Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Celebrate Christmas for 12 days

You may have heard the news: Christmas isn't over yet.  Yes, it is true.  Christmas lasts twelve days... until January 6th.  (Click here for more information on that.)  After the long and sober season of Advent, the celebration of Christmas takes over, and one day is simply not enough for all the partying we must do.  Just as we fasted and mourned our sins during Advent, so during the season of Christmas, we feast and celebrate our redemption from our sins.  When Jesus came, everything changed for the better, and our celebration during this season should reflect the great joy the coming of Christ brought and, when He returns, will bring.

So, how should we go about celebrating from Christmas Day until Epiphany?  While I know everyone has their own family traditions surrounding Christmas, here's a few tips on how to extend Christmas from one day into the 12 days it is: 

  • Don't Throw that Tree Away yet!  When I was growing up, the tree went down as soon as we had time and energy to get the ornaments off.  (Who am I kidding:  It was Mom who did all the work here!)  Let me recommend that you keep your tree up and lit from Christmas Eve all the way to Epiphany (Jan 6).
  • Let the Music Play!  Don't stop the Christmas music after Christmas Day, but keep in playing in your house all week.... especially the more Christ-exalting Christmas songs (e.g. Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, etc.)
  • Do Some Special Each Day of Christmas:  In our house, we open a present every day of Christmas.  The plan (when it happens) is to have morning prayer together and then open a present and sing a Christmas carol together.  (This year, we haven' sung much since our voices are all phlegmy from colds).  If you don't do a gift a day, you could each a special dessert after dinner each night, or have a family activity each morning or evening.  Doesn't matter what it is, but mark the occasion with something your family will enjoy and that is reasonably do-able for you this time of year.
  • Embrace the Christmas Triduum:  There are three lesser known holidays (triddum means something like "three days") following Christmas Day that help put the celebration of Christmas in its proper perspective:  St. Stephen's DaySt. John's Day  and Holy Innocents   I've found that keeping these holidays during Christmas lifts my perspective up from the hustle and bustle of Christmas.  St. Stephen's Day reminds me of the cost of following Jesus.  St. John's Day reminds me to seek the glory of Christ and to trust Jesus plan for my life.  Holy Innocents reminds me, as I am in plenty, that many innocent children, born and in the womb, are abused and helpless, enduring murder and evil beyond my comprehension.  You can find the prayers and Bible readings associated with these days here and a description here.
  • Look for Opportunities to Serve the Poor:  There are plenty of places you can volunteer in our area, but one thing I've done is kept food, some clothes in my car and looked for opportunities to give them.  If no opportunity occurs after a few days, I drop the clothes off at a shelter or food pantry.  I know at Good Shepherd  we have been gathering coats for the Sudanese woman in High Point we are connected with.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Do You Encourage Yourself? (And others?)

This Advent at Good Shepherd we've been talking a lot about hope: anticipation and looking forward to the coming of Christ.  But even though hope has been our focus, it has also been a heavy season: the reason why we look to Christ for hope is because we ourselves are hopeless without Him.  Advent is a season where our human weakness, brokenness, and sin are emphasized, and in light of these dark realities (and in much of life in general) we need encouragement.

But where do we go for encouragement?  When you get knocked down in life, how do you encourage yourself? 

This is an immensely important question, the gravity of it cannot be overstated.  Why is it so important?  Because the scripts (spoken or unspoken) that we use to encourage ourselves tell us where our hope lies.  And what we hope in (and what we hope for) shows us where our heart is, where our true devotion is.  (Luke 12:34; Matt 6:21)  And if our hope, our devotion, is in anything but the One True God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then we are full of false hope.  Nothing is more bitter to the human soul than false hopes.

So, let me ask: What do you say to yourself to encourage yourself? 

Here's a few common avenues of false encouragement, false hope. (Warning, this will be convicting): 
  • "I'm sure everything will be fine." — This is blind optimism... if it doesn't ask "Why will it all work out? How?" This is a tactic that only works in prosperous regions of the world or for those who have little-to-no responsibility.  
  • "I can handle this." or "I'm really fine."  — This is self-righteousness and self-reliance and works only some of the time for some of us.  Strong-willed and able people gravitate to this strategy of encouragement.   The "churchy" version of this false encouragement is: "God will never give me more than I can handle."  This oft-quoted proverb is not found in the Bible, nor is it consistent with how God works with us.  
  • "Well, I know things are tough, but at least I have my ______ (e.g. "health, family, job, etc.") — This is idolatry.  Again, like self-reliance, this will only work some of the time for some of us.  For what happens when our family or health fail? If our job is lost, etc.?  
  • "I will ignore this, and it'll go away." — This is mere avoidance, the lazy twin of blind optimism.  We practice avoidance by taking a nap, taking another drink, seeking a distracting pleasure like TV, a movie, some shopping, a hobby (the golf course, music (for me), working out), etc.  This makes our "stomach" (pleasure) our hope because pleasure distracts us from the pain.  (Philippians 3:19)
I have encouraged myself (and still often do) with anyone of these methods.  Most of the time I do it unconsciously.  (Just ask my wife how often I mess this up!)  Never does it really satisfy.  

But what does real hope, real encouragement look like?  

When we need to encourage ourselves (or others!) how should we do it?  Even though someone who has false hope and someone who has true hope may take the exact same action in a difficult situation, where their heart is in situation makes a huge difference (e.g. If you're discouraged because you're in debt, you're gonna have to work out of the debt regardless of where your hope is.  But where your hope is in the work will determine much.)

