Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Sobering Thought: "Were death not a reality, Christmas would not be necessary"

Carl R. Trueman, who is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, posted "A Merry Pascalian Christmas!  over at "First Things". In it he points to the sobering reality underlying the awesomeness of Christmas.
Perhaps the irony of Christmas is that, in its current form, it has become one of the focal points of the culture of distraction, which Pascal so ably critiqued. It is all about consumption, which is just another form of distraction and diversion. It gives us a baby Jesus, helpless and conveniently trapped in a manger, a Christ who is just one more manageable commodity. Ironically, the real message of Christmas is the exact opposite: not to distract us from death but to point us toward death, and then its destruction in Christ. Were death not a reality, Christmas would not be necessary.
 To support the work of "First Things", here is a link to their donation page.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Broken Toys

Most of us can remember Christmas mornings as a child. It is hard to reproduce in our mature hearts the eager anticipation we felt as we discovered presents under the tree, all those packages waiting to reveal the secrets their colorful paper and ribbons concealed. How happy we were as we tore through the wrappings on Christmas Day and piled our new toys around us.

How long did it take before reality set in and those toys lay forgotten, broken, and discarded in the bottom of the toy box, no longer objects that create joy?

Toys and presents were our misplaced objects of affection. 

Give me a present that won't get broken. Give me something I will never tire of and can love forever. 

God gave us such a gift when he gave Himself in the form of Jesus, a baby, adored at his arrival but broken and discarded at his death. 

This was a present that refused to be discarded. This was a broken toy that rose from the depths of the toy box to present itself renewed, an object of hope, love, reverence, and affection. A brilliantly shiny someone who restores the youthful joy of Christmas to us all. 

Merry Christmas everyone!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"SOULstice" Service at Local Episcopal Establishment

Each year I do a little recap of winter solstice services/celebrations at various erstwhile Christian communities. This year I had not planned on posting about this, but when I saw an announcement from a "church" I visited in the past regarding their solstice plans, I had to pass it along to my dear readers. The sad fact of the matter is that this ad was sent in the newsletter from the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, so barring a retraction or disclaimer, it has the blessing of Bishop Andrew Waldo.

St. Simon and St. Jude, Irmo 
SOULstice—a service of hope & light & healing
"In the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, take the time to reach inward and find the light waiting for you (in the shadowy crevices of your being), the light that shows your pathway. This service gives you the opportunity to read, reflect, listen, heal and renew. Please join the other soul-searchers at 7 pm on December 20. The service will be led by Fr. Mark+. You don't want to miss it!"

I wonder if they are going to throw in a little Soulstice music,

"Going to set your soul on fire...
I'm not talking about a physical sensation,
but I'm sure talking about a spiritual elation..."
Each time I post a solstice round up I recall Paul's words,

"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
     I am afraid of you,
lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Galatians 4:10-11 (KJV).

I am afraid for people who fall for this new age claptrap.

Souls may actually wind up being set on fire... if you know what I mean.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Angels of Our Dreams

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 1:18-25. In it, we hear the story of the first of four dreams in which Joseph is visited by an angel.

"Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus."
 Joseph doesn't get a whole lot of ink in the Bible, but from these few sentences we learn that he was "righteous", obedient, plus he listened when an angel appeared to him in his dreams.

I wonder how many of us would do the same? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The "Naughty or Nice" List of Retailers

Just in time as we rush around shopping for Christmas presents, the American Family Association has come up with a list of retailers which are "Nice" and "promote and celebrate Christmas on an exceptional basis" and a list of companies that are "Naughty" and may "use Christmas sparingly in a single or unique product description", but as companies, do "not recognize it". They also have other companies listed that fall somewhere in between. You might want to thank those retailers who have not caved in to pressure from the Zeitgeist to remove the word "Christmas" from our lexicon by shopping in their stores.

The full list is here, but here are the "Nice",

  • AFA Online Store 
  • Cracker Barrel 
  • Hobby Lobby 
  • Kirkland's 
  • Lowe's 
  • Michael's Stores 
  • Wal-Mart 
  • 1-800-Flowers.com 
  • Ace Hardware 
  • Banana Republic 
  • Bass Pro Shops 
  • Bath & Body Works 
  • Bed Bath & Beyond 
  • Belk 
  • Big Lots 
  • Books-A-Million 
  • Cabela's 
  • Dick's Sporting Goods 
  • Dillards 
  • Do-It-Best Hardware 
  • Dollar Tree 
  • Fred's 
  • H.E.B. Stores 
  • HSN.com 
  • Hallmark 
  • Harris Teeter Stores 
  • Home Depot 
  • Hy-Vee Stores 
  • JCPenney 
  • JoAnn Fabrics 
  • Kmart Kroger 
  • L.L. Bean 
  • Macy's 
  • Marshalls 
  • Meijer 
  • Menard's 
  • Neiman Marcus 
  • Pier One Imports 
  • ProFlowers.com 
  • Publix 
  • QVC.com 
  • Rite Aid 
  • Sam's Club 
  • Scheels Sporting Goods 
  • Super D Drug 
  • TJ Maxx 
  • Toys R Us 
  • True Value

And here are the "Naughty",

  • Academy Sports + Outdoors 
  • Barnes & Noble 
  • Best Buy 
  • Dollar General 
  • Family Dollar 
  • Foot Locker 
  • Gap, Inc. 
  • The Limited 
  • Maurice's 
  • Nordstrom 
  • Office Depot 
  • Office Max 
  • Pet Smart 
  • Staples 
  • Stein Mart 
  • Supervalu 
  • UncommonGoods.com 
  • Victoria's Secret

When I look through this list, I notice that I have mostly avoided the "Naughty" with one exception.

I leave it up to my audience's imagination to guess which naughty store in which I shopped this year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Matthew Henry on Matthew 11:11 " minimum maximi est majus maximo minimi", or Are There Degrees of Glory in Heaven?

This Sunday's Gospel reading tells the story of the reply Jesus sent via John the Baptist's disciples to the imprisoned John,

"When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,   who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.'" Matthew 11:2-11
Jesus speaks of John the man as the greatest man to date (with the exception of the one who was born due to immaculate conception), but still John ranks very low in the kingdom of heaven.

Is there a hierarchy in the kingdom of heaven? I am sure most of you will not hear much discussion of that in this Sunday's sermon. We will have to look at older commentaries to see how this question was answered in the past.

