In Response to Charlottesville

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The following is a repost of a response to the recent events in Charlottesville by Dan Hamil, Executive Director of our NAB Conference. We stand in affirmation of our conference and the words in this post.

 

“Dear NAB Family,

“Nearly two years ago, the NAB Strategy Team identified and set in motion eight initiatives pointing to where God was leading us as a conference. Along with church planting, missional training, and spiritual formation, one of those top initiatives was to help our churches pursue racial righteousness, by which we mean a righteous pattern of thought, speech, and action that flows out of our relationship with Christ toward all people, regardless of skin color, social position, or economic status. Regional Ministers, the Strategy Team, and the Executive Team have taken only early steps to discuss our part as a conference of churches in proclaiming the light of Christ as it relates to race and ethnicity. We acknowledge we have much work ahead of us.

“The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia—and the events, gatherings, attitudes, and actions like them that live in shadows in our neighborhoods and in conversations in our churches—reminded us how much our churches together must stand strongly against any and all forms of racism. This is not simply a racial issue or a social issue; this is a Gospel issue. The message of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK, and other hate groups is abhorrent to the Gospel and runs counter to what the Bible teaches. There is no place in this world for speech that inherently demeans or belittles the value of those made in the image of God. Jesus commissioned His Church to reach all peoples with the good news of redemption through His atonement, calling them to salvation by grace through faith.

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” (Galatians 3:26–29 NLT)

“As a conference of churches, we each live in unique contexts, be it Canadian or American, suburban, urban or rural. Our congregations are both large and small. Despite the differences in nationality, location, and size, each church has a vital voice to proclaim the very love of God in our cities and in our countries.

“The only place we know to start on a road to healing, reconciliation, and righteousness is to gather our churches in confessional prayer. It is easy for us to see these events as something beyond our reach or outside our borders and not part of the world in which we live. But with the mind of Christ, we admit that at times we have been silent when we should have shouted in protest, and times we have been inactive where we should have acted in grace and love. We are complicit in the power structures that make a better world for some families at the cost of our brothers and sisters of color. We, with humility, recognize that our acts of kindness, compassion, and hospitality have not been equally given to people of all ethnicities.

“In the coming months, we will provide additional resources for churches who are seeking to live faithfully in their communities and embrace ways to engage in acts of racial righteousness.

“Until then, may we seek the face of our good and great God, confessing our own sins and praying for His peace in our nations and communities.”

Dan Hamil, Executive Director

The Work of Reconciliation

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The following are excerpts from a statement made by Pastor Kent Carlson on July 10, 2016, regarding the recent events which have polarized and rocked our country. For more of this sermon, we encourage you to Listen On-Line at the Oak Hills Church media page. Look for “The Book of Psalms: Confession” on July 10, 2016.

 

reconciliationAs we all know, this was a bad week in America with regards to racial relations, particularly as it involves the police. We had two African American men killed by white police officers for no known reason. We don’t know the details yet, or the results of the investigation, but we have this time, and this is becoming increasingly common. We have horrendous and gruesome videos and photos and audio of these men being killed, even though we don’t know the whole story yet.

We don’t know the reasons behind the shootings. Some say it was racism, clear and simple. Others say it was really terrible judgment, or perhaps bad training, or bad learning, on the part of the police officers, or there may be other factors that we don’t know about yet. But there aren’t too many people objectively looking at the situation arguing that the killings were justified. These kinds of violent, fatal, and unjust events simply enflame the feelings and the fear and the anger and the lived experiences of many of our African American brothers and sisters in this country. And if some of us are not aware of these feelings and experiences and fears and anger, or if we minimize them or make them something trivial or without legitimate justification, then I would say that we simply have not had an honest, authentic conversation with an African American brother or sister lately.

And we ought to take a time out, before we say anything else or form any more hardened opinions, and ask god to give us the holy privilege of listening to someone explain these feelings and experiences and fears and anger—and just listen. Just listen, and try as best as we can to understand this world from the perspective of somebody else—without justifying, without explaining, without interrupting, without trying to argue that the other person’s feelings and experiences and fear and anger are an over-reaction or not according to reason or the truth.

But then we had another unthinkable event in Dallas, Texas this past Thursday. A heavily armed African American, ex-army reserve private who had served in Afghanistan, ambushed, killed, murdered, five police officers and wounded seven others, and wounded two by-standers as well, before he was killed by the police. The police were there in larger numbers because they were providing security and protection for people, primarily African Americans, who were marching in a “Black Lives Matter” protest. These officers were killed by a man who apparently said that he wanted to kill white people.

