Monday, June 25, 2012

Grace v. Karma

I was reading an interview with Bono, and he just started preaching the gospel to the interviewer in the context of Grace v. Karma. The interviewer didn't like it, and he kept saying to Bono that he didn't believe in any of the Jesus stuff, but Bono kept plowing ahead, and the interviewer wasn't going to stop him, because its Bono, the lead singer of U2, and one of the wealthiest and most powerful rock stars of our age.  We've heard of the conflict between Grace and Law, but what about Grace and Karma?

Remember, Karma can be defined in four words: getting what we deserve.  Every other religion in the world practices this philosophy.  Also, many Christian-like cults practice this: If I keep working hard at it, I will deserve it, and so when I get it, it will because I EARNED it.  True Christianity is grace: getting what we don't deserve.  We cannot earn our way into heaven.  We cannot work for a relationship with God.  He descends to us.  He draws us to him.  He does the work.  He initiates AND he closes the deal.  This is grace.  We did not deserve this.  We should have gotten Karma, but instead God gave us grace.

Does this mean Karma does not exist?  No.  It DOES exist, but it only exists outside God's grace.  Does it exist only in other religions?  No.  It fully exists outside Christianity, but you can be involved in NO religion.  You can be an atheist who does not believe in ANY sort of religion, and you are functioning within the rules of Karma.

In our Psalm this morning, we see evidence of this.  The ungodly dig their own pit, the psalm tells us.  The wicked are trapped in the work of their own hands.  This sounds like Karma to me, doesn't it?  And all religions outside of Christianity preach this as if it is some sort of enlightenment.  You do not have to ascend the ladder of any religion to live inside the rules of Karma.  Just immerse yourself in the culture, just live out your every desire, just listen to that little voice in your ear telling you to GO FOR IT.

Well, how do we get out of Karma and into Grace? The only place where we can live inside of God's grace is in the Christian religion.  Only in that place are we immune to the effects of Karma.  Not just because as Christians we aren't digging pits and laying snares, but because when we are in Grace we are in God's presence.  When we are in his presence, he governs us and he helps us.

A great visual representation is from our Gospel.  Jesus falls asleep and the storm begins to rage outside the boat.  The disciples panic.  In their minds, God isn't with them.  He's asleep.  They freak out and think they are going to drown.  Jesus wakes, calms the waters, and then scolds them for having no faith at all.  They were living in Karma for that moment.  They were expecting the worst to happen to them.  And when Jesus solved the problem—in a VERY Godly way—they are so baffled as to who he really is!  When we are living in Karma, we are possessed by unbelief.

So, how can we live in grace, so that we don't continually fall into this dreaded Karma that overhangs the world like a dark cloud?  The answer lies in Paul's words this morning: “At an acceptable time I have listened to you.  On a day of salvation I have helped you.”  God picks the time to draw you near to him.

He also picks the place and the how it is going to come about.  In our collect this morning, we prayed, “MAKE US have love for your name.”  God does not respond to our love.  He gives us love.  He created us.  He sustains us.  He gives us the love with which to love.  MAKE US have love, we pray.  He loves us first, and any love we have for him has been imparted to us by HIM.  Without this gift of love, we would be still living in Karma, hurting each other and being hurt in return.

The collect also says, “He governs and helps those whom HE has set upon the sure foundation of his lovingkindness.”  Under grace, we are governed and helped by God, but ONLY because HE has placed us on the sure foundation of his Son, Jesus Christ.  He puts us in the boat with Christ.  He calms the storm for us.  And we respond with faith in him because HE MAKES US LOVE HIM.  It feels like we are coming to a conclusion on our own, but HE is the one who is doing it.  God is all-powerful.  He's not just an impotent God sitting over in the shadows, waiting for us to scan the room and find something there, or to suddenly begin seeking him.  We find him only because he seeks us first.

