April 14, 2014

This prayer was previously published on Everyday Liturgy.

Almighty and Everlasting God,

Praise and honor to the one
who raised Lazarus from the dead,
as a foreshadow of the coming days.

Blessings and honor to the one
who marched triumphantly into Jerusalem,
who turned over the tables in the temple,
who taught his disciples to be the least of these.

Glory and power to the one
who submitted to the will of the Father,
who broke bread with the one who would betray,
who washed the feet of the one who would deny,
who healed the ear of the one who would arrest,
and in his faithfulness will win victory over sin and death.

Amen

April 11, 2014

I am running the Trinity School at Meadow View’s IJM Run for Freedom and want you to help sponsor me. Last year the school raised over $13,000 to support International Justice Mission.

I work at IJM, and so I have an ambitious goal. I want to raise $1,000 to support IJM on my own, which is $1 for every $13 raised last year. Raising $1,000 will help to pay for the extraordinary work IJM does on behalf of clients who have had their land stolen, been forced into slavery or been victims of violence. For so many people, this is their “Everyday.”

Because of God’s work through IJM, the darkness that makes up so many people’s everyday is turning into light. Dawn is coming. Last week at IJM’s Global Prayer Gathering my family had the chance to meet one of our clients from Guatemala, Griselda, who shared powerfully about how God rescued her from darkness through the work of IJM. Here’s her story.

There are thousands of people like Griselda in the world today who have no one to protect them from violence. Your support is all it takes to help others like Griselda.

You can view my campaign page here: Thomas’ 5K for Freedom. Click on “Donate Now” to make a donation. If 100 people give $10, we will meet the goal. It’s totally doable, and totally worth it.

April 9, 2014

Last Friday my article “What Christians Get Wrong About the Easter Story” was published on Relevant‘s website. Be sure to check it out and join the almost 600 people who have shared it on social media. An excerpt:

There is a temptation to then shift the focus from the death to the resurrection, from one central point to another. If we have the Cross as the center of our spiritual lives and focus for so long, the natural response if we want to shift the focus is to just start emphasizing the resurrection over the Cross. We can change from “cling to the Cross” to “cling to the resurrection” kind of people. But this is to just oscillate between two parts of the story.

To properly focus on these climactic events that shaped Christian history, we need to re-train ourselves to think about the death and the resurrection of Christ not as two separate and climactic events but as one single event, one climax in the Passion narrative: death and resurrection together.

April 7, 2014

Almighty God,

Who called his Son into ministry by the baptism of the Holy Spirit,
and testified that he was the coming King through the good news
culminating on the cross, hear our prayers of thanksgiving.

You are the God of angel armies,
the God who is triumphant over sin,
healing those who were in its clutches.

You are the God of life,
the God who is triumphant over death,
hearing the prayer of your Son to pull Lazarus from its grip
and give him new life.

We thank you that you who were greeted with praise
at your entry into Jerusalem would humble yourself
in death and empty yourself for us.

Amen

April 3, 2014

Getting back to the “Journey Through The Faith” series, I will be sharing several reflections from my college faith experience before moving on to post-college years.

One of the more mature decisions an eighteen year old could make is to be part of the faith community you served in. Credit the leading of the Spirit, because for some reason I had this idea in my head to learn how to participate in the same faith community I would serve in, which not all of my friends were doing. See, at Cairn University, you are required to do Christian service, and a lot of people would help out at youth group or Awana at one church and then go to church at another place. It was like a smorgasbord—or consumerism. Either way you look at it, I had decided that whatever church I started serving at I would actually attend, even if I didn’t always agree with everything.

This is how I became a Baptist. By default.

I felt called to First Baptist Church of Newtown, which has since changed it’s name to something so vague I can’t remember what it is. But back when I knew it, it was First Baptist. Here it was, an old church in a town best known for its founding by William Penn (of Penn-sylvania!) and the town Signs was filmed in. It also, importantly, had a Starbucks, something that, being from rural Maryland, I had only heard of, but never seen before.

The high school youth group at First Baptist was one very similar to the one I grew up in: skits, games, teaching then small group time to talk things over with a leader. It was a fun place to serve, and I enjoyed the missions trip up to Canada and the camping retreats the group went on. For the most part, the students were adjusting well and would turn out alright.

I never thought I would be part of a Baptist church, but it was where I felt called to serve, so I started attending. The church itself was, well, boring. Other classmates of mine at Cairn said the sermons were watered down and seeker sensitive, but I was used to a non-expository sermon from back in my Lutheran days, so I actually liked the stories. There just wasn’t a ton of substance to the worship hour. It was an obligation—a literal one, as Cairn made you go to church.

