Giving Prayer Legs

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Sister Lisa presented a lesson this week entitled “Giving Prayer Legs,” or put more prosaically it was about taking your spiritual and prayer life and making a real difference in the here and now.

She drew her initial text from Matthew’s version of the great commission,

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 26:18-20).’”

Jesus’ followers were to go into world, not with the sole goal of making converts, but true fellow-followers – disciples. It can be noted as well that the passage can be read that we are to make disciples “as we go.”  It is an action we can take part in in any walk of life, using the skills, talents, and gifts that God has entrusted each of us with.  I like Lisa’s point that as parents we have influence over our children, as teachers – our students, as co-workers – by our examples.

This she cross referenced this with 2 Corinthians 5 in which we are not only common messengers of God’s word, but ambassadors,

 “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!(vs 19-20).”

“As we go,” we are the embodiment of people’s view of God.  If we are inconsistent or hypocritical it is noticed.  Similarly, however, if we put on the modestly and humility of Christ, this too will be noticed.

Some of our actions can be very low key indeed.  We may have the “more humble” gifts, but used properly they can have a great impact to God’s Kingdom.  Lisa shared the story of Mr. Eternity.  This semi-literate Australian man felt called to god by a sermon on “Eternity.”  He felt compelled to share this word with the people of Sydney, and spent over two decades writing it in beautiful script across the city.  Lisa queried the impact of this on those who discovered it. Was this in part the preparing of the fields for some of the great revival work in that city since?

This reflection made me ponder the parable of the sower,

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:3b-8).”

When the disciples asked the meaning of the story Jesus explained,

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.  The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.   But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or  persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13: 18-23).”

As noted above each of us has been given different gifts.  It is up to us to “give these legs.” To link these two ideas let us consider the sower’s seed.  For some of us we may well be the broadcasters (sowers) of the seed.  To others, however, God may well have entrusted us with sweeping the paths or scaring the birds (encouragement of others), for some it may well to be removes of rocks and tillers of soil (those who labour with good example and soften hearts with our good deeds), to yet others there is the task of clearing the weeds (teaching and supporting others in overcoming the attractions of the world). And to those who have been this supported and prepared, to “pay it forward,” and in our turn go and make disciples.

Padre

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In the Palace of the Sun King: A Visit to Versailles

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A few summers ago, we had the opportunity to visit the palace of Versailles. While journey to France was pretty straight forward, our SatNav proved a bit iffy. We had set the device for “The Palace of Versailles,” and it dutifully led us to the suburbs of Paris to the Versailles Palace Nursing Home.  We then resorted to the printed road map to find our way to our true destination.

As we arrived later than expected, we found parking more complicated, and ended up in an overflow car park.  We had a mobility scooter for my wife, so the trip into the palace wasn’t too difficult, though she did have to negotiate cobbled streets and pathways.

The palace itself is what one would expect of the court of the man who was arguably the most powerful monarch in Europe. Louis XIV built for himself a place of ultimate luxury, and the architecture evidences this everywhere.  Even the most mundane purposed buildings are bedecked with sculptures and embellishments.

The gardens too, manifest this opulence.  The journey would be worth it for the calm and beauty of the formal gardens if for nothing else.  But, the grounds also have magnificent statuary and water features.

The interior of the palace is no less grand than the surroundings.  The Hall of Mirrors, and the Chapel Royal are “must sees.”  There are more statues, wonderful murals, and amazing chandeliers to round out the overwhelming experience.

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Versailles is a place to take an entire day.  It is all that you would expect of “The Sun King,” and it will not disappoint.

Padre

When The World Assails

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Most all of us have had bad days. Some have even had rough weeks, or months.  I have written in the past about the loss of a child, but I have not given much detail in the past.  I must note that it was one of, if not the worst, days I have had to experience, especially in its context and circumstances.

I had been away on a conference in April 2014, and arrived home later than had been expected.  My wife and step-daughter had waited up for me, and when I arrived home, I was greeted by a wonderful “Daddy!” from my step-daughter.  We had a meal together, then I gave them each a gift I had got for them on the trip. And Ana went off to bed in a very cheery mood.

Next day my wife and I spent much of the morning and early afternoon chilling in the lounge.  Our conversation eventually went to the fact that Ana hadn’t come down yet.  She had been suffering from insomnia, so we initially took it as a good sign that she was able to sleep.  But, as the day drew on, we called to her, and their was no response.  I went up to check on her and found her lifeless in her bed.  She was dressed in the new t shirt I had gotten her as a gift, and she had passed in her sleep, she was 22.  There was nothing I could do.  She had been gone for hours.

