by Ben Panter
As we lead up to Easter this year, our sermon series focuses on the last 7 things Jesus said on the cross. So throughout the series we'll be focusing on one statement a week in reflection on what it meant for Jesus as he said it, as well as what it means for us this Easter season. And with each statement, we've included an image or symbol that helps to illustrate or remind us some of the meaning. Throughout history art has been used to communicate deep truths at the visual level, so we wanted to give a short description of some of the intended meanings in these images to give you a starting point for your own reflection.
Three Nails - the implements of suffering and judgement.
In this case, there is a literal representation of the three nails: two for Jesus' hands, and one for his feet. This can serve as a reminder that these nails that were rightfully intended for us, but instead we placed them in the willing hands and feet of our savior.
City with a Tree - an eternal destination
This image is a representation of paradise as a city, which at its center has the tree of life. Additionally there are the "alpha" and "omega" symbols, which come out of the book of Revelations where Jesus refers to himself as "the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end". These images can speak many truths, but some of the key ones would be the upheld promise of Heaven or "Paradise" as a real destination that the follows of Jesus go when we dies. It also shows Paradise as being connected to the Garden of Eden, God's original paradise that will be restored. And lastly, it is a reminder that Jesus is eternal and rules eternally.
We're all familiar with that age-old question, "What do I get so-and-so for Christmas"? Do they really need another toy, or book, or novelty coffee mug? While there is a certain amount of joy and cheer to be found in getting that "perfect gift", it also easy to look at our tendency to turn our own sacred holidays into consumeristic blitzes.
Don't fear, I'm not here to say we should do without, or do with less (although it's always worth considering). But I do want to offer some alternative gifts that might stand for something bigger, that in and of themselves are worth celebrating. So here are three gifts to consider giving to help extend and deepen the joy of giving this year.
1. Compassion International Gifts
You may be familiar with Compassion International and the incredible child sponsoring program they operate around the world. But did you know you can also give one time gifts to meet specific needs. It runs the full gamut from delivering bibles in the native language, to sponsoring hygiene classes and supplies, to sending food, providing chickens, goats or cows for a family or digging wells. Gifts of all dollar values can be put to great use, and you can give a gift on someone's behalf, and then give them a nice card that fully explains what the money went to support. I would also say that this is a great way for a family or community group to each contribute something and then see how far your money can go by all being generous together.
About a year ago we launched into a series on the book of Romans together and with it we began a "Common Life" series of devotional books. In the introduction of the first book it says " this small book offers a way for our whole church family to reflect on Christ together during the ordinary rhythm of our weekdays".
So what I'm posing to you now is, maybe it's a good time for you to revisit this series. I don't know where you were in life a year ago or how closely you were able to follow along throughout the Romans sermons. But I do know that our need for reminders of who Christ is and daily reflection is just as relevant now as it was a year ago. And a slow walk through the book of Romans and all the related passages may be just what you need this Fall.
You may also find value in revisiting the Common Life Book if you were able to follow along with the readings and questions originally. If you think about it like journaling, there is a lot gained through the process of writing, but even more can be learned and appreciated if you look back to see what God was teaching you in the past. And I think that looking back will fill you with gratitude and a renewed perspective on where and how God has been leading you and answering prayers.
So, if you still have your book, pull it out and start working through the readings one week at a time. And if you don't have it anymore or never had one, you can use a digital copy that is available for download here. I hope you find the daily practices and readings to be rich and fulfilling.
by Ben Panter
This spring we hosted our first Generosity Principles class, a 4-week book and video study from Andy Stanley’s book, How to Be Rich. That name may make you do a double take, but it makes sense from the primary passage of the study, 1 Timothy 6:17-19:
To give you a quick summary of the big idea, it’s Andy Stanley’s premise that this passage applies to pretty much all of us in our North American context. But the fact that most of us (including myself) tend to read “those who are rich” and then skip on down the page because that clearly doesn’t apply to us, means that even though we are rich (check the stats), we don’t feel rich. And since we don’t feel rich, then we often aren't good at being rich. And Andy clearly doesn’t mean “be rich” as in, drive fancy expensive cars, take luxurious vacations, etc. “Be Rich” simply means living according to God’s specific commands for the wealthy. And also, this is not just about giving more money to the church. Certainly tithing is a part of spiritual growth and obedience (and the book covers that), but the focus of this book is a much broader focus on a lifestyle of generosity, and how God’s commands on generosity to us are centered in making sure our hearts do not enshrine our finances. The book is very inspiring, and it’s hard to imagine anyone reading it and not coming away without a bigger picture of God and His purposes for His money through each of us.
Ok, obviously there’s a lot more in there than that, and I would highly recommend the book, but that’s not what this post is all about. Really I just wanted to share some of the challenging thoughts and fun we had in the group of about 10 households that went through the class.
What is "Advent" celebration all about?
I think it's a common misconception that "Advent" is just another word for "Christmas", and that celebrating one is the same as celebrating the other. Certainly as we celebrate this season we need to keep the focus wholly on Christ, and work against the culture of consumerism, or at the very least, against the watering down of the real reason for celebration. And that is a part of both of these words, but "Advent" takes on a further significance with perhaps a longer perspective of what the season means to us today.
In looking for a good definition of what Advent celebration is all about, I stumbled on an article which I think perfectly sums up its significance:
"Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis, they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future."
Excerpt from Christianity.com. Read more here.
What was to celebrate are available?