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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Church news, 12/30: "Beholding the glory of God's own Son"

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

We meditated on John 1:1-18 in our Sunday worship Dec. 27. Fr. David highlighted for us all the different ways John spoke of Jesus Christ in this passage: as the Word of God, who was with God from the very beginning and won't return void; as the Light that illuminates the nature of God and brightens our daily walk; as the Life that is the light of men.

"The world was made by Him, but knew him not," Fr. David pointed out. "We have a choice -- to try to hide in darkness or to receive from Jesus Christ 'the power to become children of God' and walk in the light. This is our decision. We can choose to let Christ love us, and we can thrive, receiving 'grace upon grace.' "

Let us begin the New Year accepting the gift of true life that Christ came down from Heaven to bring us! Alleluia!

NOTES:  On Sunday, January 10, 10 a.m., we will not be meeting in the Chapel, we will be in Webster sharing in a joint Service with our brothers and sisters at Holy Cross Anglican Church, 615 Bay Road, Webster. CLICK HERE FOR WEB SITE and to get map

Monday, December 21, 2009

Church news, 12/21: "Blessed is Mary, the mother of our Lord"

Our Sunday worship message examined the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the development of Christianity. "Protestants have been inclined to downplay Mary's role as a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church's emphasis on Mary," Fr. David said, prefacing a look at "Mary, the disciple most excellent".

He reminded us that Mary figured in the prophecies of Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive..." Isaiah 7:14. "She was chosen, even created, for the purpose of being the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus, but she also had a say in the matter and needed to agree. We have a lot to learn from her about letting God take over our lives and fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Scripture tells us that after Gabriel visited Mary, she 'pondered in her heart' and then humbly and wholeheartedly agreed; a willing servant who was holy, chaste, humble and honest."

He pointed out further that when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, whose own unlikely pregnancy had also been announced by Gabriel to her husband Zechariah the priest, before Mary could tell her anything Elizabeth's baby jumped in the womb and Elizabeth cried out "Blessed are you among women!" under the power of the Holy Spirit.

"Note that Mary is exclaimed as blessed among women," Fr. David explained. "Not 'blessed are you above all women', but 'among' -- as one of us, in the midst of us."

This is where the Roman Catholic church loses its way, he said, piling on extrabiblical traditions to make Mary the "Mother of God", "CO-Redeemer", and "Queen of Heaven". These traditions allege that Mary was without sin, and therefore must have been immaculately conceived herself, and also was bodily assumed into Heaven, and had no other children, and so on.

"All these traditions take away from the primacy of Jesus Christ and from the miraculous humanity of Mary and her humble, yet exemplary faith in God. Did the shepherds and wise men come to worship Mary along with Jesus? No, they came to worship Jesus.

"But Protestants go too far in the other direction sometimes -- diminishing Mary, forgetting the lessons she can teach about giving over one's whole life to God and letting Him be magnified. "In a way, each of us is God's chosen one," Fr. David concluded. "If you're looking for true joy, spend time with God, grow in humble faith and willingness to let Almighty God be Almighty God in your life and let  your soul magnify, glorify and honor Him."

NOTES: We'll be sharing a Festal Eucharist service with Christmas carols on Christmas Eve at 9 p.m., cookies and soft drinks following. This will be in our regular place of worship, the chapel at Reformation Lutheran Church on Chestnut Street. We have several opportunities for mutual ministry: if you would like to help with the Altar Guild, just join the person who is setting up or cleaning up and ask how you can help; if you'd like to join the counting team, let Fr. David know; if you can be a lector and read during worship, sign up on the list outside the chapel.

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Forgive us... as we forgive..."

When you say the Lord's Prayer, do you say "forgive us our trespasses" or "forgive us our debts"?

I've been thinking about both of these, lately. "Forgive us our trespasses" figures in the magnificent novel Home, by Marilynne Richardson, companion to the equally magnificent Gilead we're reading in the Women's Book Group. (Recommendation: read Gilead first.) The two-book saga tells the Prodigal Son story in the context of life in a small town in 1950s Iowa. The son is seen first through the eyes of his godfather, a Congregational (Calvinist) pastor, and then again through the eyes of his father, a Presbyterian (Arminian) minister.

The second book recounts an incident in which an immigrant family of Soviet Communists starts farming an unused piece of the minister's land. They do it without asking and, when confronted, revile him as a rich person who begrudges them the small living they can eke out. They accuse him of hypocrisy since he is supposedly a man of God yet begrudges their... yes, trespass.

In the story, the minister decides not to press the matter even when the family begins to build a house on his land for immigrating family members. He literally forgives them their trespass with all that entails, namely allowing them to take the land by squatter's rights.

This really made me stop and think. I don't know if I'd be willing to do that, even though I completely agree it's what a Christian saint ought to do.

And having that lodged in my head might have been an influence in my encounter this week with "forgive us our debts". I've had a small debt hanging over me for awhile, and, having recently been blessed with a second job, I had it in mind to pay that as soon as I got my first check. But in the meantime, the creditor decided it was more advantageous to write it off. Hooray!

But then it struck me: what had been forgiven me was about the same amount as a debt owed to me, one I've been collecting -- slowly and painfully -- over the last several years. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant came to mind (Matthew 18:23-35). The servant, having been forgiven a large debt, responds by aggressively trying to collect a small one. Not wanting to be like that, I decided maybe it would be best to pass it on and forgive the longstanding debt owed me. So I did.

I can't tell you how freeing it was! I thought I'd feel like a doormat or "loser", but I didn't realize how much negativity was around the constant process of reminding and collecting. Money debts have a way of being about a lot more than just dollars and cents. They're about who's "right" or "wrong", who's strong or weak, who's polite or rude, who's needy or withholding. And the list goes on.

I thought I'd be relieved to be able to stop keeping track of the account and worrying about it. but what I discovered was the real relief was in laying down the emotional burden of the situation that caused the debt in the first place. Instead of dispensing a favor, I find I've done myself the favor.

Is there a debt or trespass weighing you down this holiday season? One you could forgive, and thereby forget? Give it some thought. It might be the best present you could give not only your debtor but also yourself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Church news, 11/30: "Living in the kingdom of Christ the King"

November 22, the last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Day, provided the opportunity for us to consider who is the king of us -- Christ or someone/something else?

Fr. David pointed out that Jesus Christ gave a succinct description of His kingdom when he appeared before Pontius Pilate:

My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.... For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice. (John 18:33-37)

"The world's way is to fight for power," Fr. David says. "There's a big difference between how things are done in the world and how they are done in Christ's kingdom."

While the difference is huge, it's still easy to get caught up in worldly fights because even though we aren't of the world we're in it. Even during the life of Jesus, we see Peter drawing a sword and cutting off the ear of Malchus in an attempt to stop him from arresting Jesus:

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53,54)

And Jesus heals Malchus' ear and allows Himself to be arrested. This is the ultimate example of faith in God: the man Jesus, struggling with the idea of laying down his life, obeying his Heavenly Father as the Christ of the Trinity.