I know a number of police officers—as do many of you—and you know they put their lives on the line every day to serve their communities, to protect us. And they see the raw underbelly of society more clearly than most anyone else, and the vast, vast overwhelming majority of them serve with heroism and distinction every day they are at work. For these five murdered officers, this heroic service cost them their lives, and their families are grieving horribly over this deranged, racist individual who murdered their loved ones.

As is to be expected in our increasingly antagonistic and polarized world, the news feeds and Facebook and Twitter, as well as politicians and pundits and talk show hosts and other people who have a public presence both small or large, as well as just normal folks like you and me, took to the air and the internet to point fingers and to blame and make exaggerated and unfounded claims from dubious sources. And all this has accomplished is to stoke the fires of antagonism and hatred and anger and blame even further. It polarizes people far away from each other on opposite sides of the issues so far away that it is almost impossible to hear each other.

Now, I’m not going to say a lot about all this today. I’m certainly not going to be another voice that polarizes or builds antagonism and hatred and immature judgments. I simply want to remind us all here at Oak Hills, that we are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ, and at the heart of the message of Christ is the message and the work of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the bringing of alienated people together in the transforming presence of Christ for healing and for peace for the establishment, and building up of shalom in this world. Sometimes in our world, this task of reconciliation seems impossible, because the anger and hatred and inability to hear each other is so overwhelming. But regardless, it is our job it is who we are to be agents of reconciliation. This is the work of the kingdom of god. And as followers of Christ, our voices and our lives should be at the center of bringing people together.

I read yesterday this little Facebook post from a young African American woman named Natasha Howell, from Andover, Massachusetts, and she wrote this:

So this morning I went to a convenience store to get a protein bar, and as I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers, one about my age and the other several years older, who were talking to the clerk, an older white woman behind the counter, about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent.

I went about my business to get what i was looking for, and as I turned back up the aisle to go pay, the oldest officer was standing at the top of the aisle watching me. As I got closer, he asked me, “How are you doing?”

And I replied, “Okay. And you?”

He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “How are you really doing?

I looked at him and said, “I’m tired.”

His reply was, “Me too.” Then he said, “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?”

I said, “No. It’s not.” Then he hugged me, and I cried.

“I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning that was absolutely beautiful. No judgments. No justifications. Just two people sharing a moment.”

That’s the ministry of reconciliation. This police officer was a minister of reconciliation. He bridged the gap—the chasm—that separates us.

 

 

River Baptism & Barbecue 2016

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By Mike Lueken, Senior Pastor

IMG_6885In our faith tradition (which some of you may not realize is Baptist!), we observe the sacraments of the Lord’s supper and baptism. A sacrament is just what the word implies—it is a sacred practice where the divine meets the human. Heaven intersects with earth. Sacraments are certainly signs of what God has done for us in His life, death and resurrection. We remember His grace through the sacraments. But sacraments are more than signs. In the mystery of the sacred practice, God shows up.

For example, on the first full weekend of each month, we celebrate the sacrament of communion together. The Table shapes us as a people who have been rescued by God through the life and sacrifice of Jesus. It is a vital aspect of our individual life in Jesus and of our communal life together in Him.

One of the most important gatherings of the entire year is our annual River Baptism and Barbecue, which will be on July 14. A baptism is similar to a graduation or birthday party or anniversary celebration. It is an occasion where the family gathers to remember and celebrate. Our annual baptism is an event where we remember why we exist as a Church. It is a core celebration of what God has done in the lives of those who are being baptized.

At the risk of being too assertive, the baptism service is too important to miss. If Oak Hills is your Church, I strongly urge you to join us at the river on July 14. We will have a barbecue, fellowship, a time of worship and a time of baptism.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Philip shared the good news with him in a way where baptism made sense as a first step in this new life as a follower of Christ. In fact, the newly converted Ethiopian initiated his baptism by asking Philip, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” Somehow this man understood the spiritual significance of baptism and saw its connection with his decision to become a follower of Jesus.

Baptism is a crucially important event in the life of a Christ-follower. It is an expression of faith. It is an act of obedience to God. It is a public demonstration of our willingness to die to self and follow in the Way of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Spirit. It is a burial of the old way, and a resurrection into the new Way. Baptism is a sacred event where heaven touches earth and God makes himself known. In the New Testament, Christians were putting their lives on the line when they came to faith in Jesus. Baptism was how they were initiated into the Way of Christ and the life of the Church. Baptism is a big deal for both the individual and the Church.

If you have never been baptized, let this be the year! It doesn’t matter how much or little you know. It doesn’t matter if you have every detail of your faith and life worked out. None of us has that. You have the opportunity to declare to all who attend that you are a new creation in Jesus Christ. That’s an act of faith and it is a really good thing. You have the chance to show your colors. You have the chance to draw a line in the sand and identify with Jesus and with His Church. That’s a really good thing. A mandatory baptism class will happen on Sunday, June 26, and July 10 during the 11:00.  To attend one of these classes sign up online here or stop by the Formation booth in the lobby after a Sunday service.

