Friday, March 29, 2013

What’s a Non -Anglican, -Episcopal, -Catholic Nice Guy Like Me Doing at a “Stations of the Cross” Service?



Holy Week 2013 and I found myself in South Carolina – spending my afternoons and evenings in Murrells Inlet where my eldest daughter and her family live, and my nights and mornings in Myrtle Beach where my wife and I usually hang out when we’re down here.  For church services on Sunday, we have the privilege of attending All Saints Church, in Pawleys Island.  The Rector, and I have heard him several times, is as unashamedly evangelical as many of the pastors in the churches I would normally attend back home in Toronto, including my own.  The church follows an Anglican tradition in its services.  The weekend service I attended before writing this column I found the liturgy of Palm Sunday to be very moving.  There is something wonderful about actually participating and interacting in a service the way liturgical services go.  With that positive experience once again, I decided that I would go to the Stations of the Cross service the church held on Good Friday at 5:30 p.m.  I went alone and took my camera, having never been to one of these before and wanting to be able to share a little bit of it – even if it were through digital images -- with my wife.

The service lasted exactly one hour.  While All Saints has a good size congregation of several hundred, there were fifty to perhaps seventy-five souls at this service.  Mainly, the group was made up of folks of middle age and younger couples, with just a few children, and some singles of all ages, myself included, that day.

The service was led by the Assistant Rector with help from a Deacon, a member of the congregation as a Reader, the worship director to lead us in songs we sang, and several other volunteers who carried what appeared to be a relatively heavy cross from station to station as Jesus had done.

We started in what I believe was the second oldest of the four worship buildings on the grounds.


Anglican services in the oldest building started back in 1737 after land was bought from the person after whom Pawleys Island was named.  The rest is history.  Including a short break in conjunction with the American Revolution, the church as it now operates, has been going for 276 years.  Together we sang How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, participated in some prayers and then The Pilgrims (as we were identified in the detailed program that even an uninitiated congregant at such services such as I could easily follow) followed the cross to the First Station.   Stations were anywhere from fifty yards to about two hundred yards apart, all outside, and in path which took us nicely throughout most of the property.



At each station, we stopped and there was a reading from a person identified as the First Voice who either told us “This was the way it was” when what he read came from what we are told in Scripture, or “This was the way it might have been” when he read what church tradition believes to be true.  At each station following the reading by the First Voice, the Assistant Rector read a short (one paragraph) meditation that we could all follow along with in our programs.  Then someone else would volunteer to carry the cross to the next station.  Young and old, male and female, participated.  It was particularly a joy to see couples carrying the cross together.

 

The first seven Stations were titled as follows:
I. Jesus is Condemned to Death
II. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
III. Jesus Falls for the First Time
IV. Jesus Falls a Second Time
V. The Cross Is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
VI. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
VII. Jesus Is Stripped of His Clothes

At the eighth Station of the Cross titled, VIII. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross, The Pilgrims sang the first three verses of Were You There?

When we finished singing, we moved on to the ninth Station, IX. Jesus Dies on the Cross.  There a crown of thorns was hung on the cross and a white cloth was draped on it before the First Voice and the Meditation was given.


Once completed, the white cloth was taken down from the cross, folded nicely and the congregants were led away from the cross, leaving it behind.  We made our way back into the old church.



There we participated in the tenth Station, X. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.  After its First Voice and Meditation readings, we sang the fourth verse of Were You There?  Two more prayers and then The Pilgrims depart(ed) in silence.

As I left the building, thinking of all my Savior had gone through for me, I turned right (with a few others) rather than go left back to the parking lot to walk and meditate a while through the church’s beautiful cemetery where people have been buried for close to three centuries.


This “nice little non-liturgical congregant” had one of the most meaningful Good Friday services I have experienced in years.  I strongly recommend it.  For a selection of some of the readings at each Station you may wish to Google “Station of the Cross Liturgy”.  Better still make it a point to attend a similar service next year at a church that has one near you.


[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Can One Be “In The Church” But Not Saved?


