Reflections on 2/14

The Mission Highlight serves to remind us that the church is called to look outward at the world, what God is doing in it, and our part in his work. When things like Valentine’s Day and the awful killing of seventeen teenagers and teachers at a High School in Florida all happen on the same day as the beginning of Lent, what is our response as followers of Christ?

Ash Wednesday marks the forty-day period leading up to Easter, a time for us to prepare our hearts as we look forward to commemorating the conquering of the last enemy, death, by the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, Jesus – the man by whom has come the resurrection of the dead. His self-giving love has brought us life, and those who belong to Christ shall be made alive when he comes again (1 Cor. 15).

 But first come “ashes” on a day that is about humility. We must embrace a grim truth about our limits. We were separated from God with no way of coming near him, let alone into his presence. We were made from dust (Ecc. 3:20), we are mortal and everything we have on this earth will end, whether after living a good long life or way too early. Each of us lives subject to the same constraints of death, weakness, sin, shame, and pain. Ash Wednesday serves as an opportunity to look at this fact – of dust – square in the face, and take time to remember that all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Lk. 18: 9-14).

 Humility before God, who breathed his life into the dust he shaped helps us prepare the way of the Lord inside our hearts, to make a straight and open way within our lives for the rule of Jesus Christ. Humility helps us to remember that if we have been brought into the family of God as his adopted sons and daughters, it is not because we somehow made it there on  our own. It is because he stooped down to be near us. And we now have a purpose as the workmanship of God, created anew in Christ. God has good works for us to walk in (Eph. 2:4-10).

 On the second point, Valentine’s Day that just passed is the first time in forty-five years that Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s. In our time, most people celebrate romantic love (eros). But there’s also family love (storge), brotherly love (philia), and God’s divine love (Agape). Philosophers and psychologists have other categories besides these – flirty short-term love (ludus), practical long-term love (pragma), and self-love (philantia).

From Jesus’ own words and actions, from his life on earth, we know that there is no greater love than agape, than when love is personally costly, self-giving and self-sacrificing.  Not based on merit of the person who is loved, but rather unconditional, and based on them as an image-bearer of God. A love that is kind and generous – even to extravagance: greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). True love willingly dies to itself in order to give life to others.

We may not all be called to go to a self-sacrificial death for someone else, but we are called to go out of our way to love, especially when the going gets hard, in our relationships, friendships, and marriages; especially when people are hurting badly and their need is greater than ours; and even when we are equally in need as the people we help (like the caregivers of the children in Malawi). And when we go out of our way to serve and love someone like this, Jesus says, “as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25: 40).  In the spirit of this love, all of us are invited to come alongside the children served by Hands at Work in Africa and the team that Toby will be leading to Malawi; to come alongside them in prayer over these forty days of Lent.

The third event was the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At times of tragedy, heartbreak, and outrage, whether the disaster is ‘natural’ or man-made, people will ask, “where was God…?”, “how could God…?”, and “why didn’t God…?” They demand more from people of faith. Can Christians offer at least a word of guidance and hope in the face of senseless violence, loss of life, and devastation? Would we respond out of fear, and let violence, hatred, and cruelty win? Or would we continue to bring Christ’s message of resurrection hope, light, and love to the dark places that surround us? We do not have to go far to find someone who is the survivor of a terrible blow, who needs to know that there is a God who “heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds”, that he is “making all things new”, and he is doing this by uniting “all things in heaven and things on earth” in Christ (Eph. 1:10).  

This is the power and work of Jesus Christ, who God raised up from the dead and seated at his right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:20). We, too, have been raised up and seated with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). Could our response to tragedy and disaster, whether in going to those struck by it; OR whether in going to someone else who has been struck by some OTHER tragedy or personal disaster – could it be one of the good works for which we have been made new creations in Christ? Whether or not we are not in a position to remind them directly of the grace and kindness of God, can we remind ourselves and speak to God of their pain and need – in watchful prayer? All who are bereaved and devastated by such loss and who are hurting need to know “where is God”.

