The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 40: Abraham and the Promises of God

Abraham and the Promise of God
Episode 40 – Romans 4:13-25

On today’s podcast, we are talking about Romans 4:13-25. This is part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a community in Rome. At that time, Rome was the capital city of the biggest empire in the ancient world. In the short passage today, Paul is reflecting on the promises God gives to Abraham. The whole story of the Jewish people leading to Jesus begins in a promise that God made to Abraham around 4000 years ago.

The question for Paul is what does it mean to be in relationship–or covenant–with God? Is our relationship grounded in our ability to fulfill the commandments of God? Or is it grounded in our trust in the reliability of God’s promises? For Paul, we really need to grasp this distinction if we are going to have a rich and deep relationship with the living God.

Join the conversation! How do you remind yourself to trust in the promises of God? Please add your own thoughts and insights in the comments below.

In Search of the Good Life

In Search of the Good Life

Discipleship is such a churchy word. Why should we bother with it? Before I tell you why I think it is important, I want to tell you why I became a priest. This story contains what I love about discipleship.

Once upon a time, I was going to be an academic. I know that won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but the reason was that I loved the big questions of life: Who am I? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be a good person? I was in a graduate program in philosophy. My goal was to be a teacher, but for me this was less about sharing knowledge and more about being a life coach. I was after the concept of THE GOOD LIFE, a life lived well. Often the culture will give us a vision of the good life as sipping champagne, driving our Porsche, and not having to work.

But studying philosophy challenged that for me. I found that what we often call the good life is really the pleasant life. Beneath the glittering surface, it is the shallow life. Once one starts to look deeper, one finds that being so self-centered is really destructive. Philosophy’s answer is that if you want to get to your deathbed with no regrets, you need virtues and values such as responsibility and purpose; tempering the appetites; having a mission in the world, and so on. I got such joy out of pursuing these virtues that I wanted to share the good news of a life lived well. Then I met Jesus, and he changed everything. Well, sort of changed everything.

In Search of a Jesus-Shaped Good Life

My excitement and vision were still the same. I still wanted to encourage people to live deeper life, and to build their lives around higher virtues and values. But now all these virtues and values were Jesus-shaped. When I read the Gospels, I found that Jesus was doing this with the people that came to him. They heard his teachings and were profoundly impacted. As they stayed to hear more, they also started to observe how he lived, how he treated other people, how he prayed to God. They became his students, not in the sense of enrolling in a class, but in learning and imitating. They became students of wisdom and life. The fancy word for student is disciple.

When I put my first love of philosophy with my greater love of Jesus, I found that something providential happened. Jesus leads us into the true GOOD LIFE. It is also a life well-lived, but centered now on God and God’s plan for our lives. It is powered not by willpower, but by grace, and ends in a heart of love.

Living Well

This means different things to different people. But when I think of it, I often remember one of the funerals that impacted me the most. It was for a woman whom I had not met. When I started at my first parish as a new priest, she had already been sick with extreme dementia for quite some time. But I got to know her husband well. When she finally died, I led the funeral.

When her four children got up and spoke about their mom, it was the most moving testimony about a human being that I have ever heard. She had not lived publicly in the limelight. Instead, she focused on her family and volunteer work. But the love and grace she had given to her family and friends was remarkable. As I sat there, I remember thinking that if my children spoke like that about me when I died, then I would have lived well. I would have led a good life. So I prayed to God that I would be the person my children could speak about like that.

Becoming that person is not quick or easy. It is made up of small decisions and actions over the course of years, and the process is what we call discipleship. My invitation to you is also to strive to be the person that God has made you to be. Be a disciple.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 39: Grace in the Wilderness

Podcast 39: Grace in the Wilderness
Episode 39: Mark 1:9-15

This week, we turn to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. After his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This story reminds us that, while the wilderness is an important place of purification and spiritual growth, it can also be a place of grace. For this reason, people have long retreated to literal and figurative deserts to pray, wrestle with sin, let go of unholy attachments, and encounter God.

