The Heresy of “my Faith Alone Saves”


devotional/discussion thought of the day:

22  You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23  And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24  So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
James 2:22-24 (NLT)

7  This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. 8  Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; 9  not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. 10  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:7-10 (NJB)

It was one of the cries of the men who tried to reform, to re-focus the Catholic Church.  Faith Alone, Sola Fide in Latin. It is still the point of contention between the Roman Catholic Church and a few of the protestant denominations. Even as I pray that the Church would be visibly one, hole, catholic, and apostolic; I struggle to see that this issue would be ever resolved.

There is a twist to this issue now, one that might be distinctly American, or perhaps it simply originated here. It cuts across all of the church, and it may be more destructive than anything the Great Schism or Reformation/Counter Reformation has spawned.

It is the addition of the little pronoun “my” to either “saved by faith”, or “saved by faith alone”.  To add that skirts the border of heresy, and it bows to the idol of narcissus.  It puts the glory and the credit for salvation, not in the God in whom we trust, but in the “me”.  As if in some way, faith originated in me, by my own reason, by my own intellectual/spiritual/holy prowess.

Perhaps this is why we take every attack on Christianity so personally, as if ISIS, or the atheists, or whomever, is attacking us directly.  Perhaps it is why we avoid martyrdom and suffering, instead finding our shields up, our notions of self defense well exercised.  It is why we can justify missing church, despite what scripture says, because after all, this religion, this belief, this faith is mine.   Such a personal faith focuses on our knowledge, or our work, on what we have gained or achieved.  It can then grow into Gnosticism, or Agnosticism, for as long as faith is “my faith”, as long as it focuses one me, it will lead to emptiness, and more searching out for that arcane bit of knowledge that will justify me. At least it will justify me in my own sight.

Which is what really matters today, at least in the our own view.

Self-righteousness, self-justification, as if in “my faith” it is also “my judgement” that needs to be appeased.

I mentioned that this idea borders on heresy, but I didn’t say which side of the border.  It is across the border, I believe, from both historic Catholic and Protestant perspectives. Because it ignites that faith is more than a doctrinal statement, more than a set of core beliefs.  It is more than knowledge.

For you can’t have faith without having faith “in” someone/something.  It is a verb, not a noun, and it requires an object.  Going back to the Latin, we see the root of the word “confidence” (that is with faith)  My confidence doesn’t save me, it is that we have confidence in the love and mercy of Christ which saves us. Not the confidence, but the love and mercy is what saves us.   We see this in the Creeds, the “I believe IN”, I have faith IN”.  Faith is simply the reception, the trust, the dependence upon the God who is revealed to us, revealed to be working in/on/upon and through us. That faith, trust, dependence radically changes us, not just how we think bu how we live.  For that transformation is the promise.

That is why faith can never be “my” faith, it must focus on the object, the Lord whom we trust in to do what He promised, to do what He has done.  To have faith in God means we abide in Him, we find refuge in Him, we recognize His work in making us His children, His people.

He has had mercy, He loves.  Trust Him, have faith in Him, and know He saves you!

AMEN!

The Hidden Story of Repentance….in the middle of St. Paul’s conversion


Devotion Thought of the Day:

11  The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, 12  and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.” 13  Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem. 14  And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.” 15  The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. 16  And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.” 17  So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18  At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; 19  and after he had eaten, his strength came back. Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. Acts 9:11-19 (TEV)

Most believers know well the events on the road to Damascus, as Saul the persecutor of the church is confronted by Jesus, and is transformed into the Apostle Paul.  This scholar, missionary, apostle’s repentance is easy to see, and often held out as an example of the work God does, in giving someone a repentant spirit.

But in the midst of Paul’s conversion there is another story of repentance.  Notable because the man who repents is already a believer. Yet, even as Paul didn’t recognize God or God’s will, neither did Ananias.  Until they both repented.  Until they both responded to God’s intervention.

Perhaps it is because of Paul’s incredible story, that we miss the story of Ananias, and the transformation that occurs in his life.  For he repents, and goes, and shows to Saul/Paul the love of God, and brings healing to Saul/Paul’s eyes, and to his soul.

I think for those of us in the church, we often forget to repent, we often forget to hear God’s call to love Him with everything, and to love other humans as much as we love ourselves.  We hang onto resentment and fear, we allow rumors and generalizaitons to fire us up and fuel division, even leading to hatred.  We get defensive and hostile.

