Jun 162017
 


header
Thanks to you folks who use the Amazon links to make your purchases.

A small percent comes back to me and it helps out a lot.

Support our advertisers…especially when they are part of the online community.

EricL features his books and services up on the top right side of the blog and helps me often with our Linkathon.

We have a “trilogy” of devotional books based on my Friday TGIF columns available now.

“Make Your Own Application” Vol 1-3 can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can also make direct donations via PayPal using the “donate” button on the top left side of the site.

These are particularly helpful while I deal with the current medical issues.

We covet your continued prayers and participation for what we do here.

Thank you for your help and support.

I can always be reached at phoenixpreacher@gmail.com with your questions or concerns.

Jun 152017
 

Love Begets Love

“ ‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’

Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.’” (John 14:21-24)

Jesus promises His disciples three great gifts to help us live in a world hostile to Him and His Gospel: (1) His love; (2) “he will keep my word”; and (3) “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” To apprehend these promises as gifts, we must properly distinguish God’s Gospel from His Law. If we confuse these two words of God, we could find ourselves condemning ourselves with impossible demands.

(1) “If anyone loves me” (John 14:23)

We begin with the gift of love, because love for Jesus is the fountainhead for the other gifts numbered above. The key here is not to misread Jesus as offering us a bargain or conditional promise (e.g., “If you do this, then I will do that.”). If Jesus left it up to us, we could not love Him.

Jesus offers no external wealth, power, fame or honor. He comes in secret. He hides His kingdom from the world. He became a curse, was humiliated and suffered a shameful execution. Paul described Christ crucified as “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Isaiah prophesied of Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3) In the eyes of the world and according to our human wisdom and desires, Jesus does not show himself publically as an attractive Savior and king. He does not offer what the world wants.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19

Therefore, Jesus must come to us first with His love, which begets our love for Him: “We love because he first loved us.” Our love for Jesus is the response of faith in His love, grace and mercy given us in the Gospel. In the Gospel Jesus demonstrates His love by taking our sins upon himself, offering for us His body and blood, and by doing this from pure grace, that we might be comforted and thereby learn to know and experience His love. If we believe it, He requires nothing more of us than that we should be thankful for it and should continue in faith and confession, and out of love and honor for Him to seek the welfare of His kingdom by word and deed.

Jesus rules His kingdom by leading hearts to learn of His love, and by teaching us that He, through His suffering and death, has procured for us God’s grace and mercy as a free gift, and in addition has given the Holy Spirit. He so rules us that we continue in His kingdom of grace, the Holy Spirit working in us, so that we, on our part, begin to love God and to obey him willingly and cheerfully.

(2) “he will keep my word” (John 14:23)

True love is not coerced or earned. Without love, we cannot keep Christ’s word (i.e., keep Him in our lives and keep and obey His teaching). Jesus said: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Only by abiding in His love, which begets our love, can we keep His Word. Apart from His love, we can do nothing.

In the Gospel Jesus gives us the desire, for the first time, to keep His Word. What a wonderful gift it is to be given new hearts which yearn for the same things which God our Father wills for us. At the same time, however, experience teaches us how difficult it is to keep His Word. After experiencing His love and grace, and growing in the knowledge of His will, we desire to honor, serve and obey Christ. But our own flesh and old nature resist, and the devil attacks with all kinds of temptations.

It is a cross of the Christian who learns the depths of his or her own sin and weakness: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24) But that should be the limit of our introspection, because there no consolation within us to the problem of sin. Here we must trust the love of God and His external Word and promises: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) By trusting in the forgiveness of our sins and in His promise, “he will keep my word”, we are free to experience the joy that genuine love begets, as His love wells up and out of us and onto our families and neighbors.

(3) “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

To bring us help and comfort in our weakness, Jesus promises us these additional gifts: “I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21); “my Father will love him;” and “We will come to him and make our home with him.” Together with the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises to bring us the grace, mercy, presence and communion of the Triune God to help and comfort us in our weakness.

