Posted by: Terry | May 6, 2018

Change the world by changing thinking

The age of Enlightenment still entices us to place great credence on the authority of how “I think.” Yet experience teaches that my thinking and the resulting misdirected actions are not as “enlightened” as I might wish. Observing the world we live in just confirms the truth that our collective thinking is basically self-serving, resulting in conflict. Glimmers of kindness and altruism give but momentary hope that there could be another way, but something needs to change.

Renew how you think is the Biblical admonition leading to a changed life; think in a different way, than the rest of the world thinks. Most of Scripture is God making it clear how his mind works, and was made most clear in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. It is one reason that the Gospels have been so revered over time, they are a glimpse and example of how Jesus thought and how that thinking led to how he acted. A renewed mind thinks like Christ thinks.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” So how did Jesus think? Read further in Philippines.

Whatever position and rank Jesus had, he was God and Creator – you can’t get higher than that, he did not use his position and rank to elevate or improve his position, nor did he try for some personal gain while he was on earth; he did not use that power to force change on the institutions around him, Instead he humbled himself, became a servant, to the ultimate disgrace of a humiliating, degrading death. This way of thinking attracted change in the end, greater that force ever could.

As believers we are part of the family of God, considered the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, a pretty elevated position in the scope of things. We are given the mind of God, a mind that can be renewed to think more like God thinks, enabling us to look at the world as God looks at the world. It is natural to think that we should use this position to exert power to change the world. Yet that is not the “mind,” way of thinking, of the Messiah.

Jesus humbled himself and served. He healed, comforted, provided, sacrificed. The result was he changed the world.

When those claiming to be followers of Jesus the Messiah, attempt to use power to change the world it is not exercising the mind of Christ. History is replete with failure when the Church attempts to improve the world with laws or power. Jesus ushered in a different way to bring change. One that is not dependent on armies, on coercion, or on leaders. The early church “turned the world upside down” with humility and service. When the church deviated from this mindset is when corruption brought stains and embarrassment to the church. We will not bring the changes that God desires by supporting a dishonest, immoral, President Trump, nor by supporting laws based on fear of those different than us. The NRA and its support of uncontrolled weapons of violence will never bring peace.

Christians have a higher calling and should be thinking in a different way. The Church, the assembly of those who follow Christ, has been called to be an influence in the world. We will only fulfill that charge when we become humble and serve. “Not by might, nor by power, says the Lord, but by my Sprit.”

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Posted by: Terry | December 20, 2017

Is the war on Christmas really over?

President Trump declared victory in “the war on Christmas” at a rally in Michigan last week saying, “We’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again.” He likes to declare victory, even if the opponent is vague or inaccurate. With a raised fist he Tweeted in December 2016, “Merry Christmas.” Thanks to Trump, we are free to greet each other on the street or in businesses with, “Merry Christmas;” the victory is complete. Evidence cited for the conspiracy against Christmas: Starbucks cups, and store employees saying “Happy Holidays.” Thankfully he is freeing our society from the grip of this assault.

Bill O’Reily made “war on Christmas” famous a few years back, yet as Aine Cain wrote in an article for Business Insider, “8 Times in history when a war on Christmas actually happened,” opposition to Christmas is nothing new, nor was it invented by President Obama, who used the phrase Merry Christmas often and celebrated it with sincerity. There is a war on Christmas, but it is older and bigger than anything Trump can end.

Christmas is when we remember the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in the town of Bethlehem, a birth that shook up the history of the world; from the beginning his birth was attacked. While he was still an infant, Herod, the local head of the government, sent out troops to kill all the boy babies in Bethlehem under the age of two in an attempt to kill Jesus in the process. That qualifies as a “war on Christmas” more than anything printed on Starbucks cups.

It appears that Merry Christmas was first used in 1699 in a letter written by a British Admiral. Merry Christmas would next be used by Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol.” Yet with all of the warm wishes that “Merry Christmas” can convey, the first Christmas greeting was a bit different.

On that first Christmas Eve there were angels tending to their sheep in the hills outside of Bethlehem, a heavenly messenger appeared to them, causing no small amount of shock and surprise. The angel came with the first ever Christmas greeting:

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)

Somehow President Trump telling me that I am free to greet people with “Merry Christmas” seems pretty hollow by comparison.

