Marc Solas: 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church

I came across this today and am greatly troubled by it, in part, because I think these reasons apply to why adults leave the church as well. Check it out and see what you think.  Do you agree with these reasons?

HT: Daniel S.

screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-9-09-10-am10. The Church is “Relevant”:

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”

I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian.

We’re like a fawning wanna-be just hoping the world will think we’re cool too, you know, just like you guys!

Our kids meet the real world and our “look, we’re cool like you” posing is mocked. In our effort to be “like them” we’ve become less of who we actually are. The middle-aged pastor trying to look like his 20-something audience isn’t relevant. Dress him up in skinny jeans and hand him a latte, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant, It’s comically cliché. The minute you aim to be “authentic”, you’re no longer authentic!

Read the whole thing.

If You Want to be a Citizen of Heaven, You’d Best Not be an Enemy of the Cross!

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Lent 2C, February 24, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27.1-17; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 13.31-35.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In this morning’s epistle lesson, Paul warns with tears about the enemies of the cross. It’s the only recorded instance we have of Paul weeping over a group of people so we would be wise to pay attention to what is going on here. Specifically, I want us to look briefly at why being an enemy of the cross results in having our citizenship in heaven revoked and what this all has to do with Lent.

I want you to picture in your mind two images. First, when you think about an enemy of the cross, who or what do you see? An atheist? Some non-Christian? A really bad dude like bin Laden or Hitler? Perhaps it is that neighbor or relative or acquaintance or business associate who annoys you to no end. Or maybe it is something else. Now I want you to think about being a citizen of heaven. What comes to mind? A picture of you in heaven, floating around and playing your harp? A disembodied spirit that is finally freed from the weight of his or her mortal body and fallen nature? Or something else? The kinds of images you conjure up in your mind will tell you a lot about your understanding of the hope and promise of the Christian faith.

To help us understand what Paul had in mind when he talked about enemies of the cross, we need to look at the broader context of this part of his letter. Earlier, Paul had warned against the Judaizers, those who claimed that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Paul asserts bluntly that these people are “dogs” and “evil workers” who are seeking to turn people away from trusting fully in Jesus for their salvation and looking instead to themselves and what they do, or to outward signs like circumcision as evidence they are bona fide members of God’s holy people and thus part of the “in crowd” so to speak. But he doesn’t call these folks enemies of the cross as he does in today’s text so he clearly has another group of people in mind. But who?

From Paul’s description of these people—folks who were controlled by their bodily desires, whose minds were set on earthly things like money, sex, power, and prestige, and whose glory was in their own self-centered priorities and bodily desires—it is clear that he had pagans and other non-Christians in mind. This makes sense because Philippi was a Roman colony with its attendant beliefs of that day. But what if after warning the Philippians to avoid the works-righteous crowd composed of the Judaizers, Paul also felt the need to warn about the opposite group of folks in the church, the gnostics with their libertine philosophy of Christianity?

Gnosticism as a philosophy was just beginning to emerge around this time and sadly has plagued the Church ever since. Among other things, the gnostics (from the Greek gnosis meaning knowledge) believed the body had no importance since humans could only have a mystically spiritual relationship with Christ assured by secret knowledge. And of course the gnostics believed that only they possessed that secret knowledge. How convenient. Since the gnostics emphasized the spiritual dimension of the Christian faith and discounted the importance of the body, they believed that what we do with our bodies is unimportant or irrelevant because it was all about the spirit and spiritual relationships powered by secret knowledge. If asked what they thought constituted citizenship in heaven, gnostics would surely have pointed to a disembodied eternity with God and the end of created matter because creation was at best unimportant and at worst evil. There is more to gnosticism than this, but not less.

We see varieties of this kind of teaching in different quarters of society today–you know, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” whatever that means. If asked the rhetorical question Paul posed to the Romans, “Should we therefore continue to sin so that grace can abound?” the modern-day gnostics would tend to answer, “Of course! What we do with our bodies isn’t important in God’s economy so all the so-called sins of the flesh that the Church has traditionally identified (e.g., any kind of sex outside the context of marriage, drunkenness, debauchery, etc.; cf. Galatians 5.19-21) are really nothing to bother with because our bodies do not matter. It is perfectly fine to indulge in our bodily appetites because the body is mortal and we are not going to have to deal with it after it dies. So who cares what we do with our bodies? God certainly doesn’t and even if indulging in our bodily appetites is a sin, God loves us and will forgive us. No problem!”

What both the legalists and the libertines had in common was that each in their own way were opposed to the all-sufficient and total Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life—body, soul, spirit. But the gnostic belief system with its typically self-centered and immoral lifestyles (and they were legion) also denied the way of the cross and all that Jesus’ cross stands for, and Paul would have no part of it. Consequently, he did not want the Philippians (or us) to have any part of either legalism or libertinism because he loved them so much. For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection was the climax of God’s plan to rescue his good creation from the ravages of human sin and the evil it unleashes. On the cross God condemned sin in the flesh so that he would not have to condemn us and Jesus’ death brought about desperately needed reconciliation between humans and God so that we could finally be healed and become the fully human beings God created us to be

And as Paul tells us in today’s epistle lesson, God’s rescue plan for the world will end with the resurrection of our mortal bodies when Jesus returns to consummate God’s plan to rescue his good creation and fallen creatures from evil, sin, and death. We see Jesus alluding to his redemptive work on the cross and the inauguration of the new creation in today’s gospel lesson when he tells the Pharisees that he must finish his work on the third day, work that he would effect on the cross, a clear reference to his resurrection (cf. John 19.30).