Matthew Henry (d1714) took on the challenge in his "Commentaries" (highlights mine),
"John has a surprising limitation, notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  In the kingdom of glory. John was a great and good man, but he was yet in a state of infirmity and imperfection, and therefore came short of glorified saints, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Note, First, There are degrees of glory in heaven, some that are less than others there; though every vessel is alike full, all are not alike large and capacious. Secondly, The least saint in heaven is greater, and knows more, and loves more, and does more in praising God, and receives more from him, than the greatest in this world. The saints on earth are excellent ones (Ps. 16:3), but those in heaven are much more excellent; the best in this world are lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5), the least there are equal with the angels, which should make us long for that blessed state, where the weak shall be as David, Zech. 12:8.  By the kingdom of heaven here, is rather to be understood the kingdom of grace, the gospel dispensation in the perfection of its power and purity; and ho mikroteros—he that is less in that is greater than John. Some understand it of Christ himself, who was younger than John, and, in the opinion of some, less than John, who always spoke diminishingly of himself; I am a worm, and no man, yet greater than John; so it agrees with what John the Baptist said (John 1:15), He that cometh after me is preferred before me. But it is rather to be understood of the apostles and ministers of the New Testament, the evangelical prophets; and the comparison between them and John is not with respect to their personal sanctity, but to their office; John preached Christ coming, but they preached Christ not only come, but crucified and glorified. John came to the dawning of the gospel-day, and therein excelled the foregoing prophets, but he was taken off before the noon of that day, before the rending of the veil, before Christ’s death and resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit; so that the least of the apostles and evangelists, having greater discoveries made to them, and being employed in a greater embassy, is greater than John. John did no miracles; the apostles wrought many. The ground of this preference is laid in the preference of the New-Testament dispensation to that of the Old Testament. Ministers of the New Testament therefore excel, because their ministration does so, 2 Cor. 3:6 John was a maximum quod sic—the greatest of his order; he went to the utmost that the dispensation he was under would allow; but minimum maximi est majus maximo minimithe least of the highest order is superior to the first of the lowest; a dwarf upon a mountain sees further than a giant in the valley. Note, All the true greatness of men is derived from, and denominated by, the gracious manifestation of Christ to them. The best men are no better than he is pleased to make them. What reason have we to be thankful that our lot is cast in the days of the kingdom of heaven, under such advantages of light and love! And the greater the advantages, the greater will the account be, if we receive the grace of God in vain."
What do you think? Are there degrees of glory in heaven? 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Fetal Remains: New Texas Requirements Under Fire

This story from the Texas Tribune was picked up by the Washington Post and passed along by a Facebook friend,

"The rules will prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, allowing only cremation or burial."  
In other words, no more throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Needless to say, this will be hotly contested,
"...lawyers with the Center for Reproductive Rights warned that the proposal 'will almost certainly trigger costly litigation.' While the center did not take immediate legal action, senior staff attorney David Brown on Monday said the rule was 'an unnecessary burden and an intrusion' on a woman's  'personal beliefs.'"
I guess the Center for Reproductive Rights interpretation will argue that a woman has a right to determine how to dispose of "tissue" after it has been removed from her body. If they think that it still belongs to her, maybe it should be bagged up so that she could take it home. Of course the issue is not about the fetal remains at all according to Mr. Brown,
"'These new restrictions reveal the callous indifference that Texas politicians have toward women,' Brown said."
The responses to my friend's post from her pro-abortion friends were shocking. Here are a few examples,
"Insane. Cruel. Wrong. Should be a matter of personal choice."
"They really staggeringly evil."
"Beyond ridiculous"
"4th Reich...it all gives precedence...start here and you can do so much more..."
"A new low in Texas' hatred of women."
The blindness to the humane treatment of fetal remains is to be expected from these ardent supporters of abortion who have no respect for pre-term humanity.

The ugliest comments can be found at the Washington Post site. Here is one example,
"Turn their rules against them. Turn fetus funerals into parties. Put the little guy in a tiny fetus suit and hat. If they argue, tell them that you don't appreciate having your religious ceremonies disrespected. Then ask them if they want a cup of homemade placenta punch."
This is what we are up against folks.

Dad was right. It is a cold cruel world out there.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 3:1-12 and contains the story of John the Baptist and his encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees,
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:“Prepare the way of the Lord,   make his paths straight.” ’  
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
John judges the Pharisees and Sadducees as perhaps not ready for his baptism and warns them that if they do not bear the fruit one expects from a truly repentant heart, then they will face the punishment from God, a trip to the unquenchable fires of Hell.

Scary stuff for them, but shouldn't we also take heed of John's warning?

Matthew Henry in his Commentary brought things into the present when he studied these same verses,
 (1.) There is a wrath to come; besides present wrath, the vials of which are poured out now, there is future wrath, the stores of which are treasured up for hereafter.  
(2.) It is the great concern of every one of us to flee from this wrath.  
(3.) It is wonderful mercy that we are fairly warned to flee from this wrath; think—Who has warned us? God has warned us, who delights not in our ruin; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience.  
(4.) These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been very much hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves.
Al Mohler  in a commencement address this past Friday warned the newest ministers of today to take heed as well,
"Ministers of Christ: Never settle for the comfortable but false existence of the religious professional. Preach the Word, proclaim the Gospel, herald the truth that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Be humble, take courage, be not afraid. You go with the prayers and the hopes of this faculty who have taught you, this congregation who has loved you, and Christians far beyond this place.Remember this: His winnowing fork is in his hand — and so are you."

All of us who have been baptized have a great responsibility to ourselves and to others, and that is to share the Gospel of Jesus to an unbelieving world and to "bear fruits worthy of repentance".

Heaven help us if we don't.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rowan Williams Won't You Please Shut Up

The immediate past-Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had a distinctive style of writing while he was Archbishop that is hard to describe. Sonorous, mind numbing, and in the end always inconclusive, I found him to be an exasperating read.

Now that he is retired from his High Priest gig, Rowan Williams still can find an occasional audience to bore to death. His most recent opinion piece, "Mass democracy has failed – it's time to seek a humane alternative" in The New Statesman is classic Rowan Williams. In it he goes after the things that he perceives that were behind the election of Donald Trump,
"This election represents a divorce between the electoral process and the business of political decision-making. It is the ersatz politics of mass theatre, in which what matters most is the declaration of victory."
"The politics of mass democracy has failed. It has been narrowed down to a mechanism for managing large-scale interests in response to explicit and implicit lobbying by fabulously well-resourced commercial and financial concerns (ironically, one of the things that Trump has undertaken to change). The 2008 financial crisis sent a tremor through that world but failed to change its workings. The effect has been a growing assumption that what goes on in public political debate does not represent any voices other than the privileged and self-interested. And so, for significant parts of a population, 'theatrical' politics comes to look like the only option: a dramatic articulation of the problems of powerlessness, for which the exact details of economic or social reality are irrelevant. This delivers people into the hands of another kind of dishonest politics: the fact-free manipulation of emotion by populist adventurers."
Never short of words, but always short of solutions, Williams concludes with more questions than answers,
"Naught for our comfort; but at least an opportunity to ask how politics can be set free from the deadly polarity between empty theatrics and corrupt, complacent pluto­cracy. What will it take to reacquaint people with control over their communities, shared and realistic values, patience with difference and confidence in their capacity for intelligent negotiation? It’s the opposite of what Trump has appealed to. The question is whether the appalling clarity of this opposition can wake us up to work harder for the authentic and humane politics that seems in such short supply."
As Archbishop, Rowan Williams worked to pacify the growing unrest in the Anglican Communion using what he considered to be an "authentic and humane" politic that in the end caused more harm than good. The fractures in the Anglican Communion are deeper than ever and part of the blame has to fall on him and his methods to "reacquaint people with their shared and realistic values" in the Church (the Indaba approach). His long, tortured, indecisive  letters left "we the people" dangling, and the polarities in the Church were left unresolved. His use of the dialectical method's ability to resolve issues was not an appropriate way to handle the marked theological differences that we have in the Anglican Communion, but he persisted in pursuing that approach in spite of nothing positive ever coming from it. Applying that same failed approach to what he calls the failure of "mass democracy" is not going to change American politics, a political battle field which has always been scruffy, mud-slinging, nasty, dog eat dog, and will probably always ruffle Williams' feathers.

