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[There has been a] remarkable increase of adult converts presenting themselves for Confirmation. this is a national phenomenon offering an uncomfortable challenge. Mature men and women, some in responsible positions of considerable civic and social standing, do not take such a step lightheartedly. The Church is not fashionable, and for the artisan and factory hand, the decision to seek Confirmation is even more difficult, often demanding renunciation and courage. this army of new blood entering the Church will not be satisfied with conventions and platitudes with which older Church people have become far too content. they will demand the real thing.

A corollary to this deepening movement is the growing number of older men offering themselves for Ordination. this group is of so variable a nature as to be impossible to classify, yet one or two pertinent points suggest themselves. There is a considerable number of ex-Nonconformist ministers, who for various reasons have grown worried and dissatisfied with their denomination…these men have become dissatisfied with the piecemeal character of Free Church devotion, however excellent some of the pieces may be. It is chastening to realize that, in seeing the Prayer Book primarily as an ascetical system, this band of converts have discovered a fundamental Anglican truth which some of our senior priests seem to have forgotten. The latter think of regularity of Church attendance, the former of the continuity of Christian living based on the Prayer Book pattern. –Martin Thornton, English Spirituality

Written 25 years ago, and yet it seems to be quite applicable to what I hear from my classmates in summer D.Min and S.T.M classes at Nashotah House.  They are seeing a number of people who have grown up in evangelical, low-church, free-church, or otherwise pietist traditions coming to them asking for help in living an authentic Christian life.  Somewhere, along the way, the evangelicals in the US seem to have lost the plot.  It is no longer enough to listen to the 30 minute sermon and sing for another 30, they are saying people long to be connected to something that is far more ancient than what they have experienced in their lives at church.

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Just read the following quotes:

The faithful soul is always given grace sufficient for the matter at hand; there is no possibility of insufficiency of grace.  The realisation of this truth adds greatly to the calmness with which one may face crises and enables one to accept the events of life as they come without undue worry.

and

It is clear, then, that grace is not merely valuable, but necessary to the spiritual life; we depend upon it for our conversion to God and our union with Him, for our perseverance in holiness and for our soul’s growth…God gives His grace richly to those who ask Him, but the soul that does not pray is so shut up in itself that even the grace of God can hardly find an entrance.  Yet the use of grace demands circumspection. If grace is to have free course and attain its end one must desire to always do the will of God and avoid exposing oneself willfully to danger.  It is precisely this holy circumspection which is so often lacking even in well-disposed persons, and which is responsible for so many grievous falls from God.  There are many dangers in this world which cannot be avoided; if one loves God and desires to do His will one can rely on grace to keep one safe in these, but one has no right to presume on the grace of God by deliberately going into danger or by allowing oneself to carelessly drift.–F.B. Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life

Given the book is about the spiritual life, I would not want to jump to conclusions that we’re looking at another case of prosperity-type gospel here.  Rather, I would think the author is talking about spiritual dangers and carelessness.  So I see his argument is this:

  1. God’s grace is sufficient and does not fail
  2. We are dependent on God’s grace for our spiritual life
  3. We can block God’s gracious action in our lives by our lack of perseverance and our thoughtlessness
  4. In such cases, we cannot presume that God’s grace will prevail in our lives

Is this correct?  Though God’s grace is sufficient, can we block it by our lack of faith, holiness, or whatever?  Is faith, therefore, the necessary ingredient by which God unlocks the treasure house of His grace and pours those riches into our lives?  How does this fit into the finished work of Christ on the cross on our behalf?

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In 20+ years of ministry, I cannot remember a stretch of time that has been as busy as the past 10 weeks has been.  What makes it more complicated is that with only a few exceptions, I cannot see what fruit all this busy-ness is producing.  I feel as if I am running from one programming event to the next and not stopping to notice the people involved.

My daughter took note of my schedule the other night and said this ministry thing is for birds that are crazy.  She might be right.

Now with a major funeral in our church (and island community), the event programming mentality is feeling overwhelming to this pastor’s brain.  I can remember when I would get lots of time to spend with the family as they begin to cope with their grief.  That has disappeared like snow in the Caribbean.

Everything that is in me is rebelling against this, but while I’m stuck in the programming vortex, I can’t find the exit to get out of the storm.  I’m praying that lives are being touched and the gospel is being preached to people who need to know God’s grace through all of these events, but I’m not seeing it.