"We're meant to be in the Kingdom and the Kingdom in us -- where God is honored, worshiped, adored and obeyed through faith," Fr. David said. Fighting in the world's way indicates we prefer to trust in our own strength than in God's.

"How much difference has the Gospel and presence of Jesus made in your life?" Fr. David asked. "Do we fight as the world fights, or do we witness by word and behavior? Do we really believe that the Kingdom of God is the 'pearl of great price', worth everything to obtain? Let us pray for change in the world -- 'Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven' -- one life at a time, starting with ours."

NOTES: The Parish Annual Meeting was held following worship. Joseph Ibezim and Jason Willson were elected unanimously to three-year terms on the Vestry. New Ministry and Liturgy Committees were formed and the parish spent some time looking at its forward planning in terms of a draft 2010 budget, a new design for ministry functions, and desired characteristics of a church home. Thanks to the Sunday School for their gifts of Advent Chains and thanks to all who helped supply the delicious lunch. The Women's Book Group meeting will be re-scheduled after the holidays. Books to be discussed include Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Catching Fireflies by Patsy Clairmont.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Church news, 11/21: "Hannah -- Blessings through perseverence and prayer"

We continued our study of women in the Bible on Nov. 15 with an examination of the life of Hannah.

When one thinks of heroines of Scripture, Hannah is not one of the first to spring to mind. But Fr. David pointed out that she was an inspiring example in her own day, later to the Virgin Mary, and continuing to the present. "You may remember Heidi Smith, a missionary to Chile we supported, along with her husband Russ. Heidi always looked to Hannah for an example of Godly living," he told us.

Hannah was a woman who felt the sting of the Jewish convention of allowing men to have more than one wife. We recall this started with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. God promised Abraham and Sarah an heir, but rather than trust God, they "tried to settle God's mind," Fr. David said. "They decided to fulfil the promise for God by adding a second, younger wife, Hagar." Of course, Sarah did eventually -- even in her old age -- give birth to the promised heir, Isaac. And the contention between the wives ended with the banishment of Hagar and her son Ishmael.

Society, sadly, didn't learn from this and other polygamous marriages. Wives became more like property and less like partners. A man's wealth and power were measured in part by how many wives he could support and how many children they bore him.

So Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah, felt doubly cursed. Not only did she have a rival in Elkinah's other wife, Peninnah, but she was also childless, something that Peninnah constantly alluded to. Moreover, Hannah was only entitled to a single portion of Elkanah's sacrifices and other goods while Peninnah received portions for herself and all of her children.

Hannah became so distressed that she stopped eating, went to the temple, and prayed passionately but silently, since women were expected to be "seen and not heard". And even in the temple, society judged her wrongly. Eli the priest assumes she's drunk because her mouth is moving as she prays. He harshly asks her how long she'll live as a drunken person.

Now, after all the scorn heaped on Hannah, one might expect her to run away, curse God, and declare the priest an unfeeling hypocrite. But instead, she courageously corrects his wrong impression of her and Eli apologizes and blesses her, "Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him."

Fr. David pointed out that Hannah wasn't praying to make a deal with God, but simply that God would remember her and her situation. "We see the same language with the thief on the cross, who asks Jesus to remember him. This isn't about the mind remembering, but the soul."

Hannah understood that everything belongs to God because it comes from God. She prayed to be allowed to give God what was already his -- the son she longed to bear. She offered her son-to-be as a Nazarite, a consecrated priest for life whose hair would never be cut. And then she left the temple, washed her face, resumed eating and a happy normal life -- the evidence of true faith, giving the problem to God and considering it solved.

And in fact, God did give Hannah a son, Samuel, the great priest and prophet who heard God's audible call at a young age in a time when God's direct intervention was rare. Hannah's Canticle of thanksgiving was recorded, and the Magnificat of Mary would later echo it. From a place of utter helplessness, Hannah let God raise her up to cast a light down through history.

"Hannah shows us where the Lord is at times in life when we're made to feel less," Fr. David explained. "Women in particular are familiar with this feeling, an attitude of society that needs to be broken in Christ, where there is neither male nor female. We are all far more than society would make us, and as we realize this we will be willing to offer back to God the gift of ourselves, to be the answer to part of our own prayers."

NOTES: Parish annual meeting is tomorrow, Nov. 22, following worship. Lunch (submarine sandwiches, sides and soda) will be available in Room B and the meeting is scheduled to conclude at 1:30. We will elect parish officers, hear a treasurer's report, and discuss our future in relation to the rector's Covenant Agreement, transition of ministries, mission and calling of the parish and future plans for worship and meetings. Please plan to attend this important meeting.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Church news, 11/13 -- "Ruth, Dedication and Steps of Faith"

November 8th's sermon message focused on the Old Testament story of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, still quoted 3,000 years later at weddings -- "whither thou goest, I will go...".

Ruth, a Moabitess (Moab was located where Jordan is today), was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, a Jewish woman who moved to Moab with her husband, Elimelech, to escape a famine in Judah. Naomi's sons came of age in Moab and took wives from among the Moabites, Ruth and Orpah.

Sadly, within about 10 years, Elimelech and both of his sons were dead, leaving three widows. By this time the famine had ended, and so Naomi prepared to return to her family in Judah. Her daughters-in-law began to make the journey with her, but Naomi stopped them and pointed out that it would be better for them to go home to their own mothers and find new husbands among their own people. Both of them argued with her at first, but eventually Orpah was persuaded and started the journey to her own home.

Ruth, however, would not be moved and insisted on traveling to Judah with Naomi. Once they reached Bethlehem, Naomi taught Ruth the tradition of Jewish families -- that widows were allowed to follow behind those gathering a grain harvest and pick up any gleanings left behind. Ruth did this and attracted the attention of Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi's, who made sure she got enough food for both women before eventually purchasing the land holdings of Elimelech and his sons and marrying Ruth.

Why was it, we wonder, that Ruth was willing to follow Naomi, turning her back on her own family, culture, and religion? Naomi means "pleasantness", so we can assume she was a good companion, and she had shared tragedy with Ruth. But would these things be enough to cause Ruth to leave behind her own real mother, her family, and her identity?

What's between the lines of the story is that Naomi was living a holy life. She was a living example to Ruth of what Yahweh was like. We often have confusion over the place of works in our lives of faith. We know works won't save us. We know faith without works is dead. How do these truths not contradict each other?

Naomi shows us that the reason to do works and try to live a holy life isn't to impress God, but rather show God to those around us. Because she showed Yahweh to Ruth, Ruth was persuaded. It doesn't always work -- Orpah saw the same example but still eventually decided to stay in Moab -- but how we deal with tragedy or any of life's problems is a much more powerful witness than anything we might tell people.

