Saturday, December 24, 2011

John's Genealogy

We're going to do something really exciting this Christmas! We're going to look at genealogies! This is a homily, so I will be brief. If we look at the first chapter of Matthew, we find a genealogy going from Abraham to Jesus. The whole gospel exhibits the Jewish Messiah. This is the point of Matthew, and the genealogy is the keynote in this gospel.

Mark begins with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” We are going in a completely different direction here. This is confirmed in the gospel of Luke, when we follow a genealogy backward in time not to Abraham this time but to Adam, the original son of God, and Luke is a gospel that lifts up Jesus as the savior of mankind.

Now, we get to John, and the genealogy is carried back to all eternity. John goes deep. Jesus has a Divine eternal existence with God. Not separated: WITH God. Not just WITH God, but doing things, performing functions. Little things like CREATION, LIFE, and LIGHT. John's gospel isn't just dogma. He's revealing that Jesus' earthy life is just a continuance of something that had been going on behind the scenes for all ETERNITY. So, all of John's gospel show a Jesus who is simultaneously with God as he is with men and women.

John's gospel is the WHY of Jesus, the word made flesh. John's gospel is the WHY of Jesus' death on the cross. Voluntary surrender—pleasing to the Father—freely rendered on His own part. When we accept John's picture of Christ's earthly life as the visible half of a duplex whole—fully God and fully man—all our puzzles about Jesus vanish.

This is the most powerful lesson of Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Reminder

Just a reminder that we will be having Midnight Mass on Saturday, Christmas Eve, at 11pm, carrying over into the wee hours of Christmas Day. The service will be a Lessons and Carols service with Holy Communion. We will NOT be having a Christmas DAY service at 5pm on Sunday, but we hope to see you all at the Christmas Eve service!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wondering At Nothing

I want to study three different people today and examine how they react to supernatural events in their lives. These are their situations and how they respond to God suddenly being present. I also want to look at our own day and see how we compare to these three people.

The first person is Sarah, Abraham's wife in the the Book of Genesis. She lived in a time of turmoil. The Tower of Babel had been destroyed and God had scattered all the people to the ends of the earth. She is the wife of a nomad, and during the famines they go into other people groups, like Egypt, for food and water, and they lie about who they are, because they don't trust other people. So the people of the earth are in a dark place. The nations of the earth are at odds.

Now Sarah is pretty much a queen. Abraham has lots of servants and slaves and cattle and sheep and money and things. When they travel around the land, the caravan is probably enormous. He has enough resources where he can amass an army and go and overtake and wipe out the armies of four other kings, in order to rescue Lot. Sarah herself has handmaidens and servants. Abraham has to lie to people about her being his sister instead of his wife, because he is afraid the people otherwise will kill him and steal her, because she is so beautiful. Let's say she's very well off.

She's also a woman who takes things into her own hands. When she cannot bear children for Abraham, she offers her servant girl Hagar to bear his child. This is not something God told her to do. She knows that God has promised Abraham descendants, and so she is going to take matters into her own hands. We end up with the birth of Ishmael, and his descendants are still at war with both Judaism and Christianity to this day.

Now, the Lord comes to Abraham and tells him that Sarah will have a son. She hears this from the tent, and her secular-logical-non-supernatural thinking tells her that this is impossible. She is a worldly woman, and she knows how life works. She is too old to have children, and so she laughs—probably contemptuously—at the prospect of having a child in the next year. Then when the Lord questioned her, why she laughed, she denied that she had laughed. Not a very graceful reaction to the Lord.

The time of Abraham is about 2000 BC, and now we will go forward in time to about year 0. Just like in the time of Abraham, the world is in turmoil. Never was there a time when it seemed that the promises of God had failed. The house of David—Gone! Unknown! Forgotten! Israel was under the bondage of the Romans. The Jewish people had no worldly power, but they did have influence within their own group.

Zacharias was one such person. He was a Jewish priest, and it was his turn to go into the Holy of Holies this year. It is an honor, so we can say that Zacharias was in a good place, with his people, within the priesthood, with God. So, he goes into the private place with God, and he is visited by an angel, who tells him . . . that his wife Elizabeth will conceive in her old age. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Well, how does Zacharias react to this news? Does he laugh like Sarah? No, he doubted. He actually said, “How will I know that this is so?” Essentially, “How do I know that you are telling me the truth?” He was corrected in his thinking by a sign—his going mute.

Staying in year zero, still the same world in turmoil. The Jewish people are ruled over by the gentiles. And we have Mary in our gospel reading. We read the Magnificat together tonight, too. Was Mary powerful? Nope. Was she a queen like Sarah? Nope. Was she a high priest? Nope. She wasn't of any significance whatsoever. She was impoverished. She was obscure. She would be considered the “least of these.” She was humble. When the angel praised her, she was troubled. Why? Because the truly humble are troubled when they hear their own praise. The Angel doesn't tell her that she is going to give birth in her old age. She is young and pure—untouched. He tells her that she is going to give birth to the son of God.

In Mary we see perfect faith, humility, and submission. She is calm and thoughtful, like a morning cloud that reveals the sun, like the first star that appears in the sky after the storm has passed. Compare that with the way the others react. Does she laugh like Sarah? Does she doubt like Zacharias? No, Mary is composed and reflective, just like someone who wonders at nothing from the power and goodness of God.

Mary did not doubt. She only inquired as to the mode of the accomplishment. Now, think about it: a poor, village maiden amid her humble daily duties shows a more ready faith in the face of a far more startling message than the aged priest in the Holy Place amid the Incense. She doesn't laugh, because she is not worldly. She knows that with God all things are possible. She doesn't doubt it for a second. She's more like Sarah's husband who does not question the Lord when he is told to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He knows that god will not let Isaac die.

Now we zoom forward 2,000 more years to the present day. What kind of world do we live in? Again—one of turmoil, almost the same turmoil. We are anxious, and we think along the lines of, “God, where are those promises? You said to not be afraid, that you were going to handle all this. You sent your son Jesus, and he did this amazing thing on the cross, but that happened 2,000 years go, and there seems to be no sign of the evil in the world letting up!”

When I look around and see how little influence Christians have in the secular world—we still have to sneak around and do things behind the scenes, not out in the open for fear of persecution. Satan is said to be the ruler of this world, and even though we know he has been defeated on the cross, there doesn't seem to be any sign of his slipping from power. Christ's victory may seem like a slight wobble in the rear wheels of the tractor-trailer, but there's no sign of the truck tipping over and crashing. Just as the people felt 2,000 years ago and 4,000 years ago, so we feel now.

But in our helplessness, God finds opportunity, and nothing is lost in his sight. We're not slipping through the cracks. He's not off doing something else. He has not forgotten us. He is working on the fulfillment of all things, just as 2,000 years ago the fullness of time had come. This is Advent, and it is not just a remembrance of baby Jesus but of Christ coming again.

