Evangelism is Easy, not intimidating

Matthew 28:18-19  8 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

One word that seems to intimidate us is the word “Evangelism”.  When we hear this word we have different perceptions of what it is and what it means.  For some it invokes thoughts of those who are on the street corners or are in parks and public places shouting scriptures and provoking people by asking them “If you died tonight would you go to heaven?”  Yes it is a valid question and it does lead some to conversation and others to arguments.  Evangelism also may conjure up thoughts of old fashion tent revivals or stadiums filled with those who are attending events like Promise Keepers, Women of Faith, or similar events.  It may also bring thoughts of the TV Evangelists and the plea for financial support with promises of God answering your prayers. Even our own Diocese, the Diocese of Central Florida, at the Diocesan convention this year with the “Say Yes to Jesus” revival was a form of evangelism by encouraging churches to extend invitations to those outside the church to attend.  And probably the scariest thought of evangelism is going from door to door – whether to personally talk to someone or simply to hang an invitation flyer on the door knob in fear someone might come the door. 

When I was in seminary the Seminary was hosting an event called “SpringFest”.  It was an invitation to the people in town to come to the seminary to listen to music, enjoy a free hot dog, see skits, have your face painted and to hear about Jesus. As a student that semester in the Missions class, we were required to go two by two into town, knock on the door and personally invite people to come.  If they were not there, then leave a flyer or door hanger. This was not something that was in my comfort zone but I did it.  Another time when I was stationed in Germany in the 70’s, the military bases had tackle football teams that would compete against each other.  At one of the home games our group had a hot dog booth and we also handed out tracks that told about Salvation. That one was a lot easier to do.  And similarly in the past, St. Elizabeth’s has had a booth at the 4th of July Celebration in the park and handed out information about the church and Vacation Bible School.

There are many ways to evangelize.  It is not as hard as one might think when we understand what Evangelism is. The word Evangelism comes from a Greek word that means “Good News” and Evangelism simply means sharing the “Good News” of God’s salvation through Jesus.  Evangelism is not proselyting (trying to convert) it is simply sharing what God has done through Jesus for us, how God in working in our lives and the lives of others, sharing our testimony of what God has done by answering prayer or a blessing you have received. It is about sharing how God may have taken you through a rough patch and even if it did not end exactly how you wanted, it is knowing He was there walking with you and sustaining you through it all.  It is about sharing “Godcidences” rather than calling them coincidences and giving God the credit and the glory.

It is also about sharing God’s Word and promises with others in our own lives and that these promises are also for them.  It is as simple as praying for someone or as easy as giving them one of the hand-held wooden prayer crosses.  The thing is, anyone can evangelize.  We can invite someone to a church function like movie night.  We can invite someone to a church dinner.  We can invite children to Vacation Bible School.  There are many ways to evangelize.  When we do we can share God’s word with them.

Jesus taught His disciples for three years.  Many people listened, some followed, some rejected.  The disciples were given the power and authority to go into the world and share the “Good News” and so are we. When we learn through study, when we group, we grow in our knowledge and understanding; it makes it easier to share the “Good News” of God’s grace, love and mercy for us and for the world.  Evangelism is sharing the “Good News” both in word and in deed.  Surprising as it may seem to some, St. Francis never said “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words”.  On the contrary St. Francis was a prolific preacher sharing he “Good News” wherever he went.  Jesus commissioned His disciples and He commissions us too, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”.  So be of good courage, go forth into the world and share the “Good News” of God’s grace, love, and mercy with someone today.

Mile Markers along the highway

Acts 4:33   33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all….Hebrews 12:1b-2a…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith

If you are traveling along an interstate there are mile markers along the side of the highway that give you an indication of how many miles are left to the border of that state.  For instance, the total distance of I-95 from north to south is 1920 miles and there are 382 miles in the state of Florida.  Even longer is I-10 running 2,460 miles from west and east and there are 881 miles of it in the state Texas.  The interesting thing is the mile marker numbering begins in the west going east and in the south going north.  So, if you are travelling from the north to south or from the east to west you know how many miles you reach the border of that state. However, the opposite is true if you are travelling south to north or west to east.  You only know how far you have travelled in that state.

