Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Rude Awakening?

The following was published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine, Anglicans for Renewal.

In January I enjoyed three days of worship, prayer and conversation with fellow Anglican Renewal Ministries (ARM) board members. We were hoping for some new stuff from The LORD—where to from here? looking like what?—answers to those kinds of questions. 

Imagine my consternation when, during the first time of listening, the only word I “heard” in my mind was rude. Oops. Is that how we’re coming across, LORD, I wondered? So I prayed, “What?” and remembered that rude doesn’t just mean offensively impolite. It can also mean simple or “roughly made or done, lacking subtlety or sophistication” says Google. 

Could The LORD be calling us ARMites to a rude awakening? Are we being called back to basics and simplicity; something like the three Rs in education—Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic?  

And that reminded me of three R-words in Acts 3 that always strike a chord whenever I read them: 

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3.19-21)

Repent, Refreshing and Restoring: could these be the back to basics prophetic framework for getting our Acts together in a new and rude awakening for ARM and the Church?
It makes sense. After all, according to Jesus, the first word of the gospel is repent (Mk 1.15)—turn back, about face, change directionso our sins may blotted out. Point one of Evan Roberts’ call to revival in Wales was “Repent of all known sin.” We Anglicans are blessed with multiple tools for prayerful repentance. 

Pray any of the prayers of confession in The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) or The Book of Alternative Services (BAS). I’m particularly fond of the excellent prayers of confession and for pardon through the Cross in the evening setting of FORMS OF PRAYER TO BE USED IN FAMILIES (BCP, p730).

Consider carrying out this important first step as you commit observing a holy Lent this year in self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and reading and meditating on the Word of God (BAS, p282).
Heart-felt, honest repentance prepares us and makes us available for the refreshing that comes from the presence of The LORD. What does refreshing look like? Like life, relationships and church-going filled to overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22-23), in all circumstances (1 The 5.18), no matter what. It’s fun and it’s winsome. Who could not but be drawn into such a refreshing presence to be awakened, blessed and transformed? 
Ultimate restoration will only come with Jesus’ return, but in the meantime, our spiritual sight needs restoring(Mk 8.25) so we can see where The LORD is leading, our hands need restoring (Mt 12.13, Mk 3.5, Lk 6.10) to make us useful and our saltiness needs restoring (Mt 5.12, Lk 14.34) to make us tasty again. 

Perhaps aiming for a rich and fruitful restoration (2 Cor 13.11) through repentance and refreshment would be just the rude awakening we need to get our Acts together this Lent.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Mother's Mother's Day Thoughts

This is a re-post of a Mother's Day talk Jude, my wife, gave in 2007. I really like it so here it is again:
It is easy to be cynical and dismissive about Mother’s Day. Isn’t it just an opportunity for retailers to make some money, not to mention flower shops and restaurants? Sometimes it seems as if the day is for easing the guilt we can feel over not relating much to our mothers over the rest of the year. If I spend some time, some money on my mother today, then it is all right not to include her much in my life for the rest of the year.  
In my family of origin, the tradition was always to give mum breakfast in bed. She tells of burnt toast with lumps of butter and jam on it, and luke-warm tea being presented to her with great pride by me and my siblings and of her having to eat it with enjoyment as we watched. She is a great lady. She will be 89 on May 28 (UPDATE: 97 on May 28, 2015!!!). I remember my own children presenting me with freshly-picked and already wilting bouquets of dandelions and wonderful handmade cards.  
These days it is always about e-cards, phone calls and being remembered. No presents. Mothers, especially many young mothers, need encouraging these days, don’t they? Some women are not only wives and mothers, they are breadwinners too. The fact is that there are many women who are having to do far more than I think the Lord ever intended mothers to do. Proverbs 31, the description of the wife of noble character, is a little daunting, to say the least. Our society has changed and the role of a mother has too.  
When I was growing up, my mother, besides being a wife, had one job – that of raising 6 children. Things were changing when I was a young mum. Gene and I chose for me to not work outside the home and I was blessed to be able to do that without financial hardship. We made some sacrifices, sure, but on the whole it was great for us and our children. 
I guess that what it comes down to, doesn’t it – the choices we make. We choose our husband, we choose our careers. Sometimes our choices lead us to have to work outside the home. Most often we can even choose how many children to have. And usually we can choose to be a mother, or choose not to be.  
I would like to acknowledge here those women who are mothers and didn’t choose to be and women who long to be mothers, but are unable to be, and those mothers who have had a child die. I think mother’s day must be a painful time for all those women. When we thank the Lord for our own mothers and for our children, we must remember to pray for those women, our hurting sisters.  
But whatever choices we make and wherever that leads us as mothers, we have the most important choice always before us. To choose to follow our Lord Jesus and be in God’s will as we parent, work, manage our homes, be wives to our husbands, or go it alone as a single parent. And as we are children to our own mother – remember the 5th commandment. No matter where we are, we can still choose the Lord’s way – loving our God with our heart mind soul and strength and our neighbour as ourselves. That is what will make us good mothers, and good daughters to our own mothers. This mothering business is about loving and being loved. It is about choosing to imitate our Lord in our words, our work, our mothering, and our treatment of those who mother differently from us. I pray that we all, with God’s help, will be the mothers that he has created us to be.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Fruit of the Spirit: Part One—An Introduction and Love