God has promised, and what do we do? Do we laugh like Sarah? Yes, because we know better. We will figure things out on our own. We will rather give our handmaiden up than wait for God to do it his way. We choose the worldly way. Do we doubt like Zacharias? Yes, because we have the truth already. We get wrapped up in religion but forget that the supernatural realm has power in the natural realm. We separate the two, and so when we meet an angel, we imply that he is a liar. We choose the isms over the spirit-filled life.

Are we composed and reflective like Mary, like someone who wonders at nothing from the power and goodness of God? No, but things are not hopeless. We have Christ, who took on flesh and died on our behalf. We make our paths straight so that he can live in our hearts. If we put him in the driver's seat, he will compose us. He will make us reflective like Mary. We will wonder at nothing from the power and goodness of God. We will look at the world in turmoil, and merely wonder at what God will do next, and we will be eager at his coming. We will keep watch and await his coming in glory.

The Living Church

I'm studying John Stott's The Living Church this week. Here are some of my thoughts on the first part:

Are we a Radical Conservative church? Radical means that we connect with the culture. Conservative means that we conserve the scriptures. Many churches do one of these things or the other, but seldom do they do both. A church that connects to the culture and doesn't conserve the scriptures becomes worldly, no different from a secular charity or social service group. A church that conserves the scriptures and doesn't connect with culture becomes elitist, ritualistic and cultish. Both ends of this spectrum lack faith. Does our church have the balance of connecting with culture and conserving the scriptures?

At the end of Acts 2, we see the church engaging in 4 activities: apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. Let's take each of these things in turn, to see what a church should be:

1. A Learning Church: Pastors teaching the congregation is understood, but parents should also be teaching their children. This happens throughout the week. Finally, members should be teaching themselves and each other throughout the week as well. The pastor is included in this, too. As Diedrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, Christian community involves someone, regardless of role in the church, understanding something about scripture in a new way and unpacking that concept for the rest of the church. We teach each other. More on Life Together in future postings...

2. A Caring Church: This is outreach, serving the community, creating welcoming and safe spaces for people to go, harvesting relationships within other communities and forming new communities through those relationships.

3. A Worshiping Church: A church that worships properly has both formal and informal elements. For example, we can read the Nicene Creed together in unison, and then, ten minutes later, stand up and give individual testimony about a unique way the Lord has worked in our lives. A church that worships properly has both joyful and reverent elements. We kneel before the cross and then elevate our hands toward that same cross.

4. An Evangelizing Church: As Christians, we already have the Holy Spirit, but we still need to humble ourselves before God and seek the fullness, direction, and power of that same Spirit. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19: "Quench Not The Spirit." We may not be able to stifle God's spirit. We may not be able to prevent God from doing his will in the world, but if we are not seeking God's fullness, direction, and power in our lives, God will be a gentleman and back down, allowing us to live lives as we wish. As I've said before, God is not a stalker. He won't follow us around and shout after us, "Why don't you love me?" He allows our hearts to change toward him. He reads our intent, and when he knows that our hearts intend to do his will, he unleashes his holiness upon us.

More thoughts to come on The Living Church.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rewritten for Flow

In the spirit of Thomas Cranmer, master of prosody, I have rewritten the two prayers for building and growth. They now have better rhythm and flow. I print them here for your private devotionals and to become familiar with them for corporate worship:

Heavenly Father, who takes households of faith and leads them through the wild to the place they need to be: lead us through this quest to the place where you need us, for worship, service, and light. Make us into beacons and found us on Your rock: Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Almighty God, gathering branches and grafting them onto the vine of Christ, mold Good Shepherd into a strong branch, filled with the life of your Spirit. Gather the lost and broken branches of the Banks, who need your loving Word and Sacrament. Graft us all together. Grow Your church and abide in us, as we abide in You, in the Holy name of Your blessed Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Party Potluck

After next week's service, on December 18, we will be having a Christmas Party potluck downstairs. Please bring a dish of your choice and join in the festive occasion. Invite a friend, too, so they can see Good Shepherd at its most hospitable.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord! Ever heard that song with all the angels clapping in a gospel choir? Everyone is dancing and smiling and singing? What a grand old time! And yet, what does preparing the way of the Lord mean? Well, it's not creating a little space in a field, like for a spaceship to land and for Jesus to pop out! It means something that will shake your soul to the core and won't make you dance and clap and sing and smile. It's not gospel choir stuff! It's get yourself into a quiet room and start praying to God with all your might stuff! Preparing the way for the Lord means to repent among other things!

From this passage about John the Baptist in the first chapter of John's Gospel, we learn a few things, but the first and primary thing is that first, before Jesus comes into a community, before he lifts us out of the depths of our despair and into salvation, there comes a loud cry of repentance. Essentially a John the Baptist must come before Jesus can. Someone has to help the community remove the massive boulder of sin that is weighing the community down. The community just sits there, thinking to itself, “something really heavy is pressing down, but I just can't figure out what it is!” Somehow the message gets through that the boulder needs to be removed so that Jesus' salvation can work. We have to clear the boulder out. We have to roll it away before we can plant the seed that will yield a harvest. Like those fields in Ireland you see that are lush and green and perfect and level and pure: they once were overgrown and weedy and rocky and uneven. Someone had to get on his hands and knees and pull all those rocks out by hand. Someone had to level the ground and plant the seed and water the land and nurture the soil. That's why the land looks that way.

After the hurricane there was a brick house on Colington that was ruined. I hear the owners donated the land and house. The bricks were removed from the foundation and the sides until there was only a wooden frame. Then the fire department came and burned the wood to the ground. Now there is a bigger and better place being built there as we speak. It looks like it is going to be huge and beautiful, but it wouldn't be possible until the old, ruined house had been completely and utterly destroyed. We can't just add Christ to our old house. We have to raze the old, sinful house, and allow Christ to build his new house on our foundation. No trace of the old house can be left. Our own foundation, too, is inadequate. Christ must come and level off the ground and remove the stones and establish a firm foundation upon which we can build.

Before Jesus can save us, we need to repent, and there needs to be a call to repentance. There needs to be someone who will say, make straight the way of the lord, get those rocks out of the way, level the ground! When we say make the paths straight, we are not saying that we need to remove our own sin first. We are saying that we are so protective of our sinful lives that we create little mazes around ourselves, so that Jesus will have trouble navigating the mazes to our hearts. When John exhorts us to make our paths straight, we are opening up a direct path to our hearts for Jesus, and then he can get in there and to the work that we are unable to do. Aside from all the metaphors, though, what does it mean?

Repentance takes a complete change of mind. It means that we have realized with our whole beings that we were on the wrong path and we are taking active measures to get ourselves on the right track, even if those measures are preparing the way, making God's path straight to our hearts. This is why planning to repent on our death beds won't work. We may be able to repent so late in life, just as the thief on the cross repented, but to plan to repent does not work, because our hearts have to change due to Christ's grace. We can't just force our hearts to change at the last second.