Incidentally, the boredom with church led me to fall in love with serving more. I was attending a Christian college and taking Bible classes like crazy. There were so many great Christians guys to talk through things with, to disciple and to be disciple by, that not getting much out of church at that point of my life was fine. I was learning to give of my time, and one of the best experiences I had was helping to lead children’s worship at First Baptist with my friend Tyler. We rocked it every morning, and we whipped those kids into a mash-pit froth of jumping and singing before sending them off to Sunday School energized and crazed. And serving with teenagers in Sunday School was an experience in struggle and joy. I could never be a youth pastor on that roller coast of So-and-so will-be-a-great-student-leader to Oh-wait-they-are-partying-and-lying to Oh-Joy!-they-are-getting-their-life-back-on-track.  I learned a lot by taking the long journey of faith with some students, but it is wearing (you should hug the youth pastor the next time you bump into him or her. Or buy some coffee. I think he or she needs it).

Learning to serve would be an integral part of my faith journey, because I would be spending a whole lot of time serving in the years to come. But back then, at that stage of my faith journey, I was just a college student learning to navigate the ways of being a real adult in a church—not a consumer, not a complainer, not a demander, but just a person who is part of a community. It would be a worthy lesson.

March 31, 2014

God Almighty,

Let us not be tempted by the offerings of this world.
Through the Holy Spirit,
focus our hearts on the daily bread that you provide,
for it sustains not only the body but the soul as well.
Give us great joy in knowing that
because you exist we are richly rewardeds
whenever we humbly ask to pursue your kingdom
with all of our bodily and spiritual strength.
As we seek you, give us the hope of salvation,
knowing that nothing can separate us
from the eternal love of Jesus Christ.

Amen

March 29, 2014

Carolyn Givens, a fellow Cairn alum, concludes her reflection on time spent in Asia as a young expat in very different faith communities. 

I was baptized at age ten in a church my parents helped start in Manila, Philippines. My father, an ordained minister and a missionary, dunked me under the water in a tank on stage in a church that eleven years earlier had been a Bible Study in my parents’ living room.

We were living in Hong Kong that year, and I did my baptismal class via correspondence. My mom helped me work through the Bible passages and theological documents they gave me to read and assisted me in writing essay responses, clarifying my beliefs about salvation and baptism. She said she’d never seen a baptismal class like it—and I still return to things I learned in those weeks of preparation when I’m talking about soteriology and baptism.

The folks in that church in Manila called themselves “Bible Christians”—it was a way for them to explain to the country’s Roman Catholic majority how they were different: they defined themselves according to the Scriptures many of their countrymen had never read. That term could be applied to the people in most of the church-plants we visited that year.

My parents were on a short-term assignment that year from their mission organization. They were spending a year in Hong Kong, both doing research on Mainland China—which was then only just opening to Westerners—and gathering media about the ministries going on around the rest of Asia. We visited church plants in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan that year, and I saw new believers gathering together for the first time, putting into practice the New Testament picture of the church. They were Bible Christians.

In every place the traditions were different. The music sounded different, the words were in different languages. Some met in living rooms, some met in rented space, some met in church buildings. There were churches that crossed cultures, and churches that were specifically targeted to a particular people group.

And my little understanding of “church,” shaped by the 1980s in the affluent suburbs of the North Central United States, shaped by the straight pews and well-worn hymnals of my childhood was amended, and stretched, and developed, and corrected, and grown. I discovered that year that the Church is a living, breathing organism. I discovered that year that there is more than one way of doing it—and that the New Testament doesn’t give a lot of guidance on the details. I discovered the beauty of tradition and the lovely sound of a “new song.” And I learned that while there are helpful things about denominations and church traditions, no matter which one we fall into, we should seek to be Bible Christians.

The craziest part of it all, though, is this: over the past quarter-century, the American evangelicalism that formed me has slowly learned many of the things I did in that year. God just gave me a head start.

March 27, 2014

Carolyn Givens, a fellow Cairn alum, continues her reflection on time spent in Asia as a young expat in very different faith communities. 

The year I was in fourth grade, my ecclesiological world burst open as, for the first time, I experienced church traditions outside the American, conservative, Baptistic church in which I was raised. I loved my church growing up, but when my family moved to Hong Kong for a year when I was nine, the door to my comfortable little church world was blown wide open—never to shut quite so tightly again.

I think my parents were intentional and deliberate in the choices they made for our family that year. They both had an appreciation for the diversity among the cultures of our world and the traditions of the Christian church. I think they wanted to share that appreciation with their children and used the year in Hong Kong to expose us to many things that were outside our comfortable little American Protestant bubble.

