Fall Frights: Fear and Faith

Here are some reflections on the troubling events happening in our world. In light of the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East, and of Ebola, this post offers a reflection on a Christian point-of-view towards life, death, and being afraid. But first, I invite you into our PDF fall newsletter. This will keep you up-to-date on what is happening here through October.  A newsletter archive is found at the tab Church Newsletter:

ECCEsketch Sep Oct 2014 Newsletter1

War and Disease and the Christian’s Hope

There are rumors of war as terrorists for “Islamic State” (ISIS) are alienating most of the world with their tactics. It is a blasphemy to the Muslim faith to call such an organization “Islamic State.” They have been responsible for the murder of aid workers — an egregious breach of the ethics of the Koran. One way to think about this issue is that ISIS can call themselves “Muslim” only in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan could call itself “Christian” as it did back in its hey-day of violence, murder, terror and intimidation.  The vast majority of Christians rightly distance ourselves from the hate, violence, tactics and general world-view of the Klan.

At the same time there are also fears of a widespread outbreak of a deadly disease called Ebola. This comes in addition to food-safety scares, and employee terrorism and mechanical failures in components of our infrastructure such as air traffic control and water treatment. The Fall of 2014 hardly needs a Halloween to strike fear into the hearts of many, including believers in Jesus. How do we respond in such scary times? Does believing in Jesus help?

Believing in Jesus certainly helps me, and I believe it helps millions of people, because our faith keeps these frightening things in perspective. Jesus said, in Matthew 10:28, that rather than being afraid of those who can only kill the body, we should be afraid of God, who is also in control of the state of our souls for eternity. Trust in Jesus Christ means that we keep faith with God who will rescue us from death as a permanent state — a terrifying condition–, and turn turn death into a doorway into eternal life of peace and glory. So what can ISIS do to me? Only hasten my arrival in the loving arms of God, while they meanwhile heap wrath upon themselves. What can Ebola do to me? As the Apostle Paul writes, to live is Christ, and to die is an upgrade into eternal glory!

Some want to find in these events a hint that Christ might be coming soon. Of course I agree that this is a possibility. I am also convinced that Christ might not roll the skies back like a scroll for another ten thousand years. Each generation tends to think of its own crises and issues as the harbinger of God’s final promises to end history. But friends, if Rome fell, the United States can also be eclipsed as a world power without the world ending. This is not unpatriotic. This is a Christian statement backed by both Biblical and historical perspective.

The “Black Death” scourged Europe throughout the 14th Century; throughout the late middle-ages Christians thought their world was ending, and this view was taken by many of the leading Reformers through the 1500′s. Several evangelicals in the 1600′s and 1700′s charted Biblical time-lines to point to the climax of history in their own generation. One very compelling argument saw the French Revolution as a harbinger of the Return of Christ. World War I was followed by an Influenza epidemic — those who lived a hundred years ago had much more compelling reasons to believe their world was ending than we do today.

The Church over time has developed other ways of looking at the crises and realities of war, disease, and death. Trying to teach believers to keep things in a godly, biblical perspective, the church developed holidays to celebrate various saints who, following Matthew 10:28,  gave their lives even to death for the sake of their witness to Jesus Christ. The Church in the West selected November 1 as a Feast Day to celebrate “All Saints,” to commemorate all those who had died in the Lord and for the Lord. Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallowed’s Eve,” the evening of the celebration of All Saints.

As with so many other things, a solemn reflection on the reality of death and the memory of the departed took on other meanings. Reflection on fearing only God turned into a morbid fascination with what Hell might look like, so rather than saints being esteemed, many costume themselves as the undead — ghosts, zombies, vampires and the like.

Kept in perspective and within the boundaries of health and safety, these things can be fun. I take my daughters out for trick-or-treating. I see skeleton costumes and the like as human beings making a satire of ourselves — we think we are high and mighty in our world, but one day a year we and our children remind ourselves that we are dust and we shall return to dust. If we would remember such things soberly throughout the year, our reflections should turn us humbly toward God as our source for hope, meaning, and peace.

