A Word from our Diocesan Bishop Steve Wood

Bishop Steve Wood, Diocesan Bishop

Setting Your Heart on Fire

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

So said the first martyr of the church, Stephen, in Acts 7.

Have you thought about how you resist the Holy Spirit?  Sadly, all too many Christians create a false dichotomy pitting the Persons of the Trinity against one another: “Oh, we just need Jesus.”  Yes, we need Jesus. But who do you think it is that both reveals Jesus to us and then takes up residence within us, thus making Jesus known to us?  The Holy Spirit; the Counselor, the Comforter, the One who comes alongside us. Jesus had much to say about the person of the Holy Spirit and our relationship and response to Him.  A sampling from the Gospel of John:

John 14.15ff. “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. [jumping to v. 26] But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

John 16.5ff: “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

The Book of Acts and the letters of Paul capture and continue the instruction to be continually filled with the presence of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

In that deeply touching post-resurrection appearance by our Lord, He walked with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening the Scriptures to them, causing their hearts to “burn” within them – the convicting, revealing work of the Spirit.

When was the last time you could honestly say that your heart burned within you – in love for God, with desire for his presence, in the pursuit of holiness, with hatred for the sins that cripple and maim you and those around you?  When was the last time your heart burned for God and for the spread of his Kingdom?

The opposite of the burning heart is, of course, the comfortable heart, the indifferent heart, the apathetic heart, the heart that isn’t moved, isn’t alive, and isn’t passionate.  The comfortable, indifferent, apathetic heart experiences God the way one experiences television or political gossip – just another diversion that leaves us cold and unaffected.

In 1746, Jonathan Edwards wrote one of the most important books in the history of Christianity titled Religious Affections.  In it, Edwards describes the affections as “the vigorous or intense inclination of our hearts toward or away from something.”

Edwards was keen to show that true Christianity had an intensity about it.  We are urged by the apostle Paul “to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”  (Romans 12:11) According to Edwards, true faith is exactly opposite the “typical weak, dull and lifeless wishes” which characterize most indifferent churchgoers. Without a person’s affections being touched and ignited by the Holy Spirit, there is no salvation, nor is there any real desire to move away from sin and toward the pursuit of God.  By the affections, Edwards refers to the fear of the Lord, hatred of sin, hunger and thirst after righteousness, holy joy, godly sorrow, heart-felt pity, true thankfulness, zeal for God and love.

What is your heart condition this day?  Are you spiritually alive? Full of passion?  Eager and excited about your relationship with Jesus?  Or are you cold, lifeless, critical, unmotivated – a person with knowledge of God but with little real spirituality.

If you are cold, or at best lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), here are some things you can do restore a burning heart:

Repent – In Acts 3 Peter, speaking to his fellow Israelites, told them to “repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”  There is to be sure an once for all repentance when we turn to Jesus for salvation. But there is also the ongoing life of repentance when we return to the Lord again and again, our hearts having turned to someone or something other than Jesus. Repent, return to the Lord so that times of refreshing may come.

Pray – Ask the Lord to renew your love for him. Ask, and keep asking the Father to give you an increasing measure of the Holy Spirit.  Be encouraged by our Lord Himself who said in Luke 11.13, “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Praise – Sing to the Lord!  Privately praise the Lord. Publicly gather with brothers and sisters lifting your heart and your voice to him.  God is pleased to ignite the hearts of those who worship him.

Meditate – Focus your mind upon deep spiritual truths.  Meditate upon the cross and the wounds of Christ. Let the “eyes of your heart” gaze upon the hands, the feet, the side, and the face of the crucified Son of God. Meditate upon your future in your resurrected body upon a new earth free from the stain of sin. Thrilled yet?

Read – Read the Bible, of course, it contains the words of life.  But read the great classics of the faith as well.

Serve – Repentance, prayer, praise, mediation, and reading – all good things.  But if you are not led into service of those both within and without the Body of Christ you’re missing the point – and living a self-centered life which will always be cold and empty.  Jesus told us that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20.28). Demonstrating His meaning, Jesus picked up a towel and washed the dirty grimy feet of His disciples and said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13.15-17).

Allow the Lord to set your heart on fire.

As ever, yours in Christ,

+Steve

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Have You Ever Needed to be Rescued?

Bishop Steve Wood, Diocesan Bishop

Have you ever needed to be rescued?  Ever need someone to come to your defense?  Ever needed someone to be your advocate?

