Dear Parish Family,
Our family loves to tease, "kid around," and be "jokesters." Part of the reason is that I have always been this way as far back as I can remember; and, am often told by my children that I laugh the hardest at my own jokes. One of the more recent "one liners" that we joke about is "being neighborly." When watching one of the "updates" given by Governor Henry McMaster, he used the term when talking about how we should treat one another during the Coronavirus pandemic. I know that some of you are tired of hearing about the Coronavirus, and I have had a few people say that they don't watch the news anymore because they are tired of hearing about the virus and all the other "bad news" in the news. And, I know that some are not Governor McMaster “fans.” Even if you don't agree with how our Governor is handling the current pandemic, you should know that he is a good and godly man. I have had the privilege of being with our Governor on more than one occasion over the last four years. I met him through an organization that I have been involved with, "The Nehemiah Project" (which has been “on hold” since the virus and a transition in leadership). In the fall of 2017, I was privileged to be in the Governor's Mansion with about 50 or 60 Christian pastors and leaders from the state, including our Bishop, Mark Lawrence, and our Canon, Jim Lewis (two great friends). As we spent time together, I had a brief opportunity to greet the Governor (who amazingly remembered me) and all those gathered prayed together and prayed for our Governor.
Meredith and I will tease one another about "being neighborly" and our daughter has even gotten in on the teasing when we suggested that to her, when joking about how we might treat one another...all in fun and love. This week, I was reading my "Christianity Today" magazine, and there was an article that caught my eye. If you are unfamiliar with Christianity Today, let me give you just a little background. The founder was Billy Graham in the mid 1950's and was meant to parallel magazines like Time or Newsweek, to give a picture and some thoughts on how we might know what is going on in the world from a Christian perspective. I have been reading Christianity Today since the early 1980's and, about 30 years ago, met one of the writers, Mark Galli, who would serve as Senior Editor from 2010 until this year. The article that caught my eye was "Being a Covid-19 Neighbor" and it caused me to reflect a bit on what that means for St. Luke's.
It seems that in our current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, along with all the other challenges we face: racial tensions, political unrest, the economic fears, and the strong feelings that accompany much of these challenges; people are more at odds, tense, anxious, and defensive than usual. And, probably many of you have personal concerns with health, family, friends, or your own situation due to all of the tensions and fears surrounding the above. What tends to happen during times like this is what we are seeing in our media: attacks on one another, rioting and looting, broken relationships and broken families, businesses closing, along with angry people due to their own economic fears and failures. Much of this is "bigger than us!" We didn't cause the situation, but we do live in the situation.
Jesus lived in a day of tension as well! With the Roman occupation of Israel, the tension and disagreements among the various sects of Judaism; the differences and tensions that existed between Jews and Samaritans, just to name a few. And, Jesus was attacked personally because of His teaching, preaching, and basically because of who He was (and is). And yet, amidst all the turmoil of His day and all the turmoil of His life, and the fact that people hated Jesus and sought to kill Him, Jesus would talk about the “Two Great Commandments,” centered around love! First, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and the second, to love your neighbor as yourself. In Luke's Gospel, Chapter 10, a lawyer asked Jesus how one might inherit eternal life. The "summation" was to live the two Great Commandments. The lawyer asked for clarification about who might be one's neighbor and Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan; similar to the question in the Christianity Today article about how to be a neighbor, and who might be our neighbor during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without recounting the article, I would just like to pose the question to you about how you might, in these challenging days, "love your neighbor as yourself;" or, how you might love as Jesus loved: self sacrificially? One example I saw on the news this week on the heels of the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic being broken into recently. Someone broke into the VIM clinic and as best they could tell, ended up stealing about $10; but caused about $900 in damage! The staff person from the clinic that they interviewed said that people were hand delivering gifts to pay for the damage!! The person who broke in was obviously not being a good neighbor; but, there were a few good neighbors who responded to the need!
It would be worth some prayer time to ask the Lord to bring to your mind and heart: "Who is my neighbor?" especially in the context of Luke 10 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews were enemies; they were not in agreement "religiously" or socially. In fact, all who heard the Parable were surprised by Jesus' lesson in the Parable! Being a good neighbor can be done through reaching out with kind words, a kind act, a warm smile, a gesture, a financial gift. Any one of these might require self sacrifice, time, resources. If you study the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you will see all of these, and more: he was willing to risk!
