No, John MacArthur: Pandemic Church Restrictions are Not Persecution


California has experienced a huge surge of COVID-19 cases in the past month or so. In response they have placed further restrictions on gatherings and businesses, including restricting churches with capacity limits and no singing.

On Friday, California pastor John MacArthur, with his elders, posted this piece saying they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”

Positive Points

First, I want to commend MacArthur and his team. Not enough churches engage in civil disobedience against the government, oftentimes letting political interests tempt churches into compromising their core values and commitments.

It was refreshing to see a large, conservative church say once again that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and to reclaim the sense that the Church is fundamentally opposed to the ways that government and politicians do things, especially when they will obviously receive the scorn of a watching world and local government for the sake of their convictions. However…

Good Faith, Bad Faith, Insecure Faith

I really want to avoid whataboutism throughout this piece; yet, one cannot look at MacArthur’s letter without some confusion. This is a church and denomination that has given themselves so totally to one party in our political system, they have little integrity in saying they are now following Christ, not Caesar.

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Holy Saturday Prayer & Reflection: Silence


Here is the prayer, reflection, and practice I led for Holy Saturday for my church. We have been doing videos for each day of Holy Week, going through our prayerbook liturgy for the day and offering some personal reflections. You can also find the audio version on our podcast.

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This Easter just might be a lot like the first. [quote]


One of my church’s seminary interns, Tara (who did the Holy Tuesday video, by the way), wrote out this little reflection on our Slack channel and I thought it was a beautiful reminder during our social distanced Easter this year.

This is an unusual Holy Week–one that is perhaps not so far off from that first Easter. Anxious people huddled in their homes. Jesus mysteriously appearing not to crowds or synagogues or throngs of people–but to individuals like Mary, alone and grieving at the tomb, and to two disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to others in such small solitary groups. Jesus mysteriously appearing in their midst. Perhaps like us indeed this Easter.

Tara Ann Woodward

Holy Monday Prayer & Reflection: The Fig Tree


Here is the Holy Monday prayer and reflection from my church. Leaders from the church are doing videos for each day of Holy Week, going through our prayerbook liturgy for the day and offering some personal reflections. You can also find the audio version on our podcast.

Confess

We cannot come before God
unless we are first honest with ourselves
about who we are,
about the mistakes we make,
and about how well or poorly we care for others.
In this spirit, let us offer our prayers to God.

O God of peace,
I have built up walls to protect myself from my enemies,
but those walls also shut me off from receiving your love.
Break down those walls.
Help me to see that the way to your heart
is through the reconciliation of my own heart with my enemies.
Bless both them and me,
that we may both come to grow in love for each other and for you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

~ Silent Confession & Reflection ~

Read

Selection from Mark 11.20 – 13.36

Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Practice

Jesus was rejected and overlooked. Take a moment to have a conversation with someone who is often overlooked — perhaps an acquaintance you know is lonely, perhaps someone living on the street. After your conversation, spend some time praying for that person.

For Families: Ask your children if they have ever felt rejected or overlooked (explain these concepts if necessary). Ask them if you, as their parent, have ever been the cause of them feeling that way. If so, apologize and repent to them. Help them connect this feeling to Jesus’ experience and let them know that, whenever they may feel that way in their life, Jesus knows and never rejects or overlooks us.

Lent, the End of the World, & the Coming of the Son of Man


This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook

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If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.

For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text  below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.

To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.

Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?

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Lent: The Anointing & The Plot to Kill Jesus [guest post]



This meditation on Mark 14.1-11 is excerpted from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook, and is for the second week of Lent. It is by Tara Ann Woodward.

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Reflection: A Fragrant Offering

As Mark’s plot picks up speed toward Jesus’ death, the story pauses to show us a quiet interaction between Jesus, a woman, and Judas. In it, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume as a symbolic preparation of Jesus’ body for death. While Judas seeks to betray Jesus, she has a different sense of who Jesus is and his purpose on earth. Jesus is the only one to notice that “she has done a beautiful thing” by preparing Jesus’ body with perfume prior to his burial, and so this beautiful thing stops the story in its tracks. As the Lenten season unfolds, we don’t want to miss what God is doing in the midst of our hearts and lives. May her posture reshape how we purposefully engage the journey to the cross.
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Ideas for Lent: Fasting, Prayer, & Generosity


Note: This was originally three separate posts that have been collated into one for future reference.

