Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday Morning

From the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A beauty in praying the Liturgical Hours is their ability  give us a sort of lay line in charting the direction of our day.  And for me, I see the Office Morning Prayer as a sort of Laying the Keel of the ship that will take us on through to the nighttime.  The particular Collect seemed to jump from the pages this morning, especially in light the past Sunday's "Taste of Heaven" Gathering.  I'm tying this Collect to the recent gathering as it was Pastor Tony Addinall of All Nation's Church of God who captured this truth in his opening invocation.

The prayer opens with the declaration that the Almighty has created for Himself, a species (if you'll have it), of one blood.  He then at the appointed time sent his very expression, His son, to bring redemption to this fallen people who were of one blood.  Apprehending this truth is the beginning of the demolition of the false barriers which divide us.  Its the wrecking ball that demolishes the barriers of ignorance, fear, mistrust and hatred.

We can't affect this in our own.  It is only by the power and agency of the Almighty that humanity might be moved to seek God, and be drawn to Him. Yet in this, He has called us to be the transmission medium for His call to go forward and be heard by a world that's not intuitively listening for this call of the one God to His one people. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Reflecting on A Taste of Heaven 2018

"A Taste of Heaven", a vision of the Prince William County Ministerial Association, conceived twenty years ago, gathers churches from across Prince William to worship together under one roof for one Sunday.  It takes a venue like the Hylton Memorial Chapel to effectively host a gathering of this size.  Its a morning of inspired worship, powerful praise, and challenging messages as a few thousand followers of the Christ come together in one heart and one spirit.  Anglicans, Baptists, Charismatic, and Non-Denominational believers set aside their own distinctive liturgies as Christ is elevated, seeds of unity & reconciliation are sown, and friendships are made/reinforced.   In some ways, it was reminiscent of Camp Meeting from back in the day, minus the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.  But best of all, it was two hours where the saints came together to desegregate the most segregated hour of the week in America.

There was a great takeaway for those attending yesterday's gathering in that "Unity is not Uniformity".  Our Devotion, our Worship, our unique traditions all aim to lift high the name of the Almighty.  We are one body that can find its unity in its diversity.

Its my hope and prayer that events like this would spread all across the commonwealth and our nation.  Too, I'd pray that this "taste" would leave saints desiring more.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Morning

From the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each morning is a new opportunity to strive to "Get it right".  Irrespective of what we did, or failed to do yesterday, today is a blank page waiting to be written. Even so, the desires and direction of our hearts will strongly influence the trajectory of our lives in this new day.  This is why seeking the Lord first in our day's is essential spiritual life habit to our walking in victory.

May our Lord guide your every step today.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Morning in Suburbia Majora

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Praying for Children

Do you pray for children?  Let me qualify this; do you pray for children who're not your own, or ones who are not a part of your greater family?

Since becoming a parent nearly 35 years ago, like most of you, I've prayed daily for my sons for a myriad of concerns.  And when nieces, a nephew and grandchildren came on the scene, they too were added to the daily prayer roster.  Last summer, another subset of children were added to the daily prayers.  In the interest of their privacy, I'll simply refer to these ones as "The Five" (with apologies to Mr. Gutfeld & company).

Who are The Five?  The Five are a group of elementary school-aged kids whom I had the blessing of teaching during last year's Community Vacation Bible School (CVBS).   CVBS is a revolutionary concept in implementing Vacation Bible School.  For years, churches throughout communities across America would hold VBS at their local facility, effectively reaching a small number of children, with most of these already being associated with that particular church.  CVBS broke that mold by launching VBS out into homes, parks, community centers, etc. across the County allowing for the reach to children who might not ever come in contact with a local church.  Its a true Gospel multiplier.  Where historically, a church might share the Good News with dozens of children, CVBS can effectively reach hundreds of young people.  It was in this venue where I met The Five.

It's been a joy to lift these three girls and two guys up in prayer daily, asking the Almighty to commend them to the care of His Guardian Angels for their watching and protection.  That joy is multiplied when you're suddenly afforded the opportunity to serve one of them during the Eucharist, then seeing their face light up when they learn that they've been prayed for. 