This is also why sandwich board preaching doesn't work. Seeing a sign on someone saying “the end is nigh” is not going to change our minds with the true, deep changing that the grace of Christ does. It takes a full-fledged change of our natures from head to toe. We are creating an environment for Jesus to do his work. We are making his path straight, his efforts easier. He could navigate the mazes we have set up in front of our hearts, but he sees the intent behind them, the intent that says, “I don't WANT you to come into my life, Christ.” He sees that intent, and he backs down, because he loves us. He doesn't try to beat love out of us. He won't abuse us. We won't stalk us like a rejected boyfriend who cannot understand why his girl doesn't want to be with him anymore. Jesus Christ is the perfect gentleman, and he backs down when we ask, because he actually loves us.

So, we make the environment, and we try to make a space for Christ to descend and do his work. I send out an email or two each week to almost 200 people on our newsletter list. Each week I get at least one person who responds that the message that week really moved and touched them. It's a different person each week. Something I write one week won't resonate, and then the next week, I put something out there, and someone really gets it and writes to tell me. One thing removed an obstacle for one person, made the path straight, and another thing removed someone else's obstacle.

The second thing we learn from this passage is that when Jesus does come to a community to save it, we recognize his presence by the descent of the Holy Spirit. John saw the Spirit descend and testified to it. Jesus received the Spirit with a prepared heart for the sacrifice that he would undertake. Do we see the fruits of the Spirit manifesting themselves among us? We healed a woman in this very room by laying hands on her. She had chronic headaches and after we lay hands on her, the headaches stopped and they didn't come back. We have served the community successfully a few times this past year, and each time we did it, we knew that we were doing what God had called us to do.

John the Baptist tells us, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” We may have seen the Spirit descend in this group, but has he remained? We may have a testimony of our fruits to the outside world, but do others see the Spirit manifest in our group when they see us? Does anyone say, Good Shepherd is the Spirit-filled church?

The third thing we learn from this passage is that in order to experience Christ's saving power, we must accept him as a sacrifice for sin. John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and said aloud, “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world.” Now John was the son of a priest, and he may have been a priest himself, so when he said these words, there was only one meaning to his words: that Jesus was to be the lamb of sacrifice under the Mosaic law, and that all previous animal sacrifices were figuratives, and his sacrifice was the only REAL and TRUE one.

Finally, the last thing we learn from this passage is that wherever Christ is saving people, the attitudes of those people are altered in such a way that they wish to follow him with the deepest part of their being. John the Baptist never played himself up but always pointed to Christ. He always took the attention from himself and put it where it rightly belonged—on Christ. Christ was to be magnified, and we disciples, we apostles, must always stand in the shade. We must shrink as we grow him. Because when Christ begins to save a community, we are naturally inclined to draw near to him, not for our own glory—not to be celebrities by association—but to become small and cling to him like little mites. When we say things like, “God spoke to me and told me to tell you,” or “God is speaking through me,” or “I am God's messenger,” we are magnifying ourselves and not God. It's a sign that Jesus is NOT working in the community.

John pointed out Jesus to the disciples, and they immediately began to follow him. Jesus even turned to them and asked them what they were looking for. The response? Not, we are looking for salvation. Or we need redemption. Or even we don't know what we need. They merely responded, “Teacher, where are you staying?” We don't care what we are looking for, we just know that you, Jesus, have it! That's why we don't need to stress out about what programs we are offering or what strategy we have for reaching the community. If Jesus Christ is in the process of saving this community, he will be followed. People on the Outer Banks will have this undying urge to live life IN him. They will follow. They will cling to him. If and when Jesus saves this community, the church will grow and revitalization and awakening will take place.

So, four things happen when Jesus is going to save a community. One, the community is called to repentance. Two, the Spirit descends. Three, the community recognizes Jesus as the only true sacrifice for sin. And four, the community follows him and grows in him. Let us pray for those four things to happen not only in our church but on the entire Outer Banks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Midnight Mass

Announcing that Church of the Good Shepherd will be having a Christmas Eve service at 11:00pm Saturday Night, December 24th at Grace Lutheran By-The-Sea. We will worship into Christmas Day. All are invited, and it promises to be a warm and welcoming time. Christmas Day service will be determined, depending on who is going to be available. We will poll our membership over the next few weeks.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How To Be Incarnational

My thoughts on The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

We know that God wants us to have a relationship with other people. We know that God wants us to participate in his kingdom, not to just “do church.” Lack of conversions is only a symptom of the larger problem. The problem is that we are hiding behind the walls of the church, and we WANT to be relevant to the outside world, but we are afraid that we will compromise the gospel message. We have something valuable here in Jesus Christ, and we don't want it to be corrupted, but we know we need to share it with the world. The answer is missional, and I don't mean becoming a missionary on the traditional level (traveling to poor countries and digging wells is not for everyone) but to be incarnational, which is a missional state of life, no matter where we are. Here are some tips on how to do this:

1. Have Jesus' Heart. Jesus attracted people. His personality, his charisma, his “being” attracted people. His message, however, repelled people. Today we soft-peddle the gospel message in order to attract people, but then the way we live our lives repel those people. This is essentially the opposite of what Christ did. Jesus had a heart for people. As it says in Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We need to have a heart for people, too, and when we are AROUND the people we are serving, we begin to have a heart for them. Studying about people groups does not give us a heart for them. Being around them does. When we have hearts for different people, we begin to bring in the kingdom of God on this earth.

2. Share the gospel first through behavior. What is being incarnational? First, it is about supplying a place for discovery, where people can see the truth in action before they hear about it. It's about creating an inclusive community and modeling the life of the kingdom in contagious ways. It's not about conversion as much as modeling Christ. Everyone transforms together. By living the kingdom life, people are drawn to us. When we verbally share the gospel with someone, we are pursuing them, and its easier to be rejected. This is not to say that the gospel isn't important. However, it is the MYSTERY of the gospel that prompts curiosity and not a direct, stripped-down attack of the gospel on a stranger. Instead, we bring heaven to earth and our behavior becomes the gospel. If we live the gospel first, then we will have plenty of opportunity to share the gospel in words.

3. Let God do the converting. By creating a belonging community, the believing members of the community will influence the unchurched of that community, creating new believers. The belonging has to come first, which is the model of the early church. God does the “converting” thing. He is God, after all, and he is perfectly capable. Community then becomes the human part of the missional/incarnational approach.

4. Don't try this alone. When attempted alone, the goal becomes getting people into church. Any great relationships we foster alone, no matter how wonderful, will dead end, because we haven't created a community of belonging. Alone, we are trying to attract them into our churches. The attractional way of doing church (come participate in our programs!) does not have communication nor discipleship nor belonging. However, when we reach the unchurched in missional groups, the unchurched will eventually convert into missional people. This is not an instant conversion but gradual. The end result is a deeper faith than the kind that comes with instant conversion. Creating a Third Space, or a discovery zone, will allow both unchurched and missional people to be together in a place, where the missional people will wear off on the unchurched, and eventually the unchurched will become missional people. When having a “discovery” event, make sure to invite missional people as well as the unchurched, so this blending of natures can take place.

