Getting Into the Word in 2018

 
Dear Servants of Christ,
 
What a cold start to our new year here in Gainesville! I love the cold as much as anyone, but come on, this is Florida after all! Well, despite the frigid start, a new year is upon us! Have you made a re-commitment to reading Scripture daily as a part of your resolutions? The familiar Psalm verse above reminds us that God’s Word is essential to following the Lord in our daily life.
 
Last year at this time we shared multiple ways of incorporating the daily reading of Scripture into your routine. The feedback we received as a vestry and staff was that for some of you, this was an important step forward in your discipleship. A few years ago the vestry read a book produced by the Willow Creek Church in Illinois that found that daily Scripture reading was the number one factor responsible for spiritual growth in the life of a Christian. Even though we haven’t emphasized various tools this Advent and Christmas, my prayer is that you will continue to pursue reading Scripture as a rule of life that leads to your spiritual growth.
 
To that end, I want to let you all know that we will continue our weekly Evening Prayer service in our lovely chapel every Wednesday evening at 6:30. The liturgy lasts about thirty minutes and has been a blessing to many of you who have attended at some point during the trial period last fall. Our liturgy uses a selection from the Daily Office Lectionary created by the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). This link will take you there: Daily Office Lectionary.
 
I include that link so you may consider this new tool for daily reading yourself. Attending Evening Prayer on Wednesday could be a help in your weekly reading and also provide a place to discuss what comes up as you go through the entire Bible. Thomas Cranmer, the author of the first English Prayer Book, felt it essential to provide a way for God’s people to read through the entire Bible in a year. Our new ACNA leadership is carrying forward that vision through this lectionary. I have made a personal commitment to using the lectionary for my Scripture reading this year. Perhaps God would lead you to join me in this commitment.
 
Following Evening Prayer, you will be invited to look at a couple of the questions from the Catechism with some brief discussion. Anyone is free to just stay for the liturgy and depart prior to the Q&A. We may offer a similar study before or after the 9:30am service on Sundays or through a virtual study online. Stay tuned for details to follow.
 
Cold or not, the new year has started. May God direct your feet as you seek to follow Jesus in 2018.
 
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. –A Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent
 
Onward and Upward,


Advent: A Time to Sing and Groan

 
 
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly
for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Romans 8:22-25
 
Dear Servants,
 
This Sunday begins the new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent. The last few Sundays of the previous liturgical year focused on our Lord’s call for us to be prepared for His return. Now as we enter the four Sundays of Advent, the continued focus on the Lord’s return is coupled with anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth, His first coming. This dual emphasis creates a tension - we celebrate the coming of our Lord and yet we groan from the long period of waiting to get there. As the days get shorter and the nights longer, we feel the spiritual darkness coming in around us, and yet in the midst of a dark world we proclaim the light of Christ has come! Liturgically, we try to visualize the tension with the purple color, usually associated with Lent, and yet we sing songs of joy like, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” We add the Advent wreath, symbolic of life in the midst of death (evergreen and in the shape of a circle), and of hope in the lighting of one additional candle each week. On the first Sunday of Advent we add the Exhortation - a warning against receiving Communion without repentance - and in subsequent Sundays we say the Decalogue to remind us of our sin. But we continue to say, “Alleluia.”
 
The apostle Paul captures the spirit of Advent as he describes our groaning for our redemption in Jesus Christ with all of creation. Paul says much like a pregnant woman near her due date grows weary as she awaits the arrival of her new baby, so we wait expectantly. Christ came into the world over 2,000 years ago in fulfillment of all the Old Testament expectations. He has come into our hearts as we have opened ourselves to His love and mercy. And yet, Jesus will come again to complete our redemption at His return. Paul reminds us that we must continue in that hope and exercise patience as we wait. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to live in tension; it feels wrong. And yet doesn’t a season of tension express exactly what we as believers feel? It’s the now and not yet of the Kingdom. We are called the saints of God and yet we are still sinners in need of redemption. We bear the light of Christ and yet we do so in a "body of death.”
 
My prayer is that we will walk through the tension of the Advent season allowing ourselves to both sing and groan.Many around us have already rushed to the consumerism and holiday bliss because of the pain of life and yet we know that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  Therefore we rejoice with tears and groan with hope. Pretty weird, right? Welcome to Advent!
 