Mile markers are helpful road signs because they inform us at what mile marker something is located like gas stations, hotels, attractions or food.  Other times the markers will inform you how far it is to a certain destination for example on I-95 going either north or south you will find signs and billboards informing you how far it is to the infamous destination of South of the Border located on the North and South Carolina border.  

In many ways our lives are like that.  In our youth we knew how many years it would be until we could get a learner’s permit or driver’s license. We knew how many years it would be until we graduated from high school or college.  We could also calculate how many years away it was until we reached a certain birthday that marked how many decades we lived or significant years of marriage; paper, silver diamond, gold.

While these are temporal mile markers in our lives, we also can find mile markers in our Christian life.  Some marker are planned and can be celebrated like Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, and Weddings while others like traveling from west to east or south to north we do not know how long or how far, all we know is God has something in store for us to do or to accomplish.  The one thing we know is that we are on a journey in which He has a destination for us to reach and a purpose and ministry to do along the journey.

Serving God is a journey whether we know the distance or not.  It is about having faith and perseverance to trust God in all things.  Along the way we know there will be trials and tribulations, there will be joy and amazement, there will be wilderness times and bountiful times, there will be periods of questions and there will be periods of answers.  In all these experiences we know that God is with us even in His silence.  We know that God is with us because we know the resurrection power of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit who leads us, empowers us and enables us to persevere. We can have the assurance of this when we have an intimate relationship with Him.

The disciples were faced with many challenges when they were with Jesus, during the time of His death and resurrection, after His resurrection.  Their ministry was met with resistance, with persecution, with welcome, with conflict and with reconciliation.  What they were faced with the same things are faced with today.  What kept them going was knowing it was not about themselves, it was about the ministry and faith that glorified God and led others to believe in Him and His grace, love and mercy.

Our call too is to share the resurrection power of our Lord Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of how God is and has worked in our lives and the lives or others.  It is to share how He is perfecting us as we seek and do ministry for His glory. 

May your prayer be: Lord Jesus, you are the author and perfecter of our faith in you.  Let your power work in us and may our mile markers be a testimony to show and draw the world to your grace, love and mercy. May all come to know the power of your resurrection and joy of your saving grace.  AMEN

What is Easter to you?

Job 19:25-27   25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;  26 … then in my flesh I shall see God,  27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another…

             Easter is just around the corner.  We will have traveled through 40 days of Lent, 6 Sunday Feast Days, and Holy Week.  On Easter Sunday many will come to church either out of obligation because it is a traditional time to come to church or we will come to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  Yet what is Easter and what does it really mean to you?

There are many traditions that revolve around Easter.  Easter is a time when families get together for dinner, for Easter egg hunts, and a time many dress up for the occasion and special hats are worn.  For many, Easter has different meanings.  For some it is another Christian Holy Day, it is a day we feel good about coming to Church.  For many it is just a story of the resurrection, but it is so much more to those who have faith in God’s promises.  It is the fulfilment of God’s promise to send a Savior, it is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and it is what God has done for us through Jesus.  Easter is more than just a “spiritual” resurrection as some believe, it is the power of God manifested to redeem us and reconcile us for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of the whole world. 

Easter is the foundation of our Christian faith.  Without the physical resurrection, there would be no Ascension; there would be no sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there would just be another religion based on a belief in a higher power.  It would not be based on faith. 

Job not only believed but he had faith that one day he would see God.  Belief and faith differ from each other.  When I was young I was told that the moon was made out of green cheese and there was a man in the moon.  There are many things that we can believe however faith is stronger than belief.  As I grew up I learned that the moon was not made of green cheese and there was not a real man in the moon and my belief changed. 

Faith however is something that is solidly entrenched.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that faith is a conviction, Hebrews 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Easter is more than just a belief, it is faith in God’s promise, it is faith that what Jesus told His disciples was true, it is faith in the evidence of the resurrection, it is faith in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  Without faith in Christ’s resurrection then as the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:14  14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. Without faith we will not know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). 

