Handing on the Faith

lent-41

by Fr. Karl Dietze

2 Timothy 1

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1:5

Paul’s second letter to Timothy reads like the testimony of a man who knows his days are numbered.  Indeed, as Paul encourages Timothy to continue his faithful ministry, he also encourages Timothy to come see him soon (4:9).  “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:6-7).  Perhaps that is why Paul seems so reflective about Timothy. As he faces the end of his earthly ministry, Paul is writing to the young man who will carry on his spiritual legacy.  “I am reminded of your sincere faith…”

There is something powerful that jumps out at me in this verse.

Here we see the power of a believing household.  Paul commends Timothy for the sincere faith that “dwelt first” in his mother and grandmother.  This doesn’t mean that Timothy didn’t have a faith of his own, but it seems to mean that his mother and grandmother raised him to know Jesus.  This is one of the key missions of marriage and family.  We hear it in our own liturgy for marriage.  “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind was ordained by God: for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord…”

It has become popular in recent years to let children choose their own faith.  I would maintain that that misses the mark in at least two ways.  First, as we hear in the marriage liturgy, Scripture teaches that one of the primary roles of families is to raise children in the knowledge and love of the Lord.  It is God’s design.  Second, we teach our children those things that we believe are of ultimate value.  We teach them to take care of their bodies, we teach them to treat others well, we teach them the importance of education and knowledge.  If we believe that “there is no other name under heaven among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), then why wouldn’t we teach our children to know and love the Lord?

I am convinced, too, that Lois and Eunice taught the faith to Timothy.  Like it or not, parents are the primary faith teachers for their children.  Parents need to know the content of their faith if they are going to faithfully pass it on to their children.  That means that parents need to be active in growing their own faith so that they can both model the life of faith and teach its content.  But lest we narrow this down to only parents, can’t we say the same is true of the extended “family?”  We don’t raise children alone.  We, the Church, are meant to raise them together in the fellowship of the Church.

Recent studies have shown that the most likely contributing factor to young adults staying in the church in their twenties is having significant adult relationships with other disciples of Jesus.  That means that grandparents and extended natural family, as well as close family relationships, all play a powerful role in shaping young lives in Christ.  That means that raising children in the fellowship of the Church is vitally important.  We not only need to involve our children in the life of the Church, we need to teach them why such involvement (even if it doesn’t excite them any more than brushing their teeth or school) is so important.

If you have children of your own, what are you doing to raise them in the knowledge and love of the Lord?

If you have a relationship with the children of others, what are you doing to raise them in the knowledge and love of the Lord?

Fr. Karl ministers at Trinity Anglican Church

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Bread of Life

Lenten-activities

by Fr. Karl Dietze

John 6:22-40

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”   John 6:35

Have you ever noticed that when you have a craving for a particular food, nothing else will do?  I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that when I want chocolate, I can eat countless other delicious things, but still feel no satisfaction – I want chocolate!

That’s the funny thing about appetites – they are very specific in what they want and in what will satisfy them.  And when we crave something and can’t get it, it often leaves us restless and anxious.  It is true of our physical appetites.  It is true of our emotional appetites.  It is true of our spiritual appetites.

When Jesus said that He is the bread of life, He is offering to meet the deepest desires of our hearts.  He is offering us Life: the deep rest, peace, and satisfaction for which we long.  The problem for most of us, though, is that we seek Life in all sorts of other places.  Money and possessions, sex and relationships, fame and admiration, comforts and leisure, power and influence, physical appearance and health, knowledge and learning, food and drink, vacations, online followers, media distractions, and on and on.  It isn’t that all of these things are bad, although some of them can be, but that none of these things can truly satisfy us and give rest to our longing hearts.

Only Jesus can take away the deep hunger and thirst in our souls.  As St. Augustine of Hippo so beautifully put it, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Lent is an opportunity to look at our Life-diets.  Where do we seek Life apart from Jesus?  Where do we seek peace, rest and satisfaction outside of Christ?  Where do we eat countless other delicious things that only leave us restless, bored, anxious and unsatisfied?  Lent bids us to look closely at where we seek Life apart from Jesus.

For many of us, though, the question is why, even after knowing this, we continue to feed upon food that cannot fill us?  I think it is because, underneath it all, we really don’t trust God to satisfy us.  We are afraid that if we give ourselves to Him, we will be let down, we will be disappointed.  So we either seek life in things we already know, or we try to seek life in Jesus AND other things in an effort to hedge our bets.  We are like little children refusing to eat new foods we have never tried because we already know we won’t like them.

