Sunday Preview for December 16, 2018

Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger in  Jingle All the Way  (1996)

Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way (1996)

The genuinely bad 1996 film Jingle All the Way (16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I think -- but 100% approval rating in my nostalgic heart) tracks two frantic dads seeking the must-have toy of the year on Christmas Eve. Of course, by Christmas Eve, the toy is impossible to find. The business of life had pushed out all sense of urgency until it was too late.

Many of us can relate to this feeling, especially with Christmas drawing near. But we are in even more danger of losing sight of something far more important -- and marvelous -- than Christmas day gift-giving. We are in danger of losing sight of what the Advent season reminds us: Jesus is coming back!

The prophets of old had pointed toward a glorious "day of the Lord" when God would visit the earth in both judgement and restoration. The call for God's people was to repent as they saw the day drew near.

Our passage this Sunday, Luke 3:1-18, brings us to the heart of the ministry of John the Baptist who was himself crystalized the message of the Old Testament prophets. He preached a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, pointing to the one who would bring judgement, restoration, and forgiveness: Jesus Christ.

Living on this side of the cross, what does John the Baptist's message of repentance say to us? Join us Sunday to worship our risen savior, hear the call to repentance, and experience the joy and peace that it brings! 

The Second Week of Advent - a Season for Peace

“Let Us Beat Our Swords Into Plowshares,” by Russian sculptor Evgeny Vuchetich (1959). The statue looks longingly to a day when human strength will forever be put to peaceful and life-giving ends. Yet, as a gift from a violent nation (the Soviet Union) to a weak and ineffectual world congress (the United Nations), the statue also bears witness to the evil in us that makes peace impossible.

“Let Us Beat Our Swords Into Plowshares,” by Russian sculptor Evgeny Vuchetich (1959). The statue looks longingly to a day when human strength will forever be put to peaceful and life-giving ends. Yet, as a gift from a violent nation (the Soviet Union) to a weak and ineffectual world congress (the United Nations), the statue also bears witness to the evil in us that makes peace impossible.

We live in a world torn apart by war.  Military conflicts like the seventeen-year war in Afghanistan grab our attention the most, but they hardly constitute the fullness of war on the planet.

  • Smaller-scale wars in our cities pit rival gangs against one another and the police.

  • Personal wars smolder and flare up between partners and spouses who commit physical, sexual, and verbal assaults.

  • Economic wars separate companies, communities, and individuals into winners and losers, with the losers facing bleak prospects that may endure for generations.

  • Environmental wars involve poor human stewardship of the earth, and can poison land and water and devastate plant, animal, and human populations.

  • Culture wars divide neighbors who, ironically, are pushing honestly held but vastly different visions of virtue.

  • Closest to home are the spiritual wars – our competing inner voices of pride, hope, guilt, longing, shame, and love that spur us to grow yet condemn us as failures.

War is everywhere.  But in the Bible, God’s peace runs every bit as deep and wide as war.  God’s peace not only makes military conflicts cease, but also the hidden and pervasive wars between husbands and wives, parents and children, companies and workers, the rich and the poor, majority and minority races, and even humans and the environment.  God can reconcile these combatants because through Jesus, the Prince of Peace, he has bridged the greatest gap of all – the one between sinners and himself.

We long to be our own gods, and this desire puts us at war with the living God.  Unable to defeat him and unwilling to sue for peace, we are by nature “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), prisoners of war bound by chains of sin, guilt, shame, fruitless living, and death.  But when Jesus appeared in human flesh, he stepped into the breach and made a full, perfect, and lasting peace through his death on the cross.  We enter that peace by trusting him; we embrace that peace by following him; we will live in that peace when we see him.

The second week of Advent focuses on peace, reminding us both that the war continues and that the Prince of Peace has defeated the powers of hostility.  Advent calls you to see and be moved by the carnage all around you, to believe and rejoice in the peace that is coming, and to follow Jesus into the breach here and now, making peace wherever you can by laying down your life for your neighbors.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.  (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Sunday Preview for December 9, 2018

The Jordan River in Israel. John the Baptist held much of his preaching ministry in the regions surrounding the Jordan.