And let us be very clear. This is all God’s doing, a result of his great love, mercy, and faithfulness for his stubborn and rebellious human creatures. We see God’s eternal faithfulness poignantly illustrated in that strange story from our OT lesson. Here is old Abram, wondering how God is going to keep his promise to give him an uncountable number of descendants and use them to be a blessing to God’s broken and fallen world (cf. Genesis 12.1-3). Abram muses that he will be forced to take matters into his own hands by leaving his inheritance to his slave. But God will have none of this defeatist thinking and to show Abram that God is good to his word, God proceeds to make a covenant with Abram but does not require Abram to take a vow to uphold his part of it! That’s what is going on when God has Abram cut up animals and then later puts him in a deep sleep so that God can walk between the animals by himself. God’s walking between the animal parts was a symbolic action that said in effect to Abram, “Let me become like these animals if I violate my promise to give you descendants.” Abram didn’t fully understand God’s plan to rescue his world and its people through his descendants and neither do we. But God always acts faithfully toward his people and always keeps his promises to us. In Jesus’ death and resurrection God has acted to rescue us from evil, sin, and death. New creation and the healing of God’s world and his people is a done deal. We simply have to wait for it to be consummated when Jesus returns in great power and glory.

This is why libertines and other unbelievers find the cross to be so foolish. Why would God choose to rescue his world by becoming human and dying on a cross for us? Who ever heard of a naked and crucified God? It does not compute with our human notions of what power and salvation look like and it is an affront to our human pride! And of course, when the gnostics deny the importance of the body, they are really saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection are unnecessary because our bodies are not important and will not be redeemed. Therefore the cross was never needed in the first place.

But Paul was adamant in arguing otherwise. What we do with our bodies does matter because our bodies will be redeemed ultimately one day at the resurrection and we have Jesus’ resurrection as proof of this. Likewise, creation is important and from all eternity God has had a plan to redeem it from the effects of human sin and the evil it unleashes. This means that if we really believe all this, we must inevitably live as people with real hope. And since resurrection and new creation is our destiny as Jesus’ people, we must adopt lifestyles that are consistent with that hope. After all, didn’t Jesus say that if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves and take up our cross?

This is where the logic of Paul’s argument about being a citizen of heaven comes into play. When Paul talks about being a citizen of heaven, he does not mean that we will get to go to heaven when we die and spend our eternity there with Jesus. No, the logic of citizenship went like this. Since Philippi was a Roman colony, those colonists from Rome who settled there would have seen it as their duty to bring their way of life to bear on their new homeland. In other words, it was their duty to act like citizens of Rome so that the natives would see the benefits of being and living like a Roman and follow suit. Citizens of heaven must do likewise according to Paul. But what does that look like? As followers of Jesus who have been reconciled to God by Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross and recipients of God’s promised new creation, we are called to bring Christian values and their accompanying lifestyle to bear on our culture. That starts first and foremost by acknowledging that Jesus is Lord and that nothing is more important to us than our relationship with him and doing his will because only in Jesus can we be raised from the dead (cf. John 11.25-26).

Let me give you an example from my own life that I hope will illustrate how the logic of being a citizen of heaven works. As many of you know, the issue of whether to expand Medicaid in this state has become rather contentious. But I do not look at the issue through the lens of politics but rather through the lens of being a citizen of heaven. Given the consistent biblical mandate for God’s people to help the least, the lost, the most helpless, and the oppressed, and given the biblical emphasis on caring for the whole person, body, mind, and soul, I have concluded that it is a wise and faithful thing from a Christian perspective to expand Medicaid in our state because I think it will help address real human needs. I also note that I don’t have to be a supporter of Governor Kasich or any one political party to reach this decision because Jesus is Lord, not them, and so I looked carefully at Jesus’ values to help guide my decision. The next step will be for me to contact my state representative and senator about my position. Let me be very clear about this. I don’t use this example to tell you what to think about this issue or whether to support it, but rather to show you what went into my thinking regarding my support of this issue. I am persuaded that we as the Church must do more of this if we are ever to be good citizens of heaven and this is exactly what the enemies of the cross do not want us to do.

So what does this have to do with Lent? I suspect that most, if not all, of us have a bit of gnosticism and legalism in us. At times we tend to be like the folks who answer yes to Paul’s question about sinning so that grace can abound. We buy into the false notions that money, power, sex, prestige, and security are the tickets to real happiness and contentment and therefore pursue our own self-centered agendas to achieve these things. At other times we who are Christians fall into the trap of believing that the good we do in Jesus’ name will somehow put God in our debt and earn our way into heaven. This, of course, is patent nonsense because we are all too profoundly broken to put God in our debt and this thinking also denies God’s grace and faithfulness that was demonstrated once and for all in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That is why Lent, with its emphasis on self-examination, repentance, and self-denial, is the perfect time for us to examine our beliefs and behaviors to see which of these tendencies we need to kill so that we can be model citizens of God’s coming new creation. Our beliefs are important because beliefs must always precede behavior and we are called to imitate our Lord in all that we do so that God can use our work to build on the foundation of Jesus’ death and resurrection to help bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven. As we have seen, this is the logic of citizenship as Paul used it and this is our call and duty as Christians. Simply put, our work is important because we believe God will use it to help accomplish his redeeming purposes. This is what it means to stand firm in the Lord. Think carefully about these things, both individually and together, because as Paul reminds us, we cannot grow in grace by ourselves. And when we think about these things together, we will surely be reminded in the power of the Spirit that when we are good citizens of heaven, we have Good News, now and for all eternity, not only for ourselves but also to share with others.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Funeral Sermon: Our Future and Hope: Dying and Rising with Christ

Sermon preached on Thursday, February 21, 2013 at Friendship Village, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15.1-26, 35-38, 42-44a, 53-58;  John 11.17-27.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Death under any circumstance is hard, isn’t it? While death came to our race because of human sin and rebellion and is a universal experience (cf. Genesis 3), it still serves as the ultimate poke in God’s eye because God created us for life and relationship with him, not death. That is one of the reasons we have such a difficult time dealing with death. Besides the obvious fact that death separates us from our loved ones, at least for a season, we know instinctively that death is so wrong precisely because we know we were created for life. Not only that, it is doubly hard to stand by and watch those we love grow increasingly infirm to the point of death. It sucks the energy right out of us and like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to throw our hands up in the air and ask in desperation why God allows this to happen.

