Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wednesday Evening Prayer Service and Small Groups

Each Wednesday, Good Shepherd has a regular evening prayer service.  We play and sing praise songs, pray from the Anglican liturgy, give intercessions and thanksgivings, and pray for healing.  In order that people may eat and get home from work, we begin the service at 6:30pm at His Dream Center (205 E Baltic St, Nags Head).  It will run no longer than 45 minutes.

On the first and third Wednesdays of the month, Servant Council will convene at 7:15pm.  On those evenings, the Evening Prayer Service will serve as a spiritual centering before engaging in the business of the church.

On the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, the women and men will separate to different places in the building and meet in small groups at 7:15pm.  These groups should include anyone who wants to be a part of them, so members of Good Shepherd should invite everyone they can to these small groups.  The first meeting of these groups will be on September 12th, and on that night it will be decided, by each group, the shape of future meetings: bible studies, activities, dinner together, etc.

If a month has a fifth Wednesday, both groups will assemble together.  On this night we can plan to watch movies together or engage in other activities as a Christian community on the Outer Banks.

We hope you will all want to be part of this big step in the life of Good Shepherd.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bringing Children

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

There are at least three aspects to this gospel passage.  The first is the commonly understood “emotional” aspect, which we have learned from children's Bible stories: “Jesus loves the little children.”  Sing it with me: “All the children of the world, etc.”  Our God is a loving God, who picks up the children and puts them on his knee, like  grandfather or like Santa Claus, and he tickles them and he cuddles them.

This is a true aspect, but it is a shallow one.  Of course he loves the children, and he even goes so far as to say that THEIRS is the kingdom of God.  They are more precious and innocent than adults who have become more and more corrupted by the culture over the years.

There is a deeper aspect than this, found in the loaded line, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  This is the logical aspect of the passage.  Here is something we actually have to get our minds around.  It's NOT heartwarming.  How do I receive the kingdom of God as a child?  This is for the adults who have been corrupted by the culture.  We have to learn how to discard out know-it-all-ness.  We are mature, learned individuals.  We've been working on bettering ourselves for decades.  Now Jesus is asking us to throw that all aside and approach his kingdom with a blank slate, an impressionable mind.  We have to approach with a pure faith, practical innocence, something we definitely DO NOT HAVE.  We need to be empty vessels, like children, and allow God's spirit to fill us.  This is what we usually walk away with from this passage on any given Sunday.

Finally, there's the Baptismal aspect, which we want to go into now.  It comes to us in the overlooked first verse of this passage: “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them.”  This isn't merely emotional.  We're not just baptizing Silas today into Christ.  He's not just inheriting the kingdom of God today.  This isn't merely logical.  When we reaffirm the baptismal covenant together, we're not just remembering fondly our own baptisms.  Silas isn't going to remember this.  We're not just coming to the kingdom as a Child, rebaptizing ourselves, giving ourselves a believer's baptism, because we didn't remember our own, or it's hazy because it is so far past.

We are bringing this little infant to Jesus that he might touch him.  This isn't about Silas.  This isn't about us.  This is about Jesus.  Were these people bringing their children to Jesus, so they could receive the benefits of his blessing?  A bit, but not all.  Were they doing this because they were reaffirming their own faith and learning to come to Jesus as little children?  A bit, but not all.  They were bringing children to Jesus, because he is the Son of God.

When we stand and say the covenant for Silas, it's not just that we have to because Silas can't.  And were not just saying it for ourselves as a refresher.  We are promising Jesus that because Jesus is the most important object in the universe we are going to continually bring Silas to him.  The parents, the Godparents, and this whole congregation here present, are promising to continually bring Silas to Christ.  We are going to present Silas here today.  We are going to represent him tomorrow.  We are going to model Christian behavior for him.  We are going to go through scripture with him.  We are going to pray for him every day.  We are going to raise him in the faith.

When Silas is old enough to recite the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, we are going to be right here listening to him, because all this time we were helping him learn those.  We will have been feeding him spiritually.  The the Bishop will come and hear those same things from his lips, and the bishop will lay hands on Silas and ask God to continue to strengthen and bless the young man in grace.

