Easter: Full of Life

It is a little paradoxical to write about Easter in the middle of Lent, but every year we pastors prepare our Easter sermons during the heart of the sacrifice and fasting that Lent brings, so the practice makes sense.

In many of our countries, Easter is the day people return to the normalcy of work and school after relaxing during the vacation days Holy Week.  How ironic! After all, Easter is the day “normal” gets obliterated, and a new paradigm emerges.  For Christians there should be no bigger celebration.

As Joan Chittister writes in her book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, “Nothing else in the Christian culture so completely explains all other things Christian as well as Easter does” (p. 54). The Son of God was handed over to be crucified and, after dying on the cross, remained in the tomb three days.  But Easter proclaims that death does not have the last word!  Thus, there should be no greater party than Easter!  An extravagant festival of praise should break forth on that Sunday just as Jesus burst from the tomb in the early morning so long ago.

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Chittister says it this way: “On Christmas morning we find the manger full of life; on Easter morning we find the tomb empty of death.  We know the whole truth now: death is not the end, and life as we know it is only the beginning of Life.  There is no suffering from which we cannot rise if we live a life centered in Jesus.  It is the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning that says to us, ‘You go and tell the others. Now!’ (Matthew 28:10, paraphrase)” (p. 164).  We simply cannot contain this good news!  We want to invite as many people as possible to rejoice with us!

That kind of impulse should cause our Easter service to overflow with joy and excitement.  Chittister shares a humorous anecdote related to this very reality:

“He was six years old and not given to church-going.  When I saw the family at the monastery Easter Vigil, I groaned.  It’s a long service full of dancing and singing, flowers and incense, bells and organ. Why would anyone ever bring a child to it? I thought.  But afterwards, at the agape, the boy was still clearly animated, and the family was aglow. ‘Jake insisted that we bring him back…for the Vigil again this year,’ his mother explained to me, tousling his hair proudly.  ‘Really? Whatever for?’ I said in obvious disbelief.  Then the little boy looked up at me with a kind of mild amazement. ‘Because I like this church,’ he said.  ‘In this church, Jesus really rises!’” (p. 201).

There aren’t much higher compliments.  This Easter may your service – and your life – be evidence to all that Jesus really rises!

Hope and Prayer

By: Board of General Superintendents 27 Mar, 2020

Even though these are challenging times, this past weekend was a blessing in the Church of the Nazarene, as worship services from around the world were broadcast through live stream or by video. Many churches reported reaching more people than ever before with the hope of Jesus Christ. People who would not normally feel comfortable entering a church building entered into digital space and encountered grace and peace. We give thanks to the Lord for this!

We are also deeply appreciative of the efforts so many of our churches are making to serve the needs around them in creative ways. We have seen so many examples of creative responses, from a congregation in Maine, USA, stepping up to fill the gap for food deliveries to the elderly to the Cape Verdean Nazarene pastors who were invited to bring a worship service to the country via a national television station, to Sunday school classes meeting by video conferencing, to a drive-in church where people drove to a parking lot and worshiped in their cars as the pastor and worship leaders led from an outdoor platform to a youth group in Ohio, USA, who decided to bring joy to people living in a senior care center through a drama program (from an appropriate distance outside, of course). These are just a few of the many stories we could share. All these are testaments to the faithfulness of God and the creativity of our people. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary means.

Some have asked for suggestions of how to pray during this season of COVID-19. Here are a few ways to focus your intercession:

1. Pray for wisdom for the leaders of your countries, states or provinces, and cities. Ask God to give them good counsel and wise discernment to know what is needed to protect their citizens. Pray for other countries besides your own that may be faced with difficult and complex situations unlike what you are experiencing. Every region of the world is seeking to weather the pandemic.

2. Pray for the protection of medical professionals and health care workers laboring to care for the sickest and those most needy. Pray for divine understanding and supernatural strength from God for their daily tasks. Many are facing a shortage of the most basic medical supplies. Pray for researchers, scientists, and manufacturers who are working to find cures and produce treatment equipment.