To feast upon Jesus, to find our rest in Him, is to surrender ourselves to Him in loving, trusting obedience.  It is to allow ourselves to be loved by the Creator of our souls.  It is to cast ourselves upon Jesus trusting in His love and care for us.  Surrender and trust are always uncomfortable, but they are the way to peace, rest, and joy.

Fr. Karl ministers at Trinity Anglican Church

Put to Death…

Lent II

by Fr. Karl Dietze

Colossians 2:8 – 3:11

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you… Colossians 3:5

One of the challenges in reading Paul is that we must be constantly mindful of where we are in his train of thought.  Out of context, it would be easy to read this verse as an ethical imperative, something we are obligated to do.  For Paul, though, what we do is rooted in our character.  Get the character right and the behavior will naturally spring from it.

That’s what Paul is getting at in 2:6-7 when he writes “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in your faith…”  As Paul understands it, a relationship with Jesus is inherently transformational.  As we walk in Christ and keep ourselves rooted in Him, we are actually united to Him and will become like Him.  Paul goes on, though, to warn the Colossians not to fall prey to rule-keeping again.  All those rules, he says, “have indeed an appearance of wisdom…but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”  (Col. 2:23).

What a reminder for Lent!  Harsh rule keeping is of no value in stopping the indulgence of the disordered appetites of our flesh.  Why?  Because external rules don’t change our hearts.

But wait!  Paul then goes on to say what we need to stop and start doing.  So which is it?

The key is walking in Christ, being united to Him.  We are to put to death our disordered earthly desires because we belong to Jesus and have been united to Him.  To do anything else would be to deny the reality of being united to Christ.  So we put to death our disordered desires in order to keep ourselves close to Jesus, and it is Jesus who changes our hearts so that we no longer want to satisfy those sinful desires.  As we starve those appetites, we enable ourselves to feed more deeply on Jesus’ gracious life and strength, and it is the feasting upon Jesus that works change within us.  That’s the key: we don’t just resist temptation, we run to Jesus in the temptation for life and help.  We starve the sin in order to feast on Jesus.

So what is it, then, that we need to starve in order to feast on Jesus?

Paul names two areas that continue to challenge us today: disordered sexuality and impure speech.  We are to starve the indulgence of “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.”  It is no doubt that we live in an age of excessive sexualization.  It is so pervasive that we are often numb to it.  But God’s people are to be marked by sexual purity that allows His good gift to be used for glory.  We are likewise to starve the misuse of our tongues in “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk…do not lie to one another.”  How we communicate with others either builds up or tears down, and that communication can be face-to-face, behind-the-back, or even behind-the-keyboard in social media.  God’s people are to be marked by communication that imparts grace and builds up.

So how do we become the kind of person Jesus is making us to be?  We don’t just starve ourselves.  Rather, we starve our disordered desires so that we can feast upon Jesus.

Fr. Karl ministers at Trinity Anglican Church

Ash Wednesday

Image result for ash wednesday

by Fr. Karl Dietze

Mark 2:13-22

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17

Table fellowship was of great importance in the ancient world.  Who you ate with spoke volumes about who you were.  The righteous would only share a meal with those who were righteous.  So when Jesus ate with the unworthy and unrighteous, the religious leaders were both perplexed and disapproving.  So they asked Jesus’ disciples what He was doing.  Why was He associating with them?  What they didn’t understand was that they, too, were part of them: unworthy and unrighteous.

Isn’t that part of what being “religious” does to us?  It blinds our eyes to the reality of who we truly are and what we really need.  Religiousness leads us to believe that we are righteous in our own strength.  Religiousness leads us to believe that we are acceptable to God, or at least more acceptable than them.

We can spend a great deal of time and energy trying to convince those around us that we have it all put together in life, that we are successful human beings – even in spiritual things.  We work hard making sure that what people see of our lives looks good and respectable.  We may even work so hard at it that we begin to believe it, too.  But no matter how hard we work at it, we will never be able to cover up what is really going on inside us, in our hearts.

Those who believe that they are righteous in their own strength, that they are truly acceptable to God to the core of their being, are unable to hear Jesus’ call.  Jesus came to call sinners, to call those who are willing to admit that their hearts are sick with sin, and that when you strip away the external acts, they need help.  Only those who recognize they are sick are willing to come to Jesus to be healed.

