Articles & Announcements
In mid-2013, I began getting involved with the Anacostia Gracious Arts Program (AGAP), a Grace Downtown partner providing after-school arts education and arts-oriented field trips to students in Washington, DC. This week, I went to First Rock Baptist Church in Anacostia, where two dozen AGAP students from one of AGAP’s after-school locations just put on an end-of-semester performance for their friends and family. There were young musicians, dancers and actors showing off what they’ve learned, and young visual artists putting their work on display. The younger kids were adorable and the older kids were surprisingly talented, so I of course had a blast.
It was a great way to close out my first year of involvement with AGAP. A year ago, I had heard a lot about what AGAP had the potential to do, and after a year with them I am more excited about that potential than ever. But I’ve also been caught off guard by how great AGAP already is.
The kids and teens who put on last night’s performance worked their butts off, and they planned and executed the whole thing themselves. They were excited to do it.
I was inspired by the way they loved and supported one of the regular volunteers who has a developmental disability. One of AGAP’s teachers is expecting a child, and it was hard not to get caught up in the students’ excitement at the idea of being part of this baby’s life. And hearing the honest and grateful prayers the students offered up during the evening was nothing short of touching.
After that evening, I’m not just excited about what AGAP can do for these students—I’m excited for how AGAP can create opportunities for these awesome people to leave their mark on our city.
AGAP is embarking on some exciting programs in the coming months—including offering after-school programs in more locations, bringing in accomplished local artists to write new curriculum and hiring a new staff member to help these students become more engaged in DC’s broader artistic and cultural life. Would you consider supporting AGAP through prayer?
Thank you for your support. We are proud to partner with Grace Downtown in renewing our city socially, culturally and spiritually.
We all understand our lives in light of stories. The Bible offers us a four-chapter story for understanding what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean to our lives today. In part one of The Bible and Sexuality, we covered how the first two chapters of that story inform the way we understand and practice sex. In part two, we look at the way the final two chapters—redemption and consummation—change what we expect of sex and revolutionize what we learn from it.
Following our recent seminar on The Bible and Sexuality, I wanted to share an extended quote on sex and celibacy from a recent article in First Things magazine:
“If the thought of enduring your marriage or lack of marriage for the rest of your life is daunting, it is because God doesn’t hand out grace in a lifetime supply. He provides it one day at a time. If you feel like God has not given you the capacity to love your spouse for a lifetime, that’s because he hasn’t. But he has given you exactly what you need to be loving today. Furthermore, God has not given celibates the grace to bear a lifetime of solitude. But he will give you what you need to make it through this day.
“As C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, ‘[I]t is seldom the present and the actual that is intolerable. Remember one is given the strength to bear what happens to one, but not the 100 and 1 different things that might happen.’
“Jesus sought daily strength from his Father. He expected it would be provided as he needed it. That timely help is what God has promised to us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4.15–16)
“God will give us what we need, but he will not give it to us until we need it. He didn’t give the Israelites enough food to last through forty years in the wilderness; he gave them manna one day at a time. None of us has a lifelong stockpile of grace, but we can look forward to God’s faithfulness over a lifetime, offered to us one day at a time.”
~Betsy Child, “Marriage and Celibacy: Lifelong Grace One Day at a Time,” First Things
You can listen to part one of The Bible and Sexuality now. Part two will be online later this week.
Did you miss the recent “The Bible and Sexuality” seminar? Glenn gave an in-depth talk on understanding sexuality in light of the story the Bible tells about our lives. In part one of the talk, presented here, we consider what the ideas of creation and fall mean to how we practice sex.
There was a brief question-and-answer session between parts one and two. The Q&A was not recorded. If you have any questions about this talk or this topic, contact Glenn. Part two will be available next week.
Exploding water balloons! Napkin-eating contests! Grace Downtown’s annual picnic is always one of the highlights of the year. Ahead of the 2014 Picnic on May 10, we’ll be sharing a few photos from the last few picnics. Below is a selection of shots from our 2012 picnic.
Grace Downtown’s annual picnic is always one of the highlights of the year. Ahead of the 2014 Picnic on May 10, we’ll be sharing a few photos from the last few picnics. Below is a selection of shots from our 2011 picnic.
“In the beginning was the beginning, in him it all began
All that they had was God and the garden, the woman and the man
Before creation learned to groan, the stars would dance and sing
Each moment was new, every feeling was fresh, for the creature king and queen
The beginning will make all things new, new life belongs to him
He hands us each new moment, saying, My child begin again…
Michael Card, “The Beginning”
Sin wears things down until they die. Recently my mother discovered some pictures from my 20th high school reunion. As we flipped through the photos, I was startled by the appearance of my aging friends. “Look at him,” I said. “He looks, well, older.”
“What do you think you look like?” my mother replied.
Sin also produces “toil,” that continual labor against thorns and thistles. In Genesis 3 the Lord tells Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” With those words he pronounces both the struggle (sweat) and monotony of life (till you return).
