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Can I just share that I love it when I get to have one-on-one time with your kiddos on Sunday mornings?—even if it's because we are addressing a problem together!
Here is why…and it happens every time: God shows up.
Yesterday one of our younger students was having a hard time in Sunday School class so his teacher brought him to me. I start digging into the issue, and I pray. This little guy is young enough to be boldly honest about his feelings. He didn’t want to be at church because he wanted to stay home and play Xbox. Hence the resistance and challenging attitude to his teachers in class, which brought him to me.
But here is the beautiful part: We had an amazing conversation about God. This boy opened up and shared some stories of healing in his family and I got to help him see how that was God’s hand. God let me remind him that He is always with him. That we come to church to worship Him and give Him thanks for these very instances. That we are his church family and we are all here to support him and help teach him, including his wonderful Sunday School teachers. That it is okay to ask questions because we are seeking Him. That it is okay to talk about his conflicting desires on a Sunday morning because God is big enough.
He let me pray over him before returning to class. As I walked away I hoped that he felt God’s love in this place. I am thankful for his family who brings him here so he can continue to grow in his faith.
And I learned about myself too. I was reminded of how much I sometimes desire what the world has to offer instead of turning to Him first. Approval, fulfillment, affirmation.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." Deuteronomy 6:6-7
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. In 1935 he took charge of an “illegal” underground seminary where he shared a home with 25 pastors. Life Together is Bonhoeffer’s inspiring account of their unique fellowship as they sought to foster and live in authentic Christian community. Imprisoned and hanged by the Nazis near the end of World War II for plotting to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer stands as a witness for faith and courage in the midst of persecution and an impassioned witness of the essential calling for Christians to do life together. Bonhoeffer reminds us, “We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” Regarding this book, Student Minister The Rev. Taylor Ishii said this about Life Together : “It is one of the most important books I’ve read and Bonhoeffer’s description of Christian community has been central to how I envision my own ministry to students.” John Battey, Senior Warden of Christ Church, said, “Life Together opened my eyes to God’s gift of living in Christian community – something we often take for granted. Living in community is a divine blessing which strengthens us in our daily discipleship and gives us a glimpse into the unity and love of God.” Do you long for authentic Christian community? A place to belong? Our lives are filled with many things, but we hunger for the goodness of life together in community and we may wonder if it is even possible. Life Together has been described as “bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.” As we enter an exciting new season in the life of Christ Church, there is a call to actively, purposefully re-dedicate the ministry of small groups and to encourage active participation in Christian community. If you would like to engage in conversation on what it looks like to do life together, either for the purpose of finding a place of community yourself or to strengthen the group of which you are a part, I invite you to join me, John Battey, and Rev. Taylor Ishii as we lead a coed summer book discussion group based on Life Together. I am also excited to announce that Fr. Paul Donison will join us to teach two of the sessions. It is my hope that this book can help us rediscover true community and experience the truth of the words of Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!” Register for Life Together Summer Study at ChristChurchPlano.org/Events »
From the domestication of fire and the invention of the wheel, to air travel and the creation of the Internet, human beings have achieved remarkable things. Yet in spite of all of our advancements and accomplishments, Easter forces us to come to terms with our limitations. We are not all-powerful. We are not all-knowing. Though we try to deny it, we are all running a losing race with time. We daily feel the effects of sin and death on our bodies, families, and communities. The discovery of our brokenness, however, is the very way we enter into a life of worship, wonder, and overwhelming joy! Easter celebrates the power of God that triumphs over our weakness and inabilities. It displays divine love towards needy creation. It exalts God’s great victory over sin and death in the resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. When we focus fully on the wonder of God’s power to accomplish the impossible, we join our hearts with the Psalmist and say, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (Psalm 118:23-24). Today is a day of great rejoicing. We join with the Church in heaven and earth and say “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!” Easter turns us away from the despair of our limitations and invites us to celebrate God’s miraculous intervention. Let us follow the risen Christ as his faithful disciples. As the great Anglican hymnist Charles Wesley put it, Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia! Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! This, indeed, is cause for great joy!
