What Happened to Easter? (3.28)

Easter was two weeks ago, but it feels like it was a lot longer than that.  One of the things I appreciate about my more liturgical friends both here in town and around the country is the connection they have with the larger church outside the four walls of their local congregation.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a host of reasons I attend a non-liturgical church, and I do so by choice, but just as I believe my liturgical friends have much to learn from us I believe that I have equally as much to learn from them, and this whole church-year thing is one of them.

See, in the church calendar Easter isn’t a day – it’s an entire season – and a long one at that (8 weeks – second in length only to the season of Pentecost).  Our culture is so “busy” and fast-paced that it seems as if holidays are gone before they even happen.  Take Christmas, for instance, the after-Christmas discounts seem to start before December 25th as stores try to get those last-minute shoppers.  And as soon as Christmas is over our stores are decorated and prepared for Valentine’s Day.

Easter was here two weeks ago, but it seems like a distant memory to most people I speak with.  We’re already preparing for Memorial Day weekend (because we’ve just passed Mother’s Day), which is the start of summer.  Some churches in the area are already planning an extra mid-week service (on Thursday night) so that when people travel out of town for the weekend (generally to the river or the beach) they can still attend church before they leave!

But the liturgical calendar – the church calendar – helps us take a pause and remember what really is important.  Easter isn’t something to celebrate once a year but once a week – it’s why we worship on Sunday, after all!  During Holy Week Melissa and I did a special devotional (by special I mean different than our normal one), and I attended some extra worship times with friends and family to help me focus on the work Christ accomplished on the cross.  And then when Easter came it came and went.

In my Friday morning men’s group this past week we were still talking about it, though.  As we looked at examples from scripture of post-resurrection yet pre-ascension appearances of Jesus, we studied and discussed ways to see God in everything we experience and do.  For this group of men – all from traditions that follow the church calendar – Easter wasn’t over; it had just begun.

Which brought up the question we discussed that morning: how can we live every moment of every day in the light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?  What difference does the fact that Jesus rose from the grave make in our lives every day?

The answer should start with words like “everything” or “transformational.”  In order to answer the question we need to remember we live in a post-resurrection world – a world where death has been defeated but where evil still reigns.  That means we’re at war – a war that will ultimately be won, but a war none-the-less.  Let us not take treat Easter as just another holi”day”, but live it everyday.  Don’t be afraid to encourage others in their faith, reminding them of the resurrection of Jesus.  Celebrate Easter – sing songs of Easter and read Easter stories, because Easter isn’t done and over with – and it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.  No, Easter is just the beginning.

Too bad we don’t treat it that way.


A Mediation for Holy Week (3.26)

The last two weeks I’ve shared devotionals written by members of a2 Church, in Alabama.  From what I can tell, their church is not a liturgical church by any stretch of the imagination.  But they decided to observe the liturgical season of Lent and, in so doing, have posted daily devotions for people to read on a special blog they created.

This week I want to try and draw this together, for we are also not a liturgical church as many of us think of the term: we don’t follow the church calendar (accept for Christmas and Easter), and we don’t observe the church seasons or follow the daily readings of other Christian denominations.  But this week is a unique week in not just church history but over-all history.  This week commemorates the passion of Jesus – his last week on Earth.  Jesus came to “seek and save” the lost, he came “to serve, not to be served” and “to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Certainly it is important to remember and honor his last week.

Today is Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday – two terms often used to describe the same day.  In short, it is a reminder of Jesus entry into Jerusalem the week he was scheduled to die, and it is also to prepare us for the journey ahead this week to the cross and the empty tomb.  So I ask you: what are you doing special this week to focus on the gift of God’s grace, love, and mercy through Christ?

