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Friday, April 26, 2013

Following Jesus in Prayer for Our Enemies

So let's just assume for a moment that Jesus wasn't messing around when he said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." I wonder how often he thinks we should do this. Every day? Multiple times a day? Annually?  I'm guessing at least occasionally, right?

Well, here's a little something to help you pray for your enemies: a web site devoted to listing terrorists to pray for.  It tells you a little about how bad they are, a nice mug shot and how many people have signed up to pray for them.

Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer

I'm thinking about adding this to the prayers of the people in church on Sundays.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Just a Question About Prayer

So I'm not asking about the rightness or wrongness.  Not asking for a theological debate.  Just use your imagination for a moment:

How would it effect your prayer life if you believed that by praying you could change God's mind?

I listened to some sermons recently by Jack Deere and Michael Rowntree at Wellspring Church that talked about that very thing. There is plenty of Scripture that points in that direction.

My worry in prayer is always more that God would give me what I asked for instead of what's best, good, right, healthy or more fun for me. My prayers too often focus on pain reduction and comfort enhancement, and in truth, it's that pain and discomfort that might make me be the best me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rethinking Everything and Post-Christian Syracuse

I'm experiencing some dissonance in my life between my experience and what I "know" to be true.

On the one hand, I believe we are entering a new dark ages. My radar tells me that we are entering a period of steep moral decline, mass economic poverty, widespread ignorance and academic failure, decline in the arts, the disintegration of religious institutions and their positive impact on society, and are on the verge of widespread violence, particularly in places like the U.S. where peace once reigned. Yeah, I know you think I'm nuts.  Which leads me to this link that a friend posted on Facebook today.

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Syracuse is ranked #16 on the chart of Most Post-Christian cities.  Albany (#1) and Buffalo (#8) are higher with Rochester (#21) close behind.  A post-Christian culture is one where Christianity is no longer the dominant meta-narrative amongst the people's beliefs.  It's a unchurched culture -- one that doesn't go to church and has no history of ever going to church, as opposed to a dechurched culture -- one that has a memory of church and Christianity, even if it isn't currently practiced.

Many of my evangelical friends locally frequently talk about how we are living in a post-Christian context. I have been saying this for a very long time. I remember as far back as the early '90's when a friend of mine worked at Lechmere's, an electronics boutique that used to be in what was then known as Carousel Mall, now Destiny USA. On the loading dock one day he got fed up with a co-worker's filthy language. After the guy uttered a "Jesus Christ" as an expletive again for the umpteenth time, my friend said to him, "I didn't know you were a religious guy."  The guy was dumb founded and said, "Religious guy?"  My buddy said, "Yeah, you keep talking about Jesus Christ."  The guy replied with all seriousness, "What's Jesus Christ have to do with religion?"

That happened circa 1990, plus or minus a few years, right at the same time my mother-in-law told me the story of shopping for an Easter card.  She overheard two other shoppers near her have this conversation, "Look at this! Now they are trying to make Easter a religious holiday!" as she held up an Easter card. Incredulously the other said, "I can't believe they would do that." True story.

Yet my experience these days doesn't match up with either the linked chart above or of my friend or mother-in-law -- especially since I started wearing a collar and am the pastor of an Anglican (traditional) church. In the last several months since being ordained first a deacon and now a priest in the Anglican church, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of ministry opportunities. If my evangelical friends knew what I have experienced since I started wearing a clergy shirt with a collar, they would run to the store to get one.

My experience here in Central New York tells me that so many people are still lapsed or marginally practicing Roman Catholics or even evangelicals, instead of being "Post-Christian". Further, it has shown me that many just don't know what to do with evangelicals.  Not in an exasperated sense but literally just don't know how to relate. 

People seem to relate more easily when I say, "St. Andrew's", or that I'm a "priest", or when I describe my church service, which is liturgical. Amongst unchurched people, I have found deep suspicion of evangelicals or evangelical churches.  It's like they don't know what do with a church name that's not traditional.

Now that I am also, "Fr. Steve" as well as "Pastor Steve", I find unchurched people more comfortable with my priestly role.  It's like they know how to relate to me, despite the fact I'm married and have kids.  At the same time Evangelicals are confused and suspicious of me!

When I have the collar on and am in public, people smile and talk to me all the time.  Stuff that never happened as an evangelical pastor.  I have so many more opportunities to pray for people and sometimes, exhort them, even strongly to follow Christ.  Stuff that if I would have tried as an evangelical I would have been marginalized as being pushy.  I don't wear a clerical shirt every day, but when I do and I'm out in public I seem to have new and wonderful ministry experiences that never happened to me in my 15+ years as an evangelical pastor.

Now I'm sure, there is something else going on also.  I'm sure there are people who look at me as a creeper to watch out for and make sure I'm not near their kids.  This because of the Roman Catholic priest abuse scandal. And I really have no way to gauge that as those who have that visceral experience keep away.

