Divine Moments: From the Upper Room to the Empty Tomb

divine moments image3“He is risen, indeed!” The joyous conviction expressed in this greeting, once exchanged by the early Christians, reverberates today. Because the Resurrection is the very embodiment of our hope, the Easter season is the highlight of the Christian calendar. The Resurrection established that Jesus is the Son of God: the fulfillment of all prophecy, the Sacrifice for all sin, and the King for all eternity.

Today and everyday, Christ extends an invitation – an unchanging call to a life-changing encounter with Him. It’s the place where the divine intersects with humanity. Leading up to Easter, we will journey to places along the path of Christ’s final days. We’ll discover His passion, reflect on His suffering and experience His devotion.

We will do this in two ways: SUNDAYS in worship and DAILY through Scripture.

  • The Upper Room – March 6
  • The Garden – March 13
  • The Cross – March 20
  • The Empty Tomb – March 27

Easter Readings 2016Easter Readings 2016

The Scripture passages are in chronological order. So for the next 22 days we will walk together with Christ as He experiences each moment from the upper room to the empty tomb.

Slow down. Turn off devices. Reflect on the moment. Invite Christ to speak to you. Christ experienced this moment to redeem you. Listen to what He’s saying to you. Then…Sense the awe. Anticipate the hope. Experience the joy!

Prayer: Reviewing the Day with Jesus

SoulKeeping_header_630w-1Caring for your soul requires that we connect His truth to our everyday lives. For years I struggled with how to do this. I would find I pray, but would never change. I would read truth, but fall into the same ruts. At a day retreat with John Ortberg in the 90’s I learned a reflective type of prayer that actually began to allow Christ to shape my spiritual life. “Reviewing the Day with Jesus” a time of solitude with Christ where we still our soul to look back and review our day with Jesus. In those moments we invite Him into our the last 24 hours…our decisions, our actions, our reactions & our feelings. We allow His truth to integrate into those moments of our lives and transform us. It’s a time that’s is best spent at the end of the day or the beginning of the next. For me it takes about 15 minutes, but the amount of time really isn’t important. It not so much about the length of time, but the depth of our time and allowing our soul to connect to our Savior.

5 Steps of Reviewing Your Day with Christ 

  1. Be still for a moment and quiet your soul
  2. Acknowledge that Jesus is with you. Invite Him to teach you.
  3. Go back in your mind to when you first woke up. Watch the scene, as if on a screen. Continue going throughout your day, going from scene to scene. As you reflect on them, some scenes may fill you with gratitude, others with regret. This may lead you to pray for patience, greater love, courage, forgiveness or other virtues.
  4. Examine and reflect on your actions. Why did you act or respond like that? Were your thoughts, words and actions God glorifying? What loving sacrificial choices did you make – or fail to make? How did your choices impact the other person or circumstance? Don’t minimize or excuse your sin. Confess it and experience the grace of God. Allow Jesus to restore your soul.
  5. End with a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s mercy and love. Ask him to refresh your soul.

Community. Trinity. Oneness.

Together copyOne of the mysteries of the Trinity is that God lives in community. He is three individuals (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who are one. The Trinity is profoundly hard to fully understand, but the reality is it’s spoken about everywhere in Scripture. The plurality of God is even described in the vary beginning of Genesis. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). When we were created, community was hardwired into our DNA. Every single one of us to some degree is  a relational being…we crave community.

Even Christ craves community. When He was on this earth, Jesus chose to live in community relationships. In Mark 3:13-14, Jesus selects disciples not just to teach them, but “Jesus appointed twelve–designating them apostles -that they might be WITH Him. Jesus did life in close community with others. The same is true now. Jesus is building His community so that we may be with Him AND with others. In His prayer for the church, Christ connects the community He experiences in the Trinity to the community that He desires for each of us. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:20-23. As we remain in Him, He prays we would experience the same kind of oneness in the church as they experience in the Trinity.