But if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you notice that Jesus gave Martha and us a much more satisfactory answer to her “why” question about evil and death. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, echoing Psalm 23, he acknowledged that while evil and death still exist in God’s good but fallen world, he had come to destroy their power over us. That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ, evil and death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul reminds us in his letters to the Romans and Colossians, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because God bore the punishment for our sins himself so that we could be reconciled to him and enjoy life and peace in the way God intends for us (Romans 8.1-3; Colossians 1.20-21). God’s love for us in Christ is so great that even death itself cannot separate us from it or from God’s life-giving presence.

We see tangible signs of God’s love for us in Christ in the various symbols that are part of today’s service and were part of Marjorie’s interment. First, as we look at the paschal candle lighted over Marjorie’s picture we remember that it is the visible symbol of the pillars of cloud and fire that represented God’s presence with his people as he led them out of their bondage to slavery in Egypt and remained with them during their wilderness wanderings despite their stubborn rebelliousness (cf. Exodus 13.20-22; Numbers 14.13-16). This serves to remind us that even in death God continues to lead Marjorie and that God always remains faithful to us so that we can trust his promises to one day deliver us ultimately from our slavery to sin and death. God accomplished this through Jesus’ death on the cross and our Lord’s resurrection reminds us that new life in God’s new creation is Marjorie’s destiny and ours, not death.

Second, at her interment, Marjorie’s casket was covered by a pall with its emblem of the cross. This serves to remind us that when Marjorie was baptized she was buried with Jesus in a death like his so that she could also be raised with him and share in a resurrection like his (Romans 6.3-5). This means that even though Marjorie’s mortal body has died and been buried, she is even now in the direct presence of the Lord of life as she awaits her new resurrection body that is patterned after his. Of course, the light of the paschal candle also reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection and all that is in store for those like Marjorie who live and die in the Lord. That’s why believing in Christ’s bodily resurrection is so important because we believe that eventually we will have a body like his when he comes again in great power and glory to consummate his victory over evil, sin, and death, and usher in his promised new creation.

Paul tells us about the nature of our promised resurrection body in his letter to the Corinthians and it is worth our time to see what he has to say. Paul tells us that unlike our mortal body that is subject to disease, decay, and death, the resurrection body with which we will be clothed will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. It will be a spiritual body, that is, it will be animated and powered by God’s Spirit instead of being animated and powered by flesh and blood. This means that our new body will no longer be subject to all the nasty things to which our mortal body is subjected. Whatever that looks like—and surely it will be more beautiful and wonderful than our minds can comprehend or imagine—it will be impervious to death and suited to live in God’s promised new creation, which the writer of Revelation talks about in our NT lesson.

When the new creation comes, the dimensions of heaven and earth will no longer be separate spheres for God and humans respectively and which currently only intersect. Instead, as the writer of Revelation reminds us, the new heavens will come down to earth and the two will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation so that evil will be banished and we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever. There will be no more sorrow or sickness or suffering or death or pain or evil of any kind. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ and get to live forever with our new body and limitless new opportunities to be the humans God created and always intended for us to be. As I watched Marjorie being afflicted by her illness during the last week of her life, I couldn’t help but stop and give thanks for the promise of new creation because it represents the very opposite of what I was witnessing in sorrow.

This is our hope and promise as Christians and it is the only real remedy to our grief and sorrow. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t love a person for an entire lifetime and then not grieve her loss when death claims her. But as Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to grieve as people who have real hope and not as those who have none at all. And of course Marjorie had this hope. Whenever I visited her, there was always an underlying joy and peace about her, even when she spoke of the difficulties she faced. These attributes represent the fruit of the Spirit, telltale signs that Marjorie is in Christ (cf. Galatians 5.22-25). And because she is, she surely knows better than any of us the reality of the hope that is ours in him, thanks be to God!

So what do we do with all this? First and foremost we embrace our resurrection hope in Christ and let it comfort, heal, and encourage us. But Paul also gives us further instruction at the end of his letter to the Corinthians. After making a massive case for Jesus’ resurrection, the resurrection of the body, and what our promised new body will be like, we would expect him to end by saying, isn’t this all great? Rejoice because you’ve got a great party awaiting you! But instead, he tells us to remain steadfast in our work for the Lord because we do not labor in vain. This suggests that by imitating our Lord and acting as people with real hope and purpose, we can build on the foundation of God’s promised new creation that Jesus laid starting right here and now. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. It doesn’t matter how healthy or infirm you are. Each of us can still imitate our Lord in some way(s), according to our abilities, just like Marjorie did. And we can start doing this by reaching out to Marjorie’s family to comfort them in their grief to provide a tangible sign of God’s great love for them. Doing so will also allow us to show the world that we really are people of real hope who believe Jesus’ promise that even though our mortal body dies, we live because he has conquered death, and that in his resurrection he has given us a preview of the world to come. That, of course, is Good News, not only for Marjorie Marie Moder, but also for the rest of us, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: Lent 101

Sermon delivered on the first Sunday of Lent, February 17, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This day we call the first Sunday of Lent, but what is Lent and where did it come from and why do we still follow Lenten Practices today.

