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Part 1: What does the Bible say about giving?

In Acts 4, Luke writes about Peter and John’s arrest and appearance before the Council of the Sadducees and religious leaders. They are accused of proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. In verse 8 we see Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly witness in the name of Jesus.  Such was the power of Peter’s speech that the Council had nothing to say in response, and they released the Apostles. Peter and John’s boldness inspires the early Christians—they gather together as a church and pray for boldness to proclaim the name of Jesus. In Acts 4:31 we read that the Christians in the church were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. Luke emphasizes the unity of early Christians as the Spirit filled, and Spirit led church. Early Christians ordered their lives in light of the power of the resurrected Jesus. In verses 32-37, we see the work of the Spirit in and through early Christians—particularly with respect to addressing the material needs of fellow believers. In chapter 4, Luke records the work of the Holy Spirit in unifying the church, enabling the Christians to boldly proclaim the gospel, and to meet the needs of fellow Christians voluntarily, responsively, and sacrificially.  Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world  Opening Prayer God, we are confident you are coming, bringing a world where all will be made right. Calm our anxiety, strengthen our patience, and keep our hope aflame, as we work towards, and wait for, your new day. Amen. Responsive Prayer—Psalm 25:1-10 1To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  2O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.  3Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.  6Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! 8Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.  9He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Discussion Questions 1. In verse 32, we read, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” What can we learn about the early church from this verse?  2. In verse 32, Luke emphasizes the point that the early Christians had everything “in common.” How are we to interpret the word “common” here? (Hint: Jason briefly describes the word in the video). 3. In the video, Jason outlines Acts 4:32-27 under three main sections describing how the earliest Christians gave away their resources in radical proportions to meet the needs of others in response to the grace they had received in and through Jesus. What are the three ways the early church shared their money and possessions? How have you seen or experienced generosity at Central? 4. In verse 32, we read: “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own.” What can we learn about the early Christians’ view of property and material wealth from this verse? How ought it shape our own call to generosity? 5. In verse 34, Luke emphasizes how the early Christians shared in response to specific needs of fellow believers. What can we learn about the nature of economic sharing from this verse? 6. In verse 37, Luke mentions Barnabas. How do the radical actions of Barnabas, and the early church point us to the radical work of Jesus on our behalf?  7. How does this passage give us hope as Christians living in the city that promotes individualism, greed, and power based on material wealth? Sending “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Go in Advent hope and peace.

November 28, 2022 | Read

Part 3: The Joy of Generosity

If Christians are called to give voluntarily, responsively, and sacrificially out of gratitude for and in response to Jesus’ love, then how exactly do we do it? In this final part of a three-part video series, Senior Pastor Jason Harris provides practical advice for where we can begin on our giving journey and encouragement as we seek to grow in the grace of generosity.

November 16, 2022 | More...

Part 2: The Joy of Generosity

We read in the New Testament that Christians are called to give voluntarily, responsively, and sacrificially. But the big question is: Why? Why should we give to support the work of the church and the needs of the poor? The moralistic answer is: You give because you have to. The prosperity gospel answer is: You give in order to get. But the Christian answer is altogether different. In this second part of a three-part video series, Senior Pastor Jason Harris addresses the why behind Christian giving and what unlocks the joy of generosity.

November 9, 2022 | More...