It is a paradox of the Christian life that during the times when we are beset by weakness, despairing of our own sin or uselessness in a given situation, but clinging entirely to the grace and mercy of God in Christ (who never leaves nor forsakes us), that in just such times, God is able to perform His greatest work in us. This was Paul’s experience too: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 9b-10)

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)

Christians are begotten, sustained and delivered into everlasting life by the love of Christ. Christ manifests His love for us through the Gospel, by the preaching of His Word and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. By receiving these means of grace with empty hands of faith, the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts faith, hope and the love of God, through which we begin to keep His word and receive a gracious God who makes His home with us, both now and forever. Amen.

Jun 142017
 

As the NBA Finals and it’s multiple superstars wrapped up this week, I was reminded of some of the star basketball players I cheered for while growing up.

Of course, I am a Philadelphia 76ers fan so my loyalties reside there and many of my favorite players were Sixers.  I caught Julius Erving (Dr. J) only at the tail end of his career yet he remains my all-time favorite player.  There were some other Sixer greats from that era – Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, etc. – who hold a special place in my heart.  And then overlapping with the end of that era was one, Charles Barkley, who I got to see for his entire career.

So while Charles Barkley was my favorite active player for much of my childhood and adolescent years, there was a contemporary of his who held my fascination.  I was hardly alone in that fascination, because seemingly everybody wanted to “Be Like Mike”.  Yes, I was also a Michael Jordan fan.  How could a kid not dream of being Michael Jordan?  The guy was so cool and so great and had so many amazing and gravity-defying moves. Once he and his Chicago Bulls team had some time to mature, they went on to win 6 NBA championships, which could have been more like 9 or 10 championships if not for a couple premature retirements by Jordan.  Jordan became widely recognized as the greatest player ever to play the game and was arguably the most famous athlete in the world.  His successes were immense and much celebrated.

Yet there was another NBA player I took a liking to.  A superstar in his own right, David Robinson was an exceptional center for the San Antonio Spurs.  After fulfilling a two year commitment to the Navy upon finishing college, Robinson joined the Spurs and was instantly superb.  He won the Rookie of the Year award his first year in the league and followed that up with an MVP trophy a few years later.  Yet despite his significant personal successes, Robinson was unable to lead the Spurs to great success in the postseason until being joined later in his career by another superstar, Tim Duncan.  As Robinson recognized for the benefit of the team that Duncan needed to become the Spurs dominant player, he acted on such and allowed Duncan to pass him in the pecking order and was rewarded with two NBA championships near the end of his career.

So, Robinson finally won a couple championships but had to give up being the top dog to do so.  He would never be seen as a “Michael Jordan” who drove and willed his team to those championships.  In fact, before Duncan came along, Robinson was often criticized as being too nice, and that was blamed for preventing him from having ultimate success on the court.  Not that Duncan was a nasty personality of any sort (his temperament was actually similar to Robinson in many ways), but Robinson wasn’t viewed as being obsessed enough to lead his team to a championship and it took Duncan to come along to finish the job.

Yeah, David Robinson was a great player, and yeah, his team won a couple championships near the end of his career, but he just didn’t possess that killer instinct that some of the absolute greatest have had.  So he will always be remembered as a great, great player, but will also always be placed in an echelon lower than Michael Jordan and some other all time greats who seemingly did whatever it took to will their teams to victory.  Robinson achieved success in the game of basketball, but not to the extraordinary degree that Jordan had.

In the game of life, however, the story is a little different.  Yes, Jordan achieved greater success on the court and in the endorsement game and in the fame game.  But it is reputed that he often didn’t treat people very well in his drive to achieve that success.  While there is something to be said for being the tough guy or the bad cop in order to drive others to greater results, frequent stories are told about Jordan where he allegedly crossed the line into demeaning and abusive conduct toward others.  And as evidenced by his Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech, Jordan’s whole career was seemingly shaped around holding grudges against others and having to prove them wrong and exact revenge.  Jordan had a great need to demonstrate just how great he was at the expense of others.