Of course, once Naomi and Ruth arrived in Judah, Ruth also saw "how people of God care for each other," as Fr. David pointed out. "The way Ruth was treated by Naomi's people reveals the way we should behave as a parish family." At the end of the story, Ruth bears a son, Obed, and the women of Naomi's neighborhood rejoice with her, telling her Obed is her son too, because Ruth and Boaz would never have met except for her. It's amazing what can happen in a community of believers! Thanks be to God!

NOTES: The Parish Annual Meeting will take place following worship on Sunday, Nov. 22. The agenda and voter list is posted in the chapel. We'll have a dish-to-pass lunch on that day. After worship on Nov. 8 we had a farewell reception for Al Bagdonas, who with his wife, Holly, has moved to South Carolina. We'll miss Al and Holly but wish them all the best in their new life and ministry. Bon-Ton Community Day is tomorrow, Nov. 14. A percentage of the money taken in tomorrow will be donated to All Saints.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thought for the Day: Refocus

C.H. Spurgeon (circa 1857):
Dear friends, the last song in this world, the song of triumph, shall be full of God, and of no one else. Here you praise the instrument, to-day you look on this man and on that, and you say, “Thank God for this minister, and for this man.” To-day you say, “Blessed be God for Luther, who shook the Vatican, and thank God for Whitfield, who stirred up a slumbering church;” but in that day you shall not sing of Luther, nor of Whitfield, nor of any of the mighty ones of God’s hosts; forgotten shall their names be for a season, even as the stars refuse to shine when the sun himself appeareth. The song shall be unto Jehovah, and Jehovah only; we shall not have a word to say for preachers nor bishops, not a syllable to say for good men and true; but the whole song from first to last shall be, “Unto him that loved us, and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood, unto him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
 This 'thought of the day' comes from one of the greatest preachers the world has ever known: Charles Spurgeon. This thought reminds us of what it means to put God first: to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. After-all, life and faith are not about us... how we are doing, or whatever, it is all about God, first and foremost. Praise be to Almighty God! Amen.

Church news, 10/28: "Job -- Knowing God with heart and soul"

In the fourth and final message in our series on Job, we see how God leads Job to a faith that is secure and personal. Through God's answer to Job we learn that Job always obeyed God and, throughout his time of testing, he did not sin against God.
It can rightly be said that Job loved God with his heart and respected God with his intellect throughout his life. But until he came face to face with God he lacked the ultimate level of spiritual understanding. "Job comes to a place of humility. He recognizes that he shouldn't have spoken at all because he lacked understanding, but now he recognizes and understands the majesty and glory of God. Now he believes in God not just by hearing but also by seeing and knowing God personally." Fr. David explained.

"Most of us are in this place of personal faith in our good times, as Job was. But how awesome to be there also in our bad times -- to have total confidence even then in the trustworthiness of Almighty God."

We know that much is required of those who receive much. As a man rich in the world's wealth, Job had long been a good steward. But now Job has had a personal audience with the Almighty, and something new will be required of him: God asks Job to serve as priest and intercessor for his three friends.

"Job was chosen because priests are called to represent God correctly," said Fr. David. "Job had met God vertically and now had to represent him horizontally, in love to his neighbors. And as soon as he does this -- intercedes for his friends forgiveness and prays for them -- God accepts Job's intercession and then restores all that Job had before: twice the material wealth, the comfort of all his family and friends, and 10 children. God does relates to Job in the deepest of ways: in community!" Job, drawing closer to God, helps his friends to be reconciled with God and with him, brings forgiveness to his wife, is restored with even greater respectability and leadership in the greater community, and is able to truly enjoy all that he has because he understands in the deepest and most profound of ways the source and meaningfulness of all blessing.

Likewise, in a way, Job serves as a priest to us, as we study and take in his extraordinary encounter with God in the depths of personal faith. Thanks be to God for Job's wonderful witness!

NOTE: If you've not yet had time to complete the parish survey and stewardship response sheet, please take a moment to do so before Nov. 1, All Saints' Day. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Church news, 10/21: Job questions, God answers

We continued our study of Job in the Oct. 11 and 18 worship services. The Oct. 11 message considered major challenges in the Book of Job that bear on a core question of life: Why do the righteous suffer? Or, to quote the title of a popular book, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

In the 23rd chapter, we see Job both complaining and searching. He admits being in a state of bitter complaint and yearns to approach God and lay out his argument as a defendant would before a judge. Job believes his reasoned argument would result in a verdict of acquittal for him, but he despairs he will not have the opportunity to stand before the Almighty in this way.

Fr. David pointed out that some might see Job's attitude as lacking in humility. However, Job's righteousness is shown through his trust: he trusted God to hear him and to care for him because he remembered his former blessings.

This wasn't easy under the circumstances. Job is bearing his afflictions, the scorn of his wife and also of his friends. "The problem with suffering," Fr. David said, "is that you feel all alone, even though the Lord is always there for you. There are two voices you can choose to listen to -- the voice of the accuser ('You must have done something to deserve this.') or the voice of the Holy Spirit ('I, the Lord, will never leave you nor forsake you.') Job doesn't waver in his trust, and his faith will be stronger once he receives the answers he seeks."

Continuing the series on Oct. 18, we considered God's answers to Job. Job now has what he sought -- a chance to be face to face with the Almighty. But rather than pleading his case like a defendant before a judge, he is as any person would be under these circumstances: awestruck and mute. "I lay my hand on my mouth," he says. "...I will proceed no further."

Fr. David pointed out that when God says, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" it's Job's friends being spoken of, not Job himself. "Even as a faultfinder, God is there for the purpose of Job's salvation and purification," he explained. "Job comes to a place of humility. He's brought to his knees by the realization of God's power, sovereignty and love, as anyone would be in his situation. His appropriate response to God's questions is, 'Who did I think I was?' He realizes God has a plan for him."

Part of that plan was much bigger than Job could ever see. Because of the traditional order the books of the Bible are in, we forget that Job's story actually occurs early in history. If we put the Book of Job in the correct chronological spot, it would fall between Genesis chapters 11 and 12. It's significant that Job probably spent more time in God's direct presence than any other person other than Adam and Eve, whose conversations with the Almighty in the garden are not recorded for us. So Job stood in our place early in time to give us insight into what an encounter with God is like.

In addition, there was a more immediate plan for Job, and that was to be the intercessor/priest for his friends. He represents them before God and then takes his knowledge back to them in loving correction.

Next Sunday we'll consider whether it's possible to do what Job set out to do, which is prove ourselves right to God. Is this honesty, self-righteousness, or maybe a bit of both?

NOTES: If you received the parish survey and stewardship letter, please respond by Sunday, Nov. 1, All Saints Day. Your commitment to our Stewardship Drive is greatly appreciated. Bon-Ton coupon books are still available from Alison Stone for $5 a book, all of which goes to All Saints. Pay by check made out to All Saints, marked "Bon-Ton" on the reference line.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

For your bookshelf: Robert Farrar Capon

Fr. Robert Farrar Capon, a retired Episcopal priest who lives outside New York City, might be the best Christian author you've never heard of. I think of him as the American C.S. Lewis. His theology is impeccable and his writing is always engaging and usually full of humor.