Onward and Upward,

 

 
 
 
 
  1. Gross, Bobby. Living the Christian Year. Intervarsity Press, 2009.


Increasing Thanksgiving

 
What better time than Thanksgiving to share with all of you that we have a signed contract with Newberry Christian Community School to purchase the twelve thousand square foot building we commonly refer to as the “big sanctuary and east wing.” After many years of prayerful consideration, this facility which meets our criteria allows us to put down roots as a permanent church home. It also signifies to the city of Gainesville that Servants of Christ Anglican Church is here to stay. I cannot yet give you a definitive date that we will close on the property but it will be sometime next spring! My heart is filled with gratitude for God’s faithfulness to us over these first eleven years and for your faithfulness to trust in God’s provision for the life of our parish.
 
At this season of Thanksgiving, especially in light of our new facility, I want to remind you of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth above. Paul is reflecting on the suffering in his life for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul says, "it's all for your sake," referring to the new followers of Jesus at Corinth. Paul says as grace extends there will be more people to offer thanksgiving to God, resulting in God’s glory. My prayer is that as God brings us into our new space it might always be for the purpose of more effectively sharing the grace of God, the good news of hope in Jesus Christ. Former Archbishop William Temple once said, “the Church is the only institution that exists for those who are not yet its members.” We exist as a congregation in Gainesville so that we might see the grace of God extend more and more to the end that thanksgiving might increase to the glory of GOD. Amen.
 
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you,


Mourn and Weep with Hope

 
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’ Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”
Revelation 7:9-14
 
Dear Servants,
 
As news of the brutal deaths of innocent members of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX unfolds, I return to the readings from our All Saints’ Day service (Nov.1), particularly the reading from Revelation above. We may never know the human reasons for this and other killings, but we know the evil one works in human sinfulness to kill, steal, and destroy. I pray for these latest victims, remembering that they are just a few more of the countless victims of persecution against believing communities around the world each day. Jesus acknowledges such persecutions in His sermon from Matthew 5, verse 10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
 
How does Jesus call us to respond in the face of tribulation? He proclaims in verse 13, "you are the light of the world." We respond to evil by proclaiming the light of Jesus Christ in a dark world. John's Gospel says the darkness cannot overwhelm the light of Christ! (John 1:5) The Lord has given us gifts, talents, opportunities, and a place to testify to God's goodness in spite of all that we must endure for a while. I was so encouraged Sunday by the believing community that gathered for worship. We were full of both praise and lament. God's people must do both. I am also so thankful to many who have stepped into ministry leadership in various ways, especially over the last few months, to strengthen our church community. Each of you through your ministry involvement is making a difference for the Kingdom. Just being together matters!
 
Now, of course, even as we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, we do not do so as those without hope. For Revelation 7 goes on in verse 17,
"For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
 
Jesus is our good shepherd; He is with us through the time of tribulation and will bring us to a place where pain and sorrow are no more. In the meantime, we labor on, confident that Jesus who began a good work in us will see it to completion!  (Phil.1:5)
 
Lots of great things to share with you soon. Keep praying!
 
Onward and upward,


3 Reasons We Live Stream

 
If you’re a regular attender at Servants, you’ll probably have noticed at some point over the last year, the presence of an iPhone on a tripod planted somewhere in the sanctuary. You may have also noticed the woman near the tripod with her face glued to her phone for most of the service, and you may have even asked yourself how she can be so rude. It’s a legitimate question. It’s pretty rude. But is serves a purpose and it’s that purpose I want to share with you.
 
There are three reasons we stream our services live. There are probably more, but these three sum it up nicely. We stream to comfort the body of Christ, to offer those who might never step in our building the experience of a liturgical service, and to be an inviting and wholesome presence on Facebook.
 

Comfort

Our live stream began at the request of Fr. Michael who knew he would be spending significant time away from Servants due to health issues. He couldn’t be present with us without putting his health in danger, so he stayed at home and joined us on Facebook. Just this past Sunday, a woman who was ill and unable to attend her own church in North Carolina joined us. She asked for (and received) prayer. I know of many others who take advantage of gathering virtually because of business trips, vacations, and a handful of other reasons. We want people to be with us in person, but when life keeps them away, we want to offer them the comfort of being close to the body of Christ.
 

