Palm Sunday and Our Fickle Souls

It’s easy to love God at church. Surrounded by the fellowship of the saints, warm Intelligentsia coffee in hand, the familiar words of the worship songs flow over you, and suddenly you find yourself caught up in something transcendent. For just a moment, you feel your affections stirred. You glimpse the beauty of Jesus and of the work he performed on that old rugged cross.

Like I said, it’s easy to love God at church.

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But how about on Tuesday afternoon, when your supervisor just aggravated your pet-peeve yet again, and your fuse is especially short because you were up all night with your sick kid, and my goodness a deep conversation with that particularly attractive co-worker sure would provide a much needed emotional lift right now, followed by letting the rest of this afternoon pass with laziness and disengagement since these deadlines aren’t really as firm as people around here pretend they are…

It’s difficult to love God in the face of temptation. When you’re tired. And isolated. Nope, nobody around here loving Jesus. No worship songs. No sermons. Just a laptop overflowing with emails, a tired soul, and a city chalk full of opportunities to wander away from God.

When the moment arrives that you realize you disobeyed on Tuesday the very thing you felt convicted about on Sunday, think of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was the day that the masses threw a pep-rally for Jesus. They celebrated him as their long-awaited king, reverently threw garments on the floor to prepare a path for him, and shouted that he was the Savior.

By the end of the week, they would be shouting again. But this time, their refrain would be different. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Fickle people, not so different from you and I. But praise be to God that Jesus died on the cross to forgive the betrayal of fickle people who worshipped him one day and crucified him the next; who sing so boldly to him on Sunday, but disobey him with just as much vigor on Tuesday.

As we move forward toward Easter, lets continue to be mindful of the many friends, co-workers, and loved ones we could invite to celebrate the resurrection with us. For some of them, perhaps it will be their first time encountering the risen Lord. Here is the link to an invitation.

This post was written by our Saturday Night Pastor, Erik Dunkin.

Who is Your Community?

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If you ever decided to leave Chicago, who would miss you? One of the things we talk about a bunch here at Park is being “known and connected in biblical community.” Last week I had a great dinner with a couple who’s moving out of state for a work transfer. Not only was the food delicious (Acts 2 tells us food is a key component of community!)…but the highlight of the night was after dinner, people around the table shared meaningful Scripture they had studied as a Small Group, and how it impacted their lives together. Then they prayed a prayer of blessing upon them as they transition to their next season of life.

There were lots of laughs, tears, and plenty of “We’re going to visit you next month’s!”and that’s exactly how it should be.

That’s probably the way Paul felt, too, when he wrote “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.” (Philemon 1:4). It shouldn’t be easy to leave…because our hearts are so tied together in deep community with one another and in mission with God.

Are you longing for that kind of authentic and genuine community? We want to help. Here are two chances to jump into a Small Group where you can be known, cared for, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Alpha – for those investigating the claims of Christianity. Begins Tues, April 15th.
Starting Point Groups – for those ready to jump into biblical community. Begins Sun, April 15th.

This post was written by our Near North Campus Pastor, Brandon Sanchez.

Why Practice Lent?

Lent stands as one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Although it has changed a bit over the years, its purpose has remained the same: self-examination and repentance, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. We find this tradition beginning very early in the Church with the church father Irenaus of Lyons (130-200AD). At the Council of Nicea in 325AD, leaders discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting. While it’s a bit unclear whether its original intent was solely for new Christians preparing for Baptism, it soon encompassed the whole Church. And although the tradition has varied over the years in how exactly the 40 days are counted, the observance was both strict and serious.

Will you consider joining us as we journey through the gospels during the season of Lent? Get the readings delivered straight to your inbox each day by clicking here, and click here to learn more about how you can connect with others around Lent through our services, and as we visit the Art Institute.

 

Why Practice Lent?

A note from Jackson Crum:

Will you be celebrating Lent this year? Should you? I’d like to take a moment and share with you why I practice Lent and the significant role I think it can play in our lives.

Lent lasts for 40 days and begins on what is called Ash Wednesday. It continues to Maundy Thursday or the Saturday before Easter. Traditionally Lent calls for the observer to fast from something for those 40 days. This is what I have been doing the past few years. I choose to give something up that I enjoy, something I look forward to in daily life. I use this fasting as a way to remind me of what is coming – Good Friday and Easter. I don’t want to casually stroll into these days. I don’t want to allow these days to catch me off-guard because I have been too busy to prepare myself.

Whatever it is I am fasting from I use the craving for that desire to prompt me to pray. In the past I gave up diet soda one year and deserts another – NO EASY FEAT for me! I like to use that time to remind myself of what took place that bitter Friday and that glorious Sunday – what it means to me as a follower of Jesus – how my life is different because of the work of Jesus. I have found that the bitterness of Good Friday and victory in Easter have meant more to me when I have fasted. Those events taste all the more bitter and sweet through consistent reflection and prayer. I invite you to join me this year to fast together! The particular thing we’re fasting from isn’t as important as what we actually do with our cravings.

