Monday, August 22, 2016

Prayer for Caregivers

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you.

Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: "Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you."

Lord, give me this seeing faith, then my work will never be monotonous. I will ever find joy in humouring the fancies and gratifying the wishes of all poor sufferers.

O beloved sick, how doubly dear you are to me, when you personify Christ; and what a privilege is mine to be allowed to tend you.
Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience.

And O God, while you are Jesus my patient, deign also to be to me a patient Jesus, bearing with my faults, looking only to my intention, which is to love and serve you in the person of each one of your sick.

Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore, Amen.

-- Mother Teresa

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Would you Welcome Jesus if He Visited?

Summer is the time when Good Shepherd sees the most visitors on Sundays.  If things go like they have in the past, we will see at least one visiting family every Sunday from here until the end of August.  And even though this upcoming season is a time when we will see more guests than usual, we are blessed at Good Shepherd because we see visitors regularly on Sundays.  Indeed, many of you were once guests, but you were greeted with warmth, loved, and God has made you a part of our church family.  We are blessed with a loving, welcoming Church!  But, as with all virtues, this welcoming attitude must continually be fanned into flame… or the fires will go out (See Heb 10:24-25). 

Whenever a guest visits a church, we are called to love and greet that person regardless of who they are, regardless of whether we know them or not.  We are commanded and strongly urged to do this by God's Word in several places:   "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Heb 13:2). Elsewhere, Jesus himself tells us that when we welcome a stranger, we are welcoming him.  (Matt 25:35, 40)  And on the flip side, we are warned against showing favoritism, that is, greeting certain types of people more warmly than others:  "My brothers,show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1–5) So, we must welcome every guest, regardless of whether we like them or not, whether they are like us or not.  We love everyone who comes into our doors, whether they are "big hitters" in the community or not.  Every man, woman or child who comes to our church is made in the image of God and therefore has value and worth greater than we can imagine.

Though it is a great mystery, we have to remember also that whenever we gather on a Sunday morning God has hand-picked the group of people who will be there.  The mix of visitors, regulars, members, and clergy that gather on any given Sunday is an “on-purpose’ gathering.  God gathers us together for several purposes: to worship Him, to intercede for each other and the world, to receive from Him via Word and Sacrament, and to receive from each other the encouragement we need to thrive.  In Hebrews 10:24-25 the writer says: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24–25)  Usually this verse is quoted to show us that God commands us to meet regularly with other Christians (which He does).  But we also see in this verse one of the purposes for which God gathers us: that we would encourage each other.  Sometimes this encouragement is a word; sometimes a smile, a handshake.  Sometimes it is merely just sitting near someone who is alone; sometimes it is an invitation to lunch.  Sometimes it is offering to pray with someone; sometimes it is merely engaging in some small talk to make them feel comfortable.  Everyone who serves on Sundays is doing so (in part) to encourage their brothers in Christ.

How can you encourage your brother or sister this Sunday? Let me encourage you to consider a kind greeting to whoever is sitting near you as a prime way for you to offer encouragement.  What if the words or smile you extend this Sunday is what God uses to draw someone to faith in Christ (and eternal life!)? Not sure who is a visitor and who isn’t?  Don’t be embarrassed: confession is good for the soul.  Reintroduce yourself if you have to!

How a church welcomes strangers is a great indicator of whether or not they really ‘get' the gospel.  If we understand that while we were strangers to the family of God Christ invited us in (Ephesians 2), we will extend a welcoming hand to those around us (Matthew 25).  If we remember that Christ stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of cross, we will stretch out our hands in welcome to those around us.  How we welcome each other on Sunday morning is one of the biggest ways in which show evidence of the truth of the Gospel.  If we love each other, our guests (and ourselves!) will know God is truly who He says He is! (John 13:34-35; 1 John).  Hospitality is a gospel issue.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Where We Grow

Over the last few weeks in “From Fr. Tom", I’ve been talking about how, at Good Shepherd, knowing the Word of God is more than merely learning facts and figures about the Bible, but it is responding to God’s Holy Word with our whole lives: our minds, our actions, our hearts.  We learn from the Scriptures how to be equipped to walk with Christ, and this involves learning to adopt biblical attitudes (heart), biblical practices (actions), and biblical teachings (intellect).  At Good Shepherd, these foundational attitudes, practices, and teachings are passed down in three places:

