Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday: Reflection, Renewal, and Revival

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
Many within in our culture hear the word "Lent" and equate it with an exercise of giving some trivial thing up for a season.  We'll hear of those "giving up (fill in the blank...) for Lent.  Many who profess Christianity consider Lent to be something that "Catholics do".  These views serve only to rob individuals of a season of great blessing.  Allow me to offer up an alternative to these two common misconceptions.  Lent, faithfully pursued, can be a conduit for reflection, renewal and revival.

Historically, Lent commemorated the event in the Savior's mission where he withdrew from the community surrounding him to be alone in the desert, communing with His Father. Scripture tells us that in this season, he fasted, prayed, and was tempted by the accuser.  It was a time where the second person of the Godhead focused on what was his "big picture", the redemption of his creation. We can draw much from this.

Reflection in Lent can be transformational. It allows us to see ourselves as we really are, fallen, broken, and continually desiring to walk our own way rather than the way of the cross.  Reflection causes us to see how we were transformed and continually transformed by Christ's redemption on the cross.  It allows us to see how we've become justified before the Almighty, clothed in Christ's own righteousness.

Renewal challenges us to walk in, and live into this great salvation which was freely offered to us. We didn't earn it, we didn't deserve it, and we could never pay the price for such an act of mercy.  Yet we can and must live as one who apprehends the gravity of such a gift.  Lent calls us to walk in this newness of life, living in a humility that recognizes our Lord's unfathomable love, and to commit in communicating this love to the world around us.

When we walk in reflection and renewal, revival will be a natural consequence.  Please don't confuse this Revival with Revivalism.  Revivalism flows from an external stimulus playing on ones emotions and feeling.  Revival wells from deep within, where one will find a transformed heart.  A holy Lent will grant this opportunity to all who would walk in it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Remembering David Bowie (a.k.a. David Jones)

David Bowie's career spanned forty years and in that span, he remained on the cutting edge.  For me, this song was his greatest.

Rest in Peace David, and prayers that your name is in the Lamb's book of life.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Crane's Law

The more I listen to the Socialist from Vermont, the more I'm reminded of Milton Friedman's paraphrasing of Crane's Law: "There's no such thing as a free lunch".

Sunday Reverie

Haley Westenra, the soloist from New Zealand with the voice of an angel.


Saturday, January 02, 2016

Thoughts in the New Year

From the pen of a Prophet...
Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea..."
 ...and the voice of the Master:
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

We're back in the seat on January 2nd of 2016, looking at the horizon of a new year.  We can only hope and pray for a better year than the one that is now a matter of history.  Retrospectively, it was a blessing to watch a wee bundle of a baby grow into a wobbler and now a toddler as Jackson now walks on his own.  It was also a blessing (and a stretching) to travel by car with an eight year-old an seven month-old early in the summer.  These were like shafts of sunlight that we see sometimes when looking at dark, iron-gray overcast skies enveloping our horizons.

2015.  a year where hope and optimism seemed to have died.  Our world was seemingly plunged into a grip of fear and uncertainty as we watched parts of the globe overrun by a medieval horde that seemed to rise out of the 8th Century.  Were this not bad enough, we had to endure a feckless response on the part of our Republic's leadership which lacks the fundamental understanding that there are times when it is absolutely essential to join in co-belligerency with one like Mr. Putin to defeat a cancer like ISIS.  

Those who've read the book before seeing this all unfold already know that this season of fear descending upon us was foretold thousand's of years ago.  They know of the perilous times, the fact that fear in this time will cause many hearts to fail, and that the love of many will grow cold in this time of trial.  They also know that these are not signs of the end, but signs of the beginning of the end.  But of paramount importance, they know that in this coming age, we're called to perseverance and endurance.

There was a time in my life when I was an ardent subscriber of John Nelson Darby's teachings on the "Rapture of the Church". Succinctly, this teaching asserts that the Lord's faithful will be translated and taken up into Heaven for seven years as searing judgement is meted out against Satan and who had rejected our Lord's salvation. I've come to reject Darby's teachings on the Rapture for a number of reasons, too broad to be listed in this piece.  I believe his teachings have caused many churches to become insular and not reaching out to the fallen world around them with the heart and hands of The Christ.

So what then?  I believe that the creation around us is finite, with a point of origin and an expiration date.  As stated in the historic creeds of Christianity, that the Almighty God will return to judge the quick and the dead and that His kingdom will not end.  I cannot or will not state that He's going to do this in 2016.  I can and will say this;  He has called those of His kingdom to patience, faithfulness, and endurance in the face of whatever may come, and He has promised His salvation to those who will.

