Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Sermon for Christmas Eve



Last Sunday there was a wonderful comic (it was ‘Pickles’) where an elderly couple was sitting together.
The husband says (something like),
“I love this time of year – it always takes me back to my childhood: sledding in the fresh snow and skating on the frozen pond.”
His wife says to him,
“You grew up in Phoenix and you used to get sunburned on Christmas day!”
“There you go again,”
he replies, “ruining my memories with the facts.”

Well… Christmas time IS full of imagery, memories, and (dare I say it) magic. It’s a magical time that takes us back to our childhood. Memories of trees and gifts given; of waking up Christmas morning to find stockings filled and presents that we’ve placed under the tree for others – and of course – those that were there for us. Maybe, just maybe, not everything was as rosy as we might remember… but that’s okay. All was still in God’s hands.

Our imaginations also take us to family gatherings, meals, and times where (whether we realized it or not) God was present. In good times and bad, God was and IS present – For His name Emmanuel means “God is with us”: present tense, not “Once upon a time, God was with someone else.” And it is that “present tense” that is most important for us tonight, for tonight is really not about nostalgia – or sentimental feelings – it is in seeing and knowing the actual presence of God. For some of us that just might be the first time in a long time… but that’s okay too… for we are once again all here in the midst of God’s glory.

What are we thinking about tonight? What fills our imaginations? What fills our thoughts? What might we still be fretting over? Have we prepared for tomorrow? I know some who've been ready for months! Someone (and I’ve long forgotten who it was) commented to me back in August that all their presents have been bought and all their cards were prepared and addressed. If that was you, God Bless You! For you have truly understood what Advent has all been about!

Most of us (including myself) have saved some things for the last minute – whether we attended to them or not. Yet – ready or not – Christmas has arrived! There is no stopping it! We must be assured that in just the same way Christ is returning to us! There will come a day, suddenly upon us, when Jesus himself will be here – ready or not – here He is!

Beyond our family traditions and memories – I’d like to take our imaginations to a different place tonight. If you're thinking, “Oh, right this is church so we have to think religiously;” Well…Yes and no. What we’ve heard tonight has all been about shepherds and angels, of Mary and Joseph in a stable – the birth of Jesus in a place of poverty because no “proper place” was made available to them. Certainly there is a sermon in that alone. But perhaps a better one for tonight is why on Earth did He come to us in the first place?

Just a few moments ago we sang “In the bleak midwinter.” I hope you were listening. But just in case you weren’t its hymn 112. It is one of my favorite hymns not because it has a catchy tune – but because it is one of the most profound theologically – especially the first verse. Contrary to what many people think, the composer (Christina Rossetti) is not singing about the weather.
  • The “bleak midwinter” – really speaks of the time in human history before Christ.
    I’m not all together certain, but I believe that it was this hymn that inspired C. S. Lewis of Narnia… You may remember – where until rescued by Aslan, it was “always winter, never Christmas.”
  • The “frosty wind” – was how humankind treated one another: Cold, indifferent, chilling – absent of the warmth of God’s Holy Spirit.
  • It was Earthen hearts that were “hard as iron” – water (life it self) was stone cold.
  • The “snow” is sin – for sin fell upon sin… upon sin… upon sin…
  • And into this reality Christ breaks in! For God’s overpowering love for us was so great that not even Heaven could contain it.

In truth there have only been three moments when the nature of the Universe – time and space – have been altered. Three times. The first was when God spoke – and the universe existed. The second time – well we just heard about it tonight. It was the time when this same God entered human existence as Jesus.

One author Monsignor Guardini Romano says it this way:
The young [child] in the stall of Bethlehem was a human being with a human brain and limbs and heart and soul. And he was God. [His] life was to manifest the will of the Father: to proclaim sacred tidings, to stir mankind with the power of God, to establish the Covenant, and shoulder the sin of the world, expiating it with love and leading mankind through the destruction of sacrifice and the victory of the Resurrection into a new existence of grace… Jesus did not “experience” God; he was God. He never at any given moment “became” God; he was God from the start.[1]

The good Monsignor makes reference to the third time – Resurrection…
…when Christ overturned death itself, and bought for all who believe in Him, eternal life…
… and it is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that is solely responsible for our even being here tonight.