So I'm having some real dissonance with knowing that we are in a Post-Christian culture and at the same time experiencing tremendous ministry opportunity in a traditional setting.  And I'm loving it. :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ordination Photo

Bishop Doc Loomis praying over me at my ordination to the Anglican priesthood on February 23, 2013.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Church Advertising

I admit it. I like to push the envelope, though substantially less than I used to.  Here's the beginning of a couple of new ads I'd like to run for the church -- either print or media.  The second one I have run previously for a different church in a different market in the form of television and radio ads and it worked very successfully. Had phone calls to the church within the first hour of my first spot.

I'm making my wife nervous.

Here are the beginning lines for each ad ....

"Contrary to popular belief God's last name isn't Damn. But He does know your name and invites you to St. Andrew's this Sunday to get more familiar with Him. :)  "

"God really doesn't mind when you shout His name in the bedroom. He would just like you to sing it at church also. Come to St. Andrew's this Sunday. Try it out. :) "

Monday, April 08, 2013

Memory and the Church

At church this week my wife challenged adults and kids to a memory challenge, encouraging them to memorize some Scripture and the Apostles Creed and Lord's Prayer. What a great challenge indeed.

I often wonder about our ability to use our memory and it's relation to our ability to grow spiritually as a disciple of Christ. Does God see spiritual growth like we do? In our North American evangelical Christian culture, some of the aspects we view as spiritual growth are the ability to know (i.e. recall) and appropriately implement Scripture in our lives, have a good bank of theological orthodox knowledge, our ability to pray, speak to others about our faith, and serve others in areas of giftedness. Much of these are memory dependent.

At the same time, all the news media this past week has been running the story about the growing cost of healthy coverage due to the seemingly growing epidemic of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. Other popular stories of the week have been about mental illness, suicide and depression and autism.  While it's obvious in the case of dementia related illnesses, depression, mental illness and autism all have significant memory related components as well.

Which leads me to wondering about how does God view spiritual growth and discipleship in persons with dementia, mental illness, depression or who are on the autism spectrum.  Does He have any expectations at all?  In light of the fact that these are growing populations in our current culture, how does He expect the church to minister to them? What expectations should the church have?

When memory is compromised, how do we view ourselves as disciples? How do evangelize persons with memory issues and disciple persons within our churches that are memory impaired?

My hunch is that the church is woefully under-prepared to disciple these person, though certainly able to lovingly care for them. In fact for many churches, I wonder if it's on their radar at all.

Well, here are some memory hacks to put to good use to memorize some Scripture. I put a couple below that would be good for the memory bank. I felt convicted to memorize some more Scripture this week:

Top 10 Memory Hacks

Drastically Improve Your Memory by Building a Memory Palace

1 John 1:8-9:  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 Peter 4:8-9 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

1 Peter 4:9-10 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 12:28-29: 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time ...

1 Thessalonians 5:15-18  15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Why I Became An Anglican Priest

On February 23 I was ordained an Anglican priest. It was a wonderful and joyous event. This happened over 15 years after I was first ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church in 1997. The ordinations were very different.

The Covenant one happened at the denomination Annual Meeting in a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen other godly men and women with several Covenant leaders laying hands on me.  My most poignant memory is of Paul Larsen, then President of the Covenant Church, laying hands and saying, "Bless this evangelist."  Since it was in San Diego and my church was in Cleveland, I felt really honored when one couple from my church was there.

The Anglican one happened in a borrowed historic Gothic church where the ordination service was just for me and was attended by my whole church.  Bishop Doc Loomis laid hands on me and invited the other clergy present to join him, and he did so with a nod toward apostolic succession, in recognition that this ordination is to represent an unbroken chain back to the Apostles.  The love poured out on me by my church and +Doc will forever be with me.

I've received a lot of questions recently about this journey recently. "What is it you like about the Anglican Church? What attracted to the Anglican Church?" And sometimes it's asked in such a way, "What do you like better about the Anglicans?" Amongst some -- not all -- of my colleagues there has been a hint of contempt like, "Oh, you think your better than us now?"

Others see me dressed in a clergy shirt or chasuble and wonder about my evangelical faith. I look and talk too Catholic for them.

So why did I do this? First, let me assure you, it wasn't for the money. Here's the long painful truth. I did this because I believe it was what God was leading me to do. Is that so bad?

During the long painful "dry season" of 2008-2010 when I was substantially unemployed, I received a word from the Lord that my next position would come without me submitting a resume and that I would be sought out for it.  That is exactly what happened when I became the Interim-Pastor at St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Syracuse..

After I served there for a just a short time, I fell in love with the church.  I admire them for their tenacity to stand for the Gospel, to endure hardship, to personally sacrifice their resources for their church, and for their graciousness towards others. And I really liked how they treated me and how they received my ministry. It became obvious we were a good fit and we both felt God led us to each other. So I continued the journey to first become ordained a Deacon, and then, ordained a priest.  This was not a small, inexpensive paper pushing process but I'm glad I did it and thank St. Andrew's for their support.

