• A Friend of A Friend – Tribute to Bishop Tony Palmer

    TONY E FRANCISCO

    I am simply overwhelmed with the news of the passing of my friend and fellow Bishop, Tony Palmer. Bishop Tony was first and foremost a loving husband and proud father. All of our Bishops are surrounding Bishop Tony’s family in prayer and I want to encourage each of you to keep them in your prayers as well.

    Bishop Tony was the founder of The Ark Community of the CEEC (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches) and served as the ecumenical officer. He has worked with “Acres of Love” (a ministry for orphans in South Africa) for many years.

    Over the last several months Bishop Tony became known as the spiritual son and dear friend of Pope Francis. At the request of Pope Francis, Bishop Tony used his iPhone to record a message entitled “The Miracle of Unity.” This little video has inspired millions of believer around the world.

    Bishop Tony and Pope Francis became friends; friends who shared the hope for unity within the Body of Christ. It is amazing what two friends can do.  A few days ago Bishop Tony wrote these words:

    “People are God’s conduits through which He releases His blessings to us. He blesses us, but uses people to do it. Therefore if we break a relationship or a friendship we are effectively eliminating a possible sacred conduit, through which our prayers could be answered.”

    “This means that respecting, nurturing and even investing in right relationships, is as important as our prayers themselves. Our relationships are vital for our prayers to be effectively answered – People are sacred conduits. But not all see the sanctity of relationships. Many do not honor relationships – some ‘use’ relationships and others even descend to abusing them.”

    “Relationships are sacred. Destruction is the fruit of broken relationships, but respected and nurtured relationships bring us life. Let us commit ourselves to see our relationships with those around us in a new light. Ask God to become aware of the Sacred Conduits in your life.”

    Bishop Tony truly was a “sacred conduit” into our lives. I am personally blessed to have known Bishop Tony as a friend. He truly blessed my life. Today I am reminded of how precious relationships are to each one of us.

    After finishing a conversation with Bishop Tony a few months ago I realized that I was, and still am, “a friend of a friend.” My friend Tony was and still is a “friend” of Pope Francis.

    Due to their friendship many of us have been encouraged that “visible unity” is a real possibility in the Body of Christ. We now must grieve the passing of our friend and brother Bishop. We must work to console and comfort his family. And we must continue to pray and seek the manifestation of the prayer of the dying Messiah: “….that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). 

    If we think about it, we are all “a friend of a friend.” Real friendship is what brings real transformation in the world. Real friendship will manifest the unity that Christ prayed for.

    Please pray for Bishop Tony’s family, for his friend Pope Francis. For those who have been laboring with Tony for the “miracle of unity” and for the Church.

    Again, Bishop Tony’s wife and children deserve our greatest prayers, our deepest intercession and our sincerest thanks. In this moment as the world looks on let us remember their personal pain of this hour.

    I realize that Tony now stands in the Presence of Jesus, and thus at every Eucharist.  And yet my heart is saddened with his departure.

    Grace and Peace, from God the Father, His Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit….

  • Hear His Voice!!!

    “Abundant life” is found in and sustained by hearing the voice of God.

    My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:…(John 10:27). The word of God in the Bible is available to every person through the reading of the Bible. Also every one may hear the living Word by coming to the Bible humbly and persistently desiring to hear Him today.

    We become at peace with hearing God’s voice only if we are at home in His Presence and with the Word of God. Hearing God is not a freak thing.

    God is not speaking simply for our own personal lives, or primarily for our own gratification (money, safety or happiness). He speaks primarily because He longs to live in relationship with us. Relationship requires conversation. Conversation leads us into a true communion with those whom we converse.

    Hearing God is all about being in communion with Him. The Church, “the called-out people” are those who live in communion, with God and each other. Hearing and being heard are the distinguishing characteristics of this people.

    Just as God guided Israel through the desert, we are led by His voice, (Ex. 21-22). Paul recognized that this relationship was deepened by the internal presence of the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

    God’s people (the called-out people) were faced with starvation, crime, disasters, or war; each of these difficulties were moments when God’s people “questioned” God. However, what they realized was that the resources of God were at their disposal.  God always answered them because of His relationship with them.

