The Anglican Way

I have been a part of the Anglican Church since I was in ninth grade. Even though I wasn’t formally “received” as an Anglican until around ten years later, I considered myself Anglican from pretty shortly after I started attending. I come from a Roman Catholic background, but my conversion to Anglicanism had less to do with what I was leaving than with what I was joining. I never felt any animosity or discomfort with the Roman Church. In fact, I pretty much held on to my Roman theology all the way until I got to seminary. No, I never felt like I was leaving something. I felt like I was joining something.

For many people, that something of Anglicanism is hard to define. People join the Anglican Church for all sorts of reasons. I think those reasons, diverse as they might be, come down to this: for us, the Anglican Church feels like family. It can be a messy and difficult family, but it is a family that we recognize. When I get together with my own family, we don’t all believe the exact same things the exact same ways. We don’t all want the exact same things. We have disagreements and disputes. But we always love each other. My family isn’t, and never has been dysfunctional. We are just a typical family.

That is what you see in Anglicanism, and it is explained very well in The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie. You have evangelicals and catholics. You have charismatics and orthodox. You have activists and contemplatives. You have conservatives and liberals. Each thing properly understood, and when not taken to an extreme, has a home within the Anglican Church. It is like a family. We can disagree with some of what others are doing, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t family. This doesn’t mean that there are no limits or boundaries. As we have seen and experienced with the Episcopal Church, one can get to an extreme that puts them outside of traditional Anglicanism and historic Christianity. But just because there are extremes that must be avoided, it doesn’t nullify the real diversity within the body.

Some families are dysfunctional, sadly. There may be destructive people within the family who tear it apart. Some families require everyone to be a certain way, believe a certain thing, or behave in a certain manner. Many denominations are this way. Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that any denomination (or non-denomination as the case may be) is dysfunctional if it doesn’t look like Anglicanism. But the metaphor works. In most denominations and churches there are much tighter boundaries. This is what it means to be Catholic, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, etc. It can be hard to have that natural family feel if you exist within a body that expects everyone to be exactly alike in many ways. If you are Pentecostal and you don’t speak in tongues, you are out of the family. If you are an Orthodox Presbyterian and you do speak in tongues, you are out of the family. These are somewhat vulgar over-simplifications, but you get the point.

To the Anglican, both things are acceptable. I am not simply saying that it is ok that some do and some don’t speak in tongues. I am taking it even further than that. It is acceptable to believe in speaking in tongues as a Christian trait, and it is ok to believe that speaking in tongues and such gifts ceased at the end of the first century. It isn’t that both groups are right. Instead, this is about what it means to be Anglican. It means to not look for boundaries to divide us from one another, but to look for that which unites us as a family, even in our disagreement. For us, we recognize that if we are all adopted as sons and daughters of God, then we are family. Families fight. Families disagree. Families don’t always believe all the same things. Those things don’t make the family dysfunctional. They make them real families.

The Anglican Church is a real family. There are those even within New Life who hold vastly disparate, yet equally Christian views. There are those who speak in tongues, those that don’t, and those that think tongue speaking doesn’t exist. There are those that believe in women’s ordination and those that don’t. There are those that believe in predestination and election and those that are committed to their own free will. There are those who hold a high view of the sacraments and those that don’t care if they ever come to the Lord’s Table. All of these are present within New Life. In many ways, New Life is a microcosm of the Anglican Church as a whole.

In so many churches, so many people of disparate views could hardly exist alongside one another. In the Anglican Church, it is assumed that such diversity exists. It is what makes us Anglican. It is what makes us family. It is that kind of a family that I knew I was joining about 22 years ago, that I found so attractive. And it is that kind of a family which allows each of its members to grow and flourish in Christ.

Sermon- October 6, 2013- Jesus, increase our faith?

This past Sunday I preached on Luke 17:5-10.  The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith and then he tells a parable against them.  We looked at what prompted the apostles asking for increased faith (Jesus telling them that they have a responsibility to forgive someone as often as they sin and repent, and the apostles thinking that is a hard thing), and what Jesus’ response was to it.  His basic response was that they didn’t need more faith (faith the size of a mustard seed can already do incredible things).  Instead, they needed to act on their faith by seeing even these hard teachings as their duty.

10.6.2013

Sermons- September 22 and 29, 2013

Here are my sermons for the last two weeks.