The term Lent originally mean no more that the spring season – hard to believe when Easter and Lent fall so early in the year. The word itself derives from the Germanic languages and was later incorporated into the English where it was used to translate the Latin term Quadragesima meaning “forty days” Some early Fathers of the Church claimed that the practice of Lent was from of Apostolic Times. After all Christ had said in response to the Pharisees that his disciples would not be expected to fast while he was physically with them, but that a time would come when after he was gone that then his disciples would then fast. However, modern scholarship and research, rejects this view, rather, they find that for the first three centuries that there was both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and the length of its duration. An early teacher, Irenaeus, now recognized as a Saint, states that “some think that they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others seven, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast”

Prior to the year 190 , there was little if any Easter fast lasting forty days Prior to the Council of Nicea, there is no evidence of any extended fast. Some of this may be made more understandable in that the Church in the Apostolic Times saw the commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ, not as an annual event, but the focus of the weekly Sunday Eucharist. With this being the case, the primary fast day fell to Friday as a reflection on the Death of Christ. Slowly and for a variety of reason, there developed an annually celebrated Sunday set aside to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, but even then the fast connected with this celebration was normally not more than a week long, but it was a very strict fast.

By year 331, the practice of a Forty Day Season of Fast was beginning to take hold. This did not mean that every day was a fast day, but rather that during this season, days and weeks would be set aside for fasting. The fasts varied dramatically. In some cases, they were day long with only one meal takes at night, others prohibited certain foods like meat and fish or dairy. In other cases, the fasts lasted only a couple of days, but were complete fasts from all food. In Rome, in the Fifth Century, Lent last six week, but with only three weeks of actual fasting and these seemed to have been attached times when the fasting of the whole community was shared with the fasting that was being done with the candidates for Baptism which would be received at the Easter Vigil.

Why forty days. Forty was a number of special significance. Moses spent forty years as a shepherd before being called to lead his people from bondage and the Chosen People of Israel had to wander the desert for forty years, Elijah the prophet spent forty days and nights walking to Mt. Horeb where he encountered God in a whisper and was empowered to complete his prophetic task and looking to the today’s Gospel Jesus spends forty days in the desert preparing himself before beginning his public ministry.

In our first reading from Deuteronomy, we are introduced to the concept that a portion of the first fruits of the harvest should be given to our God. This concept gives rise to the practice of giving a tithe or 1/10 to the Lord. One early bishop in addressing the length of the Lenten season pointed out that this “Spring Fast” represented approximate 10% of the year thus Lent was an appropriate offering that we might make to the Lord.

By the Middle Ages, the Lenten fast had been reduced to the taking of only one meal a day and this meal being after sundown. Slowly some Church leaders imposed more and more restrictions on the type of food that may be eaten at the meal, but with this stricter fast, came exceptions and dispensations, while, meat, eggs and butter might be forbidden, a dispensation from the rule, could be made for a contribution to some pious work. Many a German church owes its existence to the love of butter by the church faithful. From this the ancient practice of alms giving was renewed in the life of the Church.

As we come to these modern times, the practice of Lenten fast or discipline varies greatly from one denomination to another. Some Churches of the East still practice a strong physical fast where believers are expected to on one day not to eat meat, one day not to have dairy products, one day not to eat until after dark and then only one meal. Some Protestant Churches do not have any Lenten Practices though most encourage some type of Lenten Discipline. In the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches specific days or times are set aside for a formal fast.

Fasting from Food in some form can be a meaningful and effective way for the believer to discipline his or her life in preparation for the celebration of Easter but perhaps more importantly to develop the discipline which allows them to withstand those things in life which without such discipline would weaken or perhaps even break their faith. The Church, however, understands that there are other ways in which we can strengthen ourselves. So it is during this season of Lent, that we are encouraged to spend more time in prayer and meditation for it is in such that we can open ourselves to the presence of God, an openness that can transform our lives if we are willing.

When Jesus spent his 40 days in the desert, he was following a spiritual practice not uncommon to his time. The individual went into a secluded place, away from society, to spend time in prayer and study. The self-denial practiced whether from food or other creature comforts was secondary to the search for a deeper relationship with God.

We are encouraged during this time to spend time in the study of our faith. First and foremost this involves reading and learning about the scriptures. Supporting this are many good books and educational programs. Here at St. Augustine’s we are conducting two such studies.

In the early church it was called alms giving – the providing of funds for works of faith and charity. Today we have one example of alms giving in the collection taken for Above and Beyond. There are may good causes that can use financial support and it during this season we have chosen to deny ourselves some pleasure with its accompanying costs perhaps some portion of that money saved can be used for that purpose. In today economy there are many who cannot give financially in any significant manner, but we all have a more valuable asset than money and that is our time. Consider, if you will, the possibility that your alms giving may consist of giving of your time to support some worthwhile cause or to visit some neighbor who you known as little or no contact with others or visiting a retirement or nursing home.