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the desperate cry of David in Psalm 22. These same words are the final words of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel account as he cries out with a loud voice from the cross. Alone, betrayed, deserted, abandoned. The skies pitch black; an earthquake. What terror the disciples must have felt? Their own pleas to God are not recorded, but surely on their lips: “Where are you God?” “What on earth are you doing?” “Why have you abandoned us?” All words, all cries, all pleas, all prayers met with the same response. Utter, absolute silence. Have you ever been in this place? Crying out to God in desperation? “Where are you, God?” “Why are you silent?” “Why have you left me alone?” “God, do something; please help me!” Begging, groaning, grieving, pleading, sighing. “God, why have you forsaken me?” Most of us have had seasons of suffering and loss beyond what we thought we could bear. There have been moments of wailing in agony over a devastating event, the death of a loved one, the death of a relationship. And perhaps for us, too, our desperate cries were met with silence. Every year it is hard to hear Psalm 22 as it is read at the Maundy Thursday service. God, how could they do this to the one who is Love? How could we? For we, too, had a hand in the suffering and torture and excruciatingly painful death of the one we call Savior and Lord. But Good Friday reminds us that the one who is fully God stood for us and with us. We are not alone. We have not been abandoned. Today, on this day we call Good Friday, we stand before the Cross which stands at the center of all history. The cross, which was the instrument of suffering, torture, and death for Jesus, is for us the instrument of our rescue, our salvation. Today we wait at the foot of the cross. We wait hopefully, expectantly, as we remember the final words of Psalm 22: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” It is finished.
After church yesterday I had supper with some friends, and their kids had made Pentecost flames out of red birthday party hats and were toting them around the restaurant. "And you shall be my witnesses in Judea, and in all local pubs, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth..." or something like that. Genius.
As Bishop Todd Hunter reminded us in the Confirmation service on Saturday, that's why the church has the Holy Spirit: to be creative, lively, joyful witnesses for the God we know. It's not a few "charistmatic" Christians who have this calling, either. We're all being invited, encouraged, called just past what we're used to, what we're quite comfortable with, to be "changed from glory to glory."
Where might you be feeling encouragement to pursue God afresh? Could it be something as simple as, so to speak, wearing a different hat?
Watch out below for summer events and programs that seek to explore this question. We're heading out to camp, helping with VBS, discerning a service project, and studying the books of Acts and Jonah. We'll be asking all summer, "Where is God calling you?" Pray for our staff as we ask that question with students, and as we ask it of ourselves!
Congrats to the Confirmands and Father Taylor! This past weekend, along with over thirty adult confirmands, we watched eight students renew their baptismal vows in a service of Confirmation and Ordination. We also saw Deacon Taylor become Father Taylor! What a blessing to have these servants of the church as a part of Student Ministry. Bishop Todd Hunter preached a challenging sermon on the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, then blessed each student by name, asking God to fill them with his love and power. Later we celebrated together with friends and family in the fellowship hall. It was quite a crowd, and truly a celebration. Before being confirmed, students presented thesis projects that described crucial parts of their spiritual journey, and where they hoped to grow. Projects included: community service, a stained glass window design, a comic book retelling of a parable, a spiritual autobiography, and an original song. Students expressed desires to grow in devotional practices, integrity, community, dependence on God, and mercy toward others. Please congratulate these students when you see them, and encourage them in their new stage of Christian life.
Our reflections and meditations on the True Vine over the last month have hopefully brought you to a place of deeper appreciation and devotion to the Lord. As Jesus relates this metaphor, He is actually opening up His heart and asking us to look inside—inviting us to see the love and purposes He has for us and His desire to have an intimate relationship with us.
Never forget that Jesus wants nothing more than to win our love. He does it by showing us how much He loves us! He states it right there at the end: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus’s self-sacrifice (He knows it is coming) comes out of His love for us. In love, He pays the ransom to free us from sin. When we love in response, it is not because of any pure devotion of our own, but because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Scripture gives us many examples of how we respond to the love and faithfulness of God. Consider Psalm 116. The psalmist begins by declaring his love for the Lord, honestly stating the reason: because God has heard his pleas for rescue and has answered them. God, in His faithfulness, has protected him because He loves him. As the psalm continues, the writer seeks the proper response, asking, “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” There is ultimately only one course of action:
Motivated by God’s love and faithfulness, he loves God in gratitude. In his gratefulness, he gives God thanks and praise. His thanks and praise are made public, as he recounts God’s works of salvation before others. God has shown us that this is the type of sacrifice He wants most (Ps. 50:7-14). It is no wonder that Holy Communion is actually called Eucharist (meaning Thanksgiving) because in it we give God a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”
By faithfully loving us He has won our love. What better way is there to show our love for him than to praise Him before others?