We learn a lot of things from this gospel passage: we learn that Jesus loves those who cannot confess their faith yet.  We learn that we have to become like those simple people before we can enter the kingdom of God.  Most of all, we learn that we have a great responsibility to continually bring this child to Jesus, in every way we can, and as he grows up, God's grace in our lives ensures that we become external ministers for Silas, as God's Holy Spirit ministers to him at the same time from the inside.

Toler Family Update

One Month...

Yesterday, we celebrated one month in Mexico!  It is hard to believe that we have been here that long already.  We have so many blessing to count from this past month.  Thank you so much for your prayers and encouraging emails and messages.
A day at the pyrimids
We have learned so much this month and know that our learning has just begun.  We have learned that processes take longer here and bus drivers drive faster!  We’ve learned that bus number 29 GREEN does not follow the same route as 29 ORANGE.  We’ve learned that family movie night works just as well in Mexico as it did in the states.  
Family movie night in our living room
We’ve learned that a trip to McDonalds every now and then takes away a bit of the homesick blues.  We’ve learned to convert pesos to dollars in our head so we don’t have a heart attack when we spend $800 (pesos) on school supplies and shoes at Walmart (which is only about $60 US dollars).  We’ve learned that complete strangers can become family in a very short period of time.  We’ve learned to reheat pizza in a pot on the stove top.   
Setting up our fancy two burner stove!
We’ve learned that Skype isn’t a replacement for time spent with family far away, but it sure is a huge blessing to see their faces!  We’ve learned that sometimes all we need is an extra hug to make it through he day.  We've learned to love Puebla and the people who live here.  Most importantly, we’ve learned to trust God for everything.  
Being silly!

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Monday, August 20, 2012

Redeeming Time

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16, NRSV).

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16, KJV).

This pair of verses, which comprise a single sentence, seem straightforward enough in our modern translations; be careful, be wise, be economical, because it's a tough world out there!  But a couple of those words have become watered down over the centuries, and it would be good for us to get back to what they used to mean.

Wisdom is solid: that message hasn't changed.  We know where to seek wisdom: from God's word and from more experienced people who have studied God's word: the church fathers, the saints, living and dead.

What about “careful?”  We have really watered down that word.  I think of someone not getting caught in a trap.  That's valuable advice, right?  Or, we're driving on a wet road, and to be careful we slow down a little, we watch out for squirrels darting out in front of the car, we try not to get in any trouble.  Drive slowly when you are passing by a cop by the side of the road.  That's why careful is becoming a meaningless word: we mean it conditionally nowadays.  Be careful WHEN...  If there seems to be no danger, just act recklessly like you've been doing!

A more accurate word is “circumspectly” which literally means to examine all possible consequences.  To inspect everything around yourself from all angles.  To be ACCURATE.  We've moved up from merely being careful, which means putting on a raincoat when its raining, to knowing what to do in all situations and POTENTIAL situations, not only being careful but accurate.  When you quote someone, you quote them accurately.  You don't summarize someone's position.  You don't make generalizations.  This is why “circumspectly” is followed by “wise.”  Wisdom is knowing what to do in ALL situations, not just dangerous or inconvenient ones.

The next word, phrase actually, is “making the most of the time.”  This is another one we have watered down.  This sounds like, “go for it!”  You only live once!  Make the most of what you have, because you can't take it with you!  Remember these clauses are all part of the same sentence.  What does making most of the time mean?  Not being lazy is a part of it.  Once again, we go back to the original translations of this phrase: “Redeeming the time.”

Redeeming something has two parts: we are sacrificing one thing to get another thing.  Here we are redeeming time, we are getting time, but what do we NEED that time for, AND what are we sacrificing to get that time?  Look at the sentence as a whole.  Being accurate in all we do, on the path we walk, and acquiring wisdom, both take time to accomplish.  We don't just go from being foolish to wise overnight.  We don't just go from being sloppy bulls in a china shop to accurate, exacting micrometers in a day.  These things take time, and that is what we need the time for.

What are we sacrificing to get this time?  Look at the last clause: for the days are evil.  This doesn't just mean that we are living in wicked times with temptations all around.  That is true, but in the context of the sentence, it means that our individual days become wicked, because that is the natural state of our days.  When we don't have accuracy, when we don't have wisdom, when we are sloppy and foolish: these attributes are due to idleness, and an idle day is an evil day.

