Feb 11

Last Minute Instructions for Lent

Download PDF
Last Minute Instructions for Lent

 

Lent is upon us! The word “Lent” comes from the Old English lencten, meaning spring-time, when the days lengthen. You’ve probably already noticed that! Lent covers the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before the great Paschal Feast of Easter, which is always celebrated in the Western Church on the First Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, then the days are neither long nor short.

Why this connection to the moon and the sun, to seasons and daylight?

Ancient Christians understood themselves to live in the cosmos, inside of God’s good creation. They understood that Christ’s salvation did not only extend to the human soul, but to the whole of creation. Celtic Christians, for instance, include animals, the sun, the moon, and trees in their carvings and manuscripts because of this innate understanding. To be clear, this is not an expression of pantheism, the idea that all of creation shares in the nature of God or the gods, but the understanding that all of creation is created by God, to be redeemed by God, and that all of it serves as a signpost to us not only of His goodness, but of the very doctrines of the Christian Faith.

New life springs forth from dead seeds, limbs stripped of their leaves bring forth new leaves every spring. To see this is to be catechized in a Gospel which, as opposed to rejecting creation, speaks of its being reconciled. As Paul writes, that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20 ESV)

So, it needs to be said that Lent is about dying. But it also needs to be said that Lent is about asking God to bring about new life in us. We are a people who have died with the Lord Jesus Christ in the waters of Baptism and have been raised with him to newness of life. This is not a one-time occurence, but beginning there – continues through one’s life. When we fast, it is about desires and impulses dying in us, to make room for new life. When we give something up, it is to make room for something else – something better, something good, something life-giving.

The original 40 days of Lent served as a time in which those preparing for Baptism underwent a season of fasting and penitence. They were joined in this by lapsed sinners who were to be reconciled to the Church, as well as all Christians, who in solidarity with them, offered these days as a time of fasting, prayer, and self-denial.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a day of total abstinence from food, usually until sun-down for those who are able. By tradition, on Fridays in Lent, Christians have fasted from meat of any kind and have attempted to delay the first meal as much as possible in remembrance of that Friday that the Lord hung upon the Cross. In our house, the foods of Lent become extremely simple. No dessert, not much sugar, and very little meat. We’ll often cook chickens on Sundays and make rich broth from the remains, adding beans or vegetables. This, of course, means a gigantic drop in our food budget! Much of this is saved for the Easter feast, and some of it is given away.

You might consider taking on one or more of several Lenten disciplines and self-denials:

  • Taking cold showers in the morning.
  • Restricting coffee intake, or eliminating milk from coffee.
  • Walking to work or riding a bike.
  • Avoiding buying any new clothes, or any new goods at all.
  • Getting your garden ready – plant vegetables and herbs.
  • Take a weekly three-to-four hour retreat.
  • Take up the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer.
  • Cut out television.
  • Restrict music listening – play an instrument or sing instead!
  • Take up productive work – spring cleaning of the house, change your own oil, make clothes, iron your own shirts.
  • Make time for mental prayer – Lectio Divina and the Ignatian Method come to mind.

The purpose of these disciplines, again, is to make room for new life and actually take up that which is life-giving. This, above everything else, takes prayer.  Without prayer, spiritual-discipline is emptied of its true purpose – that of drawing you up into the life of God. As the days of Lent begin, may you be renewed by prayer and fasting, that you may heartily feast in Easter!

Oct 18

What Is the Gospel?

Download PDF

the gospel

CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

There are all kinds of Christians proclaiming all kinds of gospels. But there is a very easy test as to whether or not that which is being proclaimed is the true biblical gospel or just a pale imitation, if not complete counterfeit. The test is quite simple: is God the primary focus and aim of the message, or is man, self, and the flesh?

The sad truth is, many churches today – perhaps most – have a me-centred gospel. It is all about me. This is true especially of many of our big, popular megachurches. The message you will hear each week is all about me. It is an entirely selfish gospel, appealing only to me, to self, and therefore, to the flesh.

If what you hear each week goes something like this, then you know it is time to leave:
-how I can have a better life
-how I can be happy and fulfilled
-how I can become successful and prosper
-how I can be wealthy and have anything I want
-how I can be completely self-satisfied
-how I can get that job I always wanted
-how I can always get what I want
-how I can succeed in my business
-how I can lose weight for Jesus
-how I can make millions
-how I can feel good about myself
-how I can have great self-esteem
-how I can be everything I wanted to be

My friends, this is not the gospel of the Bible. This is the gospel of self. It is completely focused on self and self-centred. It puts me at the centre of everything, with God as an optional appendage somewhere along the line. This is not the reason why Jesus left the comforts of his heavenly home and suffered a horrific death – so that we could be our own selfish greedy little pigs.

Sure, my above list may be the more blatant version of what we hear so often in our churches. Sure, it is perhaps more often toned down a bit, and the occasional reference to God and Jesus will be found in our churches. But generally we hear feel-good sermons which are hardly any different from secular or New Age therapeutic and self-empowerment talks.