Worse of all, we lose our faith.  Ananias forgot the will of God, that desires that all come to repentance, to be transoformed.  He forgot the power of God that would transform Saul, and he being overwhelmed by fear, his faith in God disappeared.  He didn’t hear God, he didn’t trust Him.  In fact, in disobedience, he tries to correct God.

The blessing is how God dealt with Ananias, much the same as God dealt with Paul.  He revealed Himself, He revealed His love, and He welcomed Ananias to share in God’s plan.  This is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another.”  John 15:15-17 (TEV)

Ananias repents, as does Paul.  Both then God continues to transform, conforming them to the image of Christ.  Both the believer and the unbeliever, brought deeper into relationship with God.

Two incredible stories of repentance.

Brought about by God, who desires we all experience this blessing.

AMEN.

 

Is God More Than Love?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Matthew 10:28 (NJB)

For what is increasingly taking place before our eyes can be summarized in the words: the fear of men, that is, the absence of the fear of God, is the beginning of all foolishness. Today, since the image of God has been subjugated to the laws of advertising, the fear of God has all but disappeared from the catalogue of virtues. If he is to have advertising appeal, God must be so graphically depicted in exactly the opposite way that no one can possibly find any reason to fear him. That would be the last quality that would appear in our representations of him. In this way, that reversal of values that was the real sickness of pre-Christian religious history spreads more and more throughout our society and even in the midst of the Church. For even in ancient times there was a widespread belief that one did not have to fear the good God, the real God, because from him, since he was good, only good was to be expected. There was no need to worry about the good God; the evil powers were the ones to fear. Only they were dangerous; consequently one must do all in one’s power to win their favor. In this maxim we can see that the service of idols is an apostasy from the service of God. But we are surrounded by this idolatry. The good God does us no harm; we need offer him no more than a kind of primitive trust.

I was told earlier this week that preaching the gospel wasn’t as important as living it.  That what was needed was to abandon all that divided us from others, in order to find the peace and love which would change our community.   That we couldn’t let doctrines like the Trinity or like Justification, or even the nature of Jesus divide us from worshipping together.  Because what really matters is being good, and being loving.    (I’ve also had to deal with the other extreme, but that is another blog perhaps!)

I think Cardinal Ratzinger’s quote above puts it quite well.  We seem to have caught the idea that God is love (and He is!), but failed to understand what it means to love.  Or maybe perhaps, we have let those we fear ( or are in awe of ) re-define the meaning of love. So love becomes a form of acceptance, an acceptance/love that doesn’t seek out the best for the beloved, but assumes where they are is the best.

Perhaps this why God is not feared, and therefore, His words aren’t heard or obeyed. We don’t want to hear the part of God transforming us, refining us.   We only want a God who will bless us, who will do us no harm, who will not wisely rebuke or expect us to change, or conform to the image of Christ.

But it that was true, why did Jesus need to come?  Why did He have to die on a cross?  Why is it, that even John the Apostle, who is described as the beloved, is terrified when he enters the presence of God?  Why did Jesus say that our fear shouldn’t be of the world, and the opinions of man, but of God, to whom we are ultimately responsible?

Yes, there are people who make mountains out of what is neither commanded or forbidden in scripture.  There is also the core gospel, that which is described in the creeds, about our creation, and the conception, birth, life, death resurrection of Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to a life in relationship with Him. A relationship where we learn that God is amazing and holy and just… and yes loving.  Loving enough that He calls us to repentance and transformation.  Loving enough to wisely grant us that repentance, and cause and complete the transformation.

Being in fear of God, being in awe of His justice, His power, His wisdom and His love does something to us.  It causes to humbly, and yet confidently enter His presence.  To accept the relationship on the only terms offered. His terms.

But those terms are glorious….

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 47). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Feeling Disconnected?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2  Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. 3  Give us each day the food we need, 4  and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation. 5  Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7  And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8  But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9  “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11  “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Luke 11:1-13 (NLT)

445         If you abandon prayer you may at first live on spiritual reserves… and after that, by cheating.

Of course, God’s name is holy in and of itself, but by this request, we pray that He will make it holy among us, too.

One would think that we have enough examples in scripture, that we wouldn’t forget its importance.

One would think we have had enough examples from our own lives, and from the lives of those who disciple, teach and pastor us.

