Advent – Those Who Dream

Advent: coming, arrival

As we read the stories about Christ’s first coming 2000 years ago, we discover a host of characters who received, discovered, and responded to God’s dreams for the world. In some instances, these dreams were literal, coming while they slept. Other dreams were discovered in the course of everyday life.  Each time, these dreams woke people to God’ arrival, right in their midst.

In Advent, we step into the mystery and awe of God’s dreams and pray they shape our reality too.

  • November 29: Those who dreamkeep awake
  • December 6: Those who dreamprepare the way
  • December 13: Those who dreamsow joy
  • December 20: Those who dreamare not alone

Rest for Your Soul – Series September 6-27

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

It’s not uncommon for folks living in a relentless, quick-paced world like ours to feel tired. But in the last five months, how much more has this been true? We are exhausted. Worn-out.

In our weariness we hear this ancient, consistent invitation: ‘come’ and find what you’ve been looking for all along.

To be clear: rest does not come by just wanting it. We must accept the invitation and be willing to surrender. These are the things we’ll consider together in this series as we lean into Christ’s words and move toward what we so desperately need.

Weekly Reflections on becoming an Anti-Racist

Below are the emails we’ve sent out since George Floyd’s murder and the protests that follow.  Each email has a number of resources to keep us moving towards becoming Anti-Racists.

May 31st

Here’s a video we used in worship as a prayer of lament.

June 9th

Over the last two weeks, large and consistent protests have demanded that we as a country reckon with the racism that is still abundantly present.

You may have felt moved and inspired to do someething. If that is true, let me encourage you to strike while the iron is hot. Don’t let this moment pass without taking whatever the next step is for you. Not sure what to do?

Here are two excellent options:

  1. TONIGHT, 8:30PM – SaraJane and Micah Herrboldt are welcoming anyone interested in learning how to become an anti-racist to a Zoom call. You don’t have to make a long term commitment in order to check it out tonight. Simply come, here their plans for the coming weeks and decide if it’s right for you. The Zoom info, and a  letter from SaraJane and Micah can be found here.
  2. I came across this excellent resource that can help you find the right resource for your growth. Look at the left hand column. Where do you think you are on the journey (be honest :). Each step has excellent resource suggestions and steps for you to take.

Onward, friends. Let’s not miss this moment.

Peace- Chris

June 11th

Friends,
I used to think that racism wasn’t my issue. It was something for others to try to tackle. But over the last three years I’ve come to realize that engaging racism is one choice we all must make.
That said (and before you think I’ve gone overboard), let me say this: how you face and respond to racism may look differently than it does for me. In other words, not everyone must quit their job to become a full-time activist. There are many choices for how we engage this important work. What is important is that we engage.
Here are a couple of simple, accessible possibilities:
1. Educate: through this Friday, IVP is giving away one of its many e-books on racism and justice to each of its customers. Head here and use promo code Just20
2. Diversify: who you are listening to on this topic matters — and listening to people of color really matters. Below is a list of voices that will encourage, challenge, and diversify your social media intake. One note: listen to these voices with an abundance of humility. Instead of becoming defensive, let their words sit with and teach you.
Onward, friends.
Peace-
Chris
Instagram:

@wokebrownfem, @nowhitesaviours, @theimtiredproject, @rachel.cargle, @advancementproject, @britthawthorne, @indyamoore, @wearyourvoice, @ckyourprivilege, @alokvmenon, @theunapologeticallybrownseries, @austinchanning, @theconsciouskid, @antiracismctr, @_nickyflash_, @heyqueenyoucute

Twitter:

@clintsmithIII, @keeangayamahtta, @DrIbram, @MsPackyetti, @JBouie, @thearmchaircom, @RevJacquiLewis @drchanequa, @ava, @YNPierce, @esglaude, @jemelehill, @_nickyflash_,@nhannahjones

June 19th

Branch family –
Time has been playing tricks on us in this pandemic – moving both slowly and quickly at the same time. I was stunned today to realize that it’s been nearly a month (a month!) since George Floyd’s murder, three months since Breonna Taylor lost her life and four months since Ahmaud Arbery was chased down and killed.
 
If you are white — and you check in with yourself — you may find that you are growing fatigued by all that has been going on. You’re not alone. We are in a pivot point in history and it is exhausting.
 
So how do we stay engaged? (and we must stay engaged if anything is to change).
 
1. We have to take care of ourselves.
Each of us must be incredibly intentional to do those things that refill our tanks and keep us centered on Christ. The pursuit of justice takes persistent strength and resolve. So how are you caring for yourself? What could you do, even this weekend, to become recentered and restored?
 
