Epiphany: Discovering and Display Jesus

January 6th was the first day of Epiphany. Since many Christians are not familiar with this season of the Christian Year, I want to post an excerpt from a booklet I wrote a couple years ago called Time for God: An Introduction to Living the Christian Year. If you’d like to learn (or be reminded of) what this season is all about and some ideas for how you might embody it this year, then this post is for you.

graphics-epiphany-812255Have you ever been in need of light? Maybe you’ve stumbled around in a room, stubbing your tow on a table-leg while searching for something. If so, then you know the relief and joy that comes with light (and the frustration of darkness!). If Advent is about preparing for the light, and if Christmas is about the coming of light, then Epiphany is about that light shining bright for the whole world to see. Historically, three events in particular are given special emphasis during Epiphany: the visit of the wise men from the East (Matt 2:1-12); the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3:13-17); and the turning of water into wine (John 2). Epiphany means “manifestation” and is about God revealing himself through the life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.

So if this is what Epiphany is about, how exactly do we inhabit this season? By discovering and displaying Jesus. If you have committed to living the Christian year, you may be thinking, “Wait, I’ve already discovered Jesus. That’s why I’m doing this Christian year thing.” But isn’t it possible that there are ways in which Jesus wants to grow, even challenge some of our assumptions about who he is and what it means to follow him as a disciple? Actually, isn’t it probable? This is precisely what Philip Yancey suggests in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, when he writes,

bfbe7c8d7e581a7b105b61f6e1054752The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen, and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with a flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company… Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable (23).

As we seek to inhabit Epiphany, we’re invited to discover Jesus in new and fresh ways. To be surprised, humbled, and delighted by him – as well as confused and frustrated at times.

But we are not only invited to discover Jesus during Epiphany; we are also invited to display him. Imagine for a moment that a painful and deadly plague broke out and began to spread around the world. It infected everyone. You. Your friends. Family members. Neighbors. Co-workers. And imagine that there was no cure… until you discovered one. After successfully administering the cure to yourself, what would you do? Would you hide it and not tell anyone? (Of course not!) Would you sell it to the highest bidder? (I hope not.) You’d share it with everyone you know. You’d use every relationship, every communication platform at your disposal to get the word out so that everyone could be saved. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is like that cure. He’s the one everyone needs. He’s the one through whom God wants to heal the whole world. Jesus tells his followers not only to “come and see” but also to “go and tell.” Through our lives, words, and actions, Epiphany invites us to become a living display of Jesus. As Bobby Gross puts it,

The one who summons us to himself sends us out on his behalf. The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declares, “I am the light of the world,” says to us, “You are the light of the world” (84).

Sacred Practices

During this season, consider adopting a new practice or habit that in some way embodies the heart of Epiphany. Feel free to choose from this list of suggested practices, or come up with one on your own.

  • Do Something to Rediscover Jesus – It’s so easy to remake Jesus in our own image, to assume he thinks like me, acts like me, votes like me. But the more we get to know Jesus, the more we realize how gloriously unpredictable he is and we’re reminded that the goal of knowing him is to be remade into his image (not the other way around). Here are some ways you might consider rediscovering Jesus this Epiphany season.
    • Read one of the four gospels in one sitting. It doesn’t take as long as you think! Or consider reading a gospel a week for four weeks. However you do it, pay extra close attention to Jesus as you read. Notice the stuff he says, what he does, how he he treats people. What upsets him? What upsets others about him? Make yourself a student of Jesus. It might help to write your observations in a journal as you read.
    • Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) once a week for five weeks (there are five weeks in Epiphany). That may sound daunting, but reading it is actually quite easy. The hard part is living it! Ask God as you read to help you become more like Jesus, who perfectly practiced what he preached.
    • Identify someone in your life whom you respect, who loves Jesus, and whose life resembles his in visible ways. Offer to buy them coffee or a meal, then as you’re together ask them to talk about their walk with Jesus. Ask them how they’ve cultivated a close walk with him. What spiritual disciplines do they practice? What have their challenges been? What doubts and questions have they had? What people, books, experiences have had the biggest influence on their faith?
  • Do Something to Display Jesus – Most parents are quick to talk about their children. Some people jump at the chance to discuss politics. Others could talk about sports all day long. It’s a fact of life that the stuff we enjoy talking about is usually what we love. If that’s true, why can it be so difficult to talk about Jesus with others? One way to inhabit Epiphany is to intentional do something that encourages displaying Jesus to others. The following ideas are adapted from the book Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross:
    • Ask Jesus to increase your compassion for those far from God and for greater courage to speak to them.
    • Read a book to sharpen your thinking about sharing your faith (Check out one called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson).
    • Choose a few friends or coworkers or family members to pray for during Epiphany.
    • Become alert to openings in your everyday conversations where you can mention Jesus in a natural and interesting way.
    • If someone seems open, suggest going for coffee and some conversation about spiritual matters – be prepared to really listen to their experiences, beliefs and questions.
    • Invite a neighbor to come to a social activity with your Community Group or to a Sunday morning worship gathering.
    • Give a friend a thoughtful book on Jesus or the Christian faith (here are a few recommended books: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg; The Reason for God by Tim Keller)