Why does the Church embrace the concept of Lent? Because as much as we would prefer not to deny or discipline ourselves we need to do so. Why keep Lent at 40 days: Modern science has shown that when we change a life pattern for approximately 30 days of longer, we have a greater likelihood that the change will be long lasting or permanent. Why? Because Jesus set the example. He prepared himself with fasting and prayer and being so prepared gave himself to the World and to us that we might follow Him. That being prepared Jesus was able to change lives and that being prepared we might do the same. That being prepared Jesus was able to withstand the strongest of temptations and thus win for us salvation. That being prepared we might be able to withstand the temptations that come to us that we might make his saving act known to others.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Timothy George: Catholics and Baptists Together

From Christianity Today online. A hopeful trend here between Protestants and Catholics. Pray for the unity of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

UnknownI participated in this recent synod as a fraternal delegate representing the Baptist World Alliance. The conveners asked the fraternal delegates to make a brief presentation to the synod, offer written comments on the proceedings, and participate in small groups to help draft the final documents. Given the distant and even hostile relations between Catholics and evangelicals in the past, this represents a remarkable degree of openness on the part of the Catholic Church. Though Vatican II documents call non-Catholic Christians “separated brothers,” the synod decidedly emphasized fraternity. This was evident in three major themes of the synod.

Read it all.

Barry Cooper: Are You Worshiping the Idol of ‘Open Options’?

From Christianity Today online. An excellent piece. Check it out and see what you think.

Unknown1 Kings 18:21 describes a crucial moment of decision. It’s the final showdown between the God of Israel and a false god called Baal. Elijah calls God’s people to choose once and for all between the living God who delivered them, and thisfalse god who has captured their affections: “‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.”

They seem unable, or unwilling, to make a choice. They want to hedge their bets, sit on the fence, and keep their options open. How different are we Christians in the 21st century? Would you prefer to make an ironclad, no-turning-back choice, or one you could back out of if need be? Do you ever find that you’re afraid to commit? Do you reply to party invitations with a “maybe” rather than a “yes” or “no”? Do you like to keep your smartphone switched on at all times, even in meetings, so that you are never fully present at any given moment? Will you focus on the person you’re talking to after a church service, or will you look over her shoulder for a better conversation partner?

If so, you may be worshiping the god of open options.

Lent: A Season for Training to be a Citizen in the New Creation

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51.1-17; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, confession, repentance, and self-denial. But why do we do these things? What’s the point? The short answer is to develop the habits of character that will be necessary for us to live as citizens in God’s promised new creation and to be signs of his new creation to others. And so tonight I want us to explore briefly what that means for us as we enter this season of Lent (and beyond).

We can all relate to the anguish in tonight’s Psalm because at one time or another, we have been the psalmist. The psalm itself identifies David as its author. David reportedly wrote it after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan for ordering the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to cover David’s disastrous affair with Bathsheba and save his own neck (cf. 2 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 12.1-14). Apparently sin is such a bad thing that we want to hide it from each other as well as God.

But we don’t have to engage in adultery or murder to understand the gist of the Psalm. We all know the dehumanizing effect sin has on us. It cheapens our bodies and spirits and can cause great anguish and guilt. And if we believe Scripture, our sins even pollute and corrupt the land in which we live. Every time we miss the mark and fail to be the wise and responsible stewards of God’s good creation we were created to be, and every time we fail to love God with all our being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we as God’s image-bearers along with God’s good creation are diminished. Paul lists some of the behaviors that cause this dynamic in Galatians 5.19-21: sexual immorality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and others like these. We are well aware of the results these kinds of behaviors produce everyday. Whether it’s mass murder or political bickering that results in the virtual paralysis of the various levels of our government or theft or drug and alcohol addiction (and the destructive behaviors that accompany both) or skyrocketing divorce rates and the breakdown of families or interpersonal conflict or incessant warfare and the threat of terrorism, we don’t have to look far to see the negative effects sin has on us and God’s world.

And even if we don’t fully understand it, we also get it instinctively that our sin causes us to be alienated and separated from God, our very Source of life, with all its accompanying adverse psychological and physical effects. Of course, we being who we are—proud, fallen, and occasionally self-delusional creatures of God—desperately seek solutions everywhere else except from the One who has the power to really heal us. We seek self-help gurus. We medicate or drink ourselves into numbness. We advocate various agendas where we listen to our disordered heart’s desire in an attempt to find fulfillment and self-understanding. We hide behind gated communities or join exclusive country clubs to shield ourselves from the world’s misery and our own. We seek safety and security in technology, money, sex, and power, but at the end of the day nothing has changed. We are exhausted and more often than not find ourselves beaten down and discouraged by our own failures and overwhelmed by the brokenness of our world and its people.

“Ah, Fr. Kevin,” you say! “Another one of your uplifting sermons! And this on Ash Wednesday! Who knew?” My intention is not to depress you, although this stuff is depressing, but rather to encourage us to see our present condition and our relationship with God without Jesus in the mix with eyes wide opened. I do this because Scripture spends a lot of time exhorting us to do so. To be sure there is great beauty and much goodness in God’s world and human relationships. After all, God created his world and us and declared it all to be very good. But our sin was a game-changer and if we ever hope to be really healed and not overcome by all that ails us and our world, we must see ourselves as God sees us and realize we are in desperate need of help beyond our ability to provide. When we come to that point we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus and God’s plan to restore his broken world. That is why our OT lesson this evening implores us to rend our hearts, the very center of our will and emotions, so that we give up our delusions of self-help or inevitable human progress and acknowledge we need radical help. In biblical language this means we are willing to repent, to turn away from ourselves and back toward God, because God is the only doctor who can cure what ails us.

Paul tells us about the nature of that help in tonight’s epistle lesson. In explaining to the Corinthians the basis for his apostolic authority and teaching about the gospel of Jesus, Paul says that God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us. In other words, God became embodied in Jesus of Nazareth and died on a cross to bear his own just punishment for our sins so that we do not have to bear that awful punishment. Or as Paul says elsewhere, in Jesus we have been reconciled to God and no longer have to suffer being alienated from our very Source of life (cf. Colossians 1.20ff). On the cross, all our sins, all our failings, and all our inadequacies were somehow dealt with, and all because of the faithfulness, tender mercy, and love of God.