The season of Lent invites us to examine our sin-sick hearts and come to Jesus for healing.  It is not a season to become more “religious” by taking on practices that only make us feel more self-righteous.  Instead, it is a season to take on practices that show us just how much we need Jesus to make us whole.

The liturgy of Ash Wednesday is a powerful call to us sinners.  As the service begins, we are invited to a season of repentance and self-examination which begins with the imposition of ashes, which reminds us that we are all mortal and will one day stand before Jesus to give an account for our lives.  That isn’t meant to cause fear, but it is a reminder that we cannot put off until tomorrow the readiness that we are called to today.  With the Litany of Penitence, then, we begin the examination of our hearts.

The service ends, though, with the meal of Holy Communion.  Even as we acknowledge our sinfulness, Jesus once again invites us to the table, to not only dine with Him, but to feast upon His healing and saving grace in the sacrament.  And so as we come to the table, we pray we “do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in you abundant and great mercies…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood…”

Fr. Karl ministers at Trinity Anglican Church

Entering into Life

Advent 2017

December 22

Mark 9:33-end

“And if you hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”  Mark 9:43-44

Hyperbole, over-exaggeration, was a typical style of Jewish communication, and Jesus used it here not to advocate self-mutilation, but to call His followers to the ruthless removal of sin.  Paul was getting at the same thing when he writes to the Corinthians and tells them, “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:27).

This brings us back to the consideration of the relationship between the body and the heart when it comes to avoiding sin.

Paul addresses just that in his letter to the Romans.  Paul teaches us that sin, the impulse to live apart from and against God, is like a systemic disease that infects every human being.  Even though Jesus has set us free from the grip of sin through His death and resurrection, sin still dwells in us, and it will until we die.  When we put our faith in Jesus, though, we begin the lifelong process of sanctification wherein the Holy Spirit cleanses us from sin.

So what are we to do?  “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19).  The more we “cut off” the sinful desires of the flesh and offer our whole selves to the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit, the more we will become like Jesus.

I would suggest that we actually consider imaginatively offering each part of our body to God’s service.  Imagine cutting off that part’s participation in things that do not please God.  Imagine offering that part’s active service to God.  For example, imagine the tongue being physically held from hurtful words and gossip and instead speaking life and blessing to those in our lives.

I would also suggest we pay attention to Jesus’ mention of our motivation.  There is certainly a negative motivation mentioned here, namely avoiding the punishment of separation from God.  But I think Jesus’ emphasis really is meant to fall on the positive motivation, the greatness of what we stand to gain: entering into life! When we consider all we stand to gain, we are more willing to sacrifice the momentary fulfillment of bodily desires.

One of the struggles I think we often have in this regard, though, is that we don’t really cultivate our vision of what we stand to gain.  We don’t want to sacrifice the fulfillment of our appetites in part because our hearts are set on them and not on our eternal home.  That doesn’t mean that engage in some kind of spiritual-delayed-gratification scheme – pain now for gain later.  What it means is that if we love Jesus now, then we should long to be with Him face to face in our heavenly home, and that longing should be powerful motivation to cut off and starve our bodily appetites.

We need to cultivate our vision of heaven and all that stands in store for us.  Read the glorious scenes of worship around the throne in Revelation (5, 7, 21, 22).  Meditate on images of the Kingdom from Isaiah (9, 11, 65).  But above all else, cultivate your vision of Jesus, and grow in your appreciation of His infinite and unstoppable love for you.  As you do, you will cultivate your longing for Him and your motivation to offer your whole self to Him.

Beyond Sin Management

Advent 2017

December 18

Mark 7:1-23

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?  What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil tings come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:18-19, 21-23

Jesus was addressing the issue of ritual defilement, being in the state of being unclean, as a result of eating unclean foods.  The Pharisees were scrupulous in avoiding foods that were unclean, and it was indicative of their whole approach to spirituality.  Theirs was a religion of maintaining outward appearances, of looking good on the outside.  They thought that by avoiding certain foods and behaviors, they would be acceptable to God, all the while harboring all sorts of evil and hatred in their hearts.

Jesus, though, tells us that if you want to behave properly, you not only need to watch what you do, you need to attend to your heart.