It's also memorable. In The Fingerprints of God, Capon opens with a dialogue between the persons of the Trinity. At one point the Holy Spirit says:
"I suggested an image of the Son hiding a box of chocolates in every person's house: the gift would be there whether they know it or not, like it or not, believe it or not. Maybe then they'd see that their faith doesn't do anything to get them the chocolates of forgiveness; it simply enables them to enjoy what they already have. If they don't trust the gift, of course, it won't mean a thing to them. But the chocolates will always be there. I was even willing to make them miraculous, just to keep the element of mystery in the mix: no matter how many pieces anyone ate, the box would always be full. I still think it would have been a good idea."

See what I mean? And all of his prose is just that memorable and thought-provoking.

Here's a 2004 interview with Capon that includes photos of many of his books. Most aren't in the library and they're hard to find in used book stores because, I think, they tend to be among people's "keepers". Enjoy the interview and let us know what you think:

Robert Farrar Capon interview

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Church news 10/7: "Job: the Battle for the Soul"

On Oct. 4 we began a four-part study of the Book of Job, regarded as the most profound and literary book of the Old Testament.

Fr. David pointed out that the Book of Job addresses life's hardest questions, like "Why do the innocent suffer?", "What is the basis of faith?", and "Should we give thanks only for blessings?"
Our reading comprised Job 1:1 and 2:1-10, which shows the first step in the testing of Job and the purification of his faith. The end point of Job's journey will be to know God personally and to understand the meaning of life, beyond simply believing in God for the blessings he was receiving.

"Satan evidently thinks Job has selfish motives for his faith," Fr. David explained. In his role as the accuser, Satan goes before God and says Job's faith won't stand up under pressure. "He believes that even the best of mankind will curse God if they are afflicted. So God allows Satan to work on Job, taking away everything but his life and his wife. Yet Job persists in his integrity -- having faith integrated into his values and thoughts."
We find Job, formerly a well-reputed and wealthy man (perhaps even the wealthiest man in the Land of Uz, later known as Edom) sitting on an ashheap, scraping boils that have appeared on his body, and contemplating the loss of all his property and the deaths of his children. Even his wife, who could have provided comfort, turns against him with a sarcastic comment about the uselessness of integrity, telling him to "curse God and die."
Job gently rebukes her, telling her she speaks like a foolish person. "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"
That stops us in our tracks. We wonder why would ever allow evil to occur against those who believe in Him or why the innocent suffer. 
As the 19th Century theologian Octavius Winslow wrote:
Unmingled good is not the portion even of the saints of God. ...Unmingled good is reserved for heaven. There, all is pure unmixed bliss, deepening as the ocean flows on through eternity. But here the good and the evil in our history are wisely and happily combined: "Shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil?" The origin and the source of all the disciplinary dealings of the believer are unfolded. They are not as from accident, but are from God.
Under the weight of sin and evil, "Even Jesus, at the place of the cross, cries out 'My God, why hast thou forsaken me?'" Fr. David pointed out. "But then He continues His trust in His Father and cries out, 'Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.'

 "Why can't we go along and believe and not be pushed so hard? Is suffering about a process of refinement and an education in cooperation with God through the removing of our blessings, or is suffering for some further purpose also? When we find the answers to these questions, as we will by walking with Job and examining our faith, we will find the deeper dimension to our faith and our lives."

NOTES: Lectors needed! The October/November schedule of readings is available outside the chapel each Sunday; please sign up for this most appreciated ministry. The Women's Book Group met on Tuesday night and chose Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Catching Fireflies by Patsy Clairmont as the two selections for December. Bon-Ton coupon booklets are still available -- $5 buys numerous high-value coupons to use Nov. 14 and the money goes 100% to All Saints. See Alison Stone for details.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thought for the day: Atheism, part 2

First of all, if you didn't read all the comments appended to the original iMonk article referenced in last week's post on atheism, try to find the time. The comments give a sobering window into just what the world expects from us in terms of being Christlike. Playing footsie with the world won't cut it. Being judgmental won't cut it. Being political and/or materialistic won't cut it. And being light on Biblical scholarship leaves us with nothing much to say by way of rebuttal.

As an example consider the recent "she said"/"he said" pairing of articles in the Wall Street Journal. Noted atheist Richard Dawkins vigorously makes the case for the irrelevance of God. God's defense is assigned to Karen Armstrong, a former nun and present popularizer of religion-in-general.

Dawkins says science makes any concept of God irrelevant. Armstrong's only counter is that we need a concept of God as a repository for our sense of wonder. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, correctly identifies the articles as simply a debate between two kinds of atheists, the abrasive kind and the "nice" kind.

So what do we say to atheists like Richard Dawkins who are smart and blunt? Call me naive but I don't see the difficulty in answering.

Dawkins's primary point about God is, "The temptation [to attribute the appearance of a design to actual design itself] is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable."

According to a wikipedia article, "Dawkins does not claim to disprove God with absolute certainty. Instead, he suggests as a general principle that simpler explanations are preferable (see Occam's razor), and that an omniscient and omnipotent God must be extremely complex. As such, he argues that the theory of a universe without a God is preferable to the theory of a universe with a God."

The problem with Dawkins isn't the respectible scientific outlook quoted above. It's where he goes from there, making theatrical blanket statements like "Evolution is the creator of life," and "God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place." Bold talk from someone who admits he can't, with certainty, disprove God. I guess you could say he has a form of faith.

So let me take a stab at what I would say to someone like Dawkins:

1.) If you have a concern about who/what created an eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator, then you'll understand my concern about science's lack of an identified first cause for either matter or life.

2.) Evolution diversified life, but there is no evidence to assert that evolution "created" life. There is, however, plenty of evidence that life only comes from life. If everything came from, say, a hydrogen atom, then you must be making an argument for spontaneous generation, a belief science relieved both Aristotelians and Christians of a long time ago.

3.) While there's a ton of evidence for interspecies evolution, the evidence gets more sparse as one moves up the classification ladder. Even looking at interorder evolution (order Primates), the new fossil "Ardi" gives us hominid ancestors for humans a million years older than "Lucy", still walking upright, still climbing trees carefully, still recognizably human-ish, with no chimpy missing link yet in sight. And that's why the Theory of Evolution cannot yet evolve into the Law of Evolution. Intellectual honesty demands you to admit that there are just as many gaps in your own knowledge as there are in my knowledge as a Bible-believing Christian.

4.) Please stop setting up the strawman argument that most Christians believe the earth is only 10,000 years old. Bishop Ussher had a great idea when he counted the generations in the Bible. However, he failed to take into consideration unnumbered unrecorded generations. Read here for a good study into Bible time.