Believing this, really believing this, requires us to give up our delusions about earning favor in God’s sight or somehow doing enough good works to cancel out our sin and the alienation it causes. Not so say Paul and the other NT writers! We are too broken to accomplish what is necessary for God and humans to be reconciled. Only God can do that for us and has done so in Jesus of Nazareth. When we finally get this and really believe it, like the psalmist, we are in a position to see God’s steadfast love and mercy applied to our lives, undeserving as we are. There is a huge weight and burden lifted from us and it cannot help but change us. We realize that our being reconciled to God by the blood of Christ is an act of unimaginable love, mercy, and grace on the part of God and this inclines us to turn away from our self-centeredness and back toward God because in Jesus, God has restored us to life.

But why would God do such an outlandish thing? In other words, what are we saved for? Are we saved so that we can go to heaven when we die? I suspect many Christians would give just that answer. But God has bigger fish to fry in rescuing us from sin and death. God saved us so that he can use us as the fully human beings he created us to be to announce to a broken and hurting world that when God raised Jesus from the dead, it signaled the arrival of God’s new creation and things are going to be different now. Paul talked about this earlier in tonight’s epistle when he made the astonishing claim that if anyone is in Christ there is new creation and it is here right now (2 Corinthians 5.17)! When God’s new world is born—a world without evil, sin, or death—it requires a new way of living that is patterned after Jesus the Messiah, a way of living made possible only after we have been reconciled to God and come under the influence of the Spirit. For you see, we cannot offer God’s reconciliation and healing to others if we have not first accepted it ourselves and made it our own. God’s new creation has arrived, if not yet fully, and in the power of the Spirit we too are made new creations, people who live for God, not ourselves. And this is where Lent comes in.

Why? Because Paul and the other NT writers understood that even though we are reconciled to God by the blood of the Lamb and given the gift of the Spirit to live in us, we are still fallen creatures who are weighed down by our sinful nature. So if we want the power of the Spirit to be active and alive in us so that we can be signposts of God’s healing and new creation for others, we have to give him room to operate, so to speak. We have to consciously think about and learn to act in new ways that imitate Jesus the Messiah because acting like Jesus is not consistent with our fallen, selfish nature. If we want to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control—we have to make a conscious decision to put to death those things that are in direct opposition to these character traits. Using the language of Paul, we have to crucify our sinful desires with the help of the Spirit before we can bear his fruit. In other words, we have to think, decide, and then practice until our new holy habits, the fruit of the Spirit, become second nature. This is no different from learning a new skill. For example, when I was young, I really wanted to learn to play the guitar because I fashioned myself to be like Paul McCartney. Delusional, yes. But my point is that playing the guitar did not come naturally. I had to practice hours and hours before it became a new habit. And nothing about learning to play the guitar felt natural; that only came much later. Likewise with the fruit of the Spirit. For example, our natural inclination is to be impatient with things and people. It is a product of our fallen nature and impatience comes rather naturally; we don’t have to work at it. But if we want to bear the fruit of the Spirit, if we want to become patient, we have to consciously decide to do so and then work at it until it becomes second nature. That’s why many people who pray for patience are often confronted with things that immediately tax their patience. God is answering their prayers but not as they expected!

Learning new habits of the heart, new character traits in Jesus the Messiah, is the point behind Jesus’ teaching about prayer, works of charity, and fasting in tonight’s gospel lesson. Jesus isn’t telling us to give up these things, but rather to concentrate on doing them out of love for God rather than to gain the attention and praise of others, and that does not come naturally to us because we are profoundly broken. We much prefer the praise and attention of others! But that is not a holy habit of the heart and if we want to develop the necessary habits to live in the new creation and be signs of Jesus’ new creation for others, we are going to have to think about what that looks like, decide to act on it, and then practice the new behaviors until they become habitual. I realize this isn’t glamorous or sexy, but it is the usual way the Spirit works and how holy habits are developed. Do you love God enough for what he has done for you in Jesus to do the hard work required to make the new habits second nature?

That is why it is critical for us to carefully consider what needs to be crucified so that we can start to work on it in the power of the Spirit during Lent. The more we can crucify our sinful desires, the better able we will be to display the fruit of the Spirit and be Jesus’ resurrection people of hope and new creation to a sin-sick world that desperately needs signs of real hope and healing. Of course, as Paul reminds us, not everyone will be glad to see that we are signs of new creation. The powers and principalities have been defeated in Jesus’ death but they aren’t going down without a fight and as Paul and countless other Christians have testified, our work will be costly and sometimes deadly. But that doesn’t matter because in Jesus, God has defeated the powers of evil and conquered death so we who follow him have nothing to fear.

So what work of the flesh do you need to crucify this Lent? Whatever it is, think carefully and prayerfully about it before you start, just like I have tried to model for you in this sermon by reasoning out the need for us to crucify our sinful desires in the light of God’s mercy and love. Don’t give up something just because you think that’s what you are supposed to do. Ask Jesus to show you what is really holding you back from loving him with your whole being and loving others as yourself. Ask him to show you what is impeding the fruit of the Spirit from blooming and ripening in you so that Jesus really can use you as his bright beacon of light. Then get to work. Decide to crucify that which needs to be crucified right now and then practice, practice, practice so that in the power of the Spirit you will learn the new habits of the heart that reflect Jesus’ healing love and presence to others and equip you to live in the new creation when it comes in full. It won’t be easy and yes you will fail, at least at first. But you have Jesus and his people there to pick you up. Despite your failures, you have been reconciled to God because of Jesus’ blood shed for you. You have the hope and promise of new creation because the event that launched it, Jesus’ resurrection, is an historical fact and therefore you know the promise is true. So get busy and don’t be afraid to call on Jesus often and regularly to ask for his help. If you do all this, I humbly suggest to you that this Lenten season will actually be a season of joy for you as you look forward to your great Easter hope and that you will find new meaning and purpose in your Lenten disciplines. And when you do, you will surely be reminded in the power of the Spirit that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, you have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bishop Roger Ames’ 2013 Lenten Pastoral Letter

Received via email.


