Easter Weekend at Eastgate

Tonight is Good Friday and we will be observing it with a service which reflects on Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. It will be a time of singing and contemplation. We will also be doing a live painting, as well as an interactive, visceral worship experience. The cross has been a central part of the Christian faith for 2000 years. Tonight, we’ll take our place alongside the church through the ages and remember that pivotal day…the day the revolution began! We hope you can join us tonight, 6:30 pm in the Big Room at Eastgate.

On Saturday: we are inviting people to join in a voluntary day of fasting and prayer in anticipation of Easter. You can skip a meal, or two or skip the whole day (if your health allows for it). This allows us to step into an experience of loss and discomfort, like the first disciples experienced that terrible Saturday after seeing their Rabbi die along with their hopes and dreams of God’s kingdom. We have prepared written prayers that you can use to guide you in contemplating and communicating with God. This is a time to give thanks and to deeply consider the depths of God’s love for us.

You can find the prayers here: COMMUNITY PRAYERS_

On Sunday: Join us at sunrise at Rick Seltzer Park on Thomas Dr as we welcome the day and begin celebrating the wonder of resurrection! If you haven’t joined in on one of these services, I encourage you to do so, you won’t regret it!

Later, at 10 am in the courtyard of the Eastgate building, we’ll have a day of celebration, where we kick up our heels and shout for joy because Jesus is loose in the world making all things new! Join us for the celebration, then stay for a potluck lunch where we can fellowship and reap the benefits of God’s renewal by hanging out with the family of God! It’s always a good time! Bring a dish to share…and I hope to see you there! (see how I did that? It rhymes!)

See you tonight!

Seawall

The flow of human misery into this clinic is unrelenting.  Like a faucet of suffering that’s been turned wide open and the handle broken off, they come each day the clinic is open.

Mothers with young children make up the majority of those who wait in the heat for their turn, but there are others as well.  I walk throughout their midst to go into the clinic and they all look at me hopefully.  I’m a white guy in a medical clinic and they mistake me for someone useful.  So i pray for them, but they rarely understand what I’m doing.  I sat across from a man who was of indeterminate age but his face was weathered and hard.  He had made the four hour journey on foot from his village, carrying his two or three year old son.  His son had malaria, and he lay beside the man, never moving.  There was concern on his face, but only traces.  These are strong, hard people who’ve been forged from a brutal land and shaped by the anguish of war.

I’ve seen some terrible things in the time I’ve been here. Injuries that most ER doctors bak home would see, but here there are no deep pools of technology to draw solutions from, only raw courage and ingenuity…and grace.

The workers here at this mission and clinic are stunning.  Day in and day out, they pour out and pour out help and concern, from stores that can only be from God. There’s no fat paycheck waiting for them at week’s end, only the chance for rest and the promise of a new week of emotional intensity to come.

Last Wednesday was difficult. The midwife here had worked all morning long trying to deliver a baby that wouldn’t seem to move and was showing signs of distress.  The mother was barely in her teens, it’s how they treat women here.  Finally the decision was made to evacuate the mother to the hospital in Wau where an emergency c section could be performed.

Later that night during a bonfire/prayer meeting, word came that the mother was recovering, but the baby had died. The midwife stood up, as though she was going to say something, but just stood there with her eyes closed and palms up.  The pain and frustration of that moment radiated through everyone present; we all sat in reverent silence.  One of the girls who had been leading worship songs began to softly strum her guitar, and quietly began to sing “Blessed be Your Name”. We all joined in, including the midwife.  The only force greater than the oncoming pain and sorrow here is the grace and love that God pours into these workers.  Its like a sea wall of grace that braces against and stops what should be an overwhelming flood of hopelessness. These are remarkable people, and our God is wonderful.

I don’t have the time to detail all the heroics done here…of the 21 year old guy who knows so much from theology to welding, who works tirelessly to keep things running smoothly…of Sabet who moves like an anti-storm, bringing calm and peace to every potential crisis…and on and on.  Know that they’re out here, usually unnoticed but forging ahead and giving of themselves without reserve.