The following was published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine, Anglicans for Renewal

Since Anglican Renewal Ministries exists to help us all experience and enjoy more of the refreshing presence of God, the Holy Spirit, in our lives, our relationships and our church, from time to time it is encouraging to look into the benefits of living in that presence. When we do our best to live and move and have our being (Acts 17.28) in the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12.8-10 & 28), good things grow. This is the first of a series of articles exploring those good things—the challenges, delights and blessings of Fruit of the Spirit ( Gal 5.22—see also Mt 7.15-20). 

Fruit Inspection

Before we give the Fruit of the Spirit tree a shake, let’s take a moment to think about fruit in nature and what it’s for. Fruit is for reproduction. It bears the seeds and is the medium by which those seeds are distributed and sown. To that end, fruit is designed to be sweet and juicy, attractive and tasty. 

Being tasty and enhancing life’s flavours seems to be a part of The LORD’s recipe for fruitful Jesus following. Saltiness is another powerful Biblical image (Mt 5.13) for how we Christians are are called to attract and add zest to the lives of those around us. The Holy Spirit working through you and me makes lives flavourful and tasty with a divinely inspired balance of sweetness and saltiness.

But lest we over-spiritualize the idea of being the folk who yield the fruit that attracts people to Jesus, remember fruit’s reproductive purpose and process requires eating, digestion, defecation, rotting and fermentation—earthy stuff—having to do with the real life and death that has to come before there can be resurrection (cf 1 Cor 15.35-49). This means the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives must be more than just sweetly sentimental well-wishing. The sweetest, most fruitful, fruit comes from the rich soil of you and me getting down alongside people where they live; especially with those whose lives have gone sour and who are mired in life’s pain and injustice. This is the earthiness that produces the fruit that leads to resurrection and new life. 

The more open and available I am to the Holy Spirit’s filling and empowering, the sweeter and tastier will my fruit be. So will yours. 

By Our Fruits…

Healthy trees, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, bear good fruit (Mt 7.17). So do healthy people, relationships and churches. Moreover, it is by our fruits we will be recognized as Christians, or not (Mt 7.20), so let’s take a closer look at fruit. There are nine fruits of the Spirit according to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galations: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22).

Knowing What Love Is

It is no accident that love is the first fruit on the list. Just as love is the centre and foundation of Paul’s description of the Gifts of the Spirit, how they work and how they are to be used, in 1 Corinthians 12-14 (more on that in a moment); love is the first on his companion list of the Spirit’s Fruit. Love is always the greatest and more excellent way (1 Cor 13.13; 12.31). Without it, the rest of the Fruit cannot ripen. Love is number one, the other eight fruits are delightful and particular expressions of it. 

The Greek word is agapé. That’s the John 3.16 kind of love with which God so loves the world. The words for romantic, warm fuzzy, brotherly, sisterly or between friends love are all different. I don’t fall in agapé, I rise in it. Fruit of the Spirit love comes not primarily from warm feelings for a person, it comes from being prayerfully intelligent, purposeful and always focussed on the need of the other (Marva Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor (Eerdman’s, 2000), p212) while needing no love in return. Fruit of the Spirit love is the fierce love of one who really cares about you or me. Fruit of the Spirit love is love to do, by choice of will, whether I feel like it, or not. 