Meanwhile, this Fall, take the visceral frights that you have from Ebola scares and ISIS terror, and make that fright productive in faith: Pray for the persecuted Church around the world, and for the Christians being added to the Company of the Martyrs by the insane hatred of terror groups and hostile, paranoid regimes.

Gearing Up for Fall: School Parking

Commuters to Larkin High School are invited to open the tab on School Parking to get the information you need for reserving a spot at our church. We are beginning to take applications. You will find a link to the pdf application form when you open the tab.

Our Fall Schedule is falling into line as we kick off our program year Sunday September 7. We plan to offer a new age division in our children’s Sunday School class. Look to this site for more details as Fall approaches. A men’s Bible Study will launch on Saturday, September 6, 7:30 AM (yes, AFTER Labor Day week-end!). Our Wednesday 6 PM dinners for $2/plate will pick up again on September 10.

But the summer is NOT over yet. Look below to see what is continuing to happen here through August.

Summer at Elgin Covenant Church

Vacation Bible School July 7-11

We are blessed to have Child Evangelism Fellowship joining us for our sixth year in a row in our Backyard Club Vacation Bible School. It will be held from 10-11:30 AM at the home of Pastor Jonathan and Amy Wilson, 17 North Commonwealth, in Elgin. You may show up, or you may call ahead and let us know you are coming, (224) 276-1889. Adults are invited to stay and fellowship together. Come any day or every day, we look forward to seeing you. You may be confident that your hosts and every teacher and coach for the children are fully vetted for with background checks either through Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) or through our church.

The CEF team will be working with primary-grade children through sixth grade (completed). We also invite pre-reading pre-schoolers as well, who work with Sue Gould, a certified teacher in early childhood education.

Summer Events

Psalm 121 states that God neither slumbers nor sleeps. We are praying for and looking forward to God’s movement in our church and community with a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, even over the summer months. As with many churches many of our programs do go on hiatus for the summer months. It is a practical matter as people take vacations and travel. Our adult Sunday School (9:15) is on break, and our choir’s last Sunday is June 1.

But God does not take a vacation. Every Sunday at 10:30 we expect to encounter God in new and meaningful ways in our worship and preaching. We also keep our schedule of communion every first Sunday of the month. We remain focused on ministry to children and families, if in different ways.

Over the summer children are given activity sheets during the service, and most Sundays will still feature a brief “Kids for Christ” message. Nursery care is provided throughout the summer. Children’s Church will resume in September. July 7-11, pre-readers and primary-grade kids are invited to Vacation Bible School.

We are also taking advantage of the summer slow-down in programs to renovate our restrooms. As you can see while our ministries take a different form over the summer, we are not “dormant,” and our God is neither slumbering nor sleeping.

Jesus Lives

The words “Jesus Lives” seem straight-forward enough. When I write them and say them, I mean that I believe that the baby born in Bethlehem who became the preacher crucified on a cross, who was dead and buried, came back to life and remains alive and shall live forever. Others might mean something else, such as that “Jesus lives” on in the pages of the Bible, Jesus lives in those who, reading the Bible, try to follow his example. Yet when it comes to the crucified Jesus, these others seem to think that Jesus stayed dead and that only his memory and his example live on. Some who believe that Jesus is in heaven might think of him as some kind of ghost — not the Holy Spirit, but the kind of ghost that Hollywood makes spooky movies about, a mere mental shadow of a person now dead.

When an evangelical Christian talks about the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this means much more than following the example of a dead hero. No one has a “personal relationship” with George Washington today or Martin Luther King, Jr. even if some are inspired by their examples. We mean, and I mean, that Jesus is really and truly alive. He is not alive as a specter either, a mere wispy ghost to haunt heaven. Jesus is not only as alive as you who are reading this, but more alive, with a more substantial existence that include our dimensions of experience as well as higher dimensions.