David Robinson, on the other hand, while maybe being too “nice” to lead his team to a championship on his own, has left a legacy that is much broader than just having achieved fame as a great basketball player.  Ostensibly a family man, he has been involved in the lives of his three sons and remains married to his one and only wife for more than 25 years.  Many stories are told by those who know Robinson of the positive impact he has had on their lives and the lives of others.  And while many players will either support charities or even have one of their own, Robinson has seemingly been more deeply invested, both time wise and financially wise, in his charities and foundations and businesses giving opportunities to lower income communities than what is typically seen with most players.  From the narratives told, Robinson really cares about the well being of his charities and business ventures and the people involved.

Now I am sure Robinson has some skeletons in his closet, just like all the rest of us.  If we tried hard enough, I’m sure we could find some things to criticize him for beyond being too  “nice”.  But from my vantage point, I see a man who has done much to care for and reach out to other people and to treat them with respect and dignity.  A man who could have easily gotten caught up in his own fame and success, but had the humility to step aside and let someone else take his place as “top player on the team”, and throughout his life has maintained a focus on caring for other people and treating them right.  He has seemingly been successful in leading a life well lived.  And I believe this should be commended.

David Robinson achieved much success on the basketball court, yet he may have been able to achieve even more if he was only a bit more mean or nasty.  Michael Jordan had that mean streak and arguably achieved more success and fame than anybody else who ever played a game in a basketball arena.  But in the arena of life, I’ll take David Robinson’s “success” over Michael Jordan and many other successful basketball superstars.  Even though some types of success garner greater acclaim than others, some other types of success hold infinitely greater value.

As is said around here, “Make your own application”.

Jun 132017
 

Greg Laurie’s statement…

Church attendance trends around the country…

The upsetting reality of the Beatitudes…

My journey into atheism…

Like a rented mule…

Sin is our witness…

I don’t want a celebration of life, I want a burial service…

Cross shaped submission…

Is the Reformation over?

Luther’s life…a curse upon Erasmus…

U.S. to deport hundreds of Iraqi Christians…

Four marks of the next Methodism…

500 new churches not enough for SBC…

CT’s take on Greg Laurie’s move…

Open marriages, closed hearts…

Is outrage really getting us anywhere?

How to celebrate the churches birthday through art…

Why are there so few mainline celebrities?

When God becomes a tropical fish…

The difference between attractive and attractional ministry…

Be strong and courageous in the face of hate…

Wonder Woman and the search for female role models…

Making decisions like Ignatius…

More on Saeed Abedini’s domestic abuse…

Support our sponsor and friend EricL at top right…

Jun 122017
 

… And now a word from our sponsors. Actually, we can’t give you a word from our sponsors, because we have very few here at the Phoenix Preacher.

A while back, I was talking with Michael about our music project, the two albums we’ve released and our music videos.  I told him that one of our music videos, “Romero”, had almost 150,000 views across all platforms, for which we have thus far had a single check in the amount of $26.48.  When Michael asked about money from the release of the albums, I had to inform him that apart from what my bandmate sells at concerts, we receive almost nothing.  When Michael continued to ask questions about how much it cost to record and produce the music, the cost of making the videos, buying equipment, etc., he finally asked me, “Why do you do it?”  I answered, “For the love of it…”

It is much the same with Phoenix Preacher.  Even with others contributing written pieces from time to time, keeping the site going is an almost full-time job.  There is the composition or soliciting of written material for every day of the week.  Then there is the searching to find relevant articles and links for all of us to enjoy.  The site has to be regularly formatted, the domain name maintained and the server sorted out from time to time.  Moreover, someone has to be the moderator, often dealing with a group of highly opinionated people who post on the threads.  This, of course, does not include the investigative reports that have, from time to time, broken here at the Phoenix Preacher.  Finally, there are the emails and telephone calls to be answered as a result of the material posted here.  This time, I asked Michael, “Why do you do it?”  He answered, “For the love of it…”

While those who regularly post comments here number about 40 or 50, there are thousands every month who take advantage of the material posted here.  It is truly an online community of faith in which theology is discussed, pastoral cares shared and a forum in which each member is valued.