    Today, we are living in even a “better covenant” (or you could say a more intimate communion) and His resources are available to us. When we question; He speaks… He answers. We need only to hear His Voice.

    May you hear, May you know, May you follow His voice out of the past and into the abundance of God’s life.

    Peace…

  • We need a Samaritian moment!

    It’s early … and I’m sitting in a very quiet, beautiful place allowing myself the privilege of pondering many things. I love nature! Looking out over the mountains listening to the sound of nature I am drawn into the presence of the One that created all of this and I grow thirsty for worship. Worship that is free of the pressure of the secular society in which I live. Worship that is free of the microscope of intellectualism. Worship that lives in the mystery that God is with us, right now. The following is what has matriculated out of my soul this morning in the midst of His beauty.

    My own soul is refreshed by the beauty of His Creation.

    ——-

    It is obvious that we live in a secular age. There has been a lot written about secularism and it’s affects on the Church and Christianity in general. Surrounded by His creation, listening to their worship is very refreshing.

    I remember many conversations concerning worship. To many in fact. Conversations that have brought me slowing into a place where I can no longer ignore the influence of secular culture in and on the way that Christians worship.

    I have begun to see that secularism is, at it’s essence the negation of worship, in fact is opposes Christian worship. Is worship, as someone just suggested to me,  merely a thing to attract people to your church. I understand that it is not the negation of God or His existence, as a higher being of some sort, it simple negates man as a ‘worshiping being.’

    Secularism denies that worship is essential to man’s existence. It rejects the fundamental truth of worship as the essential act that both “places” humanity in creation and “fulfills” it.

    The conversation surrounding worship has been focused on finding or inventing a worship that is more acceptable or “relevant” to the modern man’s secular world view. Len Sweet once said to me, “when we seek to be relevant we become irreverent.”

    This is simply a marketing mindset that has invaded the Church. It’s fully understandable in this consumeristic culture of individuals searching for the latest or newest thing. In response to this mindset the church has responded by attempting to accommandate the voice of the culture.

    My own emerging awareness of “secularism” has had a profound affect on my own willingness to accommodate secularism within a discussion of worship. Let me be clear I am not suggesting that secularism is atheism. However, I have come to believe that if we accommodate secularism by adjusting worship we reduce the gospel that we seek to convey. We reduce Christianity to a product to be acquired.

    In my opinion worship reveals not only man’s relationship to God but also to the world (the created order) in which we live. The “world” (creation) accepted in it’s totality as cosmos, or in its life as becoming time and history is an epiphany of God, (a means of His revelation, presence and power.)

    Paul said, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20).

    If, as I believe the world (creation, matter) is an “epiphany” of God, then is cannot be sought as a product to be consumed. The matter, creation, the world that Christ came to save, (the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) is or was created so that we might better know God Himself.

    The world truly speaks of Him and is in itself an essential means both of the knowledge of God and communion with Him. Man finds his identity as one who worships the God who created all things. It is through Christian worship that humanity begins to see God as a rationally acceptable cause of his own existence and for that matter the world in which he lives.

    Man is essentially a worshipping being.

    “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:22-24)

    Maybe the church has too many Samaritans within and is needing a conversation by the well.

    It is only in worship that man can possibly come into the knowledge and communion with the One who is represented by or through all things ‘created.’ Worship is based on the intuition and experience of the world as an “epiphany” of God, thus the world, in worship, is revealed in its true nature and vocation as “sacrament.” Simply stated a ‘sacrament’ is the visible sign of an inward grace.

    It appears to me that we need water and oil, bread and wine (a trip to the well) in order to be in communion with God and to know Him. I have come to believe it is this communion with God by means of “matter” that reveals the true meaning and purpose of “matter” and hence the world (creation) itself.

    Worship takes place in “time” and yet transcends us beyond time thus revealing the meaning of time by renewing time for us. We worship with our body, not separate from it, but in full connection to it, thus it is in worship that the true reason for our body is revealed to us.

    Worship re-orders man’s purpose and the purpose of the world in which he lives. Worship places man and the matter around him in proper perspective. Worship is the essential means that man knows God and knows himself and relates to the ‘matter’ of the world.

    The incarnation of Christ is of course the ultimate “epiphany” of God!