  • Eucharistic Worship (the public sphere):  As we gather each and every Sunday morning, we are participating in the most formative action of the Christian life.  Through the worship on the Lord’s Day (what Sunday is called in the New Testament), we are reminded (in ways beyond mere mental remembrance) of who God is, what He has done, and who we are as a result.  Eucharistic worship tells us who we are, and even makes us what we are.  Through the Word read, prayed, sung, preached, and made visible in the Sacrament, our whole being is shaped: our minds are sharpened, our hearts are drawn upward, and (ideally) the rest of our week is changed by this good beginning. 
  • Life Groups (the private sphere): Life groups are where we “do life together” at Good Shepherd during the week.   This is a different type of meeting than we have on Sundays.  With our Life Groups we live out the identity that we experience on Sunday in the world, and we do this together. In our Life Groups and other small groups, we go deeper into study; we learn hands-on practices of prayer that can’t be taught on Sundays.  We are known by others and know others and therefore we can address more personal concerns about how to learn to follow Christ.
  • Discipling (the personal sphere):  It is only with a very small group of friends (perhaps 2 or 3) where the most personal and deepest steps of faith can take place.  In groups of 2 or 3 we are challenged personally, we can be our most vulnerable, and we can learn more intentionally.

God could equip us and ready us for life in his Kingdom in millions different ways, but he has chosen to do this through his Scriptures (remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17?).  From the Bible we learn not just information, but how to live and even what to love.  And at our church, we learn these things from the Bible in public worship, in Life Groups, and in more personal intentional friendships.  Indeed, as we’ll see in the “From Fr. Tom” section in the coming weeks, it is through public worship, small groups, and one-on-one discipling that we live out the whole mission of the Church.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mind the Gap

Last week in “From Fr. Tom” we talked about the importance of God’s Word, the process by which God works through it, and the end goal God is seeking to achieve through the Scriptures.  This week, we will talk about how at Good Shepherd we seek to know Scriptures, live the Scriptures, and teach them. 

At Good Shepherd we seek to pass on Christian practices, attitudes and teachings taught in the Scriptures.  Please take note: we are not merely passing on information (teachings/doctrines), but we are passing on the practices and attitudes that are lifted up in the Scriptures as well.  Just as we are called to love God with our whole being, so we are to apply the Scriptures to every area of our lives: what we do (practices), what we feel (attitudes), and what we think and believe (teachings or doctrines) (See John 14:20-21).  
Throughout Church history Christians have sought to provide disciples of Jesus with working summations of the key attitudes, practices and teachings a Christian must know for his or her spiritual health and maturity.  These basic lists come through the various catechisms of the Church.  As an Anglican Church, we’ve inherited a wonderful catechism.  Other such catechisms are out there as well; a more recent one can be found at this website.

In keeping with what Christians before us have taught and lived, and in keeping with the Catechism we’ve inherited, the leadership of Good Shepherd, both the pastoral staff and Life Group leaders are committed to passing on the following basic teachings, attitudes and practices.  We believe that learning how to live out these areas will equip you for walking with Christ your whole life: 

  • Practices (what we do): 
    • Worship (the Liturgy, our vocation)
    • Christ-centered Living (walking in the Spirit, whole-life submission to Christ) 
    • Bible learning (hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating and applying)
    • Prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication; daily private prayer, public prayer)
    • Christian fellowship (living in community, servanthood, using our spiritual gifts for the Body, discipling and accountability) 
    • Evangelism (how to communicate the gospel, how to share my own testimony, prayer/care/share, embracing my ‘sentness’) 
  • Attitudes (how we feel): 
    • About God (Seeing him as our Father, King, Creator, Savior, Comforter, etc.) 
    • About our neighbor (Healthy relationships with others, love for all people, etc.) 
    • About ourselves (Understanding our identity in Christ) 
  • Teachings (what we think, believe):
    • The Creeds of the Church - Basic Christian doctrine
    • The 10 Commandments - Basic Christian ethics 
    • The Lord’s Prayer - Basic Christian spirituality 
    • The Gospel Sacraments - How Christians come to God 
    • The Metanarrative of Scripture - Christian Worldview 
This list, along with the Anglican Catechism, can help us know where our “gaps” are.  As we look at these foundational Christian attitudes, practices, and teachings we may find we are weak in one area… we may find we’ve just neglected one area… or we may find areas in which we’ve simply never been taught.  I hope this gives you a broader view of what steps in maturity you might be able to take this year.  As Rocky famously said: “We all have gaps.”  Next week, we will look at how we fill our gaps at Good Shepherd.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Being Equipped

