The Significance of Jesus’ Ascension

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Edward Bolwell, ascension day, Acrylic Paint on MDF Board; 2017

Yesterday was Ascension Day, when celebrate the ascension of Jesus to the Father in heaven after His resurrection from death (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life of Jesus with greater significance for our life with God as disciples of Jesus than we usually realize.

I wrote three posts in 2018 about the importance of the ascension for our faith because of Jesus’ reign as King, Jesus’ mediation eternally, and Jesus’ future return in glory, and would encourage you to join me in considering the significance of Jesus’ ascension.

Read them here:

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 April 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 2.55.43 PM“When Christ conquered Caesar” – In my message this coming weekend at Eastbrook at the beginning of our new series, “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I make reference to this article by historian Tom Howard. I think you will enjoy this contrast between the ways of Nero and the ways of the first Christians, including Howard’s description of why Christianity ultimately overcame the crumbling empire of Rome.


1162785971222092.yp1ayqnqcvsmboslolrp_height640_custom-175c2aac0b32e71fa8949771537068a468c369c3-s1500-c85“Alternative Mourning Rituals Offer Comfort And Closure During An Outbreak” – One of our ministry partners in Congo, Congo Initiative, is shaping culture in many ways, including helping people deal with grief during this challenging time. “With a team of four counselors, psychologist Noé Kasali — who heads Bethesda’s counseling program in Beni, an Ebola-affected city in the northeast of DRC — has helped ease mourning for those who have lost a loved one to Ebola. They have done this by creating new interpretations of the traditional funeral ceremonies that are a critical part of the Nande culture — the largest ethnic group in Beni — but without the body of the deceased present.”


09brooks_Sub-superJumbo-v8“The Pandemic of Fear and Agony” – David Brooks invited readers of his New York Times opinion column to send their feedback to him about how the pandemic is affecting their mental health. Reading his catalogue of selections from the 5,000+ replies he received is humbling, painful, and insightful. I would encourage you to read this just to know that you’re not alone and also to help us all become more aware of how others are struggling during these times. A pastor friend of mine commented a week ago that he thinks mental health is one of the fronts of ministry that will become front and center in the days ahead. I cannot help but agree.


cs-lewis_at_desk“C. S. Lewis’ Advice To Students During A Pandemic Will Do All Our Souls Good Right Now” – Perhaps in light of Brooks’ chronicle of our mental health challenges, we could use a good word. C. S. Lewis, although often over-quoted, provides rich wisdom and insight, which is probably why is often over-quoted. He is just so good in these times. Thanks to Joseph Griffith for his reflections on Lewis’ 1939 message “Learning in War-Time.”


dancing_skeletons-_-dance_of_death-_wellcome_l0006816-440a8388671527f09dfe71029e5941ca31dd978d-s1500-c85“When Pandemics Arise, Composers Carry On” – Or maybe we just need some good music to help us cope with the pandemic. Over the centuries, art has been of great help during times of suffering, and that is no less true in times of a pandemic. Tom Huizenga offers examples of musicians who did just that, including John Cooke, Johann Sebastian Bach, and, more recently, John Corigliano and Lisa Bielawa. You may have your own selections of music that soothe your soul in troubling times, but here are some who composed music like that for themselves and us.


20200414_CovidweeklydeathsUSv2“Not Like the Flu, Not Like Car Crashes, Not Like… “ – Ari Schulman, Brendan Foht, Samuel Matlack at The New Atlantis: “Any serious attempt to put coronavirus deaths in context by comparing it to some other cause of death in a previous year must acknowledge the marked differences in the Covid-19 trend — most notably, the rapid spike in deaths that is still underway, and the wide range of uncertainty about when it will peak, how high it will peak, and whether it will peak only once. As long as the pandemic is rapidly spreading, these comparisons will be fraught. Perhaps a better way to state the danger posed by the coronavirus is just that we cannot easily compare it to any precedent in recent history. Nor do we need to dispute projections about future deaths to recognize what has happened already. Amid the statistical noise is a powerful signal. The question is whether we choose to see it.”


