POST: Why We Party On Easter

Think of the times we party. Now think of the times we absolutely lose our mind in celebration. When Carolina wins a National Title, there is a riot on Franklin Street with trash fires and flipped cars. When Duke wins, students dance around huge bonfires built from all the wooden benches on campus. When Philly wins a Super Bowl no one and no street lamp is safe. When the Allies defeated Germany and Japan, the streets flooded with strangers kissing and dancing together.

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We party on Easter, because Easter is the greatest day in history. Greater than National Championships or even National Victories. Jesus defeated more than Germany, he defeated the actual Axis of Evil. Jesus stomped out more than the Blue Devils, he crushed the actual Devil. He defeated Death and Sin and Hell. All our enemies have been conquered and they now fight a retreating, losing, guerilla battle against God’s Elect.

We party because Jesus wins. The day Jesus died was the worst day in history – God came close enough for us to hug him or hurt him, and we nailed him to a tree, and yet we now call the day “Good Friday” and wear miniature versions of the torture device as jewelry. Why? Because God transformed the worst moment in human history into the best moment – the moment our salvation was accomplished and our sin – the very sin of nailing Jesus – was forgiven.

Easter proves it. Our sin is forgiven, our sentence served, our debt is paid and the empty tomb proves the super abundance of God’s provision. Sin does not win. The devil will not win in your life or your marriage. Brokenness is not final. Pain is not pointless. All crosses, both the ones we suffer and the ones we built, will end in resurrection. That is the point of our art projects, which transform trash into treasure. We built beauty from all recycled materials to remind us that our brokenness too will be transformed.

So we party. And maybe, must one day, our children, our youth, and ourselves will wake up after years away from church, in the midst of immense spiritual agony, and remember a little brick church that parties every Easter, because Jesus is alive, and there is hope for all broken people. Our children may not remember Sunday School lessons or sermons, but hopefully they remember art projects and shouts of victory.

Party on Children. Party on.

BLOG – Ash Wednesday and Giving Up Something for Lent

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which starts the season of Lent leading up to Easter. Practically that means for the next 6 weeks you’ll hear lots of people complaining or humble-bragging about “giving up ____.” You’ll be at the office and offer someone a homemade chocolate chip cookie, only to hear, “I can’t I gave up chocolate for Lent.” You’ll go to lunch meeting and someone will order a salad because, “I gave up meat for Lent.” People will moan about all kinds of things from Diet Coke to cussing, but what is Lent?

Lent and Ash Wednesday are not in the Bible, but for two millennia, Christians have found it helpful to take the 40 days before Easter to focus on Jesus by starting, restarting, or emphasizing certain spiritual practices, such as Bible Study, Private Prayer, Generosity, Celebration, Meditation, Journaling, Serving, Secrecy, or Silence.

Each of these exercises, also called disciplines, is a routine built into the rhythm of life to cultivate a love for Christ, a faith in Christ, and a character like Christ. The exercise of Bible Study floods my mind with messages from Jesus teaching me how Jesus feels about me. The exercise of Secrecy, in which I do kind things or spiritual things without anyone knowing about them, teaches me humility and helps me die to my constant need for approval. The exercise of Generosity, fights my innate greed, while training me in compassion and growing my faith as I find God is faithful to take care of my needs.

Likewise, the phrase, “giving something up for Lent”, and the accompanying practice is really just the cultural remnants of an ancient spiritual exercise called Fasting. Fasting is the crossfit of spiritual disciplines. Simply put, when I fast, I don’t eat and then I use my hunger to remind me to pray because I need Jesus more than food (discipline of Prayer). When I fast, I use my meal times for Bible study to feast on God’s Word (discipline of Study), and I give the money I did not spend food to the hungry (discipline of Generosity). When I fast, I don’t tell anyone I am fasting (discipline of Secrecy), and when asked if I’m going to eat, I simply respond, “I already ate before I came,” because I feasted on Jesus’ Word.

During Lent i.e. the 6 weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Christians will commit to one or more of these practices to remind them to talk to Jesus and savor his resurrection. They will get up early for a devotional or they will serve one day a week at a soup kitchen or they will simplify their diet by giving up chocolate or they will abstain from all food for one day a week. Whatever their commitment, it is best if it is regular, scheduled, and quantifiable. The goal is not suffering, but increased spiritual awareness.

I strongly encourage you to practice some new or old disciplines and routine this Lent. You can learn more about spiritual disciplines and Lent on line or in my favorite book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If you don’t know where to start, “Giving up something for Lent” is not a bad place. Every time you want that thing, crave that thing, or go without that thing, instead of complaining to your friend, talk to Jesus about what is going on in your day and all he has done for you.

This sermon on Fasting and the Spiritual Disciplines is one of the best things I have heard in a long time. Please take time to download it and listen to it.

 

Forget Yourself | Fasting | John Ortberg from Menlo.Church on Vimeo.