Welcome to Holy Week. What an opportunity we have to slow down and tune into the life of Jesus.
When was the last time you sat down and just read Jesus' words? A few years ago some friends and I decided to read aloud together all four gospels during Holy Week. Yes, we were all single and none of us had children. But it was still easy to think, "There's no way I can afford this," or to measure our time purely in terms of what's "productive."
We did it anyway. And I can remember few times in my life more intimate or moving, simply reading aloud to one another for hours the words and deeds of Jesus. They are so direct, so astonishingly alive. They comfort, they heal; they rebuke and sting! There is so much Christ said and did (and says and does) which strikes us to the heart. These are the moments that shape us into lovers of God.
Can we find time for leisurely love of the Lord? Sit alone this week with a few chapters from Matthew? Join a Holy Week service? Fast a meal? Sit in silence? Step back? We have a whole week to re-awaken, to breathe deeply the freshness and power of the gospel. Take advantage of it as you are able!
This week's schedule encourages students, too, to join the church in meditating on Jesus' life and death before we get to Easter.
We'd also love for them to join in getting to know our new Rector-elect, Fr. Paul! God is at work among us, y'all. Taylor and I feel so glad to be a part of it!
When we read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation we encounter the story of God’s unceasing faithfulness to his people. Time and time again God’s people find themselves in need of saving, and each time God comes to their rescue: slavery in Egypt, David vs. Goliath, exiled in Babylon. The list could go on and on. This weekend, Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in this celebration we encounter another key moment where God’s people are crying out for salvation. Hosanna literally means “save us.” So when we hear God’s people crying out, they aren’t simply singing songs of praise or thanksgiving, but are joining their voices with the psalmist who in Psalm 118 cries, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” In Jesus’ day, God’s people lived under the rule and oppression of the Roman Empire. When they thought of their need for salvation, what first came to mind was their need to be saved from the Romans. For this reason, when the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, they thought they were welcoming the revolutionary King who would overthrow Rome and set them free. Jesus is without question a revolutionary King who comes to save us, but his revolution is not against a nation or state. It is against our true oppressor: death. To truly set us free, God’s rescue mission must go to the very root of our bondage. He knew in the ancient world that there was a bondage far deeper than Roman oppression, and He knows in our world today that there is a bondage far deeper than financial struggle, relational brokenness, or substance abuse. These challenges are symptoms of a much deeper ailment. Jesus’ triumphal entry is ultimately his triumph over sin and death. He is the King who comes to die and rise again, defeating death once and for all as he does. When we see Jesus as he truly is, and when we see our own brokenness and need, we should rush to join our voices with the crowd and say afresh, “Hosanna, God save us!”
Dick Hall, a talented member of the church, demonstrated his jewelry making hobby with the residents of the Plano Community Homes last week. The residents were allowed to pick from Dick’s premade inventory of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, and they watched as Dick fashioned custom jewelry from their selected stone and glass items. We give thanks for Dick’s skills and for demonstrating Christ’s love to the elderly in our community. Anyone interested in sharing their crafts and other talents with the residents of the Plano community is welcome to schedule an event. Please contact Jeff Reaves at JReaves@ChristChurchPlano.org if you would like to participate in local outreach.
On Sunday we welcomed our sweet second grade students and their parents to participate in a Christian Seder. It was a wonderful multi-sensory lesson that helped them “experience” some of what they have been learning in class. There were special foods and smells and colors and symbols to teach them. The children remembered how God saved and set free His people held in slavery in Egypt. They connected with the Passover feast where Jesus broke bread and commanded us to do the same. Finally the students learned that Jesus invites all of them to His Table to commune with Him each and every Sunday as His children. God keeps His promises to His people because of His great love for us. I was reminded of this again as we taught through the Seder. This message is so easy for our little ones to receive, but it can be so difficult for us to remember as adults. Do I trust His plan for me? For my children? Am I able to let go of what I thought I wanted for my life now that I see His plan is different? Are the promises made in Scripture meant for me too? Is His love for me as powerful as He describes in those ancient words that are still real today? Yes. Yes. Yes. What a sweet and also powerful message to teach our children. I pray that you have eyes to see His amazing love for you as we step into Holy Week next week.