This is some very GOOD NEWS, because we are all sitting in this room because HE wishes us to be here.  He brought you here to hear the gospel.  He brought me here to preach the gospel.  As Paul says in today's letter, “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”  Paul and the members of his ministry spoke frankly with the Corinthians.  Their hearts were wide open. They did not try to hide the truth; they spoke openly.  God brought them together, and God brings us together.  He has given me the words to say.  He has given you the ears to hear.  Some here will think of the gospel in a new light and come closer to God.  Others may stay where they are.  Still others may be repelled by the gospel message, because gospel does offend.

So, Bono kept talking about Jesus and Grace v. Karma.  The interviewer was repelled, but the interview was put online for people to read.  Others out there were not repelled.  They were brought closer.  For them, it was the acceptable time.  For them it was the day of salvation.

Read the Bono Interview Here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Saturday Home Visits with the Bishop on June 30

Contact me if you would like a visit at your home from the Bishop on June 30.  Slots are filling up.  I will call at some point and touch base with everyone about this personal time with Bishop Guernsey.

Crossed Swords

“Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.  They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand up straight.”  Psalm 20:7-8

Psalm 20 is a prayer for victory.  David is going into battle, and so this prayer was necessary for God to aid David's army in battle.  The verses I want to focus on are 7 and 8.  Sounds like those dumb enemies are going to rely completely on their chariots and horses to lead them to victory in battle.  David has something bigger up his sleeve.  He's got the Lord on his side, so he puts trust in the God of Jacob instead.  Good plan!

This is not the first time such a plan has been carried out.  When David fights Goliath, he tells the giant, “You come at me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come at you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Samuel 17:45)

In second Chronicles, a king of Judah tells his people, with the enemy king is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles. In Isaiah, the prophet issues a woe declaration.  Woe to those who look to chariots and horses and do not consult the Lord.  As we said last week, a woe statement is an oracle of death.

Well, I'm not going to fight in a war anytime soon, I hope, but I do know that if I do, I need to trust in the Lord, but this is not just about physical battle.  This a statement about two different worldviews.  There are people who trust in the materials and offers of the world and there are those who rely on God.

As it says in Proverbs 3: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  As it says in Psalm 118: It is better to put your hope in God than in man.  I'm not saying it's time to stop going to the doctor, but I'm saying that we need to think of going to the doctor as doing God's will.  We need to know that the healing comes from God, not the doctor.  The doctor is the tool that God is using to heal you.

Let's go a little deeper.  The Psalm verse does not say trust in God over chariots and horses.  It says trust in the NAME of God over chariots and horses.  Ephesians 6:12 says we do not struggle against flesh and blood but against the supernatural powers behind the scenes.  I've talked about the three enemies we have to face: the world's wiles, our own sin, and the devil himself.  The name of Jesus banishes the last from sight completely.  The name of Jesus Christ is the name above all names.  It is the name of salvation.  When we speak it, we are asking God to help.  That is why using his name in vain is breaking one of the ten commandments.  We are calling on his name while still putting our faith in chariots and horses  God is already drawing us toward him, but when we cry out his name, we are acknowledging that we understand and agree.  We are saying AMEN to God.

The name of Jesus puts up a barrier between us and the world's temptations.  God cannot be tempted.  We can be, but if we put Jesus up between us and the temptations, he becomes the blocker.  Once again, God is doing these things in our lives already.  When we call on his name, we are acknowledging him.  We are trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and leaning not on our own understanding.

When we come up here for healing and blessing, let us think about Jesus' name.  Let us think about how we do not put our trust in the chariots and horses of this world but in the name of Jesus Christ.  If you have an ailment, it may not be cured, but everyone who comes up here is healed, because healing involves transferring your faith from the world to the one who made the world.  When we transfer that faith, our whole direction in life is healed.  We are on the right path, a path that is straight, and that is the path to healing.

In Medieval times, the knight's sword was shaped like a cross, so that when he wielded it, he was reminded that God was the one protecting him, not the sword itself.  He wasn't going to put his faith in swords but in the name of the Lord.  We may not carry swords today, but we do carry Bibles.  As it says in Ephesians 6, the sword of the spirit that we pick up is the Word of God, and we can wield it like a sword to protect us.  Well, not only is the sword in the shape of a cross, but the cross is in the shape of a sword.  Jesus was crucified on the cross, and it was used as a weapon against him, to defeat him, but what actually happened was that he took that weapon and he wielded it against death.  Through the cross, Jesus defeated death.  He wielded it like a weapon, and like a sword he used it to defeat death.  Now, we can rely on the name of Jesus to protect us from the world, the flesh, ad the devil, and when we call on the name of Jesus, he comes forth and uses that cross as a sword, protecting us from all those evils.