Following our Sunday mornings at a traditional Anglican church, we fellowshipped regularly on Sunday evenings with a different body. Broadly defined as “Evangelical Christian,” it was an eclectic mix of church traditions within. The congregation was primarily made up of Hong Kong Chinese and ex-patriots. Many of the expats were missionaries who gathered there on Sunday evenings because on Sunday mornings they were involved in leading church plants all over Hong Kong.

Our evening church met in an auditorium that belonged to either a hospital or a university—I never quite knew which. There were drums and guitars on the platform (remember, this is 1990, that was a big deal). We sang more praise choruses than hymns. The words were projected on a screen! And—most shocking of all to my nine-year-old self—people raised their hands and moved as they sang.

My North Central United States conservative Protestant background was not big on the Spirit. We tacitly acknowledged Him as a member of the Godhead, but He was kind of the rambunctious, unpredictable relative that you only invite on special occasions because you just never quite know what He’s going to do. God the Father, God the Son—they fit the strictures we built quite nicely, but the Spirit…that was dangerous territory.

I look back now at that congregation and chuckle a little at how shocked I was; frankly, it was all pretty tame. But I will never forget the feeling that the Spirit was there, that He was moving in the hearts of those in attendance, that He was living water and we were there for restoration.

We sang new songs and new hymns at that church. Many of them were penned in Britain and Australia, and sadly, only a few of them made it to the US in the following years. They had depth of meaning and strong biblical theology in them. I can’t help but think that if more had come along, our ’90s American church worship wars might not have been fraught with such ire—we might have seen that new songs can be written with musical depth and lyrical truth.

March 26, 2014

After taking a short break, I am getting back into gear with the “Journey Through The Faith” series. As I finish up my thoughts for the remainder of my faith journey, I wanted to offer you the last in a series of guest posts on some of my friend’s own faith journeys. The next three posts are from Carolyn Givens, a fellow Cairn alum, as she recounts her time spent in Asia as a young expat in very different faith communities. 

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Hong Kong for a year. Though a child of an internationally transient family, I, until that point, had grown up in a single church in the north central United States and had very little church experience outside our Baptist-in-name-and-form-but-not-denominationally-affiliated. My parents would probably not have defined themselves as fundamentalist Baptists, even my church may not have fit that definition, but it was definitely the direction my young ecclesiology leaned.

And then we went to Hong Kong.

To call that year’s church experience eclectic would be an understatement. Quite honestly, it was the best thing that ever could have happened to nine-year-old me. All the rules I’d built in my head of what church was and was supposed to be were thrown out the window by experience after experience.

We attended an Anglican church on Sunday mornings: a vicar, pulpit to the side of the altar, standard order of service, infant baptism, stone cathedral-like building, kneeling rail at the front for communion from a single cup (with wine!). Church there was about as far from what I had known as possible.

On those Sunday mornings I learned about the beauty of the liturgy. I learned that the old church traditions hold deep meaning and deep truth. And I learned these things in a church community where, as a Caucasian American, I was the minority. The people were Chinese, Indian, British, Canadian, Malaysian—and they all worshipped together. Two vivid memories stand out to me as the best examples of what was modeled to me in that church: grace and beauty.

One was when our good friends—the family that had introduced us to the church, likely the only other Americans there—had a baby son born. This family had come from a church tradition which practiced believer’s baptism. They wanted to dedicate their son, but did not want him baptized. So they approached the vicar with their conundrum. Without blinking, he offered to hold a service of dedication rather than a baptism. He understood that his congregation was made up of people who came from diverse backgrounds. He understood that it was truth taught and the body worshipping together that brought them. And he understood essentials and non-essentials of faith. He practiced grace.

The second memory was from Easter Sunday. Along with the gorgeous music, the violet hangings turned white, and the preaching of resurrection, there was ballet. Little Puritanical me was slightly shocked at first. And then, as I watched two women and their lithe movements, I saw art and beauty turned to worship. It sounds a bit silly today—when we see things like this quite commonly in many American churches, but in 1991, it was revelatory to me. I had no idea you could worship God by dancing. I had no idea how much He delighted in beauty.

March 24, 2014

Holy God,

We are caught in the tension of
light and shadow, death and resurrection.
You spoke the world into being,
you illuminated the universe by your very speech,
then filled the void with life.
Indeed, you have filled the void
of darkness and death,
the empty promises of the abyss,
with new life and new creation.
We look to you in the space between the world and the Kingdom,
longing for the fulfillment of your word
in the work of the Holy Spirit
and the reign of Christ, our Creator and King.

Amen