5. Belong to other people's circle of friends as well as your own. You don't have the be the “leader” of your circle of friends. You can be part of another's circle. Jesus lived life for 30 years before announcing his message and becoming a leader. We, too, can belong to another's exclusive group. If they trust us and consider us “one of them,” then it will be easier for our friends and their friends to connect.

6. Adopt the habit of “leaving.” Leaving is another word for being “out there,” as opposed to squirreling ourselves away in our study. Have regular dinners with the unchurched. When you are doing what you love, try to include others. Go out of your way to build relationships. Look for chances to talk to others. Holiness is not the same thing as avoiding the world. We need to be IN the world, even if we should not be OF the world.

7. Be a listener. This essentially means being sensitive in our responses to others. Be sincere. We listen with our eyes, not our ears! Sitting in a coffee shop with someone and talking about their needs is better than performing a cold, demographic survey. Each individual is different and has different needs.

8. Bless people without strings attached. Love others, expecting nothing in return. Invite people INTO things. This is another way of serving.

9. Share your spontaneous life. God works in the interruptions. Share just being with another, even if you never talk. Even if you are just praying on your own or reading on your own or studying on your own, share the space with someone else. Monks in a monastery don't talk with each other, but they are constantly together. Provide a place for spontaneous connections.

And finally, to make this list ten items long...

10. Model your community after the Trinity. Each community should contain three equal aspects of life together: a) it should engage in social activity and fun “life” growth, b) it should engage in outreach and mission to the outside community, and c) it should worship, read the scriptures, and pray together. These three elements comprise a balanced, healthy life for the individual, so it should also apply to community—the body of Christ.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Prayer of Vengeance

“Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

How many here have prayed that prayer recently? As recently as this morning? I was in New York for thanksgiving, hearing about and seeing massive amounts of idol worship in the form of consumerism, technologism, scientism, darwinism, individualism, selfism, marxism—pick an “ism!” We went to the 9/11 memorial and read the names of the deceased around the square fountains. We read a long woman's name and realized that the last half of the name was actually “and unborn child.” Let's add fanaticism to the list.

The first two verses of Isaiah 64 is a request that God come down as judge . . . and destroyer. We want deliverance from the world's tyranny. Mad-made global warming may be a myth, but man-made storms sure aren't. The weather has nothing on the chaos that can be waged when the passions of rulers come into play. We work hard on something, exhaust ourselves day and night, and then the project results in nothing—worthless.

We are miserable because we believe ourselves to be gods. Why do we do this? Because we cannot believe in a God who is completely unlike us. God's ways are not our ways. His purposes are not our purposes. What we need is a God who is very much like a man, and so we put ourselves in that place. Isaiah here is also looking for that man—the true man. This is the man who would manifest the ways and purposes of the true God, so we can understand them and not put ourselves in God's place. Think of a thick veil keeping God's light from reaching us. Now think of someone being able to remove that veil. That is the man we are talking about. We would know that God was among us and that he was ruling us and judging us. This man would be a shelter from that man-made storm of ruler passions I talked about earlier.

So, we may have uttered something like this prayer recently. Also, how many of us are scared of such a prayer? This may be a prayer that we would not want to come to pass. Part of us wants to keep God a distance, especially to keep his VENGEANCE at distance. We don't want God to make things right on that chance that we will find ourselves on the wrong side of such a correction. So, this becomes our religion. We want God to help us in our plight, but we don't really want him to lift us completely out of it. We want him to forgive our sins, but we don't want him to free us completely from sin. We bury ourselves in this alternate religion, this moralistic therapeutic deism, a religion that feeds our flesh and our worldly desires, and avoids real religion—the religion of the prayer of Isaiah 64:1-2. While our flesh desires the false religion, our souls desire the true religion. Our souls desire to encounter God's vengeance. Our souls long to be face to face with Him.

Our flesh wants to be protected from God, so we must avoid praying the prayer! However, our souls know that God is there to protect us from ourselves. God is there to raise us out of the slavery that we invented for ourselves. So, our souls inwardly rejoice at the prayer, and at the same time, our flesh trembles. The world trembles, too, because this prayer destroys kings and raises the poor to heavenly heights.

Isaiah prayed this prayer, and saw the man who was to remove the veil, who was going to put an understandable face on the unfathomable God. Unto us a Child is born, he prophesied. Unto us a Son is given. He is the shelter from the storm, because He is both Son of man and Son of God. Jesus is God appearing and the heavens being torn open. Jesus causes the mountains to quake and the nations to tremble. As one elected leader once said that upon his nomination, the rise of the oceans began to slow.” Our flesh becomes elated at such a prospect. Jesus is the opposite. When he comes, things are going to really shake up, and the oceans will probably rise. Our flesh will quake with fear, but our souls will rejoice.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Your Anglican Moment

Father, we praise thee, now the night is over;
active and watchful, stand we all before thee;
singing, we offer prayer and meditation;
thus we adore thee.

Monarch of all things, fit us for thy mansions;
banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
bring us to heaven, with thy saints united;
joy without ending.

All-holy Father, Son, and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessed, send us thy salvation;
thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
through all creation.

- Percy Dearmer

A Minor Detail About the December 4 Concert...

...because the detail is a minor. 11-Year-Old Anna Barrett will be singing in the children's choir that night. Indeed, she will be a soloist, too! This should be enough to get us all there on that Sunday night at Outer Banks Presbyterian Church.

See you all on Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm. Admission is free, and a freewill love offering will be taken. Nursery will be provided. Outer Banks Presbyterian Church is located at 907 S. Croatan Highway (Milepost 8.5) in Kill Devil Hills. After the concert, we are all invited to the Maturo's house for dessert and Compline.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Feed My Sheep

I want to talk about dead people. Not Ghosts. This isn't Sixth Sense, “I see dead people,” ESP, psychic stuff. This isn't even zombies, either, although these dead people are walking around among us. Jesus Christ is life itself. I am the resurrection and the life, he said, and if what he says is true, and as Christians, we DO believe that he is the source of life, then anyone without Jesus is not alive but dead, dead in their sins.

This might prompt us to reach out to non-believers more, because this is not just a matter of someone not believing NOW and LATER succumbing to everlasting death. No, these people are dead NOW. Our culture pushes individualism and believing only in yourself and self-centeredness, and the result of these teachings is that we end up being stressed out and literally dead people walking about. Christ teaches us to put ourselves LAST. He teaches us how to put God first, and then our neighbor, and last of all ourselves. And the stress melts away. We relax. We can feel the life flooding through our souls.