Suggested Prayer Prompts

Use these prompts to guide your time of prayer. Rather than thinking of these as scripts that restrict or limit your prayers, think of them as conversation starters between you and God. Let them guide your heart and mind as you pray. Oh, and as you pray, don’t forget to listen.

Dear Lord…

In what ways does my understanding of you need to be challenged?
These are some of the things that I love about you… These are some things that confuse me…
Why is it so hard for me to talk about you with others?
Please burden my heart for those who are far from you.
What’s an area of my life that sorely needs to look more like you?
Thank you for the example of your life.

 

Michael Carlson
Pastor – Chrio Church

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A Profound Imprint: A Team Member Reflects on Her Experience in Njuruta, Kenya

new-desksIn the previous post, I explained Advent Conspiracy – how every year we challenge ourselves as a church family to prayerfully consider spending less and giving more. I described how this year we have the opportunity to provide desks for every student in Njuruta and why that’s such a significant need. I also asked you all to join us this year by helping us raise $5,000. This would purchase 80 desks for 160 students and would be a tremendous blessing to the community, especially the students.

To help paint a picture in your mind of who would directly benefit from these desks, here’s a brief reflection from Karen Lay, one of the members from Chrio’s team that went to Njuruta, Kenya this summer. The seventh and eighth grade girls she mentions are but a small sample of the many inspiring students in need of desks. Enjoy!

This morning as I met for coffee with a friend, I found it hard to express the profound imprint that the people of Njuruta have left on my heart. Yes, it was a blessing to watch Rachel and Lauren be enveloped in this community that they have grown up hearing about. And, it was amazing to see Preston embrace this culture and community and kids as he ran across the field or lifted children in simultaneous bicep curls. And, any heart would be moved by the dedication and love that the Food for the Hungry staff has for marginalized people and for doing God’s work. All of this was true, but for me personally, my heart was so drawn and captured by the seventh and eighth grade girls. These girls shared their burdens in a small group that Food for the Hungry facilitated. Rachel, Lauren, and I were just small participants, more like observers. Their struggles and burdens are so heavy, so overwhelming, yet they have so much hope and so much trust in God. The struggles are real and daunting, yet they faced them. img_5858One day, I was teaching in their classroom, not because I was scheduled, but because no one else was there to teach, so they asked me to teach. It was hours and hours of teaching. They just kept asking for more. They were worried about an upcoming exam in November which will place them in secondary school, and the exam is in English, so they just wanted me to teach as much as I could. At the end, they kept telling me that I would forget them, and I tried to assure them that I will never forget them, that they have made an imprint on my heart. The community of Njuruta is a hard-working, enduring community that has little but uses that little to do much. Thank you for your partnership and participation in Chrio’s relationship with these amazing people.karen-and-girls

Karen Lay

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The Gift of a Desk: An Advent Conspiracy Project

Every first grader has her or his own set of challenges. Mine involved things like struggling to beat the best tetherball player at recess or coping with the fact that everyone else seemed to have better items in their lunch box than I did (like snack packs and spicy Cheetos). But there’s one question that never entered my little first grade mind: I wonder if I’ll have a desk to sit at today.

