. During the weeks leading up to the offering, we invite you to reflect on the words of Ruth (Ruth 1: 16-17) and the ways that we, as Church, can live into a spiritual practice of solidarity. Together, we are able to work with communities and positively impact lives all over the world; to accompany people during the time of their greatest need; and to share good news with our sisters and brothers when hope is needed most.

Through our many partners, your Week of Compassion fulfills its mission of ready and compassionate response when confronted with widespread human distress caused by natural disasters or political crises. In many different areas of development and disaster relief — from helping small farmers gain equal access to a fair market, to ensuring women can support their families by making handmade products in countries like Iraq and Haiti, to assisting in the development of sustainable, resilient communities that build the resources they need to support themselves — Week of Compassion strives to stand in solidarity and foster abundant life for all through our partnerships.

We have seen this commitment to active solidarity from the very beginning of Week of Compassion’s history through today: when human rights violations, civil turmoil and conflict, or natural and human-made disasters devastate lives and call on the world – call on the Church – to turn our attention, to form partnerships, to work together to offer relief and support to communities in need. In critical times, our Church has been there to help deal with the crises of the times. New life, hope, strength, and community have blossomed in many places and over many decades because we have always put our compassion in action.

This is who we are as Church: we respond when our brothers and sisters across the world ask us to accompany them on their journeys; we show up with assistance when the world screams for help.

At this moment, the conflict in Syria and the surrounding countries is calling on the Church to respond. Since the war broke out five years ago, there are more people who are displaced or in refugee camps than there were during the entirety of World War II. Displaced persons are calling on the international community to respond. The situation is too dire and immediate to ignore. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, through Week of Compassion, has and will continue to offer solidarity and support to those living through one of the greatest humanitarian crises in current memory.

During this time of the Week of Compassion special offering, we can recommit ourselves to follow in the example of Ruth. We can say to the refugee, the displaced person, the one seeking asylum that we will go where they go and walk in solidarity beside them throughout their journey. We can give of ourselves through time, talent, prayer, and tangible resources. This is another opportunity for us to be the body of Christ, at work in the world, sharing the Good News of reconciliation and justice and wholeness.

It is my great joy and honor to serve on behalf of your Week of Compassion.

Rev. Vy T. Nguyen, Executive Director

Ruth 1

1In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.

6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.10They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ 11But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ 16But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’ 18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ 20She said to them,
‘Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.  21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?’

22 So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Week of Compassion Minutes for Mission

Week of Compassion is February 21-28.

Through Week of Compassion we are able to work with communities to positively impact lives all over the world; to accompany people during the time of their greatest need; and to share good news with our sisters and brothers when hope is needed most. 

Below are two different "Minutes for Mission" that describe the ministries that your Week of Compassion dollars support. 

Minute for Mission 1 
Our Bible is filled with stories of journeys. From the chronicle of how God’s spirit moved across creation in search of a caretaker in Genesis, to Jesus’ call in the Great Commission – to go and make Disciples in all nations – the People of God have been on the move. 

Unfortunately, sometimes that movement reflects the last possible choice for families in crisis. War, disaster, a changing climate or devastated economy have forced millions over the years to seek safety as refugees. 

Since 1946, Church World Service, the relief, development and refugee assistance ministry of 37 member communions such as ours, has been called to resettle refugees, allowing them to escape warfare, civil strife, oppression and statelessness. Since the end of World War II, your mission partner, CWS, has offered life-giving resettlement to more than 800,000 persons. At every step of the way, there have been congregations like ours who have stepped forward to serve as co-sponsors, mentors and friends to newly arrived refugees on behalf of the Church. 

Today we celebrate that effort and recognize that the world is facing a refugee crisis we have not seen in generations. At this moment, there are more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II. Fighting rages in Syria, with families fleeing for safety. Sectarian violence has forced men, women and children from their homes in the Central African Republic on a scale that has not been seen in decades. Persecution of minority groups like Rohingya endures in Asia. 

The threat of violence forces parents to send their children away, unaccompanied, in Central and Latin America because for them, sending their children away, alone or in the care of strangers is an even safer option than staying put. Week of Compassion helps us to be there for them. 

The offering we make today is steeped in more than just decades of tradition. It is rooted in responding to Christ’s call to welcome the stranger. The Week of Compassion offering connects our church’s resources to others to provide help beyond just emergency food, water and shelter. Our offering will help people in need begin a new life free from violence, persecution, shifting climate -- a new life with hope for the future. 

From the journey of his Disciples in following Jesus in his ministry to John’s writing of the Book of Revelation, in exile, on the Isle of Patmos, the people of God have been on the move. We have the chance today to answer God’s call. Let us respond generously to help as one Church. As we offer our gifts, let us be mindful not only of the assistance for those forced to flee their homes. May we also recognize that in giving, we, too are moved in our journey to live ever more in Christ’s image. 