A few days ago, my devotion quoted the Lutheran Confessions, specifically the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which said if we called it a sacrament, maybe, then maybe, men would realize the blessing and do it more often.

Far too often I hear people tell of feeling distant from God, who are troubled because He doesn’t seem to be there.  Or they feel overwhelmed and challenged, and the anxiety levels continue to climb.  Who struggle to know any kind of peace in their lives.  It may start in one place, let’s say their workplace.   The stress soon affects other places in their life, their home, their friendships, it can even drive them away from the one place they will be reminded of the answer, and the encouragement that helps us realize that God isn’t so far away, that He isn’t so uncaring.

What our forefathers found so incredible, so necessary, so much a preventative against feeling disconnected is simple prayer.

Not because in prayer we do something that proves our holiness, not because the more time in prayer, the more you cause yourself to grow holier.  It is not a spiritual discipline in the manner of lifting weights, or working out, where our suffering and pain builds us up.

It is because we are being heard, and as we pray, we become more aware of it.  As we become more aware of it, we trust God more and more, we dump the stuff we are trying to deal with at His feet.

Like the idea that we drift away from prayer slowly, it takes us some time to develop a life that is one lived in conversation with God.  It is one where our confidence in His presence, in His listening, in His fulfilling His promises grows.  Not because of our skill, not because of how eloquent we are, but it grows as we learn to trust Him, as we learn to depend upon Him.   And that growth does take time and a continued transformation.

That is why Jesus talks of such persistence in Luke’s account.  It is why Jesus talks about the love of a father that will answer his children’s requests.    It is to cause us to draw near, to drop our self-defense mechanisms, to show God our wounds, the wounds that are healed because Jesus was wounded on the cross.

The more we see that love, the more we find ourselves exploring it, the more we find salvation to make a tangible change in our lives, the more we learn to desire to prayer. And the more we see those prayers answered….

So pray my friends, and if you don’t know how simply start with the prayer Jesus taught us…. in it all things are prayed for anyway.

Lord have mercy on us, teach us to approach the throne with confidence, and give you all, including that which causes guilt, share, fear or anxiety.  Help us be confident that you never will leave us disconnected.  AMEN!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1975-1977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “The First Request”

Ethics, Ambition, Apathy and Success


Devotional Thought of the Day:
16  Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 17  He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ 18  And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods 19  and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” 20  But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ 21   Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
Luke 12:16-21 (NAB)

441         Take note of this. I told a certain noble, learned and dauntless man, on a memorable occasion, that by defending a holy cause, which “good people” were attacking, a high post in his field was at stake: he was going to lose it. With a voice full of human and supernatural seriousness, despising the honours of this earth, he answered: “It is my soul that is at stake.”

A long time ago, before I became a pastor, I remember being driven to do a good job.  Not because I always enjoyed it, but because if I did well, if my numbers looked good, I would be promoted. I took my joy in the bonuses and added responsibility.

I eventually burnt out on that, for I found out it was all vanity, a never ending circle of having to do better, for you prior best was now considered the standard, and so yuo were driven to do more, to take one more, to feel more pressure.  The temptation to take advantage of the letter of the law was large, again for both ego and the salary need had to be fed.

Then came a point where I didn’t want more responsibility, my ambition waned.  I just wanted something I could invest myself in, and do well. But not so well that others would want to add more responsibility to my burdens.  I didn’t want to coast, or slacken the work, but neither was I ready to take on more responsibility.  In a way, I lost all sense of ambition, struggling with what appeared to be the cost.  For I thought ambition would always lead to the end of the man in the parable, who fulfilled his desire, and didn’t get to enjoy it.

In those days, I would read that passage, or the St. Josemaria’s narrative, and use both to deny my sense of ambition, to pacify and counter it.  Simply put, you can maintain status quo, and have that negatively impact your soul, and the soul of others. We have to realize that what we do, and our attitudes and drives can be costly.  It doesn’t matter the goal, or whether we are driven to success or apathetic.  We have more than that binary option, don’t we?

I am struggling with the idea that ambition and ethics, ambition and Christ-likeness may not be as contrary as I think. Nor is it the goal of the ambition that we must question.  It is who benefits from seeing our goals acheived.  Is it our ego, or our soul, or the souls of others?

