The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?


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

Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.”  Mark 4:26-29 NCV

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.

Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed)  An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.

Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement.  Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.

The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.

But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline?  What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.

What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives?  Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran,  or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God.  The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us.  It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations.  Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things.  Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement.  Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?

Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that?  What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love?  What effect would that have on our worship?  Our preaching?  Our teaching?  Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?

What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.

Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read.  Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens.  They make Him known.  People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found.  Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!

God chooses to commune with us!  God is here, not distant!  He loves us!  We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory!  Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Stop the Noise!!!!


ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:

5  Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. 6  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. 7  My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. 8  O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

179         Days of silence and of intense grace… Prayer face to face with God… I broke out into thanksgiving, on seeing those people, mature in years and experience, who opened out to the touch of grace. They responded like children, eagerly grasping the chance to convert their lives, even now, into something useful… which would make up for all the times they have gone astray and for all their lost opportunities. Recalling that scene, I put it to you: do not neglect your struggle in the interior life.

These days are filled with noise, and if it weren’t enough to have noise, it is noise that in many cases can’t be trusted, no matter where it originates.  And as the noise grows, it gets louder and louder, as those making noise want to grab our attention

As I sit here in my home, I have no television on, no music playing through my Groove Ap, there is just the odd bird chirp, my fingers making noise on the keyboard, and my artificial valves clicking away.

It is odd, and uncomfortable at first, this silence.

It takes a moment to adjust, to move past the temptation to close my eyes,

And as I write, my mind drifts to Sunday morning, and the Body and Blood of Christ that I will give to HIs people, the nourishment they need.  My mind drifts to the people I know are dealing with high stress. who need healing of body, mind, and soul.  My mind drifts then to my own failures and stresses, some I would rather not deal with, but the silence drives me there, and there in the midst of my own brokenness, I find Jesus…

Hard at work, the craftsman of life, transforming my brokenness into something glorious, something that others can see that will cause them to praise God, and desire such a journey for themselves.  If that alone were the reason for my journey into silence, into the place where I have to leave my anxieties, grief, guilt, shame and pain in Christ’s hands, it would be perhaps enough…

Yet there He is, welcoming me into this place, relieving my burdens, and my sin, and in doing this, I realize the what defines His glory far beyond His power, authority, wisdom.  What defines His glory is, His love for us!

Do not be afraid of the silence, but be still, and find in that silence, your refuge in God.  Amen

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locatitemptation63). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is God Hiding from You? Or You from Him? The Game is Over, and there is Peace!


Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4  Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained, as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. 5  Then I confessed my sins to you; I did not conceal my wrongdoings. I decided to confess them to you, and you forgave all my sins. Psalm 32:3-5 (TEV)

175         You are consumed by the desire to seal once more the self-dedication you made some time ago: remembering that you are a son of God and living like one too. Put your many weaknesses and infidelities in the Lord’s hands. For that is also the only way to lessen their weight.

In Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper in  Corinthians 11, he mentions the need for self-examination.  To ake some time and think through our lives. to think about our sins, to realize the great need we have for God’s mercy and abundant love.

Most of us want to please God, we want to avoid sin and temptation, we want to do better.  We understand all too well though the battle that rages on in our hearts and souls which the apostle Paul describes clearly in Romans 7 and then again in Hebrews 12.  In the latter, he begs us to leave it all behind, this sin which so easily traps us.

Yet many of us are bothered by this idea of self-examination.  We don’t want to see what we know is there, the resentment, the hatred, the lust, the greed and envy, the thirst for what benefits us, no matter what the cost.  We don’t like looking int he mirror, and if we are “made” to, we act like we can clean up our mess.  “Just give me another week, just be more patient, I will fix this,” we tell God.

We can’t, the burden will just get greater, the pressure more intense, the spiritual and emotional crushing pain will go on and it will either eat us up, or will cause us to become callous, and defensive.

With a little humility and some trust, this burden can be removed and in its place, we came know peace and joy, just as the Psalmist says.  We can give to God our weaknesses, our infidelities, placing them in His hands, knowing He will deal with them, forgiving them, cleansing us, answering our prayers to lead us not to temptation, and deliver us from the evil one.

Free of the snares, your heart will be far less burdened, your mind at ease, knowing that what you really desire, to please the God who loves and saves you, is possible.

But you say, how can I do this?  How can I take this step?

You aren’t alone in it, for the Shepherd of your soul, Jesus, has provided you and all the church those who can guide you through this, the pastors and priests who are tasked by God and the church with helping you with this, of hearing you confess, of counseling you through this, and then saying, on Jesus’s behalf (and by His command), “you are forgiven!”

