The Anglican Connection https://anglicanconnection.com/ Connecting Gospel-Centered Churches in North America Tue, 09 Apr 2024 07:03:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.6 The weekly podcast is a Mid-week Bible Reflection that includes Prayers drawn from an Anglican Prayer Book, Bible Readings (typically from the New Revised Standard Version), and a Bible Reflection given by an ordained minister of the Church. Each podcast session is introduced and closed with Music (and may occasionally include a song).<br /> John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. clean episodic John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. John@anglicanconnection.com John@anglicanconnection.com (John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA.) The Anglican Connection Word on Wednesday: A Mid-week Bible Reflection and Prayers, including Music The Anglican Connection https://anglicanconnection.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/WoW_logo_v3.jpg https://anglicanconnection.com TV-G Weekly 177772188 ‘Remember…!’ https://anglicanconnection.com/remember/ Tue, 09 Apr 2024 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31644 The post ‘Remember…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Easter Day is truly a gala day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His resurrection underscores the validity of the Christian faith. Without it, we are lost.

That said, our Easter celebration raises interesting questions: ‘Why isn’t an empty tomb the symbol of Christianity?’ ‘Why is the symbol a cross?’ In today’s age when feelings and political correctness trump facts it would surely make much more sense if we focused on the themes of new life and hope that the resurrection symbolizes.

Yet, despite the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion was a bloody and brutal affair, the cross remains the symbol of the Christian faith.

In the opening scene of Luke’s ‘resurrection chapter’ we read: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body (Luke 24:1-3).

Despair. There was no joy in the hearts of those women that morning. They had watched Jesus die and now were grief-stricken and despairing. They had believed that he was God’s Messiah and were looking forward to a new age of justice and peace, of laughter, love and joy. Now, their only thought was to give his body a proper burial.

We can picture them trudging to the tomb in the gray light of dawn, burdened by their own thoughts and laden with heavy jars of oils and spices for the burial.

But that was not all: when they arrived at the grave, they saw that the huge stone closing the tomb had been rolled away. Was this some underhand action on the part of the authorities?

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them… (24:4). They had despaired at Jesus’ death and now they were terrified: they could only bow their faces to the ground at the dazzling appearance of two angels. And when the angels spoke, the women were even more confused: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” ‘You’ve come to the wrong place.’

Remember! “Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again…’” (Luke 24:6b-7a).

The angels could have explained the empty tomb. Instead, they told the women to remember what Jesus had said to them. The focus of Jesus’ words they quoted is important: ‘The Son of Man, the Messiah had to suffer and die and then rise again’. Suffering and death were essential to the work of God’s king.

In every age Jesus’ death has been an enigma – even for his first followers. Yet during the course of his ministry he had foreshadowed both it and his resurrection. Indeed, in his public ministry he revealed that he had not come as a political Messiah to bring in God’s kingdom through force.

Rather, he came as a savior to address our greatest need – our broken relationship with God. He alone could deliver us from God’s just judgement and open the doors of God’s new age.

This theme infuses Luke’s gospel. At Jesus’ birth the angel announced that God’s savior had been born. And when he met with Zacchaeus, Jesus summed up his ministry saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Furthermore, his words at the Last Supper are key to the meaning of his death: “This is my body given for you…”  “This is my blood shed for you…”  These words are amongst the oldest statements of Christianity. We find them in 1 Corinthians, written around 50AD, as well as in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which were written no later than the 60s.

In fact, when we read Luke as a whole we come to see that Jesus’ death is about God’s love and justice – central aspects of God’s character. Some say that Jesus’ crucifixion was a form of child abuse – a father punishing a son for someone else’s wrongs. But we need to remember Jesus’ words in John chapter 10, verse 18 where he said he would lay down his life voluntarily.

The movement of the Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). God, the wronged party, entered the world and bore the punishment that we wrong-doers deserve. God, as the judge, paid in full, once and for all time, the fine owed by the accused who have been found guilty.

Through ‘The Lord’s Supper’ or Communion’ in The Book of Common Prayer Thomas Cranmer taught and reminded us all of the significance of Jesus’ death with these words: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of your tender mercy gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

When we understand that only God could provide the sacrifice needed to satisfy his perfect justice, Jesus’ words at his Last Supper touch our hearts and minds when we take the bread and drink of the cup. “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”, he said. After supper he said of the cup of wine that he passed around: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-21). It is no wonder that the cross, the instrument of Roman brutality, became, and remains today, the symbol of God’s extraordinary love for the world.

How we need to remember with true and grateful hearts the extraordinary gift that God has given us through the death and resurrection of his one and only Son, Christ Jesus.

A prayer. Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Material on Luke 24 is drawn from my commentary, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 204 Remember…! 9:11 31644
‘Christ is Risen…!’ https://anglicanconnection.com/christ-is-risen-3/ Tue, 02 Apr 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31633 The post ‘Christ is Risen…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In an article in The Spectator UK, Justin Brierley writes of ‘The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God’ (March 30, 2024). He notes that ‘the New Atheists of the early 2000s – led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett’ – and their bestselling books have led to ‘confusion, a mental health crisis in the young and the culture wars’.

‘It’s not surprising then,’ he continues, ‘that a movement of New Theists has sprung up.’ He notes that ‘influencers such as Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray are increasingly talking about the value of Christian faith and the dangers of casting it off. The former new atheist Ayaarn Hirsi Ali has been praising the virtues of our Judeo-Christian heritage, after becoming convinced that secular humanism cannot save the West’.