Easter is also about the transforming power of Christ in our lives.  We walk through Lent which reveals God’s power in our lives and the awareness of His power.  We celebrate and look to God for our strength.  And now in Easter we celebrate the resurrection and the grace He provides us to be redeemed and invited into the family of God through our faith. 

Let us be like the Apostles and give our testimony to the world of glorious resurrection and the love of God in Christ Jesus who came for us.  Let not Easter be just a belief, let it be faith in God’s grace, love and mercy for us.  Acts 4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all…

May you celebrate the joy of the resurrection, God’s redemptive love and the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Love Locks – God’s eternal love

Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.20160517_163734

Love locks … you may have seen them in a movie or television show  where the couple places a lock on the bridge vowing their eternal love for each other and then throwing the key in the river guaranteeing their lock of love and for each other would remain forever.  You may have even been one to those who have placed a love lock on a bridge, a fence, a gate or a monument as a testimony of commitment to love each other and promise to remain bonded together throughout your life together.  And for some the lock represents the undying love for someone they have lost.

My first experience of actually seeing a bridge with love locks came in 2016 when I traveled to Salzburg, Austria, with my sister and again witnessing it in 2018 when I traveled there with my wife.  Both times we boarded a train from Munich and spent an hour and half observing the green rolling country side of farms and houses on our way to Salzburg to enjoy a day of sightseeing and adventure.  Prior to leaving the Salzburg train station, we picked up a complimentary map of the city and started our walking journey to the only two destination places we had planned, the Mirabell Garden and the cemetery where they filmed the Sound of Music.  Mirabell Garden was the first stop.  It is not far from the train station while the the cemetery at St. Peter’s Church was across the river.  After visiting the garden observing the Pegasus fountain where the children danced around the fountain and sang “DO – RA – MI”,  we headed for the river to get to the other side to see the cemetery.

When we arrived at the river there it was, the bridge with hundreds of love locks on each side attached to its chain link fence.  There were locks of different sizes, different makes, different shapes, and different colors.  Some of the locks had initials with hearts around them while others had first names written on them and others were blank.  What all of them had in common, a tradition that is dated back to WW I, is a lock with no key to be found thus proclaiming to the world their eternal love for each other.

Love locks like I saw in Salzburg are not uncommon in other towns and cities around the world like Berlin, Tokyo, Las Vegas, and Paris.  While most of the couples who place their love lock on a fixture have the basic understanding of the lock representing eternal love for each other, a Parisian waiter is quoted as saying this about love locks.  He said they had it all wrong, “To love truly is to want the other free, and this includes the freedom to walk away. Love is not about possession or property. Love is no prison where two people are each other’s slaves. Love is not a commodity, either. Love is not capitalist, it is revolutionary. If anything, true love shows you the way to selflessness.”

While his point of view is based on our love for one another it is also an illustration of God’s love for us.  God’s love for us is eternal and revolutionary in that He will never give up loving us no matter who we are or what we have done. As the Psalmist wrote“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” ( Psalm 86:15 )  thus assuring us that His love is steadfast and eternal.  God’s love is a covenant and binding love even when we turn away from Him.  Throughout scripture we find times when Israel had turned away from God and yet God pursued them to return.  His pursuit was not by force and forcing them to return rather it was a steady call to remind them of His unconditional love for them.

God’s love not only applied to Israel, it also applies to all of us today. God’s heart is that we would know and experience His unconditional love so that no matter what we are experiencing in our life He is there to sustain, encourage, and lead us.  The Apostle Paul reminds us  … that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

A love lock is a commitment by both to love each other unconditionally for a life time.  When we love God it is not just for this life time  it is also for a life eternal with Him.  God’s love for us is never ending and abounding and our love lock for God is to “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37).   Will you place a love lock with your name and God’s on the gate of your heart and proclaim to world His love for them is the same as His love is for you.

