August 2013 Congregational Letter

Life has been full these past few weeks. Being the sole minister in a a parish which, while small, is very busy. This has left little time for blogging although I hope to correct this soon. But in the mean time I thought I would share the congregational letter for August with you.

 

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Over the past few weeks, in various Bible Studies and conversations the question which has arisen is: How can we tell the difference between God’s testing of us and satan’s attack on us.

It’s a good question. As Christian’s we are in a spiritual battle and as we follow Jesus, grow in spiritual maturity and start to enter into the work God has for us both as individuals and as a body of Christ we will experience that battle. The danger is that we can end up attributing EVERY that happens to us which is not pleasant to satan’s attack, when simply we are experiencing the result of our own mistakes, or bad choices. As one theologian has said we should not flatter ourselves that we are so important as to warrant satan’s personal and direct attention all the time.

On the flip side, we can too easily attribute God’s testing, or loving rebuke, to satan’s attack upon us and thus miss what God is wanting to teaching us.

James 1:13-14 says Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

And yet James 1:2 that says my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

What does James mean here? At the risk of being too simplistic, James is saying that while God may send OUTWARD trials to us – things that happen to us outside of our control in order to strengthen and mature our faith God will NEVER send an inward trial, which will entice us to do an evil or wrong act. To THINK about doing something, which is not right, just, or true is NEVER from God and we can NEVER attribute it to God.

However, what tends to happen is that an outward trial, or a severe situation, or circumstance or even a health diagnosis comes into our life and our inward response is to get angry, frustrated and despondent with God – “Lord, why are you allowing this to happen to me”.

The problem is that in most of the situations that we face the question “Is this an attack of the enemy” or “a testing from the Lord” it is not easily discernible. Remember Job? Satan comes before God having been ‘walking the length and breadth’ of the earth – a hebrew idiom for ownership – satan answers God’s question of “Where have you been” with a taunt – “I have been walking on what I own.” God responds to the liar with “You do not own Job”. God is so confident in his servant’s faithfulness that God allows satan freedom to afflict Job in order to prove that God is truthful and satan is a liar. So, to whom would you attribute Job’s trial – God or satan? From Job’s perspective – and the whole issue within the book of Job is Job’s uncertainty as to what is happening to him and why God would do this to him when he had been faithful.

So, how do we tell that a trial is from God or from the enemy? The answer is that it is mostly irrelevant where the trial comes from – the response should ALWAYS be to retreat to Jesus – retreat to Him in prayer, in reading & studying the scripture, in having others pray for you. Seek Jesus – seek Him, seek Him, seek Him. Be faithful to his commands and live in His light in all you do and say. Micah 6:8 says He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? We may never know whether what we experienced was an ‘attack’ from the enemy or a trial from the Lord. What we do know is that our God is the sovereign Lord of the Universe, who loved us so much that He died for us on the cross. He is our strong tower, the rock upon which we stand – the safest place in the whole universe. Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian of the 18th century wrote: Out of the Kingdom of God is no safety: there is no hiding place: the [Kingdom of God] is the only city of refuge in which we can be secure.

In every trial we face – no matter what it is – turn to Christ. Repent of any sin, and seek refuge in his safe arms and in his eternal promises and allow Him to carry you through the storm.

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Presiding Bishop Katherine Schori Reveals Her Utter Ignorance of the Bible

Anglican Link has a story about a recent sermon Katherine Schori preached on Acts 16, and Paul’s exorcism of the slave girl. If this is what she said then she has revealed a frightening ignorance of the scriptures. Here is a section of her sermon as reported:

“There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves,”

“But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!,”

Read the whole article HERE

May’s Pastoral To The Parish

Dear Friends,

What follows is a devotional I gave at the April Vestry. I feel that I should share this with you all.

I have told some of you before that there was a lawyer in Georgetown SC who won a huge case and with his share of the settlement, that was in the millions of dollars he bought a yacht and he named it “Never Enough”.

I tell you this story because of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him[a] who strengthens me.

