No Spring Break for Lent

Click here:
“You did it! Congratulations! World’s best cup of coffee!” A big claim for what ended up being a lackluster product as Buddy the Elf would later discover. 


You may not know it but you have also recently passed a milestone. We are roughly halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter Day. “You did it! Congratulations! You made it halfway through Lent!” You may be tempted to stare back at me like the diner workers did at Buddy, but we ought to take a minute to see where we are. 


Next Sunday, the 5th in Lent, the lessons move more explicitly to Jesus’ coming crucifixion and sacrifice for the sins of the world. Palm Sunday (March 25) then follows and begins Holy Week in earnest as tensions rise and the drama of Christ’s passion grows. 


You will want to participate in as much of Holy Week as possible especially Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day. 


We’re walking together and we’re getting closer to the great feast of victory. Don’t lose heart because our Lord Jesus Christ walks with us through the wilderness to Jerusalem. 

- Jay+

Grace Isn’t Convenient

In a recent op-ed piece called “The Tyranny of Convenience”, Tim Wu reflects on the potential negative dimensions of convenience. What happens to us when we have nearly everything at our fingertips? What expectations does that breed in us? How do we deal with difficulty when what we primarily experience is ease? Convenience, he says, for all its benefits, can also makes us selfish, can make us impatient, can make us lazy. What makes convenience tyrannical, Wu says, is that once you know convenience, it’s hard to break out of it; it’s hard to embrace difficulty once something has been made easy. But we must resist convenience,Wu concludes, and he ends his article with this admonition, “So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.”


I read that and thought, “This is positively Lenten!” What I mean is that purposely embracing things in our lives that are slow and difficult could not be more countercultural, and yet also could not be more in line with Jesus’ own admonition to us that we must pick up our crosses and follow him daily. And yet we will never be able to embrace such inconvenience in our own power. We need help. We need God. We need his grace. 


Wu’s reflections on the “stupefying” power of convenience reminded me of a phrase from this Sunday’s Epistle reading, Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul says that in a state of deadness, in a state of sin, we follow “the course of this world.” We take the easy path, the way laid out for us by the world, the road of convenience. The only thing that can break us out, Paul says, is the richness of God’s mercy, being made alive in Christ by the grace he gives us in his son.


But Paul doesn’t stop there. After drawing our eyes upward to the “immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness toward us”, he has his own admonishment that we should walk in good works. If we have a certain view of grace, it’s easy to see it as its own kind of convenience. If there’s grace, then that’s it, I’m done. But for Paul grace itself is the motivation for us to embrace “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should talk in them”.


For me, this is what Lent is all about, remembering grace, leaning on grace, in order to be spurred on to good works. On the basis of grace, I can purposely embrace inconvenience for the sake of my soul. On the basis of grace, I can step off the course of the world so that I can pulled upward by grace and onward to good works. If that’s true, then my own admonition is, let’s embrace inconvenience together as we walk the Lenten path!

- Chris+

Lent is Doing Its Work

As we near the completion of two weeks in Lent, I’m noticing a few things about myself. Maybe they’re true for you too.


First, Lent is doing its work. If you’ll recall, on Ash Wednesday I called us all to the observance of a holy Lent by prayer, fasting, giving, repentance, self-denial, self-examination, and reading and meditating on God’s holy word (see Book of Common Prayer, p. 265). And if you’ve mindfully engaged in just one or two of these practices Lent is doing its work. Granted, it’s the Holy Spirit who is working on you, but by entering into Lent, you’re creating space for the Spirit to do so. 


I’ve noticed how dear the word of God is. St. Paul urges the Colossians to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly (Col 3:16). I’ve been surprised again by the power of the word; and having turned down the noise in much of my life, I now have space to hear more clearly that word and let it wash over me. Thanks be to God!


Secondly, Lent’s work is reminding me sinful I am. As God’s word washes over me, as I grow still in meditating upon his word and just waiting in his presence, my patterns of sin become more evident. Today at Morning Prayer (every Wednesday at 8:15 am in Lent) we read the parable of the sower and were reminded that so often the “cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for things” can choke out the word of God. Yes, I’m raising my hand. That’s me.


And lastly, as a result of these things, I’m reminded how deep, how wide, how wide and  how long is the love of God in Christ Jesus. When I’m reminded of my sinfulness, I’m tempted to wallow in shame and self-pity. But Jesus, who went into the wilderness before us and goes with us even now, didn’t die so I could manage my sin with shame. He died to set me free, to lavish the love of God Almighty on me and every other person in this world. So acknowledging my sin, repenting from it, I then stop and breath and listen and allow the love of God, our Father, Abba, to wash over me. He does not treat us as our sins deserve but remembers we are dust (see Psalm 103). 