In a time when complacency and malaise is rampant, along with self-centeredness and apathy, we as Christians could change the tide of what we see in our culture: one loving act at a time; one kind word at a time; reaching one person with the Gospel that will help change them and possibly their family. Everyone's situation and opportunities may be different; but we can all make a concerted effort to be a good neighbor; to act "neighborly."
One further thought: not all will respond positively to your loving act or service. In Paul's letter to the Romans, following his presentation of the Gospel (Romans 1-8), Paul "applies" the Gospel in Romans 12 in wonderful ways (take a moment in the next few days to read Luke 10 and Romans 12). In verses 9-21 Paul writes: "let love be genuine" (vs. 9); and reading further on "live peaceably with all, as much as it depends on you" (verse 18). Not everyone in our day wants to "live peaceably." We cannot control how people will respond to our loving acts, words, or sacrifice; we can only be Christ's servants and live as He lived and "overcome evil with good" (verse 21).
Let us commit together as His Church at St. Luke's to "love our neighbor as ourselves" and do so proactively and creatively in these challenging days. Let's "be neighborly!"
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
I was in a conversation with someone last week, and in the course of the conversation I used the term "obstructionist." The person asked me to explain the term. I will do so in the course of this letter, but I want to talk about a few terms; some of which are "newer" and some are "older" in order to address some of the challenges that we are facing both in our church and our culture today.
In the 1960's, a term that began to be used, and I believe that I heard in the 1970's is: deconstruction. "Deconstruction" is the "tearing down" of traditional assumptions and some literature/history from the past. Some of those assumptions represent "reality." However, what "reality" became is: "what I believe is real" or, "real for me." What happened during this era was that there was no "stable" or common reference to measuring truth. Oftentimes this was in order to eliminate anything "metaphysical" (in the case of the Christian, this can mean "spiritual") because many became "empiricists" based on "what I observe and therefore must be true." Another word for this is "existentialist" i.e., that which I have experienced and is therefore real for me.
Sometimes, in a cultural setting, this could be based on "ethnocentricity." What is true for my "class" or "my people" or "my peers." There are two areas that were affected by this: Creationism used to be taught in schools as a possible origin of the universe. Now, it is only the “Big Bang Theory" because the belief is: there can't be a "metaphysical" (spiritual) source of the universe i.e., God did not create the universe. In both church circles and in our culture, examples of this would be the "sexual revolution" and "choice" with procreation; the fallout of "deconstructionism."
In the latter part of the 20th century, we saw a phenomena that was a result of this cultural/moral/belief change because of deconstructionism: "Revisionism." Revisionism is the rewriting of documents, often in the political, historical, or "religious" world. Revisionism is a departure from authoritative or generally accepted doctrine, theory, or practice. The result of revisionism can be seen in the rewriting of history, laws, literature resulting in a change of morality or other beliefs. We also see this in the news, where commentary based on one's perspective becomes "the way it was" or "the way it is" because the past was wrong (again, from their perspective; without necessarily understanding the past or understanding the perspective of what was written and why; merely because it doesn't fit their experience or world view).
Now, to "obstructionism:" the person or group deliberately delaying or preventing progress. We need to clarify "progress" here: progress can be good when it comes to dealing with challenges like a pandemic, the economy, or dealing with "natural disasters." However, progress is sometimes moving forward in a way that is "destructive" because of the morality involved; where the "progress" is really to have more "freedom" which, from a Christian perspective, may really result in "bondage" because people become "slaves to sin." Many of the areas where we see "obstructionism" today are in legislative bodies or businesses. A prime example today would be how Kodak, Motorola, Polaroid and other businesses confronted by the digital and computer age struggled or went under.
Unfortunately, what has become lost is three Biblical/Christian traits that were common with Jesus, the early church, and sometimes, through history, when there was a "spiritual revival:" edification (the Building up of the Body; e.g., Ephesians 4:12). When edification is part of a "Body,” there is, as the following verse in Ephesians 4 points out: "unity of faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, spiritual maturity,” which is desperately needed in the church, and in the culture, which the church can influence. Ephesians 4:15 & 16 then says, "But, speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head; into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love." The words that jump out to me: truth, love, unity, builds up. These are so lacking today as people in our country have departed what was considered "normal" for our country: Christian beliefs and practices. Edification, which is a result of knowing Jesus, seeking to grow in grace and love, seeking the truth, learning what it means to sacrifice (living "agape love"), living a holy life, and being willing to share this "gospel" with others.
Some aspects of our culture needed to change! There were, at one time, practices that even Christians claimed were clearly not Biblical and loving. But where our country, some businesses, some government, and even some of our churches are today with regard to "deconstructionism,” "revisionism" and "obstructionism" is tearing our churches and country apart.
