Thursday, December 21, 2017

They came. They saw. They went back praising and glorifying God.

How do you react when you have good news to share with other people? Certainly, I shocked a couple of family members when I went in the house a different way because that way had been close, damaged for some time. I showed them that the new way was there and ready. There was shock and awe. There was celebration and a little bit of anger that they weren’t clued in. This is not unlike what we have happening through the story of the birth of Jesus and God coming near to us; in a way that we could understand. It took a lot of work and setting up for things to happen – centuries of people following God, failing and falling; of being disobedient and petulant. It all started with Abraham, and the call and life of one man and his family.

The trip of one family – a husband and wife to the man’s ancestral home was down right difficult. Walking about 75 miles over difficult roads while face weather and potential robbers, growling people because they too are on their way somewhere else – families, businesses, lives and countries in chaos all because Rome wants its taxes. When the young couple found their destination in Bethlehem (House of Bread), the Town of David, there was no room for them to stay in the Inn. So, they found a place in a stable, bedded down for the night, and made things as comfortable as possible.

That’s when it all happened, Suddenly, boom! An angel came and announced that the baby was born. But it was not to someone powerful, or to a king or queen that the angel went. It was to the poor and the outcast shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem – message: Boom! Glorious bright light during a time real darkness and then a message from Gabriel and the Message Department: Do not be afraid! To you in a certain place, at this moment a child is born for you and to you this sign will be given to you – he will be found in manger wrapped in rags and laying in a manger.  Like a cymbal crash, the birth of the timeless Son of God into human history happens, shattering the rhythm and hum of our meager existence. 

The shepherds left their flocks in the care of God to see the sight that had been proclaimed to them. They went. They saw. They worshipped and gave praise to God as they returned to their lives and livelihoods. It is what I hope for you this Christmas – you came, you saw Christ and you go home praising God, ready to come back and do that again and again.

Not everyone reacts to the news of the birth of Jesus with joy.  Some where amazed and terrified like the shepherds. There are those who would be baffled like the people of Bethlehem at the commotion. There are some who are amazed and become angry like Herod the Great.

The greatest thing that can happen in this moment is not a change in position or in place – but rather a change in spirit. Like Old Ebeneezer Scrooge, who after he ponderous and more than slightly disturbing night, is overjoyed to discover he has not missed Christmas but rather that he gets to enjoy it as a redeemed man and the chance to make mankind is his own business.

We too need to come to the manger to see the Child, to enjoy his presence and then to return to our lives changes people – different because we have encountered the Christ and because of that we can never be the same again. The mundanity of human life is now beside upon by the entrance of its Creator.

This message comes not just to the shepherds, to the people of a small town or even to a young couple, it also comes to us. To you is born this day, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.  You will find him if you seek him. The wise always do.  We must come. We must see and we must add our voices to the myriads who are praising God for the wonders he is doing. 


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Are you interuptible this Christmas?

People ask me all the time, “Why does Christmas have to be so busy?” – There is good news and bad news in that answer and it is the same answer: It’s not Christmas – yet. We have until sundown today before the feast begins.
We live in a society that does not like to wait. We are always in a rush to get somewhere, do something or whatever. We are Content with a drive through meal that take 30 to 90 seconds to deliver rather than being patient for 25 minutes and getting the steak and potato. Moreover, we live in a society that must have information on a screen for it to be true – won’t be believed otherwise. This has led to a breakdown in communications not only with each other but also with God. It reduces the ability of Christians because we are not limited to 280 characters of poor English and slang.
Therefore, if there is nothing else that gets said here in this moment let it be only the name of Jesus. He is the visible image of the invisible God. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1.15-20)

And I want to dispel some misinformation about Christmas – it was not taken from the pagans and made a Christian feast. Christmas or the Mass of Christ was celebrated by the Church 50 years before the pagan feasts of Saturnalia began, The pagan feast was started because of the desire to go back to what was in the Empire. The Christian faith was the faith of the Empire and thus the Celebration of Christmas which started some time between the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 was rampant wherever the Empire was.