The Jordan River in Israel. John the Baptist held much of his preaching ministry in the regions surrounding the Jordan.

Join us Sunday as we continue hearing from the Gospel of Luke during this season of Advent. This Sunday’s sermon text will be Luke 3:1-6 and will center around the idea of “heeding the prophet.”

John the Baptist was the forerunner of a new era of salvation history, calling people to repentance as he saw the day of the Lord dawning. As we live now in the “last days” between Christ’s first and second coming, what does John the Baptist’s call to repentance say to us?

Come with hearts prepared to hear from the Lord who still speaks by his Spirit through his Word!

Advent Devotional for December 7, 2018 - Hoping in the Appearance of Jesus

“The Last Judgment’ by Hans Memling, 1466. The coming of Jesus at the last day will shake the earth, but in that shaking there will be redemption for his people. Advent teaches us to look for Jesus in the midst of calamity, to expect his saving power, and to prepare for the day when we will see him.

“The Last Judgment’ by Hans Memling, 1466. The coming of Jesus at the last day will shake the earth, but in that shaking there will be redemption for his people. Advent teaches us to look for Jesus in the midst of calamity, to expect his saving power, and to prepare for the day when we will see him.

SCRIPTURE

Luke 21:25-36

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

EXPLANATION

In this passage, Jesus describes in figurative language the coming fall of Jerusalem, which occurred within the lifetime of his disciples. The city’s authorities would be overthrown (signs in sun and moon and stars), and forces of famine and war would be unleashed on the people (the roaring of the sea and the waves).

The destruction of the city that rejected Jesus was a preview of the last day, when Jesus will return to judge and to save once and for all. Other previews have happened throughout history; think of the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the destruction of Nazi Germany. Individual lives also feature these sorts of moments. We face seasons when our strength is compromised and we fear being overwhelmed by events we cannot control, like sickness, unemployment, divorce, or the death of loved ones.

In the face of these calamities, Jesus tells his followers to “straighten up,” because their redemption is drawing near. This redemption can take many forms. It may be that Jesus will bring deliverance from terrible circumstances. This will certainly happen on the last day, when Jesus will save his people from judgment and wrath and make them whole and perfect. It may also happen at points in this life. Jesus may bring healing from a disease, reconciliation to a broken marriage, or a job that staves off financial ruin. It may be, however, that Jesus does not deliver from these circumstances, but choses to give comfort or consolation in some other way. He may give joy and peace during a terminal illness, or the gift of friends who lighten the burdens of loneliness and poverty. What is certain is that Jesus comes to his people on the wings of calamity, and he always comes to save.

QUESTIONS

1. How do you respond to mild hardships or irritations? How do you react to major calamities? How quick are you to complain? How quick are you to pray?

2. Can you remember a time when Jesus brought a dramatic solution to a big problem in your life? How did that act of redemption change you? Did it deepen your confidence in him, and has that confidence continued to grow? Why or why not?

3. Can you remember times when Jesus did not seem to hear your pleas for help? Were you able to accept this, or did it erode your confidence in him? Looking back, is it possible that you missed the way that Jesus showed up with redemption for you? Might there have been something you needed more than changed circumstances? What could that have been?

4. What keeps you from watching in hope for Jesus to visit you? How do the cares of this world blind you to the fact that your time here is short? That the world itself is passing away? How do they blunt your desire to see God? For you and the world to be made perfect forever? How could you arrange your days to heed Jesus’ command to “watch and pray?”

SUGGESTIONS FOR PRAYER

Meditation
Spend five minutes in stillness and silence. Pay attention to your breathing, and repeat the phrase “straighten up and raise your head, because your redemption is drawing near.” Again, as you notice your mind drifting to things that don’t concern God, use this phrase as an anchor to pull you back. If thoughts emerge in your mind that resonate with this phrase, hold them and savor them in the same way. Don’t analyze, but when your time is over, write down anything that bubbled up. If nothing jumped out at you, don’t be discouraged – that simply means that the Holy Spirit wished for you to do nothing else but to treasure this passage of Scripture, to lay hold of it and believe that it is true of you.