Much of our gospel today is all about how we can succeed, prosper, live the good life, and have it all. Strange, but when I read the words of Jesus I get an entirely different message. He spoke constantly about losing everything for the gospel, of giving everything up for God, of denying self and crucifying the flesh.

So who is right here – Jesus or the bulk of our churches today? I know who I will side with on this matter. And again, it does not have to be so blatantly obvious to be so blatantly bad. Not every pastor writes books with titles like “Become a Better You,” “It’s Your Time Now” and “Your Best Life Now”.

One need not be a Joel Osteen to also preach what is basically a self-centred and me-focused gospel. We can still give just as deadly and carnal a gospel without the obvious appeals to self and the flesh. Simply look at how many churches offer their appeal for salvation.

Does it focus on biblical truths, such as, we are all miserable sinners under the wrath of God headed for a lost eternity unless we repent, turn from self, and receive the finished work of Christ on our behalf? Or does it go much more along these lines:

“If you want to find meaning and purpose in life, and want the best there is, and find real happiness and peace, then come to Jesus.” That is basically how most gospel invitations are made today in so many churches. It is all about self. It has nothing to do with a holy God who has been rejected and spat upon because of our selfishness and sin who demands our repentance and allegiance.

Now, do things like peace and fulfilment come to those who get right with God through Christ? Absolutely. But they are simply the by-products, not what we should come to Christ for. We come to Christ because we are sinners unable to save ourselves and in desperate need of release from our sins. We come to Christ and give him our all, renouncing ourselves, because he alone is worthy.

All the great saints, preachers and Christian writers have known these truths. And of course they are found in the very Bibles we tend to hardly read anymore. Simply going back to the Word, blowing off the dust, and reading it with an expectant and open attitude will lead any genuine seeker to these vital truths.

But we have so allowed various wolves in sheep’s clothing to tickle our ears and tell us what we want to hear, that we have hardened ourselves to the very basic truths of the gospel. Perhaps some of us need to gather up our collection of Osteen books and tapes and if not consume them to the flames, at least put them to one side, as we make reading the Scriptures our number one priority.

And as the Bible once again becomes the primary focus of our life – as it always should have been – then we should start reading some solid biblical material for a change. We need to replace our cotton candy and sugar-coated pap for some real gospel-saturated volumes.

Buy this from Amazon: God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself by John Piper Click Here

Let me recommend just one to you here. John Piper has long focused on the truths I am discussing here. And his 2005 book, God is the Gospel (Crossway) would be a terrific place to begin. Simply his title alone should show you just how many light-years apart his focus is from that of so many pop preachers of today.

Yes God is the gospel – nothing else. God alone should be our entire focus, our sole longing, our chief priority, and our number one object of devotion. If God is not at the very heart of our faith, then our faith is to be questioned. Let me finish with a few quotes from this brief but utterly important volume:

“It is stunning how seldom God himself is proclaimed as the greatest gift of the Gospel. But the Bible teaches that the best and final gift of God’s love is the enjoyment of God’s beauty. ‘One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple’ (Ps. 27:4).”

“Every person should be required to answer the question, ‘Why is it good news to you that your sins are forgiven?’ ‘Why is it good news to you that you stand righteous in the courtroom of the Judge of the universe?’ The reason this must be asked is that there are seemingly biblical answers that totally ignore the gift of God himself. A person may answer, ‘Being forgiven is good news because I don’t want to go to hell.’ Or a person may answer, ‘Being forgiven is good news because a guilty conscience is a horrible thing, and I get great relief when I believe my sins are forgiven.’ Or a person may answer, ‘I want to go to heaven.’ But then we must ask why they want to go to heaven. They might answer, ‘Because the alternative is painful.’ Or ‘because my deceased wife is there.’ Or ‘because there will be a new heaven and a new earth where justice and beauty will finally be everywhere.’


What’s wrong with these answers? It’s true that no one should want to go to hell. Forgiveness does indeed relieve a guilty conscience. In heaven we will be restored to loved ones who died in Christ, and we will escape the pain of hell and enjoy the justice and the beauty of the new earth. All that is true. So what’s wrong with those answers? What’s wrong with them is that they do not treat God as the final and highest good of the gospel. They do not express a supreme desire to be with God. God was not even mentioned. These gifts are precious. But they are not God. And they are not the gospel if God himself is not cherished as the supreme gift of the gospel. That is, if God is not treasured as the ultimate gift of the gospel, none of his gifts will be gospel, good news.”

“The ultimate good of the gospel is seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God. God’s wrath and our sin obstruct that vision and that pleasure. You can’t see and savor God as supremely satisfying while you are full of rebellion against Him and He is full of wrath against you. The removal of this wrath and this rebellion is what the gospel is for. The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God’s glory and the removal of every obstacle to our seeing it and savoring it as our highest treasure. ‘Behold Your God!’ is the most gracious command and the best gift of the gospel. If we do not see Him and savor Him as our greatest fortune, we have not obeyed or believed the gospel.”