Significantly, he comments that ‘Christianity is not just a useful lifeboat for stranded intellectuals. If it is not literally true, it isn’t valuable,’ he writes.

It’s imperative therefore, that we ask whether the account of Jesus’ resurrection is an invention. Life and death matters are at stake. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins, Paul the Apostle writes in First Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 17. If it’s true, it’s life changing. Our lives have meaning and hope.

The first witnesses. In the opening lines of chapter 20 of his Gospel, John records the events on the morning of the third day following Jesus’ crucifixion. Mary of Magdala, one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb, ran back to tell Peter and John it was empty: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she said, “and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2).

Despite the testimony of women being considered unreliable and inadmissable in first century Judaism, women – as the other Gospels detail – were the first witnesses of the empty tomb. No Jewish writer would have written this if the account were fiction.

Furthermore, John’s own testimony rings true. He tells us that being younger he outran Peter, but he didn’t enter the tomb first. Peter did. Both saw the linen wrappings lying there and the linen cloth that had been around Jesus’ head… rolled up in another place. It was as though Jesus’ body had passed through the shroud which included some one hundred pounds weight of expensive myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) and the head covering had been discarded. It seemed that human hands had not removed the body. What did it mean?

John tells us he saw and believed (20:8), but neither he nor Peter understood it. Like Martha who had said to Jesus that she knew her brother Lazarus would rise from the dead on the last day (John 11:24), John seems to have reasoned that Jesus had gone to be with God the Father, as he had said (John 14:2-4). But neither John nor Peter understood what Jesus meant when he promised they would see him again, physically alive. We need to grasp this, for it underlines the unexpectedness and authenticity of what really happened.

Despair. We also need to appreciate how Jesus’ followers felt when they saw him strung up on a cross. For three years they’d been with him. They’d seen him turn water into wine, heal the sick, restore sight to a man born blind. They’d even watched when, standing at the entrance of a tomb, he called out to a man who had been dead for four days: “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Furthermore, they’d heard him teach and outclass the smartest minds that sought to break him. They believed that he was the Son of God incarnate.

Then to their horror, they’d watched him die! They’d heard his prayer of forgiveness and his promise to the penitent insurrectionist (Luke 23:34-43). They’d also heard his victorious shout, “It is finished” – my work is done (John 19:30) – as he died.

Their minds were numb with the shock and horror that Jesus would die the worst of deaths the Romans had devised – for the slaves and the very worst of society. No wonder they hid behind locked doors.

Resurrection. Yet on the Sunday evening Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. John’s words, Jesus stood, contrast with the time they had last seen him – hanging on a cross, wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying the most ignominious of deaths. And when they had seen the spear thrust in his side, they knew he was dead.

Here Jesus was, not weak and limp, but standing, tall and erect, in command, repeating words he had spoken when he was last with them: “Peace be with you”. And to prove he was real and not a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side (20:19f).

Bewildered and confused though they were, they nevertheless knew he was alive. “Peace be with you!” he said again. At their last meal he had promised, “My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me” (John 14:27). His resurrection gave them the greatest assurance of the truth of his words.

They were overjoyed, but their minds couldn’t fully grasp what was happening. It was like a dream. But, as GK Chesterton once observed, Truth is stranger than fiction.

You may have trouble with the idea of miracles in the New Testament because we now know the laws of nature. Dr. John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics and philosophy at Oxford University, comments: ‘The laws of nature that science observes are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ don’t prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’’.

Jesus’ resurrection is not the result of a natural law that can be tested. Rather, as the New Testament tells us, it happened because God chose to over-rule, using his awesome, supernatural power (Romans 6:4b).

More than ever our confused world needs to hear God’s good news. When we turn to the risen Christ, he says to us, ‘Peace be with you. Have no fear’.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

A Prayer. Almighty Father, you have given your only Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old influences of corruption and evil, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (BCP, First Sunday after Easter – adapted)

You might like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Getty Music.

© John G. Mason

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‘God’s Gift…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/gods-gift/ Tue, 26 Mar 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31625 The post ‘God’s Gift…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Have you considered the legacy you would like to leave? I’m not speaking here of a material legacy for your family but a legacy or gift for the benefit of others. Writing in The Weekend Australian (March 16-17, 2024), Nicki Gemmell spoke of ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ of Alexei Navalny, the late ‘Russian opposition leader whose sacrifice was driven by a deep love of his country and of his compatriots’. ‘We’re not used to heroes in real life anymore,’ she wrote.

In commenting on Navalny’s life most commentators miss the point that his sense of suffering, even his willingness to lay down his life in the cause of human rights, arose from his Christian faith – something he came to profess in his adult years. Navalny’s heroism echoed in a small way the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known – that of Jesus, the Son of God.

Come with me to the Gospel of John. In the course of his public ministry, John records, Jesus spoke of his hour. When Mary asked Jesus to do something about the need for wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), he replied that his hour had not yet come. Later on, he said it again (John 7:20 and 8:30). But in John 12:23, when Philip and Andrew reported that some Greeks wanted to meet Jesus, a turning point came. It was then that he said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”.

Suffering. It is through Jesus’ death alone that God’s kingdom is open to all who believe in him (Jesus) – Greeks (the non-Jewish world) as well as Jewish people. Twice more, when he was with his disciples in the upper room, Jesus spoke of the time having come for him to depart this world through an event that would be his glorification – he was speaking about his death.