Lastly, we’d like to encourage you over the next several weeks to join us in reading through the gospels for this Lenten season – to pour over the gospel story of our Savior that it might stir all of us to deeper affection and devotion to him. I pray God will use these 40 days to point us to our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Will you consider joining us as we journey through the gospels during the season of Lent? Have the readings delivered straight to your inbox each day by clicking here.

Renewing by Reading

Part of our vision at Park is to renew the city of Chicago with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are countless ways to do this, but we like to make it as easy as possible for you to get started in living out this part of our vision.

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We had almost filled one of our bookshelves after the first week of the book drive!

Last fall, we held a used book drive to support a new business started by our friends at the Cara Program. The business sells the collected used books online, creating a sustainable business that helps in the education of their students as the develop professional skills and helps fund the work of Cara. We’re happy to report that the Near North and Near South campuses donated 2,200 books – - proving that you are serious about engaging the city!

Way to go! Much thanks to all who participated. We’ll have another opportunity to donate our gently used books this spring, so stay tuned.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about renewing out city.

A Story of A Christian Jew

This is Scott Roth’s story of transformation that he read at our Easter Baptism 2012. As a Christian Jew, Scott is now hosting seminars at our Lincoln Park and Edgebrook Campuses to help us share the Gospel with our Jewish friends. 

I was raised in a Jewish home and had a bar mitzvah at age 13. In my teenage years, my father left us and I developed a hardened heart and became an atheist for the next 32 years of my life. I was re-married about 3 years ago to my soul mate, Diana – who was also Jewish (click here to read her story). Just 6 months after our wedding, Diana was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. While my whole life I had dealt with issues on my own, this was something that brought me to my knees that I had no control over. About the same time – my 25 year old son informed me he had joined the Catholic Church after exploring Buddhism. I felt very sad in that I could not help him or add anything to that spiritual part of his life. To add salt to my wounds, I had also been out of work for several years. With all these circumstances- I didn’t know where to turn.

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I realized I had tried everything on my own and that wasn’t working. It was time for a change. After picking up a Bible for the first time at age 47, I started reading with apprehension. I spent afternoons in the bookstore, walking up and down the Christianity aisles trying to understand what I didn’t know, which was just about everything.

About  2.5 years ago I began to feel connected to God who guided and comforted me through the pain I was experiencing. God delivered, and my wife had a very successful operation and she is winning the war against cancer! Around that time – I became overwhelmed with the need to reach out to my father whom I had not spoken to for 15 years. Something (the Holy Spirit) guided me to forgive him. We met, and I had to do the hardest thing ever, confront him after all this time: I said I was wrong. I said I was sorry. I asked if he would forgive me and if we can start new. We embraced and wept… That night I felt the Holy Spirit flood me as I dreamed of a new life.

I then became intrigued with prayer and “this guy named Jesus”. I approached my wife and told her what I had been experiencing and was not sure if she was ready to hear my journey at the pace it was going. That couldn’t have been further from the truth! She embraced my new found spiritual life and wanted to join me. We both started praying before dinner.

Our first church service was just this past January (2012) and all I can say is…wow, THIS is what I have been looking for. Just after that service, we found out about Alpha and joined that Tuesday. Alpha presented Christianity in a language that we could finally understand.

It was during this process we both took a step of faith and accepted Jesus Christ into our lives as Lord and Savior. Afterwards, my life has felt so much lighter, more positive and I have dropped that angry feeling while gaining more patience – it’s like I just found out they invented air-conditioning! I now understand what is meant by having Jesus carry my load. Today I leave my past life behind and enter into a new life with Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Thank you for accepting two new “Christian Jews” into your community.

If you’re reading this, but not sure what church is, you can learn more here and we’d love to see you this weekend!

Telling The Poor To Be Content

Is it possible to tell those who are poor that they need to be content with what they have? If one is wealthy it can be easy to be challenged with this message of contentment, because often they have as much if not more than needed. But we can’t ignore the context in which we live. Chicago is a place filled with people on both ends of the spectrum. Some of the richest of the rich live here, while just across the street some may be living paycheck to paycheck or may not even be earning a paycheck.

So is it possible to minister to the poor by saying that they just need to be content with Jesus? Watch the video below…

Jesus didn’t just say “believe in me.” He also fed the poor. We have an opportunity to serve in the same way. Click here to take action now.

Hosting for Christmas

It is estimated that 80% of international students never step into an American home during their time studying at American universities. When I first heard this statistic I started to put myself in that position. What if I was studying in a foreign country for an extended period of time, and never stepped into a home of someone who lived there? What difference would that make for me and my experience?