What our churches and our country need right now is a "spiritual revival" where the Church takes the lead with seeking Jesus with the whole of our being: to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength;" where we take the lead in loving our neighbor as ourselves, sacrificially; where we seek unity, not compromising what it means to be holy, but with "speaking the truth in love;" where we learn to "edify" even by confronting lovingly, false beliefs and practices, and learn to live in unity.
Amidst the current climate of our culture because of the pandemic, the economy, the racial unrest and political upheaval, we, as Christians need to "be the Church," the Body of Christ, and live His life and carry His gospel to those around us. People are looking for answers; the answers are found in loving Jesus, living for Him, seeking His truth in His Word, loving others and proclaiming the life changing gospel to a world that is stuck in deconstruction, revisionism, and obstruction. Love Him with the whole of our being; love others with His love, live His gospel and share His gospel, and maybe we can cause a spiritual revival that will change our country!
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
This past week many of us were watching, or even watching for, Isaias to come to the Lowcountry. As I watched the Weather Channel this morning, I saw Meteorologist, Jim Cantore standing, and at times, kneeling in the face of the force of the wind and rain!
When it was headed toward Florida, we all wondered “Would it be a Tropical Storm or a Hurricane? Would we, along with many others along the Eastern Coast, need to evacuate (or, at least get ready to evacuate) just in case?” Especially as we watched as it bounced up the coast of Florida! And, trying to make a decision whether or not to evacuate, where to evacuate in the midst of a pandemic (as the news often pointed out when mentioning the storm). We were all wondering what would happen.
I personally was looking forward to the wind and the rain (not necessarily a hurricane, but a tropical storm that would "refresh and renew" the Island and Lowcountry, where many of us wanted the rain....at least as long as it wasn't on "golf day!"....Thursday for me). In fact, I came home from the office early and parked myself on our back screened-in porch and wrote while I was anticipating the storm. We had a friend from my childhood days call and ask about the storm, and wanted us to "keep and eye on" his place in Port Royal if the storm were to hit. As I worked on a sermon and drank my coffee, very little rain fell (an inch or less) and there was very little wind. A "non-event" in most ways....at least for us!
Weather is sometimes somewhat predictable; sometimes it surprises us: as when Hurricane Matthew "wobbled" and the eye passed over Hilton Head Island: Surprise!
If we are honest, we can't predict much of what happens to us, day by day, week by week. Whether it be weather, or health, or children coming to visit, or family or friends calling because of good news, bad news, or a prayer request. We never know!
When Jesus talked about "the Second Coming" and "Judgement Day," He told His apostles and disciples not to worry, but "always be prepared" and "always be alert." We are cautioned about Satan prowling around like a lion....which, if you have seen lions on the prowl (or, a heron or egret "fishing"), the prey never knows; and, if they let their guard down.....oh my! Jesus goes as far as to say, in His first sermon, to never be anxious!
When we keep "the main thing the main thing," a catchy phrase that I heard back in the 1970's, we can be prepared for whatever comes! And, what is the "main thing?" It is our relationship with our Lord Jesus: to stay close to Him, cultivating and growing in that love relationship and learning more and more to trust Him. He promised as He was about to ascend to heaven that "He would be with us always;" which he said in the presence and within earshot of His believers. We are told that even at that time, seeing the Risen Lord Jesus, that "some doubted!" Even when we are with Him, when the unexpected comes, we can have doubts!
In just a few days, Pentecost would come; the promise of the Holy Spirit; the One who was "just like" Jesus, as He promised in the Upper Room, to be with believers always. We can know His presence, His love, His assurance, His strength, His power, His peace, today and always! How?
Stay close to Him, by daily reading and studying His Word....seeking Him, knowing Him; praying daily for strength and power, for those we love to be filled with His Holy Spirit, His grace, and His love. The Holy Spirit: the "allos paracletos" in the Greek: another Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Advocate! Wonderful terms for Who Jesus is, and the One whom He would send to be His presence with us: the Holy Spirit, who is for us, with us, in us!
Who knows what today holds, or tomorrow, or next week, or a month from now (about the time of year when both Hurricane Matthew hit the Island and Hurricane Irma brushed the island)? Who knows when life might return to “near normal" or "normal" or even a "new normal?" But we are told that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8); in the same chapter where we are told that Jesus promised that He "will never leave us or forsake us" (Hebrews 13:5); as well as the wonderful blessing often used at Committals: "Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do His will; working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen!" (Hebrews 13:20, 21). Pray this blessing, for peace, for knowing the Good Shepherd, for being complete, to allow His Spirit to work His will in you, for His glory!