In Ezekiel 34, we read in the early part of the chapter, God condemn the false shepherds because they feed themselves instead of the sheep. Isn't that we are taught from birth in this culture? We are taught to feed ourselves. And you would think that feeding ourselves made us healthy, but it does not. We are engorging ourselves, and that makes us dead people walking around.

The Lord says in the second part of Ezekiel 34 that he himself will be the shepherd, for he is the only one who can properly care for the flock. We feed ourselves, but God will rescue his sheep. He will know his sheep, because they are the thin and weakly ones. The fat, strong ones are the ones who have been feeding themselves, so he will separate them out.

We see this mirrored in our Gospel passage, where the Son of Man will come in his glory and separate out the people from each other, just like between sheep and goats. Now, here the conditions of separation are whether the certain person has cared for the least of these in the flock. Has the person fed himself, as it says in Ezekiel, or has he fed the sheep? Jesus calls Peter to feed his sheep at the end of John's Gospel, and that isn't just a message for Peter. That's a message for us. Are we feeding ourselves, like the culture tells us to do, or are we feeding the sheep, like the Lord tells us to do? Are we fat dead people or thin living people?

Now, here's something that is a little difficult to grasp. There are dead people who are great philanthropists and who give to charity and who use their money to travel to other countries and give their time and money to help others. These are people that surely deserve to be called blessed by the Father and who will inherit the kingdom, because they are doing the Father's will—they are caring for the least of these, and therefore they are caring for Jesus. That is what Jesus wants, right?

Well, there's another way to look at this passage. The phrase, “just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me,” is a symmetrical phrase. It's kind of like forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us in the Lord's Prayer. There is no reason to think that just because “forgive us our sins” comes first, we don't have to forgive those who sin against us until we know we have been forgiven by God. In fact, because we forgive others, God forgives us, and it is easier to forgive others when we know that God has forgiven us. It's a balanced statement. It's circular. One feeds the other and back and forth.

Same with “just as you did it to the least of these you did it to me.” It's easy to think that anyone who serves the poor with their time and money has earned his way into the kingdom of heaven, because it says right there that when one serves the poor, he is serving Jesus. But this is a balanced statement, too. This is a circular statement, too. When our intentions are to serve Jesus through our serving the poor—when we have Jesus in mind when we serve the poor—that is when we are doing the will of the Father. When we can say to ourselves, “I am caring for the least of these, because this is how I properly care for my Lord and Savior,” then we are inheriting the kingdom. When our motives—our intentions—are for Christ, that is when our deeds have true heavenly meaning. Because our faith in Jesus Christ is feeding our works, not the other way around. If someone is acting like Albert Schweitzer or Florence Nightingale or Mother Theresa and his or her intentions are not toward Jesus Christ. If that person is not picturing Jesus' face on the poor people he or she is serving . . . all those good deeds are worth nothing. No kingdom is inherited. We are still feeding ourselves and not our sheep after all. We are still dead.

Look at John 13, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. Verse 3 begins, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up...” and began the process of washing the disciples' feet. His mind was on the Father. His mind was on God. His focus and intent was on the Lord's will.

Jesus died on the cross, and when he was resurrected from the dead, he had this conversation with Peter: three times he asks Peter if he loves him. Peter responds yes. Then comes the next part—the conclusion: feed my sheep. We cannot feed the Lord's sheep if we do not love Jesus. Jesus has to be first in our hearts and minds, or all of our good deeds fall into the void of nothingness. Love Jesus, serve him, and we will be able to love and serve the least of these. Put Jesus first and feed his sheep and inherit the kingdom.

Friday, November 18, 2011

December 4 Service

As you may know, we cannot worship at Grace Lutheran, due to their Dec 4th Christmas Cantata, which is scheduled for our appointed worship time. Instead, we are going on a field trip:

The Music Ministry of the Outer Banks Presbyterian Church will present a Christmas Musical on Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm

This musical presentation will be given by the Sanctuary Choir of the church along with numerous musical guests all combining to build a 50-voice choir, a 14-piece orchestra and guest singers. The choir, under the direction of Jason Evans and Nonie Booth, has been working on the musical for several weeks.

Guest conductor, Natalie Drummond, will direct the choir and orchestra. Drummond’s impressive career includes being the Owner/Director of the Outer Banks Music Showcase, the director of the Outer Banks Children's Chorus, Miss Rocky Mount in 1994-95 and was a top-ten semifinalist in the Miss North Carolina Pageant in 1995. Drummond is a graduate with B.A Honors in Music with Distinction from Duke University concentrating in Vocal Performance. She also completed her M.M. in Music Theory/Composition at East Carolina University and has completed 24 hours towards her PhD. in Musicology at Duke University.

Music will include some of the wonderful sounds of the season in the first portion of the program and will feature the story of the birth of Christ in the second portion.

Members of the Sanctuary Choir are comprised from Outer Banks Presbyterian Church, All Saints Episcopal Church, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Duck United Methodist Church and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. Soloists will include: Pamela Tanner, Jerry Manolas, Maurice Trotman, Lyman Futrell, Natalie Drummond, Isaac Drummond and Nick Hodsdon.

The orchestra will be comprised of: Jason Evans, pianist; Steve Blackstock, organist; George Graham, percussionist; Brad Boyette, bassist; Leslie Erickson, Shannah Boone, Billy Tanner, violinists; Beth Argiro, violist; Tim Briggs, Mike Frohnapfel, cellists; Christi Briggs, clarinetist; John Blackstock, alto sax; Suzanne Blackstock, Hollie Writtenberry, flautists.

We invite all to attend this moving and powerful presentation. Admission is free, and a freewill love offering will be taken. Nursery will be provided. Outer Banks Presbyterian Church is located at 907 S. Croatan Highway (Milepost 8.5) in Kill Devil Hills. For additional information about the performances, call 441-5897 or visit us on the web

After the concert, we are all invited to the Maturo's house for dessert. We will finish the day out with Compline.

Your Anglican Moment

Not here for high and holy things
We render thanks to Thee,
But for the common things of earth,
The purple pageantry
Of dawning and of dying days,
The splendor of the sea:

The royal robes of autumn moors,
The golden gates of spring,
The velvet of soft summer nights,
The silver glistering
Of all the million million stars,
The silent song they sing,

Of Faith and Hope and Love undimmed,
Undying still through death,
The Resurrection of the world,
What time there comes the breath
Of dawn that rustles through the trees,
And that clear voice that saith

"Awake, awake to love and work,
The lark is in the sky,
The fields are wet with diamond dew,
The worlds awake to cry
Their blessings on the Lord of Life,
As He goes meekly by.

"Come, let thy voice be one with theirs,
Shout with their shout of praise,
See how the giant sun soars up,
Great Lord of years and days!
So let the Love of Jesus come,
And set thy soul ablaze,

"To give and give, and give again,
What God has given thee,
To spend thy self nor count the cost,
To serve right gloriously
The God who gave all worlds that are,
And all that are to be."