    The incarnation of Christ is also the ultimate “epiphany” of man as a worshiping being.

    This union of Creator and creature is the revealing of God’s divine will towards His creation. It occurs to me that Christian worship finds it’s foundation and fulfillment in the Incarnation, the death and the resurrection of the Christ. We all recognize that on the cross, Christ removed our sin and restores our relationship to the Father. It is through Him that we receive new, abundant and eternal life. He is our life!

    Christ said to us, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). It is through Christ that we worship God the Father. It is through Christ and His obedience to the cross that our hearts are opened to the truth of who God is.

    “As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:30-32

    We need “burning hearts and open eyes.” It is in this moment that we have the “epiphany” of the presence of the risen Christ. The Christ that is with us constantly, though perhaps invisibly. Worship gives us “burning hearts and open eyes.”

    In worship we bring the bread and the wine of the world ( the matter, the symbol of the world) and it is lifted up from the world (ascends) and is filled with the glory. The Holy Spirit makes “all things new” (not new things).

    Christian worship is the “remembrance” of Christ “in the flesh” and therefore it is also the anticipation of His Kingdom. Worship then is essential to man’s participation in the Kingdom. The Kingdom that is invisibly present, and made visible in the worship of the church.

    A secular person may believe God originated the world. He may even believe in God’s intervention in the world. He may believe in life after death. However, he primarily sees the world as something which he experiences and acts within, based on his own terms. This is the rejection of the world (creation) as the “epiphany” of God. It deminishes the presence of the Christ.

    This rejection leads to the use of the world or matter as society sees fit. It has led to consumerism that now drives the economy of the world. This is in direct opposition to the economy of the Kingdom. Christian worship is meant to reveal and restore the proper order of all creation including the way in which man lives in relationship with both God and the world.

    In rejecting Christ the world continues to spiral out of order. Society left to its own intellect has simply become consumers competing for the things of the world. In rejecting Christ the world rejects is own destiny and fulfillment.

    The secular culture negates (rejects) the idea that worship is the key way in which man realizes ( has an “epiphany “ ) his relationship to God, to his fellow man and his proper response to the world. Worship in word and sacrament, under the power of the Holy Spirit, removes the chaos and continues the creative process (re-creation) of the world that God spoke into existence.

    Ironically the secular culture is obsessed with worship. The modern secularist wants to celebrate everything. They are looking for things to celebrate and ways to do so, thus proving that essentially man is a worshiping being. They create their own symbols and construct elaborate ceremonies to fulfill a basic human need.

    In the absence of true worship the secular society makes up its own and thus goes through motions trying to experience something higher than itself. This is the futility of the human performance. Secularism has indeed crept into the Church affecting the way we worship and this has created lots of confusion among Christians themselves.

    Our personal preferences, our theological interpretations, our denominational history and our personal experiences have distorted worship. These distortions have separated the church from itself. On top of that in the last twenty-five to fifty years church grow has become very good at marketing itself to the present culture. All of these things have reduced worship to something far less that it was intended to be.

    What does all this mean? I think that a secular man wants to experience worship, but within his own construct, in other words, without disturbing his own perception of the world. Worship without any transformation or transfiguration leaves humanity empty. Secular celebrations or ceremonies are void of any thing other than humanities intellectual design.

    The purpose for this meandering piece is to try and spark some more thought about what we as Christians participate in and call worship. I am beginning to think that in it’s attempts to accommodate the secular culture the church has lost its focus and thus it’s essential purpose. Many voices defend this accommodation as being contextual. A contextualization that answers the missional call upon the Church.

    I wonder if this accommodation has led to spiritual confusion. Confusion about who man really is, who God is, and how we are to relate to the ‘matter’ around us. Worship wars, battles over style and preference have been going on for centuries, however, the essentials of, the focus of and the form of worship was handed to us by Christ Himself.

    The world is thirsty, (not unlike the woman at the well). I believe that society desires an encounter with the Man who waits at the well. The world needs to experience and encounter God. They need an “epiphany” with God. The world needs to worship NOT with a secular mindset, but with a heavenly directive. Worship is to be “the work of the people” that remembers the ultimate “epiphany” of God, The Christ!