Sin-bearer. We get glimpses of Jesus’ understanding of the purpose of his life throughout the four Gospel records. An important key to the back-story is found in the prophetic words of Isaiah that speak of a coming ‘servant’. Chapter 52, verse 13 through chapter 53, verse 12 are very important, especially verse 6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, was born to suffer and die as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. The hidden nature of the depths of God’s love is revealed in the crucifixion. His imminent death would be his glorification – where glory speaks of the outward manifestation of his true inner character.

Glorification. Furthermore, Jesus prays that the Father’s name will also be glorified. Too often we forget that God, whose nature is always to show mercy, is passionate about rescuing the lost. In John chapter 12, verse 28 we read God’s response: ‘I have glorifiedyou (it), and I will glorify it again’ – a reference to Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead, and supremely in God’s raising of Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ glorification is also the Father’s glorification.

Judgement. Another significant facet of Jesus’ crucifixion we often overlook is that the world and its ‘ruler’ were judged then and there. For Jesus’ death involved a conflict with the powers of evil. As Jesus’ crucifixion involved the reversal of the events of Genesis 3, the original tempter needed to be deposed once and for all.

Through his crucifixion Jesus, the Son of God, not only overcame the power of sin, but also disarmed the evil powers of this world and triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15). Yes, the powers of evil are still hell-bent on defacing and destroying the image of God in us. But these very powers are in their death throes, kicking out against what they know will be their end.

The extreme cost to God. In John 12:32 we read Jesus’ words: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.Jesus endured the extremes of injustice and torture, suffering and crucifixion.

Jesus’ death was not that of a misguided martyr as in the pop-opera, Jesus Christ, Superstar. Nor is the cross a heartless God punishing a hapless Son. Jesus tells us himself: it was his choice (John 10:14-15), because both he and the Father love the world and are intent on its rescue, no matter the cost (John 3:16). The death of God’s Son on the cross might seem strange, but it reveals the deeper wisdom of God and the invincible power of his love. Only God himself could perfectly satisfy the innermost depths of his righteousness.

In the midst of the noise and suffering of a troubled and evil world, Christ has left us an amazing gift. Through his cross he has not only conquered the power of sin and evil, but also of death itself. The breaking news of Easter Day that Christ is risen, awakens us to a hope and a future far beyond our imagination.

The events of Good Friday reveal that Jesus’ suffering and death weren’t the end of a heroic life, but the inauguration of God’s new age. This is God’s extraordinary gift.

It leaves us with questions we need to address. Do we truly believe this? Have we personally turned to the Lord with thankful hearts in repentance and faith? Is our joy such that we want to pass on the news of Christ’s great gift, no matter the cost, to family and friends, as well as to the wider world? Is this a legacy you want to leave?

On Good Friday and Easter Day may you know afresh – or for the first time – the joy and the hope of God’s gift of new life in Jesus Christ.

Prayers. Almighty Father, look graciously upon your people, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 202 God’s Gift… 9:26 31625
‘God’s Strange Miracle…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/gods-strange-miracle/ Tue, 19 Mar 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31608 The post ‘God’s Strange Miracle…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In his recent insightful and challenging book, The Word of the Cross, Jonathan Linebaugh quotes WH Auden’s, ‘For the Time Being’: Nothing can save us that is possible / we who must die demand a miracle.

In First Corinthians chapter 1, verses 18 and 19 Paul the Apostle writes: For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Following the logic of verse 18 we might have expected Paul to say, For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God. Instead, he tells us that it is the power of God. Yes, in verse 24 he does say that the cross is the wisdom of God, but he wants to emphasize something more important. He wants us to know first and foremost, that in the cross of Christ the power of God is active – at work.

Paul doesn’t want us to think of the cross of Christ as a philosophical system set against the folly of others. Rather, he wants us to know that God, in his wisdom, has addressed the root problem of the human dilemma in a way that no other philosophy or religion has – through a powerful miracle.

Let’s think about this. Humanity has made incredible strides in the field of science and technology: people have travelled in space and walked on the moon; wherever we are we can keep in touch with one another and the world through our smart phones. But we still have a major problem: our relationships. There’s always something that causes tension and conflict – between nations, between ideologies and philosophies, between the sexes.

William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was asked why he wrote it. To which he responded: ‘I believed then, that man was sick – not exceptional man, but average man. I believed that the condition of man was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between his diseased nature and the international mess he gets himself into’.

In First Corinthians, chapter 1 Paul is telling us that where human wisdom has failed to find answers, God has stepped in and miraculously acted. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has used his powerful resources to provide a solution to our human dilemma in a way that nothing else could.

The implication is that we live in a moral universe. We are not here by chance simply to make the best of our fleeting life. We are creatures made in the image of our creator to whom we are accountable. Our deepest problem is that we have rejected our maker and endeavored to live without him. And what happens? The deep divisions in the western world suggest we aren’t able to govern ourselves.

And perhaps that’s our real problem. We don’t want others to govern us. We want to govern.

The extraordinary news of the Bible is that God has stepped into our world in person and that through the scandalous event of the death of his Son on a cross, he has powerfully provided a new start for the perishing. The cross is the place where God has destroyed all human arrogance and pretense.