- Geoffrey Anketel Studdert-Kennedy

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Servant Council Minutes 11-9-11

Members present were Father Fred Barrett, Della and Charles Gill, Jim Heinrich, Brenda Pitonyak, and Ted Moseley. Mary Jeannette Moseley was present as secretary.

Fred opened the meeting with Communion.

Charles presented the Profit and Loss YTD Comparison to the members. It was moved to approve the statement by Mary Jeannette and seconded by Brenda.

The minutes from last meeting were reviewed and approved. Charles moved the approval and Brenda seconded.

Old business included a lengthy discussion pertaining to finding a new space to worship. Several inquiries have been made so far: Fancy Flamingo (too costly and possibly going to be torn down), a real estate building (already occupied). New places to investigate included: open space beside Gateway Bank in Nags Head, the Joe Lamb building, the yellow warehouse on Clark Street, OBX Beach Book space, and Taco Bell. There was discussion also about taking over the Dream Center, as it would satisfy our various needs for space.

Della shared her vision of having Panara Bread as our “backer” or financer, and to call it “The Good Shepherd”. It would be like a soup kitchen somewhat, but people would pay what they could. This idea may be pursued in the future.

The Servant Council spent some time discussing a parishioner’s living and future situation and how we could help.

We moved into the Wesley Experiment part of our meeting.

The meeting was closed in prayer, with the Lord’s Prayer by all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

4th Annual Men's Retreat Nov 4-6 - A report of my attending

By Jim Heinrich

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another"

This is the 3rd year that I have attended. It is inspiring, challenging, enjoyable, fellowship, heart rending and is in the presence of God at work. It is held at the 4 H center just past Columbia and is on the sound front. This year there were 91 men and young men attending. Each year men and young men are invited from Freedom Farm which is located in Boone. They are in rehab from many addictions. I think there were about 45.

We all arrived Friday about 4:00 PM, have welcome and introductions, then all to dinner. The food is excellent. That evening session 1 is titled Pursued by God, then for the rest of the meeting; session 2 is A closer look: what God has done, session 3 Response and relationship; a look at Jesus and Peter and the final session, Empower: The power of God in us. It ends Sunday about 10:00 AM with a church service.

There is a speaker and leader who does the sessions. There is music which is mostly praise throughout the meeting. It is inspiring to be a part of 91 fellow Christians singing loudly and clearly. Throughout the sessions there are break away meetings with a leader and about 6 attending. For 1 and 1/2 hours there is discussion about the sessions, prayers for each other, testimony's when one is called to do so and true friendship.

I strongly encourage any of our men to consider attending next year. It is sponsored by the men's prayer group of the Church of the Redeemer in Camden. If you would like to talk with me about possibly going next year please call.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Your Anglican Moment

New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.

New mercies, each returning day,
hover around us while we pray;
new perils past, new sins forgiven,
new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.

If on our daily course our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.

Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
as more of heaven in each we see;
some softening gleam of love and prayer
shall dawn on every cross and care.

The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask:
room to deny ourselves; a road
to bring us daily nearer God.

Only, O Lord, in thy dear love,
fit us for perfect rest above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray.

- John Keble

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Foundation of Hope

Does anyone like to read anymore? With all the distractions, especially movies, I find that it is tough to read. I have to read for a living, but think of the people who don't have to! People can get away in this day and age without having to read anything. My 8-year-old is learning to read, and she has moments where she is flying through the Bible stories, and then she will hit some new, long words and slow down to an agonizing pace. Then she'll hit a three-letter word that she should know by heart and have some trouble. Two steps forward, one step back. Reading is tough.

Of the stuff adults are called to read, theology, philosophy and the Bible itself are actually very difficult things to read, and sometimes after reading nothing but theology for weeks and months, I begin to think that I am a horrible reader. I'm so slow, I think, how do I read at all? So, then I'll pick up a pulp novel and fly through the 400 pages in a few hours, and I remember that it is the level of reading that is hitting me, not reading itself.

Reading the scriptures is very difficult stuff. If it is a familiar story, we can sail right through it, but each verse should be studied, because there are missed nuances, if we just fly through the Bible. A few weeks ago I took the familiar “Golden Calf” story and pulled out a few verses that are usually overlooked, connected them to some verses in Romans, and we all were able to see something new and deeper. My job is to do things like that, so that we can all learn more from the scriptures, so we can all know more about God.

Our collect today read, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” As we can read here, study, especially scripture study, supports the hope that is in us.

In our passage in first Thessalonians 5, Paul writes, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Now, this refers to the end times, when Christ returns, but it also refers to being informed through scripture. The reason we are going to be prepared for Christ's coming, even though we don't know the time it will happen, is because we have studied scripture and we no longer remain in darkness. We are children of light, children of day. There may be arguments about whether Christ is going to come sooner or later, but we are not ignorant of Christ coming at all. To put in this in perspective, the secular world IS ignorant of Christ's coming.

Not just ignorance but misinformation is rampant in the secular world. Here is the latest piece of misinformation from the children of darkness, as Paul would call them, and this just makes my jaw drop to the floor. Anti-Christians believe that Judaism was just another pagan religion that engaged in child sacrifice. What? Where do they get THAT from? Well, the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar is where. That story wouldn't be in the Bible, they say, if it were not a common practice of the Judaic culture. Again, WHAT?!

Now, when we hear that, we may be able to get out the concept that God was testing Abraham's faith and that he had no intention of allowing him to sacrifice his son, but can we define faith for them? Can we connect Abraham's love of the promised son to his potentially breaking the first commandment, which is the reason he is being tested? Can we cite the Hebrews passage about Abraham believing with all his heart that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if he killed him? Will we be able to cite the verses in Numbers about how touching a dead body makes us impure, and therefore sacrificing people would be a no-no in Israel. Do we know enough about the pagan nations in the area to be able to contrast their cultures of death with Israel's culture of life?

These things blind side us, and we sit there for a minute and try to get our bearings, and then the conversation moves on to something else. Well, we had our chance! Too late! We can't go back and say, “wait a minute!” these days. Nobody wants to go back and go deeper. They want to have their say and move on, so we have to be ready with an answer. As Peter writes in his first letter, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We should always have answers to back up the HOPE in us. If we don't have those answers, our behavior is not seen as hopeful but as NICE. No one wants to be nice. Do you know where the word nice comes from? In the Middle English nice meant foolish or stupid, then we go back to the Old French where it means silly or simple, and finally we hit the Latin word “nescius”, which means ignorant or incapable. That's NICE. Our modern definition is “agreeable” and when someone is attacking your religion, and telling you that it was a pagan religion that sacrificed people, the last thing you want to be is agreeable. If we don't have answers to back up the hope that is in us, our good deeds and our pleasant behavior just becomes simple brainwashing: we were told by someone to behave this way, and we were agreeable. Poor little Christian, can't think for himself.

