Monday, January 6, 2014

An Epiphany Meditation

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1

The word 'epiphany' means manifestation of light. It is a feast day in the church where we remember the visit of the three wise men from the East. Usually Christmas scenes such as creches and icons will have these Magi included filling out the Christmas story.

Most depictions of the Nativity have all of creatures looking at the Christ child. This posture causes the heads bowed in humble tribute with the eyes only fixed on the Messiah. Such a posture keeps us from paying tribute to ourselves and each other. Jesus is the focal point. And this is how it should be in our lives. Bowed to Him who is light from light, true God from true God. Let us look at our posture in in thought, word, & deed. Where are we looking? Where do we want others to be looking?

O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant, that we, which know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What is Sin?

Sin is breaking the law of God! So if we call ourselves sinners, we are all law-breakers! This is what St. John says,

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:4-10)

John was writing to the early church as many did not show fruits of repentance. There are many people who go to church or call themselves Christians but they truly are not born again. We really can't help but to sin. It is our nature. But Christ nailed our nature to the cross defeating sins hold over us. When we recognize this fact, our eyes are open to our sinfulness. We see what God hates and desire a new life in His Son! Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we begin a new life growing in God's love. This is a life long process. When we fall down, God will pick us up. But we must understand that if there is no change in our life or no desire to change because we don't hate the former things we did, then we are not truly born again!

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

For, “Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:26-39)

Friday, November 29, 2013

REPENTANCE: The Proof Is In Your Heart


[ri-pen-tns, -pen-tuhns] 
1. deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like.
2. regret for any past action.

 In Holy Scripture repentance is the act of turning back to God. We are born as sinners and our hearts are inclined to do those things contrary to God' will. Review the 10 Commandments and ask your yourself, just how many of these laws have you broken? (Ex. 20:1-20, Rom. 3:19-20) As Meister Eckhart, the 14th century theologian, quips, "God is at home, it is we who have gone for a walk."

So how does one know they have truly repented? The answer to this question can be answered by what is the attitude you have toward a particular sin. How do you view a particular idea or action today as opposed to what you once held earlier in your life. How has your mind changed about something? Since everybody it seems likes to talk about sex, then let's talk fornication, or sexual intercourse out of wedlock. Our culture, based on movies and television, portrays fornication as a normal human activity. But how does God see it? Are you guilty of premarital sex? Now if you claim to be born-again, do you feel the same way about it as when you engaged in it? In other words, has your heart changed in such away that what you once accepted you now abhor? Before my conversion, I used to run towards sin. Now that I have been saved, I do not want to do that which I used to do. This is true freedom in Christ! And if your attitude has not changed, then are you truly converted?

Jesus came to free us from the slavery of sin. He does this by circumcising out heart through His word. (Acts 2:37-41, Rom. 10:17) What our hearts were once inclined to do, now seem to be a thing to be avoided. It does not mean we won't be tempted. But even in temptation, God will provide away out. (1 Cor. 10:13, Heb. 2:18)

And by the way, there are many sins. Perhaps one where many do not have a guilty conscience about is gossip. It is a form of bearing false witness. The list will go on. It is for this reason Jesus died on the cross. The fulfilment of the law meant for us He took upon Himself. Let us then turn away from our flesh and toward Him who gives us eternal life!

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. (Rom. 6:19-21)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Angels, There When God Knows You Need Them!

Angels are mentioned in the Bible. So they must be real, right? And if they are real then certainly they are not taking a vacation since releasing Peter from jail during his days of ministry, right? (Acts 12:6-12) So surely we must see angels in real life, right? Well, many I suppose may wonder if angels are real and if they are about doing God's business just like the times of old. Scripture reminds us that at times angels take the form of human beings. (Genesis 18 & Acts 12:15) )So there are two events in my life where I wonder if I were being ministered by angels.

The first occurred in Atlanta prior to my entering seminary. I was running late for a meeting on youth ministry in Atlanta. My running late was caused by someone else who had to meet with me about some misunderstanding and it just could not wait! So now I am rushing to the cathedral and was taking a shortcut through an affluent neighborhood (read predominately white in the early '80's)  trying to make up time. Of course this was thwarted by my car getting a flat tire. So I make sure I am on the side of the road of this residential section and get the jack and spare out. Now I have changed tires before. But today I could not get the lug nuts to turn. No matter how hard I tried they would not budge. Then out of the blue a dark red car pulls up behind me and out jumps a black man. He comes up behind me and says, "Let me get that!" He grabs the tire iron and begins to remove the lug nuts effortlessly, grabs the spare putting it on the wheel, tightens the nuts, lowers the jack and then runs back into his car & drives off. I try to talk to him offering him some money but he just waves and drives off. Wonder of wonders I get to the cathedral and sign in just as the opening prayer was beginning.