This afternoon walking out of the bank I ran into one of the fringe participants in our congregation.  He was on the street corner in the village drinking out of a plastic cup and was covered in new scars.  He had been jumped by someone looking to kill his brother.  He needed some cash for food (at least that’s what he said).  I gave him a few coins and invited him back to church.  He said he would be there.  We’ll see.

I wanted to talk some more, but kids needed to get home from school, and then I had an afternoon and evening of meetings about the aforementioned funeral and other upcoming events in our church and on the island.  I had to let him go on his way so I could go on my way.  What a bummer.

Can I say this about that?  This is SO not what I signed up for in ministry.  Programming events, meetings, planning sessions, etc. have their place.  But when people get run over on the way to the next meeting, something is wrong with ministry.  I just can’t see the value in letting this guy go on his way so I could have the honor of sitting through a hour-long meeting about parking and crowd management for the biggest funeral in the village so far this year.

If you can’t tell yet, I am seriously disgusted with the way things are going right now.  Hopefully it will begin to even out again in the near future.  Maybe I’ll even find the time to post some stuff in this open space.  But after the funeral.

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Forgive my ignorance, I don’t know who Kim Fabricius is, but this post is spot on.

Just a taste…

1. Ministers should be able to lead and to organise, but they are not called to be managers – and woe unto the minister who would run the one, holy, catholic, apostolic – and “efficient” McChurch!

I also especially appreciate nos. 2, 3, 7 & 8.

I have witnessed most of those ten at one time or another in my ministry or that of friends.  I have even felt pushed in some of those directions by various denominational leaders.  I constantly pray that the Lord will keep me from seeing ministry as a business, an organization or something to grow.  This is not about my ego.  It is about the care and feeding of God’s people.  Make it so, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

HT: BHT

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In the middle of the message tonight looking at Isaiah 6:6-7.

The prophet has seen the Lord high and lifted up, in all of His glory sitting on His throne.  He has seen the Seraphim calling out in voices of roaring thunder, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory.”  Suddenly he realizes he is not holy and he cannot survive.  “Woe is me!  I am a man of unclean lips living with people who are unclean!”

A Seraph flies to Isaiah holding a white hot coal from the altar of incense and touches Isaiah’s lips pronouncing him to be justified, his guilt is taken away and his sin atoned for.  The pain of that moment struck me while preparing to preach.  All afternoon had been a battle against sinfulness in thought, word and deed.  It wasn’t always a successful battle.  I felt the heavy weight of my sins, both tremendous and trivial in many ways.  I even spent time before the message alone confessing sin in my office.

But while preaching the verses in Isaiah 6:6-7 and how God dealt with Isaiah’s sin I sensed time slow down to a near stop as I was speaking.  I continued preaching but suddenly there was something happening around me at another level.  I was convicted not only of my unholiness and sin, but the realization hit me like Isaiah, God should strike me down in the pulpit.  I am not worthy to preach such Good News.  I thought my heart was going to stop right there in front of 30 people. (Our standard Sunday night congregation.)

In the same moment, the words came so clearly, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will save me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  And then time returned to normal without me missing a word or a beat of the message.

I do not share this to sound super-spritual.  I am not or I would not have been in my office an hour before service tonight confessing sin.  Events like this rarely (like almost never in 12 years) happen while I am preaching.  I had long understood Isaiah’s predicament on many different levels, physical, spiritual, emotional.  But I had never been brought into his experience in such a powerful way.

I cannot say enough how grateful I am for Christ’s obedience and sufficient, perfect sacrifice for my sins.  I am not worthy and I will spend all of eternity in awe of God’s grace and mercy to me, a gross sinner.

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Some of the folks over at Prydain have asked nicely that I post my messages on an upcoming series on holiness.  That’s a really nice request but it makes my head grow fat and light.  Fortunately I have 4 kids, a wife and a church who will pop that bubble first chance they get and probably without even making an effort or knowing that they did it.

Ok, I’ll honor the request, but I wish to say caveat emptor.

I read great preachers, I’m not one of them.  Some of the messages at Prydain and other places humble me with how well the Scripture is handled.  I never think I’m in that category.  To paraphrase, Cap’t Barbossa in the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, “I’m but a simple pastor.”

Second, due to the size of the messages I generally preach here (25-35 minutes), I will post an executive summary of the messages.  These are the Sunday evening messages.  Much of the message is significantly context sensitive to our own ministry milieu.  I’ll try to eliminate most of that context sensitive material and give the five-ten minute version on this site.  In seminary, I was taught to be prepared for emergencies or the unexpected the require shrinking the message down to the basic points with each point getting only a paragraph or two.  That is what I will try to accomplish here.