All of us want the very best for the children around us, and prayer for these little people works towards that end.  Let me encourage you consider some non-familial children whom you could include in your daily prayers, and prepare to be amazed.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thoughts on Holy Saturday

From this morning's Gospel Reading:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Yesterday was a day like none other.  Outside the city walls of Jerusalem, a cosmic collision of the temporal and eternal took place, affixed to a cruel Roman cross. In the eyes of some, it may have appeared as the death of a desperate hope of throwing off the yoke of Imperial Rome. To others, it represented the messy death of a wide-eyed troublemaker. Still to others, it appeared as the timely demise of a troublesome meddler who was bent on usurping a culture and religious system. Irrespective a body, now still and lifeless, hung between heaven and earth. The eyes that stare in from outside of our timeline saw something completely apart. To these eyes, there on Golgotha's hill hung the only propitiatory offering that could satisfy a Holy and Just God. Just moments prior, this God-man suspended above the earth cried out "Tetelestai"! The debt for sins ancient and future were paid. The God-man then stepped out of our timeline and willingly yielding his life back into the hands of the Father. 

Those follower of the master, who hadn't abandoned him, now had approximately three hours to see to the matter and in doing so, would render themselves ceremonially unclean for the coming feast Yet in their devotion, they sought the body of Jesus who might have otherwise been cast into the burning garbage dump outside of the city walls, gehenna. Instead of becoming food for carrion, the remains of the Christ were lovingly laid in Joseph, a leading Sadducee's tomb.

A day later, the Jewish priestly aristocracy was nervous. They knew that in spite of the Christ's resounding declaration, that this was far from over. With the Roman governor's approval, the tomb was sealed with the signet of Imperial Rome. This seal was a dire warning to would be hoaxers that should they attempt to steal Christ's remains, they would suffer the same fate as the one lying on the other side of the stone.

From the standpoint of the Apostolic band, this had to be a crushing day. One of their own had handed Jesus over to the authorities and was now dead by his own hands. Their "class president" made a profanity-laced denial of their Master and was now living with the disgrace. The rest were hiding somewhere in the city, for fear that perhaps after the feast, they would be next.

Yet, we soon learn just how one day changes everything.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Good Friday Meditation

This evening at All Saint's, we observed the solemnity of Good Friday in the worship service that is known as "Solemn Collects and Reflections", with the reflections being given by our Priests and Deacons.  I was asked to offer a reflection through the eyes of the Centurion who was present and overseeing the crucifixion of the Christ and the two thieves that afternoon.  This is a first person reflection, but offered as if the Centurion was speaking in the form of a letter that was written to his father, who himself was a retired Centurion.  Some license was taken as Scripture provides no "back story" on this man.

#  #  #  

  Gaius Longines, a Centurion in the service of Tiberius, and the citizens of Rome.  I greet you Crasius on a day that has been like none other since my cohort was posted to this dour corner of the Empire.

  As you’ve long known, I accepted a commission as a Centurion in civic duty, desiring to serve the greater glory of Rome.  In my heart I had always dreamt of driving out the barbarians as you did, from our far frontiers.  instead, my cohort was posted to the Tenth Legion in Judea.  Rather than expanding the frontier, my cohort now works to maintain the tenuous peace between Governor Pilate and this rabble population.  I have found myself to be far more an executioner of common criminals than a soldier, combating worthy adversaries.  Yet today is difficult to understand, which is why I write you, my esteemed father.

  Over the past few days, Jerusalem has been groaning as Jews from throughout the province have been converging on the city in preparation for one of their observances.  Along with their faithful, thieves and other criminals arrived to prey on the unsuspecting.  Two such culprits, along with an insurrectionist named Barabbas were placed in our custody to await execution. Yet this morning, temple leaders delivered up a fourth man, one allegedly claiming to be the King of the Jews.  Pilate took an interest in this man and determining that he’d committed no capital crime, ordered him beaten for being a nuisance.  Yet those religious leaders insisted that he’d be put to death, and demanded clemency for the insurrectionist.  Pilate, being a shrewd man, acquiesced to their demands, fearing a riot.

  A short time later, the three were delivered to my custody for execution and seeing this “king”, I drew back with a deep horror.  He wasn’t simply beaten, one member of the cohort whipped him with the flagrum while another severely wounded his head with those dreaded capparis spinosa thorns, leaving him a seething walking wound.  I’ve seen the horrors of battle, yet this churned my constitution and I was compelled to avert my gaze. Beaten and bruised, I was amazed to see him standing silently, without a sound.  It became clear after setting off for the execution site that this wretch would die enroute, so I compelled an onlooker to carry this “king’s” cross.