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the Word of God for Christians to be equipped to respond to this fallen world with faith, endurance and even with joy.  This is what St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy, the newly minted Bishop of Ephesus:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16–17) With these words, the Apostle is reminding his young protege (and all of us who are listening in) of the importance of Scripture, of the process by which Scripture works and of the purpose of Scripture.

  • The importance of Scripture:  The Word of God preserved in the Bible is important because it is from God himself.  If the words of a wise or important person carry weight (e.g., we often quote Shakespeare or Plato or Einstein or Bill Gates, etc.), then words from God are gravity itself. The Bible on your desk (or on your shelf covered in dust) contains the words of God written down.  Paul talks about the Scripture being “breathed out by God.”  This peculiar and poetic phrase is meant to evoke images of God’s creative power in the Old Testament.  We read of the creation of mankind in Genesis: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7) This phrase also brings to mind the imagery of Ezekiel 37, the valley of the dry bones.  In this passage Ezekiel has a vision that he is looking over a valley filled with the skeletal remains of a vast army.  The bones are “very dry,” that is, very dead.  He is told that this valley of bones represents the people of Israel: they seem beyond hope of life.  But with God, all things are possible.  Ezekiel is told: "“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army." (Ezekiel 37:9–10)  When you and I breathe out, the warmth of our breath dissipates into the air.  But when God breathes out, the energy in it creates new life! That is what happened when God inspired the Scriptures to be written: life-giving words were formed.  This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “… the word of God is living and active." (Hebrews 4:12)  The Bible is important because it is God’s very word, and whatever words God breathes out have power to create life! 

  • The process by which Scripture works: God’s Scripture works on us in a specific way.  The writer of Hebrews says, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)  The image here is that the Bible is like a surgical tool in the hands of God: it cuts out the cancerous sin in our bodies and our minds and our spirits.  But hows does this happen?  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us: Enabled by God’s Holy Spirit we listen to God’s word and respond… and God’s Word begins to work on us.  It teaches us: Teaching shows us what is true, right, beautiful and good.  Without God’s teaching, we wouldn’t know what the true, the good and the beautiful are.  It rebukes and corrects us:  In order to teach us what is good and right, we often have to be told that what we’ve believed and lived in the past was not right, not good, not true.  Rebuke is the act of telling someone: “You’re wrong.”  Correction is the act of showing someone how to right the wrong.  If rebuke (or reproof) shows us how we've deviated from the path, then correction shows us the way back.  God’s word also trains us for righteousness:  Through the Scriptures we are trained to live in God’s Kingdom, in God’s ways.  Note the word “training.”  Training requires more than just understanding information. You don’t train for a marathon by reading about it.  Training requires action and formation of habit.  To engage with God in the work of Scripture, we must be willing to be trained… to let God’s Word inform our daily habits of thinking, feeling, and action.   This training takes time, repetition, continual submission, and passion (“love for the game”). God is the one who makes this process work (1 Cor 3:7; Phil 2:13), but we must listen to Him, obey him, pray to Him for help (Phil 2:12; Gal 5:22-23; John 15:4).  

  • The purpose (or goal) of the Scriptures:  God’s goal in working on us through the Bible is to equip us for living a new kind of life in a new World.  St. Paul tells us that the process of God’s word, that is, God’s working through teaching, rebuke, correction and training happens “ that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:17)  Elsewhere Paul articulates the goal of his teaching of the Scriptures in this way: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5, NASB) St. James talks about it this way: "Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)  

  • Jesus said it this way: “Make them holy by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17, trans. mine) The end goal of God’s work in the Bible is nothing short of the completion of our salvation, and the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity in us.  Through God’s Word empowered by the Holy Spirit and because of the atoning death of Christ which makes us holy, we become what God declares we are in Christ: "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:2–5)

    This is God’s glorious purpose for the Bible that you have in your home, the Bible that we read on Sundays, the Bible that informs all our life as Christians.  Next week in the “From Fr. Tom” section of our newsletter, we will talk more about how, at Good Shepherd, we go about knowing the Bible in such a way that we don’t merely ‘know’ it, but are formed by it, and so are receiving the gift of salvation in full.  