So, Paul asks, Where is the one who is wise? (v.20). This is a reference to the philosophers of the day, Epicureans, Platonists or Stoics, who all had their views about what life is about and how it should be lived. ‘But what real, lasting solution do they have to offer?’ Paul questions.

Where is the scribe? he continues. This is a reference to experts in the Jewish law: where are they? Apart from focusing on the law which no one can keep, what solution do they propose that might sort out our relationship with God and with one another?

Paul continues, Where is the debater of this age? Where are the orators? Or we might ask, where are the academics or the expert media commentators who can offer a just and lasting solution to our human tragedy? Indeed, can we even trust the news media and commentators?  In February 2015 Brian Williams, a news anchor with NBC, America, recanted on a story he had told that he said he was shot down over Iraq in 2003. He said he had ‘made a mistake’.

Paul is saying that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God made foolish the wisdom of the world. God has upstaged the vanity and pretense of human wisdom by an action of his own.

In verse 21 he writes: In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom,…

The brilliant minds of the world of academia, the expert voices of media celebrities with their unctuous tones, have not been able to offer a solution to our human dilemma. None point to God, the creator of the universe. And certainly, none point to the scandal of the cross.

There is something strange in what God is doing here, but there is a rightness about it. Paul is saying that God has deliberately ordered things this way so that an arrogant, self-centered people cannot, and will not, find a solution. If we could do this by ourselves, we potentially put ourselves in the driving seat and that would only add to the pride we already have… ‘Ha, God! We can do without you.’

But consider the second part of verse 21: God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. This is breath-taking. Through the preaching of Christ crucified, a message that seems so senseless and inane when we first come across it, God has determined to rescue anyone who believes. I am sure you see the implications of this. God, in his wisdom, has determined on a plan that to human eyes seems ludicrous.

Furthermore, it means that all people – it doesn’t matter who they are – have an equal opportunity to benefit. Priority isn’t given to the highly intelligent, the wealthy, the successful or the celebrities. God’s offer of salvation is open to anyone who, by his grace, trusts him at his word.

The message of Christ crucified is God’s strange miracle that powerfully subverts the wisdom of the world and provides the one and only solution to our human need – restoration of our relationship with God and a motivation and a model for working out our relationships with one another.

As Auden wrote: Nothing can save us that is possible / we who must die demand a miracle.

A prayer. Merciful God, who created all men and women in your image and who hates nothing you have made, nor would have the death of a sinner, but rather that they should be converted and live; have mercy on all people everywhere and take from them all ignorance and hardness of heart and contempt of your Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to your flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of your ancient people, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 201 God’s Strange Miracle… 9:44 31608
‘An Unforgiving World…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/an-unforgiving-world/ Tue, 12 Mar 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31598 The post ‘An Unforgiving World…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Vindictiveness and anger are the playbook of life around us today – in the bedroom, social media and the corridors of power. How can we respond?

Forty-five years ago, the historian and social critic, Christopher Lasch, published The Culture of Narcissism: There he wrote, ‘Our society has made lasting friendships, love affairs and marriages, increasingly difficult to achieve. Social life has become more and more warlike and personal relationships have taken on the character of combat…’ He said this before the advent of social media.

Driven by changing and conflicting world-views, society today has become more and more divided. For centuries, the Judaeo-Christian world-view formed the social bond in the Western world. But these days the progressive world dismisses God: we are now adrift on the ocean of life without an agreed moral compass. Persuasive voices appeal to our emotions. Profounder, wiser voices of experience that speak to the depths of our souls are drowned out.

In his book, God Is Good For You, Dr Greg Sheriden, a respected Australian commentator and author, writes: ‘The primary challenge today is not intellectual but cultural…’

For the last five hundred years or so, Christian theologians and church leaders have seen the need to address people’s intellectual questions – about the existence of God, authenticity, suffering, and science and Christianity. But if Sheridan is right and the challenge now is cultural, we need to ask, ‘how do other people see us?’ Is there any difference in my lifestyle and worldview from people around me?

In chapter 3 of his Letter to the Colossians, Paul the Apostle identifies character changes God expects in his people. In verses 5 through 11 he sets out examples of inner transformation. And, from verse 12 he writes of transformed relationships.

In verse 12 he writes: As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Changed attitudes. Paul tells us that if we are to experience and enjoy good relationships ourselves, we need to change our attitudes towards others. We need to put off the anti-social vices of indifference and thoughtlessness in our relationships with one another. Paul puts his finger on 3 attitudes that can cause conflict.

Instead of compassion and kindness, it is easy to distance ourselves from the pain and the suffering of others. Instead of humility and meekness, how easily we focus on our own interests and achievements so that we, even unconsciously, look down on others who are not as ‘together’.

And how quickly we become impatient with those around us because we’re not prepared to put up with their faults or failures. Indifference, pride and impatience can lie at the root of violence and hostility in any human society.

Forgiveness. Paul continues: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.

Let me ask, have you forgiven in your heart and before God that person who so badly hurt you? Have you let bitterness take root in your attitude towards them? If we know God’s forgiveness because we have turned to the Lord Jesus in repentance, how can we not forgive those who have offended us?

Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Paul’s words when said: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love”. He also said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude”. And he further commented, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”.

Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you, Paul exhorts us.

Love. And put on love which binds you all together, he continues. Paul knew how easy it is for God’s people, indeed for everyone, to be divided. He understood the corrosive effect of wounded feelings. But he also knew of the one quality that can heal, and enable God’s people to grow into maturity: Love.