2. Take the next step (not the next 10….just the nextstep)
We’re all in different places and so your next step might not look like mine. But here are a few ideas that I hope may be helpful this Juneteenth.
  • We cannot move into a new future without understanding our past. Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and co-host (with Skye Jethani) of the Holy Post Podcast, released a helpful history of race that will help you understand how we got to where we are today. It’s 17 minutes, but stick with it till the end.
  • As white folks, we often get hung up on the anger and rage demonstrated by our black brothers and sisters. Esau McCaulley, assistant professor at Wheaton College, writes about this and places it within a biblical framework.
  • I’ve seen many African Americans encourage us to not just read books about racism (which is good and important!), but to also read things about the life, vitality and beauty of our black brothers and sisters. To be frank, this is fairly new territory for me. But here are two autobiographies I read last summer.
    • Howard Thurman has been such a gift to me. His autobiography is excellent, as is his best known work, Jesus and the Disinherited.
    • Ida B. Wells is one of the fiercest, most courageous people I’ve ever encountered. Her autobiography is hard to find right now, but put it on your list.
Grateful to be on this journey with you.
Onward, friends.
Peace-
Chris

Becoming an Anti-Racist

Below is a letter from SaraJane and Micah, inviting anyone to enter into a conversation around how white people can become anti-racists: people who are actively working against racism in their own lives and in our world.
Dear friends and family,
What a time we find ourselves in.
Over the past month, we have sat with our children more times than we would like to, sharing with them the news of yet another life taken far too soon due to racism and injustice. As we move through these times, we have appreciated those of you who have reached out, checked in, taken action, and spoken up. For those who are unsure of how to take the first step, you are not alone in those feelings. It can be overwhelming to take that first step, to enter into discomfort, to not remain stuck in not knowing.
Ibram X Kendi wrote “Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” 
We’d love to support you in doing this important work. Please consider refraining from asking Black people to do the educating for you. It is not their responsibility to do that heavy lifting, especially as they move through these days full of fear and trauma. Listen to their words, but save the questions for white people who are doing the work.
If you know how you learn best, what you want to dive into, and feel like doing the work independently, feel free to reach out and we will try to point you in the right direction to explore the multitude of resources available.
However, if you are curious about doing this work with a group of individuals, we invite you to join us. This group will be for white people who are ready to know better so they can do better. Although the group will be white participants, it will center the voices and experiences of people of color.  Together we will practice awareness, listen, learn, acknowledge, and take action.
This is the good, important, hard work that we must do, that we are asking you to do. For the sake of our three beautiful children and all those like them. If you are willing to be on this journey, please join us Tuesday, June 9th at 8:30pm, EST and we will share more with you about what our time together will look like.
Meeting Info via Zoom:

Topic: Becoming Antiracist

Time: Jun 9, 2020 08:30 PM America/Detroit

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88564904384?pwd=SFhEbzl2YTkxVUtpdUF5VVh5ZTh5Zz09

Meeting ID: 885 6490 4384

Password: begin

We hope to have you join us so together we can build a better tomorrow.

Liminal :: Stories of the In-Between

We’ve all been there. In fact, we’re there right now.

Liminal spaces are in-between spaces. They are seasons in which we find ourselves between one reality that has ended and another that has not yet begun. Covid-19 has caused life as we knew it to end. The world is simply not, nor will it be, the same as it was.

And because of that unknown, liminal spaces are incredibly disorienting. You feel it, don’t you? The change. The uncertainty. So much has shifted.

And…liminal spaces hold a unique opportunity. As we hover between what was and what will be, the questions that really matter seem to rise to the surface.

We’re going to take a look at some biblical stories in which people (and communities) had to walk through a liminal space. What might their story have to tell us about our own?

We hope you’ll join us.

Covid-19 Updates

Sunday mornings: two options

Zoom

Every week at 10am we’ll continue to use Zoom in the weeks and months ahead. Here’s the link (it is the same link every week): https://zoom.us/j/864871555

Option: Sunday Morning Watch Parties

  • With winter bearing down, watch parties are on hold for now; however, if we get a warm weekend in the coming months — and we are holding hope we will! — we’ll offer watch parties on those Sundays. To stay informed on opportunities, please email teresa@thebranchonline.org and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.
  • What is a watch party?
    • 2 or 3 households meeting together to participate in worship together over Zoom. 
    • Groups meet outdoors in someone’s backyard, garage or deck, do not share supplies and follow the 6 feet of separation guideline. 
    • We provide individually packaged communion supplies.