Minute for Mission 2 
Our faith calls us to respond to people in crisis. Sometimes crises occur from forces of nature and sometimes they are the result of violent acts of persecution: what we – human beings - do to each other. The gospel has much to say about this. It empowers us to respond in our own time, as we reflect upon the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. 

 The current conflict in Syria is the world’s single largest refugee crisis in nearly a quarter of a century. The four-year conflict has forced more than 9 million people from their homes. That’s more than 40 percent of the country’s pre-war population. Over 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, and an additional 7 million remain displaced inside Syria – in cities, towns and rural areas. 

Life for Syrians in exile is increasingly difficult. Most live below the poverty line and in sub-standard shelters. Hope of returning home diminishes each year the civil war continues. As the rate of poverty increases among refugees, practices such as child labor and child marriage are on the rise amongst families in the deepest crisis. In the already vulnerable surrounding countries, communities are straining to sustain support for refugees as competition for employment, land, housing, water and energy grows. 

We can respond to the crisis in Syria and to other tragedies across the globe. Donations to Week of Compassion not only sustain a response to issues of global refugee displacement and war, they go to support our efforts to welcome refugees as they arrive in the U.S. and adjust to a new life. 

Matthew 25 states: “Come, you that are blessed. . .inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. . ." 

This passage marks some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples before ascending to heaven. The text is more than a call to help - it is a final judgment on whether Christ’s people have acted with compassion towards those in need. Here we learn that the ‘good news’ comes first to the ones in crisis. Christ comes to us as the “least” – the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner. 

Week of Compassion provides an opportunity to act together. In Syria. In Africa. In Asia, and Latin America - wherever there are needs for care, to live out Christ’s call. 

As we heed the call of our faith - across denominations, working together in unity, as one ecumenical body – we are invited to make more of an impact than any one of us could alone. Together we can make a difference. Not only can we address the immediate needs of those displaced by war and persecution, we can also address the long-term issues of poverty and social injustice. This is the gospel mandate, and the gospel hope.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Whiteboard: We Need Love

The Calendar threw us a curve ball this year.

Not only is this Sunday the First Sunday of Lent (that 40-Day Journey of Preparation and Petition leading to Easter Sunday) but it is also Saint Valentine's Day.

So what is a church to do?

Do you focus the worship service on the deep introspection and wilderness wandering isolation of the Lenten Season?

Or, do you build the service around the themes of love, grace, and connection?

It is quite a dilemma.

Which is why at FCC Scottsdale we have decided to do both!

Instead of looking at Lenten as a stark and lonely time where we give something up as a sign of our fidelity to the Lord, I am inviting you to view Lent a little bit differently this year.

I've talked before about the more modern, positivist take on Lent were believers use it as a time to take on something new -- instead of giving up a vice you take up a virtue. This year we've built that idea right into our Worship Themes for the entire season of Lent.

So each Sunday in worship for the next six weeks we'll be talking about "The Things We Need" during our Lenten Journey. And what better place to start (particularly given the quirky curveball we got from the Calendar this year) than with Love.

Join us this Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, the first Sunday of our new sermon series, as we celebrate the theme: All We Need is Love!

Oh, and we have a Potluck Luncheon immediately following the worship service sponsored by our Membership Team and our Facilities Team in honor of our New Members. So bring a dish to share, come celebrate our new members, and join us for a wonderful Saint Valentine's Day at First Christian Church Scottsdale!

Ash Wednesday Homily

Last night our Ash Wednesday Worship Service was shared with our sister congregations Coolwater Christian Church and Foothills Christian Church. We gathered together at Coolwater (who did such an excellent job hosting!) and Rev. Katie Sexton, Rev. Bekah Krevens and I co-officiated the service. It was a lovely way to begin our Lenten journey, and a beautiful sign of the powerful things that we can do when we work together.

Below are a copy of my remarks from last night. 


Ash Wednesday comes crazy early this year.

The last time Ash Wednesday came anywhere near this early I was surprised by a theological question from one of my Cajun kinfolk.

Now you might not know it to look at me, or by the sound of my voice (I've worked to lose that accent) but eight generations of my family have called the backwoods and bayous of southwest Louisiana home for ages. I'm part Cajun, ya'll. 

And let me tell you, I'm just as surprised as any of my Cajun kinfolk that a protestant preacher has emerged from that heavily Catholic family tree. We learned early on not to talk about religion...

Which made it so surprising when my Cajun cousin pulled me aside and said, “I’ve got a theological question for ya.” 

“Okay,” I responded, with trepidation.

“Easter comes really early this year.”
“Which means Lent comes really early this year.”

“Yep.” So far so good. I had no problem fielding those questions.

“Which means that this year Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday happen before Valentine’s Day.”