    I am suggesting that the church needs to encounter the Christ who is waiting for them at the well. A Christ that offers the water that truly satisfies the thirst of every soul.

    What we need is a recovery of the true meaning and power of worship! Worship that opens our hearts to the Presence of God. Worship that is not merely intellectual or contextual, but worship that is the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation of The Christ.

    The remembering of the death and resurrection of Christ that has opened the Kingdom up to each of us both today and in the future.

    Worship can transform our culture! But first we must transform our worship!

    —-

    As I prepare to press publish … I wonder if I should….

     

  • Freedom…..

    Freedom….what does it mean? Seriously, do I really understand the concept? Freedom, according to the dictionary… “the absence of coerion or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence.” As an American I know this, right?

    We are free from the imposed rule of England’s King! We are free from our own imposed slavery of another race! We are free from an imposed religion! We are free to do as we chose, with whomever we choose, whenever we choose, etc….

    Free from the constraint of another, we are independent people! I wonder if the freedom that is celebrated today is bigger than we realized. I know that freedom is a concept that we all believe in, and yet living it is a bit more challenging. I know that there are many who do not feel free from coerion or constraint today. There are those who are enslaved to many things from which they can do nothing about. Freedom is easy to celebrate, it is much harder to realize.

    As I prepare to go to the parade and celebrate our Freedom, I am moved to prayer:

    Lord, grant us your insight into “freedom.” Freedom that is larger and fuller than we have ever known. Lord, be with us today; for you have told us that “wherever that Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” Help us to understand that “Freedom” is a gift that you have given! Freedom is the gift of your Presence! Freedom is a relationship with You! Freedom is righteousness that comes from You and You alone. Lord, help us not only to celebrate our national freedom, but help us to live in the Freedom that is the results of Your Presence realized in our lives, today!  Lord, Thank You! Thank You for being with us and granting us “Freedom.” Amen.

     

     

  • Tradition – a living experience!

    The idea of living in continuity is summed up in the one word “Tradition.” “We can not change the everlasting boundaries which our fathers have set, but we keep the Tradition, just as we received it,” wrote John of Damascus. These are words that contempory Christians must contemplate.

    There is a wonderful new sense that we must recover the Tradition of our fathers. I have been engaged in that conversation for a number of years, but recently have sensed a new generation of hungry people. The question over what the word ‘Tradition’ means is always an important one.

    It is commonly understood to signify an opinion, belief or custom that is passed down from one generation to another. However, I believe that it means something far more significant in Christianity. Traditions speaks of the Bible, the Creeds, the Councils, the writings of the early Fathers and the whole system of doctrine, government, worship, spirituality, and the wonderful beauty or art of the church. Christians must see themselves as heirs too and guardians of the rich inheritance they have received from the past and they must transmit this inheritance undistorted to future believers.

    Just to be clear, not all things that are received from the past are of equal value, nor are all things from the past necessarily true. “The Lord said, I am truth. He did not say, I am custom,” was the remark from the Council of Carthage in 257. Let’s clarify that there is a difference between ‘Tradition’ and ‘traditions’: many traditions that are passed down are human and accidental opinions (some good and some bad), but not a true part of the Great Tradition or the fundamental Christian message.

    We are not called to simply apply ‘Tradition’ in a mechanical or automatic way. If we are to truly contemplate ‘Tradition’ we must  enter into it. We do not “do” ‘Tradition’; but rather ‘Tradition’ will “do” us, (or undo as the case may be).

    ‘Tradition’ is life in the Holy Spirit, it is not a mere event, that has occured, but it is a “living experience.” It is not a dead acceptance of some past thing, but rather a living discovery of the Presence of God in the midst of this life.

    ‘Tradition’ never changes (because God never changes), but it is constantly assuming new forms which speak to new generations of believers who are seeking to be embraced by ‘Tradition.’

    Tradition is the witness of the Spirit; the Spirit’s unceasing revelation … we must be concious of the grace-giving presence of the Lord in it; we must feel the breath of the Holy Ghost in it …. Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and not only the memory of words. (Georges Florovsky). Or in the words of Christ: “When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)

    I am so encouraged by the conversation about “Tradition,” because it is what will guard the “faith” and protect it from a  culture that wants to make God in it’s image.