Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Parenting Advice from a Wise Woman

A few months ago, I asked my mom for parenting advice.  What she gave me was "off the top of her head," and yet, I was hit by its profundity and wisdom.  I put it into a list, and I believe it expresses (in part) what she and Dad have discovered over the years in parenting: from mistakes no doubt, but also from successes.   I pass them on here, with a little commentary from myself, hoping they'll benefit you as much as they have me.

1. Love your spouse - The best thing you can do for your kids is put your spouse before your kids.  This is counterintuitive to some, but the research bears this out.  Kids cannot bear the weight of being the center of your marriage, and if you put there them, you will crush them and your marriage and your family.  More divorces happen because one of the parents (usually the mom) is more 'married' to the kids than their spouse.  (And even though this post isn't about marriage, let me add one thing on marriage: your spouse can't bear the weight of being the center of your marriage either.  That place belongs to God.  Marriage isn't just a union between man and wife, it is like Communion: through it, Christ is leading you Himself.)

2. Be consistent - My dad has often said that with kids being consistent is more important than being right.  Stick to your guns: if you say you're going to do it, do it.  Establish a consistent way of life in your home, and let it be stable.  Children need the stability of consistency.  They need to know what they can expect from you. Nothing will exasperate a child more quickly (or any human being) than having an unpredictable, capricious authority.

3. Confess your mistakes - Every parent sins against their children in some way.  Unless you've got the patience of Job, you've probably had unrighteous anger toward your children at some point.  My children need to know that Daddy knows that he is a sinner in need of God's grace just like everyone else.  Also, the reality is that children know when you've wronged them.  If you want to earn your children's trust, you'll speak to the elephant in the room.

4. Learn from your mistakes - This, I think, is easier said than done.  What I love about this point of advice is that it acknowledges that you will make mistakes and then leads you to a response: "You're gonna mess up, but what are you going to do about it?"  When you foul up as a parent, confess it to God, confess it to your kids, ask for for forgiveness from both, and then learn from it.  What can you learn from the parenting mistakes you made last week? How can you keep from repeating your mistakes?

5. Pray for your kids - This probably should've been the first thing on the list.  Do you pray for your kids?  And what do you pray for them for?  The contents of your prayers for your children will reveal your heart... and really all you need to know about your parenting in order to evaluate it.  It is a good thing to pray for their basic needs: health and growth, healthy friendships, happiness in life... etc.  But if that's all your praying for, you're missing your job as a parent.  Parents (fathers in particular) are called to bring up their children in the fear and discipline of the Lord (Eph 6:1-4).  This surely includes praying the things that St. Paul prayed for his spiritual children (See Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:8-12; Ephesians 1:15-21; 3:14-21) and what Jesus prayed for us  (See John 17 and note the Lord's Prayer).  Not sure what to pray?  The prayers we pray for children at their baptism will a great guide for you in this as well.  (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305-306)

6. Remember you can't control how they'll respond - Mom always says that the hardest part about parenting is that a child's point-of-view, whether they are young or an adult, is impossible to predict.  You just never know how your kids are going to take life.  Often the solution to their woes or successes will be clear to you, but they simply won't see it... even after you have told them a thousand times.  So, what can you do?  You give them more and more latitude the older they get to make mistakes.... and you pray like crazy.  Unless your child has an increasing freedom to fail, they will not grow up.  And that is the point, isn't it?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Gospel Isn't a Long-Range Missile

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message that is meant to be communicated up close and personal.  Yes, you can text the gospel, email it, preach it to thousands in a stadium, tweet it even, but it is not normally received or communicated outside the context of a relationship between the hearer and the listener.

The gospel is not just communicated for conversion, for the first decision to follow Jesus.  The gospel is the mainstay of the Christian life.  It is through the preaching of the Gospel that we mature in the faith.  (Colossians 1:28-29) The gospel that saved us is the gospel that sanctifies us.

In light of the fact the gospel ministry is an ongoing and life-long process, I want to remind us of this verse:  “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
(1 Thessalonians 2:8)

This verse reminds us that those who minister the gospel need to be in real, loving relationships with the people they 'proclaim' the gospel to.  Do you want an effective ministry?  Make it gospel-centered.  How do you have gospel-centered ministry? Life on life.   Do you want to share the gospel? Then share your gospel-filled life as well (Philippians 4:9)

So, we should ask the question:

  • How well do I know the people to whom I minister?  Do they know you? 
  • Do I hang out with them regularly?  
  • Do I have a few of them on 'speed-dial'?  
  • Is my life open enough to have people over (or go to their place) from time to time? 