Cruise ships and Churches

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Mk. 10:43-45 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave [servant] of all.  45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (ESV)

This past summer I was blessed with a “mini-sabbatical”.  The vestry (the governing body) had agreed to allow me to take an extra three weeks in addition to the four week I planned to take this year.  Over the past eleven years at St. Elizabeth’s I have not taken more than two weeks at a time and have not ever taken the full four weeks of my vacation.  This year was different.  Not only did I take four weeks in a row but the additional three weeks the vestry blessed me by allowing me to take a nine day Baltic cruise with Tillie, spend time in a silent retreat, and visit my sister in San Diego.

While all three sections of the sabbatical time away were different and refreshing, the one section of my time away, taking a nine-day Baltic cruise, made me think about what it means to serve.  These thoughts began from the time we arrived at the ship until the time we disembarked.  Since this was my very first cruise I did not know what to expect.  I had heard testimonies about what happens on a cruise however it was not until now that I started to see what really happens.

As we boarded the cruise ship I was impressed with the quality of service, the precision of the registration, the friendliness, and the attention to making our time on the cruise one of the most pleasant experiences I had encountered in a long time.  The crew took our baggage to our cabin, welcomed us by name, and extended the most gracious hospitality.  Those who served in the various departments and restaurants always greeted you with a smile and were willing to assist.  It was not long into the cruise when we went go to certain areas or dining areas that we were greeted by name.  What I enjoyed too was learning about whom they were, where they came from, and even a little about their families and why they work on a cruise ship.  I learned about what they did in their off shift hours and the types of shifts they worked, full or split shifts.

Another thing I also observed were people who just wanted to be served by the staff and servers.  There was little to interaction with the crew, the staff, and servers.  Many were surrounded by their friends or family and their focus was on themselves with little interaction other than asking for something they needed or wanted.

In some ways churches can be like a cruise ships.  The church has many different ministries within it.  There is the governing body (the vestry), there is the altar guild which prepares the church for Sunday and other services.  There is maintenance and grounds crews, those who do crafts to minister to the homeless and the ill.  There are ushers and greeters who are the first people that are seen when someone comes to a service.  There is the office staff, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, choir leaders and members, musicians, and numerous others who volunteer their time.  These are the ones who serve as Jesus served us.  And like some on the cruise ship we find those who come only to be served.

Jesus told His disciples that He came to serve and not to be served. One might ponder why Jesus said this when He is God’s Son.  Why would He say this when He could have been served rather than Him being the one who served.  For many today it is quite the opposite because they want to be served rather than serving.  What Jesus shows us through serving is God’s great love for us and for others.  Jesus came to do the will of God and redeem us so we could be reconciled to God and be in a restored relationship with Him.  What Jesus did was show us how we too can reach out and minister to others through serving.

As disciples we learn to serve, to place others above our own need.  Jesus is the true master and shows us through His serving how to serve.  In our daily walk with Him we continue to learn and grow as His disciple through scripture, teachings, and action.  In John 13:16 Jesus told His disciples “ 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”

My experience on the cruise ship was one I will never forget.  I will be praying for all whom I met and who shared their experiences with me.  I look forward to going on more cruises not to be served but to serve others through fellowship, prayers and sharing the love of Jesus with them.

We all have gifts and talents we can use to serve God in His kingdom on earth.  How is God calling you to use your gifts to serve to serve others in His church.

 

 

Why do I give an offering?

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The driving time was listed as 10 hours and 38 minutes.  It might seem like a long time being held captive in a vehicle traversing several states in all types of traffic.  I was headed to a private retreat alone for respite.  From the time I left until I arrived it gave me time to think, to ponder what God had in store for me when I arrived at my destination.  There were stretches of the journey that were longer than others – like the 324 mile stretch without stopping.  It is something I don’t mind doing however when travelling with my wife it is definitely something that is frowned upon.  She reminds that you need to stop about every two hours to stretch you legs and keep the circulation flowing.  Driving alone I never seem to never adhere to that advise.