We sit down to work on an important project on our computers and we suddenly find that we have spent all day on YouTube.  We are the most prosperous people in history.  We are also the most idle people in history.  Paul was talking about the idle days of his time being evil.  Our idle days are certainly evil.  What Paul is telling us in these verses is we are to sacrifice our idle time for holy time, in which we gain wisdom and accuracy.  How do we do this?

Last Monday was the commemoration day for Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who was chaplain for Charles I, and in his book Holy Living he writes, “God has given every man work enough to do, that there shall be no room for idleness; and yet hath so ordered the world, that there shall be space for devotion.”  Those who have less work to do, spend more time in devotion to God, while those who have more work to do, devote that work to God.  So, all day is devoted to God in some way.

Jeremy Taylor goes on: As long as idleness is shut out from our lives, there is little room left for temptation.  To a busy man, temptation and sin creep upon him by accidents and occasions; whereas, to an idle person they come in full body, with open violence.

Look to Jesus.  He was never idle: his work was devoted to God, and all other times he was on his knees in prayer.  When it came time for his sacrifice on the cross, it was, once again, a devoted work to God.  We model our redeeming of time on Jesus' redeeming of time.  The Spirit of Wisdom comes upon us and changes our hearts.  We repent of our idle time, we give up sloppiness, we abhor foolishness.  God's Holy Spirit grants us wisdom, accuracy in all we do, work and devotion time that we give back to the Father.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 13 - Jeremy Taylor

From Wikipedia:
Jeremy Taylor (15 August 1613 – 13 August 1667) was a cleric in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He is sometimes known as the "Shakespeare of Divines" for his poetic style of expression and was often presented as a model of prose writing. He is remembered in the Church of England's calendar of saints with a Lesser Festival on 13 August.

Taylor was under the patronage of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. He went on to become chaplain in ordinary to King Charles I as a result of Laud's sponsorship. This made him politically suspect when Laud was tried for treason and executed in 1645 by the Puritan parliament during the English Civil War. After the parliamentary victory over the King, he was briefly imprisoned several times.

Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, his political star was on the rise, and he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland. He also became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin.

From Taylor's Holy Living:
God has given every man work enough to do, that there shall be no room for idleness; and yet hath so ordered the world, that there shall be space for devotion. He that hath the fewest businesses of the world is called upon to spend more time in the dressing of the soil; and he that hath the most affairs may so order them that they shall be a service of God; whilst at certain periods, they are blessed with prayers and actions of religion, and all day long are hallowed by a holy intention.

However, so long as idleness is quite shut out from our lives, all the sins of wantonness, softness, and effeminacy, are prevented and there is but little room left for temptation; and, therefore, to a busy man temptation is fain to climb up together with his business, and sins creep upon him only by accidents and occasions; whereas, to an idle person they come in a full body, and with open violence and the impudence of a restless importunity.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at David's sins.  We see that God has forgiven him, because he has truly repented, but there also are real-world consequences to the sins.  Second Samuel is a one of the best books of the Bible to see how someone can live inside of God's grace and yet still have darkness enter his kingdom.  Although these are historical books, they also serve as parables for us today.

Last week we examined one consequence of David's sin against God: the child that came from his sin was to die.  This was because he had created a cause for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.  David's soul will not suffer eternal death, but the child will be lost to this world.  This week I want to look at another part of this curse: Because David had Uriah die by the sword of the Ammonites, Nathan tells David, “the sword will never leave your house.”  The Lord will raise up trouble against him from within his own house.

And this is exactly what happens.  Over the next few chapters, the drama around Absalom unfolds.  Absalom's half brother Amnon desecrates Absalom's sister, Tamar: she lives out the rest of her life in desolation.  David doesn't punish Amnon.  Absalom waits two whole years, because revenge is a dish best served cold, and he kills Amnon and then runs away.  David is convinced to allow Absalom to return, and we think everything is going to be back to normal, but Absalom begins a campaign to take over Israel from his father.  David has to flee.  The curse if going full force at this time.  Finally Absalom is killed.

Absalom is a great example of modern man.  We think that he has done what Amnon compelled him to do, destroy the man who destroyed his sister, and now that that has taken place, all will be better.  But there is a reason the Lord tells us through Paul, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay!”  When we take this vengeance, we allow darkness into our world.  We see that with tribal wars: they cannot remember who originally started the generations-long conflict.  They just know that so-and-so killed my father, and now I kill so-and-so, and now so-and-so's son has vowed to destroy me.  We have darkness completely engulfing Absalom's life.