“This is the gospel – seeing and savouring ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). God, shining in the face of Jesus Christ, for our everlasting and ever-increasing joy, is the best and highest and final good that makes the good news good.”

“The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy with God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted to the gospel.”

That last quote alone needs to be read and re-read, prayed over, meditated upon, and contemplated deeply until its truth sinks into our very souls. Is God our focus? Is he our all in all? Is he the one who we think about and care about more than anything else?

[1704 words]

 

 

Oct 11

Make the World Your Parish: Applying the Great Commission to Your Church

Download PDF

The Great Commission lies at the heart of the Christian faith. But how can a typical church think of global missions when there are so many local challenges to contend with? In this essay from Make the World Your Parish: Increasing Your Global Influence for Christ, Reggie Weems challenges pastors to encourage their congregations–big or small, rich or poor–to embrace a truly global attitude toward discipleship and outreach.

A proper interpretation of Matthew 28:19 makes missionaries of every Christian who lives in your town or city, or leaves your local church and moves to another city, country, or continent. It also reinforces the need for local congregations to send missionaries around the world with the saving message of Jesus’s gospel. As the local church becomes aware of a place where no disciples are, it sends disciples to disciple those people.

Foreign missions is simply an extension of the local church's obedience to Matthew 28:19. This ultimately makes the Great Commission the missionary text we have supposed it to be but failed to understand and properly apply in the local context. The local church must ask itself hard questions about raising up a generation of disciples who, no matter their vocational, social, or geographic contexts, are fulfilling the imperative to make other disciples. If it is not being accomplished locally, it will not happen globally. The global success of the gospel is entirely dependent on living out the Great Commission locally.

Every believer is a disciple, and every disciple is a missionary, everywhere and all the time.

The real question for every person who sits in a pew on a Sunday is not, "Am I a witness for Jesus Christ?" but "What kind of witness am I for Jesus Christ?" It is not a matter of "Do I witness for the Lord?" but "Where (and how) do I witness for the Lord?" Being a witness is simply a matter of being an authentic Christian. As strange as it may sound, focusing the Great Commission on the foreign field has undermined the local church’s potential for global success.

Foreign mission endeavors are simply active obedience to the Great Commission in a different geographical location from one’s natural or sending church. However, the presence of missionaries on foreign fields does not necessarily imply obedience to the Great Commission by the church in the sending country. Just like Christians, many churches are happy to allow other congregations to supply missionaries to the foreign field while its own members live ignorant of personal responsibility to Matthew 28:18–20. Where there are no disciples, every church must send disciples to disciple, either from its own fold or in cooperation with other churches or agencies. But we should also recognize that those who leave for foreign fields will not actually disciple there if they do not live as disciples here. Mission begins in the local ministry of every church. The "here" of discipleship ensures the "there" of discipleship. The Great Commission is all about "here," wherever your "here" might be.

My own church is considering extending its mission reach to Italy. Our congregation is already praying that God will move some of our members to Italy. You should pray that God will move your congregants to places where the church does not exist or needs support. Many of our congregants possess vocations that could be worked anywhere in the world. If this is true, why live where the gospel has already permeated a community? It is true that God has gifted us with vocational skills and knowledge to care for ourselves and our families. Our vocations fund our lives financially and in other ways as well. But Christians cannot allow the financial aspect of a job to dominate their thinking. As Christians, do our vocations only move us toward retirement?

A plumber who is a Christian in Johnson City may be just one of hundreds of Christian plumbers. But an evangelical, believing plumber in Bologna, Italy, will probably be one of only a few. A teacher committed to Christ in Johnson City is most assuredly only one of hundreds in the city. But a teacher who is a Christian in Milan, Italy, may be one of only a few. And on it goes. Many of the people who weekly sit on our pews could move somewhere where the gospel is not yet heard or the church is struggling. They could employ their vocations, which are really ministry platforms, in tent-making ministries whereby they support their families and showcase the gospel in their businesses, homes, communities, or schools. Your church needs to pray that God will mobilize its membership globally.

The church should not simply let people go to be missionaries; the church should send disciples to live missionally elsewhere. Your church leadership should
be praying about and looking for people who are disciples in your local context: people who have vocations that can transfer anywhere where the gospel is absent or anemic.

In fact, you might follow the following simple outline below to move your people from outside the context of your local church into the world:

Praying (Matt. 9:38). As mentioned above, your leadership should be praying for members to become foreign missionaries. Corporate prayer times in which you lead your people to pray that God would call members of your own church into foreign missionary service are also profitable.