  On the brow of the hill, each had a placard affixed to their cross, according to Roman law, stating their name and crime.  As the day wore on, it was punctuated by cries, curses and the jeering contempt of passersby; it wasn’t so with this “king”.  I’m acquainted with the language of Jerusalem, and what this Nazarene was saying intrigued me.  He was asking forgiveness for my century who crucified him.  He offered comfort to a thief and later, let out an emotional cry to his god. 

  The afternoon progressed as a gathering darkness seemed to encircle and swallow Jerusalem.  The man spoke of his thirst.  I’ve never considered myself a compassionate man, yet I ordered the soldiers to share a drink of their beverage.  This seemed to revive him as he raised his head spoke once more, then expired before us.  In my heart, I was struck.  An innocent man was executed today, but he was much more than one not guilty of any crime.  He was as a son of the gods, or perhaps the very Son of God.

  At any case, his remains now lie in a sealed tomb A Guard mount is watching over it to see that no mischief occurs or his body disturbed.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

As the Sixth Year Begins

Morning by Morning new mercies I see
Five years ago, the Lord of all of our stories was turning the page from a chapter and onto a blank sheet where He was about to place His pen to paper to write a new chapter.  It was a cold, damp day, the kind of February day where the dampness penetrates one's body, chilling them to the core.  But the dampness that day seemed to also have a soul-chilling effect in light of how a life's chapter had come to an inexorable, but sudden end.  This end was like watching an automobile accident where one who is powerless to affect the outcome, can only brace for the impact.  The impact did occur, and it struck like a spiritual punch that was directly in the center of my sternum.  But like a rogue wave, it strikes once and quickly becomes a memory.  Then, the Lord of the Story put down His pen to turn the page.

There would be one more unpleasant postscript to the former chapter and once that was confronted, we could move forward.

This weekend marks the beginning of Robin & my sixth year with the Anglican parish of All Saint's Church, Woodbridge Virginia.  Thinking about this, I'm drawn to the memories of pulling into the parking lot of the white church on Gideon Drive.  We chose to attend the second of three Eucharistic celebrations which took place each Sunday. Though we would try out both the 7:15 and 11:15 celebrations, the 8:45 time slot suited us best.  Nothing in our appearance or demeanor gave off any hint that an Anglican clergy couple was visiting the parish.  In a polo and kakis, I looked to be just another graying, goateed denizen of Northern Virginia, indistinguishable from a million other 50-something guys.  Even so, members of the newcomers ministry team met us in the atrium as if we were both distinguished visitors.  Not only were we greeted by members of the ministry team, but by  parishioners as well.  The old saying states that first impressions are lasting ones, ad it was there in the Atrium that plenty of good seeds were sown.

The next thing to make an impression were the dual calibers of both word and worship.  The worship was diverse which included both classical Anglican hymnody, and contemporary songs.  It was apparent that the worship team took their ministry seriously and devoted time for practice and preparation.  The preaching would prove to be equally impressive.  The Rector and his two associates were faithful men of God who were wellsprings of God's word.  This is a trait of those who are also voracious consumers of that word.  Soon, we began to notice that the only ones aggrandized in these messages were God the Father and Christ Jesus the Son.

The next six months served as a sabbatical where Robin and I were allowed to heal.  It was an opportunity to live out the motto of All Saint's, which is captured in the words "Love, Grow, Serve".  Each week, new relationships were forged and developed.  Spiritual bruises began to fade, and the joy of being a child of God was being restored and strengthened.  So after encountering, and embracing the Saints of All Saint's, it would become a moment of great joy to vest and serve them at the end of that sabbatical.

The late great Paul Harvey, broadcaster and storyteller, was known to refer to "The rest of the story" in his memorable radio broadcasts.  Five years later, here is the "rest of the story" to date.

+   +   +   +   +

I've been a Vocational Deacon now for over nine years.  Thirty three months were spent at my first parish, and sixty months here at All Saints.  Taking Christ's parable of the sower into view, it is truly amazing how much growth can occur when a plant is planted in good, healthy soil.  In retrospect, its clear to see where the Lord has taken us from those first days in February 2013.  Time hear has provided great clarity in allowing me to see who I am as a sinner who was saved by grace, a child of the Almighty God, and as a man under Holy Orders.  It has empowered me to escape the bondage of being a "fixer", the one who is compelled to fix everyone's problems.