Liturgy

As Anglicans, we value the liturgy that has been given to us and we want to share it with others. Liturgy allows us to learn Scripture and theological truths by heart, orienting us to Christ in a world that easily tempts us away from Him. But liturgy can be uncomfortable to a first-timer, so having a way to glimpse our life together without feeling insecure is a benefit. Even if they ultimately decide to go elsewhere, hopefully what they’ve seen in our service – Christ-centered worship – will stick with them.
 

Wholesome Presence

Throughout the service, I keep a close eye on what’s happening on the live stream. I’m greeting people who join, I’m letting them know what Scriptures are being read, and I tell them they can ask for prayer publicly or confidentially. I’m moving the camera to keep the “action” in the frame; I’m answering questions, reacting to comments, troubleshooting connections, and generally being present for those who join us. It’s made a difference. We’re averaging about 4 people weekly who watch the entire service as it’s happening, up from 1 person about a year ago. We want our live presence on Facebook to be inviting and life-giving. When a significant number of the things people scroll past are bad news and tactless opinions, our service can be an oasis in a desert. I’m striving weekly to make it so.
 

Location

You’ve heard the reasons we do this, so now I should probably say a word about why I sit where I sit, since I'm rudely on my phone the whole service in view of just about everyone. The short answer is that closer is better. We’re using a phone, which means the further away we are from the action, the harder it is to feel immersed at home. When we’re closer, we’re less likely to be streaming someone’s backside – and anyone can agree that’s a good thing. When we have a space we can call our own and better equipment, the camera won’t have to be so close to the front, but until then we make do.
 

Social Media as a Whole

Finally, social media is a part of our culture and is now a vital part of our life together at Servants. It’s a free and easy way to show the world that our community is vibrant and caring. Anytime you’re with someone from Servants and you post to social media, consider using #ServantLifeGNV as a way to share our life together with others. This is the official Servants hashtag and almost all our posts will use it going forward so anyone can see with one click what we’re about. It doesn’t have to be an official Servants event to get the hashtag – our life together is about so much more than what goes on in the church building each week.
 
If you have any questions or concerns about hashtags, social media, live streaming, or anything related to communications, I'd love to talk to you. Contact me at nikki@servantsanglican.org.
 
 
 
 
 
Nikki Smith has attended Servants since 2012. She’s a wife and a mom, the director of communications and a youth leader at Servants, and when time allows, she’s a bookworm.


A Month of Prayer

 
Dear Servants,
 
As I mentioned last week in my blog, in October the emphasis will be on the theme of prayer. We have lots of opportunities to pray: Soaking Prayer tomorrow night (Tuesday, Oct. 3, 6:30-8:30pm), intercessory prayer during our liturgy on Sunday, and healing prayer during Communion. But I want to invite you to join me in the new chapel for Evening Prayer at 6:30 pm each Wednesday night in October.
 
Some are busy with our youth ministry, and others are attending the Boada's class on financial contentment and that's great. I was so blessed to walk around the campus last week and see so many of you participating in those discipleship opportunities. I also know of at least one small group that meets on Wednesday nights. Perhaps there are others. Keep meeting just as you are doing. Praise God. But if you are not already involved in one of the above, consider trying out Evening Prayer.
 
One of the gifts of our Anglican heritage is what we call the Daily Offices. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) website says this about these offices: "Daily Morning Prayer and Daily Evening Prayer are the established rites by which, both corporately and individually, God's people annually encounter the whole of Holy Scriptures, daily confess their sins and praise Almighty God, and offer timely thanksgivings, petitions, and intercessions."
 
It has long been my hope that in time the use of these daily offices might become tools for discipleship in our parish. During my years at seminary, one of my devotional practices was attendance at Morning Prayer each weekday before class. Two of our faithful women have met each Thursday morning for Morning Prayer since Servants began. For years we have used Morning Prayer along with Compline (another Anglican prayer service) at Camp Araminta. The Sunday we cancelled services due to Hurricane Irma, David LaCagnina and a few others led Morning Prayer through Facebook live. During this month-long emphasis on prayer, we want to encourage the parish to try out these resources. You can find liturgies for these and other services at the ACNA website.
 
At the end of Evening Prayer (usually 30 minutes) I am also inviting you to remain with me in the chapel for conversation. It has been brought to my attention that there have been lots of changes over the last year, and with those changes, plus the prospect of purchasing a new worship space, many of you may have questions. I look forward to a rich time of sharing in "all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Ephesians 4:2-4
 
God bless you all in the week to come.
 