The question I want us to consider is a simple one – are you willing to have your Christmas interrupted this year, by this same Jesus? After all it is his day. Christ is Christmas. Will you allow him in and will you make room for him?
The message to Mary was important – her day, her upcoming marriage and her whole life was disrupted. There is always the possibility that Good News must start out and heard as bad news and then must be lived to become Good News. Mary was troubled and afraid when saw heard the Angel and his greeting – What do you mean God has been watching me? What does God want with me?
God had been watching Mary and wanted her to be a part of his plan, his mission to redeem the world. God wanted her to allow her heart and mind, her life to be open to the silliness of the possibilities that he wanted to work in her life. He indicated that he was near her and watching her and would continue to do so – her life had found favour because of the way in which she lived it – towards God and the kingdom.
She is told that she would conceive and give birth to a son who would be in the line of David and would be King over David’s people for ever.
I want you to know that there is a counter point to get us to see how remarkable this woman and her faith was – Zachariah the Priest and his old wife Elizabeth. If you read though the start of Luke’s narratives of the birth you will notice the differences between the old priest and the young woman. Mary was poor, about to be married, with little knowledge compared to a priest. What she did have in Joseph was a good man who like her, believed in God and was willing to listen to God through his dreams, like the Joseph of old.
If you read through the Old Testament, God now and again causes women who had been “barren” or childless to conceive a child – a son. The thing I want to point out to you is that in each case that I can think of, this was to women who were mothers of the ancestors of the line of David and therefore enabled the coming of the Messiah.
Zachariah was older, long married to a faithful wife. But despite his knowledge and experience as a priest, he was not willing to believe that God could do what he wanted to do. He chose to believe that he and the wife were about to wither and die on the vine and there was nothing that could convince him otherwise. Therefore, he spent nine months quiet, unable to speak because he did not believe. It was not until he said that his wife was right and that the boy’s name was his tongue loosed and he praised God for what he was doing.
We look even now for Jesus to come again the purpose of Advent these days and for God to restore things to the way that they were at first – in the Garden. We call for God to come down to fix the broken, to free those who are bound and to find that which has been lost. To deal with the adversaries of the people and the threats that had been made against the people. We want God to come down and sort things out because of the devastations that are happening across the world. We are dirty, despair and naked.
Jesus’ coming to us is about renewing the hope that we place in God for this very thing – to honour the prayer that we pray as churches in this town and across this nation – your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Don’t be afraid of what is coming – be ready for him when he does. Allow your Christmas to be interruptible that God might make know his favour for you and show you what you are going to be lead to do so see prayer answered that his kingdom will come. Don’t be afraid – Believe. Don’t be fearful – take courage and stand firm on what you believe. Don’t run away – come and participate in what it is that God is doing. In doing so we discover what we believe and even more importantly that God believes in us and is watching and encourage us to keep going and to keep doing.
As we participate in drawing in the kingdom to this world, as we learn to stand and to walk with God, we encounter God more deeply – and in doing so find the courage to do the silly, or even the outrageous (by the world’s standards) thing so that others may come to believe and to participate in God and his mission.
The dynamics of divine grace are such that it is not just for those moments that we need faith and to be great, grace is for life that is lived in between the moments that need to be lived. Miracles will come to the unsuspecting. Restoration will be given to those who are desolate. And blessing will be bestowed on those who believe and participate in what God is doing to redeem this world. We don’t have it all worked out. We must be ready and prepared to follow where the Spirit leads, to say, “Yes, Lord” and to be led in the ways that we need to go. Remember, God’s work, done God’s way, will not lack God’s supply.”
Remember, God is watching you and you are in his favour. Don’t be afraid of what’s happening next – be ready for him who is coming to you. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

We are filled with joy because of what God has done

I was listening recently to Bishop Tom Wright on YouTube, who was talking about the use of Scripture in worship and why it matters. He basic case was that we need to know and understand the basic narrative of the Bible, so that we can understand what it is that God is doing in this world and more so, so that we can understand what it is that God is saying to us. Without that, we do not understand what God is doing and how we are to respond to God and his mission in this world. Wright suggests that we need to be like children who go up to a shop window and press our noses hard against the glass to see what is going on and know the bigger picture.

I want to tie this together with the Christmastide (The feast and season of Christmas) for it will soon be upon us again with all the usual complications. There will be the usual complaining about credit card debit; about how commercial Christmas has gotten and how there aren’t any good modern Christmas songs anymore, forcing one to go back to the old days and listen to Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Perry Como. In the days ahead, we will express a desire for the days when Christmas was more real and simply better. It is all too common this time of year. Isn’t it weird that those times we long for, are the times when we were kids?

In contemplating the words of Bishop Wright along with the year that has been and the words of the Scriptures for Sunday, there was a line in the Psalm this week that captured my eye and then mind that I want to share a bit about with you:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. – Psalm 126.1-3

We don’t often put the whole story together to see what it is that God is doing where Christmas is concerned. I need to ask, what great thing has good done for you lately? What kinds of things do you see God doing and how are you responding to them and participating in them? The Bible opens for us as human beings, vision of the creation that was in the time of its infancy, and then the fall of humanity and God’s work to bring about the new life in the new creation. Scripture reminds of the fact that while sin is an issue and God in Jesus deals with that, the real issue is who or what we have at the centre of our lives, personally and collectively. If it is not Jesus Christ, then what idol are we holding on to? We need to recognize that God is speaking to each and to all of us. We need to spend more time in the Bible and to allow the Spirit to speak to us so that we can increasingly live more of it. The Bible is so much more than the recorded heroic acts of a few people who are, from our perspective long since dead in a society that is, compared to us, relatively primitive.

Pressing our noses to the glass, we can see how things used to be and, also to see how things will be when the new life in the new creation finally comes. We started in the Garden with a close relationship with God and with each other: we were creative and building community until the Fall. But know we can also see the new city with the new Life where we will be the royal priesthood and God will be our God. He will be the Temple.

Taking time to read Scripture in worship, as Wright points out, is the Christian equivalent of the burning bush on Mt. Sinai or the pillars of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea. Reading the Bible is the invocation of the people of God into presence of God almighty so that we might remember and celebrate the mighty acts of salvation that God has done over the centuries, and that in doing so, he has saved us, and given us the joy we celebrate. Reading the Scriptures allows us to enter and to inhabit our story which is God’s own Gospel. And in living into what the Scriptures teach us, we can see and know what idols we are hanging onto so that we can rid ourselves of them. Allowing for idols in our lives degrades our worship and messes up our lives, personally and corporately.