The second time occurred when I was vicar of a small parish in the mountains of North Georgia. There was another parish making noises of leaving the Diocese over some issues that now have consumed the national church. But this one parish was asking other parishes to join them in their exodus. To this end they were going behind the pastors' backs writing letters to the wardens of the parishes. For the most part my little parish did not go along with this but unfortunately the behind the back communications made communications within the parish on issues that really did not effect us too time consuming and very distracting. I was frustrated and discouraged. My Sunday School Superientendant had left some videos for me to review for the curriculum and so I went to the undercroft of the parish to watch the videos. While doing this I heard foot steps and through the basement door entered a middle aged couple. I introduced myself and they said they were vacationing and whenever they saw the Episcopal Church Welcomes You sign they would stop and see the church. Why they desired to come down to the basement I do not know! So we visited. I do not really remember where they were from. As we talked the conversation turned to my ministry and all the stuff going on. After about an hour I felt a burden had lifted from my shoulders. Now for some reason I assumed the gentleman was a priest so I asked where his parish was. he looked at me and said, "Oh, I'm not a priest, I'm a therapist!" No wonder I shared myself with this couple. We said our goodbye's and they left.

Now were these angelic encounters or just natural occurences in the physical world? Both can be explained by saying nothing was out of the ordinary. The first occurence was definitaley a good samaritan, a man of another race & color stopping to help a stranger in need. The second was just a couple who were vacationing stopping at every Episcopal Church they saw. In both instances I was served by their compassion. Either way, God get's all the glory as there are no accidents in the Kingdom of God. And we are reminded by Scripture to "not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb. 13:2) Now this does beg the question, how many strangers that have come into my life really have been angels?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tabernacling: A Proposal for a New Anglican Holiday

I write this as our Jewish brothers and sisters begin their Feast of Booths or Sukkot. It is a period of time they remember how they wondered in the desert for forty years living in temporary and portable shelters. God was worshiped in a tabernacle that could be broken down and moved with the camp. Today in North America many Anglican congregations worship in temporary spaces that are less than ideal. But we should never forget today lest we become proud of our accomplishments tomorrow.

Today Christians in the Anglican tradition who maintain an orthodox worldview find themselves unable to live within the established Anglican provinces of North America. Some congregations voted to leave their national church only to be sued over their property draining resources for mission and making lawyers all the richer. Others voluntarily left their property turning in their keys to form a new congregation in a new space. And there are many congregations that are brand new church plants reaching the lost by putting mission first rather than building buildings. The truth is this is a great time as Anglicans have by necessity reclaimed the reason for our existence. As Archbishop William Temple once said, "The Church exists for those not in it!"

I know in the parish where I serve in the metro Atlanta area, we have gone from a dingy store front with stains on the carpet to a beautiful sanctuary rented from a Presbyterian church to our own property where a French colonial home was remodeled into a worship space. We have gone from paying rent but not free to use the time and space as we desired to a space we can call our own but now in debt to a mortgage. But it is our own to use without constraint. The goal of course is to expand the property and build a traditional Anglican church. My prayer though is we never forget the dingy store front and our journey to where we hope to arrive. The church dies when we forget our mission only to support the memorial of our faith, the church building.

This is a great time for Anglicans in North America. We are debating the essentials of the faith because we once took them for granted. We are looking at new ways to do mission and ministry. And above all we are looking to Scripture as our ultimate authority. The truth is our world is full of lost souls who need to hear the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ the Righteous. We are not taking anything for granted. And to that end, we should remember the days we tabernacled.

I am reminded of a story of man long ago in the ancient of days who was visited by God. He was overwhelmed by His glory. To remember the visit, he placed a stone on the very spot God appeared. As the man's friends passed the stone, they asked what it meant and he readily told them the story of God's appearing. That story was shared and as people heard it they came to see the spot where God appeared leaving a stone as well. A shelter was built out of the stones so that others could find the spot as well. And as years went by the story never lost it's power and people desired to stay and worship God at that very spot. Eventually a bigger building was built on top of the the original foundation to accommodate the people only to be replaced later by an even bigger building expanding the previous building used generations ago. Committees were formed to maintain the buildings. Money was raised to make them more beautiful. Soon the spot where there was a stone was dwarfed by a the largest building in the village and everyday the building was full of people. Then one day a small girl came to see why this building was the largest building in the village and why it was filled with people. And she climbed the steps and asked, "Why is this building here?" And all of the adults looked at her and at each other. And after some murmuring, one person said, "We really don't remember"

May the memories of our tabernacles of the present day keep us humble as we never lose sight of the cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ our Lord! (Eph. 2:19-21)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Do You Loathe Yourself?