 
Onward and Upward,
 


Moving Toward Prayer


 
 
Dear Servants,
 
A year ago during the season of Advent, the vestry leaders set a strategic goal to encourage daily Scripture reading among the membership of Servants. At the time, the vestry was reading and talking about a book called MOVE which found that the number one factor in spiritual growth among Christians was regular individual Bible reading. You may recall the Advent devotionals from members sharing their own interaction with Scripture. Shortly, you will receive a survey through email asking you to consider whether you are engaging with Scripture in your personal life more, less, or the same as a year ago? I look forward to your honest feedback.
 
Over the summer while on sabbatical, one of the books I was drawn to read was a newer book by Pastor Tim Keller Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. In this book, Keller suggests that one of the most effective ways to pray as a believer is in conjunction with your Bible reading. The idea is that as God speaks to you through His Word, you respond by prayer back to the Lord. When I returned in July, the vestry felt lead to begin a new strategic goal of encouraging us to be a prayer-centered church. This seemed like a natural follow up to our focus on Scripture reading.
 
Several things will be happening in the month of October that I want to make you aware of. Starting October 8, I will begin a three week sermon series on prayer during our normal Sunday worship. We will examine three different aspects of prayer and its implication for our daily life. In addition, we will hear testimonies from three different members of Servants about their own journey of prayer. Then on October 29th, the fifth Sunday in October, we will have a joint 9:30am service focused on prayer. We will begin with the Anglican Morning Prayer service. Then you will be able choose among several lay-lead breakout sessions on a range of prayer topics. We will then reassemble for Eucharist before dismissal. I know this will seem a bit unusual for most, but the vestry is committed to finding ways to encourage us to be a prayer-centered church. I hope you will attend.
 
Before I finish this article, I must thank all of the Servants family that shared in food and preparation for the memorial service for our dear brother, Dale Haskell. The outpouring of love and support for Dale's wife Karen, her family, and Dale’s colleagues demonstrated love in action.
 
Lastly, I am excited to announce a special All Saints’ Day service with Baptisms on Wednesday, November 1st at 6:30pm.
 
God bless you all as we journey into the fall seeking to be shaped by prayer.
 
Onward and Upward,
 


His Work in the Storm

 
If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones
in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know
the work of God who makes everything.
Ecclesiastes 11:3-5
 
 
 
Dear Servants,
 
It's not often I can quote from the book of Ecclesiastes, so when I came across this passage I just had to write a blog.
 
Like most of you, I’m trapped in my house watching the weather and wondering what the next 24 hours will bring. I take from the writer of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon) that we aren’t going to make sense of this hurricane. This will be an event like so many natural events that we must live by faith and trust that the Lord has a plan.
 
“He who observes the wind will not sow,” I take to mean a lot of time can be wasted watching the weather. Consider alternatives, at least periodically, to staring at the Weather Channel or out the back door (one of my favorite pastimes). For instance, I’m trying to catch up on my daily Bible reading (yes, I’m about 3 days behind) along with some time spent finishing a book. I realize that some of you are trapped with young children and so free time isn’t in great supply.  May we all pray for those caring for young children during this storm. Lord, give them strength!  If it’s any consolation young parents, I would give anything to have my three back here living through this storm with me. Can’t help but think about Hurricane Charlie back in 2004.
 
We do not understand the work of God, Solomon tells us, but we do know His work for us. The sermon I didn’t get to give this morning from Romans 12 includes verses 12-13 where Paul shows us love in action:
 
“12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
 
For now we meditate on verse 12. Once this storm has passed (and it will pass) there will be many opportunities to practice verse 13. Be mindful of the needs of others, show hospitality and contribute to needs where possible. Just this morning at the church, I found a family from Trenton, FL living in our worship space. Thanks to the McCreadys we were able to outfit them with two air mattresses rather than having them sleep on the pews another night.
 
Like Solomon, I don’t know what God’s work with be in this storm, but I am reminded of Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus is Lord over the storm and He comes to us in its midst. Stay safe and I will see you next Sunday if not before.
 
God bless and keep you,
Alex +


Seeking Financial Contentment: Biblical Principles, Practical Tools

 
For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11b-13 (NRSV)
 
Whether we like it or not, money is a huge part of our lives. We spend a significant portion of each day earning money, spending money, thinking about money. That is not inherently a bad thing, but for many people it is a source of worry and obsession. And the world does not help by its push to consume and acquire more. This stress and worry is not what God wants for us, and the church is to be about helping people get out from under this weight and showing that there is a better way to live.
 