So, if God has done great things for those who have believed in the past and is undertaking for us in the present, is he going to stop? Will he suddenly abandon us because he has had enough? Did he not use Abram, so that the faith of one man is shown to be more powerful than the rage of all the nations put together? Didn’t God lead his people out of bondage in Egypt into the Land he promised them. Did he not tabernacle at the Temple? Did he not punish the people for their idolatry and disobedience, sending them into exile? Did he not say, ‘Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days?” Has he not restored, time and again the fortunes of his own people? Does this not encourage, even compel us to pray, knowing that God will answer? Does not our future with God arrive as a gift in a manger? Will we not proclaim all that God has to others so that they will receive and participate in it?

In sending Jesus to us, God has done this great thing for us and we are filled with joy at what God is doing. Thanks be to God!



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Hairy Mantle of John the Prophet

It takes time for a plan to come together. God had been planning for some time but now was the time to act. The Gospel this week (Mark 1.18) tells us that his Gospel is the foundation of Good News for the entire earth. Why? Because Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God has come to us; the timeless Son of God enters human history. God took the opportunity to enter human history to affect our exodus back to him through himself. And why is this Good News? Because it is what we were created for – to know God and to enjoy him forever. Jesus’ coming is the beginning of the shinning of the resurrection light into human existence. Jesus is going to be revealed as the Christ, the Son of the living God by who he is and what he does.

Jesus is here for us and to draw us back to the Father is news that needs to be shared because it is a big deal. We are coming to the Feast of the Nativity or the Feast of the Incarnation – better known as Mass of Christ or Christmas. How do we let people know that there is something important that is going to happen and that it is not fake news?

Consider John the Baptist – he came to do two simple but powerful things: to baptize people in preparation of the revelation of the Christ (Messiah) and to proclaim the need for people to get back to God because the kingdom was coming to them and was very near. It is through Jesus that we will learn to know and call God, “Father”. Jesus will reveal his own relationship as a Father-Son relationship. He will reveal God as “Father, Son and Spirit”. Jesus will call people to follow him in discipleship – to undergo a baptism not just of cleansing but also being drench in pain and suffering. Jesus is going to call everyone he meets to repentance and to faith because the kingdom of God is coming near to them. John proclamation was a call, a demand for people to return to God so that they could be led back to him.

It should be made clear that confession of sin both in public and in private was common in First Century Judaism. Jews were well acquainted with purity law as and baptism could happen anytime a person wanted.  Those converting to Judaism were baptized only once for conversion – not unlike Christian baptism which is imposed once, for the forgiveness of sins. Historian Josephus once pointed out that “God is very easily reconciled to those who confess and repent” There is a need to know the Truth in the Christian faith and then to live it. Faith and repentance are at the core of who we are as people of God.

People when from all over the South of Israel to hear John preach and to be baptized in response to what they were hearing. Why? Because they were getting ready for the kingdom and for something else that is important for the Church, even today: revival. What did they go out to see and to hear? What God was asking of him. When I went to General Synod the first time, more than 25 years ago now, the Synod was covered by both the Church and secular media because people wanted to hear what God was saying. They may have disagreed with what was being said but they were still interested in what needed to be heard. The people of John’s day heard a message that called them to immediate repentance and faith in God because God was coming to them. People responded to that because they became aware of the fact that they were separated from God and wanted to reconnect. People needed God because they desired hope and were searching for something that the religious leaders of the day could not offer them: renewal and revival. The time was right for revival in the Land. People were hungering and thirsting for God and what God could do for them.

We are called to proclaim the Good news too – calling people to repentance and to faith because the King and his kingdom are coming to them. Like John, we are not bound by our surroundings. People will respond when they are called. We need to live what we preach then and preach what we live. We must do both because faith without works is dead and works without faith are empty gestures. And just as importantly we need to proclaim the kingdom with power. It is not necessarily doing the extraordinary thing every day but rather with extraordinary love, hope and trust in God.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come soon. 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What time is it? Do you know what time it is in Heaven?

Maybe you remember when we were kids and we played a game called, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” it was a straight forward game: one was chosen to be the Wolf while boundaries were set out for the sheep or the chickens had to run from one side of the area to the other; one safe line to the other. Each time there was to be movement, the sheep would call out, “what time is it, Mr. Wolf?” the wolf would give out different times on the clock until he or she was ready to pounce. Then suddenly, the wolf would call out, “Supper time!” and the sheep (or chickens) would scatter to get to safety – those who were caught, would become wolves themselves. The process would last until there was one sheep left who in turn would then become the wolf.

The Gospel this week (Mark 13.24-37, Year B) reminded me of playing this game because the Sheep, or in this case, the Church, does not know what time it is; not the angels and not even the Son knows. But if you inspect the lesson closer, there is much said about time. The lesson uses phrases like, “In those days,” and “now learn this lesson” or even, “Keep watch for he may come suddenly.”

This lesson is a passage about apocalyptic eschatology. That is, it is a revelation concerning the end of days. There is an appearance of a divine figure in great glory, there are signs in all the creation (not just on earth, but also the sin, the moon, the stars, the planets that he is coming and there is a time of judgment and punishment or reward, depending on how things shook out. But this is not how things play out in Mark. First, Jesus comes after there are signs that he is coming as King. There are happenings in the world that are signing the presence and the coming of the King with his kingdom. And just as important, when he comes, those who are found to be faithful will be gathered from the four corners of the earth, wherever they may be, into the kingdom. There is no mention in Mark of there being judgment, just of the elect being gathered up into the kingdom.

