Ascension Day (dating back to 68)

Today is Ascension Day! It is one of the earliest Christian festivals, dating back as early as the year 68.*

According to the teachings of the New Testament Scriptures, Jesus Christ met several times with his disciples during the 40 days after his resurrection so he could teach them about life in the Kingdom of God. On the 40th day, he took them to the Mount of Olives, where they watched as he ascended to heaven to reign as Lord of all. This day also symbolizes the end of the Easter season, and takes place ten days before Pentecost.

Today, pause and celebrate that Jesus is Lord. Ascension Day reminds us that no world power can overtake the Father’s promise. Ascension Day reminds us that no impossibility is impossible for God. Ascension Day reminds us that no matter how unstable our society becomes the light of King Jesus can guide our feet to the path of peace where HIs joy can be our strength. In and by the Lord Jesus, God has entered into our suffering, embodied our sorrow, and enabled our salvation. We are citizens of a kingdom that isn’t frail, is never fickle, and will not fail. Capitol Hill can never outdo Calvary’s Hill and the Pentagon will never possess the power of what came to us in Pentecost.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son,” and He has been exalted as Lord of all.

For God so loved and still loves, that He loves you without caution or restraint; He loves you without boundaries or limits; He loves you beyond your inadequacies or failures and beyond worthiness or unworthiness; He gave His one and only Son to prove it and to show us what love looks like with skin on. For God so loved, and He can’t stop. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God’s love will never fail because Jesus is Lord.

See you all Sunday,

Fred


* According to Augustine of Hippo, the Feast of Ascension originated with the Apostles. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, contemporaries of Augustine as you may recall, refer to it as being one of the oldest feasts practiced by the Church, possibly going as far back as AD 68. There is no written evidence, however, of the Church honoring Ascension Day until Augustine’s time in the fourth century. Cf. Laura Holt, “Inquisitiones Januarii, Ad,” in: Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. by Allan D. Fitzgerald (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 452.
** Ascension Day is not a federal public holiday in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is a public holiday in some countries, including: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, FranceGermany, Indonesia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Vanuatu.

Following up from this past Sunday

In this post are practical ways in which we can make the greatest commandments our great commission.

I’ve been thinking about how the Christian life has been anchored in what Christians (mostly preachers and scholars) have branded as the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16ff), despite the fact the Scriptures never explicitly or implicitly refer to it in that way. Yet, the Lord Jesus explicitly calls loving God and loving our neighbors as we […]

via The Beauty of the Greatest Commandments as Our Great Commission — Inside This Guys Head

Good Friday: The Cross Speaks What is True


In the Cross, God speaks what is true for those who believe. As the Word Incarnate died upon it the Cross becomes His voice. In the Cross, God offers this message of truth in both a promise and summons. The promise is new life lived with God now and forever. The summons is to live this new life with a deep-seated trust and obedience to the way of life witnessed in Jesus, and to do so in community with others who believe. In the Cross, God speaks what is true. 

No longer lost, we can live in light.

No longer dead, we can come alive.

No longer blind, we can see.

No longer suffocating, we can freely breathe.

No longer broken, we can be healed.

No longer numb, we can feel.

No longer stained, we can be made pure.

No longer weak, we can endure.

No longer deceived, we can know the truth.

No longer must we search, His love is proof.

He is our way. He is our light.

He is always true. He is our life.

He never leaves. He is our peace.

He is our help and sweet relief.

He is our strength. He is sure.

He is more than enough. He is the crucified Lord.

Have a meaningful Holy Saturday and I look forward to us being together on Resurrection Sunday!

Your bro,

Fred

At the Table this Past Sunday

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I wanted to share this picture with you. Garrett Laubscher happened to take it during the first worship gathering. It struck me in a beautiful way because I know that it all just, well, happened. Each Sunday when we invite members of our church family to come a preside over the Lord’s Table there’s no method to it. We just ask people to come, serve and see.
 
