What Should Make Christianity…. different?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 44 Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn’t have a cent to live on.  Mark 12:43-44 CEV

By the words “to save” we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parro: indeed, here is all mercy in one word. Christ is not only “mighty to save” those who repent, but he is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of his name to bend the knee before him. Nay, this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work. The life of a believer is a series of miracles wrought by “the Mighty God.”

The pagan knew the fact that our hearts are restless, but he did not know the reason. Christianity supplies the reason, the key to the lock, the answer to the puzzle pondered by the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, even by Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. All these thinkers believed in a God, but they were not happy because they did not know God was love. Socrates worshipped the unknown God whom he would not name and knew he did not know. Plato’s God was impersonal truth and goodness. Aristotle’s God was a cosmic first mover who could be known and loved but who did not know or love us. Cicero’s God was only a vague object of “piety”. And the God of Ecclesiastes sat unmoving and unknown in Heaven while man’s life on earth remained “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”

172 Augustine says very clearly, “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”1 Therefore even in good works he requires our faith that for Christ’s sake we please God and that the works in themselves do not have the value to please God.
173 Against the Pelagians, Jerome writes, “We are righteous, therefore, when we confess that we are sinners; and our righteousness does not consist in our own merit, but in God’s mercy.”

The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice. All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy. That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.

This morning I came across some very powerful quotes in my reading.  I love them, whether it is from a soon to be pope (Ratzinger), an incredible philosopher (Kreeft), a group of rebels (the early Lutherans), or a British pastor who was perhaps, the first mega-church pastor.

They all point to one thing, the fact that Christianity is different. Philosophers tried to point to him, but they couldn’t understand God. That the Eucharist does, more clearly perhaps than anything else, for we encounter and experience Jesus there.  In the mercy of God which makes our broken lives perfect as God grants to us repentance and sanctification – as He completely saves us.

What an incredible concept, this salvation.

But do we really comprehend this blessing, this gift?

I do not think we do, at least not always.

How about this explanation.  We (the church) are like children at Christmas, more interested in playing with the box our present came in than actually enjoying the present.

Salvation, the complete work of God is so large a gift, we cannot understand it. But we can experience it, and it does more than change us. Jesus does more than give us life, He is that life. That is what makes Christianity different, it is the religion that is more than a relationship, for a relationship cannot begin to express what living in Christ is like.

The old lady with the two pennies experienced it. She wasn’t impressed with the box, she simply enjoyed walking with God, and gave what she had that others would as well.

We don’t even know her name, and she could care less.

She was with God, and among His people, as broken, as misdirected, as….unfocused on what she knew and responded to…

May we be more like her….. and enjoy living in Christ, as the children the Father loves.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 39–40.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 130–131.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 65.

The Mystery that Underlies Worship, and Makes it Worth It!

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Devotional Thought of the day:

7  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began.
1 Corinthians 2:7 (NLT2)

Christianity is both. It is full of mysteries like the Trinity, creation, the Incarnation, atonement, providence, and eschatology. In fact, it is the most mysterious religion in the world. It is not at all obvious, not what we would expect. That is what all the heresies have been: what the human mind naturally expected. Yet Christianity is also supremely simple. John was right. There is, in the last analysis, only one thing: the love of God.

Here is common ground for a discussion of the structure of liturgy. Strictly speaking we should say that liturgy, of its nature, has a festal character.2 If we can agree on this starting point, the issue then becomes: What makes a feast a feast? Evidently, for the view in question, the festal quality is guaranteed by the concrete “community” experience of a group of people who have grown together into this community.

As much as I hate the idea of worship wars, or the ability of both sides to ignore the blessings of their perceived antagonists, I love to talk about worship. Even more, I love worshipping God, with his people.  It can be done with choirs and pipe organs, it can be done with a band and people facilitating the singing of the congregation, it is done with a half dozen people and a guitar.  Or people singing acapella.

There is no need for worship wars, not when there is so much to celebrate, as the people of God are gathered together.

This is the point that Pope Benedict speaks of, this moment where the community is formed. The feast is not because of the many incredible mysteries we fail to completely understand.  Those mysteries, which Kreeft lists, are mere supplements to the true mystery, the truth that binds us all together.

What one thing Peter Kreeft says is the only thing. the love of God! (for us!)

This is our ultimate glory, this is our ultimate joy, this is what we celebrate, for as it is revealed, as the truth of it sets up inside our souls, worship and celebration is the result.