Our annual River Baptism is on July 14 at Negro Bar State Park in Folsom (Note that there is a $10 parking day use fee). The barbecue begins at 6 PM, along with live music by Waiting For Sunday. Worship and Baptism begin afterward. Please go to the following link to registerThe event is free, but you can submit a donation at registration to assist with food costs. You can also stop by the Formation booth in the lobby after a Sunday service for more information. See you there!

[NOTE: If you’re interested in seeing a video of the 2015 River Baptism, please hit the link.]

Connections

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IMG_2435.JPGby Creative Arts Pastor Manuel Luz

During my recent missions trip to the Philippines, there was a moment, in the midst of worship with the lovely people of one of the Legazpi churches, that I pictured the congregation of Oak Hills worshiping, half a world away. One of the worship teams will be playing some rock-beat tune, the congregation will be singing and swaying to the music, the lights will be low and the screens will be flashing lyrics. And God will be in the room again. There was a spiritually poignant thought that struck me in that moment, worshiping loudly with this group of Christ followers, who were crammed this morning into a rented auditorium space.

As I remembered that I am a full 15 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, I was struck by the fact that the worship I was participating in was nevertheless still connected to the worship that the people of Oak Hills have yet to experience.

Connections. We are all interconnected melodies in the New Song that God composes in the universe. We are connected spiritually through our connection in Christ, and also connected by relationship—me with them, them with me, me with my church. It is these connections, both vertical with God and horizontal with one another, that define us as the family of God, the Bride of Christ, the church. Worship is a beautiful thing.

When we worship together on a Sunday morning, we join with the churches down the street, in the neighborhood, around the Sacramento valley, around the state, around the country.

IMG_2440.JPGWhen we worship, we join in worship worldwide. Every Sunday, we join in worship with Christians dancing in Uganda, with Christians hiding in house churches in China, with Christians in the Ukraine, with Christians rocking out in Australia, with persecuted Christians in India and in the Middle East, and with our friends in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When we worship, we join our words with those speaking Tagalog and German, in Mandarin and Russian, in Telegu and Hindi, in Spanish and Arabic and Somali. We worship in a thousand languages every Sunday.

Here’s what I’m getting at. We as American Christians are quite sophisticated at seeing the world through a particular prism, through a particular worldview. Just check out any Facebook wall, and you’ll see people drawing lines, picking sides, creating factions. But this worldview isolates us from the greater reality of what God is doing in the world, and how God is moving in and loving the Church. Spiritually speaking, we as Christ followers actually have more in common with people in the house churches in Beijing than with your neighbor across the street.

As I sang and worshipped with our brothers and sisters in Legazpi, I was reminded again of how big a God we have. The God who made the heavens and the earth, the God who loved us enough to put on flesh, the God who calls us to be the Church to one another and to the world. And I was reminded that those connections define us in ways large and small.

Spiritual Direction Ministry: An Interview with Valerie Harrison

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Valerie_Harrison_3Most anyone at Oak Hills knows that we have a definite focus on spiritual formation—our formation as a whole person to live freely and easily in God’s Kingdom. What many people don’t know is that we have a Spiritual Direction Ministry at the church, focused on helping people discern God’s activity and presence in their life. We took some time to talk to the head of this ministry, Valerie Harrison. Clearly, God is up to something here at Oak Hills!

Valerie, could you give us a little background on this ministry at Oak Hills? How did it come about?

More than ten years ago, a seed was planted in my heart around the ministry of Spiritual Direction. I read the book Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther and felt drawn to it—both to find a Spiritual Director for myself and to be the kind of person who would listen in a prayerful way to another. So I found a director, attended a few workshops and read a few books, and five years ago as I was intentionally praying about God’s call in my life, Pastor Kent asked if I would be willing to meet with someone for direction. Then Pastor Mike sent someone, and pretty soon I realized that it was time to get the formal training that would lead to this ministry.

Over the course of the last few years it has been thrilling to see God growing this ministry by calling others from Oak Hills to become Spiritual Directors. Renee Schafer completed her training from North Park Seminary last year, Ernest Yau is in his final year at Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Allison Carlos has just been accepted to Shalem for its 2016/2017 class. God is up to something and we are very excited about it!

Can you explain what a Spiritual Director is and how it is different than counseling?

Unlike counseling, which tends to be for a specific period of time and focuses on solutions to a problem that someone is having, Spiritual Direction is about paying attention to God’s activity in your life. A director is often called a spiritual companion, because they are not actually directing you. Rather, we believe that the Holy Spirit is the director and that together we pray and listen for where God is moving in someone’s life. Spiritual Direction is a more on-going relationship. We believe that God is always active, always present, and full of love for us, so there is always someplace in our lives where reflection and discernment with a companion can be helpful.