He couldn't solve the problems in his own backyard, so he should keep his bloody nose out of ours,

After wasting my time reading his latest piece, I came away wishing he would just go away and shut up.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Which is better to be taken or to be left?

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 24:36-44. In it we hear the prediction of those who are taken and those who are left.

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[a] but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
The meaning of these verses has been a subject of debate since Luke's gospel adds a possible explanation as to what happens to those who are taken (Luke 17:35-37),
Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
 “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."
whereas  Matthew places a similar verse before the section about people being taken or left apparently making the verse refer to "the coming of the Son of man"  (verse 28),
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

So was the author of the "Left Behind" series.

I think the key thing for believers to remember is that they have nothing to fear when that time comes and to not waste time worrying about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Archbishop's Chaplain

I never knew that he needed one, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has a new chaplain. If anyone needs proof that the "evangelical" Archbishop Justin Welby is calling his engine room asking for more steam as his sinking ship plows into the waves of progressive post Christian religion, all they have to do is take a good look at the research interests of his new chaplain.

From the Episcopal Digital Network we get a hint as to how influential the Archbishop's chaplain might be,

"The Rev. Isabelle Hamley has been named as the new chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. As well as her duties as chaplain she will have responsibility for developing the archbishop’s priority of prayer and the renewal of religious life, especially through the Community of St. Anselm."
“I am delighted to welcome Isabelle to the team at Lambeth,” said Welby. “The chaplain is a central part of life here, supporting the archbishop and the family, maintaining the rhythms of worship and prayer and providing pastoral support for the community who live and work here.”
“Isabelle comes to us highly commended by her diocese where she has served in several ministry roles, lay and ordained, in university, college and parish. She brings a pastoral heart, a spiritual richness and a rigorous theological understanding to what is a demanding role."
SO what exactly does someone with a rigorous theological understanding present as her PhD thesis?

"Hamley is in the final stages of a Ph.D. in biblical studies, (Relational identity, Otherness and Victimisation: An Irigarayan Reading of Judges 19-21)"
Judges 19-21 contains the story of the Levite and his concubine. You remember, the unfaithful concubine who was retrieved by her "husband" and on the way home they spent the night in Gibeah, a town belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. That night the wicked men of the town bang on the door demanding the Levite come out and be sodomized. Instead of going out himself, the man sends out his concubine who gets raped to death. The man cuts his dead concubine into twelve pieces and ships the parts to the four corners of Israel setting off a war against the tribe of Benjamin. The Benjaminites are defeated but six hundred escape. A ban on them prevented them from marrying an woman from Israel, but in order to save the remnant, Israel allows the Benjaminites to abduct four hundred young virgins of Shiloh (the women belonged to a group that did not join Israel in the war against Benjamin).

What could be wrong with any of that, and what could "An Irigarayan Reading" of these chapters possibly entail?

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Luce Irigaray, 

"...is a prominent author in contemporary French feminism and Continental philosophy..."
"Irigaray alleges that women have been traditionally associated with matter and nature to the expense of a female subject position. While women can become subjects if they assimilate to male subjectivity, a separate subject position for women does not exist. Irigaray's goal is to uncover the absence of a female subject position, the relegation of all things feminine to nature/matter, and, ultimately, the absence of true sexual difference in Western culture. In addition to establishing this critique, Irigaray offers suggestions for altering the situation of women in Western culture. Mimesis, strategic essentialism, utopian ideals, and employing novel language, are but some of the methods central to changing contemporary culture."
I wonder if the Archbishop's new chaplain shares those same goals? The Rev. Isabelle Hamley surely must be familiar with the fact that Irigaray is a culture warrior out to remake the world into her own image.
"Irigaray's analysis of women's exclusion from culture and her use of strategic essentialism have been enormously influential in contemporary feminist theory. Her work has generated productive discussions about how to define femininity and sexual difference, whether strategic essentialism should be employed, and assessing the risk involved in engaging categories historically used to oppress women. Irigaray's work extends beyond theory into practice. Irigaray has been actively engaged in the feminist movement in Italy. She has participated in several initiatives in Italy to implement a respect for sexual difference on a cultural and, in her most recent work, governmental level."
Warning sirens are blaring in my mind telling me that Canterbury itself may be next target for "strategic essentialism" if this new chaplain is a of disciple of the feminist philosopher Irigaray.

Radical feminism must have deep roots in the religious schools in England if this type of thesis is accepted and encouraged for a PhD candidate to pursue.

If a PhD is awarded on the basis of a thesis like, "Relational identity, Otherness and Victimisation: An Irigarayan Reading of Judges 19-21" the value of a PhD from whatever institution is offering it is diminished.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Did You Preach on Jeremiah's Prophecy Today?

This Sunday's Old Testament reading will probably not get much attention in the average Episcopal priest's sermon as she/he preaches to mostly empty pews, and for good reason, because in Jeremiah 23:1-6 we hear about God's anger with those who lead his people astray,

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
The really bad shepherd of today will scrupulously avoid discussing Jeremiah, knowing that the words of the prophet of Israel are aimed right at the pulpit where they are standing.

The average bad shepherd of today, believing that their progressive gospel is the right one, will be totally unaware of the fact that it is that very same false gospel that has driven God's flock away, and that is why they are staring at so many empty chairs today.

The slightly bad shepherd will shy away from Jeremiah perhaps by saying that the prophets words were aimed at the priests of ancient Israel and leave it there.

Yes, most sermons today will focus on the story of the criminals on the cross as recounted in Luke 23:35-43, an important text to be sure with Jesus' promise to the one who recognizes him that,
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
I pray that the false teachers among us will come to the realization that there are some criminal acts, such as driving away God's flock, which put them in jeopardy of God's punishment and that they repent before they wind up like the less fortunate criminal who derided our Lord as he hung beside Jesus.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Presiding Bishop Curry: Living Into the Tension of the Election of Donald Trump

In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, we have seen a week of protests over the outcome, tears, hateful Facebook memes, and far more vitriol from the left wing than I can recall seeing coming from the right after the 2008 election.