The 40 days of Lent that began with Ash Wednesday call us into a kind of wilderness. There, the stuff of everyday life is stripped away and we are invited to meet God honestly. It is important to note that we do not enter the wilderness alone; like Jesus, we go with the Spirit of God, and with God’s words of love ringing in our ears.

How has God met you in the deserts of your life? What stark landscapes of the heart is God inviting you to explore this Lent? How are you discovering the love and grace of God in the wilderness?

Fasting for Lent

How do you observe Lent?

In the Anglican church, it is common to hear someone ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” The answers are a mixture of giving something up and taking on something new. You often hear things like:

“I am giving up chocolate for Lent.”

or “I am cutting back on alcohol.”

or “I am going to read the Bible more.”

or “I am going to volunteer at the soup kitchen.”

The question often arises, why do we fast and take on disciplines for Lent? Is there something earth shattering about giving up chocolate? The answer is no. So why do it? Here are four simple but profound reasons.

Fasting for Obedience

1) The first reason is that Jesus asks us to do these things (see Matthew 6:1-18). It is about obedience. Of course, he doesn’t specifically ask for chocolate. That is not the point. Rather, it is part of a three-fold challenge from Jesus that gives focus to Lent. It is traditionally listed as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

These are meant to be serious practices, but not legalistic ones. Jesus wants us to pray because prayer is the language of our relationship with God. It is how we grow closer to God. Jesus wants us to fast because fasting allows us to find freedom from unhealthy habits. And Jesus wants us to give alms because it is an expression of care and compassion for people in need, and we need to practice doing that. Giving up chocolate or alcohol or whatever is an expression of fasting and doing without, not for its own sake, but for education and healing.

Learning through Fasting for Lent

2) Fasting is partly about learning. I don’t mean about facts, but about deep inner truths. It helps us realize that many people live in poverty and will never have what we are struggling to do without. We grow in humility as we see that we can do with less than we think we need, and that we have resources that can be used to help others.

In the book of Isaiah, fasting is closely connected with justice. The prophet criticizes those who fast and do other religious rituals, while simultaneously perpetuating injustice. He writes, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry…?” (Isaiah 48: 6-7a). Part of the purpose of fasting is to help us develop a heart of compassion, which leads to generosity of spirit.

Fasting for Reflection and Growth

3) Fasting for Lent also teaches us something important about our inner life: we need heart healing. This is Jesus’ main goal. He calls us to fast because he wants us to grow deeper in maturity. The problem is that we have many unhealthy habits and attachments in our lives. For instance, let’s say I fast from all sugar during Lent. It doesn’t seem big. But the reality is that I would find that hard. I am used to quite a bit of sugar in my diet. Therefore, when I find it hard, I need to ask myself, why? What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about what I serve?

Now let’s imagine that it is so hard that I find myself getting irritated at my kids or wife. Again, I need to really think about this. What is it within me that is struggling? This should be easy: just stop eating sugar. But why don’t I have the patience and strength?

In truth, it is not easy. And this is the point. We don’t mature and grow unless we push beyond what is comfortable. If everything is comfortable, we stagnate. Giving up chocolate or alcohol–or whatever–amounts to putting controlled spiritual and emotional stress on our lives. This is partly so that we can push through it. But the real reason is that it gives us a glimpse into our souls and shows us we need healing.

Fasting for Lent for Healing

4) Healing is the point. God is nothing but love, and looks with compassion on our struggles. God wants to heal our souls, and this doesn’t happen quickly. The New Testament doesn’t distinguish heart, soul and mind in the same way we do. They are a whole, and inside are a mixture of positive and negative emotions, impulses and drives. There is compassion, hospitality, courage, love, and a host of other good stuff. There is also anger, fear, lust, unhealthy hungers, violence, prejudices, and a host of other bad stuff. They are all mixed up together.

Part of the Good News is that Christ came to bring healing and wholeness to human beings. He brings grace, mercy, and love to transform our hard hearts into soft hearts. This is neither a simple nor a quick process.

