pastor's corner - March 15th
Over the last few weeks I have noticed a growing anxiety in our community over the coronavirus. Two weeks ago kids were talking about it at youth group. Last week the Newton Correctional Facility and The Cottages were closed to visitors. Events are being cancelled and universities are sending students back home. I believe this is an important moment for the people of God. We are a people of hope in the face of fear. Jesus challenges us to be the light of the world for those living in darkness. Here are some helpful ways to live into that calling:
Compassion. “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). People have various views on the severity of the virus. But our job is to show compassion. I truly believe that Jesus is more tangible during times like these when people feel heard and cared for by God's anointed ones. I saw this quote posted by Church Juice on the CRCNA website: “When it comes to a wide-spread issue, people respond in many ways. Engage with stigmatized groups and speak out against negative behaviors to help counter discrimination. Consider how your language and actions may impact those who are responding to the outbreak. People who already struggle with anxiety might be having an especially difficult time. Ensure you’re doing your part to encourage and edify; allow this to be an opportunity to speak to a tough subject by modeling how to ‘speak the truth in love.’”
Trust. Let's inspire faith instead of fear. This is a time to lean people into the one who is our only hope in life and in death, Jesus. Lets lead people to pray to the one true God who is always faithful. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (Psalm 143:8).
Grace and peace,
Previous Pastor Corner Blogs
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”. John the Baptist invites everyone to the waters of baptism to experience the dawning of a new age. In this sacred ceremony God signs and seals his people into covenantal membership of his family. This longstanding tradition began when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River in Matthew 3. But this wasn’t the first time God’s children came to these very waters. Joshua actually led the people of God across this same river when they entered the promised land centuries beforehand. What I find mind-blowing is that in both instances God is leading his children through the waters and into a new way of life.
It is the same for us today. We believe the Holy Spirit still uses this sacrament to perform “signs and wonders” for the people of God. A new way of living beckons us to the waters as well. Which begs the question: have you been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Have your children experienced the power of this sacrament? If the Spirit is leading you “to the waters”- please find me after the service! We would love to chat and pray with you about baptism.
Grace and peace,
It began with ashes last Wednesday. “From dust you came and dust you will return.” A stark reminder of the fragility of life. Author, Rob Bell notes, “For the seven weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, we practice sober awareness of our frailty, sins and smallness. It starts on Ash Wednesday when those ashes are traced on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, a tactile reminder of our origins in the dust. From there we come, and to there we will go.”
Thankfully the significance of the ashes doesn’t end there. Ashes (which were often paired with fasting in scripture) were an external sign of internal grief for personal sins against God and humanity (Jonah 3). They were also an outward symbol of lamenting the tragic brokenness of this world (2 Sam 13:19). Ashes remind us that we are in desperate need of a Savior.
This Savior is the reason we fast for forty days. We fast from the things our flesh desires in order to feast on for the very thing we need the most, Jesus. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus who was lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast for forty days. It was there that our true King had a showdown with the evil one. This enemy offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world. But Jesus’ loyalty to the Kingdom of God was unwavering. A reminder that Lent is a time to let God’s kingdom gain another square inch of our hearts, minds and lives.
Fast-forward from last Wednesday and now we are talking about the unusual way this kingdom arrived. It may surprise some to learn that the true King of kings wasn’t born within the safe and warm confines of palace walls. He was born into the harsh cruel world he came to save and his life was in danger from the start. Which is why the Lord says, “Get up and take the child…” to Mary and Joseph. Thankfully they take heed of God's warning and “get up and take” Jesus to Egypt and barely escape King Herod’s ruthless genocide of boys in Bethlehem.
But I found Jesus' “unplanned” detour away from Israel a bit frustrating this week. It seems like a huge letdown in the grand scheme of the narrative. "Didn’t God’s people wait long enough for the Messiah to come and as soon as he arrives he is whisked away from their presence?!" Regardless their wait for the Savior must resume. Thankfully after Herod’s death, the true king of Israel finally returns when Mary and Joseph receive another divine message to “get up and take” Jesus to Nazareth.
Ironically we are still there. We are a people who await the return of the one who came to save us. We fast and wear ashes looking forward to the day when sin, brokenness and death will be no more. We live every day with the very real knowledge that we need our Savior to come back. We await the return of the King.
Grace and peace,
This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Which is the 40 day season between Ash Wednesday and Easter. During this special time Christians across the globe from many affiliations, denominations and backgrounds participate in a tradition that spans centuries. I must confess this is my favorite time of year! This is a sacred time to reorient our lives around the gospels (rather than sports, weather, school and work). When we reflect on the narrative of Jesus it can feel like we are retracing his very steps to the cross and empty tomb. I simply love the growing anticipation as we get closer to Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter). I also love how this feels like OUR journey as the people of God fast and reflect together.
So join me in fasting! What is fasting? Christian spiritual disciplines guru, Richard Foster says, “Fasting is voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” This is a time to give up something of personal value (coffee, complaining, binge-watching Golden Girls, Facebook etc.) to pursue holy things. Which is why it is vital that we don’t replace that "thing" with another "thing" (i.e. fasting from ice-cream and eating cake instead etc.). The purpose of fasting is to devote more of ourselves to prayer, Bible reading, worship etc. So what is the Spirit compelling you to fast from in order to feast on more of God?
On Wednesday we will begin our fast with an Ash Wednesday prayer service at 7am. The pairing of ashes and fasting is a common occurrence throughout scripture. Ashes symbolize the frailty of life, the grieving of sins in our lives and the lamenting of brokenness in our world. Ashes are an outward reminder that we truly needed a savior. Thank God we found that savior in Jesus. I look forward to the many ways we will experience this savior during the next 40 days!
Grace and peace,
God is Here. We won't suddenly find God in the final scene of life. The Lord was with us all along the way. All throughout Psalm 132, King David shares a heartfelt yearning to experience the presence of God. Unfortunately most of the time we fail to engage this companion. The traffic of life can be noisy, and we forget that he is there. Thankfully he opens our eyes to his presence. The Lord actually dwells in our midst!
Sometimes we get distracted by our own lives. But the truth is life is God’s story. “The biggest lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is story about me” (Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz). To be alive means we have been given a part to play in God’s story. When we arise in the morning we ought to pray and ask the Lord to reveal the co-starring roles we will fill in his story today. Life is truly best when we yield and let him direct our scenes. The Westminster Confession reminds us that we actually exist to “glorify and enjoy God forever.” Jesus said we truly “live” when we “Love the Lord our God with all our strength, all our heart, all our soul and mind”(Luke 10:27-28). Here are some helpful ways to truly live into the God-centered story happening all around us:
1. Pray the Psalms. Join in a long-standing tradition of God-centered people (which included Jesus) of using the Psalms as a personal prayer book. We can pray these prayers regardless of where we are at in our journeys with God. You can actually find every human emotion in the Psalms (joy, lament, anger, hope, despair etc.). So let the Psalms speak for you and reveal a deeper reality that is being directed by a God who is always with you.
2. Listen. A good prayer life allots the most time to listening to God. The Lord actually wants to speak to our minds and hearts. Which means we have to yield to him.
3. Pray now. Pray when you are walking the dog or taking out the garbage. Pray when you feel guilty about not praying. We don’t have to wait! The God that is omnipresent (everywhere all the time) invites us to dialogue with him everywhere all the time.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Chris Allen