Repair

For the past few weeks at Central we have been addressing the ancient and perennial question: “What is the good life?” by looking into the life of David. Thus far in our examination, we have seen David’s rise from being an insignificant shepherd to the anointed king of Israel. As the man after God’s own heart, David is introduced to the nation of Israel as an ideal king who serves the Lord’s people as the Lord’s representative. In 2 Samuel 7, the Lord makes a covenant with David, promising perpetuity of David’s lineage and kingdom. However, beginning from 2 Samuel 10, particularly in chapters 11 and 12, the narrator shifts our focus from the ideological mountaintop of 2 Samuel 7 by taking us into the deep and dark valley in the life of king David.  How did David—the man after God’s own heart—fall into a downward spiral of sin and depravity resulting in grievous and irreversible consequences? The author gives us a context in 2 Samuel 10. The backdrop has to do with Israel’s warfare.  In 2 Samuel 10, we see David, in a friendly act, send emissaries to Ammon to express condolences at the death of the king’s father. The new king of Ammon, at the instigation of his advisers, humiliates David’s emissaries by shaving off half of their beards and by cutting off the bottom of their clothing. The king of Ammon’s shameful treatment of the emissaries dishonored the name of the Lord. David, as the king of Israel, was required to defend the honor of the Lord and his people by going out to battle. However, in 2 Samuel 11, we see David sending Joab to warfare while he remains in Jerusalem. We see the sin of undisciplined luxury at work in David. Instead of resting on the grace and favor of the Lord, David rested on his laurels and achievements. David neglects his duty as the king by remaining in his palace in Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11 records the infamous story that involves David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. David commits adultery with Bathsheba, knowing very well that she was married to Uriah—David’s loyal servant who was fighting to defend David’s honor. David’s self-sufficiency and lustful desire had blinded his devotion to God, and his duty as the king of Israel. After David finds out Bathsheba is pregnant, he goes to extreme lengths to avoid the shame of being exposed. In a desperate attempt to safeguard his position of power and significance, David orchestrates the murder of Uriah. As a result, David breaks half of the Ten Commandments. 2 Samuel 11:27 captures the grievous nature of David’s sins: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12 deals with the judgment, forgiveness, grace, and restoration of David. By the end of chapter 11 we are left with the question—who could expose the grievous sins of the supreme king of Israel? Chapter 12 answers that question. God sends Nathan the prophet to expose David and execute judgment. Nathan weaves a crime story involving a rich man and a poor man. David takes the bait, and he passionately announces his judgment on the rich man, only to learn that he had just condemned himself. Nathan accuses David by declaring, “You are the man!” Nathan executes a threefold judgment of the Lord. We also see the irreversible consequences of David’s sin beginning from this chapter. David loses his child within a week of his birth. David’s son Amnon rapes his stepsister Tamar (2 Samuel 13), and Absalom kills Amnon (2 Samuel 13). The people of Israel lose their trust in David as their king. However, we also see the beauty of forgiveness and hesed—steadfast love and faithfulness of God. God spares David’s life, and kingship. God restores his favor by blessing David with a son—Solomon. God gives Solomon a new name—Jedidiah, which means the Lord’s beloved.  Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world  Opening Prayer God, we gather as your beloved community in the name of your beloved Son, Christ Jesus. Speak to us with your love and your grace. Part the clouds of our frantic, harried lives, that we may recognize your Spirit moving in our very midst. Speak, for your servants are listening. Amen. Responsive Prayer—Psalm 51:1-12 1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  6Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.   9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Discussion Questions 1. Looking at the Bible What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage? In verse 1, we are told that the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. What can we learn about the role of prophets in the Bible? What do we learn about our need for justice from David’s anger against the rich man (verses 5-6)?  After reminding David about the presence and providence of God in his life (verses 7-8), Nathan asks a poignant question to David: “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” What does this teach us about the nature and presence of sin in Christians? 2. Looking at Jesus At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. David is introduced to Israel as the man after God’s own heart—an ideal messianic king of Israel. However, after his private sins are publicly exposed by God, the people of Israel lose their trust and hope in David as the ultimate messiah. How does David’s insufficiency point us to the sufficiency of Jesus as the Messiah? In this passage we see the grace of God and the justice of God at work. God graciously forgives David by restoring his life and kingship. We see the justice of God in David’s punishment—David loses his child at birth. What can we learn about Jesus upholding God’s grace and justice on the cross? 3. Looking at Our Hearts In verses 10-12, we see the outworking of the justice of God. David is punished according to his crime. What can we learn about the sweeping consequences of sin from these verses? In this passage, David particularly breaks commandments six and seven of the Ten Commandments. In Matthew 5:21-30, we see Jesus define the sins of murder and adultery as a matter of heart—will and thought—and not just external action. What can we learn about our hearts from this episode in David’s life? 4. Looking at Our World How is this passage hopeful for us as Christians living in a postmodern culture where subjective morality perpetuates unbridled lust, and retributive justice? Sending May the God of mercy keep you, the Holy Spirit cheer you, and Christ in glory greet you, now and at the day of his coming

