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Three Resources for Connecting with Jesus Daily 

Three Resources for Connecting with Jesus Daily 

At Christ Community, we want to be a local church that helps you connect Sunday to Monday — a church that helps you follow Jesus more faithfully where you live, work, and play every day. 

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve found that setting aside time each day to read the Bible, pray, and listen for God’s voice is the keystone habit that shapes my life more than any other. 

But it’s not easy. I find myself wondering what I should read in my Bible next or thinking I want to pray but feel stuck in a rut. 

Whether you’ve been connecting with Jesus for years or just getting to know him, I wonder if you’ve found yourself stuck in similar ways. 

Here are three resources (plus a bonus) that have helped add depth and new life to my times of connecting with Jesus each day.

 

theFormed.life

TheFormed.life website and the companion journals available at any Christ Community campus provide a daily framework for reading the Scriptures, prompts for prayer, and practices for connecting with God and serving others. TheFormed.Life is tied to the current sermon series, so you have the benefit of connecting with God individually and gathering and connecting with others on Sundays who are focusing their attention on the same texts and practices.  

 

Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship

Have you ever had the experience of needing to write an important email, paper, or proposal and found yourself paralyzed by the “blank page”? You stare at that empty word-processing screen with the cursor winking at you, not knowing how to start. Sometimes our moments of connecting with Jesus can feel the same way. 

A bit like a conversation starter at a gathering of friends or family, a resource like Be Thou My Vision can serve as a jumping-off place to get the “talk” going. It is arranged in a monthly cycle of Scripture, prayers, and historic creeds. It has been a regular companion for me since it was published. I don’t always have time to do every element included each day. But it is a gift to sit down with my coffee, open the book and start with prayers and Scripture right in front of me on the page.

 

Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year

This tool is similar to the previous resource but designed for families to use together. It has a two-page spread for all 365 days of the year that allows you to open the book with absolutely zero preparation and use it with your kids around the dinner table or at bedtime. 

It employs wonderful pedagogical techniques and is developmentally appropriate across a wide span of ages. My 4, 6, and 9-year-olds enjoy it but it is also interesting and encouraging for my wife and me.

 

Bonus: When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer

This last resource isn’t like the others. It isn’t a daily resource but provides a beautiful and compelling picture of the “why” behind connecting with God. I highly recommend this resource if you find yourself wanting to pray or not feeling drawn to God in prayer. Maybe there was a season in life where you “felt” God and connected with him easily but now feel he is distant or that you don’t desire him as you used to. 

Early in the book, the author, Jan Johnson, who worked closely with Dallas Willard, warns of the danger of conflating devotion to tools (like the three listed above) with devotion to God. She writes,

Eventually we develop a devotion to the tools. Persistent and regular use of certain activities becomes a guarantee for so-called success. For example, people say, “Read your Bible and pray. You’ll be fine.” So we push ourselves to finish today’s reading plan or at least get to the bottom of the page of a reading, instead of seeing the goal as to meet with God today and Bible reading as a means to that end. Essentially we are trusting tools and our human efforts to use them well, instead of trusting a loving, self-giving God who listens attentively to us and is eager to do whatever is needed to draw us deeper into a discipling relationship with the Trinity. Differentiating between devotion to God and devotion to spiritual tools may seem trivial, but this was a primary difference between Jesus and the Pharisees.

 

When I read that I immediately recognized myself. There have been many times in my life when completing the reading plan or working through each page of the devotional, liturgy, or journal became the functional goal. What’s the result then? When I succeed, I feel good about myself. When I’m failing, I feel bad about myself. In both cases, I end up focused on myself rather than enjoying Jesus enjoying and loving me. That’s the goal of all these tools. They are to be a means to the end of knowing and being known by the One who made you and gave his life to rescue you.

My hope is that these resources will help you find deeper joy in knowing and being known by the Triune God of the universe. He loves you and he is waiting for you. Go to him today.

The Song that Saved COVID Christmas Eve

The Song that Saved COVID Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2020. It had been a tough year. The world had started to reopen a little but vaccines were still in the future. Nothing felt “normal” yet. So when I arrived to lead Christmas Eve services that December 24, it was with a sense of excitement, but also a sense of exhaustion. 

I was in the church office area behind the platform reviewing my notes when I heard it — a voice singing O Holy Night. I did an auditory double-take. Who is that singing? The band for that evening was small (because, well, COVID) and I knew everyone who was singing that night. I thought. Whose voice is that? I walked out the office and into the worship center. It was Mike Johnson, a congregant new to Christ Community.