Another revelation from the story of Absalom is the idea of a gateway sin.  The “reasonable” act of revenge doesn't just happen and is over.  When that sin is “resolved” then Absalom keeps going with new sins out of the blue that keep getting worse and worse.  He started the ball rolling with the revenge.

Now we get to a crucial verse in today's reading, verse 33: The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”  This is a great overwhelming display of emotion, and any parent here would feel the same way.  There are parents here who have lost children, and know what that emotion is like.  I know that if I lost one of my daughters, David's outcry would sound like a cricket chirp by comparison.

However, there are some lessons to be learned from David's grief here.  First, this was his son, and even though Absalom acted wickedly, he was still David's son, so the parental grief is there.  That's one layer.  The second layer is this: Absalom never repented of his evil, up to his death.  There was no passage about him even pleading for his life as he hung from the tree.  He was probably choked and mostly dead already.  But he never repented of his sin, and he was given the burial of a wicked man, piled over with stones.

The third layer of grief is the meaning of this.  Here is someone who is not going to enter God's Kingdom.  Here is a son of the one who is called a man after God's own heart.  David is under grace, he is ensured a place in God's kingdom.  He will never see Absalom again, in this life or the next.  That is a layer of grief beyond just losing a child, but losing an unrepentant sinner, too.

So David's response of emotion may be completely reasonable, but he does say this: “Would I had died instead of you!”  What would that look like?  David, the greatest king of Israel replaced by a tyrant.  We see that kind of thing later in the book of Kings.  Should David wish that upon his kingdom?  We've already seen throughout this book, from chapter 11 onward, that David is not really supportive of his people anymore.  Even though he is under God's grace, he has allowed evil to permeate his kingdom to the point that he is wishing that a wicked tyrant had succeeded in taking over the kingdom instead of it being restored.

This sounds so much like our society today, how we as Christians can be under God's grace and yet, we continue to make decisions or wishes based on our emotions, which are driven by our flesh, tempted by the secular world, and spurred on by the devil.  I'm not saying we shouldn't grieve for our children, but we cannot let the world, flesh, and devil use our emotions to drag us down a path away from God, whom we should always be seeking.

Now, compare the consequences of David's wish to a similar wish in the New Testament.  What was the work accomplished on the cross?  Jesus Christ died instead of us!  He took our place, in the same way David wanted to take Absalom's place.  Also, when it comes to wickedness, we can get right up there with Absalom.  The difference is this: whereas David had no way of changing Absalom's heart with his own subtitutionary death, Jesus does exactly that for us.  Through his death, through his substitution on the cross, and through his resurrection, he not only takes our place, he dies instead of us, but he also affects a change in our hearts.

Our sins are actually piled upon Jesus on that cross: the sins of the whole world.  Through that taking of our sin, and bestowing on us his righteousness, and subsequent sins that we repent of and put on that cross still, we don't remain like Absalom.  We become good stewards of God's kingdom on earth.  Only though the righteousness that Christ has given us, and that David was unable to give Absalom, does Christ's death on the cross redeem us completely and sets us on the throne of David and not in the pit of Absalom.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Who do you think Jesus is?  What about your friends?  What about your family?  What about your acquaintances?  What about your enemies?  Who do THEY think Jesus is?  We know that he is God.  What do our enemies think about God?  They want to grab onto any negative aspect they can find about God and make that their platform for attack.  One of my friends is having an online discussion with someone who keeps repeating the same attack: if God allows for evil, then he must be evil.

God doesn't need us.  He made us for his pleasure, but he doesn't need us.  He could do away with the whole thing, if he wanted, but he loves us, and wants to have a relationship with us.  However, he has a reputation, and when we sin, as Christians, we are always pointing to God, and our enemies can grab a hold of that sin, and say to the world, “this guy's God lets him get away with evil.”