If we are more focused on the realization that God loves us, this staggering, beyond the experience of being truly loved, then worship is empowered to be something more than a pattern, a habit, a time set aside to make sure we are good with God.

It becomes a dance… it becomes a life-giving time of restoration and healing. It becomes the core of our worship, more important than being liturgical or contemporary. More important than being perfect, for all that falls aside with this thought.

“we are loved!”

Heavenly Father, as You gather us together, help us to remember this glorious truth.  All we shall hear, say, sing, pray, and even our silence, Lord, may we realize that You love us.  AMEN!

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 35.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 62–63.

That’s an odd word….

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Devotional Thought of the Day:
17  My strength, I will make music for you, for my stronghold is God, the God who loves me faithfully.   Psalm 59:17 (NJB)

what more canst thou hope for than the fulfillment of this great promise, “I will be their God”? This is the masterpiece of all the promises; its enjoyment makes a heaven below, and will make a heaven above. Dwell in the light of thy Lord, and let thy soul be always ravished with his love.

It is Karl Barth’s answer to the questioner who asked him, “Professor Barth, you have written dozens of great books, and many of us think you are the greatest theologian in the world. Of all your many ideas, what is the most profound thought you have ever had?” Without a second’s hesitation, the great theologian replied, “Jesus loves me.”

It is refreshing to read words of pastors from other eras in the church.  Especially when those words haven’t been translated, and even cleansed in recent decades.  Even so, sometimes how things are said are shocking, they set us back, and cause us to process what we read.

Such an occurrence took place as I was reading from Spurgeon this morning.

Ravished?

That seems such an odd word to use regarding the love of God.  Whether it is used in the sense of carrying someone away (after pillaging their village) or causing an incredible level of intense delight (https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/ravish ), it just doesn’t seem right or maybe a better word, considering Spurgeon’s roots – proper.

But maybe that is precisely what is missing from Christianity today. We are missing a sense of the incredible idea of being raptured ( a synonym), not in the sense of eschatology. Instead, in the sense that as we realize we are loved by God, everything else is left behind, that the delight, the joy, the wonder of being loved transform where we are, and it is no longer the place we thought we were.

You see that kind of sentiment in the great preachers and saints throughout history.  John Chrysostom, Pascal, Saint Theresa, St Josemaria, Luther, all expressed that kind of experience, as they experienced the love of God. It is what mystics search after, these moments of transcendence, these moments of uncontrollable, heavenly bliss.

It is only from dwelling in that love that we can minister to others.  It is the only hope we have when we have been broken by the sin of the world and shattered by our own sin.  To let our soul be ravished by the love of God, as He takes us out of the brokenness, transforming us and giving us a new perspective on the world in which we dwell.

The world we dwell in, as we live in Him, and He in us. Completely loved and adored, beyond our imagination, beyond our understanding. Rather than trying to figure it out, perhaps it is better to acknowledge it, and the peace we gain from His presence. The Lord loves you! And even as you find delight in that, the realization should hit you, He delights in it as well!

 

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 34.

Defeating the Idol of Time…

ST MARY OF PEACE

Devotional Thought of the Day:

While you are prisoners in foreign lands, your own land will enjoy years of rest and refreshment, as it should have done each seventh year when you lived there. 7 In the land of your enemies, you will tremble at the rustle of a leaf, as though it were a sword. And you will become so weak that you will stumble and fall over each other, even when no one is chasing you.  Leviticus 26:34-37  CEV

684    So your talents, your personality, your qualities are being wasted. So you’re not allowed to take full advantage of them. Meditate well on these words of a spiritual writer: “The incense offered to God is not wasted. Our Lord is more honored by the immolation of your talents than by their vain use.”

We live in a culture that adores action, even as it hates inaction. Ambition is a virtue in today’s culture, and someone content with where they are at in life is odd and perhaps more than a bit eccentric.

Those who aren’t always moving, working their plan, aren’t considered lazy, or lacking motivation and drive. Everything in our society must be put to use profitably.  We’ve made time an idol to serve, a god that demands all that we have, and more.

In the Old Testament, there were times of rest – Sabbaths.  Weekly, monthly and even every 7 years, everything was supposed to rest, finding what it needed, not from work, but from the hand of God. In fact, part of the punishment for Israel’s sin in the captivity was due to not hearing God’s call to stop, to rest, and let the land find its rest. So during the captivity, God provided for the land what we did not.  A time of rest, a time to recover, a time to let God provide.