at-desk-1A desk is essential to a good education. It provides a concrete place to sit, write, read, think, learn, ask questions, and socialize. Psychologically speaking, a desk also plays an affirming role in the mind of a child. It’s a strong and implicit way of telling a student, “You belong here. You have a place in this classroom. You and your presence here matter.” These are messages every child needs to hear. And this includes the students in Njuruta, Kenya, which is the community our church has been partnering with for about eight years now.

carrying-desk-1The sad reality is that Njuruta Primary School does not have enough desks for its students. Our team was reminded of this fact during our trip this summer. We saw children carrying desks from one classroom to another. We saw four even five students trying to cram into a desk built for two. And what we couldn’t see but undoubtedly felt was the subtle message, “You’re not welcome here,” that a desk shortage communicates to students who already have so much stacked against them. This is a problem, especially since investing into childhood education is the community’s primary, longterm strategy for combating systemic poverty. They need desks. And we can help.

Every year during the season of Advent, we challenge ourselves as a church family to prayerfully consider spending less and giving more. We call it Advent Conspiracy. This year we have the opportunity to provide desks for every student in Njuruta. What a privilege! Our goal is 80 desks. The cost is $5,000. Will you join us this year by investing into the education of these children?

In the next post, we’ll hear a team member share about her firsthand experience with some of these students and the indelible imprint one short week with them left on her heart. So stay tuned!

*If you’d like to give, you may do so online by entering the gift amount next to where it says “Advent.” Or you may give using one of our giving envelopes at our Sunday morning Gathering. Be sure to designate your gift by writing “Advent Conspiracy” next to the amount.

Michael Carlson

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A Contemporary Song Of Lament

Have you ever been confused or frustrated with God?

Who hasn’t ?!?!?

What’s remarkable about God is that he’s not put off by our hurts and hang-ups. In fact he invites us to bear our authentic selves before him in prayer. One way the Bible demonstrates this is through prayers of lament. A lament is an expression of pain and confusion to God that petitions him to intervene. Phrases like ‘How long, O Lord? How long?’ are common in these types of prayers.

An artist in our community wrote a contemporary song of lament that gives voice to pain in fresh ways.

You’ll notice that while the song boldly questions and ponders things like God’s timing and methods it keeps this questioning in the context of God’s love (I know that I am loved, that’s a promise that’s mine).

We pray that as you experience doubt, confusion, frustration and pain that you find ways (like this song) to express those emotions to the God who receives us and transforms us within difficulty.

Why can’t I live, apart from you?
What would I do? Sometimes I wish I could

And if Jesus is really a king why won’t my heart sing?
Why am I as bored as a stone, lonely and all alone?

And it’s breaking my heart, breaking my mind
I can only think now of relief I might find

Shouldn’t I have something more to show
for the times I’ve lived with you as my Lord
and I know I am loved, that’s a promise that’s mine
I’ll take your blessings but your calling I wish to decline

How much would I give to see you as you are?
But you hide yourself from me
Do you even hear me call?
If you are as great as you claim, couldn’t you have stayed when you came?
Life is all formless and cold, nothing has much of a soul

And I’ve made my decision, I know what I’ll do
Can’t go on living and giving to you

Shouldn’t I have something more to show
for the times I’ve lived with you as my Lord
and I know I am loved, that’s a promise that’s mine
I’ll take your blessings but your calling I wish to decline

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Responding to the Election Results

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard the news that is taking the world by storm. Some are calling it the biggest political upset in modern history. On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the forty-fifth president of the United States of America.

161108225000-01-split-reactions-1108-small-169Media coverage and social media reveal a deep and wide breadth of emotionally charged reactions. Some are filled with exuberant joy. To them Trump represents the shock our dying political system needs. This man gives politically incorrect, unfettered expression to a growing frustration many have with the corrupt and ineffective “establishment” of which Clinton was the personification. With this victory, they feel like their voice is finally being heard. It fills them with a sense of hope and, as the media coverage has shown, has brought many to tears.