Bottom line, I'll remain nonjudgmental, Mr. Dawkins, and trust you to do the same.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thought for the Day: Atheism

iMonk posted an interesting essay regarding the popularity of atheism among young people, and the trend of abandoning Christianity for atheism. He points out that the typical young atheist is not an atheist because he or she was convinced by the philosophical arguments of prominent atheists. Rather, atheism is simply easier. iMonk believes that the hyperbolic claims of most evangelical churches, combined with the lack of witness in the typical Christian's life have made Christianity appear to be overly complicated, disappointing, and hypocritical.

"Vast numbers of people aren’t asking for philosophy. They are asking what will let them live a life uncomplicated by lies, manipulation and constant calls to prefer ignorance to what seems obvious."

Hmm. This inspires some serious self-contemplation.

Take a look at the original post:

Church news 9/29: "Offering prayers of faith"

James had a lot to say about prayers of faith, and the September 27 sermon focused on the "who" and "how" of praying in faith.

Fr. David challenged us to avoid being "chicken Christians" when it comes to things like praying for healing. If the early Church practiced this kind of praying as a regular part of their life with God, why shouldn't we?

Citing the Baptist theologian John Piper, Fr. David pointed out three roles for Christians in their prayer life as recorded in James 5.

1.) Verse 13 says: "Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray." So first, if a Christian is afflicted in some way, he or she should first pray for his or her needs, coming to the Lord humbly in faith and with confession. (Note also the second part of the verse: "Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise." We can think of this as a kind of heavenly health insurance since we know "a cheerful heart is a good medicine." [Proverbs 17:22])

2.) In verse 14 James offers a second role for praying Christians: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him... and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up." The elders are people of faith and leadership, sometimes in a formalized position within a congregation but not necessarily. They come together as a focus for prayer -- "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) -- they anoint the sick person with oil, but they aren't healers. James makes it plain that the Lord heals and the Lord forgives.

3.) But what of Christians who aren't elders? Are they limited to praying only for their own needs? No! In verse 16 James says further: "...confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed." An interesting aspect of this is that, while praying for another you might be healed yourself, even when you don't realize you need it.

So we're to pray for ourselves personally, we're to call for the elders and accept their prayer intercession on our behalf, and we're to pray as a faith community for the needs of our family, friends and neighbors. And what will happen when we do?

James says, "The prayer of a righteous man (a person made right with God through faith) has great power in its effects," recounting Elijah's prayers that stopped rain for three and a half years and then started it again. "Great power" over the elements and great power over our lives is part of the promise for persons who are filled with faith and who are in deep communion with the Lord. How can we pray like this? Fr. David pointed to Jesus' teaching about prayers of faith in Mark 11:23-24:
"Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be thou taken up and cast into the sea'; and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Prayers of faith are first of all in concert with the will of God ("...not my will, but thine, be done", Luke 22:42). Second, they are prayed with no doubt in God nor in the power of God to answer. "There might be questions in your mind; we're human and so we question," Fr. David said, "but we need to keep in mind that our questions don't limit what God is able to do." Faith in our hearts and souls move us with confidence beyond the doubts in our minds.

Third, prayers of faith are prayed with trust in God, trusting that He is hearing us and understands the situation far better than we ever can, having made us. We are to 'trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight' (Prov. 3:5). Fourth, prayers of faith are centered in Christ with a focus that causes us to strive forward unto Him (Phil. 3:12-14), bringing us near to the "beatific vision" we are promised on the day when we will see Him face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).

May we make this kind of praying -offering prayers of faith- a priority in our lives!

Notes: Following the service, Alison Stone gave an informative presentation on Sunday School, including how the congregation can support the Sunday School program.

The Bon-Ton Community Day coupon books are now available; the Community Day sale is Nov. 14. Each $5 book includes numerous coupons including one for $10 off a single item and others for up to 30% off. The entire price of the book accrues to All Saints, along with added funds based on the number of books sold.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thought for the Day: How Far is Too Far?

Recently, Muslims ended the month of Ramadan, a month devoted to fasting and prayer in order to purify themselves through restraint and good deeds. So why is this significant? Attention has been drawn recently to certain a prominent Christian emergent leader, Brian McLaren, who announced that he was also fasting during Ramadan in order to "come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them." Other Christian leaders such as Albert Mohler disagree with him, saying that "The logic of Islam is obedience and submission. It's by following these practices that a Muslim demonstrates his obedience to the rule of the law through the Quran. For a Christian to do the same automatically implies a submission to the same rule."

To most of us, it probably seems obvious that this was a bad idea. But it was successful in a way: the Muslims that McLaren spent time with felt that "Here is a pastor who wants to understand us, who does not want to convert us, and who is even prepared to walk with us, to fast with us. That is a big gesture." He was able to connect with them in a way that showed respect. So what should we take from this? What do you think Christians should do to show Jesus' love to those around us, including Muslims?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Church news, 9/20: "Stop the Warring Madness!"

Our Sunday homily focused closely on James 4:1-10:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
   Fr. David pointed out that these verses apply to dissension within the body of believers. James addresses 'you' in the plural meaning among you all. James states strongly that dissensions come from people's desires for self-gratification and self-interest rather than from dedication to do the will of God. He uses language that's sometimes shocking, such as "you desire and do not have; so you kill," not to infer that Christians were necessarily committing murder, but that they were angry with their brothers and sisters -- a meaning along the lines of Jesus' admonition recorded in Matthew 5:21-22   "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment".
   Conflicts, fightings, and wars in our relationships (especially within the church) are because we desire and covet and don't obtain what we want. He states that we don't have... because we do not ask, meaning that we do not ask God in prayer. Furthermore our asking is amiss because we ask with self-interest and in self-centeredness ("to spend it on your passions") for the sake of self-gratification.

   James tells the scattered Jewish Christians that they absolutely have to choose between the world's way and God's way; that they can't be "doubleminded", trying to be friends both of God and of the world. In strong language once again, we are told that we end up as "adulterers and adultresses" and "enemies of God" when we become friends of the world (enculturated and co-opted into a 'me-first' world).

   The Word of the Lord in James helps us to realize that we must learn how to 'stop the warring madness' by submitting ourselves (entrusting ourselves) to God in humble faith. Seeking His holy will and cooperating with Him in true conversion through faith  will lift us from the perversions brought on by our self-centeredness. Ask Him in prayer... seeking His will (not our own), "resist the devil and he will flee from you", "draw near to God and He will draw near to you."

May we become singleminded desirers of God's will. As we do this, the Lord will exalt us and the warring madness among us will subside.

   We continued our consideration of these verses in our after-service discussion. It's no accident that dissension can arise during times of the greatest opportunity for growth and service. So we reminded ourselves of our priorities, to make sure that God's will and ministries are always our first focus, over and above our own personal interests. To God be the glory!

NOTES: The special offering for Shane Gormley, our seminarian at Nashotah House in Wisconsin, continues through the end of the month. We also give thanks for the use of the Chapel and meeting room at Reformation Lutheran Church, and for the loving hospitality extended to us by their congregation and staff.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Spirit vs. body or spirit AND body?