You might find it interesting to know that for the first three-hundred years, early Christians didn’t celebrate a “Christmas time” at all. For them, the central moment of Faith was Easter and Pentecost. Just before and during the reign of Constantine Christians began to reflect on Jesus’ birth. And 336 AD a previously pagan winter ceremony celebrating the birth of “Unconquerable Sun”; (on December 25th) became the Christian day of the Nativity celebrating the “Birth of the Unconquerable SON” – Jesus Christ.

Our Christian hope for a fourth time is yet to come when “earth and heaven shall flee away when he comes to reign.” But for now, “a stable place sufficed – the Lord God incarnate, Jesus Christ.” It has only been in these times when the nature of human existence has unalterably changed – for God has acted – Christ has come – and He is coming to us once more.

You see, the “magic” of this time really is more mystery than anything else – a mystery we are searching for and can discover – like that present that waits just at home – a present just waiting to be opened! What will it hold? You’ll have to open it to see. And isn’t that just like God?

The mystery and magic are all about what God is doing next. The remembrance of things past pales in comparison to what comes next. Certainly the shepherds left the manger that night wondering what comes next. Mary herself would ponder this as well. Maybe that is what we are meant to be left with – what comes next? We have come to know that our God is a giving God; and perhaps that is God’s invitation to each of us – the same question Jesus’ first disciples came asking. “Where are you staying?” “Come and see.”

There is a particular question that is asked every time Christmas comes: What do you want for Christmas? Of all of our non-religious activities perhaps this question is the most holy one we – and even nonbelievers – ask. We think of the other person and consider what would bring them joy. What if we asked that of God? What do you think God would like this Christmas? Now, at first you might think that’s a tough one. I mean, it’s not even like, “What do you get the man who has everything?” It’s worse! What do you get the One who owns everything? I mean, its all His in the first place! And the hymn goes on…

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart
– for your heart is the only thing Christ really wants in the first place.

When we give our hearts to God – you think the Shepherds saw a party?

If Christmas time is somehow anticlimactic for you because its not a “White Christmas” and there is no snow; we can all take solace in this: there probably wasn’t snow in Bethlehem years ago, either (of course no one knows for sure).

Tonight – this silent night, this holy night – we are once again invited to hear the angels sing – to worship and adore Christ our King! To be sure the angles are singing – and to be sure Christians all over the world worship with us.

Can we hear them?

Are we listening?

For certain, they are here just as they are all over the world on this night!

What are we thinking about tonight? What fills our imaginations? What fills our thoughts? Perhaps we can bring our hearts and minds out of Bethlehem and back into [where ever you are] where we all are – for God’s Glory is not in some far away place but right here Emmanuel: God IS with US. For Christ is once again born in each of us and right before us.

Oh, little Child of [where ever you are] descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.

On behalf of my Lord and Savior may I be one of the first to wish us all…
MERRY CHRISTMAS!

[1] Guardini, Romano, The Lord, pg. 16-17 slightly edited in the personal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beautiful and Different

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Invisible Woman

You don't have to be a woman to appreciate this... and a wonderful subtle way to begin refelcting in Advent. Hat Tip: Matt Kennedy at StandFirminFaith.com.

From Youtube:
Nicole's sketch "The Invisible Woman" brings a powerful message of hope to every taken-for-granted woman in today's world. This video shared with permission from Fresh Brewed Life, Inc.

Think about the cathedrals you and I are building... and Who is watching!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Something for an October night...

Just goes to show that the two ol' guys still got it!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Today's Resolve:

Somtimes the best you can do is to do YOUR BEST! And God is pleased.

“Inasmuch as I am unable to please you, Lord, I do believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you.” - Thomas Merton.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Season of Independence

Saturday was of course the 4th of July, Independence Day. And while the celebrations, the fireworks, and BBQs, have now grown cold, the spirit of our American Independence has not. The popularity of "Tea Parties" around the country still prove that Americans have not lost or forgotten the principles on which this country was founded.

I was impressed by the local newspaper Opinion page on the 4th which published - in its entirety - the historic Declaration of Independence. It has long been my own personal reflection on this day to read it and remember why I am an American. But this time it was different...