    Monday, June 13, 2016

    Prayer for Parents with Small Children

    "Lord, give me patience when tiny hands, tug at me with their small demands. Give me gentle and smiling eyes, keep my lips from sharp replies. And let not fatigue, confusion, and noise, obscure my vision of life's fleeting joys, so when, years later my house is still, no bitter memories its rooms may fill."

- from

    Wednesday, May 11, 2016


    Christians have seven BIG annual holidays.  These are called the “Seven Principle Feasts” of the Church year.  You’ve heard of Christmas and Easter, but the other five tend to be forgotten by most American Christians.  This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Pentecost, a day where we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church and where we celebrate the many gifts from the Spirit received by the Church.  Like the other principle feasts, there is more that can be said of Pentecost than one article can hold: the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God’s own presence IN his people, is so profound that I believe we will spend all of eternity talking about it.  The goal of this article is to help prepare us to honor God for the great gift of his Holy Spirit this Sunday. 

    First, let me just say a few things about the Holy Spirit:

    - He is a Person.  Note: the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ any more than Jesus or the Father are.  He is not just a ‘force’ or a ‘power,’ but a person.  He does things only a person can do: guide, comfort, teach, be grieved, be lied to, etc.  (Rom 8:14; John 14:26; John 16:3; Eph 4:30; Acts 5:3)

    - He is God.  The Holy Spirit is the 3rd Person of the Divine Trinity.  He is included in the Name of God.  He is called ‘God.’ (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:10-11, etc.)

    - He resides in every true Christian. The Holy Spirit is not just a gift that only the super-spiritual receive.  All Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (Rom 8:9).

    Given these three simple (yet profound) facts about the Holy Spirit, we should ask: 
    • Do I worship Him and honor Him as I do God the Father and God the Son?  How many songs of praise are there TO the Holy Spirit and FOR all that He has done? We have plenty of songs about the Father, about His works, and about the Son and his works, but what of the Spirit?  Too often we are seriously lacking in giving honor where honor is due. 
    • Do I remember that He is always with me, in a very real sense… in every moment of every day? How would it change our lives if we remembered we are filled with God the Holy Spirit?
    The Holy Spirit has done and does so much for the Church.  Just a quick survey of the Apostle’s Creed shows us some of his works:

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

    The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ through faith and baptism.  The Holy Spirit, in that sense, ‘makes’ the Church: it is only because of the work of the Holy Spirit that any of us believe and are brought into the Body of Christ. He is the permanent unity that will always exist between God’s people: because He is our unity, for there is “one Spirit,” we have an eternal unity. 

    The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.  This is true when we are first saved, believing we are sinners in need of a Savior; but this also continues as the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth to us and then convicts us of our lack of conformity to God’s truth and God’s ways.  The Holy Spirit gives us faith to believe that the forgiveness of sins of possible.  The Holy Spirit also inspired the Scriptures which give us assurance that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

    The Holy Spirit secures us for everlasting life.  Eternal life includes the resurrection of our bodies at the final judgment.  The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:11) and since we have the Holy Spirit in us we too know that the Holy Spirit will raise us.  Indeed the Holy Spirit is like a down payment on eternal life: because He is present in our lives, we know we will have life with God for all eternity (Eph 1:13-14).

    And this is just a smattering of the work the Holy Spirit does!  He inspired the Scriptures (spoke through the prophets), He comforts us when we are hurting, He assures us when we are doubting.  He gives us wisdom, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and gentleness. 

    But perhaps the greatest gift of the Spirit is that He is with us and in us.  Human beings were made for God, to be with Him.  We will never find joy and all we were made to be, unless we find it in God’s presence.  And the Gift of the Holy Spirit, through simply being with us and in us, fulfills the greatest purpose of humanity.