Here's a few ways to walk in "gospel" encouragement... and let me tell you, this is where real life is found.  
  • Rather than just saying "It'll all work out" say, "God will work all things together for good for those who love him and who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)  — God is the source of good outcomes, and his definition of "good" is very different from our culture's definition.  
  • Rather than saying "I can handle this," hold onto these words "Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.  For apart from Me you can nothing." (John 15:4) and "My power is made perfect in your weakness." (2 Cor 12:9) — God is the source of our strength (2 Tim 2:1; Prov 3:5,6), and even our own ability to work hard and to "get back up" is his power working in us (Philippians 2:12-13).  Our hope cannot be in ourselves, even when God is working in us.    
  • Rather than saying, "At least I have my ____," say "Since I have God, by his grace, I have everything."  (Psalm 16:11 " your right hand are pleasures forevermore.") — God is the greatest gift/thing/person we could ever "have."  He is the source of all pleasure and any good thing, and if we had nothing but Him, we would have all we need.  Pondering this truth for a bit will blow your mind.
  • Rather than ignoring our sufferings, we can say to ourselves: "God is at work in this suffering for good!" (See Philippians 2:13; Romans 8:28; Rom 5:1-5; 2 Pe 1:3-15) — God is always, even in the worst situations, for the good of his people.  We can face suffering head-on, small or big, knowing God uses it like a tool to make us more holy.   Avoidance shortchanges us the opportunity to see God at work.  
One friend of mine always says that we need to preach the gospel TO ourselves.  When we need encouragement, we need to go to the real good news.  

So, may God give us the grace, in the dark times or even just in the small moments of discouragement, to be able to say: "Because of God's grace in Christ, I know God loves me.  Because of God's grace in Christ, I know He is working in me.  Because of God's grace in Christ, I know all will end well."  (Titus 3:5-6).  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advent is Coming (Part 2)

Last week I wrote about Advent: what it is, and why we need it. I talked about how Advent is not merely a pre-Christmas time, but it is preparatory time and a penitential time as well. Christmas is celebration; Advent is contemplation. Christmas is shouting for joy; Advent is calling for help. Advent is very different than Christmas. This week, I want to talk about what we are doing at Good Shepherd this Advent, as a church, to enter more fully into the season, and how, as individuals, we might be able to enter into it more fully as well. Here are a few examples:

  • No Christmas music till Christmas:  Everything about the service on Sunday will set a contemplative and penitential tone.  The songs we sing will be songs of praise and songs of crying out to God, but they will not be the songs of celebration, not Christmas songs (that’ll be set apart for Christmas!). In my home, we only sing Christmas music on Sundays during Advent:  each Sunday (which is always a feast day since Jesus rose on a Sunday) we let Christmas “break in” a bit: we put up decorations, burn incense, play Christmas music, and enjoy some good food and drinks.  But during the week, we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or the “Trisagion” during our family worship times in order to keep our focus on Advent.
  • Readings that Remind us of our Sin: Another thing you’ll notice at our services is that the Scriptures appointed each year for Advent point us to our need ….Not for presents… but our need for repentance. These readings can be great texts for study during the week.Telling Time Differently:  Christians tell time differently than other groups of people.  For us, Sunday is the first day of the week because Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday.  For us, Friday is a fasting day because Christ died on a Friday. Even our yearly calendar is a bit different. Advent, the time of preparing for Christ’s appearing, is the Christian New Year.  And this is so appropriate: we start the new year with our need to repent, focusing on our Savior to come.  Want a new beginning?  Ask God for it during Advent.
  • Personal Rededication to Prayer and Scripture Reading:  If you’ve never read through the Bible in the whole year or if you’ve never read the Bible daily or prayed daily, Advent is the perfect time to start!  In fact, one of the best Bible Reading plans out there, the Daily Office, begins this Nov. 30th. Why not start there and read the Bible with millions of other Christians who follow the same plan?  (Like me and other folks at Good Shepherd.)
  • Renewing or Restarting Family Worship:  Since Advent is the "new year," why not start (or restart) the practice of "family worship" in your home?  The idea here is simple: as a family, pray together and read the word together, and (if you can do it) sing praises to God together.  Though it can be work, I can guarantee you that God will bless your time in family worship if you give it a chance.  Why not try it out for the five weeks of Advent? A great way to build a great habit!
  • Fasting: Though there is no prescribed fast during Advent, it is appropriate to fast any time of year (the exception being celebratory seasons Christmas and Easter).  Perhaps this Advent you can fast from meat on Fridays and remember that Christ is the source of your life… Or you could fast from lunch on Wednesdays and join some other Christian friends in prayer during your lunch hour.  What other thing could you give up this Advent that might help you turn to the Lord more in prayer?
  • Serving Our Community: There is never a bad time to serve your neighbor. But this time of year is particularly difficult for many people. Who can you reach out to and bring joy to this Advent? At Good Shepherd we are hosting, in junction with two other churches and three businesses, a Family Christmas Caroling party (Dec. 7th) in order to provide a free family event for our community.  It is a chance for us to talk about the meaning of Christmas with our neighbors and bring our community together for a good time.
  • Praying for others: Again, it is always good to pray for your friends and family.  This Advent at Good Shepherd each family will be given another family in our church to pray for.  Who has God put in your life that you can pray for each day during Advent?  Does anyone come to mind?
  • Telling others about Christ: When was the last time you talked to a friend about Jesus?  Or asked them what they think and believe about Jesus? Advent is a great time to simply ask your friend or neighbor: what do they think about Jesus? His birth that we are about to celebrate?
What about you?  Anything you can suggest?  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Advent is Coming (Part 1)

Advent is Coming... We are just two Sundays away from the season of Advent. Advent is more than just a pre-Christmas season, it is a season of preparation as we ready ourselves for worship during Christmas (the 1st Coming of Christ) and as ready ourselves for Jesus Return, the Second Coming of Christ.  The word "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival," and it is a season where were prepare to celebrate the first advent of Jesus by anticipating his second advent.

The tone of Advent in Church is different than what you'll see out in the world this time of year.  On Sundays during Advent, you'll notice the liturgical color (seen in the stoles of the clergy) will be purple.  Purple, here, is a sign of penitence.  The observation of Advent, as a preparatory and even penitential season, is an old Christian practice.  It may go back as far as the 4th century A.D., but it first appears in the liturgy of the Church in the 8th century.  It is an old Christian practice to have an extended time to reflect on our sinfulness and the rather dark reason behind both of the Lord's advents:  that Jesus comes to us in order to deal with sin.

As we navigate 21st century America during this time of year, we may be tempted to ask: "Do we really need this darker kind of Advent?"  One only has to look at the commercialization of Christmas and the distracted lifestyle that most of us live this time of year to find the answer.  We really do need this kind of Advent, and we need God's Spirit to work in us during this season.  We need a reminder of deeper realities than what we typically deal with this time of year: year-end bonuses, breaks from school, endless parties, family visits, and Santa.  There are tons of people out there who rant about putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas," but the way to recover Christmas is to rediscover Advent.  

