A Journey into the Wilderness: A Sorrowful Journey (3.4.18)

As a culture, we too often skip over lament. We like to ‘roll up our sleeves’ and get to work fixing whatever is broken. While there is good in doing that, we miss the opportunity for growth and transformation if we skip the step of lament. It is modeled for us in the Bible over and over again. There’s even a whole book devoted to it! Listen as we learn about and practice lament and in so doing, we find hope.

The first ten minutes of this week’s podcast is an overview of our local and global mission partners. The sermon on lament begins after that (at minute 10).

A Journey Into the Wilderness: The Spirit-Led Journey (2.18.18)

We know the wilderness to be a place that is harsh yet stunning, barren yet beautiful. It is an in-between place, to be sure. And when we willingly enter its vastness, there are things we discover about ourselves, our world and our God. Perhaps that’s why the wilderness shows up time and time again in the biblical story. From Abraham to David to Ruth, God’s people are led into those places where they must wrestle with who they are and who they trust.

Listen here as we begin our Lenten journey through the wilderness.

The Church: One Body, Many Parts (2.11.18)

This week, Yakuv Gurung joined us to tell us more about the people of the Nepali Speaking Community Church (NSCC). We share a building, but we don’t often see each other, so this was a great chance to hear stories of NSCC. Yakuv also shared with us an exciting opportunity to plant churches in Nepal.

A Journey into the Wilderness

“The wilderness of the Bible is a liminal space – an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts and the new possibilities emerge. Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the biblical wilderness is a place of danger, temptation and chaos, it is also a place for solitude, nourishment and revelation from God.”
-Jenny Phillips, Jesus and Wilderness
We know the wilderness to be a place that is harsh yet stunning, barren yet beautiful. It is an in-between place, to be sure. And when we willingly enter its vastness, there are things we discover about ourselves, our world and our God. Perhaps that’s why the wilderness shows up time and time again in the biblical story. From Abraham to David to Ruth, God’s people are led into those places where they must wrestle with who they are and who they trust.
This Lent we follow Jesus into the wilderness. Just as he was tempted to live out of his false self, just as he was forced to wrestle with the deep things of his heart, our own 40 day journey invites us the same opportunity.
As we make this journey, may we hear God’s voice. May we be find refreshment. And may we learn that even in the untamed, vast places of life, God is with us.

The Church: Many Parts, One Body (2.4.18)

We were thrilled to have Earl James with us this past Sunday. Earl is the Reformed Church in America’s (RCA) Coordinator of Cultural Agility and Advocacy.

This is what the Lord Almighty says, “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Zechariah 8:4

This is a picture of the Kingdom fulfilled. But how can it play out now in our neighborhoods and churches? Earl gave us some great tools to help us listen and understand stories of those who are different from us.

The Church: Many Parts, One Body

What does the Church look like? Not just this church and not just the one down the street, but the whole, capital “C” world-wide Church? We are inviting other voices to our pulpit for three weeks to hopefully gain a broader perspective on what is happening in the Church. Join us on this journey as we seek to learn more.

Week 1: Rodrigo Cano: the Hispanic and multi-ethnic church (1.28.18)

Week 2: Earl James: the multi-ethnic church (2.4.18)

Week 3: Yakuv Gurung: the church in Nepal (2.11.18)

Walk Humbly with God (1.21.18)

We wrap up our series on Micah 6:8 this week, looking at how we are to humbly walk with God. How can we have the same attitude as Jesus Christ? Collectively, as a church, we are committed to saying these things:
1. I don’t have it all figured out.
2. I need you, even if you are different than me. God meets us in, and transforms us through our differences.

Love Mercy (1.14.18)

This week we learned about the Hebrew word for love (hesed) in Micah 6:8. Love: Hesed is compassionate and loyal love. Listen here to learn more about how we can show hesed (love) in our own lives.

Unity, Liberty, Charity

We are committed to being a church that practices unity in essentials, liberty in disputed matters and charity in all things. This framework provides a way for us to be in community as we encounter those “disputed matters” of faith (Romans 14) in which we might have differing viewpoints and interpretations.

In Essentials: Unity

We cannot forget the deep and abiding truths that unite all Christians. Simply put: there is more that holds us together than divides us. This is true of both the things we believe and the actions we practice. We are committed to intentionally remembering and living out this truth.

When asked “What are the essentials?” we point to the most widely and longest held creeds of the Church: the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11 are also concise expressions of the Christian faith that point to the essentials. These things are central to the Gospel and our understanding of God’s redemptive work in the world.