Look closely at the picture and witness an embodiment of grace. Standing at the Table is a picture of diversity uncommon for our city, yet possible. It is what the gospel can do when the Church allows the Holy Spirit to work, even when it means pushing us outward to the margins of society. 
 
In the picture to my left is our beloved sister and friend Sally, who leads CenterPeace and was working with some of us this weekend. To my right is a member of our church family, Mabel, an hispanic wife and mother of two. To her right is another member of church family, Frank, who when we first met almost five years ago was living through homelessness. In this picture we see lives represented by gender, nationality, race, sexuality, or social economic status all finding a common seat at the Lord’s table, placing these identity-markers in submission to that which is first important, our baptismal identity.
 

As society imposes upon us a logic of separation and distinction that tells us to which social categories we should belong, the church announces a different social reality. Any one can find a home with God and His people because each week at His Table we once again proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Lover of all. We have been joined together in Him as a new society and eternal family. We see it at the Lord’s Table every week and catch a small glimpse of it in this picture. Only the crucified and risen Lord who welcomes all could do a thing like that.

Today, Mabel told me that as she watched our church family come together around the Lord’s table in all our beautiful diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and stories:

“I was so overwhelmed with emotion that when I went back to my row I just had tears streaming at what I saw. I’ve been thinking about it all week and sharing what I experienced with people I work with. It was an indescribable moment.”

Thanks be to God our Father who by His Spirit makes us one in Christ and invites us to celebrate our differences, including stories of redemption and grace. I praise God for what he is doing in and among us.

May what we see when we come together in our Sunday worship gatherings open our eyes so we will grow in love, hospitality, and in our desire to see the wrongs in this world made right through the Lordship of Christ living through and among us by His Spirit.

Your bro,

Fred

The God Who Bends Down to Us

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A picture of Ian and I when he was fifteen months.

Hello WCC family,

Please read Hosea 11:1-11. If you missed last week’s conversation, Our God Who Won’t Give Up on Us you can listen to it here. During our gathering on Sunday we will walk thru Hosea 11 together. It is a beautiful expression of God’s heart for his beloved Israel as The God Who Bends Down to Us.

Don’t forget Israel’s rap sheet (remember, Hosea is a contemporary of Amos):

  • Israel is Hosea’s home
  • He was prophesying in the thirty years or so leading up to Assyria’s destruction of Israel in 722 BC
  • Israel was experiencing great economic and peace under King Jeroboam’s reign 
  • Nationalism and unhealthy patriotism was flourishing
  • A great economic gap was increasing between the rich and the poor
  • They had turned blessings into idols and valued the blessings over the God who blessed them
  • The courts of law were corrupt and laws and policies were upheld to protect national status and the wealthy
  • There was a breakdown of morality throughout the nation
  • Religious practices of worship were mixed in with the beliefs and practices pagan religions from surrounding nations, particular the Canaanite god of fertility, Baal (though “Baals” becomes it seems a catch all term for idols of various kinds)
  • Hosea’s prophetic ministry is very different from Amos. God asked him to live the tragedy of Israel’s unfaithfulness by marrying a harlot
  • God is portrayed as both a scorned lover and heart-broken father

As you read Hosea 11:1-11 tend particularly to verses 1-4.

  • What do you see in the text?
  • What picture is the prophet painting as he describes God’s relationship with Israel?
  • Given all we’ve discussed so far, what do you think God wants to do with the word pictures in this prophetic text? 
hosea

Image taken from Theodore Rokas’s article “The Prophet Hosea and His Allegorical Marriage,” 20 October 2013, http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com; /2013/10/the-prophet-hosea-and-his-allegorical.html.

 

A Word of Thanks

Hello WCC fam,

I want to say thanks. I have many friends in ministry, men and women who seek to faithfully serve and pastor God’s people. Some are well cared for and have the joy of walking with a faithful expression of the Church. Some are in difficult situations.