He is not speaking of a sentimental, emotional love, but of a love that is grounded in truth and is committed to serving the best interests of others.

This is where we who are God’s people are to be so different from the wider society. For the New Testament insists that God’s people be the one community where the ethics of love and mercy in serving the best interests of others, prevail. As God’s people, we are to pray for our enemies. God expects us to live out the grace of compassion and care for others – especially for one another as God’s people.

How are we to respond to the vindictiveness and division around us? The starting point is to pray that we might live out the life changes that the Lord has brought to bear on us as his people.

Tertullian, the 2nd century church leader commented of the way the wider society saw the communities of God’s people: ‘It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents’, he said. “Only look,” they say, “look how they love one another”.’

A prayer. Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, so that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love for one another and to you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 200 An Unforgiving World… 8:02 31598
‘Goodness in a Troubled World…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/goodness-in-a-troubled-world/ Tue, 05 Mar 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31549 The post ‘Goodness in a Troubled World…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Augustine of Hippo, North Africa, one of the great minds of the late Roman Empire, wrestled with the notion of God and the question of evil, before coming to believe that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. He writes in his Confessions that as a young adult his prayer was, “God, give me chastity and self-control, but not yet”.

One day when he was reading in a garden, he heard a young child’s voice singing, Tolle lege; tolle lege – ‘Take up, read; take up, read.’ He had been reading Paul the Apostle’s Letter to the Romans. Going back to the place where he had left the text, his eyes fell on the words in chapter 13: Let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

As he read, he found the solution to his heart’s longing. “How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose, it was now joy to put away. You (Lord) cast them forth from me, … and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure…” (Confessions VIII)

Paul’s advice in Romans, chapter 13 is similar to what we find in the first section of Colossians, chapter 3. There Paul writes, Since you have been raised to a new life in Christ, set your hearts and minds on the things above…And in verse 5 he says: Put to death therefore what belongs to your earthly nature…

It is because of the new relationship that God’s people have with the risen Lord Jesus that Paul exhorts us to adopt a new lifestyle that reflects the goodness of God. Everything we think and say and do is to be framed by our new identity. Paul touches on three important areas of our behavior: sex, speech and relationships.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Passions. If you know the Lord Jesus, Paul is saying, then sex is for marriage only. ‘You used to do what you wanted to do,’ he says, ‘but now having linked yourself with the Lord, put to death such behaviour.’ People often argue that they are ‘making love’, but with his reference to greed in this context, he is saying that it is really lust.

In recent years studies suggest that the internet is having a negative impact on marriages. People are so consumed by it, especially pornography, that they have less time and inclination for their marriage partner. What a strange paradox: ogling at pictures more than enjoying the precious gift of the personal, intimate sexual relationship in marriage.

As Augustine came to realize, God is not interested in spoiling our fun. Rather, we are reminded, that as our Maker, God has a good and wonderful purpose for us in marriage. Paul frames his exhortation here in the context that we have died and been raised with Christ. When we feel the impact of this, the desires of our hearts will change. We will see the rightness and true joy in living out the Lord’s good plan for us in a committed and faithful marriage – one where there is forgiveness and renewal.

Paul also speaks about the tongue: But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practicesand have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

It seems strange that Paul writes about controlling the tongue in the same context as he writes about sex. What we forget is that the New Testament sees the tongue as our most sin prone organ. In his Letter, James says that the tongue is a restless evil.

You may think that to get on in life you need to express yourself with vehemence and an edgy vocabulary. But malice, obscenity and anger constantly damage and destroy relationships.

Sometimes people tell me that nobody likes a saint: they’re so self-righteous. But to say this is to forget what true humanity is. To be truly human is to be like Jesus. Let me ask, ‘Do you get the impression that he was a dull, anaemic personality?’ He was man as men and women are meant to be.

Which brings us to Paul’s further exhortation – about relationships:

In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Here in Colossians, chapter 3, verse 11 Paul tells us that we need to recognize the unity we have in Christ and, in turn, provide a picture to the world of God’s new society. One of the significant features of New Testament Christianity was the breakdown of racial and cultural barriers – not least between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians.

Paul’s words set the agenda of unity across the social and racial divisions for God’s people. Yes, we’ll disappoint one another, we won’t always be as tolerant as we should be, we won’t always love one another, or forgive one another as we should. But we must try. That should be our goal.

Put to death therefore what belongs to your earthly nature… Paul writes.

You may find it helpful to remember Augustine’s words as he read the Scriptures: “How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose, it was now joy to put away. Lord, you cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, … and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure…”

Augustine could sum up, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

Let’s pray. Lord if we are honest, we find our consciences pricked by the lofty standards you have set, of sexual purity, in our speaking, and in our relationships. We know that this failure in us affects the whole world, creating injustice and protest, conflict and war. Lord, please forgive us for our failings. But we also want to thank you for the new world you have made, to which we have title, and upon which you want us to fix our gaze. Turn our hearts to love you and to honor you. Help us to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 199 Goodness in a Troubled World… 9:24 31549
‘Life in the Darkness…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/life-in-the-darkness/ Tue, 27 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31539 The post ‘Life in the Darkness…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In March 1973, Pink Floyd introduced the line, ‘The dark side of the moon’. The album was a great success addressing dark questions about life. The theme of darkness arose again in the 2013 movie, Gravity where Sandra Bullock is left untethered in space. The audience feels the visceral terror of darkness and helplessness. The black hole of depression, the sense of having the light of life sucked out of us, is how many feel.