Rev. Franklin Graham posted on his Facebook page, “Never in my lifetime have we had a president willing to take a strong, outspoken stand for the Christian faith like President Donald J. Trump has.” (December 1, 2017) -complete with a video clip of Trump reading a brief account of the birth of Jesus. Debating the various president’s actions to defend or not defend the Christian faith is fruitless, expecting the President to be a defender of Christian faith in the first place is naive.

What Trump is really defending in his “Merry Christmas” mantra is political-evangelicalism, not historic Christianity, not even the true evangelical Christianity of years past. Franklin Graham’s political-evangelicalism is fearful of outsiders, dismissive and judgmental of those in need, enabling the powerful to increase with little regard for others, and continuing the suppression of women. The good news the first angel brought was one of joy to all people, hope for all people, not the elite few.

Note:  In fairness, Graham’s Sumeritan’s Purse ministry has helped many in other countries.

It is embarrassing to me that many well meaning Christians have embraced this man who in his lifestyle contradicts most everything that Jesus stands for, his life and ethics are a true war on Christmas.  Christians, who rightly hold the Bible to be the source of truth, so quickly disregard the frequent reminders to not trust in human leaders and gladly embrace Trump as a defender of their faith. History is full of examples that when government leaders become the defenders of the Church it is always a disaster, we are watching that play out again. I am thankful for the millions of Christians who do not see, nor expect President Trump to be the defender of Christianity. I am thankful for the many who are pointing out the inconsistency of his life with the message of Christianity.

Every Christmas I am challenged by the words of John Lennon, who never claimed to be a Christian, “And so this is Christmas, what have you done? Another year older, a new one just begun.” Trump’s “Merry Christmas” has a defiant tone, Lennon challenges us to search our soul and our actions, which seems a lot more Christian than Trump’s.

I never stopped saying “Merry Christmas,” what I hope is that I never forget that in that greeting I am wishing you the blessings that come from knowing Jesus as Messiah and the savior of all that is wrong with this world, and to renew my commitment to live a life provoking others to say of me what was said of Scrooge, “and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” Merry Christmas to all.

Posted by: Terry | October 5, 2017

Potholes and inventory

Sitting here in Brekie, Scotland, I am taking inventory as I always do after being jarred by life’s potholes, long ago having accepted the reality that as a driver along the road of life I hit potholes and run over curbs that should and could have been missed – the why question frustratingly discarded as unfathomable. The questions without answers always outnumber those with certain conviction, but it is those certainties that I cling to which make sense of it all, regardless of how easily and frequently they slip my conscience mind, causing me to veer toward the next pothole or rough road.

First in the inventory are people, I am blessed with many who add so much to my life – and old friend of 50 years, a newer friend of less than 20 years, and many acquaintances who give me bits of laughter and encouragement along the way. Then there are the people of family, every family is a mix sure to add every flavor of spice you can imagine, all needed in the fullness of a life.

The most important person is my wife, a blend of: usually tolerating my poor driving skills on the road of life, caring enough about me to confront me when I need it, the best travel and dining companion ever, and the best person ever to just hang out with in front of a fire while listening to music, eating cheese and sipping a wee dram (Wine for her).

Underneath all of what I have and am is the complete conviction that in some way, back to those questions without complete answers, I am connected to a man who actually lived a life of mediocrity, who upset his world enough that they abused and killed him in a graphically humiliating and painful manner. This man beat them in the end by not staying dead, and a ragtag bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and such passed along their visual account of their personal experiences including the invitation to join them in embracing this one who died and yet still lives. Every time I join others who have embraced him in a simple meal of bread and wine it is as if I am sitting at that same table with 13 others some 2000 years ago, faith is renewed and the disorientation of life is reoriented for a moment as it should be.

Hitting potholes and curbs always throws me a bit out of alignment – “Why didn’t I see that coming?” “I could have swerved, I should have swerved.” It leaves me shaken, angry for poor driving skills, embarrassed, wishing forgetting was easier, sorry for shaking up any passengers riding alongside.

Taking inventory reminds me that most of the time I drive OK, that I miss more potholes than I hit, that the people in my life are thankfully forgiving and encouraging, hopefully even endowed with poor memories. And against all logic they actually climb back in the car as we drive on.

So I climb back in the car, turn on the key, put on a smile, and then, with as much confidence and enthusiasm as I can muster, I head out. If that man beat death, if my friends still connect, and if my wife hangs in there, then all is well. Bonne voyage sulla strada di vita!