Maybe the question isn’t between being apathetic (masqueraded as contentment) or driven.  Maybe the question is how we define the “success” that we are driven to achieve?j

Can our ambition, our drive be harnessed to serve people?  To care for souls, to be as effective as we can, because we know the love poured into us.  To embrace the hardships that ambition requires, not to be praised as martyrs, but because we walk with Christ, and His desires become ours.  Can our souls and the souls of others benefit from our “success?”

St Paul wrote,  “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”  (Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT) )

This is the start to “holy ambition”, this focus on Jesus, on making Jesus known to others, to serving them sacrificially so that we give them the opportunity to find rest and healing in Jesus.  To take our thoughts and make them obey, to have them hear and be consistent with the nature of Jesus.

That takes effort, and work, patience and ambition.

The end result is worth it all.

We know Him.  Souls are saved…

It’s monday – time to get to work!

.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1960-1963). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

He Set You apart!


He Set You Apart!

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who set you apart from before you were formed, who will have you share with others His love, and our need for it!

To the Nations

A few weeks ago, 6 of us had the blessing of picking up 24 youth who were all born in Eritrea.  Just curious, how many of you know where Eritrea is?

Last week, Pastor Bernie shared for a few moments about what happened in the Sudan, where he put stoles that our ladies made, on the shoulders of 16 newly ordained pastors, just as he had three years prior.

Yesterday, some of us went to a Himalayan restaurant in Artesia, and celebrated with a young lady and her family, as she prepares for a wedding next week.

Next week on our campus, our brothers and sisters in the second service will be celebrating Chinese New Year.

As I look out over our congregation or our preschool chapels, I see people from all over the world, from 5 continents.  And from even some very, very different places, like Lawrence, Massachusetts.

It is an amazing thing to think of, as we hear again, God’s word to Jeremiah

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

God’s words to Jeremiah, and to us.  Yes, to us.
The message

Jesus has done the same thing to us that He did to Jeremiah.  He set us apart with a purpose, to share a message with people from all of the world.  A message that we all need to hear, even as it has to tear some down, and lift others up.

What we call law and gospel in “Church language”.  That’s the message Jeremiah was given; it is the message Jesus died to reveal, it is what Peter and Paul and others claimed from the Middle East throughout all of Europe to Central Africa to India in one generation.
It is the same message that everyone needs to hear, no matter if they are 3 or 93, no matter their ethnicity or their culture.

It is a message that crushes those of us who think we are the only righteous folk around, revealing to us that we are sinners, and there is nothing we can do to repair what we’ve broken.  For that is what sin does.  It shatters relationships; it shatters family, it shatters us as individuals.

God’s law isn’t just about behaving properly; it is a way God designed for us to live in peace, to know we are loved.  And when we step outside the plans God has for us, it crushes us, as the things He warns us against come true.

One pastor put it this way, use the Law to afflict those comfortable in their sin, and those afflicted by their sin, comfort them with the good news.

The news every prophet, every pastor, every evangelist and every believer counts on and is chosen by God to embrace and share with others.

The news of the gospel.  That God loves us that He will heal our brokenness. That He will make our lives like new.  That our sin will be forgiven, that our the relationships will be reconciled.

This is the gospel that all need to hear, it is the reason we have hope.

God has made all of the creation, and all of us in it, with a purpose.  The purpose of living with him, as His children, as the people He loves.  He loves us so much that Christ died to make this possible.  TO heal our relationship with Him and with others, not just until the next time we destroy it, but for all of eternity.

That is why when we are saved when He cleanses us, there is no need to do so again.

But us?

Like most ministers, Jeremiah had a  problem with God trusting Jeremiah with the message.  We can find a million reasons why we shouldn’t have to share God’s message with our neighbors and family, never mind to the world.

But God has chosen us. He knows us as long as He knew Jeremiah, from since before we were born, from before we were conceived.

The message isn’t complicated, and as we realize it, the inclination to share it is automatic.  God is with you.  He loves you; He wants to comfort you and reconcile and heal that which is broken.

Don’t hold back, let Him do so…and rejoice!

AMEN!

Which Is a Greater Priority in Life? Prayer or Theology?


Devotional Thought of the Day?
18  Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people. 19  And pray also for me, that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel’s secret.
Ephesians 6:18-19 (TEV)

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi – As we pray/worship so we believe, so we live.

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.

