Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Self Help Gospel

Fr. Stephen DelSignore, of St. Andrew's Traditional Anglican Church of Middleborough, MA wrote a great article on his face book page last Friday. He wrote; "To preach the Bible as "the handbook for life," or as the answer to every question, rather than than as the revelation of Christ, is to turn the Bible into an entirely different book." He is right; the main point of the Bible is to tell the story of Redemption. What I mean by the story of Redemption is that the Bible tells a four-part story:

1 – Creation
2 – Fall of man
3 – Redemption of man
4 – Future, eternal and complete reconciliation of man to God

The primary Person in the story of Redemption is Jesus Christ (the Gospel). Christ created all things and all things are held together by Him.

All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. (John 1:3)

Christ left heaven to come to earth in order to redeem man from his fall.

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

He accomplished our salvation by destroying what Satan had accomplished in the Garden of Eden by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

…but when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law. (Galatians 4:4)

…he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

Redemption is the message. We can’t “self-help” ourselves into heaven or a relationship with the creator. The main point of the Bible; the “Gospel” message of Christ’s redemption and salvation has been marginalized by too many Christians. Instead of seeing the Bible as a worship book, they have bought into the notion that it is a “self-help book.” A new Gospel has emerged leaving the saving grace of Christ’s redemption for all mankind as secondary to our own inner power to effect change. Some of these new Christians would have us believe that the Bible has some good philosophy for life but its message is no longer life changing.

This whole self-help phenomenon has been gaining popularity for the past 50 years and has not only infiltrated the church but it has changed the message of man’s inability to save himself to the popular notion that “God helps those who help themselves.”

As a result, what is now being preached from many pulpits is this notion that the Gospel is for our salvation, but not for our sanctification. Historically, the Gospel has always been the means to salvation AND the means to sanctification. From where I sit and from what I have seen, the psychological community seems to have embarrassed mainline Christianity into this new notion of sanctification by implying that the message of the Gospel is too foolish for thinking people to actually believe. The Gospel as presented biblically is more for the weak minded and uneducated.

Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)

Most academics will tell you that the Gospel is not sophisticated enough for a “self-help” world or a “self-help” church. Look at what the world offers the “self -help” Christian. To them the Gospel seems foolish when put up beside some of our culture’s heavyweights like The Road Less Travelled, Your Erroneous Zones. Good heavens, how can the Gospel compete with that kind of brilliance? And not to be outdone, the liberal church provided us with the The Power of Positive Thinking, In Search of Significance, and Your Best Life Now. How much of this drivel have you seen promoted for the past 25 years of the Oprah Winfrey show?

So the conservative church is left holding this “foolish” Gospel bag. I would point out that seeing the drift the self-help market was carrying the church into, the conservative church entered the fray with some outstanding works, “An Outline of an Anglican Life”, Louis Tarsitano, and “The Call” by Os Guinness, just to name two.
Then comes the modernist, contemporary, evangelical community with books from the Rick Warrens and the Joel Osteens of the world who decided our salvation by grace was not the main point of the Bible. Their books have helped to further bury the church into self-help-ology.

It is even worse because at this point in the game the liberal church offerings and the conservative church offerings have become so integrated that it is hard for the average church member to discern more clearly between conservative and liberal and why the difference matters. And trust me, it matters.

This “Christianized” self-help mania movement has turned the Bible into just another “positive life force” book. With a few out of context verses in hand, our psychologized church, trained by our culture’s self-help gurus, have created what they believe is the world’s best self-help book. The Bible used to be a book about Him, but now it is a book about me and for me. Worship used to be centered on Christ and His redemptive sacrifice. Now it’s a rock concert complete with a speech about how you can be a more complete person. Just follow the twelve step program booklet available for purchase in the lobby.

Christians do not need another self-help book. Christians need Christ. Marriages need Christ. Families need Christ. Churches need Christ. Worship needs Christ. Any book that does not root the change process of salvation by Grace in the Gospel should be passed over. The notion that God helps those who help themselves is a lie. God helps those who ask. He can save; He can forgive; He can renew.

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:21)

Now is the time for the church to get back to its roots: The main story of the Bible is Christ! He is the only one who can change us.