In Disputed Things: Liberty

Debate and disagreement are not new phenomenon among Christians. We have often had deeply held, conflicting viewpoints about issues and doctrines. Unfortunately, when disagreement arises a common reaction has been to label the other side and then separate. But there is another way.

In the early church, there were several issues that caused deep debate, as they should have. The issues found in Romans 14 and Acts 15 were related to how one interpreted the Ten Commandments and understood God’s covenant with Israel (eating meat sacrificed to idols [violating the first commandment] and lax Sabbath observance [breaking the fourth commandment]). We shouldn’t be surprised that this caused significant and contentious debate.

And yet, in these two passages we see the early church maintaining unity by staying centered on essential things (the outpouring and work of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s death and resurrection), trusting God to judge fairly, and giving liberty in disputed matters.

We are striving to do the same. This doesn’t mean that we’ll trivialize our differences or always end up agreeing. It does mean we will give each other liberty to live out our convictions in community. In doing so, we believe we will find greater strength and a deepening of our faith.

  • Liberty in our Convictions

We will give each other liberty in our convictions about “disputed matters” — not requiring that anyone hold a certain viewpoint on these issues, but instead, spurring each other on to seek God’s Spirit for wisdom.

  • Liberty and the Holy Spirit

We can give each other liberty because we trust God’s Spirit to lead and guide our lives towards truth. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in all of God’s children, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic status, moving, shaping, and transforming our minds and hearts into Christ’s likeness. This truth frees us from the all too common human tendency to judge our neighbor.

  • Liberty and Relationship

Make no mistake: liberty requires humility. It asks us to admit that we might not see the whole picture and we may have something to learn from those we disagree with. It asks us to surrender our ego for the sake of the other. In doing so, we create space for diverse people to be sharpened by each other as they enter into meaningful relationship. We believe that the world desperately needs examples of communities like this, and what’s more, Jesus calls us to be this kind of community.

In All Things: Charity

Love is the command on which everything hangs (Matthew 22:34-40). It is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:10). It is Christ’s greatest commandment. Therefore, in every interaction, in all places, with all people, we will seek to live out love with excellence and abundance.


A Contemporary Example

Today, North American Christians are mired in a debate as they attempt to discern how their faith leads them to understand same-sex marriage. Are same-sex couples to be accepted and received in the church in the same way that opposite gendered couples are accepted and received?

At the Branch, the answer is “yes” and we have come to this position by using the framework of unity, liberty and charity.

Giving each other liberty means that those at the Branch with an affirming viewpoint on same-sex marriage give people with a historical viewpoint liberty to hold their convictions, and vice versa.  It also means that liberty will be given to those who are LGBT+ as they seek to live out their lives according to God’s leading. Again, Liberty doesn’t mean that we will all agree, but it does mean that we will act with love towards each other regardless of our position, will commit to live in supportive community and hold to unity in essentials of the Gospel.


A Guiding Principle

The framework of unity, liberty and charity applies much more broadly than to just the conversation about human sexuality.  It is a way for The Branch to navigate any area of faith in which we have varying viewpoints and interpretations.  

If you look back on our life together as a church this is not a new way to approach conflict.  From the beginning we have given each other liberty in areas such as viewpoints about war, convictions about end-times theology, capital punishment, and political and policy beliefs to name a few. In these areas we have come to different convictions about what the Scriptures lead us to believe or do, and yet we have remained committed to unity.  

We take our cue from the early church.  Acts 15 and Romans 14-15 show us that those first Christians debated core issues and through it all Paul’s instructions are to pursue peace and the things that lead to building each other up (Romans 14:19).  The call for staying in relationship despite significant differences is clear — including Jesus’ prayer for unity in his final hours (John 17).  And so as we move into a complex and unknown future, we are steadfast in our dedication to share a deep unity in the Spirit even when we have sharp disagreements.

In this, we hope to bring glory to God the Father, honor to Jesus Christ and praise to the Holy Spirit.

Act Justly (1.7.18)

On this first Sunday of 2018, we begin a new sermon series based on Micah 6:8: He has shown you, o mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. 

But what does it mean to ‘act justly’? And what does that mean for us both individually and corporately? Listen here as we seek to answer those questions.

Act. Love. Walk.

