Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 8, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In my video update, I mention Eastbrook’s Holy Week services and experiences for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. You can access it all here, and I encourage you to look at some of the resources and experiences ahead of time so that you can utilize them at home on that day.

For Maundy Thursday:

  • resources for older and/or younger children
  • recipe for unleavened bread and communion service
  • foot-washing ceremony
  • simple seder meal  instructions

For Good Friday:

  • resources for older and/or younger children
  • fasting
  • observing silence from 12-3 pm
  • experiencing the Passion

You could also participate in an online “Way of the Cross,” a virtual walk through Jesus’ final moments..

10 Reasons Holy Week Can Become More Powerful during the Time of the Virus

Rembrandt - The Three Crosses

Holy Week is the pinnacle of our Lenten journey, drawing us into the Passion of Jesus. This year, our Holy Week journey finds us simultaneously facing into one of the worst crises of our lives with the COVID-19 pandemic. This past weekend I reflected on the significance of this intersection of Holy Week and COVID-19, leading me to write these ten reasons our Holy Week journey can become more powerful during the time of the virus.

  1. Stripped – In this time, our activities and lives feel stripped of so much that seems normal. We can fight against this, or we can enter into it with an openness to what God may want to do with us during this time. I think of the physical reality that Jesus was stripped of His garments (Matthew 27:28) speaking to His complete yielding to the Father’s will. May we, too, enter into this Holy Week with humble openness to God. This is no passivity nor resignation, but the living trust in God as our Good Shepherd these days.
  2. Helplessness – During this time, we encounter our helplessness more clearly than ever before. We are put in touch with one of the central realities of the Lenten journey, which is that we are helpless in life apart from God.  We can more deeply cry out to God, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
  3. We all will face death – Lent teaches us about the fragility of life, and the truth that we will all face death. Death is unavoidable for all human beings, even if we do believe that there is hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ journey to the Cross brings into sharp focus this great reality, while also reminding us that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
  4. Consolation removed – Because of public health considerations, we face the removal of many of our normal consolations in life, such as friendships, meals with others, and many of the normal pleasures of life. In Holy Week, we see Jesus stepping beyond the consolations of human experience into the place of desolation. He loses His dignity, His clothing, His friendships, and eventually His life. As we let go of many of our own consolations, it reminds us of everything that Jesus lost during His Passion.
  5. Forsakenness – The ultimate desolation is Jesus’ forsakenness from the Father, and the isolation that results. Some of us  may feel abandoned in this time, even forsaken by God. Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the Cross shows us how great the sense of abandonment was between Jesus and the Father as He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In our own forsakenness and isolation we experience some measure of the weight of Jesus’ forsakenness for us.
  6. Suffering surrounds – In the news and in our lives, we are suddenly surrounded by human suffering. We cannot shelter ourselves from it, as some of us have had the luxury of doing in times past. When insulated from the suffering, we often wonder why Jesus’ suffering should be necessary. However, when we face suffering so clearly, we are put in touch with the reality of Jesus’ suffering on the way to the Cross. This makes us more aware of the cost of Jesus’ Passion in Holy Week.
  7. Mental anguish – When praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Luke tells us that Jesus experienced such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). As we wrestle with mental pressure and struggles with anxiety because of COVID-19, we are able to have some sense of the weight of the world pressing in upon Jesus during Holy Week.
  8. Tears for those in need – Because of the pandemic, we now see the suffering of others so clearly that it becomes heartbreaking to us. Often times our hearts are hardened to others, but this is softening us to the reality of human need. As Jesus looked at Jerusalem after the triumphal entry, He “saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Our tears meet with Jesus’ tears over those in need for humanity as we journey through this week.
  9. Hungry to belong – Our hunger for belonging is high in this time of physical distancing. We miss shaking hands or giving hugs. We miss having grandchildren sit on our laps to read a story or passing dishes around the table with friends. We want to experience relationship, and we can do that thanks to technology, but the barriers are high. This leads us into an encounter with our own needs and loneliness that we often try to avoid. We realize that underneath this is not just our longing for God, but also the God who longs for relationship with us. His longing is so high that He will suffer anything to bring reconciled relationship and belonging.
  10. Longing for hope – Our longing for hope – for life after this death – pulses like the beating of our hearts. We cannot wait for this to “be over,” so that we can return to “life as normal.” We all know that life will not be the same normal that we experienced before, but we still hope for it. How much more meaningful is the resurrection of Jesus Christ than in these days where the longing for hope rises up more sharply than ever before?

Standing Firm in the Lord: a reflection on Ephesians 6

mountaintop

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

What always captures my attention in these verses is the reality of our conflict and the source of our defense. Paul takes it for granted that the devil has schemes that work against the Christian community. The devil opposes  God and God’s people with efforts that are sometimes straightforward and at other times are wily schemes. As followers of Jesus, we do well to be on alert with watchfulness and ready at all times to take our stand against these attacks, regardless of what form they take.