The duality of life can't be escaped. Maybe it's even a tri-ality. There's the talkative mind, the stolid body, and the spirit that's hard to pin down.

As Christians, we tend to think of our minds (renewed) as the voices of our spirits, and so what we experience is a duality in which we too often exalt the "superior", communicative mind at the expense of the "inferior", silent, stubborn body. In short, because our minds yack so much, we pay them a lot of attention.

And when a friend or family member dies, we think only of their spirit and its journey, since their body is still right here, still silent, and still stubborn. We think of their spirit with Jesus in Heaven: I remember my mother once wondering if we would become little points of light, hovering like fireflies.

Concentrating on the spirit only -- or worse, downgrading the body to "just a shell", as I have heard Christians say from time to time -- impoverishes our faith. We are beings of body and spirit and we will, for eternity, have glorified bodies as our spirits' clothing; bodies like Christ's that are "real", solid, but no longer subject to the laws of physics or fallen Nature.

This essay, The Great Christian Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body, reminds us of the sacred importance of our bodies. We are beings that are, eternally, both spiritual and physical. Remembering this not only helps us grapple with ideas of the afterlife, but also gives us a way to mediate the negative barrage our minds like to hurl at our bodies.

What are your reactions to the essay?

Church News: September 15, 2009

Last Sunday, the message was titled, "Losing Our Lives For Christ's Sake" based upon Jesus' words recorded in Mark 8 verses 27-38. In it, Father David started out by seeking to answer the question of how valuable our souls and lives are. The short answer- Worth dying for!  Indeed, he said, to recognize the context of this passage, we need to contemplate the sanctity and awesome value of our lives, lives for which the Son of God offered His Life on the Cross. 

He reminded the listeners that "God wanted us born" and "He has great hopes and investment in our lives." Our lives are valuable to God! From this starting point, he helped us to unpack what Jesus said as recorded in Mark 8:35 "whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." 

"Considering our lives as valuable to God, then what does the denial of self entail?", David+ asked. It entails a shift from self-centeredness, selfishness, exclusive self-interest, and even seeking self-protection without consideration of God's place in our lives. Who is at the center of your life?, David+ asked. Who do you seek to have supreme control in your life? Is it your self or is it Jesus?

So how does self-denial and humility fit in to our lives in a godly way? David+  explained that everything we have is from God, therefore we don't need to hold so very tightly to our own self interest. Rather, we must learn to let go of our selfishness, our efforts to save ourselves without God's help, and learn through faith to cooperate with God and trust Him. 

"And yet", David+ continued, "self-denial is not an end in itself."

We can never rid ourselves of self-interest... this can not be the aim... and furthermore 'What can a man give in return for his life?' (Mark 8:37). The self-denial Jesus advocates takes dying to self and becoming alive to God. We do this by giving over ourselves to trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. This means that we learn to cooperate with Him in the life He gives us and the life to which He calls us in His love. Afterall, Jesus is speaking here of self-denial for His sake and for the sake of the gospel. We are therefore invited to give over our loyalties, our focus, our purpose, everything that is important, and indeed, our centeredness, to God.

David+ encouraged us not to think of ourselves as too damaged, too bad, or too unreachable for God, nor are we to think we are too good, not needing a Savior. Neither are we to see God as to weak or too unwilling or uncaring to receive us and grant us life eternal as we lose (invest, commit) our lives unto Him: for His sake and the gospel. 

So who is in control- you or God? Father David concluded, "In Christ, your life is not your own. Jesus bought your life for the price of His own Life, therefore your life is sacred to God." Let us offer (lose) our lives unto Him in faith in order to gain true life.


Pray for the people of Reformation Lutheran as they meet to discuss the recent changes in the Lutheran church and how these changes will affect them.

September 26, 2009- First day of Sunday School! Tom and Alison will host an after-church meeting for all members regarding Sunday School, refreshments will be provided.

October 6, 2009- Women's Book Group will meet at 7PM at the Perkins at 1500 W. Ridge Rd. The discussion will include "Why Faith Matters" by David J. Wolpe, the Mary Magdalene
chapter of the book "Twelve Extraordinary Women" by John MacArthur, and the Ben Stein video documentary "Expelled".

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thought for the Day: How Do We Respond to Those Who Ask Us How We Can Believe In Something that Can't Be Proved?

"The existence of non-empirical knowledge is absolutely crucial for a Christian worldview."

Non-empirical knowledge is knowledge that can not be proved to be true or untrue by using the five senses. The widespread materialistic worldview does not acknowledge that any truth can exist beyond what can be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or felt. But we as Christians know that there is so much more. How can we explain this to those who are limited by a sole belief in the empirical? Check out this post from the Boundless.org blog called:

And for those who would like to know more about how to describe knowledge, check out the companion article:

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Church news, 9/8: Faith without works is dead

On Sunday we considered another seeming paradox of Scripture: are we saved through faith or through works? Passages such as Ephesians 2:8 indicate what the Reformers preached: "Sola Fide", Faith Alone! But James 2:14-26 (esp.17 & 26) plainly says that faith without works is dead. So which one is it?

Fr. David pointed out that "Sola Fide" (we are saved by 'Faith Alone") was put forward in response to an emphasis on works in the Roman Catholic Church.

"Martin Luther was frustrated by his inability to rid himself of sin. No amount of works seemed to be enough. Finally he realized he couldn't be good enough, no matter what he did, no matter how many of his sins he could remember and then confess" said Fr. David. "Luther was reading Paul's letter to the Romans when the Holy Spirit flooded his life and showed him it wasn't about him or what he did. Salvation was already accomplished in Jesus' death on the Cross and is offered to us as a free gift that we receive through faith.

"So the Reformers said it's the Lord's work that counts, not ours, and this is true. But then James points out that faith will make a change in the fabric of our lives, and this is also true. The seed of salvation -- God's Word dwelling in us -- springs to life and bears spiritual fruit through faith, and is expressed through works of faith (acts of love... faith put into action) .

"This is a different kind of works -- not the kind that comes from ourselves and our self-effort." Likening works to planted seeds that grow and bear fruit, Fr. David continued by pointing to Christ's parable of the sower in Matthew 13. The seed falling onto stony ground springs up, but without deep enough roots it withers away. Seeds need to  put forth roots, shoots, and fruits. Likewise, our faith is meant to be the resource for our works: our works are meant to come forth from our faith in God. Our works cannot save us in themselves, but are effective only when they are motivated by and rooted in our faith (fruit that is borne in a cooperative effort with God).

James shows us what happens when the seed of salvation falls on good soil (when it is invested with faith). His position is, "You can't show me faith without works because works are the natural fruit of faith, like the fruit of the Spirit."

So it really isn't a case of "either/or", but a case of "both/and", Fr. David concluded. "We're compelled to faith-filled action through a heart set upon our Father God, an openness to the Holy Spirit, and faith-filed love and thankfulness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The answer to the question "faith or works?" is answered with the faithful devotion and living application of faith AND works."