“Yeah, that is true,” I said.

Having set the stage, my Cajun kinfolk finally says, “So my theological question for you is this: Does white chocolate count as chocolate? I’m only asking because my sweetheart gives up chocolate every year for Lent and I’ve gotta know what to get for a Valentine’s Day present.”

Lent comes early this year. Breaking into our lives with all of its particular expectations and funny questions. What is Lent? Why do we do it? What am I supposed to do with myself for these next forty days that are actually longer than forty days?

Lets take those questions in reverse order, shall we.

What am I supposed to do with myself?
Well, this one is easy: Spiritual Spring Cleaning.

That is what Lent is all about: Spiritual Spring Cleaning. It is a time of genuine introspection. An opportunity to look deep into the corners and crevices of our souls and find all of the clutter and cobwebs that need to be cleared out. It is a chance for us give up all of those things that we know we shouldn't have been doing in the first place and take up all of those good things that we know we should be doing but haven't. 

Why do we do it?
Our scripture reading from the prophet Joel is helpful here. "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful..."

Why do we do it? Because we trust in the Lord. Because we put our faith in a God who is gracious and merciful, who is forgiving and doesn't give up on us, who continues to call us and call out the very best in us. 

So, what is Lent?
Lent is a 40-day journey where we follow Christ. We follow him all the way to Jerusalem; all the way to the cross; and eventually all the way to Easter Sunday. Lent leads us to the brink of resurrection of new life! And what better Easter present could there be than lives made new by this Lenten journey. Lent is that time where we put down our vices and take up our virtues. Lent is that time where we grow in the faith by nurturing our spirits. Lent is a time of renewal and transformation.

Yes, Lent comes crazy early this year, but maybe, just maybe it comes right when we need it the most.

...oh, and technically white chocolate isn’t chocolate. I told my theologically interested Cajun kinfolk that white chocolate is only cocoa butter without any of the cocoa bean solids. So it isn’t chocolate so much as an ingredient in chocolate. Then again, if you are giving up chocolate for Lent then it probably goes against the spirit of the thing to gorge yourself white chocolate. My suggestion for a post-Ash Wednesday Valentine’s present: Fresh flowers. You can't go wrong with a present that so beautifully signifies the gits of new life.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Whiteboard: View From The Top

This Sunday is the Transfiguration -- one of those mysterious, amazing, misunderstood passages from scripture.

After Jesus has been preaching and teaching, healing and performing miracles he takes three of his Disciples -- Peter, James, and John -- up to a high mountain to pray. And there, he is transformed right in front of them. His clothes become as bright as a flash of lightning, his faces changes, and suddenly the Disciples realize they are not there alone with Jesus but that they are joined by Moses and Elijah!

It is an amazing scene. Arguably, a scene that is too amazing for Peter. He desperately wants to stay there. He wants to stay there on top of the mountain, with his head in the clouds. He wants to stay there...forever. He asks Jesus if they can build three houses there, saying that he wants to build one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, but we can't help but notice that those houses would also correspond to Peter, James, and John.

But Jesus won't let them. This isn't the point of faith -- to be secluded forever, to hide away from the rest of the world, holding on to our mountaintop experience, keeping it to ourselves. As they are walking down the mountain they are greeted with the most amazing part of the entire story. A cloud envelops them and then, well, then they hear the very voice of God proclaiming "This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him."

This Sunday in worship we'll retell the Transfiguration story. We'll sing, we'll pray, we'll be in community with each other -- not so that we can have our own mountaintop moment that we keep hidden away from the world, but that we might hear once more the testimony of faith (God's command "This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him") and bring it with us out to the waiting world.

I'll see you this Sunday!


Luke 9:28-36 The Transfiguration

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen;listen to him!’ 

When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Pics: The Fifth With First

What a great Sunday!

January 31, 2016 marked our first edition of "The Fifth With First" of the new year, and we did some amazing things!

In our Worship Service in the Sanctuary we presented a video homily lovingly put together by the good folks at the Salt Project featuring our dear friend the Rev. David Shirey. The video is a part of the "Ministry Still Matters" campaign of the wider church and with a short introduction by Rev. Brian powerfully points to the ways that we can be burnt out or revitalized in living our faith. Click below to watch that worship video.

After the Worship Service in the sanctuary we had a Plarn Project in the Fellowship Hall. We owe a big "Thank You!" to the dozen folks who participated in preparing "plastic yarn" that will be knitted into bed mats for local homeless men and women.

At the same time that morning we had forty folks from our congregation out in the community making a difference in our local neighborhood. We started with a brief prayer service at Chaparral Park and then moved on to the Paiute Neighborhood Center where we revitalized their community garden, painted the benches in the children's amphitheater, and did some general maintenance and beautification projects all around the center.

You can find even more pictures from the day on the Church's Facebook Page at!