In an effort to calm his flock, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal organization issued the following statement which I will decipher for you,

"Last week I shared what I pray was a reconciling post-election message to our church, reminding us that 'we will all live together as fellow Americans, as citizens.' Today I want to remind us that during moments of transition, during moments of tension, it is important to affirm our core identity and values as followers of Jesus in the Episcopal Anglican way."

What tension? I suspect that a huge majority of Episcopalians voted for someone other than the man who won the 2016 presidential election, and I have been reading all about their "tension" on their Facebook pages. Much of what I see is anger and hate. I guess that is how some people handle tension.

"Jesus once declared, in the language of the Hebrew prophets, that God's "house shall be a house of prayer for all nations" (Mk 11:17)."
The key words are "shall be". We ain't there yet.
"He invited and welcomed all who would follow saying, "come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens" (Mt. 11:28)."
More key words are "all who would follow". Not everyone, and not every denomination "follows". In fact, the Episcopal organization has chosen to follow its own path especially when it comes to human sexuality.
"We therefore assert and we believe that "the Episcopal Church welcomes you" – all of you, not as merely a church slogan, but as a reflection of what we believe Jesus teaches us and at the core of the movement he began in the first century. The Episcopal Church welcomes all. All of us!"
Not everyone is welcome in the Episcopal organization. Traditionalists, also known as conservatives, have been run out and are not welcome back. When was the last time you heard of any of those in the diaspora being asked to return by their progressive priest?

"As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement today, we Episcopalians are committed, as our Prayer Book teaches to honor the covenant and promises we made in Holy Baptism: To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being."
There goes that Baptismal covenant argument again. The key word here is "dignity". When the writers of the 1979 BCP created this little gem, did they know that the definition of "respect" would come to mean "accept" and that dignity would come to mean an individual's unwise choices? Roberta Green Ahmanson explains the new meaning of "dignity" in a post at Public Discourse,  "The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power", the new dignity to be respected/accepted is an individual's freedom to do the following,
"to remake our gender, to marry someone without regard to sex or the procreative potential of the union, to choose our time to die and enlist the medical profession in ending our lives, to not only abort a child developing in the womb but also to harvest his or her body parts for commercial gain. It also calls for new negative freedom, freedoms from—from all unwanted pain or discomfort, from limitations on what I can do to or with my body, from language or ideas that offend me or that challenge decisions I have made.
Dignity is no longer so much about who or what we are; it is about what our unfettered will can do, and what it can forbid others to do."
Every time someone pulls the Baptismal covenant argument, you might as well give up because the meaning of the words "respect the dignity" has been reduced to "Don't hurt anyone's feelings by disagreeing with them".

Getting back to the Presiding Bishop's letter,
"As Christians, we believe that all humans are created in God’s image and equal before God – those who may be rejoicing as well as those who may be in sorrow."
Only because the vast majority of his flock is in sorrow does he have to write this letter. If they were rejoicing, he would be writing a letter about Thanksgiving Day.

If there are any doubts as to for whom Presiding Bishop Curry cast his vote, the following paragraph should provide a clue,
"As a Church, seeking to follow the way of Jesus, who taught us, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself," (Mt. 22:39) and to "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Mt. 7:12), we maintain our longstanding commitment to support and welcome refugees and immigrants, and to stand with those who live in our midst without documentation.  We reaffirm that like all people LGBT persons are entitled to full civil rights and protection under the law. We reaffirm and renew the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities. We commit to the honor and dignity of women and speak out against sexual or gender-based violence.  We express solidarity with and honor the Indigenous Peoples of the world. We affirm the right to freedom of religious expression and vibrant presence of different religious communities, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers. We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God's children, created equally in God's image. And if we are God's children we are all brothers and sisters."
The underlying assumption is that President-elect Trump, while being opposed to illegal immigration, is out to curtail the civil rights of the LGBT, the disabled, women, "the indigenous people of the world", and Muslims. In addition, he is out to ruin the environment too.

To put the lie into one sentence, Curry finishes by writing,

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," is not just a slogan, it’s who we seek to be and the witness we seek to make, following the way of Jesus.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Oh yeah, the Episcopal organization welcomes you, but only if you agree with the devastated, mourning, sorrowful, and "feeling the post-election tension" elite.

For a less biased and more Gospel centered approach please read the letter from Peet Dickinson, the Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston SC. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It Is Not a Question of When

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Luke 21:5-19. In these verses, Jesus predicts future events, and his followers, as usual, ask the wrong question,
"When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.'"
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.' 
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.'"
The initial disaster that Jesus predicts is the destruction of the temple. This certainly would be alarming to a people for whom the temple and temple worship were so central to their identity, but instead of asking, "Why will this happen?" the people ask, "When will this happen?"

By asking the question. "When?", the people betray their insecurity and lack of faith. An insecure person, if given the foreknowledge, will opt to get out of Jerusalem before the temple falls. A person of greater faith might resist the urge to flee being secure and trusting in Lord.

If they had instead asked, "Why should God let the temple fall?", perhaps Jesus could have enlightened them on God's plan for himself and for the world, but Jesus responds by doubling down on the prophecy, describing the challenges to their faith that are to come, challenges to their own bodies, and these might strike them as things far more frightening than the destruction of the temple.

Solomon in 1 Kings 8:27 told his people that the temple made of stone is not everything,  “
But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"
In the end, we are taught by God who really dwelt on earth as Jesus that we must stand firm and not let our faith be shaken by terrible things when they happen. He has shown us how to endure the worst even the destruction of our physical temples. He endured the cross out of love for God and neighbor. Are we prepared to do the same?

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Elections Matter, Let Us Pray

Thank you Lord for a peaceful election day.
We beseech thee good Lord to guide our nation into righteousness.
We beseech thee good Lord to end the scourges that plague us including the horror of abortion.
We beseech thee good Lord to build up marriage as you had planned for us and the family for the rearing of children and for the teaching of your Word to the next generation.
We beseech thee good Lord to protect us from our enemies.
All this we ask in Jesus' name. Amen

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

A Psalm For Voters Going To The Polls Today

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Matthew Henry: "God is just when he inflicts spiritual judgments here, and eternal punishments hereafter"

This Sunday offers churchgoers a third chance to study the parts of  the Epistle that get cut  out. This time 2 Thessalonians goes by unheard thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary. You know the routine. First, read what will be heard in most churches, Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-17 (a gap is left where the missing verses should have been read),

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?  
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Next, read it again with the gaps filled in by verses 6-12 (highlighted),

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 
And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. 
 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Okay, I'll admit that the verses the lectionary struck out are challenging, but Paul was writing about challenging times to come and "the working of Satan". Remember that Satan must not be mentioned in today's progressive Church. Therefore, it gets cut out, as well as God's terrifying judgment which also must not be discussed on a pleasant fall Sunday morning.

What I find challenging in the deleted verses is that God does the following to those who are perishing because they have bought into Satan's deception,
"For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. "
God sending delusions to unbelievers does not jive with the god of modern people. We have been raised to believe that God would never do something like that. Is this how God's justice works?