What surprises me the most when driving is how certain thoughts and ideas transcend through your mind. Sometimes like a cascading water fall or the scenery flashing by you as you speed down the interstate until one thought slows down enough for you to ponder and explore. Thoughts like doing a long trip on my motorcycle and what it would be like to do it – especially if you hit inclement weather along the way.  Thoughts like how far could I travel in one day and what if I ended up in rush hour traffic?  The other options I pondered was about taking all the side roads – the less traveled road like in the days before the interstates.  How many of us remember Route 66 which traversed across the US from Chicago to Santa Monica California?

But one thought that traversed through my mind, one of those passing thoughts and preponderances that popped up was about the doxology that comes after the offering.  The one that we sing or say at time: Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  In the Rite I service we say, “All things come from thee O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chron. 29:14).

It caused me to ponder how much do I really understand these words and how much do others really understand what it really means.  In both the doxology and the bidding it recognizes where all things came from and who provided them.  That is not to say that we did not have earn what we have but it is to say that without God and what He provided through His creation we would have nothing and could earn nothing.  It drives us to basics of life that without God and His creation, His wisdom, His provision, His guidance, we would have nothing of our own.

This thought led me to think about our giving and what we give to God and give back to God.  Is it a token of obligation what we think He deserves or is it really a portion of what He has provided and giving thanks for His provision?  In other word is it a heartfelt offering in gratitude or is something that we are expected to do and think that by giving we will get something.  Is our offering out of our abundance and leftover and something we think we can afford to give?  Do we give because it is expected of us or we carry on the tradition our parents taught us when we did not fully know the reason behind our giving?  Do we give because it give us a personal self-sanctification? Each one of us must assess where our heart is in the matter of giving back to God what is His.  When we place limits on our giving we are conditionally giving to God what us in truth was created by Him and provided for us.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find offerings of gratitude for God’s provision.  Even in the time of Jesus.  Did you know that Jesus’ parents came to the temple and made offerings to God (Luke 2:24)?  Mary and Joseph were not rich and gave not out of obligation but out of gratitude for what God had provided for them.  Then there is the account of the widow who put two copper coins in the offering which was an extraordinary amount for her while others gave out their excess abundance (Mark 12:42-44).

Another account illustrates what is more prevalent in today’s society.  It is the account of the rich man who came to Jesus and asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus simply told him to go and sell all he had and he went away sad because he could not do it (Matt. 19:16-22).

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost of His Highest – in the August 18, devotional expresses it this way:

“Sell all that you have…” (Luke 18:22). In other words, rid yourself before God of everything that might be considered a possession until you are a mere conscious human being standing before Him, and then give God that. That is where the battle is truly fought— in the realm of your will before God.”

In today’s world, especially in western culture, it is about success, what I own, what I have, what successes define me, what good I have done for humanity and the world, and the merits I have accumulated and think I have earned.  When we look at it this way we convince ourselves we are okay and justify our actions by the standard we create.  However, it goes deeper than this. There are those who look at giving to receive something in return; Luke 6:38 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (NRS) Another way of expressing it might be – Okay God I have given now I am waiting for my return!

What God looks at is our heart and the ministry we do that is heart driven not out of obligation or compulsion. It is out of a heart of gratitude.  It is what we give not reluctantly or out of compulsion but a heart of thankfulness because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). When we give unconditionally to Him and His church it enables us reach out those in need.  It enables us to do things in the church that will help others.  It supports our corporate worship and our individual worship.

Whether you drive long distances or spend quiet time in your daily life with God ponder the thoughts of giving and giving back to God.  When you do it will it enable you to open your lips and proclaim His praise saying… “Praise God from whom all blessing flow… All things come from thee O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chron. 29:14).

 

 

The Chipped and Cracked Cup

Many people ask me about my cup.  They ask why I don’t get a new one.  Why do I continue to use this one? It is when I am asked these questions I respond that it is my Gospel cup.  Your Gospel cup? Yes my Gospel cup.

The cup reminds me of God’s grace.  Our lives are like this cup.  None of us are perfect. Everyone has chips and cracks in our lives that God is working out in us.  It may be something that God has brought us through when we thought there wasn’t any hope.  It  could be one of those times when we had fallen or were in need of Him to help us through a situation.  There are many chips and cracks in our lives; relationships, self worth, health, loss, emotional, moral and/or spiritual.  Chips and cracks might be a feeling abandonment by God or the feeling of being in a wilderness period of life searching for what God desires.

