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Thoughts from Pastor Dan

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s devotional originally appeared in Saturday’s “Faith and Values” section of The Eagle

 

The stranger sat on his motorcycle in our church parking lot, never taking his helmet off.  From inside the building, I watched him aim his Smartphone at the church and then busily tap on the device.  After a few minutes, I walked outside to approach him.  The stranger looked up at me apprehensively.  “Are you playing Pokémon Go?” I asked.  He squinted happily.  “Yeah,” he replied.  And from there the two strangers, who otherwise might never speak to each other, had a friendly conversation.

 

Our church is a “Pokémon Gym” on the newly released, location-based game, where players find virtual creatures in the real world.  It’s brought a slew of Pokémon players our way; unlikely guests from all walks of life.  Yet, thanks to a virtual reality game, here we are: strangers engaging each other in actual human conversation across our societal differences.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

It’s been one year today since Sandra Bland, a Black woman pulled over for a minor traffic offense and then arrested, was found inexplicably dead in her cell at the Waller County Jail.  For the last few days, activists steadfastly demanding justice for Bland’s unfathomable death have been holding vigil outside the jail where she spent her final hours.  An image of Bland is projected onto the wall of the jail during the night, and at daybreak supporters observe Holy Communion together, honoring justice for Sandra Bland by remembering Christ.

 

Not being able to camp out at the jail but still wanting to be present in some supportive way, a couple of church members and I took a few water bottles left over from the “Pride, Peace, Prayers for Orlando” vigil last month, loaded them into a large cooler of ice, and headed to the jail yesterday afternoon.  We figured that with the sun beating down on the people camped outside the jail, at least we could bring them some cold water.

 

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Dear Church Family,

A friend of mine put something on Snapchat where she wrote over a completely black image, “No matter what you’re going through, it can’t stop where God is taking you.” At first it sounded terribly close to one of the ten clichés that the religion and spirituality site Patheos suggests Christians stop saying: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” But “what you’re going through” doesn’t imply that God is some mythological character steering every situation and circumstance toward our ultimate fate. There are pitfalls in life—to put it mildly—but God is our ever-present help in the storms as well as the sunshine of today, tomorrow, and the ever after, not the calculating puppeteer of “what you’re going through.” And where God is taking us was, is, and evermore shall be the Shalom of peace.

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Dear Church Family,

 

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” –John 20:22

 

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. –Acts 2:2

 

Greetings from Waco, Texas, where the 13 youth and 4 adult volunteers from Friends Church are on a mission trip with five other youth groups from Austin through an organization called Mission Waco.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words frighten children into the closet.”  These were the words she cried into a microphone that were received by a sea of snapping fingers, affirming moans, and vehement head nods.  She was one of many poets who courageously took the stage at Revolutions in Bryan on Sunday night for “Mic Check Poetry Presents: LGBTQ+ Vigil & Voices.”

 

The gathering of some 200 people celebrated Pride Month, but the celebration was overshadowed by lament.  After the shootings in Orlando that claimed the lives of 49 LGBTQ persons and allies, and injured 53 others, the spirit of the gathering was one of anger and sorrow, providing sanctuary for so many who feel justifiably under fire.

 

The first round of poets was a “closed list specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals.”  This was a time and space in which this straight Gen X Christian pastor was invited to shut up and listen.  I embraced that unspoken mandate.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

In response to the announcement about a prayer vigil happening at our church due to the horrific shooting in Orlando, a Facebook friend of mine posted a frustrated sentiment: “Holding a vigil is a nice gesture, but it does nothing to prevent another massacre.  We need stronger gun control laws!”  While I don’t dispute my friend’s cry for us to get a better grip on the ridiculous amount of mass shootings in our country, I still believe that holding a prayer vigil goes a million miles in that effort of preventing future violence.

 

The Apostle Paul instructs the Romans, “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  The patterns of this world are predictable.  They’re easily swayed by divisive, fear-mongering tactics.  We are insecure about what we don't understand, be it the fact that our friend’s son has a boyfriend, or that our co-worker identifies as transgender and is visibly transitioning week by week, or that the parents of our child’s friend at the public school they both attend are undocumented immigrants, or that our neighbor down the street is Jewish and the family next door to us is Muslim.  How quickly our insecurities about our own ignorance make us uncomfortable and then morph into resentment and hatred at the sight of the first bumper sticker sentiment that “others” those who differ from us! 