Matthew Henry in his Commentary from 1706 tackled the tough verses which helps me to get a grip on them,

"Their ruin is thus expressed: God shall send them strong delusions, to believe a lie. Thus he will punish men for their unbelief, and for their dislike of the truth and love to sin and wickedness; not that God is the author of sin, but in righteousness he sometimes withdraws his grace from such sinners as are here mentioned; he gives them over to Satan, or leaves them to be deluded by his instruments; he gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts, and leaves them to themselves, and then sin will follow of course, yea, the worst of wickedness, that shall end at last in eternal damnation. God is just when he inflicts spiritual judgments here, and eternal punishments hereafter, upon those who have no love to the truths of the gospel, who will not believe them, nor live suitably to them, but indulge false doctrines in their minds, and wicked practices in their lives and conversations."

God's justice may sound cruel to the modern pewsitter, raised on pablum and spoon fed the cream of the Gospel Sunday after Sunday.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but if we never talk about it, we are condemning ourselves to falling for the delusions of those who have been taken in by the lies of Satan.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Elections Matter: A Look at the Fallout From the 2009 Election of the Bishop of Upper South Carolina

Next week is election week in the United States of America. Most people have known for some time how they are going to vote in the Presidential election. There maybe a few people who have been planning on abstaining and only voting for their Congressman or Senator who might be swayed at the last minute to cast a vote for one of the candidates for President. My advice for anyone who goes to the polls on Tuesday is to consider the long-term consequences of your decision.

Most of us know that predicting the future is like throwing darts at a moving target, but some things can be foretold if we take a good look at what has gone before.

For example, in the run up to the 2009 election of Andrew Waldo to become the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, a small band of conservatives looked at the candidates and decided that Waldo would likely pursue a liberal agenda which would lead to a decline in the diocese in the long term (I think some of us used the term "disaster"). Of the major candidates in that Bishop election, the only ones with a solid record of church growth were solidly conservative, but nobody casting votes seemed to care about that, and the conservatives went down in flames.

Eight years (the equivalent of two Presidential terms) is probably long enough to look at the numbers and determine if that small band of deplorable conservatives was right about Waldo.

In 2009 the average Sunday attendance in the diocese was approximately 8,000. This decreased to approximately 7,000 by 2015, a drop of 12.5%. Meanwhile, the population of South Carolina grew by approximately 9%.

Looking at the six parishes in my area, York, Lancaster, and Chester counties, I added up a drop in average Sunday attendance from 478 to 345 or a decrease of 28%.  York and Lancaster counties have been growing like gangbusters since 2009.

By my estimate, Episcopalians make up 0.15% of the population of my part of the state.

The Episcopal church, under Bishop Waldo, is slowly withering away, and this illustrates the need to vote for a candidate with a positive track record of growth whenever you go to elect a Bishop.

As far as the national election goes, it is hard to vote for either of the two major parties' candidates based on their track records.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

More Missing Verses: Cutting the Hell Out

Carrying on from last week's theme (The Lectionary: Stripping Paul of His Warnings), this Sunday's Epistle reading is 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12. By now, you should notice that verses 5-10 get left out. You know the routine. First, read the selection most church-goers will hear (I put a space where the missing verses should be),

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must always give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. 

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
That was encouraging and reassuring wasn't it? Our Sunday morning pewsitters will likely smile and nod at that one.

But they will just hear the fluff plucked from the letter's intro, the meat gets let out. In verses 5-10 they would have heard about God's vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus, and they should have heard about eternal damnation too,

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon from an Episcopal church pulpit in which the reality of eternal damnation was preached. In fact, I recall one sermon in which that fact was denied.

Thanks to our Revised Common Lectionary most pewsitters won't hear about it either. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Episcopal School's Fundraising Campaign: Where's the Christ?

This is the time of year for fund-raising campaigns. Every day pewsterspouse and I receive a number of requests for donations via snail mail from charities, "non-profits", and former schools. Our schools want money for alumni associations, scholarships, and general funds, each coming as a separate "ask". Each year, we are left wondering, "Is this something to which we should donate?"

Useful resources include the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. They rate charities based on how they follow protocol and the BBB provides financial information along with a pie chart of how much each charity's spending goes towards fundraising, administrative costs, and program expenses. Interestingly, the Clinton Foundation does not meet BBB standards, but you won't hear about that on the network news. The Trump Foundation is not even registered, a fact that did make the news.

You also can find a group's IRS Form 900 at GuideStar.org. Free registration is required.

Last week I received a request from my dear old Episcopal High School which gave me pause to re-evaluate their mission and to question whether or not to send them a donation.

You see, the request from this erstwhile religiously affiliated institution talked a little about generic "faith" but contained no mention of Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit. If I had to point to one thing that is wrong with the Episcopal organization, it is that we have done a lousy job of teaching our children to put their trust in Jesus. Instead, we have been raising generations of youngsters who are lacking in the one thing that the fundraising letter from my old school dares to mention, faith. Oh, they have faith in their education in English, Math, and Science, and they have faith that their educational foundation will get them into the best universities, but do they have enough faith in Jesus to mention his name when they are in need? The online request is longer than the short letter I got in the mail, but in spite of its greater length, Jesus is still curiously absent. This is what I pulled from the web page (names redacted),

“I am grateful for the talent and devotion of our teachers; the richness of our traditions; the combination of faith, scholarship and service; the exceptional educational experience; and the sense of community. Your gifts to the StM Annual Fund help to make all this possible.”  ***** Head of School 
"A Message from Board Chair As a proud StM parent and alum, I have spent the better part of my life on StM's campus.  And while my experience at StM as a student was great, through the dedication of our faculty, our students, and the community I have seen our school become even greater.  Unequivocally, StM is the best school for our children. Whether you are a parent, alum, parent of alum, grandparent, or community member, you have all been touched by the impact of a StM's education. Today, as we officially kick off the 2016-2017 StM Annual Fund campaign, I want to share with you just a few of the reasons why I take such tremendous pride in our school, and how your ongoing commitment and gifts enable our students and StM do great things.  StM is transforming education. We have become leaders in design thinking (locally and globally) and our school is being touted as one of the "go to" schools for this type of innovative teaching and program. Opening later this month is the new ***** Family Center for Innovation + Design.  This building will operate simultaneously as a design studio, prototyping lab, production studio, woodworking and build shop, flexible classroom space, and community partnership workspace. The range and sophistication of its equipment will make it the most comprehensive school-based maker space in the region (and perhaps the state).   StM has the best faculty. When I think about the teachers who made a difference in my life at StM, and the ones who are now impacting the lives of my children, I realize just how critical highly-trained, dedicated, and passionate faculty members are to our students and school.  A school is only as good as its faculty, and there is no doubt in my mind: StM has the best.  StM offers opportunities for a lifetime. We have a very successful track record of preparing our students for college, but they are also being prepared to thrive in life. Through new and innovative programs, hands-on, experiential learning, and numerous character and faith-building opportunities, StM empowers our students to excel and enjoy educational experiences that will last them a lifetime. This is the StM experience, and it is exactly what you support when you give to the Annual Fund.  Please join me, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty and staff by making one of the most powerful gifts you can make: a gift in support of education, a gift in support of our students, a gift that will last a lifetime.  Do something great for a student, a teacher, and StM. Make your commitment today. Sincerely, ***********
Chair, Board of Trustees  P.S. Gifts of all sizes are appreciated and will help us to reach the $400K goal. Families will receive their StM Annual Fund packets by mail. Please complete and return your pledge envelope on or before October 31. Pledges do not need to be fulfilled until June 30, 2017. You can also make your gift online now.StM Annual Fund gifts touch every student, every program, and virtually every part of our school life. Your investment in the Annual Fund enhances our students’ educational experience, enabling StM to add innovative programs and technology while honoring our traditions and commitment to faith, scholarship, and service.The Annual Fund is at the heart of the school’s fundraising efforts. As with most independent schools, tuition does not cover the entire cost of educating a StM student. The Annual Fund helps fill in the gap between the tuition revenue and the actual cost of providing the highquality education that our students experience at StM.