In the next post on Advent, I'll discuss a few ways we can observe Advent in our lives during the week and on Sundays in worship.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's life all about?

I have been blessed in life with many good and godly mentors.  I honesty don't know where I'd be today if it weren't for these guys:  they met with me (often weekly), prayed with me and for me, invited me into their homes, taught me, and showed great patience with me.  This week I want to share two bits of wisdom from two of these mentors:

"Life is about relationships." - David English 

"Relationship trump everything." - Fr. Ben Sharpe 

These lines sum up a great thread of truth that runs throughout the Bible: humanity was made for relationships, both with God and with others.  Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that we were all made in God's image and likeness.  Part of image is God's relational nature.  Just as God relates to "Himself" as it were, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all relating to each other, so humanity is made for relationship.  And so, God made Adam and Eve for each other, the first human community.  But this community and the members of it, were in relationship with God.  Genesis 3 tells us that God walked in the garden in the cool of morning, implying that it was God's custom, as it were, to come and walk in his garden with Adam and with Eve.  As the Episcopal Prayer Book's liturgy says, "In [his] infinite love, he made us for [himself]..."  Even after the fall, when Adam and Eve sinned, God still related to his people.  We see him talking to Cain in Genesis 4, and on and on through out the Bible.    This connection with God continues throughout the OT: whenever a man or woman knows God or sees Him, it is seen as a truly glorious thing.  So, Moses is lauded as the man who saw God "face to face". (Ex 33:11) And Jeremiah says,""Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me" (Jeremiah 9:23–24).  Into the NT, the value of having a relationship with God continues to be seen as the peak of human experience. So, Jesus says,  "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only True God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."  (John 17:3) Indeed, when someone asks Jesus what God wants from humanity (that is, what commandment is the most important), Jesus says: "" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."" (Matthew 22:37–40).  

Truly, life really IS about relationships.  Relationship involve actually relating with people (e.g. talking, listening, enjoying something with someone, suffering with someone, etc.) 

Some question for self-examination:
  • Am I living my life with the view that God and people matter most?  
  • Does my weekly schedule reflect this? 
  • What often fills up my time that is not relational?  (Some of this is necessary (like work, school, solitary recharge time for introverts, etc.  But keeping that in mind, it is  how can I put more priority on relationships in my life?)
  • What does it look like for me to make my life "about my relationship with God"?  How do I talk to Him? Listen to him?  Enjoy things with him?  Suffer as I am with him?
  • Do I have margins in my life that keep my time open for the people God would send into my life and/or for the people he has given to me (family, spouses, friends, etc.)? 
  • Do I treat the people I run into throughout the day or sit next to at church with the import and respect they deserve?

Now before you go and beat yourself up, remember that only Jesus is the perfect Friend, Spouse, Boss, Brother, etc.   And in that truth there is great comfort:  Though we are constantly running from relationship with God in our own little way, He is constantly pursuing us.  He is continually drawing to Himself those who are his.  

Church of the Good Shepherd's Values - Life is About Relationships: Life is about relationships: with God, with others and even ourselves (Matt 22:37-40). Therefore our ministry will be "life on life" as we encourage clergy and lay leaders alike to pour into the lives of others so that these people can in turn pour into others (2 Tim 2:2). We strive to be relationally rich people, even at the expense of being poor in other areas (e.g. possessions, travel, social standing, comforts, success as the world defines it, security, career-advancement, etc.). We also know that relationships are inherently inefficient, and so, we intentionally seek to have margins in our lives in order to give a significant amount of time each week to our relationship with God and with others. This includes time with our church family, with our own families, and with our neighbors, and coworkers.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jesus's Haunting Question

In this week's sermon I threw a bunch rocks at the Pharisees.  It was easy enough to do since they're always opposing Jesus.  But in the midst of studying the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-9 this last week, Jesus's question to them has haunted me:  "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"  As I pointed out on Sunday, the Pharisees misused and added to the commandments of God, and though their intentions may have been good, the result was disastrous: the very thing they hoped would help them follow God's commandments (that is, their tradition) became the thing that they used to break God's commandments.  A seemingly good thing, in the hands of a corrupted heart, became an instrument of evil.  For the sake of their tradition they broke God's commands.  And Jesus asks: Why would you do such a thing?  It is a similar question that Jesus asks, somewhat incredulously, in the garden during his betrayal: "Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48)  The sin in our hearts takes even the most beautiful things and turns them towards evil.  Jesus's question has haunted me for this reason: I break God's commands for the sake of many things.  For the sake of good things, like family, comfort, friends, work, reputation, I break the commands of God.

We could take Jesus's question and turn it around this way:

"Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your  _______?"  

Fill in the blank.  What goes in there for you?  What, in your life most often leads you to break God's commands or fail to follow Jesus?  If you're not sure, perhaps you could pray right now and ask God what this thing is. And itt doesn't have to be bad things:  "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll," or self-promotion, money, the need for control or laziness.  Your blank could be filled with devotion to family, enjoyment of solitude, love of study, health or fitness.  Good things turned away from God's purposes.  

To me, this is very convicting.  ... But conviction is meant to take us somewhere.  So, what's next?

There is another story about Jesus that can help us here.  In Matthew 19, Jesus meets a young man who is rich and influential.  This man, by all accounts, is moral, upstanding, hardworking (much like our Pharisees from Sunday's gospel text and sermon).  Jesus challenges this man to give up his possessions so that he can follow Jesus.  The story ends with the young man leaving and Jesus reminding us that:  "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."  (Matt 19:24).  I know that's familiar phrase, so let me translate using different words:   "It is easier for a horse to go through a keyhole than for a rich man to enter into God's Kingdom, to be saved."  

The riches this man had were his good thing that his heart had corrupted.  For his riches sake, he would not follow Jesus.  

We are all that rich man.  And true repentance involves taking whatever went into your blank in the question above, and asking God to put it in perspective for you, even take it away if necessary.  True faith says, "Lord, help me to see how great You and your promises are so that this good thing will be put in perspective." (Ephesians 3:14-19).  Nothing is worth breaking God's commands, and following Jesus is worth anything.  