Be changed by Christ,

Bishop Ian

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arrogant Christianity

How many of you have heard this? “How can Christians be so sure they're right and everyone else is wrong? Isn't that arrogant?

Isaiah 45:21"There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me."

John 14:6 "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

OK, let’s look at this logically… It's not possible for all the major world religions to be valid ways to God. As seen in the scripture verses above, Christianity states that the God of the Bible is the only true God and salvation is only possible by accepting Christ as Savior and Lord, Jesus said it himself. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As an example, Judaism states that the God of the Torah/Old Testament is the only true God, but that Jesus is not the Messiah, putting it directly at odds with Christianity. Jesus either is the Messiah, or he is not. If he is, Judaism is not a valid way to God; if he is not, Christianity is not a valid way to God. The exclusivity of Jesus statement only grows when other religions are added: Islam says that Allah is the only true God, and that anyone who says Christ is the Son of God will be condemned (Qur'an, 5:72, 9:30). Furthermore, if religions other than Christianity are valid ways to God, then Jesus was wrong and one of Christianity's basic principles is false; in that case, can Christianity still be said to be a valid?

No matter what belief system you adopt, you will be saying that your system is right and that the billions of people who don't accept it are wrong. If Islam is correct, the billions of non-Muslims are wrong; if Orthodox Judaism is correct, the billions of Gentiles are wrong. If it is correct to approve of multiple belief systems because they're all valid ways of achieving spiritual enlightenment, the billions of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who believe in exclusive religions are intolerant and therefore wrong.

Alright, so how can Christians be sure their religion is the right one? Being born into a Christian family or growing up in a Christian community doesn't make one a Christian; culture and ethnicity don't determine your relationship with God. Instead, people become Christians because they are convinced of the truth of Christianity and/or have had experiences with God, in short, they have good reasons for believing Christianity to be true. Also, Christians are not saying that their personal ideas are true, but that the Christian God exists, and His words are true.

Furthermore, Christianity is unique because it addresses the fact that we can never be good enough to be in the presence of a perfect, holy God. In order to be perfectly good, we would have to be “doing good” all the time. If we do something wrong, we can't undo it, and we can no longer be considered perfect. Nor can we do more good to make up for our wrongs, for perfection requires doing the most good possible at all times - we can't be more than perfect to make up for when we're less than perfect. Other religions teach that we can somehow do enough good to earn heaven or nirvana, but they don't address the fact that we continually make mistakes. Christianity teaches that our sins were paid for by Jesus' death on the cross, and that by accepting his payment and believing in him we can be forgiven; we don't have to earn our way into heaven, which is a good thing, because we can't do it. Christ is the only way to God, because without the forgiveness that comes through his death and resurrection, there's no way for us to be able to stand before a holy God.

Saying that Christianity is right does not mean that Christians themselves are right about everything, or that they are innately superior to non-Christians. What Christianity teaches is that both Christians and non-Christians "have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and need salvation, which comes only by the grace of God, not the individual's actions or merits.

Christianity is intolerant of other beliefs.

Is refusing to call a belief false always the right thing to do? For instance, is it right to say that racism and Nazism are simply alternate belief systems that we shouldn't pass judgment on, or should we condemn these beliefs as being morally wrong? If someone believes they have the right to rape or kill whomever they please, should we accept their beliefs as an alternate lifestyle, or denounce them? Tolerance is an admirable virtue in many circumstances, but tolerating wrong by refusing to say it’s wrong is…just plain wrong. If Christianity is true, then there is only one God and salvation comes only through Him, and religions that deny this are not merely alternate forms of spiritual expression, but systems of belief that prevent their adherents from obtaining salvation. If Christ is in fact the only way to God, then to claim that he's not is both false and dangerous. If someone has a life threatening disease, telling them that they don't need to seek medical treatment is wrong. If someone can only have salvation by accepting Christ as their Savior, telling them they don't need to accept Christ is even more wrong, no matter how tolerant or well-meaning it may seem to be.

The bottom line is this, Christianity does not teach that only Christians deserve to go to heaven. If scripture tells us anything, it tells us that no one deserves to go to heaven, because we have all done wrong during our lives (Rom 3:23). We can gain admittance to heaven by repenting of our wrongs, accepting Jesus Christ's death as payment for our wrongs and deciding to follow and worship him as Lord. The principle of Christianity is that Jesus is the only way to God, not any particular church or denomination (Jn 6:40).

Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. (Is 45:22)

There’s nothing wrong with that… Be Repentent…

Bishop Ian

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blessed Are The Meek

Remember this? “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” I had an interesting conversation with someone recently who has been accused of being too bold in their approach to most things in life - marriage, relationships etc. But when I used the term “meek” he scrunched up his face like that was somehow unmanly. Now the Bible lists many benefits of meekness.

“The meek shall be satisfied.” “The meek He will guide and teach.” “The meek will become wise.” “The meek will be filled with fresh joy.”

There are lots of other references, but we in the modern church misunderstand this term. None of us really know what meekness is. In fact we often confuse it with another term that sounds like it. Meek sounds like weak right. And nobody wants to be weak, so nobody wants to be meek.

But the truth is meekness and weakness is at the exact opposite ends of the spectrum. The cool thing here is that the Greek word for meekness literally means “strength under control.” Like when a wild horse is tamed and taught to be ridden, the horse still has all the strength it had when it was wild but now it is strength under control for the master’s use.

Look, God doesn’t want you to be weak but He does want you to be meek, having strength under control. If I were to give you a simple definition of the word “meek” I would give you this phrase: let go and let God. That is the essence of meekness. It is surrendering, submitting, agreeing to what God wants to do in your life. It’s letting God be God in your life. Let go and let God.

Easier said than done? OK, look at it this way. Every morning you and I get up and we have a decision to make; whose going to be in charge of my life? Who’s the Boss? Who’s going to be the manager of my life, me or God? Who’s going to be in control, me or God? Who’s going to call the shots, me or God? Who’s going to be the one who directs and leads, me or God? Every day, moment by moment you are making that decision. When you choose to make yourself the manager of your own life it causes conflict, it causes confusion, it causes stress. You must let go and let Christ be the manager of your life.

"Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will comes to you. (Job 22:21)

How many of you would like to have peace at last and have things go well? Everybody this verse tells us: stop, let go and let God.

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

Basically Jesus is telling his disciples, you’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.”

I have a confession to make. I am a closet backseat driver. As long as I am in the driver’s seat, as long as I am in control. Everything is fine. As soon as I let Robin drive, I am nervous wreck. I find myself holding on to the door handle, and nearly putting my foot through the floor trying to apply a brake that isn’t there. And it’s not that Robin is a bad driver. She is an excellent driver. It’s just that I’m not in control. I’m not in the driver’s seat.

It’s exactly the same in our spiritual life. When we become Christians we say, “Ok, Jesus, You take over the driver’s seat.” We then promptly hop into the passenger seat and then do back seat driving. Jesus is in the driver’s seat of my life but I’m looking over His shoulder saying, “No, turn this way! Stop. Wait. Faster! I want to go that way. Or slow down. You’re going too fast. Don’t get so close. Wait that’s not the road I want to go down!” And Jesus says, “Am I the driver or not?”

Here’s the bottom line, if you don’t have an authority in your life you’re going to listen to all different kinds of conflicting opinions. One day you’ll decide this and another day you’ll decide that and then one day you can’t decide and indecision causes stress. But if you decide that God's Word is going to be the authority of your life it simplifies decision making. By knowing what the book says personal opinion now gives way to godly admonition and instruction.

The Bible is filled of all kinds of rules and commands. God says do this, don’t do that, make sure you do this. Why does He do that? Because He is a loving God and everything that’s in this book is not there to make your life miserable. It’s there to protect you. It’s there for your own health. It’s there for your own good. A loving God who knows more than you is saying, “Here are the rules for life. If you ignore them you only get hurt.”

Like it or not you’re going to have to serve somebody. And right now you’re controlled by something. It may be popular culture. It may be the opinions of others, or the approval of your parents. You may be controlled by your husband or your wife. You may be controlled by your own desires, appetites and drives. You may be controlled by an addiction or a habit. You may be controlled by a memory. You may even be controlled by your own ego. But everybody is controlled by something.

You are going to have to trust someone. Whether you trust yourself, or another it will fail unless you learn to be meek and until you trust enough to commit your whole life and will to God, you are going to be constantly looping on the white knuckle roller coaster known as self.

