Ash Wednesday

ash

This week we begin to celebrate the Lent season with Ash Wednesday. So we’re taking a look at the church calendar not as a ritual or requirement, but as a way to help us align our time with Jesus’ through the different seasons of life. 

Check out our Ash Wednesday discussion and prayer guide!

Reckoning with the gravity of sin | Glorying in redemption


Made For Glory, Ruined By Sin

Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:27-28, 2:1-23, 3:1-24

Questions for Reflection: What contrasts to you see in the language used in the verses in Genesis 2 against the language in chapter 3? Why do you think the writer explains from what materials Humankind was made? The Scriptures tell us from the very beginning that humanity was made by God, for God, and to reveal his glory in the world. There is careful time and attention put into the creation of humanity. At the same time, we are made simply from dust. From the ground. We are made from made material. There is a glorious fragility in humanity, even from the start. Being made from dust means that we are wholly dependant on our Maker for absolutely everything. We are completely out of control of our own existence. The sovereign Lord of the Universe makes and sustains all life. All breath. All things. There is a radical turn in the story in Genesis chapter 3. Mankind, which depends on their Creator for all things, turns against this perfect source of life, God himself, and decides to trust their own ways of thinking.

Enter: Sin.

Sin is utterly ruinous. God’s declaration of the long-term effects of sin over Adam, Eve, and the serpent is dark, potent, and total. We are ruined.

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:12

Question for Reflection: What are some evidences of the “death that comes through sin” in our world? In your life personally? Can you think of ways the Church around the world has been corrupted by sin, both currently and historically?

Reckoning With Sin

All that is not right in this world, the things of which we are aware and that to which we are blind, is due to the ravaging effects of sin. Our beautiful, yet fragile existence that from the beginning wholly depended upon the Creator and Sustainer of all life is now deeply and comprehensively wrecked because of sin.

Ash Wednesday is designed to bring into focus our own mortality as human beings. Our own finitude. We are made for Glory as bearers of the Image of God, but our innate sin, inherited from Adam and Eve, catapults us into this world bent toward all the wrong things. We can’t help but sin. Even in our best attempts to find and create meaning, we transgress and we fall short. It’s not in our power to do otherwise, even in our best efforts (Genesis 4:1-15, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:9-23, Ephesians 2:1-4, etc).

Because of sin, we are marked for death. There is a sense in which we wish to free our minds from this reality. It is the sense of adolescent naïveté that compels us to act as if disaster does not await us, and that our destiny is to live forever.

Ash Wednesday is an invitation to throw off youthful naïveté and reckon with our own fragility and brokenness. It’s an invitation to come to grips with the real world and our place in it. It is also an invitation to marvel at God’s gracious attention to us and love for us. To join with the Psalmist and say, “Who am I that you are mindful of me? The son of man that you would care for him?”(Psalm 8:4)

Look as the Psalmist asks for this kind of wisdom from the Lord:

Scripture Reading: Psalm 90:1-12

A “heart of wisdom” teaches us to see that our days are numbered and death is the great equalizer. Death came into the world through the sin one man, Adam. Therefore, all of the world lies in the dark brokenness of sin, deeply in need of rescue.

There is no reveling in thegood news of the gospel without first reckoning with the horrible depths of the effects of sin.  

Glorying In Redemption 

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:18-21, John 1:1-3

Enter: Hope

Into the bleakness of the condition of the world enters a blinding and beautiful light. A light that brings life, hope, and redemption. The darkness that came into the world and makes every human heartsick with sin cannot withstand the blazing of the light of Jesus, God in the flesh.

In the coming of Christ, sin does not have the final say. Death can’t claim this world as its own. Sin brings death, but Jesus brings life. Through one man, Adam came sin. And sin destroys. But redemption and life come into the world through the righteousness of one man, Jesus Christ.

This Jesus is our hope – he who lives forever, and whose resurrection proves he is making all things new. 

Guided Prayer 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which is a season of repentance and renewal. This is a season in which we are invited to confront the gravity of the sin in our hearts personally, corporately as a local community of faith, as well as to acknowledge the great effects of sin in the whole world.