I felt this was a word for us as a church.

We need to be content in who we are in God AND in what God has called us to be. It can be very easy for a church to constantly keep striving to become bigger and better and more impressive. The problem is that sometimes this becomes an obsession that takes up all the energy and focus.

We are Anglican in tradition. We are liturgical in our worship. We aim to be scriptural in our teaching. And we strive to love one another.

We need to understand that not everyone will want to come to our church. Not every visitor will be led to stay with us. That is OK. We are not trying to ‘attract’ people. We are hoping to be a community which worships the Lord in spirit and in truth and seeks to live out our faith in our neighborhoods and work places.

Now, this is not to say we don’t want to grow – yes we do – but we want to grow in God’s timing and in by His grace. We want our growth to be sustained, long term and fruit bearing.

Being content with who we are and what we are in Christ means that instead of coming to church on a Sunday and lamenting what we are lacking or do not have that, which takes our focus off of the Lord, we can come excited to worship and enjoy the Lord’s presence and enjoy each others fellowship.

Someone once said that you should never welcome someone at the door looking over their shoulder seeing who else is coming. Instead we rejoice in  those God has given us and we joyfully minister to them endeavoring to do everything in the strength of the Lord. And when we do that, I believe the Lord will steadily and gradually supply our needs and bless our ministries.

Our job is not to maintain or promote Christ the Saviour but to maintain and promote the gospel message.

It is not our plans that matter, but the Lord’s plans.  We are His servants here and He can do as He pleases with us. Our hearts need to say “Not my will but your will be done”.

Abraham was given a magnificent promise by God, and Hebrews 6:13-20 tells us that Abraham waited patiently for this promise. He waited patiently because he knew that God’s promises are unbreakable – and therefore they will come to pass. ALWAYS!

V19 of Hebrews 6 says 19 We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure.

Paul says in Phil 1:6  I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you[a] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. We know he will because as the author to the Hebrews tells us, it is impossible for God to lie and Jesus has shown us the way – he has gone before us.

As a Church we are to seize the hope set before us – the work of Christ and the promise of the Gospel – and when we do this we will realize that this hope is our stabilizing anchor –  it keeps us close to Jesus, safe and secure – and content; content in Christ and content serving Christ.

Let me close with these from the Apostle Paul:

Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 

With my love and prayers!

 

Entrusted With the Kingdom

I have shared with many of you that it is quite funny how whenever I meet another Brit here in the States we have an almost instant affinity together. We have a bond. We are Brits in America – we have a similar accent – we share similar experiences of our country – we have eaten toad in the hole, fish and chips, steak and Kidney Pie with gravy and Yorkshire Pudding followed by Treacle Pudding and Custard.

We have a bond BECAUSE we are citizens of the United Kingdom, or Great Britain.

Now, if I was back in England, this person may not even be on my radar of friendship. I may not even have liked them if I had met them on streets of London.

But because of the circumstances of living in another country where we are a minority – we instantly come together under the identity of our Citizenship and talk all things British.

The same thing happens with church. Church is a place we gather & meet people we would not necessarily naturally be drawn to outside of the church. In the first century, the Church had a hugely diverse membership, which in the culture would have caused incredible problems. Slaves and masters, rich and poor, the powerful and the weak all gathered as equals under the cross of Christ. Nowhere else in the world could they gather as equal brothers and sisters and therefore nowhere else could they have known one another.

It is no exaggeration to say that the peoples very lives were tied up in the body of the Church in the first century.

And while the cultural gaps between the rich and poor, the powerful and weak the master (employer) and slave (employee) is different, the same principle is at work.

We come together because of a desire to worship the Lord God and to grow in maturity and to be a part of the fellowship and community of Christians. We talk and spend time together but then the rest of the week our paths may never cross.

One theologian has said that in church, what hurts the most is our lack of human relationships. Many worship services in which we participate every Sunday remain devoid of genuine human contact. We scarcely know each other with any genuine mutuality. We do not even consider it very valuable to create community with each other.