DONATIONS can be in the form of cash, checks, credit cards, pledges, and matching gifts. All annual gifts are tax-deductible. 
  • All gifts to the StM Annual Fund this year will be applied to expenses this year.
  • The StM Annual Fund Campaign begins July 1, 2016 and ends June 30, 2017.
  • Gifts may be pledged and paid in installments.
  • Donors at the Founder's level or higher are invited to an annual Thank You Reception in the fall and receive VIP Passes good for lunch with the head of school, athletic events, and theatre performances.
  • You may be able to double or even triple your gift with a Matching Gift from your employer or your spouse's employer."
Back in the day, I drew a picture of one of my religion classes as a senior which will give you an idea of why it took a couple of years in college to find Jesus,

I am always amazed when my school asks for money. Most Episcopal enterprises should not be in need of money. As I commented in an earlier post,
"The last time I looked, the Episcopal organization has an incredible treasure of  $355,969,542 in trust funds (see page 8 of the 2015 Trust Funds Report)." 
One look at U.S. religious groups with the wealthiest members shows that Episcopalians come in at number three right behind Jews and Hindus (Pew Research 2016).

I wonder if Episcopalians are so unsure of the Lordship of Christ that they are afraid to speak his name?

Or maybe they are afraid they might offend someone.

Jews, Muslims, and unbelievers won't have to worry about sending their children to dear old StM. The priests, if they still work there, won't try to convert anyone. They certainly didn't when I went there. In fact, I wonder if they were actually working to secularize us back then. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Lectionary: Stripping Paul of His Warnings

This Sunday's Epistle, 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18, contains another one of those annoying and potentially meaning changing lectionary edits where verses 9-15 get left out of the reading. Let's first look at what most people will hear today, the edited version,

6 "As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 
16 At my first defence no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Next, read it again with the lost verses reinserted and highlighted.
6 "As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
9 Do your best to come to me soon, 10 for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. 12 I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 15 You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.
 16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Note that in the version heard in most churches, Paul has but one minor comment about those who deserted him, and even that is tempered by his plea to not have it held against them,
16 "At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!"  
In the missing verses we hear the details of some of the deserters and how Paul reminds his readers that God will hold it against those who oppose the Gospel,
14 "Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds."
I suspect a similar fate awaited Demas who followed the cares of the world and abandoned the Gospel.

No, those warnings will go unheard today.

Just another typical Sunday for the mind numbed pewitters...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

So Many Heretics: Where to Start?

A recent article at The Federalist pointed me to this survey by Lifeway Research  and then to "The State of Theology" which appear to indicate that the theological IQ scores of most Americans would put them in the "trainable heretic" category.

The findings are as follows,

46% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with the statement, "God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam." 
36% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this statement, "By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven." 
50% agreed with the statement, "An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation." 
52% agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, "By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven." 
83% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this, "A person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace." 
Only 52% of self-identified evangelicals who attend church once or twice per month strongly agree with this statement, "Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin." 
Only 48% of self-identified evangelicals who attend church once or twice per month strongly agree with this statement, "Abortion is a sin." 
61% of all participants strongly disagree with this statement, "Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation." 
56% of participants with a graduate degree disagree or somewhat disagree with this statement, "Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation."
If this is the best that self identified evangelicals can offer, is it any wonder why the mainstream denominations which are the least evangelical are falling like dominoes to the cultural attacks on traditional Christianity?

Judging from this survey, it appears that the mission field for evangelism is us.

At least we won't have to travel very far.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

2 Timothy: Equipping for Evangelism vs. One Episcopal Priest's Plan for Church Growth

This Sunday's epistle reading is 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, and this contains some very important lessons for those who want the Church to grow.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

To summarize, the foundations for what we know, believe and do are,
  1. Scripture instructs us for salvation.
  2. Scripture instructs us that salvation is through faith in Jesus.
  3. Scripture (all of it) is inspired by God.
  4. Scripture should be used for teaching, reproof, correction, and training.
  5. Scripture should be learned for you need to be proficient in it.
  6. Scripture and knowledge of it is necessary for you to do every good work.
Growing the Church requires the following,
  1. Proclaim  the good news.
  2. Be persistent no matter what.
  3. Evangelism involves patience, convincing, encouraging, and the nasty practice of rebuking.
  4. Rebuking is needed because people are easily seduced by false teachings.
  5. The evangelist should stay sober and prepared to endure abuse.

Paul knew what he was talking about. After all, he was chosen by God to be one of the most successful evangelists of all time.

This past week,  a Facebook friend posted a link to an article by an Episcopal priest entitled,
"A three-point plan for turning around the Episcopal Church right now!" (link here)
He starts out by choosing to deny and ignore the elephant in the room before launching into his plan.

"Is it because of the declining attitude about church in the northeast? Is it because of liberal theology? No. In our beloved, demographically awesome Diocese of Dallas, we’ve declined .5% in membership and a higher than the national average 5.3% in ASA.
Is it because we need a massive restructuring in church polity, governance and resources? Probably not. Is it simply because we are a mainline denomination whose glory days are behind us? Is it because people are choosing non-denominational 'big box' churches? Hey, it’s far better to be pure in liturgy than large in attendance, right? Wrong."
Once he has dispensed with that, he lays out his strategy,
1. "To the clergy — preach the Gospel. It is Jesus people need, not social commentary. Over the last few days I’ve been stunned at the level of passion that clergy have put forth about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I wish you would get as excited about Jesus as you are about Trump’s tapes and Hillary’s e-mails! In your social media profile, and for God’s sake your pulpit, stop imposing your polarizing ideas on your congregation. Is being “prophetic” a simple code-word for making yourself feel better via your bully pulpit? Cut it out! Lift up the goodness, grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Cast a vision of a church united in a common mission of transformation. Make your church a house of healing, a resource of reconciliation and a haven of hope. Most people — even the people who agree with you — really don’t want to feel more lousy about the world and themselves than when they came in. The Gospel is Good News. Even confrontational sermons must be soaked in the grace and love of Jesus Christ. I’m sorry to break this to you, but the Jesus Movement is not the installment of your personal political philosophy. Be excited about Jesus! Less of you and more of Him."