What can you expect on Sunday on Zoom?

  • Our team will lead a time of prayer, reflection and music. We’ll also consider what the Scriptures have to say to us as we navigate this new world.
  • We’ll leverage technology to offer opportunities to engage and interact throughout the morning.
  • While we would love for people to turn on their cameras, it is certainly not required. You can simply log into Zoom and keep your camera off. You’ll still be able to hear and see everything that our team will be leading.
  • Need help with Zoom? Check out a few tips here by downloading the file.

BranchKids

Because of current guidelines we are not currently able to offer in-person ministry for our kids. However, starting September 13, we invite preschool and gradeschool age kids to join us on Zoom at 9:45am for fifteen minutes of fun, teaching and connection (use the Sunday Zoom link above).

BranchStudents

BranchStudents met throughout the fall and early winter and have now taken a break during the holidays. We are planning to continue meeting again in January. We will have more details what that looks like in late December. Updates will be provided on our Facebook page and by email (our FB page can be found by searching “BranchStudents” and requesting to join).

The Gospel of Mark

For the first 16 weeks of 2020 (January to Easter) we’re going to walk through the Gospel of Mark taking one chapter a week.

Our hope and desire is simple: to purposefully and thoughtfully reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth so that our lives may more reflect his.

We invite you to join us on Sundays and read along with us. Each week we’ll post a simple reading guide here that you can use on your own.


Advent Yoga

This season we are about to enter is busy. Like, really insanely busy.

You’re invited to take an hour to step away from it all.
An hour to rest, breathe, connect.

Everyone is welcome – regardless of their level of experience with yoga.

The class meets at the Branch building at 7:30pm starting 12/1 and meeting 12/8 and 12/15 at the same time.

A suggested donation of $10 for each class is asked; however, money should not stop you from coming. If you believe this time would be a gift to you, please come.

December Potluck!

As is our tradition, the first Sunday of the month is a chance to get together, connect, and enjoy some good food.

This time, we’ll be having a good ol’ fashioned potluck so bring a dish to pass. We’ll provide water and place settings.

We’ll start right after worship is concluded and wrap up around noon. Hope to see you there!

You can sign up using the Church Center app or by emailing chris@thebranchonline.org

The Two Halves of Life

A number of years ago my wife and I spent some time in Las Vegas. The city was remarkable. But we also knew we wanted to get to the Grand Canyon. Neither of us had ever been. So we got in our rental car and made a long day trip. After about four hours we had reached the first lookout point on the far western edge. It was beautiful.

Now…imagine that we didn’t go any further. Imagine that we stopped at the first lookout point got out, snapped a few pics and then headed home. You’d think we were nuts.

The Grand Canyon can’t be taken in from one lookout point. There’s so much more to experience and see.

Now, let’s be clear. Getting to the Grand Canyon itself is important, and it takes a lot of time and effort. But the journey doesn’t end there.

The same is true in life. We spend a lot of time and effort traveling the first half of life, which is focused on the pursuit of identity, importance and security. And those things are important. Very important. But they are not the end.

There is an entire second half of life to live. And yet, too many of us stay put.

Maybe we’re afraid of what the rest of the journey might be like. Maybe we didn’t even know there was more to experience. Maybe we don’t know how to get started.

That’s why we hope you’ll join us for seven weeks as we consider the two halves of life. Together we’ll look at the journey the Scriptures show us is possible – an adventure we’re all meant to live.

GROW

Who are you becoming?

Often our growth is hard to see. We race through life not realizing that every day we are becoming a certain kind of person.
Incredibly, we have a choice about how we become this certain kind of person. We can either be passive in our formation – letting whatever comes along shape us. Or, we can intentionally join in the work of God’s Spirit to become a specific someone. This is God’s desire; that we would become our true self — our fullest self — a unique reflection of Christ.

To be sure, the journey of ‘becoming’ is life-long; however, the question we are inviting you to ask is this: what can I do in this current season to be intentional about my transformation?

Below are four modules (focused times of reflection and learning) we hope will help each of us experience movement in our spiritual journey.

The Sacred Call to Self Discovery
Six weeks: week of September 22 through week of October 27;
(This group will be offered again Feb 16 — March 22)

Sign up by emailing teresa@thebranchonline.org

Knowing yourself is absolutely critical to an abundant life. Over six weeks you’ll consider your true and false self, apply the Enneagram and reflect on your own story to better understand who you are.