Take some time to pray, both individually and in community with family and friends. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate to you the areas of sin in your life that need to be confessed and repented of in this season.

As you pray, consider this prayer adapted from the Book Of Common Prayer:

Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord. We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives, We confess to you, Lord. Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, We confess to you, Lord. Our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves, We confess to you, Lord. Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work, We confess to you, Lord. Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord. Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, Accept our repentance, Lord. For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, Accept our repentance, Lord. Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us; Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great. Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

The First Miracle | Week Four

epiphany (1)


Epiphany: A season of reflection and response to the revealed glory of Christ

John 2:1-12

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

The First Miracle

If we don’t count the miraculous conception, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, there are 34 distinct miracles that are recorded in the Gospels. Apostle John highlights seven miracles – four of which are unique to the Gospel of John. John calls the miracles “signs” because each of them reveal something about the person and purpose of Jesus Christ. The signs build on each other and unveil various dimensions of Jesus’ power and glory.  

It’s important for us to understand that these signs weren’t just neat tricks, they are manifestations of God’s glory, power, and presence in the person of Jesus Christ.

The first sign – turning water into wine – took place shortly after Jesus was baptized and welcome by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus, his mother, and the disciples were attending a wedding. In Palestinian culture, weddings were a huge deal; they were announced well in advance and celebrated by the entire village over the course of a few days. We don’t have specific information about the bride and groom, but it’s clear that they were connected to Jesus’ family.

At one point, during the wedding, the wine ran out. Culturally this was not simply an embarrassing situation, this was a crisis that would bring great shame and dishonor on the host. Mary, Jesus’ mother, immediately turned to Jesus and told the servants to “do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus is clearly very concerned about God’s timeline, but he is also incredibly compassionate. He told the servants to fill six stone jars with water (approximately 180 gallons) and, then, he transformed the water, one of the most basic chemical compounds on earth, into very good wine. This miracle resulted in compliments from the guests but, more importantly, it revealed the glory of Christ and inspired the faith of the disciples.

What does this have to do with us?

The miracles that are recorded in the gospels aren’t just about what God did in the past, they vividly communicate what God is capable of doing in the present and what he wants to do in each of our lives today. This event took place to reveal the glory of Christ, and to inspire our faith: Jesus is present and he takes things that are common, and broken, and transforms them into something new (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5).

Jesus redeems people, places, and circumstances – for our good and for his glory.

Scripture Readings for Week 4

  • 2 Cor. 5:17-21
  • Gal. 4:4-7
  • John 6:35-40
  • Luke 11:9-10

Reflection Questions

  1. What are some common spaces in your life where God is working?
  2. Are there things that you have been withholding from God, or places in your life where he has not been welcome?
  3. Is there a broken relationship or circumstance in your life that you need to surrender to Christ?
  4. What are some ordinary ways for you be involved in the lives of others in a way that points people to Jesus?

Prayer

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  – The Book of Common Prayer

The Baptism of Jesus | Week Three

epiphany (1)


Epiphany: A season of reflection and response to the revealed glory of Christ

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Baptism of Jesus

I never saw it coming. One minute, I’m moving swiftly through the family room, on my way to accomplish some highly important task. The next, I’m yelping in agony and carefully examining the sole of my foot, almost sure that I’m going to find profuse bleeding from the life-threatening LEGO wound. In a strangely biblical sense, I experienced an epiphany…of the LEGO. As Pastor Brenton explained a couple of weeks ago, during the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation (epiphany) of Jesus to the world. The image portrayed by the word manifestation is that something was always there, but we didn’t really see it…until, through an act of revelation, we finally get or see the significance. Did the LEGO suddenly appear out of nowhere? Contrary to my kids’ assertion, no. It was sitting there long before our ill-fated encounter. What changed is that I was now (painfully) aware of the presence and significance of this protruding piece of plastic.

One of the key events in the life of Jesus that the church has long celebrated during Epiphany is his baptism. It is in his baptism where Jesus is manifested (revealed) as God’s Son and the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus didn’t become God’s Son and Savior of the world at his baptism. Much like the LEGO on the carpet that was there before I saw it, Jesus always was the Son of God. It’s just that—with a few notable exceptions, like Mary, Simeon, and Anna—no one could see it. At this critical, watershed moment in salvation history, however, Jesus was revealed as God’s Son by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the affirming voice of God the Father.