When I was young Holy Week was a big deal – I mean a BIG deal.  We went to church almost every evening of the week (except for Monday & Tuesday, if memory serves).  Throughout my life I have pretty much continued that focus – if the church I happened to attend wherever it was I was attending did not do Holy Week services I found one that did.  It has always been a source of strength and comfort for me to go through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter AM services.  Several years ago I came to the realization that Good Friday is, at least for me, perhaps the second most important day of the Church year – more important than Christmas even (and second only to Easter) – for it was on Friday that Jesus died to redeem me.  Fortunately, Good Friday is one of the few religious observances/holidays that has not been hijacked by our consumerist culture (we may have Santa and the Easter Bunny, but it’s hard to find a good way to sell a bloody cross)

I would challenge you this week to do something special – something unique – to focus you on what God has done in and through Jesus.  Perhaps it’s finding a place to attend a special service, or reading a special book, or going on a private, spiritual retreat.  A great resource (one I’ve used for years) is to read through Jesus Final Week by Max Lucado, a book that is divided into reflections on each day leading up to the Easter.  This year Melissa and I are doing something new, and that is reading through 3:16 by Max Lucado – which offers reflections on John 3:16.  Another thing I’ve done is downloaded a sermon series entitled Christ on the Cross from Mars Hill Church in Seattle that looks at different aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion.  If you need suggestions for some specific resources please email or talk to me (or Pastor Bill), or check out the links on the blog to a2 Church, because there are many, many guides for this week.

Spend time this week praying and meditating on what it is God did on Good Friday and Easter; consider what it was like on Thursday night for Jesus to know he would suffer and die the next day and be ripped apart from his father.  And then ask yourself, “How should I respond?  What do I need to do to appropriately live like what Jesus did is true?”  Too often we live as practical atheists – attending church on Sunday but then the rest of the week people would have a hard time telling we’re anything (or anyone) more than just a “good person”.  Spend time this week meditating on what Jesus did and what it meant to him – and what it now means to you.

It will change your life – if you let it.

Goal Setting (3.15)

Many people use the beginning of a new year to set goals for the upcoming year.  Notice I don’t say “resolutions” because, in all frankness, most of the time resolutions are simply made to be broken!  But goals, if set correctly, can lead to real changes in our lives.  In order to set a goal you need to have a picture of where you want to be – and then determine how it is you’re going to get there.  And make sure that goal is measurable (meaning you can tell if you made it or not).  For example, a goal of “I’m going to exercise more” is pretty vague, but a goal of “I’m going to go for an early morning run three days a week” is much easier to know whether you meet it or not.  And when you can measure you’re goal it’s much more motivating to keep it (and reach it!).

Chris Goins, a pastor whom I enjoy listening to and reading, suggests asking yourself the question,  “Am I closer to God today than I was on January 1, 2010?”

While I’ll post more information and links on the blog (so you’ll definitely want to check this one out online), here are some places to start as you set your goals for the coming year.  Spend some time reflecting on and answering these questions, and I believe you’ll find 2011 could be one of your best yet!  These are borrowed from Chris’ blog

My Spiritual Life

  • What practices, ‘disciplines,’ or spiritual ‘graces’ will I build into my life in 2011 that will give me an opportunity to grow and become more like Jesus?
  • What small group will I be a part of?
  • Will I honor the “Sabbath” and regularly set aside a day for resting my body, recharging my emotions and refocusing my spirit?
  • Will I become an active part of a life-giving local church and invest my time, energy and resources into accomplishing the mission Jesus has established for the local church?

My Emotional Life

  • Is there someone I need to seek forgiveness from?
  • Is there someone I need to forgive?
  • Will I become an active part of a small group in order to fill my world with life-giving relationships?
  • Where is there “clutter” in my life that can be eliminated? My garage, attic, storage space, home closet(s), desk, filing cabinet, computer, car, truck, etc.? (Go ahead! Clean it out today!)

My Relational World

  • On a scale of 1 – 10 (“1” being “in the Intensive Care Unit and in desperate need of resuscitation” and “10” being “hitting on all cylinders / totally awesome”), how would I rate my marriage?
  • What practices will I build into my marriage in 2011 to increase intimacy and fulfillment?
  • What books will me and my spouse read or what marriage conferences will we attend in order to build intimacy and fulfillment into our marriage in 2011?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10 (use the same pattern mentioned above), how am I doing as a parent? How would I rate the relationship I have with my kids? How would my kids rate the relationship we have?
  • What practices will I build into my family in 2011 to bring our family closer together and move our family closer to Christ?
  • Have I scheduled a date night with my spouse for the month of January? When? What will we do? Why not?

My Physical World

  • How much do I weigh? For my body type, is that amount of weight okay?
  • Am I honoring God with my body?
  • Do I have a complete physical scheduled between now and October 31?  If not, schedule one!
  • Do I need to change my eating habits? What healthy eating plan can I build into my life in 2011?
  • Do I exercise? What exercise plan will I adopt in 2011 in order to honor God with the body He has given to me?

