Thursday, November 9, 2017

They are honoring my father



The story as I remember hearing it: Dad drove into town, got a haircut at a local barbershop, and preached a sermon at the Gospel Lighthouse Church on High Street. He promised to stay as interim pastor only for six months. He stayed for 60 years . . . and counting.


I write of my father, the Reverend Gerritt W. Kenyon, of Millville, NJ, pictured here with my mother, the Reverend Anita Osgood Kenyon. Dad has just been named Pastor Emeritus of the First Assembly of God on Wheaton Avenue, the renamed and relocated Gospel Lighthouse.

As he likes to say, get South Jersey sand in your shoes and you’ll never leave. He collected so much sand over the years, I doubt his shoes have any room left for his feet.

Over time he became shepherd to the whole town, county and well beyond. A pastor in the old-fashioned parish sense. Welcoming and dedicating babies. Performing their marriages when they grew up – and the marriages of their children. Visiting the sick and those “shut in”. Comforting the dying and those whose loved ones had died. And, at gravesite, commending them to heaven. He was, and remains, a multi-generational cradle-to-grave pastor who knew extended families beyond count.

His supreme love was seeing them each and every one come to believe in Jesus, baptizing them (indoors and out, in warm water and frigid), seeing them experience the fullness of the Pentecostal experience, and, for scores of them, helping them launch into ministries of their own. Actually, he saw ministry as an everyone-involved thing, with a vision for a pulpit in each place of employment in town.

Forgive my grammar. None of this is past tense. At the age of 86, his pastoral passion continues unabated into the present as chaplain for the police, hospitals, seniors, radio listeners and race car drivers.

Emeritus means retired, as in retired pastor or professor. Originally it was used to mean a soldier who had served his time. None of this applies to Pastor Kenyon. Retirement is not in his vocabulary. Mark my words, he’ll die with his boots on.

I write all this because they, his church family and friends, are feting him on November 18. This extended congregation that still reveres his presence among them. Some of us are far too scattered to be there, the sun never setting on his influence.

As one of his offspring, I am aware of a couple of times he almost considered a call elsewhere. One of those occasions is forever etched in my memory, for that evening after the service in that other church where he candidated, we gathered at the house of one of the parishioners to watch the first landing on the moon.

But his work in Millville never seemed finished. Like a father, for whom “done” is never this side of eternity.

And so on the afternoon of November 18, he will reach out to everyone, ever in pastor mode, and warmly greet his flock one by one as they gather to pay him honor. A soldier of the Cross who faithfully continues to serve his time.

The banquet on November 18 will be held 1-4 pm at Fairton Christian Center, 199 Fairton-Millville Rd, Fairton NJ. Cost is $10 per person. Registration is due by 11/12 at this link: https://millvillechurch.churchcenteronline.com/…/even…/91274

The church is also creating a booklet for individuals and businesses who would like to make a donation and send a special message of recognition to Pastor Kenyon. Donations would be used to subsidize the cost of the event and any surplus of funds will be given to Pastor Kenyon as a gift from the community. If interested, please email Pastor John Dingle at john@millvillechurch.com by 11/12.

Monday, August 14, 2017

5 sins I oppose in the wake of Charlottesville




If you had asked me “way back when” what the 21st Century would be like, I would have not anticipated the likes of the KKK and neo-Nazis being a part of it. Not in my wildest. Surely they whould have disappeared with the demise of the last millennium.

Alas, they and their ilk have not, and it is time for the voices of faith to rise up and push back against this darkness. Not in fear or panic. Only in confidence that we who are of the light have a much stronger power on our side. Not a mere physical power, but the spirit of Christ which conquers all.

I am heartened by what I have heard this weekend, so many good responses to the terrorism in Charlottesville. People of faith, evangelical faith like mine included, saying “Enough already!”

As a young man nearly a half-century ago I was deeply embarrassed by the silence of faith leaders, my own faith leaders, starkly silent in the face of brazen racism. It has marked me for life. I applaud the voices of faith who have spoken out so strongly in recent days.

My heart grieves for the families of those who died – a young peaceful activist and two police officers in the line of duty. I ache for those who were injured and I pray that their wounds, both physical and emotional, will heal. I intercede for the city, trampled by forces alien to its good.

But I am also stirred by what I trust is a holy anger, an anger that condemns the evil that has reared its ugly head. I urge others to join me in standing against all that is wrong with what happened this weekend.