 Mike played bass in the band a few times, but I didn’t know he could sing like that! 

 He wasn’t in the band that night, but was one of the Scripture readers. As the band was rehearsing, Mike asked if he could sing one of the verses. 

“Sure,” replied Taylor, who was leading the Christmas Eve band.

Mike sang one verse in rehearsal, and we all knew this was going to be something special. 

“You’re going to sing the whole song. Solo.” Taylor decided.  

Mike did and it saved COVID Christmas Eve. 

In every one one of the three services that evening O Holy Night became the highlight. The room was transformed as people basked in the beauty of the music, the beauty of the voice, and the beauty of the lyrics: A thrill of hope the weary [COVID] world rejoices. Even now, nearly two years later, people still tell me how that song moved them so deeply and is a moment they will always remember. 

Music has that kind of power. 

 

Origin of O Holy Night


The lyrics of
O Holy Night began their life as a poem titled “Minuit, Chrétiens.” French wine merchant Placide Cappeau composed the poem in 1843 to celebrate the restoration of a church in the village of Roquemaure. Later, it was set to music by the composer Adolphe Adam, and quickly grew in popularity. It was translated into English in 1885 and became a favorite of those in the abolitionist movement because of the line: Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother / And in his name all oppression shall cease

But not everyone was a fan. One Roman Catholic music journal wrote in 1864:

Adolphe Adam’s [“Minuit, Chrétiens”] has been performed at many churches during Midnight Masses….it might be a good thing to discard this piece whose popularity is becoming unhealthy. It is sung in the streets, social gatherings, and at bars with live entertainment. It becomes debased and degenerated. The best would be to let it go its own way, far from houses of religion, which can do very well without it.*

Thankfully, the journal’s authors didn’t get their wish, and today O Holy Night is still sung in the streets, at social gatherings, and in churches. You might even still hear it at a bar or two if they happen to play one of the many recordings of it made by artists as diverse as Patti Labelle, Sufjan Stevens, and Martina McBride.

Three lines in the song resonate with me every time I sing it or hear it sung.

 

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices


A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.
Regardless of generation or circumstance, we all feel the weariness of the world — a world longing for the One who says “Come to me all who are weary and I will give rest.”

 

In all our trials born to be our friend


I love the line:
In all our trials born to be our friend. The God who made us does not stand far off from us. He has come near in Jesus. He knows our need, and sympathizes with our weakness. He is one of us. And yet he did not fail where we fail. And so Jesus, the God-man can be the rescuer we need: He knows our need / To our weakness no stranger!

Thus, the pastor who wrote Hebrews can proclaim: 

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. 

 

Hebrews 4:14–16 Christian Standard Bible

 

Jesus, who is the true and better high priest, is also the true and better king. He is the king who will do away with injustice and oppression.

 

All oppression shall cease and Psalm 72


This is what we find in the third verse of
O Holy Night

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,

Our Scripture passage for this week is Psalm 72. It describes the ideal king who will bring justice:

 

For he will rescue the poor who cry out and the afflicted who have no helper.
He will have pity on the poor and helpless and save the lives of the poor.
He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious in his sight.

Psalm 72:12–14 Christian Standard Bible

 

At Jesus’ Second Advent, his Second Coming, he will be the king who once and for all sets things right. While we wait, we anticipate and point to this coming by working to bring about what Stephen Garbar calls “proximate justice.” Not perfect justice, because only Jesus can and will bring that when he comes. But a justice for now that adorns, that is part of, the proclamation of a hope that thrills a weary world.

 

Fall on your knees. Kneel before him; hear the angel voices and add yours to the never ceasing chorus of praise to our coming king.

Are We Building the Altar?

Are We Building the Altar?

In 1 Kings 18 we find one of the most dramatic Old Testament accounts. Elijah, the prophet of the one true God of Israel, challenges the prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal, to a contest to demonstrate whose God is real. 

 

The terms of the contest were simple. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would each prepare an altar and each would sacrifice a bull on the altar. But neither would set a fire on the altar. Instead, each would call on the name of their god and whichever god answered with fire, that god was the true God.

 

Tim Keller in his recent article “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 3 — The Path to Renewal” points out that many Christians have seen this Old Testament account as a helpful metaphor for how God brings about renewal in the church. Keller defines a revival or renewal this way: “Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals, ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith.”