Teaching (Matt. 28:18–20). You should also be teaching on how to live missionally. Every sermon and series should have some practical aspect concerning the daily application of truth to our professed Christianity.
Identifying (Acts 13:2). Your leadership should be identifying those members who evidence a discipling mentality.
Questioning (Isa. 6:8). Those people you identify should be questioned about future deployment to an intentional field of service either locally or on foreign soil.
Recruiting (Matt. 4:19). People considering a call to a foreign field as display agents of God’s grace should be formally gathered into a particular small group whose sole purpose is to help members discover God’s will concerning this matter. This formality lends itself to recognition, accountability, discernment (on their part and that of the church) and training.
Training (Titus 2:12). Those whom your leadership has identified could then be specifically trained for further development of this possibility.
Deploying (Acts 13:3). Ultimately, these people can then be deployed on the foreign field, either through a formal sending agency or sponsored by your church or a consortium of churches.
Resourcing (Phil. 4:10). Never send to the field a missionary whom your church does not regularly and sufficiently resource on many levels.
Inspecting (Luke 10:17). Ensure that these dear people are held accountable for their missionary status and any support afforded them.
Rewarding (Acts 8:39). Finally, those deployed should be rewarded for their sacrifice, and the leadership should regularly remind the congregation of that service and the church’s essential cooperation in the success of that endeavor as its participation in the fulfillment of Revelation 5:9 and 7:9. Remember, you get what you reward, and the pulpit is the most powerful place for advertising what you desire of your people.

The Holy Spirit has adequately resourced every local church with the gift of all the people essential for successful ministry. It may be that pastors or leaders have not appropriately discerned, accessed, or discipled their people, but every local church has what it needs to thrive. God will replace the leadership you invest elsewhere in his service. We often tell our people that God will provide their needs as they financially invest in God’s work, but we never consider that principle with a church-wide mindset. The church should invest its finances globally. It should also invest its people and material resources. It is an insult to a gracious God to lord it over his resources as though he will not resupply the local church with what it needs as we share in the work of God around the world.

Sending disciples to places where no disciples currently live does not necessarily mean that a church has to send its own people, for many churches simply cannot individually support a person or family in a foreign field. Local churches can cooperate with mission agencies to send their people around the world with the life-saving message of the gospel. Churches within communities or cities could join together to sponsor missionaries, vocational or otherwise. Sadly, a competitive spirit often drives a wedge between congregations. Yet the possibilities for such cooperation are limitless if we will only remember why the local church exists and think beyond the local church toward the globe. We cannot be selfish with any of God’s resources, especially people. This requires a Great Commission mindset and Great Commission living. It can revolutionize a congregation.

This reflection is drawn from Make the World Your Parish: Increasing Your Global Influence for Christ by Reggie Weems, published by Day One Ministries as part of their Ministering the Master's Way series.

Jul 24

JUST CHECKING IN

Download PDF

A minister passing through his
church in the middle of the day,
Decided to pause by the altar
and see who had come to pray.

Just then the back door opened,
a man came down the aisle,
The minister frowned as he saw the man
hadn't shaved in  quite a while.

His shirt was kinda shabby and
is coat was worn and frayed.
The man knelt, he bowed his head,
then rose and walked away.

In the days that followed,
each noon time came this chap,
Each time he knelt just for a moment,
a lunch pail in his lap.

Well, the minister's suspicions grew,
with robbery a main fear,
He decided to stop the man and ask him,
"What are you doing here?"

The old man said, he worked down the road.
Lunch was half an hour.
Lunchtime was his prayer time,
for finding strength and power.

"I stay only moments, see,
because the factory is so far away;
As I kneel here talking to the Lord,
this is kinda what I say:

"I JUST CAME AGAIN TO TELL YOU, LORD,
HOW HAPPY I'VE BEEN,
SINCE WE FOUND EACH OTHER'S FRIENDSHIP
AND YOU TOOK AWAY MY SIN.

DON'T KNOW MUCH OF HOW TO PRAY,
BUT I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERYDAY.
SO, JESUS, THIS IS JIM CHECKING IN."

The minister feeling foolish,
told Jim, that was fine.
He told the man he was welcome to come
and pray just anytime.

Time to go, Jim smiled, said "Thanks."
He hurried to the door.
The minister knelt at the altar,
he'd never done it before.

His cold heart melted, warmed with love,
and met with Jesus there.
As the tears flowed, in his heart,
he repeated old Jim's prayer:

"I JUST CAME AGAIN TO TELL YOU, LORD,
HOW HAPPY I'VE BEEN,
SINCE WE FOUND EACH OTHER'S FRIENDSHIP
AND YOU TOOK AWAY MY SIN.

I DON'T KNOW MUCH OF HOW TO PRAY,
BUT I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERYDAY.
SO, JESUS, THIS IS ME CHECKING IN."

Past noon one day, the minister noticed
that old Jim hadn't come.
As more days passed without Jim,
he began to worry some.

At the factory, he asked about him,
learning he was ill.
The hospital staff was worried,
but he'd given them a thrill.

The week that Jim was with them,
brought changes in the ward.
His smiles, a joy contagious.
Changed people, were his reward.

The head nurse couldn't understand
why Jim was so glad,
When no flowers, calls or cards came,
not a visitor he had.

The minister stayed by his bed,
he voiced the nurse's concern:
No friends came to show they cared.
He had nowhere to turn.