How can we ever hope to have this kind of faith and repentance?  How can do we, men and women are rich with many good things, how can we hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  Thankfully, God is powerful enough to help us even in this bind, and He deeply wants to break us free.  (Philippians 2:12-13).  

Jesus said of the rich young man's situation:  "With man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible."  (Matt 19:26)  And he says the same thing to you and me.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What have you got?

At some point in life, everyone laments what they don't have.  We all know what it is like to look at our friends and neighbors and all the good things God has given them and struggle with  envy.  But the truth is that God has given us all many good things, and on our better days, we know this.  And when our head is clear, we see the friends we have, our family, the work we have, the roof over our heads, and all the food on the table... and we are able to thank God and be content.   But if we stop there, as good as those things are, we are still not seeing the whole picture of what God has given us.  If that's all we see, we don't know what we have got.

Last week, one of the readings for the Daily Office included Psalm 16, and in this Psalm, David, the King of Israel and Judah, sings about God's goodness.  And through David's song we also see the good things we have in Christ.  Yes, this includes all the blessings I listed above: family, friends, food, and shelter, for every good gift is from God.  David says to God, "I have no good apart from you." (See also James 1:17).  God's gives many many people good things, and many who have such things are not followers of the One True God. (Matthew 4:45-48) If that's the case, what good is it to be a believer?  

David shows us the answer to this question: "The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup... in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more." (Psalm 16:6,11)  David, in these verses, is marveling in the promise from God that all who trust in Him will get the greatest gift possible:  God Himself.   David expresses this here as the "presence" of God. Likely, David is thinking about two things when he writes this:  About God's presence in the Tabernacle (the precursor to the Temple), and the hope of everlasting life with God.  David, like Abraham before him, believed God and was, by faith, declared righteous (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:6).  

For the Christian today, we have clearer and greater promises than even David had.  Here's just a few: 

  • "But all to all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:12)
  • "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
  • "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3) 
  • "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-4) 

And only space limits me... there are many other verses I could post!  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, let me recommend you sit down right now and read Ephesians 1-3 and be reminded of all God has given you.  And keep in mind that the greatest gift is God Himself (Ephesians 1:13-14).  If you are not a follower of Jesus, let me tell you that Jesus is offering you more than can imagine, if you will turn to Him with all your heart.

So, if you find yourself reading this today, and you are struggling with envy towards what others have, keep in mind that in Christ you have something (if calling God a "thing" is proper!) that is greater than all the stuff you're envying combined!  And if, on the flip side, you find yourself content today with what God has given you, be thankful, but also remember that you have in Christ more than you know and even more than you are thankful for at this moment!

Truly, every Christian is blessed, in any circumstance.  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How Can Any Good Come from the Church?

The Church is messed up, and Christians are messed up people.  Often we see the mess that is the Church and wonder, "How can we possibly be God's instrument of redemption in the world?" (Matt 5:13-16; Matt 28:18-20) When we look in our hearts and sin our own sin, we may wonder, "how can it be that the Holy Spirit is in me making me to be like Christ? I don't think I look much like him at all!!" (Phil 2:12-13; 2 Cor 3:14-17; 4:7ff).  When we see such darkness, what hope can we have? Can God really make good out of this?

I am slowly reading through the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  This week took me through Ezekiel 36-37.  Ezekiel 36 is one of the great promise chapters of the Bible.  It is where God promises to bring a new covenant to his people, a new agreement between God and man, to turn their stoney hearts into hearts of "flesh."  Another way to say it is that God promises in Ezekiel 36 to make his hard-hearted people into soft-hearted people, people who are receptive to God and his ways.  

This promise comes out of nowhere, and in the context of the whole Book of Ezekiel, is a bit of a surprise.  You see, if you ever sit down and just start reading through the book of Ezekiel, you'll see that it paints a rather grim picture of the state of God's people.  Chapters 25-35 are filled with prophecies of woe (go look up that word) and with predictions of the judgment of God on all sorts of evil people, including God's own people.  

Then suddenly, after all this evil and judgement, God promises to make it good.  And to me, even as I know that these passages in Ezekiel 36 apply to me as a follower of Christ, I had a hard time believing them.  It was the same old question:  "Can God really make this good, a soft heart that obeys him and loves good things, out of what I see in me?"  

Then I read the next chapter, Ezekiel 37.  It is the story of the valley of dry bones.  God shows Ezekiel a vision: it is a whole valley filled with human bones.  And God asks Ezekiel, "What do you think, Ezekiel, can these bones live?"  Now, imagine a fall filled with bleached sun-dried bones and skulls... and someone asking you that question.  What God does next is amazing:  He brings these bones to life!! He puts flesh on them, and these piles of bones become a vast army, very alive.  And how God does this is amazing:  he uses Ezekiel's prophesying to bring life to these bones.  

Now in this vision, God is telling us something amazing: Where things seem impossibly dead, God can make life.

When the Church worldwide seems impossibly broken: God can mend it.  

When our own hearts seem insurmountably dark: God can bring light.  

You are never too far gone for God.  And neither is anyone you know.  

Through the most mundane things, the teaching of the Bible, and through the work of the Sprit of God, new life can be made even in the greatest places of death and pain.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Deep End of the Pool (Trinity Sunday)

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the last major feast day for some time (we won't be donning "white stoles" to celebrate a holy day until November for All Saints).  Like most of our "top seven" holy days (called the Seven Principle Feasts of the Church), Trinity Sunday takes us into a truth that is truly beyond our comprehension.  And though we deal with divine mystery every Sunday, Trinity Sunday throws us into the deep end of the pool.

But how are we to respond to the aspects of our faith, like the Holy Trinity, that overwhelm ability to understand? That's part of the question I'd like to address so that we'd be more able to enter into worship this Sunday.

