Bishop Mark Lawrence NOT Guilty of Abandonment Of The Episcopal Church

Virtueonline writes of the Disciplinary Boards decision not to proceed with the charges against Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina.

I have not written about the situation in South Carolina during the investigation, but I was always convinced that these charges could NEVER have resulted in Bishop Lawrence’s removal. This was the National Church’s attempt to test the waters. However, they have accepted, what they have almost certainly realized all along, that to remove a sitting bishop who has (1) always said he wants to remain the Episcopal Church, even though disagreeing with the direction of the church and (2) has NEVER even hinted at any possible alternative to TEC, to be impossible without causing incredible damage to TEC.

When asked by fellow Clergy in the Diocese I now serve over the past few weeks about the situation in South Carolina I always said that there was NO chance Bishop Lawrence could be removed under these charges. That has been borne out.

Thanksgiving Sermon: Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 6-10 & Matthew 6:25-33

Our Church Plant meets in a school and so we can’t meet on Thanksgiving Day. hence our Thanksgiving Service was this morning…

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What do we remember? Why do we remember something?

Now, this will seem obvious, and it is, but there are two categories of remembrance. We tend to remember the very good times, or the very bad times. We remember the memorable – whether good or bad. We remember birthdays, anniversaries, family holidays, great events, difficult events, sad events, tragic events and those who pass away.

What is almost certain is that we tend not to remember the mundane. Do you remember what you were doing 5 days ago at 1:45pm? We do not remember much of our past week, month or year. That is because not every moment of our life becomes a memory. The word remember comes from a latin word which means to call to mind, or to re-mindful. To remember is to re-member – put pack together memories of the past. Some events of our lives are simply moments in time, we do not make a memory of every time we sit down to eat at the dinning room table. However, if one time we sat down at the dining table and the chair broke and we fell down, then a memory is formed and at some point in the future you, or more likely someone who saw this happen, will put that memory back together to remember that event.

So, we remember the memorable.

We, God’s people must cultivate the art of remembering.

We see this in our reading from Deuteronomy this morning. The key to Israel’s success is to remember. The key to the success of God’s people is the ability to remember.

Notice our reading. Israel is being prepared to enter the promised land. They have been in the desert for 40 years, miraculously preserved and they are now receiving teaching about how to live. The passage says; And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

The word for remember here means to make a memorial.

The amazing point that Deuteronomy makes is that how the Israelies remember, or make a memorial about what God HAS done for them, will show God whether they will keep his commandments in the future.

The Israelites are told that success for them in the promised land revolves around HOW THEY REMEMBER THE PAST. Because, if they have remembered the past; if they have remembered the power and majesty of God; if they have remembered the sovereignty of God which brought them out from slavery from the greatest and most powerful nation on earth at that time – the Egyptians, if they remember that then they will obey the commands of God and they will trust God for the future.

For Israel to prosper in the Promised Land requires them to remember the works and words of the Lord.

If, however, they forget these events; if they have not cultivated the art of remembrance then they will not be obedient to the Lord and they will not trust God for the future. And if they should forget the Lord and his works, well, the consequences are distasterous; And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other god’s and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish.

Which, unfortunately, is exactly what happened. Judges 2:10, speaking of the time after Joshua, Moses successor’s death, says: Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.

Remembering is the key to Israel’s future – And it’s the key to our future.

It’s the same with us today as believers in Jesus Christ.

Jesus says in the gospel reading Do not be anxious about life. Notice that it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. He does not say there will be times you might be anxious. He says DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT LIFE. Period. So, stop being anxious. Now. Jesus commands it.

Have you been anxious today? Yesterday? This week? This month?

We have disobeyed the living God.

What makes us anxious? What drives our anxiety? The main engine of anxiety is fear. Fear of the future; fear of people; fear of an event; fear of the uncertain; fear of failure; fear of shame; fear of losing; fear of death.

But Jesus says; Do not be anxious; do not fear the future; do not fear people; do not fear any event; do not fear the uncertain; do not fear shame; do not fear failure; do not fear losing and do not fear death.

How. How are we not to fear these things. How can we not fear when fear can overwhelm us like a wave in the sea. Can we control our fear? How do we do this?

We must begin by remembering.

We begin by remembering the works of God in humanity and the words of God TO humanity. We begin by remembering the ministry and life of Jesus Christ – his death and resurrection – his acsension into heaven – his promise to return. We begin by remembering the promises of God.

We begin by remembering.

How is our memory this morning? How well do we remember? How accurate is our memory?

We must cultivate the art of remembering as Christians – as followers of Jesus Christ. And remembering the RIGHT thing.