447         You lack interior life: that is because you do not consider in your prayer other people’s concerns and proselytism; because you do not make an effort to see things clearly, to make definite resolutions and fulfil them; because you do not have a supernatural outlook in your study, in your work, in your conversations, and your dealings with others… Are you living in the presence of God? For that is a consequence and a manifestation of your prayer.

The Church has brought about the emancipation of simple souls and has promised even to them the ability to be philosophers in the true sense of the word, that is, to comprehend what is essential to human nature as well as, or even better than, those who are learned.  (a few sentences later)  But how can this teaching of the Church be binding if it is not binding on theologians? The essence of the Church’s teaching ministry consists precisely in the fact that the proclamation of the Faith is the valid touchstone for theology as well. This proclamation is the object of the reflection of theology. The faith of simple souls is far from being a kind of watered-down theology for the laity, a so-called “popular Platonism”; the relationship is exactly the opposite: proclamation is the standard for theology, not theology for proclamation

Back in the days of taking algebra and geometry, my instructors would get upset at me because I didn’t include every step as I solved a problem  I would get the answer correct, but the missing steps, things I assumed everyone knew, were missing.  My attitude was that they didn’t matter.  I would eventually find out it they did……

I think the church, especially those who preach, teach and blog are guilty of the same thing.  We love to come across as profound in out theology.  We love to say why this piece of arcane theology is far more accurate than that, or why this practice will lead to a slippery slope, where those doing or thinking this will become heterodox, then heretical, and then bound for hell.   Well, we might leave that last part out.

There is another group that is strongly opposed to theological teaching, whose modern creeds are, “Love your Jesus, hate your religion” or “Relationship not Religious rules”.  They are no different that those two hundred years ago cried out “no creed but Christ”.

They are the simply souls who know there is something missing in our theological proofs.  Who realize the dissonance, that there is a weak point in our equation.  They might not be able to put a finger on it, but they realize what we believe is not impacting how we live.
Think about how many blogs, sermons, Sunday school classes urge us to pray, that teach us how to enter into conversation, either publicly or individually with God?  Sure you can find blogs about worship, usually to the extent of “those guys don’t do it right”, but how many help you connect to the awe of realizing you are in the presence of God?

The Lutheran Confessions almost seem snarky when talking about calling prayer a sacrament because then we might take this encounter with God more seriously.  St Josemaria talks of living in God’s presence is a consequence and manifestation of our prayer, simply because you have to know He is here to talk to Him.  Pope Benedict, then a cardinal, talks of those freed form sin and their simple faith, which is greater than the deepest of theology.  (read Augustine’s Confessions and you will eventually find that are the end of his journey)

The missing part of our sermon/blog equation is the starting place.  The time spent pouring our heart out to God and letting His comfort and presence bring us hope.  It is what will form the basis of our theology, of our teaching, of that which we write and blog.  And that is what makes our life, this realization that we dwell in the very presence of God, in His holiness, in His glory. That we can give Him every burden, every anxiety, as He draws us to Himself, as He cleanses, heals, and makes of our lives, our souls, something incredible.

Prayer and worship cannot exist without faith, not just the faith described in theological tomes and creeds, but the dependence, the trust in God to give us what He promises.

To understand that God is here, for you, drawing you into His love. Theology might teach about it, prayer, worship, the sacraments are all experiencing it.   Theology tells us what is happening to us, if it is based in prayer.  Otherwise, you never get past it to living out that life in Christ.

Spend time in prayer, spend time listening and pouring out your hearts and souls to God, who loves you enough to give you His name to call upon. Who wants to walk with us, live with us, rejoice and cry with us.

Don’t skip by prayer to get to your theology, it is not just a requirement, it is what the theology needs to discuss!  For it is life.

Lord have mercy on us!

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1981-1985). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 40). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

What is “Freedom?” Specifically, what is “religious freedom?”