A friend of mine recently gave me a copy of Ray Comfort’s book entitled God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message.  In it, Comfort shares fervently the belief that many have come to be in the Church, but are not truly born-again or as he says, “saved”.  He also quotes a number of renowned evangelicals of recent past as well as current times who agree with them.  Although not in that category (renown, that is), I do find myself leaning towards agreement.

I am writing this partly in response to my friend’s request that I tell him what I thought of Comfort’s book.  The evidence that the author provides is clearly undeniable and supported by many other sources – vast numbers of people have been led to believe that they are Christians when they are not.  (Some of you reading this may be among them.)  And we ourselves are to blame.

Comfort goes on to show how the message that “Jesus solves problems” or “Jesus provides happiness” is not exactly telling the truth.  Yet that is exactly what the modern church is doing today in its form of evangelism.  And while we’re at it, we are making the Gospel only attractive to those that feel they lack happiness or are in trouble – ignoring the millions who claim they are happy and doing very well, thank you very much.  The Gospel, he correctly points out, “is a promise of righteousness, not a promise of happiness.”

If people come to Christ for “happiness” – do they then leave Him (or worse still, believe God does not exist) when they have trials and tribulations feeling anything but happiness?  To address these issues, Ray Comfort calls on the “Law” first to help a person understand his/her failed condition before God and his/her need for salvation for the judgment that will come.  He quotes John MacArthur who says, “It is impossible for a person to fully realize his need for God’s grace until he sees how terribly he has failed the standards of God’s Law.”  Comfort, after he gives two wonderful “in flight” illustrations which I will leave my readers to enjoy on their own (pages 69-71 of the book), writes, “Instead of preaching that Jesus will ‘improve the flight,’ we should be warning sinners that one day they will have to jump out of the plane. ‘It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment’ (Hebrews 9:27).”

So, while I can support all this and while I do not in any way, shape, or form support anything close to the ideas of the “prosperity Gospel” or “easy believism” and “Jesus will make everything just fine here and now” philosophies, I feel Ray has offered very little room for what I find to be so true for me as a Christian in this life, here and now.  Let me explain.

Billy Graham once implied something along this line: “If someone could prove to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God, that Christ never died and rose again, that there is no heaven or afterlife – I would still go on living as if these all existed.”  The point Graham was making is that indeed, being truly born-again does make a difference to how I live and how I can cope here and now.  And to me, the value of that is priceless.

So while I like where Ray Comfort comes from and I believe we need to help a person truly get to the point of feeling remorse and repenting before God, before he/she can be saved from eternal judgment, I believe we also can and should point out that our life here and now can be lived with the knowledge that Christ wants to live in us and we in Him.  He wants to walk beside us through the storms that will come and indeed for many of us are here right now.

May God bless you as you consider “how then shall we witness?”



[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pharaoh Asks for Relief in Exchange for Letting the People Go to Worship -- Exodus 8:25-32


And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”  But Moses said, “It is not right to do so, for we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God what is an abomination to the Egyptians.  If we sacrifice what is an abomination to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not then stone us?  We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as He commands us.”  And Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away.  Make supplication for me.”  Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you, and I shall make supplication to the Lord that the swarms of insects may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people tomorrow; only do not let Pharaoh deal deceitfully again in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.”  So Moses went out from Pharaoh and made supplication to the Lord.  And the Lord did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of insects from Pharaoh, from his servants and from his people; not one remained.  But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.

When the swarms of insects made their presence felt, it was Pharaoh who had had enough and our text says this time he called for Moses and Aaron.  He wanted to propose a settlement of the issue before them.  As I read this I yearn for the time when God would make things so difficult for this today’s world leaders that they would do the same thing.

But notice how the discussion went.  First, Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron to go and sacrifice as they wished, but they had to remain within the inhabited land of Egypt.  This, of course, presented a problem for the Israelites who really planned on getting away.  Brilliantly, and legitimately I may add, Moses indicated why this would not work – for the nature of their sacrifice would be considered an abomination to the nearby Egyptians who would take note and seek to stone the Israelites.  The Egyptians worshiped animals and the Israelites would have to kill animals in their sacrifices to God.   