I think this is St. Josemaria’s point in the quote from “The Way” I read this morning.  I didn’t like it at first, for I understand the feeling that comes from inaction.  I may have gotten past the idea of leaving food on my table as wasting it, but I can’t abide “wasting time” or even worse, not being able to use what God has gifted me with to help or disciple others.

Yet there are times to rest or to use Biblical/Agricultural terms, to lay fallow.  To get past the guilty feeling, to simply leave it in God’s more than capable hands.  Offer the stillness, the inactivity to Him.  Indeed, to spend that time with Him. No agenda, no purpose, simply enjoying His presence.

A time where we don’t notice the passing of time. We just are there, in the moment, with Jesus.

The challenge is desiring this time, looking forward to it, not feeling guilty, but realizing it is time God would have us set aside, with Him. Yet that is the reward…time, with Him… communion with God, and the peace we need, in our lives.

Take the time, waste it in the world’s view, but take it and please God with offering it to Him.

Lord, help us realize the need to find rest in you, not just when we are exhausted and overwhelmed.  Help us to not get to the point where like the Israelites, You have to take us captive, to get our lives and homes to rest, and the peace be restored. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God’s Plan in the Spotlight! A sermon on Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany – In the Spotlight
Ephesians 3:1-12

In Jesus Name

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ enable you to live out the plan brought to life in Christ’s coming – that we are to live boldly and confidently in God’s presence!

  1. The Plan… Hidden

This week was the anniversary of the birth of one of the great Christian philosophers of the last century.  J.R.R. Tolkien is probably best known as the writer behind “the Hobbit” and “the Lord of the Rings.” But one of the things we should rejoice about from his life was his impact on a fellow writer and philosopher.

Eric Metaxas tells us how Tolkein joined Jesus on Jesus’ mission one night on a walk with his friend Jack. He didn’t beat the gospel into him, in fact, he only alluded to Jesus in one question, about whether all the myths could have some source in an event that was real, that once God did invade reality.  (https://stream.org/j-r-r-tolkien-helped-lead-c-s-lewis-faith/)

His friend Jack, the angry, arrogant agnostic who disliked any discussion bordering the religious, was only nicknamed Jack. His given name was Clive Staples Lewis – one of the best-known Christian writers of the last century.

Joining Jesus, in this case, was simply a matter of shining a light in Lewis’s life, and letting the Holy Spirit work illuminate the plan that God had for Lewis, the same exact plan He has for each one of us, from the prophets and the wise man that adored Jesus at His birth, to you and I today.

It is simply a plan of illuminating God’s plan in their life, revealing His love, and His work in their lives.

This is what Epiphany is all about  – putting God’s plan in the spotlight – for all to see.  That is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, that we saw this morning, this wonderful plan, with a wonderful result.

  1. The Plan Revealed

Both Tolkien and Lewis talked about writing a lot, and you see a similar style in them. The main characters are always aided by a more mysterious and powerful character. In Tolkien, it is Gandalf, a servant of a Deity never quite revealed. With Lewis, the guide was Aslan, who was also the destination.

But in the journeys, as in many good stories, the plan that these guides had was not fully revealed to those making the journey. That keeps a reader, or moviegoer interested, as the plan is revealed step by step.  For those on the journey, it is a bit frustrating.

I want to know where I am going, how I am going to get there, how much earlier I have to plan to leave, so I actually leave on time and leave enough time for a bathroom stop or five on the journey.

During the Old Testament, the journey wasn’t always well known, they wandered for years, and they still didn’t understand the tabernacle or the Temple and what they pointed to, in fact, many today still don’t understand.  Paul knew…. And he talks about the plan,

Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

  1. The Plan Explained

You see the plan for the journey there.  The plan includes who is on the journey, and how the journey is accomplished

The ones on it are those who believe the good news, what we call the gospel.  It doesn’t matter whether we are Gentile or Jewish, what matters is that we believe, that we depend on the Good News. – the news that God loves us enough that Jesus would die for us.

And the way the journey happens is simple  – we receive all these blessings because we belong to Jesus.  That in our baptism, we are united to Him, we are made one with Him, in His death, and in His resurrection.  This is the incredible mystery we confess when we sing the Memorial Acclimation – that because He died, was buried and rose, we, who were dead in our sin, rise with Him! And when He returns, for us, we will be with the Father forever!

