For all of Lent, we’re focusing on approaching Spiritual transformation the same way we’d approach the physical training of a person going from “Couch to 5K”.
Together, we’re studying the Bible and reading John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted together.
Each Sunday at 9:00AM online or 9:30AM in person, we’ll gather to watch a video lesson and discuss this week’s spiritual training regime.
God is doing more than we know,
but here is what we know God is doing.
as a taste, here is the cover letter from Pastor Andrew:
Dear Oakland Family,
I believe Jesus is behind every story. Every great story is great because it echoes the One Great Story. The Gospel of Jesus is truer than true and more beautiful than beauty. All goodness, truth, and beauty point to the beautiful, true, and good One.
Most Friday during COVID, Claire, Jack, and I make a fire in our firepit, a Earl Corbett-custom. Then we put a TV on a wooden bench and watch a movie around the fire. It’s not high class, but its magical. We take turns picking movies based on the season or important dates. On Juneteenth, MLK Weekend, and after the murder of George Floyd, we introduced Jack to our country’s racist past by watching movies like Remember the Titans, Glory Road, and My Friend Martin. On Labor Day, we watched Newsies. At Christmas, we watched The Star and The Grinch. Claire and I love to show Jack our childhood favorites like Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, and The Love Bug.
Last week, we watched Onward, a Disney-Pixar movie that debuted right when COVID shut down all the movie theaters in the land. Onward blew me away with a story about emotional longing, ethical criminality, unrecognized blessings, and a society that has traded magic for technology. We’ll save the personal longing and family dynamics for another article, because I was blown away first by the social commentary at the start of the movie.
The movie begins with images of wild Pegasus herds running free, mermaids frolicking in a lagoon, and pixies sprinkling laughter, while the narrator recounts, “Long ago, the world was full of wonder! It was adventurous. Exciting. And best of all, there was magic! And that magic, helped all in need.” We see a string of scenes in which, magicians perform a few epic feats to defeat evil and thousands lots of small tasks to alleviate practical needs like lighting cook fires and providing light inside homes. Then as the narrator continues, “But, [the magic] wasn’t easy to master,” we watch a magician apprentice attempt a simple task of creating a torch, fail and electrocute himself. The narrator continues, “And so the world found a simpler way to get by…” and we see a long string of scenes in which magic lamps are replaced by electric lightbulbs and conjured cook fires replaced by gas ranges and remote-controlled gas logs. Then the degeneration escalates quickly as we see a female centaur playing a video game called Prance Prance Revolution, a mermaid talking on a smartphone while lounging in a kiddie pool behind a cookie-cutter row house, an airplane full of winged creatures, a highway of cars filled with once fleet-footed creatures, and finally unicorns eating garbage out of overturned trash cans like modern raccoons. And the narrator sighs, “Over time…magic faded away.”
It was shocking to see the glorious mythical creatures like unicorns, Pegasi, griffins, and minotaurs reduced to trash eating, technology junkies who’ve learned to wear pants, live in suburbs, and Facebook, but who’ve forgotten how to soar or gallop or frolic. My heart broke for them.
But not just for them, more for us. In this myth like all myths, we see ourselves as in a mirror. The world God created and longs for is thick with Spirit and spiritual power and spiritual possibility. Trees dance, mountains shuffle, and rocks cry out in praise. Human beings are full of the same Spirit and Power that raised Jesus from the dead – they hear the voice of God and angels. This Spirit at work in them empowers them to address every practical need in the world from food, clothing, and shelter in seemingly mundane acts. Further the Spirit miraculously uses them to heal illnesses, cure conditions, and do justice. Still more, full of the light of Heaven, this army of saints defeats epic powers of darkness in demonic possession, demonic lies, and demonic oppression.
But this life in the flow of God’s Spirit is not easy to master. It takes years of apprenticeship to Jesus via Jesus’ apprentices. It takes countless hours of disciplined practicing faith – disciplines like honesty, hospitality, intercessory prayer, listening prayer, meditation, fasting, simplicity, silence, community, confession, amends-making, celebration, feasting, generosity, and singing. It takes repeated failure and perseverance; courage and discomfort; joy and grit.
But people wanted light-switch spirituality, cruise control Christianity, 5-minute meditations, and social media post piety. And so, the world thick with Spirit was inebriated by technology. Spiritual maturity was replaced by technical expertise.