Devotional Thought of the Day:
36  If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.
John 8:36 (TEV)

423         Under the pressure and impact of a materialistic, pleasure-loving, faithless world, how can we demand and justify the freedom of not thinking as they do, and of not acting as they do? A son of God has no need to ask for that freedom, because Christ won it for us once and for all. But he does need to defend it and practise it whatever the circumstance he finds himself in. Only thus will they understand that our freedom is not bound up in our surroundings.  (1)

This morning on the way to work, I heard a man complaining about the necessity to pay that his children could pray in school. He prattled on about how unfair it was that this wasn’t truly a free country, that it cost to have his kids raised by those who would teach them to pray. ( By the way, I know “Prattled” isn’t used much, but it fits the sounds he was making)

I think in this country we have made freedom an idol. Certainly we consider free speech a right, as well as the vague term “freedom of religion” or as some would have it, “freedom from religion.” We get upset when those “rights: are taken away, or limited.  We get even more upset when others use those “rights” in a way that threatens, disagrees or demeans us.  I’ve even heard the verse in red above used in discussions about the freedom of religion as if the Americanism – that Jesus gave us freedom, and anyone who would take it away should be damned.  (Or at least, mocked and embarrassed behind their back on Facebook)  The idol of freedom or even the freedom of religion does nothing long range for mankind.  It is an illusion, and it is not Christian freedom.

Our freedom is part of the peace that God gives us.  It is, as St. Josemaria says, freedom of not thinking as they do, or acting as they do.  It is not a freedom the world can give.   It is not a freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights or the Magna Carta.  It is the freedom Peter and Paul knew, as they were prisoners in Rome.  It is the freedom and peace that Stephen knew, as men laid their coats down at Saul’s feet, and picked up stones to crush him.  It is freedom martyrs longed to share with their tormenters.

It is a freedom that, like the peace we are given, is divine.

Hear the rest of Jesus statement, the context of the discussion on Freedom:

34  Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35  A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever. 36  If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. 37  I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are trying to kill me, because you will not accept my teaching. 38  I talk about what my Father has shown me, but you do what your father has told you.”
John 8:34-38 (TEV)

Here is our freedom.  The freedom from guilt and shame that breaks us down as we realize the consequences of our sin.  The freedom to see the relationships shattered by sin.  The freedom from resentment, the anger and hurt we store in our memories, as if we can protect ourselves from further injury, further hurt.

It is a freedom that is part of our faith, part of the trust and dependence we have in God.  Dependence on His fulfilling promises like that in Romans 8 that everything will work out for our good, that nothing can separate us from Him.  Promises like Genesis 50, that what others plan for evil, God will use those things for good.  The promise that is revealed as we look to Jesus, the author of our faith, and the one who makes it perfect.

This is freedom, true freedom.

Let us treasure the Lord, who frees us, more than the illusion of freedoms that would leave us oppressed and bound to sin and unrighteousness.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1893-1897). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Michal had a case of the Mondays… don’t be like Michal.


Devotional Thought of the Day:20 *W

20 *When David went home to bless his own house, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him and said, “How well the king of Israel has honored himself today, exposing himself to the view of the slave girls of his followers, as a commoner might expose himself!” 21 But David replied to Michal: “I was dancing before the LORD. As the LORD lives, who chose me over your father and all his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel, not only will I make merry before the LORD, 22 but I will demean myself even more. I will be lowly in your eyes, but in the eyes of the slave girls you spoke of I will be somebody.” 23 Saul’s daughter Michal was childless to the day she died.    2 Sam 6:20–23 NABRE

426         Once you were pessimistic, hesitant and apathetic. Now you are completely transformed: you feel courageous, optimistic and self-confident, because you have made up your mind, at last, to rely on God alone.  (1)

There is an inner war within me, one which swings between wanting a time of quiet reverence, and times where like David, we are just so in awe of God’s presence that we forget ourselves, and just enjoy the moment.

There is a part of me that understand’s Michal’s view, a call for some reference, a call for propriety, a call for being sedate and controlled in the presence of God.  That we should be like Isaiah, so afraid of being a sinner in the presence of God, that I freeze.  As if all the world should be like the calm reflections of Lent.

There is a time and placed for that kind of lowliness, that form of meekness.  But it can’t be forced or manipulated any more than the kind of joy that David exhibited.   That is part of my thoughts this morning, which we can’t manipulate the quiet, reverent spirit anymore than we can manipulate a spirit that is celebratory.  And while those who try to help lift the spirits of those who are depressed are accused of manipulation, we don’t accuse those like Michal, David’s wife, of the same thing.

There is an inherent danger to the Michal’s of the world.  For to manipulate people into that mood does breed the kind of spirit that Josemaria speaks of; a spirit that is pessimistic, hesitant and apathetic.  A Spirit that doubts God, and searches for reasons to dismiss His presence, to be freed from His love.  The reaction from the Michal’s, those who rejoice in the bitterness of a Monday, is very dangerous.