Prayer
When your time of meditation is done, move into a time of prayer. It may be that the Holy Spirit has prompted you to offer specific prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, or petition. If so, pray for these things! If not, consider using the following prayer as a guide for your own:

Heavenly Father, I confess that it is hard for me to trust that you will redeem me from my troubles. It is even harder to believe that you will redeem me in and through my troubles, changing me without changing my circumstances. It is easy for me to live as though this life is all that there is, and to forget that you are training me to live with you for eternity in a world set free. Forgive me for my weak hopes! Stir me up to watch and to pray, so that when you come to me today, I will be ready to greet you and receive whatever you have for my good. Increase and preserve my hope for that day when your Son will come back to redeem me and set all things right.

Advent Devotional for December 6, 2018 - Hoping in the Glory of God

"The Empyrean," or "The Highest Heaven" by Gustave Dore, an illustration from Dante's Paradiso of Dante and Beatrice beholding the glory of God. It is easy to forget that our life is moving towards something other than death. Advent reminds us that we are destined to see the glory of God, and spurs us on to live in that hope.

"The Empyrean," or "The Highest Heaven" by Gustave Dore, an illustration from Dante's Paradiso of Dante and Beatrice beholding the glory of God. It is easy to forget that our life is moving towards something other than death. Advent reminds us that we are destined to see the glory of God, and spurs us on to live in that hope.

SCRIPTURE

Romans 5:1-5
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

QUESTIONS

1. Children, teens, and young adults often look to the future with excitement and anticipation. They count down the days to Christmas and summer break, dream about getting their driver’s licenses, and repeatedly ponder where they will go to college, what they will do for work, and who they will marry. When you look to the future, do you have that same sense of excitement? Are there any goals that you long to achieve, or do you feel used up, simply trudging through life with no idea of a destination?

2. Paul says that we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” What do you know from the Bible of the glory of God? What do you think it would be like to meet him, speak to him, listen to him, and see him?

3. Teens work feverishly to be admitted to a college, and are always afraid that they haven’t done enough to get in. Unlike with college, Paul tells us that God has already accepted us. We have “peace” with him through Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again to ensure our future. What, then, would it look like for you to live with the goal of seeing God foremost in your mind, but without the fear that you might fail?

4. Paul says that we can rejoice in suffering, because suffering ultimately creates hope in God. Remember that hope = discontent with ourselves and the world + confident expectation of good from God. Suffering creates discontent automatically, but what about the expectation of good from God? Paul says that it comes from the Holy Spirit and the sense of God’s love that he places in our hearts. Do you have this sense of God’s love? If not, could it be that your discontent has drowned out the voice of the Holy Spirit? Does your discontent turn to bitterness, cynicism, or despair? Do you require some answered prayers now in order to believe in God’s love for you? How would you be different if instead you simply believed God’s Word when it says that he loves all who believe in Jesus (see John 6:37)?

SUGGESTIONS FOR PRAYER

Meditation
Spend five minutes in stillness and silence. Pay attention to your breathing, and repeat the phrase “I rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Again, as you notice your mind drifting to things that don’t concern God, use this phrase as an anchor to pull you back. If thoughts emerge in your mind that resonate with this phrase, hold them and savor them in the same way. Don’t analyze, but when your time is over, write down anything that bubbled up. If nothing jumped out at you, don’t be discouraged – that simply means that the Holy Spirit wished for you to do nothing else but to treasure this passage of Scripture, to lay hold of it and believe that it is true of you.

Prayer
When your time of meditation is done, move into a time of prayer. It may be that the Holy Spirit has prompted you to offer specific prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, or petition. If so, pray for these things! If not, consider using the following prayer as a guide for your own:

Heavenly Father, thank you that you accept me because of Jesus. Thank you that you have given me the Holy Spirit to assure me of your love. Thank you for using my sufferings to increase my desire to see and be with you. Help me to trust in your love and in the presence of your Spirit. Keep me from seeing my sufferings as signs that you are weak, asleep, or against me. Keep me from growing bored with life as I get older, but enable me to strive more and more to follow you, confident that you are you are waiting to receive me.