My and her mother’s world collapsed.  There were days of confusion, mind slips, and tears.  We had lost a treasure, but held on to God.  Though prayer was hard, and the presence of the Lord at times seemed far away, we held on to His promises.

We had barely come to terms with her loss, when a month to the day later, my wife’s adoptive mother passed.  This created even more hurt, and trials of a legal kind in regards to arrangements, and the estate.

Our world was in limbo, and the stress was great, and in June it took its toll when I suffered a heart attack.  Life does at times assail.  But God’s love is sufficient.  I did mend, but the trials of life had not relented.  We were just starting to put our lives back into order when in October 2015 my wife was diagnosed with advanced cancer.  We entered into the world of hospitals, chemo, and radiation.  The treatments themselves have caused massive health issues through side effects. Our trials continue until even now.

Scripture tells us that He will not put more onto us than we can endure.  I can attest to this.  I have hurt, cried, and pleaded with Him in the last 3 and half years.  Through it all He does remain – Good.

On Sunday, the worship centred on the sufficiency of God in our lives.  “He that is in us” is greater than the trials of the world.  This is especially moving, as our worship leader, my dear brother Joe, is now in the kind of trials which I have come through (above).  Will my readers please raise up Joe and his wife Claire in their prayers, for their continued faith, strength, and example as Joe awaits word on the health of his father.  We hold him up for prayer as well.

I am strengthened, and encouraged that Brother Joe, not only continues to lead worship (even in his distress), but he does so in a way to lift up others.

When the world assails, let us remember to turn to Him who is greater than the world.

Padre

 

Gertie’s Butter Cake

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Photo credit: Gertie Johnson

This recipe is for a cake which one of my favourite bloggers made in memorial to her brother.  I have yet to bake it myself as of yet, but will in the near future, but it looks good, and she and her son seem to have enjoyed the making and eating.

 

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Photo credit: Gertie Johnson

Yields: 1 loaf | Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Bake Time: 40 Minutes
Ingredients:

  • Unsalted Butter 2 sticks (total of 225g)  at room temperature
  • Plain Flour/All Purpose Flour 7 oz (200g)
  • Baking Powder 1 tsp
  • Castor Sugar 7 oz (200g)
  • Eggs 4
  • Salt ½ tsp
  • 
Milk or Yogurt 4 Tbs
  • Vanilla Essence 1 tsp

 

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 C).
2. Lightly grease the pan (loaf pan, mini loaf pan, 8×8, or 9×9) with some butter.
3. Mix the flour and the baking powder together and sieve. Add in salt and mix well. Set aside.
4. Use an electronic beater to mix butter and sugar until well combined or pale yellow in color. (Note: Sugar has not dissolved yet).
5. Add in the first egg. Beat well after each addition of egg until creamy.
6. Scrape down the sides for even mixing.
7. Add in vanilla essence and mix well.
8. Fold in the flour into the mixture and mix well.
9. Finally, add in the milk/yogurt.
10. Pour the mixture into the greased baking pan. Shake it lightly to distribute cake mixture evenly.
11. Bake until golden brown and cooked, about 40 minutes. Use a cake tester to test if it’s cooked.
12. Remove it from the oven and let cool on the wire rack for another 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Thank you for the recipe, Gertie.

Link to Gertie’s super interesting blog.

Gertie Ann is a Native American living in the north of Alaska.  Her tales of her childhood and adolescence range from the idyllic, with adventures of river fishing and berry picking and an appreciation of Alaska’s natural beauty, to the harrowing with accounts of abuse and poverty within her community.  Throughout, however, her Christian faith and her reliance of God shine through any obstacles.  I highly recommend that you have a look.

Padre

 

 

Feta-Olive Wrap

imageedit__3717266831 (1)This is a “Bible Foods” inspired sandwich which can also fall under the “veggie” recipe genre as well.  This is a tasty Mediterranean option in which the saltiness of the cheese compliments the yogurt and the bite of the mustard and garlic round out the flavours.

