Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of endings and beginnings

I find it interesting that when one thing comes to an end, another thing has already begun to take its place. Endings and beginnings are one in the same. And in fact as human beings, hello and goodbye as well as endings and beginnings, are the very first things that we learn to deal with. We are in such a moment as we come to the end of an episcopacy and looking toward to the start of another.

In thinking about the last few years, one of the things I have come to appreciate about the Bishop and his episcopacy, is his unwavering commitment to the Christian faith and the unity of the Christian Church. I took the time to search the internet for articles about Bishop William and his time as Bishop as I thought I might look at the highlights. I noticed as I was doing this, an interesting trend. I saw in him a passion that has remained for the Church. He noted in his last Charge to Synod (September, 2015) that he was sorry that there was little growth in the numbers of people going to Church. I think if we look carefully, we can note that there are changes going on. There is an ending of the things that were and there are new things that have taken root but have not yet come to full blossom.

For example, the work of different parishes to become more self supporting and other parishes that have had to work on maintain their clergy and their physical presence in the communities in which they are found. Under the current episcopacy, the Camp was restarted has just completed it sixth camping season. The congregation in Fort St. John has looked to revamp their physical presence by relocating the Rectory and working on building a new Church building. The Church building in Pouce Coupe was closed and sold and at the same time, it has allowed the congregation to do some work in the building in terms of greening itself, including putting solar panels on the roof to supply energy to the building and excess energy is to be sold for a profit. The Stuart – Nechako Lakes Regional Parish flourishes. Lots of work has been done in the Parish to build up ministry and community – including the Soup kitchen and food bank which are housed in the Church building in Fort St. James. We are seeing growth in Houston, Smithers, and Kitimat. The Diocese is running the “Timothy Program” training and preparing people for ministry in the Nass. Masset is serving their area with a thrift store. Even here at the Cathedral, we are moving forward and reaching out to people. A lot of work has been done on the Cathedral’s buildings: church and house. And thanks be to God, there is not a single penny of debt from any of it in the last five years!

Additionally, one of the things that the current episcopacy has taught me is how to handle conflict well. It is important for one to stand up for what one believes in. It is also equally important in how one deals with the conflicts that arise from this, and the Church being the Church there will always be conflict on how the mission of God should be best carried out. Handled rightly, it can be a source of strength and give the Church the ability to draw the disaffected and the disconnected into the Church and empower and embolden people for ministry.

As example, I would point out to you a time that Bishop William and I were at a meeting in the South and a person in that meeting said a number of uncomplimentary things, including naming people “rednecks”. The Bishop looked me back into my seat and I am grateful he did. He kept me from treating that person as he had treated us. The Bishop called me to a higher standard of life and living.

St. Paul reminds us that we are not given a spirit of fear and timidity, but of love power and self control. It is the very picture of who Jesus was in his earthly ministry. As Christians, we are filled with the Spirit and therefore are capable of showing godly use of power, displaying divine love and doing so while self disciplining ourselves so that we do not mar the witness that God’s love and power can make. We can carry on the ministry that is to come in the days ahead, even in the face of hardship, opposition and do so without shame or fear. In fact we need to continue to move boldly and with all the spiritual gifts we have in possession because God the Holy Spirit is with us and in us.

We can plan on there being opposition, hardship and suffering, as we serve Christ. False teaching, spiritual abandonment and heresy are remedied through maintaining a good training program and solid preaching for believers. The future may be hard and scary. That is part of hellos and goodbyes, of endings and beginnings. The most important thing to remember is that there is, of necessity, the need to teach and to live the faith each and every day. We need to guard the Good Deposit with everything we are and have, and to do so with the Spirit as well (2nd Timothy 1.14).

As there is an ending, so there is a beginning. May God support us all as we come to it.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Where will you live, now and in eternity?

I have been watching a lot of movies lately that have spiritual, even Christian messages to them. For example, the “God’s not dead” series, “Seven Days in Utopia”, the newest of the X-Men movies, the remake of the classic “Ben-Hur” and the most recent one,”90 minutes in Heaven”. All of them in different was explore themes that are current in society. And in particular, the movies concentrate on what happens after we die. “90 minutes in Heaven” is the true story about, Don Piper, a young successful pastor, a married man with a growing family who dies in a car accident and spends 90 minutes in heaven before a fellow pastor prays for him and the young pastor is brought back to life.  