Blog – Women of the Reformation

The most famous names of The Protestant Reformation are probably Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, but they were not solitary figures unsupported. There were thousands of people compelled to explain and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I recently found this great article about several women vital to the reclamation of the Gospel in the 15th century. May it encourage you, women and men, to be brave and courageous in your spiritual journey. 

 

 

Five Important Women of the Reformation You Should Know About

Planned Giving and Family Budget Meeting

 

Dear Family,

God is using you to change lives, yours included. You all are incredible. Oakland exists to make Jesus famous by making more and better disciples. We Prize Presence, Serve Hard, Always Grow, Leave Legacy, and make One More Disciple. That is our P.S.A.L.M. It is how we do church.

            While we labored in 2017, God provided increase. We’ve added over 42 New Members and baptized 2 teenagers who’ve put their trust in Jesus, and 1 infant we pray will come to trust Jesus. We’ve seen at least 6 people become Christians by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We sent 24 people on Mission Trips, donated over 5000lbs of food, and packed 18,500 meals for hungry families around the world.

            In worship, we’ve seen the growing involvement of our youth as musicians, choir members, and special music soloists. We’ve seen more adults eager to sing special music in worship and serve as liturgists. Our choir, under Keeley’s tutelage, is singing music as difficult as any in the last 3 years with growing confidence and excellence. We have so many children on an average Sunday, that we have two Children’s Church classes and fill the entire steps nearly every week. There are 20 students at Youth on the average Sunday Night learning to see Jesus in pop-culture and in the Bible, all while experiencing full, abundant life.

            Through August 31, 2017, we’ve paid $136,625 off our mortgage through our PullingTOGETHER campaign, leaving $352,350 to go. Our community needs Oakland more than ever. They need our building more too. The number of organizations requesting meeting space at Oakland increased dramatically over 2017. By year end, we anticipate that 60% of all meetings at Oakland will be hosted by outside organizations. There frankly is no other affordable space available. By year end, we will spend more than $25,000 to host and support these organizations.

             To make sure we are able to make more and better disciples in 2018, we once again need a financial commitment from you.  Commitment to the church, through our annual giving, is vital to the work of the church. Your gifts support our youth and children’s ministries, Scouts, mission trips, local mission partnerships, evangelism, outreach, worship, fellowship, facilities costs, staff salaries, and more. For our joy, God calls each of us to return to Him from our first fruits a portion of the many blessings He gives to us, not the dollars that are left over after we spend for ourselves.

            We ask that you return the attached Planned Giving Card ASAP or email treasurer@oaklandpresbyterianchurch.org with information about your planned giving for 2018. Please be in prayer over the coming days and weeks to give God an opportunity to put in our hearts what He calls each of us to give, for “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7)
Included with this letter is a Planned Giving Card and a Family Budget worksheet. For your joy, we pray you will craft a Budget and include a regular percentage gift to Oakland. Knowing how much you plan to contribute to Oakland in 2018 allows us to better plan for our new ministry growth.

Finally, many of you are already giving to the PullingTOGETHER Campaign at a sacrificial level, but if not, we again invite you to consider contributing sacrificially to the Building Fund, which is used to pay off our remaining mortgage debt.

            In Christ,  Andrew Ruth, Pastor

EXTRA SERMON: Another Sermon on How Jesus changes our Day Job

For the last 6 weeks, we asked, "Why Work?" Why work exists, why work is sacred, why work is broken, why work hurts, why work is redeemed, why work is redemptive?

We were guided by a book called, Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller. In the following talk, you'll here Timothy Keller explain 5 of the greatest implications for how the Gospel changes our work. It is really worth your 27 minutes, while you cook dinner or fold clothes.

 

1. “Faith gives you an inner ballast without which work could destroy you.”

2. “Faith gives you a concept of the dignity and worth of all work, even simple work, without which work could bore you.”

3. “Faith gives you a moral compass without which work could corrupt you.”

4. “Faith gives you a world and life view that shapes the character of your work, without which work could master and use you.”

5. “Hope.”

EXTRA SERMON – Why Work? – Why Business Matters to God?

One of the best curated resources for thinking and talking about how our faith in Jesus should our job in the world is The Center for Faith and Work. They produce blogs, podcasts, conferences, and books.

This talk by Jeff Van Duzer, the Dean of Business and Economics School at Seattle Pacific University, is one of the best talks I have ever heard. I've already shared it a dozen times.

 

If you'd rather listen to this talk as a podcast on your phone, it is available in Apple Podcast here.

BLOG – Sound Upgrades – People have to hear it to believe it

people have to hear the gospel to believe it.

SOUND UPGRADES IN THE SANCTUARY

Not long ago, I was approached by several people concerned because hearing loss jeopardized their ability to hear most of Sunday Morning’s Worship Service. All the beautiful music was muddled and the sermon was mumbling. One can imagine the frustration of 75 minutes of indistinct noise in the place of heart-stirring worship.