Memories can do us good and they can do us harm. Some people can be enslaved in the their past. What happened to them years ago shapes their future, making them depressed.. And for some, the good events from the past shapes their future – they are optimistic and happy.

You see we cannot force ourselves to stop being anxious. Just as someone cannot force themselves to stop being depressed. The beginning of how to stop being anxious starts with changing how we think, and what we remember.

Listen to Romans 8:5: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

We need to cultivate the art of remembering THE RIGHT THING! And we begin this process through thanksgiving.

We should begin each day with praise and thanksgiving knowing that Jesus Christ died on the cross to rescue us from the dominion of sin and to take the punishment that you and I justly and rightly deserved.

This is where our thanksgiving must begin – God’s grace has been poured out upon us – thank you Lord God!

And such thanksgiving should mean we start to become happy people. Are we grateful? Are we glad each day?

If we start to do this then we will begin to grasp and understand how it is that God can say “Do not be anxious about your life.” We will begin to realize that our God is powerful – he is truly the creator and sustainer, upholder and supreme Lord and King of the entire universe. He is the one who has defeated the devil and that the final victory will soon happen. He is the one who loves and has demonstrated this love for us beyond any doubt whatsoever.

Romans 8:1-4 says: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The question should not be “Are we anxious about anything” but HOW COULD WE EVER POSSIBLY BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING when we remember our God.

This is the point of James chapter 1. How can we be joyful in times of trial? because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

How do we stop our faith and minds being tossed about like a wave in the sea – by knowing – by remembering – by acknowledging God’s truth and his promises. V12 says: Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

We must understand that in Christ our personal pasts have been dealt with. They are now in Christ. Whatever guilt, shame, dismay, pain, hurt, anger, disappointment, fear or tragedy that has happened to you is now covered by the blood of Christ – it has been forgiven and it is over with. To be in Christ is to know that OUR past can never hold us or enslave us again. As Christian’ we must not be remembering our past anymore, but we remember HIS past and that we are now in HIM.

If we are not beginning and living each day remembering what Jesus has done for us – remembering the promises of God – asking the Holy Spirit to walk with us in that remembrance then we will not live as we should live – in the hope of the future to come. The hope of the future is rooted in the remembrance of God, his word and his actions in human history.

Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanksgiving, and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts by William Webb

This is probably one of the most fascinating books I have read in a while. The topic of corporal punishment is a big one with both the pro & anti smacking lobby’s pretty much entrenched in their positions. Webb seemingly takes on the pro smacking group in a very aggressive way at the beginning of the book. His argument is that while the ‘two-smack’ on the buttocks proponents are trying to uphold discipline without abusing the child, their claim that their position is biblical is false. Webb spends the first chapter showing that the biblical position of corporal punishment bears NO resemblance to the ‘two-smack’ on the buttocks approach. In fact, to hold a biblical position would require far more violence with no age restriction, striking on the back and sides with the intention of marking.

For a brief moment you actually think Webb may endorse such an approach. But he does not. His point is that he AGREES with the two-smack proponents, but that they should not claim that they follow scripture. On the contrary, to hold the biblical position is to NOT do what the scriptures literally say!! Webb’s approach is called the redemptive movement approach. He argues that to understand scripture you need to know it’s historical & cultural context. In other words, when you realize the uncontrolled violence which was allowed and often practiced then the biblical directives become redemptive as they seek to place boundaries in a culture without boundaries. Webb writes: “The forty lashes of Deut 25:1-3 must be understood against it’s ancient social context, which included beatings of up to 200 lashes or strokes, open wounds, bodily mutilations and other forms of torture.” So the two-smack proponents are, in Webb’s opinion RIGHT not in a literal, biblical way, but in a redemptive movement way, showing grace and more restraint / and kindness in their discipline methods.

This is a fascinating argument and well worth wrestling with. I really like Webb’s other work, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals which uses this approach. Webb is easy to read with a compelling argument.

Highly recommended.

12 Things A Leader Simply Cannot Do..

…And it is sad when leaders DO some or all of these things – as I have all too often seen.

This is from the Christian Post, Perry Noble.

#5 – You Cannot Fall In Love With The Way Things Are (if you do then the word “change” will become a bad word!)

#6 – You Cannot Compromise Your Integrity–EVER!

#7 – You Cannot Believe That You Always Have The Best Ideas And The People You Are Working With Would Not Be Able To Function Without You.

#8 – You Cannot Hold Back From Speaking The Truth In Love Because It May Hurt Someone’s Feelings.

#9 – You Cannot Stop Learning, Growing & Developing.