What does a Direction Session look like? What kind of commitment is involved?

We typically meet with someone for an hour once a month. In that hour we listen to whatever is going on in your life. It may be a desire to grow in prayer, to discern a difficult choice, to reflect on God’s call or seeming silence. Whatever comes up. We commit to pray for the individual and to keep what is shared in confidence. We may suggest practices to fit your life and hope that you leave with some new suggestions on how to pray with where God is moving. We suggest committing to a three month period and then deciding with your director if it is a good fit.

How do I get started?

Just click on this Spiritual Direction link. There is more information there as well as a way to be contacted by one of our Directors. Easy!

So, what else is going on with the Ministry?

Besides the on-going individual direction, we have had about twenty people join Group Spiritual Direction over the past few years. This is a group that forms about every six months to listen to each other. We also have offered some specific reflection evenings for Advent and Lent. This year, we have two new prayer offerings. During Lent we will be hosting Friday lunch prayer workshops. These will cover a different topic each week and will be experiential. We hope that people will come and discover there are so many different ways to pray than just sitting in a chair with your eyes closed. We are also combining with Elder Prayer for an hour of guided silent prayer for our world and its needs. We’ll be listening together for God’s heart and seeing what emerges. Check your bulletin for more details.

Tuesday Women’s Study: “Soul Keeping”

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By Lorraine Rothenburg, Community Care & Assimilation Pastor

 
There are a lot of things in life that I don’t really understand. Or I maybe think I understand, but in actuality, I don’t. Like how the wheels on a passing car can be turning so fast, yet look like they aren’t moving at all. Or how mosquitos always seem to pick me out of a group of people as the most tasty. Or how anything “wireless” really works or why God made rattlesnakes. (Okay, I know they are good for controlling the rodent population, but couldn’t there be a less icky option for that?)

Yep, the things that are a mystery to me make up a long list. Thankfully, I don’t lose much sleep over most of these things.  I don’t really feel that compelled to WANT to understand them. Understanding them won’t necessarily change the way I live on a daily basis. I’m happy if my car gets me from point A to point B. I can cover myself with mosquito repellent. If my phone or laptop are working right, I don’t give “wires or no wires” much thought. And rattlesnakes? Thankfully, I’m married to a guy who’s handy with a shovel when they show up in my backyard. Oh, I’m still pretty curious about things in general. I think curiosity is a very good thing. And I like to learn. But the truth is, my head is always so full of the things I actually do care about or want to learn that I often think I’m out of room up there for what appear to be lesser things.

soul-keepingHaving said that, there are some things that are so essential to daily life that they truly are worth taking a deeper exploration into. The Soul is one of those things. The Soul of a person is key to who we are and yet it’s one of the most misunderstood and often neglected parts of us. Which in a way is odd. It’s core to us, yet most of us don’t spend that much time thinking about it or trying to understand it. Even less trying to care well for it. The Soul is mentioned throughout the Bible. Our Souls find rest in God and can be refreshed. They can be downcast. It can be well with my soul. How, then, do we tend to our Soul well?

Our Tuesday morning Women’s Study is getting ready to embark on a six-week video and discussion-based study on “Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You” by John Ortberg.  It starts on January 26 and meets each Tuesday from 9:30-11:00am.  Registration is only $12, which includes a study guide. Click here to register.

Hope to see you there!

Called To Reconcile

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Our God is a God of reconciliation. This is most apparent in the person of Jesus, whose very life, death, resurrection, and rule was an act of reconciling us back into relationship with God. Reconciliation stands at the heart of the Gospel. We are called to be agents of reconciliation in our marriages, families, friendships, churches, communities, political affiliations, nations—indeed, the whole world.

That’s why we will be emphasizing Reconciliation in the year 2016 and beyond. We will teaching on it, modeling it, encouraging it in all it’s forms, and trying to make a difference in the world that desperately needs it. We have a vision for reconciliation that extends from Oak Hills and into our marriages, families, relationships, places of work and school, communities, nation, and into our world.

Beginning January 10, we will begin a special message series titled, CALLED TO RECONCILE, where we will discuss the calling of the Christ follower to reconciliation as it relates to the Gospel, to the Communion Table, to families, and to our interpersonal relationships. Please join us as we kick off the new year by discussing this very practical—and potentially life-changing—means for living out our missional calling to the world around us.

01/10  The Gospel

01/17  The Table

01/24  The Family

01/31  Interpersonal Relationships

02/07  Communion

We urge you to prioritize this next series, as we begin to discuss and teach on reconciliation. May 2016 be a year when we become agents of reconciliation.