The sword is a cross and the cross is a sword.  Jesus is the knight who protects us and saves us with the cross in his name.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Core Values, Mission, and Vision Statements

Core Values:
To surrender to God's will.
To teach and preach the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God.
To make prayer the foundation of all we do.

To live with Christ Jesus as our Savior, growing together as an intergenerational family, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We are followers of Christ who share ministries of healing, discipleship, and outreach in local groups and unite weekly for worship on the Outer Banks.

Website Updates

We made some updates to the Church of the Good Shepherd Website.  First, we have our address and phone number right across the top of the page, so people can find us and call us.  Second, we have a series of tabs across the top that link to the most important entries on the site.  These will change as things become more and less important, but right now we have links to the Greek Bible Study, our Lifeguard Dinners, DOMA and ACNA links, our Book Study, and our Healing Service.  I am about to add a link to our mission and vision statements, and our core values.  Special thanks for Ed and Sue Weems for their insight and help.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bishop Guernsey's Visit with Good Shepherd

On June 29th, Bishop Guernsey and his wife Meg will be joining us on the Outer Banks.  Friday, we will have a Servant Council dinner and discussion at 6:30pm at Brenda Pitonyak's house.  Saturday, June 30, Bishop Guernsey and I will come around to parishioner homes for visits.  Please contact me with a visit request, so we can put a time down for each person who wants a visit.  Sunday, July 1, the Bishop will preach and celebrate at our 11am service.  Anyone who wishes to be received into the Anglican Church in North America, please contact me, so I can get your name to Bishop Guernsey's offices.  He will bring certificates with your names on them.  If you are on the fence about being received and decide yes at the last minute, we can always have a certificate made up for you afterward and mailed to the church.  After the service, we will have a luncheon in the parish hall, where Bishop Guernsey will talk to us about how to be a praying church and a pastoral church.  He will answer any questions you may have for him.  Let's make the Bishop's visit to the Outer Banks a special one.

Breaking Bread with the Lifeguards from Duck and Southern Shores

by Nancy Maturo

Last Thursday, we had the joy of serving dinner to approximately 16-20 Lifeguards. This is our second year of participating in this community outreach. What an outstanding group of men and women, these young people are! Daily, they are willing to risk their lives for others, but yet, they are modest about their service. One surprising thing that we learned in chatting with them is that the folks whom they rescue rarely thank them and many times their service is considered a nuisance. Please, when you head to the beach this summer, stop by the Lifeguard stand and express your thanks for their help in keeping folks safe while enjoying the surf. Our next dinner with the Lifeguards is July 5th, mark your calendars and plan to be with us.

I encourage Good Shepherd to pray for these young people and their safety throughout the summer.

Weather Report from Kenya

Yeeowzer!  God is putting on a light show to end all light shows here.  Looks like a gazillion strobes going on!  If I had electricity I'd play a symphony.  But...we are so dark and small and weak and HE is so brilliant and strong, but sitting on my veranda, I feel completely safe. It's cold to (about 56f)...yes that is cold here.

Battery is low, been without power all day and last night.  Getting ready for work this am will be a bit of a challenge-but I have LOTS of water! 

You guys have a restful evening.
Serving Our Loving Father
Yvonne North

God Is Good

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?  Well, according to Jesus it is a sin that is unforgivable and is called an eternal sin.  One that cannot be removed from us.  And this sin leads to eternal death.  Why is that?  Isn't God all powerful?  Can't he take this sin away from us?

I had an atheist friend, who proudly told me that he had blasphemed the Holy Spirit.  He told me how he cussed the Holy Spirit up and down in front of another Christian friend.  The Christian friend gasped and said, “oh no!  You're doomed!”  My atheist friend laughed.  He was so proud.