 

Ingredients:

Filling –

  • Feta Cheese  200 g
  • Greek Style Yogurt 1 Cup
  • Black Olives 10
  • Green Olives 10
  • Red (Kalamata) Olives 10
  • Garlic 1-2 cloves (according to taste)
  • Dijon Mustard 1 tsp

Sandwich Mak’ins bit –

  • Wheat Wrap or Pita Bread
  • Lettuce 1/2 cup (shredded) [optional]

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Method:

Finely slice or grate the garlic, and slice pitted olives into thin slices. Place garlic and olives into a mixing bowl. Cube the cheese into 1/8 to 1/4 inch squares and add to the bowl.  Add yogurt and mustard and gently stir mixture.  Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and let flavours meld for at least an hour in a cool place (fridge).  Place wrap on a flat surface (or cut a slit into pita), and place a small portion of lettuce (if used) into the bread. Then add 3-4 Tbs of feta-olive mixture and wrap (if using wrap).

Padre

 

 

Guntherism and the Problem of Evil

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Photo Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/www.micro2macro.net)

Imagine a reality in which all that exists resonates from the mind of one man.  The imaginer is an elderly gentleman named Gunther.  Gunther is a widower, and has more than enough time on his hands. His pension is generous, and he really wants for nothing except company.  He overcomes this lack of companionship by spending long hours on the same park bench feeding the pigeons.  He really loves these birds, and has named most of the flock, and he and they mutually recognise each other.  As he sits and admires his ornithological friends, he imagines beautiful places outside the world of his flat and park existence.  Gunther has a keen mind, and is at heart benevolent.  His mental worlds of existence are idealised, and are filled with peace and beauty.  His musings bring about wonderful people and intricate details of their lives.  Though their lives are not without struggle, they,  in the end most always flourish, and have positive resolutions to their momentary predicaments.

But Gunther is not the only force in the world of the park.  Gunther has a nemesis, Heinrich.  While Heinrich has no creative power, and no direct influence on Gunther’s mind-world, he nonetheless effects it peripherally.  For Heinrich is a dark character, who enjoys the malicious consequences of his own deeds.

“What deeds?” you might ask.  Well, he has schemed to disrupt the good of Gunther’s world.  He has postulated that, if Gunther is distracted from his musings, then the world of his mind will be altered.  If an individual only exists as a thought in Gunther’s daydreams, then if he stops thinking of them, they will cease to be.  Or better still, they will befall corruption when not given Gunther’s full attention.

To achieve his malicious intent, Heinrich sits on the bench opposite to Gunther.  He comes equipped with breadcrumbs, peanuts, and seeds.  He daily strives to lure the beloved pigeons away from Gunther, to draw his attention away from the mind-world, to the flock.

Oh, do not get me wrong.  Heinrich is not a man to harm the birds, only to lure them away.  His maliciousness is not to the winged companions of the creator of the mind-world, but the inhabitants of the world itself.

His struggles are oft in vain, as Gunther is a man of intellect, and of vision.  But this does not deter the dark-motived one from the attempt.  If he tries long and hard enough, he is sure, that the paradise of Gunther’s vision will be lost.

The above musing was formulated by some very bored theology students in the campus coffee-shop in an attempt to address the problem of evil. The analogies are weak, but witty.  The flaws are manifest – Gunther is not omniscient, not incorruptible. Heinrich as well has far more sway over Gunther than any evil force is capable of scripturally.

That said, we did have some fun trying to formulate the tale.  I hope you enjoy the images and the deciphering of our reasoning. Please see it as a light entertainment, which tries to address some deeper meanings.

Padre

Six Thoughtful Quotes on Theology

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Theology by definition is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” It is the human attempt to unwrap and understand the “mind of God.”  In the first take on theology it is ambitious but straight forward.  The second is a rather tall order, for who are we to presume to know much less understand God’s infinite mind?

I have often said that the study of theology, while a really fascinating intellectual endevour, must bow to the simple faith of the believer.  We who deal with (and teach) theology often fall into the dual traps of intellectual vanity (thus our use of “Theo-babble”), and of “missing the woods for the trees.”

1. “Faith is more basic than language or theology.” Sydney Carter

It is in this vein that I have assembled some thoughtful, and positive quotes on the theologians “art,”  in the hope that we can reflect on these basics.

2. “One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” Henri Nouwen

Jesus prayed in John 17 22-23, “ I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one –  I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Our philosophy of religion, then should not be divisive.

We should also look the the beauty of the message of God.  Its spiritual, emotional, and psychological power to uplift:

3. “A theology should be like poetry, which takes us to the end of what words and thoughts can do.” Karen Armstrong

And in that poetry of the soul, our theology must be practical.  It must not merely be for our intellectual pleasure, but for the fulfillment of our dual call of the greatest commandments:  “Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).”