How do we say it around here?  Alleluia!  He is risen indeed! (He is risen! Alleluia) and therefore, (We are risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

His plan, it has been since the beginning, that our salvation would occur as we are intimately tied to Christ’s death and resurrection, as we are intimately united to Him!

  1. The Result of the Plan

The plan doesn’t end with the journey though, like our salvation, our being saved. Whatever epic, whether Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, or even Star Wars, the destination is arrived at, in a place where peace finally reigns.  They got the idea from scripture of course, and their novels are based in a hope truly seen in scripture.

Oddly enough, they all arrive at the place where they started, with the difference being the peace that is known, finally. That is why I call the destination, “our perfect home”  Paul will describe the plan’s destination this way:

11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

We have a hint of that home now, for as we presently dwell in Christ’s presence, and He in us, we have the shadows cast by this reality to comfort us. For we dwell with Him now, and yet, we are still on the journey to the point where we see His return. To the point where we boldly enter the presence of God our Father, confident because of the work of Jesus that we belong there.  AMEN!

 

How to Make Your Entire Life a Spiritual Retreat…

 

Devotional Thought of the Day:

If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 35 If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it.  Mark 8:34-35 CEV

Or to use another metaphor, our faith on earth is a solemn engagement and Heaven is the marriage. Our destiny is to be so intimately united with God that, as the mystics say, we not only see God’s face but also see with God’s face. We share in His own consciousness and love. Here on earth, too, personal intimacy, whether in marriage or in a lasting friendship, means not just being close to the other person as an object, but sharing his or her own thoughts and feelings, having a common outlook on life, a common face.
For this union the very stars were made. For this union God came an infinite distance from Heaven to earth, from divine glory to humiliation, from holy purity and innocence to a criminal’s death on a cross, from perfect oneness with the Father to the Hell of being forsaken by the Father—all this just to marry us!

Jesus commands us to forget about ourselves.  How is that to be when I must feed myself, take my pills, take time out for bodily functions, work to pay the bills for where I live, and how I get back and forth from there to work (and church?)

There are so many things to think about, how can I lose myself?  I suppose I could go on a retreat for a couple of days, but then all of life awaits me when I return, often with an incredible vengeance!

Over my life I have been on a lot of good retreats, many of them are “mountain top” experiences. Yet, that is my problem with them, they often leave us with a distorted idea of what being a Christian should be like.  And then the world, waiting for our return, hits us with the power of a hurricane. All of the pain, the angst, the anxiety hits, and it apparently missed us, so tightly does it want to hold onto us, making sure we never leave it again.

Somehow, I need to make my life a spiritual retreat. I am not talking about moving into a monastery, I am talking about finding a way to make the average daily grind of work and home life a place where I can forget myself, and dwell in Christ.

The simple way, of course, is to find something so meaningful that our desires, all our pains, and all the “other” stuff of life fade into the background. Think of the young couple in love, and how everything else disappears, every moment is looking forward to the next time they are together.  Hopes, dreams even pains are shared, as they support each other. If you ask why the other person cares for them that much, they have no clue, but they wouldn’t trade it for the richest, most attractive member of the opposite sex.

Our relationship with God needs to become more and more like that.  Kreeft uses the word intimacy, and I think that we need to understand that.  Our relationship with God isn’t just a, “Hey, I’ll see you next Sunday, or maybe on Wednesday!”  We need what God desires, to have that relationship where we desire to be with Him, as much as He desires to be with us.

That’s a hard one to accomplish.

There is only one way for this to happen.

For us to realize how completely God loves us…

How much He completely loves you, right there where you are.  How He doesn’t just ignore your faults and your betraying Him, but He actually takes care of all those sins at the cross. The reason He does that – to make sure they don’t get in the way of the relationship.

The more we understand His love for us, the more we fall in love with Him, the more we need to hear it, and treasure when we do.

And unlike earthly crushes – and loves, He is always faithful, always there, willing to do what is needed to make our lives just right.

KNow that, revel in it, and rejoice that you dwell in His presence!  AMEN!

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 29.

Pastors and Priests are not Holy Pez Dispensers!

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:28-29 (TEV)

In the sacrament Christ is received. However, this would not happen if Christ were not, at the same time, prepared and distributed through the Word. For the Word brings Christ to the people and acquaints their hearts with him. The sacrament in itself does not transmit this knowledge.