May He bless and keep you in His Peace, whatever tomorrow brings!
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
I continue to pray for you as we continue to deal with what seems like constant challenges going on in our country; the Coronavirus, racial tensions, rioting and looting, an upcoming election, and, an uncertain economic future.
I believe, also, that the Church is going through changes and challenges. Many of us are trying to "be the Church" for one another. Being involved in a church "community" has always been a part of my walk with Him. A walk with Jesus, a growing and alive relationship with Him, always involves doing some sort of ministry and having relationships with others who are believers and who are seeking to grow. In the last five months, this has been more challenging for not only me, but for all of us!
In the midst of thinking about and rethinking how we might be the church together, I have been reading a book entitled Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan. Francis has been a youth minister, a pastor, an author, and a compelling speaker. His background and testimony is compelling. What has intrigued me is his evolving definition of what it means to be "the church." He began a church in 1994 in his home with his wife and about 30 others. It grew, in the next ten years or so, to a church of 1600 members, one of the largest in Simi Valley, California. He has written a number of books (including his well known book Crazy Love, known and read by many pastors that I know, as well as many others. He has given most of his royalties on book sales (around $2,000,000) away, as well as half of his salary to various ministries, including Children's Hunger Fund, and Gospel for Asia. Since that time, he has left his pastorate and began a church in Hong Kong, and has become part of a church movement called "We are Church," which is a network of House Churches. His goal, and one of the challenges in his book entitled "Letters" (above), is to truly find Christian Community. When he was pastor of his large and growing church in Simi Valley, he felt that he had lost something that he had when he was a part of a house church when he first began. He even moved to Hong Kong because he believed that what he was seeking may be able to happen easier there (he moved back to California, too). He has seven children, and was seeking a real church experience for them.
His church, Cornerstone Community, was a wonderful church in many ways! There was good community life with many ministries and small groups. But, there was too much emphasis, in his mind, on "the perfection" of seeking a compelling church worship service that was becoming more about the service than it should have, and he, as the pastor, wanted more. I believe that his "success" was part of his challenge, but I also believe that his point is well taken: How can we "be the Church" in the United States today, which, in many ways, is even more challenging because of our current circumstances!
One of the analogies that he draws in his book is doing a comparison to gangs. I realize for some, this is a stretch! Gangs are often built around some unhealthy practices and goals: drug and alcohol abuse, drug sales, violence, and competition that grows between rival gangs. However, the positive experiences that come with gangs: family (when most if not all of the gang members come from broken and/or dysfunctional families); a sense of belonging and caring for each other: having each other's back; support and encouragement; being a member for life; and we could go on. Again, not all of these are for healthy reasons, but, a gang provides something in an imperfect way that people are looking for in their lives and relationships.
Francis Chan draws an analogy with the early church, beginning with Jesus and the Apostles: they were a "gang" of sorts; in fact, an experience that the brothers James and John may have had (they were called "Boanerges" in Mark 3:17.... “Sons of Thunder!”). The Apostles, a mishmash of misfits in some ways, became a community, with Jesus at the center. Fast forward to the early church when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost after the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. What we see in the early church is: they continued in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. The Holy Spirit moved with power in their midst and they shared all things in common. And, no surprise, the Lord added to their numbers daily! (Read Acts 2:42-47). Why? Because "Church" was so much more than an hour or an hour-and-a-half on Sunday. They experienced real community, real love, real care, real spiritual life, real mutual servanthood; they were growing in the Lord and had each other's backs. Perfect? No! Just read Acts 6:1f!
In our modern, progressive, busy, and very different world, this may not be very easy! Throw in a virus, social and political upheaval, economic challenges, and it becomes even more complicated and challenging! But, the question remains: How are we to be as "The Church?" From what Jesus and the apostles modeled, and the early church lived and Scripture encourages; we must learn to be His Community, His Body.
Right now, I can't tell you that it is easy to be "connected," to be "family." But, if you look at my newsletter articles and E-Blasts, I have always addressed everyone as "Parish Family." Families aren't perfect! So, we are not going to try to create a perfect family who loves and serves each other perfectly. However, the question is: Are you seeking to be "His Community," His Body on earth, His Church? Very much related: How can you love others in your Parish Family right now? The "right answer" right now will be different once we are past the threat of the virus. But, the question is still the same: How do I as a believer in Jesus be a member of His family, His community, His Body now?