In his Letter to the Colossians Paul takes us beyond the world of music and science-fiction into a realm beyond the universe itself. He tells us that in Jesus Christ, God the creator of the universe, has entered our world and opened the way for us to be transferred from this present world of disappointment and despair, darkness and death, to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Back in chapter 1, verse 13 Paul put it like this: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves...

In the first two chapters of his Letter, Paul tells us that when Jesus came a dislocation in human history occurred. In Jesus, God’s rule over the cosmos took on a new form: a new world order began, and that new world now co-exists with the one we see around us.

Paul awakens us, not just to the notion of a creator God, but to one who is also working out his cosmic strategy in world events and in the arena of our lives. The key element is now in place: it involved his one and only Son, Jesus. It required Jesus, who is truly God and truly human, to offer his life as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice to satisfy all God’s just requirements for the sins of humanity. In an extraordinary act of generous love, Jesus freely volunteered to do this, giving his life, the just for the unjust.

But Jesus’ death was not the end. Rather, it was the end of the beginning — the end of the first stage of God’s cosmic plan. It also marked the beginning of the last stage of God’s plan for the cosmos as we know it. For now, a new era has dawned.

How can we be sure of this? Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead is the key.

The opening lines of Colossians chapter 3 form a turning point to the Letter. We read: So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, …

Jesus’ resurrection was not simply a satisfying ending to a unique life. It reveals that all that Jesus tells us about God, the world, and us, is not science fiction. An eternal realm exists outside of space and time. Furthermore, his resurrection points to a new era in God’s great purposes – an era which we can experience, and in which we can personally participate.

Two great realms now co-exist: the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of God’s Son. In other words, into the dark scene of a world of seeming hopelessness, the light of Jesus has shone.

The dominion of darkness, we could say, is centred around a black hole. It is a shrinking world, shrinking to eternal destruction. But the other world, the kingdom of God’s Son is centred around a bright nova, and it’s an expanding universe, expanding to eternal glory.

For the present, there is an interface between these two parallel worlds, and a door in time allows people to pass from one world to the other. For the present everyone who turns to Jesus and gives him their allegiance has an identity in both worlds. Physically we are still in the old order but our names are registered in the new.

From God’s perspective, everyone who may be healthy and enjoying life but chooses to live without him is dead. However, when we truly turn to Jesus Christ, God raises us up into a new life with Christ. In his mind’s eye we are alive with the risen Christ.

Paul carries this forward in verse 3 where he says, For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. If we are one of God’s people, we exist in two worlds: we have a visible identity in this world, and at the same time an invisible identity in God’s new world.

For the present others only see our physical bodies. The reality of our new and eternal life is hidden. Indeed, because those around us cannot see, let alone understand the new life we now have, there will be misunderstanding, mockery and even anger at the views we hold, and the lifestyle changes they observe.

But, because our faith is grounded in the God who keeps his promises, what is now hidden will one day be disclosed. Everyone will see it.Paul puts it this way in verse 4: When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

In today’s world the idea of Christ bursting through the skies in a blazing display of power and glory, seems pure science fiction. But the Bible leaves us in no doubt. From cover to cover it tells us that the world is going somewhere, and the final outcome will involve the return of God’s king.

When we think about it, the events of the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son occurred only some twenty-eight life spans ago – a life span being 70 years. During the course of his public life Jesus predicted the events of his death and resurrection. He also spoke of his return. His words about his unexpected death and resurrection were fulfilled. Is it not conceivable that his third prediction will also take place?

And when he returns, what a day that will be! This present age will be seen for what it is – a time that is a strange mixture of good and evil. However, with the manifestation of the new era in its awesome power and perfect justice, the pure joy and glory of God’s people will be revealed. We will experience life in all its fullness and joy, love and laughter for eternity.

Paul’s words in the opening lines of chapter 3 awaken our hearts and minds to see life now through the longer lens of a time without end – the glory of God’s country. In this troubled world, shrouded in so much darkness, let’s live in the light and hope of the glory to be revealed with the return of God’s King.

A Prayer: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 198 Life in the Darkness… 9:34 31539
‘Spiritual Life…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/spiritual-life-2/ Tue, 20 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31534 The post ‘Spiritual Life…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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There are times when we feel we are not spiritual enough. God seems distant. Our faith feels cold. We go to church, but we don’t read the Bible or pray from one week to the next. What’s to be done?

Some of us set ourselves a rigorous program, especially during Lent – perhaps rising extra early, fasting on Fridays and following a strict code of rules. Others of us feel we need new spiritual experiences. But in Colossians, chapter 2, verses 16 through 23 Paul the Apostle makes some salutary observations about what we can identify as legalism, mysticism, and ascetism. He challenges us to consider who Jesus Christ really is and the perfection and completion of his necessary work for us.

In verses 16 and 17 he writes: Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Legalism. Having a rigorous calendar of saints days and food ritual and ceremonies will not add to what Christ has done for our salvation, he is saying. Yes, the Old Testament had many laws and ceremonies concerning sacrifices and sabbaths, fasting and washing, but that’s all over now. Going back to that type of religious legalism is like people in the 21st century going back to the horse and buggy days of the 19th century. The Old Testament rules and regulations were shadows of the reality that was to come.’