John gives us a vivid image of love’s trajectory in John 3.16. God so loved, he wrote. Who? The world and everyone in it. That? He gave his only—not what he had to spare or didn’t need any more—his only Son, Jesus. And, following the same trajectory, Jesus so loved his Father and the world that he gave his life so that you and I get to enjoy eternal life. Surely Spirit-filled Jesus followers are called so to love—not just those with whom we agree or smell right or treat us well—everyone—so that we, too, will give what the people around us need in order taste and see how good the Lord is. 

Paul fills John’s image of love out even more in 1 Corinthians 13. Without this love, he states, I’m nothing. I can gong, clang and clatter away noisily in tongues, declare “Thus saith the Lord…” all I want, super-spiritually give away all I have, but if I do it without love I—and, more importantly, those around me—will gain absolutely nothing. So, if we really want to understand the Fruit of the Spirit, you and I really need to know what love is. Paul tells us. Love is—patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way; is not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice at wrong-doing, rejoices with the truth, bears, believes, hopes and endures all things (1 Cor 13.4-7). Paul's what-love-is gives me the so with which I can do my loving. I need to keep the what-love-is fresh, then I can so love well and without fail. So do you. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Eastertide: Running on Empty and Monotheistic Monotony

Another Easter come and gone. I always felt like it was a long run and  an uphill climb for a parish priest through Lent to Easter. There was some Easter running for Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and John, too—read some more thoughts on the subject here.  

Then comes the joy and release of the lovely Eastertide easy peddling downhill run to Pentecost and summer. Downhill was good because, once Easter was done, I was often spent and would be running on empty for a few days. Running on empty isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it turns out. Christians have been running on the reality of that empty tomb for over two thousand years—more thoughts on that here

Monotheistic Monotony

I read somewhere that monotony could be a problem in clergy life. The same seasons, stories and readings year after year could wear a cleric down. Apart from the occasional worry about coming up with something new and original to say each time the cycle repeated itself, the repetition didn't bother me. When I first came out of seminary I was a little afraid I would have preached all I had to say in about six weeks. Once I realized just how endlessly rich and diverting the Scriptures are, I relaxed and enjoyed the mixture of reprises and new insights whenever they came.  

I came across some wisdom from GK Chesterton on the subject in a piece on the joys of knitting over at Her-meneutics recently: 
Children have abounding vitality… they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. 
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Lovely. Read the whole article here

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Great Sabbath—Holy Saturday

God rests from his labours.
Were heaven's praises silent in those hours of darkness?
Your Holy Spirit brooding round that empty throne?
More here.

Friday, 3 April 2015


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Soul Needs: Meditating on Maundy Thursday.

Today The Three Days (Triduum) begin, usually with the Foot Washing and Eucharistic liturgy centred on what Jesus did and said at The Last Supper in that Upper Room.

Past Maundy meditations: 


Love, Wash, Eat, Drink, Remember: a Short Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Thoughts on Foot Washing

Foot washing can be a challenge for those who are not used to it—all a bit too up close and a little creepy. Eleven years ago a woman wrote me the following note after Maundy Thursday worship and her first experience of foot washing:
Lent is one of the Church seasons when I quietly reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross and his crucifixion. Maundy Thursday seems to me to be almost as sorrowful a day as Good Friday. The foot-washing ceremony is something I never took part in. This year as Maundy Thursday approached several of my friends told me what a powerful service they thought the foot-washing was.   
After a day and night of prayer and meditation, I realized that pride had kept me from the foot washing. Because of my hammer toes and rotten looking feet, I had never wanted anyone to see them.  
At the Maundy Thursday service, I was still ambivalent about having my feet washed. Images of Jesus washing his disciples feet flooded my thoughts and I said to myself, “Do it.”   
As my feet were being washed, a feeling of great humility came over me. As they were being dried, I felt a great desire to wash another’s feet. While doing so, I was filled with ecstasy and great emotion. I felt myself to be in a more spiritual realm. My soul was filled with wonderment and love. I was at the foot of the cross; a more fervent believer than ever before. 
Why was this experience so powerfully moving for this dear saint? When words aren’t enough, we perform rituals. A good ritual says something more than mere words can say. That’s what rituals are for. So we take a tuna casserole over when someone has had a loved one die. We give an aching spouse a back-rub. And we wash feet. Not because the feet need cleaning, but because our souls do. And we go the altar to eat little wafers and take tiny sips of wine, not because our bodies need them for sustenance, but because our souls do.