February 2013

Return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he. (Joel 2:13)

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

So! Are you ready for Lent to begin? Have you decided what you’re going to give up? Have you ramped up your new, more aggressive schedule for prayer and liturgy/worship attendance? Have you decided how much money you’re going to give to the poor? Have you done enough? Planned enough? Resolved enough?

If these questions are making you anxious, take a deep breath. The last thing anyone wants to do is reduce this season of grace to a to-do list.

If you want to find the right tone and focus for this Lent, you don’t have to look any further than the first reading for Ash Wednesday. Your heavenly Father is gracious and merciful. He is calling out to you so that he can bless you. Yes, there is “fasting, weeping, and mourning,” but not out of fear or anxiety (Joel 2:12). They are meant to arise from a heart that wants to know a deeper freedom from sin and fear—a heart that is looking to God for more of his love.

Here is the key to finding God this Lent—a soft heart. That’s why we are encouraged to fast, to pray, and to give alms during this season. They help prepare our hearts to receive God’s blessings. We don’t do them to prove ourselves to God or convince him to bless us. We do them because they can help us feel the presence of God. We do them because they can change our hearts and make us more like Jesus.

For the next forty days, we will have opportunity after opportunity to discover just how gracious and merciful our heavenly Father is. We will also have countless opportunities to respond to his grace and mercy—through repentance, generosity, worship, forgiveness, and acts of service. So let’s try our best to keep our hearts soft and open to the Lord, because that’s when the changes really happen. Be radical lovers this Lent. Allow the mystery of our Lord’s passion to so transform our lives, that we as His Body will help to transform our world by His love.

Let us pray,

“Father, thank you for inviting us to come to you this Lent. By your Spirit, help us to soften our hearts toward you and the people around us. We ask this all in your son Jesus’ name and by the power of the Spirit and let the Church say…Amen.”

Peace and All Good,

I remain yours in the Lord,


Bishop, Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes

Fr. Philip Sang: Reflecting the Glory of God

Sermon delivered on the Sunday next before Lent (Transfiguration Sunday), February 10, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 34.29-35; Psalm 99.1-9; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28b-43.

May the Words of my mouth and meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord my rock and my redeemer. In the name of God, the Father, the son and the Holy spirit. Amen.

It is God’s intentioned priority to reveal His glory to mankind so that you and I will assume our created place in His wonderful plan. From our readings today the question that arises is: what are the consequences or results of seeing the glory of God? God’s glory is the physical manifestation of the Divine Majesty. When we encounter God’s glory, the first thing that happens to us, is that we are propelled to the attitude and posture of worship. We assume our rightful place as creatures before our creator. We cannot stand in God’s presence. We are humbled, and we come to understanding that God is God and we are not.

The second thing, that happens is that our faces will reflect, like mirrors, what we have seen and experienced. In the Gospel reading today Jesus was “transfigured” before his disciples.

  • Who He was became VISIBLE to the three disciples with Him.
  • What was inside became visible outside.

The Greek word used for the change was Metamorpho, which means to change form.
This same word helps us understand what is supposed to happen to us as well on our encounter with the glory of God. It has been used two times in the NT:

  • “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, (that’s the word “metamorpho”), modeled on your new mind.” (Romans 12.2)
  • “And we, without unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are changed (metamorpho) into the image that we reflect. This is the work of the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinth:3:18)

In  Exodus 34:29-35 we see the first time God’s glory is reflected on someone’s face as we read in our lesson earlier Moses had the glory of God reflected upon his face when he came down from the mountain after a meeting with the Lord.  Moses had been in the very presence of God, and as a result, his face shone for some time. The passage says literally, that the “skin of his face shone.” In fact, the Hebrew word that is used there is “qaran” which means to “shine or emit rays of light.”

Actually what happened to Moses’ face was remarkable and never before seen by people.  The passage let us know that when Aaron (his brother) and the people saw his face glowing, they were afraid!

In the Transfiguration of Jesus, something similar happened to Him. His entire being became dazzling white, including his clothing. But the difference between Jesus and Moses was that Moses had God’s glory shining ON him. Jesus had God’s glory shining THROUGH Him.

This is a significant difference, because as Christians, we must seek the latter and not the former. In the letter of Apostle Paul to the Corinthians he is teaching about Moses’ experience: Paul says in verse 18 “And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” Paul contrasts Moses’ radiating face, which shone briefly after seeing God, with the radiating faces of Christians, who can radiate constantly because the Spirit is with them constantly, and whose radiating is a sign of ongoing spiritual transformation.

  • Church, no one ever radiated like Jesus Christ. He is the perfect mirror image of the imageless God. Just as how He was transfigured, to display the divine nature inside of him, we understand that when we face the face of our Lord Jesus, we behold God’s light mirrored.
  • Our task then is to mirror to others something of the light and love of God which Christ mirrors to us.
  • We are called to be ones who radiates with the spiritual presence of God,
  • We are called to be those who mirror the Holy One. We are to be mirrors of God.

What produces that glow of godliness in our faces?