Well, he sort of gets what Paul was talking about regarding scripture, but he leaves out the need for correction and rebuke of the Episcopal organization's leadership. I am afraid he would rather just tame the political activists who chase away pewsitters and not the theological progressives who poison the Church itself.

2. "To the laity — be nice to people! For example, one small reason for the decline in the Episcopal Church, I’m convinced, is the Exchange of the Peace. While members hug, chat and smile with one another, visitors of our churches stand stiffly, often completely ignored, thinking, 'Well, I guess this place isn’t for me'. Most churches feel like they are nice and welcoming, but really they are not. When is the last time you welcomed a newcomer? Sat next to someone you didn’t know? Made it a point to extend your friendship to someone outside of your current circle of relationships? No amount of restructuring at any level, no change in the music, and no amount of good preaching is strong enough to overcome this obstacle. This is not the Vestry’s job or the 'Invite, Welcome, Connect' team’s initiative to achieve. If you love your church and want to see it succeed, this turnaround must start with you. A welcoming church will grow — not just because people will return but because it will be a safe place for people to invite friends to."
Paul's idea of being nice to people was to share the good news that Jesus died for our sins. The modern idea of being nice to people is to not mention anything that might offend them such as, "Welcome to this place where we can repent and our sins are forgiven".

3. "To all of us — exist for your mission field, not yourselves. Way too much of our energy and resources flow inward, not outward. How much longer will your church exist for itself? If the place was closed, would your community notice? Would it care? The days when we can paint our front doors red and expect people to come are gone and they are never coming back. Our mission fields don’t care about our stained glass windows, our organs or even how great the baked goods are at coffee hour after church. What is one thing your church could do to reach out? How might you open those red doors wide and let people know they can come? Where are the poor and how can you serve them? What is a need in your community that your church can meet? When will the blessed energy of your church flow outward instead of inward?"
Not one word of mention that the mission going outward is to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus to the world, but I guess that has not been the Episcopal organization's mission for so long that it has been forgotten.

I think I'll stick with Paul's advice.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Anglican Statement on Marriage: Is it Time to Retire the Term "Anglican"?

Notice that I did not say, "The Anglican Statement on Marriage". This particular Anglican Group, the Global South, comprises the largest number of Anglicans in the world. Their views on marriage are a world apart from the views of the Episcopal church organization or the position of the Canadian church  group. Here is what the majority of Anglicans believe as of October 6, 2016.

(From Global South Anglican)

1. We acknowledge that God is the Creator of the whole cosmos and of humankind. Male and female, God created them in his own image and likeness to know him, worship him and share in his glory and love. 
2. We affirm the dignity and value of every human being, as each bears the image of our gracious God. We recognise that humankind’s rebellion against God has tainted that image, but not eradicated it. Yet every person is precious to God. 
3. God’s message of hope is therefore addressed to every man, woman and child around the globe, that they might be redeemed, restored as image bearers of God through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and inherit eternal life. 
4. As we proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a broken and wounded world, we acknowledge our own failures and weaknesses in the light of God’s word, the Bible. As God’s love was declared to us, before we loved God, so we declare God’s love to those who neither know him nor love him. Yet our love for God is both to believe and obey, and so our message is to call people to repentance and love for God, that they might be forgiven and live their lives in accordance with God’s pattern for humankind as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
5.  We recognise that the brokenness of our world produces many aspects of human behaviour which are contrary to God’s good design. These include slander, greed, malice, hatred, jealousy, dishonesty, selfishness, envy and murder, as well as fornication, adultery and same-sex unions. In addressing the issue of same-sex relationships, we are not minimizing the sinfulness of other forms of behaviour that are contrary to God’s character and pattern for humankind. Rather, we are addressing an issue that continues to be contentious in both the Church and society and that strikes at the very heart of biblical authority. 
6. We affirm that the clear teaching of Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, is that marriage is an estate for all people, not just for believers. It is a holy institution, created by God for a man and a woman to live in a covenantal relationship of exclusive and mutual love for each other until they are parted by death. God designed marriage for the well-being of society, for sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife, and for procreation and the nurturing of children (Genesis 2:18-25). 
7. We contend that sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex is contrary to God’s design, is offensive to him and reflects a disordering of God’s purposes for complementarity in sexual relations. Like all other morally wrong behaviour, same-sex unions alienate us from God and are liable to incur God’s judgment. We hold these convictions based on the clear teaching of Scripture. We hold them not in order to demean or victimise those who experience same-sex attractions, but in order to guard the sound doctrine of our faith, which also informs our pastoral approach for helping those who struggle with same-sex impulses, attractions and temptations. 
8. In this respect, the Church cannot condone same-sex unions as a form of behaviour acceptable to God. To do so would be tampering with the foundation of our faith once for all laid down by the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2: 20-22; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11; Jude 3). 
9. Any pastoral provision by a church for a same-sex couple (such as a liturgy or a service to bless their sexual union) that obviates the need for repentance and a commitment to pursue a change of conduct enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, would contravene the orthodox and historic teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality. Such pastoral provisions, while superficially attractive in giving a more humane and socially acceptable face to the church, actually hide the contravention of doctrine involved. We must be faithful in guarding the good deposit of the gospel, in all its gracious gifts with all its covenantal obligations as well, not for the mere sake of orthodoxy but out of genuine love for God and our fellow human beings. 
10. Our faithfulness to God and knowledge of his love empowers us to offer sensitive and compassionate ministry to those who are sexually broken in the area of same-sex attractions and unions.  Our pastoral approach is to accept people for who they are, just as God accepted us for who we were. We oppose the vilification or demeaning of those who do not follow God’s ways.  We affirm that every person is loved by God, so we too must love as God loves. Our role is to restore them to God’s divine patterns by inviting them to receive the transforming love of Christ that gives them the power to repent and walk in newness of life. We rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to reveal to them the measureless goodness of God and the greatness of God in setting the captive free as a new creation. 
11. We recognise that discipleship involves growth and while we long for all new believers to come to maturity in Christ, we know that this is a process. For those who are same-sex attracted, the path of discipleship and living in conformity with God’s Word can be difficult. We commit ourselves afresh to care pastorally for them as members of Christ’s body, building them up in the Word and in the Spirit, and encouraging them to walk by faith in the paths of repentance and obedience that lead to fullness of life (John 10: 9-10).

Since certain sects which describe themselves as "Anglican" vehemently disagree with the above statement. It is impossible to imagine a future in which all of the various entities operating under the "Anglican" banner can act as a corporate body given the irreconcilable differences over the issue of human sexuality present in today's communion of "Anglicans"..

