Wednesday, February 27, 2019

the end of this season and the beginning of the next

Dear Fellow Skypilots.

after considerable thought and prayer during my winter break, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for me to find something else to write about. where blogs are concerned. There are some readers who have been with me since I started writing this blog more than 10 years ago. I also know that there is a few who are using this blog as a devotional for personal use and even at public worship. I am deeply moved and gratified to know that there have been folks out there who have been reading and inwardly digesting the Scriptures with me. 

I have decided that I will write my last Skypilot blog during Holy Week 2019.

That said, I am planning a new blog about growing Anglican congregations, especially in the Canadian North and how we might reach more for the sake of Christ and his Gospel. I think I am going to call it "Hand to the Plough", to acknowledge the area in which I live now and the growth I think we can achieve in the Church if we see to working to plant and grow for the Lord.


Touching the sacred

I have noticed that there has been a drop in the readership of late and it often happens when I start talking about following Jesus as one of his disciples. Readership goes up when I talk about love and hope (hope in particular) and I think that is what the wider world is looking for. The difference is that they want it so that they can feel better about how they are living and what they are doing. The crunch comes when the Gospel and Jesus himself insists on change within a person so that they might become more like him and at the same time, help to draw the kingdom and people together. So maybe we need to understand that words have to be backed up with action as it is this week in the Gospel (Luke 9:23-43). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been proclaimed by Peter as the Messiah and Jesus has begun to teach them what that means. Jesus tells them that they are going into the City of Jerusalem, that he will be betrayed, be rejected and beaten; that he will suffer and be killed but then rise again three days later. What people need (and still need to get) is that Jesus has come, the Chosen sent by the Father, to visit and redeem his people.

Words need to be backed up by actions. Sacred words necessitate sacred action. From the witness of the disciples who were on that mountain, we see this in some simple ways. First, when they get to a spot, Jesus begins to pray. If we want to see the Church grow, then we need to be more about prayer, and we will be called to this during Lent. But prayer is more than the laundry list of issues that we push at God and expect him to do something to make our lives better. It is important to make our thoughts and needs known to God. At the same time, we need to live lives that allow us to live as though we are ready to answer to at least one or two of the things we have asked God for. Prayer is about a relationship with God and how God, through what we ask of him, changes our hearts so that we can ask things within his will and ask rightly so that prayers can be answered. As James would remind us: you have not because you don’t ask and when you do ask, you ask out the wrong motive (James 4.2-3).

This tells us that we need to spend more time in prayer not less, so that we can see God at work in the world and recognize him and what he is doing in the midst of the turmoil and tragedy of this world. It also should move us to action so that we are seeking, search and discovering what it is that God is doing, starting within our own people. Too often, too many people tend to treat the Church and its ongoing life as a hockey game. That is, they think that if they have the right people, saying the right things and doing at least a few things, then the build should be full. There is a place for what I will call “attractional ministry” to do things that will draw people to the Body of Christ. If we don’t do something to draw people in how then can we earn the possibility of speaking the Good News to them? The core of any Church’s ministry is to learn to genuinely love one another.

How often do we have people disappear for a while and then return because life is back to some sort of “normal” – I’m okay now and everything is fine. How often do we have members that leave because of some sort of illness or other kinds of circumstance that makes a person think that they are not welcome in a sacred place like this – even to go as far as thinking that God hates them? How often do we seek them out to draw them back in? It reminds me of the different times that I have had parishioners get mad with me over the years, because “the Church” did not visit. I pointed out to one lady (unsuccessfully I might add) that the Church had been looking after her: doctor, nurses, lab techs, custodial staff… she had tried to verbally box my ears for not showing up sooner because until I had been there, the Church, and therefore Christ was not present.

Christ has raised up his people, his Body to visit and redeem his people. God does visit and redeem his people. But we need to see him. We need to hear him, including when he is at prayer. Plus, we need to walk with and enable people to come to a spot where they can let go of their agendas and begin to carry their crosses and to live the dream that God has for them. Seeing and knowing Jesus – reaching out and touching him meant to make us better than happy. Touching Jesus is meant to make us whole and help us to walk with him into eternity.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

You might be blessed and headed for the kingdom

I thought I would take some time to consider this week, the idea of living in a level place. Jesus this week preaches in a “level” place (Luke 6.17-26) or maybe on a plateau which would play with the Gospel of Matthew nicely (Matthew 5-7). The reason that I am interested in a level place is because of what it would have meant to the people who were listening to and considering Luke’s Gospel as original hearers. You see, a level place is a place of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation and mourning. Jesus comes to bring the kingdom to such places in this world and to have it exist in the midst of such places.

Jesus proclaims the kingdom in level places to show that the present realities are going to change. Jesus comes to draw people to himself. You see this and hear this in the Gospel: people are coming from all over to hear, to be healed and to be rescued from evil. People are coming to Jesus so that they can be made healthy and whole. Jesus was healing and restoring them all. God is visiting and redeeming his people. The Gospel is preached so that people will now that change is coming and that life will be transformed by the coming and presence of the kingdom of God. It is a reversal of the life we know in this level place. This does not mean that life is going to be turned upside down but right side up from its inverted stance. And this is going to happen through turning the Church inside out.