The first thing we need to realize is that when we begin to contemplate the very Nature of God, we are truly in over our heads.  This is true because we are finite, and God is infinite.  The sheer math of this fact means He is beyond us.  In fact, if God hadn't told us specifically about himself through the Scriptures, we would have no clue about his inner workings, about the way He is.  So, while we can't know everything exhaustively about God (for if we could, He would cease to be infinite, would He not?), we can know some things truly about him.  We can stay afloat, but only because God has thrown us a buoy through the Word.  I wonder if God revealing his Nature to us is a bit like me trying to describe to my three-year-old about how babies are made:  these are things totally beyond his comprehension.  And while I do my best to explain to him, he does not have the semantic categories, life experience, biological drive or the attention span to understand.  Indeed some things about sex would be inappropriate for him to know at this age.  So, when it comes to understanding the mechanism by which his little brother came on the scene, he has some idea, and the ideas he has are true ("Mommy and Daddy made baby brother with God's help").... but the full picture is totally beyond him.  In a similar way, we can believe and know true things about God, specifically about his Triune Nature, but the full picture is beyond us.  Indeed, one difference between my analogy about my son and our situation with knowing God is that with my son, he will one day have the full picture, but when it comes to God, none of us will ever completely know Him.  Theologians in the past have called this God's "baby talk" to us.  Baby talk is true (e.g. "Dada") but it is not everything (every father is more than "dada").

Believing this truth, having a kind of a knowledge that we believe to be true yet not exhaustive, requires a humble attitude.  We must be able to receive what God has said about himself without demanding more as a condition of belief.  Many of our questions can be answered, but some cannot. Some answers are beyond us.  Few things are more humbling than being told you'll never ever be able to understand fully.  (Imagine a teacher starting the semester by telling her students they will never grasp the subject matter fully!)  We are humbled by God's Nature because we are not smart enough to get it.

But we are also humbled by this truth because we know that the only reason we even know about God is because of his undeserved goodness to us.  He didn't have to reveal himself in Jesus Christ in order to shed light on his inner nature.  He didn't have to send the Holy Spirit to inspire the Scriptures to help us understand.  He didn't have to lead the Church to better grasp what He is like.  And did not have to open your eyes and humble your heart so that you could receive Him as He is.  All this God did, not because you or I deserved to know the truth, but because He loves us. 

All this takes us back to Sunday worship in this way:  Rightly receiving God as Trinity will always involve worship.  When we face such an incomprehensible truth, we indeed are humbled in our understand if ourselves, but our understanding of God gets elevated.  We begin to see the heigh of God's glory.  For how can you not be in awe of someone who is so different, so beautiful, so powerful, so mysterious, and so great that the greatest minds of the human race put together could not fully grasp Him?  We are often amazed when we see an Olympic athlete do something we could never do.  How much more that the Triune God is what we could never be?  That He is more than we could ever imagine or fathom?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What the heck is the Feast of Ascension?

What if I told you that there was a Christian holiday as big as Christmas, as big as Easter, but that most Christians don't even know about? That's the case with the Feast of the Ascension in our day.

For years I have been a follower of Jesus, but it was not until the last five years that I had ever heard of the Feast of the Ascension.  (Note:  "Feast" is a holy celebration, in contrast to "fasts" like the ones during Lent and Advent.)  But for generations, this holiday has been celebrated as one of the seven principle feasts of the Church, that is, one of the top seven most important days. 

This holiday celebrates the fact that after Jesus died, was buried, and rose again, he then ascended to heaven.  The historical account of this appears in Acts 1.  Ascension is always celebrated 40 days after Easter (see Acts 1:3), and therefore always falls on a Thursday.  But why is this so important? Why is this as big as Easter or Christmas? 

While we can't discuss every reason why the Ascension is important in this short blog post, I'll attempt to list three.  I hope these will motivate you and me to worship with our brothers and sisters around the world this Thursday.  I hope they will help us have a sense of awe about these truths, humbling our lack of vision.  I hope that they will increase our trust and hope in Jesus, as He ministers to us even to this day.  

1. Jesus is majestic:  Many want to think of Jesus as a mere man, but the Ascension of Jesus shows us that is NOT the case.  When we speak of Jesus "ascending into heaven" and "being seated at the righthand of the Father," two things are going on (at least): One, Jesus is returning to the glory that He had before the world began (See John 17:5).  Jesus is regaining the divine glory that is his, that He laid aside, in some way, when He walking around among us.  Secondly, Jesus is seen in his Ascension as taking the place of authority that He now has.  Jesus has authority over all the earth and heaven (Matt 28:18; John 17:2).  Him being seated at the Father's "right hand" is a symbol of him being in a place of great authority.  This is what we mean when we say that "Jesus is Lord."  He is the King, the Authority, the Power, under which all other authorities will eventually submit to (Isa 45:23; Rom 14:11).  Consider the power of the most powerful nations in the world, how they could literally nuke the planet into oblivion, how, if their leaders chose, they could end the lives of your and your family in an instant.  Now consider: their power and authority are just a "drop in the bucket" compared to Jesus.  (Isa 40:15).  Should we not ask such a powerful Friend for help when we are in need? 

2. A man sits on the throne of God:  This would be heresy if it weren't Bible truth!  And indeed, it is a scandalous claim for anyone who understands anything about God.  But most of us have infantile, babbling, moron-sized thoughts about God, and the scandal and the glory of this truth is lost on us.  (We are products of our day!) The Bible speaks of Jesus being God and man, and Christians have always understood this to mean that Jesus is "completely God and completely man." How this works is a mystery, but with God all things are possible.  While some people today want to make Jesus out to be merely a man, some (including many many Christians) forget Jesus's humanity!  To us, he is some spiritual, far-off Being.   But that is not the case.  Not since the Incarnation that first Christmas!  Since it is true that Jesus is both God and man, and that He sits on the throne as Lord of all (Rev 22:1), then it is correct to say that a man sits on God's throne.  This incredible truth is important to point out for several reasons.  First, it humbles our minds by stretching them beyond their capacities to understand.  This should cause us to worship!  Second, it shows that God is faithful to his promises to David (See Psalm 2 for an example), namely that God would give to one of David's sons an eternal throne.  Jesus fulfills this by gaining the eternal throne of God as a man.  What is amazing is that mankind's birthright is to rule the earth in God's way (Gen 1:26-28), but when that purpose was no longer possible because of man's sin, God in his grace, took mankind and elevated us to an even greater birthright through Jesus Christ!  Do you feel poor?  Do you feel like you don't have much?  Because Jesus, the man, sits on God's throne, and because you are in his Kingdom, you are rich in ways that are hard to imagine!  You're a citizen of the richest "country" in history! 