Perhaps you should? Loathe yourself that is!

To loathe means to detest or abhor. Our culture is adverse to tell anyone they should loathe themselves. As one who has suffered from depression, I know there is a difference between unhealthy loathing & godly loathing. Yes, loathing can be godly.

Godly loathing is when we recognize a before & after picture of ourselves. We see ourselves in the light of Christ. And we can see what God hates. This is the loathing I am talking about. You see, when we are in Christ, we are to be a new creation. The old has passed away. We know this because we recognize it.

When I was younger, I attended church, believed in God, never questioned whether I would go to heaven or hell. God loves me after all, right? I heard it from the pulpit. So it must be true. But I never really was confronted with the holiness of God, that I belong to Him, or those classical doctrines one can find in the back of the Prayer Book, like original sin. I knew Jesus died for me so that made everything okay. But all along I was living in sin. No, I wasn't cohabiting with a woman. I was just sinning like any other sinner. If the opportunity for fornication availed itself, I fornicated. If I lusted after any attractive woman, I was a normal American male. In other words, I did not loathe myself.

When God sent Ezekiel to the exiles of Israel, he reminds them that God will return them home. "And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed." (Ez. 20:43) This message was directed to the remnant of the community of Israel. But it's import cannot be lost on the Christian today for we find our home in Christ as individuals. (Lk. 15:11-32) In Christ we shall loathe ourselves. Not a warm & fuzzy invitation for repentance. But that is what repentance is, to have a change of heart about ourselves & our relationship to God. Looking back, I see how my attitudes and behavior were offensive to the one who created me. I loathe was I did. There are still aspects of my life I loathe but I did not recognize them as I do now. There is stuff I see that I turn over to God in confession. (1 John 1:9)

There is no excuse for sin. I found this out when I heard the gospel preached in the context of the Law of God. My heart awakened to my need for a savior as God's wrath awaited me if I did not repent. Mere lip service will not do. Only a changed heart is acceptable. It is this change of heart that allows me to live in accordance with God's will. Like the Prodigal Son, I came to myself. I came home.

Living the life of repentance is walking by the Light of Christ. (1 John 1:5-7) While I loathe my sins, I rejoice that Jesus died for me so that I may have eternal fellowship with Him. After all, He loathes my sins as well. And being in agreement with God I would say is reconcilaition to The Almighty!

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What The Early Church Can Teach Us About Prosperity Preachers

There is not a vacuum between the close of Scripture and today's church. Many issues we face today actually are not new. There has always been preachers who desired to make a profit off the treasury of the Church which is The Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul, himself, dealt with this issue warning Timothy about those who desire to be rich teaching those things contrary to God's Word. (1 Tim. 6:3-10)

An early church document called The Didache gives instructions on what to expect from traveling preachers and their motivations:

   Whoever, therefore, who comes and teaches you all these things mentioned, receive him. But if the one teaching changes what has been taught to another teaching in order to destroy these things, do not listen to him. However, if his motive is to add righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, receive him as you would the Lord.
      Now concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the requirements of the Gospel. Every apostle coming to you, welcome as you would the Lord.
And he should not remain more than one day, and if he has a need also another. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.
      And when the apostle goes forth, he should take nothing except a loaf of bread, until he arrives at his nights lodging. If he asks for money he is a false prophet. Also, you should not test or judge and prophet speaking in the Spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.
      But not everyone speaking in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he should have a lifestyle of the Lord's character. Therefore, by his lifestyle you will know a false prophet from a true prophet. And any prophet ordering a meal in the Spirit should not eat of it; otherwise he is a false prophet.
      And every prophet who teaches the truth but does not do what he teaches is a false prophet. But every prophet who stands the test and is genuine, even if he uses symbolic imagery in the church, so long as he does not teach others to do the same, should not be judged. His judgment comes from God, for so did the prophets of old.
      But whoever should say in the Spirit, "Give me money or something else,"do not listen to them

This is sound advice for us today!

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt. 7:15-20)

The complete text of the Didache can be found here.