Still there is that one thing that will keep some of you from taking that step, a lack of trust. It takes trust to take a step. So let me ask you why wouldn’t you trust God? Why wouldn’t you trust the creator who made you, who loved you and sent His Son to die for you? Why would you not trust God? Did He let you down somehow? Didn’t take the turn you thought He should, tuned left and you wanted to go right? Didn’t drive your life the way you wanted? How’s the view from back there?

If you’ve consciously chosen to commit your life and will to Christ’s care and control, it is not enough to do it just one time in your life. You’ve got to do it every single day of your life. On a moment by moment basis if you need to. It’s a constant decision: Meekness, learning to let go and let God. If you haven’t made that commitment yet… Buckle up!

Be meek in spirit,

Bishop Ian

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Following the Good Shepherd

John 10: 11-16

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Everybody knows that sheep are not-so-bright, right? I mean we have all heard the phrase "to fleece." Basically it means that this person is so clueless that you could steal them blind before they realize they were getting ripped off. Was Jesus insulting us by calling us sheep?

Before we go looking for a more politically correct analogy, perhaps we should take a closer look at the reputation of sheep. Are they really as dumb as we’ve been led to believe? Could it be that they’ve just gotten bad press?

If you have ever seen any classic westerns sheep have had their reputations smeared by cattle ranchers. Every TV show and western movie I have ever seen shows that cattle ranchers hate sheep and sheep herders with a passion. Cattle ranchers decided that sheep are dumb because well…sheep don't act like cows. Every cattle dive I have ever seen on TV shows when you herd cattle, cowboys drive them from behind by whooping and hollering and cracking whips. If you try this with sheep, they’ll just sort of run all over the place. It seems you can't drive sheep; you have to lead them. Sheep won't go anywhere unless they know that there is someone out in front making sure that everything is okay. So who’s dumb here?

In Scripture, shepherds are pretty prominent. Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds, and according to Luke, shepherds were the first people to receive the message of Jesus' birth. In John 10 we find a series of statements from the lips of Jesus, in which he describes himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). There is a good reason why they were all shepherds, and why sheep figure so prominently in scripture. Sheep were, after all, the primary form of livestock in Palestine at the time and that the people of Israel didn't consider them to be stupid. They knew what sheep were capable of so they didn’t take offense at being called sheep.

In the Gospel appointed for the second Sunday after Easter, Jesus talks about a specific attribute of “His” sheep; they recognize the voice of their shepherd. Not only that, but they will only follow the voice of that one shepherd. The reason sheep will only respond to the voice or call of their own shepherd is because they know that they can count on their shepherd to keep them safe. When danger comes, they won't run off like the hireling. Therefore, sheep get very attached to their shepherds.

I remember a while ago a documentary on the Discovery Channel about the Middle East. They followed different groups of nomadic Bedouins. They were all sheep herders and often they all would meet with their sheep at the same time at the local oasis. Different flocks also gathered at the same watering hole and the shepherds didn’t try to keep them apart. What was interesting is when the shepherd was ready to leave, he or she gave off a distinctive call or whistle and the flock gathered to that shepherd. They knew who they belong to; they knew their shepherd's voice, and it is the only one they will follow. Seems to me that sheep aren't all that dumb after all; they know who they can trust and who not to trust, and they respond only to that one voice. So I ask the question; if we are part of Jesus’ flock, will we recognize his voice and follow him? There are a lot of voices in the world that are calling out to us. The question is which one will we follow? This Good Shepherd analogy is the reminder that through an act of grace, God seeks us out. if we’re willing to tune ourselves in to the Shepherd’s voice, then we can have confidence when we walk through the dark valleys of life, whether it’s sickness, loss of a job, or a disaster; we can have confidence because we know that in Jesus, God has already gone before us and knows the path we need to follow. If we stick close to him, we will make it through safely. That doesn't mean that the wolves won't nip at our heels, but the Lord is with us, to lead us safely through the danger.

Be Listening,

Bishop Ian

Sunday, May 1, 2011


It’s been a difficult week. Our Organist and Music Director, Ray, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and is in the hospital. He had a pacemaker put in and one of the leads was dislodged as a nurse used a little too much of his body weight to apply the pressure bandage. It’s been a rough week for him and his family, yet he has a calm and certainty about his situation.