3. Jesus is interceding for all who follow Him:  Paul talks about Jesus's interceding for us in Romans 8:34.  This means, in part, that Jesus is praying for us to the Father.  It seems that this picture is of Jesus using his authority for the betterment of his people.  He takes all the power (#1) and authority (#2) that he has and applies that towards the good of his people.  This truth of Jesus interceding speaks to his disposition towards us who are his followers.  Yes, he could be majestic and aloof.  He could be God's King, the new Adam, and not care about us.  But the fact is that He is our Advocate (1 John 2:2), on our side.  Every Christian has friends in high places.  And we can throw all our concerns on him because he is concerned for us.  (1 Peter 5:7)  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Questions about spiritual growth

Our mission at Good Shepherd is to be a church in the Anglican tradition that is committed to inviting others to following Jesus, to growing as disciples of Jesus, and to serve wherever God sends us (or wherever he has put us!).  In the midst of all the activity of our lives and in the midst of all we do as a church, we can easily lose sight of this mission. And before I go on with this article, it may be worth it for you (and me as I write!) to stop and think: "Am I living this mission out? Am I inviting others to follow Jesus? Am I growing as a disciple of Jesus myself?  Am I serving where God has put me?"  Over the next few weeks in these "From Fr. Tom" segments, I am going to address these three aspects of our mission and how we might be able to live into them more fully.  

To start, I want to ask about "growing as a disciple of Jesus and helping others grow."  All of us need to grow as disciples of Jesus, learn to be love more and be more faithful to Jesus.  Everyone who is truly a Christian knows of areas where they need to grow because the Holy Spirit in them is convicting them of their sin.  But every one of us also has "blind spots," areas where we definitely need to grow but that we do not see.  

So, a few questions: 

1. Best as you can tell, what areas (only pick 2 or 3) do you need to grow in as a follower of Jesus? 
2. Who are you depending on to help you with your blind spots?  Does anyone have permission from you to let you know about those?
3. Finally, would you be willing to email or call or meet with me to talk about these?  As your pastor, I would absolutely love to know what areas you'd like to grow in and who is helping you with your blind spots.  I'd like to know this because I am praying for your growth, and I want to know how to pray.  And I'd like to know this so I can help you grow.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why is it a big deal when the Bishop comes to town?

Whenever a guest visits a church, we are called to love and greet that person regardless of who they are.  We are commanded and strongly urged to do this by God's Word in several places:   "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Heb 13:2). Elsewhere, Jesus himself tells us that when we welcome a stranger, we are welcoming him.  (Matt 25:35, 40)  And on the flip side, we are warned against showing favoritism, that is, greeting certain types of people more warmly than others:  "My brothers,show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1–5)

So, we must welcome every guest, regardless of whether we like them or not, whether they are like us or not.  We love everyone who comes into our doors, whether they are "big hitters" in the community or not.  Every man, woman or child who comes to our church is made in the image of God and therefore has value and worth greater than we can imagine.  

When the bishop visits our church, however, he is not a guest.  Indeed, he is not really visiting our church.  He is visiting his church.  (Truth be told, he is visiting Jesus's church, and Jesus has given him care of that church.)  The bishop is our pastor, and the local priest is his "deputized" representative.  (See Titus 1:5 and the letters to Timothy for biblical examples of bishops).  It's not unlike when parents leave for the weekend and put the oldest sibling in charge.  When the parents come back, the oldest kid goes back to being a kid.  When the parents return, they're not guests because it is their house.  Everyone celebrates their return, and the right order of things is set.  So, when our bishop comes, he loves us and cares for us, making sure we're all growing in the faith once delivered to the Church.  In the ancient church, bishops were around more often and this was not a big hurdle for anyone's understanding.  In our day though, when we have fewer bishops and when our bishops preside over larger geographical areas, we tend to forget whenever the bishop comes, it is sort of a homecoming.  And this is a reason to celebrate! 

Another reason why we make a big deal of the bishop's visit is because of what he symbolizes in his office.  Bishops are the "successors of the Apostles" and as such, they are a "sign of the church's unity in Christ."  (quotes from the ACNA Constitution and Galley's The Ceremonies of the Eucharist, p 200).  The Scriptures talk about the apostles being the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20).  It is from the apostles that the whole Church has spread, and it is the apostle's teaching that all true Churches seek to teach and follow.  If bishops follow the doctrine of the apostle's, they are living symbols of this common foundation that all Churches share.  Thus when our bishop preaches the Word and celebrates Holy Communion in the service, we are reminded that is this same Word that all of Jesus's Churches teach and live, and it is this same Table that all of Jesus's Churches gather around.  We are reminded by the bishop's presence that we are just one small part of the world-wide, eternal Church.  THIS is a great and profound thing! And we celebrate that when the bishop comes!  

So, whenever our bishop visits, remember what we celebrate.  We are acknowledging and celebrating the order and authority and shepherding that Jesus's has given his Church, and we are remember and rejoicing in the unity that Jesus gives his whole Church.  The bishop is a sign that Jesus cares for his Church, for you and for me and all our brothers and sisters.  

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Do You Believe Bad Good-News?

The Christians relationship with God is founded on the gospel.  Gospel literally means "good news."  Our relationship with Jesus (and our very being!) is contingent on this good news.  How well we embrace this good news determines, in large part, how mature we are as believers.  Without this good news, our lives as Christians come apart at the seams.  One major part of the ministry of any church is helping members know and believe this good news so that they can know God more deeply and therefore have life that is truly life.  

Here's the problem:  most of us don't really believe the gospel... at least not fully.  Many many times we become suckers for substitute fake gospels, bad versions of the good-news.  Keep in mind, I am not talking about some people "out there."  I'm talking about you, the guy or gal reading this right now.  And I'm talking about me, the guy writing this article.

The first step, as best as I can tell, in dealing with these false gospels is to identify them, asking God to show us.  How do we do this?  Read on.  

In their book How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp, identify seven common Christian substitutes for Jesus.  These are things, though they are not necessarily bad in themselves, but can easily become a substitute for the gospel.  Which of these do you tend towards?  Which one do you thin you're falling into right now?