What always amazes me when I read that prayer is the fact that Jesus believed this type of community could be realized…that somehow and someway, the same oneness that exists in the Trinity both could happen and actually would happen between people in His church.

Last Sunday at Epic we talked about a few of the characteristics of this Christian oneness…what it looks like when we live in the Oneness of the Trinity. In Jesus-centered community, we experience the gift of…

 – Acceptance: A place to relate on an “as is”basis.

  • Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you. Romans 15:7
  • Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

– Authenticity: A place to feel safe enough to be real.

  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
  • My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Matthew 26:38

– Support: A place to receive spiritual encouragement.

  • Encourage one another and build each other up. I Thessalonians 5:11

– Accountability: A place to grow to be more like Jesus.

  • Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16
  • Equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13

Community: Life Together – Chapter 1

919yabQY9KLEPIC LEADERS NOTE: I have to apologize of the delay in getting back to our “Life Together” discussion. With everything going on with Emily’s wedding, move to AZ and start of school…some of the plates fell and this was one of them. 

This chapter was like drinking from a community fire hydrant…almost too much insight about the Body of Christ to absorb. The spiritual insight for me was this … we often have defined Christian community completely wrong. Often in the church we believe small groups and community life is about creating relational connection based around affinity, God’s word and relationships. We work hard to build community so that one day we can experience it. Those aren’t bad things, but Bonhoeffer blows that vision out of the water. Christian community is NOT about building human connection…It about realizing that IN CHRIST Christian community is a DIVINE REALITY.

We DON’T BUILD community…we ARE Christ’s community 

In our “me centric” culture, we tend to define community IN and THROUGH OUR experiences. For Bonhoeffer, everything is defined IN and THROUGH Jesus. “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another ONLY through and in Jesus Christ.” (p.21). Experiences are a blessing, but community is not defined by our experiences. The Body of Christ is defined only what Christ has done for both of us. Christ is what unites us together. 

One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood. In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality. Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality. p.26

In twenty years of ministry, I have seen this expectations exposed in destructive ways in churches. Interestingly, it hasn’t been defined by culture or the type of church. I experienced it in small groups in the States…in churches overseas…even between missionaries serving together on the mission field. And probably most of all I’ve seen it in my own self. The two primary ways I’ve seen expectations destroy community:

  1. Pride/Dissension- “We got something awesome here in our little group. Why don’t others grow like us? Why don’t they want this deep connection like us?  There is a problem with that group of people…they are spiritually immature. They need to get their act together spiritually like us.” – In there pride, this group unintentionally causes DIVISION in the church as they spew their poison on others.
  2. Hurt/Disconnect – “I trusted these people and they let me down. What is their problem? I can’t believe they could act like this to me. There is problem with that group of people…they aren’t loving enough.” – This group can cause division, but more often they just DISCONNECT and gossip about THAT community.

For each of these groups it started with expectations. They have this vision in their mind of what Christian community “should” be and when it doesn’t live up to their expectations they can unintentionally destroy the Body of Christ. We are not called to love the idea of community, we are called in grace to love the person who is with us in community.

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.” (p. 27)

What insights stood out to you in Chapter 1? What was the Holy Spirit saying to you?

Life Together: Introduction

A Conversation on “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer919yabQY9KL

Epic leaders, we often love God with our heart and soul, but this book will stretch us to love God with our mind as we think deeper about Christian community and challenge us to have a fuller understanding of the spiritual underpinnings of the Body of Christ.

As you participate in this discussion, it’s my prayer that each of us will …

  1. Gain a deeper understanding of Christian community, testing your own notions and understandings.
  2. Reflect upon the practices and habits at Epic in light of what you are reading.
  3. Feel confused and frustrated part of the time  (there are parts of this book that might cause an industrial strength brain strain). We often love God with our heart and  soul, but this book will stretch us to love God with our mind.
  4. Gain insight from one another and the perspectives each person brings.
  5. Be challenged to grow deeper in Christian discipleship and community.