As I read the declaration (which I've done countless times) this time I was struck by how similar it is to the current rebellion against the Episcopal Church and why I am now in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). That is what occurred in Texas only 2 weeks ago - we declared our Independence of the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and our membership in the Worldwide Anglican Communion. It is no less a "revolution" of sorts, and already TEC is laughing at us - with certainly more laughter and derision to follow in the next few weeks as TEC meets in General Convention in Anaheim CA. They think we are about to fail. Well, that remains to be seen; however, was it any different for the Colonists back in 1776?

While reading the declaration again, I also wished someone would craft it to meet who we are in ACNA. I could've done so, but didn't have the time. But someone else did - and a fine job it is! Alan Haley of the "Anglican Curmudgeon" posted this piece:

WHEN in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the religious bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these religious truths to be self-evident, that all Christians are baptized equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, which is Salvation by Grace through Faith.—That to secure these rights, Churches and their Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from God and from the consent of the governed.—That whenever any Form of Church Polity becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it; and to institute a new Church, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most conducive to their Salvation and Happiness....

Read the whole thing over at: http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2009/07/new-declaration-of-independence.html

Thank you Mr. Haley for this wonderful effort!

Peace to all.
John Riebe+

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Letter from our New Archbishop

This arrived late yesterday afternoon and for the first time publically, Archbishop Duncan thanks those of us in the Diocese of San Joaquin for being the first to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Thank you Archbishop Duncan for your encouragement and acknowledgement!

May your days and the days of the ACNA be blessed! -- John+


1st July, A.D. 2009


TO THE CLERGY AND PEOPLE OF THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF SAN JOAQUIN:

Dearest Friends in Christ,I wanted you all to know that many outside your borders are praying for you in the present trying season. Please do not lose heart.

If there is anything we have learned it is that "There is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, O Lord." The just completed Provincial Assembly was testimony to what our God can do with the likes of us, especially if we do not waver.

St. Paul's counsel at the end of II Corinthians is so appropriate to all the things we have faced and will face: "Be watchful, Stand Firm in your Faith. Be Courageous. Be strong. Let everything you do be done in love."

Thank you for having led the way among dioceses departing from the Episcopal Church. We have all benefited by your efforts. I will never forget the privilege of being present for, and speaking at, that seminal Diocesan Convention in 2007.

Please also know that Archbishop Venables and our brothers and sisters of the Southern Cone continue to intercede for us, even as they shift jurisdiction to these shores.Faithfully and fraternally in Christ,

[+Robert Pittsburgh]
Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North AmericaAnglican Bishop of Pittsburgh

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

ACNA Interview with Bishop Schofield

This comes from my good friend Kevin Kallsen of Anglican TV!
Bishop Schofield covers a LOT of territory here... the new Province...
the status of our lawsuits, etc. BUT, I think we may all be encouraged by his comments:



For more encouraging and informative interviews go to www.anglicantv.org!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Received today! A Note of Encouragement!

To The Bishop and Clergy of The Diocese of San Joaquin
Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de America

Dear Brothers,
Greetings in the wonderful name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to you on the eve of the launch of the new Anglican Church in North America. You are to be congratulated for your faithfulness in the Gospel and in your cooperation with the organization of the new Province. It is likely that it will take some time before the institutional structures catch up to the realities of the present day situation in the Communion. Until that time, you can be sure of your dual status with us in the Southern Cone. This is true not only for Bishop John-David, but also all of the priests and deacons who received licenses under my authority when your diocese came to us.

You may have heard negative things about your ministries and orders from some quarters, but I can assure you of your good standing and favour with me nd this Province under me as Primate.

Last year, even Archbishop Rowan Williams himself assured me of Bishop John-David's status as a bishop of the Anglican Communion. Any other assertions are, in our view, completely unfounded. What is important is that people are brought to saving faith in Christ and to maturity in Him. We need your full energy to be devoted to that task. The harvest is indeed plentiful, and the workers few! Thank you for your faithfulness.

Yours sincerely,
The Most Rev. Gregory J. Venables
Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone of South America

My Dear Archbishop:

THANK YOU!!!

In Christ,

John Riebe+

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In Response to Being Deposed

Well, it finally happened...

Just before Pentecost I received a very impersonal form letter (actually it was addressed to my parish) indicating that I - along with 60 other faithful clergy - have been "deposed" from the Episcopal Church for "Abandoning the Communion." Bishop Jerry Lamb, the puppet provisional bishop set up by the Presiding Bishop was the official signatory.