Church-online-marketing-featured-imageMissional vs. Attractional in the Age of COVID-19? – There was a little bit of a kerfuffle online between church leaders who could be grouped within the attractional church camp (see Carey Nieuwhof’s “Half of All Churches Are Instantly Growing. Here’s Why and Here’s What to Do“) and the missional church camp (see Mike Frost’s “Coronavirus could set the church back 25 years“). Because of online church necessitated by this moment, some are advocating more and more of this while others are wringing their hands over it. I think we all just need to admit at this point that we’re all figuring out what it means to live as the church in this new moment. The old arguments about attractional vs. missional are growing tired, in my opinion, and need to be updated into a time where we see growing opportunities and hunger for deep human connection.


Dave Dummitt family“Willow Creek names Michigan pastor David Dummitt as new leader” – Speaking of attractional versus missional debates, it was easy to miss this news in the midst of everything COVID-19. Dave Dummitt, formerly of 2|42 Community Church in Ann Arbor, was named the new Senior Pastor of Willow Creek. For those who followed the Willow Creek search process, you know that it started with scandal, was criticized from the start, stalled at least once, and finally has come to a conclusion. Regardless of how you feel about everything that has gone on, let me encourage us to pray for Dave, his family, and Willow Creek as they embark on a new chapter as a church.


Music: Wilco, “Impossible Germany,” from Sky Blue Sky

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

What Happens When Christians Aren’t Afraid of Death?

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Some of the most striking stories of the early church after the New Testament come from times of persecution by the Roman Empire. In North Africa, the church was strong, but suffered greatly.

In the early 3rd century in present day Tunisia, a noblewoman, Perpetua, who was a Christian, refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor. That oath implied not only allegiance to the emperor over any other loyalty, but also acknowledged him as a kind of god. Perpetua’s commitment to Jesus as Lord and God flew in the face of that oath, leading her to a radical decision, which came at the price of her life. She and her household servant, Felicitas, both of whom were committed followers of Jesus refused to take the oath. They ended up being thrown into prison and then cast in the gladiatorial ring with wild animals who quickly overcame them, tearing them to pieces. They chose that horrific fate rather than forsake their faith in Jesus Christ.

How could these women be so unafraid of death? When we largely seem motivated by avoidance of death and suffering, what was it that could set them free from the fear of death?

I don’t believe it was because death was less scary to them, or that they were so much more courageous than the average person. Instead, there was a greater reality, something that seemed even stronger in their eyes, which overpowered the all-consuming fear of death. That overpowering reality is Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So many of us live our lives afraid of pain and the finality that is death. Others of us scurry through life knowing we won’t get another chance, feeling the urgency of our days. We all live under a universal death-sentence where the question is not “if” we’re going to die, but “when” will we die. Death tries to keep us in its grip, apart from God’s best for us as human beings.

But it is not the end of the story.

The resurrection of Jesus tells us that the power of evil and the prison of sin have been overcome. Even more we are told that the sting of death has been destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Cross. Paul the Apostle, wrote about that in this way in a letter to an early church in the city of Corinth:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection tell us there is hope in the midst of death. We do not have to live in fear of death because Jesus could not be held back by death. It is not His Master, but rather He is the Master of all things.

Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. And, by faith in Jesus, death does not have to be the end of our story.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 15, 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 this video update, I reference two portions of Scripture that I’m including below.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

Eastbrook at Home – April 12, 2020 – Resurrection!

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection today!  On Sunday beginning at 8 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As we continue to tweak this experience, please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

This weekend we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus while simultaneously concluding our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets.” I bring together a message on Malachi with the message of the resurrection. You can access all the messages from this series here. You could also find out how to join a virtual discussion group on the sermon every Sunday morning at 11 AM here.

Next week, we begin a new series on the book of Hebrews, so let me encourage you to read Hebrews, chapter 1, ahead of time.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The First Day

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

the first day:
walking with heavy loads and burdened hearts
to the place His breathless body lay.
every hour seemed so still
since that dark day.

but now, the first day:
their hesitating procession to the tomb
finds the place, but not Him;
and aching emptiness
meets anger’s anxiety.

yet, on the first day
two men send shivers of loud light
mingled with a message:
‘He’s alive like a new day’s dawning!’
and they remember His words.

this first day is the third day
that sends the dark day running.