Not long after that, separate individuals approached me with a similar complaint about the choir loft. Members of the choir considered quitting the choir, because insufficient speaker coverage prevented them not only from hearing the musical instruments and track music, but also the sermons and prayers. Unable to hear in choir loft, they debated rejoining the rest of the congregation in the pews. One can imagine the frustration of using your musical gifts to bless others, and at the same time being robbed of spiritual instruction by bad technology. At a basic level, people have to hear the gospel to believe it.

Something had to be done, and now it has. Oakland now has state-of-art listening-assistance devices for those with hearing impediments. These 4 new devices are actually capable of feeding Sunday’s Service directly into a person’s existing hearing aids, creating a comfortable and clear solution. If one prefers, they can also be used with available headphones. Either way they broadcast the whole service into your ears with the noise-damping benefits of hearing aids or headphones. Special thanks to Keeley Tarkington for researching and recommending the particular technology we’re utilizing.

That was the easy part. The choir monitors required significantly more research and labor, but God provided. The process started while Pastor Matt Fry (C3 Church) down the road and I meet regularly for coffee, prayer, and encouragement; and after touring our sanctuary together, Pastor Matt sincerely offered, “If there is ever anything C3 can do to help your ministry, seriously let us know.” A few days later, Pastor Matt introduced me to Troy Payne Technology and Production specialist over there. Troy brought two other sound technicians and we sketched out the broad strokes of a speaker system for the Choir. From there, I spent countless hours trying to identify speakers, amplifiers, wires, and chords that matched our needs. Every week, I’d send Troy at C3 an email clarifying our needs and my research. When we finally identified all the materials needed, Troy introduced us to a supplier who discounted all of it 50%. The initial total for 3 speakers, 1 amplifier, 1 digital sound processor, and 500 feet of speaker wire was $2,600. Money to purchase the speakers came from a special Music Ministry Endowment (to which you can give money).

We decided to install the speakers ourselves to save thousands of dollars, and so more than 100 hours later, there are 3 new speakers hanging in the Sanctuary. One faces the communion table, allowing Keeley and musicians to hear the service. Two face the choir loft. While installing this system, we replaced old technology connected to our congregation speakers, which uses a computer to eliminate feedback during worship.

The result is dramatic for the choir. The first week we used the speakers, one Choir member enthusiastically stated, “For the first time since you started preaching here, I could actually hear every word you said.” That matters. People have to hear the gospel to believe it.

Special thanks to Keeley Tarkington, C3 Church, and Jeff Thompson for their dozens of hours of work. Jeff Thompson spent nearly 25 hours helping me run speaker wire in a hot attic and hanging speakers.

 

BLOG – The Cure for Fear of Poverty, Being Duped, and Death

On Sunday, I said there are 3 main fears that keep us from feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned as Jesus commands us to do in Matthew 25 –

  • Fear of Poverty – we’re afraid if we’re generous we’ll end up broke.
  • Fear of Being Duped – we’re afraid people will manipulate us and take advantage of our generosity.
  • Fear of Death – we’re afraid we’ll be put in dangerous situations around contagious sick people or dangerous convicts in prison.

The cure for our fears is not guilt or command, but faith, which is why we’re so often told, “Do not be afraid,” throughout the Scriptures. What will take away your fears and mine and free us to live truly generous lives?

            Jesus gave up glory in Heaven and become completely destitute, was taken advantage of and betrayed by those he tried to help, and finally was killed. He too was afraid of those things, but for the sake of save you, blessing you, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven, was courageous and faithful through his fears. When you see him do that for you, our hearts are transformed to do the same for others. We are given courage to act in spite of our fears.

            Further, when we are faithful and obedient to bless, give, serve, feed, visit, etc. we find that Jesus is faithful and trustworthy – Jesus keeps his promise and our faith grows again, rereleasing us to serve.

May 14 – Youth Sunday, Why?

On May 14, 2017, our youth will lead us to worship God and make Jesus famous.

Come ready to be challenged, encouraged, and generally rocked off your feet, spiritually speaking that is.

Why do we hand over worship?

Well it was theirs to start with. Our Youth are not the future of the Church; they are the Church. We design worship with them in mind, just as we design it with adults and new comers, so every now and then it’s fun to see what they come up with for our time together.

Moreover, you never discover spiritual gifts if you never get a chance to use them. Pastor Andrew preached for the first time on Youth Sunday 2003 to a church of more than 500 people, and discovered his passion for teaching and gift for communicating God’s Word. How many of our young members have similar gifts for preaching, singing, encouraging, serving, leading worship, or playing music and just don’t yet know it? Pastor Andrew wouldn't be here if someone hadn't asked him to try preaching over a decade ago. Youth Sunday could be the day, God calls one of our members into a life of service or it could be the day God uses our young to stir faith in the cold heart of a pre-Christian neighbor.