On September 22 I preached on 1 Timothy 2:1-8.  I talked about the importance of us praying all types of prayer for all types of people.  This means that we must be willing to pray intercessions and even thanksgivings for those we consider enemies.  And we often find that in so doing, we have a difficult time viewing people as enemies.

09.22.2013

On September 29 I preached on Luke 16:19-31.  This is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  I explained this parable and talked about how the ultimate point Jesus seemed to be making was that the Rich Man didn’t believe the teachings of the faith and thus lived only for himself.  This resulted in the Rich Man being sent to hell where he was in anguish and realized that it was too late to repent and live a life of faith.  We need to be honest about whether we believe the teachings of the gospel, or if we have given some mental assent to it while living our lives in a way that suggests we don’t really- deep down- believe those teachings much, if at all.

9.29.2013

Sermon- September 15, 2013- Guest Preacher Justus Miwanda

On Sunday, September 15, Justus Miwanda, an Anglican Priest from Uganda, spoke at New Life.  He came to tell us about the work that he does in Uganda of providing education for orphans and those who can’t afford an education.  He spoke briefly about his work, then preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, encouraging us to follow the Good Samaritan’s example of caring for those outside of our own cultural setting.  It was a powerful and moving message and I encourage you to listen and to share it with others.  Unfortunately, the first part of this talk did not record, so it picks up a few minutes in.  However, even picking up a few minutes in, it is a great message worth hearing.

09.15.2013

Also, here is a link to International Needs Network, for which Justus serves as Executive Director in Uganda.

http://www.innetworkusa.org/country/uganda

Conformed or transformed?

In my last post I wrote about Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  In this post I want to follow that up by talking about how the Church has done in this regard, and what the Church’s responsibility is.

To begin, we should read Romans 12:1.  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  This immediately precedes the verse we talked about last month, and it gives us some insights.  Paul appeals to believers to present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  It is all part of the same appeal.

I want to apply this, first and foremost, to the Church.  If we as God’s people are intended to be holy, then certainly his Bride the Church is intended to be holy as well.  In fact, Paul tells us that this is the case in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  Paul talks about Jesus’ sacrifice for his Bride as being about presenting her (the Church) to himself (the Judge) in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  It is clear that holiness is the goal.

So let’s talk about how the Church is doing at that.  If the call is to not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed, then it seems to me that the Church in the West (America, Canada, Europe, and Australia- West is not a location, but a distinction of what defines the culture) has either missed, ignored, or just flat out failed at this.  This doesn’t mean that all individual churches have failed.  But as a whole, what people refer to as “The Church,” being that body which people identify with Christianity, has simply not heeded Paul’s call.  And it is because of this that we have to see the importance of how holiness and transformation go hand in hand.

Historically, the Church has been called to be and has often served as the conscience of culture.  It has kept, or tried to keep society from running amok in all sorts of ungodliness.  In America since the 1960s we have seen a Church that strives more to emulate or affirm culture than one that seeks to be the institution which stems the tide of moral decay.  The same Church that stood against slavery because it was the right thing to do has become the Church that stands for abortion and opposes the rights of the unborn.  It seems that in many ways the Church has looked to culture for guidance and has defined its mission more as being relevant than as being holy.

It seems that the Church believes that it needs to adopt a worldly way and attitude toward sin in order to be relevant.  Many churches have adopted the spirit of the age in order to see their attendance grow.  Usually it doesn’t work.  Just ask The Episcopal Church whether or not this is an effective growth strategy.  The Church so wants to be liked, so wants to be seen as hip and cool, that it latches on to what society is already doing.  Yet that doesn’t make the Church relevant, it makes it irrelevant.  Because the role of the Church is to offer grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope, and transformation all through the forgiveness of sins  by Christ’s death, the hope of eternal life through his resurrection, and real transformation through the indwelling power of his Spirit.  If we stop offering those things, then we are an irrelevant institution.

The body of Jesus’ teachings was about being holy and obedient to God.  When we look for church growth strategies, we often point to The Great Commission. The Great Commission was about evangelizing the world (the last thing he said after an entire ministry about holiness), but people often miss that he ends it with the words “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.”  Our job as the Church isn’t just about telling people to accept Jesus into their hearts.  It is about making disciples who obey all that Jesus commanded.