Though the temptation will be strong, don't be discouraged or loose your heart in 2016.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Trowels or Sledgehammers?" From the Pulpit (September 13th, 2015)

I'm a little late posting this.  This sermon was delivered at Christ Church Anglican in South Riding Virginia back on September 13th.

Looking across the texts of this morning’s readings, the idea of our words come streaming through both testament along with the Gospel reading.  Considering this, I’d like to take a few moments to think about what comes out of our mouths and ask, “Are our tongues trowels or sledgehammers?”

Tongues make up less than four ounces of our total body weight and we don’t think about them unless we’re brushing or we unexpectedly bite our tongues.  Without them we would be incapable of intelligible speech.  Think of the great orators of the ages.  Men like Winston Churchill, Dr. King, and Ronald Reagan could never have inspired the millions without the power of the spoken word.  Saint James alludes to this power of the tongue when he compares them to a ship’s rudder or a horse’s bit.  A full grown horse approaches one half ton and is fully capable of stomping a man into the dirt.  Yet a horse that’s been trained with bridle and bit can be mastered by a child.  That ship’s rudder, from a design and size standpoint is relatively small in comparison, yet it can move even a super carrier on a steady course through the water.  Yet this tiny organ seems to be the hardest to sanctify and the source of much of our troubles.

James seems to make a rhetorical statement is alluding to the perfect man in verse 2 (READ JAMES 3:2). 
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

There are no perfect men or women, Christians notwithstanding.  While we’re being perfected and conformed to the image of Christ Jesus, we still stumble over our own flesh.  I think it was Chuck Swindoll who said something to the effect of though we’ve been crucified with Christ, the old man still tries to pull himself off the cross.  Stumbling in our words comes pretty naturally for all of us.
Our words hold power.  Now, I’m not inferring this in the sense of the false doctrines of the “Word of Faith” or Prosperity Gospel movements.  You know, name it claim it or blab it, grab it guys?  Rather, let’s think of our words as having the power to uplift or tear down.  A well timed, thoughtful word can serve to dry the tears and embrace those in sorrow.  A careless or rash word can damage relationships, often to being beyond to point of reconciliation.  Think too, how many punches in the nose stemmed from the slip of a tongue?  This is a reason that James, earlier in this letter reminded the First Century believers to be “slow to speak”, considering their words.

Our words will ultimately prove who or what we are.  Jesus in engaging the Pharisees over the issue of ceremonial cleanliness dropped a truth bomb on their accusations in declaring that it is what proceeds from an individual as to what makes them clean or unclean. (READ MARK 7:15)
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

 The link between mind, soul, and mouth is unbreakable as what’s stored up within the heart of an individual will ultimately spill out of the tonsils for the whole world to hear.  Yes we’re going to stumble.  We’re going to yell at Alan Combs as he spouts off with some preposterous statement.  We’re going to be barking at the driver on the beltway who’s forgotten what merge lanes or minimum speeds are.  This is stumbling, it should also be that moment we’re we feel the Spirit whispering “Seriously?” into our hearts. 

James gives a call to examine our words in vv. 9-11 (READ JAMES 3:9-11). 

“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”

Is the mouth that lifts up thanksgivings in the sanctuary or within our prayer places the same mouth that cuts people to shreds through vicious gossip, lies or just plain ugliness?  James tells us that this incongruous and shouldn’t be found among the saint’s.  In comparing blessing to cursing, he uses the thought of springs.  Since it would be a few thousand years before Wawa, 7-Eleven or Sheetz would hit the scene, those out in the open would have to rely on naturally occurring springs for life sustaining water.  Fresh water was a blessing but a salt spring was poisonous and of use to no one.  One type of water or another flows through the opening.  The co-mingling of the two spoiled the water.

For me, a mind-jarring examination of my words seemed to have occurred by coincidence.  But we all know the definition of coincidence, that’s the Almighty standing in the wings and not taking credit.  I was a very immature believer at the time when after arriving a work, I grabbed my Fleetwood Mac cassette (Rumors) to play in the office.  After settling in, I dropped the cassette in the player and hit play.  The wheels were spinning but no sound was coming out of the speakers.  Nonplussed, I said exactly what was on my mind about the situation.  At the end of the day, I grabbed the tape and plunked it into the car stereo.  Immediately, I learned that the player at the office had malfunctioned, causing the unit to record over a minute of Stevie Nicks and I had the experience of me listening to myself doing George Carlin’s “Seven Word’s” routine.  I’ve got to say, I’ve never felt the Spirit’s conviction the way I did that afternoon in Germany.  I believe that actually listening to what spills from our mouths could be one of the more powerful and transformational things we could experience.

