Good Guilt!

Reading in Isaiah 6 and pondering the order of events.  Isaiah has a vision of the Lord God in his throne room.  A vision of great majesty, emphasising the holiness of God.  Isaiah’s response to this awesome vista is a painful realization of his own sinfulness before the Holy God.  God provides cleansing at Isaiah’s repentant confession.  God then declares that Isaiah’s guilt is taken away and his sin has been atoned for.  This is the essence of the faith journey, we encounter God, realize our sin, yield to God’s redemption and enter into His Kingdom.  Guilt is not always a bad feeling, if it draws us to seek God’s face.  False guilt will push us away from God, declare us unfit -which we are- but offers no redemption, only condemnation.  The issue is not our guilt, Paul reminds the Roman Church that all are guilty before God, the issue is one of redemption.  The sin that brings guilt needs atonement,  it needs dealt with, a penalty must be paid.  It cannot be swept under the rug or ignored, it must be faced.  Within Isaiah’s vision Go sent a seraph with a live coal to cleanse; for you and I, Jesus came and paid the penalty for our sin on the cross.  Isaiah 6 is an epic story because of the sense of calling to go and speak of God’s message.  After Isaiah is cleansed, and this is key, he hears God’s call, “whom shall I send?”  He can answer, “Here I am, send me!”  We sometimes get this mixed up, thinking our service for God will be what provides the atonement for our sin, but quite clearly our service arises out of God’s provision of atonement.  The gift of Isaiah is a gift for you today, serving God is not a condition for atonement, but a benefit of atonement.  God cleanses us to enter into His holiness, and from that place we can serve God. May you know the freedom of serving God from a guilt free heart!

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The Greatest Of These Is Love

Reading Psalm 50, a Psalm that both encourages and challenges.  It begins with a beautiful image of God speaking through creation in sunrise and sunset, we land of the living skies people can resonate with that image!  The Psalm continues though with a rebuke for a tendency to place the practice of religion over the path of holiness.  Tradition and ritual serve us well when they point us toward the Master, they were never meant to be our master.  Our practices of faith and religion are meant to draw us closer to God, to encounter the love of the Creator and be in relationship with Him.  Holiness is something we cannot earn or merit, but in submitting to Christ it is bestowed and we then learn to walk in it with Jesus.  It is important to have that priority straight in our lives -relationship first, practices of religion to enhance relationship.  I write this article on Valentine’s day, we often use  1Corinthians 13 in weddings and this day as a reminder of the value of love.  It’s a good use of the passage, but in context it is not really about the love of a couple, it is about God’s love at work in and through us.  Chapters 12 and 14 discuss spiritual gifts and the unity of the church.  God is reminding us that gifts, like our rituals, have value to the body of Christ and growing in holiness, but they are not the goal or priority.  The priority we are told is this: “faith, hope & love, but the greatest of these is love.”  The Psalmist finishes with God’s call: “the one who sacrifices thank-offers honours me, and prepares the way so that I may show that one the salvation of God.”  A key to our religious practices, rituals and structure is thankfulness -learning to listen to God speaking to us in creation and in our lives.  A thankful heart is one that begins to grow in love.  A thankful heart is open to the salvation God has provided in Jesus Christ.  Give thanks with a grateful heart, God will lead you forward in faith, hope and love.

Light Of The World: Christmas Article 2017

There is always something special to me about the way we use light in our Christmas decorations.  During the dark daysnoopy 2016s of winter, these little lights are beacons of hope and warmth.  For the Christ-follower, Advent and Christmas is a call to be awakened by God’s presence in our lives. Our decorations using light nudge us to consider this great and amazing reality that God would become human.

 

 

Consider the account of creation in Genesis. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.   And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.   God saw that the light was good.”  (Gen 1:1-5)

Take note how John’s Gospel begins with a similar cadence; “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God… in Him was life, and that life was the light of mankind.” (John 1:1,4).  Light and life are identified as deeply intertwined, the advent demonstrates that the life of Christ is the light of humanity.  The first act of creation was light and the light was good.  Life and light coexist together. To have life is to have light… to have light is to have life.  John says the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John also describes John the Baptist in verses 6-8. “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” John reminds us that that not everyone gets or accepts that Jesus is the light.

One of the themes of Advent is the sense of surprise in how, when and where Jesus entered this earth.  The people of Israel were expecting, even longing for the Messiah to come -but as a conquering King who would get rid of the Romans and establish them as God’s chosen and anointed peoples. The Magi went first to the palace of Herod to seek the new king. The people of that day missed the arrival of the true light that gives light to every person.  The Shepherds were guided to a stable, with a baby placed in a manger. For Jesus came not to redeem a nation or a peoples, but to redeem individuals.  So, John says: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—   children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) is why we celebrate Christmas and why light is such a significant part of that celebration.

The light of Christ is the light of mankind.  Having Christ within us means that we become light bearers.  We do not become the light -but Christ shines within us.  We shine like stars.  In these cold days of winter, as we celebrate the Advent of Jesus, may the light of Christ not only warm your hearts and souls, may the light of Christ be a beacon of hope and celebration to all with whom you come in contact.

 

In The Silence

On November 11th we pause at 11:00am for 2 minutes of silence.  We engage this time to remember the cost of our peace paid by our fellow citizens.  What should we be thinking about during that silence?  The reality is that you can think whatever you want, those who fought and died did so to stop those who would force their agenda upon others.  Typically, we think of the loved ones from our family tree and community, one reason we gather as a people on Nov 11th is to remember together.  Our rally cry “from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, we will remember them.”  We remember too that, while humanity strives for good and recognizes the importance of that value, there are many who embrace a path of evil to accomplish what they want.  We remember that we are capable of atrocity if we let ourselves go to our dark side.  G.K. Chesterson, Catholic Theologian and writer, was asked to submit an article to the London Times newspaper entitled “What Is Wrong With This World.”  He answered back:

Dear Sirs:
I am.
Yours Truly,
GK Chesterton.

