Thursday, April 28, 2011

What is the Gospel?

Fr. Dale Matson

As someone charged with preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, I find that it is not always as easy to articulate as I would like. If you Google “What is the Gospel?” you will get quite a variety of answers. I have selected some verses from Scripture and offer a summation following the verses. Certainly each of you has his or her favorite verse that you would add. Maybe the shortest version would be “Jesus Christ” and a more comprehensive summary would be the Nicene Creed.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).*

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23).

“As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).

“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (1st John 4:13).

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).

God by His grace has provided us with the faith to believe in and receive His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus saves us from sin, death and the devil and through the power of God The Holy Spirit given to us, the Lordship of Christ and His presence in us allows us to lead a life of love toward God and service to Christ in others.

I believe it would be a useful exercise for each of you who read this to attempt to put the Gospel in your own words. “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1st Peter 3:15)

Are you ready to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ? You may be asked sooner than you expect. Amen.

*New American Standard Bible

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Prescription Strength Jesus

Fr. Dale Matson

“The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. ‘He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come; see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead’.” (Matthew 28:5-7a, NASB)

I am continually amazed at those who question the reality of what we as Anglican Christians believe and proclaim in our Eucharistic Prayer every Sunday. The Priest states, “Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: and the Priest and People say, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”

Today we celebrate both a miracle and a mystery. The miracle and mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of our Christian faith. Some have boldly denied the evidence and the fact that Christ arose from the dead. They still call themselves followers of Jesus but they are not Christians because by denying the reality of His resurrection, they deny the reality of His divinity. Their Jesus is a “placebo Jesus”. He is a lesser Jesus; a cheaper Jesus. Theology is not psychology and Jesus is not a placebo. Our faith in Christ is only as good as our faith that he was resurrected. If you don’t believe that He was resurrected, then your Jesus was a good man and a teacher but he is not who He himself claimed to be. “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. (John 2:19-21).

Others have tried to turn the resurrection of our Lord into a kind of subjective receptionist theology. They claim it doesn’t matter if He arose from the dead. It is only important that we believe that He did. That is pure unadulterated claptrap. That is not faith at all. That is subjectivist nonsense that makes the reality of whether Christ was resurrected or not subject to the individual. Christ arose from the dead whether people believe this or not. I would call that kind of thinking “Over the Counter Jesus” because it has about the same efficacy as over the counter medications. Over the counter medications do not have the power to heal but they cost a lot less to obtain.

Others have attempted to offer a “generic Jesus”. There is no generic equivalent; no generic substitute. He is original and unique. Accept no substitutes. Only He has efficacy and gives us life when we are dead. “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4).

Yes, prescription strength Jesus is costly. It will cost you all that you have and let us remember that we must run the race to the finish. Even prescription strength medication must be taken until it is used up. If you stop taking it because you feel better, you may be risking a reinfection worse than before. However, if we remain in Christ, we will be raised as He was raised. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20). Amen

Friday, April 15, 2011

The False Shepherds Who Steal Our Faith

Fr. Dale Matson

If someone asked me what my most prized possession is, I would say that it is my faith in Jesus Christ. He is the pearl of great price for which I have gone and sold all that I have. Actually, it is really not my faith at all but God’s faith granted to me. If I were to lose this faith, life would have no meaning, for all that is and has meaning derives its existence and meaning from Him. I guard this faith as if my eternal life depended on it because it does depend on it.

Our faith is strengthened through Prayer, Word, Sacrament and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our faith is nurtured and strengthened by their testimony. When we hear the Word of God faithfully preached and continue in His Word, we proceed by our own sight less. Gathering together allows us to exhort and comfort one another.

When I was going through renewal in the 1980’s, I had a hunger for God’s Word. I became involved in a two year Bible Study series called “Crossways”. The following is a comment about their goal. “Crossways International is a non-profit ministry whose goal is to foster deeper, more meaningful Christian discipleship by cultivating biblical literacy.” I believe this series does accomplish their stated goal but there were occasional comments that caused me to ask a question that should be the litmus test of all we hear and see. “Does this increase my faith?” I can still remember a statement in the series, questioning what King David was really like. Scripture said that David was a man after God’s own heart. Why was the Crossways author questioning the authenticity of David?

We must always remain under the authority of Scripture. It is not for us to use Scripture to advance our own agenda or to explain Scripture in a way that justifies our own confusion or worse, unbelief. In our modern era, unbelief has become a badge of enlightened honor in the church, when it should be a cause for great concern. In addition to the Scriptures, we are also guided by the church fathers that came to an agreement in the early councils, from whom we have inherited the Creeds. The understanding of the early church fathers is an important source and Paul warns the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (1:8). Ultimately, you are responsible for dressing and keeping the faith God has given you.