For it divorces the person from the strength that comes from being in the presence of the Lord. It gives a permanent case of the Mondays, a spiritual barrenness that can lead to a life of complete barrenness.

The Michal attitude even steals the peace that it seems to protect so diligently.  For peace is so refreshing, so wonderful, that you enjoy it.   You throw a parade, or a party, you dance and sing.  You act like the prodigal’s dad, so overjoyed that his boy is home, that nothing could stop the celebration.

Are there times of sorrow?  Of course! Are there times of great pain, or great loss?  Yes, though it is limited. Are there times where we should approach God in so much awe we can’t speak.  Yes, there are times for that as well.  Even then, there is a joy that breaks the silence, a confidence that speaks of a life lived in Jesus.  Not the bitterness and resentment that refuses to tolerate other people’s joy.

What makes the difference, is to depend on God for that which He promised.  We depend on Him to make all things work out for good, all things to be a blessing. To know that even when life doesn’t seem fair, God is still faithful, and He will bless you.  When we know this life is God’s work, the joy breaks out.

Relax, know that you are safe, that you have found a refuge in the hands of God.

And remember the joy of knowing God’s invited you to be a part of His feast!

AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1905-1907). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Respect and the Mission of God


Devotional/Discussion Thought of the day:

13  No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right; 14  and blessed are you if you have to suffer for being upright. Have no dread of them; have no fear15  Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. 16  But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations. 17  And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. 1 Peter 3:13-17 (NJB)

The next question is obvious: Is the dispute with other religions not basically just as much an instance of Christian self-righteousness as the dispute among the denominations was an instance of denominational self-righteousness? In consequence, it is no longer Christianity that is at issue, but religion as such, which makes its presence felt among mankind under a variety of forms in which it is not basically a question of changing content, but of the inner nature of religion itself, which can be expressed in many contents, even entirely without the word of God. Catechesis is thus reduced to mere information on the one side, to instruction regarding religious attitudes (but with no prescribed content) on the other side, and faith silently quits the field.  (1)

“65 As we explained before, we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit.

66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[i]”  (2)

Pope Benedict XVI’s quote this morning struck a nerve in me.  It causes me to look within, to try and understand exactly what my motivation is, as I minister.  Is it a matter of personal pride in my intellect?  Is it, as Benedict asks, a matter of self-righteousness, or worse, a sense of gnostic condescension?  That I have the secret knowledge to a good life, even an eternal life, and those of other religions do not, is that my motivation? Or worst of all, have I set my faith to the side?

That question is hard, very hard.  It is one that I am afraid to ask.

It is the same conversation that Peter is having with the early church, as he talks to them.  Give the reason you have hope, do it with respect.  Do it with the love that cares more about them knowing Jesus than you do about winning the argument.

That is what Luther is getting at, in talking about the work of the Holy Spirit.  As the Spirit reveals that we live in the presence of God, as He gives us the ability, the comfort, the assurance that God wants to reconcile us all to Himself.  Some have only seen God in nature.  Others

Christianity isn’t a privilege.  Christianity isn’t a combat sport.  Christianity means sacrifice, just as Christ suffered for us.  Peter talks about this as following in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul encourages the church to imitate him, as he imitates Jesus.   They call us to sacrifice and serve, that people would be able to presented perfect to Jesus.

This is far more than finding ourselves more righteous.  This is eternity, this is living free of the guilt and shame caused by our sin, by the relationships in our lives that were broken.  A relationship with the God who created as to be His “beloved”.

TO engage in that kind of work takes sacrifice, it means putting aside our own pride, our own desires, our very lives.  And that requires to take up the faith that we’ve laid aside.  It requires that we realize salvation transforms more than our future.  It transforms our lives, from our baptism through the day God completes us.

This isn’t pietism, it is the reaction of gratitude to a God who revealed Himself to us, who made known His attitude toward us, who invited us to be part of His work, part of His ministry.  It is the Holy Spirit.  This is what communing with God does for us. As we kneel at an altar, as we see revealed to us the love of God for the world, as we are given hope, we explain that reason to others.

This is the life of a believer, this is the life of the children of God.

Lord, Have mercy on us, and help us to realize you live in our very lives.

(1)    Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 32). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)  [i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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