And even if there is some preaching, the mass may be of Christ but the sermon on Theodoric of Bern or some other story. God punishes us in this way because we do not pray for our daily bread. The venerable sacrament finally becomes not only a vain and empty custom but also an object of contempt. After all, what does it profit us if Christ is present and has prepared bread for us, if this bread is not given to us and we do not delight in it? That is just as if a delicious meal were prepared and no one was there to pass the bread, bring the food, or pour the drink, and all were expected to have their hunger appeased by the odor or the sight of the meal.

You might think that this post is going to laud the preaching of the word over the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  I mean, after all, Luther’s words could be interpreted that way.  Luther makes it sound like the sacrament is completely dependent on the word, that without it, it, it is vain and worthless.  It would be of no profit to our bodies and even less to our souls.

Theologically, that may sound right, but I do not agree with that interpretation.

I think it is that we can’t separate what God put together, the gift of hearing the word and receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood.  We need both, and we need them together.  They need to understand the experience they have, as they take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

As I said in the title, pastors and priests (Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and other sacramental groups) are more than spiritual Pez dispensers.  Our role is to reveal to you Christ, to ensure you understand the grace that you are being given in the sacraments, to make sure you understand that grace is Christ’s presence in your life, and how that transforms who you are, it results in a change to your very identity.

That is why we see this Communion Feast so important, and the words that prepare us for it critical.  This time, not just about our sins being forgiven, but the time we know we dwell in Christ, and He dwells in us.

We need this, and we need to remember, to understand, to savor this moment.  So to preach on something else, to not focus on Christ crucified for us, to make sure you understand this and treasure it, and to give you the time to think and work through it, this is our calling.

For your benefit.

So let both people and their clergy, work together, and rejoice together, as God provides for us.  Amen!
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 57–58.

Stop Defending Yourself!!!

man holding snowball

Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.  1 John 1:9 CEV

We need not worry about success because our love is guaranteed success, even if it does not move our neighbor to respond. For if we are one with Christ as members of His body, then our love is part of Christ’s love. It is not just an imitation from afar but a participation from within. And Christ’s love is guaranteed success, even though it was crucified in us and often continues to be crucified by the world. It is guaranteed success not because of its intentions or goals, but because of where it comes from: the Son’s perfect obedience to the Father.

671    “Jesus remains silent.”—Iesus autem tacebat. Why do you speak, to console yourself or to explain yourself? Say nothing. Seek joy in contempt: you’ll always receive less than you deserve. Can you, by any chance, ask: Quid enim mali feci?—“What evil have I done?”

Defending ourselves has become a national past-time it seems.

Some of us do so by going on the offensive and pointing out the flaws in others. Unless we are brave, we do this by social media. That way we add another layer of defensive offense to our armored position.

Others of us just back to the old ways, and attempt to rationalize and justify whatever it is we have done wrong. To explain why it was better to do it “our” way.  We might even blame it on God, projecting some command, twisting it, to make us look better.  After all, we were just obeying orders!

Maybe we fear that taking the silent approach simply confirms our guilt and the shame that goes along with it.  But surely, we aren’t that concerned with what “they” think?

Escriva notes that we will earn less contempt than we deserve, and I believe that is true. Kreeft points us to the fact that if we are crucified for being wrong, let it be crucified for loving others. Hard concepts to act upon, and yet, that is what we do.

This is completely logical!  If we are accused of anything else but loving God and those around us, we deserve the scorn.  If we are accused of doing that which is truly loving, then we are in the same situation as Jesus, and are assured that HIs sacrifice was used by the Father, so would ours be. He wins when that happens, and because we dwell in Him, so we win as well!

Either way, defending ourselves is worth so little…

So what if we are guilty, what if they are right? What if we are the ones who have done wrong?

1 John says it is simple to take care of that…

Let God absolve you, go to your pastor or priest, and let them tell you what you need to hear, what devours the guilt and shame, leaving behind joy and freedom.  And the ability to know the same love that nourishes our very soul, which enables us to love sacrificially.  Even if the sacrifice is our very lives.

So either we are loving as we should, proving God is with us, or we are corrected by our error and absolved to love as we should.

Either way, defending ourselves would simply get in the way…

Rejoce, the Lord is with you, and He will take care of the situation!