Today's Old Testament reading was supposed to be Nathan's condemnation of David, but we covered that last week, so I wanted to talk about what happens next.  I think verse 14 of chapter 12 of second Samuel is an important verse, because this is an actual “lost in translation” verse.  In our bulletin we read, “by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord.”  This is very general.  What does “scorn” mean?  How did David “scorn” God?  We look at what he did with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite, and we say, “that is how he scorned the Lord.”  But then we get into saying, “so David's sin is worse than other sins?” when we know that God looks down on ALL sin as repulsive.  We fall into the trap of starting to rate sin, rate the commandments, and we become legalistic all over again.

What is lost in translation is that the original Hebrew, and about half of the English translations, actually read, “by this deed you have caused the Lord's enemies to blaspheme.”  This is very important to note, because God has forgiven David his sin.  He says through Nathan that David is not going to taste eternal death.  He will live and have a place in God's kingdom.  David has truly repented and will have everlasting life.

BUT.  The Lord's reputation among the pagan nations is important, just as it is NOW among the whole world.  All through the Old Testament and through history, God has showed his glory to the world.  He rescued his people out of Egypt in such a phenomenal way that everyone had to take notice of what a powerful God he was.  And when Israel itself began to sin and follow other Gods, he allowed them to be killed, captured, and taken into exile, because the world must know that Yahweh is a God of truth, of goodness, and justice.  He abhors evil.  He does not allow even his chosen people to get away with it.  This is a message for the world.

And so the child, the product of David and Bathsheba's illicit love affair must die.  Don't weep for the child.  The child most assuredly went straight to heaven.  This is not karma, because in this case, karma would have been David tasting death.  But this is karma for the pagan nations.  They will see that Yahweh punishes evil, even when it appears in his own camp.  Our God is a good God.  What the people outside of God's chosen think of God is VERY important to him, because among those outsiders...among those outsiders are INSIDERS.

Even in our day and age, there are God's elect spread throughout the nations.  America does not have a stranglehold on belief.  There are more believers in Africa and Asia right now.  Our behavior in America is not changing the hearts of the elect throughout the world, but the elect in Africa and Asia are changing OUR hearts back to the Lord.

So, the death of the baby in second Samuel is not an act of karma by the Lord but an act of evangelism.  The world must be made aware of how our Lord is just and good.  There will be those who will never believe that the Lord is good, no matter how much evidence is presented to them, but among those who are lost to the kingdom are those who have been immersed in that negative culture, but whom God is gathering to himself.  He is a true and good Lord.  He will surely accomplish his goal.

One last word about God's reputation.  It works both ways.  We see this in our Gospel reading (John 6).  Just as there are elect outside the church who need to brought into the church through God's word, there are those inside the church who are “going with the flow”, “getting along to get along” who are not called by God.  The gospel—the full gospel—the unaltered gospel message—is offensive to them, and by saying the truth in love to those people, by preaching Christ crucified and not ourselves, they actually are driven away.

Jesus does this very thing. The crowd in John 6 is pressing in on him, and it is a huge crowd.  It is the same crowd that were fed with the loaves and fishes, so over 5,000.  When Jesus claims to be the “Bread of Life” and that we have no life in us if we do not eat his flesh and drink his blood, it's not just the Jews that get offended.  No, verse 60 says, “when many of the disciples heard it, they said, 'This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?'”  And verse 66 says, “Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”  How many left him?  The next verse has Jesus asking the twelve is they plan to leave, too, which may mean that EVERYONE left, except the twelve.

Even then, Jesus knows that there is one among them, who is not leaving, whom God has NOT called, who is not one of the elect—Judas Iscariot.  This “bread of life” teaching of Jesus has started the wheels turning in Judas' head.  As he watches the crowd of 5,000 leave them, he also sees the donations to the moneybag—which he carries—dissipate, too.  This was not in the plan, he thinks.  We were supposed to gather people and money so we could afford and carry out the revolution, he thinks.  And now, I'm watching it all walk away.  This is NOT what I signed up for, and Jesus just blew it.  The time of betrayal is drawing near.

God's reputation is so important, because it will draw is elect to him from the fallen world, or it will drive his enemies out of the church.  There is no half-way.  There is no Luke warm.  We are either FOR God or AGAINST him.  It is God's reputation and how we preach that reputation to the world that makes the case for Christianity.  Our God is a God who is just and good, and he will allow an infant to die to preserve that reputation.  Our God is also the bread of life, and we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have life in us.  Our God was also CRUCIFIED on our behalf. If those things do not offend you, if they make sense, welcome to the Church.