Come, lay down your burdens, and lay down your pain.  Let God deal with your sin, and let the Holy Spirit set you apart as one who is the child of God.  Trust Him, He won’t turn you away, for this is what he wants for you.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 945-948). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God, Why Did You Allow This?


ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:
26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

149         I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle. 

Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above.  Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him.  I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love.  Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive.  The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…

Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God.  How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?

Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)

That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans.  We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.

But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard.  The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.

The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.

I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them.  It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me.  As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there.  ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.)   That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.

For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious!  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Have to Choose Between Dominating or Paralysis?


photoDevotional Thought fo the Day:
13  “Find out where he is,” the king ordered, “and I will capture him.” When he was told that Elisha was in Dothan, 14  he sent a large force there with horses and chariots. They reached the town at night and surrounded it. 15  Early the next morning Elisha’s servant got up, went out of the house, and saw the Syrian troops with their horses and chariots surrounding the town. He went back to Elisha and exclaimed, “We are doomed, sir! What shall we do?” 16  “Don’t be afraid,” Elisha answered. “We have more on our side than they have on theirs.” 17  Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD answered his prayer, and Elisha’s servant looked up and saw the hillside covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:13-17 (TEV)

101         The difficulties you have met have made you shrink back, and you have become “prudent, moderate and objective”. Remember that you have always despised those terms, when they became synonyms for cowardly, faint-hearted and comfort-seeking.

There is a fine balance between presumption and courage, between demanding God act and hearing the Spirit’s guidance.

Some fail to discern this by assuming God will only bless them because they are those who are good, only they are righteous.  So their presumption leads them to boldly state they are blessed, and what those blessings are.  They are aggressive in their actions because of such a lack of discernment. They talk about a theology that dominates, that takes the perspective that the world is here for us.

Some, like me, fail because we have become prudent, moderate and objective.  We want to take our time, especially when we encounter difficulties. We don’t want to cross the line and become those who synthesize God’s will and their own desires, so we back away.  We struggle on our own, we fail to hear the promptings of the Spirit.   We don’t act as we should, we end up preferring the minimal comfort of just getting along.

And so the church closes up tighter than a clam, afraid of its own shadow, or afraid to be confused with the extreme.  But there is a balance.

Like Elisha’s servant, need to have our eyes opened, we need to see God’s work in our lives.  For if the servant gained courage seeing the army of God surround him, how much more should we be encouraged by God’s presence?

God is with us, who can be against us?

Do we get this?

We need to know He is with us.

We need to live our lives based on knowing Him, for this is our faith, our hope, our joy!

If we get this – we will manage to avoid the extremes, for there is nothing greater to know!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 631-634). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Mondays, the Wife of Job, and an Uncomfortable Faith…


cropped-will-new-camera-12-2008-167.jpgDevotional Thought of the Day:

9His wife said to him, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?”
10 Job answered, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?” In spite of everything he suffered, Job said nothing against God.  Job 2:9-10

75         Miles—soldier—so the Apostle calls a Christian. So it is that in this holy and Christian war of love and peace for the happiness of all souls, there are, in God’s ranks, tired, hungry soldiers, covered in wounds… but happy. For they bear in their hearts the sure light of victory.

It is foolish of us to regard the demands of faith—which makes unwanted demands on us and contradicts our own will—as “legalistic” and “institutional” and whatever similar terms may suggest themselves in order to shake ourselves free of it and so to sink into the leaden emptiness of a lusterless and selfish existence that receives nothing because it gives nothing. This thought should strike us anew: admittedly faith is uncomfortable, but only because it challenges us, compels us, to let ourselves be led where we do not wish to go. In this way, it enriches us and opens for us the door of true life.

There are Mondays, and there are Monday’s in which people around us act like Job’s dearly beloved, wife.  Actually out of the 142 days that have passed so far in 2017, too many have been Mondays, and it seems as many have had people like Job’s wife in the background.

Or maybe I’ve met Job’s wife as I look in the mirror, as I see the trauma of this world, the suffering of people, and I utter those words, directed to myself.  Maybe not curse God and die, but perhaps curse God and find a cave to hide in, give up, find something else.    

I know the tired hungry soldiers, covered in wounds who try to minister to the people of God.  Who struggle to work with people, trying to reveal to people the love of God who will cleanse and heal their hearts, their souls, their minds.  It doesn’t seem reasonable the pain endured by missionaries and pastors, teachers and other church leaders.  

I know the weariness of Job, slammed time after time with disaster and trauma, and I would pray for the faith to praise God when He provides times of discomfort and growth as well as the times where everything clicks right. For there are times we are led where we don’t want to go, there are times trusting in God makes us suppress our own desires and want, and sometimes, even our needs. We also suppress our own despair, recognizing it for what it is, and how Satan would use it to isolate us from the comfort and peace found in Jesus.  There are times we are called to be like Jesus and need to rely on His Holy Spirit to sustain us, even as He was sustained.