The lesson here, as Matthew Henry points out, is that those that would offer an acceptable sacrifice to God must “(1.) Separate themselves from the wicked and profane; for we cannot have fellowship both with the Father of lights and with the works of darkness, both with Christ and with Belial, 2 Corinthians 6:14, etc.; Psalm 26:4,6. (2.) They must retire from the distractions of the world, and get as far as may be from the noise of it. Israel cannot keep the feast of the Lord either among the brick-kilns or among the flesh-pots of Egypt; no, We will go into the wilderness, Hosea 2:14 Song of Solomon 7:11. (3.) They must observe the divine appointment: "We will sacrifice as God shall command us, and not otherwise.’’ Though they were in the utmost degree of slavery to Pharaoh, yet in the worship of God, they must observe his commands and not Pharaoh’s.” – from his commentary on Exodus 8.

Pharaoh agreed.  There is a resemblance between what Pharaoh had suggested as a compromise – “stay in the land” or “don’t go too far away” and the way Satan often attacks a new believer.  He tells us to keep one foot on what he considers to be solid ground (Egypt) and not to get too carried away with all this “religious” stuff.  The Bible commentator Chuck Smith implies that the Enemy knows that he is better off when we “compromise” our faith – there is nothing weaker than a ‘lukewarm’ Christian.  As I watch how liberal politicians treat Christians and Christianity today, I concur with David Guzik who says this is also how the ungodly politicians tolerate us, forcing us to compromise.  God has no use for such half-hearted tributes. Notice the appropriate response from Moses, “No, we must do it the way God commanded us to.”  I pray we can be that strong to the end.

At this point Pharaoh realizes that if he is going to rid himself of the insects swarming the country, he would have to agree and so he does, asking Moses to ask God on his behalf to take the insects away.  Simply put, Pharaoh knew Who it was that was in control of all this.  It is no different today – people deep down know the score; they know that God still reigns supreme but they have been infected by the Enemy with his desire to replace God.  We see this clearly in the matters of abortion and euthanasia (they want to decide who lives and who dies) and many other issues.  Moses nevertheless agrees and tells Pharaoh he will ask the Lord to remove the insects from the land the next day, and hopes Pharaoh will not be deceitful this time about his intentions to let the people go to sacrifice to God.

Matthew Henry again points out that Pharaoh here was exhibiting the difficulty many a person has when it comes to the question of God.  He writes, “We observe here a struggle between Pharaoh’s convictions and his corruptions; his convictions said, ‘Let them go;’ his corruptions said, ‘Yet not very far away:’ but he sided with his corruptions against his convictions, and this was his ruin.”  If you are there, may this not be ‘your’ ruin; may you be bold and side with your conviction in your acknowledgement of God.

True to his word, Moses did just what he promised Pharaoh.  Now you have to love this next part, “And the Lord did as Moses asked.”  Can you imagine that kind of a relationship with the Creator?  The more I read these accounts, the more I am convinced that “prayer changes things” – sometimes the change is not visible to us or not as much as we would like, but we know this – God listens and is aware of what his children desire or need.

There is another aspect to this that we must be aware of.   While God hears our prayers and may even carry out His end of the bargain, evil man may still renege on the agreement, as Pharaoh did -- for the text says his heart "hardened this time also" and he did not let the people go.

The saga is . . .  to be continued.

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 4th Plague: The Swarms of Insects -- Exodus 8:20-24


Now the Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he comes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.  For if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of insects on you and on your servants and on your people and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of insects, and also the ground on which they dwell. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of insects will be there, in order that you may know that I, the Lord, am in the midst of the land.  And I will put a division between My people and your people.  Tomorrow this sign shall occur.”’”  Then the Lord did so.  And there came great swarms of insects into the house of Pharaoh and the houses of this servants and the land was laid waste because of the swarms of insects in all the land of Egypt.