The source of our defense, though, is not our own watchfulness or steadfastness. Instead, our strength is “in the Lord and in his mighty power.” We clothes ourselves not just with the greatest of human virtues but with “the full armor of God.” Our source is God Himself and the strength that He offers. Our defense is a God-birthed and God-like character of life: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvations, and the word of God. Armed by God to become more like God, we are well-equipped to stand firm in the face of attacks.

To take one’s stand in the face of attacks, particularly the schemes of the devil, is not easy. We all have encountered the power of gossip, falsehood, slander, distortions of truth, and more. These are the mere tip of the iceberg of the devil’s schemes. The moment you give attention to defusing one, another pops up unexpectedly.

It is in facing into these schemes with all their diverse nefariousness that standing firm is both so difficult and so powerful. It should come as no surprise that of all the exhortations Paul offers in Ephesians, this is one that he repeats several times. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13, emphasis mine). Again, Paul offers a similar exhortation to the church in Corinth because of the power of Christ’s resurrection. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you” (1 Corinthians 15:58a). This is not the immovability of prideful stubbornness, but the persevering steadfastness of humble dependence upon God. When attacks come, and they will, the believer must stand firm in God.

Lord, give us grace today to stand firm in You. Help us not to be surprised by the attacks, but to turn to You for power to persevere. Save us from trust in fading hopes—”chariots or horses”—that often appear so powerful. Instead, we declare that we will “trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

Jesus the Messiah: Our Promised Priestly King

 

Rembrandt - Emmaus Road Jesus with Disciples.jpg
Rembrandt van Rijn, Pilgrims at Emmaus; Oil on mahogany; 1648.

In Advent we enter into the longing of Israel for a Messiah; the longing for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled. We sing songs with words like, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear.” We sing these words to remind us of the longing of God’s people for the appearance of a figure who would bring about the restoration of God’s people in a new way as a priestly king.

The early Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this promised priestly king. His teaching was unlike any other because it had such power. His sacrificial crucifixion and His resurrection from death spoke of Him as Messiah. As they reflected on Jesus’ life and ministry, again and again they returned to Psalm 110, finding in this psalm a picture of Jesus as the promised Messiah, who would be a priestly king forever.

Thus, Peter, at the first sermon of the newly founded church on Pentecost day in Acts 1 and 2, weaves Psalm 110 into his message, saying this:

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

(Acts 2:32-35)

Peter understands that Jesus is the eternal priestly king, not just for Israel, but for humanity. On that Pentecost day, Peter knew that as the priestly king, Jesus brought salvation and also the great gift of God’s presence – His Holy Spirit – to empower His people to live out their calling.

We need a priestly king who can fill us with God’s life – the Holy Spirit – so that we can live as God has called us to live upon earth, and Jesus is the priestly king who pours out the Holy Spirit of God upon all who reach out to Him in faith.

And Paul, writing to the early church in Corinth about the meaning of Christ’s resurrection for believers, weaves in Psalm 110, writing:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
(1 Corinthians 15:22-25)

Paul saw that Jesus, in His death and resurrection, had put won victory in battle over the principalities and powers of evil, as well as against the ultimate enemy of humankind: death. In the face of human sin and failure, Jesus is the priestly king who deals with all of our greatest opponents, putting them all under His feet.

We need a king who can destroy death and bring life, and Jesus is the priestly king who destroys death and brings life forever.

The unknown writer of Hebrews, in his extended “letter,” which is more of a sermon, writes about Jesus as both High Priest and High Sacrifice:

15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
(Hebrews 7:15-17)

The writer sees Jesus, in light of Psalm 110, as the fulfillment of the deepest longings of God’s people for a king who can bring true worship of God from the heart of humanity. We know that, as Isaiah the prophet reminds us, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We need a new High Priest who can deal with that forever.

We need a priestly king who can stand before God on our behalf as the perfect human being living perfectly righteous. And we also need a kingly priest who can stand before us as the very face of God Himself, bringing forgiveness of sin. The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus is the priestly king who stands uniquely forever representing humanity before God and God before humanity with an indestructible life.

So join me this Advent in praising God that our Advent hope is not an empty hope but a pregnant hope, giving birth to righteousness, peace, and love through Christ.

Restoration and Embodied Sexuality

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I concluded our series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality,” focusing on the fourth chapter of God’s Good Story: the Restoration of all things.

I spent a lot of attention in this message on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, which draw together Adam and fallen human bodies (ch. 2 – the Fall), Christ and His resurrection body (ch. 3 – Redemption), and the hope of future resurrection bodies for all those who belong to Christ (ch. 4 – Restoration). I connected that with the calling of the church to be a community marked by resurrection hope, living in holiness and love, touching upon Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 6. The conclusion of the message directed attention to the ultimate consummation of Christ and His bride, the church, with the new heavens and new earth described in Revelation 21.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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