We teach at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin what Christians have taught and believed these 2000 years, which is that the incarnation of God in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, his life, suffering and death, and his bodily resurrection into eternal, glorified, higher life, are facts of history. They are not myths, they are not allegories, they are not memories of a dead person: They are NEWS, good news to ever generation, to all who receive in faith that this is true and long to join Jesus Christ for eternal life.

Easter at Elgin Covenant

We might not be too sure if spring will ever come, but Easter is certainly on the way.  Please join us as we celebrate with the following events:

Palm Sunday, April 13, 10:30 AM worship: This will feature a palms procession with the children, and the music of our praise team Redeemed.

Palm Sunday, April 13, 4 PM: Family egg-decorating and egg hunt.

Thursday, April 17, 7 PM: Holy Week worship and communion.

Sunday, April 20, 10:30 AM: Easter worship service. The choir will be featured. We will not have Sunday School beforehand or coffee hour afterward.

A Renewed Vision

Between one-fifth and one-fourth of our church has been participating in a series of Monday evening work-shops to discuss vision and strategy for our ministry into the future. One priority and two  goals have been identified for the short-term  as part of laying the foundation on which to build.

The priority is to prepare the way for the work of the Holy Spirit in hearts and in the church as a whole by teaching and preaching on the Holy Spirit and revival. If this priority is confirmed in the discernment of the church it will likely become the focus of our next program year (September 2014 – May 2015) in the sermons and small groups. We understand that “unless the Lord build the house, the laborers work in vain” (Psalm 127:1).  We also understand that the calling of the Holy Spirit on the heart is the call to faithful action (Matthew 7:24-27).

For faithful action in the short-term we have two goals:

1) To deepen and enrich our ministry to  families with teens through cooperation with Elgin-based youth-oriented Christian organizations.

2) To expand our ministry schedule and space for families with infants and children.

Why these goals?

Elgin Covenant is located in an area of Elgin and County that is “thick” with ministry opportunities. Any number of goals would be deserving of our ministry efforts to be salt and light to our community. This is where we are on the map:1.5 miles west of the church is Elgin Community College, 2 miles north-east is Judson university.  We are the closest church to two nursing homes and to the national headquarters of a justice advocacy group, Administer Justice. We are glad to be sponsors and allies with Wayside Elgin for aiding the homeless, and TLC Life Choices, which promotes women’s health and family function in life-affirming pregnancy care. So as you can see our church is set in the midst of the young, the elderly, the infirm, the troubled, the poor, the at-risk, and those who serve them. So why goals about ministry partnership for youth and ministry expansion for children? What sets these needs above the others?

Elgin Covenant is located directly next to Larkin High School, a public high school. All that separates the two is an invisible line through a grass ditch.  Is this by chance? That’s not how believers think. Our faith is that we are put here by God’s plan. After all, the school was here first, before the church built on the corner of Larkin and Jane.

A thriving ministry to youth is an encouragement to families with young children, as for examples the families of the pastors at this church, that there are things in place for families all the way through high school graduation. However, families with young children who do come need to see that there are adequate spaces and staffing to provide the kind of enrichment in faith that they want for their children and for themselves. The good news is that right now our designated spaces for children’s ministry are getting tight, and we need to start reclaiming spaces for the priority of serving families right away, so that they are ready for the fall.

A renewed vision is going to mean that we see ourselves as a work in progress where change is normal, but change only as the faithful actions that spring from Biblical conviction and Spiritual revival.