As I read this short passage on the fourth plague, I noted one phrase with interest. “Rise early in the morning” is part of the instructions that God gives to Moses.  Let me share a personal secret with you – I am not a ‘morning person’ by nature.  But I am challenged by this phrase.  I find it difficult to get up early especially to do God’s business.  I will stay up all night praying for you and with you, but if I have to get up early, it will be a struggle.  Not impossible, just a struggle.  Yet somehow I feel there are times when God expects us to do just that.  He did not ask Moses do this with respect to the first three plagues, but only here in this case do we first come across this request.  And Moses, I am sure, did just that.  I think the point for us is that we should be ready to “rise up early” when God needs us to.  Are you there?

And once again Moses gets the instructions from God, “ . . . and say to him…” and God proceeds to tell him exactly what to say.   We are not to go into a difficult situation with our own words, but with His.  And we get those these days from the Holy Spirit and from the Word of God, our Bible.  As some of you know, I am an avid user of social media and I often get into some very emotional discussions with others.  As I respond to their anger and accusations and often name-calling, I try hard to first count to ten, second ask God what I need to say or write back, and then proceed to do so.  I believe that is what God expects from us.  He does not expect us to be silent by our choice, but only in the situations where He has the Holy Spirit tell us to be quiet.   And He has created us in the way that we would know which time is which.  That is what our conscience is for.

The passage relates how God would, when Pharaoh refuses once again to let the people go, send “swarms of insects” on all the Egyptians, and into their houses, and on every spot of ground there was in Egypt.  Now just think how much we hate a single fly in our home.  In North America at least, we do everything in our power to swat it dead and we often do not rest until we do so.  Or think of one mosquito in the bedroom at night.  My wife and I have had the experience of sleeping in Kenya under a mosquito net and hearing a mosquito a little too close for comfort.  There was no sleep for us until we found the mosquito, eliminated it, and found the whole under which it crawled, doing our best to plug it.  As travelers to Africa know, those mosquitos are carriers of malaria and often yellow fever – some things you will want to avoid when visiting there.  Now imagine what God was delivering in this plague.

And yet, He did not forget His own people who had settled in Goshen.  He tells Pharaoh, through Moses, that no swarms of insects will be in Goshen so that Pharaoh will know that He is God when he sees the ‘division’ between God’s people and his own people.  God has, does, and will distinguish His people from those that are not His.  That is a clear theme throughout Scripture.  With that distinction comes protection.  And in this case, His reason for doing so is that Pharaoh can once again get an unequivocal answer to his question and smart retort, “Who is this God?  I don’t know Him” as he had stated earlier in the story.

This time, the only warning God gives Pharaoh is that this sign of His power shall “occur tomorrow”.  And it did.  The swarms of insects arrived everywhere God said they would and they stayed away from the land of Goshen.  One more time, the land was laid waste because of man’s unwillingness to listen to God.

So what are the lessons for us here?  First, if God says, “get up early”, do so.  Second, if He says, “Say x and y to someone”, do so.  And if you do not think that God has, does, and will treat His people differently than those who ignore Him, or deny Him, or disobey Him – well, all I can say is ‘think again’.


[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The 3rd Plague: Changing Dust to Gnats -- Exodus 8:16-19


Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.’”  And they did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast.  All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt.  And the magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast.  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”  But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

As we consider the 3rd plague, we notice that God changes His tactics just a bit here.  There is no “talking to Pharaoh” by Moses required this time.  Instead God tells Moses to speak directly to Aaron ordering him to “stretch out (his) staff and strike the dust of the earth”.  And Moses as well as Aaron did exactly as they were told.  Pharaoh did not even get a chance to say, “Wait, I give up.”  Like a father who has given his child every chance to comply with his request, there comes a time when God’s patience with us wears a little thin and the staff of life may well strike the dust of our earth to our dislike.  And there is no point in us saying, “Hey, that’s not fair.  I didn’t know you were serious or that you wouldn’t give me another warning.”  The commentator Chuck Smith on this passage says, “God (was) just really rubbing (the Egyptians’) noses in their gods, really. Just saying, ‘You want to serve these gods? You don't know who I am? Then here you are.’”
As soon as Aaron had struck the ground with the staff, gnats showed up on “man and beast”.  These little guys are most interesting.  According to the website “kidshealth.org”, these little fellows are “one of a family of insects that includes flies and mosquitoes. Gnats are actually tiny flies, and can go by different names (like blackflies, or midges).  Gnats are found anyplace in the world where there is a river or stream because they lay their eggs in watery places. They need the blood of warm-blooded animals to survive. Unlike mosquitoes, gnats usually don't bite through clothing. But they can crawl into hair or under clothing to get at places such as ankles and belt lines.”