So, now a word from our sponsors… That would be you and me.

Thank you for your help, prayers, care and attention. If you wish to assist financially in maintaining this community, Michael assures me that your gifts will be treasured and much appreciated.

Duane W.H. Arnold

Jun 122017
 

The headline was changed to reflect the content of the press release…

Greg Laurie announced this morning at the Southern Baptist Conference convention that his Harvest Christian Fellowship will be joining the SBC.

Laurie has released a statement saying that Harvest is joining the SBC while remaining in fellowship with Calvary Chapel…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 122017
 

Rebuild the Church

“…Go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

Politics had ripped apart the Church.  The disputes had grown so rancorous that both sides were willing to resort to violence.

The world had become one of fabulous wealth for the one percent and a descent into poverty for everyone else.

 

Now that the Church had joined itself to political power, it felt free to strike out against dissenters with an almost fanatical ruthlessness.

Meanwhile, the Middle East was coming to pieces, with a resurgent Islam driving Christians from areas where they had lived for generations. It had become so dire that other global powers were now prepared to send troops to the trouble spots.

As large farming conglomerates bought up family farms, rural areas descended into poverty, and small churches, beloved by generations of believers, fell into ruins and dotted the landscape.

A young man of 22 years of age used to seek out these small ruined churches as he hiked through the countryside.  He was a deep disappointment to his parents. They had given him everything.  He on the other had, had done very little.  He was not interested in his father’s business enterprise and rejected the offer of a job.  He had considered joining the military, but backed out at the last moment. He had become enthusiastic about social work, but after his parents found out that he had taken money out of the business to finance what he was doing, they considered filing charges against him and had decided instead to throw him out of the house.  Today, as he visited a small ruined chapel, famous for the bits of art that remained, including an Byzantine styled painted cross, he heard a voice speak to him three times, “Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”  

The young man was Franceso di Pietro di Bernardone, known to us as Francis of Assisi, and the year was 1204.

Biographers of Francis always recount this as a turning point in his life and almost immediately move from what Francis heard in that small ruined chapel to his wider universal mission to rebuild the Church.  In doing this, however, they miss a salient point : “What did Francis actually do after hearing the voice?”  We know what he didn’t do. He did not pick up a rock and throw it in anger and frustration at the pitiful state of the church. No, he started picking up stones and laying them one atop the other. He began to rebuild the Church of San Damiano.  The greater work, arose out of the simple singular work of rebuilding the Church where he was… right then, right there.

Today, in the United States we are in a state in which politics has ripped apart the Church.  A minority of voters elected a thrice married, lying, schoolyard bully who knows little, if anything, of the Christian faith, and evangelicals were a large part of the equation. Say what you will, the public perception of evangelical support for Trump is real and is being continually bolstered by the members of his so-called Faith Advisory Council and the likes of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  If Trump succeeds, evangelicals will own it.  If Trump fails, evangelicals will own it.  If Trump is impeached, evangelicals will own it… and they will own it for years to come, further alienating not only younger people, but the majority of the country who voted against him.

As the perception of evangelicals being joined at the hip with Trump becomes firmly set in the minds of most Americans, the other manifestation of “Church” is that of historic denominations, whose steeples and towers are simply part of the American landscape… and those denominations, almost without exception, are in real trouble, if not failing altogether. 

I have watched my own old denomination, The Episcopal Church, become something that is almost unrecognizable as a Christian entity over the course of just thirty years.  Perhaps it began with the illegal ordination of women in 1974, being done without the consent of the General Synod. (I am not speaking here of the theological issue of women’s ordination, only of how it came to be accomplished.) Or maybe it was the election of the first openly Gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003 in defiance of the views of the wider Anglican Communion and the Lambeth consultative process.  My guess, however, is that it is something far deeper.  If I had to speculate, I would say that it was a smug self-satisfaction within both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America that given money, endowments, property, pensions and positions, these churches simply could not fail, no matter the cultural issues that might arise from time to time.  Worse than that, good men and women allowed it to happen until they too realized that they had passed the tipping point and that what had been lost, could no longer be recovered.  The very heart of the church was gone.