 

The Jesus Strategy: The Cross

Our church is developing a strategic plan for a relevant and inspiring ministry into the middle of the 21st Century. Our boldest dreams see the congregation being salt and light for the entire Elgin community (Matthew 5:13-16). Yet the traditional season of Lent is a reminder to us that believers in Jesus Christ are not to pin our hopes on worldly approval, or worldly methods. The season of Lent points us to the Jesus Strategy, when he shared with his followers what he was about, as described in Matthew 16:21:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

This does not sound like a strategy for success. Yet the greatest defeat in the world’s eyes is the greatest victory in God’s eyes,  who raised Jesus from the dead. Still, believers in Jesus are more likely to be afraid to suffer for our faith than to embrace the promise of rising from the dead.  We carry on in the attitude of the disciple, Peter, who did not understand that second part, the “rising from the dead” promise. Instead Peter was focused on the “must be killed” part and it sounded to him like defeat, as seen in verse 22:

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” Jesus replied to him, in verse 23: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but human things.”

A church’s strategy cannot have human things in mind and expect to be blessed. Rather, when the Church, the Rock of the Confession of Christ, devotes ourselves to human agendas, we end up on the wrong side of God. This has happened throughout the history of the Christian faith, as our critics so often point out. Any strategy must be focused on faithfulness to our Christ who calls us to bear the cross with him in order that we might share in the resurrection with him.

1. When Jesus “surrendered” himself to the worldly powers, he did not compromise with them or endorse their values. Instead his peaceful non-resistance showed just how wrong the world could be.

2. Jesus spoke the truth to power even though they did not have the capacity to understand that truth could be absolute. Pontius Pilate, a consummate politician and power-seeker, replied with the relativizing question that defines the world of today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

3. Love for the world defines the witness, words, and actions of the church. This is the message of the cross, “For God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Church since that time, and Elgin Covenant in our time and place, is not called to judgment or condemnation (John 3:17) but to declare the message that those who are in the world can be saved from their sins through repentant faith in Jesus.  Those with whom the gospel is shared will be self-selecting in how they receive it, they are not to be “pushed” away (3:19-21).

4. Churches in western society, the richest nations in the world, are in decline, with few exceptions. This is not a great mystery. Jesus said, in Matthew 19:23-30, that it is hard for wealthy people to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet he also stated, in the same passage, that what is impossible for humankind is still possible with God. There is hope for revival even in the West, the world’s wealthiest societies, such as our own. We, who are the world’s richest people, are called to discipleship in the way we use the things God has given us, with humility and generosity (I Timothy 6:17-20).

So then we at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin are sensing God’s call to a strategy for a vital, relevant ministry that will communicate to our world that we are: 1) Authentic in our love and in obeying God’s priorities. 2) Faithful in our calling to seekers to repent of sins and faithful in our own repentance. 3) Hopeful in God’s plan and promise that what is impossible for humankind is possible in the power of the Spirit of Christ. 4) Joyful in our expectation of living in glory forever with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Long Epiphany in a Long Winter

Celebrating Jesus as the light of the world can be hard to do when the winter seems to stretch on, even reaching places that are used to much balmier temperatures by February. Still Jesus is the light of the world, our hope not only when things are tough outside, but when relationships are cold, job leads are cold, and souls are in the darkness and despair. Even if spring takes a little longer than usual arriving, Jesus can be light in your life and warmth in your heart starting today. Receive him, trust his promises, and find a new hope giving birth in your heart in a cold winter.

Like many others our church has been challenged by this winter, as we have discovered a need for some roof repair. So if you will pardon our dust, come and join us on Sunday for a worship experience that will warm your heart!

Christmas is Coming (but is not here yet)

In society today words and images are becoming loaded with meanings that signal a person’s political and cultural loyalties. In many cases the Church and Christians must stand apart from these partisan divides that hover over conversation. For example, the word “holiday” and the greeting “Happy Holidays.”

Because this greeting has begun to be used by some department store clerks and television commercial advertisers as an alternative to “Merry Christmas,” many evangelicals are told that to say “Happy Holidays” is a compromise to an anti-Christian spirit. We are told that we need to keep “Christ” in Christmas, and so we should boldly say “Merry Christmas” to everyone we meet in December.

