By Manuel Luz, Creative Arts Pastor
Throughout the Advent season this year, we have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper each of the four weeks. This is very different than the first-Sunday-of-the-month, which is our customary tradition. More specifically, we have been very purposeful in telling God’s Grand Story by tying the custom of lighting the Advent wreath candle to the celebration of the Lord’s table. Essentially, the Lord’s Supper allows us to bridge the manger to the cross.
The act of celebrating Communion has always been unspeakably, mysteriously meaningful to me, even as a young boy receiving the Eucharist in the Catholic mass. Kneeling on the cold marble floor of the church sanctuary, the taste of the round white wafer melting on my tongue, listening to the monsignor’s words, “the body of Christ.” These were indelible moments for me, simple actions where I came face to face with the mystery of our faith. We enter into a sacramental action that has been repeated millions of times over thousands of years, all the way back to that ancient moment when Jesus sat at the table to share the bread and cup with his closest friends. It was a highly intimate act, an amazing act of self-disclosure, as Jesus reveals his death in light of the most sacred of Jewish celebrations, the Passover meal. As he served the bread, “this is my body,” and the wine, “this is my blood, given up for you,” he revealed that he was the final sacrifice, the Perfect Lamb, whose blood would guard the doorposts of our homes, whose life would carry the sins of all mankind.
And this is why it struck me so deeply again during this Advent season. I’ve often thought that the act of incarnation—the act of God the Son eternal entering into the limited dimensions of our universe and clothing himself in fragile flesh—had to be more of a shock to Jesus than even dying on the cross. Think about that. He goes from infinite to finite, from Almighty God to helpless swaddling newborn, from timelessness to the ever-fleeting now, from the embrace of the perfect community of the Trinity to the utter aloneness of human being. No creature can fathom what that must have been like.
These were my thoughts as we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and we repeated Jesus’ declaration, “This is my body,” and “this is my blood.” For the act of incarnation, the act of becoming this baby in a manger, was God’s ultimate act of self-disclosure. For we can truly know the nature and heart of God only through Jesus, who was God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. When Jesus was born, it was as if God were saying, “This is my body, and this is my blood, given up for you.” It is only through the humanity of Jesus that we can fully know the nature of the Divine.
So the table represents a bridge between the birth, God’s revelation through incarnation, and the cross, God’s revelation through resurrection. The bread and the cup point backwards to the promise of Abraham and his descendants who were saved from Pharaoh. And they also point forward to the cross and the empty tomb and ultimately to our life in Christ now and into eternity.
Beautiful, metaphorical, artistic, the Lord’s Supper is an intersection of mysteries—Christmas and Easter, incarnation and resurrection, the Promise and the Fulfillment.
By Megan Harrison, Missional Living Pastor
Let me just say it from the start: I love Community Service Day! This September 17th marks the third annual Community Service Day in Folsom, and it is one of my favorite events of the year. They have projects for everyone, for every age, for every interest. The day unites businesses, families, faith communities, and friends across boundaries and neighborhoods. And it helps continue to make the community we live in a beautiful place to be!
It’s no secret that God calls us to care for our actual neighbors, in addition to our theoretical ones (aka “everybody”). In Jeremiah the Lord tells Israel to “…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare will you find your welfare” (29:7 ESV). Lance Ford and Brad Brisco talk about this extensively in their book Next Door As It Is In Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom In your Neighborhood. (I recommend it you check it out!) One of their main points early on is this: we are called to care for our actual, living and breathing, right-next-door-to-us neighbors.
And that’s what God does and has done for eternity! This is mostly easily seen in Jesus. In his book God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighborhood, Simon Carey Holt writes, “The story of the incarnation is the story of God en-fleshed in a particular place at a particular time and within a very specific community. So too for us, the call of God is to be in a particular place and there to embody the presence and grace of God. It’s a call to locality.” The Folsom Community Wide Service Day is exactly that. An opportunity to be present, to incarnate God’s love for this specific, local community, to live out God’s Kingdom in this particular place. And you are invited!