#12 – You Cannot Lead Through Manipulation & Intimidation And Expect To Have Long Term Impact And Significance

Isaiah 5:1-7; Phil 3:14-21; Matt 21:33-43 – Part 2

If we belong to the Lord then who we are, what we are, what we own, what we do all belongs to God.

And when we try and take any of that back for ourselves, when we try and live as if we own it; or that it is our accomplishment; then we have crossed a boundary and we will struggle.

James 1:17 says Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

As Christians every blessing we have comes from the Lord; every gift, every ability, every insight comes from him.

God is not against success and wealth. Of course not. But to whom should we attribute our success and wealth to and how should we use our success and wealth?

When we begin to live as if it is all about us, that we are ones who have made it happen, that we are in control, then we have crossed a boundary; we have missed the mark – which is to sin. The greek word sin means to miss the mark – it’s an archery term – miss the target is to sin. And we know that when we miss the mark we will enter conflict because God, who loves us so incomprehensibly, will try and correct that in us.

Jesus knew that as he told his parable, the religious leaders would think of Isaiah 5:1-7. And I believe Jesus wanted the religious leaders to consider the care in which God makes the vineyard. He wants them to realize that God provided everything that is needed. He planted it all. All the religious leaders had to do was cultivate it and reap the harvest. God had given Israel all that it needed.

And in the same way we need to realize that in his love and care for us God has given us all that we need to live this life.

And so when the vineyard produces wild or sour grapes – when the boundary is crossed then God will come and remove the walls in our lives, not to destroy us but to draw us back to him.

Remember – God never disciplines us for the sake of discipline – but always so that we will be lead back into the safe place – to return to with the boundary of his protection, love and guidance.

That is exactly what Jesus was doing with the religious leaders. He was giving them a warning. He was telling them that they were in danger and they needed to change. They had departed from the goal and they needed to re-focus on the goal.

And there are times when we all need to be reminded to re-focus back on the goal – to re-position our lives to the right direction.

Paul reminds us of that goal – he reminds us that the prize is Jesus Christ. Oh, what a prize!

In Phil 3:10 Paul actually defines exactly what the goal is:

My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.

Paul knew he was not perfect. He knew he had not reached the full goal yet, but his focus was always on Christ.

If everything we are and everything we have comes from God, from Christ, then we must live our lives focused upon him. He must become our goal. And when we do this we enter Christ’s boundary.

When we believed in Christ – when we declared him to be our Lord and savior, we asked him to be BOTH LORD and Savior. He not only rescues us – he becomes Lord of our life.

And he has given us the incredible promises of the Bible – we have become citizens in heaven. Our destiny is secured in Jesus. As the Gospel of John tells us – Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us; and he will come back to take us there. He has promised never to forsake us or leave us. He has promised to uphold us in times of trouble. He has sealed us in his holy spirit.

And as we live within the boundary of the Lord, when we know that everything is the Lord’s we will become a fruitful vineyard. The fruit of the Spirit in our lives does not come from what we DO – but from what Christ has done and is doing IN US. The fruit is the Lord’s work in us manifesting itself outward.

Israel was meant to be a blessing to the nations – and today the Church is also meant to be a blessing to the nations, the nations where there are so many who are in need of Jesus.

But when we cross physical and spiritual boundaries we become just like the tenants in the parable. Taking what is not ours.

And to take ones life, a life given by God, made in the image of God, to worship God, to take ones life and to try and live life outside the boundary God has established means we begin to lose sight of the goal and the prize and it will lead to conflict, strife, lack of peace and spiritual tension in our lives.

In and through the cross God has given all we need to live our life in Him. The stone the builder rejected – Christ Crucified – has become the chief cornerstone – Christ resurrected, everything rests on Him.

Jesus did all the work. He accomplished everything for us so that we can be right with God – not through our own effort, but by simply being IN Christ. Christ is our rock, our fortress, our strong tower, our boundary. When we remain in him, we have all we need – provided by God for us.

Let us be known as a people whose goal, whose prize is Christ Jesus. He is our Lord and our Savior. We recognize that all we have and all that we are is because of Jesus – because of his blessing on us; because of his incomprehensible love for us. Let our goal not change. Let our prize not change.

That is God’s heart of each of us – that is his desire for us. So when we do cross the boundary and the Lord disciplines us (remember Hebrews – only those who are sons and daughters are disciplined) and we return to God – we enter again the boundaries of the Lord and focus again on our goal – our prize – Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 5:1-7; Phil 3:14-21; Matt 21:33-43 – Part 1

Boundaries help to keep us in a safe or acceptable place. Boundaries show us where the limits are and boundaries serve warnings of where not to go.