Posted by: Terry | August 30, 2017

Silence in the face of turmoil

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?” It’s the noise!  It is as if I am forever trapped in a Las Vegas casino, flashing lights, clanging slot machines, no sense of time, and no doors in sight. Try as I might I am addicted to the news apps on my iPad, insistently checking to see what new craziness Trump and his colleagues have offered us today, gauging wether the tension from Korea and their bombs makes it prudent to review my grade school instructions on “duck-and-cover”, steeling my self for the latest jolt of violence and terrorism, the scathing attacks from people who claim to follow the same God and Christ that I do – you get the idea. My soul struggles to not be afraid, let alone just downcast, or even angry.

Robert Cardinal Sarah wrote, “Without the moorings of silence, life is depressing movement, a puny little boat ceaselessly tossed by the violence of the waves. Silence is the outer wall that we must build in order to protect an interior edifice.” Yes, I feel like “a puny little boat ceaselessly tossed.” I need a retreat, if even for a moment..

Since our country changed, in November of 2016, the noise level has only increased. There are many who are pointing out the inconsistency of claiming to be a Christian and yet overlooking the character and message of Trump, Jerry Falwell Jr. even proclaims that Christians finally have the right kind of person in the White House, a concept that eludes me at best and more often drives me to grief. I will let others expand and proclaim that message. What I seek is peace and some calm in my soul.

For many years I have risen most days at 5.00am, yes that is early and honestly I have always been an early riser. Yet I get up early for one reason, it is then that I can find a bit of quiet in an otherwise noisy day. Settling in with a cup of tea, my Bible, and my Book of Common Prayer (BCP), ushers in a time of silence. The peace of the morning hour makes it easier to silence the noise in my head, to shut out the concerns, the task list, the news. It is a quite harbor for this puny boat on a raging sea. Morning Prayer provides the framework for a time of peace.

Prayer is something I have had to learn anew over the years.  Though I know many would protest, prayer in my past was another word for requests. Yes, I heard all of the messages explaining that prayer should include worship, and thanksgiving, as well as petitions. However, the experience of praying with many other Christians in many different settings revealed the true nature of their, and thus my, perception of prayer – it was asking God for something. Even the books on prayer place a lot of emphasis on “answered prayer.” I always found the phrase, “God always answers prayer, sometimes he just says ‘No’,” to be simplistic and frustrating – prayer is like asking a parent for something, and hoping we get our way, no wonder it most often left me empty.

When I learned that there were prayers being said by millions of Christians around the world every day, the same prayers at the same times, that was exciting. Prayer was not a solitary experience, even if done alone. As I explored these Morning Prayers from the BCP I realized that “Prayer” included reading psalms, as prayers and worship, it included reading the same Scriptures that others around the world were reading that day, and yes, prayers of request. Some of the prayers were “Common” not as being “ordinary” but as “in common” – read in common amongst many believers around the world – there is a unity of prayer here that is untouched by geography, race, denomination. There is a sense that in all of the noise of the world I can find silence for a bit, and be connected for a bit with others who are also focusing more on things eternal than things momentary.

The Morning Prayers allow me to enter into the silence so needed to reflect on God, and to be quiet enough to actually hear what he has to say. It becomes a part of that “outer wall that protects an interior edifice.” For a few minutes the rantings and ravings are blocked out, the fears set aside, the anger and accusations are forgotten. The message of “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” gives a bit of hope that maybe one day all of this will pass and there will be some sense to it all.

He stilled the storm to a whisper;

the waves of the sea were hushed.

They were glad when it grew calm,

and he guided them to their desired haven. (Ps 107:29-30)

Posted by: Terry | July 30, 2017

Thoughts on age and purpose

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St. Anthony of Padu, Patron of the aged

With another birthday approaching all to quickly, aging rears its annual gray head. Long gone are the days when I relished turning thirty, certain that it would give me a credibility unavailable to the capriciousness of one’s twenties. In those idealistic years I told everyone about the mountains I would climb, and the direction my life would take, mixed with the unflappable certainty of youth.

After I reached fifty, Dad would often say, “You are catching up with me.” I would remind him that actually he was getting older too, and he is. My dad is 92, mom is 87, my father-in-law is 92. They each wear the years in a way that is uniquely theirs. Dad does pretty well, though he is tired, not surprising after all these years. Mom is the most active of all, she still teaches Bible studies and sends out cards to people at church. Tom, my father-in-law, has dementia and sleeps a lot.