As we begin by praying, we act not out of our own power or only for our own strength, but for God’s power to move. We can pray humbly for those who are in the dust and ashes of tragedy and brokenness as though their loss, bewilderment, and pain are our own, as we remember that we, too, have the same humble origins in dust. And because of the Easter event, the hope that we have, and that we can point those we mourn with toward, is glory.  

Different Ways of Thinking About Church

Dear Christ Church,

From time to time, Seng and I will to use this "From Your Pastors" blog to send out articles from us or others that we believe will be helpful to the spiritual formation of our church community.

The article linked below was written by Kris Brossett. Kris is planting Refuge LA and he preached for us on October 15th. In the article, Kris shares the beautiful story of what God has done in and
through his life, and also discusses the importance of the church and church planting. He engages Francis Chan and We Are Church in a way that is loving, but also challenging. Francis is a personal friend of mine and I am grateful for his work in San Francisco. Kris spoke with Francis and sent him this article and Francis thanked him for writing it. Please take a few minutes to read it and please let us know if you have any questions at all.

Warmly in Christ,
Toby Kurth

http://www.krisbrossett.com/2017/11/08/dear-francis-chan/

Ready For Community?

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These notes and letters from your pastors are part of our effort to increase our communication to you. They highlight points from the Sunday sermons, or draw linkages between sermons, and will come to you as a regular series. Toby and Seng will write the letters together or take turns tackling different topics. If there is something from the sermons you would like us to zoom in on, please let us know! 

Ready for Community?

From Your Pastors (No. 1 of 2016)

 
Remember our motto at Christ Church? In Christ. Together. For the City.

The "In Christ" part is where we start out together and maybe it’s easy to embrace. It’s the "Together" part that can be tricky. When it comes to community, it's not so much a question of whether you will experience challenges and disillusionment, but when.
 
Why? Because “community” and preserving the church in a state of unity is hard. Being in community is to undertake a transformational work. We’re talking about our selves being transformed, not trying to change the people around us. Disillusionment comes as the start of that hard work, that is, if we progress to the next step of honoring and counting others as more significant than ourselves (see Rom. 12:9-10, Phil. 2:3b).
 
To elaborate a challenge from the pulpit when we formally installed our first diaconate a few weeks ago, imagine what our community would look like if we actually gave up childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11) and practiced the mature Christian way of love that Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 13.
 
Not convinced yet that this is actually about divine reality? Consider these insights from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together
[*], where the author warns against loving the dream of community, rather than real people:

‘Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.’

‘By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world … The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.’

‘He who loves his dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.’

‘God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.’

To build on another assertion from the pulpit last Sunday, God has designed us to be in relationship – with Him, and one another – and all our reality is relational. When we cut ourselves off from God-as-He-is-in-Christ, and others-as-they-are (while also in Christ), we live in a distorted reality, starved like a branch severed from the vine (see especially John 15:2), or an orphan bereft of his family (see John 17:15-23).

To the degree that our governing reality is determined by just ourselves (what we as individuals are doing in Christ, or what Christ through the Holy Spirit is doing in us as individuals), we are hindering our full development into the person God intends us to be.  He gave us community for that. The more we learn to lay our own visionary dreams down for God and to live in authentic unity with one another, the more room we leave for the empowerment of God’s Spirit working in community, and in us. We can trust that our relationships in the church are chosen and planned by God, safely sustained by God, and are for the purpose of showing how great God – and not any of our personal agendas or ideals – is.
 
We close with a word from Bonhoeffer about this grace: ‘… the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.’

Let’s not only start out together. Let’s walk on through together, into the bright day, abiding in the light of Christ (1 John 2:10, Matthew 5:47).
 
 
[*] Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Translated, and with an Introduction by John W. Doberstein, New York: HarperOne, 1954.
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