    Wednesday, September 02, 2015

    The Effective Pastor

    The following words introduce every new Anglican priest to his ministry: "Therefore always remember how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve, is his bride, and his body. And if it shall happen that the same Church, or any member thereof, takes any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault, and also the grievous judgment that will ensue. For this reason consider the purpose of your ministry towards the children of God, towards the bride and Body of Christ; and see that you never cease your labor, your care and diligence, until you have done all that lies in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, into that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for immorality in life." (from the ACNA Ordinal)  These words are at the heart of my ministry.  Whenever I lose my way in the pastorate, I return to them.

    But how can any man fulfill such a calling?  As St. Paul says: "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16)  Certainly no one is capable in themselves.  No one is able in their own strength.  

    But even a man dependent on the Holy Spirit must make decisions with his time: "What activities will I devote myself to... in order to care for Christ's flock?" While certainly we are called to preach the Word, to teach it, to rebuke, exhort and correct with the Scriptures, today I want to talk about the pastor in prayer.  

    There is always the temptation, as a pastor, to want to meet with everyone in the Church: to see how they're doing, to try to counsel and help everyone.  But this is impossible, even in a small church.  And this compulsion to meet with everyone (at least with me) is probably unhealthy anyway.

    The reality a pastor can touch everyone in his church through prayer.  We reach more in prayer than in person.  A pastor can strengthen the flock through prayer.  Prayer is our most effective means of counseling, and wrestling in prayer the most serious work a pastor can do.

    One of my mentors once said that we should talk to God about our parishioners more than we talk TO them about God, and certainly more than we talk to anyone about them.

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    Prayer of Confession: Why We Confess, Why It Matters

    By almost anyone’s reckoning confession of sin, often expressed as a request for forgiveness, should be a regular part of prayer.   Jesus included it in his model for prayer.  There are several psalms that are songs of confession.  The ancient Church developed a special type of priestly visitation dedicated to confession.  The historic English Prayer Books include confession in every prayer service.  The famous “ACTS” acrostic for prayer includes confession (“C” is not for “cookie," but “confession”).  So, why does confession appear so prominently in Christian prayers?  What can we learn about how to incorporate confession into our prayers from the biblical and historic examples we have?

    Prayers of confession exist because all of us are sinners.  You, me, us, them: we all sin.  And in confessing our sins to God, we are doing three things: 

    1) We’re acknowledging a particular thought, word, or deed as contrary to God’s character, will, and commands. 
    2) We’re resolving to turn away from that sin forever (this is called repentance).
    3) We’re asking God to forgive us, not because of any action we do to 'regain' his good graces, but only according to his promises made through Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9-2:2).

    The current prayer of confession in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 360) lays out these aspects of confession rather nicely: 

    1) Acknowledging sin: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourself…”  God’s commands are summed up here in “Loving God” and “Loving our neighbor.”  All of God’s commands are given for human flourishing and God’s glory.  Sin, therefore, brings death and takes away life.  Sin diminishes human flourishing, and it is an attack on God's glory, on Goodness Himself.  When we are acknowledging our sin before God, we will not be able to name all our sins (Indeed, God doesn't reveal all our sins to us at once... or we might despair). But it is common practice to have a period of silence before beginning this prayer in order for each person praying it stop and consider the previous day(s), in order to confess specific sins to the Lord.  It is VERY important that our standard for sin be nothing but the Word of God, the Bible.  Often, tender consciences will want to confess things that the Bible does not call sin.  And just as often, hard hearts will refuse to acknowledge as sin those thoughts, words, and actions which God clearly condemns.  For the hard heart, the objective commands of God expressed give a guide for confession.  God’s law acts like a chisel to break the stony heart.  For tender consciences, the law of God is truth that gives freedom.

    It is also very important in acknowledging sin before God (and others, we’ll get to that in a moment), that we recognize our sins of omission and sins of commission.  We sin by actively breaking God’s commands (commission) and/or by passively disobeying (omission).  Thus, not helping an old lady across the street can be as much a sin as beating her and taking her purse. 

    2) Repenting:  “...We are truly sorry and we humbly repent… that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your Name.”  We see here that repentance involves turning from sin, and turning to obedience.  Here, we can do no more than to resolve before God to discontinue our sin, but living out repentance will require God’s help.  True repentance, that is truly turning from a sin and turning to obedience, is a gift of God.  That’s why we pray for repentance.  We resolve to do it, and we ask God for help to do so.  