There are many examples in scripture that I can relate to this cup and to my life.  One is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  Jesus tells the parable about a father with two sons.  The youngest son asked for his inheritance and went off and foolishly spent it.  He led a life that was not pleasing to God, a life center about his desires and not God’s. When he realized what he had lost he came home not expecting to be anything other than a hired servant to his father since he had already received his inheritance.  What happened was the father rejoiced at his son’s return and celebrated it.  This is what God does with us when we repent and return to Him and worship Him.   It begins a new journey in our life, a life that begins with forgiveness and grace through Jesus.  It is life that is with Him and in Him in a new way.

The cup also reminds me that we are jars of clay that God uses [2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us,] and that we are being perfected and sanctified every day by Him (Phil 1:6) through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yes the cup is cracked, yes the cup has a chip, yes it is imperfect yet it still holds a hot cup of coffee.  It is still useful just as we who have chips and cracks in our lives are useful to God.  Don’t let your chips and cracks stop you from serving God and reaching the lost or encouraging someone.  Your story may be what they need to hear to bring them closer to God.

 

Entering into a Holy Lent: 40 days of renewal

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Psalm 51:1-2, 10-11  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

There are events in our lives that we prepare to undertake.  Some of the events are very detailed and need extensive planning while others are not as complicated.  Yet almost all events require some amount of preparation.

Almost every year Tillie and I plan an open house on New Year’s Day.  We plan how things will be arranged and we plan what we want to have for refreshments.  We send out open invitations, we try to guesstimate how many will be there, and start prepping what food we can the day before so we can spend time with our guests.  On the day of the open house we anxiously await the first ring of the doorbell and the first guest to arrive.

An event this year that is taking on a lot of planning is our trip to Europe.  To celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary we decided to do a nine day Baltic cruise.  So far we have planned the dates, flights, hotels, and modes of transportation however there is much more that needs to be planned.  Things like excursions on the cruise and places we want to see before and after the cruise.

Lent is also a time of preparation.  It is a time we prepare for Easter although for some Lent becomes a ritual of giving up something material or taking something up to improve your life.  Lent is more than a season of giving something material up such as chocolate, diet coke, or television.  It is more than a season of taking something up like exercise or finding way to unwind for the stresses of life. For example one Lenten season I decided not to go in and out of the house through the garage door using only the front door thus saving energy.

While all of these are good things in and of  themselves, Lent is a season of preparation for Easter.  It is a time of reflection and growing deeper in our spiritual relationship with God.  When we look at our Lenten discipline not in terms of works or means of obtaining God’s favor we find our relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves deepen spiritually.  It prepares  us spiritually for the moment of Easter when we realize the greatness of God’s love for us and desire for us to be in that relationship with Him where He is the center of our lives.

As we approach Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday we are invited to enter into the “observance of a holy Lent, by self- examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…” (BCP 265).  Let us remember the reason for Lent is to establish, maintain, repair, and transform our relationship with God.

I pray your Lent is one of renewal and strengthening of your faith and above all in your relationship with God.

Fr. Dave

Preparing the Way through Advent

AdventWreath-184927200-596509225f9b583f18154ca1Isa. 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (NRS)

Advent is a season of reflection. It is a time when we reflect on what God has done fulfilling His promises and the promises of His coming again. It is a reflection on how, as St. Augustine wrote:

The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s son and our God, was in obscurity; the second will be in the sight of the whole world. When he came in obscurity no one recognized him but his own servants; when he comes openly he will be known by both good people and bad. When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged; when he comes openly it will be to judge. Augustine (AD 354– 430)

Throughout the year we set a pace for ourselves. We get consumed with meeting our goals, our plans and what we think are the important things in everyday life. We hear the voice of commercialism rise to a strong crescendo during certain seasons especially around Christmas speaking to our inner desires and creating a false sense of wants. It seems that it is beginning earlier and earlier each year as companies pour out advertisements enticing us to buy someone a special item for Christmas. And the target is not always what we should give to someone because sublimely it targets what we think we want and desire. It targets us like the car commercial I saw the other day where it touts the joy of our inner child. While the person giving the gift was pleased, it was the person receiving the car that was overjoyed.