Looking surprised, old Jim spoke up
and with a winsome smile;
"The nurse is wrong, she couldn't know,
that in here all the while

Everyday at noon He's here,
a dear friend of mine, you see,
He sits right down, takes my hand,
leans over and says to me:

"I JUST CAME AGAIN TO TELL YOU, JIM,
HOW HAPPY I HAVE BEEN,
SINCE WE FOUND THIS FRIENDSHIP,
AND I TOOK AWAY YOUR SIN.

ALWAYS LOVE TO HEAR YOU PRAY,
I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERY DAY,
AND SO JIM, THIS IS JESUS CHECKING IN."

 

Author unknown

Mar 11

VirtueOnline – News – Reformation, Renewal and Revival – REDISCOVERING A DYNAMIC ANGLICAN MISSIOLOGY – Archbishop Ben Kwashi

Download PDF

REDISCOVERING A DYNAMIC ANGLICAN MISSIOLOGY

A Paper presented by the Most Rev. Dr. B. A. Kwashi to MERE ANGLICANISM conference in Charleston, SC Jan. 18 -21, 2012

INTRODUCTION : APOSTOLIC MISSION AND MINISTRY

[Archbishop Ben Kwashi] From its birth on the Day of Pentecost, the church, continuing the mission as commanded by Jesus, did not find it difficult to respond to mission. Having been with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and understood what the mind of God was and what God is about in the world today, Pentecost provided the apostles with what they had been waiting for – the promised Holy Spirit. Thereafter, the Acts of the Apostles provides us with snapshots of key moments in the life of the apostles and in the development of the mission. We hear of how they proceeded when they were faced with new situations, or with problems which could either thrust the gospel forward, or retard its growth.

The Anglican Church has always claimed the inheritance of apostolic succession. If this is to be more than just an academic "text book" type of claim it must be substantiated in our generation, and be seen in the life and witness, the ministry and mission of the church today. If we are to rediscover the urgency, the dynamism, the fire and the zeal which clearly characterized the life and work of the apostles, then we need to look again at what they did and how they did it, and we need to see how these characteristics can once again become the hallmarks of the church' mission and ministry today.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 03

How to Relate to God

Download PDF

 

 
Psalm 28:1-9   ·    Mark 11:1-25   ·    Leviticus 7:11-8:36   ·    Read all
March 2 Day 61

How to Relate to God

In one of his last songs Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock group Queen, asked the question: ‘Does anybody know what we are living for?’ 

In spite of the fact that he had amassed a huge fortune and had attracted thousands of fans, Freddie Mercury admitted in an interview shortly before his death in 1991 that he was desperately lonely.  He said, ‘You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man, and that is the most bitter type of loneliness.  Success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds, but it’s prevented me from having the one thing we all need – a loving, ongoing relationship.’

There is only one relationship that is completely loving and ongoing – for which we were created.  Without that relationship there will always be a deep sense of aloneness and a lack of ultimate meaning and purpose. 

At the heart of the Christian faith is this relationship with God when we find what we are living for.

How can human beings have a relationship with the Creator of the universe?  How in practice can we begin to communicate with God?  What is the basis of this relationship? 

1.  Develop a pattern of prayer

Psalm 28:1-9

Prayer is a key way to develop a relationship with God by speaking with him.  There is no set way to do this.  There are hundreds of different prayers in the Bible.  Sometimes, it is helpful to follow a pattern (such as the Lord’s Prayer).  Another pattern that I have found helpful is using the mnemonic ‘ACTS’.  These elements are often found in the prayers we see in Scripture.

The context of this psalm is fear – possibly the fear of premature death.  The psalmist may be facing illness or deep despair.  He fears that he might die in disgrace and go down ‘to the pit’ (v.1).

His prayer to God includes the following:-

  • A – Adoration

Praise be to the Lord’ (v.6a); Even in the midst of a difficult situation David still chooses to praise God.  Whatever the circumstances we should try to praise God for who he is and what he has done.  We see an example of this also in the New Testament passage as the people worship Jesus (Mark 11:9–10).

  • C – Confession

‘Hear my cry for mercy’ (Psalm 28:2a); ask God’s forgiveness for anything that we have done wrong.  This is also a moment to forgive anyone we need to forgive.  As Jesus said, ‘When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins’ (Mark 11:25).

  • T – Thanksgiving

‘My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him’ (Psalm 28:7c).  Thank God for health, family, friends and so on.  The importance of thanksgiving can also be seen in the Old Testament reading for today (see Leviticus 7:12–15).

  • S – Supplication

‘… as I call to you for help’ (Psalm 28:2a); pray for ourselves, for our friends and for others.  Interestingly David says ‘I lift up my hands’ (v.2b).  This seems to be almost synonymous with prayer.  Hands raised in worship is not a modern idea; it is actually one of the most ancient forms of prayer.

 

Lord, I adore you.  I worship you today.  Praise be to the Lord …

I confess my sins to you … Hear my cry for mercy and forgive my sins. 

