October 01, 2015
This past April many of you contributed to our record-smashing Good Friday offering—to the tune of about $130,000. The money was designated to support two incredible ministries: 1) Zambiri House, a ministry started by Archbishop and Gloria Kwashi to adopt nearly 60 children—mostly victims of terrorist and tribal violence; 2) The Christian Institute, a school that trains future pastors, church planters, and health care workers to bring the gospel to terrorist-ravaged places of northeast Nigeria.
In early September of this year, I had the privilege of delivering your Good Friday offering to the Diocese of Jos in Nigeria. Technically, we wired the money, but because we value this global friendship so much, we wanted to send a person along with the wire transfer. And they wanted to see a person from Church of the Resurrection. So I spent four days in Jos, Nigeria celebrating the friendship in the gospel that all of you have helped to create.
I'm happy to report that I had the best Moi Moi I've ever had—a Nigerian spicy bean mash pressed together with an unexpected fried egg in the middle. I ate it in your honor. I also drank some bad water and got horribly sick for nearly two weeks, but I have no regrets for the trip. I cannot tell you the joy I witnessed on the faces of our Nigerian friends to see someone (me, a representative for all of you) from Church of the Resurrection. Their love and appreciation for us runs deep.
I also can't convey how their faith in Christ can apprentice and disciple us. Let me share one story. I was asked to preach at a Sunday morning service at St. Bart's Anglican Church in Jos, although I had no idea I would give just one of three sermons in their four and a half hour annual Children's Harvest Festival service. But what really struck me wasn't the length of the service or that it was still filled with exuberant praise at the four-hour mark. What really moved me was their deep gratitude and openness to the gift of children even in the midst of poverty and violence. When I tried to explain to them that some powerful and influential people in our country say that every child must be a "wanted" child, or else he or she should not be allowed to enter the world, they looked at me with utter confusion—as if to say, "But why wouldn't every child be a wanted child? Why wouldn't every child be welcomed into the world as a gift from God, someone to cherish and love?" This is just one example of how they can disciple people in our culture, of how we need to be the learners and not the teachers for our African brothers and sisters.
So brothers and sister in Christ, thank you for your 2015 Good Friday gift. Thank you for your generosity. Archbishop Kwashi told me, "I know that even a gift of one dollar means that your people had to give up something else, and that means something to us. We are so grateful to God for your people—not just for your money, but for your love and our partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ." He meant it from the depths of his heart.
March 09, 2014
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The church celebrates six seasons every year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, plus twelve festival days. But there is only one season that sneaks up on me every year, coming around faster and feeling longer than any of the others. That season is Lent. There is something about these forty days of lengthened liturgy, somber colors, and conversations about fasting that is memorable, uncomfortable, and completely inescapable.
What is this season that comes upon us so inexorably every year? In its earliest form Lent was a period of prayer and fasting for believers who were preparing to be baptized. By the time the Council of Nicea rolled around in 325 AD, Lent was set as a 40 day fast, and by the end of the 4th century it was established as a time of preparation for Easter. The church in Rome configured its timing and fasting rules differently from the church in Jerusalem, but all acknowledged that it was meant to be a time of penitence and self-denial.
But why precede the deep joy of Eastertide with such somber reflections? One answer can be found in the collect for the first Sunday of Lent. “As you know the weaknesses of each of us," it enjoins, “let each one find you mighty to save." Lent is meant to be a spiritual slap in the face as we look straight at our sins. Yet the point is not to wallow passively in the filth of our failings, but to receive the active call that Jesus voiced so often: “Repent." Like the prodigal son, we can return to the Father who loves and forgives us.
The Church even tells us how to go about doing so: through prayer and fasting. Through the discipline of fasting, we are put on edge so that we can never comfortably shift into autopilot. This helps us to remain constantly in prayer as we repent of our sins and seek God's will for us as individuals and as a church.
Ultimately, this forty-day discipline brings us to Holy Week and a glorious reality of our God: he is mighty to save. He knows our weakness better than a lifetime of Lents will ever allow us to, and his answer is the cross and an empty tomb. This is reason enough for us to stop seeing Lent as a liturgical inevitability and start anticipating it as a season in which we are taught one of the most beautiful Christian disciplines: repentance.