The Gospel this week, is about two men, who have only a little in common. One man lives in a grand palace: he throws lavish parties, eats incredible meals and does so wearing fine clothes, including fine linens and purple (the sign of royalty) robes. This certain rich man must have passed by the other man in this story many times because Lazarus lived at the gate to the rich man’s estate. Lazarus had nothing to eat and his clothing was his sores which the dogs sniffed and licked because of the order coming from them. Aside from their humanity and their proximity in terms of geography, the only other thing these two men shared was death. We are not told how long there was between the time that Lazarus died and was carried to Abraham and when “Dives” died and was buried by his family and friends (Luke 16.19-31). Whether time between these deaths was long or short, makes little difference.

What is important is what we hear and how we are going to act in response to the parable that Jesus tells. I should point out that this is not a story about how to safely get from here to the bosom of Father Abraham, how to get to heaven. It is about how to live in eternity, and to live it in the here and the now.

So, let me say something important: one of the things that everyone needs to be aware of is that self satisfied, self made people never see the need for help from an outside source – much less God - until they themselves are in real trouble. Through this story, Jesus is warning those who have a lot that much is expected of them because they have been blessed. Those who have much in terms of wealth and possessions have much worry about in maintaining what they have and their possessions. In this way, our ‘stuff’ can become idols and separate us from God and from our neighbours.

But more importantly, how we handle our possessions and how we work at the relationships that we have, shows the interior of our lives and our hearts. “Dives” saw and knew the situation of Lazarus but chose not to deal with it. He had the resources, he saw the need, he heard the warnings and admonitions of the Laws of Moses and the Prophets and still “Dives” Was not moved one iota to help Lazarus. Without help and care, Lazarus dies and finds himself cared for by a “Legend of the Faith”.
When the rich man takes his place in Sheol (Hades or hell) – he sees Lazarus and starts treating him like a servant or a slave. In my mind, maybe that is a step up in status for Lazarus because in the eyes of the rich man, at least now he is paying attention to Lazarus who could potentially be useful to him. But first he asks for mercy because he is now the one in pain and suffering and he wants to be comforted by Father Abraham.
Abraham’s reply reminds of what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Plain, ““But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6.24-26 ESV)
There can be no going between you and me. We are separated by the chasm – you are where you are and there is changing or easing those circumstances. Those who are here, who would go to you and minister to your needs cannot, and you cannot get over here because you chose to be over there in life.
Still trying to deal with things and to be in control the rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent to his family, so that they did not suffer the same fate as him. “Let him warn them so that they do not enter into this awful place”
“They have all the warning they need: Moses and the Prophets,” retorts Father Abraham. “The Scriptures will tell them what to do and they need to follow the Scriptures’ commands.”
“No, Father. They will not listen to the Law and the Prophets, but if someone they knew was dead and they see him, then they will listen,” pleaded Dives.
To this supplication Abraham replied “If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, then a  man rising from the dead will not convince them either- they will never be convinced.”   
Fear is a poor motivator where faith is concerned.  And a dead man will not make the skeptic believe. The proper response to God and his Gospel is repentance.
One last thought. We are the siblings of Dives. He had brothers and maybe even sisters. Are we not them? We have Moses and the Prophets and the risen Christ (the man risen from the dead) calling us to care for the least, the last and the lost. We called to learn to live not just for that day when we find ourselves in heaven. We are drawn to God so that we might live into the life of the kingdom and do so in the here and now. We are called to open our hearts to God in worship and to humanity to have compassion for them.
So it comes down to a few simple choices – where will you live, now and in eternity? And what will it take for you to be convinced that we need to open our hearts to God and to one, genuinely caring for and sharing with one another?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Do more than survive - thrive!

The Gospel this week (Luke 16.1-13) is an interesting piece of Scripture and one that many the Church ought to spend more time with. There are two basic things that I see in the lesson: (1) where is your heart before God is and where others are concerned, and (2) how do you deal with money and possessions?

The story of the shrewd manager is the tale of a manager who was a “freeman” and who handled the affairs of his Master (kyrios). Word reached the master that the manager was not acting properly and the manager acted immediately – suspending the wayward servant and demanding an account of his dealings because he was fired. Knowing that his time was coming to an end, the manager figured out what he was going to do to survive since he could not dig for a living and would not lower himself to beg for charity from others. Instead he chose to earn the kindness and generosity of those who were in debt to both him and his master. In this way, he created a quid pro quo situation. He helped out those in debt to him but removing his commission and making them responsible for what they owed to his master. In turn they were grateful and would make room for him when he had no other place to go. Clearly the manager knew and understood how to look after himself once his job was gone.