I will give thanks to you for you are good.  Thank you, Lord, for … 

Hear my supplication.  Today I call on you for help …

2. Pray in faith

Mark 11:1-25

The great emphasis of the New Testament is that we relate to God by faith.  We cannot earn the right to a relationship with God; it is a gift to be received by faith.  In this passage we see the importance that Jesus placed on faith.  He said, ‘Have faith in God’ (v.22).  He says that by faith we can move mountains if the person praying does not doubt in their heart but believes (v.23). 

Jesus’ relationship with God, particularly through prayer, lies at the heart of each of the incidents we read about today.  As Jesus approaches Jerusalem the people worship him.  They cry out ‘Hosanna’ (vv.9–10) which was originally both a cry of happiness and a cry for help, meaning ‘save, we pray’ or ‘save now’. 

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus drives out the money-changers because of his passion for the purity of God’s house.  He says, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?” ’ (v.17).

The passage ends with Jesus teaching his disciples that unforgiveness can be a barrier to prayer and our relationship with God.  He says, ‘And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins’ (v.25).

Jesus says we are not to hold ‘anything against anyone’.  He does not say ‘anything (not too serious) against anyone (who is not a bad person)’.  There are no limits to forgiveness.  Unforgiveness destroys relationships. 

Forgiveness sometimes takes great courage but it restores relationships and brings great joy.  It is said that, ‘The first to apologise is the bravest.  The first to forgive is the strongest.  The first to forget is the happiest.’

Intertwined in these events, Jesus demonstrates the power of prayer in the acted parable of the fig-tree.  From this he teaches his disciples about the importance of faith and fruit in our relationship with God. 

The fig tree had leaves but no fruit.  Jesus said to it: ‘May no one ever eat fruit form you again’ (v.14).  I love the way Joyce Meyer applies this parable: ‘If our lives revolve around the church but we have no fruit, we are not living our faith.  We can have Christian bumper stickers on our cars, wear Jesus pins, carry our Bibles around, spend the lunch-break sitting alone reading our Bibles, have plaques listing the fruit of the Spirit hanging on our walls, and listen to teaching tapes and say “Praise the Lord!  Hallelujah” but if we do not have time to help anyone else or even show kindness, we are like the fig tree with leaves but no fruit … if we have leaves, we need to also have fruit.’

Jesus uses hyperbole to explain that we must be absolutely confident in God’s readiness to respond to faith.  In Rabbinic literature ‘mountain’ is sometimes used figuratively to denote an obstacle.  Jesus seems to be saying that God will come in response to faith to remove seemingly impossible obstacles.  He says, ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (v.24).

Lord, give us that same passion of Jesus; that the house of God may be ‘a house of prayer for all nations’ (v.17).  Help us never to hold unforgiveness in our hearts but, whenever we pray, to forgive anyone we need to forgive.  In everything, Lord, help us to trust in you.  Thank you for your amazing promise that ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (v.24).  Lord, today I ask …

3.  Approach God through Jesus

Leviticus 7:11-8:36

The way to relate to God in the Old Testament was through the priesthood.  Sinful human beings could not relate directly to God.  They needed to go through a priest, and in particular they needed a high priest. 

In this passage we see how Aaron was anointed for this task.  Moses ‘poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him’ (8:12).  Aaron was a forerunner of Christ.  The word Christ means ‘the anointed one’.  Aaron’s priesthood was fallible; he had to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as the people’s.  Jesus is the great high priest.  Through Jesus we can relate to God with confidence and have a direct relationship with him. 

As the writer of Hebrews puts it, ‘Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:14–16).

In fact, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we are in an even better position than the Old Testament priests (compare Hebrews 10:22 with Leviticus 8:30).  Through repentance and forgiveness our relationship with God is utterly transformed and we can come directly into God’s presence, just as the Old Testament priests did when they entered the Tent of Meeting.  ‘Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience’ (Hebrews 10:22).

Lord, thank you that through Jesus we can approach the throne of grace with confidence and receive mercy and grace.  I ask for your mercy and grace today in everything I do and say.  Help me to stay close to you and walk in a loving, ongoing relationship with you throughout the day.

Pippa Adds

Psalm 28:6–9

I love the combination of God being our strength and shield, and the gentle shepherd who carries us forever. 

Feb 26

Taizé – The value of silence

Download PDF

 

The value of silence

Three times a day, everything on the hill of Taizé stops: the work, the Bible studies, the discussions. The bells call everyone to church for prayer. Hundreds or even thousands of mainly young people from all over the world pray and sing together with the brothers of the community. Scripture is read in several languages. In the middle of each common prayer, there is a long period of silence, a unique moment for meeting with God.

Silence and prayer

If we take as our guide the oldest prayer book, the biblical Psalms, we note two main forms of prayer. One is a lament and cry for help. The other is thanksgiving and praise to God. On a more hidden level, there is a third kind of prayer, without demands or explicit expression of praise. In Psalm 131 for instance, there is nothing but quietness and confidence: "I have calmed and quieted my soul … hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore."

At times prayer becomes silent. Peaceful communion with God can do without words. "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother." Like the satisfied child who has stopped crying and is in its mother’s arms, so can "my soul be with me" in the presence of God. Prayer then needs no words, maybe not even thoughts.