Advent however is not a time of wants and desires, it is a time of preparation. It is a time of preparation and remembering the blessing we have from God who sent Jesus so we can be in a restored relationship with Him. It is a time of restoration for our hearts to the real purpose in life and that is worshipping God for who He is and His love that has been bestowed upon us. It is about the first coming of Jesus – the hope fulfilled so many years ago and the hope we have of his returning again.

In Advent we celebrate the beginning and ending of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil, and as we call upon God to accomplish that victory in our own lives, to break in on us, to be born in our hearts through the Holy Spirit and to create us anew. Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power.

AdventWreath-184927200-596509225f9b583f18154ca1Advent like Lent is time of reflection about our self and our relationship with God. As we approach the celebration of His first coming, let us also celebrate with anticipation of His second coming when He will restore the world and bring those who love, worship and follow Him into a new life changing relationship with Him. Our hope is in His victory; the victory through His resurrection, the empowering of the Holy Spirit in those who believe and the victory at His second coming. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

In the Midst of Silence

midstsilenceIsa. 40:31-41:1 31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  41:1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength;

Dallas Willard wrote:

“Until solitude and silence have had their effects, our minds will very likely continue to be focused on the wrong things, or on good things in an anxious attitude of trying to dominate them. But as we, through relocating our bodies into solitude, escape and change the inputs that have constantly controlled our thoughts and feelings, we will have additional freedom to place our minds fully upon the great God, his kingdom, and its peace and strength.”[i]

Silence sometimes can seem deafening.  On one of our vacations we traveled to New Mexico and stayed at a place called Ojo Caliente.  At the time we were there in the early 90’s it was a very rustic resort;  a payphone in the hall, no television, and no WiFi unlike today.  At the resort it had four different types of hot springs; lithia, soda, iron, and arsenic. On the day before we left we arranged to spend time in solitude in the one of the hot tubs without a motor. It was private area, completely silent, where you ascended a rustic staircase to hot tub that was filled with water from the hot springs .  After soaking in the for about 20 minutes there a light knock on the door to inform us our time was up.  When we descended the stairs we came out, laid on a massage style table and were wrapped in a milagro blanket with the option of having your face covered.  As I laid there on the table, body fully relaxed, toxins being released from my body and in a place where there was total silence, I found I could not quiet my mind.  As I tried to clear one thought another came cascading in to take its place.  No matter how hard I tried to focus on clearing my thoughts and attempting to hear what God might reveal I could not.

This was also true during a short silent retreat I took this past summer.  It was at a silent retreat center in North Carolina.  During my time there I would spend time on the front porch sitting in a rocking chair with a cup of freshly brewed coffee reading and praying.  I would take hikes in the surrounding mountains and find places to rest and sit in solitude.  As I sat taking in the beauty of God’s creation, looking over the valley or hearing the sound of a water fall or listening to the gentle breeze as it rustled through the trees and sound of birds in the background, again I realized the difficulty of silencing my thoughts.

Silence can be deafening, however, in the deafening silence there is voice that we can hear if we still our souls and wait.  It is the precious voice of God speaking to us through His Holy Spirit.  A voice that is heard when we clear our own ambitions and desires and seek His will for us.  It is the same voice that came to Elijah while he sought refuge in a cave.  It is the same voice that spoke to Moses in the burning bush.  It is the same voice that spoke to David when he went up against Goliath with five smooth stones and it is same voice that still speaks to us today.

God still speaks to each of us today.  If you slow down enough you will hear His voice.  If we meditate, as the Psalmist says, on His Word day and night it will renew our strength; it will be voice of encouragement and provide the endurance to continue to do ministry for His glory.  It is His voice of grace, mercy, and love for us and for the whole world even in the deafening silence of our minds.

[i] From Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks. Copyright © 2016 by Willard Family Trust. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.