The good that’s done in this mission and clinic is palpable. It’s like a heartbeat in a vast, desolate, lifeless world.  God is at work here and the Kingdom is advancing, changing the world around it.  I hope we’ll continue to pray for the dear, broken people of Sudan and pray for these special souls called to serve them in God’s love.

I Am So Happy You Are Here

“I was born in a time of war.” the Sudanese representative of Evangelical churches said to my friends and I as we ate dinner at a missionary house in Nairobi.
“I was married during war, my children were born in war. I have only known peace for five years. If the referendum brings war again, I’m not worried, I’m used to it.”

He took another bite of the diner the house had served and smiled. Looking at the a nearest attendant he asked. “This is called what? It is good.”
“Hahm-bugher.”

“The task before the church in Sudan is great. We must monitor elections and speak for those who have no voice. BUT, more importantly we must train the people to understand what is good government. Honest, transparent, protecting the people, so that they don’t fall into the same pit they were in. This is what God wants for all people.”. He looked at us and smiled broadly, his eyes becoming
thin lines of joy. His skin was a glossy ebony and his forehead bore faint scars that betrayed his pastoral youth.

“I am so happy you are here. To come from America to the Sudan, it is a great thing. You would only come here because God told you to come. Why would you leave America when it’s like heaven and come to Sudan…God told you to come, and it makes me so happy to see you.”

Laying in bed staring up at the mosquito netting over my head, trying to puzzle through that encounter. How could three middle class, middle race, middle age guys be a blessing to a man like that?
I kept mulling over his words, “God told you to come and it makes me so happy.”

Then it hit me. If God told us to come to Sudan, it meant that God is aware of the needs in Sudan…that God had not forgotten them…that God cares.

It’s good that we’re here. Dave and Tom and I are getting along. We’ve had a few setbacks in getting all the way to Tonj, but we are here now. It has to be seen and experienced to be fully understood, but it’s amazing. I’m having some trouble getting photos translated to the iPad I’m using…but as soon as I get it figured out, I’ll put some up.
Thanks for your prayers…Saber and Suzy tell you hello!

We’re on a Mission From God

That iconic phrase that propelled Jake and Elwood on their hilarious adventures could also be applied to the earliest disciples who were sent out by Jesus to advance His cause in the passage we’ll be reading this Sunday.  Luke 9:1-6 will be the text for our study.

This was essentially the very first missions trip.  it was a precursor to the Great Commission issued by Jesus at the close of His earthly ministry.  As we read these few verses, we can sort of grasp at the nature of our own mission as the church today.  What can you observe about the mission Jesus has called His followers to in these instructions given to the disciples?  Where does power and authority come from, what is it power to do, what are the specific instructions about how to live among those we are sent to?

His commands seem strange and rather culturally specific, it may be hard to relate this passage to our present experiences.  Do this: consider what it meant to the disciples who had to live it out…what would it have looked like in THEIR experience, then make the closest possible connection with our present culture.  For instance, Jesus told them “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics…” .  Now, these are not what we would call travel essentials in our day, but for the traveler in ancient Palestine, it was important equipment for the road.  Why would Jesus limit what they carried…what was his point, do you think?  Once the possible reason is established, then imagine what that principle would look like in our present world as we carry OUR mission out.

Share your thoughts!  See you on Sunday.  Oh yeah, if you tweet, don’t forget to follow @eastgatepcb .

Honest Doubt When We’re Disappointed

Me, myself and againThis Sunday, we’ll be returning to our study in the Gospel of Luke, and we’ll be reading vs 18-35.

John the Baptist reappears in our narrative.  We read back in Luke 3:19 that Herod, Rome’s puppet king over Palestine had put John in prison because he was publicly speaking against his marriage to his brother’s wife.  While he is sitting in jail, awaiting the rise of the Messiah/King/Conquerer…he hears stories about Jesus being nice to tax collectors, and healing servants of Roman officers…and he is suddenly and quite understandably, nagged by doubts about Jesus being the Messiah.

How does Jesus respond to John’s obvious doubt and concern?  Do John’s doubts influence Jesus’ summary of John’s ministry?  What is the basis for John’s doubts…why does  he begin to doubt Jesus?  What can we learn from that as we examine our own struggle with doubt?