It made me reflect on our church family and the common life God’s Spirit is cultivating between and among us. It compels me to give thanks, to God and to you. I know we are a mess of a bunch, imperfect in so many ways. I know we are always learning about what it takes to love more faithfully. I know we can work harder at being more welcoming, loving, and thoughtful in how we care for one another and our city and neighborhoods in which we live. I know that we can work to be more open to not only giving but also receiving, in reaching out to one another when we find ourselves in need or see others among us in need. But I am grateful that we are seeking to be faithful nonetheless.

Please, take some time to read this and celebrate with me. Give thanks and pray that we grow in faithfulness. Here are some of the reasons that I am thankful for what God is doing in WCC, and for each one of you:

  • I am thankful for how you desire to proclaim and embody the gospel of God’s kingdom faithfully and love all people, especially the last, least, left-out and lonely.
  • I am thankful for how you’re willing to humbly receive and learn the Scriptures. For example, I am thankful for how you’re working through our Sunday conversations on the minor prophets (this week we will begin a two week conversation on Hosea and listen to our God who refuses to let us go.)
  • I am thankful for how our missional communities are gathering weekly to discover what God is up through the Scriptures and communal discernment in order to faithfully remain present in their neighborhoods and network of relationships.
  • I am thankful for our family ministry (families with babies to kids in elementary, middle school and high school) and all who lead and serve not only on Sundays, but throughout the week in relational ways.
  • I am thankful for the ‘prayer and care’ life within our congregation, and how we fight for others in prayer and care for those who are hurting, sick, alone and in need, like our Sunshine Ministry; how we connect our families to pray for seniors; our Monday and Friday rhythms of prayer; our Firstfruits prayer warriors; our seniors wednesday bible study group who send cards and faithfully pray for the sick…I could go on.
  • I am thankful for how you are committed to work for the good of our city, from the town square to the neighborhoods.
  • I am thankful for how you’re willing to honestly and candidly work through difficult and often culturally controversial conversations with humble civility and love.
  • I am thankful for our 3e Restoration ministry and how we walk with friends transitioning from homelessness to holistic sufficiency through gracious hospitality.
  • I am thankful for Celebrate Recovery and how our leaders who, by the Spirit, work to help people find recovery and victory over hurts, habits and hang-ups.
  • I am thankful for how you love our beloved Lwanga men and women who live every day of their beautiful and important lives with a particular set of circumstances. I am thankful for how you love and receive the Little Sisters of St. Francis who serve them.
  • I am thankful for your commitment to global mission and for the way you respond to the AIDS orphans in need of sponsorship through CRF, or to Tarakwa Village and Williamsburg Christian Academy in Tarakwa Kenya.
  • I am thankful for your generosity to give to causes, needs, organizations and worthy efforts for the good of others and to the praise of God’s glory.
  • I am thankful for our faithful shepherds and their families, our gifted ministers and their families, and all other ministry leaders (there are so many–nothing happens automatic in our church). They lead and love us well.
  • I am thankful for our praise team and technical team who give unknown hours to serve us when we gather on Sundays. Their talents and commitment is used by God’s Spirit to form us.
  • I am thankful for the people who serve the Church in quiet unseen ways, from cleaning the church building to cutting the church lawn, from watering the plants to organizing the kitchen when it’s out of sorts, from changing light bulbs to repairing our computer network and posting our podcasts…I could go on.
  • I am thankful for our WCC Connections ministry that works to connect college students to families, and all the others who make themselves available and purposefully welcome the college students into their lives. I am thankful for the college students who participate in God’s mission with us!
  • I am thankful for how you all support the many ministries and efforts God’s Spirit calls us to tend to as a church family (from the ones already mentioned to our Relay for Life Sassy Sisters for a Cure).
  • Finally, I am thankful for how we meet around the Eucharistic Table each week in mutual submission as we submit all ideologies to the presence of Christ among us and proclaim our commitment to His Lordship and one another. I am thankful for how each one of you are determined to stay put and work toward reconciliation despite living in our polarizing and ideologically divided society.