Of course, when we gather together in church we say Hi, how are you, great to see you, but so often these relationships cease when we leave the meeting.

A question we might ask ourselves is can there be a preaching church in which one receives something, without a community in which one gives something?

In this account from Luke there are some words which are really quite remarkable – in v29 he says: You are those who have stood by me in my trials and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.

The Revised English Bible translates this verse as “You have stood firmly by me in my times of trial: and I now entrust to you the kingdom which my father entrusted to me”.

I think that is a better translation.

As Jesus prepared to leave earth and return to heaven, he entrusts to his closest disciples the work he has started. He entrusts to them the kingdom.

The following verses show that ultimately this carries into eternity– the 12 will rule on thrones – but this entrustment, also includes the here and now.

Now, what did it mean to be entrusted with the kingdom of Heaven? Well, of course part of it would be the declaration of who Jesus was and the call to people to follow him, but it also included looking after those IN the kingdom of heaven – looking after the believers.

One of the hardest lessons for us to learn as believers is that we are not just individuals but part of a body. We are not just a collection of people who gather with a common focus on a Sunday but we are a united, joined, force which has at its center the work of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom – we are citizens of heaven – ambassadors for Christ – a community.

But community is not, and should not be about occasional, interspersed interaction.

We must not forget that Jesus Christ lived in community – he lived intimately together with his disciples. His disciples squabbled, argued with each other, annoyed each other and even tried to get places of authority behind each others backs. This was no peaceful commune. Yet Jesus gave himself to the community of those around him; living, walking; teaching; solving conflicts between the disciples, and sharing an intimate meal with them on the eve of his death.

We have also been entrusted by God with his kingdom here in Mount Vernon – and how we live and act in this community of the body of Christ, both outwardly to others, and inwardly to each other, is vitally important.

Our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 shows this vividly. Paul tells us something quite sobering – if one eats the bread and wine of the Eucharist unworthily then they are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Then V29 says this For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. The question is to what does the word ‘body’ refer? The context suggests it is the body of believers. Paul has, in v20-22 chastised the Corinthians for how they are treating other members of the body. The likelihood is that as they gathered for a communion service, bringing their own supplies of bread and wine for the service as was the custom, the more wealthy began to eat and drink before everyone else had arrived, which meant the poorer people, those who were slaves who had to finish all their work before being able to come to this communion service, arrived to find there was no food, either to eat for a meal nor to have for communion. One theologian says on this verse: Those who eat and drink in flagrant disregard of the physical needs of others in their fellowship risk incurring punishment from God.

In other words, we take communion unworthily when we have ignored or trampled on the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is our view of community, of this body, simply a weekly, limited interaction for an hour or so?

Or do we feel that we are part of a body – a community that looks out for each other, where no one is alone with their problems; where no one has to conceal their disabilities; where neither the old nor the young are isolated; where we bear with one another even when it is unpleasant and there is no agreement.

Jesus lived in and ministered in community and then he ENTRUSTED THE KINGDOM to this community.

Let us just pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that when we come forward to take communion, we do so not as individuals who happen to belong to Christ the Saviour, but as a body, a community, who has been entrusted with the Kingdom here in this place and that each of us has a role in it.

The Episcopal Church Is Like The Lying Prophets in Jeremiah

Jeremiah 26 has the prophet declaring God’s word to the religious leaders and people. They did not like the word of the God because it offended and contradicted what they had been preaching. v7-9 says:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

This is exactly what is happening in the Episcopal Church today. Those, whether clergy, bishop laity, who promote doctrines which are not scriptural (yes, gay ordination and gay marriage) are just like those in Jeremiah’s day who screamed at  Jeremiah “You shall die”. No, the liberal church is not threatening the conservatives with death – but they are just as angry.

One blogger writes: In the actual world of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion there are all sorts of signs pointing to communities of incarnation and resurrection, but in blogland the sour voices of the realignment crowd and the thickheaded call for a return to the “faith once delivered to the saints”makes for dull and deadly conversation.