This is a matter of opinion, and it is fair for you to know my opinion as the pastor of the church whose site you are visiting. In my opinion this is a non-issue born out of heightened political sensitivities. I believe that Christians should be taking back the term “Happy Holidays” for all that it truly means. ”Holiday” equals “Holy Days.” “Happy Holidays” is a greeting that encompasses, for the Christian, a blessing on the observances: 1) of the Advent Season including its saints days such as St. Nicholas Day on December 6 and Santa Lucia Day on December 13; 2) of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the 12 days of Christmastide, including the Feast of Stephen and New Year’s; 3) The celebration of Epiphany on January 6, the visit of the Wise Men to the child of Bethlehem.

Do not misunderstand this post. I am NOT encouraging an attitude of compromise with an agenda that wants to remove Christ from culture and from history.  I AM encouraging truthful, non-politicizing speech. If someone asks you why you, an evangelical, uses the term “Happy Holidays,” tell them that holiday means holy day. What a great window into a testimony! For more discussion, look for “Christmas and Culture” under this site’s “Hot Topics.”

We invite you to spend the holidays (holy days) with us this December, and a Merry Christmas with us too when the time comes, on Sunday mornings and in our special events scheduled throughout the month. The Praise Team “Redeemed” will be involved in the worship services Dec. 8 and 22nd. Communion will be shared Dec. 1 and 31 (see below for our New Year’s Eve event) and January 5, 2014, our celebration of Epiphany.

Santa Lucia Coffee Open House: Saturday, December 7, 2013

Come enjoy holiday breakfast treats and traditional Scandinavian foods from 9-11 AM on December 7. The open house will also feature music and appearances of Santa Lucia. It is true that we do not celebrate Santa Lucia on her actual holy day of December 13; our annual celebration is the first Saturday in December. Admission is free, free-will donations are welcome.

Christmas Choir Program

Set aside December 15th, the third Sunday in Advent, to join us as our choir will be featured in the morning service (10:30 AM).  As Pastor Jonathan (the author of this post) is in the choir’s bass section, Family Pastor Greg Johnson will preach. Our children’s church will also be featured in two numbers!

“Joyous Noel” Night of Christmas Music, 6 PM

On the evening of December 15th all are invited to “Joyous Noel: The Music of Christmas,” a concert with divas Dr. Rise Jones and Solange Sior, cellist Bob Weber, pianist Murna Hansemann, and caroling led by John LaBorn. Refreshments will follow.

Christmas Services:

Christmas Eve, December 24th, 7 PM, candlelight service.

Julotta, Christmas Morning, 6 AM. A breakfast fellowship will follow at Randall Pancake House.

December 29th, 10:30 AM, Christmastide. Family Pastor Greg will preach.

New Year’s Eve Gathering

6 PM, Potluck Dinner, Fellowship Hall.

7 PM, Worship and communion, Sanctuary. Child-care is planned in the pre-school room.

8 PM, Potluck desserts and snacks buffet, games for as long as people want to stay.

Within the schedule all are free to come and go from our New Year’s gathering as they please.

All month long we are keeping Christ at the center of our observances. He truly is the reason for the season,  the happy holidays of Advent and the Merry Christmas of Christmastide. We hope to see you here, and Happy Holidays!

The Walk

Come join Elgin Covenant Church on “The Walk.” This is our theme for 2013-2014, and it refers to following Jesus Christ as disciples. Each person is on a spiritual journey all one’s own, but in that journey as we walk with Christ, we also walk alongside each other and encourage one another. As we walk with Christ and one another we become a church of disciples that makes disciples. But don’t worry that you are somehow disqualified from walking with Christ, that only super-spiritual people need apply. The Walk is not cut out for super-spiritual people; discipleship, walking with Christ, is for sinners and doubters and people who feel unworthy in themselves to talk to others about God and beliefs.

On September 29th there will be opportunity to surrender our hearts in repentance to Jesus Christ, according to the words in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” We believe that our God who is Creator and Redeemer desires to erase our sins and create new faith within each one of us. This does not make us super-spiritual people who stand on our own, rather it makes us people who have a new Spirit that acknowledges our need for God, sometimes in “sighs too deep for words.”