The churches today have many false shepherds who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They begin with the same question posed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. “Did God really say that?” Whether the false shepherds are intentionally or unintentionally leading their sheep astray, they are still a tool of Satan. Do not put yourself under their spiritual authority. Do not remain in their churches. It is called the Church of Christ. Anything that diminishes Him or your faith in Him is of Satan. God the Holy Spirit is the witness to the truth in Scripture. As a believer you have the discernment and understanding of the Word of God not available to unbelievers, even if that unbeliever is a scholar or a bishop in the church. Yes, biblical literacy is important but be discerning when involved in a Bible study series and about who is leading it. Those going through renewal are those most receptive to teaching but most vulnerable also. If the teaching, sermon, interpretation, conversation does not increase your faith, it should alarm you. Amen

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scripture: The Seamless Fabric Embedded With The Gospel

Fr. Dale Matson

As I was preparing my outline for MP/HE tomorrow, I was reminded what a wonderful treasure the lectionary is for the church. It provides a balanced diet of Old and New Testament readings but more than that, it keeps our roots deeply planted in the Old Testament. More and more I am seeing my spiritual roots in the Old Testament. The verse that serves as a hinge between Old and New Testament immediately precedes the Gospel Lesson.

For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

This is the Gospel message for Jew and Gentile alike.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
(Romans 10:11-21)

I am amazed to say that I thought I once knew and understood the Epistle Lesson and am only now beginning to understand it in the context St. Paul intended. Paul is showing that the tapestry of the Old Testament contained the Good News. He and Christ both said that there is no difference between Jew and Greek. God’s message of salvation was always intended for both. He was demonstrating that the Gospel had already been preached to the Jews. In this passage he quotes Old Testament Scripture no less than seven times. In these passages. He is not putting a new patch on old cloth. He is uncovering for us, the Gospel message imbedded in the Old Testament rejected by the Jewish people. He is using the Old Testament statements that demonstrate how the mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preexistent. It reminds me of an X-Ray of a Van Gogh’s Painting “Patch of Grass” that shows a portrait of a woman revealed underneath. While invisible to the naked eye, she contributes to and is a part of what we do see.

Even though there is only a remnant of the Jews, Paul understands that the Jews and Gentile Christians were a royal priesthood charged with being a blessing to others. They and we are charged with bringing glad tidings of great joy and bringing the good news of God’s salvation for all people to all people that would believe and accept it.

Finally, Handel also wove Old and New Testament beautifully together with his Air for Soprano #45 “I know my redeemer lives”. It is a wonderful combination of verses. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall see God. (Job 19:25-26) For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. (I Corinthians 15:20). Amen

Monday, April 11, 2011

Paul Washer

Fr. Dale Matson

To be enabled to form a clear, consistent, and comprehensive judgment of the truths revealed in the Scripture, is a great privilege; but they who possess it are exposed to the temptation of thinking too highly of themselves, and too meanly of others, especially of those who not only refuse to adopt their sentiments, but venture to oppose them.
John Newton, Anglican Priest 1762.

Paul Washer cannot be accused of thinking too highly of himself but he can be accused of thinking too meanly of others. He has stated that he suffers from depression and I believe it colors both his opinion of himself and the church.

There are some positive things about him and there is more to say in the positive. He is a man who has demonstrated in his life that he loves and fears God. He has the academic preparation of a pastor with an M.Div. He has served God faithfully for many years including being a missionary in Peru for ten years.

For me, Paul’s preaching is outstanding. There is no one that compares to him today. He preaches with the same conviction and power of Billy Graham of the 1950’s. He does not curry favor with anyone and is his own man speaking God’s words to a society in moral decline and a lukewarm church. I have many of his sermons bookmarked. By comparison, my homilies sound like I am dictating to a stone cutter.

I am not here to measure five point Calvinism against the Anglican theology of Richard Hooker. I do believe that Sola Scriptura without church tradition is a ship with a steering wheel and rudder but no keel. What I am concerned about is the degree of judgment and how much this permeates Paul Washer’s sermons. It is important to say that evidence of regeneration is an amended life. It is one thing to say that Christians should leave a church where the Gospel is not preached. It is quite another to overgeneralize with statements like, “The saddest place on the earth is the biblical south where everyone has just enough religion to send them straight to hell.”

My biggest concern is his assault on the Roman Catholic Church. He believes that a Christian can be in the Catholic Church but also believes that a Christian should not remain in the Catholic Church. “I tell people to come out.” Apparently Paul Washer also believes that the Catholic Church is a cult because he was surprised that the late Walter Martin “The Kingdom of the Cults” did not include the Catholic Church. He did not include them because they are a Christian Church.

There is a negativity that is not the judgment of God. It is the judgment of Paul Washer. I believe God the Holy Spirit is speaking to Paul Washer but the Holy Spirit is not saying, “I’ll take Leonard Ravenhill over twenty dead Calvinists.” Paul, we speak for the church and God will judge us for what we have said on His behalf. I am certainly not above criticism here either.