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

This morning, I’m sitting across a small table in a coffee shop from an 11-year-old boy who happens to be my son.  Another year of school ended for him and his little sister—who is at Girl Scout camp today—last Friday, and now his fulltime working parents are juggling swim practices, camps, and moments like these, when our children playfully stare at us over the peak of a laptop.  Not only are his sister and he growing up faster than Marvel produces movies, he will begin middle school at the end of this summer.

 

So, as the boy and I sit in this coffee house at a table that’s only big enough for my laptop and his blueberry muffin, I’m realizing yet again the urgent need to practice what I preach.

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

This is the season of saying goodbye.  At the end of another school year and the dawn of the summer months in College Station, Texas, people leave our community.  Some graduate from Texas A&M University and look to the next chapter in their educational or vocational lives.  Some venture out of state for an internship.  Some relocate because of a new job.  Some just need to move on because, well, it’s time.  Whatever the reason, these are the days of saying goodbye in our church family.

 

And in over ten years of living in this community, I’ve never gotten used to it.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in a church where I was a fourth generation member, and people grew up together from childhood to adulthood, and at Christmas and Easter their extended family came to visit them for worship services, not the other way around.  Maybe.  But I think it has more to do with the simple fact that when people love each other with the agape love that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, when people love each other with the humble servant love that Jesus demonstrates for his disciples and commands them to imitate toward each other, when people love each other like that, their parting signifies the separation between friends whose bond is marked by a power greater than anything in this troublesome world.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

“The greatest among you will be your servant.” –Matthew 23:11

 

Last week I visited the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was Pastor at the time of his death.  The sanctuary has been preserved right down to the taxi cab pulpit microphone that emanated King’s prophetic words.

 

Today, you can sit in pews where his congregation sat on February 4, 1968 to hear what would be the preacher’s final sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct.”  A recording of that sermon was playing when I walked into Ebenezer Baptist’s sanctuary.  From the front row looking up at the altar where Pastor Martin once sat, I was inspired all over again by his words filling the room: “[Before we judge others for their selfishness], let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance…  We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade…  It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it.  Don’t give it up.  Keep feeling the need for being important.  Keep feeling the need for being first.  But I want you to be first in love.”  (The congregation chants back, “Amen.”)  “I want you to be first in moral excellence.  I want you to be first in generosity.”

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Greetings from the Festival of Homiletics, an annual continuing education opportunity for preachers where clergy of all stripes are spiritually fed by worship services and sermons, workshops and lectures, resource fairs and book sales, and even a bluegrass band leading a hymn sing in a local bar.  This year, the Festival is in Atlanta, Georgia, where one of the featured speakers is Baptist preacher Julie Pennington-Russell.  I attended her sermon in Buckhead Theatre yesterday morning.

 

In the soft light illuminating the stage-turned-altar-space, Rev. Pennington-Russell preached on the apocalyptic text from Luke 21:25-36.  After pointing out how it is not so much an alleged rapture text as a scripture pointing to present trials and turmoil, the preacher preaching to preachers set our hearts on fire with the good news that as odd and weird as all of that seems, in the end the oddness and weirdness will bear the face of Christ and lead to the very heart of God.  In short, she stressed how we needed to not be distracted from the present with our attention looking to the hereafter; rather, we are called to be fully present in the moment set right before us, because in that precious sliver of time resides the beauty of God.

 

This Week @ Friends (DP)

Sunday - Jul 31st

Jul
31


10:30-am 11:45-am

Tuesday - Aug 02nd

Aug
2


7:30-am 9:30-am

Saturday - Aug 06th

Aug
6


10:00-am 12:00-pm

Sunday - Aug 07th

Aug
7


10:30-am 11:45-am

Monday - Aug 08th

Aug
8


6:00-pm 7:00-pm

Tuesday - Aug 09th

Aug
9


7:30-am 9:30-am

Aug
9


11:30-am 1:00-pm