Many people engage in what some refer to as sin management.  It’s a lot like weight management – you don’t eat what you really want.  If you’ve ever tried that kind of weight management, you know that it rarely produces lasting change.  Why?  Because you still want to eat all the food that has caused the problem.  To enjoy lasting change, you have to change your desires, and that means attending to the loves of the heart.

There are three things that strike me here.

First, on this side of eternity, we will never fully cleanse our hearts.  It is only the Holy Spirit who is able to cleanse our false loves and cultivate within us a true love for God, and that process (called sanctification) takes a lifetime.  The heart is filled with beauty, but it is also a place of mysterious darkness, and we would do well to remember that this process of cleansing our hearts will take a lifetime of patience and hard work.

Second, we need to look beyond sin management to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in our hearts.  How do we do that?  At its simplest, we engage in spiritual disciplines that keep our hearts open and connected to Jesus: Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, mission, and ministry.  We engage in these activities not in a rote manner or trying to earn God’s approval, but as a means to foster our relationship with the Living Lord.  As we do, we open ourselves more fully to the Holy Spirit’s cleansing work in our hearts.

Third, we need to be mindful of what we are putting in our hearts.  True, Jesus did say that food doesn’t go into the heart, but into the stomach, but because of the way God made us, what we do with our bodies and minds does impact our hearts.  What we watch and look at on TV and the internet, what we listen to on the radio and in conversation, where we allow our mind to linger, the activities we involve our bodies in – these all impact our hearts.  There is a vital connection between the heart, the mind, and the body.

Sin management doesn’t get us very far as we seek to be ready for Jesus.  Cardiac care does.  How are you tending your heart?

Do Not Fear

Advent 2017

December 13

Mark 5:21-end

“Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36b

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was healing.  In yesterday’s reading, Jesus healed a man spiritually by casting out a demon, and in today’s reading He physically heals two women, one older and one younger.

The older woman had an issue of blood that had lasted twelve years and she had spent everything she had seeking a cure.  To have an issue of blood was both physically and socially devastating.  The consistent loss of blood would be physically tiring to live with and care for.  It would also render her unclean and limit her ability to have contact with other people.  Her struggle had left her broken, tired, hopeless and alone.  To have that kind of struggle for twelve years is a terrible burden.

Have you ever been the older woman?  Seeking relief, maybe even for years, and finding none?  Feeling helpless, hopeless, and alone? Feeling like you’ve tried everything, but nothing worked?

But she also had faith.  She went to Jesus to merely touch the hem of His robe.  She believed His power was so great that she only needed a touch.  And she was right!  Such is the power of Jesus that but a touch renders us whole.  The challenge for most of us is that we don’t often experience that kind of power.  Why?  While there is no simple answer to that, it ultimately comes down to trusting that He knows both what we are going through and what we need.

More often, I think we experience Jesus’ power the way the young girl did: unexpectedly and at the behest of another.  She was dead.  She wasn’t asking for anything.  In fact, it was her father, Jairus, asking for her healing as she was at the point of death.  Not only that, but thanks to the delay brought on by the older woman, he was forced to trust that Jesus could heal the dead.

Does that sound familiar?  He sought Jesus out for healing, but it didn’t work out the way he wanted.  His daughter died.

But Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.”  Standing in the face of death, of difficulty we cannot overcome, do not fear, only believe that Jesus has power over both life and death.  What a word to cling to in life: do not fear, only believe.

Jesus did answer Jairus’ request for his daughter, but not without asking Jairus to trust Him.  Isn’t that so often the case?  We want quick and easy responses that don’t require a deep faith, but Jesus withholds the answer precisely in order to cultivate within us a deep faith.  It seems that we are called to only believe in His love and power in order to overcome fear and anxiety.

And isn’t it also so often the case that Jesus answers our prayers for others, but seems silent in response to our prayers for ourselves?  Why is that?  Perhaps it is that we were not created to live this life alone, that we are created to need both God and neighbor.  Perhaps there is something very good about receiving help.  If Jesus answered every one of our prayers for ourselves without our ever needing to turn to another for help, we would almost undoubtedly try to live this life without ever having to need or trust anyone else.  But when we open ourselves to others, when we admit our needs, when we ask for help, not only do we see the power of Jesus, but we find companions on the way.

Where are you seeking healing from Jesus?  Perhaps He is calling you to touch the hem of His robe.  Perhaps He is calling you to open yourself to asking others to pray for you.  But without a doubt, He is calling you not to fear, but only believe in His love and power.