My Financial World

  • Are my finances in order? Is personal debt strangling the life out of me?
  • Do I have a written budget? Have my spouse and I reviewed this budget and agreed upon it?
  • Do I have personal debt other than a reasonable mortgage? Is being debt free in 2011 a possible goal? What will we do to get there?

My Intellectual World

  • What books am I going to read in 2011? (Biography, Spiritual Formation, Classics, Fiction, Business)
  • What is my reading goal for 2011? How many books will I read each week / each month? How many hours will I read each day / week / month?
  • What seminars / classes will I attend in 2011 to continue honoring God with my mind by using my intellect?

My Personal Calling

  • What do I do best and how can I do more of it in 2011?
  • What is my calling? What is my mission? Am I pursuing it? Why not?
  • Who do I know or who could I know in a similar field that God might use as a mentor in my life?
  • What caused me the greatest amount of stress in 2010? What am I going to do to fix it?

Extra links (not included in the printed devotional) – also borrowed from Chris’ Blog:

Lifeway Spiritual Growth Inventory

Bible Reading Plans from YouVersion

Your Spiritual Growth Plan (article in Christianity Today written by John Ortberg)

The Hope of the World (Advent II) (3.13)

Last week I looked at the beginning of the Advent season, and this week I want to continue that theme.  I’m going to begin by quoting Dennis Bratcher again:

Advent is one of the few Christian festivals that can be observed in the home as well as at church.  In its association with Christmas, Advent is a natural time to involve children in activities at home that directly connect with worship at church.  In the home an Advent wreath is often placed on the dining table and the candles lighted at meals, with Scripture readings preceding the lighting of the candles, especially on Sunday. A new candle is lighted each Sunday during the four weeks, and then the same candles are lighted each meal during the week. In this context, it provides the opportunity for family devotion and prayer together, and helps teach the Faith to children, especially if they are involved in reading the daily Scriptures.

It is common in many homes to try to mark the beginning of Advent in other ways as well, for the same purpose of instruction in the faith. Some families decorate the house for the beginning of Advent, or bake special cookies or treats, or simply begin to use table coverings for meals. An Advent Calendar is a way to keep children involved in the entire season.  There are a wide variety of Advent calendars, but usually they are simply a card or poster with windows that can be opened, one each day of Advent, to reveal some symbol or picture associated with the Old Testament story leading up to the birth of Jesus.  One unique and specialized Advent calendar that can be used is a Jesse Tree.  (for a copy of one ask Tom and he’ll locate it online)

At our house, some of the ways we have celebrated Advent (both past and future) include:

  • Lighting an Advent wreath during dinner and having family devotions;
  • Keeping an Advent calendar;
  • Reading devotionals on the history of Christmas traditions and symbols;
  • Reading through Advent devotionals as a couple or family;
  • Setting up a Nativity set but not putting Jesus in it until Christmas morning

All of these are things we have done to help reinforce the concept of waiting for Christmas and building in ourselves that longing for the coming of Christ.  It also serves to reinforce hope, perhaps what I consider one of the key words of the season.  Mr. Bratcher makes the comment that it is “What the world needs now is, not love, but hope. Without hope, without some sense that this is not all there is, that there truly is a God who will come and restore all things, there will never be much love, at least not the kind of love that is truly Christian.”  I think he hit the nail on the head.

Longing can bring hope, something we all need.  We can’t have a resurrection without a cross, and we can’t have a cross without a birth.  And we can’t have a birth if there is no need for a savior – it all starts with hope.  And Christ came to offer Hope.  Here are some definitions of “hope” I found today:

  • a person or thing in which expectations are centered;
  • to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence;
  • to believe, desire, or trust.

Jesus came not only to offer hope but to be our hope.  Think about this: our hope rests in the God of the universe being who he said he is, doing what he said he will do, and loving us as he said he will.  If you can’t have hope in Him, what will you hope for?

Advent reminds us of God’s promises made millennia ago that he faithfully began fulfilling in the birth of a baby boy.  As members of his family we can also rest in the hope that what he has laid out for our future will also come to pass at the ordained time.  By observing Advent as a family we can reinforce this hope for ourselves and instill it in our children.