I have a deacon who is battling brain cancer and the chemo-therapy makes walking a difficult task, yet he came with me to the hospital today to bring our music director communion.

Robin and I have made several trips this week to the University of Florida Veterinary Hospital in Gainesville because our cat, Sailor, had an ulcerated eye. It was so severe that he needed to have emergency surgery to have the eye removed. We will be getting up in the middle of the night for the next 10 days to make sure he gets his medications. We will dose his remaining eye with medications for the rest of his life ensuring that he does not have problems with it. I have now renamed him “Popeye the Sailor Cat.” We have had this cat since he was 6 weeks old. Now, I realize our cat’s problem does not compare to congestive heart failure or brain cancer, but it’s all part of life in a corrupt world.

The question I am asking this week is, “how many times you have heard someone identify some difficult circumstance as, ‘The cross I must bear...’ Here’s the thing; I don’t think it’s appropriate to describe all bad or hard situations as “cross-bearing.” Most of the things we encounter in this life come because we live in a fallen world. Did we do something stupid that created our problem? How does this situation have any bearing upon the cross? In other words, how can we know whether a particular issue or problem relates to our Christian calling?

Be honest here. Suffering belongs to the Christian faith. With that in mind, we can begin to reflect on how suffering relates to what is going on in our life. True Christians believe that in and through Christ’s crucifixion God the Son substituted himself for us and bore our sins. He died, in our place, the death we deserved to die in order that we might be restored to God the Father and adopted into his family.

While it is one thing to confess this truth, it is quite another to live it. So what do I mean when I talk about being honest with ourselves? We first have to admit that we aren’t ready to jump up and down with excitement when we think about carrying our cross. Why? Because we know that bearing the cross of Christ means suffering and pain. You don’t need to experience a great deal of suffering to know that pain is difficult and uncomfortable. Rooms with padded walls are constructed for people who think pain is the way to go.

In seminary, I was introduced to a concept which was called the “upsilon vector.” This vector traces the trajectory of Jesus’ life in terms of his apparent defeat (dying on the cross) before ascending three days later in victory (in the resurrection). Upsilon is a Greek letter represented by the lowercase “U” and a vector is an arrow pointing to something. We are all called to turn our lives around and to point to Christ. He suffered, died, and rose again that we may have eternal life. Still we are all part of the corrupt human situation. We may be redeemed, but we still get sick, have pain and go through trials and eventually die.

We have all seen a certain TV preacher/evangelist telling everyone that God doesn’t want us to have sickness and disease. We must claim healing which is what God desires for us. I wish that were true, especially when I struggle to maintain a healthy body weight while taking a diabetic medication that is known to cause weight gain. The health-and-wealth gospel is flawed because it fails to understand the cross of Jesus. It fails to recognize that the cross was not only an instrument of torture on which God the Son died; it’s also the pattern to which our lives must be lived.

Every time we look at the cross think about this, “He hung there because of our sins. He bore them on our behalf. He suffered and died the death we deserved.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. Again be honest; all of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness. It’s called “ego”...until we are confronted with the reality of the cross. It is at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size.

The cross instills brokenness and humility. It’s heavy and it’s rough, yet we are supposed to bear it by faith, patiently waiting for “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23-25). And just when you expect to drop dead beneath its weight, God provides grace. As Paul the Apostle wrote to the church at Corinth:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body…. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:7-11; 16-18).

For what it’s worth, this is what I think about whether a circumstance really belongs in the category of “cross-bearing.” I ask this question: How does this trial present opportunity for me to advance the gospel?

Our response to trials is what matters, seeing them not so much as hurdles which must be cleared but as catapults that propel the message of Christ forward. Suffering is cross-bearing when it serves the cross; when our strength is diminished and God’s power is made perfect. This is how the world sees the reality of Christ. In our weakness He is strong.

Be a Cross bearer,

Bishop Ian

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Finding Hope in Easter

Lent is a time for reflection and “looking forward to the joy of Easter.” Certainly it seems there is much to reflect on at this time. Some of it personal, some of it bigger picture reflections about where we are in our society and the wider world.

These are not easy times in our nation. The much debated and talked about recession has not gone away and some projected economic forecasts are far from healthy. It is likely that more people will lose their homes and jobs. In short, there’s not a huge amount of hope going around this Easter.