I have watched as the years have changed them and taken away some of their vitality, mobility, and, in the case of my father-in-law, mental acuity. Then of course there is the reality that dad is right, I am catching up with them; I see my own frailty and brevity reflected in them, and it can be concerning.

In the Gospels we have an account of a man who was blind from birth. The Disciples asked the question we all would have asked, “Who’s fault is it?” They wanted to know who sinned, who was being punished. Like the friends of Job, they assumed that blessings or lack of blessings where the result of doing right or wrong. Yet the message of Job is that we rarely get to see what is on God’s agenda until after the fact and that there is not always someone to blame.

How long we live makes little sense, people die too young while in perfect health, others live to a robust old age – President Carter still works on Habitat for Humanity houses in his 90’s – My dad is tired, and Tom has dementia. Futilely we look for some reason.

Jesus responded to the Disciples with, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but it is so the glory of God may be revealed.” Could there be a nugget of wisdom to help grasp the dilemma of old age buried here? I think yes, even though in the case of the blind man there are still so many hard issues beyond our topic at hand.

We know nothing, other than legend, about the man’s life after he regained his sight. It would be safe to say he became a follower of the Messiah. A follower of Jesus, of course, but to grasp the significance of this we must focus on the Messiah. Without that context it is a story about a man dealing with a life of blindness just so God could get some publicity for healing him, that would make God petty. Jesus, the Messiah, was the culmination of all of Israel’s history, the turning point in God’s restoring the world. He was announcing and beginning a new kingdom and new way of living, keeping this perspective  in mind is critical.

When John the Baptist was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus to inquire if he was the Messiah. Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” The blind man, after years of darkness, was part of  God revealing to the world that everything was about to change. He had a role to play in this eternal drama, his sight was a picture to us all that the years of darkness are over, light has come.

We have all been called to a vocation of loving God and demonstrating that love by serving and loving others. I have learned this past year how even someone who has dementia has a purpose. This has played out in the relationship between my wife and her father.

If we are to serve and love then there must be people to serve and love; love needs an object to love. For many reasons Tricia has shouldered much of the managing of her fathers care. In so doing she has been an inspiration to me, and I hope others, as she demonstrates the love of Christ in her everyday commitments and time; she lives out her vocation every time she visits Tom, every time she takes him to the doctor, every time she meets with his care givers, every time she feeds him his lunch. The Messiah said, “when you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.” Tom has a purpose, the glory of God is revealed when Tricia and the rest of the family take time to show their love to him.

This of course has not been easy, there are challenges weekly. In those challenges I am sure that Tricia’s faith, my faith, and  others has grown. We learn the most about God and his grace in times of difficulty. We learn to take our eyes off of ourselves and look to others who need us. Thanks to Tom, my faith has grown as I see Tricia love him – another purpose.

Purpose is more than activity and intellect, if we trust, as Job learned to trust, and Abraham knew, “The God of creation will do right.” Then each and everyone of us will have a purpose as long as God keeps us on this earth.

This gives me hope and most importantly increases my respect for the elderly, in whatever state their health has them. Jesus said that to follow him we must deny self, stop making our own interests predominate. All of life should be about giving up myself and serving others. It is hard to grasp that being unable to care for one’s self is the ultimate of denying self, as it goes against our ingrained obsession for independence and control. To think I can have a purpose in life when I can do nothing is still a bit beyond my grasp, at the same time there is comfort knowing our value does not diminish as our strength ebbs.

My father encourages me everyday, when he goes to Verizon to get his phone and iPad working, in the quotes I use in most every seminar I teach. My mother is a constant inspiration, she started in the dust bowl of Nebraska, became a x-ray tech, then was the project manager on the second breast cancer research study ever done, today she leads bible studies with groups so well that they grow in attendance then they split and form new groups.

Father, as we age, as our strength diminishes, give us faith and assurance of your love, and the grace to allow others to serve you through their love and service to us. Give us the humility to accept from others what they are called to give and accept their help with graciousness and return love back to them as we are able.

Posted by: Terry | July 20, 2017

The first conviction and prayer

The first recorded prayer in scripture sets the tone for all of our dealings with God and with life. Abraham prayed, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is Just?” This is a confession of the conviction that marked Abraham’s faith. The issue was settled in his mind and heart, God will do what is right. This is the foundation of all true faith.