Was he doomed to hell?  Well, by cussing at God, probably not.  We are fallen and foolish, and God expects us to get angry at him.  That's in our nature.  We offend God every day with our sin, so swearing at him is not a big deal to him.  He just shakes his head and rolls his eyes.  We complain all the time.  He's used to it.  He doesn't like it, but he's used to it.

My friend swore at God because he didn't believe that God was really there.  He's just being a fool.  Psalm 53:1 reads, “The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'”  It's foolish, but its not an unforgivable sin.  No, blasphemy is much more deep, and it does require belief, deep down in the core, even if the person blaspheming denies the existence of God.

A blasphemer against the Holy Spirit is someone who claims what the scribes claim to Jesus in this gospel passage.  The scribes tell Jesus that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the healing, force of good in the world, is actually the devil.  They are calling good evil.

As it says in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”  This is not just a statement about a fool.  This is a WOE statement.

Woe is an exclamation that precedes oracles of doom.  Woe is exclaimed when death is involved.  What kind of death can be worse than the eternal death that comes to people lost forever to God?  These are big prophecies in the Bible that involve the loss of individuals or even whole nations.  So, a fool can be angry at God or believe Him not to exist, but the one who calls good evil and evil good, he becomes lost forever—eternal death.

Scribes are the ones who declare this evil to Jesus in the gospel.  Who are Scribes?  They are not only keepers of the law, but they are jurists, lawyers, teachers, judges of the law.  What comes out of their mouths is not just an opinion.  They are the ones who make Jewish law.  If they declare that Jesus has a demon, if they declare that the Holy Spirit of God is actually a devil, they are not just stating a whim, or a fancy, or an opinion.  They are the law leaders.  They don't just blurt out things that they haven't pondered in their hearts first.  They are making a well-thought-out declaration, attempting to bring it into full Jewish law, which might read, “whenever someone performs actions like Jesus of Nazareth, we officially declare it to be of the devil.”

Who are today's scribes?  They are authors who write books about God and religion being the problem with the world.  Putting pen to paper makes it official.  Today's scribes are elite, educated, they are resourceful, and they know how to access lots of information.  They are knowledgeable.  They write books with titles like “The God Delusion” and “God is Not Good.”  They present lectures about God being the problem.  They get on television easy.  They become famous for standing up to the infamous God.

They are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, and they will suffer eternal death.

I'm not trying to be judgmental, but when you know the truth, everything becomes clear.  God is like the sun: we can't look directly at him, but without him we cannot see anything else.  God is good.  He heals us.  He casts away the demons.  Jesus' name is the name above all names.  Evil cannot stand against him.  God is the whole source of goodness in the world.  We encounter evil every day due to the world, our own sin, and the devil, but any good that comes out of things is solely a gift from God.  To call this pure source of good evil is so wrong, that it is understandable why that sin is unforgivable.  One who believes such things is so lost that God finding him again would be nigh impossible.

The ultimate good thing that God, the source of all goodness, has given us is the cross.  Through the cross, Jesus defeated death.  He defeated WOE.  Through the cross he draws us, humble children, not educated scribes who are wise in the world.  We are fools in the world.  We are children.  We are drawn to the cross by folly.  We know we do not know.  We depend on God.  God draws us together into community, into communion with him, into everlasting life, out of woe, out of death, out of false, into truth, into life.

God is good, all the time.  Believe this and you will never fall into the unforgivable sin, the eternal death.

Sunday Morning Book Study

On September 9, we began our second discipleship course, reading A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God.  We explored the first chapter, "Following Hard After God," and for this upcoming Sunday, September 16, we will prepare by reading chapter 2: "The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing." This Fall series of discussions will begin at 10am and end at 10:30am each Sunday.  During the 30-minute session, we will discuss the chapter of the book we read the preceding week.  If you have not read the chapter and still wish to participate, please join us.  We would rather have a rich discussion than an empty room.