Pray about and think about what our Lord might be leading you to do now and after the virus, to truly be "one of the gang;" not any gang, but "Jesus' gang." How can you be part of His family so that you are truly connected, truly loving and serving His people as well as others, and how can you grow continually in Him and with others? There are many ways: on Sundays, during the week, in small groups, in ministries, and the list goes on. The reality: it is more than "going to Church" on Sundays or once in a while when it is convenient. Currently it is definitely more difficult; but, try to be creative and consider options that "work" today in our challenging time. Pray about the future; and while you’re at it, pray for our country!!
Your life in Jesus will be incredibly blessed! As will others!!
With love, in Christ,
Dear Parish Family,
I have been using Scripture Union's Daily Bible Reading Guide (Encounter with God) since 1978 and have been blessed or challenged by the readings and devotions through the years.
This week, we began a study in Paul's Second letter to the Corinthians. In II Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul uses a form of the word (in English) "comfort" (in Greek "parakletis") ten times! When you hear the word "comfort," what do you hear? Part of what you will "hear" when you read or hear the word comfort will depend on what you are going through at the moment. For example, if you are sitting in the evening with loved ones, you may think about relational comfort, security, peace; if your family are gathered and at peace: "all is well" comes to mind! However, if there is tension in the household, you may be looking for "comfort," relational reconciliation and peace. If you are experiencing a health threat to either yourself or a family member, "comfort" may mean "healing." If you are on vacation or watching a movie, or sitting in front of a fire after a satisfying dinner (hard to think about sitting in front of a fire during these hot summer days!), you may think of a "comfortable" chair, or, again, “all is well” as you slip into a semi-sleep state. If you have recently lost someone you love, comfort may be elusive since they are no longer there to see or speak with, and you miss them!
Comfort is often about mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being and peace.
Let me take this idea a step further: the source of well-being and peace is the Healer, the One who brings salvation and assurance of eternal life, the One who brings us a "ministry of reconciliation," and relationally we are experiencing health and well-being, if not joy.
Jesus, in His "Upper Room" discourse/teaching in a tender time with His apostles, talks about the Holy Spirit: the (in the Greek) Allos Parakletos; the Holy Comforter, the Holy Advocate, the Holy Helper. "Another Counselor:" one who draws alongside us! He is the "another" (the Greek word "allos") just like Jesus, who brought and represented peace and joy to His apostles throughout His life and ministry; during His life, walking with them, and when He revealed Himself "the Risen Lord."
Think about the words that are translated from the word: "Parakletos." The Advocate: the One who brought us salvation by His sacrificial love on the cross and in the power of the resurrection. He defends us against the condemnation that would come from our sin. He is "the Counselor" who brings us guidance to prevent us from committing acts or breaking healthy relationships that would bring painful consequences. He is "the Helper" who helps us in our struggles, our needs, our pain, our inability to change ourselves or others, or situations; to help us when we are unable and impotent to help ourselves. He is our Comforter, to comfort us in our sorrows, our pain, our helplessness; when we need reassurance and peace and even joy amidst the sorrows and griefs in our lives.
That doesn't always mean that we will be at ease or insulated from pain or struggles; but rather, He is there to "wrap His arms around us" to walk with us, through His presence and words of reassurance. That He is there, He has us, He will ultimately protect us and bring us through, bring us home as we walk with Him, rest in Him, trust Him!
Another word that comes to mind is "Encourager;" an "encourager" is one who instills courage in us and helps us to "keep on keeping on" no matter what obstacle, temptation, trial, persecution, or pain that we are going through! He is our Holy Encourager.
Today, probably more than in most of our lifetimes: as much as 9/11, as much as the "Recession" in 2008, as much as the personal challenges that each of us has faced (and some of you may remember the Spanish Flu, WWI and WWII), and the fears, struggles, and pain of those years. Nevertheless, this is, in most of our lifetimes, an unprecedented time.
Because our lives have changed, our culture, our country, even the world, with the pandemic, racial tensions, political and economic upheaval, we need the Holy Spirit in His fullness: assured of our salvation, assured that Jesus is here, through His "Allos Parakletos" to bring us help, comfort, strength and peace. And, He has given us His Body on earth, the Church, so that we might have peace with one another, carry each other's burdens, pray for and with each other, show compassion, care, and comfort; to be a people of "holy encouragement."
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing" (Romans 15:13); and His "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). Rest in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit that has been given to those who believe. Seek daily to be filled by the Holy Spirit that you might be comforted and encouraged, and be a comfort and encouragement to others!
With love, in Christ,