NOTES: A special collection is being taken for Shane Gormley through the end of the month. Shane is currently studying for the priesthood at Nashotah House seminary in Wisconsin. To contribute, use one of the special envelopes available at church.

Friday, September 04, 2009

When a friend dies: Grief + responsibility

A friend of mine -- a former co-worker -- died this week. She'd battled lung cancer for a year and a half, successfully, as it turned out, but there were a host of other health complications that dealt her a war on too many fronts. She was 63.

My friend was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church but lived a resolutely secular life. A slot machine was present at the funeral parlor to celebrate her favorite pastime of casino gambling. She always wore a diamond ring on every finger, loved to buy clothes (being a size zero, everything looked great on her), had a colorful vocabulary and was quick with a salty joke.

We all loved her.

While fighting her health war, she refused to take time to plan a funeral (that would be giving in) but did say she'd feel like a hypocrite having a service in a church. Not that she didn't believe in God, just that she wasn't much of a churchgoer during her life.

In retrospect, what strikes me is that believers have a responsibility toward their unbelieving friends, and that the Lord will provide a way for each of us to share the Gospel with sensitivity and grace.

I am very thankful for another funeral service earlier this year (the father of another co-worker) where my friend was present. This was a believer's funeral and the pastor kindly but very clearly shared the Gospel message of salvation. On the way to our cars, my friend said several times how much she liked the message and the pastor. Later on, when she was ill, she said that she prayed but she preferred to do that by herself. When I was by her bedside for what later turned out to be the last time, her daughter was intent on keeping things upbeat, so I wasn't really able to say all I wanted to say.

I trust in her baptism, her willing hearing of the Gospel, and her renewed prayer life as evidence of her reconciliation with the Lord at the end of her life. But my story doesn't end there. On the day of my friend's funeral, her daughter asked if any of us wanted to say anything during the service. Everyone else said no, at which time I realized the Lord was offering me a responsibility to take.

Now, in half a century of living I have NEVER spoken at a funeral. And now I'd said yes, with virtually no time to prepare. A priest was present to conduct a short mass. He used all the scriptures I'd had in mind, except for one. So when it came my time to talk, I talked about how my friend enjoyed life as much as anyone I've ever known. That enjoyment is different from love. Love is sometimes enjoyable and other times an act of will that partakes of duty, but enjoyment itself is akin to thankfulness and that our friend went through every day enjoying every scrap of it: having an attitude of constant thanksgiving.

"Life here is short," I said, "but Life itself is very long. And we have a promise, which is that when we are absent from the body we are present -- immediately -- with the Lord, where every question of life that has ever troubled us will be answered." I finished by saying I knew our friend was enjoying this in the same way we all saw her enjoy her life here.

It wasn't the Four Spiritual Laws, but it was true both to my friend and to the word of God, and was as good as it was going to get with 20 minutes' prep time. The experience was difficult -- like tightrope balancing. How to tell the truth without placing one's self in the position of judge. Afterwards, everyone thanked me so I guess I did OK. Have you been in this postion? How did you handle it? I'm sure it's coming to all of us eventually, but I hope it doesn't come to me again, at least for awhile.

from: MATT KENNEDY at Standfirminfaith.com

Bishop Ryle on the Deference given to False Pastors

Thursday, September 3, 2009 • 7:31 am

A couple of years ago I was engaged in a fairly heated argument on Stand Firm over the question of how to deal with false teachers in the church---the argument centered on passages from 1st Corinthians 5, Galatians 1 and 2nd John. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that one weakness in contemporary Anglican circles that chronically leads us into trouble is an odd kind of clericalism that tends to disregard the effect of good or bad teaching on the congregational level. Some well meaning orthodox priests doggedly view priests who teach false doctrine as colleagues to be treated with deference--as persons with whom gentle and genteel dialogue and conversation is both desirable and necessary. Meanwhile, as the "conversation" drones on, the collared wolves devour their flocks and ruin the people in their care. But "the people" seem to be a secondary concern. What is most important is the "unity of the Church" which tends to mean: priests and bishops being nice to each other at meetings that they all attend.

This morning I ran across this passage from Bishop JC Ryle's commentary on the Gospel of John (chapter 10) while reading another blog. Bishop Ryle's comment serves as a helpful antidote to clerical toleration in the name of unity. You can read the entire commentary here.
Those who think that unsound ministers ought never to be exposed and held up to notice, and men ought never to be warned against them, would do well to study this passage. No class of character throughout our Lord's ministry seems to call forth such severe denunciation as that of false pastors. The reason is obvious. Other men ruin themselves alone: false pastors ruin their flocks as well as themselves. To flatter all ordained men, and say they never should be called unsound and dangerous guides, is the surest way to injure the Church and offend Christ.

Hat tip to the Pyromaniacs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thought for the Day: What Happens When the Church Loses Sight of the Bible?

In this week's Thought for the Day, we have an article from the Boundless.org blog. In it, a Lutheran, Matt Kaufman, ponders the recent announcement from the Lutheran church supporting gay clergy. He wonders how the church lost its way so dramatically and concludes that "where they really went wrong was when they lost sight of the Bible." Check it out at:

"Losing Their Grip"

Church news, 8/23 ...Coming to Jesus!

"No one can come to Jesus, unless..." was the title of Sunday's sermon. We spent some time filling in the blank after "unless" and soon realized that:

A. "No one can come to Me (Christ), unless the Father who sent Me draw him," John 6:44, or "unless it be granted him by the Father" John 6:65 and

B. "No one comes to the Father but by Me (Christ)," John 14:6.

"It seems like a closed loop or closed system," Fr. David said. "How can we possibly get in there?"

He explained that the Father desires all to 'be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth' (I Timothy 2:3,4). We know this deepest desire of God because He opened the Way of salvation by sending His Son Jesus Christ, to live with us, show us the Father and then die for us. All who receive Jesus and who believe in His Name, He gives the power to become children of God (John 1:12). "God staked the fulfillment of His Will on His Son; that the invitation provided in and through Jesus and His Death upon the Cross would be enough," Fr. David continued.

As we considered God's invitation to us (to come to Jesus and find salvation), we then turned to the consideration of the parable of the king's banquet found in the Gospel of Luke 14:16-24:
Then He (Jesus) said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited
many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited,
‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make
excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go
and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five
yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still
another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that
servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the
house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and
lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and
the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and
still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the
highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
Look at the extent to which God, the Father (banquet host) and God, the Son, Jesus Christ (the servant) went to accomplish a fruitful response to the invitation. The servant reached out, motivated people and even lovingly compelled them to respond so that they would not miss the great feast of salvation. It subsequently took at least some cooperation (faith and trust, with no excuses) from those invited for them to become members of the host's household and taste the great supper!