1. Formalism is the outward observance of religious practice, without a changed heart and without a changed day-to-day life.  "Formalism is blind to the seriousness of my spiritual condition and my constant need for God's grace to rescue me...  [A formalist] sees church participation simply as one healthy aspect of a good life.  He has no noticeable hunger for God's help in any other area.  For him, the gospel is reduced to participation in meetings and ministries of the church."  

2. Legalism is similar to formalism, but with this added twist: a legalist thinks that various religious observances are the basis of his or her relationship with God.  You would think the legalist would have a harsher view of God, but the reality is that the legalist's god is only harsh toward the sins they don't struggle to commit.  The legalist substitutes the real Jesus for a Jesus who agrees with them all the time.  The legalist substitutes the real gospel, for a gospel where we remain completely in control.  The legalist forgets about sin and grace.  

3.Mysticism is the seeking of an experience with God.  Again, just like rules and just like forms, experiences with God aren't bad things, but when the experience becomes more important than God Himself, we've fallen into an idolatrous mysticism.  The idolatrous mystic "reduces the gospel to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences."  Jesus gets replaced with the god of desire.  This is akin to lust.   In lust, a man seeks a woman to satisfy his desires, but, as C.S. Lewis points out, he is not really seeking a woman.  The woman is only the "apparatus" through which he pursues his desires.  Similarly, idolatrous mysticism uses God to get good feelings.  

4. Activism is defines being a Christian by activity, especially service and working for community change.  But the problem is that we don't serve a cause but a King, a Person.  And the real gospel tells us that the greatest problems we know (sin) is inside us.  "Whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fighting of the 'evil' around you."  Activism reduces the gospel to Christian causes.  

5. Biblicism replaces "communion, dependency, and worship of Christ" with a "drive to master the content of Scripture and systematic theology."  Biblicism seeks to make the good news about memorizing and mastering a set of knowledge, rather than a changed heart and deepened love for God and neighbor.  

6. "Psychology-ism" reduces the gospel to healing emotional hurts, rather than bringing forgiveness and repentance from sins.  Again, healing from emotional hurts is a good thing, but when it becomes the ultimate thing, we have substituted the gospel.  The real gospel sees our main problem as moral and relational, psychology-ism sees our main problem as unmet needs.  "But whenever you view the sin of another against you as a greater problem than your own sin, you will tend to seek Christ as your therapist more than you seek him as your Savior."  

7. "Social-ism" is when we make fellowship, acceptance, respect and position within the Church the reason for being a part of the Church.  This fake gospel says that when we have fulfilling relationships in the church, close friendships, we are getting what Jesus has offered us in the gospel.  Again, it is not that fulfilling relationships are a good thing that we often find in the Church, but there is always the danger of confusing the Church with the Savior.  This is because so much of what we experience as communion with Jesus comes in the context of the life of Church.  But as important as that is, we also have person and individual closeness and communion with Jesus.  Jesus forgives our own sins.   We individually respond to him with thanksgiving and love.  

Tom Bost

Senior Pastor/Rector
Church of the Good Shepherd 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The 50 Days of Easter

I caught myself saying it yesterday: "Now that Easter is over..." But the truth is that Easter is not over yet!  Eastertide, the season of Easter that follows Easter Sunday lasts 50 days!  (Ten more days than Lent!) And lasts until the Feast of the Pentecost.

And why is that important?  It's important because of this:  the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is such a big deal, so a world-changing and life-changing event that one Sunday is not enough time to celebrate.  So, the Church, in Her great wisdom, has given us fifty days to celebrate and contemplate and investigate the amazing truth that Christ is risen (the Lord is risen, indeed!).  In fact, we celebrate the Resurrection more than any other act of Christ because not only do we worship God for the Resurrection all 50 days of Easter, but we also thank God for the Resurrection every Sunday (that's why we don't fast on Sundays during Lent and Advent, because every Sunday is a feast/celebration of the Resurrection).

Yes, there are twelve days of Christmas and there are 50 days of Easter.   What if we really spent all fifty days worshipping and meditating on this amazing truth?  What new life might we experience and know as a result?  

So, how can we celebrate rightly this Eastertide?  There are many many ways.  Let me offer a few recommendations: 

  • Rest:  Take a break if your work schedule allows: enjoy the weather, spend some time with your family.  Perhaps you can turn off your your phone for a few hours here and there.  (This is what I need to hear!)  
  • Walk and Pray:  Take a walk, and thank God for creating everything you see.  Then take some time to think about what his new creation will look like: what will a renewed earth look like when Jesus returns?  
  • Read a Gospel:  Sit down with some friends and read through a Gospel together (Mark is the shortest! It only takes about 90 minutes! About the length of a movie)
  • In the midst of busyness, do some listening:  If you're life is very busy right now (May is crazy), then maybe read the collect for the day or the week each week.  Our listen to the ESV Daily Office audio.  Or take one thought about Christ's Resurrection with you throughout the day and write it down on a card and put it somewhere you'll see it.  
  • What was life-giving in Lent?  Consider what Lenten disciplines you might want to make just normal life disciplines... something I'm thinking through. 
  • Don't forget to celebrate!  I plan on turning some of my Lenten abstentions in reverse (e.g. eat a small dessert each night, buy some good beer), and you may want to do the same.  Why not throw a party at your home? 
What might you add to this list? 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Walking through Holy Week

Beginning with Palm Sunday this coming Sunday, Good Shepherd and many other Churches around the world will begin a journey of worship that is called Holy Week.  During Holy Week, the life of the Church goes into slow-motion so that we can get a good look at what Jesus did to redeem us.  And really, we do more than "look" during this week: we actually follow Jesus's footsteps in this last week of ministry, step by step tracing what he did.  

Our gatherings during Holy Week will look different than any other time of the year.  This is intentional.  The idea is to have them stick out in our mind, in our memory.  During this week we will do things we normally wouldn't do as a Church: we will act out the triumphal entry and waves palm branches around and we will wash each other's feet.  This may all seem a bit weird.  That is intentional.   The oddness of it will imprint the event on your soul.  Our meetings will be punctuated with silence.  We will leave our meetings in silence and enter our meetings in silence for most of the week.  This will be uncomfortable.  That is intentional as well.  Silence is a nothingness that leaves a mark.  The whole point of every action we take this week, every word we say and hear, and every moment of quiet is to teach us the deep and awesome truth of Jesus's redemption.   Holy Week is teaching us the gospel.  To say it another way: during Holy Week, we are reminded what makes us Christians and what being a Christian is all about.  

