In this video I explain our church’s 3-stage plan to reopen and resume physical gatherings in light of COVID-19 and the end of stay-at-home orders:
Today as we celebrated Easter at White Fields Church in Longmont, Colorado, we had a special greetings sent in from some of the missionaries we support around the world, including several in Ukraine.
Here’s the video of the Easter service, which includes the greetings from those missionaries:
Some of the missionaries in Ukraine mentioned that their country celebrates Easter a week later than we do in the United States, leading some people to ask why that is.
Council of Nicea (325 AD): Setting a Common Date for Easter
The First Ecumenical Council of Christin leaders around the world as held in 325 AD and is known as the Council of Nicea.
Prior to Nicea, churches in different parts of the world celebrated Easter on different Sundays of the year. In order to bring unity, council members created a formula to would calculate the date for Easter for all churches around the world: the first Sunday after the first full moon which follows the vernal equinox, after the Jewish Passover.
To avoid confusion, it determined that the vernal equinox was on March 21. This system guaranteed that all churches around the world celebrated Easter on the same day.
The Great Schism and the Introduction of the Georgian Calendar
In 1054 the Eastern and Western churches split. The division was for theological, cultural, and political reasons. Shortly after this, Pope Gregory VIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, whereas the Eastern Empire continued with the Julian calendar, which had been used since the time of Julius Caesar.
The reason for the introduction of the Gregorian calendar was the realization that the Julian calendar was discovered to be 11 minutes too long, which, though not much, led to the spring equinox no longer being on March 21 by that time. The Gregorian calendar sought to bring correction to this issue, whereas the Eastern Empire (and its churches) continued with the Julian calendar despite the fact that according to it, the vernal equinox was no longer on March 21.
By using two different calendar systems, the vernal equinox now fell on March 21 under the Gregorian calendar and April 3 on the Julian calendar. The two empires (and their churches), as a result, began celebrating Easter on two different days, though on occasion Easter date does still fall on the same day for both calendars (e.g. in 2017 and next in 2025).
As for the question of why the date of Easter changes every year, see: Easter Math: How Does It Add Up?
A Time For Celebration?
For Christians, Easter is our biggest celebration of the year. And yet, how do you celebrate in the midst of a crisis in which thousands of people are sick and dying, and millions are out of work and hurting financially?
Some churches have suggested that celebrations of Easter should be delayed until this crisis gets better. I disagree. In fact, I would say that there is no more appropriate time for us to celebrate Easter than in the face of sickness, instability, and death, because these things are the very reasons why Easter is good news worth celebrating!
In fact, this may be the one moment in all of our lives when we understand the weight of what Easter means, and the hope that it brings, more than ever.
The meaning of Easter is that the Lord of Life died in order to destroy death, and make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him and resurrected to “a better life” (Hebrews 11:35, 40).
How We’re Doing Church This Weekend
This year we will be having our church’s first ever Good Friday service, but since we cannot gather physically we put out pre-packaged communion supplies for people to pick up outside of the church.
We have been pre-recording our services in order to create a worshipful experience for those who watch at home.
See also: Pastoring in the Midst of Crisis
Join Us for Good Friday and Easter Online
- Good Friday: 6:00 PM Mountain Time
- Easter Sunday: 10:00 AM Mountain Time
This past Sunday (March 22, 2020) was supposed to have been our last service in the Saint Vrain Memorial Building, where White Fields Church has met since its inception, years before I became pastor.
However, because of concerns about the Coronavirus outbreak, not only are we not gathering physically out of concern about spreading the virus, but the Memorial Building is closed.
This past week, some members of our congregation were able to get in to move our things out of storage at the Memorial Building to move them to the new facility. The group also moved us out of the offices our church has been in for the last 2.5 years.
Looking at the pictures, it was a bit surreal realizing that it is the end of a season during which a lot of good ministry took place, and when I last left those places I had no idea that I wouldn’t be able to return!
This coming Sunday (March 29, 2020) was scheduled to be our first Sunday in the new building, and we were planning to kick off doing two services on Easter. Right now, it is looking unlikely that churches will even be able to gather on Easter at all.
However, I was able to go into the empty church building last Saturday and pre-record my sermon by preaching to an empty room, making this the first service in our new building… kind of.
I can’t wait for the time when we will get to gather physically again, and have a proper grand opening!
Here’s the video of the service:
Psalm 112:7 (NLT) “They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.”
With the heightened awareness and deep public concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), I want to let you know that we are carefully monitoring the situation, CDC updates, and government response and recommendations.
We are continuing to take precautions at our services and gatherings. We have prepackaged, single use communion cups and wafers available, as well as hand sanitizer. We ask that everyone please wash your hands thoroughly, even more than usual, as this is this most effective way of preventing transmission. We are committed to being as proactive as possible to create safe and clean environments for us to worship in. We’ve always been very intentional in this commitment and are now, more than ever.
Currently we are not planning on canceling any of our church services or Bible studies.