November 6, 2022 | Read

Beauty for the World

In his book, Simply Christian, the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright asks his reader to imagine a scenario in which a collector starts rummaging through an old attic in a small Austrian town and comes across a faded manuscript written for piano. It looks like the handwriting of Mozart, but it is not a known piece. The collector takes it to a dealer who calls another friend. Before long, this interested group is huddled around a piano listening to the music. It is captivatingly beautiful. It shows all the marks of being Mozart, and yet, it seems to be incomplete. There are moments where nothing is happening at all, and the piano is simply marking time. There are other places where notes are scribbled in the margins. It becomes clear that this is, in fact, a manuscript written by Mozart, but it is only one part of a much larger piece. The parts for the other instruments are missing. Since the work is frustratingly incomplete, it is impossible to figure out what the whole piece might have sounded like. N.T. Wright suggests that this is what our experience of beauty is like in the world. The world is filled with moments of beauty, and yet, they are incomplete. It is as if we are missing critical parts, but we know there must be a larger whole. When we view a stunning sunset or a remarkable painting, or when we hear a moving piece of music, we are often filled with the deepest feelings of awe, wonder, reverence, and even gratitude. What makes these experiences so meaningful is that they give us a respite from everyday concerns. It is almost as if the beauty picks us up and enables us to put to rest all the other matters that weigh on our hearts and minds. These experiences of beauty can also expand our imaginations and increase our sympathy and understanding. This is why many, especially those who may not believe in God, find that these moments of beauty are the closest that they can ever approach to an experience of transcendence.  And yet, because of the transience, elusiveness, and incompleteness of these moments, beauty remains deeply mysterious. Our concept of beauty is constantly changing. All one has to do is flip through an introductory art book to see how our conceptions of beauty change with culture, time, and context. Moreover, as hard as we may try to hold on to a moment of beauty, it never seems to last. Like a butterfly collector pinning the wings of a butterfly to a board, the very moment we try to pin beauty down is the very moment that we lose it. All of which leaves us with a desire for more. Beauty evokes in us a kind of longing, and yet it leaves us somewhat unsatisfied. In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news of a country we have never yet visited.  Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.” Moments of beauty in this life are meant to point us to the highest of all beauties—the beauty of God himself. In the Old Testament, God’s presence was marked by a cloud of glory. This visible manifestation of God’s presence with his people was beautiful and awe-inspiring, and yet at the very same time, terrifying. It was this cloud of glory that first led God’s people out of their bondage in Egypt in Exodus 13. It is from this very cloud that God later speaks to Moses in Exodus 33. But things take a turn when we get to the later prophets. For example in Ezekiel 10, Ezekiel has a vision of this glory cloud leaving the temple. It appears that God has abandoned his people. But what we soon discover as we scroll forward through the pages of Scripture is that God has not disappeared or left his people devoid of his presence. His glory is now coming in a true, more stable form—the person of Jesus. Jesus is the true temple, the place where God dwells bodily. That is what prompts the Apostle Paul to say in Colossians 1, “In him the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell.” Likewise Hebrews 1 proclaims, “Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Jesus is the full demonstration of the very glory of God. The once faceless, nameless cloud of glory now has a face and a name. And his name is Jesus.  Rather than beauty that is transient, elusive, and incomplete, we find in the person of Jesus, beauty that is permanent, stable, and perfect. The more we contemplate who Jesus is, the more we see the beauty of not only his birth and life, but his death and resurrection. And the more delight we take in the beauty of who Jesus is, the more he has to reveal of himself. 1 Peter 1:12 reminds us that even angels long to look into the Gospel that has been revealed to us. If angels never tire of looking into the beauty of the Gospel, then neither should we. Our desire for beauty finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, the most beautiful one who was willing to suffer unto death because of his infinite love for us. From For the World: Beauty, adapted by Mary-Catherine McKee