So it might be necessary to remember that this Gospel and this lesson are written for those who are under going persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. It was written during systematic persecution of the empire, by the Emperor. It is written to people who need to hear that what they are going through is going to be worth it. People are looking for vindication and for salvation so that things will be made alright again. After all, most of the Christmas movies that are made these days are made about “saving” Christmas and it has to do with saving the Fat Man so that everything gets under the tree which in turn, makes everyone happy. Is that not a cheap parody of what Christmas is really all about? Is the Good News of Advent about the coming of the King to the manger and making his way to another tree that is truly important? Is Advent not about the King coming to his people and collecting them up so that they can join him in the life and the creation that is to come?

So what Advent good for then? Are we not like those servants while the Master is away on business? Every servant has his and her place in the household and they are keeping one eye on the work they are doing and one eye on what God is doing – are they not going about the of the Master? The thing is, we must in the meantime, use our talents and our time productively. We need to bear fruit for the sake of the kingdom and those around us. We don’t know when we are finished. We don’t know when Jesus will be back. We don’t even know what time it is in the kingdom of God! All we can do is what has been asked, keep on mind on our tasks and our eyes on the clouds, looking for him who will come on the four winds. Pray that he comes soon and scoops us up to go with him.



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

King Jesus comes soon!

There once was a man who constantly prayed to God, asking for a vision of both heaven and hell. He prayed for years for this vision until, finally, after much persistence God chose to grant him one. He was offered the decision as to which he would see first. He chose to go and see hell first. An angel of the Lord led him down several corridors to a door which was large and heavy.  The angel opened it with strain and a groaning creak. It the room the light was low but it was easy enough to discern the massive feast laid out for those who were gathered around the tables.

This is when the man notice that the people gathered around the tables with all kinds of food, but the people were in an emaciated state. They had spoons with very long handles to eat with, but no one was able to feed themselves because of the length of the handles. Several people that the old man could see were in a mess from trying unsuccessfully feed themselves. This was a painful sight to behold and after a few moments the man asked the Angel to take him away from there.

Next the old man was led up several passages to another wide door, that thought it was large, it swung easily on its hinges and the angel led the man into a brightly lit room like the one that he had just been in. There were many people around the tables, but unlike the first, the people were laughing and feasting and enjoying everything on the tables and each other’s company. The difference? Though they had the same long handled spoons, they were willing and able to fee each other.

The Gospel this week (Matthew 25.31-46) continues the apocalyptic eschatological considerations of the parables about the kingdom of heaven. “Apocalyptic” refers to a revelation and “eschatological” is the study of the end times. Moreover, this Sunday is the end of the Christian liturgical year which makes this Sunday, “Reign” Sunday – the reign of Christ the King. The Gospel talks about the Son of Man coming with angels and executing his judgment on the nations of the earth, separating people into one of two categories: sheep and goats. And it seems clear that those being judge are confused buy God’s justice. The Son of Man does not judge on the words that that been spoken or on the thoughts and beliefs that a person holds, but on how the person has lived out his or her life. Rewards is given to those who have sought to serve his/her neighbours without thought of reward. Such people are given mercy out of grace not because the Giver is in a position of indebtedness to the one who has offered Charity to another.

The parable of the sheep and the goats shows us how the Church can relate to the nations of the earth about how God treats them at the time of judgement. The Church can recognize that Jesus is Lord and because Jesus lives, he rules. Jesus is Lord over all: every ruler, power, principality and authority. Jesus’ name is higher than any other name that is given under heaven, not just in the present but also in the age that is to come. There is no one in heaven or on earth who is Christ’s equal. The Father is putting everything under Christ’s authority and he is the head of his Body, the Church. We as members of his Body are engaged to live in his power – the same power that raised Jesus from death – and under his authority. We are called to live in him and for him as we look to that Final Day. He is our hope and he keeps us with him because the last Days of this world, will be terrible days (2nd Timothy 3)

I know many people who still worry about hell and committing an unforgivable sin, putting them into hell. There are some things that I think I need to say as a pastor and priest about that: (1) if you are worried that you have done something that is totally unforgiveable, don’t worry, you haven’t yet. The fact that you are not dulled yet to God’s holiness and perfection is a good thing. But you do need to repent of whatever it is that is separating you from God and from us. Yes, it means that things are going to change in your life but that means things can get better for you and for us (2) Whatever else hell is or is not, it is this: it will be where people are, and the presence of God is not; and the people there in that place, will know that they are without God.”; (3) There will be few surprises about who will be in heaven, but there will be more surprises over who is not.

This week is a time to celebrate the hope that the return of Jesus, King Jesus comes soon. Not as the baby who came to the manger 2000 plus years ago, but as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Hope that, we being found faithful and mature in him, we will live with him and for him in the life that is to come.


“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, 'with backward mutters of dissevering power' --or else not.” ― C.S. LewisThe Great Divorce

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Obedience is never an accident

As I have been sitting here considering this week’s Gospel (Matthew 25.14-30) and what it has to say to us for our every day living. I have to say it is an ‘ouchy’ lesson but not because it is hard but because we must choose to do it.  What is the lesson? It is about learning to obey and being obedient and diligent in your life which includes the things of the Spirit. Obedience isn’t all that hard, until it runs counter to what we what or believe. That’s when we get confronted about the path that we are walking and are called to make changes. Changing always meets resistance. Even when the need for change is acknowledge and deemed necessary, there is fear over loss and retribution for what is happening.

