April 27, 2013

Love is the Blessing of a Community (Easter 5)

Jesus gives His followers a new Commandment. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 14.34) This is a dramatic moment. Jesus is not just giving some pastoral advice. As devout Jews His followers were already under  the 10 Commandments. Five of these specify how Gods’ people were to love one another by not stealing, lying or harming others. Something special is going on here. Jesus is stepping into His divine role and making a new Covenant that alters the Covenant of Moses. The old Covenant was with the whole Hebrew people. The new  Covenant of Jesus is with a community of His disciples. It is with individuals who put their trust in Him personally. This is not an academic thing. This is a personal Covenant relationship with Jesus and with others who believe in Him. Christians are a covenant community of love.

1. Love means extending yourself for others
We often use the word “love” carelessly. Jesus is teaching His followers a new definition of “love”. There was in fact a new Greek word “agape” that is used primarily in the New Testament to describe the self-sacrificial love Jesus modeled. Christian love is about serving the deepest emotional and physical needs of the other person. This is very different from our ‘love of ice cream’. When we say we love ice cream we are describing what we want to get for ourselves. This is selfish love or desire. The Christian Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck defined Christian love as “extending yourself  for the other person”. Jesus wanted this kind of self-less love to be the sign of a Christian community. Deep down inside many people want to belong to a community with this kind of caring love even more than they want forgiveness and the hope of eternal spiritual life. This deep desire for intimacy with God and others is what Jesus built His church on.

2. Love is a sign of the presence of God

April 13, 2013

Church Development 101 – Love Jesus, Feed Lambs, Take Care Of Sheep

The Readings (Acts 9.1-20; Rev. 5.11-14 and John 21.1-19) are all about the beginning of new ministries. The Christian ministry of Paul begins with a dramatic conversion experience. In Revelation we are beginning the End Time ministry of Jesus and in John we have just read about the re-instatement and are commissioning of Peter as the first leader of the Christian Church. It cannot be a co-incidence that this is my first teaching as the newly anointed Interim Priest at St. Magloire’s in Drumheller, Canada. These Readings will guide us in our mission of re-developing our Christian ministry in this place – and could help many others in declining churches.

1. Paul, Jesus and Peter were Anointed by the Holy Spirit for Ministry
The key question facing us here is “What does God want to do in this place?”
We could call a Vestry Meeting or do a survey but that would not necessarily tell us what God wants to do here. It would tell us what some people think God wants to do – but what if they were wrong? We would end up working against God and frustrated. Paul, Jesus and Peter were all chosen and anointed by God not because they were popular or educated. They were chosen because they loved God more than others. There is a process of spiritual entropy in churches where the initial fire of the Holy Spirit begins to fade in people’s hearts as customs become entrenched and personal ambition and politics gradually replace spiritual anointing. So our first task is to come to terms with history and confirm that God has really chosen each of us to re-develop this Parish at this time. For my part, Lucille and I have both felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the work we have been doing over the past few weeks to prepare for this Interim Ministry. Please pray about this.

April 5, 2013

Spiritual Life Comes Through Believing in the Heart

(Bible teaching notes for Easter 2, 2010 by Rev. John Gishler)
The Easter stories teach us that there is a big difference between believing something to be true in your head and believing something to be true in your heart. This is the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Spiritual life comes through believing deep in your heart – in your personal spirit, the part of you that survives physical death; that Jesus rose from the dead as the ‘first fruits’ or model for all those who put their trust in Him. We need to do more that affirm this as a theological creed. We need to be willing to bet our lives on it.

1. Thomas was prevented from believing by his pride
We are all a little like Thomas. It is hard for us to believe in something we have not seen or experienced ourselves. Thomas was probably a little insecure. He could not trust the witness of the other disciples. We can suspect from our own experience that pride made Thomas look down on the other disciples as easily fooled or confused. Thomas was making a terrible judgement of his friends. He is revealing a shocking lack of trust. In modern language we would say Thomas had ‘trust issues’. His lack of trust had apparently excluded him from the fellowship of the disciples. There is a huge lesson in this for the disciples – and for all believers. Belief in the Resurrection is not easy. Most people are very sceptical of the miraculous. The disciples had personally seen Jesus raise Lazarus form the dead. The Resurrection should not have been so difficult for them to believe. The lesson for the disciples – and us, is that we all have to wrestle with unbelief on some level during our spiritual life journey.

2. Believing leads to binding together and forgiveness
The disciples who believed had not all seen Jesus themselves. They had simply believed Mary who had seen Jesus and John and Peter who had seen the empty tomb. The difference is that they believed Mary and the evidence of John and Peter. This teaches us the importance of community and personal relationships in helping other people come to belief in Jesus. The other disciples knew Mary personally. They knew they could trust her as a witness. They also knew Jesus personally. They knew they could trust Him to do what He said. The disciples were a community, a fellowship like ours, where everyone was connected emotionally and spiritually. This connection included being connected emotionally and spiritually to Jesus. Because they believed in Him as Saviour they could purify themselves spiritually by confessing and taking their personal sins to Jesus for forgiveness. The disciples were modelling a community of believers living in right relationship to God through their belief in the heart in Jesus.

3. Forgiveness leads to spiritual peace, joy and life in the Holy Spirit
Like us the disciples were able to get rid of the poison of guilt, shame and bitterness that eat away at our souls. These are the burdens that many people carry around in their daily lives. These burdens suck the peace and joy out of people’s lives. They can reduce our lives to endless frustration. The Good News is that when a person believes in their heart in the Resurrection of Jesus – and all the other teachings, they enter a personal relationship with Jesus that binds them into a new spiritual community. This relationship connects them to a way of cleaning out their spiritual garbage. As the spiritual garbage is cleaned out the Holy Spirit can be invited in to bring spiritual peace and joy. The Holy Spirit is a sign that the person believes from the heart and is in this relationship. Many people are not aware that they have this gift. It is the still small voice in your head. This is what gives us spiritual life. The Holy Spirit flows like living water through our soul, helping us see our sins and healing our brokenness.

Jesus taught us the importance of spiritual cleansing and forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. If we believe from the heart and want to grow in spiritual life we need to forgive those who trespass against us. These are the people who upset our spiritual peace. Our un-forgiveness has power over us. This is the only requirement for participation in the Covenant of Jesus. We demonstrate our belief in our spiritual life by passing on the grace of forgiveness that God has given us - to others.

Spiritual life comes through believing in the heart!