It's not like I have a new girlfriend now and gave up on an old one. I still really love the Covenant Church and feel a part of it.  I still go to ministerial meetings, am still an ordained clergy in good standing and am a member of a Covenant Church. Shoot, I still read the Covenant Companion every month cover to cover.

My wife works Grace Covenant Church (which makes our Sunday mornings very complicated) where I worship when I have Sundays off and it seems that I am there all the time for kids or special events. It's not like I'm mad at the Covenant Church, don't like them any more, or would never serve a Covenant Church again. It's just this is where I am today by God's leading and grace. Who knows? Maybe I'll be Eastern Orthodox next, though that is very doubtful due to my inability to grow a real beard.

It's not like they are all that different.  The Covenant Church and the Anglican world that I am a part of are not all that different despite some very clear distinctions.  Certainly the difference in ecclesiology is huge with the Anglican episcopacy and the Covenant's congregationalism.  But both are sacramental, both are broad evangelical movements emphasizing faith essentials eschewing rigid legalism, both have strong church planting movements, both view themselves as a 'via media' though I think the Covenant does less so these days, both receive life giving ethos from their reformation histories, both hold very high views of Scripture.

All that said, I do like the Anglican way of worship and church life. I love being a priest and feel very at home with the collar and vestments on during worship on Sunday. I really like having an episcopacy. Most of all, I like being part of a three streams movement that is Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic.

I offer all this for some clarification of the crazy journey that is my life.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Facebook & Real Relationships

Saw an old friend I hadn't seen in a couple years. Not even sure if we've communicated other traded "Happy Birthday" greetings on each other's Facebook walls. We had never been close but we're friends. Now on FB I generally follow what my other several hundred friends are doing as best I can. Certainly not every single detail but I scan the newsfeed daily. What a great joy it was to talk about stuff we saw happening in each other's lives. He asked about my son's baseball and commented about my beautiful family in a photo. I did the same. There was a sense of closeness in our friendship. We felt connected -- real, honest feelings of warmth. Is it really a false connection?

All the time lately I hear from Christian leaders who are giving up FB for "real relationships" and that FB gives a false sense of intimacy and pseudo-relationships. So many leaders are down on social media. "It's such a huge time waster." Really? I am honestly really thankful for things that have happened in my life due to FB. I love FB for a lot of reasons ... 

There's a lot of people that I pray for. Yeah, I'm a guy who believes that prayer makes a difference -- that God answers prayer. So I pray for a lot of people ... my cousin who moved, my wife's cousin needs a job, another cousin started a business, a former parishioner with cancer, a local acquaintance with cancer, a colleague getting married & going back to school, another former parishioner in a bad relationship, prayers of thanksgiving for the healthy birth of a friend's grandson, a former co-worker's husband's heart transplant, another friend starting a new ministry, and more situations than I can mention. I'm so glad I know what's going on and I can pray. There's just not enough time to keep that level of connected via phone calls or letters. 

So many of my family are on FB now across the generational spectrum. There's a sense of closeness with each other that we felt when we were kids. So much so that we ended up using FB to facilitate a family reunion, something we hadn't had in years but had really wanted. I know, I know -- people have had reunions for years without FB and if we really wanted it we would have done it. That's true. But FB gave us the framework for capitalizing on the love we had for one another and the ability to cut through schedule and communication barriers. 

Several times a month I get a FB message from someone who reaches out to me for advice on their life, often on their spiritual life because I am a pastor/priest. I'm helping people find a new church, get healing from their last church, sharing the Scriptures, etc. Often times it's persons that I haven't seen or talked to physically in years and years, or that I only have a cyber-relationship with. But trust has been built as we've observed each other or FB stalked each other over the years. Sometimes pseudo-relationships have resulted in real people worship the true living God. 

Was it a pseudo-relationship when I was able to raise some funds to help out a guy living with no heat in the dead of a upstate New York winter? What about when we were able to utilize FB to collect coats, hats, gloves, etc. for Burmese kids that were freezing because they didn't have appropriate winter clothes? We've had several similar situations. Real or pseudo, it felt pretty real when these people had warm homes and bodies, dry feet and hands. 

We probably could not have not what we did as easily as we did if we did not have the relationship capital that was built via FB. That's right. It's not just about FB as a mode of communication that facilitated requests to multiple persons. There is also the relationship capital built through "likes", birthday greetings, commentating on statuses and photos, celebrating joys and mourning losses, networking when needs occur, and reaching out via messaging when obvious crises or difficulties occurred. When we do those things, good will occurs and bonds of affection are enhanced. So much so that when we do run into each other there's a great sense of joy -- maybe even greater -- because of the connection and relationship building that happened online. 

Maybe FB is a waste of time but I really like the real life joy and warmth it produces in a variety of ways.

Back in Action

Haven't posted in forever, but have really had so much on mind recently that I wanted to blog about. I'm on vacation for the next couple weeks so let's see if I can get my blog-groove on again.