So how do we learn to obey, even when we are afraid and facing change? Well, firstly, we need to learn to receive from God. I have a friend who is fond of saying, “It is more blessed to receive than to give.” And you are reading this and thinking that he has it backwards! I think he is right. We need to acknowledge that all the things in our lives that we possess have been given to us by God. Our hands were empty, and God filled them. This means that we must move the Church then from a theology of scarcity to a theology of abundance. What does this look like? It looks like standing with a bishop from South Sudan in the middle of a local Wal-Mart Super store. The Bishop is lifting his hands in praise to God for how I am blessed because of all the things there are to buy in the store and for al the good things that there are in my life.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I will never look a store that same way again. I always felt intimidated by the fact that I cannot have all I want and so scurry around to buy what I can afford and get out before I spend too much. I had not realized that I was blessed to be in the presence of some much and that I can buy what I need so that my family is cared for.

The world thinks that whoever has the most toys when he dies, wins. But that is not what we think as Christians. It would b easy to think that if you have more, you are blessed. Thing is, the more you have, the better you had better be at using it for the benefit of others and for the kingdom. Obedience is faithfulness in action. One can claim to have the best theology in the world but if it never reaches out, never actually has a benefit and impact, of what worth is it to anyone else, including God?

And if there is fear in obeying because it is hard, one needs to keep in mind that there is also joy. There are too many who wish to serve God and the Gospel on their own terms. It is about what they can accumulate for themselves rather than focusing on what God has for them and doing as he asks. All that God asks as I understand it, is that we be faithful to him with what we have been given. The amount is not as important as the faithfulness is. Out of the faithfulness, comes fruitfulness (or offspring). Churches that are being obedient to the word are led into joy and joy causes growth and growth leads into new ministries and new kinds of service which lead into opportunities for new people to follow and be obedient and revive the circle all over again.

So how do we start this circle? Here are some of the basics that we need to move into:
1.    We must encourage and build up one another and maintain it as an ongoing work.
2.   We need to respect our leadership and pray for them regularly. They deserve respect because they are leading and are providing for the life and unity of the mission of the Church.
3.   Be patient with everyone and suffer with those who need compassion because we are the Body of Christ and we are all God’s people. Warn the idle, strengthen the fearful, assist the weak and the young in the faith.
4.     Allow no retaliations for wrong doing. Learn to forgive and then to forget. Choose to be kind to everyone.
5.   Choose always to be joyful. Choose to pray unceasingly – in just with words but also in the attitude you carry in life. In every circumstance, choose to give thanks to God. Some blessings have strange names.
6.    Strive to life a common life that focuses on Christ by serving the Father in the strength given by the Spirit.
7.     Christ will keep you blameless to the day of judgement through the call he has placed on your life. He will bring to completion the good work he has begun in you and he will be faithful to his promises to you; only it will be in his way and on his time. We must place our trust and confidence in God so that he can help us to work out our salvation, and fear and trembling maybe required.

Remember that it is more than just learning to trust God for what is to come, it is also realizing that he is trusting us to do what he has asked us to do so that the kingdom can come. Being faithful is not an accident but is continually a choice we must all make. Being faithful allows God to give us honour as we bring him glory and draw in his kingdom with him.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Don't miss the party!

The Gospel this week is about the coming Groom and waiting for him (Matthew 25.1-13). So, I have been thinking about being prepared and what it would mean to miss the wedding of all eternity – life with Christ in the kingdom forever. There is one thing that is evident. No one likes to miss out on a good party because such events create memories and joy within the family and community.  No one wants to be left out. But as I consider this, we have t be prepared, be ready and be watching and listening for the moment when we must put out our lights, trim the wicks, fill the lamps and relight them so that we can be on the move when the Groom is ready to go. We are here to serve him in his time of need, not because we are all dressed up to be seen by others.

It is important to consider the fact that there are ten maidens – the very basis for community within the Jewish faith. Five are foolish and unobservant while five more consider the task and prepare accordingly. Everyone is a part of the community, whether wise or foolish. Some are ready for what is being asked of them while others are not. Some think about what God wants while others judge the situation to be about them and what they think matters. It is not about the doctrine they hold. It is not about the programs and projects they run from their buildings.

As Anglicans, how often do we worry about when Jesus is coming back and when will he get here? Do you expect him soon? Do we live like it, both as individuals and as a community? Christmas is coming, and my boys can tell you how many more days (or sleeps) there are until Christmas Day – right down to the hour. How would we live if we knew when Jesus was coming back? Would we live any differently until the last minute? Would we wait until it is almost time and then try and change as much as we could on the last day?

Faith and hope are meant to be lived everyday both by the individual believer and by the Church so that others can see and believe it. After all, in our current culture, no one will care about what you believe and know until they know and believe that you care about them. In the years that I have been pastoring and replanting churches, this has been a basic truth. People, before they will try returning to faith need to know that there is hope for them and for the community to which they are endeavouring to enter and re-enter.  From our perspective, it might look like Christ is delaying his return. We might be getting tired of doing good and waiting. We might be like the Thessalonians who think that Jesus has come, and we have missed him and need reassurance.

As human beings, we all need hope which is why as Church, as a community we need each other. We await not just the Bridegroom. We are waiting for that moment when faithlessness, pain, suffering, sin and death will finally come to an end. The old order will pass away and the new will come. We wait for that moment when every tear will be wiped away for the last time. We look for the realization of our hope and faith because it will exist in the presence of divine mercy and justice.