One or the other is going to have to cast off the "Anglican" label and come up with something new.

Which one will give in first?

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Ten Lepers

This Sunday's Gospel reading is the tale of the ten lepers from Luke 17,

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ Luke 17:11-19
As I pondered this story which is only found in Luke's Gospel, I was left with the impression that the target audience for Luke, a Gentile one, would have found reassurance in that the outsider, the Samaritan was the character who demonstrated faith by returning to worship Jesus.

For a more detailed commentary of this story, please read what Matthew Henry (1662-1714) had to say in his commentary which I present without comment,

"We have here an account of the cure of ten lepers, which we had not in any other of the evangelists. The leprosy was a disease which the Jews supposed to be inflicted for the punishment of some particular sin, and to be, more than other diseases, a mark of God’s displeasure; and therefore Christ, who came to take away sin, and turn away wrath, took particular care to cleanse the lepers that fell in his way. Christ was now in his way to Jerusalem, about the mid-way, where he had little acquaintance in comparison with what he had either at Jerusalem or in Galilee. He was now in the frontier-country, the marches that lay between Samaria and Galilee. He went that road to find out these lepers, and to cure them; for he is found of them that sought him not. Observe, 
I. The address of these lepers to Christ. They were ten in a company; for, though they were shut out from society with others, yet those that were infected were at liberty to converse with one another, which would be some comfort to them, as giving them an opportunity to compare notes, and to condole with one another. Now observe, 1. They met Christ as he entered into a certain village. They did not stay till he had refreshed himself for some time after the fatigue of his journey, but met him as he entered the town, weary as he was; and yet he did not put them off, nor adjourn their cause. 2. They stood afar off, knowing that by the law their disease obliged them to keep their distance. A sense of our spiritual leprosy should make us very humble in all our approaches to Christ. Who are we, that we should draw near to him that is infinitely pure? We are impure. 3. Their request was unanimous, and very importunate (Luke 17:13): They lifted up their voices, being at a distance, and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. those that expect help from Christ must take him for their Master, and be at his command. If he be Master, he will be Jesus, a Saviour, and not otherwise. They ask not in particular to be cured of their leprosy, but, Have mercy on us; and it is enough to refer ourselves to the compassions of Christ, for they fail not. They heard the fame of this Jesus (though he had not been much conversant in that country), and that was such as encouraged them to make application to him; and, if but one of them began in so cheap and easy an address, they would all join. 
II. Christ sent them to the priest, to be inspected by him, who was the judge of the leprosy. He did not tell them positively that they should be cured, but bade them go show themselves to the priests, Luke 17:14. This was a trial of their obedience, and it was fit that it should be so tried, as Naaman’s in a like case: Go wash in Jordan. Note, Those that expect Christ’s favours must take them in his way and method. Some of these lepers perhaps would be ready to quarrel with the prescription: “Let him either cure or say that he will not, and not send us to the priests on a fool’s errand;” but, over-ruled by the rest, they all went to the priest. As the ceremonial law was yet in force, Christ took care that it should be observed, and the reputation of it kept up, and due honour paid to the priests in things pertaining to their function; but, probably, he had here a further design, which was to have the priest’s judgment of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases. 
III. As they went, they were cleansed, and so became fit to be looked upon by the priest, and to have a certificate from him that they were clean. Observe, Then we may expect God to meet us with mercy when we are found in the way of duty. If we do what we can, God will not be wanting to do that for us which we cannot. Go, attend upon instituted ordinances; go and pray, and read the scriptures: Go show thyself to the priests; go and open thy case to a faithful minister, and, though the means will not heal thee of themselves, God will heal thee in the diligent use of those means. 
IV. One of them, and but one, returned, to give thanks, Luke 17:15. When he saw that he was healed, instead of going forward to the priest, to be by him declared clean, and so discharged from his confinement, which was all that the rest aimed at, he turned back towards him who was the Author of his cure, whom he wished to have the glory of it, before he received the benefit of it. He appears to have been very hearty and affectionate in his thanksgivings: With a loud voice he glorified God, acknowledging it to come originally from him; and he lifted up his voice in his praises, as he had done in his prayers, Luke 17:13. Those that have received mercy from God should publish it to others, that they may praise God too, and may be encouraged by their experiences to trust in him. But he also made a particular address of thanks to Christ (Luke 17:16): He fell down at his feet, put himself into the most humble reverent posture he could, and gave him thanks. Note, We ought to give thanks for the favours Christ bestows upon us, and particularly for recoveries from sickness; and we ought to be speedy in our returns of praise, and not defer them, lest time wear out the sense of the mercy. It becomes us also to be very humble in our thanksgivings, as well as in our prayers. It becomes the seed of Jacob, like him, to own themselves less than the least of God’s mercies, when they have received them, as well as when they are in pursuit of them. 
V. Christ took notice of this one that had thus distinguished himself; for, it seems, he was a Samaritan, whereas the rest were Jews, Luke 17:16. The Samaritans were separatists from the Jewish church, and had not the pure knowledge and worship of God among them that the Jews had, and yet it was one of them that glorified God, when the Jews forgot, or, when it was moved to them, refused, to do it. Now observe here, 
1. The particular notice Christ took of him, of the grateful return he made, and the ingratitude of those that were sharers with him in the mercy—that he who was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel was the only one that returned to give glory to God, Luke 17:17, 18. See here, (1.) How rich Christ is in doing good: Were there not ten cleansed? Here was a cure by wholesale, a whole hospital healed with one word’s speaking. Note, There is an abundance of healing cleansing virtue in the blood of Christ, sufficient for all his patients, though ever so many. Here are ten at a time cleansed; we shall have never the less grace for others sharing it. (2.) How poor we are in our returns: “Where are the nine? Why did not they return to give thanks?” This intimates that ingratitude is a very common sin. Of the many that receive mercy from God, there are but few, very few, that return to give thanks in a right manner (scarcely one in ten), that render according to the benefit done to them. (3.) How those often prove most grateful from whom it was least expected. A Samaritan gives thanks, and a Jew does not. Thus many who profess revealed religion are out-done, and quite shamed, by some that are governed only by natural religion, not only in moral value, but in piety and devotion. This serves here to aggravate the ingratitude of those Jews of whom Christ speaks, as taking it very ill that his kindness was so slighted. And it intimates how justly he resents the ingratitude of the world of mankind, for whom he had done so much, and from whom he has received so little. 
2. The great encouragement Christ gave him, Luke 17:19. The rest had their cure, and had it not revoked, as justly it might have been, for their ingratitude, though they had such a good example of gratitude set before them; but he had his cure confirmed particularly with an encomium: Thy faith hath made thee whole. The rest were made whole by the power of Christ, in compassion to their distress, and in answer to their prayer; but he was made whole by his faith, by which Christ saw him distinguished from the rest. Note, Temporal mercies are then doubled and sweetened to us when they are fetched in by the prayers of faith, and returned by the praises of faith."