    If sin gives us cancer of the soul like smoking gives us cancer in the body, then repentance is like quitting smoking.  Easier said than done, but it is never done without first being said, that is, without first being resolved. And it is insanity to acknowledge to God that sin is killing us and offending God, and yet have no intention of turning from it.  Like cancer patients smoking on the curb of the hospital, we are only fooling ourselves if we confess and yet do not repent.  Confession and asking forgiveness without repentance is just disingenuous.  In fact, those whose lives are not characterized by repentance are not Christians.  Everyone is a sinner, but only Christians are repentant sinners. 

    3) Ask forgiveness: “...For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us…”  All sin is against God.  Some sins are directly against Him (whenever we break Commandments 1-4), but even sins that are not “directly” against God (e.g. murder or unrighteous anger, or sexual immorality) are against God.  We may sin against our fellow man, against ourselves (1 Cor 6:8) or against creation itself (Rev 11:18), but all those sins are really against God because God owns all things, whether it is your neighbor, yourself, or anything else in creation.  Indeed, all of our sins are chiefly against God and then secondarily against others.  Thus David says in his classic prayer of confession: "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge" (Psalms 51:4).  Because all sin is against God, we ask for his forgiveness.  If all sins are not against God, it makes no sense to confess them to Him.  We only ask forgiveness of those we have offended.  

    The great (and frankly almost unbelievable promise of God) is that when we confess, we will forgiven.  God desires NOT the death of sinners, but that they repent: "As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?..." (Ezekiel 33:11)  "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1–2) "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." (1 Timothy 1:15)  I pray that God would grant you the faith to believe you're forgiven, not because you "feel" forgiven but because God says it is so in his word, for those who lean on Christ's mercy.  

    When we sin against our fellow man, it is imperative we confess our sins to those whom we have offended and ask their forgiveness as well.  Indeed, we are commanded in Scripture to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16): this includes not only sins against each other but sins against God.  If you’ve never met with a faithful priest for the Rite of Confession (a.k.a. the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent), let me recommend you give your pastor or priest a call.  If I’m your priest, let me tell you this: nothing, nothing at all surprises or shocks me anymore.  Most pastors have had every kind of sin confessed to them in God’s name, and I'm not exception.  It brings great freedom to confess and hear the good news of forgiveness from the lips of a faithful man of God. 

    Here are some personal questions we should ask ourselves concerning confession:
    - Do I confess my sins to God regularly?
    - Do I confess my sins to a mature brother or sister in Christ regularly? 
    - Am I making God’s Word my standard for confession? or my own personal proclivities?
    - Do I confess my sins only when I get 'caught'?  
    - Do I see my sin as primarily against God and his glory and goodness? 
    - Do I need to ask forgiveness from a friend, family member, or neighbor for sinning against them?

    Monday, April 27, 2015

    Praying Without Ceasing

    In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are told that we should "pray without ceasing."  But what does that mean?  How can we possibly expect to pray non-stop throughout the day if we are also supposed to do our work and be present among other people?

    If you've never read Brother Lawrence's classic work "Practicing the Presence of God," I highly recommend you take some time to read it.  This book, more than any other, teaches on the subject and gives some good guidance for normal people.

    However, the book about Brother Lawrence book is medieval, and lacks a larger biblical context.

    Pastor John Piper offers some good thoughts on how we can pray without ceasing. And rather than re-create the wheel, let me just post what he says here.  It is worth the read.

    What does it mean to pray without ceasing?

    I think it means three things. First, it means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we "pray" or have the spirit of prayer continuously.

    Second - and I think this is what Paul has in mind most immediately - praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often. I base this on the use of the word "without ceasing" (adialeiptos) in Romans 1:9, where Paul says, "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you." Now we can be sure that Paul did not mention the Romans every minute of his prayers. He prayed about many other things. But he mentioned them over and over and often. So "without ceasing" doesn't mean that verbally or mentally we have to be speaking prayers every minute of the day. But we should pray over and over and often. Our default mental state should be: "O God . . ."

    Third, I think praying without ceasing means not giving up on prayer. Don't ever come to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don't abandon the God of hope and say, "There's no use praying." Go on praying. Don't cease.

    So the key to delight in the Word of God is to pray continually - that is, to lean on God all the time. Never give up looking to him for help, and come to him repeatedly during the day and often. Make the default mental state a Godward longing.