Some years ago, I was quoted in a Seminarian's paper in describing the work of a Deacon.  I had said that in some ways, "The Deacon is that one at the end of the grand parade with the cart and broom".  Admittedly, this is tongue in cheek, but there was a subtle seriousness to it, which was born out of being a novice Deacon thrust into an environment as spiritually toxic as was Chernobyl.  No, today, I don't see the Deacon as being outside the parade, following and cleaning up the mess, but being fully part of that grand procession.

Today, my Diaconal service extends beyond the relative quiet of the nave and chancel.  Where once, I was confined to the Gospel reading and the setting of the Eucharistic Banquet, the call now takes me out to the highways and hedgerows to serve those on the margins, those who would have been tagged as #TheLeastofThese.

These past five years at All Saint's have been a blessing beyond compare and I'm deeply grateful for Bishop John Guernsey's discernment in placing me with this Parish.  And now, onto the continuing journey.  To the Glory of the Almighty.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Morning at Christ Church Dulles, VA -- Romans 8:26-34

This morning’s thoughts are drawn from this morning Epistle, found in chapter eight of Saint Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome which he penned sometime around AD 57/58 which staying in the city of Corinth.  The letter is perhaps the pinnacle of Saint Paul’s writings, so much so that the 16th Century German Reformer, Phillip Melanchthon suggested that it was “A summary of all Christian Doctrine”.

This summer at All Saint’s, we are doing a preaching series from the Epistle and we’ve had some insightful and inspiring messages, most recently from our newly-minted Priest, Father Jedd Trenum.  With God’s help, I hope to receive the baton from Fr. Jedd and continue sharing from this diamond mine of God’s love, expressed towards his people.
If you have your Bibles in front of you, I’d invite you to turn to this morning’s reading and follow along with me.

Misunderstandings and Misapplications

This morning we’re about to consider a portion of the Epistle that has brought much comfort to saint’s throughout the ages.  Yet at the same time it has been a source of false comfort or assurance form whom the promise has not been made.  I’m certain that you have heard well-meaning persons share some of Romans 8:28 with someone who has experienced a tragic loss, or is in the midst of a difficult or trying season of their lives.  I stress the term “some” because they will omit the full verse, which would drastically alter what was being conveyed.  Today, if you’re a child of God, you can rest in full assurance on the promise of this verse, because not only are you the object of this sentence, but also the object of God’s love.

Conversely, If today someone were find themselves outside the family of God and willfully walking in disobedience to His kingdom, this promise is not only void, but the reality is 180 degrees away from the promise.  Saint Paul reminds us in Roman’s 6 that the wages of sin (or a life lived apart from God) is death.  Therefore, by implication, we could conclude that we know that for those who reject God all things do not work together for the good, for those who have resisted being called according to his purpose.  This said, I can also say confidently that this is a treatable condition.  God is calling, and continues to call those who are estranged from Him to be reconciled back to Him through the propitiatory death and resurrection of His son, Christ Jesus.

Why do “All things work together for good”?

We’re the recipients of “Divine Prayer”

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

One of the first, and foremost reasons that all things are working to our good is the fact that we are recipients of Divine Prayer.  In the same way an earthly parent prays for their children, the Holy Spirit prays for us as God’s children.  While being God’s children in this present age, we continually find ourselves along a line of Divine demarcation line between the present and the eternal.  Consequently, we live along a line of tension between being children of Heaven while living out a sojourn here on a fallen world where, as Saint Paul described, this very cosmos groans and longs for the moment when Christ himself sets all things in order as Saint John described in Revelation 21:5.

Rev 21:5 ESV] 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

In this, we live most of our lives five to seven feet above ground level and go through life with a limited horizon.  Our perceptions are limited to the physical and though we strive to pray earnestly, fervently, and effectively, our prayers fall short, too often landing like a poorly hit softball in the infield, or a shanked golf ball off the tee box.
In spite of this, things work towards our good because God the Holy Spirit is praying for us.  He sees our weakness, our spiritual near-sightedness and comes along side us.  I want you to picture for a moment, those times when you are enmeshed in deep, soul-shaking prayer.  You may be seated by a loved one in the ICU, or be in some immediate danger.  It is at this very moment that the Holy Spirit is there alongside us, uttering intercessory prayer that is deeper, and more profound than we can comprehend.  Just as it was the will of the Father that the Holy Spirit would come alongside us, empowering our faith and our lives to walk this world as His witnesses, it is the Father’s good pleasure to have His Spirit praying with us, and for us.  This should also serve to humble us, should we begin to imagine ourselves as mighty prayer warriors.  Without the Holy Spirit’s intercessions, what would the fruits of our prayer lives look like?