Unfortunately, the church as a whole has a problem talking about money. Either the church talks about money so much that people feel like that's all it cares about. Or, to avoid being perceived as the former, it deemphasizes and avoids the subject. In either case, it often times fails to address or provide solutions for the real-world difficulties with which people are struggling. So the call from the church to give sacrificially often only adds to the guilt and stress.
 
Adrienne and I want to help fill that gap. The Bible provides answers to our real-world struggles, and we believe that the answer to financial stress lies in contentment – the opposite goal that the world presents. As we learn to be content with what we have, to recognize that we are called to be stewards of what God has entrusted to us, then it is easier to practically manage our possessions. This perspective is one of the ways we “learn to do everything Jesus said.”
 
Starting on September 20th, Adrienne and I will be facilitating a class on biblical principles for dealing with money and practical guides to budgeting and financial management. The 8-week class will be part book study – where we will go through Your Money Counts together learning the biblical perspective on "earning, spending, savings, investing, giving, and getting out of debt” – and part budgeting workshop – where we will introduce tools and techniques for managing money on a daily basis. We will be meeting at the church from 6:30 - 8:00pm with childcare provided.
 
So whether you are a natural saver or are living paycheck to paycheck, join us on September 20th for the class overview to discuss what the Bible has to say on being financially content. Contact us at JoseAndAdrienne@boada.org if you plan to attend or have any questions. You can also RSVP on our Facebook event page.
 
 
 
Jose Boada
 
 
Though both Jose and Adrienne have some experience in finance - Jose has led a Crown Financial Ministries course, and Adrienne has a degree in finance and is our treasurer - they would hardly classify themselves as experts. Since everyone struggles with money in some shape or form, they both have a passion for bringing people together to learn how to find financial contentment in Christ. On a more personal level, they both love the Gators and traveling to visit friends.


The Question of Suffering

 
 
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:21-23
 
Dear Servants,
 
On Sunday, by the grace of God, I will preach on the necessity of suffering from the words of Jesus written above. Suffering, while we cannot always understand God’s purpose in it, is something we all experience. Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, was convinced that “our response to unavoidable suffering is one of the chief ways of finding [the] meaning [of life].” (Philip Yancey, The Question That Never Goes Away, p. 52)
 
Like you, I find myself in prayer this week for those suffering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, along with all my brothers and sisters suffering within our community. We Floridians know the scary moments before a hurricane, worrying about how bad the storm will be. Some of us also know how horrible the winds and rains can be, disrupting our everyday lives for weeks afterward. Though I for one have no idea what it is like to suffer through the kind of flooding happening in Texas. If you are looking for a way to help, you might donate to the Anglican Relief and Development Fund or any of a host of other amazing charities focused on bringing relief. One of our ACNA bishops, Fr. Clark lives in the Houston area and is working with local ministries to aid those displaced.

In the face of such suffering, not just in Texas and Louisiana but in our own congregation, I am reminded of a book I read during my sabbatical that I found helpful. Philip Yancey, a well-known Christian author, has written a book called The Question That Never Goes Away, which I quoted from above. In it, he explores the question of suffering, focusing on mass tragedies in particular. He has spoken to groups following tragedies like Columbine and Sandy Hook Elementary here in the U.S., the tsunami of 2012 in Japan, and the bloody civil war in Sarajevo. Talk about speaking into fear and darkness! Before you run out and buy it, he doesn’t give the definitive answer for “why suffering.” But it is helpful on many levels for struggling with the issue as a follower of Jesus. As we struggle with these ideas together, allow me to relate a couple of his points.
 
First, Yancey reminds the reader that every critical question about suffering that people ask of God can also be found in Scripture. We are not alone in our doubts and questions. Next, he also points out that Jesus did not meet people with theological answers to suffering, but rather touched them, healed them, and spoke words of comfort. God is now working through His Church to do the same. Lastly, Yancey reminds us that God promises a day of restoration; quoting from John 14, “I go away to prepare a place for you.” I recommend this book to you as a helpful tool.
 
Please know what a privilege it is for me to walk along with you through the painful circumstances of your lives. May we gather Sunday to be reminded of our hope in Christ and to pray for one another and the world.
 
Onward and Upward,