  • It is not how perfect you are that produces the glow of godliness.
  • t is not how sinless you are.
  • t is not how holy you act.
  •  It is not even how many good works you do that will produce this glow of godliness.
  • No amount of moral or psychological perfection will produce the glow of godliness.
  • Church, only one thing will produce the glow of godliness in us…the nearness of God.

The word of God tells us that the truth sets us free from our limited human self, so we can lose – and find – ourselves in God. Just imagine being set free from self-consciousness, from self-concern and fear, in order to be released into a constant awareness of God’s presence and glory…that is our destiny and God’s design for us. The wonderful thing about Jesus paying for our sins and our failures is that we don’t have to look at ourselves and be concerned about what we are doing or not doing. If we are looking at Him, we will produce fruit. Many a times we focus so much on our own performance that we lose sight of the fact that God has given us the grace to be forgiven and if He has forgotten our sin, then so should we. We must do one thing above all else. Seek His glorious face.

Have you ever had one of those self-tormenting dialogues with yourself, where you are down on yourself, mad at yourself, frustrated with your situation, that you simply can’t meet someone’s expectations, or even your own expectations…and you are feeling worthless.

  • I believe this is the time God’s voice wants to shout to you, “It’s not about You!”
  • He’s done that to me. Reminding me always that it is not about me measuring up. It is not about my performance.

Brothers and sisters, we must look away from ourselves. To Christ. To His glory. There is no other way we can reflect His glory in our lives. It doesn’t come by TRYING to glow…it comes by looking at His glory, by abiding and seeking His face more than we seek anything else. Putting him first.

  • We need to spend time with the Lord in heartfelt prayer (talking with the Lord) and Bible reading (letting Him talk to us).
  • Are you spending time each day seeking the Lord?
  • Is it obvious to others that your faith in Jesus is vibrant, real, and life-changing?
  • Will others desire to know the Savior by seeing the difference Christ has made in your life; by seeing the joy, peace, contentment, and serenity that are yours BECAUSE you keep your eyes on Him and confidently commit all into His hands?
  • Does your countenance (face) glow?
  • Maybe it doesn’t physically, but is there a spiritual glow about you that others can see?
  • Can they tell that you have been with Jesus?
  • In Acts 4:13, in reference to the apostles says, Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Others around them, including their own enemies, could tell that they had spent time with Jesus, had walked in His presence, had been in close relation to Him. How about you? Can the same be said? Let us turn our eyes upon Jesus, let’s look full in his wondrous face, and the things of earth will grow dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield: My Train Wreck Conversion

From Christianity Today online.

What a great story about redemption and God’s faithfulness and grace! Check it out and see what you think.

As a leftist lesbian professor, I despised Christians. Then I somehow became one.

My Train Wreck ConversionThe word Jesus stuck in my throat like an elephant tusk; no matter how hard I choked, I couldn’t hack it out. Those who professed the name commanded my pity and wrath. As a university professor, I tired of students who seemed to believe that “knowing Jesus” meant knowing little else. Christians in particular were bad readers, always seizing opportunities to insert a Bible verse into a conversation with the same point as a punctuation mark: to end it rather than deepen it.

Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That’s what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus, who in paintings looked as powerful as a Breck Shampoo commercial model.

As a professor of English and women’s studies, on the track to becoming a tenured radical, I cared about morality, justice, and compassion. Fervent for the worldviews of Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin, I strove to stand with the disempowered. I valued morality. And I probably could have stomached Jesus and his band of warriors if it weren’t for how other cultural forces buttressed the Christian Right. Pat Robertson’s quip from the 1992 Republican National Convention pushed me over the edge: “Feminism,” he sneered, “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” Indeed. The surround sound of Christian dogma comingling with Republican politics demanded my attention.

Read it all.

Tyler Blanski: Are Men Emotional Prudes?

Ouch. From Christianity Today online. Check it out and see what you think.

When it comes to sex, many men live in a fantasy. The problem with pornography and masturbation isn’t only lust, but that they build towers to the nonhuman. You learn to love a knockoff of the real thing. You get too comfortable with yourself and your individualism. When you finally face a real person, you become shocked by how much is demanded of you, how much more difficult and vulnerable a real relationship and real sex can be.

Some people “do” sex like they “do” lunch and see it stemming from the same animal appetite. Sex is first reduced to biological instinct, then to a mechanical and inhumane act. Pills, tackle, and textbooks clutter the bed beyond recognition. The headlines are “multiple orgasms” and “simultaneous orgasm.” Sex becomes scientific; the how-to’s of orgasm, suddenly paramount. Behind it all, there’s a sadness. There is no truly happy “savvy bachelor.” Read the magazines they read. They are good only at making money and entertaining themselves, and everything and everyone falls into one of these two categories.

Read it all.

Colorado Boy, 7, Reportedly Faces Suspension for Tossing Imaginary Grenade

Common, please meet sense. It’s a good thing I grew up when I did. Otherwise, if this kind of behavior lands you on the naughty list, I would surely have been on death row by the time I was 9, given how much time I spent playing army with my neighborhood friends.

From Fox News.

A Colorado second-grader may be suspended from his elementary school after he disobeyed a key rule of no weapons, real or imaginary, when he tossed an imaginary grenade Friday during recess and went, ‘pshhh,’ to indicate that the imaginary device detonated, reported.

Alex Watkins,7, who attends Mary Blair Elementary in Loveland, said he was playing the game “Rescue the World.” He plays the role of a heroic soldier out to rid the world of an evil threat.

His duties led him to throw the imaginary grenade into a box he pretended contained evil forces. He said he didn’t make any threats and was playing by himself, reported.

Read the whole bizarre thing.