We can either curse God and run/die, or we can trust in God’s faithfulness in His promise of comfort and peace.

It’s hard, and often we waver, but He is faithful.  And when we stumble, we can let Him pick us up, cleanse us again, and lean on Him in this journey of life.

The victory is sure, the hope of glory is ours, and He is here, and will never abandon us.

Amen.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 535-538). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

It’s Time to Make Jesus Known!


     church at communion 2It’s Time to Make Him Known!

Acts 17:16-31

I.H.S.†

 May you see Christ so clearly revealed through His word and sacraments, that the grace of God our Father, and our Lord shine brightly through you, to those who need to know His name!

Deeply Troubled, Are We?

Imagine walking around Athens as Paul did, waiting for his friends to show up.  This capital city, formerly the capital of the world, this place that might cause wonder, disturbed him greatly.

Scripture says he was deeply troubled, deeply and profoundly bothered by what he saw, what he experienced.  Wherever he looked there was idolatry, people trying to find hope, and looking to man-made things to provide hope.

Broken, weary, unfulfilled desires become even more broken as their false gods revealed themselves to be nothing but a bunch of rocks.  These people that were searching for answers, those who led them who loved to hear of new thoughts about God, they all needed a God to depend upon, a God to turn to, a God that would be there, a God who would help.

It wasn’t the first time, 600 years before, Diogenes records that Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete was sent for because no one had an answer to their problems, a plague, a drought, a famine all at once went through the land.  Epimenides looked at all the temples, all these false gods and idols and suggested that the answer was that their prayers and sacrifices didn’t work because they didn’t know the real God they could pray to….

And so they made an altar to an unknown God, and prayed, and dedicated an altar with the words agnosto theo – and dedicated the altar to the unknown and real God, asking Him to save them, asking Him to hear their prayers.  For a few centuries they remembered this God and His mercy, then, like many others, they forgot this nameless, faceless, benevolent God.
As Paul arrives, the altar was probably near ruins, the story all but was forgotten, and the people were back to looking anywhere for an answer.

But it was time to make this God known… even as it is today.

Can People Pray to A God they Don’t know?  Will He answer them?

This passage plays havoc with what are called closed theological systems, or those systems that people close off themselves. It has caused a lot of debate, especially among conservative Lutherans.  Because it isn’t beautiful and tidy, and God doesn’t fit in our box.

For example, there is the question of people praying to a God whom they don’t know.

We know we can’t find God if all we are using is our own reason and strength, that is solid, basic theology.  But does that stop them from looking for Him?  Does that stop them from praying to Him, begging Him for help.. and to reveal that He is present here.

Well, rather than just say yes, let me share a few passages, starting with today’s reading,

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

and then this from Solomon’s dedication of the temple

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

And one more, from the Large Catechism, one of the primary documents describing our faith,

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.[1]

Unless of course, someone reveals God to them, as God desires!

So is it wrong for people to pray, even if they aren’t sure who God is?  Will He hear their cries and respond?

Of course, for He desires to draw them close, to save and deliver them into His Father’s presence. Scripture tells us this is God’s will, His desire, to draw everyone to Himself, to cleanse them from sin, to restore them as His children.  He will never force us, but He will always hear us and care and love us.

Paul was sent to Athens by the Lord to do what he did, to reveal to them that He was their Creator, but also that He was their redeemer. He died and rose from the dead so that He could judge the world, and judge us just, righteous, holy, the people who could cry out to Him.

If you kept on reading, Paul would speak to them more about the resurrection from the dead that he mentions in verse 31.  There Paul mentioned that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,   Some would stop listening to then, others wanted to hear more about it later, including some very learned people.
They heard about the God who would come and die, to deliver them from sin, and the power of death.  They would hear about the God who rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, the God who would draw us to Jesus lifted on the cross, where we would die with Him, our sin nailed to that cross.  And then, as He rose from the dead, so do we, forgiven, cleansed, separated from sin, now children of the Father.

For the unknown God has made Himself known, and calls us to be transformed and trust in Him.

And so we do, the broken finding healing in Jesus, while we reveal Him to others as Paul did.

This is our life in Christ, for in Him we live and move and exist. For we are His children.  AMEN!

[1] Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day
21  For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22  Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25  For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]

The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]

Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms.  As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.

The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt.   Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.

Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question.  Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan.  The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.”   As if man could do this!  Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.

We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.

And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.

What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master.  In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.

So what is the solution?  How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?

I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”.  It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.  It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat.  It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.

In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people.  When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.

This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life.  It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.

We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness.  AMEN!
[i] Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).