If it were only a matter of the Episcopal Church it would be a tragedy, but the same story may be told of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and, indeed, the Presbyterian Church, USA.  The United Methodist Church as well has passed its tipping point and is beginning its descent into the maelstrom.  We will watch the UMC as sexuality issues tear it apart.  We will watch as American Methodists fight for budget control over against the rising tide of conservative African and Asian Methodists.  We will watch as clergy retire with fewer and fewer clergy available to take their place.  We will watch as smaller churches close and seminaries merge hoping for survival. Yet, in the end, as aging congregations fade from the scene and all the attempts to reach “young people” come to naught, we will be left with only memories of what once was, is no more, and will never return from the obscurity and shadows into which a once great denomination will fade.

Of course, there are those associations and denominations slightly less known to the public at large.  Some readers will be aware of the difficulties experienced by the Calvary Chapel Association and the Calvary Chapel Global Network.  While both claim descent from the Christian youth movement of the late 1960s, each group has morphed into faith communities far removed from their origin.  Regardless of issues concerning polity, structure, finance, pastoral accountability and all the rest, each group now occupies the borderland between mainstream evangelicalism and fundamentalism and have grown increasingly reactionary with the passing of years, along with many other similar independent churches.  Through these last number of years, a singular pastoral and didactic style, pioneered by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, has been codified into particular “distinctives” with little appreciation of the historic Church, scholarship or, indeed, an appreciation of other traditions, moving it further into a identity which, in truth, is more closely aligned with the fundamentalism of the1920s. As the current leadership ages and disappears from the scene and particular pastoral scandals come to light, the long term viability of both groups is uncertain, especially as the number of adherents continues to diminish and as a portion of the leadership is openly identified with the far right of American politics.

Then there are those groups, once identified with mainline denominations, that are separate from the larger denominations either through history or in protest.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and  the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod exemplify this for Lutherans.  Both were born of immigrant populations, both are neo-confessional and both are wholly at odds with other Christian bodies who do not subscribe, not only to an inerrant Bible, but with the additional provision that the Bible is only rightly interpreted in the light of the Lutheran Confessions.  Their isolation may be witnessed with regard to even praying with those outside of their denomination, for the LCMS bars its clergy from “worshiping” with other Christians.  As a result of this, a LCMS pastor in Connecticut was asked to apologize by the president of the denomination (and did so) for participating in a prayer vigil for the 26 children and adults killed at the Newtown elementary school. Another LCMS pastor in New York was suspended for praying at a similar vigil in 2001, 12 days after the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in which 2,996 people were killed and over 6000 were injured.

The casual observer, looking for what it means to be a Christian, just having the most simple and basic idea that Christians love one another and pray together, especially in times of tragedy, might well wonder what sort of insanity they are witnessing.  Meanwhile, we parse another Greek verb and argue over the right interpretation of 16th century documents that have no claim to inerrancy or divine inspiration.

Separation, lack of charity, building of fences and mutual suspicion have become endemic in American Christianity.  Liberal churches drive out conservatives and conservatives regroup and build the walls higher, pushing out supposed liberals in their midst. Even the definition of “liberal” and “conservative”  differs as you slide along the scale from left to right and back again, with people constantly pushing to the extremes.  Mix this with politics, liberal or conservative, and it becomes a deadly brew, alienating large segments of an unchurched population. All the while, churches, both liberal and conservative, are aging and dying at an unprecedented rate.  If you believe that you or your church is immune, you are sadly mistaken.  Whether newer Church bodies such as the Anglican Church in North America (formed in protest to the policies of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada) will learn the lessons of the past remains to be seen.

