One of my favorite memories as a kid was the August 27th. It’s not simply because it’s my birthday, but typically the first day of school would fall either on my birthday or the week of. The excitement. The chills. The nervousness. The heightened expectation. I knew it was coming every year, but the anticipation of what this year was going to be like unnerved me.
As humans we are living in time. That goes without saying. History is marked by time. Our days are marked by hours and minutes and seconds. Our days are counted by weeks and months and years. We look at the fig leaf and discern that summer is on its way. Just as surely as the sun rises, so also we bank on the fact that God will give us our next breath.
We cannot get around the fact that we mark and are marked by time.
I wrote earlier that our church, Christ the Redeemer, follows the Revised Common Lectionary for our weekly gatherings. Instead of being wooden and rote, we have found that the structure provides life to flourish in the expected. This is no less the case with following the Church Calendar.
Some may argue that following the Church Calendar will be like a straight jacket, inhibiting free movement. Analogous to following the RCL, we believe the calendar provides a framework by which we can live our lives. I know that Advent is coming. I can lick my lips and know that Christmas is coming. I can feel the breath enter my lungs as Epiphany reveals itself. I can lower my head as Lent’s crown is unveiled.
Just like my school year starting up, the way we approach the seasons of the Church Calendar has everything to do with what is going on on the inside. Some of my friends couldn’t sleep for fear of what was coming in 7th grade. I couldn’t sleep because I got my own locker!
Just like with all good things and directives in our lives, there is always a danger in missing the message for the medium. It takes a real engagement with what is happening around us. The purple. The myrrh. The lights. The bells.
In the same way we all have a liturgy for our churches’ weekly gatherings, so also we all follow come kind of calendar.
How many churches have you visited that are already celebrating Christmas and Easter? How many more have you seen more reverence and awe for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Graduation Sunday, Youth Sunday?
The question then becomes: What time will mark your years?
Do Away With Celebrations?!?
I was a member of a church that did not celebrate the various seasons—even the Church’s seasons. That’s right. No acknowledgement that it was the week of Christmas. In fact, there was a bit of disdain that seemed to be ruled by pride that said, “Ha! We are not like all the other churches that dote on each other. Every Lord’s Day is Resurrection Day now!” Sure. Every Lord’s Day is Resurrections Day. Even more, every day is a celebration of the first fruits of our resurrection. Each day we are pushing against the tide that seeks to drown us in consumerism and temporal charms.
But, anecdotally, doesn’t something seem strange about not celebrating Christmas? Or am I just crazy? Please don’t answer that! I mean these same folks who would not celebrate Christmas at church rushed home to open presents under their Christmas trees and to each cranberry sauce!
Festivals and New Moons
We don’t want to just ground our practice in anecdotes, though. Biblically speaking, there is not only precedent but prescription for following a calendar. Throughout the Old Testament there are lessons that teach and direct the life of the believer.
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year” (Ex. 12.2). This is the Lord’s words to Israel upon exiting Egypt. The Passover marked the calendar for God’s people. Wherever they sojourned there were competing calendars. Calendars that marked the important days of Dagon and Xerxes.
But they were to be marked to not only remember but to relive the story of redemption. “On this day tell your son, “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” Assuredly this was the father who was redeemer from Pharoah.
YET. We read again in Deuteronomy 16—after that redeemed generation died in the wilderness as punishment for unbelief: “Celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you our of Egypt by night” (Deut. 16.1). Was this not the children of those he technically brought out of Egypt? Yes. Technically. But biblically, there is a bringing to the present that which has passed so that redemption is made real. Is this not the same way of speaking we hear from Jesus with “this generation” not passing away—both the hearers and the readers? Is this not the way the author of Hebrews speaks when he says that the believers of the old convent are intertwined with us (Heb. 11.40)?
So it is when we celebrate the various seasons provided by the Church Calendar. We are both reminded of the generations before us who sang “Once in Royal David’s City” and we sing the same words with the same tune in the same time…at a different time.
What we have found as a church is that our lives are slowly being shaped by the Church Calendar. We start our year in hope-filled, repentant expectation of Christ’s Return at Advent. We celebrate God’s faithfulness by his sending of Jesus at the first Christmas—knowing that if he made good on his promise in our past he more assuredly will do so in our future.