A Prayer Asking God to Move

Recently, some friends and I were discussing during our church's Foundations Course what it means to be "born again." Though it is used in many non-biblical ways, the phrase "born again" is a biblical one.  But what does it mean?  When we were born from our mother, even though our life began, the reality is that we were born spiritually dead.  In order to have spiritual life, we must be born "again" (or born "from above") (see John 3:1-21; 1 Peter 1:3-8; Titus 3:1-7).  This "new birth" is a transformation of our hearts, a change of our desires and inclinations.  (Titus 2:11-14; Ezekiel 26:25-32; 2 Corinthians 5:17).  This change is not something we can make in ourselves, but it is an act of God, a work of God in us (Look at John 3:1-21 again).  In many ways, the cry of the Christian's heart is for God to come and change us, to make us new, to transform us.  In fact, the desire to pray this prayer is evidence that you are already born again.

A Christian's spiritual life really starts when we respond to this move of God, and a Christian's life continues for eternity dependent on God in the same way.  We continually respond to and ask for God to work and move in us.

The following prayer comes from a book called "The Valley of Vision" and perfectly captures the heart of someone who knows they are dependent on God (John 15:5):

O Supreme Moving Cause,
May I always be subordinate to thee,
  be dependent upon thee,
  be found in the path where thou dost walk,
    and where thy Spirit moves,
  take heed of estrangement from thee,
    of becoming insensible to thy love.
Thou dost not move men like stones,
  but dost endue them with life,
  not to enable them to move without thee,
  but in submission to thee, the first mover.
O Lord, I am astonished at the difference
  between my receivings and my deservings,
  between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,
  between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit.
Who made me to differ, but thee?
  for I was no more ready to receive Christ than were others;
I could not have begun to love thee hadst thou not first loved me,
  or been willing unless thou hadst first made me so.
O that such a crown should fit the head of such a sinner!
  such high advancement be for an unfruitful person!
  such joys for so vile a rebel!
Infinite wisdom cast the design of salvation
  into the mould of purchase and freedom;
Let wrath deserved be written on the door of hell,
But the free gift of grace on the gate of heaven.
I know that my sufferings are the result of my sinning,
  but in heaven both shall cease;
Grant me to attain this haven and be done with sailing,
  and may the gales of thy mercy blow me safely into harbour.
Let thy love draw me nearer to thyself,
  wean me from sin, mortify me to this world,
  and make me ready for my departure hence.
Secure me by thy grace as I sail across this stormy sea.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Best Parenting Article You'll Ever Read

This is going to be the best parenting article you'll ever read.  Well, maybe.

The reality is that parenting is both simple and complicated at the same time.  Most everyone knows the simple and straightforward commands of parenting: love your kid, provide for them, be gentle but firm, consistent and fair, etc. etc.  Everyone from Strabo the Stoic Graeco-Roman philosopher, to St. Paul the great Christian missionary and scholar, to Dr. Phil the psychologist and media attention addict, give the same basic advice to parents.  To be sure there are big differences among the many schools of thought on parenting, but there is a significant amount of common ground as well.

The complicated part is applying this knowledge to a specific family, a specific child, at a specific age and time, in a specific situation... and doing so again and again as both the parents and the child(ren) change and grow and move on in time.  This takes wisdom.  One mentor of mine said that wisdom is "knowing the right thing to do, at the right time, in the right way."  If that's the case, then wise parenting is contextual and therefore... complex.

There are many great resources out there to learn wisdom from.  Certainly life-on-life learning is the best way to learn wisdom.  Whether it is a career, a sport, a religion, a new relational role, the best way to learn is in real-time with someone who has experience and success.  One way to access some of this experience is through the books that wise people write.  Books are no substitute for life-on-life learning (so get off the internet and get a mentor or two), but they can be helpful.

I recently came across one of the most helpful articles on parenting I've ever read (So, we're back to the title of this blog post now).  It was written in the 1860's.  Uncovering parenting tips from the past allows me to have a fresh perspective on my own historical biases.  It is like a cross-cultural experience.

So, if you're ready for a cross-cultural experience, check this out:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

C.S. Lewis on "Family"

Family is one of those "inevitable" relationships in life.  We may joke about the only certain things in life being "death" and "taxes," but the reality is that the longing for a loving family and the results of sin in our family leave are certainties as well.  In fact, the living pain many have from their families of origin is a reoccurring aspect of my ministry.

  • What good things did you receive from your upbringing?  
  • What about your family as it is right now? What joys do you have there? Why?
  • What wounds and burdens do you bear because of your parents, your spouse, your kids? Why
  • Here's a question many are asking: Is family worth it? Don't friends work just as well?
  • Why do we often have so many problems with family members?

Recently, as I was preparing for a sermon on "family," I ran across this essay by C.S. Lewis.  The author comments on a sermon he heard, and the distance between the content of the sermon and the reality of the subject.