Those are some of the things we’ll be looking at on Sunday.  Hope you have a great Memorial Day weekend, and please don’t forget to pray for the families of those who have been lost in our country’s wars.

Processions to Parades

Hey gang!  This Sunday we’ll be looking at Luke 7:11-17 . As you look at that passage, what are the characteristics you notice about this collision of two different groups?  What strikes you about Jesus in this passage?  If you were to take this story of a miracle and try to make a present and personal application of it…how and where would you see yourself in this story?

A few other things: Remember that we are having Burning House this Sunday (a week earlier than normal, because the following week is Memorial Day weekend, and Riley will be out of town)…so make a note of it!

Also, don’t know if you know Dave Lloyd, but he’s a writer/blogger who hangs with Eastgate, and I read this post he wrote about Tweeting in church…check it out please!  Here’s the thing, if you Tweet, I’m encouraging you to start following Dave’s example and Tweet while I teach.  His reasoning is really sound for doing this, and I love how interactive our exploration of the Bible becomes in this.

To start, follow Dave on Twitter. (you don’t HAVE to do this step, but since he started this, I thought it would be cool to sort of rally around his tweets)

Next, during the teaching time on Sunday mornings, have your Twitter app open, and copy the main bullet points you see on the screen.  Then, as you are listening and thinking about what the text is saying, add your OWN thoughts about it, and use the #eastgate hashtag Dave started.  That way, we can all look at the various insights the Holy Spirit has provided during our examination of the passage.  Personally, the whole thing sounds like so much fun!!! PLEASE give it a try! (Howbeit, if your first question is “what is a tweet?”, this may not be for you…but if it IS for you, do it!)

See you Sunday!

Closed Hearts to a Wide Open God

This Sunday we”ll continue in Luke’s gospel, reading chapter 4:14-30.

Many scholars believe Luke’s gospel intentionally reverses Mark’s order of Jesus’ return home and his ministry in Capernaum in order to provide a sort of overview of what will characterize Jesus’ ministry all through the story.  It’s sort of a microcosm of the whole thing.

In the text we’ll read, Jesus is the Homeboy who returns to the neighborhood after generating quite a bit of interest in his ministry while in the larger town of Capernaum in Galilee. As he goes to church with his old friends and neighbors, he is offered the customary honor of being the reader of the Scriptures that day.  The Synagogue of that time was structured in a very similar way to our present day order of any given church service – with songs, prayers, the reading of the Torah and a short talk on how it should be applied to a person’s life.  If a rabbi or honored guest was in town, he was asked to read the Torah for the group, and share any insights he may have.

So, Jesus is handed a scroll (a seemingly random affair which held such huge significance), and he reads from Isaiah 61.  He hands back the scroll, sits in the chair of honor, and with everyone waiting in rapt silence, announces that the prophecy he just read is being fulfilled at that moment.

Cut to pandemonium: Everyone is marching Jesus out of the synagogue toward a cliff outside of town…brandishing pitchforks and baseball bats, crying out for Jesus’ death.

So what happened?  Why did the people of Jesus’ own home town react like this toward him?  As you read it, and consider the place, the people (including their racial heritage)  and the implications of Jesus’ words…what do you think made them so mad?  In wanting to follow Jesus, how would we avoid doing what the fine religious folks of Nazareth did?

Stuff to chew on….see you Sunday.

Backstory; Birth of John the Baptist

Have you ever had a major disappointment in life?  Have you ever asked God to intervene, only to feel like heaven was shut up and silent?  In the next section we will read, we’ll be introduced to a couple who went through that very thing.  We’ll be looking at Luke 1:5-25 this Sunday.  By the way, you can listen to this passage read HERE.

How did you feel when your prayer didn’t seem to be answered?  Did you feel like you did something wrong.  In our passage, we have an old couple who are described as people who are committed, observant followers of God…yet who suffered what was often considered a sign of God’s curse on their lives.  They were childless.  Not only that, they were advanced in years, meaning, they were past the age of doing anything about being childless.  You wonder how they felt, yet it appears it didn’t cause them to give up their trust in God.