3. Pray for healing and comfort for those who are sick, lonely, and afraid, particularly the most vulnerable and endangered. This includes the elderly, those with chronic pre-existing health conditions, those without adequate health care, and those who are isolated due to quarantines.

4. Pray for those most at risk economically. The entire world is confronted with enormous financial implications, but for those who are single-income families, those caring for children and older parents at home, those who are self-employed, those who are in the service industry, and many others, this is an especially devastating time.

5. Pray for your pastors and church board leaders to know how to navigate the ministries and mission of the local church with a balance of caution, courage, and compassion. Pastors are front-line caregivers and “shepherds” of the people of God. If you are able, remember to support your church financially during a time when public meetings are not possible.

6. Pray for the Church around the world, including those of other traditions and denominations. While we ask God to bring an end to the pandemic, we also pray that the Church will find ways to serve, comfort, and love our neighbors for the sake of Christ and the healing of the world.

Phineas Bresee dreamed of a worldwide church when he said, “The sun never sets on the Church of the Nazarene.” Today that dream is a reality. We can literally cover the earth in our prayers, 24 hours a day. Let’s be faithful to that calling.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Grace and peace to you all,

The Board of General Superintendents

Website Church of the Nazarene

Jeremiah 29:11 – A Poem by Ana Brunk

Some of the greatest people on the planet are Missionary Kids (MKs).  Emily and I have been able to invest in different groups of MKs through the years, and we, of course, have two of our own that we think are dynamite.

Missionary Kids possess a great deal of cultural intelligence and seem to be able to adapt to a multitude of challenging situations.  But that does not make them impervious to pain and loss.  Recently I re-read a poem that a wonderful MK wrote in 2011 when she was 14 years old.  I hope that it gives you a window into what a teenage MK deals with and the hope that they can find in God even when the burdens seem unbearable.

Jeremiah 29:11

Ana Brunk, Nazarene MK in Singapore, 14 years old (July 2011)

Imagine yourself in Heaven,

Where the beauty of God’s creation thrives

Where the light and love of your Father surrounds you

Imagine yourself sitting in a vast field full of color and beauty

Your Father is there with you

You crawl onto his lap and hold his hand

As you do, he lifts your thumb for a closer look

Do you see those tiny lines all over your finger?

Your thumbprint is so special and unique, just like you he says with a wink

You look up at your Dad and smile

I have a purpose for everything that I do

Even the pattern on your thumb was made the way it was for a reason

Before returning to your home here in Heaven you suffered many hardships

Dear friends would have to leave

Your best friend moved away from you too

You felt alone, like you were the only one who really cared about your relationship with me

I felt your pain in all those situations

I cried with you in the bad times and celebrated in the good

But I knew the plans I had for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you

Plans to give you a hope and a future

You look up at your Father with tears of joy in your eyes

And it all worked out perfect, thank you Daddy

Christianity in Times of Calamity: Lessons from Habakkuk

 

By: Dr. Antonio Carlos Barro

“Calamity” (from the Latin calamitate) or the word “catastrophe” mean public disgrace, or even scourge. Public calamity refers to an abnormal situation provoked by disasters that cause damage and loss on a large scale.  Such tragedies involve a substantial commitment from governments and the society at large to respond quickly in midst of panic and crisis.

At this point in our history, it is almost impossible to think that anyone could not be aware of the calamity that has affected the world. Everyone is being affected. Nothing and nobody can escape this reality.

While reflecting on this, I thought of the prophet Habakkuk and the calamity that plagued his time.  I believe this book can give some answers to the problems we face. The following words are pastoral (another article that covers this topic from a different angle is: https://coletivobereia.com.br/igreja-e-irresponsabilidade-social-os-paradoxos-da-pandemia-de-2020/), and I wrote them thinking only of how we can better face these coming uncertain days.