Here are the five sins I oppose:

1. Hatred. See the faces in the photos, the faces of young men carrying torches. Their anger is not against sin, thus they sin in their anger, spewing out venom from the pits of hell. They speak evil of their fellow human beings, all of them created in the image of God. I see nothing of God’s love, and yet it is in the name of God that the KKK was raised up and sustained for far too long.


2. Violence. Watch a man filled with hatred barreling his car down a crowded street, intent on causing harm and mayhem among people who peacefully oppose his values. He seeks to present his views with a two-ton machine spreading brutality and bloodshed. This is not God’s wrath on evildoers, but violence demonic in nature.


3. Misrepresentation. Read the words of bystanders, beginning now to reinterpret the historical patterns of oppression in a softer, more palatable flavor. Starting once again to cradle sin in a velvety cultural context. Hiding evil behind secondary political influences instead of calling sin for what it is. Why can’t they be honest about what people in the past have done? Who are they trying to protect? Let us learn from our history. Let us call our society and cultures to account.

4. Silence. Listen to the church. Hear . . . nothing. The deafening quiet of those who hold back, giving excuses for why the church should not act. A silence that only emboldens those who speak evil. Why, of all the sins of our society, is the church most silent on racism, speaking only when it can strike a careful balance with all sides without being honest about why they think such a balance seems necessary to strike?

5. Racism, anti-Semitism, and nativism. They are all of the same. Feel the otherization that pits us versus them, that says to people of color, to people of the Jewish faith, to immigrants and refugees, you are not one of us. I cannot see anything of Jesus in such rhetoric. And yet there are people who call themselves Christians who espouse these lies, and people who call themselves Christians who excuse such anti-gospel teachings or allow them to go unopposed.

The percentage of these worst offenders in our nation is not large, but coupled with the many enablers, the numbers are huge. Fifty years after the death of Jim Crow and 70 years after the death of Hitler, such forces of injustice remain strong.

Now is not the time to hold back, to be passive, whether out of fear or indifference. These forces we saw in action this weekend in Charlottesville – the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, the Nationalists – these forces are hostile to the gospel. We have let them ferment in our midst for far too long. We will answer for our silence.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Be holy: A guest post from my daughter, Hannah



My daughter, Hannah Kenyon, starts her senior year at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, next month. For an online course she is taking this summer from Global University, she was required to post a blog related to her class. Here is what she has written:
 
For those of us growing up in the church we may have heard that God’s nature is Holy. We may have even heard that because “God is Holy, we must be Holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Maybe we even sang songs on Sunday Mornings, such as Holy, Holy, Holy by John Bacchus Dykes or Holy by Matt Redman. Without even thinking about what holy meant or what it meant to be holy, we probably heard these verses and sang these songs. We probably did not even question if we should still be holy today, since this was written all the way back in the Old Testament, in Leviticus. We may have even gone on our way and tried to be holy, without much direction as to what that meant. I know that I am guilty of this. In fact, before I set out writing this blog I did not understand what the word holy even meant. Let’s dig into this command together today, shall we?
             
What does holy mean? According to dictionary.com, holy means “entitled to worship as or if sacred” (dictionary.com). If we take this definition, this says that holiness as God’s nature means that He is entitled to be worshiped. If this is the case, and God commanded us in Leviticus that we should be Holy as well, does this mean that we are also entitled to be worshiped? To be worthy of worship seems so weird to us, mere humans. It also seems weird to think that God would want us to be worshiped along with Him, since all the glory and worship should be on Him. Maybe we are not supposed to be worshiped. Maybe this definition of Holy is used to describe God, but there is a better definition of Holy that depicts us. When I looked back on dictionary.com again, another definition it gives is to be “dedicated or devoted to the service of God” (dictionary.com). This seems to better define us mere humans, doesn’t it?
             
What does it mean for us to be Holy? Like the above definition says, it means to be “dedicated or devoted to the service of God”. Let’s unpack this a little. To be dedicated or devoted is to be seriously focused on one or more tasks or beings, so much so that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by other people or things. In other words, to be holy means to be completely focused on the will of our Lord, without allowing ourselves to be distracted. I think this looks slightly different for everyone, since God has a slightly differently will for all of us. However, our initial will of the Lord is to be in complete awe and surrender to Him, so we should be completely devoted to that task. This looks like obedience to God, diving into His Word, being willing to pray bravely and worship Him without holding back. At least this is the picture I get from this. Again, this may be different from one person to the other.
             