Advent Devotional for December 5, 2018 - Hoping in a Just Savior

SCRIPTURE

"Tree of Jesse" by Anselm Kiefer, 1987. The prophet Jeremiah saw the line of kings descended from David broken, but he also heard from the Lord a promise of a Righteous Branch that would be raised up from David's ashes. In Advent, we learn to look away from fallen heroes and to hope in King Jesus, the one who establishes justice in all the earth.

"Tree of Jesse" by Anselm Kiefer, 1987. The prophet Jeremiah saw the line of kings descended from David broken, but he also heard from the Lord a promise of a Righteous Branch that would be raised up from David's ashes. In Advent, we learn to look away from fallen heroes and to hope in King Jesus, the one who establishes justice in all the earth.

Jeremiah 33:14-16
14 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

QUESTIONS

1. People often hope that some other person or group of people will make them feel confident and secure – maybe a romantic partner, an encouraging teacher, a smart and supportive employer, a union leader, a political party, or a president. Who are the people you have hoped in for a brighter future?

2. Where do you see injustice in your land? What about in your family, or yourself? How often do you simply shrug in the face of injustice? When does it stir you up and make you long for change?

3. In this passage, Jesus is described as a “righteous Branch” of David, Israel’s greatest king. What do you know about Jesus from the Bible? What kind of king does he appear to be? What would it mean for you to hope in him to give you security and to make you just? How could you learn to hope in him?

SUGGESTIONS FOR PRAYER

Meditation
Whether you are praying alone or with other people, begin by spending five minutes in silence. Set a timer on your phone and stick to it. In your time of silence, be mindful of your breathing, and slowly repeat to yourself the last phrase in the passage, “The Lord is my righteousness.” When you notice your mind wandering to cares, worries, distractions, or duties, just return to the phrase and repeat it. The goal is not to make yourself feel any particular emotion or achieve some great insight. You are simply slowing down and creating space to listen to the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As you repeat the truth that “the Lord is my righteousness,” the Spirit will prompt in your heart what he wants you to know. Make no demands of the Spirit, and do not judge what happens according to your desires or expectations. Simply trust that He is there with you, ready to speak, and receive whatever comes to you with openness and gratitude.

Prayer
When your time of meditation is done, move into a time of prayer. It may be that the Holy Spirit has prompted you to offer specific prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, or petition. If so, pray for these things! If not, consider using the following prayer as a guide for your own:

Heavenly Father, only you have the power to make me right and to make the world right. I confess the ways that I have excused the injustice in my life and accepted the injustice in the world. I confess that I have longed for comfort in this world more than I have longed to be made good and faithful, as you are. Thank you that you sent Jesus into the world to be my king and to make things right. Make me long for his justice more than I long for anything else, and help me to hope in him instead of myself and others for all that I need.

The First Week of Advent - a Season for Hope

"Hope," by George Frederick Watts - Oil, 1886. Cut off from God, Hope cannot bear to look on the world. Neither can she make sweet music to console the suffering, for her lyre is broken. Advent calls us to gaze upon Jesus and to announce glad tidings of his coming. In Advent, Hope awakens and overcomes our fear and despair.

"Hope," by George Frederick Watts - Oil, 1886. Cut off from God, Hope cannot bear to look on the world. Neither can she make sweet music to console the suffering, for her lyre is broken. Advent calls us to gaze upon Jesus and to announce glad tidings of his coming. In Advent, Hope awakens and overcomes our fear and despair.

The Christian Year begins with a season called “Advent,” which means “coming.” Advent spans the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. During this season, Christians recall the long years God’s people spent waiting for Jesus to come into the world. They possessed a deep dissatisfaction with themselves and the world, but a still deeper confidence in God’s promise to send a savior who would mend all that was broken, even breaking the power of death itself. This combination of dissatisfaction and confidence is what the Bible calls “hope.”

Christians, who wait today for Jesus to return and finish the work that he has begun, must also possess hope – that same combination of dissatisfaction and confidence. The season of Advent creates the time and space to cultivate hope in the coming of Jesus and the salvation he will bring at the last day. Hope in Jesus’ certain, final victory also enables Christians to wait expectantly for him to visit them in the present. Even now, Jesus comes to those who hope in him, to free them from their selfishness and to empower them to love.