As I meditated on this passage (and the additional readings below) this week, my heart was stirred in a few ways. I share them below with the hope that one or more may resonate with you.

  • I found myself with a deep longing that the baptism of Jesus wouldn’t be just a historical event outside of my experience, but that it would become a living expression of Epiphany spirituality…a personal epiphany of Jesus for me…that just as the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit would open my eyes, that I might see Jesus more clearly and proclaim like John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
  • I was reminded that I am called to participate in this manifestation of Jesus to the world today…but perhaps not in the way that I might expect. Sometimes I try to “reveal” Jesus to others in my own power, my own way, or my own timing. I forget that Jesus, rather than manifesting himself to the world, relied on the timing of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit (received at his baptism) to accomplish the works of God (Acts 10:38). The same Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus indwells each person who follows Christ, empowering us to embody this ‘epiphany’ to others. My role is to remain attentive to what the Spirit is doing and join him in the way that he is prompting, which is partly accomplished through #3.
  • I was encouraged that the Father was “well pleased” with the Son before he performed any ministry activity. Jesus’ identity as Son was part of his essence, and not based on his accomplishments. Of course, the powerful teaching, preaching, and healing ministry of Jesus would follow, but they would be rooted in his Sonship and accomplished through the Spirit’s empowerment. Sometimes I can look for my identity in what I do or accomplish for God rather than in simply who I am in Christ—a child of God, someone in whom the Father delights. I was reminded that my doing for God needs to be rooted in and not exceed my being in God. When my doing exceeds my being, I end up with good—but frenetic and unsustainable—activity that plants me on the path toward burnout.

Scripture Readings for Week 3

  • Isaiah 42:1-9
  • Psalm 29
  • Acts 10:34-43

Questions for Reflection

  1. Have I ever experienced a personal epiphany of Jesus? What was it like? How did that manifestation change me? If not, how might I create space in my life to pay attention to the Lord and how he might want reveal himself to me?
  2. What does it look like to embody an epiphany spirituality for others? In what ways might the Holy Spirit be empowering me to reveal, in tangible ways, the presence of Christ to people in my life—people both close to and far away from God? How do I stay in step with the Spirit and not get ahead or lag behind?
  3. Where is the primary place I find my identity? In the quality of my work, the number of my accomplishments, or how much other people affirm me? Or, is my identity rooted in being a child of God? If I never accomplished another thing, would I feel less worthy? Is my doing for God outpacing my being in God? If so, what needs to change?

Prayer

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.  – Book of Common Prayer

Glory And Redemption | Week 2

epiphany (1)


Epiphany: A season of reflection and response to the revealed glory of Christ

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The Ancient, Present, & Future Tense Of the Gospel

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a story that is rooted in the ancient past, culminates in the redemption moment of Christ on the the cross, and stretches into the infinite reaches of eternity. The Gospel is good news. Not good news for some people at one moment in time, but good news for all peoples for all time.

The first words of the Gospel of John beautifully echo the ancient and incredibly important words most of his readers would have immediately resonated with, “In the beginning…”. John begins this telling of the gospel story with the beginning of all things; his beginning is the Genesis moment that gave life to all things – Creation itself.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Jesus Christ, the embodied and eternal Word of God, existed before all things and from him came all things. Jesus is the active agent in Creation, as the Father speaks and the Son forms all things and the Spirit brings life to Creation.

The Real Jesus

Jesus is many things to many people. But to the writers of the the New Testament, and specifically John in his Gospel, Jesus is the Son of God. This is who Jesus is. It is not enough to call Jesus a good teacher, a radical reformer, or a moral man. The Bible has no category for thinking of Jesus in this way. He is either the Maker and Sustainer of all things and the God of the Universe, or he is to be ignored. He’s either holy or wholly irrelevant.

All of Scripture is tied together. The whole of the Bible is connected by God’s narrative of redemption. And Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise in the entire Bible. And in this season of Epiphany, this glorious reality is in focus: Jesus is the glory of God made manifest in human form right before our eyes.