We experience the awe and gratitude of YHWH revealing himself to the Gentiles at Epiphany. We are reminded of our sin as is in our boats and calms our storms and cry, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinner”. This is Lent. Our triumphant King rides on his beast of burden and peace at Holy Week. He is crucified for our transgressions at Good Friday. Rises again at Easter. Grants us his Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And we, as his Spirit-imbued people learn what it means to live as the church in Ordinary Time.
What a year! What a gift and reminder of God’s in-breaking. God’s initiative. God’s condescension and indwelling. We march to the beat of a different Drummer. He marks us with his time and timing of redemption.
Anticipation and Humility
As a church we know Christmas is coming. We know Epiphany is on its way. We know that we will have to reckon with our sin at Lent. We relish the divine light of hope at the Resurrection. We know we can’t do it so we tarry until his Spirit descends. We mark week after mundane week as we consider our call as his disciples.
Not a straight jacket. Not a coercion. Not a drip of guilt. The Church Calendar provides anticipation and expectation and prepares our hearts every season as we wait and continue to wait for our redemption.
And just like our decision to follow the Revised Common Lectionary is for our autonomous, local church, you can make the decision for your autonomous, local church. Isn’t voluntary and friendly association great?!?
I wrote this brief explanation for our church as to why Lottie Moon is important to international missions. I share it here for your encouragement.
As I said, yesterday, this week I will be sending out an email each day to focus our attention on international missions. I plan to share more during the Welcome & Announcements this Sunday. We will be taking up a special offering on Sunday to go directly to support international missions. It is named after an astounding woman, Lottie Moon. If you’d like to find out more about this initiative, you can click here.
The primary reason the Southern Baptist Convention began was to pool resources of churches together in order to send out missionaries. Sure, there are many other integrated reasons for why these particular churches at this particular time and in this particular region banded together. In divining all the motives, the beauty of what was created can be lost. The sheer fact that brothers and sisters joined together to financially support the work of brothers and sisters who felt called to lay down their lives overseas in an effort to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is a fact to celebrate. In a culture where competition and division has defined so many churches, we would do well to imitate the love and devotion and work that has defined our denomination.
It is a shame that so many accoutrements have been appended to what it means to be a Baptist. One of the primary and beautiful truths is that we are about declaring the saving work of Jesus everywhere.
Each year we are reminded of this call for all of us to hold the rope for those that go. We provide support to those who forsake family and comforts and lay down their lives—some quite literally—for the sake of our King.
Charlotte Diggs “Lottie” Moon was born in a very respectable family in December 1840. In the midst of the Civil War, Lottie’s heart was stirred by a sermon that pleaded with the hearers: “Lift up your eyes and look upon the fields, for they are white already unto harvest.” Her response: “I have long known God wanted me in China. I am now ready to go.”
She laid down her creaturely comforts, she boarded a ship and headed to live and die in China. Her motivating force was love. She write,
This love is what compelled Lottie to not only go to the Pingtu people, but to verily become one of them. A severe famine struck the Pingtu so that 500 of the Pingtu Christians were on the verge of starvation, thousands more consigned to death without ever hearing the name of Jesus. And so Lottie emptied her account in hopes that her fish and loaf would be sufficient to stave the hunger. But the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) was in serious debt and could not help Lottie financially. So she too starved with the ones she loved as she shared with any that had need of food. And on Christmas Eve of 1912, she withered away from starvation and sickness.
This is why we take up a special offering. As a family of churches, we have committed to reaching the unreached with the Gospel of Jesus. Money is merely an expression of a commitment. It’s the physical representation of where our hearts truly are.
Here’s an inspiring video about a Small Church with Big Dreams.
Our heart’s desire as Redeemer is to go where Christ is not named. As we continue to grow and explore such opportunities, we pray we will be able to go to unreached people. May we take heart in the life and death and love and hope that was Lottie Moon’s. May God use our church to send and support many men and women to lay down their lives for the sake of Christ.
I’m gonna keep this simple, but hopefully not simplistic. As you consider your corporate gathering of believers (typically on the first day of the week), there are three ways to think about it. You can think of it as an event, a participation, or a transformation.