We have made the decision to cancel our Easter Outreach at the recommendation of Boulder County, which is asking that large public gatherings and festivals be cancelled. We want to be good neighbors and honor the authorities God has put in place.
Some of you have asked about whether Pastor Mike and I will be affected by the travel ban. We will not be affected by it, as we are US citizens. We will be home soon. Thank you for your concern.
Let us be ready and looking for opportunities to love our neighbors in this time. Let’s be respectful of people’s concerns and ready to reach out in love, faith, and compassion – being full of the confidence and courage that comes from the hope of the gospel.
As we make the move into our own building (see: We’re Moving!), we will be doing a special series on the topic of faith, from March 22-April 5, 2020.
This move is going to be a stretch for our church; it takes faith to give up what you have (in our case: in the Memorial Building) for the sake of what can be, but it’s worth it.
I was recently talking with a pastor friend who has led his church through some big steps of faith, and he told me that he is a bit envious of the position we are in the right now of taking this step of faith and stretching ourselves in order to open up new opportunities for ministry, because every time he and his church have done that, it has led to so much spiritual growth and vitality in their lives.
They are Bread for Us
In Numbers 14, when the people of Israel were supposed to enter the Promised Land, but 10 of the 12 spies convinced the people not to go because it was too hard, because there were giants in the land – it was Joshua who spoke up and said,
If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.Numbers 14:8-9a
What did Joshua mean that “they are bread for us”? Joshua understood that: just as we need food to sustain our bodies and keep us healthy, we need challenges and steps of faith in our walk with God in order to stay healthy!
Give me the land with the giants…
Later on, in Joshua 14, the people have entered into the Promised Land – Joshua and Caleb being the only ones from the original generation who were allowed to enter in because they were the faithful spies who were willing to obey and follow God by faith despite the challenges of the task.
In Joshua 14, we read about how Joshua divided up the dwelling places of the tribes of Israel in the Promised Land, and he gave first dibs to Caleb to choose any portion of the land he would like for himself. Here was Caleb’s response:
And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”Joshua 14:10-14
Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.
At 80 years old, Caleb wasn’t interested in “taking his foot off the gas” and spending the rest of his years relaxing. Rather, he wanted to live in a beautiful place, where he could continue to fight giants.
Why? Because Caleb understood that following God by faith and taking steps of faith that challenge us, these things are bread to us.
Faith is like a muscle; it needs to be stretched and used and tested in order to remain healthy and grow.
We have such an opportunity as a church in moving into this new facility. May God use it in our lives and in our region for the benefit of many!
In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter urges his readers to make every effort to add to their faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
All of those seem pretty straightforward, except perhaps one: Virtue.
How Does Peter Understand “Virtue”?
“Virtue” seems like a pretty broad term, and one that different people might define in different ways.
However, keep in mind that Peter is writing to people throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). This is stated explicitly in 1 Peter 1:1: “To those…in…Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” These are the historical regions of Asia Minor, which at this time was a predominately Greek-speaking, Hellenized region. Hellenization wasn’t only about the Greek language, it also included the proliferation of Greek social norms and philosophical ideas.
Greek philosophy included the thoughts and writings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the most influential and prominent stream of Greek philosophy being Stoicism.
The Stoics were very focused on the idea of “virtue” and held that there are four “cardinal virtues”: Wisdom, Morality, Courage, and Moderation.
Keeping this historical and cultural setting in mind, it would seem that when Peter uses the word “virtue,” he does so with the expectation that his readers will associate that with the Greek philosophical teachings on virtue, particularly that of the Stoics.
Without Faith, Virtue Avails Nothing
It is significant that Peter speaks of “adding” or “supplementing” your faith with virtue. In other words, faith in Jesus and his finished work is the baseline upon which we are encouraged to add these virtues.
So, while Peter is affirming that the Stoics were right that these virtues are good, to have these virtues apart from faith in Jesus will avail you nothing before God. These virtues might help you in life and in relationship with other people, but they will not do anything to improve your standing before God.
CS Lewis on Virtue: the Bible vs. the Stoics
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.
You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love.
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
This week Mike and I sat down to discuss this question of what it means to add virtue to your faith for our weekly Sermon Extra video series:
In my recent post, The Active Passive Actions of Relationship with God, I talked about how abiding in Christ (see John 15:1-11) may at first sound passive, but abiding actually requires action.
A Practical Guide to Abiding
Still, someone might ask: “How exactly do you abide in Christ though?
After all, in John 15:9, Jesus told his disciples:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
But what does that mean? What does it look like on any given Wednesday, for example, for me to abide in the love of Christ?”
Thankfully, Jesus answered that question for us!
In John 15:10, here’s what Jesus said:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
So, the way to abide in Jesus’ love is to keep his commandments.
This is interesting, because just a few verses later Jesus says:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)
This is interesting because it tells us that there is a good and proper motivation for obeying God’s commandments: love for God and a desire to abide in his love.