Habakkuk is little-known in the Scriptures. We know that he lived at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah and that he had extraordinary faith rooted in God’s long-standing relationship with his people. He lived in southern Israel, and his prophecies, like Jeremiah’s, date back to just before Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem in 597 BC.

Habakkuk discussed with God what seemed to be his unjust way of ruling the world. He was baffled by the fact that wickedness, strife, and oppression were rampant in Judah, but apparently God was doing nothing about it. When they told him that the Lord was preparing to do something through the “cruel” Babylonians (1:6), his perplexity only intensified: how could God, who is “too pure to look at evil” (1:13), instruct such a nation to “execute judgment” (1:12) on a people “more righteous than themselves” (1:13)?

God made it clear, however, that eventually the corrupt destroyer would be destroyed. In the end, Habakkuk learned to rest in the sovereign actions of God and to wait for his work in a spirit of worship. The message: Learn to wait patiently in faith (2:3-4) because the kingdom of God will be expressed globally, even universally (2:14).

The book ends with a note of faith and hope: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (3:17-19).

Here are some lessons for us, although I’m sure others could be brought out, as well.

  1. We are all subject to disasters of all kinds. It can be health-related, economic, political, social, relational, etc. These disasters affect everyone without distinction. There is no such thing as praying and then assuming that nothing will ever happen to me or my family.
  2. Israel was God’s people in the past, but due to disobedience was not saved. In fact, it was God Himself who raised Babylon against His people. Babylon did not act outside of the sovereign will of God.
  3. Habakkuk understood what God was doing and decided to have faith and hope for the future. One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible states that God is working and that people will know His name and that His glory will be seen throughout the world: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
  4. We must have that same confidence. God has not forgotten his purposes; his mission is not yet over. While Habakkuk was still alive, he wrote. And while we have life, we are to “write,” as well.  Let’s write our hope, let’s write about God acting in us during this time. Could a calamity be strong enough to shake and destroy God’s goals for his people?!
  5. Let’s be realistic and practical. Habakkuk went to see what was happening. He saw the shortage, he saw the lack of food, he saw a distressed situation. He experienced it first-hand and knew it would shake everyone up.
  6. Even so, when he sees the results of the calamity looming, he stands up in a cry of faith and hope: “Though…”. Although everything is as it is, although I cannot see it, although everything is dry and without the possibility of flourishing…Even so I will rejoice.
  7. In the midst of it all, he prophesies: “I will rejoice in the Lord and rejoice in the God of my salvation.” Circumstances should lead us to praise God and not despair; they must lead us to believe and not to a state of unbelief. If circumstances end up determining whether we have faith or not, our relationship with God is finished.
  8. Finally, Habakkuk expresses his complete confidence in the sovereignty of God. That same sovereign God is your strength and will bring you out of this calamity. Perhaps the doctrine that will be most questioned these days by the people of God is his sovereignty. Surely there will be much written in these days about the injustices of God, about the ineffectiveness of God, and about the silence of God.
  9. It is up to us as the people of God to act with faith, courage and bravery.
  10. Let’s be like Habakkuk. He was not out of touch with reality; he knew what was happening and made sure he was familiar with the devastation.
  11. Now it is up to each of us to act in the midst of our calamity. We might question God, but we must finally believe in His sovereignty. We can convey, like Habakkuk, with our words and actions a message of hope to those who are bewildered. We can be a light in the dark. We can be providers. We can be what God wants us to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Conclusion

It was for this hour that God saved you. He not only saved you so that you could go to heaven, but also so that you would bring heaven to earth.  Bring it now – and soon!

He saved you so that you would shine today and not just in eternity. He saved you so that you would do good today. He saved you in order that you would live through this crisis with faith and boldness.

Believe and obey. Create and act. Today and always remember that God has not yet fulfilled his promise that the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of his glory. Reflecting on these truths will provide great peace of mind about the future.

Dr. Antonio Carlos Barro

General Director, South American Theological Faculty

Londrina, Paraná, Brazil

 

The Ashes of our Journey – Lenten Wanderings

By Teanna Sunberg

Tomorrow, across the globe, many Christ followers will line up at altars to be marked on the forehead or the hand with ashes. It is Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent – this plodding and sometimes painful wandering towards the brokenness of the cross that culminates in the miracle of the resurrection. This journey begins tomorrow with ashes.

Tradition dictates that, as the believer stands before the priest or pastor, the sign of the cross is drawn and accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Or, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

It is a powerful statement that on this one day of the year, believers in Christ wear an outward and visual symbol of their faith. As we shop, as we work, as we engage in the public areas of life, this cross functions as a filter for how the world understands us. The ashes define us this day.

The ashes themselves bring their own profound symbolism to the story. They are all that remains of the burned branches from the Palm Sunday celebration of the year before. But, Palm Sunday is such a troubling chapter in our narrative. How is it that the very people who waved those palm branches in welcome and celebration for Jesus are raising their fists and crying out to crucify him less than a week later? What kind of weakness? What kind of traitorous hearts? What kind of people?

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In truth, that Palm Sunday crowd allows us an honest picture of our human reality – perhaps, even, the truest mirror of our hearts. We both want Christ, and we don’t want him. Our human nature is in state of war between accepting God’s mercy and rejecting his authority. It’s easy to love God for what he gives us and it’s equally easy to be angry with God when he doesn’t give us what we want. The palm branches easily give way to the fists of Good Friday.

So, we will wear the ashes tomorrow on this first day of Lent. We set our feet towards the cross and we plod towards Friday. We mark ourselves with the ash that represents our broken dreams, our broken physical bodies, our broken relationship to God’s creation, our broken relationships with others, and our broken relationship with God himself: the ash that defines our human state. We wear the ash that reminds us of our sin. We wear the Palm Sunday ash and we proclaim that we believe.  

What do we believe?

We dare to believe that the triumphal entry of Jesus in AD 30 is a glimpse of truth: Christ is both a powerful king and a merciful Savior. We dare to believe that His triumphal entry into our hearts is a sure sign of his love and his power over darkness, death, and sin. We dare to believe that at death’s door, when our bodies return to dust, in some miraculous way, it is then we who make that triumphal entry – we step into eternal life with Christ. We are free.

On this Wednesday, those ashes define us. They tell the world that we recognize our need for repentant hearts. They remind us of the reality of our fallen nature. And, they speak of hope – the hope of resurrection, the gift of life and the treasure that is Christ.

On this Ash Wednesday – this first day of Lent:

Remember. Read Genesis 3.

Repent.

Believe.

This article was originally published at: TeannaSunberg.com

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

By: Emily Armstrong

International living has it’s ups and downs, that’s for sure. One question that has fascinated me for a while is when people ask me if I’m afraid to live in another country. And this week, a few things have happened to provoke deeper thinking on that topic – so I’m writing about it.

Scott and I were 26 years old when we first moved to the foreign mission field – Guatemala City to be exact. I’ve often said that God BLESSED us with a naive spirit and allowed us to continually think, “I guess that’s just the way it is on the mission field!” whenever something that should have made us anxious happened. I remember when we went to a town known for it’s kite festival, to see all the kites and experience a bit of kitesGuatemalan culture. What we didn’t know, is that about 10,000 people were PACKED into one main street of the small town, making it a great place for pick pockets to wander around unnoticed. We were there for about an hour and during that time had our camera stolen (out of a backpack that I was wearing on my front!) and Scott had a slit in his front jeans pocket, where someone had tried to slice open his jeans to allow his wallet to fall out. These were PROFESSIONALS. And we walked right into it – pretty naive. Thankfully, the wallet stayed put – and the camera…well, we mourned that loss for a little while.