What’s really interesting is that these people are the starting point for Luke’s account.  He frames it in the time of Herod the Great…but then shifts the focus from that impressive, historical leader to these two backwoods people who are the equivalent of an old country pastor and his wife.  People who should be considered insignificant, who can’t even get a prayer answered by God.  It’s with these folks that Luke starts the story of Jesus.  God is just cool like that.

When the angel appears to Zechariah, how does he respond?  Does it change the outcome of what the angel says?  What DOES it change?  Do you relate to Zechariah at all?  What does this passage say to you?

Myth #4: The Good Christian

John Doe had heard the sermon, and it had cut him to the quick.  The preacher had leaned over the pulpit in order to make his point, and projected his voice like an opera singer swelling to the finale.

“You must get to the place where your first instinct is faith and not fear when troubles come!”

John knew very well that he was not at that place.  Rumors were snowballing at his job, all the signs were there that the plant was going to close…and his first response was not faith, it was icy terror.  His first thoughts were of his family, and how he would provide for them.  His first instinct was to scramble around looking for more information, so he could better take on the task of fixing his problems.  The preacher’s words echoed through his thoughts and began pushing him into a corner.  “How can I expect God to take care of me or help me when I still don’t do this right?” he thought.  “When am I going to get to the place when I have this together, when I don’t mess up so quickly.”

The sense that he’d already failed the test pressed down on him, and he thought about the preacher who had uttered that challenging sermon.  He thought about how faithful he was, how obviously capable he was of trusting God and resisting temptation.  From there, his thoughts drifted over the other people in his church who clearly had their “spiritual lives” together, who clearly had a walk with God that far exceeded his own.  They could trust God in the worst of times but he fell into fear because of  a rumor.  The thoughts began to bear down on him…he realized he had failed his test, and the only relief available was to push all of this from his mind for now.

“Later.  I messed up…I can’t even pray about this right now.  I’ll get my act together later.  I’ll do this better next time.”

Thus John Doe was discouraged into paralysis by a MYTH.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at the myth of the good Christian.  This will get a little more personal…so be warned.

Is Christianity supposed to be a sin-management plan?  Is the life of following Christ about adhering as closely as possible to an elusive standard of good Christian living?  Is there a place we get to where we have this thing wired, where we have achieved the title of being a good Christian?  If you are answering “no” to these questions, then conversely, what role does holiness and the perfection Jesus called us to have in our lives?  How do we reconcile our struggles with faith and temptation with the Bible’s call to right living?

To prepare…read Paul’s thoughts in Romans 7:15-8:2…and I’ve linked it to the Message because its such a clarifying take on it…but check it in other translations as well.  Ponder it…meditate on what Paul is saying…Paul, the prince of apostles, the great spiritual force of the New Testament writings…consider his confession and resolution.

Don’t be afraid of straw men.  Don’t bet stuck chasing myths and missing the path.

MythBusting the Church, part 2: The Ten Percent Rule

71014_MoneyHappiness_vl-vertical“If you don’t pay God His tithe, the blessings will be cut off in your life!”  Ever hear anything like that?  Is that really accurate?  Why do I picture a mob-boss in connection with that statement more than the God of the Bible?  Does God really have to resort to extortion in order to motivate His children to be generous?

The arguments are many and varied, but all of them point back to the Old Testament law, and the requirement of the 10% tithe (tithe means ten percent). This Sunday we’ll look at the myth that’s been propagated by many churches  for about 1500 years…the myth that says New Testament Christians, redeemed by grace, are obligated to give 10% of their monetary income to the church, in order to be blessed by God.

Seriously…go read Col 2:10-17, and think about what Paul says the Old Testament law was…and what our obligations are to it as those in Christ.

We’ll also look at 2 Corinthians 9 to find out what principles should guide New Testament generosity.  Ever read that passage in the Message?  It’s awesome!  While the actual context is a relief offering for the famine ravaged church in Jerusalem, the principle can be a guide to all the practical, fiscal matters that touch the church community.  There’s nothing overly mystical about it…no condemnation, no demand to meet an obligation, in fact, just the opposite.

Come hang out with us this Sunday as we MythBust the 10% tithe for the Christian!