We all know that there are boundaries in life that if we crossed, would lead to consequences, not just for ourselves but for others. And sometimes the consequences can be terrible or life threatening. Boundaries can often be the reigns pulling us back from something we know we really shouldn’t be doing, even though we want to do it.

Nearly all of the time, when we cross a boundary, we are taking something that does not belong to us. For example,  we know that if we steal we are taking something which did not belong to us. When we break a state or federal law, we are taking something, or doing something that does not belong to us.

Crossing such boundaries, taking what does not belong to us, causes conflict.

We know this.

Which is why the parable in Matt 21:33-43 is so striking and powerful. Here we have tenants, who have leased a vineyard.

Now the parable tells us something about the owner. He had done ALL the work for the tenants. He planted the vineyard, so all the tenants have to do is to ‘tend’ and cultivate it. He has given them protection by building the wall around it, and has provided a watchtower for them, to see danger coming. He has given them the means of harvesting the crop with a winepress. All is provided. All they need is there for them. It’s fully furnished. The tenants lacked nothing.

And even the rent is reasonable – the owner is to simply have a portion of the harvest. That’s all. The tenants keep everything else for themselves.

And so when the owner’s servants come in the owners authority to collect the rent, to collect the portion, the tenants cross a boundary.

They decide to take what is not theirs and keep it for themselves.

They want to keep everything, including the vineyard for themselves and they are prepared to take it by force.

So they abuse and kill the servants. The owner sends more servants and they also are attacked and killed. And so he decided to send his son. His only son.

Now by this point the listeners are probably stunned and shocked. Surely this landowner, whose rights have been rudely and violently trampled on, would not give these criminals – which is what they now are – another chance? And surely he would never send his son to such people – his only son. That would be irresponsible.

Of course Jesus is telling a parable – he using the shocking imagery of the story to teach the listeners something.

The first, and most obvious, thing Jesus is teaching relates to the religious leaders, who are the ones listening to this parable.

The context of this start in Matt 21:23, when Jesus enters the Temple and the chief priests and elders ask him a question. They say ‘By what authority are you doing these things.” Who gave you this authority? Jesus in response asks a question – where did John the Baptists authority come from – man or God. The chief priests and elders knew the significance of the question and so they do not answer and Jesus says he too will not answer their question. But he does give two parables. We read the first last week – the two sons, who says I will go work in the field and does not; and the other son says no, but does go.

Then he gives this parable of the vineyard owner. Jesus’ point to the religious leaders is that they have crossed a boundary.

They have started to consider what is God’s to be there’s. They ran the temple and regarded it as their domain. They decided who was in with God and who was not. They judged what was holy and what was not. They had rejected the prophets, including John the Baptist (the servant sent by the owner) and now they are rejecting the Son sent by the father.

They had taken authority and a position that was never theirs to take. Everything belonged to God – Israel belonged to God – the temple was God’s – the religious ceremonies was God’s – the sacrifices was God’s – the temple offerings was God’s. It all belongs to God. And the religious leaders claimed these things for themselves. And they had rejected the true and real authority that was sent by God himself.

The second meaning of the parable is this: it contrasts the destructiveness of sin, which is utterly unreasonable, alongside God’s love, which is utterly incomprehensible.

We would have dealt with the Tenant’s when the first servants were attacked. We would not have shown mercy but we would have exercised the fullest retribution at our disposal. Not so with God. He did not wipe humanity off the face of the earth when they sinned. He did not wipe Israel off the map when they rebelled.

God’s love is utterly incomprehensible.

Now, while I am sure no one has done what these tenants did, I would suggest that we have at times crossed a similar boundary.

We know as Christians that the Lord owns everything. A cattle on a thousand hills is his (Ps 50:10); the nations are his – everything is his. Deut 10 says The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the LORD your God, as does the earth and everything in it.

Everything is his.

That includes you and I. Psalm 24 The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD;

And Romans 14 says If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

(to be continued tomorrow)

Owner-Leaders – Bad For The Church

Owner – leaders overestimate their worth, thinking that the people’s spirituality and the Church’s future depends upon them for survival. When this happens, such leaders work to protect their assets and their rules. They believe they are ones solely responsible for vision and to plan strategically. They grasp anxiously at a future that they believe they must make happen. It becomes THEIR vision, THEIR strategic plan. The leader, or leaders own it and they enter a anxious pursuit of it’s achievement.

The problem is that once you believe that you are the owner and therefore the guardian of your position and reputation you will be ensnared in an endless pursuit  of trying to prove yourselves to be right, seeking your vindication and righting every wrong that challenges your position.

And when that happens – a leader is in serious trouble, and the church they lead is in serious trouble.