I really could go and I will in my prayers of thanksgiving. I just wanted to mention it here so you could see, celebrate, give thanks and dig in as you remain faithfully joined in God’s pursuit of restoring lives in and through our church family.

See you Sunday.

~ Fred

A Community of Prophets & Priests: Hospitality as Central to Our Story, Conclusion

If you’re new to the series you can read the first post here and the second here.

In the Roman Empire, the world regime in which Jesus lived, many babies did not grow up at all. In the ancient world unwanted babies were left to die through a legal practice called exposure. The head of the household had the legal right to decide the life or death of other family members, including children. This decision was most often made within the first 8 days of life.¹

The most common reason for exposure would be if a family lived in poverty, or if a wealthy family did not want the estate divided up, if a child was born deformed or disabled, or if the child was the wrong gender. By the Law of Romulus in Rome, the father was required to raise all healthy male children, but only the first born female. Any other babies were disposable, especially the ones born as females.

Please don’t misunderstand me, though these are historically documented facts (dare I use the word) it is also true to say that ancient parents were as compassionate and loving as any of us. But children’s worth and value was ultimately determined by how well they would serve the State’s purpose. Christians believed that human beings served a purpose far higher than any ruling empire this side of heaven.

The 4th century Greek poet named Posidippus once wrote,

“Everyone raises a son even if he is poor but exposes a daughter even if he is rich.”²

The Jews were opposed to this practice and the practice of exposure. Their law led taught them a higher view of humanity, one that demanded they care for even the poor, widow orphan and immigrant. But due to the influence of non-Jewish cultures and their stubbornness toward God, if a child was born out of a forbidden relationship or unwanted they were just abandoned. These abandoned babies were often left on a dump or a dung hill. They most often died, though sometimes they were rescued. If rescued they were orphaned and most often became slaves. This happened so much that hundreds of ancient names written in the pages of history are variations of the word KROPOS, which was Greek for “dung.”

Abandoned & Left To Die No More

The babies that did grow up to be women in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus were generally shut off from education and public life. Some grew up to be slaves, who were needed for their labor but regarded as inferior to those who were free.

Though some of these views of children and women still happens today in some parts of our world, it does not happen so much in the Western world. Why? The answer is more simple than you think.

Jesus’ love for children rewrote the story of their future. As the ancient world become filled with orphans, a community of Jesus followers stepped forward and began collecting money for these “least of these,” all because their Teacher demonstrated this in His life. It created another one of those Christian movements.

By the late 4th century, a the Roman Emperor outlawed the practice of exposure for the entire empire. His decision shaped the entire Western world. Over time, instead of leaving babies on dung hills people began to leave them outside of monasteries and church buildings. This would be the beginning of what we now call orphanages, which were usually associated directly with a monastery or church. No more were children legally confined to exposure and infanticide, including females. All thanks to Jesus and the followers He empowered and inspired.

Whether or not I, a christian, should welcome and care for others is not a question I have to ask. It is only a question of “how.” As a christian my social orientation should be toward hospitality, not away from it. If someone comes to me from underneath a bridge in my city or from the other side of the Atlantic, I must extend God’s welcome to them and do for them and their loved ones what I would want done for me and mine (see Matt. 7:12 and Matt 22:37-40).

Without question my “holy book” teaches me that it is important to the Lord that I give my self over to hospitality—a love of strangers—rather than fear. Without question the two world-changing stories from the past told in this series of blog posts teach me that following Jesus includes welcoming those he welcomed. After all, it is to King Jesus as Lord of all that I have pledged my allegiance and it is in His eternal in-breaking kingdom that I have my primary citizenship.


¹ Much of the historical sketch I offer is owed to John Ortberg’s good book Who Is this Man: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 46-58.

² Posidippus, 11E, cited by Stobaeus, Flor. 77.7.