    I think it would be good to notice here that in real life some discipline in regular prayer times helps keep this kind of spontaneity alive. In other words, if you want to have a vital hour-by-hour spontaneous walk with God you must also have a disciplined regular meeting with God. Daniel had some remarkable communion with God when it was critically needed. But look what it grew out of. The decree was passed that no one could pray except to the king, under penalty of death. But notice what Daniel does, according to Daniel 6:10. "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously." The point here is that Daniel lived a life that combined discipline (three times a day) with spontaneous encounters with God. So it will be with us: if we hope to pray without ceasing day and night - enjoying a continual coming and communion with God - we will need to develop disciplined times of prayer. Nobody maintains pure spontaneity in this fallen world. (See Psalm 119:62; 55:17.)

    For the rest of Dr. Piper's sermon on this text, go to this link.

    Thursday, April 23, 2015

    Prayer in the Noise

    The appointed Psalm for this Wednesday is Psalm 38.  In the Bost house, it was read aloud in the living room: me and the boys praying the Morning Office “together.”  I put together in quotes because their participation today was intermittent at best.   Our youngest loves his lines from the Easter greeting:  “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”  But beyond that, this morning prayer time was mostly Daddy offering prayers to God amidst the chaos and the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    But Psalm 38 is the psalm for this type of prayer.  We tend to think of prayer as a quiet and contemplative act (and indeed, it often is), but many of the psalms are prayers for those in turmoil.  And for many of us, there are no quiet times of the day to pray. So, if you’re in a stage of life without much quiet (either filled with literal noise or with the noise of the soul), let me offer a few reflections from Psalm 38.  

    It is a prayer for those ….

    • Who are painfully aware of their sin and weaknesses:  In years past, this Psalm was for when my inner sins were too great for me to bear.  These seasons of realization are a mercy from God.  So it was this morning:  "O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart." (Psalms 38:1–8) 

    • Who battle with anger at the evils of this world:  This is a psalm, a prayer, for times when the world out there, especially as I see it on the news or on social media, seems so corrupt and twisted.  Because I’m a passionate person, this causes anger to rise up within me, and I often struggle to quell it.  This psalm gives me words to express my heart and gives me something to do with anger:  "But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes. But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer." (Psalms 38:13–15)

    • Who struggle with loneliness in a crowd:   In the loneliness of life, this Psalm gives me words to say to the One who is always near: "My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off…. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!" (Psalms 38:10-11, 8-9, 21-22)

    Monday, April 20, 2015

    Do You Know How Important the Lord's Prayer Is?

    It is hard to overstate the importance of the Lord’s Prayer to the Christian life.  While the Lord’s Prayer does not contain everything that can possibly be prayed (the Psalms offer a more comprehensive guide), it is our Lord’s chief teaching on the subject and has formed Christian practice of prayer throughout the centuries.  

    The Didache (70-110 AD), an early 2nd century summation of Christian teaching, states that Christians should pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.  

    Theologian William White Jr. has this to say of the influence of the Lord’s prayer:  “Without a doubt this is the most widely-known passage from the Bible and has been included in the Christian catechisms and liturgies of almost everybody since the days of the Apostolic Fathers. So familiar is it that it is usually known by its first line, Latin: Pater noster, German: Unser Vater, Dutch: Onze Vader, and so on through the manifold tongues of mankind.”  

    Martin Luther’s comments on the Lord’s Prayer give us a tender picture of a man who prayed it with all his heart… along with a warning for those of us who pray it regularly: “For to this day I drink of the Lord’s Prayer like a child; [and I] drink and eat like an old man; I can never get enough of it.  To me it is the best of all prayers, even above the Psalms, though I love them very much.  Indeed, it will be found that the true Master composed and taught it; and it is a thousand pities that such a prayer of such a Master should be babbled and gabbled without any reverence throughout all the world.  Many people repeat the Lord’s Prayer perhaps several thousand times  a year and if they prayed it this way for a thousand years they would still not have [truly] tasted nor [really] prayed a single jot or tittle of it.  In short, the Lord’s Prayer… is the greatest martyr on earth, for everybody tortures it and abuses it while few cherish and use it joyfully as it should be used.”