Look forward to seeing you all there!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Joyous Struggles

I've talked before about living in the flesh as opposed to the spirit.  Living in the flesh, Paul tells us, is death, REAL death, spiritual death.  Why?  Because if we are feeding the flesh, and the flesh is fed with worldly distractions and pleasures, the spirit atrophies.  We have a nice fat flesh on us, when we pass through the veil of physical death, and when God's refiner's fire hits us, all flesh is burned away, to prepare us for a new body.  All flesh is gone. All that is left is spirit.  If we have not been feeding our spirit, if we have been feeding our flesh INSTEAD of our spirit, our spirit is withered away and small, practically non-existent.  There is nothing left of us.  Complete physical and spiritual death.

But if we feed our spirit on the Word of God, our spirit grows, it thrives.  When the refiner's fire hits us, the flesh is burned away, but the healthy spirit remains.  God can breathe new life in that spirit and cause it to grow.  We have something which can have a relationship with God.  This is everlasting life.  We will be sons and daughters of God.

How do we feed this spirit?  By reading the Word?  That sounds too easy!  Well, it IS that easy, but the sin in us, the distractions of the world, and the devil himself are set against us.  They want to keep us from reading the Word and praying to the Lord.  But we have the spirit of God in us.  The Holy Spirit does all the work.  We do not come to Christ unless the Spirit draws us.  We cannot pick up the Word of God and read unless the Spirit draws us.  As Paul says, we cannot cry out Abba! Father! unless the Spirit forms the words in our throat and lets them come out.

Someone who does not have the spirit does not think of these things.  It's not like they are struggling to cry out Abba! Father!  They are not struggling to pray.  They are not struggling to pick up the Word of God and read.  They are not drawn.  They do not even think of it.  Without the spirit, we are left to freely choose the lesser of two evils.  Either one is evil.  To choose God, God first has to choose you.

Praying may be a struggle for us.  Reading the Word may be a struggle for us.  Calling out to the Father may be a struggle for us.  But thank God it is a struggle for us.  Someone whom God has not called is not struggling AT ALL with this.  They don't even think of it.  It is not option.  It is not an aspect of their lives that requires any consideration.

Let us thank God that we struggle, because in that struggle we are thinking of God.  We are reaching out to Him.  We are crying Abba!  Nicodemus became a Christian.  How do I know?  He reached out to Jesus.  The Spirit led him to do so.  This did not even enter the other Pharisees' minds.  Christ tells him one of the most powerful statements in the Bible.  Unless one is born again, born from above, as the NRSV reads, he cannot SEE the kingdom of God.  We haven't even gotten to the place where one can ENTER the kingdom of God.  We are only talking about SEEing the kingdom of God.

This whole passage has Nicodemus struggling to understand.  This is good news for Nicodemus.  His struggling to understand means that the Spirit is drawing him to Christ.  The only thing holding Nicodemus back is his own flesh.  We see at the end of the book of John that Nicodemus is one of the men who takes his body down from the cross, prepares it, and entombs it.  Nicodemus' spirit has won the battle.  He is no longer feeding his flesh but his spirit.

Struggles are good.  They make us stronger.  James tells us that we should count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds, because the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, feeding our spirits, so that when the refiner's fire hits us, our spirit will remain, healthy and thirsting for direct relationship with God.

Jesus struggled in the garden.  He knelt and prayed and sweated blood, he was so stressed out.  He asked the Father to take the cup he had to drink from him, but he knew all along that it was the Father's will that needed to be accomplished, and that was the whole reason Jesus came to Earth.  He persevered.  Christ's spirit prevailed.

When someone is lost, he does not know where to go, or he cannot find the way home.  He is trapped. Or he is in the darkness.  Blind to his surroundings.  Unable to have any sense of direction. He does not know where to even begin.  When we struggle with our faith, we need to consider it joy, because we know where we are going—we know the destination.  We may have trouble finding the path in the darkness, but we know there IS a path.  We are not blind.  We can see the kingdom of God, because we are born again from above.  The light of the world will guide our path.  It will be a struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but at least it is a struggle toward the goal of everlasting life.  As long as we have this goal in mind, we can call ourselves children of God, no matter how far along the path we are.