Lost and Found in Liturgy

What might we learn about God by worshipping him in new ways?

With this in mind, a group of friends and I have decided to spend the next several Sundays joining churches that worship in ways different from those we are comfortable with.

If you want to read more about why, click here: From Scripture to Dancing.

Our first visit was to St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church.

Going in, my friends and I had no idea how little we knew about the Episcopalian church; I thought my time on St. John Chrysostom’s website and visiting Anglican churches in England would prepare me. It did not.

Even though we had no idea when to sit or stand, where to find the hymns, how to read the liturgy book, or even when the service had ended, St. John Chrysostom welcomed us with open arms.

Christian tradition and community  were the two aspects of worship that stood out the most to me at St. John’s.

Near the beginning of the service, we recited the Nicene creed together. Proclaiming the traditional Nicene Creed with 50 fellow believers reminded me of the legacy of Christians who have clung to its words for millennia.

“We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from heaven: 
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered died and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

“We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the
Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one
baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.”

– The First Council of Constantinople, 381 AD

After the liturgical recitations and hymns, the friar gave the sermon. He spoke on the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, but his humility and encouragement of communal participation were the things that struck me the most. He offered words of wisdom, but only as a fellow follower of Jesus walking the path of life with his parish.

During the greeting time after the sermon, (which, incidentally, is when we thought the service was over) every worshipper greeted their brothers and sisters, saying, “The peace of God be with you.” To which the customary reply is: “And also with you.” Such a practical manifestation of loving others with the Words of God filled me with joy.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

The service continued with a portion of scripture reading, and then the friar offered the church communion as we knelt on the altar at the front of the sanctuary. This was my first time observing communion with real wine. When the wine touched my lips, it’s sharp taste reminded me of the bitterness of Christ’s sacrifice.

After we had received the eucharist, the service ended with a final prayer. Nearly every member of St. John’s greeted my friends and I on our way out and encouraged us to come back again.

St. John’s community made me feel valued, seen, and cared for. That kind of love is not something I have experienced in all of the familiar churches I have been too. In addition, I never felt that St. John’s traditions were performed in blind ritual. Instead, their traditions were grounded in the Word of God and honored the foundation and beliefs of Christians who have worshipped for centuries.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:4-5

The stained glass window below depicts the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD where the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity were proclaimed over the Christian Church. Several church fathers are pictured at the bottom, and St. John Chrysostom, the saint for whom St. John’s is named, is shown in red, the third from the left.

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Has Your Christianity Forgotten God?

A few months ago, as I sat in a plush chair in the back offices of the Billy Graham Library, one of the mentors God has placed in my life offered me a profound truth.

I had just finished possibly the most helpful and exciting class of my college career, Intro to Theology. As much as I learned in that class, I lament the fact that I don’t currently have the opportunity to pursue continued, formal training in theology.

I shared these thoughts with my friend and mentor at the Library, who looked at me across the table and said, “God sends everyone to their own customized seminary throughout his or her life.”

I have been thinking about this statement ever since that day. Of course God sends us to His seminary! He teaches us every day, every moment, in perfect ways for us.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”  2 Corinthians 4:6-7

There is a place for seminaries and theologians, but God has us in our own personal theology classes every day of our lives! All we have to do is be teachable and look into the light He has shined upon our hearts.

Why would we mourn the fact that we may not be able to learn theology from man, when we can always learn theology from God?

“…The anointing that you received from [Jesus] abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.  1 John 2:27

Part of Christianity is reading the Bible, learning Church history, studying with believers, and loving unbelievers. But an easily forgotten part of Christianity is God Himself. 

God wants us to know Him so well that we can trust Him for who He is, not what He does. He wants us to seek the works of His hands. But maybe even more than His hands, God wants us to seek His face.

“Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.”  1 Chronicles 16:11, NIV

God wants us to fill our gaze with the majesty of His countenance. No knowledge or work will ever transform us. Knowing God is what will transform us.

“Whenever we turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there we are—face-to-face! We suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when…there is nothing between us and God, our faces shine with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.  2 Corinthians 3:16-18, The Message

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Will I Remember?

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As I scroll through my newsfeed this afternoon, I wonder if my life will ever be the same. Will I remember 20 years from now that I was reading Billy Graham Library surveys and doing laundry on a Friday afternoon when I saw a post from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association about Paris?
Will this day be as significant as the day 14 years ago when I was in first grade, and my teacher turned on the TV-cart so we could see what was happening in New York? Will this be one of the formative moments for my generation?

No one knows the answer; it will probably work itself out of the shadows over the next several weeks. But one thing I do know: my God has promised me something that can never be blown apart by this world – even if World War III has begun.