Here is the interesting part about these insects according to the same source: “A person who gets bitten by a gnat may not even know it at the time. But soon after, the area around the bite will start to swell up. There may be a little bit of blood coming from the bite. The bite will be very itchy and can be painful.”  With water being scarce in Egypt those days and anti-itch cream having not yet been invented, you can imagine the discomfort.  And just pray you are not allergic to a gnat bite for if you are, you will feel sick, have difficulty breathing, or even get hives.  If you were an Egyptian and knew they were around, you could have used DEET, but hey, that was not invented yet either.  And long sleeves and pants were not in fashion those days.

Just how many gnats are we talking about?  Well, that’s a tough mathematical problem.  The text says, “All the dust of the earth became gnats throughout the land of the Egypt.”  Let me know when you get close to counting them.

So, the handy magicians of Pharaoh’s court tried to repeat the plague with any dust that had been left for them and this time (unlike their ability to repeat the first two plagues) they were unable to do so.  Now why was that?  Chuck Smith believes there was a difference between the first two plagues and this one.  This 3rd plague involved some sort of “creation of life” and that, I might add, from “the dust of the earth”.  I am sure you see the point.  Only God could do that.  There is a parallel here to when He created “man out of the dust of the earth”.  While the Egyptian magicians could pull frogs out of water or change water to blood, they had no ability to create life.  One could disagree somewhat with Smith however, as a closer look at what they had done did include a form of life-creation as they were able earlier to turn their own rods or staffs into serpents just as Moses and Aaron had done.  I suppose the purists might argue in support of Smith saying, “Ah, but it’s not life from the ‘dust of the earth’!”  No, it is not.  Suffice it to say, however, that there is a point at which Satan’s powers are limited.

Now, here is the interesting thing.  The magicians actually recognized and reported to Pharaoh that the plague (because they could not repeat it) was indeed “the finger of God.”  This is a most interesting verse and its lesson is often overlooked.  It depicts a general attitude of carnal man.  It is only when we are unable to explain something or reproduce it ourselves, that we consider giving God some credit for it.  At least that is the way mankind used to be.   Nowadays even the fact that we cannot reproduce or create something does not compel us to consider the Creator.  Most of us these days would rather credit “the yet undiscovered principles or laws of science” with the phenomenon rather than God Himself.

In Pharaoh’s case it did not make any difference how his magicians reacted to the gnats God had brought about, or to whom they gave credit for them, for he did not listen to them.   And that too is indicative of many a heart today – even when those we count on for advice, or those we trust, or those who love us, point us to God, we are still hell-bent on denying His existence.  Our hearts are hardened (often by our own attitude due to our desire to be independent of anyone’s help) and once again we reject giving in, just as Pharaoh rejected giving in, to the instructions of the Almighty.

Finally, our passage ends once more with the reminder to Moses and Aaron, and thus to us, that all this unfolded just “as the Lord had said.”  God is fully aware of the conditions of our hearts.  He knows how they will feel at any given time.  He knows what they will drive us to do or not do.   We need to be careful that we do not however confuse His knowledge or even foreknowledge with the role our ‘free will’ plays in our feelings and in our actions.  We have no justification in blaming Him for any of that, or trying to justify our rejection of Him.

How’s your heart today?  How’s your heart with respect to God?  How’s your heart with respect to your loved ones?   How’s your heart with respect to those that God has put in your path at work or school or as you go about living your life today?   I pray it is not hardened.

[Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

Thanks for dropping by. Sign up to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends. Ken Godevenos, Church and Management Consultant, Accord Consulting.  And while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.  Ken.

Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.