When is Easter?

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 10:28 PM

Easter is so late this year - April 24. In fact, we're only two weeks away from Mother's Day. Why did it happen this way, and why is it sometimes as early as March.

To answer this, I read some material by History professor Steve Ware from an article in The Christian Century, as well as information in the Wikipedia website. The short answer is that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Huh? 

The equinox is when the equator is perpendicular to the sun. The center of the sun is in the same plane as the Earth's equator. At this point in time, if you were standing on the equator, the sun would appear directly overhead. It typically occurs around March 20/21 in the spring, called the "vernal equinox," and around September 22/23 in the fall, called the "autumnal equinox." The word "equinox" is derived from the Latin words aequus, meaning equal, and nox, meaning night. Although it's not exactly the case, we can think of the equinox as being the time when the length of the day and the night are approximately the same. The equinox marks the official change of seasons, from winter to spring or summer to fall.

The short version is that in 325 A.D., Constantine, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, convened the Council of Nicea. Among the business before the council was a desire to establish a uniform date for Easter. Out of the discussion and debate came the "Easter Rule," setting Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. However this decision was not unanimous. 

There was not yet what we now consider a Pope. Instead, there were bishops from across the church, though over time the Bishop of Rome in the western portion of the Church began to take on greater and greater preeminence, and eventually became what we today know as the Pope. The eastern bishops of the Church (more closely associated with Constantinople) at that time wanted to schedule Easter in conjunction with the Jewish Festival of Passover since, after all, Jesus went to Jerusalem, in the first place, to celebrate Passover. The Western bishops (more closely associated with Rome) preferred a date corresponding with the beginning of spring, because that was the time already established for a lot of pagan celebrations, and they wanted to offer an alternative. 

In fact, on this and other issues, the first split of the Church eventually occurred, around 1054/1055 AD, when the Church split into the Eastern Church, which today is made of multiple branches called the Orthodox Church, and the Western Church, which became known as the Roman Catholic Church of today. (Some five hundred years later the Protestant movement, under the leadership of Martin Luther and others, split from the Western or Roman Catholic Church). 

Most churches in America today are descendants of the Western line of the Church and use a different calendar than the Eastern Orthodox churches. Sometimes our celebrations of Easter fall on the same day, and sometimes they vary by as much as five weeks! Based on these calculations, Easter can fall between March 22 and April 25, so this year is the second latest day on which Easter can fall. Easter last fell on April 25 in 1943 and will not do so again until 2038.

So, for the record, this year (2011) the first full moon following the vernal equinox occurred on April 18. Easter falls on the first Sunday following April 18, which is April 24. This year both the Western and Eastern churches are celebrating Easter on the same day. The beginning of Passover this year falls on April 19.

Believe me when I say the actual computations for Easter are actual quite involved. If you want to dig deeper, google Easter for more information. However, for most of us it's enough to take the word of "the powers that be" and celebrate Easter this year on April 24. Happy Easter!

A Culture Shift

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 3:47 PM

On Wednesday night, April 13, I shared with our church family a sense that God is calling us as Gateway Community Church to a culture shift. I said this, and I continue to talk about this, not because of a momentary experience in my life, but what feels more and more like a tidal wave of leadings from God.

The essence of this culture shift is that the mission and the ministry of our church are not the responsibility of the institutional church but of the living, breathing organism of the church made up of the individual members of the body of Christ who attend Gateway. In other words, each one of us is called by God to live as "fully devoted followers of Christ." The mission belongs not so much to the church as a whole, but to the church as in each member of the body. The effectiveness of the church is most obvious when each one in the church family owns and lives the mission, rather than when the mission gets bumped up the line to the overall church body or institution.

I'll admit that I'm still working on the words and language to express just what I sense God saying in all this. I've been talking it out with staff and in Grow Gatherings on Sunday evenings. I've been thinking about it and reflecting on it, and actually preaching on it more than I realized. I see it already happening in the accountability and encouragement that occurs in Celebrate Recovery, as individuals take on responsibility for other individuals and come alongside them. I see it already happening in our Marriage Mentoring ministry, where one couple comes alongside another couple to help and encourage them in their journey. I see it as we've been talking lately about how to help grow and encourage brand-new followers of Christ, who need someone to come alongside them and show them the way. I see it already happening as we talk about investing more into the parents of our children and teens, so parents feel empowered to accept their God-given responsibility to teach and encourage their own kids about Jesus Christ, with the church serving in a helping role.