Yes, as we all know, there is wisdom in washing before meals and having a regular break from work. But Paul is saying, don’t think that by making this a legalistic ritual you are going to be more spiritual or more godly. Spiritual legalism received its death knell when Jesus nailed it to his cross (Colossians 2:14).

In chapter 2, verses 18 and 19 he continues: Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Mysticism. Oriental religions have always thought that people can penetrate the cloud that veils our view of God by participating in occult practices. But Paul says otherwise. Reciting mantras, practising yoga or looking for mystical experiences, won’t work. You lose contact with the real source of life. Mysticism – the occult, drug induced experiences will not help us find God.

Consider what Paul says in verses 20 through 23: If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigour of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.

Asceticism. This third group tries to be more spiritual through a program of self-discipline and self-denial. They fast and will eat only certain foods. Diet and physical discipline can become an obsession.

But says Paul, severe self-discipline isn’t going to help you live morally or spiritually better lives. For starters, it’s a human invention. We may give the impression of being pious or wise, but it’s nothing more than a self-imposed religious asceticism.

So, if legalism, mysticism and asceticism won’t help us live better moral or spiritual lives, what will? Paul is telling us that we need to go back to the one who is the only source of true liberation: Jesus Christ. He is the solution to our longing for deeper spiritual experience.

Paul was convinced the Colossian people needed to focus their thinking on Jesus. They needed to ask again: Who is he? What has he done? Back in Colossians chapter 2, verse 9, Paul writes: For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him,…

Most people find this hard to believe. Yet the evidence of Jesus’ life was that he is both man and God. Think of the miracles he performed – controlling nature, healing the sick, feeding thousands, even raising the dead. He didn’t do these things because he was a man of great faith. He did them because he was both one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man.

If the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus, then he is all we need. To know Jesus, says Paul, is to have God; one hundred percent of God; the fullness of God through his Spirit in your life. When we grasp this, then all the pseudo-ideas of a spiritual life that might seem attractive, will lose their appeal. When people turn away from a professed Christian faith, their decision often begins with their denial of the incarnation and their denial of the deity of Christ.

You, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:14).

Prayer. Almighty God, you wonderfully created men and women in your own image and have now more wonderfully rescued and restored them. Grant us, we pray, that as your Son our Lord Jesus Christ was made in our likeness, so may we share his divine nature; we ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Suggested reading – Colossians 2:8-23

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 197 Spiritual Life… 8:42 31534
‘Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent’ https://anglicanconnection.com/ash-wednesday-the-first-day-of-lent/ Tue, 13 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31530 The post ‘Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Today is known in the church calendar as Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent. Traditionally it is an important time of preparation for the events that we remember and celebrate at Easter – ‘The Last Supper’, Jesus’ crucifixion (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter Day).

In the northern hemisphere it is a time of seasonal change from the darkness of winter to the delights of longer days and the new life of spring. Many of God’s people use it as a special time to reflect on what God has done for us to bring us from the winter of life without him, to the new life in Jesus Christ through the events of the first Good Friday and Easter Day.

Some find it helpful to make Lent a time of going without (fasting), enabling them to be more focused on their relationship and life with the Lord Jesus. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and continues through to the day before Easter.

Doubts. That said, do you ever have doubts about your faith? The world is full of ideas about where we find the meaning of life. Richard Dawkins and others tell us that physics will explain the universe. Books about mysticism and eastern religion tell us of the advantages of meditation and spiritual experiences. And there are work colleagues who tell us to forget all the religious nonsense and to come and have a drink with them.

However, when we look into the subject of faith, we find that some of the finest scientific minds insist that the universe is the work of a supreme intelligence. In his book, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? Professor Henry F (Fritz) Schaefer, one of the worlds leading quantum chemists, writes that Dr. Allan Sandage was a brilliant cosmologist. He ‘is responsible for our best values for the age of the universe, something like 14 billion years’ (Apollos Trust: Third Edition, 2013, p.71). Dr. Schaefer notes that when Sandage was asked ‘how one can be a scientist and a Christian, he didn’t turn to astronomy, but rather biology: “The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnection to be due to chance … I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order and each of its organisms is simply too well put together”’.

So, what does the Bible reveal concerning the real problem with the world?

Captivity. Writing in his Letter to the Colossians, chapter 2, the Apostle Paul says: And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him (Col. 2:13-15).

The Bible sees history as being divided into two great eras. Before Jesus came there was the present age: ‘the world’. Now that Jesus has come a new era has begun: ‘the age to come’ or ‘the kingdom of God’. God was in sovereign control of the first era, but it was a world in the grip of the elemental principles of the natural world. We were captive to laws we couldn’t keep – and even when God’s law was revealed, we found we couldn’t keep it. Furthermore, we found we were in bondage to a supernatural prosecuting power – Satan.

This supernatural power has set himself up as the prosecutor for our failures. And such is the nature of our failures to love God and to love our neighbors that God that must condemn us. As a result, we are subject to death because our transgressions are, in God’s eyes, a capital offence. Moreover Satan, being the implacable prosecutor he is, insists that the penalty must be paid. And so, what seems an irony, God in his justice cannot refuse Satan’s demands.

C.S. Lewis captures these elements in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Because Edmund betrayed Aslan the white witch demanded Edmund’s life. ‘He has broken the laws of the deep,’ she shrieks. ‘His life is forfeit.’