Obeying God Matters, But It Also Matters Why You Obey God
Obeying God’s commandments matters. Consider what God told King Saul:
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
But when it comes to obeying God, why you obey God also matters very much. It is possible to obey God for the wrong reasons. If your reason for obeying God is self-justification or self-glorification, you will find yourself in the position of being in opposition to God. As we are told in James 4:6,
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
On the other hand, if you love someone, and you want to express your love for them, if you want to experience the joy of fellowship with them, what do you do? You find out what they like, what they love, what makes them happy and brings them joy, and you do those things!
An Example: My Wife’s Birthday
My wife’s birthday is coming up. Knowing the things that she likes, what if I were to say: “I don’t have to do those things in order to win her love, since she already loves me. Therefore I will do nothing, because I don’t have to earn her love.”
Of course my wife will love me even if I don’t do anything for her birthday. However, because I love her and want to share a great experience with her (since intimacy is created through shared experiences), I want to do something for her that she will like. Thus, in my pursuit of her, in my desire to know her, one of my goals is to discover her likes and dislikes and do things she likes; not to earn her love, but as an expression of my love for her, and as a way of having fellowship with her.
In the same way, we can express love for God and experience fellowship with God by doing the things that we know He likes!
For more on this topic, see: “Oh, How I Love Your Law” – the Role of the Law in the Life of a Believer
May we be those who abide in Christ’s love, just as He abided in the love of the Father!
The Bible uses a few terms to describe what a relationship with God looks like, and how it is to work in practice. Some of these terms imply movement, such as walking with God (Genesis 5:22, 6:9, 17:1; Luke 1:5).
There are other terms however, which at first glance appear passive. A further look into these terms reveals that they actually imply action:
Wait on the Lord
The word “wait” conjures up thoughts of waiting at government offices, hospital waiting rooms, or waiting for Christmas to come. All of these are passive actions: you have no control over the outcome, and many times these experiences of waiting sap our energy. Waiting for 2 hours at the DMV can be exhausting, even if you spend the whole time sitting in one place and not moving.
However, to “wait on the Lord” is not a completely passive action. The word “wait” in Hebrew is the word Qavah which means “to hope” or “to expect.” It can also be translated “to bind up,” or “gather together.”
While on the one hand, the outcome is out of your control, you are not completely passive nor inactive; you are doing something because you know the God who controls the outcome.
It is in this way that Isaiah the Prophet could say,
“Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Whereas in many cases waiting can be an exhausting and energy-sapping experience, waiting on the Lord, Isaiah tells us, actually renews your strength and invigorates!
It is in this sense that the Psalm-writer says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5) This is not the waiting of passive inaction, but the hopeful expectation of trusting in God’s word and God’s promises.
Abide in Christ
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:5,8-9)
To abide means “to remain, to dwell.” In the picture of a vine and its branches, the branch has to merely stay attached to the vine.
Yet, while on the outside it may not appear that there is any movement involved in the branch abiding in the vine, under the surface there is movement of nutrients from one to the other, providing life, health, and growth, which is seen by the fact that this abiding produces something: fruit.
For us to abide in Christ, on the one hand, involves not moving away from Christ, but the actions of abiding are anything but passive. Another definition of abide is to adhere to a pattern of life. Practically speaking, abiding in Christ requires intentional action to pursue fellowship with God.
These intentional actions by which you abide in Christ are also referred to by the term spiritual disciplines, things like prayer, studying the Scriptures, fellowship with other believers, generosity and giving, and more.
In 2 Peter chapter 1, Peter urges the believers to “make every effort” to add to their faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5), stating that these things help us not to fall, and they help us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
The outcome may ultimately be the Lord’s work in us, but we are invited to participate in working out what God has worked into us, and we get to participate in cultivating our own spiritual growth.
May we be those who trust in, wait up, and abide in the Lord Jesus, not passively – but actively. May we be those who work out our own salvation, knowing that it is God who works in us to will and do to His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
For sermons from 2 Peter, click here: Pilgrim’s Progress: a Study Through 1 & 2 Peter
Where does your identity come from? What defines who you are?
Many people look to their function to give them their sense of identity. This is wrought with peril, as it is an inherently fragile foundation; what you do can and will change throughout your life. You will lose abilities, positions, and even loved ones. Surely you are more than what you currently do.
Other people find their identity in appearance, culture, and other things. Sometimes we feel that a person’s identity is defined by their past actions, whether successes or failures.
As human beings, we have a tendency to categorize and label people in an attempt to try to more easily make sense of the world and our place in it. Labeling and categorizing is powerful, as it then shapes our perceptions of people, including ourselves.
This week, Mike and I sat down to discuss this issue – and it led to what I think was one of our best discussions yet, in which we reflected on some of our own struggles with identity. Check it out:
Last week I was in Austria for the Calvary Chapel European Pastors and Leaders Conference. It was a great time of fellowship, teaching, conversations, encouragement, and refreshment.
The final message in this series was: A Vision for Others, in which we looked at how God sees other people, including us, and the implications of that for us.
This issue of identity was also part of the message I shared in Austria. No matter what stage of life you are in, and no matter your vocation, identity is an important issue, and one that God thankfully has a lot to say about in His Word to give us guidance.