In the story of his life two things that stood out. First was the context of Nazi Germany and the climate of Christian oppression.  The struggles we often find ourselves complaining about are nothing compared to the horrors he faced. He was martyred on April 8, 1945… V-E Day, the day of Nazi Germany surrounded was May 8, 1945. Just 30 days later.  

Second, the integration of Jesus into every aspect of his life. He wasn’t interested partial faith, but full commitment to Christ in the deepest sense. Even though he was safely serving churches in London, he risked his life to return to Germany to be part of the body of Christ. It seems foolish, unless you are following Christ. Could it be that because I am so often so focused on my comfort, I don’t even notice the challenging places Christ is calling me to go?

The way he followed Christ even in the face of adversity is simply inspiring.  “Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread and atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…he was one of the very few persons I met that God was real and always near (p.13)” 

God placed us in this context…this time…this place…this moment. What story will be written about us? 

What stood out to you?

When You Are Facing a Giant

sumo1When someone tells you “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against something big. And the Israelites were.

About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison. Fear took them captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness instead of facing their giants.

They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The enemies in the land were no smaller than before.

The FEAR may have still been there, but now they had FAITH that God was bigger than their giants. God tells Joshua three times “Be strong and courageous” and reminds him, “For I WILL BE WITH YOU as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” (Joshua 1). You don’t have to face the giants alone. God will go with you and He is bigger than any giant you will face. Be strong and courageous.

I’m sure you have a few GIANTS IN YOUR LIFE. Maybe an uphill battle that appears insurmountable. A task demanding more than you think you have to give. One too many things on your “to do” list than you have the time or energy to do. Unemployment is staring you down. Depression has a grip on you. Bills have raided your bank account and left it empty. An illness hovers in your life like a threatening storm. You’d rather just run than face them.

Instead, hear the word of the Lord, “Be strong and courageous.” You have a Joshua who will lead the way. The New Testament equivalent of the name “Joshua” is “Jesus.” And he has PROMISED to be WITH YOU always” (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus knows how to lead you through battles. He had a few of his own while he was on this earth. Enemies attacking him with accusations (Mark 3:22). No home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations pressing in on him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring he was sentenced to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14).

Yet he took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the same. You need only be strong and courageous in your faith.

Living in God’s Presence

moses2 titleIt was perhaps the greatest opportunity ever. God tells Moses in Exodus that he wants to come to his people and dwell right in the middle of their camp. Not on the outskirts. Not in the ‘burbs. But right in the middle of where they were living.

You might wonder, “What preparations would a people need to make for God to live in their midst?” When someone special is coming to dinner, we roll out the red carpet so they will feel welcome.

What do you do to welcome God? God anticipated the question and told Moses three things to prepare to live in his presence.

  • God wanted to STAY CLOSE to them in WORSHIP. Moses was given the blueprints for the building of the Tabernacle or “tent.” Just like at Epic, the Israelites had a portable place of worship. He wanted to camp out right in the middle of where they were camping. His desire was that they would come to know him. Jesus expanded that vision when he said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
  • God wanted to show them how to LOVE IN RELATIONSHIPS, so he gave them the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments focus on how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The second set of seven have to do with how to show love to other people. Jesus reiterated the Ten Commandments when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength & mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Luke 10:27)
  • And most importantly, God wanted to ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF SIN that SEPARATED them from God. God introduces the practice of sacrificing, offering a covering for the people’s indiscretions before a Holy God. Sin is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly, and the sacrifice of unblemished animals was necessary to give the people a picture of both their sin and their need for redemption. Jesus Christ would be the culmination of that sacrificial system. Jesus is the LAMB OF GOD whose sacrifice took away the sin of the world (John 1:29)

God gave the Israelites these instructions so that so they would be his witness to the world. When they lived by his guidelines, other nations would know they were God’s people and turn to him.

At EPIC we have the SAME CALLING TO BE HIS PEOPLE. Jesus invites us to live in his presence and be his witness to the world. When we stay close to Christ in worship, love in our relationships and live in the grace of his sacrifice, we are the living example of who God is and what life is like in his presence.