The Scriptures has a lot of things to say about mammon. In fact, a full third of every Jesus has to say about anything, has to do with how we use money and possessions. Having them is not an issue. It is how one uses them that can become an issue. Moreover, the ways in which we use our money and our possessions, describes what is going on inside. It shows how we are hearing both the Scriptures and the Spirit. It shows what or who we worship. And in this much Jesus is very clear. There cannot be any divided loyalties were God is concerned. Money and possessions can and do lay claim to people and their lives in ways that cause them to be alienated from God. Mammon can and does compete with God for your attention. So we must choose: God or our “stuff”. Ask yourself, do you have possessions or do your possessions have you?

And while I know that this makes people uncomfortable, I think it needs to be said. One day, each and all of us are going to be called to the throne and before Christ, we are going to be asked to give an account of our lives and what we did with what we have been given. So if Jesus asks me, “So, how was it? How did things go?” the last thing I want to have to say to him is, “I survived.” It is not that I think that would make him angry, but rather it would sadden and make him cry. All of the grace, love, peace, joy and strength that he offers and I could only manage to survive. As followers and disciples of the Master, we are meant to do more than survive. We are meant thrive!

Sure, there will be crisis moments that are going to have to be handled. There will be opportunities that we will miss or worse, squander. For that there must be repentance, forgiveness and absolution. And if you want to be great in the eyes of heaven then you had best learn to give and be ready to make sacrifices because that is the economy of God’s kingdom. Giving shows the heart of God. Hoarding what has been given makes steps in the direction of idolatry.

Remember that it is more blessed to receive than to give because it is only in receiving that we have something to give; for our hands were empty, and God filled them. We need to choose how we will serve and who or what we will serve and to do so faithfully. Being a follower is not just about having faith in and loving God. It is recognizing that God has faith in us and that what we do with the opportunities that are given to us and how we serve God and neighbour day in and day out.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Can God lose something?

Have you ever wondered if God could lose something? It is a question that I have been pondering this week as I have been reading and re-reading the Gospel (Luke 15.1-10). And as Luke would have it, there is a male and a female version of this pair of dramas. The shepherd and his lost sheep and the woman who has lost one of her coins. There is a simple rhythm to both stories: loss, searching, finding, and rejoicing.

But it all starts with the religious people taking issue with Jesus and the fact that he invites people who are tax collectors (Roman Government collaborators) and publicly known sinners. Why are the religious folks upset? It is because Jesus shares his table with them and eats with them. Jesus in doing so, makes these others, who in the eyes of civilized society are unacceptable and untouchable, his equals and worse, he hosts them and treats them well. Jesus is not acting like a good rabbi should. He is not acting like a good prophet should and, if he knew God at all, would condemn these traitors and sinners for what they are. And in doing so confirm what every other bible believing person does.

So it is important to remember that God is visiting and redeeming his people and that Jesus has already told them that he has come to call sinners to God, not the righteous. Jesus has come to seek and to save that which has been lost. (Luke 19.10) To illustrate this point, Jesus tells two stories that fit this theme: one about a shepherd who has a sheep wander away and a woman who losses a coin. 

This brings me back to the idea of loss – can God lose something or someone? I think the Scriptures can answer it well, and this was one of the first pieces of Scripture that came to mind:

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139.1-18 NIV)

This tells us something about the nature of God: He allows for us to have our free will and that means that we can make choices that cause us to move away from him. Maybe someone in the church has hurt us. Maybe we think a prayer went unanswered. Maybe we haven’t be able to sense the presence of God in some time. Whatever the reason (for their may be many and varied reasons) for there being distance between you and God, ask yourself a simple question, “If God feels far away, who moved?” God constantly and consistently acts like the people in the Gospel lesson this week to search out and find those who have wandered away from him. And God searches and draws those people home – even if they leave skid marks on the ground because they dig their heals in – until he carries them in the front door and then call others in the kingdom to come and celebrate with him the return of one who is lost.

