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Churches across the country are trying to encourage younger generations to tithe, but they often leave out a huge part of the equation: relationships.
Givers are more than donors, they’re partners. [Read more…]
Is all the extravagance surrounding Easter a distraction, or are Christians right to give it the special attention they do?
Let’s avoid the culture wars of the Easter Bunny, Cadbury eggs, and egg hunts, and simply speak to what happens in most churches on the morning of Easter Sunday: we go all out.
Going all out for Easter
The music is typically a notch or two more elaborate than normal. The sermon is noticeably more refined and passionate. And everyone seems to dress in their very best Sunday best.
Many churches even decorate specifically for Easter Sunday. The church I attended in college used decorations to heighten the contrast between Good Friday and Easter. In the Good Friday service, red roses with thorns lined the aisles to communicate suffering. On Sunday, white lilies replaced the roses to communicate resurrection. It was a beautiful, artistic way to remind us that in the Christian faith, life comes through death.
Churches seem to love pulling out all the stops for Easter, but is all the pomp justified, biblically?
Why is Easter special?
The apostle Paul says of the resurrection, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14 NIV). Without the resurrection, there is no Christian faith.
A few verses later, Paul declares how all of history pivots on the resurrection:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (1 Cor. 15:20–24 NIV)
It is only because of the resurrection that anyone can move from corruption to restoration—only by Jesus’ work is Adam’s undone and a new creation secured.
Easter is the day we set aside to celebrate this truth. It is a day we dedicate solely to the central tenet of our faith: Christ is risen. (He is risen, indeed!)
As such, a certain amount of pomp is more than justified—it is encouraged.
Let the bright pastels, the pressed suits, the church choir, the full band, the near-perfect sermon, and the however-else-you-mark-it-special commence.
In the church I most recently called home, we recited the Apostles’ Creed weekly. But on Resurrection Sunday, we added a twist:
On the third day, he rose again
On the third day
—the third day—
On the third day, he rose again
If you have a hand in putting together Easter Sunday at your church, have it at. Add your twist. You still have a couple days to prepare elements that draw unique attention to the reason for our faith.
One easy way to do this is with free, beautiful Easter media (such as the image featured in this blog). Get a free bundle of 600+ pieces of Good Friday- and Easter-themed church graphics. Start a no-risk, 30-day free trial of Faithlife Proclaim to get your bundle (no credit card required). Get the bundle free now.
This post originally appeared on the Faithlife Proclaim blog.
Do a quick Google image search of “Nativity scenes.” Really, go search and scroll for a bit and come back. Did you notice anything? At least half of them show an angel or more present at the manger.
The only problem: Scripture doesn’t report any angels.
Obviously, nativity scenes are artistic renderings of the biblical event as a whole. Since angels are an integral part of the story, it’s fitting that they show up. They provide texture to the scene, indicating a divine moment (which Jesus’ birth certainly was).
But every year we retell the Christmas story—through decorations, carols, plays—and how we repeat the story is how we remember it. And how we remember it is how we believe it.
So are we believing the biblical story?
Here are four trivia questions that will reveal how closely your understanding of the Christmas story matches the biblical account.
- What did the angels do when they appeared in the sky?
- How did the shepherds know where to find Jesus?
- What animals were in the manger when Jesus was born?
- When did Jesus receive his name?
1. What did the angels do when they appeared in the sky?
If you thought, “Sang” (like I did), you may be more influenced by Handel’s Messiah than by Luke 2:13. It simply says the angels were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
In Revelation, John does describe choirs of angels (e.g. Rev. 5:9–10), so there is certainly biblical support for singing angels. However, we have no reason to believe they are singing here. So how does this fact help us imagine the biblical scene?
Scripture says “a multitude of angels” called out the declaration, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Just imagine the noise of so many voices calling out—shouting, perhaps—in unison. The words go out like an announcement over a loudspeaker, an announcement for the whole world: Glory to God, and on earth peace . . .
Until this moment I had never paused to consider what that might sound like. I cannot comprehend how powerful that moment must have been.
2. How did the shepherds know where to find Jesus?
If you thought some sort of combination of “star” and “a child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger,” you’re half right (and so was I). The shepherds didn’t follow a star—that was a sign for the wise men.
Instead, an angel appeared to the shepherds saying, “. . . born unto you this day in the city of David is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” As a Jew, that is a packed statement. City of David, Savior, Christ, Lord—it all amounts to, “The centuries-long hope of your people has just arrived.” And he’s in a feeding trough.
The juxtaposition is striking. Salvation has just been sent from on high, and you’ll know it’s him because he’ll be in a lowly manger. The shepherds are the first of many in the Gospels to experience the many wonderful paradoxes concerning Jesus. A servant King? A humble Lord? Who is this Savior? Between a multitude of angels and a poor child in a manger we have a paradigm for understanding the surprising nature of Christ our Lord.
3. Which animals were near the manger when Jesus was born?
Scripture does not include these details, although it’s reasonable to expect that animals would be nearby, since a manger is a feeding trough. Many nativity scenes include lambs, bulls, and donkeys—and probably not by happenstance. Each animal is featured prominently in Scripture. Lambs and bulls were used for sacrifices, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (as predicted). In that way, nativity builders are thoughtfully hinting at the trajectory of Jesus’ life.