So what does this day actually look like? It starts off with a bang, as Lakeside hosts a breakfast in the morning, with food donated from local businesses, while city officials speak to the huge crowd that has gathered. The room is filled to bursting with people from every background, ready to go out and love on people and places in Folsom.
There are projects that help protect and beautify the parks, schools, and public places. There are projects to encourage those in the military and those recently diagnosed with cancer. There is a CITY WIDE food drive that collects huge pallets stacked with food every year! How amazing is that? A food drive that unites every neighborhood in our entire city!
Have I mentioned that I love this day? What better way to partner with our community and show them the tangible roots of the love of Christ? What better way to build relationships and teams through service? What better way to get further invested in our community?
I highly encourage you to consider joining us this year in serving around Folsom. Find out what projects are still open at www.folsomcommunityservice.org. Hope to see you there!
By Megan Harrison, Missional Living & Early Childhood Pastor
On Sunday, August 21st, we’ll be having an Oak Hills Ministry Partner Fair. Similar to the one we had in February of last year, this will give Oak Hills the chance to learn more about the work our partners are doing around the world! Many of our partners are either Oak Hillians, or are deeply invested in the people of Oak Hills, and we are deeply invested in them. Before the 21st rolls around, I wanted the chance to explore why these relationships matter so much, and why I believe it’s so important for Oak Hills to get to know our partners better.
First of all, you may be wondering: What is a ministry partner? A ministry partner is someone working to build God’s kingdom outside the walls of Oak Hills, who we support either financially or through prayer and other resources. We have partners who lead evangelism mission trips, partners who serve in slums, partners who work with recently released wards from Juvenile Hall, partners who lead churches in other countries, and many more. All of our partners work to make a difference and proclaim the gospel both locally and globally.
So how does someone become a ministry partner? It looks different for most of our partners, but generally the potential partner approaches Oak Hills and asks for support. They are directed to me, and I meet with them and talk with them about their ministry. Two of the primary things we look at are whether their mission aligns with Oak Hills’ values and theology, and whether there are already established relationships between the partner and Oak Hills.
I want to focus in on this last piece—the relationships between a partner and the church—because it highlights just why this Ministry Partner Fair is so important. Our Ministry Partners are just that—partners. We work together, encourage one another, and support each other’s work. Our partners are invested in Oak Hills, just as we are invested in them. And we have found over and over again that just having one or two staff members interested in the partner’s ministry is not enough. We NEED the congregation. Our partners need the support of the WHOLE church. They need all our prayers, our encouragement, our thoughts and our support.
Ministry can be grueling at times, and every one of our partners has faced at least one season of feeling alone in their work. I have found that I cannot support each of our partners as I would like, because we have 20 Ministry Partners, and I am one person! The Ministry Partner Fair is the chance for all of us to come together, learn more about our partners, and encourage them in what they do. My hope is that each and every person who comes on Sunday the 21st, would be drawn to one of the ministries.
We need YOU, and what you have to offer relationally. Perhaps you could consider signing up for an email list, or offering to pray for a need, or just spending time asking one of our partners about their work. Each one of these things is immensely encouraging to our partners! And as the Body of Christ, I believe we are called to encourage one another in the work Christ has set before us. You never know: in your efforts to encourage one of our partners, you may be surprised to find yourself encouraged as well!
Guest post by our ministry partner Twin Lakes Food Bank
Every year Oak Hills, and many other churches and organizations in the area, partners with Twin Lakes Food Bank to bring backpacks to students in need in the community. As you are able, bring a backpack and school supplies to Oak Hills Church between now and July 31st, or deliver it straight to the food bank!