A fair notice: Because these are the Sunday evening messages, there will not be a Sunday evening service on Mother’s Day.  I thus, avoid the bullet for another year of having to choose between my wife and my ministry.  Not that there would be much debate.  I have long preferred the reddish blond, Irish lass over other distractions.

However, Father’s Day is still up in the air.  I’ll be surprised if that service gets cancelled, but my vote is already in for honoring the dads in the same way as the moms.  But our congregation doesn’t have enough dads as heads of their households to make the point.  So the issue might be moot.

The series is titled, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Holiness.”  I admit to ripping off the American Declaration of Independence, even though I’m not preaching to Americans.  Or is it John Locke that I’m ripping off, I can’t remember, but I’m not preaching to a church of British, either.  It comes from a couple of sources and some of my personal convictions about the Christian life.  The main sources are Scripture (duh!), Jerry Bridges’ classic book, The Pursuit of Holiness and J.C. Ryle’s work, Holiness.

My convictions stem from a belief that true, real life is only found as we are connected to the Vine, Jesus Christ.  Life is found in receiving God’s forgiveness offered through Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross and life-giving resurrection three days later.

Forgiveness of sins brings freedom from sin’s power in our lives.  It would be hell on earth if we were forgiven of our sins and then thrown back into the devil’s den and told to live perfect lives without the power of sin being cancelled and destroyed in our lives. We can be confident that the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead has crushed sin’s power in our lives.

Such life and liberty offer us the opportunity to pursue the holiness God calls us to live.  He says, “Be holy, for I am holy.”  It can only happen as we receive new life in Christ, and freedom from sin’s mighty power.  The command is real.  God expects us to live holy lives, fully alive in Christ and free from the corrosive power of sin. Hopefully, and with God’s grace, we’ll discover how that can happen.

Look for the messages to be posted here on Monday evenings or early Tuesday mornings.  See ya then.

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A scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time. The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds, and every kind of bounds in religion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatsoever, and to pronounce all earnest and clever teachers to be trustworthy, however heterogeneous and mutually destructive their opinions may be. Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity and enable it to keep pace with modern science. Stand up for these verities, and you are called narrow, illiberal, old-fashioned and a theological fossil! Quote a text, and you are told that all truth is not confined to the pages of of an ancient Jewish book, and that free inquiry has found out many things since the book was completed! Now, I know nothing so likely to counteract this modern plague as constant clear statements about the nature, reality, vileness, power and guilt of sin. We must charge home into the consciences of these men of broad views, and demand a plain answer to some plain questions. We must ask them to lay their hands on their hearts, and tell us whether their favourite opinions comfort them in the day of sickness, in the hour of death, by the bedside of dying of dying parents, by the grave of a beloved wife or child. We must ask them whether a vague earnestness, without definite doctrine, gives them peace at seasons like these. We must challenge them to tell us whether they do not sometimes feel a gnawing ‘something’ within, which all the free inquiry and philosophy and science in the world cannot satisfy. And then we must tell them that this gnawing ‘something’ is the sense of sin, guilt and corruption, which they are leaving out in their calculations. And, above all, we must tell them that nothing will ever make them feel rest, but submission to the old doctrines of man’s ruin and Christ’s redemption and simple child-like faith in Jesus. –J.C. Ryle
Taken from Holiness, chapter 1

Rejecting dogmas, creeds and every kind of bounds in religion sounds so familiar until I realized that once again the good bishop is speaking across time to a people he didn’t know, about truths he definitely understood.  And he understood the abandonment of those dogmas, creeds and all bounds in religion would have implications for the comfort that the Gospel brings to this world.

If the teaching of the scriptural view of sin is passe and abandoned, there is no Good News to offer this world.  What need would there be for it?  Good is only measured against that which is less good or bad.  What comfort does Christ’s atoning death for our sins offer to religious people who find that humans are basically good and perfectable, though sometimes making mistakes on the way to perfection?  What comfort is the crucifixion of Christ and His glorious resurrection if we are not all marked, stained, and soul-darkened wretches living bound in a marginally lit dungeon and in desperate need of freedom, light and cleansing?

I do not mean to pick on The Episcopal Church, but the example is, unfortunately, obvious.  I pray that better teaching and leadership will come to her through the knowledge of the depths, heights, width and breadth of God’s loving kindness and grace.  Listening to some of the teaching coming from The Episcopal Church in our day one would quickly come to the conclusion that Christ’s death was meaningless and of no consequence or comfort to our world today.  Our sin is meaningless under such teaching.

That is eternally tragic.

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