This is the seventh in a group of seven original poems composed for Holy Week, including:

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 April 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


116036“Before Christ Rose, He Was Dead: The truth of Holy Saturday is that God is with us, even in our mortality” – There may not be a lot of attention in some Protestant churches to Holy Saturday, but that is the celebration of today. When Kelly and I attended an Anglican Church immediately during our latter years of college and both served on staff there afterwards, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday was a highlight of our year. Here is Travis Ryan Pickell reflecting on the meaning of Holy Saturday, and why it is so powerful for our faith.


merlin_170541216_a781cc8f-885d-4337-83d3-e626a77abebf-superJumbo“I Miss Singing at Church” – The Christian faith is a singing faith. Paul writes in Ephesians that believers should encourage “one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). While our family does sing together, in the midst of COVID-19 one of the things I miss most is singing with other believers around me. Here is Tish Harrison Warren reflecting on the same sort of thing in The New York Times: “I miss the congregation singing at the church where I’ve served as a priest for three years. If I could hear them sing this morning, I wouldn’t mind if the person behind me was off key. I would even take a whole load of my least favorite songs, the ones I find plodding or cheesy or overdramatic, if I could just hear them sing with me.”


singing“People Are Remembering What Music Is Really For” – Speaking of singing, here is Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic highlighting the way people are engaging in good old-fashioned sing-alongs during this time. Perhaps it is a recovery of what music is really for. For those of us in singing churches, we likely already know this, but the implications for the broader culture are significant artistically and socially. “Here is the kind of crowd culture we can, when we’re lucky, enjoy during isolation. Everywhere, the coronavirus has turned empty streets into acoustically rich amphitheaters.”


Every Moment Holy“Every Moment Holy: New Liturgies for Daily Life” – I first became familiar with Every Moment Holy when our friends came over for brunch and we shared in one of these simple liturgies together. These simple liturgies open up aspects of everyday life to God, while simultaneously opening our awareness to God in the midst of everyday things. They have shared some free liturgies during the time of COVID-19 that you may find meaningful, such as “A Liturgy for Those Flooded by Too Much Information” or  “A Liturgy for Medical Providers.” Enjoy.


Priest taping photos in worship“With coronavirus shutdown, priest tapes photos of his parishioners to pews” – The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offered this view into how different ministers are dealing with leading worship and preaching with empty pews during the time of COVID-19. Here is the rector of the Basilica of Saint Josaphat, Rev. Lawrence Zurek, borrowing an idea from creative priests in Italy, taping photos of his parishioners to the pews throughout the worship space.


Francis Collins“How NIH chief Francis Collins is trying to get people of faith to wake up to coronavirus realities” – Some of you may be familiar with Francis Collins through his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. You may not know that Collins is the longest-serving director of the National Institute of Health, which also makes him the supervisor of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has featured so prominently in the press briefings related to COVID-19. Here’s a taste from this interview with Collins at The Washington Post: “There’s a natural instinct for people of faith who are loving and wish to give themselves to others who are hurting to rush in the direction of people who are vulnerable or who are suffering. And over the course of many centuries, people of faith have, to their great credit, put themselves in harm’s way. Right now, they could focus their efforts on trying to supply, nurture and support all of their flock who are struggling right now. This is stressful. This may lead to people having fears, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Pastors ought to be doing everything they can to maintain that connection but not put people at risk.”


Anna Wilson“Anna Wilson: I’m more than a basketball player and more than Russell Wilson’s sister” – A friend shared this ESPN interview with Anna Wilson with me last week, and I found it to be a really interesting read. As the title suggests, there is so much more to her story than her Stanford basketball career and her life as a sibling to football star Russell Wilson. Anna recounts how her faith in Christ has shaped her life in very profound ways, even in the midst of personal suffering.


45005996815_d784be17f1_o-1536x960“2,500 Museums You Can Now Visit Virtually” – In the midst of these terrible circumstances of the pandemic, there are some beautiful things happening. With reference to 2,500 museums that you can now visit virtually, Hakim Bishara provides a sort of top twelve list of museums you can visit while under “safer at home” restrictions.  If you really do not know what to do while stuck at home, don’t miss the chance to visit the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery in DC, the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, or some of these other gems.


 

Music: Matt Maher, “Christ is Risen,” from Alive Again

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]