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray this aright when we like Abraham pray that we are convinced that the judge of all the earth will do what is just. This faith is not limited by our own reason or understanding, but anchored in the character of God.

Daily the world around us tests our resolve and faith. Most of what we read in the news, what we experience in life, makes no sense, it is unfair and it brings pain and suffering to people and creation. We are enticed to slide into despair. Faith confidently prays, “Shall not (and he shall) the judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Oh that we could pray the prayer of Francis Xavier, “I do not love you because you can give me paradise or condemn me to hell, but because you are my God.”

Posted by: Terry | June 2, 2017

Sanity found in Eucharist, Prayer, and tea

5143372942_4932a9a8ed_zFor my part, I know that all the great moments of my day are found in the incomparable hours that I spend on my knees in darkness before the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am, so to speak, swallowed up in God and surrounded on all sides by his presence. I would like to belong now to God alone and to plunge into the purity of his love. And yet, I can tell how poor I am, how far from loving the Lord as he loved me to the point of giving himself up for me. Robert Cardinal Sarah

When I was young, in my teens, we “took communion” once a month. It was a solemn time where the deacons would join the pastor at the front of the church to pass out silver plates with minuscule bites of unleavened bread, followed with silver trays that held small glasses of grape juice. We were admonished to seek out any dark hidden sin that would make us unworthy to partake of the body and blood of Christ, though there was never an iota of insinuation that the cracker and grape juice were anything more than a dim representation  of the actual body and blood of Christ. Then, when the elements were distributed, the pastor instructed us to eat, and drink, in remembrance of Jesus.

I have warm memories of those times, yet they held none of the wonder that is expressed in Robert Cardinal Sarah’s quote above. Yet over a period of almost forty years I was transformed. It started in Port Angeles, Washington when I was the youth pastor at the Independent Bible Church. I began to explore the symbolism of the bread and the wine, what Christ’s broken flesh and shed blood really meant. Most of my old Bibles have charts written in them breaking this all down. For many years I would meditate on these ideas when we took communion, it helped give the observance substance.

These last few years it has become powerfully clear to me that for most of the the church’s history Communion, or Eucharist, was the heart of worship. Christians from the earliest days were obsessed with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior so they renewed their faith and commitment weekly, even daily for many. Most of my life the center of worship was the sermon.

This last year I have started to go to a  church where the Sacrifice of Jesus my Lord and Savior is celebrated each Sunday. It has transformed my life. Sundays, and the quiet moments each day when I am immersed in the Daily Prayers, are the “great moments of my day.” For a brief time the craziness of the world with its hate and fear are shut out. It is me with God, my Father, my Savior, my comforting Holy Spirit,all having tea together. If only for a moment there is sanity in the world.

Posted by: Terry | May 31, 2017

My bet on God, Annunciation Day

Man’s hope and strength lie in his silent wager on God.” Robert Cardinal Sarah

My neck hurts a bit this morning as it often does, and the ten flights of stairs I climbed last night because the elevator was out caused my knees to remind me they are not as young as they once were. The inescapable truth is that our bodies are frail and will not last forever. Looking out the window of my hotel this morning, just off of Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, there are buildings decaying, reminding me that the constructions we build will also crumble one day. 

BUT! Today is Annunciation of the Lord day, the day when Christians remember and reflect on the angels announcement to Mary that she would become the Mother of God by bearing the savior, the long promised Messiah.

God had not forgotten his creation, his promise of physically coming to Earth to begin the process of setting things right was beginning. My hope, like that of Mary and of all the faithful in Israel, is that I am betting that what God started he will finish, and I am confident it is a sure bet. My aches and pains, my frustrations and fears, all scream at me to give it up. Yet there is this quiet, strong whisper that says, “God is here,” he came to Mary, she delivered a child, he lived and died, but he overcame the pain and death of this world, and now he lives to complete what he started.