Interestingly enough Lamb was the bishop who ordained me both as Deacon and then Priest in 1995. And now, 14 years later, he deposes me for standing firm on Christ and Holy Scripture and calls it "Abandonment of Communion." The irony is too thick to miss!

Yet the fact remains - and it is fact, mind you - that the rest of the bishops of the Anglican Communion including the Archbishop of Canterbury say that we are STILL priests and clergy in good standing!

So, what does this mean to me? Nothing - except that once again I feel abandoned by those who once proclaimed to be faithful followers of Jesus. It is they who have abandoned the historic faith - not us - not me. in truth it is like the CEO of IBM trying to fire the executive staff at Xerox! It doesn't work because they are not my superiors.

They have NO authority over me! They have NO authority over the real Diocese of San Joaquin and they certainly have NO authority over my parish of All Saints'.

So in response, I have a message to send to Jerry Lamb and the PB. Its a message they just don't get - but I still pray someday they will.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heading on Retreat

Today I'm headed down south the go to the annual Anglican Men's Retreat put on by the men of St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach, CA. Yes, the very same who've been under such legal attack.

This will be my third time going - and I look forward to this event every year - but the greatest blessing of all is hearing from Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda and those who come with him. For this is not a weekend of church politics (although I'm certain some of that will surface, because that is our American experience right now...) but about about our unity in Jesus Christ! this is a time that reminds me of who the Anglican Communion really is!

Nearly a year ago there was an important gathering in Jerusalem called "GAFCON" (Global Anglican Future CONference) - and nearly a year later here in North America in June we will see the birth of a new Anglican Province: ACNA - the Anglican Church in North America.

But as I head on retreat I offer you this "video portrait" of GAFCON. I know its a year old but watch it anyway; and as you do take a look at who the Anglican Communion really is! For these are representatives from nearly 3/4's of the world's Anglicans. It's a sea of color and variety, old and young, men and women, clergy and laity, those broken and on their way to wholeness, celebration, learning, and prayer.



Isn't that what the Church is supposed to be? Why is it that the Episcopal Church just doesn't want any part of it? Why is it that the Episcopal Church is so hostile to it? (Of course, you and I both know the answers to those questions, don't we?)

Our Lord is the LORD Jesus Christ! ...
... THE way, THE truth, and THE life - and THE only way to God - for a lost and aimless world!


Blessings to all!

John+

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What was happening during Prayer Time yesterday...

Yesterday was a busy time of Prayer.

Knowing full well that our Anglican Chancellor (lawyer) was going before the court to argue our case - my day began (and continued) in fervent prayer.

On Monday the Honorable Adolfo Corona issued a tentative ruling siding with the "Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin" to deliver a "Summary Judgment" against Bishop Schofield. What this really means is that TEC is trying to avoid any kind of a "real trial" in trying to take over what they believe we "Anglicans" took with us when we voted out of the Episcopal Church in 2007. In their view, all the facts are self evident: They are right and we are wrong. Surely the Court should agree and simply rule in their favor.

I'm not a lawyer (I don't even play one on TV) and there is a very good reason God never called me to that profession. I have been enormously grateful to people like our Diocesan Chancellor Rusty VanRozeboom and Alan Haley (widely known as the "Anglican Curmudgeon" who blogs at: http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/) To help me along the way of understanding these legal matters. If you are interested in details Mr. Haley's blogsite has all the info you'd ever want!

Things seems simple enough in TEC's eyes - that is of course until you begin to look at the facts. And THAT is what Rusty was able to get the Judge to do yesterday. The following is from Virtue On Line (VOL) at http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=10398 and I highly recommend this article too. His staff writer says:

The law suit brought by TEC against the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin and its rightful bishop, The Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, is multi-layered and very complex. Issues include: the status of The Episcopal Church as a hierarchical structure, California's neutral principle rule of law in land disputes, Bishop Schofield's canonical status, California corporate entities, the canons and constitution of the Episcopal Church and how they are understood and applied, the understanding of canonical and legal documents, and the shifting of conflicting evidence to determine the legalities involved. The Anglican diocese feels that its side needs a fair hearing before the people of California in a courtroom setting.