Psalm 123 has some excellent verses to pray, to get us into the mood for study: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”

Remember that Jesus Christ, son of God, is also the Word of God, and if we look at the three persons of the trinity, we can see that Christ is the mouthpiece of God. When he spoke to people, he always had an answer for the hope that was in him, and he spoke many things about the scriptures that forced people, even the scholars of the day, to look at God's word in a new light. Jesus spoke about the future, and things have come true, and there are things still to come true. We have hope in these things, because we have faith in Christ. And we have faith in Christ, because he demonstrated his reliability by rising from the dead. Christ is hope in us, not nice in us. Be prepared.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 20 Potluck Dinner with Grace Lutheran

Grace Lutheran By-The-Sea has invited us to share a Potluck Dinner with them on November 20th. They are excited about us joining them, so much so that it is on their calendar: "Potluck with Good Shepherd." Let's not disappoint them! They are beginning at 6pm, when we will be finishing up our service, after which we will join them. We should also get to meet their new interim pastor. Hope to see everyone there!

Servant Council Minutes 11-2-11

Members present were Father Fred Barrett, Jim Heinrich, Brenda Pitonyak, Della Gill and Charles Gill. Mary Jeannette Moseley was present as secretary.

Fred opened the meeting with Communion.

The minutes from last week were read and approved—Charles moved to approve, and Jim seconded the motion.

A lengthy discussion followed that involved assistance for one of our parishoners.

Update on new worship space—several new possibilities were discussed: Dare Center, OB Mall, open space near Dunkin Donuts in Nags Head, real estate office across from TW’s Tackle, old bank building in FF Alley. Jim and Fred were going to check out a few of the places and let us know.

We discussed the possibility of resuming coffee hour after church. Because of the time of day and the size of our kitchen committee, it was decided to wait for now. We will continue to have a monthly Pot Luck Dinner, on the 2nd Sunday every month.

The “business “ part of our meeting ended and the group entered the “Wesley” part of the meeting. We discussed the importance of the Wesley Experiment for the Servant Council, the desire to stay focused on putting God first in our lives, and the desire to grow stronger as a group.

Fred closed the meeting with The Lord’s Prayer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Servant Council Minutes 10-26-11

Members present were Father Fred Barrett, Della and Charles Gill, Jim Heinrich, Brenda Pitonyak, and Ted Moseley. Mary Jeannette Moseley was present as secretary.

Fred opened the meeting with an abbreviated version of the Holy Eucharist and Communion.

The minutes were distributed and reviewed from the last meeting. Brenda made the motion to approve and Charles seconded the motion.

1. Beach Food Pantry—Fred has inquired about the food pantry and how to make a connection for Good Shepherd. There are several requirements to be met by the church in order to receive the benefits for our parishioners. Mary Jeannette agreed to be the point person for this project

2. Outreach—The Dream Center will soon no longer be available to be used for Ruthie’s Kitchen community dinners. Discussion followed about where these dinners will be served in the future and the possibility of having a place big enough to do this ourselves.

Discussion continued in great depth about the pros and cons of finding and having a new place to worship. One particular place on Colington Road may be available, depending on the rent , space, and it’s availability. SC members were encouraged to make a list of things that would be important to us in our search for a new place of worship.

On November 1, we will begin our daily Bible studies for the Wesley Experiment. We will gather each week at 6:30 on Wednesday night to pray, read scripture, and conduct whatever business the Servant Council feels necessary.

Fred closed the meeting with prayer, followed by The Lord’s Prayer by all.

Men's Retreat 2011

Rev. Craig Stephans sent out videos from this past weekend's men's retreat. The videos are of Men's Retreat speaker Peter Rothermel and recorded by MC Halstead.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Possible Spaces?

Please pray for God's will to be done. Here are some possible spaces that could become Good Shepherd's "Third Space." Picture them in your heads as you pray for one of these, or perhaps something else, to come to the forefront and become the place where God wants us to be, so we can serve the community as best we can.

A place on Colington road, which is discussed above, has a large area for activities, eating, and worship. It has a kitchen area, an office, a room for a nursery, and an attic for storage. It has 20 parking spaces, but there is a wide driveway that can be parked alongside, and a huge grassy area that can be parked upon. This is in a prime location to serve the local community of Colington Islands.

This is an abandoned building that looks like it is still in good condition. We are investigating its status right now. There is another, low building behind it that could also serve as a space. Pray that this might be a possibility. These two buildings are on the bypass, where the highest volume of traffic passes.

Finally, we have the infamous Dream Center, which may come available soon. It used to be an auto show gallery, but a church has been meeting here. It has a large amount of space, and it is, how should we say, unsightly in ascetics. Ugly, some might say. However, it would have all the space we need, a kitchen, a worship area, and perhaps tables and chairs included. It also reminds me of the club from the movie Xanadu, which is pretty cool. This building is located between the bypass and the beach road, and it is where Ruthie's Kitchen meets each Tuesday evening.

Thanks for your prayers. If you are local, and you can think of a possible Third Space for us, let us know!

Your Anglican Moment

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

-Robert Robinson

Surrendering to God's Will

Christ told us that we will know someone by their fruits. It's not what goes into someone's mouth but what comes out of it that is what defiles him. We see this from the high-profile places like politics and celebrities, all the way down to family and friends. Someone can say whatever it is they want to say, but it is their actions that we need to pay attention to. If someone says they are going to zig and instead they zag. The zag is what you pay attention to. The zag is the character of that person. The zag is what God sees, not the spoken zig.

A few weeks ago, Jesus told a brief parable about a man who had two sons, and to the first one he said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” The son responded that he would NOT, but later he changed his mind and went. What was his zig? His zig was an emphatic NO. What was his zag? He went and worked. The second son said that he would go and work in the field, but he did NOT go. What was his zig? YES. What was his zag? He did not act. He did not do the father's will.

Actions speak louder than words. In our Old Testament passage, we have in the last chapter of Joshua, the people of God—the chosen people of God—lying to Joshua. They say many times things like, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods,” and “We shall serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Joshua responds, “If you forsake the Lord and turn to foreign Gods, great harm will come to you.” They respond, “No, we will serve the Lord!”

Now, we know that the Israelites go after false gods throughout the Old Testament, but how soon? Turn the page! The last chapter of Joshua precedes the first chapter of Judges, where we read that not only have the Israelites failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, like they were supposed to, but they have now gone after the false gods of those very same people they were to drive out. The Lord warned them that if they didn't drive out the enemy, the enemy's gods would become a snare to them. And so we read that the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

There's two things going on here. Who we pretend we are, and who we really are. Israel pretended to be an honorable people, who would obey God, but they turned out to be a dishonorable people who went after false Gods. In our Gospel parable, we have ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the Lord's return. Half of these bridesmaids are pretending to be something they are not. They don't really believe in the Lord's return, because they haven't prepared. They haven't enough oil. Their actions—not being prepared for the bridegroom's return—show their true character. We see who they really are.