Life will go from being what you can do and be in your own strength to living life from within the missional community empowered by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Which I think brings us to the idea and reality of being blessed. I think it is true to say that being blessed is not about getting what you want – though in North American culture we seem to act that way. It also is not about the absence or dismissal of trials and troubles. Being blessed enables and draws us through trials and tribulations, helping us to overcome obstacles and opposition. What we need to keep in mind is that these things are temporary – that we will come through them by the grace and strength of God. And heaven is not the place we wait for to get away from all that.

Did not Jesus himself tell his followers (which includes us) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16.33)

There is pity for those who have all that they want and desire in this life because they have not recognized that they have been blessed and not brought the resources, their time, talents and treasures to bear on the missional community so that we can proclaim together the Good News of God in Christ. Their accounts have been paid in full and they will at some point experience the emptiness that the prosecution of their personal comfort and happiness has brought them. The good news is that a person under their woeful verdict is invited to repent and return. It might not be painful and there might not be suffering in this moment but it will become evident at some point and you will have received what you wanted.

Therefore, if you discover that you are poor in spirit and you need God, you just might be headed to the kingdom. If you find that you are hungering for right relationships with God and with the people around you, you might be headed to the kingdom. And if you find yourself in an increasing state of mourning for the way life is being lived in this world, you just might be headed for the kingdom.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Launching out into deeper waters

My first visit to what has become my adopted home came in the summer of 1989. I was a Youth Delegate from the Diocese of Cariboo to General Synod 1989 in St. John's, NL. The Theme of the Synod was “Launching Out”.  While there was a lot to learn and to learn at the Synod, it was the weekend I spent in Norman’s Cove that made the impact. We passed by “Jelly bean Row” with its many brightly coloured hoses and had a nice meal at the “Flake House” in Quidi Vidi Village. But it was getting out into the smaller communities like Norman’s Cove, Chance Cove and area that I began to get a real feeling for what life was like in most of the rest of Newfoundland. And please remember that this was Newfoundland before the Cod Moratorium. There were still lots of trawlers tied up to the wharves along the Newfoundland coastline.

It should also be clear that God has a sense of humour because some years later, I married a girl from rural Newfoundland. It is where one of our sons was born and it is where I was eventually ordained deacon and priest; in a small fishing community on the eastern shores of White Bay. I share this with you to say to you that I understand fisherfolk. I have laughed and sometimes fought with them, ate and drank with them, and shared with them in their joys and sorrows. I baptized their little ones, married their young ones and buried their dead. I share this with you because I can understand what those men were thinking when Jesus showed up and wanted to make use of the boat towing along the dirty big anchor of a crowd along behind him (Luke 5:1-11). They had been working all night and nothing to show for it. Fishermen of every culture call it a “water haul”. What comes in the boat is nothing but water. Plus, the nets needed work to be mended be ready to go again the next day. It was a simple enough thing that Peter put out a little way from the shore while continuing his work with his brother while James and John continued on shore. Everyone was listening to the word of God.

One of the things that I think I need to point out, is that if you are going to listen, you will learn and know things from what you hear. And if you know things then you are prepared to act on what you know. You act on what you know so that you can be obedient to what you have been taught. Obedience is never a coincidence and it cannot be an accident. From obedience flows blessing. If you do not listen, you are not just disobedient. If you do not listen, one becomes irrelevant to the work and purpose of God. As was often said to me when I trained for ministry, “You have two ears and one mouth. Therefore, you should listen twice as much as we talk.”

Obedience means that we do what we need to do, even when it seems like the thing you are going to do is crazy. Being obedient when it seems crazy allows of the glory of God’s presence to shine through the follower and the rest of the community of the Faithful. Obedience allows the Church to go from being a group of people in loose association to being welded together in a tightly knit community. That’s what happens when the Master wants to go fishing, even knowing the conditions and the situation are right by our standards. Are we the kind of people who will follow Jesus’ lead, put out into deeper water and let down the nets for a catch? It is okay if there are grumblings and complaining, if there are questions about how God is going to make it happen, it is okay. God is not defeated by these things. It's okay, so long as we are committed to doing it. We don’t have to have the right person for a leader. We don’t have to have the right program or bible study to draw people in. What we need is the willingness to venture out into this chaotic world and throw a line to someone who wants to get into the boat – maybe even desperately wants into that boat. God will provide what we need. Then there will be an opportunity to tell them why you were there and able to affect their rescue from the water.

Often, what keeps us from going out deeper is fear. Fear of being rejected by those who need to be thrown a lifeline keeps us from getting into deeper waters. Fear of failing… of having tried before and nothing good came of it and so do not want to try again. We have fears of wanting to be liked but thinking people don’t respect or like you because you act and sound different. We carry fears of not wanting to offend people with our faith and yet know that we need to be able to share what we have.
What is the antidote? Courage! And remember courage is not the absence of fear (“fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – Psalm 111.10) but rather the ability to act in the face of it.  We need to put fear in its right place, then we are enabled to act.

In doing this, we can invite those around us to come back to God and through that, to become a part of the missional and eschatological community; to receive the Holy Spirit so that there is courage to launch out into deeper waters so that the nets can be let down and people be drawn into the Church. And we are encouraged to be ready to go with Christ – because we will be catching other people and Christ is our pilot in this process. With God, everything is possible for the Church. God is visiting and redeeming his people.

One last thought in all of this? Whatever Peter, Andrew, James and John heard, it was life-altering because it caused them to leave all that they had known for an uncertain path behind a Teacher they had come to trust. It didn’t happen all at once but certainly the overflowing boats because they listened and followed must have moved them in the direction of following.