I hope Lent is doing its work in you. I hope that the Father who sees in secret has begun rewarding you. That the Holy Spirit, the very life of God in us, around us, has filled you afresh and anew, that even as you experience lack in earthly things, the riches of heaven abound in your heart and mind. And that the Son, who was courageous and considered equality with God something not to be exploited but humbled himself and made himself obedient to death on a cross, will bless you with shouts of joy and blessing this wilderness season.


Gratefully yours on the journey,

- Jay+

Rest on Grace

One reason I love living in Dallas is that I get the chance to see large buildings being built over time. There is a certain satisfaction in driving by a build site day by day and noticing the incremental progress as the building slowly goes up. I especially love the initial stage of the build, seeing the dirt work and the digging necessary to start building anything at all. No matter how many times I see it, I am always shocked by how large and deep the holes they dig are. In seeing those holes dug, I realized, that in order to go tall, they must first dig deep. That initially dirt work is so important, that substructure so critical. When a building is finished, it may be the glass and the steel that draws our eyes upward, but the super structure of the building rests on a subterranean substructure that we can't see and so often forget  


In the epistle reading for this week, out of Romans 4, Paul wants to draw our attention to the substructure of the Christian life. Speaking of Abraham as the father of all who believe, Paul reminds us that as important as faith is, there is something even more important, something deeper because he tells us that "it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace" (Rom. 4:16).


We think of the Christian life in terms of faith, as we should. We think of the Christian life in terms of promise, as we should. But both faith and promise rest on something deeper. They are both built on the substructure of grace. Grace is the subterranean substructure of the Christian life. There can be no other substructure than grace, otherwise the building would collapse. If it were based on law, based on performance, then as Paul says, "faith is null and the promise void" (Rom. 4:14). 


It is good to be reminded of grace in Lent. Lent at its best is meant to draw our attention from ourselves toward God. That is the intention of any practice of self-denial. As Jay said, spiritual practices at their best can turn down the volume so that we have a better chance to listen to God. But spiritual practices can themselves become an opportunity for measuring performance and forgetting grace. "Am I doing well? Did I mess up again?” we might ask ourselves, but any practice built on those kind of questions will ultimately crumble because such questions do not ultimately rest on grace. 


If you find yourself already discouraged in your Lenten journey, take heart that it all rests on grace. 

- Chris+

Meeting God During Lent

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. … Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so also must you forgive.” Colossians 3:3;12-13

There is a steely-eyed realism to Lent, beginning as it does on Ash Wednesday with that solemn remembrance of our mortality: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To be marked with ashes in this way, to take heed that we are in fact mortal, is our individual and communal acknowledgement that death is the consequence not ultimately of natural causes but of sin. The ashes speak to our mortality and to our estrangement from God without Christ.

For this reason, some might see Lent as needlessly morose, since we have all been forgiven after all. Truly, we have been forgiven, and our forgiveness is precisely the basis of our ongoing formation into the image of Christ. According to Paul in Colossians 3, it is those who have been raised with Christ, those who have been forgiven, who are called to continually put to death what is earthly in us. Lent is a season when we seriously consider what is earthly in us and what it means to put those things to death.

True, the act of putting to death earthly things in us is the continual call of Christians; but the season of Lent offers an especially intensified period of time to do this. In many ways that is what the church calendar does. Each season brings to mind in intense and vivid ways some aspect of the Christian life and some particular dimension of God’s character. In Lent, we focus on our fragility, our mortality, our need for forgiveness and healing because we are simultaneously focusing on the forgiving and gracious nature of the God we serve. Lent, in other words, is a season to pay attention to those earthly things in us that need to be put to death, so that we might continue to put on Christ.

The dynamic of putting off the things of the former self and putting on Christ is one of the reasons we fast during Lent. Fasting itself is a means of putting off earthly things, of signaling to God that we are serious about putting to death those things in us that are sources of death themselves. Many will choose to fast in some way during Lent. From my personal and pastoral experience, I would heartily recommend that you do fast from something during Lent. While fasting can never obligate God to us, He very often graciously responds to our willingness to give up something for Him. In fasting we turn the volume down on certain appetites by saying no to things we typically would say yes to, and in so doing we turn up the volume of our own attentiveness to God. When we fast from food or from certain types of media or from anything, we are saying to the earthly things in us that they are not ultimate. We say to God by fasting that we want Him to be our ultimate satisfaction.