4. “Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.” Miroslav Volf

Acknowledging that the world is in need of mending is not to be a discouragement to us.  Jesus came to give us life and life more abundantly, and John 15:11 tells us that Christ’s message is to make our “joy complete.” Therefore,

5. “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.” 
Karl Barth

Finally, in all that we do in the name of theology, we must remember humility.

6. “And if we don’t turn on the light of the gospel and remind ourselves of God’s glory and beauty, pride will set up shop in our hearts for an extended stay. Theology will become about us.” Brandon D. Smith

Padre

 

 

 

 

Pumpernickel Soda Bread

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Here is a rich, dark variation of the classic soda bread.  It is rye based, and gives a nod to German/Irish fusion. I really like the way the caraway flavours the loaf.

Ingredients:

  • Whole Rye Flour 200 g (plus a tsp for topping)
  • Plain Flour 300 g (plus extra for kneading)
  • Caraway Seeds 1 Tbs
  • Cocoa Powder (unsweetened) 1 Tbs
  • Bicarbonate (baking) Soda 1 tsp
  • Salt 1 tsp
  • Honey 2 Tbs
  • Melted Butter or Oil 1 tsp
  • Buttermilk (or soured milk) 475 ml

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 C/ 390 F.  In a dry pan at medium heat pour in the caraway seeds until they pop.  Put seeds in a large mixing bowl, and add the remaining dry ingredients.  Add the honey, butter and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon, and then knead by hand. Add extra flour as needed to make a firm but pliable ball.  Place on a baking tray and dust lightly with rye flour.  Press into a round loaf shape and cut a few parallel groves in the surface and place in oven for 35-40 minutes.  Remove when loaf gives a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. I have found that it needs to be checked at 30 minutes but sometimes takes the full 40 minutes to not be doughy in the centre depending on the individual loaf.   Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes.

Padre

 

Burns’ Night Reflections

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Tonight is known as Burns’ Night, a celebration of Scotland’s iconic poet.  In tribute, I will be making turnips and potato (neeps and tatties) and preparing a gluten-free haggis for my wife and some smoked Scottish salmon.

Scottish themed dinner aside, Burns is noted for famously reflecting in his “To A Mouse,” that, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.” Put simply, the plans of both beasts and men often fail.

This is no clearer than in Judges 9.  In this side story in the biblical narrative we find Abimelek, the son of Gideon plotting with his mother’s people against his seventy brothers.  His aim is to be made king, a title and role his father had eschewed.  He surrounds himself with a group of ruffians and kills his brethren.   He then is proclaimed king, though he is called out and cursed by his youngest brother who has escaped the carnage by hiding.

Like Burns’ mousie, Abimelek’s scheme fails.  God in the end punishes him for the treachery towards his brothers, and his presumption to rule rather than giving the lead to God.  Abimelek has a falling out with his supporters, and this leads to open conflict.  Those rebelling against him become hold up in a tower, which he personally assaults with the aim of burning down its gates. It is at this point that a woman in the tower drops a millstone crushing his skull.  The scripture reflects, “56 Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelek had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers.”

Who is the author of our plans today?  Are they “of mice and men,” or of God?

Padre

 

Foundations

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Pastor Rich centred the family service on Matthew 7:24-27 this week.  It is well known as the parable of the wise and foolish builders.

‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’

The idea is clear, we need to make the foundations of our lives firm.  All too often people choose the wrong foundation to build their lives on however.  For some (especially in this present age) it is based on fame and prestige.   People seek out their fifteen minutes of fame.  Celebrity is a do all and end all in itself.  For others it is artificial crutches of drugs or alcohol which are seen to be needed “just to get through the day.” And yet for others, who may well look down upon those who build of the values of the world, they themselves often fall into the trap of “self-righteousness.”

But Jesus said there is a firm foundation, beyond the temporal, the artificial, and the self that gives life true meaning.  These are Jesus’  “words of mine  . . . puts  . . . into practice.” I remember a youth minister decades ago saying that each of us has a Christ-shaped vacuum within our lives.  Many of us seek to fill it with the wrong things.  Only Jesus, the true rock of foundation is sufficient to bear us up when “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew.”  

Are your foundations set in the rock of God’s love today, or on the sand of the illusion of stability?  Let us seek to dig deep into the stone of truth, and put the word into practice today.  Let’s be wise builders.

Padre