Jesus, in our Gospel reading speaks to us about the consequences of our words. After taking Saint Peter to task over his rebuke of his master, Jesus gives an admonition and a warning concerning his words in v 38 (READ MARK 8:38)

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Think back to what the Master said to the Pharisees concerning what flows out of the mouth and uncleanliness.  Our deepest thoughts concerning Christ and his words will ultimately appear within our own words.  This is where it can get hard and where our faith in Jesus gets placed on the line.
Jesus is speaking to hearers who are living within an adulterous and sinful generation.  Given the fact that man is thoroughly depraved and that as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun, Christ’s disciples had to wallow in the same morass that we find ourselves in on any given day.  And while Jesus was speaking these words of truth to the contemporary culture, the religious establishment was already conspiring to kill Jesus and his band.  You see laying down one’s life and picking up a cross wasn’t a flowery metaphor, its meaning was clear.  Yet, speaking words of renunciation may have saved one’s neck for a season, it meant only kicking the can down the road to a point where one would experience Divine shame on that great and terrible day of the LORD.

As I consider Jesus’ description of that generation, I think of our own.  Political correctness is being wielded like a hammer and those who even dare to think counter culturally, receive quick retribution.  God’s word isn’t ambivalent over much of what our culture has descended into. Sadly, many have embraced this cultural rot as inevitable.  One who once repudiated such things now happily support them.  Their words are reflecting shame for timeless truth.

So what’s our takeaway ask we consider this morning’s readings?  I believe the answer is twofold.  Are we striving to convey words and speech that is God-honoring?  Are we striving to speak words that edify or friends, family and our fellow saint’s?  As well, is God’s Kingdom being advanced or waylaid by our words?

To end with my original question, are our tongues trowels our sledgehammers? 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Reverie

A Contemplative piece for a Sunday Evening...


From the pulpit, July 19, 2015

...who has made us both one and has broken down
in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
I had the blessing of being supply clergy to Christ Church, South Riding VA this morning as their Rector launched off on two weeks of CONUS and OCONUS mission trips today.  The message took on the theme of this morning's lectionary.

Our Old Testament reading today sets us down in the room where David, the king is enjoying a time of peace in his kingdom.  It’s in this quiet time where he begins to sense conviction.  I can only imagine what may have been rolling through his mind.  He’s taking in the luxuries of his palace, perhaps smelling the sweet fragrances of flowers or enjoying a comfortable seat when it hit him.  David was living in luxury while the presence of God (the Ark) was out in a tent.

David shared his desire to build a temple for the Almighty with Israel’s prophet, who after waiting on the Lord, brought back a word from on high.  Consider what was said

Read 2 Sam 7:6-7 “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

In the many years from the time of the exodus to the moment.  God had neither dwelt in a dwelling, nor had he asked the leadership to construct one for his honor.  This was a reminder to David and by extension all of Israel, of the fact that the Almighty in his power and presence, can’t be contained within a building made by human hands.  But then comes a twist.  God points out to David how He had seen him dwelling out in the fields and had set him in a strong house.  Not only was David the recipient of this graciousness, but all of Israel to the extent.

It was the hand of God who put down the enemies of Israel.  All those who sought to destroy Israel were put down and were ultimately driven far from them.  It was also the mighty hand of God that planted David and Israel in the land where they would dwell under the light of his sustaining hands.

Though David would not build a dwelling place for the Lord, his son Solomon would.  He too would also enjoy the blessings of being numbered among the people of God.
The Psalmist, in Psalm 89 recounted this moment singing of God establishing his people Israel.  But here in the Psalm, the onion gets peeled back a bit and we now see that this provision wasn’t mere divine largesse.  No, this was a covenantal relationship between the Almighty and his people, Israel. 

Read Psalm 89:29-32

For as long as Israel would live under God’s commands and statutes, they would dwell in his blessings.  To do the opposite would bring promised discipline which would be as memorable as it was painful.  Sadly, it wasn’t long after the death of David and his son Solomon that Israel slowly but inexorably began to turn a disobedient and deaf ear to the commandments of God.  And as promised, severe, stinging judgment fell upon God’s chosen.  He never stopped loving them, but like a father disciplining a rebellious child, they’d have to be called into account.