TWIN LAKE FOOD BANK
BACK TO SCHOOL PROGRAM
Our goal is to make going back to school an exciting time for at risk kids within our community. Each student entering kindergarten through high school will receive a new backpack, essential school supplies and a Payless Shoe Source gift card. These cards have a “no cash back” policy, and they enable the student to pick out a new pair of shoes for school. Along with these new shoes, each student will take home new socks and a bag of kid friendly nutritious food. The generosity of local dentists provides each child with a dental kit.
On Monday, August 1, 2016 from 9:00 am until 11:30 am the Twin Lakes Food Bank will be having our annual Back to School event. Last year, 721 children received backpacks and essential supplies.
Would you consider helping a student start the 2016 school year off on a positive note? Twin Lakes Food Bank is in need of donations of all types. Monetary donations allow for the purchase of the shoe cards at a discounted rate. All back to school supplies that a child needs will be lovingly passed on to a thankful student. The Twin Lakes Food Bank serves our local communities of Folsom, Granite Bay, and El Dorado Hills.
A list of needed supplies is available at the Mission Booth in the lobby. Donations can be dropped off there between now and Sunday, July 31st. For more information, contact Pastor Megan Harrison at email@example.com.
By Lorraine Rothenburg, Community Care & Assimilation Pastor
It was November of 2013. That’s when we first started talking with our church family about a new giving campaign to address some practical and ministry needs and goals. We started with interviews with some church individuals and families, and then a church survey followed by a Congregational Meeting and Vision Night on November 21 of that year. Our campaign team met with a consultant to map out plans for the two-year campaign, and after that we met weekly for many months. It was a fun and exciting time of preparing!
We officially launched “to the modular & beyond!” in February of 2014, which ran for 7 weeks and culminated in a big All-Church Banquet on March 29th and Celebration Sunday on April 6th. Those weeks were a whirlwind of meetings, a leadership dessert, informational gatherings with our pastors, introduction to our beloved mascot Lars, and more (including prayer!). Our print materials mapped out our campaign vision and goals, which included renovation of most of our modular buildings, moneys to go toward paying down one of our mortgages and moneys toward needs of one of our ministry partners – Restoration Ministries in Brazil.
And now, more than two years later, here we are. At the end of May, we are wrapping up our campaign. How did we do? Good question! As of today, we:
- Have received $911,000 of the pledged $1,000,000. That’s amazing! That leaves only $89,000 to yet receive (and more), which we hope to receive by the end of this month from pledged gifts as well as new gifts.
- Have renovated modular buildings C & D (classroom spaces). These rooms house a bunch of our outside recovery groups (such as AA and Al Anon), as well as other groups. We have also renovated buildings F & G, our staff/pastoral offices. We are so very grateful to be working and serving our church folks and community in new offices that look (and smell) amazing and are so much more hospitable and safe. Building A, our Youth Auditorium, is almost fully renovated. This multi-purpose building will also be available for weddings, funerals, other church activities and outside rentals. Our church lobby also got a face-lift and update with new paint, artwork, signage and upgraded booths. The landscaping around our office buildings was redone and now our main office has a clearly marked, friendly entrance.
- Have sent money to Restoration Ministries for the purchase of a much-needed bus and build-out of their dormitories. Their leaders visited us and shared in our services several times.
- Have made multiple reductions to our mortgage payments: a total of $402,000, which means a reduction of our monthly payments by $2,700.
- Have, as part of our desire to reach out more to Folsom families, hosted a variety of outside groups of various sizes, including housing 60 students overnight for 6 weeks for a wrestling camp!
Yes, we truly have much to celebrate. God has been so good to us. Our church family has sacrificed so much, both financially and in other ways, to help us accomplish our campaign goals. It has been fun to do this together. And now, as we are nearing the end of the campaign, it’s time to celebrate!
Join us on May 29th at 10am for our one-service Sunday as we celebrate together. We’ll follow our service with a great lunch and, of course, CAKE!! We hope you’ll make plans to join us.
And, if you didn’t get to participate in giving to the campaign and would like to, or want more information, stop by the Community booth in our lobby any time in May for materials. And your Lars mug!
