Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Growing in Faith

Early this month I sent out an email to half a dozen or so people at Messiah, asking them to work with me on the question of how we can most effectively offer high quality Christian education to all members of Messiah. Not that we are not offering some excellent opportunities already. But the question always remains: How can we do better?

In my opinion the apostle Paul’s statement of his goal for spiritual growth among the Christian community in Ephesus has never been excelled, and ought to be the mission of every church:

… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12,13)

What do we mean by spiritual maturity? A poll by the Gallup organization suggests nine characteristics of what this looks like. People who are seeking to be spiritually mature:

• are more likely to gave a daily time of private prayer;
• feel a genuine sense of the presence of the presence of God in their lives;
• report that their religious experiences are a source of strength, personal growth, and the healing of inner conflicts;
• tend to have a greater sense of inner peace, to feel more joyful and happy, and are less likely to feel depressed;
• are more humble, less likely to exhibit an inflated sense of self-importance;
• are far more often engaged in compassionate helping acts to others;
• are less racially prejudiced;
• are far more capable of forgiving people who wrong them and of being constructive, reconciling members of society;
• are more favorable to church involvement in political activity in order to right wrongs in society. (Herb Miller, The Parish Paper, September 2007)

Whether or not you agree with all nine of these characteristics, there is no question that an effective program of Christian formation can be of huge benefit to each of us as individuals, to the church community, and to the wider life of society as a whole. The curious thing about it is that all of this only happens as long as we continue in the process of growth. Again, the apostle Paul recognized this about himself:

I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’ spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ Jesus grasped me. My brothers [and sisters], I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honor of my high calling in Christ Jesus. All of us who are spiritually mature should set ourselves this sort of ambition, and if at present you cannot see this , yet you will find that this is the attitude that God is leading you to adopt. (Philippians 3:12-15, J.B. Phillips translation)

So if we were to add a tenth mark of spiritual maturity, it would be this:

• recognize that their journey towards spiritual maturity is a life-long quest.

It looks as though our little task force has a tall order ahead of itself. Yet, by God’s grace and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, I hope it will prove of significant worth in leading us all towards the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Friday, July 20, 2007

This is a critical time

A Statement from the Global South Steering Committee
London, July 16-18, 2007

… We in the Global South remain committed to the underlying principles and recommendations of the Windsor Report and the various Communiqués that we have issued, especially the statement that was produced during the most recent Primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam. It was the result of enormous effort and heart-felt prayer and we remain convinced that it offers the best way forward for our beloved Communion. In particular, we are hopeful that the development and endorsement of an Anglican Covenant will help us move past this debilitating season into a new focus of growth and missionary zeal.

We were distressed by the initial response of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church USA issued on March 20th, 2007, reaffirmed by the Executive Council on June 14th, 2007, in which they rejected the underlying principles and requests of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué. We urge them, once again, to reconsider their position because it is their rejection of the clear teaching of the Church and their continuing intransigence that have divided the Church and has brought our beloved Communion to the breaking point. Without heartfelt repentance and genuine change there can be no restoration of the communion that we all earnestly desire and which is our Lord’s clear intent.

We have also been pained to hear of the continuing and growing resort to civil litigation by The Episcopal Church against congregations and individuals which wish to remain Anglican but are unable to do so within TEC. This is in defiance of the urgent plea agreed to by all of the Primates in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué. This approach to use power and coercion to resolve our current dispute is both enormously costly and doomed to failure and again, we urge the immediate suspension of all such activities and a return to biblical practices of prayer, reconciliation and mediation…

… We are concerned for the future of our Communion as a truly global fellowship and our witness before the world as a respected ecclesial family within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In regards to the proposed Lambeth Conference in 2008, we are concerned that the publicly stated expectations for participation have changed its character and function. It is now difficult to see it either as an instrument of unity or communion. At a time when the world needs a vision of reconciliation and unity, our failure to restore the ‘torn fabric’ of our Communion threatens to show the world a contrary example.

We remain committed to the convictions expressed in the CAPA report “The Road to Lambeth” and urge immediate reconsideration of the current Lambeth plans. It is impossible for us to see how, without discipline in the Communion and without the reconciliation that we urge, we can participate in the proposed conference; to be present but unable to participate in sacramental fellowship would all the more painfully demonstrate our brokenness. The polarization surrounding the Lambeth meeting has been exacerbated because we are also unable to take part in an event from which a number of our own bishops have been arbitrarily excluded while those whose actions have precipitated our current crisis are included…

The whole statement is here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This little story came to me in an email from a friend a few days ago. Some may think it corny or trite, but, like “Footprints”, I think it makes a point simply and helpfully.

A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”

Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?”

The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing… I know my Master is there and that is enough.”

Peace

Last week, while preparing a sermon on “Peace” (in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit) I came across this poem by Henry Vaughan (1622-1695). He was an English country doctor, and while I understand that the quality of his poetry could be uneven, this one, it seems to me, is able to stand amongst those of his more famous contemporaries, Herbert and Donne:

My soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a wingèd sentry
All skilful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger,
Sweet Peace sits crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious Friend,
And—O my soul, awake!—
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges;
For none can thee secure
But One who never changes—
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.