Believers in Christ are called to share with others this gospel: that just as we need God so all sinners and doubters and people who feel unworthy need God. You are promised in the New Testament, in Ephesians 2:1-10, that God loves you, God forgives you, and God has a purpose for your life that becomes clearer the more you surrender yourself to God’s love and forgiveness . If those who claim to walk with Christ point to themselves as super-spiritual people, they are probably not walking as closely to Christ as they claim!

On October 6 we will have a special communion service. The table will be opened at the beginning of the worship hour, and there will be times for sharing and for silence, for open prayers and guided prayers. The theme of this service is that, just as individuals we will never become “super-spiritual” apart from acknowledging our need for God’s love, forgiveness, and purpose, so the same is true for our church. No particular blend of musical instruments, no schedule of programs, no amount of “doing,” will ever be able to “create” the works of God in our hearts. Rather, just as God will not despise an individual’s surrendered heart but will bless it, so God will not despise the surrendered heart of a church, but will bless it. Then we who are forgiven sinners will be able to share our faith with others, that we have a mighty, loving, kind and grace-filled God whom we serve!

For the next several months we are focusing our preaching on what it meant for various Biblical people to walk with God. We are finding out that even some famous Bible heroes, Moses and Joshua and David, were not super-spiritual people; what set them apart was that they realized they were far from being either super or spiritual and that they needed God.

Another feature of The Walk is a small groups training in sharing our faith with others. If you are interested in being equipped in this way, you may contact the church at 847-888-2302 for more information, or come on a Sunday morning. We worship at 10:30. See you in church! See you on The Walk!

School and Family Zone

The decision in U-46 to begin the school year a little earlier –two full weeks before Labor Day — might have some students pining away this last week of the summer break, but we are ready at Elgin Covenant for the start of a new season.  As students get back in to the groove we at the church will help families ease in to the fall with some late-season celebrations. Larkin students looking for parking privileges, see below under Student Parking.

On August 25th our church will hold its annual Picnic. Visitors are invited to come! Dress will be casual, and the main meat will be provided. Participants are asked to bring along their own table-ware and a dish to share. Service will begin at 10:30 with lunch following. Look for the tents on the property of the church, 1565 Larkin Avenue!

September 1 is Labor Day week-end and our September communion service.

September 8 is our Rally Day, the launch of the church’s program year. From this week through to the end of May Children’s Church will be provided for kids from pre-school (out of diapers) through fourth grade. Our nursery is staffed all year for infants and toddlers still in diapers. Adult programs also resume their regular Sunday morning and midweek schedule.

Larkin Student Donut Klub

That Rally week also marks the beginning of the Donut Klub: Wednesday, September 11. Larkin Students can come in for a free donut provided by generous donors in the community, and hot chocolate or coffee. Runs from 7 AM to 7:30 AM. Get your breakfast, grab a table and play a quick board-game with friends –and make new ones!

Safety

Elgin Covenant treasures the family. As we teach and preach Biblically-centered ethics that society today calls “traditional morality” (see related posts under “Hot Topics”), we also want to welcome  families into an environment that promotes trust. We have a two-adults policy for every program and environment which requires the supervision of minors. Independent background checks have been conducted on all supervisors and teachers of children.

Accessibility

At Elgin Covenant we have a wheel-chair accessible entrance with a button-operated door; we also have a wheel-chair friendly single-stall restroom, and a chair-lift to reach the fellowship hall. Only the basement classrooms for children are at this time inaccessible.

Listening devices for the hearing impaired during the worship service are available on request. Large-print Bibles are also available.

Student Parking

Students at Larkin High School can secure parking passes for school-day privileges. $85 covers the whole year, or $45 per semester. Call 847-888-2302. The week of August 12-16 please try to arrive before noon to fill out the application and pick up the sticker. Otherwise please call for an appointment or to make another arrangement. And tell your friends!