Well done, Oak Hills Church! Well done. Let’s finish strong with our remaining gifts and celebrate God’s enduring faithfulness to us.
By Lorraine Rothenburg, Community Care & Assimilation Pastor
On a recent Friday at noon, I joined the weekly Lenten Prayer time led by one of our Spiritual Directors, Renee Schafer. I had missed the previous weeks simply because I was meeting with individuals over the lunch hour on the Lenten Fridays. But I made it to this one – the last one. Just barely; in fact, I was about 15 minutes late to it. But I felt led to go, and wow, am I ever glad I did!
Each Friday throughout Lent, Renee led those who showed up through a guided prayer experience based on a different theme. When I attended, it was about experiencing God in nature. She gave us some instructions about pictures, glue and scissors that would be available to us for about a 20-minute time, before which she led us in a prayer and a reading. During that “crafting time”, we could choose pictures that meant something to us in how we engage with God. After sorting through the pile of picture book and magazine photos, I settled on a handful that spoke to me. And also being a “words person”, I found various words on the back of some of the clippings and managed to pull a phrase together that fit my pictures. It’s a bit messy, given the short amount of time I got to work on it. The clipped words aren’t exactly straight or even. Some of the pictures extend past the edge of the paper underneath while others didn’t make it quite to the edge. It’s ok. It still speaks to me. It reminds me of who I am and who God is in my life.
I won’t go into why each picture is meaningful to me. What I do want to tell you is how amazing these special prayer times are. Part of it is the activity that participants partake in. It’s also about being with others in the process and being reflective while tuning into what God might have to say. A huge part is just showing up. Being intentional about carving out time in our busy calendars to “taste and see that the Lord is good”.
I hope to participate more the next time some of these special prayer gatherings and experiences are available. Especially in our Lenten and Advent seasons. I hope you will, too. I think you might also be inspired, as I was. And still am, as I reflect on the images and words on my clipping “masterpiece” sitting on my desk. God is good and I am blessed. This Lenten and Eastertide season, may you also be blessed.
By Lorraine Rothenburg, Community Care & Assimilation Pastor
When our son got married in 2011, it became more evident to me that I was going to have to share them with his wife’s side of the family on holidays. I asked them for one “non-negotiable” holiday to be with us each year – Christmas Eve. It’s a super-special day, as it holds many years of family memories and traditions for me. And with my parents now gone, it falls to me to keep those traditions going. Most of our Christmas Eve traditions center around the dinner, with a traditional Swedish Christmas meal. Pickled herring, breads and cheeses, mustard-basted ham and rice porridge, to name a few culinary delights.
Yet, when we gather around that table each year, it’s about so much more than the food itself. As we eat, we reflect on the goodness of God made manifest in His Son. We remember with fondness those who taught us these traditions and are no longer with us. It connects us to the past. We remember our Swedish roots and we preserve them for the next generation.
Some 2000 years ago, Jesus was gathered around a table with those most dear to him to celebrate the Passover meal, one of the most important religious festivals in Judaism, commemorating God’s deliverance of His people from their enslavement in Egypt. The Passover meal, still celebrated today, is a communal meal, called the Seder (which means “order”, as there is a fixed order of service and partaking of the elements). It’s a meal of remembering and celebrating complete with games for the children.
The Haggadah is a printed order of service made available to each person so that they can share in the reading and singing of the Exodus story. It’s a story that recounts the faithfulness of God in the deliverance of his people and foreshadows the true lamb that would come to take away the sins of the world. As we come to the Seder table, we remember the Jewish roots of our Christian faith as well as God’s great gift of salvation to us through our Savior, Jesus the Messiah.
Join us on Maundy Thursday, March 24th at 6pm in our Main Auditorium as together we remember and celebrate Jesus and the Passover through a Seder meal. We’ll enjoy a wonderful dinner, followed by a guided experience through a Seder meal by Jacob Cohen. You can register on our website at oakhills.org under Event Registration by March 20th. There’s a suggested $5/person or $15/family donation to cover the cost of the evening. Hope you can join us for this special evening.