This is the natural condition of everyone of us. There are laws we cannot keep, we are in the power of spiritual forces we can’t defeat, and we are en route to a grave we cannot avoid. This is what Paul means by captivity.

Liberty. But with the coming of Jesus, God in the flesh, the bars of our spiritual prison have been smashed. For he has paid the moral debt of the laws we couldn’t obey. Furthermore, he disarmed the demonic powers that we couldn’t overcome. As for the death we couldn’t escape, he abolished it. For when you were dead in your sins, he made you alive with the risen Christ, Paul writes.

How is this extraordinary freedom achieved? Paul tells us twice so that we don’t miss it: By the cross. In verse 14 he says that God took it away, nailing it to the cross of Christ … And in verse 15 he says that God triumphed over them by the cross. For Paul, the world that was, gave way to a new and everlasting world.

The Cross is where Jesus paid the death penalty for our sinful human race, turning our captivity into the glorious liberty of the children of God. The invoice, the bill of debt? It’s nailed to the cross stamped, ‘Paid in Full’. The demonic forces who held us in their control? ‘They are publicly humiliated’, declares Paul.

The cross of Jesus Christ lies at the heart of the season of Lent – indeed, every day of our life. So Lent can help us re-set our relationship with Christ and enable us to re-frame our lives throughout the year.

Prayer – for Ash Wednesday. Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, so that we, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Suggested reading – Colossians 2:8-15

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 196 Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent 8:35 31530
‘So, What’s It All About: Meaning and Hope…!’ https://anglicanconnection.com/so-whats-it-all-about-meaning-and-hope/ Tue, 06 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31521 The post ‘So, What’s It All About: Meaning and Hope…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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We’re looking at Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom books of the Bible.

The wisdom books stand apart from the main narrative of the Bible, asking questions about our experiences of life. Job asks how do we make sense of suffering, especially the suffering of the seemingly innocent? The Song of Songs explores God’s gift of the joys of love and sex. Proverbs provides a framework for street-smart and successful godly living. Ecclesiastes is asking, ‘What’s the purpose of life?’

We turn this week to the concluding chapters of Ecclesiastes where we can identify two themes: ‘What’s the Point of life?’ and ‘What’s the Answer?’

What’s the point of life? What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? is the question that bubbles through Ecclesiastes. We work hard, put in long hours, and give up things we’d prefer to be doing. What’s the value of it all?’

The phrase, under the sun is used twenty-seven times in the Book. It’s asking what is life all about if God doesn’t reveal himself? The writer isn’t asking this as an atheist: he believes God exists. He’s asking, ‘What do we make of life if we don’t have a special word from God?’

And there’s another layer to life’s conundrum: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all (9:11). Life doesn’t always reward the swift or the strong, the wise or the brilliant. So much is a matter of timing or chance. If you’re the wrong age when the position of CEO arises, no matter how successful, how smart or wise you are, you’ll be passed over. ‘What’s the gain?’

In chapter 11 the Teacher exhorts us to try to be positive about life. If time and chance rule, there’s nothing we can do. So, if farmers watch the wind, they’ll never sow seed. Take a chance, give it a go!

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun,he continues in verses 7ff. Even those who live many years should rejoice in them all;…

It’s good to see the sun, especially after long, wintry days. Enjoy life if you can. But as verse 8 says: … Remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.Everything is meaningless. ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead’.

So, rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart …(11:9). Enjoy your youth while you can. You’ve got energy and an ability to learn quickly, so run, swim, learn, pump iron. Enjoy being young and strong, but realize there’s a sobering conclusion: But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Verses 1 through 8 of chapter 12 are a poem: Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain;…

A picture of old age emerges. Our world is afraid of ageing. Indeed, there’s a vast industry devoted to anti-aging – creams and botox, diet and exercise programs.

Ecclesiastes tells us life can be fun: enjoy it while you can, but it won’t last. If you try to hold on to it, you’ll find it’s like sand: it slips through the fingers and is gone. What’s the point?

Is there an answer? In chapter 12, verses 9ff we read: Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd….

Ecclesiastes is composed of the collected sayings given by one shepherd – an Old Testament way of referring to God. It speaks of its sayings as goads, pointed sticks often used as animal prods, challenging us to consider the meaning of life. It likens the words of the wise to firmly embedded nails, something to anchor us.

In verse 13 we read: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.

This is the first time Ecclesiastes says that God has spoken. It’s the first time the Teacher has said that we don’t just live under the sun. We have a word from God. God has given us commandments to live out. We’re not living in the dark.

The Book of Proverbs says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Ecclesiastes gives us the flip-side: to ignore God and his Word is the ultimate foolishness. Honoring and serving God gives us meaning.

Ecclesiastes concludes, not just with reference to the creator God who has revealed his good purposes for us in his commandments, but also as judge. God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (12:14). We live in a moral universe.

The New Testament gives us a clearer picture. In Second Corinthians, chapter 5 we read: all of us must appear before the judgment seat of God to receive his just judgment for things done in the body whether good or bad (5:10).

Do you believe these things will come to pass? Prophesies that spoke of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, all came true. In the same way the words of Ecclesiastes and of Jesus himself about the coming judgement, will also come true. Such judgement makes sense of our existence. Are you and your family and friends prepared?

A prayer. Let your merciful ears, Lord God, be open to the prayers of your people; and so that we may obtain our petitions, teach and direct us to ask such things as will please you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. 192 So, What’s It All About: Meaning and Hope…! 8:43 31521