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 26.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why I Don’t Care How Fast Your Church is Growing (or Shrinking)

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

27  I will live there with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28  When I place my Temple there to be among them forever, then the nations will know that I, the LORD, have chosen Israel to be my own people.” Ezekiel 37:27-28 (TEV)

I want you to know that God has never yet punished the world more harshly than by allowing blind and ignorant leaders to exist, who destroy us by withholding the Word of God and our bread. Let the Turks be Turks. This plague surpasses them. Woe unto us for not realizing this and praying for it to cease!
On the other hand, God has never been more gracious to the world than when he granted it well-informed and devoted spiritual leaders, who supplied this Word daily and abundantly. Christendom, and every Christian soul, is born in and through the Word of God.

The whole point of justification by faith is God’s scandalous, crazy, and wonderful gift of love.

Luther’s words are scathing, brutal, and today are as true as they ever have been.

O sure, we have more pastors with higher education perhaps, more and more of my friends are getting Doctor of Ministry and Ph.D./Th.D  degrees. I am going for one myself.

So why am I saying that we are in a period where church leaders are blind and ignorant?

I think it is because we are spending most of our time on things besides the gospel. We are trying to find the answers to the declining church attendance, the aging church, how to fight the decline in morality, the sociological and political jungles out there.  We hear the latest Barna report,, the latest Pew Research Study, the latest from our favorite religious blogger/vlogger/podcast and we treat our parishioners to our newfound wisdom, our conservative theological acumen, or our theory on how to get our churches to grow and be relevant while staying confessionally centered.

We might even wax eloquently on the core doctrine of Justification by Faith!

Yet we forget the point of justification is to return us to God, to cause us to walk in the presence of God. To realize, using Dr. Kreeft’s words, that God is scandalous, and crazy, as He loves us!

I don’t care if your church is growing 40 percent a year, or declining as you weed out the refuse. If pastors and church leaders aren’t revealing to people the wonderful, crazy, scandalous love of God for them, their work is a curse!  Whether the church is 2000 people on Sunday morning, or 24 faithful, confessional, traditional people.

We have to get back to preaching about God’s love for us broken people. It has to be our message.  We have to reveal to them that love as we preach and teach, as we give voice to God’s forgiving them (a wonderful, crazy, scandalous thing on its own,) as we give them the Body and Blood to eat and drink.

Pastors, do these things – we know they bring life to our people.  People, pray for your pastors, ask them to focus on revealing God’s love for you, constantly.  You are in this all together, and you are not alone.  For the scandalous, crazy, wonderful God who loves you, is with you!  AMEN!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 55–56.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 25.

A New Year… a Time to Heal Brokenness

Jesus foot washing

Devotional Thought of the Day:

†14 I am the LORD your God, and I command you not to make fun of the deaf or to cause a blind person to stumble.  Leviticus 19:14 CEV

17 Don’t hold grudges. On the other hand, it’s wrong not to correct someone who needs correcting. 18 Stop being angry and don’t try to take revenge. I am the LORD, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:17-18 CEV

So they ran all over that part of the country to bring their sick people to him on mats. They brought them each time they heard where he was. 56 In every village or farm or marketplace where Jesus went, the people brought their sick to him. They begged him to let them just touch his clothes, and everyone who did was healed.  Mark 6:55-56 CEV

I wondered this morning as I read the first passage whether the deaf and blind were only physically blind, or if it included those we consider spiritually blind as well.

It doesn’t matter if we a progressive or conservative, contemporary or traditional, right or left, or somewhere on a different spectrum.  We all believe there are people that are so out of touch with reality. that they can’t see or hear, because otherwise, how could they be that stupid?

Or perhaps they are the people we resent, with cause perhaps.  People we are angry with, people we want ot hurt just as much (if not more) than they hurt us. We will take ourselves out of their lives, stating they are the toxic ones, they are the ones that shattered the relationship that was once valued, even treasured.

What would life be like if we, like those who dragged their ailing friends, neighbors, brought these people, the spiritually deaf and blind or those who have hurt us and those we love, before the throne of God?

What would happen if we prayed for them, even wept over the brokenness we think we perceive?

Would God be any less willing to listen, to interact, to bring sight to their eyes (or ours) and enable their ears to hear?  Would He bring them to repentance, and forgive their sins?

Or maybe, answering our prayers, would He change us…

Something to think through and pray about this new year, as we look forward to seeing how God is God, our Almighty God, our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace.

Godspeed to you and yours… and this time next year, may you see the healing God has long desired in your life!  AMEN!

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