This whole chapter, chapter 25 of Matthew is connected. We next have the parable of the talents, where one slave has pretended to be someone he is not. He squandered and hid his talent instead of investing it, and when the master returns, the slave has nothing to show. His actions show his character. He does not believe in what the master believes in. He is not doing the father's will.

What is oil for the lamp? What is a talent? What does it mean to do the father's will? As one of Good Shepherd's core values states, what does it mean to surrender to God's will? What do we, as Christians, say we are going to do and DON'T do every day? Jesus answers that at the end of chapter 25. “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.”

We speak compassion, but we are not compassionate. We speak justice, but we are not just. We speak love, but we are not loving. It is impossible for us to be that way. We are human, and we are fallen. We choose evil over good. But, as Paul says, it is not me but Christ in me what does the good deed. As John the Baptist says, “I must grow smaller and Christ grow bigger.” When we allow Jesus Christ to take over our lives, and we put him in the driver's seat, the poor get fed, the sick get tended, the strangers get welcomed. If it were up to us, no. But as we sacrifice ourselves, our identities, those things that the world says are so important to us, and we give ourselves over to Christ, we find that we gain a REAL identity, one that is much more valuable than the one we were working at before. This identity is in God, and it is a far more powerful identity.

It's not a coincidence that after Jesus said these things about letting our actions speak louder than our words, about surrendering to God's will and serving the community, that the plot to kill Jesus began. When we surrender to God's will and begin to serve the community, by having enough oil and investing our one talent, the devil's plot to kill us will begin. It already has begun. Let us pray that Jesus will drive us into being faithful to the one true God, into being prepared with enough oil for the bridegroom, with wisely investing our talent, and serving the least of these.

Toler Family Update - Transitions

Here is an update from the missionary family we support with prayer and more.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our Diocese Web Site

Check out our new diocese's new Web site.

From Bishop Guernsey

As we celebrate All Saints’ Day this week (it falls on November 1 but it is also observed this coming Sunday), we focus on the universal church and on what is called the Communion of Saints, the union we have with all those who have put their trust in Jesus from every people and language and tribe and nation—those still on earth, and those who have gone before us in ages past.

On All Saints’ Day we read from Revelation Chapter 7, which shows us a picture of a multitude in heaven. The question is asked, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” And the answer is given, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13, 14). These are the saints who have endured great suffering for Christ and the blood of the Lamb has washed them clean. All Saints’ Day invites us to consider the cost of following Jesus, the price we must pay if we are to be faithful to the one who gave his life for us.

I am currently reading the monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who saw the real threat that Adolph Hitler posed to his nation and to the Church. When others were prepared to accommodate the Church’s teaching to the ideology of the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer saw the implications of compromise with a false Gospel. His deep commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is reflected in such timeless works as The Cost of Discipleship and, having counted the cost himself, he was executed in the Flossenburg concentration camp shortly before the end of the war.

As we face growing challenges to biblical faith in Christ, we have much to learn from the experience and witness of the suffering Church around the world, those who are standing firm for Jesus in places like Sudan and Egypt and Northern Nigeria. Let us never fail to pray for these saints with whom we are one in Jesus. And let’s also pray for God’s grace to stand as firmly and as sacrificially for the Gospel in our own culture.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. John A. M. Guernsey

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some Interesting Numbers

This is part of an article from The Coastland Times called "Cross section proposed, Colington Road widening":

"Colington Road is a meandering, two-lane, probably historic road traversing big and little Colington Islands and connecting to the busy world of U.S. 158 Bypass.

"Folks living along this North Carolina secondary road numbered 4,179 in 2010. That's the largest concentration of people of any area in unincorporated Dare County. It is almost as many people as live on the entire of Hatteras Island (4,322 in 2010). More people live on Colington islands than live in Nags Head or Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores or Duck.

"The road is heavily traveled. At the intersection of Colington Road and Veteran's Drive, and average of 10,000 cars per day pass through.

"The road is the only route to First Flight Elementary, Middle and High schools for the 682 students living on the Colington islands.

"It is the only route to work for most Colington residents."

The article continues to talk about how the NCDOT is going begin a project to widen and straighten the road, but re-read the above paragraphs and think about the number of people on these islands (including my family) and the amount of traffic that the road handles.

Wouldn't Colington islands benefit from a visible Third Space along this heavily traveled road?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What is a Third Space?

My thoughts on Churchmorph by Eddie Gibbs.

In an age where traditional church has become very individualistic and consumer-oriented, we need to try to understand how a church can make a distinctive contribution to the community. Individualism has turned church into a supplement for our own private devotions, and consumerism has put members in a frame of mind that if our church is not doing exactly what we like, it needs to be changed to suit our wants.

How can we shift from an individualistic, consumerist model to a model that serves God and the surrounding community first? This different model of church is one in which each member is active, supportive, and makes a distinct contribution to the community. We are not passive consumers but creative participants. We have a mission to engage the surrounding culture with the Gospel.

This is where the concept of Third Space comes in. What is a Third Space? If we think of our homes as being our first space, and our work as being our second, the third space is that of our community, a place where we can go to feel connected, appreciated, and valuable. This is where we can engage and grow together. A Third Space is essentially a welcoming space beyond work and home.

In such a space a church can hold artistic performances, workshops, collaborations and classes. In such a space a church can feed the hungry and provide community for people of all walks of life. The spaces serve the neighborhoods they are directly in contact with, and they adapt to the needs of those same communities. Third Spaces partnership with other churches in the area, so they are not seen as a threat. Third Spaces drop the "come to us" attitude and adopt mission as its drive. All churches with buildings are potential Third Spaces, but how many of them are using their spaces as such?

A Third Space allows a church to work toward transformation of the whole community. A Third Space knows the social and spiritual needs of the community. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we have an intense hospitality community that serves tourists for the summer and then overall becomes stagnant for the rest of the year. Countless times have I heard the mantra, "there's nothing to do." A Third Space gives people something to do, and it is part of the community for the long haul. It is not temporary. The Third Space is instrumental in transforming neighbors who are acquaintances into friends and then into brothers and sisters.

Spiritually, a Third Space community devotes themselves together. They follow same rule of faith. A Third Space community is not hierarchical. It builds up leaders of all generations and allows them to contribute their own ideas on how to use the space. New uses of the space bring a continuing renewal to what the space represents in the community. A Third Space is not like joining a club--it adapts to the needs of the community and grows to accommodate the community.

Finally, a Third Space worships together creatively. God is the focus. It is not stage theatrics and lecturing. It is a family gathering around the table, praying together, learning together, and thanking God for the blessings of this life. The two great commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love our neighbors as ourselves. A Third Space is a powerful instrument in fulfilling both of those commandments.