The Season of Epiphany

On January 6, the church enters a new season of the liturgical calendar.  The colors at the front of the church change from white to green to signify the season of Epiphany.

When we say, “I’ve had an epiphany!” we mean that suddenly we see something profound that changes everything.  Something is shown or revealed to us that we were missing.  During the season of Epiphany, the church has traditionally focused upon events in Jesus’ life that show us his identity as our Savior and Lord.  According to the most ancient traditions, Epiphany begins with reflections on the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), which shows his royalty and mission to all nations, the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34), which shows him to be the beloved Son of God and promised Redeemer King, and the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1-12), which shows his power to bring the promised age of purification by his blood and new abundance in God’s renewed creation.

The Epiphany theme of seeing/showing means two things for us.  First, we have the chance to see Jesus for who he is.  He is our protecting and defending King, the Savior for all peoples, the beloved Son of God who makes us beloved children of God, the Spirit-anointed Christ who also gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the host of the great banquet to which we are invited, and.  All we long for and all we strive for is found in him if we will have eyes to see.

Second, we have the calling to show Jesus to others.  In fact, it is in seeing Jesus for who he is that we become able to show Jesus to others. When we see we are saved by his grace and not our own righteousness, we are able show him through lives of humility rather than pride.  When we see all he has done to meet our needs, we are able to show him by caring for others’ needs.  When we see how he has welcomed us in, we are able to show him through our hospitality.  When we see how we have been forgiven, we are able to show him by forgiving.  When we see how richly Jesus has loved us, then we will be able to show Jesus by loving others.

Daily Worship Guide: December 22-27, 2014

This daily worship guide for the 4th week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the redeemer who delivers from sin and its evil effects and renews all things from the sermon on Romans 8:18-25 in corporate worship on December 21.  Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week.  (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)

Key themes: Salvation from the evil effects of sin in all creation; the cosmic scope of Jesus’ power and authority to save; the renewal and glorification of the whole creation Continue reading

Daily Worship Guide: December 15-20, 2014

This daily worship guide for the 3rd week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the redeemer who reconciles God and man from the sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 in corporate worship on December 14.  Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week.  (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)

Key themes: God’s reconciling and uniting the world to himself and reconciling and uniting human beings to one another through the person and work of Jesus Continue reading

Daily Worship Guide: December 8-13, 2014

This daily worship guide for the 2nd week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the revelation of God’s truth and grace from the sermon on John 1:1-14 in corporate worship on December 7.  Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week.  (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)

Key themes: Jesus as the ultimate Word of God who provides us with (1) truth about our origin, meaning, and destiny and (2) grace to save us from the spiritual darkness of rebellion against God. Continue reading

Daily Worship Guide: December 1-6, 2014

This daily worship guide for the 1st week of Advent reflects the theme of spiritual warfare from the sermon on 1 John 3:7-8 in corporate worship on November 30.  Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week.  (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)

Key themes: spiritual warfare, Jesus’ victory over the ultimate enemies that oppose his kingdom (sin, Satan, death) Continue reading

Celebrating Advent and Christmas

The seasons of the church calendar are designed to help us remember and live faithfully according to the story of Jesus’ life and his work for our salvation in fulfillment of God’s mission for the people of Israel and his plan for the whole world.  In other words, the church calendar helps us order our worship and life together as a church around the whole story of the good news (gospel) of Jesus.

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How Worship Renews the Church

If you ask any Christian about the practices that are most important for spiritual health and growth, almost all will put acts of worship at the top of the list. But why does worship “work” in this way? How does God renew us spiritually through acts of worship?

1.  Worship renews us because we meet God in a focused way. Two friends can experience one another side-by-side as they work together and face-to-face as they focus on relating directly with each other. Worship is spiritually powerful because it is most like the direct and focused experience of friendship in face-to-face mode. As worship scholar Josef Jungmann puts it, worship is “the life of the church with her face toward God,” and thus James K. A. Smith describes the practices of Christian worship as “hot spots where God’s formative, illuminating presence is particularly intense.”

2. Worship renews us because it engages our whole person. When we worship, meeting God is never just a purely “inward” matter of our thoughts or feelings but rather a tangible encounter through our whole person. With our ears we hear God’s word, which instructs our minds and kindles our imagination with a vision of the world from God’s perspective. With our lips we sing God’s truth, which engages the mind and moves our heart. With our eyes we see God’s people and visual symbols in art and architecture, which makes God’s word and worship visible. With our bodies we move to stand and even raise our hands to pray, to offer our gifts to God, and to embrace and serve one another in greeting and communion, which rehearses patterns of honor and love that train us to respond rightly to God and each other. Thus, James K. A. Smith writes, “historic Christian worship is fundamentally formative because it educates our hearts through our bodies (which in turn renews our mind).”

3.  Worship renews us because we learn the practices of the whole Christian way of life in God’s kingdom. In worship, God engages our whole person in order to orient our whole life rightly toward him. Good coaches or teachers recognize that we need a lot of practice in order to play well; indeed, we will only play as well as we practice. Musicians play scales and athletes field grounders or shoot jumpshots over and over so that they will be prepared to act skillfully in a performance or game. Likewise in worship God trains us to live all of life according to his story by engaging over and over in the practices that embody his love and truth in action. In worship, we train to become a people who answer God’s call, repent and confess our sins, listen to God’s instruction, welcome one another with the love of Christ, offer ourselves and all our gifts to the Lord as faithful stewards, give thanks in all circumstances, pray for others, and receive and give God’s hospitality at his table. In other words, in worship we practice the habits that will enable us to live according to the gospel of God’s kingdom all the time in every situation.