The first week of Advent focuses on hope. I’ve prepared three devotionals for this week that include a passage, some questions, and some suggestions for prayer. The first will be posted today, and the others will follow on Thursday and Friday. I pray that all of them will help awaken and deepen your hope in Jesus.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:13

Sunday Preview for December 2, 2018

Hope.jpg

Did you know that people in the ancient world thought that hope was evil?  They believed that hope inspired people to try and improve their lives only to leave them crushed in the end.  Either the improvements never came, or they didn't last, or they didn't satisfy.  Hope, in their minds, was an illusion that tortured people.

We are tempted to see hope the same way, and many of us often succumb to the temptation.  How many times have you been told - or told someone else - "don't get your hopes up?"  How many times do we try to hedge against disappointment by refusing to cultivate hope?  This often seems like a sensible strategy, but God disagrees.  He proclaims that hope is a virtue - and, incredibly, that it never disappoints us.

This Sunday, the first week of Advent, we will learn how Jesus can fill us with sure and certain hope in a world filled with disappointments, broken promises, mixed blessings, and unrealized dreams.  Our passage for the week, Luke 21:25-36, even goes so far as to say that calamities should confirm, not shake our hope in Jesus and his kingdom.

Happy New (Christian) Year!

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The calendar won't turn over for a few more weeks, but a new year for worship begins this Sunday!  Starting with Advent - the four weeks prior to Christmas - we will use elements of the Christian Year in our worship services.  I wanted to give you an introduction to the Christian Year, a preview of what you'll see, and some thoughts on how the Christian Year can help us as we follow Jesus.

I.  WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN YEAR?

Centuries ago, the church was filled with large numbers of people who had little education, or were even illiterate.  To disciple these people, the church created an annual cycle of lessons centered on the life and ministry of Jesus.  Though particular passages changed year-to-year, the pattern remained the same.  Every twelve months, the people were taught about Jesus' birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, followed by a long season devoted to the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the church.

Over time, the stages in this pattern acquired names and colors to mark transitions in the Gospel story:

Advent (the four weeks preceding Christmas) recalls the time of waiting for Jesus to arrive, and is marked by the color blue

Christmas (December 25 to January 6) recalls the milestones in Jesus' infancy: his birth; the visitation by the wise men, also called Epiphany; and his baptism.  This season is marked by the color white.

Ordinary Time (Round 1 - January 6 to the start of Lent), looks at the words and acts of Jesus during his earthly ministry, and is marked by the color green.  "Ordinary" does not mean bland or boring - it comes from the Latin word "ordinalis," which refers to a number in a series.  "Ordinary" weeks are numbered in relation to a prior season or Sunday - in this case, Epiphany.

Lent (the six Sundays prior to Easter) looks at the latter part of Jesus' ministry as he moved towards Jerusalem and the cross, and is marked by the color purple.  Lent calls Christians to renewed repentance.

Easter (beginning on Easter Sunday, which can be anywhere from March 22 to April 25, and continuing for six weeks) focuses on the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to the disciples.  Easter is marked by the color white.

Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter) celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, and is marked by the color red.

Ordinary Time (Round 2 - beginning after Pentecost and ending with Advent) explores the Christian life and the ministry of the church.  Like Round 1 of Ordinary Time, Round 2 is marked by the color green.  Some Sundays during Ordinary Time have a special emphasis and a different color.  These include Trinity Sunday (white), Reformation Sunday (red), and Christ the King Sunday (white).

It's important to note that illiteracy is not a problem at New Hope, and that most of our families read and study the Scriptures on their own.  Nevertheless, we think that we can all benefit from the Christian Year's intentionality and repetition, its focus on the life of Jesus, and the way that it engages our senses in worship as well as our brains.

II.  HOW WILL THIS BE USED AT NEW HOPE?

Some of you have been in churches where the Christian Year was followed in great detail.  These include the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist churches, as well as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the mainline Presbyterian denomination.  In these churches you see pastors and priests wearing colored vestments matching the seasons.  You hear scripture passages and sermons based on a lectionary - a predetermined calendar of readings.  Lastly, in the "highest" of these churches - Roman Catholic and Anglican - the different seasons also include holy days and feast days in honor of various saints.