I hope I meet you someday. God bless you my brother Paul Washer. Amen

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Therefore There Is Now No Condemnation

Fr. Dale Matson

In Wednesday’s lectionary, the Epistle lesson is from Romans Chapter 8:1-11. There is a profound portrayal of Christ in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel. The Prologue is the finest description of Jesus the Christ using words. In Chapter Eight of Romans, St. Paul uses words to describe for me better than anywhere else the work of the Holy Spirit, who we are in Christ and our relationship to God. St. Paul’s statement, “Therefore there is now no condemnation” has been understood by commentators like Matthew Henry, John Wesley and John Darby to mean that if we are a new creature in Christ and He dwells in us then we are no longer condemned to an eternal Hell by God. I believe they are correct but I also believe there is another level that Paul intends this statement to reach. It is because Chapter eight follows the intrapersonal battle previously described in Romans chapter seven. I believe he is also talking about the voice of condemnation in our own minds. This is the daily struggle of an inner Hell addressed in Verse 33. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” In this case Paul is not referring to God but I believe the voice of condemnation inside our own mind.

There are times in our lives when we do or say something wrong and suddenly a voice inside our own head brings shame and humiliation immediately upon us. Have you ever actually had a hot flash and broken out in a sweat at such a time? I have.

As a Priest and a Psychologist, I know that there is a critical voice of an opportunist lying in wait to pounce upon us like a roaring lion. I believe it is the voice of one who is called the accuser of the brethren. He is also called the liar. So, even after we are a new creation we are still under attack from the false condemnation of Satan. It is he who still brings up sins we have already asked to be forgiven for and been forgiven for. It is he who tells us we are not among the elect who are cleansed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who causes doubt and despair.

Does this mean that we are not also taught, led and even convicted by the Holy Spirit? Yes, that is His role in our journey of Sanctification. However, when we are accused, shamed, blamed, humiliated, it is not God the Holy Spirit doing this. He is called the comforter, the advocate and the counselor.

I believe one of the most beautiful sections from Handel’s Messiah is the soprano Air, “If God Be for Us, Who Can Be against Us.” Handel scored it to three verses from Romans Chapter 8 provided to him by Charles Jensen. (31) If God is for us, who can be against us? (33) Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies. (34) Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is raised again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.

It is here, I think the second meaning for condemnation is understood. It is not just the eternal meaning of condemnation; it is the everyday, living the life of a Christian, understanding of what it means. This Gospel of, “God is for us” speaks life daily into a heart filled with pain, doubt and condemnation and becomes an antidote for the words of the evil one. Those words in Romans set to music by Handel still fill me with joy. Amen

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Seeking The Lost Part II

Fr. Dale Matson

I am finishing another book and this one is on Search and Rescue. There was a joy both in offering an affirmation for those who search and in the creative act of writing itself. Hopefully, the photographs used to illustrate the searches also will help tell the stories.

There is also sadness about this. It was a reliving of the disappointment of searches that became recoveries or where the individual was not found. There is an additional sadness about this for me. As we move through our lives we find ourselves reviewing chapters in our own stories. Each story is a kind of niche and we only fully realize that we have been in this niche when we are moving to the next chapter.

When I became a member of the Mountaineering Unit, my health and confidence were more robust than now. I am an ordinary person with no special search skills and what I had to offer was primarily availability, fitness, and a willingness to be led. At the same time I became involved in search and rescue work, I had also retired and had begun seminary training for Holy Orders as a Vocational Deacon.

The Spiritual niche of Deacon complimented my service as a search and rescue team member. Deacons are called by God to bring the needs of the people to the church and to bring the church to the people. I enjoyed incorporating some of my search stories into my sermons and remember one sermon where I held up my GPS and Satellite phone as a metaphor for not letting obstructions block communication with you and what is above you. I hope I have also brought the church to the team.

God however, was calling me to the Priesthood. It is a different Spiritual niche. It is a different chapter. At the same time he was limiting my involvement in searches because of injuries and knees that are no longer as resilient. Kneeling at the altar is almost as difficult as walking down a steep Sierra slope. A charism of a priest is pastor. Since becoming a Priest, I have taken on a different role on our team. It is a supportive role, a Barnabus role for the team leadership. They are all different from one another yet together, they are a team within a team. We have lunch on almost a weekly basis and the time together is good. It is good indeed. I was also on the team in earlier times when it was not this way.

Those of us with the gift of exhortation must use it as God has intended it. If not, an equally powerful negative side emerges and we are simply a critical person and a terrible parent to younger people. Team building is really trust building. As we serve so we become. My life has been in someone else’s hands at one point or another on every search. Carrying out our assignments has helped us become more fully human. I am mourning the previous chapter as I look forward to the next chapter. Amen