We tend to hide our hurt, pain, and negative emotions. But if we bring them into the gentle light of Christ with honesty and humility, he will heal them over time. Sometimes we need to do this soul work with another person guiding us, be it a spiritual mentor or a psychologist.

Fasting for Lent helps us to find the areas of hardness in our hearts by surfacing what needs the most healing. The next step is to pray for God to heal those places. Spend time in prayer for your inner being. God wants to birth within you a new creation. This is the deeper meaning of fasting.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 38 – The Transfiguration of Jesus: Seeing with New Eyes

Episode 38: Mark 9:2-9

Join us this week for a conversation about the Transfiguration of Jesus, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel. If this story sounds familiar, you may remember that we talked about it from a different angle back in August. The Transfiguration is worth revisiting, though, because it is one of the key stories in the life of Jesus and his disciples. It reveals something about God through Jesus. It also gives us insight into our own lives as part of the wider human family.

How do you discern a greater reality and the glory of God behind the everyday? Add your own thoughts in the comments below.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 37: A Touch of Heaven

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 37: A Touch of Heaven
Episode 37: Mark 1:29-39

This week, we continue to follow Jesus’ early ministry through the first chapter of Mark. Jesus begins to expand his ministry beyond his home town. He also reaches out to touch Peter’s mother-in-law and heal her of a fever. This leads us into a conversation on the importance of touch in Jesus’ ministry and our lives, particularly in a time of physical distancing.

How do you experience the touch of Heaven? How do you find space with God in desert-like seasons of your life? Join us around the virtual table and feel free to add your comments below.

The Many Layers of Candlemas Day

Simeon with the Infant Jesus (Benjamin West, c. 1796)

February 2nd is the feast of Candlemas. I love this celebration because it is beautifully multi-layered and complex.

On Candlemas day, we celebrate the story of the baby Jesus being presented in the temple forty days after his birth. (If you want to read the story, you can find it in Luke 2:22-38.) There is a touching moment when an elderly man named Simeon shows up to hold and bless the child. He has lived a very long time, holding to a promise given to him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. In this moment is the meeting of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Because of this event, February 2nd is first called the Presentation of the Lord.

The Cradle and the Cross Meet on Candlemas Day

There is another layer. According to the ancient law of Israel, woman underwent a ceremony of purification after the birth of their child. And so we have the story of Mary coming to the temple to offer her sacrifice to God. The day is also about Mary as mother of the Christ. In fact, the story foreshadows the pain that Mary will suffer as she will later watch her son die on the cross. The end is linked to the beginning. For this reason, February 2nd is also called The Purification of Mary.

Looking Forward with Hope

Then there is another layer. When Simeon is holding the baby Jesus, he praises God. Part of his song of praise says that Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32) This image of Christ as light is central to Christian worship. It is why we light candles. They are a sign that the light of Christ burns brightly in the midst of suffering and division. When we get to the liturgical celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter, the Paschal (Easter) candle is processed to the front of the church while we loudly chant the proclamation: “The light of Christ! Thanks be to God!” Because of this image of light coming into the world to enlighten us, churches bless candles on February 2nd to use for the coming year. This is why the day is also called Candlemas.

There is yet another layer. The church calendar also gives us connections to the yearly solar calendar that organizes our lives. Candlemas day falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is the time of the year in which the days become noticeably longer. I am also told that it is the time of year when the sap begins to run in the trees. Therefore, as we celebrate this feast, we rejoice in the natural turn of the year as the days begin to brighten. It helps us understand that the world of nature itself teaches us deep truths about the love and grace of God.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 36: Healing and Authority

Episode 36: Mark 1: 21-28

In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus continues his early ministry, travelling through Galilee, healing the sick and casting out demons. As these healings point to his authority from God, Jesus soon clashes with those claiming secular and spiritual power. Yet the Kingdom of God continues to break into the lives of those around him, as it still does today.

Join us around the virtual table as we talk about healing, authority, and signs of God’s life.