Of course, this is only to speak of Protestant America.

The Roman Catholic Church is the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  It is the largest Christian body in the United States. Yet even here the story is similar.  Losing over 12 million adherents in the course of a decade, the only real growth being experienced is through immigration.  This, however, comes with a caveat. The vast majority of second generation immigrants do not remain in the church. Priests are in short supply and are aging to such an extent that a crisis looms on the horizon. The religious orders which once staffed Roman Catholic educational institutions across the nation are dying and, within our lifetime, many will be only a memory.  The innate tribalism of American Roman Catholicism mitigates against meaningful evangelism and growth and, therefore, most converts come through marriage, not conviction of conscience.  In an attempt to slightly “expand the tent” of the church, Benedict XVI, established an extra-territorial diocese for the Anglican Ordinariate, allowing a place for married Anglican clergy and, it was hoped, their congregations, to join the Roman Catholic Church.  It was to have a distinctive Anglican liturgy. The purpose was to bring the riches of the Anglican patrimony back to Rome.  In the main, however, those attracted were ritualists who, in many cases, preferred the Latin Mass.  Currently, the Ordinariate is more interested in celibate clergy… and another opportunity for outreach is lost.  

Finally, there is the Orthodox Church with its rich and ancient tradition.  In the late 1970s , it appeared as though evangelicals looking for a home, might find it in Orthodoxy.  Peter Gillquist, once of Campus Crusade, had established house churches, mainly in the Chicago area, eventually forming a group called the Evangelical Orthodox Church.  They were steeped in church history and considered Orthodoxy their natural destination. In 1987 Gillquist led 17 churches with a combined membership of about 2,000 members into the Antiochian Orthodox Church as a distinct body named the Antiochian Evangelical Mission with a vision of attracting other evangelicals to come along.  Once within the hierarchical confines of the church, however, continued outreach flagged and by 1995, the group was absorbed into the standard diocesan framework.   All this is to say, Orthodoxy may be an option for some, but it will not be an Orthodoxy tailored to evangelicals, Anglicans or Reformed. It will be Orthodoxy with it’s own hierarchy, culture, politics and traditions… and it will not change to suit you. Even here there is a shortage of priests and almost a quarter of these clergy are uncertain about the future of Orthodoxy in this country.  Moreover, the Orthodox churches in America (some 20 National bodies and 6 Oriental bodies) struggle with ethnicity and, it must be said, are very much bound by national cultures in their orientation. 

So, here we are in the second decade of the twenty-first century looking at a landscape of uncertainty, dying churches, split denominations, and politicized Christian movements.   We look for the Church and, like Francis, we are confronted with broken walls, smashed windows and scattered stones, with a single cross remaining, reminding us of what once was… But do we hear the voice?

“…Go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

Like Francis, I believe we have to set aside the idea of a “great life work” and, instead, deal with the stones that are lying on the ground in front of us.  I’m not asking you to change the world.  I’m asking you to pick up one stone, walk with it over to the broken wall and set it in place.  Then, walk back, find one more stone, walk it over to the wall and set that one in place… and keep doing it, one stone at a time.  This is not about hiring an architect, commissioning a feasibility study, organizing a fund raising campaign, getting three bids from construction companies and then deciding if it’s a good idea.  The stones are lying at your feet. Pick one up…

“…Go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

Many have been hurt by the church.  I understand that, because I’ve been hurt as well. Pick up the first stone.  Go to church.  Find one that fits you as well as one can and go. If the pastor ignores you, seek him out and introduce yourself. If you can’t find a church in the first instance, start one. Find one other person who feels like yourself, make a time to meet at Starbucks on Sundays.  Bring your Bible, or prayerbook, or devotional and talk together.  Share your needs and pray together.  Maybe even find one or two more. It may not be St. Paul’s Cathedral with a choir, but for you, right now, it’s church. Then, together, find a body of believers that all of you can join. Pick up the first stone.