Anyone wrestlings with the realities of family life will find this helpful.  I reproduce it here as I found it online for free (If I'm in violation of a copyright, please let me know, and I'll remove it.)

by C.S. Lewis

...SAID THE PREACHER, 'THE HOME MUST BE THE foundation of our national life. It is there, all said and done, that character is formed. It is there that we appear as we really are. It is there we can fling aside the weary disguises of the outer world and be ourselves. It is there that we retreat from the noise and stress and temptation and dissipation of daily life to seek the sources of fresh strength and renewed purity. ..' And as he spoke I noticed that all confidence in him had departed from every member of that congregation who was under thirty. They had been listening well up to this point. Now the shufflings and coughings began. Pews creaked; muscles relaxed. The sermon, for all practical purposes, was over; the five minutes for which the preacher continued talking were a total waste of time - at least for most of us.

Whether I wasted them or not is for you to judge. I certainly did not hear any more of the sermon. I was thinking; and the starting-point of my thought was the question, 'How can he? How can he of all people?' For I knew the preacher's own home pretty well. In fact, I had been lunching there that very day, making a fifth to the Vicar and the Vicar's wife and the son (RAF.)! and the daughter (AT.S.),2 who happened both to be on leave. I could have avoided it, but the girl had whispered to me, 'For God's sake stay to lunch if  they ask you. It's always a little less frightful when there's a visitor.'

Lunch at the vicarage nearly always follows the same pattern. It starts with a desperate attempt on the part of the young people to keep up a bright patter of trivial conversation: trivial not because they are trivially minded (you can have real conversation with them if you get them alone), but because it would never occur to either of them to say at home anything they were really thinking, unless it is forced out of them by anger. They are talking only to try to keep their parents quiet. They fail. The Vicar, ruthlessly interrupting, cuts in on a quite different subject. He is telling us how to re-educate Germany. He has never been there and seems to know nothing either of German history or the German language. 'But, father,' begins the son, and gets no further. His mother is now talking, though nobody knows exactly when she began. She is in the middle of a complicated story about how badly some neighbour has treated her. Though it goes on a long time, we never learn either how it began or how it ended: it is all middle. 'Mother, that's not quite fair,' says the daughter at last. 'Mrs Walker never said -' but her father's voice booms in again. He is telling his son about the organization of the RA.F. So it goes on until either the Vicar or his wife says something so preposterous that the boy or the girl contradicts and insists on making the contradiction heard. The real minds of the young people have at last been called into action. They talk fiercely, quickly, contemptuously. They have facts and logic on their side. There is an answering flare up from the parents. The father storms; the mother is (oh, blessed domestic queen's move!) 'hurt'- plays pathos for all she is worth. The daughter becomes ironical. The father and son, elaborately ignoring each other, start talking to me. The lunch party is in ruins.
The memory of that lunch worries me during the last few minutes of the sermon. I am not worried by the fact that the Vicar's practice differs from his precept. That is, no doubt, regrettable, but it is nothing to the purpose. As Dr Johnson said, precept may be very sincere (and, let us add, very profitable) where practice is very imperfect,3 and no one but a fool would discount a doctor's warnings about alcoholic poisoning because the doctor himself drank too much. What worries me is the fact that the Vicar is not telling us at all that home life is difficult and has, like every form of life, its own proper temptations and corruptions. He keeps on talking as if 'home' were a panacea, a magical charm which of itself was bound to produce happiness and virtue. The trouble is not that he is insincere but that he is a fool. He is not talking from his own experience of family life at all: he is automatically reproducing a sentimental tradition - and it happens to be a false tradition. That is why the congregation have stopped listening to him.

If Christian teachers wish to recall Christian people to domesticity - and I, for one, believe that people must be recalled to it...:..- the first necessity is to stop telling lies about home life and to substitute realistic teaching. Perhaps the fundamental principles would be something like this.

1. Since the Fall no organization or way of life whatever has a natural tendency to go right. In the Middle Ages some people thought that if only they entered a religious order they would find themselves automatically becoming holy and happy: the whole native literature of the period echoes with the exposure of that fatal error. In the nineteenth century some people thought that monogamous family life would automatically make them holy and happy; the savage anti-domestic literature of modern times - the Samuel Butlers, the Gosses, the Shaws - delivered the answer. In both cases the 'debunkers' may have been wrong about principles and may have forgotten the maxim abusus non tollit usum ('The abuse does not abolish the use.' ), but in both cases they were pretty right about matter of fact. Both family life and monastic life were often detestable, and it should be noticed that the serious defenders of both are well aware of the dangers and free of the sentimental illusion. The author of the Imitation of Christ knows (no one better) how easily monastic life goes wrong. Charlotte M.Yonge makes it abundantly clear that domesticity is no passport to heaven on earth but an arduous vocation - a sea full of hidden rocks and perilous ice shores only to be navigated by one who uses a celestial chart. That is the first point on which we must be absolutely clear. The family, like the nation, can be offered to God, can be converted and redeemed, and will then become the channel of particular blessings and graces. But, like everything else that is human, it needs redemption. Unredeemed, it will produce only particular temptations, corruptions, and miseries. Charity begins at home: so does uncharity.