The silence is an important part of our remembrance, it is an important part of faith too, the Psalmist writes ‘be still and know that I am God.’  To embrace and live in peace calls us to work through our inner struggles, pain, anger and goals.  Many of the New Testament letters begin and/or end with the phrase ‘grace and peace to you’. We have the freedom to choose to live in grace and peace. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, ‘if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation’, faith in Jesus is renewal of our heart and soul that allows God’s peace to begin to reign. There is an ongoing journey of faith we can embrace during the moment of silence, a prayer.  The Apostle Peter outlined it this way: ‘make every effort to add to your faith goodness; to goodness, knowledge, to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness’ and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.’  May you, on this Remembrance Day, embrace afresh the commitment to honour the price of our silence, and engage in the personal decision to choose the way of peace.

A Drink For St. Patrick’s Day

Reading: John 4:13-14

On St. Patrick’s Day I ponder my heritage, the Dermody family has been in Canada since 1832 (perhaps a few years earlier -gggrandfather Patrick Dermody took his military discharge here at the end of his service).  The Irish is watered down with some Icelandic, English and who knows what else.  At one point in my life St. Patrick was a rally to my ethnicity and origins.  Since coming to faith in Jesus Christ he has taken on a more significant roll.  Certainly there are many traditions and myths, as well as aspects of how we celebrate St. Paddy’s Day that are veiled in time and historically inaccurate.  Nevertheless, we do have some good, verifiable, history about Patrick.  Captured by raiders and sold as slave to a pig farmer in Ireland, Patrick was not Irish by birth.  He escaped, ended up coming to faith himself and training for the ministry.  Then God  gave him a calling to return to the country he had escaped, to love them and present to them the message of Christ.  Through that ministry many discovered faith and freedom in Christ, which was pivotal in forming the nation/people we know as Irish today.  

One of the things we have from Patrick is called his ‘breastplate prayer’, part of which reads thus:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Here is a great legacy of St. Patrick, a whole-hearted life of dedication, service and relationship with Jesus. Here is where my morning reading on this 17th of March ties in and stirs my heart.  Jesus said to the woman at the well; ‘Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed the water I give will become within that one a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’  

On this St. Patrick’s Day drink deeply the quaff of St.Patrick -the presence of Christ in our lives through confession & faith. This is the story of St. Patrick, his live changed, he a spring of life and hope to a nation as he walked with Jesus.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  May Christ within you, the hope of glory, make you a blessing today!

 

 

A 2016 Benediction

Reading Numbers 6:22-27

I have been using the Daily Bible Reading Guide from the Canadian Bible Society for 2016. It is a good discipline to direct my morning readings.  

It has been my practice to lay a benediction on the folks at the end of our worship services.  Along the way I acquired and adapted a lead in for my favourite benediction given to Moses by the LORD.  I’ll say something like this:  “We have come to this, the most holy moment of our worship service. That time when God’s people, strengthened in worship, Word, prayer, fellowship and communion, go out the doors into the world. Brothers and sisters, we don’t go to church, we are the church, the hands and feet of Christ in this world…


The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

So on this last day of 2016 two of my practices merge, providing a benediction on one year, and a call for the new year. 2016 was a great year that held many challenges.  A short ponder of the year fills my heart with gratitude at the God who has kept me, shone his face upon me and given me peace. I sense in my spirit that 2017 is going to be a year of transformation.  One that will require a good deal of faithful living -which means more than living rightly, which is essential- it means leaning into the wind of God’s gracious love, it means keeping my mind on Christ, my heart in Christ, my soul with Christ.  Basking in the peace of God involves turning my gaze toward the face of God.  God who lovingly turns his gaze toward us, looking to bring grace, peace and security.

Your face will I seek oh LORD.

A Happy New Year to you!

No Escape From Halloween

Reading John 8:31-47

Halloween, a festival of the macabre, horrible, and evil in our society -by some.  For others a time of dressing up and enjoying creativity, sharing too much candy -is it safe to say most households buy the first batch of treats for consumption rather than distribution? Part of the whole halloween schtick is a resignation to the reality of evil, death and uncertainty about life after death.  Many seem to think that there is no escape, so you might as well embrace it.

Historically this evening has taken quite the turn and common lore about the origins of Halloween and the Christians merging with it may not be accurate.  For example, the ancient Celts followed a lunar calendar, so to say the Oct 31st was a particular festival or holy-day for them is difficult to grasp.  That’s not my focus today – I want to ponder a moment the idea of no escape.  I think our society has that quite accurately!  There is no escape from death, no way to avoid the end of our lives.  Do not despair!  There is the possibility of rescue.

Halloween is a modernisation of All Hallows E’en -the evening before All Saints Day in the church calendar.  A celebration of the godly -not for their own righteousness and merit -but of what God has done in making people Holy.  John records Jesus saying:


“If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” 


Set free…  free from what?  Free from the slavery to sin and death. While there is no escape from death, there is rescue, we can be set free in Christ Jesus.  A saint is not some porcelain pure human sitting on a shelf, a saint is one of God’s ‘holy ones’, someone set free by Christ, made holy by Christ.  As Jesus says further, ‘the one who belongs to God, hears what God says.’

Hard to hear from God in the noise of a culture that says there is no escape.  Possible to hear from God as we turn to God and begin to listen, begin to yield, begin to come to the light and step away from the darkness.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!