Church growth is never to come at the expense of holiness.  Holiness is our first responsibility.  Evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand and are for the purpose of leading people to both forgiveness in Christ and a transformed life of holiness.  Growth in numbers isn’t the goal.  Growth in Christ is.  Therefore, if the Church is to be relevant, it must work towards accomplishing its goal of pursuing Christ and pursuing holiness so that we, the Church, can be presented to Christ as a Bride in all her splendor, spotless and without blemish.

Sermon- August 25, 2013- Are only a few saved?

This past Sunday I preached on Luke 13:22-30.  In this passage, a man asks Jesus if only a few are saved.  Jesus’ response amounted to, “Don’t worry how many will be saved.  Worry about whether or not you will be saved.”  He talked about striving (agonizing) to enter through the narrow door.  Jesus wants us to agonize- to prioritize him to the point where there is real cost to us in following him- after him.  He doesn’t just want a profession of faith, but a true possession of faith.

Have a listen and be blessed.

8.25.2013

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The beauty of scripture is that there is more to it than you will ever uncover in one cursory reading.  I am often amazed that as I look at passages that I have preached multiple times, I still see new things in a text that I haven’t seen before.  When we consider the depth of the God who created all that exists through the power of his words, and when we look at the complexity of that creation, we shouldn’t be surprised at all by the depth and complexity of his Word.  The Bible seems to be a reflection of the intricacy of a God that we will never fully comprehend with our finite minds.

You all likely know that I encourage a brand of thoughtful Christianity.  It isn’t that I want us to be cold, detached minds who are afraid of feeling God in the depth of our souls.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I simply don’t want us to let go of the wealth of knowledge of who God is and what he says to us through his Word, especially since the bible tells us multiple times that Jesus is the Word.  To know God’s word (the bible) is to know God’s Word (the Son).  We all basically know John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  But here is what Revelation 19:11-13 says, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”  So we see that Jesus is the Word of God.  And thus why it is so important for us to develop our minds so that we can apprehend who he is by reading and studying in his word.

One of the most common verses quoted in defense of the development of the mind, and in particular, in defense of thoughtful Christianity is Romans 12:2.  Here Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Clearly the mind is important.  Apart from Christ, in our mind, we think thoughts contrary to God.  We despise him.  We intellectually reject him.  We think his ways are foolish and naïve.  But when we are called by the power of the Holy Spirit and we are given a new heart for God, then Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  As Christians, we are not to conform to the ways and the thinking of the world.  We are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

For so long I have seen this verse from Paul as simply challenging us to change our thinking and to be more thoughtful.  But there is more to it.  This isn’t simply about what we think.  It is about what we put in as well as what we put out.  Paul isn’t simply saying, “Gather together the right propositional truths about God,” though it is clear that Paul does indeed want us to have a correct propositional understanding about who God is.  Paul is challenging us to be different from the world.

Before coming to Christ, we might consume all kinds of ungodly things without a second thought.  We fill our minds with lust, greed, envy, hatred, and many other things through what we watch, read, and consume.  We fill our minds with Fifty Shades of Grey and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (and much worse things than these).  We fill our minds with movies and television shows that ridicule God and mock his character and work in the world.  Sadly, as Christians, we are often no different.  Before we came to Christ, we were of the world.  We were conformed to it because it was our home.  But now, in Christ, we are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world.  Instead of being conformed to this world, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

This isn’t about reading books on philosophy and studying apologetics.  It isn’t about memorizing the Heidelberg Catechism or Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Of course, those things are actually good and beneficial.  But it isn’t what Paul is getting at.  Paul is suggesting that if we are going to break free from the world and its ways, then we need to transform our minds by changing what we put into them.  If we put sin in, sin will come out.  We have to change the very nature of our minds the same way we would change our body chemistry- through changing our diets.  Stop indulging sin as a Christian and your mind won’t dwell on sin.  Start indulging the things of God and you will find that you dwell on the things of God.  Stop building inappropriate and unhealthy relationships and start building a relationship with Christ.  Instead of being indwelt by the spirit of the age, seek a great indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As I said, this verse from Romans 12 is often seen as a defense of building the intellect.  But I have come to see so much more in it.  It is less about renewing your mind through intellectual activity, and more about renewing your mind by changing what you allow to have your attention.  When you make a conscious effort to focus on the things of God instead of the things of the world, you will find the very nature of how you think being transformed.  Eventually, through the renewal of your mind, that diet of empty calories of worldly junk won’t satisfy.  You will only be satisfied by feasting on that which is honoring of or draws you closer to the Lord.