In addition to fasting during Lent, some choose to take on a spiritual practice of some sort, such as almsgiving. For example, some who fast from food during Lent not only dedicate the time they would have spent eating to prayer, but they also save the money they would have otherwise spent and donate it to their church or to a charity. There are any number of examples of things to fast from or of practices you could take on in this season. My hunch is that if you spent a few moments in prayer, you would have a strong sense of the appetites God might be asking you to say no to in this season. I encourage each of you to take the time to do this. The Lord in His grace wants to meet with us during Lent. He wants to continue to form the image of His son in each of us. Paul reminds us of this in the same passage from Colossians: “You have put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

As you enter into Lent, consider asking these questions in prayer:

What might the Lord be asking me to put to death?

What might He be asking me to take on?

- Chris+

He Went East

We’ve journeyed through four weeks of hearing about St. Bartholomew and how his life and mission are the headwaters for a new vision for our church. We’ve heard that he was the son of a farmer; he exemplifies what it means to be a child of God, fully human, fully free; the prayer for his feast day asks that God would strengthen us to love what he believed and preach what he taught; he was from Galilee, a place overlooked and forgotten full of people that were the same. And this Sunday we’ll see that after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he was sent east as a missionary.  


In the days following Jesus’ death and resurrection the disciples, understandably in awe yet mystified, went back to life as usual. In John 21 we catch up with Bartholomew and his friends as they encounter Jesus in a miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee. We’ll also drop in on them in Acts 1 as, just before he ascends into heaven, Jesus promises they’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them, and that power will fuel mission: “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For some of the disciples, like Bartholomew, the ends of the earth would be their destination.


Not unlike Bartholomew and his friends, we have been sent out. Being planted from All Saints Dallas wasn’t a haphazard career move. It was a prayer-inspired initiative calculated and executed for the sake of mission. We, friends, have been sent out.


I hope to see you Sunday for this last installment about St. Bartholomew. 

- Jay+

Galilee: Overlooked and Forgotten

Our bus wound up and down through the hills as we made our way from Tiberias to the Mount of the Beatitudes. I found myself repeating the Venite under my breath as I stared out the window in wonder.


“Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation….

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. in his hands are the caverns of the earth, and the heights of the hills are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land….”

(see Psalm 95)


There was something about the heights of those hills and the sea that sits below sea level. In one moment I was fascinated that Jesus walked these very same hills, that he hazarded the enormous igneous rocks that lie strewn about as if a giant had thrown pebbles at a puddle. In the next moment I was captured by the haze that sat upon the lake shrouding the region in mystery.


This is Galilee. It is the region where Jesus was raised, where he learned to be a carpenter, where he went about “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matt 4:23). To believe I was there is still a mystery.


Galilee is also the region St. Bartholomew called home, and the place where Jesus would call his disciples to follow him.


What’s striking about Galilee is how unremarkable it is in comparison with Jerusalem, the mighty, holy city, or even the desolate, unforgiving Judean wilderness. Yet Jesus called his disciples from this place on the fringe, inviting a people who were largely overlooked and forgotten to be witness to a new creation breaking in on the world. 


We’re now 3 Sunday into our series of 5 on St. Bartholomew and a vision that flows from his name.


This Sunday we’ll look at Bartholomew’s home region of Galilee, highlight Jesus calling his disciples from this region, and meditate on why that matters to us as a church.


Join us as we sing to the Lord and shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.


- Jay+

To Love What He Believed and Preach What He Taught

These inspiring words come from the collect, or prayer, for St. Bartholomew’s Day which is celebrated August 24. Part of the vision in changing our name to St. Bartholomew is wrapped up in who Bartholomew was as an apostle, a friend and follower of Jesus, and someone who preached the Gospel unto his own death. 


For me they are aspirational, a hoped-for description of who God is making us as a people. In other words, if someone said, “wow, these people love what Bartholomew believed” - our Lord Jesus - “and they preach what he taught,” I believe that is evidence God is using us to make an eternal impact for his kingdom in East Dallas and beyond.  This Sunday we’ll look at the collect for St. Bart’s day, but we’ll do it with a very special guest The Rev. Canon Dr. Jon Shuler. 


Jon was my first rector at my first Anglican church - Grace Church in Fleming Island, Florida. Jon faithfully preached and taught the Gospel of our Lord Jesus week in and week out at Grace. And as I got to know him more and heard of his obedience to the Lord, I discovered that the collect for St. Bart’s day had given shape to his own life of mission and ministry. In fact, Jon introduced me to St. Bart’s day in 2009. So I thought it would be fitting for him to share with us about Bartholomew, the gospel, and mission.


Join me this Sunday as we welcome Jon and hear the third part of our five-part series on St. Bartholomew. 

- Jay+