"The first step in coming to Jesus Christ
", Fr. David continued, " is not as much about us or about our own efforts, but the awesome truth that the Father is drawing us, indeed inviting us, as He grants us every opportunity to come to Jesus". Fr. David continued with consideration of the second step of coming to Jesus, which is about our faith filled cooperation with the Father as we come to believe in Jesus as Son of God and Savior. "The second step is about our growing in faith in Jesus and thereby in communion with Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. And then in the third step in coming to Jesus, the Father grants us the status of being His children, beheld in union with His Son and prepared for being received in His Kingdom forever."

Summary: No one comes to Jesus unless God works on our behalf, which He is doing far more than many times we realize, and we cooperate with Him through faith, every step of the way, then we enter into everlasting communion with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

NOTES: Our church picnic was held Sunday afternoon at the Sanders' home, where a blessed time was had by all. Thanks to the Sanders' for their hospitality and great grilling, and also to all who brought the ingredients for our delicious meal, and who shared their comradeship with us. In other news, Sue Eckert has been called to the ministry of Parish Treasurer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thought for the Day: Practical Self-Denial in a Materialistic World

How attached are you to your "stuff"? In a post on the Boundless.org blog, David Barshinger examines the relationship between people and their belongings. We live in a material world, but our calling as Christians is to defer the material life to the spiritual one. How do we then balance the two without falling into legalistic excesses? Take a look at this week's thought for the day and let us know what you think:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Church news, 8/18

It's one thing to know the Will of God, but another thing to understand it, Fr. David pointed out in this week's sermon. The sermon was based upon Ephesians 5:17 'Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.'

He said,
"The will of God is summed up in the two 'greats' -- the Great Commandment and the Great Commission" . The Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind", and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"(Matthew 22:37-40). The Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."(Matthew 28:19-20).

"We know the will of God (at least in general terms), but we also need to understand it. So the larger question is, can we know the mind of God, even though we are finite and imperfect and God is infinite and perfect?" Fr. David asked.

For the answer, he directed us to I Corinthians Chapter 2:9-12, where St. Paul writes:

as it is written: “ What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

Paul makes a striking analogy: The human will is understood by the human spirit in the same way God's Will is understood by God's Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit understands the depths of God and transforms us into beings with renewed minds and hearts, willing to obey God's Will and also able to understand it (within the finite limits of our nature).

God wants us to know His Will through our getting to know Him better. God will certainly help us to understand His Will to the degree that we are willing to apply His Will. "If we are first willing to obey God, and then ask for His Will to be done in our lives, He will honor this," Fr. David explained. With our willingness to apply His Will affirmed, "Then we can do what King Solomon did, pray for wisdom. God will honor this. As we are learning to apply/do the Will of God (put His Holy purposes into practice in our lives), we'll come to understand His Will better in the process of living into His Will.

A further point was made: We need to be careful not to be self-serving as we seek God's Will. As we grow, we recognize that this is about God first and that understanding His Will is not a pursuit that is just for ourselves, but for the Church also. As we are willing to be vessels for God's Holy Will to be done in and through us, then the Holy Spirit will fill us more fully with renewal, power, and even understanding."

Indeed, we were reminded: as we 1) open to God spiritually, with 2) our minds being renewed through faith and with 3) our willingness to obey God's Will as we understand it and 4) as we pursue His Will not just for ourselves but for Him and His Church, then we will understand His Will, even coming to the place of having the 'mind of Christ' as stated in 1 Corinthians 2:16!

NOTES: The Women's Book Group has chosen their next readings: Why Faith Matters by David Wolpe, the chapter on Mary Magdalene in Twelve Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur, and viewing of the Ben Stein documentary Expelled, which is about the Intelligent Design vs. Darwinism debate. The next meeting will be in October, date and place to be announced.

There will be two after-service events next Sunday, 8/23. During the fellowship hour there will be a half-hour video presentation on alternative "Green Houses" eldercare in which seniors live in a caring group home environment rather than a larger institution. Then we will adjourn to the Sanders', 3092 Culver Road, for a dish-to-pass picnic. Parking is available in Culver-Ridge Plaza, then just cross Ridge and walk north a few doors on Culver.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thought For the Day: iMonk Post- "The Weight May Not Be A Sin"

For this week's thought for the day, check out iMonk's post on the little things in our lives that are not necessarily sin, but hinder us in our Christian walk nonetheless. He asks us "to lay aside whatever may hinder us that is not a matter of repenting of sin, but of giving up what is not necessary, what distracts us and what makes it difficult to carry out the calling and mission of the church."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Church News 8/4

"The Nathan Ministry" was Fr. David's stirring sermon topic on an otherwise dark and rainy Sunday morning, Aug. 2.

Beginning with II Samuel 11:26-12:13a, we considered together the ministry of the prophet Nathan. Nathan took on the unenviable task of reproving and correcting King David after he caused Bathsheba's husband Uriah to be killed on a battlefield so that David could marry her and obscure the timing of her pregnancy with his child (which occurred while her husband was still living).

"How do we reach people going the wrong way on a one-way street?" Fr. David asked, pointing out that many make the mistake of doing this in an accusatory or condemning fashion, something that almost never achieves the desired result. What is needed is Nathan-like Ministry among us.

He pointed out that Nathan first told a story -- in this case, the story of a poor man whose only possession was a pet ewe lamb that he treated like his own child. This lamb would have eventually been the mother of a flock that would have provided the poor man and his family with wool, milk, cheese, and the ability to barter for family needs. But a rich man with many flocks decided it was easier to appropriate the poor man's lamb and kill it for a meal than one of his own.

The story made King David very angry. He said the rich man deserved to die but should at least give the poor man four lambs as punishment for his lack of pity. Then Nathan told him that he, David, was the same as the rich man -- someone to whom God had given everything but who took from Uriah first his wife and then his life. David's heart, mind and soul were reached and David recognized the serious depth of his sin, his despising of God, and he repented.

"People get to a place where they make excuses for their wrong behavior," Fr. David explained. "We all do it, and when we do we aren't honoring God as we should. It takes a Nathan to point this out in a direct but loving way." Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, many of us are empowered with prophetic ministry, ministry such as Nathan exercised. As prophets do, Nathan didn't condemn King David himself, he pointed out what the Lord had to say about David's actions and David's consequential future.

"God's desire was to reach King David despite the terrible thing he had done. God judges but also forgives, " said Fr. David, "and as God's people, as God seeks to use us for the sake of others. As God moves us, we have a 'Nathan Ministry' to open to our neighbors the understanding of Christ's gift to us, that once our hearts are reached with God's Holy Truth and we truly repent, we are redeemed and cleansed in Him." Truly our souls long to be reached, opened, forgiven, and cleansed through this 'Nathan Ministry' and God seeks to reach hearts, minds and souls through this 'Nathan Ministry' working in our lives reaching others in God's Holy truth shared with God's holy love.

NOTES: The Vestry of the former All Saints has taken action to transfer the financial responsibilities of our church to the new Vestry and the new All Saints effective Aug. 2. We pray for God's blessings on our new church and the work of our new Vestry on behalf of our congregation.