Fast forward 16 years and there are still things around us that could or some would even say should frighten us. Like the email that I got yesterday from the US Embassy in Santo Domingo which was titled – Alert: Security Alert which proceeded to warn me:

Security Alert – U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (January 7, 2020)

Location: Dominican Republic

Event: Heightened Middle East Tensions

There is heightened tension in the Middle East that may result in security risks to U.S. citizens abroad.

The Embassy will continue to review the security situation and will provide additional information as needed.

Actions to Take:

  • Keep a low profile.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists
  • Review your personal security plans.
  • Have travel documents up to date and easily accessible.

Or the phone call that we got last night from Regional leadership asking about Scott’s trip to Puerto Rico this weekend. The Caribbean islands have been talking for months, if not years, about “The Big One” referring to a huge earthquake that should come someday because of the dozen fault lines that run through the islands. The most recent large earthquakes in Puerto Rico have increased the chatter, as well as our newspapers putting out advice on “What to do in the event of an earthquake”.

These are just a few things that have made me think about WHY my family serves the Church of the Nazarene as international missionaries. And the reason I come back to is because PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT ALL FEAR. John wasn’t just writing that sentence in his first letter to the Church because he thought it would look good on a print, or embroidered on a pillow. He wrote it, because he believed it. John, the same John that was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, tells us that perfect love casts out fear.

My spirit is quiet and at peace, because God has called me to this work of international living, working and serving and I trust that He is in control. I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. So when these events happen – and assuredly they will continue to happen – I find my strength coming from loving Him. He really does cast out all fear – and my family and I are living testimonies of that fact.

If you find yourself anxious for my family, or any missionary family living abroad, I would ask you to pray for us. Pray that we stand firm in the faith. Pray that we love God with everything in us and we love the people around us. Pray that we have courage to take light into dark places. God hears and answers these prayers and we are grateful that you join with us in ministry in this special way.

 

Show me Your Hands

By Leonard Sweet
(European Nazarene College, January 18, 2011)

I was reading Psalm 51:10 to my mother when she died: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me.”

Now the key to the holiness movement is a clean heart.  So give me an image for a clean heart.  What does a clean heart go with? Now the holiest person that has ever lived is named Jesus.  Pure holiness.

And what happens here with Jesus is that God comes down to earth.  How far down? How far down does the Incarnation go? Well, from the very beginning how far down does it go?  Where was Jesus born? In a royal palace? In a bassinet? How far down does the Incarnation go? Where does the Incarnation happen? It happens in a smelly stable, where the first thing Jesus experiences as an infant is what? Straw ticks. Little lice that live in straw. They bite your flesh.  And the smell of dung and animals.

But Jesus in the Incarnation went further than that because it not only went down to the very lowest of the human, but Jesus did something that no other Rabbi in history had done or allowed to happen.  In fact, it really bothered the disciples that he did this.  How far down did the Incarnation go? Jesus was the first Rabbi in history to do what? Wash his disciples feet.  That’s how far Jesus went.  All the way down.

And let me tell you, sisters and brothers, you don’t wash anybody’s feet without getting your hands dirty and wet.

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This is holiness!  You want an image of holiness? You have a clean heart? OK, here’s what goes with a clean heart – dirty hands.  You say you have a clean heart? I say, “What? Show me your hands.”

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Leonard Sweet

You are keeping your hands clean? “Oh, I wouldn’t want to get dirty.  We are supposed to be in the world and not of it…” What?! So your hands are too clean to get in the dirt? Oh, we need cleansing rituals all the time to clean us up.  But the whole purpose of cleaning us up is so that we can get dirty…

…Matthew 25 tells us what the question at judgment day will be.  “In as much as you did it to the least of these…”  In other words, here is the question at judgment day – Show me your hands.  You got clean hands? Go someplace else.  Because a clean heart means dirty hands.  Now this is an image of holiness.