As a Church community, we live to do more than state that we believe in God: even the devil can do that and he shudders – we are together to proclaim the hope that we have in Christ and that he is coming to us to usher in his kingdom, whether we are ready or not. We need to live as faithful witnesses to all that God is doing and be ready to light the lamps and move as God directs. Does this excite or scare you? It should because I know I have some of both.

Let us take the time to be ready, to be prepared and to watch for his coming. Don’t miss the party! Maranatha!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Blessed

The Gospel this week is familiar, Matthew 5.1-12, also know as the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Jesus saw the crowds of people coming to him. He called to them and they came to him and he taught them. It might be worth noting that he sat down to teach them. This was a defining moment for Jesus and those who followed him. This was to be core teaching and Jesus took a position that told the people around him that they need to get this down. Plus, he ascended the mountain – as Moses did to meet with God. Everyone understood that this was going to be a meeting with the holy because of where Jesus went and how he was teaching them.

Jesus calls them the makairos, the blessed; the fortunate ones. Being blessed by God is not dependant on how we feel or think – it is what God does for us, regardless of how we feel and what we think. It is not even dependant upon our circumstances. God knows and understands our lives and the circumstances in which we find ourselves and we are blessed by him right where we are. It is amazing that we are blessed often before we know why or what for.

And it is important to recognized that we are blessed for the precise reason that we are headed to the future. A future with God and others who have followed Christ where there will be no more weeping and tears. There will be no more death, only life. We are being fed, led and enabled to work to get to the kingdom of heaven. After all, where else can you go and get yourself a meal that is going to last you an entire week? Being blessed is more than getting what you hoped for – there is an action dimension. We are blessed for a purpose – to be a blessing to others that they might turn and walk into the kingdom. When we are blessed, we seek God. We follow his Word, we seek after righteousness and choose to be made holy.

This does not mean that the Christian life, is easy. It is not. It is the cruciform life. We are called to come to Christ, deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow him. We are called to live out Christ’s death and resurrection on a regular and sometimes daily basis. We need to recognize that we are called to help make the old new, new again. We are asked to participate in raising up the fallen and await that moment when all things will be brought to perfection in Jesus on the last Day.  Being a blessed people comes at a cost because we see and know what the world around us is like. We know all to well the brokenness and sin, the pain and death in this life. We are meant to be the peacemakers, the meek and those who are righteous that others can see a new way and a new life. Blessing necessitates action for the sake of others. Otherwise we are at risk of being complicit in how the world continues.

As a brother priest once pointed out to me, some of our blessings have the strangest names: cancer, meningitis, loneliness, conflict, separation. You could add to that list easily. The Good News is that God is at work in this world at this moment, to bring in his kingdom. He is at work in our lives and through our circumstances to bring about his will and his kingdom.  He is not dependant on your circumstances but rather can use them to draw others to you and to himself. The kingdom is alive in our midst and we are God’s demonstration model for the rest of the world as to how we live this life and into eternity. We are the living conduit through which God blesses.

This means that we are fortunate. We are blessed, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Maybe I can sum up this way. I recently spent some time with Bishop Wilson Kamani of the Diocese of Ibba. He need to fix his watch because it has come apart in the wrist band. So my wife and I took him to Wal-Mart to see if we could find what was needed. In looking for the parts, two important things happened: (1) we discovered that we could fix the watch and (2) Bishop opened my eyes to see things as he did. He had never seen a store like things and he was constantly lifting up his hands and giving thanks to God for this marvelous store where you could find some many things under one roof. “You are so blessed!” he kept telling me. I had to reconsider my attitude towards the circumstances in which I was living and look at it from a fresh perspective. It requires a change in attitude- to start thinking and living with an attitude of altitude – to see things as Jesus does and to know that we are blessed, even when we don’t feel or think that we are.

As St. Paul points out to the Corinthian Church: To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours… (1 Corinthians 1.2 ESV)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Learning to love and to lve the command

Do you remember learning the 10 Commandments when you were in Sunday School? Do you remember them all? The Gospel this week (Matthew 22.34-46) reduces them down to two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. The love that Jesus speaks of, is more than a friendly affection you might have for a person you like, it is a commitment of devotion that is directed by the will and can be commanded as a duty towards neighbour.  John’s Gospel takes it one further. Jesus said “A new command I give to you: love one another as I has loved you” and “By this (sign) all will know you (the Church) by your love (agapaos), one for another.” According to John there is only one command to love as we have been loved by Christ.

That means we are invited to come to him and to surrender and die with him that others might rise. I had a professor in theological College who would repeatedly remind us, you need to participate in Christ every day – which means you must learn to die and to rise with him.

That is different from dealing with hot button debates and trying to grow congregations with one method or another. When I consider the life of the early Church and the ways in which they grew there were some simple common elements: preaching Christ and him crucified, willingness to love and serve, and the power of the Holy Spirit among them, in terms of sings and wonders. There maybe others, but these traits come through loud and clear. The ancient world wanted to hear what Christ had to say. It was not because they agreed with the message necessarily, but because it was important stuff and they needed to hear it. Some people responded while others rejected the message for various reasons.

Our society today will listen when the Gospel is preached, everyone will react in the same manner. The problem for the Church is that we often compromise the message in some way because we do not what to be offensive. Consequently, we come of sounding wimpy and like we are participating in the culture but are sounding worse than the culture. Therefore, the world is not paying attention to the Church most of the time – because we have little to nothing to say to them.

So maybe it is time that we started seeing people around us as Jesus sees them – with heavenly eyes. Are we willing to seek, see and serve Christ in their lives so that they can see Christ in us? So often we have been hung up on being popular in the community and having great clergy who run great programs so that we can be impressive to other Christians. It has never been about being popular. In fact, the Church grows best when it is unpopular and is persecuted - as the Book of Acts and others in the New Testament witness to. We are called to be faithful to the message of the Gospel (repent and believe because the kingdom of God is coming near to them) and to see and love people as God does.

How do we do that? We go and try to serve them first, and then come to God in prayer – so that we can be enabled to pray correctly for them and then go back and serve them so more. We can only be the people of God when we allow ourselves to be conformed to the word of God and allow for God the Holy Spirit to transform us by his love. We are only competent for ministry after we have been in Christ’s presence and had our feet washed by him. People will respond to the message when they have experience the love of Christ in us. But this means that we are going to have to get up close and personal. We are going to have to work to have an impact on people that will open the possibilities of drawing them into the fellowship that is the Church.

Take the chance this week to genuinely love someone as Jesus does and see what happens.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It's a trap!

There is a meme that is popular that came out of a line from one of my favourite movies: “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” … The phrase? “It’s a trap!” it is the fateful words of Admiral Akbar when the Rebel Alliance discovers the evil Emperor and his mindless minions have set yet another trap to snuff out the uprising of those who are on the light side of the Force.

The Gospel this week (Matthew 22.15-22) works out the same way. The Pharisees and the Herodians get together to try to set a trap for Jesus so that they can make accusations to the Imperial Government, accusing Jesus if he says, “Don’t pay your taxes” and ready to cry foul is he says. “Pay your taxes” and discredit Jesus with the population because he supports the occupation. In a way, it is almost comical that these to groups, who are so diametrically opposed to each other would consider working together, except that they have a common need or desire to get rid of this rabbi from the north – he is rocking the boat and shifting the balance of the status quo. Politics and even more so the pursuit of power and the maintenance of position makes for strange bedfellows indeed.

It does beg a certain question though: what do we value most? What do we have in our lives that is truly ours? My possessions are all in the house and in the office and they are of this world which means that they are truly not mine. So, do you know what belongs to who? We are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. But do we know which is which? At the very least there needs to be in each of our lives, a reckoning that makes our priorities clear. We need to know what we have and to recognize, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thing own have we given thee.” In other words, there is nothing in our lives that we have not been given. We need to acknowledge to God and to ourselves that our hands are empty, and God fills them. God knows what we need before we ask and our ignorance in asking. Yet, there is still the need for us to ask that we might be aware of what it is that needs to be done. Remember, where prayer is focused, power falls.

In our society these days, there is a crisis in faith. We have made up our minds that we must have faith in our ability to have faith rather than having faith in the God who is wondrous and who sent Jesus to be our rescue. It makes faith into a psychological condition and therefore, to be self idolatrous because it is based in what we think and can believe in rather in a miraculous God. The Good News is that the Gospel is not about us bout about Christ and who he is to us and for us. We need to become reenchanted with the Good News of the Gospel and then remissioned by the Spirit that we would give all that we can to mission in terms of time, talent and treasure as well all that we are to God. The Church needs to preach Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead because we are valued by him.

Jesus recognized their scheme and asks them why they bother – and then springs the trap, leaving the people amazed – and only able to walk away from the encounter empty handed.

Where does this leave us? Well let’s start with something simple: if you are in Christ, inform your face! Don’t be downtrodden or dower in your expressions – smile and let others see your joy. Remember that we are made to thrive in joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, and where anything is possible. Plus, work hard to make difficult to get to hell from where you are. Pray for the revival in the life of the Church. Remember that revival is not just about people being in Church but about people coming back to the Lord so that the Church can be remissioned. The mission is the responsibility of the Church and the clergy are responsible for the care and feeding of the flock. We need to be reenchanted by the Scriptures that we would faithfully proclaim him to the community around us and they see a faithful reflect of him in us. And lastly, we can figure out our teddy bears and where they are that we might serve others and see them come to Christ. This will allow us to put others first and to show that we are about our neighbour and God.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rediscovering our mission

Because this is Synod weekend, and because this Bishop is doing some things, he chose the Gospel lesson for the Eucharist this week: Matthew 28.16-20. It says, Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The focus of our weekend meeting (called Synod, which, aptly enough means meeting in Greek) is the renewal of the mission and life of our diocese for the next three years. There is a lot that is going to happen, but it all focuses on the mission of God across our diocese (Northern Alberta). I have written about power and authority on numerous occasions over the past server years. All I will say here is that it is clear from this Great Commission is that the power and authority that we have is not ours. It belongs to Jesus Christ because the Father has given it to him. Therefore, what he gives to us, is for a purpose. We are to go, and we are to go and do in his name, under his authority in his power and to do so for the sake of those whom he means to serve. This determines the shape of our mission. It is not about the liturgy, it is not about the colour of the nursery, it is not about the curtains in the rectory living room. It is about seeking out those whom Jesus wants us to serve and living with them come what may. We do this so that they can see something of Jesus in us and be drawn to him.

In the years that I have been in ministry (27 years almost), there have been a lot of good people, doing good things and leading good programs that support the life of the institutional Church. There has been a lot of good teaching in the face of opposition and work done to make Christ known. What has been missing by in large though is what I like to call “The Boom” – people getting their eyesight, their hearing, their walk and dance back; the dead rising again to life. This is what draws people to Jesus; they need to see and hear the Boom.

Therefore, it is important for us to tell our story: from Scripture and from our own personal experiences. We must be faithful in telling others what God has done in terms of his wonders of old and be a demonstration of how that is still true. Our living of our lives personally and corporately means the Incarnation continues from within the life of the Church through the Holy Spirit. In this way, God’s mission becomes our mission.

We need to go and in the going, in the living of life, to make disciples. There will be special moments for baptism, for confirmation and for a few of us, even ordination. What is common to all of us, is a necessity of living a life in the Spirit that is faithful and fruitful for a lifetime, wherever we are, whatever we are called to. We cannot become the people God calls us to be in 12 weeks worth of Confirmation lessons as foundational as such classes might be. Catechesis and discipleship are important all along the way. Until the people we have witnessed coming to faith are beside us, doing what we are doing and are mature in the faith, we cannot claim to have faithfully discipled anyone.

A life offered to another in service, to enable them to be the person in Christ that they were created to be, makes heaven and earth quiver! And remember, Christ is with us all in the going, the teaching and the living. And that is our mission.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

its all garbage, I tell you!

The following lessons is for Sunday coming and is the New Testament Lesson - the words of St. Paul that wrote to the Church at Philippi:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:4b-14)

What have you given up and what has been taken away from you, so that you can hold on to Christ? I find it exciting and discombobulating at the same time. I have lived all over the country and I have people that are not only friends but some as close as blood. I lament occasionally that I have not been closer to family because of the call in my life to be who and what I am. There are things in my life that I know that are my trophies. I use them to feel better about things only to realize that they can take me away from God and what God has for me. Trophies can become personal idols which make me think that its all about me. Paul points out that whatever it is that he hung onto, to make great and powerful in his own eyes and that of others, it gone down the toilet. It has been relegated to the sewers because of the hold the Christ Jesus had on him.

Paul also reminds us that there are things and people that will hang on to us, try to keep us from moving on, going forward. There is going to be pain and suffering in taking the time and energy to proclaim the Gospel Gaining momentum in living a faithful Christian life, is going to create and multiply the things in your life that are wanting to take you away from the one thing that we need to hold onto. Moreover, we are called to move into the pain and sufferings of Jesus and move through them with him. Knowing Jesus means that we need to understand what it is that he has done for us by showing us himself in the lives of other people and what he is doing in and for them.

Proclaiming a message that is unpopular is not a career move we might make currently. Telling the people something they do not want to hear is hazardous to the messenger’s health – always has been. It will get you mistreated, beaten, stoned, and even killed. Fortunately, where Jesus is concerned, our mistakes are not fatal and our deaths are not final. Death is not the final word in the Gospel.

We are God’s people, on the move into God’s mission. We move by God’s power into that mission. The question God asks each of us and all of us is, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?”

It cannot be “business as usual” anymore. Our society needs to see the Church at work under a divine commission and power, doing and saying the things that God wants done and said. Let us move forward into all that God calls us to do and do so in Jesus” name all the while letting go of our trophies and all that would slow us down and keep us back.

Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. -   Saint Teresa of Avila


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Who wants to be powerful anyway?

In the Gospel this week, Jesus’ opponents change, but the question still is, “Who is this man and where did he get the idea that he is in charge?” (Matthew 21.23-32) His opponents are the Sadducees and the Elders – the ruling class who living in Jerusalem and have authority over the people because it was given to them by the Roman Empire. These are the folks that were offended when Jesus cleansed the Temple and disrupted the on-going commerce and rota that was going on. Why had Jesus don this and who told him to where questions on the rulers’ minds.

The rulers and elders fear the general population and how they would react to Jesus and his claim that his authority came from God and so feared to act against him. At the same time, they were not willing to admit to his authority coming from heaven for the implications that would have in terms of what is would mean for the Jewish nation (province) and what it would mean for them personally. Rome would throw them out of office for failing to control the population. It would be the end of their power, control.

So, they confronted Jesus in the Temple area, hoping that he would claim openly Jesus would flat out say his power and authority were from God. For doing so would allow them to charge Jesus with blasphemy. To deal with the situation, and to avoid the obvious trap that was being laid for him, Jesus asked a counter question: “What about John? Where did his authority to preach and baptise come from? If you tell me where John got his authority from, then I will tell where I get mine from.”

It does seem obvious in this passage that fear of people, fear of loss of control, power and position, denial of heaven all lead to compromise and paralysis. The people in power down want to admit that some else might be operating under divine power and certain don’t want to empower others to remove them from their own power. Therefore, they chose not to answer Jesus’ question though making it clear where Jesus got his authority from, without saying a word.

And at this point, do you notice the difference in how power and authority are used? The ruling class use it to fortify and to penalize people. Jesus uses his power to serve so that they outcomes are different. Jesus brought people together into community. There was restoration and healing, people being realised from demonic powers, the blind receiving their sight, the deaf hear, the lame walked up right and the dead rise to life. He worked and walked to find and build relationships with the least, the last and the lost and used his power to protect and build them up not for self preservation, adulation and advancement.

These are the people who are entering the kingdom first, not the religious and the powerful. They gave little or no need of God and his help. What they have not realized yet is that they are on the wrong side of their equation. They have fallen into their own trap and displayed their own folly.
So, who do you say that Jesus is, and where do you think is power and authority comes from? What will you do with the power and authority Jesus has put in your hands?