Thinking of Mary, and the many saints that have gone before us, as well as the saints God has brought into my life, I am encouraged to wager on God.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

On this Day of Visitation I want this to be my song. With an aching neck, a shoulder that acts up for no reason, and achy knees. In a world where the morning news is ever more depressing, I am going to bet on God, and find strength and hope in a sure bet. For as Paul wrote:
“We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Posted by: Terry | April 13, 2017

Easter Triduum begins – my Holy Week so far

2348016316_e001d55790_zLast Sunday, Mo. Cynthia observed that the needs and state of the world have resulted in many of us developing “compassion fatigue.” We feel overwhelmed and even small when confronted with all that needs doing, frustrated at the things that seem impossible to change. Her advice was to become immersed in Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection; let the message of the Cross bring comfort, motivation, and direction for how we face the real world that we live in. So what have I learned so far this week.

Monday’s reading was from Philippines, “That I may know him… I press on… to take hold of that to which I was called.”

Our identification with Christ through baptism is our Exodus and entry in to the Kingdom of God; we are freed from the bondage, the journey begins. “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son…” The Episcopalian phrase “Living in our baptism” makes sense. Baptism is the physical expression of our faith, it makes us part of the people of God. Now life is about living out God’s Kingdom each day – to press on, to reach for that which we were called for.

The Aorist tense in Greek does not have a clear equivalent in English. In its simplest concept it means an event that happened at a point in time with the effect carrying on into the future. When it comes to our relationship with God it is a wonderful concept: my Baptism with Christ places me in his kingdom once and for all, there is peace and security there. I am part of the family, brothers and sisters with Christ and with a common Father. The danger is that for many of is that once we enter the family we grab a chair and sit down, on our best behavior of course, but just waiting for the end when we spend eternity with God.

Paul said, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it…” When the Israelites were freed from the bondage in Egypt they had quite a journey ahead of them before they got to the promised land. When we enter the family of God we begin a journey to know Christ and to influence our world by living in our Baptism. I am reminded this Holy Week that everyday is a step toward taking hold of that to which I was called. Every act of love, every moment in prayer and meditation, every encouraging word, my failures and frustrations, all in little ways reveal Jesus to me and to the world, I get to know him a bit better.

Tuesday’s reading, “He will transform our lowly bodies so that we will be like his glorious body.”

My thoughts immediately went to the frustration that Paul expressed in Romans 7, “Who will free me from the body of this death?” I may be a full fledged member of God’s family and Kingdom, yet so often I fall short of all that I should be. My hope is to one day be freed from this body of death, it will be glory. On that day we will finally reach and grasp that which we are called for. Thankfully we are promised that this hope does not disappoint. So on those dark days when I fail, or when I am overwhelmed at the world, it is good to be reminded that one day it will all change, we will be like him, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday’s reading, Psalm 55 ended with, “But as for me, I trust in you.” And Jeremiah 17, “Heal me and I shall be healed… for you are the one I praise.”

What a thread, pressing on to know Christ, the hope of transformation, the promise of healing – all dependent on the one we praise and trust, the Lord. “How you pray is how you live.”

What I have pondered this Holy week is that this journey to know Christ is critically dependent on my daily time of prayer. The order of prayer that includes Praise from the Psalms, Lessons from Scripture, then Prayers common to other Christians as well as prayers from my own needs and the needs of others.

The remedy for compassion fatigue, is the daily application of the passion and resurrection of Christ.

Posted by: Terry | April 11, 2017

From Baptist to Episcopal

The last post introduced many of the thoughts that led me to consider changing churches, this one hopefully makes it more clear.

IMG_1268How did a good Conservative Baptist, Scofield toting, boy like me end up at an Episcopal church? It’s a fair question. So for the sake of friends and family who may think I have lost it, I give you a glimpse into my mind and journey so far. These questions rarely have simplistic answers, nor is there one defining moment that redirects a person. Looking back I find seeds that were planted which germinated over time.

There are three broad attractions to the Anglican/Episcopal Community:

  1. Participatory-communal worship
  2. God-centered worship
  3. It’s old

Let me explain.

Participatory-communal worship

About 5 years ago I became intrigued with the Book of Common Prayer. Growing up and for most of my adult life this was a document to be avoided, even scorned. Liturgy, Eucharist, Daily Office – these after all were Roman Catholic sounding words and we all knew they were heresy by association. What struck me first was that millions of Christians around the world were reading and meditating on the same passages of scripture at the same time – i liked that idea, there was a connection with Christians all over the world, a bit of unity. I began reading the passages for the day most every morning, like many others were doing that same morning. I found there bit of the unity, and instead of haphazard reading, a pattern.

This lack of unity among believers has plagued me since I was in my 20’s. Jesus prayed for unity in his priestly prayer, he said that unity would be the mark of his church. Yet there was little unity in the church I knew. There was of course the Reformation, which divided the church into multiple branches, which continued to branch into over 33,000 denominations, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia – not a lot of unity.

With the Reformation came the concept that each Christian should and could read the Bible themselves and understand it on their own, a noble and cherished treasure. Soon the Renaissance motto, expressed by Protagorus, “Man is the measure of all things,” led well-meaning people away from depending on the Bible and the church for understanding, to their own personal understanding of what the Bible meant; “What it means to me.” So certain we became in our interpretations that we split off from those who had the “incorrect” views and formed a new denomination, splintering the unity along the way.

For most of my life, my response to the question, “Are they a Christian?” was to subtly find out what their doctrinal statement was, there were boxes that had to be checked off regarding specific teachings, prayers prayed, etc. The simple message, the Scriptural message, expressed so clearly by Jesus Christ, “Who do you say that I am?” was almost a second thought.

It seemed that many Christians I knew defined Christianity more by check-boxes on a doctrinal list than they did faith in the Messiah. They even had great discussions of what is true faith, what is saving faith, faith became intellectual and ultimately divisive. Sadly, in recent years political issues have been added to the list.

The Anglican/Episcopalian view is that we find unity in how we worship, while allowing for discussion and difference on non-essentials; unity of belief is found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Within this community John Stott, that great Evangelical teacher, NT Wright, a quite different New Testament Scholar, and Rowan Williams, retired Archbishop of Canterbury, can all worship in unity, while allowing for discussion and acceptance of a wide range of thought. Personally, my convictions of foundational doctrines has not changed much, but I no longer feel the need to exclude those who do not completely think as I do.

This last Palm Sunday, while at church, it went through my mind that millions of other Christians were observing this day in a similar fashion. I was part of something bigger, part of a community of believers connected in the words and prayers we were praying.

While the worship, often called prayers, is communal or common, meaning shared with those in the local church and with other churches around the world, it is also participatory. In the church I attended for the last almost 20 years, and in the churches I visited over those years, what was called worship changed.

The debate was often “traditional vs. contemporary” worship. It was really not about worship at all, it was about style and taste in music, thus the arguments usually fell along age lines. Yet while the battle was raging something more decaying took place.

When I think back to my teens then on through my mid to late 40’s the focal point of the worship service was the sermon. There was congregational singing, led by a song leader, accompanied by piano and/or an organ. You could hear the congregation around you sing, this was pretty much the extent of your participation in the service, but it was a bit of participation. Some churches would have a scripture reading that was read as a congregation, many of the unused hymn books in our pews today have responsive readings in the back.

Most churches had some sort of an altar, a place for prayer. Often people were invited to come to the alter for prayer during the service, a bit of participation. Monthly we “took communion” so there was a bit of participation in what was happening. But then it was time for the sermon.

As the taste in music debate raged many churches moved church growth higher and higher on their list of priorities. Many then began to re-brand the product. One mega-church guru said that churches should offer the style of music that people listen to on the radio, and traditional images and patterns should be modified or even replaced. Clearly this is not the place for an in-depth discussion of all that happened, but here is what I have seen in my experience. Song leaders were replaced by worship leaders. I have known some wonderful folks bearing that job title, whose hearts are in the right place, yet most are not leading worship, nor are they song leaders. What we have now are polished music groups performing well rehearsed songs while the audience sings along. Can a person worship is this situation, absolutely. Yet it is not really participation in the service. The amplified instruments drown out the voices of the worshipers, that connection we had when we sang as a congregation is not the same, whether it is in the church, or in the days when I led singing around a campfire. For the most part when I go to a church service these days I feel I am being sang at, not singing with.

The alters have been removed, public prayer for the needs of the congregation are not regular, so the limited participation we had in prayer is leaving as well. At my most recent church I can’t remember the last truly pastoral prayer. When there is prayer it is usually a time for individuals to pray, not praying as a body. We seem to have forgotten that the Lord’s Prayer is plural, not individual; “Our Father… give us our daily bread… forgive us… lead us not.” Part of the purpose in coming together is to pray together.

Over the years I came to feel that my church experience was to be sung at, then talked at. What I find at the Episcopal church is that I am part of most all of the service. We read together, we pray together, it feels more like a body of people who are there to worship together. It is Participatory and communal.

God centered worship

Every Sunday at the Episcopal Church I hear more about God, Jesus the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit than I rarely ever did in the last 10-15 years or so.

Over the years of attending church in Seattle, and visiting churches in Oregon, the music and the messages have become more and more “me focused.” The songs that are simple expressions of the wonder of God and his person are few, many which attempt praise, usually include me in them. Even the lyrics “In the stars His handiwork I see…” are part of a song titled “He’s Everything to Me.” And the central message is not unbridled proclamation of God’s person, it is the question, “What is that to me?”

Sermons are directed at changing me – with Jesus as a role model here is how you should live, and if you do life may be hard but its still your best option. Many of the messages at many of the churches I have visited over the years are well delivered self-help themes with Biblical texts for legitimacy.

The basic pattern of the Episcopal worship is: Praise, lessons, prayer, Eucharist.

Praise takes the form of congregational singing and the reading of a Psalm. The lessons come in two parts. First readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospels. Then the sermon which is drawn from the readings. The sermon is usually shorter, but with just enough to cause you to think.

The climax of the morning is Eucharist, Lord’s Supper – not the sermon. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is central, and our renewing each week our commitment to him. Jesus is central for who he is and what he did. Webber writes in his book, The Canterbury Trail,

“As I meditate on my worship experience in the Episcopal tradition, I find that I am drawn to it because it is so thoroughly evangelical. I have always confessed Christ as the central person of human history and of my life. Yet, until my worship life was oriented around an ordered experience of Christ not only on a weekly , but on a yearly pattern, I was unable to express in a concrete way my personal commitment to Christ.”

For years I looked for good preaching, now I am refreshed each week by a practical expression of what Paul wrote, “participation in the blood of Christ… participation in the body of Christ.” And, “whenever you do this you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

It is old

In 1909 the Scofield Reference Bible was published. Its format was innovative: the first to be published since the Geneva Bible with notes alongside the text, as well as cross-referencing passages to the rest of the Bible. It was the work of Cyrus I. Scofield, who built on the work of John Darby (1800-1882).

This bible became the best selling study Bible of all time and the doctrines and teachings of Scofield and Darby are the foundation of much of what we would call Evangelical today. Yet many of the ideas are not old, they were developed in the 1800’s. Again this is not the place for in-depth analysis, but it was my realization of this that led to my interest in what the early church wrote and how they worshipped. It made sense that I could learn from those who lived and worshiped within a few years of Christ’s life and death, the Apostles, and early leaders.

The relevant lesson for this article, is that the way Anglican’s, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Episcopalians worship is most similar to the way the early church worshiped. We have evidence from the 1st century of forms of liturgy with similarities to what we do each Sunday at the Episcopalian church.

Much of the early worship was developed by Jewish Christians who adapted Synagogue elements into their worship of Christ. Even in our New Testament there are passages that most theologians conclude were an early liturgy. The 95th Psalm has been used as an invitation to worship from a very early date, in the 6th century Benedict of Nursia organized patterns of worship and prayer, he said Psalm 95 should be used even daily, as many still do to this date; his inclusion was simply documenting what had been in practice for many years.

Yes  the form of worship has of course changed over the years, but the essentials of: Psalms, Lessons, Eucharist, and prayer are the same. A Christian from 200 would not feel that out of place at the church I attend on Sundays. I feel connected to the ancients each Sunday.

Conclusion

The essentials of my lifetime of faith are firmly in place. Moving to an Episcopal Church has not required that I give up any of the important doctrines, it has given me a glimpse of what it means to have a unity apart from checklists, and to experience what it means to worship.

We are a diverse group that cares about the world and each other. There are differences in application and methods, but there is unity in that we are worshipping together, the differences are God’s to work out and judge, I like that. Arguing and debate never worked anyway, never changed people, it just fractured and caused hurt.

To all my brothers and sisters that are in other denominations there is nothing here intended to be critical, Jesus is Lord.  But in the Episcopal Community I have found a place where I am and active part of the worship, where I do what I am not sure I ever really did before, actually worship – genuinely considering and ascribing to God, who he is and what he does – purposely “Hallow your name.” There is a unity in that I am participating in ancient traditions along with millions of others doing the same; we are joined in spirit. I am humbled weekly contemplating my savior, and moved to recommit and renew my faith in him.

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