2. By the conversion or sanctification of family life we must be careful to mean something more than the preservation of 'love' in the sense of natural affection. Love (in that sense) is not enough. Affection, as distinct from charity, is not a cause of lasting happiness. Left to its natural bent affection becomes in the end greedy, naggingly solicitous, jealous, exacting, timorous. It suffers agony when its object is absent - but
is not repaid by any long enjoyment when the object is present. Even at the Vicar's lunch table affection was partly the cause of the quarrel. That son would have borne patiently and humorously from any other old man the silliness which enraged him in his father. It is because he still (in some fashion) 'cares' that he is impatient. The Vicar's wife would not be quite that endless whimper of self-pity which she now is if she did not (in a sense) 'love' the family: the continued disappointment of her continued and ruthless demand for sympathy, for affection, for appreciation has helped to make her what she is. I do not think this aspect of affection is nearly enough noticed by most popular moralists. The greed to be loved is a fearful thing. Some of those who say (and almost with pride) that they live only for love come, at last, to live in incessant resentment.

3. We must realize the yawning pitfall in that very characteristic of home life which is so often glibly paraded as its principal attraction. 'It is there that we appear as we really are: it is there that we can fling aside the disguises and be ourselves.' These words, in the Vicar's mouth, were only too true and he showed at the lunch table what they meant. Outside his own house he behaves with ordinary courtesy. He would not have interrupted any other young man as he interrupted his son. He would not, in any other society, have talked confident nonsense about subjects of which he was totally ignorant: or, if he had, he would have accepted correction with good temper. In fact, he values home as the  place where he can 'be himself' in the sense of trampling on all the restraints which civilized humanity has found indispensable for tolerable social intercourse. And this, I think, is very common. What chiefly distinguishes domestic from public conversation is surely very often simply its downright rudeness. What distinguishes domestic behaviour is often its selfishness, slovenliness, incivility - even brutality. And it will often happen that those who praise home life most loudly are the worst offenders in this respect: they praise it - they
are always glad to get home, hate the outer world, can't stand visitors, can't be bothered meeting people, etc. - because the freedoms in which they indulge themselves at home have ended by making them unfit for civilized society. If they practised elsewhere the only behaviour they now find 'natural' they would simply be knocked down.

4. How, then, are people to behave at home? If a man can't be comfortable and unguarded, can't take his ease and 'be himself' in his own house, where can he? That is, I confess, the trouble. The answer is an alarming one. There is nowhere this side of heaven where one can safely lay the reins on the horse's neck. It will never be lawful simply to 'be ourselves' until 'ourselves' have become sons of God. It is all there in the hymn - 'Christian, seek not yet repose.' This does not mean, of course, that there is no difference between home life and general society. It does mean that home life has its own rule of courtesy - a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult, than that of the outer world.

5. Finally, must we not teach that if the home is to be a means of grace it must be a place of rules? There cannot be a common life without a regula. The alternative to rule is not freedom but the unconstitutional (and often unconscious) tyranny of the most selfish member.

In a word, must we not either cease to preach domesticity or else begin to preach it seriously? Must we not abandon sentimental eulogies and begin to give practical advice on the high, hard, lovely, and adventurous art of really creating the Christian family?

Monday, September 19, 2016

In the Name of Jesus...

Recently, I preached a sermon on Colossians 3:17 - “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Emphasis added)  I think this may be the most revolutionary command in the New Testament.  If somehow, by God's grace (see Colossians 3:16), we were enabled to obey this command, I believe our lives and the lives of those around us would change in ways we really can't imagine.  This, I think, is the "coming" of the Kingdom we so often pray for as Christians.  
Thanks to F.F. Bruce's commentary on Colossians, I ran across this poem by George Herbert: "Elixir".   Hebert's poem is like a rock tumbler:  read it, and your soul is thrown in the tumbler with "in the Name of Jesus."  

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King, 
         In all things Thee to see, 
And what I do in anything 
         To do it as for Thee. 

         Not rudely, as a beast, 
         To run into an action; 
But still to make Thee prepossest, 
         And give it his perfection. 

         A man that looks on glass, 
         On it may stay his eye; 
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass, 
         And then the heav'n espy. 

         All may of Thee partake: 
         Nothing can be so mean, 
Which with his tincture—"for Thy sake"— 
         Will not grow bright and clean. 

         A servant with this clause 
         Makes drudgery divine: 
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws, 
         Makes that and th' action fine. 

         This is the famous stone 
         That turneth all to gold; 
For that which God doth touch and own 
         Cannot for less be told.

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.