We’re the recipients of a “Divine Calling”

Saint Paul, in further unpacking the truth of why all things are working for our ultimate good, does so in a compelling fashion.  For my fellow language geeks, this line of reasoning are referred to as a line of Sorites, where the predicate of one’s sentence, becomes the subject of the subsequent sentence.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

In our continuing to consider why all things are working to the good for the child of God, we can’t ignore the fact that we were called, from eternity past, to be recipients of this grace of God; it was the Father’s perfect will from the mists of eternity past.  Verses 29 & 30 take us through a powerful description.  From a time before time, we were known and loved by the Godhead.  This foreknowledge is expressed in the original word “pro-ge-no-sko”, a powerful word that not only conveys the idea of foreknowledge, but of a foreordination.  Usually when we speak of ordinations, most of us think in terms of those who’ve received a calling and have been set forth as Bishops, Priests, or Deacons.  But every child of God has received an ordination of such, and in this foreknowledge, the Father then proclaimed this to be in His royal decree of His predestination.  Think of this, and it is a bit mind-blowing; and a point, we were seen in the heart of God.  At that moment, He decreed that we would be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus, so that He, the only begotten son of the Father, would be honored above all.  Because of this Divine decree, we were called into a life of faith in God, through His son Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This calling now begs the question; how can the unholy, and totally depraved stand before the holy and infinite without being utterly destroyed?  That person would be unable to stand before the presence of the Almighty with out having their atomic particles scattered to the four winds.  Consider the words of the Prophet Isaiah when he was swept up into the throne room of God, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”  Or, even the writer himself who was struck down on the road to Damascus?  No, the Father knew that in order for us to stand in his presence, we would have to be given a right standing.  This moment occurred at that moment when we responded to His call.  Because we placed our faith in Him, though responding to his invitation, we were made Just through faith.  This isn’t a New Testament innovation.  From the time of Abraham, we learned that those who were Justified before the Father, were made just by their trust in Him and His promises.

This takes us to the logical end of this chain of glorious events where Saint Paul declares that those whom the Father has justified, are those that he has also glorified.  This glorification of the saint will be fully manifested at the appearance of the Messiah, whereas Saint John declared:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2

Because so loved us, the Father declared in eternity past, that we would be glorified through all eternity, being seated in the heavenly alongside of His Son.  

This is potent truth, and it’s also a point where we could easily find ourselves sucked into moments of doubt or uncertainty.  Troubling thoughts like “What if I’m not called?”, or “What if I only THINK I’m called?” may creep into our heads.  If I could offer some assurance, it would simply to be to say that if you weren’t a child of God, you wouldn’t be worrying of whether you were His child or not.  Where the child of God desires to please their Lord, the unregenerate heart doesn’t really give much thought to this at all, living their lives as one whistling past the graveyard, so to speak.  This morning if you said yes to the Father, its because He’s foreordained and predestined you to do so.

We’re recipients of a “Divine Justification”.

Now Paul brings us to that moment where Lon Solomon, one of our neighboring Pastor’s, would refer to as that  “So What?” moment.  He asks us, If God is for us, who can be against us?  It’s a rhetorical question in its original rendering where Saint Paul literally proclaims, “If God is for me, who can be against me?” Let’s say that aloud in order to make it stick (Repeat - “If God is for me, who can be against me?”) How much more evident is this fact considering that God the Father gave God the son, His perfect image made incarnate in the man, Christ Jesus, to be the propitiatory sacrifice, as an atonement for our sins.  I’m not a fan of this statement, but some have said that the Father bankrupted Heaven to pay the price of our redemption.  Though you really can’t bankrupt the infinite, you can offer up your most priceless treasure, which is what transacted on the cross on our behalf.  So by extension of this fact, who may successfully indict us as we’ve been acquitted by the highest court in the universe?

So, what do we say in all of this?  When we confidently state that “All things work for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” We’re not parroting some dayspring greeting card sentimentality, we are declaring the counsel of the Almighty and an ironclad promise to the child of Heaven.