Creating a Rule of Life (the good kind of rule)
Six weeks: weeks of Nov. 7 — Dec. 8;
break for the holidays; then, Jan. 12 — Jan. 26

We don’t become who we are by accident. Instead, it is the rhythms and practices of our lives that shape us. Over six weeks you’ll discern what particular rhythms and practices fit you and are needed in this season of your life.

Creating a Rule of Life (the good kind of rule)
Six weeks: weeks of Nov. 7 — Dec. 8;
break for the holidays; then, Jan. 12 — Jan. 26

We don’t become who we are by accident. Instead, it is the rhythms and practices of our lives that shape us. Over six weeks you’ll discern what particular rhythms and practices fit you and are needed in this season of your life.

Living on Purpose
Four weeks: weeks of April 19 — May 10

The best classroom for learning is life itself. Together, we’ll reframe our daily activities and responsibilities so that we might see them as opportunities ripe for change — both ours and the world’s.

FAQ

When will these groups meet?
It may be different for each module. We’ll reassess what days and times work best as we move throughout the year. Check the ChurchCenter app or sign up sheets on Sunday for details.

Will there be work (reading, writing, reflection) to do in between each meeting?
Yes. To make our time together as fruitful as possible, we will be asking participants to do limited reading (a chapter or article) or engage in a specific reflection.

Do I need to attend all of the weeks of each module?
Yes. Each week’s content will build on the next. Therefore, we ask those who sign up to commit to all six or four weeks of the module.

Do I have to attend these four modules in a particular order?
Yes and No. 🙂 While we do strongly recommend taking The Sacred Call to Self Discovery module first, there is not an order that these must be completed in. Choose what you think will be most helpful.

Will these only be offered in 2019-2020?
We plan to offer these four modules again in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, giving everyone time to participate in all four of them.

Is there a cost?
Most modules will have little to no cost. If there is cost, the Branch can help to cover those costs if needed.

Sign-up

In the weeks leading up to each module, use the ChurchCenter app to register or sign up on Sunday mornings.

Questions?

Email teresa@thebranchonline.org or chris@thebranchonline.org

An introduction to steps we are taking to help each other GROW.

Hurrican Dorian assistance

Hurricane Dorian was a massive storm. Its power was felt for two long weeks. From the severe destruction on the islands of the Bahamas to the wind, rain, and flooding in parts of the southeast US still actively recovering from previous storms, this storm’s impact will be felt for years to come. Hurricane Dorian left people without power, without food, and huge numbers of people without homes. How can we respond?

RCA Global Mission (the crisis response arm of our denomination) is working with our partners at World Renew Disaster Response Services to help those most affected in both the Bahamas and here in the US. Both of these organizations will be a part of responding to the immediate needs, but also will be in the region for months, if not years, helping to rebuild.

You can donate by clicking here.

Re-Focus

Life is busy. The demands seem endless. So much is clamoring for our attention. Which means it is all too easy to lose focus of the things we say matter.

This is true for individuals and for groups — including churches. That’s why we’re taking four Sundays to consider again the things we’ve said are important to us:

Grow: becoming like Christ in everything

Embrace: opening our arms to all people, always.

Shape: forming the next generation so that they are equipped to shape our future

Participate: join in God’s renewing work in the world

Atonement

a·tone·ment: the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ.

We all know the image of the cross. It’s the symbol most associated with Christianity because Christ’s death is fundamental to Christianity.

And yet, what exactly does Christ’s death mean? What precisely ‘happened’ in his sacrifice? Believe it or not, different Christians would answer those questions differently.

Was Christ’s death a victory over evil? Or was it the way that God’s wrath was satisfied? Or was his death a model for how we are meant to live? Or something else entirely?

Now this may all sound well and good, but we might wonder, “What difference does it make? Does it matter how one views Jesus’ death?” We believe it does. From the songs we sing, to the way we talk about and understand God, to how we see our place in the world — all of the Christian life is shaped by our understanding of the cross.

So join us as we explore the mystery and meaning of the Christ’s death and let’s find together what it might mean for our lives.

July 28: Christus Victor Theory
August 4: Penal Substitionary Theory
August 11: Scapegoat Mechanism Theory

Worship on July 7

Throughout the year, we worship with our sisters and brothers from Communidad Cristiana de Grand Rapids — and this Sunday (7/7) is one of those weeks! Join us at a different time — 11Am to noon — and stay after for drinks and snacks.

This is My Story

“I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

This promise — both for us and all of creation — can be hard to believe. It’s easy to only see the brokenness of our world. It’s tempting to only have eyes for all that is wrong. Plus, life is simply busy. Crazy. Full.