 

Only God can bring the “fire of renewal.” Human technique and effort alone cannot produce renewal. Nor can the church compel or manipulate the means or timing of God’s work. However, this does not mean there is nothing we can do as we long for a fresh work of God in our lives, churches, and culture. We can build the altar. As noted by Keller,  “Christians looking for revival, they are ‘building the altar,’ praying that God will use their efforts to bring a fire of renewal with a movement of his Spirit.” 

 

In the first two installments of his four-part series of articles, Keller gives an account of the decline of both mainline and evangelical Christianity. Both articles are lengthy and nuanced and well worth careful reading. Keller’s point in both articles is summed up this way: 

 

Virtually everyone agrees that something is radically wrong with the church. Inside, there is more polarization and conflict than ever, with all factions agreeing (for different reasons) that the church is in deep trouble. Outside the church, journalists, sociologists, and all other observers either bemoan or celebrate the church’s decline numerically, institutionally, and in influence.

 

While the church is always in need of reforming and refining, it seems like this moment in American Christianity is in need of something more than refining. This seems to be a moment when something like renewal or revival is needed.

 

Over 30 years ago Christ Community was founded with the longing and prayer that this local church would be a catalyst for spiritual renewal in Kansas City. That longing and prayer still endures today.  

 

How can Christ Community build the altar?

Keller suggests three altar-building practices. 

 

Recovery of the gospel

It is all too easy for pastors and congregation members alike to functionally forget the radical good news of grace. This is the news that in Jesus we are completely known and loved — not because of anything we have done — but because of what Jesus has done for us. 

 

Theologian Kelly Kapic in his wonderful book You’re Only Human invites his readers to consider two questions. First, do you believe God loves you? He suggests that most Christians would say of course, God loves me. But then he poses a second question: does God like you? How would you respond? He writes: 

 

Have you ever felt that your parents or spouse or your God loved you, and yet wondered if they actually liked you? Love is so loaded with obligations and duty that it often loses all emotive force, all sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Like can remind us of an aspect of God’s love we can all too easily forget. Forgetting God’s delight and joy in us stunts our ability to enjoy God’s love. Forgiveness, as beautiful and crucial as it is, is not enough unless it is understood to come from love and lead back to love. Unless we understand the gospel in terms of God’s fierce delight in us — not merely a wiping away of prior offenses. Unless we understand God’s battle for us as a dramatic, personal rescue and not merely a cold forensic process, we have ignored most of the Scriptures as well as the needs of the human condition.

 

It is this understanding of gospel love and grace that is the keystone in the rebuilding of the altar.

 

Corporate prayer

The second altar-building practice is corporate prayer. While private individual prayer is vital, a quick survey of the history of renewal moments shows a common thread: Christians gathering together to pray for God to work and move.

 

As we seek the renewal of our churches and communities, prayer is critical. And not just corporate prayer within Christ Community but with other like-minded Christians and churches, especially across racial and socio-economic dividing lines. 

 

Creativity

Finally, altar-building is marked by creativity. No two renewal moments have looked exactly the same. Building the altar isn’t a matter of simply trying to reproduce the methods from previous moments. It is about looking for fresh insights into this particular moment, discerning how the Spirit is working. A fantastic resource for understanding this cultural moment and sparking creativity is Mark Sayers book Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture. Get a copy and read it with a group of other believers.

 

Conclusion

In the story of 1 Kings 18, not only does Elijah build the altar but he saturates it with water. The more soaked the altar is, the more dramatic the demonstration of God’s work and word. As we approach deeply contentious election seasons in 2022 and 2024, and face violence, war, and economic challenges in our nation and world, it is obvious; no mere human can light the fire. 

 

But we trust the resurrected King Jesus who, when He had ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts 2 appeared as flames of fire above the heads of those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

This is my prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray, we ask, we plead: do it again! For your glory and our good, make yourself known to us, renew us, heal us. Make us faithful to build the altar. We trust you and your timing for the fire. Amen.

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

There’s nothing like sleeping in a tent to make you appreciate your house and your bed! There’s nothing like travel to make you treasure home. Every year our family takes a road trip to visit national parks across the country. On those trips, we’ve made some of our best memories together. It is always sad when the trip comes to an end. However, we never appreciate our home and our beds more than when coming home from a long trip. 

 

The common comforts of home — running water at the turn of a handle, light at the flick of a switch, flushing toilets, cold food without constantly filling a cooler with ice — all seem spectacularly wonderful after two weeks of camping, motels, and hours upon hours in the car. 