Nowadays, the Christmas season is marked largely by shopping days. It starts officially on Black Friday and counts down until the official Day After Christmas Sale. There is little understanding and practice–even in some faith traditions of the modern church—of the worship season known as Advent. But the Advent season is a rich and meaningful aspect of worship and the arts, and has been through the history of the Christian church.
Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and is traditionally the first season of the Christian calendar. It comprises the four Sundays preceding Christmas, where we purposely set aside the busyness of the season to celebrate the coming and arrival of the birth of Jesus our Lord. Historically, worship—including the liturgy and the artistic elements of the service, from Advent wreath to tapestries to artwork to music—are centered around this anticipation of the birth. Even the colors of Advent—purple, blue, and white, not the Santatized red and green—signify royalty and purity, the coming of the Lamb of God. So the arts historically play a large role in helping people to prepare for and enter into worship of the coming King.
But there may be a deeper, more foundational reason why Advent should be important to the Artist of Faith.
Advent is a celebration of the incarnation. It is perhaps the greatest of Christian mysteries, that the Creator God would voluntarily and willfully become Man. The Infinite would clothe Himself in the finite. God would love us to such a degree that He would become one of us, God with Us, Emmanuel.
And here is the thing we miss sometimes. Jesus’ triumph over sin did not begin with His death. It began in His incarnation. The victory over death that Jesus offers to us was just as present in the manger as it is on the cross.
Art is incarnational by nature. Art is the incarnation of concepts and ideas and emotions onto a canvas or a page or a stage or a screen. The act of art is to take these ideas and flesh them out in our artistic mediums—the visual arts, the literary arts, dance and movement, cinema and videography, music, theater. In the same way, our Artist God takes His love for us and fleshes it out by entering into the universe by becoming human. Jesus, “through Him all things were made,” becomes man.
Here is my point. The birth of Jesus may have been the most artistic action in all creation. Creator indwells His creation. The Artist God indwells His own art by becoming a baby. Really, this should strike astonishment and dumbfoundedness in each of us every time we think of it.
My encouragement to all artists of faith is to see every creative act you do during this Advent season as a breathtaking remembrance of God’s loving incarnation to us. This Advent, may all our art be worship.
[Artist Credit: The artwork above, “Redemption’s Reach,” was created by Keith Elliott.]
As artists of faith, we refer to the “soul” a lot.We talk about playing with soul, expressing from our soul, putting our heart and soul into our art. We sings songs about our souls, to our souls, from our souls. There is soul food, soul music, soul sisters, soul catchers, soul mates, soul patches. We understand implicitly that the soul refers to something mysterious and eternal and deeply rooted in the very essence of who we are.
But if pressed toward a definition of the soul, I’m afraid most all artists of faith would be lacking in any theologically correct explanation. Just what is the soul exactly?
I recently read a quite engaging and thought-provoking book on the soul, Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg, and his teaching is based on some deeply-moving, end-of-life conversations with the late Dr. Dallas Willard. (I highly recommend you read the book for a more complete treatise.) He makes the case that the care and nurturing of our souls might be one of the most important things we do. In fact, I’m becoming convinced that a complete and biblical understanding of the soul is essential to artists of faith.
The soul can be described as a series of concentric circles (see diagram). In the center is our will. This is our free will—the human capacity to choose and create—and our intentions, judgements, and sense of self spring from this. The second concentric circle is the mind. This includes our thoughts, our memories, our emotions, our values, and our conscience. Habits (good and bad) and ways of thinking (good and bad) are created here, and this is also where we as artists of faith hone technique and create personal preferences and discover individuality in our art making. Interestingly, our will alone is often not enough to override our sin nature. We must also renew our minds by retraining our habitual thought patterns as well. The third concentric circle is our body—our physicality in the universe—which gives us the ability to act on our will and mind. This third circle includes everything from eating, sleeping, hugging, dancing, painting, playing a musical instrument, to body language and facial expression. It’s important to note that we don’t have a body and a soul—our body is a part of our soul. And that makes sense, if you think about how the chemical makeup of our bodies and brains is so highly interconnected to our thinking and feeling.