When I was growing up our neighborhood, like any other, had a bully – he was about four years older than me.  And for whatever reason the summer when I was nine he decided to make my life miserable.  It was really miserable.  Nothing worked.  My dad talked to his dad and it just got worse.  One day I was walking down to my friend Mike’s house – just three houses away – and the bully caught me.  By the time I made it to Mike’s I had a bloody nose and was pretty roughed up.  Mike’s older brother Louie came to the door.  Louie would become one of the best athletes our neighborhood had seen – a two sport star – football and wrestling – but this particular summer he was thirteen just like the bully.  “Stevie, what the heck happened to you?”  I told him the story – I told him about the whole summer of suffering.  Next thing I know Louie’s running out the door.  He comes back a little bit later and tells me the bully will never bother me again.  He told me if anyone ever bothered me to come tell him.  My first experience of a saviour was a kid named Louie Matteo.  He was the big brother I never had.  No one ever bothered me again.

The Bible tells us we have a Big Brother.  The Bible also tells us we have a powerful enemy.  But he is not all-powerful.  In fact, the Bible reveals to us that Satan is a defeated enemy.  The Apostle John says: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”  Paul writes of Christ, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him.”

Jesus disarmed and destroyed Satan, taking away from him the power and fear of death by triumphing over him by His cross and resurrection and opening to you (and me) the gateway to eternal life.  Our stronger, older Brother is both deliverer and Saviour. So, the Apostle John will write, “But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (John 1.12-13)

Friends, may your Lenten observation and Easter celebration lead you back to the One who has loved you and fought for you and saved you for Himself.

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What kind of fisherman are you?

Bishop Steve Wood

One of the men who most influenced my young Christian life was a man named John Wimber.  Wimber, as you may remember, was the founder of the Vineyard Church and he had a soft spot for us Anglicans.  I did not know him but my then rector did and so I came into contact with both his preaching and his writings. The “tell” and “show” nature of his ministry was very attractive to me – and remains so.

One of Wimber’s greatest gifts was making the gospel understandable and then helping us ordinary, every-day kind of Christians (through his teachings, encouragement and model of ministry) believe that we really had a part to play in the ongoing unfolding of God’s kingdom.  I have in my files any number of his stories and illustrations.  One particular story he told about fishing and evangelism remains a favorite. Wimber wrote:

In 1990 Larry Shaw was trying out a new outboard propeller on Ohio’s West Branch Reservoir when he saw a huge muskie just below the surface.  Shaw motored over to it, and cast toward it several times with no luck before the fish disappeared.  About a half hour later Shaw returned to the cove where he had first spotted the big muskie.  And wouldn’t you know, it was back!  Shaw turned on the trolling motor and crept closer to the big fish.  Suddenly, the muskie started swimming toward the boat.

Shaw quickly put on a leather glove and stuck his arm into the water, grabbing the monster just behind the gills.  The muskie started splashing and fighting to escape but Shaw held on.  It was quite a fight, but with the help of a nearby fisherman he was able to get the fish into his boat.

The muskie weighed in just a bit over 53 pounds.  If Larry Shaw had caught the fish with a rod and reel, it would have broken the then record for the largest muskie ever caught in Ohio.  When reporters asked him about the fish, Shaw said, “I was in the right place at the right time, and I was fool enough to grab it.”

That’s a good description of evangelism: being in the right place at the right time, and being fool enough to share the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 4 (v.19) we read of Jesus’ call to his soon-to-be disciples; an invitation to be fishers of men and women.  When Jesus used metaphors like fishing his listeners heard what he was saying in a very different way than we do in our Western world.  For most of us fishing is a hobby – a recreational diversion from the business of our everyday lives. I am a casual fisherman.  And so when I come home empty-handed (more often than not) I am still content for having spent a day on the water.

Jesus issued that first invitation to join his fishing expedition to Peter, Andrew, James and John. Fishing was not a pastime for these men. If they failed to catch fish they did not eat.  Fishing was their livelihood.  Repeated failure was not an option.  As fishermen these men would have learned how to adapt their fishing technique to variety of situations.  Was it sunny or overcast?  Calm or windy?  What was the time of year?  What kind of fish were they fishing for?  Some fish are very quick to respond.  Some fish, especially the older, larger, ones had learned the fishermen’s tricks and were more wary and elusive.  When Jesus said to them that they would be fishers of men He spoke in a language they understood.