The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century of the early church and is a 40-day season of preparation and repentance in anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. Whether you are only beginning to explore the claims of Jesus, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life around the cross and empty tomb of Christ in fresh ways.

Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity. If you’re like me, you forget to think about this until Lent has already started, so hopefully this helps us all.

If you think of these practices as external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life, then fasting is a process of removing things to create a space, prayer is the way we fill those interior spaces, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.

To use another analogy, prayer is like the soul’s inhale, and love/generosity is its exhale; fasting or other ascetic practices are ways to increase our “lung capacity” or quicken our breath for a time from spiritual exertion in order to take in and give out more than we normally would. Continue reading

Transfiguration: Christmas Revealed (An Epiphany Reflection)


This Epiphany reflection is the final meditation from the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook.

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The Transfiguration has always bothered me deeply. Jesus takes his closest friends to a mountain and is “transfigured”: his clothes turn white, he talks with some Old Testament prophets, God says nice things about him; everything then calms and they walk down the mountain like nothing happened.

But… what is a “transfiguration”? Translators use that word because no one knows what this moment is or was. “Transfigure” doesn’t mean just a change in appearance, but an actual change in substance and form.  There’s simply no word in language that can communicate it. “

Transfigure”, then, is an almost nonsensical word. It’s merely a placeholder for something whose meaning we can’t ever know. So even though the words sit there in black-and-white before us, we will never know nor have access to what this actually means or is saying.
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Tamar: Waiting for Justice [guest post]



This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Jessa Stevens.

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I started a company six years ago and I truly felt I was following God’s plan for my life. I saw him leading me through challenges, making connections, providing financially. I was filled with hope and motivation. I felt like what I was doing was helping people, healing friends and family. I was doing something I loved that connected me to God and his vision for my life.

If you’ve spoken to me in the last year, however, the road has been more bumpy and more challenging. And surprisingly, though at times I’ve been angry, confused, and discontent with the struggles of this company, I’ve been relying more on God daily than I had when I was praising him for all the ease and fun of this job.
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Rahab: Waiting for Judgment [guest post]


This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Amanda Mahnke.

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Growing up, I was always intrigued by the story of Rahab. As a tween and teen, it was somewhat perplexing to me that the Bible celebrated this woman as righteous for lying to protect the Israelite spies. Given Rahab’s less-than-reputable profession —and a wealth of biblical heroes who did far worse than she — I’m not sure why the deceit was my biggest hangup. I do know, though, that ruminating on Rahab’s story was an important step in my journey toward a less black-and-white, judgmental kind of faith.

The story of Rahab begins as Joshua and his army are preparing to destroy the Canaanite city of Jericho as an offering to the Lord. In an act of treason, Rahab hides the enemy spies and lies to her own government officials regarding their whereabouts. We have no real way of knowing why she does this. What we do know is that, somehow, this Canaanite prostitute has heard about the miracles of the Israelite God, and she has believed.
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Bathsheba: Waiting for Mercy [guest post]


This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Maria Lipkin.

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When I read some of the episodes of David’s story I often think, “what a coward! How did God let him get away with so much?!” I feel this way especially when I read the story of David and Bathsheba. Here is a king who was supposed to be fighting with his men but is instead lounging around his palace. At the first sight of a naked woman, he makes her have sex with him even though she is married to one of his own valiant soldiers! They conceive a child and David kills her husband to cover up his act. The child dies because of David’s sin.
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Advent & Mortality


“If our mortality is overcome as the mortality of Jesus’ humanity was, we do not leave our mortal lives behind after death, as if our deaths (and sufferings) have been cancelled out. We are not replaced by new immortal versions of ourselves, any more than the resurrected Christ appears as someone who is not visibly the crucified. It is the crucified body that is glorified to immortality in the resurrection of the body. Our mortality is not changed into immortality after death, mortal bodies replaced by essentially immortal ones. Instead our mortality is (even now, though unapparently) clothed in immortality. (1 Cor 15:33)”
– Dr. Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity

I got this book in Advent last year and never actually read it. This quote makes me think that, with where my soul is now, the delay was providential. This will be my Advent read this year. Join me!