The promises made to God’s covenant people were, but they were made for them alone.  Like people outside of Nat’s park or Camden yards who are only able to perceive the game from a distance, the Gentile could only look from a distance to see God’s interaction with his people.  Now, did this signify a divine hatred for all outside of Abraham’s bloodline?  Absolutely not.  In fact, His love was directed towards Israel to be a sign for all of humanity.  They weren’t any more deserving of God’s blessing than any other people group on the earth.  It would be through God’s great plan, that Israel would be used to call all of fallen humanity back to the arms of God. 

Saint Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Galatian church

Read Galatian’s 4:4-5:  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Our vision is limited by light and horizons and our knowledge limited to what we’ve experienced, the knowledge and vision of God knows no limit.  While it would have seemed hopeless for the Gentile, it was God’s plan all along to break down the barriers that not only separated God from man, but those dividing man from man as well.  Ultimately, He saw far beyond Adam’s sin to a point where we would be reconciled, and he would have one people.  But, how was this accomplished?  Saint Paul gives us a beautiful view of this in his Ephesian letter.

As we look at St. Paul’s words to the Ephesian Church, we see that he doesn’t gloss over the extent of just how separated Jew was from Gentile in the former covenant. 

Read Ephesians 2:12:  remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Paul was speaking to a church of former pagans who were converted to Christianity during his missionary journeys and were being pastored by Timothy. In speaking to their onetime alienation from God,   he describes a five-fold separation.

They were once Christless, aliens to the messiah.  Being apart from the messianic people, they had no thought or hope for a deliverer.  They were stateless, alien God’s nation and excluded from citizenship in Israel.  They had no stake in God’s theocratic kingdom.  They were friendless, strangers to the covenants of promise.  Though God had bound himself unconditionally to bring blessings on and through Israel, This promise wasn’t extended to the Gentile peoples.  Finally, they were hopeless, having no hope and being without God in this world.  Though their world was extremely religious in all aspects of daily life, their prayers and supplications fell onto dead ears of marble in the gods they served.  Their entire condition could be summed up in one word, and that it Alienation.  Through Christ, this would all be changed.

Paul could make powerful use of conjunctions and he does just that here.  Though the alienation was palpable and seemingly insurmountable, it was laid waste by the atoning sacrifice of Christ as holy blood was spilled on the cross.  Those who were once far away were now being brought near.  This holy blood allowed for regenerated Jew and Gentile alike to be drawn near.  To the Jew of the day, this idea was outright subversive.  Even as these words were being penned, a physical barrier stood in the temple in Jerusalem.  This allowed for God-fearing Gentiles to worship at the Temple.  At its boundary were signs in Latin and Greek warning the Gentile not to enter any closer under pain of death.

Through this sacrifice, Christ made peace and demolished the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile.  He didn’t simply make peace, He himself was and is THE peace that unites God and man/redeemed Jew and Gentile alike.
We have to ask, how was Christ’s death able to demolish this wall of separation?  His death accomplished this in three ways. 

Read Ephesians 2:15-16 “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

He abolished the Law.  Some might consider this false considering Jesus’ own words in the sermon on the mount where he stated that he’d not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Living his perfect life, Jesus fulfilled all the tenants of God’s moral law, while abolishing the ceremonial law, a major roadblock dividing Jew and Gentile.
He created a new humanity.  Paul describes Christ, through the atonement as creating “one new man”.  It’s an amazing thing to consider, but through the atonement, Christ created a new man, a new race and a new humanity.  Our early Church fathers recognized this and clearly communicated it.  Clement of Alexandria wrote “We who worship God in a new way, as a third race, are Christians”.  Think of it this way; Christ didn’t “Christianize Jews or Judaize Gentiles, he created an entirely new man.  Within this truth lies the answer to alienation, racism, prejudice or estrangement; when we’re in Christ, we’re all one.

He reconciled this new humanity to God.  This is the apex of Christ’s ministry of peace and reconciliation.  He came and preached peace to those who were near as well as those who were far away and separated from The Father’s covenant.  He became “our peace”, and through that peace we gained the privilege to be able to come boldly before the throne of God as the writer of Hebrew’s assures us.

So, what’s to be made of all this?  It’s yet another reason to celebrate and testify to the Love of our God.  From eternity past, He sought to make for himself a people.  These people weren’t to be one homogenous group of one race or one ethnicity.  No.  Jew, Greek, Barbarian, slave or freeman; He took from all to make a special people for himself.  Have you paused to consider that of the billions who’ve lived on this Planet, Christ has called you to be his own?  If we’re unsure of this fact we can be assured by scripture.  “Whosoever shall call upon the Lord will be saved.”  And, “If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, we belong to Him.”  Our God has prepared a place for his people, and there is room there for all who desire to be there in this wonderful kingdom.