In a promise named “The Eternal Covenant of Peace” my God says,

For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.”  Isaiah 54:10

When I cling to this promise, even World War III doesn’t seem detrimental. God has placed me here, in this time for a reason, and you are here for a reason too.

Let’s stand bravely upon the Word of the sovereign God. Let’s bathe our every moment in prayer. Let’s live in the quiet direction of the Holy Spirit upon our lives. Let’s love the people around us with the love He has lavished upon us. Let’s be the best representatives of Jesus this world has ever seen.

God has more for us than average lives. God has more for us than natural lives. God has supernatural purposes for us. We can only fulfill God’s supernatural purpose through His supernatural power. With His arms wrapped tight around us, He whispers,

“Don’t panic. I’m with you.
    There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
    I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.
That’s right. Because I, your God,
    have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.
I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic.
    I’m right here to help you.’”  Isaiah 41:10,13 THE MESSAGE

When we give Jesus what we have, as inadequate as it is, His blessing performs miracles. Jesus fed the 5000 with the five loaves and two fish that a boy gave.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

God is in the business of taking our mess and making it His message.

He is enough.

We have the perfection of heaven to look forward to, but until God calls us home, it is our privilege to be His ambassadors to the world. In eternity we won’t get to suffer for Jesus anymore. It is our privilege to suffer for the Kingdom of the God who gave His life for us.

“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  1 Peter 4:13-14

Let the joy of the Lord fill your spirit today. Be encouraged in His sufficiency.

To learn more about peace with God, visit peacewithgod.net.

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Photo art by Rachel Hollis

The Forgotten Cathedral of Christianity

Once upon a time, there was a Hebrew man who lived during the Israelite’s 40 years in the desert. His name was Korah, and he was Moses and Aaron’s cousin. Korah got jealous because Moses and Aaron had more power in the priesthood than he did. So what did Korah do?

He led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Moses told the people of Israel, “If Korah dies as all men die, or if he is visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows him up with all that belongs to him, and he goes down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that he has despised the Lord.

As soon as Moses finished speaking, the ground under Korah split apart. The earth cracked open and swallowed up Korah and all who belonged to him. Moments later, fire from the Lord consumed the 250 rebels who had joined Korah. But the story doesn’t end there.

The next day, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. All the people gathered to rebel, and the glory of the Lord appeared over the tabernacle. God told Moses, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”

Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord, and Moses ordered Aaron, “make atonement for the [congregation], for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” Aaron ran to save the people: “And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” 14,700 people died in the plague before God stopped it.

~ Numbers 16

Wow. That’s a crazy Old Testament story!

So what?

The story of Korah’s rebellion is the origin story of Psalm 46.

Yes, the “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46. The Sons of Korah wrote it! Read the beginning of Psalm 46 now that you know the story of Korah’s rebellion and see if it doesn’t take on whole new meaning!

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Psalm 46:1-3

The earth swallowed up Korah because of God’s judgment 400-500 years before his sons wrote this psalm. Can you imagine the faith it took for them to write that they will not fear because of “God our refuge and strength” in spite of their family history?

If the Sons of Korah, who knew the story of the earth swallowing up their father, could trust God’s judgment in Psalm 46, so can all other Christians through the ages.

Christians have written, sung, and clung to the Psalms for more than 3000 years. They have been our worship, our tradition, our encouragement since the time of King David. The Psalms are the literary cathedral of Christianity! 

And the best part is, the amazing story of Psalm 46 is just one of 150!

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Jesus is the Answer – Now, What is the Question?

Why do we so often forget Jesus in our lives?  We go to church, we are good people, and we call ourselves Christians.  We even realize the idea behind the word “Christian” is to allow Jesus into every facet of our lives, but do we live this?

Morality without Jesus is not Christianity, and it certainly isn’t salvation.  We know this, but do we act on it?

When we mess up, do we respond with the thought that even though we were wrong, the blood of Jesus has already covered our mistake?  When other people mess up, do we respond with the thought that even though they were wrong, the blood of Jesus has already covered their mistake?

When we are faced with the stress of a difficult job, or an impossible budget, do we remember that we deserved death and Jesus gave us life?  Every problem pales in comparison to this, and if the power of Jesus is enough to save us from death, it is enough to get us through the life he has given.

The answer to every situation we will ever encounter is Jesus.  God reveals Himself to us in Jesus – through the Bible and the Holy Spirit – everything we need is in Him.  The Gospel covers all.

God has provided us with the answer to the human problem.  From the most minuscule, to the most horrific, His answer is universal.  Jesus is the answer – now, what is the question?

For more on this, check out Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt on YouTube:
youtube.com/watch?v=UnaHkBQ0-bU

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