Paul gives a reason for all this, “That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” If we are conformed to the ways of the world, we end up with what we are seeing in the mainline Protestant Church in the West.  We end up with people who call themselves Christian while engaging in and encouraging every sort of ungodliness, all in the name of Christ.  When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, we stop looking at the world through the lens of earthly concerns and we are able to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Just think about how much of the Church has lost touch with what is good and holy and right because they want to claim a Christ found nowhere in the bible who will affirm them in their sin instead of the Christ of the bible who died for our sin.

So I encourage you to take Paul’s words seriously.  Do not be conformed to this world.  Do not continue to pursue a world at odds with God while wearing the name “Christian.”  But submit your mind to Christ by guarding what you put into it.  If you put evil in, evil will come out.  But if you put the things of God in, what do you think will come out?  Be transformed through the renewing of your mind.  Change what you put into your mind.  (For example, what does it say about us when we find things that degrade women entertaining?)  Put good things in so that good things come out.  Pray for the Spirit of God to renew you.  Spend time in the scriptures meditating on the Word.  Spend time in prayer, intimately focusing on God and getting to know him.  Live a life of daily worship, singing his praises and telling of his glory to everyone.  Be transformed by making your mind a dwelling place for God and not a slum of sin.

Mossy Foot Project Talk by Sharon Daly- Sunday Message, April 28, 2013

This past Sunday we were blessed to have Sharon Daly, president of the Mossy Foot Project, speak at New Life about the amazing work of the Mossy Foot Project and the powerful work of God in bringing both medical care and the gospel to the people of the Wolayta province of Ethiopia.  This was a very inspiring talk about the lives God has changed and well worth listening to.

The Mossy Foot Project

This talk is roughly 23 minutes in length.  Enjoy.

For more information on the Mossy Foot Project, please visit http://mossyfoot.com/.

Sermon- Luke 20:9-19

This past Sunday I preached on the parable of the tenants from Luke 20:9-19.  In this parable, Jesus showed the history of Israel’s rejection of God, culminating with the prediction that they would kill His Son.  Jesus said that the vineyard would be taken away and given to others- the Gentiles.  The Jewish leaders were aghast at such a statement, and therefore plotted to kill Jesus.

Download the sermon by clicking the link below:

Luke 20:9-19

Length is about 20 minutes.  Enjoy.

If only we listened more to Jesus…

There is a common sentiment out there these days that Jesus is pretty cool, but the rest of the bible is not.  The bible is hateful, divisive, full of violence, and of course has a bunch of stories in it that no one would ever really believe (Jonah, I am talking to you!).  I was downloading a bible application for my computer today (a great app called youversion that you can get on any smart phone or on Windows 8 for your computer) and I decided to take a look at the reviews.  The first review that came up was a 1 star rating, not because the app isn’t a good app, but because the app covers the bible which the person called a book of “fairy tales” .  He acted as though he used the app, read the bible, and then was disappointed as though the app had changed the words of the bible and put in all of these myths, fairy tales, and just-so stories.  Of course, he never downloaded the app.  He never used the app.  He was just looking for a forum to make sure others who do read the bible are aware that he thinks that only fools would believe these “fairy tales.”

The author of said review claims that the bible is full of unbelievable stories and hate except for that Jesus guy.  Then he lamented that no one really listens to what Jesus taught.  This isn’t an isolated point of view.  Both skeptics and even Christians (or at the very least pseudo-Christians who profess the faith, but not necessarily the faith of the bible) are quick to suggest that Jesus was this great loving guy and that we as Christians need to listen to more of his teachings and to be more like him.  The implication is that we are all mean and judgmental, but Jesus was loving and accepting.  We are really good at looking at the speck in our neighbor’s eye while Jesus wants us to look at the log in our own eye.  As Christians, we should be like Jesus- the Christ.  And if we were more like him(so the argument implies), then those skeptics would come to faith because what is really keeping them from following Jesus is that we as Christians don’t listen to him closely enough.

While I wouldn’t argue that we all need to work harder each day at following Christ, I would argue that every aspect of the above argument is not only wrong, but disingenuous.  It is also completely misinformed.  Is Jesus really the loving hippie who welcomed everyone and judged no one?  Is the rest of the bible hateful and divisive while Jesus is loving and only wants us all to get along?