In C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, Lucy encounters a once noble creature so reduced, and she asks, “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if someday in our own world, at home, men start going wild inside, like the animals here, and still look like men, so that you’d never know which were which.”
Horrifying isn’t it. Have we become unicorns scavenging in trash cans?
Maybe we have, but God has not. Onward does not end in despair, because the Gospel does not end with condemnation but redemption. In Jesus, we see a life magically alive with the Spirit, and Jesus uses his Spirit-filled life, death, and resurrection to not only forgive our self-degradation but also to completely renovate us into homes of the Spirit at home in a Spirit-filled material world. And so once again, we’re invited to embrace the magic, even if it’s hard to master. If we do, we’ll relearn how to soar, to gallop, and to frolic, and how to be of help to all people while doing it.
DAY 1 – Hebrews 11:30; Joshua 5:13 – Joshua 6 – Pray for the Character of our National Leaders
DAY 2 – 2 Chronicles 20 – Worship God in the face of your enemies
DAY 3 – Psalm 149 – Pray for God to provide singers, musicians, and directors for our musical worship at Oakland
DAY 4 – Acts 16:16-40 – Pray for incarcerated Christians in the U.S. and abroad
DAY 5 – Ephesian 6:10-20 – Pray for Strength to get up again
While we were not gathering in our building every week, many of us had to take responsibility for our spiritual lives in deeper way than ever before. We have to intentionally feed ourselves spiritually if we want to PERSEVERE.
- When has God saved you from one enemy only to another roadblock? When have you run into an “unconquerable” foe?
- What made Jericho so formidable? Why was it so important to conquer Jericho?
- What weapon did the Israelites use to defeat Jericho? What weapon will you use in your battles against bigger foes? Why did they march in silence except for the music? What does this teach us about music and silence?
- How do you feel about God putting everyone to death in Jericho?
- What similarities are there between Jericho and 2 Chron 20? Who does the fighting in 2 Chron 20? Who’s fighting your battles? When threats arise, what do the Israelites do? When threats arise in your life, what do you do? Who can stand before the Lord with you and your family? What group can you call to gather around you?
- When do the Israelites worship? When do you worship?
- What do we learn about worship in Psalm 149? What does worship do to us? To God? To God’s enemies? How have you experienced these things?
- What amazes you in Acts 16? How would you respond if you were Paul and Silas? What would you have done in jail? When have you seen people sing under oppression and jail? When have you?
- Why would God give us spiritual armor? What are these pieces and how do we use them? How do we put them on? What are we supposed to do once we put them on? How are Standing and Persevering related?
Weekly Reading Plan for Holy Week
DAY 1 – LUKE 22:1-38
DAY 2 – LUKE 22:39-23:1
DAY 3 – LUKE 23:1-43
DAY 4 – LUKE 23:44-56
DAY 5 – ISAIAH 53
The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is called Holy Week. During this time, it is tradition to reread the story of Jesus’s betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, death, burial, and resurrection. We will join this ancient tradition following Luke’s story.
- What does Passover celebrate? What might we intuit from this time of Jesus’ death? How is Jesus death like Passover?
- Why do you think Judas betrayed Jesus? What might his motivations be? How do you think he justified it? How are you like Judas?
- What can we learn from the Last Supper Jesus shares with his disciples? What part of the story stands out to you?
- Jesus is talking about his death; how do the disciples turn the conversation into a greatness contest? How do we do the same?
- What does Jesus pray? How does the Father answer his prayer? How do we know what God’s will is? Practically, what are ways we turn our will over to God’s will?
- Why are the disciples so exhausted? How is this related to the temptation they will encounter? When are you most vulnerable to the Devil’s tempting?
- What is Peter doing? Why? How would you feel in that moment if you were Peter? How are you like Peter?
- Why is it so tempting to mock Jesus? How is it possible for us to mock Jesus today? What unites Pilate and Herod? How does utilitarian thinking get us into trouble?
- What words does Jesus say from the cross? What do they mean? How are they true of you? Which criminal gets it right? What has he done to earn Jesus’ paradise? Have you made the same request of Jesus?
- Why are Joseph’s actions courageous? What does he risk? Why does he risk it? What have you to risk?
- Isaiah 53 was written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. What amazes you about how the pieces fit together?