Some are deeply concerned, even fearful. To them, it is a struggle to comprehend how a man who displays such morally flawed and narcissistic behavior, a man who has somehow managed to offend nearly every demographic without apology (including the leaders of and media outlet for his own party), a man whose rhetoric has sought to further polarize an already divided country – how this man could be elected to what is arguably the most powerful office in the world. It fills them with a sense of dismay, even despair, and as the media coverage has shown, has also brought many to tears.

So what about us? What kind of response should we as the community of Jesus followers have? Like the rest of the American population, Christians will undoubtedly experience a range of emotional reactions. But there is one concrete response that should be instinctive for us all, one response that should unite us, one response that should frame our perspective as we process this news with the rest of the nation and world. We should pray.

Please join us in this prayer:

Dear Sovereign and Gracious Lord,

Above all earthly powers and governments, You reign over our nation, the world, and all creation from Your throne in heaven. And that’s really good news.

We pray for Donald Trump. May the gospel of grace penetrate his heart and lead him toward repentance and faith. Please give him wisdom, humility, and a vision of justice and righteousness that reflects Your Own.

May the gospel of grace penetrate our hearts too and lead us toward continual repentance and faith.

As we experience joy or fear because we wrongly assume that having the “right person” or “right party” in the seat of political power will bring about the change our country and the world so desperately need, please forgive and remind us where the true hope of the world lies.

When our disdain for the political “other” keeps us from loving and praying for them, forgive and remind us of what You did for us while we were Your enemies.

In a cultural moment overshadowed by antagonisms and anxiety, help us to engage our neighbors with a posture of grace and peace that can only be explained by your life in us.

May Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done, in our country and the world as it is in heaven.

To You be all glory, honor, and praise.

Amen.

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Sound Bites – Brief Musings from Pastor Joel’s time in MTC

Hey all,

Many of you have asked what I’m learning as I attend classes at the Missional Training Center. Throughout my third year in the program I’ll be posting blogs with a few sound bites from class with a brief thought or two. If something intrigues you, shoot me an e-mail (joel@chriocommunities.com) and let’s go grab happy hour or a coffee so we can chat.

Stay faithful,

joel

 

MTC Sound Bites from 9-6-16

The focus of this lecture was on introducing CS 321: Understanding Our Missional Context- The Spirits of our Age: Postmodernity, Globalization and Consumerism.

Here are some quotes that were meaningful to me:

Consumerism includes experiences and the pursuit of pleasure.

It’s helpful, especially when interacting with millennials, to realize that the accumulation of goods and stocking money away in a retirement account isn’t the only way consumerism works. Many in my generation want to travel the world, want flexible jobs and don’t mind ‘having less’ as long as they can cash in on experiences.

Postmodernity- pluralism, relativism, tolerance, skepticism, a spirit of protest

This was a helpful run of words to unpack and expand what exactly ‘centers’ a group that often wants to make nothing center.

Idols always have insights.

At Chrio we talk about idolatry in terms of ‘getting our loves out of order’ (see our teaching series from the Summer of 2015 called Disordered Love). One outworking of idolatry is taking a good thing and making it ultimate. What you can’t forget is that idols, often, still have value and they tell us something about how culture and individuals within it work.

How do we expose people to the nature of our society (postmodernism, consumerism etc.)?

Great question by one of my classmates, Sean Myers, from Redemption Church, Peoria that sparked a conversation in class.

One of Mike Goheen’s responses was from Walter Brueggemann:

Preaching is always a staging of two narratives.

Brueggemann means that good preaching will pit two narratives against one another: the gospel narrative (i.e. The True Story of the World) against a false narratives.

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Wisdom for Benevolence- Helping Without Hurting

What do you do when someone approaches you in a parking lot asking you for a bus pass or for enough money for a hotel that night?

How about when you get approached on a Sunday morning by someone who wants you to take them to the grocery store because they won’t get paid for a few days and the pantry is empty?

Sincere followers of Jesus seek to meet needs as the Spirit reveals them, but that doesn’t mean every action is helpful.

Recently a group from Chrio met to share stories and talk about how to best love people who are in need.

 

Here are 9 takeaways to consider in benevolence situations

 

1. Every situation is unique.

Since no two situations are alike, I recommend having guidelines that you will consciously pray through each time you encounter an opportunity.