Yet, hope is a key theme in the New Testament. When Paul reflected on the resurrection of Jesus he concluded that, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” (1 Cor. 15:19.) In other words, because of the transforming power of God in raising Jesus from death, hope is born not just for this life but for all eternity.

The loss of hope is indeed a loss. We are paralyzed without hope. To be without any hope is effectively to be disempowered, to see no way out. Despite the promise of Jesus that He would rise from the dead, those around the Cross on that first Good Friday experienced the hopelessness of it all. They wondered whether the past three years they had spent with Jesus had just come to an unfortunate end.

The resurrection brought hope then and it can bring us hope today. This event, Paul would have argued, is primary evidence that the promises of God will be fulfilled. Without it, the hope that faith in God can bring would be unavailable to us. It would be in doubt.

The resurrection means that God can take the most impossible and hopeless situations and transform them; that His power to change things has been ultimately vindicated in Christ.

Do we believe that things can change in our lives, in our churches, in God’s world? If you’re not sure how to answer that question then you have not grasped the power of the Resurrection hope and we will never know that “joy of Easter”.

To rediscover hope is to be changed and to believe that, however awful the circumstances, things can change in our life, in our culture and in our world. Jesus teaches that with God all things are possible, not least of which is his rising from the dead.

My prayer for all my readers this Holy Week is that we rediscover the “joy of Easter” and reconnect our lives to the things above.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

Be Joyful,

Bishop Ian

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Celebrating Lent

Let’s face it; Lent has gradually lost its meaning for some of us. Most people in today’s world live in a noisy, materialistic society that has no idea what abstinence, prayer and meditation are all about. Even Christians are becoming bored with Lent. It’s lost it meaning because it becomes a “just do it” thing rather than a “here’s why it’s important” thing.

So why is Lent important? Let me ask this question; is Lent celebrated to benefit God or benefit us? Do we make life difficult during Lent as a way to pay Jesus for what he went through for our salvation or to reap the fruit of his suffering and death?

Lent isn’t about just giving up candy or coffee; it’s also about remembering and celebrating. Yes I said celebrating. Years ago I sought to enjoy Lent as a celebration instead of an observance. When Lent is approached as an observance, it has a tendency become dry and lifeless, some folks say even boring, something to be avoided. But when we approach it as a celebration, it is refreshing and full of life, and if we remain steadfast, each passing year has something new to teach us about the Word become flesh. Look for example at this passage in Lamentations.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness” (Lam 4:22-23).

Cool verse, but so what? Look at it this way; Lent is not celebrated to benefit God but to benefit us. Seems an odd statement but let me clarify. There is nothing we can do to pay for what Jesus went through for our salvation. God does not expect us to carry the cross during Lent or mourn or torture ourselves. Remembering Lent is to remember (reflect), celebrate (yes, by denial and self evaluation) and renew our hearts in prayer and meditation, and re-commit ourselves for the work of salvation done by God in Jesus Christ.

We are the ones to put our faith in action and share with those around us the finished work of salvation. In his 33 years of earthly life, he left us an example of how we can live for God on earth as humans. Jesus’ earthly life reveals that he identified with our human nature by becoming flesh as a God-man. He suffered and was tempted but denied himself worldly “things” for spiritual ones.

This Lent, consider what Jesus went through for our sake through his passion death and finally the promised resurrection. For me, Lent is a cherished period of self evaluation and gratitude celebrating the life and teachings of He who would take away my sins. Lent is a period in which we can prepare ourselves for personal mission and learn how we can, through Jesus’ example, overcome the many troubles that come with being human. We celebrate with praise and thanksgiving the opportunities to share in the victory he has already gained for us. The period of abstinence in Lent can help us abstain from so many of life’s challenges that lead us to sin; a period where we can reflect on our own commitment to the gifts we have been given as members of Christ’s Body.

It is my hope that this approach will help us celebrate what’s left of these forty days with some relish as the grace filled period and opportunity God has made possible through God the Son. Use the time left to really prepare your hearts and minds for the greatest celebration of all. Abstain, give up, and throw away those things that keep you from the benefits, the grace, and the peace and truly celebrate what it means to be serving the creator of everything.

Be Benefitted,

Bishop Ian