As I said before, I'm not a lawyer BUT what really interests me is the power of PRAYER. I know that there were many who were praying yesterday - and I prayed without ceasing from 3:30 - 5:00 PM simply asking God to bless Rusty and his staff; to thwart and confuse the arguments of our opponents; and to open the heart and mind of the Judge to understand the deeper issues. All the time I was praying blessings - on Rusty, on our adversaries, on the Judge.

Mr. Haley says this at his site:
There are normally two kinds of outcome to this kind of oral argument after a tentative ruling. In the first, the judge listens politely to all the parties, lets them have their say, and then issues an order affirming his tentative ruling a day or so later---he scarcely changes a thing.
In the second type of outcome, the points made at the oral argument cause the judge to revise and rethink his ruling, and so he takes the time he needs to do so, whether it is one week or two, or even a month or more... I am hopeful, based on what I heard, that the second type of outcome will be closer to what happens here.
Of course we'll have to wait for the final decision, but even so the fact is our prayers were heard and answered!

There was a time in my life when I used to consider pray little better than a "waste of time" - and there are a lot of people who still think that way. BUT I'll tell you over the last 15 years or so, and even today, I truly believe that prayer is HUGE!!! God is listening and our prayers are incredibly important and powerful. Would the outcome yesterday have been any different if I hadn't lifted these people in prayer? I don't know - something tells me yes they would have. Even so, I am convinced that our prayers made all the difference!

Now, I'll bet TEC had its people in prayer too - I don't know - if they did that may account for their polished perform ace in court. But just maybe God wants us to have our day in court - that's all we want - to let our arguments be listened to and weighed according to the law. But as I've said before, "We have a 'legal' system not a 'justice' system." Our "justice" will one day come from the Lord!

For those who are on the side of Bishop Schofield and us Anglicans here in San Joaquin - please keep praying for our day in court, and for the Lord's will to be done. For those on the other side, I hope you'll keep praying too! But I would ask you why you are so afraid of letting us have "our day in court?" What are you afraid of?

What is our goal? Simply put, it is this:
The central California diocese's goal is to get its case before a jury and let
the jury decide the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin's fate based on the facts
presented to it by its diocesan chancellor and attorneys. -- (again VOL)

Read the referenced articles above and know: Our prayers make a difference! What a great and awesome God we have!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Prayer Psalm For the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin

Psa 109:26-31 ( NRSV )

26 Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love.

27 Let them know that this is your hand; you, O LORD, have done it.

28 Let them curse, but you will bless. Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.

29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonor; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.

30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I couldn't be prouder of Miss California



Thank you for being "Biblically Correct" and for your personal convictions! As I recall, Jesus said,
"Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38

Great answer! Great job!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sermon for the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil Sermon of John Chrysostom;
Bishop of Constantinople (~400 AD)


Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!


Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
(STOMP, STOMP, STOMP)
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
(STOMP, STOMP, STOMP)
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
(STOMP, STOMP, STOMP)
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
(STOMP, STOMP, STOMP)
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
(STOMP, STOMP, STOMP)

Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

ALL: AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Meditation for Holy Week


Click on the button bottom right to watch (and pray) in full screen.

May you be truly Blessed the Holy Week.

Fr. John Riebe

Saturday, March 14, 2009

“The Shack”: My Comments

If you’ve not heard of “The Shack”, a book by William P. Young, I’d simply like to invite you to do so. But quite possibly, you've not only heard about it but have probably read it as well. If you haven’t, I hope you will.

Let me just say at the outset that I read this book mostly on the recommendation of many in my parish, and being the kind of pastor that wants to be in touch with is people I did so. And let me add that I enjoyed it. It is a fiction, folks! Much in the same way the Chronicles of Narnia or the “Space Trilogy” of C. S. Lewis are fiction, but deal with theological issues. I thought Young did a very good job, with one or two reservations.

Let me also say that if you’ve not read the book and intend to, the following is not meant to be a “spoiler” for you (if it is my apologies) but rather incentive to read it for yourself.

What the book is about:
More than anything else this book is about (“Mack”) one man’s experience with God in dealing with the tragic loss of his daughter (“Missy”) and how he allows God to deal with his inner pain. The book makes the following points: God loves you, God cares for you, God is with you at all times, and that God deals gently but firmly with us to grow us into deeper relationship with Him. (If that spoils the book for you, again my apologies!)