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We have a rare opportunity to have a global impact from the comfort of our own homes here in Chicago. All it takes is a simple step. You can impact the world by setting a few extra place settings at your table this Christmas.

We wanted to share some stories from some international students who were hosted in our homes over Thanksgiving, just to give you a glimpse into what it might be like.

We had a dinner with our host family! They made us traditional American food on Thanksgiving. It was really impressive and delicious! We talked after the dinner about different cultures and our hometown and we played with their little daughter Olivia. This was a really nice experience. We are really glad to have this opportunity to visit an American family and know what they do in festival and daily life!

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We had a wonderful night with the family’s friends and relatives from Peru, Germany and Greece. I had a great dinner with them and talking with them helped me learn a lot of things. They are all very kind. I knew different cultures and their experience which inspired me a lot. It was so great to meet them, and I hope I’ll have more opportunities to interact with them. I’m thankful for knowing these nice people.

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If you’d like to be a part of impacting the nations and building new friendships, it can be as simple as adding an extra place setting at the dinner table. Click here for more details.

Christmas Is A Gift

“BUT there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” – Isaiah 9:1a-2 (emphasis added).

This word “but” here says that there is now a stop to the darkness. Even though we rejected God, we’ve been angry at God, we’ve disobeyed God, we’ve scorned God, and utter darkness is exactly what we deserve, and we’ve brought it upon ourselves, this word “but” tells us that God still intervenes. God still loves. God still reaches down. God still gives in our darkness.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” – Isaiah 9:6. This verse is saying that Jesus didn’t just come to us on Christmas, He was given to us. He wasn’t just born, He was born to us. He didn’t just live, He lived for us. He didn’t just die, He died for us. He didn’t just rise, He rose for us. He didn’t just shine, He shined for us. That’s why Isaiah can say in Isaiah 9:1 that there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. Christmas is an act of grace. It is a gift. This light is a gift to us.

Christmas is an act of grace in our darkness, and this is the hope that we have.

What are you putting your hope in?

Listen as Kensen talks about the gift that Christmas is to us…

The Arrival

This was post was written by our Saturday Night Pastor, Erik Dunkin.

We are anticipatory creatures. We are always looking forward to something. The next weekend, the next vacation, the next promotion, the next paycheck, the list goes on. Yet even when we obtain the thing we looked forward to, we immediately set our sights once again on what is ahead. We are always anticipating that an experience or possession will fill us, yet we are perpetually disappointed afterward.

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The season of Advent taps into this tendency to anticipate. It invites us to focus all of our anticipation on one thing. Not on an experience, not on a possession, but on a person – God himself in human form, the man Jesus Christ. The word Advent comes from the Latin word for “arrival.” When we participate in the Advent season, we are anticipating the arrival of the Lord Jesus. Advent stirs our affections for him, reminding us that this desire is unlike any other. Where we find that every other experience leaves us wanting, we can be certain that our encounter with Jesus will overwhelm us with abundant joy and everlasting satisfaction.

Join us in this journey of anticipation as we go through daily Advent readings that are delivered straight to your inbox.

If you’re staying in the city for Christmas, we’d also love for you to begin your celebrations with us at our Christmas Eve Service. Get more details here.

- Erik

The Beauty of Christmas

This post was written by our Near North Campus Pastor, Brandon Sanchez.

If you’re like me, I was a bit startled by Christmas arriving before Thanksgiving this year.  I confess I got stressed about my Christmas shopping before I even ate my turkey and stuffing!  As we head deeper into this Christmas season, I want to give you a quick word of encouragement before any holiday stress and craze picks up steam…

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At Park, we take these 4-weeks leading to Christmas to remind us: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The season is called Advent and it’s derived from the Latin word “coming”.

With all the beauty of this season, I realize the holidays can bring stress & distractions, as well: shopping stress, family stress, party-planning… When those things creep in, it is my prayer that those words from our Hebrews study would be hidden deeply inside our hearts: “God spoke to us by his Son, the radiance of the glory of God…so let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 1 & 12).

So, amidst the many great Christmas activities, parties, and Eggnog Lattes this month (man, I love those), let’s not miss the real beauty of this season: God became flesh and dwelt among us.

I pray this wonderful truth would set us apart as a people of God, and when the Christmas stress and distraction comes either here in Chicago or in your hometown (because it will!), let us be firmly rooted and grounded in the peace, joy, and hope that comes from our Savior. There is no greater gift we can both give and receive this year than embracing “Emmanuel”, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

One of the ways to reflect on this beauty of Christmas is by joining us at our Lessons and Carols Service, and Christmas Eve Service. Click here for more details.

- Brandon

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