None of those features will be used at New Hope.  There will be no "holy" or "feast" days, since we do not recognize only certain people as "saints," nor do we regard any particular day as more holy than any other.  Gerald, Ben, and I will still dress the same way, and we will still select our own books and passages for reading and preaching.  For the most part, we will continue to preach through a particular book of the Bible, rather than jump around from week to week.

What, then, will you see?

First, you'll notice some color.  Earlier this year, we replaced our banners with new ones, made by members of our congregation, that display the different colors of the Christian Year.  The drapes and decor on the stage and the runner on the communion table will now change with the seasons of the Christian Year, as will the colors on the slides and bulletins.  If you've been paying attention, you've probably noticed this already!

These are simple changes, but they are not insignificant.  Think of how you use decorations in your home to "get in the mood" of spring, summer, fall, and winter.  These visual markers can help us "get in the mood" to focus on different aspects of discipleship.

Second, each sermon series will have some connection to the different seasons of the year:

  1. For Advent, we will preach on waiting for Christ from the Gospel of Luke.

  2. From Epiphany through Easter, we will preach through the Gospel of Mark, focusing on life in the Kingdom of God (Ordinary Time) and repentance in the Kingdom of God (Lent).

  3. Between Easter and Pentecost, we will preach on Jesus' post-resurrection appearances described in the Gospel of John.

  4. From Pentecost to Advent, we will have three different series on the Christian Life and the mission of the church:

  • "A New Era" - the power of God in the church as shown in the Book of Acts

  • "A New Way" - how to serve God in "the new way of the Spirit" as described by Paul in Romans 7-8

  • "The New Life" - a study on doing God's will that asks what it looks like to fulfill the Ten Commandments through the Spirit

Our Adult Sunday School lessons will likewise connect with the seasons of the Christian Year

  1. For Advent, we will focus on the incarnation of Jesus, and why it matters that he took up a real body, soul, and mind.

  2. For Round 1 of Ordinary Time, we will examine the theme of revival - how it comes about, and what it accomplishes.

  3. For Lent, we will learn about the various Old Testament sacrifices, and what they reveal about the sacrifice of Jesus.

  4. For Easter, we will explore different ways of understanding the Atonement - what did Jesus' death and resurrection accomplish for us and the world?

  5. For Ordinary Time Round 2, we will explore our identity as Christians through lessons on Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Christian Ethics.

III.  HOW WILL ANY OF THIS HELP ME?

Great question!  Though there are many possible benefits, let me emphasize two: rhythm, and focus.

Rhythm: Life comes at us extremely fast.  When we are young, our lives have a rhythm marked by the changing seasons and the school year.  As adults, however, each week and month tends to run into the next.  We get run ragged and can easily lose sight of where our lives are headed - towards Christ in glory!

Used properly, the Christian year can impart a rhythm to our lives that counteracts the hectic pace we encounter in the world.  Year after year, it calls us to slow down and pay attention to the person and ministry of Jesus.  Over time, it trains us to live with the stable, the cross, and the empty tomb in the front of our minds.

Focus: There are millions of books and sermons on the Christian Life - so many that you could easily get lost and confused about the best way to grow as a disciple.  However, the Christian Life is actually very simple, and the Christian Year enables us to focus on the core elements of discipleship: waiting (Advent), learning (Ordinary 1),repenting (Lent), rejoicing (Easter), and serving (Ordinary 2).

While it's true that we need to do all of these every day of our lives, it's equally true that we can only get better at them by focusing on them one at a time.  The Christian Year invites us to do this - not mainly with colors and decorations, but with themes, sermons, devotions, prayers, and practices that will strengthen us in each element of discipleship. Gerald, Ben, and I will send you resources like these with each season - some of them original works.  We pray that they will bear fruit in each of you personally, and will enable our church family to grow in health, maturity, and love.

I'm always excited to worship with you at New Hope, but I'm eager to see how the Lord meets us as we adopt a more intentional model of church life.  I think that it will enrich our Life Groups as well as our worship, and even enable us to grow in evangelism and missions.  Please pray that the Lord would do this very thing!