Church, however, is not just about what we receive, it’s also about what we give.  Pick up the second stone.  Find a place to give of yourself.  God has given you gifts to share. You have the ability to give a cup of water to someone who is thirsty.  When you find a church, ask what you can do. You might have half an hour to go visit someone in a nursing home and bring some comfort.  There might be a church, that’s not even yours, but that has a ministry to the homeless that has need of volunteers.  There are opportunities all around us to share the love of Christ in practical ways. Pick up the second stone.

“…Go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

 If it is going to happen, we have to do it ourselves.  We can’t simply wait for someone else to provide us with the “perfect church”… the “perfect opportunity” for service.  With God’s help and God’s grace, it has to happen here and now starting with each one of us.  If we cannot stand the hate speech of some, we have to speak of Christ’s love. If the separation of Christians is something we find scandalous, we must reach across the divide. It can be done… It must be done… God give us grace and strength to pick up that first stone, not to throw in anger or frustration, but to build.

Duane W.H. Arnold

The Project

 

Jun 102017
 

Christ my Saviour,
Saviour of sinners, of whom I am chief, despise me not,
despise me not, O Lord,
despise not the cost of Thy blood,
who am called by Thy Name;
but look on me with those eyes
with which Thou didst look upon Magdalene at the feast,
Peter in the hall,
the thief on the wood;—
that with the thief I may entreat Thee humbly, Remember me, Lord, in Thy kingdom;
that with Peter I may bitterly weep and say,
O that mine eyes were a fountain of tears that I might weep day and night;
that with Magdalene, I may hear Thee say, Thy sins be forgiven thee,
and with her may love much,
for many sins yea manifold
have been forgiven me.

Lancelot Andrewes

Jun 102017
 

Matthew 22:15-22

Paying Taxes to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.

  • The most effective way for the Pharisees to get rid of Jesus would be by his own words.
  • To say something that would discredit himself in the eyes of the people.
  • So they plot and try to trap him in his words.

16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

  • Note that each group has its own disciples.
  • This is the merging of enemy groups. The Herodians were supporters of Herod – they were Roman sympathizers. Caesar sympathizers.
  • Think how much of a threat Jesus must have been to have the Pharisees join up with such an enemy force.
  • Notice how they suck up to Jesus – “teacher” – the only person you called teacher was your own teacher.

17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

  • Tell us in your own words Jesus – what do you think?
  • Jesus cannot win this no matter what is the answer
  • If he says “no” the government is mad at him. And believe me; the Pharisees & Herodians would be sure to tell Rome.
  • If he says “yes” then the people are mad at him.
  • How would you want Jesus to answer?
  • Think about elections – why do we care to see the candidates’ tax returns?

18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?

  • How does Jesus answer? First he is aware of what is going on. They are not catching him by surprise.
  • Second, he exposes them for who they are – hypocrites.
  • Notice that Jesus does not spend time building relationships with them — unless some of you are reading the PCV – the Politically Correct Version.

19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.

  • OK, let’s cut to the chase – bring me the coin.

20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”

  • Now who is in charge? Who is asking the questions? This is similar to a previous conversation where Jesus turned the tables and asked then “what do you think of John’s baptism?”

21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

  • This is the call to repentance – give to God what belongs to God is the emphasis in this verse (we often assume the give to Caesar part is)
  • What does belong to Caesar? Whatever has been given to belong to Caesar.
  • What is it Pilate said to Jesus; “So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”
  • 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
  • So yes, pay your taxes and obey the laws. Be obedient (Romans 13)
  • This is serious 2 kingdom stuff.

22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

  • In the end he is saying “knock off this ‘gotcha’ stuff, repent and give to God what is his. What is giving to God what is his? What has Jesus asked for?
  • “Trust that I am the savior, you are a sinner and I have come for you.”
  • What belongs to God is that you confess Jesus as Lord.
  • Now it is interesting that this time it does not say they went off grumbling and were plotting what to do next – no it says they marveled and went away.

 

%d bloggers like this: