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.

Posted by: Terry | March 2, 2017

A journey to participative worship

6772e74bf2ea726e0f37962e0465b3ccWhen did worshipping God become a sing-along concert with a self-help talk? Yet this is what I have observed at many churches over the last twenty-plus years.

Song leaders have been replaced with “worship leaders and bands.” The message of the songs is frequently more about “me” and my response to God than it is proclaiming the person and the grace of God. Even the songs about the work of God seem to end with “what it means to me.” The musical part of the service is well rehearsed, a polished performance with loud instruments that drown out the voices of the congregation. I miss hearing a congregation’s voice praising God for who he is, above the guitar or organ.

I do not come out of a liturgical tradition, my roots are Baptist. Yet we did have a sort of liturgy. There would be a song or two, scripture reading, prayers for the needs of the church and each other, an offering was taken, an offertory, a sermon explaining a portion of the Bible, and once a month communion or Lord’s Supper – of course in a Baptist church it was never called Eucharist.

When I moved from Baptist churches, to a Nazarene church (A long story having nothing to do with doctrine), there was a time each Sunday morning when people were invited to the alter for prayer. In both of these denominations there was a bit of interaction between the worshippers and the pastors. We actually sang the songs, now we sing along with a music group, then we were part of the music. We entered into prayer with other believers, either in our pew or at the alter. Over time congregations singing and praying together have faded away, our church finally took away the alter.

For much of the church’s history the sermon illuminated God and his work, then offered encouragement or exhortation to live a life that expressed our faith. There was regular reminders of the foundational message of the Bible: God created his world, his created people fell away, he instituted a plan to restore his creation, Jesus the Messiah was the pinnacle of that plan, there is a new people and kingdom entered into by faith, and ultimately there will be a restored creation with God dwelling with his people.

We are people “saved by grace, not our own efforts.” The Apostles and early church leaders were clear that there was a danger of leaving the good news of the Messiah and returning to a life of self-effort, embodied in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible). Following Jesus meant embracing him as Messiah then taking active participation in his kingdom, which required adopting a new vocation for our life – bringing his will on earth as it is in heaven. Following Jesus was all about glorifying the Father, just as Jesus had done while on earth.

Someplace along the way self-help has replaced the Torah as the false way of being right with God – but then again maybe they are not so different. The Torah laid out a life that must be lived to be accepted by God, his grace was implemented by living in accordance with the Torah, the Law’s, requirements, mixed with faith. Jesus recognized that human effort would always fall short, it was faith in the Messiah’s coming, his death, and resurrection that would produce right alignment with God.

If you listen to many preachers today who encourage following Jesus, their message is that patterning your life after Jesus results in a better life and that you then are members of the family of God. Following Jesus becomes a self-help program of doing all you can to live your life with Jesus as your role model. Certainly a person could not pick a better example for right living, yet following Jesus for self-improvement was never the prime directive of the New Testament.

It is this trend that caused me to wander and explore. I discovered that much of what I grew up with was not the ancient church, it was as new as the late 1800’s, embodied in the Scofield Study Bible. The early church read the  Apostle’s writings and the Scriptures to each other, they prayed together, and they celebrated the death of Christ weekly, even daily. Worship was praising God,”Hallowed be your name”,  proclaiming his person and work. Prayer was worship, thanking, praising, petitioning.

I was raised on a sort of intellectual-checklist kind of faith. The right distinctive doctrines were more important than the relationship with God. They talked about relationships, but preached theology. Theology is important, but the end is knowing God, checklists just don’t produce relationships. Study is important but not the end. It gives us substance for what we believe, but as it says in Ecclesiastes “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (NIV)

The turning point for me was when I realized what was missing in what I was hearing. Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified.” Eucharist has been the celebration and the proclamation of Christ crucified since the earliest days of the church, weekly, even daily. Christians have felt the need for constant reminding and recommitting to the death of Christ. Thinking about this I realize that from my early days as a youth pastor, 40+ years ago, I taught that there was more to Communion than just a time of remembrance and warm feelings, but that we should center on what the body and blood of Christ did, and what it means to us who call ourselves Christians.

I began to explore the denominations who’s worship made Eucharist the center or regular part of their services. That led me to discover that their liturgy focused on Praise, Reading Scripture, Prayer, and Eucharist. An added attraction was that they were praying and reading the same scriptures as millions of other Christians around the world were praying, a unity I desired.

For many years I have read the readings from the Book of Common Prayer each morning, and often the prayers for the day. There is something refreshing, comforting, to the routine. The same routine that I have experienced as I have visited liturgical churches.

I am not really sure there is a neat conclusion to this post, it is more of a progress report. Going back to concert-self-help is probably not an option. For now I continue to read, pray, and explore. I do know I feel more connected to God than I have for many years, that is refreshing, and motivating me to keep the process going.

Posted by: Terry | February 24, 2017

Coming to grips with a president I don’t like

Let me be clear, I am not happy with Donald Trump as president. He does not have the composure nor the values that I would like in a president. He has surrounded himself with many folks who’s values are diametrically opposed to mine. Over the last few weeks and months I have denounced, criticized, laughed at, and cried over the situation I see my country in. As I write this the news reports only deepen my disappointments and concerns for the direction we are taking. Yet it is time for me to align my values with my actions. So the question is: How does a professing Christian, who is faced with a president he finds offensive, respond and conduct himself?

First of all, Donald Trump IS my president. Last Monday, Presidents Day 2017, there were “Not My President” rallies. Well he is my president, I did not vote for him, Hillary did get 3 million more votes in the popular, the Electoral College system may need changing, the Russians and Comey/FBI may have influenced the election, yet according to the laws of the land Donald Trump is our president. I may not like it, but the reality is that he actually is the president.

One thing I know is that God is not surprised, over the centuries God has tolerated and even used some pretty un-godly folks, he can do that again. When all is said and done God’s ultimate plans will not be thwarted, though how Trump will fit into all that is a mystery to me.

Trump may be just what we deserve. Since the time of Nixon our nation has progressively become more and more divided. Extremes on both sides have shaped arguments and hindered any kind of moderate resolutions. It makes sense that a divisive president would emerge from a divided populace.

I don’t like it, but he is my president. Denial does not change the reality. Robert Ringer said, “Reality is the way things are, not the way I wish they were. We either use reality to our advantage or it automatically works against us.”

Since he is my president I will pray for him. Last Sunday, Mother Cynthia at St. Hilda’s church said that anyone can pray for the people they love and support, but as Christians we must follow Jesus’ example and pray for those we don’t. “Prayer is love put into action.” She said that when we pray for those we would rather hate it is us that are changed.

If anyone needs prayer it is Trump. Paul prayed for Nero, he told us to pray for our leaders as well. Notice that it was not so they would change their policies, it was so that we could live in peace. I need peace, so I will pray.

As believers in the Christ we profess that God changes people and directs circumstances. Prayer is an expression of my faith that God will in fact work his plan – so I will pray.

Next, I will not call him names, nor ridicule him. I have done this and am not proud of it. Jesus may have called the Pharisees names, but that was because they were in a position to lead people to God and instead they drove them away. When Jesus talked to Pilate at his trial leading to crucifixion he was respectful.

I must admit that I am not sure what to do with Saturday Night Live, and other political humor. A bit of humor is a good thing, yet I am sure there is a time when it is too much. I am still considering this part of name calling. At the least I personally will try to refrain from demeaning this person who is so easy to mock.

I will not resist just for the sake of resisting, I will focus on issues. I was critical of the Republicans during the term of Obama because their primary objective was to oppose anything he did. It was petty and it prevented progress. I may not like Trump as a person but if the White House proposes something that I support then I will support it. If we oppose everything just because we oppose him as a person, we lower ourselves to to the same level the Republicans were in, I don’t want to go there. I do not plan to accept and thus by default approve of everything that is said and done, I will speak out when I see what is not right or does not make sense, yet will do so with substance.

Jesus told Pilate that his kingdoms was not of this world, since I am part of his kingdom this world is not mine. I either believe that or I don’t. If I believe that, and believe that my vocation is to exhibit the characteristics of God’s kingdom, to influence the people I meet, then I must live differently. “We are ambassadors for Christ”, representing Christ in this world, for me, that is this country. Jesus accepted the harsh Roman rulers, his detractors wanted him to overthrow them, he did not. Jesus treated all with respect, he prayed, he touched people with the love of God.

I may continue to grieve at what I read, get angry and frustrated, this I know. Yet, quoting Mother Cynthia again, “Prayer is love in action.” We need love. So I pray for myself, my country, and my president.

Posted by: Terry | January 15, 2017

What’s a Christian to do?

1122832_823c3501January the 20th approaches, Inauguration Day 2017, my apprehension and uncertainty grows each day. Our 45th President was elected by a minority of the voters, at the end of the most divisive campaign in my memory, possibly in our history. A sense of angst permeates much of the country, both supporters and detractors of the new President must sense the climate of tension in our country. As one who professes faith and trust in God the Father and his son the Christ I have struggled to clarify how I should come to terms with this new chapter in our country and society.

The overriding priority is that my conduct must be true to the faith that I profess to have, and must bring glory to God. So two questions emerge: How does a person who claims to trust that God is God, and is not surprised by the current state of events, live and act? Does my conduct make God look good?

Thankfully we have records of how Christians have dealt with similar situations of political or social turmoil in the past,  some admirable and some disgraceful; considering both would be instructive for sure. Yet for now I need the simple, and more immediate guide that I find that in the familiar passage of Galatians 5.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is not law against such things.”

Regardless of what the politicians or the special interest groups do in the coming months there is no law preventing me, and other Christians, from exhibiting these evidences that we are members of a Kingdom that is not part of the world we are sojourning through.

Where we are exposed to hatred and name calling there is only one response, love. Our example is Christ: he confronted the domination and oppression of Rome with love for those he met. So must we, as we interact with those whom we may disagree with.

“The joy of the Lord is our strength.” When tempted to throw up our hands in despair the Spirit produces joy. Joy in the face of negativity has always been a characteristic of faith, it is an outward expression of an inward condition. My pendulum swings between withdrawal and sarcasm/ cynicism, both of which deny the joy that the Spirit makes available.

In turmoil we are called on to live and demonstrate peace in an un-peaceful world. Jesus said he would give us peace, but not the circumstances-dependent peace of the world, a peace produced by the conviction that God is God, along with the Spirit’s inner strength.

Patience will be difficult and required in these next few months and years. Change will not happen as quickly as I would like, if it happens at all. The urge to give up, or take matters into ones own hands will be tempting. Action when we can is responsible, peaceful protest is patient, violence and anarchy are not. We may be required to wait patiently at times; another demonstration of faith.

Kindness and generosity are rare in our society these days, or at least drowned out by vitriolic interactions on Facebook and the media. As a follower of Christ kindness and generosity demonstrate a different mindset, a different heart. We have been instructed to overcome evil with good.

When tempted to give up, the Sprit reminds us to be faithful, true to what we believe, true to others, true to God, who is faithful in his dealing with us.

Gentleness will stand out at this time when confrontation and conflict are all too prevalent. When  braggadocios proclamations and defenses of opinions are the norm, a gentle word glorifies God and exhibits our faith.

Lastly, i need self-control. The emotions right now are tender, easily enflamed, resulting in the potential for rash actions and rhetoric. God grant me the self-control to think and pray before I act.

I do not know what the near future holds, and am not sure how I fit in to it all, but I do know that one thing is required: to live in alignment with the faith I profess, and bring glory to God, both overwhelming at times. By God’s grace and the Sprits urging my prayer is that we who profess to be Christians will show a bit of God to a world so in need.

Posted by: Terry | December 21, 2016

Flapping our wings to change the world

butterflies_ufmuseumEven a casual glance at the daily news can kindle a sense of frustration, even despair. Feelings of futility easily follow: “What can one person do?” “My vote does not count.” Confronted with the pervasive injustice, inequality, and evil in the world, giving up and/or anger are logical. Where is God? What is he going to do? Why does he allow these things?

Somehow I want something big to happen, lightning to strike, the right political party to come to the rescue, new laws passed old laws changed. But it never happens, and the older I get the more I am convinced it never will. Could it be that we have it all wrong? What we need is Lorenzo’s Butterfly. Lorenzo was a meteorologist, he discovered that even miniscule differences in data that was entered in a weather model made major changes in the predicted outcome. A slight difference in wind or pressure, as slight as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, would change the course of a hurricane.

As I was praying this morning from The Book of Common Prayer, I asked, “Does it matter? Will anything change?”

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Then it hit me, God is like Lorenzo’s Butterfly. If I start praying and living this prayer every day, then I am changed. Then if I can just get one or two other people to pray the same prayer and strive to live it, and they influence one or two more people, then before long the world has changed – my prayer did make a difference.

It seems that God works one person at a time, I want God to change the world, God wants to change the world as well, but his instrument is me, and if you will join me in praying this prayer daily, and passing it on, we will make a change in the world. Enough of these small changes and the world would be a different place.

For those not familiar with The Book of Common Prayer, the title means that it is the prayers that are being prayed in common among believers. When we pray this prayer for harmony and justice we join with millions of others praying the same prayer, we are all agreeing, and the more we are in unity the more our world is affected.

So, I am asking you today, don’t just “like” this post, but commit to pray this prayer daily, live it as you can, and get one other person to pray with us. Our piece of the world will change, and individually we will be changed.

 

Posted by: Terry | December 12, 2016

Advent – My security and responsibility

Adventskranz 3. Advent

There are two songs that express my thoughts this Advent Season. The first is “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, the second is “Happy Xmas (War is over)” by John Lennon. The four Sundays of Advent are usually called: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love. We live at a time when these four are desperately needed, each of these songs speaks to the state of the world and our responsibility living in it.

Isaak Watts published “Joy to the World” in 1719, inspired by God’s promise, found in Psalm 98, to free the world from its bondage and decay, to establish a new Kingdom of justice and right. It is the most published Christmas Hymn in North America.

“Joy to the world/ the Lord is come / Let earth receive her king.” The message of the Gospels is that the long awaited Messiah, the promised King of Israel, had arrived. “The kingdom of  God is at hand” was the message of Jesus from beginning. He came to start something new, NT Wright calls it a revolution.

To a world that was in bondage as a result of ignoring God, who he is and what he does, Jesus  made the hope of freedom a reality (the true meaning of forgiveness). God was not tearing up a parking ticket, he was changing the direction of how we drive. We have hope in the world because there is a new King, who is greater than dictators or presidents. He is king now and forever – “Joy to the World the Lord IS come.” The King has begun the process to restore and set right all wrong and injustice, not in some vague apocalyptic event in the distant future, but now, everyday.

Free from the bondage of our own devices we find internal peace, peace with others, and peace with God. The enemy of peace is insecurity, the natural offspring of fear and guilt – both are defeated with the coming of the Messiah. I need not fear the future because I know who holds it, and the bondage of my guilt is gone, forgiven.

There is joy in knowing that the world changed 2000 years ago; regardless of a persons viewpoint you must acknowledge that something changed in the world that Friday that Jesus died. The stream of history that is recorded in the Bible makes it clear that the promised Messiah did come and that the world would be different. Joy is the choice to live in the reality that the present is not how things will always be, and that there is a God overseeing it all.

The coming of the Messiah-King is the ultimate expression that we are loved and accepted by God, yes he did love the world so much that he gave his Son. In him we see the Father, we learn to know him, we find release from all the entanglements that bring fear and guilt. We experience the love, the unconditional love, and that changes everything.

It is unfortunate that many fail to grasp the wonder of Jesus, Christ, Messiah, King. Even more have accepted a one-dimensional perspective of the mission of Christ that says he came to blot-out a list of bad things we have done, so that we can one day leave this world and live in heaven escaping some vague, Dante invented, fiery existence. Since the mid 1800’s much of Christianity has embraced the idea that Jesus came to manage behavior – forgive us for our past bad actions, then encourage us to try to behave ourselves until we die, or he returns. Our thin hope is that we get to live eternally in a Platonic, ether-worldly existence, playing harps and singing.