Take Time to Reflect & Prepare (Advent Part I) (3.12)

Today marks the beginning of the church season of Advent. Advent encompasses the four weeks leading up to Christmas, including Sundays. It is meant as a time to look back on the arrival of the promised Messiah (Jesus) on Christmas while at the same time looking forward to the return of that same Messiah (Jesus) at the second coming. Over the next three weeks I’m going to share some thoughts on the Advent season, as well as some suggestions on how to commemorate the season both individually and as a family. Some of these thoughts will be from personal experiences I have had, some will be sharing what we do at the Feller house, and some will be sharing what others have written about the subject.

Today we’ll set the stage for the next two weeks (there will be no rehearsal on December 19, or the fourth Sunday of Advent) by sharing some background and history to the season. The excerpt below is by Dennis Bratcher:

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. [Important themes include] accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

While Landmark does not follow the Church Year and operate on a liturgical cycle, Advent is something that I have personally observed for many, many years. I find it a time to remember on what God has done for me and in me – as well as reflect on what he is doing through me. I have a hope and a faith not only in what Christ accomplished through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, but also a hope and faith in what he will do in the future. I need to constantly ask myself, “Am I doing today everything God has asked of me? Am I surrendering everything I am and have to Him at every moment?” Advent provides a pause from the daily grind and re-focuses me on what is important. Like a daily devotional which serves to re-center oneself on Christ, Advent for me serves as an opportunity to re-center on the truth meaning of Christmas – to get beyond the hustle and bustle of busy roads, buying presents, traveling to see family, and preparing for the holiday.

I challenge you to take some time the next few weeks and reflect and remember what God has done for you – and what type of response that requires of you. Prepare yourself spiritually for Christmas.

Worshiping Monday through Saturday

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

This week we’re going to look a little at the Monday-Saturday relationship we have with Christ.  Remember that worship is an of our relationship with God through Christ, and Sunday worship is an overflow of our Monday-Saturday worship, so it stands to reason that everything starts with that personal relationship.

Think of it this way:

Do you see how it’s all connected?  We can not worship on Sunday morning unless we have had good worship throughout the week, but we can’t worship throughout the week unless it’s grounded (overflowing from) our personal, daily walk with Christ.  And at the end of the week (Sunday), our corporate worship should motivate/inspire us to develop a deeper personal relationship with Christ, which then overflows into personal worship, and the cycle repeats itself.

So how do you nurture that personal relationship with God daily?  One obvious method is to spend daily time in prayer and Bible reading.  What book of the Bible are you reading/studying right now?  Personally, I’m involved in a men’s group Bible study of the book of Daniel and Melissa and I are working our way through Philippians as a couple, and when I read on my own I’m currently in the book of Romans.  I don’t say this to “brag” or make myself look good, because, believe me, I don’t do all three every day (and some days, regretfully, I don’t even do one), but that’s what I’m reading.

Another way in which you can develop your relationship with God is to look for God in the little things every day.  For example….  Earlier this week I was driving to work one morning and as I cross the Tar River Bridge on US-264 I looked over toward one of the little lakes and saw a bald eagle perched atop a telephone pole looking out over the lake (I’m assuming he was looking for food).  Just the sight of that eagle brought many things to mind – from the glory of God’s work to the beauty of how God works to the creativity displayed throughout just our little section of the world – yet alone the entire universe.  I was also reminded of Isaiah’s prophecy which reads “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (40:31).  Have I told you how tired I have been all week and this weekend?  I’ve had trouble falling asleep, been extremely busy at work, and just had a very, very busy week – and God’s promise of renewing my strength is exactly what I needed (and still need).

And this experience all happened as an over-flow of past times spent with God – he used the sight of that bird to remind me of his word (which I’ve read many times), and then encouraged my spirit and my soul through it.  My response?  I was able to just thank him for his promise, for his word, his faithfulness, and his strength while I drove my car to work.  In short, I worshipped him.

Take a whole bunch of those experiences over the course of a day and week, and when I come to church on Sunday I’m ready to celebrate with others’ God’s goodness and faithfulness because I’ve experienced it through the week.  That’s what I mean when I saw that Sunday worship is an overflow of weekday worship – as God interacts with me Monday-Saturday (and I respond to him), I arrive at church on Sunday morning ready to not only receive what he wants to give me in the service, but motivated to share with others how he has encouraged me – I overflow.