For all of those reasons we often lose sight of the reality of this promise. We don’t see the ways in which God is at work in our own story.

Each week in this series we’ll hear the story of someone at the Branch and how God is at work in their life. Their stories will not only give us perspective on our own, but in turn help shape how we live.

June 2: Dave & Trina and Brookside
June 9: Sarah and Ghana
June 16: Heather and Heartside
June 23: Jason and the Global Church
June 30: CREATE
July 7: CCGR & The Branch
July 14: Brian and Reimagining Faith
July 21: Bethany and Pain & Suffering
August 18: Racism

Being Good Neighbors this Summer

The Church is not a building. The Church is you and me. The work of the Church (you and me) is to bring God’s Kingdom more fully present to the places we live, play, work and worship. And so, we believe strongly in the importance of being good neighbors. Sometimes we do that together (corporately) and sometimes we do that individually. Here are a few ways that you can join in that mission this summer.

Get to Know Your Neighbor Challenge
We are challenging every person at The Branch to get to know a new neighbor, or get to know a neighbor better, by the end of June. Walk across the street as you see someone working on their yard and offer to help. Invite a neighbor over for a BBQ. Take a walk in your neighborhood and look for ways to connect. Or, throw a block party! Don’t know how? We’ve got you covered! Click here for a helpful resource.

Brookside Beautification Day
Join us on Saturday, June 1st from 9am-noon, as we help clean up and make improvements to the Brookside Elementary playground and park area! Then, celebrate a job well done with a meal together. Bring the whole family! This is a great opportunity for us to help our local elementary school and to get to know some Brookside families. Email katrinarookus@gmail.com to RSVP or with any questions.

Welcome New Neighbors
Do you ever see a moving truck in your neighborhood and wonder if you should go say hi? Do you wonder what to say? We’re putting together a group of people willing to welcome new people to their neighborhood. Bring a plate of cookies, or simply say hello and offer some a list of your favorite places in the neighborhood. Sign up here to join this group of people. We’ll get you a list of houses near you that have sold each month so you can keep your eye out for that truck!

StoryTime in the Park
Every Tuesday evening in the summer, Garfield Park hosts a free books and ice cream event. We are bringing a team to volunteer for this event on June 11, 6:30-8:30. Jobs will range from setting up to helping people register to reading a book to a group of kids. We need 10 people (13+ years old) to help. Sign up here.

Holy Week

Join us this week as we retrace the final days of Jesus’ life, and in doing so, find purpose and courage for our days ahead.

Maundy Thursday: 6-7pm We’ll share a variation of a Seder/Passover meal — the same meal that Jesus would have shared with his disciples at the Last Supper. Kids are encouraged to join us.

Good Friday: 7-8pm We’ll retrace Jesus’ final hours through readings, prayer and music. This is always one of our more meaningful gatherings each year – we hope you’ll be able to join us. Again: kids are welcome.

Easter Tailgate: 8:30am Nothing signals celebration like a good tailgate. We’ll have some food ready and waiting at 8:30, and we’d be grateful if you brought something to pass for breakfast. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the party will move inside.

The Good and Beautiful Life

Lent. A six week period that ushers us towards Easter. A time of reflection and surrender. A gift.

This year, we’ll use James Bryan Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful Life to frame our conversation on Sundays. AND…we invite you to join with others for the six weeks of Lent in one of these three ways:

  1. Grab a book and a few friends. Invite some neighbors, co-workers, or other Branch folks to meet in your home or at a coffee shop for the six weeks to discuss a chapter from Smith’s book (a schedule is below). Questions for each chapter are in the back. All you have to do is decide what ones you’ll use, and invite.
  2. Join us on Thursdays for a meal and discussion. Every week from 5:45-7:15 one of our Missional Communities meets. During Lent, they’ll devote time each week to discussing the book. Email chris@thebranchonline.org if interested.
  3. Join us on a video conference Wed. nights from 8:30-9:30pm. Teresa will host a conversation on that week’s chapter. Video conference is something new we’re trying — but we think it could be a way to connect in the midst of a busy week. We’ll hope you give it a try. Just click this link at 8:25 on Wednesdays! https://zoom.us/j/560656129

Here’s the schedule for Lent:

  • March 10-16 – Chapters 1 and 2
  • March 17-23 – Chapter 3
  • March 24-30 – Chapter 4
  • March 31-April 6 – Chapter 10 (please note the change)
  • April 7-13 – Chapter 6
  • April 14-20: Chapter 7