Pushing Back What’s Dark In The World

John’s Gospel narrative hones in on a part of Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth that was so provocative, so enraging, and so offensive that it got him killed. Those in power in the religious system that Jesus and his family belonged to hated Jesus for saying that the Kingdom of God was for the whole world. Not just for one ethnic or religious group. Not just for one class or culture But for the whole world:

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9

From the beginning of the story of God, all people of the earth were made to glorify God as they flourished in ever abounding, never ending joy in this world. Sin broke things down, and brought about division where there was distinction. Instead of diversity being beautiful expressions of the Image of God, differences in humanity became battle lines and cultural enclaves.

But from the beginning, God promised to form for himself a people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Genesis 12:1-3 is the first explicit promise from God that he will see to it that the world he made will be redeemed, and that a multi-ethnic family would form from every corner of this magnificent and hurting world.

Epiphany is a time to recalibrate around God’s redemptive mission. For us to see the real Jesus, we must first see that he is the glory of God embodied in human form. That he is the supreme Glory that holds all of the universe together and is the fulfillment of the desire of every human heart. Secondly, seeing the real Jesus means seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise to form for himself a people from every part of the world. God’s heart for every culture, every color, every man, woman and child, is no more clearly seen that in Christ himself. For he is the light of the world, come to push back the darkness and bring the Kingdom of God to every kingdom of Man on the planet.

Scripture Readings For Week 2

  • Genesis 1:1-31
  • Genesis 12:1-3
  • Psalm 19
  • Psalm 67:4, Psalm 96:10
  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Colossians 1:15-22

Questions For Reflection

  • Who is Jesus to you? Is he your Lord? Or is he a religious figure? Are there areas of your life that you are trying to stay in charge of instead of submitting to the Lordship of Christ? Think of prejudices, insecurities, sinful patterns, relationships, etc.
  • How can you arrange your life around the redemptive mission of God to form for himself a people from every color and culture in the world? What do your relationships look like? Do you spend time with people just like you or are you joining Jesus in his mission among people from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, religions, social classes, etc?
  • Is there a specific racial, social, political, or other kind of group of people that you tend to disdain or avoid? Ask the Lord to teach you how to love those who you find the most unlovable. Pray for opportunities this Epiphany season to demonstrate love and build relationships with those people, and others who are ethnically and culturally different than you.

Prayer

Jesus, King of the Universe, help me to see the ways in which I have a small and inaccurate view of you. You are the one who made the Universe, holds all things together, and who sustains my very life. Fill my heart with a fresh revelation of you as I read your word and seek your face in prayer. I don’t want to follow a construct or religious figure. I want to see and savor the real Jesus in real life.

Jesus, I confess my fear and discomfort in pursuing relationships with people who are different than me. There are people that I simply don’t know how to, or sometimes want to love. Change my heart with the power of the gospel by the work of the Holy Spirit. So that I might love my neighbors as you have loved me. Amen.

Dear Church Family

_DSC2670

Dear Church Family,

I’m writing today to share an update regarding my role at Gospel Community Rivermont. Ryan and I have decided after much prayer and consideration that God is leading me to be at home caring for my growing (did you hear we’re pregnant?!) family during our next season of life. I have given my resignation at GCCR, and my last day will be February 1st.

This is a bittersweet decision for our family. I love serving Jesus in my staff capacity. I am honored to have had a front-row seat to watch God move among us to build His church. And I will never stop sharing the story of how God placed my family in a church where Jesus’ new commandment is lived. He placed us here knowing that our darkest days were coming, and that in those days, our church family’s love for us would become His healing arms around us. In times of joy and despair, we have experienced church as God designed it. We are forever changed.

Thankfully, we aren’t saying goodbye. Ryan, Hudson and I will continue to call GCCR “home” and plan to be committed members for as long as He allows. Meanwhile, my ministry shifts to be focused on my family, our growing newest addition, and on the grief we still carry after the loss of our son, Colt.

Regarding my position at GCCR, at this time, we do not fully know who my replacement(s) may be. We are praying God would lead us to the right people for our church in this phase of its ministry. As we have updates, we will be sure to share them with you.

In Christ,
Abby Barr
Director of Communications & Administration