This would be great if it were true.  Unfortunately, it is not.  First of all, we can’t pit the Jesus of the bible against the rest of the bible.  We are told that Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1, Rev. 19:13, Hebrews 4:12, 1 John 1:1).  So it is impossible to separate the Jesus of the gospels from the rest of the bible.  If God did things in the Old Testament, Jesus was a part of it.  If the New Testament epistles say hard things, they are Jesus’ words, even if spoken by Paul, Peter, James, or John.  There is simply no escaping that the bible, from cover to cover, is intended to be viewed as God’s word, and that Jesus is the divine Word of God.  Therefore every word of it is consistent with Jesus’ nature, beliefs, and actions.

Second, Jesus is God- the second person of the Trinity, God the Son (John 1:1-2, John 5:18, Titus 2:11-13, Titus 3:4-6, 2 Peter 1:1, Hebrews 1).  So Jesus is one with the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, brought the Babylonians against Judah, and called for the conquest of Canaan.  While there is a distinction in person-hood (the Trinity is three persons, one essence or nature- one God), there is no distinction in purpose between the Father and the Son (John 10:22-39).  So it simply doesn’t work to pit the evil, mean, nasty, divisive God of the Old Testament against the loving and wise sage, Jesus, that appears in the New Testament.  Interestingly, the book of Revelation describes Jesus as a rider on a horse with a bow coming to conquer (Rev. 6:2).

This gets to point number three.  Jesus said that he came to bring division and the sword (Luke 12:51-53, Matthew 10:34-35).  It isn’t that he came wanting to divide people.  He came knowing that some would believe and some wouldn’t, and that their disagreement on who Jesus was would ultimately lead to division.  Jesus didn’t tell people to avoid the division, but warned that we must stand on his side even when there is division and when there is great cost.  In fact, he said that those who don’t stand with him, he won’t stand for them in front of the Father (Mark 8:38, Matthew 10:33).

Fourth, it is Jesus who consistently called for repentance (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Matthew 11:20, Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3-5), which is the turning from sin; and Jesus spoke of the reality of eternal punishment for that sin (hell) more than the entire rest of the bible combined.  It is simply hard to buy the point that Jesus didn’t think sin and behavior were an issue when we look at how harshly he spoke of the consequences of sin.  In Matthew 3:11-12, John the Baptist describes Jesus as the one who will come and separate the wheat from the chaff and send the good harvest to the granary but chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.  Matthew 13:36-42 has Jesus saying that the Son of Man (Jesus) will send his angels to take away all sin and evil doers and have them put in the place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  There are literally dozens of passages where Jesus speaks of judgment for sinners- usually with language involving fire (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 7:19, Matthew 18:8-9, Matthew 25:42, Mark 9:42-49, Luke 12:49-53, John 15:6), outer darkness (Matthew 22:13, Matthew 25:30, Matthew 8:12), or weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28, Matthew 25:30, Matthew 24:51).  The words of Jesus in John 15:6 are particularly terrifying, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Fifth, Jesus will be the final judge (2 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:8, Acts 10:42, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Matthew 25:31-32), and we are told that his wrath will be poured out on sinners (Rev. 2:18-29, Rev. 14:9-11, Rev. 22:12-17).  While we might be tempted to think that Jesus being the final judge means that this fun loving, all accepting hippie is going to be the final judge instead of a holy and righteous God who doesn’t tolerate evil, just read some of the verses above to realize that Jesus is a judge who will be separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff.  Jesus will be judging between those who will receive the cup of God’s wrath and the cup of eternal life and blessing.

Yes, we need to listen more to Jesus and be more like him.  But that isn’t a condemnation that the skeptic can lob at the Christian, as if somehow they are off the hook but we aren’t.  Jesus is the righteous and holy Son of God.  He is the eternal Word of God.  He has always existed in within the triune godhead- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He came into the world to live a perfect life because our sin is too great to ever atone for on our own, and because he knows full well how terrible the wrath of God is, since it is his wrath as well.  He came to free us from that wrath (he says to fear not the one who can destroy the body, but fear the one who can destroy body and soul in hell- God) by dying the death we deserve.  His words were clear- there is no way to the Father, and thus to salvation, but by him (John 14:6).  So the author of the review I mentioned at the beginning of this article might want to take his own advice and listen to the words of Jesus a little more closely, lest he find out too late what it is that Jesus really said.