That Jesus was laid in a manger is significant on its own. What kind of child is laid in a manger upon his birth? One who is “deprived of normal comfort,” says I. Howard Marshall. “The point is [ . . .] that at his birth Jesus had to be content with the habitation of animals because there was no room for him in human society” (see Luke 9:58). Jesus was, strictly speaking, not born among men. In the very earliest moments of his life, the King of Kings lay helpless among animals. He was, in short, an outcast—the infant who would grow to be a “man of sorrows rejected by men (cf. Isaiah 53:1–3).”
4. When did Jesus receive his name?
If you guessed “At birth,” guess again. In many cultures and societies, children receive their name immediately at birth. However, in Jewish tradition, boys are given their names at the same time as their circumcision, on the eighth day (Lev. 12:8). This is probably patterned after Abram receiving the name Abraham upon his circumcision, because he was to be “the father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5).
Luke explicitly mentions Jesus’ circumcision and naming, and for good reason. It establishes Jesus as a true Jew, which would have been especially important for the first readers of Luke. It also links Jesus to Abraham. Jesus fulfills God’s promises to Abraham. God promises to Abraham that (among other things) all nations will be blessed through him. Here we see Jesus in the line of Abraham (see Matt. 1:1–17) proclaimed by angels to be a blessing to the world, a theme that Luke will go on to build in his gospel and Acts.
Jesus’ name, Ἰησοῦς in Greek and yēs̆ûaʿ in Hebrew, means “Yahweh saves.” The fact that Luke intentionally frames Jesus’ birth story with details about his name (Luke 1:31; 2:21) suggests that the birth story is not about every little detail, but about one big message: Yahweh saves.
It’s a familiar story, and we think we know it. But a second look helps us see profound truths, truths hidden behind details we often skip over or get wrong. This Christmas, let’s take a closer look at the old story. May we all approach it with new attention to discover new wonders.
Bible trivia is a lot of fun, but it can do so much more than that: it can help us take a closer look at our Bibles. Check out Proclaim’s Bible Trivia feature for free. It’s great for pre-service slides, youth group games, or displaying on a TV or computer throughout the day. Check it out now with a free trial of Proclaim.
It’s that time of year when churches kick things up a notch.
We’re celebrating God’s greatest act of mercy: sending his Son to redeem the world.
And since a multitude of angels sang at his appearing, it’s right that churches celebrate with at least a little extravagance. Plus, with an uptick in visitors, it’s an excellent season for outreach.
That said, celebrating Christmas doesn’t have to drain the bank (or calendar). [Read more…]
Most churches record sermons and make them available online. However, the current process of recording and publishing sermons requires extra software, sometimes extra computers or equipment, and certainly extra hours.
Your church’s weekend services have a lot of moving parts. You need notes for the sermons, lyrics for every song, greetings, transitions, and more. You can only reach part of your team with email, and the rest have to be updated via social media. On top of all this, you have meetings, practices, and more.
Make Sundays smooth—collaborate online.
Faithlife Groups make coordination easy. That’s why thousands of churches use Faithlife Groups every week to pull off their weekend services.
When you have the worship set for the weekend, share it right to your group so your team can access it. You can adjust the settings of your group so that only the admin can share documents (Faithlife Groups support 15 different document types), or you can give these privileges to all members and turn your group into the ultimate collaboration tool.
Are multiple people working on your presentation slides? Share the PowerPoint or Proclaim presentation to your Faithlife Group so everyone can collaborate.
Add your practice sessions, run-throughs, or other regular meetings to the calendar to remind people when things are going on.
Post to your group and send an email—simultaneously.
Some people struggle to learn new things. It’s a battle just to get them to check their email, so you could send them documents and rope them in with everyone else when there was something to share. When you post to your Faithlife Group, it sends an email to everyone in your group with the content of the post and a link back to your group—so members can read what they need to from their email, or they can jump into the conversation. If you only want to receive emails about specific types of notifications (or you want to work within the group without emails), just change your account settings.
Your worship team could range from teens to senior citizens. Faithlife Groups let you use one source to keep everyone in the loop. You can access your group from the web, see what’s going on from email, or join in from your mobile device—so everyone stays on the same page.
Share insights with your team—instantly.
Faithlife Groups give you more ways to interact around the Word. If your worship team wants to read a devotional together or follow a Bible reading plan, you can share that reading plan directly to your group. Everyone can connect to the plan and receive reminders to read and follow along.
Community Notes let your group share insights and highlight passages for the whole group to see.
You can also share a prayer list to remind each other how to pray for one another. Indicate when a prayer request has been answered or add items to the list at any time.
When it comes to connecting your team, Faithlife Groups is a free way to bring everyone together—even when you’re apart.
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Join thousands of other churches using Faithlife Groups alongside Proclaim Church Presentation Software. Try Proclaim for free today.
Faithlife and the Faithlife Study Bible complement each other. Whether through group reading plans, Community Notes, or shared passages, both work toward the same end: more and better Bible study together.
We were recently at the Defined by God Conference in San Diego, CA, where we used the FSB and the Faithlife community to connect pastors’ wives around the Word. The FSB worked seamlessly with Proclaim, Logos’ church presentation software, to receive signals throughout the conference. Attendees—
- Interacted with speakers on Faithlife’s social platform
- Shared experiences and thoughts about main sessions
- Received mobile Bible verses, prayer requests, and more
- Connected with others from the same area
- Stayed up to date with conference events
Many attendees commented that they wished they’d had Faithlife and the FSB earlier in their ministry. Others said that they wanted to use it back home for their small groups, youth ministry, discipleship programs, and more.
Faithlife and the FSB are your opportunity to dig deeper into the Word with your family, friends, and Christian community. Get the Faithlife Study Bible free through March 2014!