Some problems some may have…
Some may have some problems that I didn’t have – and that is in dealing with a “feminine” side of God. God the Father is initially portrayed as a large, African-American woman, which reminded me of an old joke about a man who returns from death. A friend asks, “Did you see God?” “Yes, I did,” he replies. “Well, what did He look like?” “Well,” he began, “first of all, She’s black…” When dealing with the Trinity, Jesus is male (of course) and the Holy Spirit is a “wispy” sort of female. All of this feminine stuff may strike those of “traditional understanding” a bit hard to take – but not me. This is not a “chick-book” by any means. Young does a very good job of arguing that God is BOTH male and female in nature AS the Creator of both genders(which is absolutely true!); and that God appears to “Mack” in the way best that he would relate at the moment. That the Holy Spirit is “feminine” comes from the reality that the Hebrew word for “spirit” or “wind” (ruach) is a feminine noun. So…okay; it was a choice. For those bothered by that, read the book. God the Father does indeed show up as a male “Father” but you’ll get to that part. And while referring to the Holy Spirit as “She” is a somewhat “trendy” thing, it is really NOT an issue as the story unfolds. For those worried about that, there is NO “Mother Goddess” stuff to be found or encouraged – and that’s the main reason I didn’t have a problem with it.

Some moments I really liked in The Shack:
The Garden:
At one point the Holy Spirit takes Mack to a “garden” where he is to assist the Holy Spirit in some pruning, weeding, and planting. Mack takes a look at it and is surprised. “It’s a mess!” he says, to which the HS is enormously – and surprisingly – pleased (you’ll find out why later). But what I got immediately was when the HS describes “her” love of gardens and Creation as “fractals.” Now, I’m an Engineer by college degree and have a certain love of Mathematics. Fractals are mathematical BUT I’m not sure everybody understood that imagery. If that blew by you too, go here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractals ) and you will see the kind of beauty that the HS is talking about.

The Cave of Judgment:
Here Mack meets God’s Wisdom personified as “Sophia” and I have to say this is one of the best and most accurate descriptions of Sophia that I’ve read recently. And here is where those of us with “traditional Christian understandings” will be most gratified. Sophia is NOT the “mother goddess” so prevalent in feminist theology – and she very clearly says so! What happens very powerfully is that Mack is offered the opportunity to “judge” God! And clearly he has “issues” with that – especially after what he’s gone through with the violent loss of his daughter. Mack moves from seeing things “his way” to “God’s way.” A very helpful thing for all of us. Here is also where he truly finds out that his dead daughter is really and actually OK and in the presence of Jesus!

The Demonstration of the Trinity:
I was actually very impressed with how Young dealt with each “Person” of the Trinity and how well that fit together. As a theologian, I was somewhat concerned at the beginning that he was digressing into what is referred to as “Modalism” (an heretical belief that the Heavenly Father, Resurrected Son and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God Himself – see also here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modalism.) But Young navigates through that very well as the distinct “personalities” of God show through each of the Persons of the Trinity. This was possibly his hardest task to deal with to make this book acceptable to Christians and not delve into Mormon theology of “three distinct and separate gods.” (A very good thing) Young seems to draw upon C. S. Lewis’ perspectives that the Trinity is all about a relationship of love (See Mere Christianity by Lewis) and of anything else is more “circular” rather than hierarchical. All in all a good rendition.

The “Celebration”:
At one point Mack is gifted to “see” Creation and Heaven as “God sees.” Again tying to Lewis, this is very similar to how he describes the “real world” as opposed to the “shadow world” in The Last Battle. And, one can see also the influence of the “myriads of myriads” who worship God from every nation and language found in the Revelation to John. So, it is very biblical and it works well.