Now that we have answered what holy means and how to be holy, let’s tackle if we should be holy today since that command was given, so long ago in the first five books of the Bible. I believe this command to be holy, or completely devoted to God’s will for our lives is still God’s command for us today. 1 Peter 1:14-16 says, As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:14-16 NIV). Here once again, it says that we should be Holy because God is holy. Since this command is found also in the New Testament, it suggests that we should keep this command that God gave to the Israelites so long ago.

The command to be Holy, that God gave the Israelites in the fourth book of the Bible, remains a command for us today. I challenge you to discover what being Holy means to you and your life according to God’s will. If you don’t know what God’s will for you is, I suggest you use the advice of Maria from “The sound of music” and “start at the very beginning”, God’s word, “a very good place to start” (Sound of Music 1965). Start with reading a chapter of the Bible a day. Be holy, devoting yourself to God and His will for you and you will be blessed.

Sources: "Holy." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 28 July 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/>.

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Open Letter to Senator Bernie Sanders: Most respectfully, you have crossed a line!



To the Honorable Bernie Sanders,

Your line of questioning to Russell Vought in a confirmation hearing this past week was way out of Constitutional line. You were wrong to press Mr. Vought on his religious beliefs.

Like Mr. Vought, I am an evangelical Christian and I too believe in hell. It does not matter how many others share our belief. The Constitution is explicit that there is to be zero religious testing. Yet, upon hearing his stated views on hell and his commitment to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as means of eternal salvation, you said, “This nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Technically, you don’t have to give a reason to vote no on this man’s nomination. The reason you cannot use is that you disagree with his views on life hereafter or whether Jesus is the only way. As Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution states: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

To be honest, I don’t see religious liberty as a central concern of mine. The church is not called to self-preservation; witness to the Truth as I understand it entails a willingness to suffer and die. I have observed that the church and the faith of its people are often more robust when in a minority, even oppressed setting. I’d rather have robustness of faith than over-weening favor.

Even so, the line of questioning you used in this hearing presents a danger to our society, and on this basis I object to your actions in the confirmation hearing. Please allow me to explain.

The so-called separation of church and state clause is in our Constitution’s first amendent for two reasons: 1) to protect the church (and other religious bodies) from unnecessary interference by the government; and 2) to protect the church (and other religious bodies) from losing their spiritual and moral vitality by becoming overly entangled with the affairs of state. The separation clause is of protective value to faith communities, which are vital to the health of our society.

At the same time, the separation clause and the religious test clause do not disbar people of faith (or non-faith) from engaging in government or exercising their values in determining or executing state policy. Communities and individuals of faith can and should exert influence on society in general and government policy in particular. Individuals of faith should run for office and be willing to serve in all areas of government. The separation principle is about institutional entanglement, not about the expression or promotion of value.

I don’t think you want a valueless government anymore than I do. A valueless government is something no one on the right or left wants. In fact, that is why you pressed that line of questioning, isn’t it, Sir? You were so concerned about values that you wanted to bar someone with a different set of values from getting into a lower level position at the Office of Management and Budget.

Therein lies the rub. The Constitution does not allow for discrimination against one set of values over another, other than the principle that all people, regardless of their beliefs, are equal under the law. The only values test allowed for government officials is whether they will agree to uphold the Constitution. When we ignore the Constitutional ban on religious tests, we pose grave danger to our society and its government.

Our nation faces increased polarization. We do well to avoid feeding that fire. This past weekend people have been in the streets marching against Sharia law and promoting what I personally see as hate speech. I oppose what these marches stand for – though I do not oppose their right to march. And I oppose any attempt to treat Muslims (or any other religious group or non-religious group) differently. Are you going to ask the same questions of the first Muslim who enters your hearing room? I pray not.

Our nation’s first motto was E pluribus unum: one out of many. We thrive on our diversity, including our religious diversity, and freedom. There is a reason that the only place in the original Constitution where religion is mentioned is in this ban on religious tests.

Not that you noticed, but I didn’t vote for you in this last election cycle. Actually, I “voted” for none of the candidates for the office of President. For the first time in my voting life, I could not even “hold my nose,” as some urged. That’s not to say I didn’t agree with some of your positions or that I devalue you as a person. But I will say that my nay vote on you and your co-candidates had nothing to do with anyone’s religiously-held perspectives.

You failed the test – the religious question test – this past week, Senator Sanders. I urge you to retake the test and uphold the entire Constitution as you have pledged to do.

(For more information on the Senate hearing referred to above and for the video showing the exact line of questioning by Senator Bernie Sanders, go to http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/09/532116365/is-it-hateful-to-believe-in-hell-bernie-sanders-questions-prompt-backlash)