How is it possible to reach inner silence? Sometimes we are apparently silent, and yet we have great discussions within, struggling with imaginary partners or with ourselves. Calming our souls requires a kind of simplicity: "I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me." Silence means recognising that my worries can’t do much. Silence means leaving to God what is beyond my reach and capacity. A moment of silence, even very short, is like a holy stop, a sabbatical rest, a truce of worries.

The turmoil of our thoughts can be compared to the storm that struck the disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus was sleeping. Like them, we may be helpless, full of anxiety, and incapable of calming ourselves. But Christ is able to come to our help as well. As he rebuked the wind and the sea and "there was a great calm", he can also quiet our heart when it is agitated by fears and worries (Mark 4).


Remaining silent, we trust and hope in God. One psalm suggests that silence is even a form of praise. We are used to reading at the beginning of Psalm 65: "Praise is due to you, O God". This translation follows the Greek text, but actually the Hebrew text printed in most Bibles reads: "Silence is praise to you, O God". When words and thoughts come to an end, God is praised in silent wonder and admiration.

The Word of God: thunder and silence

At Sinai, God spoke to Moses and the Israelites. Thunder and lightning and an ever-louder sound of a trumpet preceded and accompanied the Word of God (Exodus 19). Centuries later, the prophet Elijah returned to the same mountain of God. There he experienced storm and earthquake and fire as his ancestors did, and he was ready to listen to God speaking in the thunder. But the Lord was not in any of the familiar mighty phenomena. When all the noise was over, Elijah heard "a sound of sheer silence", and God spoke to him (1 Kings 19).

Does God speak with a loud voice or in a breath of silence? Should we take as example the people gathered at Sinai or the prophet Elijah? This might be a wrong alternative. The terrifying phenomena related to the gift of the Ten Commandments emphasise how serious these are. Keeping or rejecting them is a question of life or death. Seeing a child running straight under a car, one is right to shout as loud as possible. In analogous situations prophets speak the word of God so that it makes our ears ring.

Loud words certainly make themselves heard; they are impressive. But we also know that they hardly touch the hearts. They are resisted rather than welcomed. Elijah’s experience shows that God does not want to impress, but to be understood and accepted. God chose "a sound of sheer silence" in order to speak. This is a paradox:

God is silent and yet speaking

When God’s word becomes "a sound of sheer silence", it is more efficient then ever to change our hearts. The heavy storm on Mount Sinai was splitting rocks, but God’s silent word is able to break open human hearts of stone. For Elijah himself the sudden silence was probably more fearsome than the storm and thunder. The loud and mighty manifestations of God were somehow familiar to him. God’s silence is disconcerting, so very different from all Elijah knew before.

Silence makes us ready for a new meeting with God. In silence, God’s word can reach the hidden corners of our hearts. In silence, it proves to be "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit" (Hebrews 4:12). In silence, we stop hiding before God, and the light of Christ can reach and heal and transform even what we are ashamed of.

Silence and love

Christ says: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). We need silence in order to welcome these words and put them into practice. When we are agitated and restless, we have so many arguments and reasons not to forgive and not to love too easily. But when we "have calmed and quieted our soul", these reasons turn out to be quite insignificant. Maybe we sometimes avoid silence, preferring whatever noise, words or distraction, because inner peace is a risky thing: it makes us empty and poor, disintegrates bitterness and leads us to the gift of ourselves. Silent and poor, our hearts are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, filled with an unconditional love. Silence is a humble yet secure path to loving.

 

 

Links to the Taize Community Website

Last updated: 24 October 2001

 

 

Feb 17

All About Easter

Download PDF

During Easter Season, the theme of worship is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Throughout this discussion, please note that Easter and Passover are the same thing. They fall on different dates, for reasons you will shortly learn, and they have different names only because this article is in English.

According to scripture, Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday following Passover. See Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-3, Luke 23:56-24:3, and John 20:1. For this reason, ancient Christians celebrated Easter (which they called Passover) on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover, which is 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. The only exceptions were in Syria and Mesopotamia, where ancient Christians celebrated Easter on 14 Nisan, no matter which day of the week it happened to be.

No one in ancient times denied that the Resurrection took place on a Sunday.

According to scripture, the month of Nisan—and therefore the date of Passover—is linked to the spring harvest in Palestine. (See Exodus 12:1-3, Leviticus 23:9-14, and Numbers 28:16.) However, the Romans banished all Jews from Palestine after the rebellion of Simon Bar Kochba in AD 135, making it difficult for the rabbis to determine the proper date for Passover. So sometime around AD 200, the rabbis reformed the Jewish calendar. Relative to the Julian calendar, which was the Roman civil calendar, the new Jewish calendar allowed Passover to precede the spring equinox and it allowed two Passovers in the same twelve-month period. Obviously, the spring harvest cannot precede the spring equinox! Shortly after AD 300, the rabbis revised the Jewish calendar again, but it was still possible to have two Passovers in one twelve-month period, as defined by the Julian calendar.