Struggle plus monotony equals toil, and “Monday Morning” has come to denote much of this feeling of toil. Words like “drudgery” and “daily grind” come to mind—“same ole’, same ole’”: We sit in the same traffic, drink from the same mug, pass the same scenery, listen to same the songs. We glance at the people beside us and see it in their faces, too. All of us have felt something of the experience Bill Murray so well depicts in Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation. There is little new.
Monday Morning Can Last a Lifetime
“She hears the baby waking up downstairs
She hears the foghorn calling out across the sound
Repetition in the morning air
is just too much to bear.”
James Taylor, “Another Grey Morning”
The feeling of Monday morning isn’t just a 9-to-5 phenomenon—this expectation that there is little new infects every area of our existence. We begin to believe, “I know my wife … my roommate,” and stop asking questions. We begin to believe, “Things will never change at work … or at home,” and our days are punctuated with cynical sighs. Perhaps some cause or mission to which we’ve been devoted gradually becomes futile. We seek to generate or recover a sense of newness by finding something new: a new spouse, a new boyfriend, a new job, a new hobby, or a new purchase. But our new job inevitably begins to feel like work, and we discover last year’s toys no longer pulsate with life. They were only inanimate, after all.
When this feeling of Monday morning extends into the whole of our lives and then persists for months or years, we’ve arrived at full-blown depression. The thought of living becomes old. James Taylor concludes: “She said make me angry, or just make me cry / But no more grey mornings—I think I’d rather die.”
The Resurrection: A Shockwave of New Life
In the midst of all this we find a resurrected Jesus proclaiming at the end of Revelation: “Behold, I am making all things new.” For those who are keenly aware of oldness—its prevalence and pervasiveness—this is a staggering statement, both in its boldness and range. “Behold, I am making all things new.” Only someone who had overcome death would dare to make such a statement.
But the risen Lord’s declaration raises questions: Doesn’t the writer of Ecclesiastes sum up our earthly life as toil? Do we not all live under the curse of the Fall? Isn’t Jesus talking about future newness?
The Bible teaches that the final renovation of all things will be the completion of a work that is already in progress, a work that was initiated by Jesus’ resurrection. As one theologian put it, Jesus’ resurrection sent a “shockwave” of new life into the world. Sunday morning has extended its daylight into Monday morning, and beyond. Although we are not immune from toil, the resurrection of Jesus causes us to toil differently. We now toil with expectation, because the same power which exploded death is living in you.
The One Who Declared “I am making all things new,” Lives in You
Our hope for newness corresponds directly to our sense of power or powerlessness. Someone who had struggled with depression once said to me, “If you asked a group of depressed people how many of them feel their lives are out of control, every hand would be raised.” There is a perceived lack of power, and so lack of hope.
For those who are not connected to the resurrected Jesus, the sense of powerlessness is well founded. Paul understood himself as “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2) before Jesus entered his life. If some of us feel enslaved to drudgery perhaps we haven’t personally encountered the risen and living Jesus.
Once Paul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, and understood that the Holy Spirit had united him to this Jesus, he was at a loss for words, reaching for every superlative in the book. It’s not just “power,” but “the immeasurable greatness of His power.” It’s not just “might,” but as John Stott points out, “the energy of the might of His strength.” Paul knew who Jesus was and what it meant that he was united to Him. And yet he grasped for words.
And in Ephesians 1.17–20, he prays the same thing for us: to know. Notice that Paul’s prayer isn’t a prayer for power, it’s a prayer to know the power, to recognize what has been given. And this mere recognition brings loads of new hope and strength. We are neither able nor responsible to muster the power to renew our lives. It is vain and futile to even try. We end up exhausting ourselves chasing every new self-help trend and spiritual gimmick, and then finally burning out.
If you’re cynical about new beginnings, it’s because your former hope was misplaced. Only God can grant new beginnings, by way of his grace. We expect forgiveness a single-digit number of times, but he offers it 70 times seven. The Psalmist writes: Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” The Lord expects us to sing new songs because “his mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3).
In Schindler’s List, the horrors of Nazi death camps are displayed in gray and black. Yet hope reappears throughout the film—in the form of a little girl dressed in bright red. She stands out as the symbol of life and newness amidst cruelty, death and despair. The resurrection of Jesus offers believers a similar vision. In it, we begin to expect new things. In referring to the original experience of creation, Michael Card writes: “Every moment was new, every feeling was fresh.” We experience the flashback as a young child collects a lifeless, gray rock and says, “Hey, look what I found!” But, the resurrection offers us more than nostalgia. It teaches that the Lord Jesus rose to inaugurate a work of re-creation—new hearts, new words, new marriages, new songs, new lessons, new cities. This is the very thing for which we ache and the very thing that Jesus promises. The new heavens and earth will be a place of endless expectation and eternal newness, but the Lord of life has already begun the work. Easter Monday is here.
An expanded version of this article by Glenn Hoburg originally appeared on byfaithonline.com.