So, how can you and I do Holy Week in such a way that we'll benefit the most from it and so that God will be glorified the most?  This is a big subject that I could never exhaust in a short article like this, but let me offer a few tips and a few short explanations so that you'll be better equipped to worship God this week: 

Palm Sunday:  Palm Sunday marks Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  It is called the "triumphal entry" because it was the way he announced that he is God's King coming back to God's city.  But, in addition to this emphasis, Palm Sunday acts as a preview of what is about to happen during the week, namely, the betrayal of Jesus and his crucifixion.  So, Palm Sunday is a "schizophrenic" service:  it starts out jubilant as we celebrate Jesus as the King of Kings, and it ends in silence as we remember his betrayal and his Passion (By the way, the word "passion," as in, "Passion of the Christ," comes from Greek word for "suffering."  So when we speak of Christ's Passion, we are speaking of his suffering.)  In the service we literally enter into this schizophrenia by acting out what the people did during that week:  they welcomed Jesus joyfully on Sunday and then they crucified him on Friday.  And so, at the beginning of the service we will joyfully wave palm branches and praise God like they did.   But then, as we continue in the service, we will also speak with our own mouths the very words they yelled later that week, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" This mimicry is a recognition that because of our sin, we too are guilty of the crucifixion of Christ.  We are reminded of this truth when we take Communion on Palm Sunday, and then in the silence that marks the end of the service, we are called to contemplate the meaning of all this as we go deeper into the gospel during the rest of the week.  

During the Week: There are a few simple ways you can continue the "slow-motion" view of Jesus's work during the week.  There are very short prayers that have been written for each day during Holy Week (e.g. A Prayer for Monday during Holy Week, a Prayer for Tuesday).  When Sarah Jane and I first went through Holy Week, we sat in bed at night and prayed these prayers out loud before we turned off the lights.  We found it extremely helpful.  These prayers are found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer on pages 219-222 or you can click here to see them.  

Maundy Thursday:  In this service we walk through in the steps of Christ and the disciples during the Last Supper and the night Jesus was betrayed.  The theme of the service is God's sacrificial love and the two signs of this love are the washing of the feet and the Lord's Supper.  It is called Maundy Thursday because we celebrate the mandate ("maundatum" in Latin) given by Jesus to "love one another" and "do this in remembrance of me."  This is all from John 13.  In this passage Jesus gives these commands and then shows them what love is by washing their feet (an incredibly humbling act... especially in that day!) and pointing them to the cross through the Lord's Supper.  We will "act out" both of these signs as well: washing each other's feet and taking the same meal they did.  Let me encourage you to participate despite the weirdness of it: you will not regret it.  The night starts in a somewhat (but restrained) celebratory mood.  However, the sobering reality of what love requires in the fallen world (i.e. sacrifice) comes to light .. after the Lord's Supper, we remember that Jesus was betrayed and went to die for us. He was taken into custody by the officials that night.   And so, after the post-communion prayer, rather than the normal blessing and processional hymn, we kneel as all the signs of Christ are removed from our presence.  Every symbol that points to Jesus will be removed from the sanctuary.  So, as you see the clergy remove their stoles, the communion chalice, the cross, keep in mind that Jesus was taken away for you and for me.  These symbols are taken away in silence and the service ends in silence, and we all exit in silence.  So, the mood with which we start Maundy Thursday and the mood on which we end are completely different... though related.  Love is a joy and a blessing, but in a fallen world, love is also a cross.  

Good Friday: This is the most solemn service of the Christian year.  During Good Friday we remember that Love Himself was killed on our behalf, that He died the death we were meant to die.  Jesus suffered horribly for us and for the sins of the whole world: not only in physical torture on the cross, but also in a spiritual sense of which we know little.  This service begins and ends in silence.  The room will be dark, so please enter carefully and quietly. Again in this service we read the story of Jesus's suffering, putting in our own mouths the words of those who denied Him and crucified him:  "I am not his disciple" and "Crucify him!"  This service includes what is called "the Veneration of the Cross."  During this time, our deacon will bring the cross in and lay it on the altar.  Everyone is invited to come as they will to kneel before this symbol of Christ's suffering and work of redemption in order to confess sins to Him, to contemplate what He did for us, or simply to offer thanks.  The service ends in silence as well.  Let me encourage you to embrace the great amount of quiet we will experience during this service.  For sure there may be noisy distractions that interrupt us, but even these can be reminders that this fallen world is always breaking in, no stillness and peace is completely possible... that's what the Prince of Peace died to regain.  

Easter Vigil:  Easter Vigil is the greatest celebration of the Christian's year!  This service is on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday (in an ancient and biblical reckoning days begin at sundown rather than sunrise, so the service actually begins on Sunday).  This is the night when we celebrate that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.  The symbolism of this service is so rich, I won't try to explain it all here.  But the general sweep of the service goes like this: we walk through all the great acts of God throughout history, culminating with the Resurrection of Christ!  For every Christian who participates, it is a great celebration of God's work of salvation throughout history leading up to this very day and beyond!  For a fuller explanation of Easter Vigil, click here.  (This year, Good Shepherd will join Christ Church for the Easter Vigil!  Service begins at 8:30pm at 2252 Queen St. in Winston-Salem)

Easter Sunday: This service is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ!  It is as celebratory as you can get!!  In the context of Holy Week, this is the final crescendo of praise, a closing on the whole week, though it is not our main Easter Service normally (that would be the Vigil on Saturday night). This morning we enter into the wondrous and bleary eyed excitement of the disciples as they begin to wonder if indeed their best hopes beyond hope could be coming true!  Jesus is risen and the New Covenant has come!  One thing to note:  we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, not his death.  And although the cross is never far from view, we are focusing this day on the rising of Jesus from the dead!  Perhaps you've never thought much of Jesus coming back from the dead:  what does it mean?  why did He rise again?  why does it matter?  We will examine all these things and praise God for them on Easter!  One other note:  since we've not been saying "Alleluia" in worship since Ash Wednesday, we will be saying and singing "Alleluia" quite a bit during this service!  ("Alleluia" just a Hebrew phrase meaning: "praise the Lord!")