And now we can begin to define the soul.
“The soul is the capacity to integrate all the parts into a single, whole life. It is something like a program that runs a computer; you don’t usually notice it unless it messes up. According to Dallas, the soul seeks harmony, connection, and integration. That is why integrity is such a deep soul-word. The human soul seeks to integrate our will and our mind and our body into an integral person. Beyond that, the soul seeks to connect us with other people, with creation, and with God himself—who made us to be rooted in him the way a tree is rooted by a life-giving stream.” —Soul Keeping, John Ortberg
There are many implications—both large and small—from this more complete understanding of the soul. The soul is more than just the sum of the parts. It is also the integration, or the alignment, of the whole self in harmony to and through God. We are intended to be fully integrated—where our will and mind and body are all aligned with ourself, with others, with creation, and with God. This is the well-ordered life that we desperately and innately desire. And God desires this for us as well.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to live “dis-integrated” lives, where our will and our mind and even our bodies are at odds with itself. The surrender of our wills and the renewing our minds is counter-intuitive to the world. So we devote ourselves to many wrong activities, tell ourselves lies about our selves and our motives in our thought-life, spend much too much time on image management. Truth be told, we are much more motivated by fame and narcissism and self-seeking pleasures and mind-numbing addictions than we would ever admit. We don’t understand that “being saved” as a Christ-follower really means being saved into an integrated soul, living in a way that is fully aligned to God’s intentions for us.
And this is why this is so important for artists of faith to understand this. Our soul is where our art emanates. Creativity comes from the very center of the circle, from our free will. This is God’s great gift to us—this profound Genesis 1 action—being able to create as the Creator does. From the second circle, the mind, come the qualitative aspects of our art, like style and genre and expertise and technique, as well as the enjoyment we receive from our art. From the mind comes our passions and our uniqueness. And the third circle, the body, is how we are able to paint and write and dance and create. For we as artists need our hands, our mouths, our feet, our eyes and ears, our very breath, to participate in the creative action, birthing our ideas into sonnets and sculptures and music into the world.
Here is an epiphany for artists of faith: This is the reason why we feel most free when we are totally immersed in our art making. Because art making is an exercise that allows our will (intentions) and mind (emotions, passions, intellect) and body (physicality)— the totality of our soul—to align to God. When I am writing or composing or designing or creating, my soul feels aligned to that which God made me, to which God called me. This is the essence of what it is to be an artist of faith.
There have been countless times when I have talked to a painter about the art of painting, or the chef about the art of cooking, or the sax player about the art of improvisation, or the ballet dancer about the art of dance. And they speak deeply of the almost magical, ethereal convergence of that moment, when we feel so fully alive. I am becoming more and more convinced that this is a taste of heaven, when our soul is fully aligned to itself, to God, to all of creation.
This has many far-reaching implications, in my view. The act of creativity, particularly in the arts, physically and emotionally and willfully aligns us to the things of God. It can be, in a very unencumbered sense, an act of spiritual formation. And this explains why art making can be, in a deeply spiritual way, an act of worship as well. We find ourselves, through the creative process, communing and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, with our whole being. And this alignment of our whole selves with God also allows us to experience God-breathed joy in the process. And finally, this model of the soul also can explain why things like ego and selfishness and false identity and relational conflict—things which are typical of artists—keep us from experiencing true joy and completeness as artists.
I am only now grasping all the implications associated with understanding the soul as an artist of faith. I’d be interested in your thoughts as well.
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” —Matthew 16:26 NIV
[Illustration: “Soul Circles”, mixed media, by my wife, Debbie Luz.]