June 16, 2022 | Read

Hope for Our Pursuit of Justice

Years ago Central invited Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Christian philosopher from Yale, to speak on the theme of justice. After his lecture, he provided an opportunity for people to ask questions, and a young woman from the congregation came forward. Like so many people, she found that the closer she drew to the work of justice, the more discouraged she felt, because she was simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the pain and the suffering that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another in our sin. Effectively, she asked, “Why do we bother praying or acting for justice when it seems so pitifully small in the face of the world's evil?” Wolterstorff responded with an analogy which I have expanded and elaborated as follows.  The Master Painter When working on large scale compositions, the master painter Rembrandt would hire an entire studio of artists to assist. After Rembrandt sketched out the outlines of the work, the artists would begin to paint in his style. Some of the paintings turned out quite well, and Rembrandt simply needed to add the final touches. Other paintings were an utter disaster and had to be completely reworked by the master. Either way, Rembrandt did what was needed to make the painting perfect, and then he signed his name to it.  So it is with our working for justice in the world today. Jesus is the one who has sketched out the composition—it is his work, not ours. As we apply ourselves to the task, painting in the style of Jesus, some of it might turn out nicely, and it just needs to be touched up. Other aspects of the work might be a total mess, and Jesus needs to completely rework it. But in the end, Jesus is going to make it perfect and sign his name to it. That is what gives us the confidence to persevere in our pursuit of justice. And that is why the Apostle Paul ends his famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 by saying, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  The Persistence to Fight To encourage us to pray and never give up in the face of injustice, Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18 about a widow suffering ongoing injustice who continuously appeals to an unjust judge. Jesus intends for the judge to stand for God, yet this judge is as unlike God as you could possibly imagine. (Jesus often used analogies to contrast human figures to God in order to display how much greater God is.) This judge does not fear God or respect people. In fact, the word that is used in Greek to describe him suggests that he has “no shame.”  Facing this unjust judge in an ancient male-dominiated society without resources, nor a husband or son to fight her case, the widow uses the only weapon at her disposal—her persistence. And it works. At first, the judge refuses to listen to her, but then he re-evaluates the situation. He acknowledges that he does not fear God or respect people, yet he says that he will give this woman justice simply so that “she doesn't beat [him] down by her continual coming.” In the original Greek he literally says he is going to give her justice because he is afraid that she will “give him a black eye.”  Here Jesus paints the image of a powerful and fearless judge being cornered and then slugged by a helpless widow. This is his metaphor for prayer! Like the widow, Jesus is calling us to be persistent and to persevere in the fight against injustice, especially through prayer. The fact of the matter is that there are some things that will never change in our lives or in the world around us until we pray. This is not because we are changing God's mind or manipulating him, but rather it is because God's plan all along has involved our praying. God has chosen to move in response to our prayers. This is how he involves us in his restorative work. Justice in Person Despite the fact that the judge in Jesus’ parable is unjust, he still makes a promise to the widow by saying, “I will give her justice.” We have so much more reason to trust that our just judge will hear our case and come to our aid, because the God of the Bible does not merely love justice—the God of the Bible is justice in person. He passionately cares about his people, and he is determined to set things right. That is why Jesus says in the parable, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” True justice may seem hopelessly delayed and far off, but Jesus assures us by saying, “He will give justice to them speedily.” Though we may not always see wrongs righted in this lifetime, Jesus knows that one day we will.  Our Only Hope Jesus concludes the parable of the persistent widow by turning the question to us, “‘Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’” If we long for justice and for God to bring his justice to bear on our fallen world, then we cannot escape it ourselves. We, too, will fall under the same judgment, and that thought should cause us to tremble. The Oxford professor C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Almost certainly there are unsatisfied claims, human claims, against each one of us. For who can really believe that in all his dealings with employers and employees, with husbands or wife, with parents or children, in quarrels and in collaborations, he has always attained (let alone charity or generosity) mere honesty and fairness? Of course we forget most of the injuries we have done. But the injured parties do not forget even if they forgive. And God does not forget.” Rather than relying on our own goodness for justification, our only hope is to rely on the mercy of God and the finished work of Jesus on our behalf. Jesus, the just judge, was judged in our place so that when God comes to set everything right that once went wrong, he can find us waiting for him in faith.   From Jesus + Justice: Give Me Justice, adapted by Mary-Catherine McKee

March 24, 2022 | Read