 

Good Friday works a bit like that in the Christian life. On Good Friday at Christ Community, we remember vividly in our Tenebrae style Good Friday services the darkness -— literal and figurative — of Jesus’ death on the cross. And it is profoundly uncomfortable. Yet, it is the discomfort of Good Friday that helps us treasure the comfort of the gospel. It is for this reason that this service has become a favorite of so many.

 

Good Friday is a trip into the wilderness of Jesus’ death so that we might treasure our home in Jesus’ resurrection life all the more. This once-a-year trip into the grief of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin helps thaw our hearts. Our hearts can so easily and quickly grow cold to the joy of the hope we have in the gospel. 

 

Poet Christina Rossetti felt this coldness in her own heart. In response, she penned the poem “Good Friday.” Published in 1866 as part of the collection The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, she describes herself as a stone instead of a sheep and laments how she among all God’s creation is unmoved by the cross. Take a moment to reflect on her words. (Read them aloud if you can.)

 

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,

That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,

To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,

And yet not weep?

 

Not so those women loved

Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;

Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;

Not so the thief was moved;

 

Not so the Sun and Moon

Which hid their faces in a starless sky,

A horror of great darkness at broad noon –

I, only I.

 

Yet give not o’er,

But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;

Greater than Moses, turn and look once more

And smite a rock.

On Good Friday we grieve, not without hope, but so that we may treasure the hope we have! We grieve so that we may be sheep, not stones. We grieve so that our stony hearts might melt. We grieve so that when we encounter the stone rolled away on Easter morning, our hearts may come alive with joy.

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

Getting kids to church can be a challenge — at any age. When they are infants it’s because it just takes so much work to pack them up. Kids at that age require so much gear! Later as toddlers, separation anxiety can make dropping them off at the Children’s Ministries area challenging to say the least. With elementary-age kids, sports and other activities can easily compete with and crowd out opportunities for kids to participate in church events. Then as pre-teens and teens, a normal and healthy burgeoning sense of autonomy can be challenging to parental suggestions or expectations for church involvement. 

So as a parent — at any stage — the question on any given weekend can understandably be Is it worth the effort and energy to help get my kids to church this week? 

Now I am a pastor so I know you’re probably not going to be shocked if I say, Yes! It’s worth it. (It feels a little like asking a personal trainer if working out is worth it. Of course they are going to say yes.) So I’m going to let someone else answer the question. 

Recently, Christianity Today magazine published a summary of findings about children’s health from researchers at Harvard’s (yes, that Harvard) T. H. Chan School of Public Health (i.e. not pastors). 

The researchers led by Tyler VanderWeele “…examined a large swath of data, collected over more than a decade, which tracked the development of 12,000 nurses’ children into their young adulthood. The longitudinal study surveyed social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.”

The team was curious about how schooling choices and religious service attendance correlated to health outcomes. Here’s what they found:

In comparing key health indicators, the researchers found little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who went to private school. (All of the kids who participated were between the ages of 9-14 when the study began.)  

So parents you can breathe a little sigh of relief there. But what about religious service attendance? How much does that matter? 

“What we found was that religious service attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” [VanderWeele] said. “Religious service attendance has beneficial effects across the different school types and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”

 

In other words, the kids who grew up attending church regularly rated far higher in overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did not go to religious services during their formative years.

Did you catch that? If you take two kids — one who attends church once a week regularly and another who goes to a religious school five days a week but attends church only sporadically — it is the regular church attendee who fares better. The researchers concluded that “…religious service attendance in youth was clearly the more dominant force in shaping health and well-being, at least as this pertains to the data and experiences 20 years ago.” 

Here’s the bottom line from the Christianity Today summary: 

Furthermore, “regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity,” VanderWeele writes in his latest article for Christianity Today. “People who attended church as children are also more likely to grow up happy, to be forgiving, to have a sense of mission and purpose, and to volunteer.”

 

“So regardless of school type,” VanderWeele says, “it’s beneficial to go to religious services, both as an adolescent and as an adult.”

These findings highlight the beauty and wisdom of God’s design for the local church. When parents dedicate their children at Christ Community, one of the questions they are asked is: Do you promise, before God and this congregation, that you will be faithful in worship, both in the home and in the church?

Those two spaces —the home and church — are vital to human health and flourishing. This is why Christ Community’s Children’s Ministries and Student Ministries staff and volunteers put so much effort into equipping parents. Parents play an outsized role in their children’s faith development. However, what the Harvard analysis shows  is clear. It isn’t enough to simply be faithful in worship at home if we want our children to truly flourish. It also requires being faithful in a worshiping community; a local church.