What does the Lord require of you? It’s an intentionally provocative question the prophet Micah asked the people of Israel; a question many of the Israelites would have been confident answering.  But then Micah throws a curve ball. The answer, it seems, makes perfect sense, and yet is completely unexpected.
What does the Lord require of you? It’s an equally provocative question for us today. And the answer may surprise us as well.
Join us as we engage this ancient prophet in order to clarify our vision as a church. What are we uniquely positioned to do? How has God especially equipped us? What does the Lord require of us? Let’s find out together.
Act Justly (1.7.18)

God’s Loyal Love: Psalm 107

On this last Sunday of 2017, we revisited the word sankofa. We took some time to look back so that we can move forward, remembering God’s loyal love. If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to read Psalm 107 to be reminded of God’s loyal love, both to the Israelites so many years ago and to us. Reflect on 2017 and remember the times that you have seen God’s loyal love in your life, in the big things and the small.

Christmas Eve at The Branch

Christmas Eve is one of our most anticipated gatherings and we’d love for you and your loved ones to join us. The Branch is a place where everyone is welcome.

Our time together on the 24th will include the singing of carols, a performance by our choir (and drum circle!), a dramatic reading of Christ’s birth story and the lighting of candles.

The service is kid-friendly (in fact, many kids will be leading and participating in various aspects of worship). That said, we are providing childcare for the littlest ones (birth to four years old).

The service starts at 9:30 am (yes, in the morning). We hope to see you then!

God With Us: Joseph (Week 3)

We continue our Advent series this week with Joseph’s story. What was it like to be in Joseph’s shoes? What do we learn about God and about ourselves through this story. We invite you to explore these questions and more while listening to this podcast. There are times of silence in the podcast to allow for times of reflection or discussion.

We hope you join us for worship next Sunday at 9:30 am as we celebrate Christ’s birth during our Christmas Eve worship service.

God With Us: Mary (Week 2)

This week, Brian Workman led us in the practice of Lectio Divina. Our BranchStudents group helped lead this practice by explaining how it works and reading the story for us. We invite you to spend some time with this story (Luke 1:26-56) and listen to what God might be telling you through it. Where does Mary’s story intersect with your own? There will be times of silence in the podcast for you to follow the 4 steps of Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina Steps:

  1. Lectio: Read or listen to the passage. Be open. Take your time. On the second reading, begin to look for a word or phrase that sticks out to you. If nothing sticks out, that’s ok, just pick a word or phrase – or try to take the whole reading in.
  2. Meditatio: Think! Why do you think that word or phrase stuck out to you? What is going on in that part of the passage? As you think about it, how do you feel? Begin to wonder if God is using the word to invite you – to do something? To let go of something? To know something new (or more fully) about God or yourself?
  3. Oratio: Pray. This is a simple and honest response to the passage, and the things you have been thinking about/pondering.
  4. Contemplatio: The simplest way to think of it is to rest in God’s presence. Rest in the love that God has for you. Allow God’s Spirit to draw you close and fill you with his love, grace and peace.

God With Us: Elizabeth and Zechariah (Week 1)

God is with those who are heartbroken, feeling lost, those who are wondering if hope has run out.

This week’s sermon was more interactive than normal, so instead of listening to the noise of our individual conversations, we invite you to have your own conversations or reflections, using the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Read Luke 1:5-25 and then reflect on these questions:

  1. From the text, what do we learn about Elizabeth and Zechariah?
  2. What can we imagine about Elizabeth and Zechariah? If we were in their shoes, what might we be feeling or thinking?
  3. How have you experienced (or are you currently experiencing) loss, heartache, hopelessness or confusion?
  4. What is God’s response to Elizabeth and Zechariah? What does it say about God?
  5. Let the story help you remember what is true about God. Of what truth is God trying to remind you?

God with us. God with you.

God With Us

God with us.
This is the promise of Advent. That Christ has come to be with us; to walk our earth, know our pain and guide us home. And, this same Christ is coming again to finally and fully be with us.
God with us.
Could there be anything more significant or shocking? God? Coming to us? Coming to Elizabeth and Mary? Coming to Joseph and some shepherds? This is the promise of Advent.
This December we’ll explore the people God came to in the lead up to Christ’s birth. Their stories are not all that different from ours and teach us about the ways God is with us today.
December 3 – Elizabeth and Zechariah
December 10 – Mary
December 17 – Joseph
December 24 – the Shepherds
December 31 – God’s Loyal Love to us

The Adventure of Coming Home: “I am always with you” (Week 6)

As we end our series, we look into the verse that ends the story of the prodigal sons. In verse 31, the Father says “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

The Adventure of Coming Home: Receiving Your True Self (Week 5)

As we start to wrap up this series, it’s our hope that many of you have been able to take a step towards home. The journey doesn’t end here, though. It’s a lifelong journey, not an overnight one. Listen here.