I've been sensing it in a scripture that has really jumped out at me in the last few weeks:

Jesus: “‘For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.’” (Matthew 18:20 NLT2)

I've always wondered about this scripture. Why "two or three"? Why not five or six, or a hundred to a hundred fifty? Then, a few weeks ago it struck me - it's in settings of two or three that our relationships are most exposed and open, where vulnerability as well as accountability are most possible and most likely. It's the essence of relationship, and much of our spiritual growth comes in our interaction with another. In the New Testament the phrase "one another" is found nearly sixty times: "accept one another," "be devoted to one another," "greet one another," "serve one another," "instruct one another," "honor one another," "encourage one another," "do not slander one another," and especially "love one another."

There's a sense of Christianity and love being personal - not something that can be done through an institution nearly as well as through one individual to another. We are called to come alongside one another to help, encourage, hold accountable and love one another. And it's in these small settings of two or three or four, where it's impossible to hide from each other or wait for someone else to answer or explain, where we become known deep down, behind the walls.

Yet, too often in my ministry "career" I've rationalized that working mainly with large groups is efficient and a better use of my time. I thought I could reach more people faster, better. But in fact, what I think I've been doing is at the very least fooling myself. It definitely takes more work and we experience more pain when we get up close and personal with someone, yet it's only there that I see behind the curtain of who that person really is, who I am, and who God really is and what He desires in our lives - where two or three of us are gathered.

This is why I believe we need a culture shift. We need to move away from thinking about how others will do ministry and instead ask God what do you want me to do? What person do you want me to come alongside? How do you want me to love another? Words and phrases that have been coming to me lately include "accountability;" "360ยบ mentoring," where as we mentor another, we are at the same time being mentored by someone else; "sacrificial love is normal for the Christ follower;" "every ONE matters to God;" and "personal responsibility for my own spiritual growth." 

And I really don't see this as a program of our church so much as a part of our essence, our culture. We don't plan it and orchestrate it - we empower it and release it. The church then fulfills it's God given purpose "...to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12)

I've got a lot more praying and thinking to do on this, but I don't plan to wait until it's all clear, either. I'm diving in, wanting to go deeper into the love of God. I hope you will, too. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, too. This is definitely a work in progress, but I really feel God's presence in the midst of this. And I believe seeking to live our lives this way will radically change our church, but more important than that, it will change our community and our world. It will take time, because relationships can't be rushed or pushed. But I believe God has been planting seeds all around our church, and over the next two to three years I expect to see a real culture shift. The church will be the church, and God will be glorified!

John Stott on the Cross

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 11:31 PM

My sermon series right now is entitled, "The Cross," and I'm based it, in part of the book The Cross of Christ by John Stott. 

John R.W. Stott has been one of the great minds of evangelical Christianity over the past half-century. He was a principal writer of the Lausanne Covenant in 1974. In 2005 Time magazine recognized him as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." I like him not just for all these reasons but also because I can understand what he's writing. Sometimes, our deepest theologians write in such exact and "thick" language that I find myself reading and re-reading the same page over and over again. I don't find that true with Stott. His writing is profound but also accessible. And for that I am grateful. Below is a picture of the cover of his book from Amazon.com at The Cross of Christ. Order it if you'd like to dig deeper in this incredibly important topic.

My message for Sunday, April 3, is entitled, "Why God Used the Cross," and it looks at what God did in Christ on the cross. You can go to our website and download a podcast of the message (or even subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes), if you'd like to go deeper. The theological expression is "substitutionary atonement": God took our place on the cross in Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV): “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Romans 8:3-4 (NLT2): “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”

Romans 5:8 (NLT2): “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

I used several quotes from Stott's book in my message on the 3rd, but not all of them made it into the printed notes. Below are a few that I felt were particularly helpful or profound:

John Stott: “The crucial question we should ask, therefore, … is not why God finds it difficult to forgive, but how he finds it possible to do so at all.” (p. 90)

John Stott: “At the cross in holy love God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He bore the judgment we deserve in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. God’s holy love was ‘satisfied.’” (p. 91) 

John Stott: “All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and humanity. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it.” (p. 111) 

Emil Brunner: “…the cross of Christ ‘is the event in which God makes known his holiness and his love simultaneously, in one event in an absolute manner.’ ’The cross is the only place where the loving, forgiving, merciful God is revealed in such a way that we perceive that his holiness and his love are equally infinite.’ In fact, ‘the objective aspect of the atonement…may be summed up this: it consists in the combination of inflexible righteousness, with its penalties, and transcendent love.’” (p. 131) 

John Stott: “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.” (p. 159) 

Sometimes this kind of topic can seem somewhat technical, and you may experience that. But for me, when I think about what God did for us in Jesus Christ, the pain and suffering He  suffered for us, the depths of love He demonstrated, I'm just blown away. This is the truth I need to remember and have to remember when I get down on myself or feel attacked or don't feel like I'm worth very much - Jesus Christ died for me! I hope it sinks in for you, too!