The Event Model can take on two modes: emotionally-driven or cognitively-driven. The emotionally-driven mindset, of course, could baldly mean that you show up to hear some great music and hear a message. You go to watch and experience something. The cognitively-driven mindset could mean that you highlight the sermon so much that it becomes the point of your showing up. You hear this a lot in evangelical churches that the sermon is the most important aspect of the worship experience. The problem with such thinking, though, betrays an onlooker mentality. That is, I go to church to observe and consider and think and have my thinking changed.
In this model, there is an I-Thou expectation of the worship service. I go to that. I consider that. I am separate from and participate in that. In other words, this kind of approach to the corporate gathering is apart from who I am. I go to there. I leave from there. Sure, we talk about taking the message home with us…but come on! You and I both know we forget what was said within 10 minutes of leaving the building. When we are confronted with traffic on the way to the buffet. And then, we get bored. Bored with our lives. Bored with our faith. We find greater joy in our team winning the game than in our eternal salvation won at the cost of the Son of God.
The Participation Model is a little bit better than the event model. This puts the onus on the believer to come to the service seeking to be engaged in other people at church. For all the talk about this being a need in churches, and people nodding their heads in agreement…this does not happen in reality. People cognitively ascend to this truth, but they don’t fully grasp this truth.
If they do grasp a hold of this participation model, it often devolves into judgmentalism (others aren’t as serious about their faith as you are) or complacency (I asked someone how their walk with God is going and they gave me the cold shoulder). So what’s the problem with this model? Write simply it remains in the realm of I-Thou. That is, I bring something to you. I come to serve you. I am apart from and wholly different from you. At its root, it is simply another (albeit more spiritual rendition) of the event model.
The third, and I believe more biblical model (of course!), is the Tranformational Model. This way of approaching the Sunday morning gathering sheds itself of the event. It doesn’t come in judgment of the service–I didn’t like that song. I liked the sermon. I really engaged with God this morning. Wow, what a wonderful time. Instead, it views Sunday morning as another step in my being conformed into the image of Jesus. It does see it as an event you come to. It is something we participate in. But preeminently it embraces the fact that over time we are being changed by the service itself.
What does this look like? Well, it understands that every time we attend an event or participate in a service, we are slowly changing. You are much more different from the fifth football game you attended, than the first. You understand the language, the traditions, the cheers.
So it is with a church service…and this is where it gets a bit thorny. With the typical evangelical liturgy (and it is a liturgy) of two fast songs, two slow songs, a sermon, and dismissal, we are slowly becoming consumers. Or better put, our already-ingrained consumer mentality is reinforced as we observe (and maybe participate). We watch the stage. We critique the songs–or what the song leader was wearing. We sit down and hear someone wax eloquently–or not.
I fear that much of the problems we see in modern evangelicalism stem from us offering goods and services to people and not inviting them into be transformed. This fact is betrayed in much of the assumptions underlying decisions made on how the liturgy ought to roll. For example, since we need to be engaging and winsome in our communication of the Gospel, we need to play this popular radio song and do a Jesus juke to talk about how real love is only found in Jesus. Of course I’m not saying messages and songs ought to be fuddy-duddy and boring! Stop putting baby in the corner.
What I am saying is that churches ought to be very clear in what they are shaping their people into becoming. We ought to understand that we are in the business of transformation–from one degree of glory to another. Not filling seats. Not being entertaining and relevant at the cost of depth.
This is why at Christ the Redeemer, we have been intentional in our liturgy. We believe that the primary purpose of the Sunday morning gathering is the transformation of people. We have an explicit order to our service that follows the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation. Over time, people’s being is changed. It unwittingly becomes easier to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” because you are trained to confess your sin every week. You more readily accept forgiveness because you are trained to hear God’s Word of Forgiveness to you after confessing. You more readily come to fellowship with God in spite of and because of your sin because you are trained that at the Lord’s Table you find satisfaction and rest for your souls.
Yes, Sunday morning is an event. But not merely so. It is something we participate in. But not merely so. It is preeminently another step in our being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The primary goal of Sunday morning is our transformation through intentional liturgies.