Really? Those who stand for the truth of God’s word are thickheaded?

Or The Rev. Dr. Luis León, Rector of St John’s in DC. Effectively he tells everyone that unless they agree with gay marriage, pro choice etc you are a bigot.

The Rev. Dr. Luis León is just like the priests which screamed at Jeremiah “You shall die”.

The interesting thing is that the liberal church would have hated Jeremiah. And to hate a prophet of God was to hate God.

 

Criticism

One day a man met Charles Spurgeon, the famous London preacher, on the street, took off his hat and bowed, and said, “The Rev. Mr. Spurgeon—a great idiot!”

Spurgeon took off his hat and replied, “Thank you for the compliment. I am glad to hear that I am a great anything!”

Have you ever had a day, or even a season when people have criticized you?

Criticism can be hard to take. It can stir a huge range of emotions in us; it can make us defensive, angry, fearful and even bitter.

Of course, while we would prefer never to be criticized the likelihood is that we probably will be.

As Elbert Hubbard, author of A Message To Garcia said: to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing!

And of course, we know that Jesus was criticized. A lot!

Just take Mark chapter 2 for example. Jesus is criticized four times in this chapter alone. Every story that Mark tells in this chapter has the Pharisees criticizing Jesus’ or Jesus’ disciples actions.

  • Why does this fellow talk like that – v7?
  • Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners? – v16
  • How is it  that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting but yours not? V18
  • Why are [your disciples] doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? V24

For most of us, criticism can strike at the very heart of who we are. It can paralyze us; it can immobilize us – it can stop us from doing what we should be doing. We end up scared of being criticized so we do not do anything.

To get criticized does not mean what you are doing is necessarily wrong.  Jesus is criticized four times in this passage – and he had not done, nor does he ever do anything wrong! To do something well, right and true does not mean we will avoid criticism!!

Criticism is always difficult to accept, but if we receive it with humility and a desire to improve our character it can be very helpful. As Proverbs says Only a fool does not profit when he is rebuked for his mistakes.

Several years ago I read a helpful article on this subject. It stated that when we are criticized we ought to ask ourselves whether the criticism contains any truth even when it is not given with the right motivation and in the right spirit.

The article offered these four, helpful suggestions as to what to do when someone criticizes us:

(1) Commit the matter instantly to God, asking Him to remove all resentment or counter-criticism on your part and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you any needed lessons in the criticism

(2) Remember that we are all great sinners and that the one who has criticized us does not know the worst about us.

(3) If you have made a mistake or committed a sin, humbly and frankly confess it to God and to anyone you may have injured.

(4) Be willing to learn afresh that you are not infallible and that you need God’s grace and wisdom every moment of the day to keep on the straight path.

When we are criticized, even when the delivery of that criticism is mean spirited and unfair, let us accept what is true and act upon it; reject what is not true and then commit to the Lord.

Even our Lord was criticized. How we deal with criticism is a sign of our maturity and growth in the Lord.

 

How Should Evangelicals Respond To The Inauguration Prayer Incident?

Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition Blog has a great post out-lining three positions various evangelicals have taken over Louie Giglio’s withdrawal from the Inauguration because of a sermon he preached 15 years deemed ‘anti-gay’.

I wonder which position you would take?

Position #1: Gabe Lyons, a best-selling author and founder of Q Ideas, says Giglio is a “target of intolerance” and “reverse discrimination at its finest“:

As gays come out of the closet, are Christians meant to swap and go hide back in closets of their own? This zero-sum game is the most un-American of games.

Freedom to speak your mind and live by your convictions—a person’s freedom of conscience—is the first, most fundamental, American right. James Madison believed strongly in the freedom of conscience, even claiming, “This right is in its nature an unalienable right” in his Memorial and Remonstrance written in 1785. Maintaining and defending “freedom of conscience” protects every citizen from being coerced, cajoled, intimidated or bullied into taking a point of view that goes against their deepest convictions.

It’s a sad day in America when that right is up for debate.

 

For the other two positions CONTINUE READING HERE