How does this apply to you? To your church?  Well, what are the trends in your community?  What kinds of people are moving into your neighborhood?  What are the challenges they face?  What are their aspirations?  We live in the South and in many of our communities there remains a strong residual of the Christian faith within our culture. But folks who live in Asheville, Raleigh and Charlotte face unique situations that those of us in the Outer Banks, midlands, lowcountry or upstate do not face (and vice-versa). Good fishermen know how to read their environment. They know what bait the fish are hitting on.  They are aware of their presentation.

Friends, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples.  Are you going where the “fish” are, or are you waiting for them to come to you?

Gracious Engagement. A Word from our Diocesan Bishop Steve Wood.

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One of the most amazing attributes Jesus demonstrated was his ability to engage people from every strata of society.  Matthew the tax man who became a disciple; Peter the fisherman who became a fisher of men; Nicodemus the scholar and teacher of the law; the prostitute who washed His feet with her tears; the untouchable lepers who found a healing touch; the little children who climbed on His lap; Jairus whose daughter died.

His open-hearted accessibility and love of others, even for His enemies, would become the ethic by which the early church thrived.  So much so that the non-Christian world commenting on the life of the church said of them, “See how they love each other” (Justin).  Throughout church history, Christians have, with varying degrees of success, taken seriously the truth expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians: “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (5.19). The consequence?  No other religion has crossed as many sociological and religious barriers as Christianity.

It is this attitude of gracious engagement that springs from our recognition that we are all equally in need of salvation and share a common bond as the objects of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross that is the distinguishing characteristic of every effective disciple-making congregation.

As you consider the manner of your life, the people and the places that you devote your time, and energy (check your daily planner), and your money (check your bank statement and budget), is it clear that your life – your church – demonstrates that same love for others?  Are you creating an atmosphere in your life, your home, your church, that reflects the love of God for all people – from every nation, tribe, language and people? (Revelation 7.9)

Do you remember the first time you went to church?  Can you remember the anxiety of “standing out?”  Remember the uncertainty of not knowing what to do, where to go or where to sit?  I certainly do.  Over the years I regularly meet folks desperately searching for meaning, truly searching after God, feeling these things upon entering the doors of a church. We have the privilege of joining Christ in our community – building bridges between God and His people.  Engaging and serving them as Christ would – and did.

For His Kingdom,

+Steve

A Word from our Diocesan Bishop Steve Wood

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“Go”
“Wait”

Two simple words which cause us so much trouble!

Go
Jesus told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Lk 10. 2-3

Wait
Jesus gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 4-5

Why is it so hard to do what Jesus commands us to do?  Why do we think we know better?  Part of the “going” and “waiting”, for Jesus, involved teaching (presuming we’ve first learned ourselves) others to obey (Mt 28.20).  Another word we don’t like!  But there it is, 4 times from the lips of the Lord in ten short verses (Jn. 14.15-24) culminating with: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

Going and waiting are hard.  Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh.  Jonah wanted Judgment.

Peter found himself in slightly different circumstances.

Speaking to a confused church, which apparently wanted God to get on with the judging and were frustrated with waiting, the Apostle penned these words: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3.9)

God does not view time and circumstance as we do. He calls us to go to a broken world (from which we want to run) and to wait in the midst of the sadness and ugliness and pain of human brokenness.  This waiting, though, is not a passive waiting.  It’s a waiting that brings with it the power of the Spirit which empowers our proclamation and demonstration that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that the only appropriate response to the presence of God’s Kingdom is repentance and believe (Mk. 1.15).  The Lord’s seeming delay in bringing about the consummation of all things is not a result of His indifference but of His patience – a waiting for all who will come to repentance.

How utterly unlike Him I am.

It is uncomfortable to live in a sinful world.

And the truth is, I’d rather be comfortable.

I wonder how you’re doing in regard to going and waiting?  I wonder to whom the Lord has said for you to “go” but you’re waiting?  I wonder how many circumstances you find your patience being tried because you are so ready to go – and yet the Lord seems to have said, “wait”?

Do you have a heart that is content with going and waiting as the Lord leads?

Jesus never intended for the faith to be lived out in the imaginary realm of supposition and make believe.  Instead you and I are called to fully live in the present, sometimes hard pressed, sometimes perplexed, sometimes knocked down, but never crushed or abandoned – always carrying within our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed. Always accompanied by and filled with the Spirit

Go.
Wait.

Two very difficult words.