(See the end of this post for one person’s benevolence guidelines within the Chrio family).

 

2. What matters most is love.

Romans 5:6 reminds us that Christ came to die for the ungodly. It wasn’t the ‘cleaned up & have everything together’ group that Jesus died for, but the ungodly…which is everyone.

Sometimes I’d rather err on the side of being generous than end up turning away a legitimate need. That word sometimes is important.

 

3. Don’t give money to people.

This is a general rule I have and as a policy, Chrio will never give anyone cash.

 

4. Recognize that you have limited resources and you are called to steward them well.

God doesn’t expect you to meet, or contribute to, every need you come across.

 

5. The Holy Spirit is always at work both in the situation and in your heart.

This may mean breaking your guidelines from time to time as the Spirit wants to stretch your ability to love.

 

6. The context of the request may shape your response (this is an off-shoot to #1-every situation is unique).

If your Community Group or church at large is seeking to be a blessing in a neighborhood or among a particular group of people, this may elevate the importance of the request.

Don’t let stinginess to be your corporate reputation where you are seeking to seed the gospel. With that said, Chrio doesn’t meet every request that comes in from our neighborhood.

 

7. Recognize there are aspects of poverty and everyone is poor…including you.

Poverty comes in many shapes and forms. Here are four basic aspects of poverty. Remember, we all have gaps, so we are all poor in some capacity.

a. Poverty with God (does person love God and recognize how loved they are by Him?)

b. Poverty of self. (our mental/physical resources)

c. Poverty with resources (money, possessions etc.)

d. Poverty of community (relationships…friendships, family and the like)

 

8. Recognize what type of Benevolent Activity you are participating in.

a. Serving people within the Chrio family. Generally, we have high commitment to caring for our brothers and sisters. We commit to make sure the most basic needs are met among our church family. Often, this means a heavy reliance on community resources for food assistance etc.

Part of the challenging side of this is that the people we are closest to we often know the best. So sometimes loving someone within the Chrio family means telling them no (setting a boundary) or providing accountability so they will mature in Christ.

b. Organized Efforts as a Church– there are times when the Chrio leadership filters a need down to the congregation and encourages the whole family to participate in meeting it in some fashion (like the multiple times we have encountered apartment fires and asked people to donate any extra goods they have).

c. Random Efforts as an individual– someone walks up to you at the gas pump etc.

 

9. Apply the right approach to the need.

An excellent book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, organizes needs into 3 categories.

a. Relief

b. Rehabilitation

c. Development

Relief is when someone is in immediate crisis. Think dehydration in the summer sun (btw, calling 911 is an option!) or a child that is helpless on the streets. This requires immediate attention.

Rehabilitation is the strength building exercises that moves someone from impoverished (but not in crisis) to basic sustainability.

Development is a long term project to help someone change their world so they have more options in the future. Think of a single working mom without family or community support who right now has a minimum wage job but wants to attend college to get a better career to provide for her family long term. She may need childcare to help her reach her goal of getting to classes etc.

Here is the book I recommend if you’re leading a benevolence ministry or you want to deepen your understanding of how to serve people in your community. Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence.

One person who attended the meeting wrote of these principles they want to follow:

1.       Compassion. Be compassionate and show compassion to those I am helping. Try to put myself in their shoes. Apply the “golden rule.”

2.       “How can I help?” – Some situations are overwhelming, Like the feeding of the five thousand. But I can give of my “two loaves and five fishes.”

3.       What do I have to give?  From the example of Peter and John responding to a beggar in the Acts. “silver and gold have I none, but…” I always have kindness, love, God’s word, knowledge and discernment. I usually have time and some resources. I can always pray.

4.       Use discernment and ask questions in a kind non-threatening manner.  What does this person want? Are there community resources I can direct them to? Some people are  simply asking for a handout. I desire to look for those who are seeking life change and want to take responsibility for their lives.

 

Remember every situation is unique, and often the Holy Spirit likes to bust rules so hearts can be transformed, both the giver’s and the receiver’s. May God grant you wisdom and fruitfulness as you listen, learn and serve.

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