By this time, the vast majority of Christians had long since given up using the Jewish calendar to determine the date of Easter. Instead, they figured it independently. They reasoned that at the time of the Last Supper, Nisan began with the new moon after the spring equinox. The full moon occurs on the fourteenth day, which would have been the Jewish Passover. According to Scripture, Jesus rose from the grave on the Sunday that immediately followed. So they celebrated the Resurrection on the first Sunday after the first full moon that followed the spring equinox. However, since there was no standard way to calculate the spring equinox, it was still possible for different regions to celebrate Easter on different Sundays. This was a problem, because Christians who lived on the edges of these regions got into unseemly disputes, and intellectual pagans derided Christians for not being able to figure out their own holy days. In those days, of course, Christianity was a minority religion for which the public did not have much respect and disputes about Easter weren’t helping evangelism.

Meanwhile, the churches in Syria and Mesopotamia were still celebrating Easter on 14 Nisan as determined by the current Jewish calendar, regardless of the day of the week. They believed they had apostolic direction to celebrate Easter on the same day that the Jews celebrate Passover, even if the Jews calculated the date incorrectly.

In AD 325, the Council of Nicea was convened to deal with Arianism and to standardize the date of Easter. The Council of Nicea, noting that Syria and Mesopotamia represented a small minority, required them to conform to the practice of the majority. The bishops from Syria and Mesopotamia readily agreed to this ruling and their churches complied with it. The Council of Nicea also ruled that all churches must celebrate Easter on the same day. This clearly implies that they instituted a standard method for calculating the date of the full moon after the spring equinox, but the documentary evidence for it has not survived. Some ancient writers, notably Ambrose, felt that the Council of Nicea prescribed the mathematical formula that we presently use to fix the date of Easter, but we can no longer prove it.

The Western Church applies the Nicene formula to the calendar as reformed by Pope Gregory in 1582. (This calendar reform resulted in the Gregorian calendar that we use today for secular purposes.) The Eastern Church applies the Nicene formula to the old Julian Calendar, which was instituted by Julius Caesar and served as the civil calendar of the Roman Empire before the birth of Christ. The Eastern Church also applies the formula in such a way that Easter always falls after the Jewish Passover.

There are at least two serious proposals to standardize the date of Easter. One is to institute a new method of calculating the lunar cycle, based on the moon as it appears over Jerusalem, so that eastern and western Easter would always fall on the same date. The other proposal is to fix Easter as the second Sunday in April.

The important holy days during Easter are as follows:

Roughly speaking, the western Church consists of Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans. The eastern Church consists of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Feb 14

Easter: What is Maundy Thursday?

Download PDF

What is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday – also called Holy Thursday, is the beginning of the three day celebration of Easter – the most important time in the year for Christians. This period ('The Triduum') is one big celebration, remembering the last supper, the crucifixion and the death of Jesus, and the Resurrection to new life.

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles.

The Last Supper

On this day, Christians remember the Last Supper. During the meal Jesus took bread and wine and shared them with his disciples. Christians continue to share bread and wine as part of their worship in church.

The Last Supper was probably a Passover meal – the meal which Jewish people share together to celebrate the time when God delivered Moses and the people from slavery in Egypt.

The night of Maundy Thursday is the night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Read More Easter: What is Maundy Thursday?.

Feb 14

Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday

Download PDF
Copyright ©1995-2013 by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins. Reprinted with permission.

As you know, Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days to prepare for his ministry. It was for Him a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation.

By observing Lent, most Christians join Jesus on His retreat. Lent consists of the forty days before Easter. In the western Church, we skip over the Sundays when we count the days of Lent, because Sunday is always the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the first day of Lent in the western Church is always a Wednesday.

Biblical societies relied very heavily on wood fires for heating and cooking, which meant that keeping ashes under control was a major housekeeping task. Then as now, if a person was preoccupied with something serious, they  didn’t always tend to the housekeeping—it’s the least of their concerns.

Imagine that there is a death in the family. A friend stopping by to pay their respects might gently say, “Did you know you have ashes on your face?” So ashes became a sign of remorse, repentance, and mourning. Today someone might wear a black armband to signify that they are in mourning; back then people put ashes on their foreheads.

You can find biblical examples of this in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26. During Lent, ancient Christians mourned their sins and repented of them, so it was appropriate for them to show their sincerity by having ashes on their foreheads. The custom has persisted in the church as secular society has changed around us. It is most appropriate on Ash Wednesday, when we begin a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection.
Traditionally, the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service come from burning the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. Some people only celebrate the happy times in Jesus’ life: Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas. But I think as true friends, we should also watch and pray with Him on Maundy Thursday, stand by Him at the cross on Good Friday, and retreat with Him into the wilderness during Lent.

Today the word ‘fasting’ means a total abstention from all food. In the historic Church, it means a boring but balanced diet so that your animal appetites become a sort of spiritual snooze alarm. If you “fast” by abstaining from all food, you can endanger your health.

 

Go to Ken Collins' Web Site
Copyright ©1995-2004 by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins (www.kencollins.com)
All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

Older posts «