The one God brings home has to choose to surrender... that is what is powerful about the sheep around the shepherd’s neck. The shepherd draws the sheep in with this crook. The sheep gets an exam. Twigs, branches and thorns are removed from the wool. Hooves are checked and trimmed. Cuts and wounds are cleansed with wine, anointed with oil and bandaged. Then there is the walk home. Not a free ride exactly. But there is a moment for repentance, to deal with why we walked away in the first place and then he brings us home. It literally means that we are the sheep of his pasture and the people of his hand.

And you might be wondering in this about the flock that got left? They have not moved. They have had the protection of God. They have been doing their thing as they have always done. The Shepherd and the found sheep will come back because shepherds and sheep don’t live in houses.

We have gotten lost. We have gotten sick and injured. And Christ found us. He healed us and made us whole and is bring us home to the Father so that there can be celebration. I know too many Christians who think that God is using a computer to keep track of all the wrongs, mistakes and sins of their lives. We might even be angry enough to say to God, “You were gone. You never really loved me. Was I ever really yours?” Remember that Jesus came to search for and find us, that we could come home to the Father and to the celebration that awaits us. Will we surrender to the Saviour? Will we be drawn home? We cannot be lost. God knows where each and all of us are and he is coming to us.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Will you chase Jesus up the hill?

This past week my family and I made the journey to Terrace for some back to school shopping.  As we make the turn to head inland from Port Edward and make our way along the Skeena River, we pass a sign that asks drivers, “Check your gas, next gas 134 km away”. It is a beautiful drive and one that I have made many times over. But each time one makes it, there is a little sign that asks you to consider whether or not you have enough fuel on board to make it to your destination. Will you make it up the hill and make it home?

The people who followed Jesus out of that house and onto the road in the Gospel (Luke 14.25-35) must have been akin to the throngs that welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. And as he had challenged the Pharisees and the lawyers of the Law inside now he challenges those who go with him towards the city, calling on them to seriously and carefully consider whether or not they can make this journey. It is as if Jesus asks the people who are following him, “Why do you choose to follow me? You need to go home, sit down and figure out if you can do this, then come follow me.”  This reminds me of the song, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give...”

And this is important I think: Jesus is not advocating hating family, friends, possessions and even your own life. Jesus is asking for people to be utterly committed to him and to the kingdom. It is a divine demand to choose to make Jesus the centre of your life and thus the reason for which we do things. Our choices and our actions must be guided by Christ and his actions, so much so that it is part of our own person and our own nature. All the things that we have in our lives must be come subservient to what Christ wants and what Christ would have us do. Remember that serving God is perfect freedom.

So we, each of us and all of us have a choice to make: Will we bear our cross today? And please understand that this is not just accepting an idea that we need to bear with Christ, come what may. It is not an ideal that we must strive to in daily life. We must pick up the pain, the suffering, our individual crosses and walk with Christ or of necessary, chase him up the hill, dragging our crosses along. We do this not just as individuals but as a community. The implication of not doing this is simple: if we cannot let go, then we will not follow. We cannot be followers of Christ and do so on our own terms. There will be too many entanglements that will keep us from being faithful followers and will at some point cause us to reject the invitation.

Into all of this, is the issue of the follower and of the community of Christ keeping their saltiness. Keeping salt in one’s life makes a person wise. Becoming insipid make one foolish and impure. Therefore we are encouraged to guard our salty nature and stay salty. Salt in the ancient world had impurities which made it susceptible to becoming insipid. The picture that Jesus draws is that those who don’t protect their salt become insipid. Thus like the salt that has been allowed to be taken over by its impurities, it becomes worthless – not able to fertilize the field, not able to help the manure pile and so it is simply cast out as useless and irrelevant.

How does this apply to us? Consider well, the words of Jesus to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation:  
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3.13-22 NIV)

So we are to count the costs so that we can finish the work that we have started and we are to guard our saltiness so that we remain wise in the ways in which we walk and serve. And at the same time we need to take care that we do not confuse position or choices with mission, for when we do, we loose both.

We are we ready to have friends in low places? Are we ready to deny ourselves and take up our crosses with Christ and follow him up the hill? Are we at least ready to heat up or cool off? God calls his people to the hardest places and spaces on the battlefield. We are all on temporary assignment. Where we were a year ago is not where we are now and where we are now is not where we will be a year from now. We will be called away from high positions at tables from parties and celebrations. We will be called from the hospitals, the battlefields and other places of pain, suffering and death. Count the cost, check your fuel because home, it is still a hike from here.