God is in the process of restoring this world so it can be the meeting place of God and his creation; this world will be our home, a restored, wonderful, Eden-like place, with God’s presence in the center. Jesus said that “As the Father is sending me, I am sending you.” We are his image on the Earth, his representatives, his face before the rest of the world. His plan is to use people to represent him, and to change the world around. Thus John Lennon’s song asks the right question.

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

His song expresses the longing of creation, groaning to have some kind of redemption and justice. Now I am sure that Lennon did not base his question on the coming of Messiah and God’s Kingdom, but he is right in asking the question that we must all ask: What have I done to promote the kingdom of God on this earth, what have I done to make it more like the Kingdom of god? What have I done to reduce conflict?

What have I done to show hope to people living in need? What have I done to promote peace? Do I choose joy in the face of despair and fear? Do I choose to love? How do I respond to those in need, to the oppressed, the trafficked, the lonely, the hungry, the poor? How do I fight injustice and prejudice? Do I reach out in love or in judgement to those who live a lifestyle that is different than mine? How do I treat the environment and its creatures, God’s creation?

Advent reminds us that the Messiah, the promised one, did in fact come. He began his kingdom, and it lives on now, and one day it will be complete. But advent reminds us that God’s instrument of change is people, living in the reality of a new Kingdom and demonstrating to the world that there is a better way, that God is working, that there is hope, peace, joy, and love.

Merry Christmas to all,

Posted by: Terry | November 24, 2016

Thankful for Hope

thNorman Rockwell and The Saturday Evening Post never were and still are not reality. The first National Proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving was made just weeks before Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, it was a plea for unity in the face of bloody conflict. We survived that conflict as a nation and a people, and I am confident we will survive the present polarization in our land. I have hope and am thankful today.

Consider:

  • Neither candidate received votes from the majority of the population. According to CNN the voter turnout was only 57.8%. That means that the presumptive president-elect (presumptive, because as I write the Electoral College has not yet voted) received votes from around 25% of the voting public, the loser just a bit more.
  • The presumptive president-elect is in the process of backpedaling or diluting many of his most offensive election promises. Racism, walls, deportations, registries, torture, xenophobia, etc. may have excited a portion of the 25% of the people that voted for him, but I am confident they do not represent the feelings and conviction of the majority of the people in this country.
  • Most of the extreme promises made will never happen as they are too entangled in laws, states rights, and other checks and balances built into the system. Our founding leaders established structures to prevent demagoguery.
  • Our history as a nation supports the reality that we rise, albeit too slowly and after the fact, to face issues and attempt building a better place. Our history is no idyllic utopia for sure, but over the 240 years we have made slow progress, but progress. We finally and painfully abolished slavery, sadly we still have a long way to go on equality of the races. Women vote, own property, and slowly approach the equality they were created for, we still have too many glass ceilings and centuries of male domination to overcome, yet we have moved a bit as a nation. I am confident the present times will rouse the good people of the land to take another step in the right direction

There are people truly afraid in our country today, I empathize with them. The danger in this year’s election process is that the extreme rhetoric of the campaign excited and emboldened some of the fringe elements in our society. Our challenge as a people will be to keep extremists on both sides from doing long term damage. Our history reveals that the true majority in this country are moderate, and that the voice of moderation will drown out the messages of hate.

Ultimately my hope comes from my complete conviction that the creator of all things, the sustainer of all things – God, Jehovah – is ultimately in control. Like David so many years ago found comfort in the face of great national and personal conflict, I too find comfort in the knowledge that though the nations rage God is working all things out for a bigger plan. David’s longing, the prophets’ predictions, the early church, and my prayer is that “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

What am I most thankful for this Thanksgiving Day? That the chaos and fear, the pain and uncertainty around me are not how it will always be. I am thankful most for the hope offered by the one who designed it all, and the one who will one day reconcile it all, judging the right and the wrong, ushering in a new age on this restored earth. “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

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