The image of “Paradise”:
Actually what the book describes is Mack’s own experience of Paradise rather than Heaven. Mack is clearly NOT in Heaven but his daughter Missy is! The two are separated. This might create a problem for those who hold to Calvinistic theology which says that when you die – if you are a true believer – you go straight to heaven. If not, well… you know. The idea of a “Paradise” (promised to the repentant thief on the cross) has become in Anglican Theology (although rarely really talked about) what is known in Roman Catholic Theology the idea of “Purgatory.” Paradise is where we are in the presence of God to be prepared for entrance into heaven; that is, in other words, a place in God’s presence where we can be healed of our own hurts and conditions, to forgive those we need to, and to come into a right relationship with God and others. What we read in The Shack is the process Mack goes through – in this life – to prepare him for the next. I think the general consensus from those who have read the book would say they would love to have this kind of experience with God. In reality, this is what Anglican’s really believe will happen – perhaps not in this life but in the next. Just because we die in the Lord doesn’t mean that we don’t have “healing” that only God can do before we are ready to enter heaven. Lewis put it this way (and I wish I could remember where he said this): He said something like, the idea of a “purgatory” (no matter how blissful) is still something we demand. Imagine you've been playing outside in the yard when the “Master” comes and says, “The Feast is ready! Come to the table!” And we say, “Yes indeed, but may I wash up first?” You see, we all have that “stuff” that needs to be dealt with first – and God does that in Paradise.

Some problems I had theologically with The Shack:
Okay, there are a few problems I had but they are not insurmountable.

First, I would say that (in the book) “God” is a bit too critical of the “institutional church.” Without doubt there is MUCH to be critical of!!! The Church, as an “institution” is full of flawed people who bring their flaws into the mix. And therefore, just like many do, Young finds “the Church” as an easy target. Thankfully, Young doesn’t attack the Church the way Dan Brown does in both The DaVinci Code or in Angels and Demons (soon to be released in the theatres). In The Shack Jesus is clearly in love with “his Bride” : the Church and dreams wistfully of the day when “the Church” will be presented. But in other places, God (the “Father”) includes the Church and its “rules” as man’s need to create systems of “control.” Well, I must say, yes and no. Certainly one can see there are those who see the Church through those eyes, but I don’t agree with that take completely. Remember it is through the Church that we ought to be about establishing right relationships with God and each other. That’s what happens in the best of cases through the Church. (And I’m not lifting one denomination above another.)

Second, I’m not convinced that Young deals with the concept of Justice as well as he could have. He is very clear about indicating that we MUST forgive even the most horrendous of sins against us. (Remember that the most dangerous word in the Lord’s prayer is the word “as”! “forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”) But the Bible, especially the Psalms and OT are FULL of the cries for “Justice” and that God will indeed punish the wicked. Young avoids the error of supporting Universalism when at least at one point God says the choice to live in a right relationship with Him rests solely with us.

Third, Young didn’t deal with the existence of Satan and his influences at all. With the personification of Wisdom as Sophia, clearly there was room for Young to describe the reality that Evil also has a “personality.” He didn’t need to go into a sort of, “The Devil made me do it,” approach; but Young could have strengthened the whole Cave of Judgment experience by identifying Satan as “the Accuser.” (Which he is.)

Fourth, Young makes the point that the “sin of Adam” was in seeking his own “independence” from God. While this is true – in fact very true – sin is more than that for us! The purpose of the Ten Commandments is – as Young presents – a “mirror” to reflect how we do not live in relationship with God. How these ideas square the murder of a little girl didn’t fully work for me. But you should judge for yourself. I did very much appreciate that while not very strong on the concept of “sin” Young was very strong and powerful when he shares in the story about Jesus’ act of Atonement on the Cross! This was well done!

Well, there are some of my thoughts. The Shack is indeed well worth the time to read and is accessible for almost any level of reader. As I said above, I don’t think the “problems” I had with the book are any reason not to read it. More than anything else, I hope this book will open up conversations among the faithful and non-believers alike.

Blessings and Peace in Jesus Christ to all!

John Riebe+

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sad But True...

The US has discovered a new weapon that destroys people but saves the buildings...
... It's called, "The Episcopal Church."

How sad... but true.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Alpha! @ All Saints!




The Alpha Course!
Starts at
All Saints' Anglican Church
3200 Gosford Road
Bakersfield CA
661-832-8582

Sundays @ 6PM March 1!

YOU ARE WELCOME WITH ALL YOUR QUESTIONS
Call to register right now!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Real Change! Real Life!

The following clip was posted on two of my favortie blog sites: Babyblue and StandFirm. Even so its powerful enough to share with all of you.

Please watch this to the very end - and consider this: What do you really want God to do for you? Ask Him, have Faith, trust in His working in your life!