Learning to manage our gifts responsibly and use them in ways that promote God’s healing and reconciliation in the world is a life-long process. Ahead of this weekend’s class on Financial Stewardship, we’d like to recommend you to a few recent resources to help you think about how you manage the various gifts God has entrusted to you:
Grace Downtown’s recent sermon series Stewardship addressed many of the ways in which we are called to be responsible caretakers of the resources God has given us, including our money, our time and our talent:
A Practical Guide to Financial Giving
We also recently highlighted a practical tool for setting goals for personal generosity.
Financial Stewardship Class
If you have particular questions about how to best steward your finances or are looking for help learning more about this important topic, be sure to sign up for the Diaconate’s class on Financial Stewardship, coming up this Sunday.
Today is Good Friday, the annual commemoration of the worst day of Jesus’ disciples’ lives. Some of them had spent years living with him as itinerant street preachers. Others, after becoming his disciples, stayed where they were but radically altered the way they lived their lives, stunting their careers and straining their personal relationships because they believed that Jesus was going to drive the Romans out of Israel and they wanted to be there when he did.
Just a few days earlier, they had given Jesus a royal welcome to Jerusalem in anticipation of his instituting a new monarchy on the eve of the Passover feast. Instead, in the early morning, he was arrested, and his closest friends scattered like roaches. They denied even knowing him, and were so afraid of joining him that they took on the humiliation of running away naked in a time and culture in which even running in your finest clothing was cause for shame. Most of the ones who stayed to watch his unfair trial and subsequent execution stayed hidden in the crowd.
The reason we know how cowardly, short-sighted and self-interested Jesus’ closest friends were when the going got tough, though, is because they weren’t afraid to say so after his resurrection. Peter, the earliest senior officer of the new Christian church, made no secret about the fact that he denied even knowing Jesus. The only story about his life that James, Jesus’ younger brother, told was about being rebuked and turned away by his older brother for presuming that he would get any of Jesus’ attention at all. Saul, one of Christianity’s earliest ambassadors to other cultures, made sure people knew he started his career waiting on the people who persecuted and executed Jesus’ followers.
They were wrong about what they expected from Jesus, what they thought of themselves and the way they thought God would work in the world. Why were they willing to admit that? Because they saw the resurrected Jesus. After his resurrection, they understood that he didn’t go through the suffering of good Friday because of them—he went through it for them.
The resurrection had left Jesus’ friends and Christianity’s best early ambassadors so assured of God’s acceptance of them that they could admit their most heinous wrongs—even wrongs they had done to Jesus himself. Even after the resurrection, Peter’s confidence in God’s love was such that he could openly admit when he was wrong about whether Gentiles had to live like Jews to be part of the Christian community.
There are going to be times when we fail to live the lives we should be living. There are going to be times when facts we are sure of turn out to be incorrect. The more personally we understand Good Friday, the more willing we are going to be to concede to the truth. Let’s let Holy Week be a reminder to us to be honest with ourselves, and not feel threatened when the truth isn’t what we wish it to be.
This article was previously published on visionofthecity.org.
Waving palm leaves this weekend should remind us not just of Jesus’ victory, but also of our own penchant for short-sightedness and mis-understanding.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, so millions of Christians are going to leave church carrying dried palm leaves folded into small crosses. At Grace Downtown, we will start the worship service with a crowd of children waving palm leaves in the air during the hymn that opens our worship service.
This is all to commemorate an event known as The Triumphal Entry: Jesus was heading to Jerusalem for the Passover feast (and to his execution). He had been teaching and performing miracles for just a few short years, yet there were people in every village and city around Jerusalem that recognized him as the messiah, and a crowd of them had gathered at the city gate to welcome him. They didn’t have a red carpet to roll out for him, so as he approached on a donkey, they carpeted the street leading into the city gate with leaves from nearby palm trees and even their own shirts, coats and robes—quite a sacrifice, since many of them likely had only one set of clothes.
Their enthusiasm is understandable, because they knew enough to expect that when Jesus got to Jerusalem, something big was going to happen. They knew that the messiah was supposed to usher in a new kingdom, and they expected that Jesus was going to raise a rebellion against Rome that week and start a new Israelite monarchy.
Of course, something bigger happened that week than most of them expected. Jesus was executed and resurrected, and extended the invitation into his coming kingdom not just to Jews but to the occupying Romans and to gentiles as well. The crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem was expecting a military coup, because that was their only frame of reference for how the world around them could be changed. Rather than becoming a competing power, though, Jesus showed the world that there is a transcendent power. His life testifies to the fact that that power is dedicated to renewal, not domination.
Until the heavens and earth are divinely renewed, Jesus’ followers are supposed to live their lives in ways that give the world around us a taste of what that future kingdom will be like. We should be as eager and enthusiastic about that privilege as the Israelites who laid their only shirts in the dirt to be walked on by a donkey. But we also need to remember that we aren’t yet made perfect. Despite the beautiful, compelling vision the Bible has for healing and flourishing in our world, we’re still just as prone to short-sightedness and mis-understanding as the crowd who welcomed Jesus to his final Passover.
If you would like to dig deeper into what Easter means for the faith or for your life, visit the Grace Downtown library during Coffee Hour this week.
This article was previously published on visionofthecity.org.