[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Dealing With the 2 Steps Forward, Three Steps Back Life.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

6  I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 (NAB)

78         You don’t feel like doing anything and there is nothing you look forward to. It is like a dark cloud. Showers of sadness fell, and you experienced a strong sensation of being hemmed in. And, to crown it all, a despondency set in, which grew out of a more or less objective fact: you have been struggling for so many years…, and you are still so far behind, so far. All this is necessary, and God has things in hand. To attain gaudium cum pace—true peace and joy—we have to add to the conviction of our divine filiation, which fills us with optimism, the acknowledgement of our own personal weakness.

There are days like yesterday when I feel like my faith, which took two steps forward the day before, takes three or four steps back.

Sometimes this is caused by my own sin, sometimes by the sins I have to help people find redemption from, sometimes from sin I see or hear about, but am not in the position to help people with, (and sometimes I do not want to) and sometimes it is something that just challenges my faith, like my 46 year battle with my health.  Some days are a perfect storm of all of the above, and I struggle to see God,

Sometimes, I do not want to.

My bet is that I am not alone

I think we all have those dark nights of the soul, those moments where we aren’t certain about God helping us, caring about us.  We are so overwhelmed, so broken that we doubt his existence, if we bother to think about Him at all.

These are difficult days, it takes an enormous effort to think of God, to not run to something else to console or comfort or distract from the despair.

St. Josemaria talks of adding to the conviction of divine filiation, to put it in our terms, our dependence on God’s love for us, and loving Him in return.  I am not going to say this is easy, for it requires us to look away from what is troubling us, and hear His voice, hear his promises, to know they are true. It’s not about our personal strength growing, but our dependence and awareness of His strength, His faithfulness. To see them as a measure of His love, His care, His work.  The way we add to our conviction of His love is to hear it, and experience it through His word, through prayer, through the Sacraments.  For all point to that day Paul tells the church in Ephesus is coming, the day when all is finished, all is complete.

A work that will be completed, a work that will be finished, a work that draws us into Him, into His eternity.  This is our hope, this is our faith, in a God that comes to us, that we might come to Him.  AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 547-552). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Reality of Our Struggle With Evil People


54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT)

65         Once again you had gone back to your old follies!… And afterwards, when you returned, you didn’t feel very cheerful, because you lacked humility. It seems as if you obstinately refuse to learn from the second part of the parable of the prodigal son, and you still feel attached to the wretched happiness of the pig-swill. With your pride wounded by your weakness, you have not made up your mind to ask for pardon, and you have not realized that, if you humble yourself, the joyful welcome of your Father God awaits you, with a feast to mark your return and your new beginning.

The divine embrace: The appropriate image for biblical and ancient spirituality.

I once again find myself struggling with those I would term sinful, even, in my more cynical moments, evil.  Some are in bondage to sin and struggle to realize it, even though all around them can see it.  Others seem to revel in their evil, and they will go to great length to defend the sin that so dominates and controls them.

There are days I want to oppose them, to fight the evil.  There are other days I simply want to walk away, leave them to their own consequences, to by my absence curse them to remain locked into their evil.  It is tempting to want to remove myself from their crap, whether that crap is found in what we call a secular arena, or in one that is supposed to be sacred.

To even think that way reminds me that I am no different, for my sin can dominate me as easily, and as St Josemaria points out, my lack of humility conveniently assumes their sin is far worse than mine.   My crap, or the pig slop that St Josemaria identifies, is no better than theirs, my desire to fight or flee is really more about my pride that it is about the distaste for their sin.

It is hard, not at this point to want to condemn myself as much as I would condemn them.  Don’t I know better?  Don’t I hear John’s words regularly about the reality that exists when I deny my own sin?  Those questions run over and crush my heart and soul, for how will I be ever delivered from this life and its struggle with sin? Well, those are my thoughts deep in my heart until I encounter something in someone else that is sinful or evil.  Then I forget all about self-condemnation to condemn the easy target.

The only way out of this is to encounter what Webber calls the “Divine Embrace”, the Prodigal’s Father who runs out to embrace his son, casting aside all dignity, all hurt from his son’s betrayal, to embrace Him.

We are that prodigal, God is that Father who embraces us!  We are that sinner who can’t deny our sin but confesses it, and finds not only that sin forgiven, but our lives cleansed of all unrighteousness.

A cleansing that enables us to do more than finding others sins revolting, but to actually hurt for them, to beg God to deliver them, to help them.  We may even find ourselves led and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out and minister to them, to be the agents through whom God reconciles them to Himself, and to His people. Then we will be blessed to witness that which St James about,

19  My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20  remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)

May we all rejoice at being brought back, together.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 490-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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