Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Beauty of Faith, the Beauty of Christ


Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:

“There are some who pass through life as through a tunnel, without ever understanding the splendour, the security and the warmth of the sun of Faith” (1)

As I read this little quote this morning, my mind goes back to the study I did yesterday, for Sunday’s sermon on the gospel reading which is found in St. John 5:1-18.   It is the story of the invalid man -whom Jesus heals, after Jesus asks him, “do you want to be made whole?”  An incredible story!

What struck me while I did my research was the comments and references to the passages throughout church history. Early on, the church Father’s talked about how this story represents Christ coming to us, and even before the man is ready to face the change of a new life, Christ gives him that new life.  It is a picture of the miracle down to each of us in our baptism.

Then I moved into the reformation, and the enlightenment. The use of the passage changed, now it became a source for “doctrine”- especially regarding the divinity and humanity of Jesus.  ( Albeit I have less “sermons” and letters to churches from that era).   There are a couple of exceptions- such as Newman. But for the most part, in order to focus on the deep theology, they overlook the incarnation of Christ into this man’s life.  They miss His passion, and the healing- which is a type of the very healing Christ does in each of our lives.   We can miss Christ coming to us, we can miss His presence, His healing, and the peace and security Jesus brings us, who dwell in pain.

I think that is what St. Josemaria is getting to, in this little quote.  Do we see Jesus – do we see the beauty of His love, and the beauty of the relationship that He builds with us, as we learn that we can trust Him, and how much we can trust Him.  Or do we see the minutae –  the stuff about Christ, the things that are beyond our comprehension – not because we are so small, but compared to knowing Him, they are!  I can’t think of any of the unknown things of Christianity, the stuff that academic theologians often get distracted by, that is more glorious, more profound, than what has been revealed to us, in Christ.

And that’s the point.

So for today, think, meditate, and be still and know – all the thoughts, the meditations, the knowledge focused on knowing the Lord Jesus, who has come into your life to make you whole…..

 

 

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria

I Have Decided, to Follow Jesus! (Controversy? Not so much…)


Follow Me

Follow Me (Photo credit: Fr. Stephen, MSC)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day…

 14  “So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. 15  But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”     Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)

15  “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17  You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18  So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19  I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. 20  “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21  Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.   Revelation 3:15-21 (NLT) 

 I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intellegence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, He will raise me and all the dead from the grave. He will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true! (1)

When God our Lord gives us his grace, when he calls us by a specific vocation, it is as if he were stretching out his hand to us, in a fatherly way. A strong hand, full of love, because he seeks us out individually, as his own sons and daughters, knowing our weakness. The Lord expects us to make the effort to take his hand, his helping hand. He asks us to make an effort and show we are free. To be able to do this, we must be humble and realize we are little children of God. We must love the blessed obedience with which we respond to God’s marvelous fatherhood. We should let our Lord get involved in our lives, admitting him confidently, removing from his way any obstacles or complications. We tend to be on the defensive, to be attached to our selfishness. We always want to be top dog, even if it’s only to be on top of our wretchedness. That is why we must go to Jesus, so that he will make us truly free. Only then will we be able to serve God and all men. This is the only way to realize the truth of Saint Paul’s words: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (2)

There are going to be some friends of mine who are going to strongly react to the title of this blog entry.  They are going to wonder if I have returned to my days of teaching “decision theology”, or somehow have abandoned the  Lutheran Confessions, or don’t believe they are an accurate explanation of scripture.  (the third quote is from Luther’s small catechism and I agree with it without any reservation)

However, deciding to follow Jesus is different that deciding I want to be saved by Him.  It is not the action of initial salvation, but a response to His invitation to take up our cross and follow Him, to interact with Him, to humbly partner with Him, as He leads us through life as a man leads his partner across the dance floor.  It is what we  are called to – as disciples, as friends, as working beside the greatest example of humility and servanthood.

But we rebel against this idea – much as St. Josemaria indicates, we are defensive – and we can even use our theology to “back” that selfishness, to defend our “precious” (see Tolkein’s Hobbit and LOTR charachter Gollum)  Indeed, the only freedom from the idols we would partner with instead of God, is found when we let God strip them from us, as we instead are focused on Him, devoted to Him, (again – these things are His work – not ours) drawn to Him.  That’s what following Jesus is about – letting Him lead in life, letting Him cleanse us and set us apart to walk with, to dance with, Him.

Joshua challenge us to this – if you aren’t going to interact, if you aren’t going to engage in the relationship, go follow other gods and see where they lead you.  John is directed to write in Revelation – open the door – don’t be wishy-washy.  Live life as one united to Christ in baptism.  IOW – Let God direct your steps – and engaged in worship – you then will follow Him, even as the lady moves with her strong dance partner.

So decide today – my fellows Christians, those who claim to trust in Christ, to follow where He leads you…. even, especially when you can’t see where you are going – for then you are looking at the right place – at Him!

We cry out, “Lord, Have Mercy!”  But will we see and hear…that He has?

(1)   Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 745-756). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Why our Idolatry is Worthless


Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:
(From Today’s Adult Bible Study  – Special thanks to J!)

•3  “Worship no god but me. 4  “Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. 5  Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the LORD your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. 6  But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey (keep/treasure) my laws. Exodus 20:3-6 (TEV)

Presently in our Sunday morning adult Bible study we are looking at the way we worship.  The theme is The Dance of the Liturgy, Learning to Partner in Life with God.  We are now in the third class – and we were talking about the Choreography of our lives – and focusing on Eph 5:21-24 and Ex. 20.  The basic questions were, “Who leads”, “Why do we try to lead”, and “the Steps of our Life – the Decalogue/Ten Commandments.  It may be the best study I have ever written and is quite fun.  I have the blessing of growing up with parents who were master Ballroom Dance instructors, so I have a few stories…that illustrate things well.

As we got to the first commandment, after talking about the necessity of trusting our Partner as He leads us through life, one of the newer ladies to our congregation spoke up and said something that too me a couple of minutes to process.

“Pastor, the reason we shouldn’t worship and idols is because they cannot lead us through life.”

What a brilliant observation – these idols – whether they are celebrities, or statues, whether they are numbers ( like back accounts) or liquids (alcohol ) or anything else – will fail us.  An idol is this – it is what you turn to, when life is stressful, what you trust to get you through the hard times  what you credit for the blessings.  Often, the idol is ourselves – we think we are God. It doesn’t matter who we create as our “gods”, our “idols” they will fail for the reason mentioned – they can’t lead us, they can’t create out of our missteps something beautiful, and graceful and loving.

They cannot do what Paul instructs men to do, following the example of Christ,

25  Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. 26  He did this to dedicate the church to God by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, 27  in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty—pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. Ephesians 5:25-27 (TEV)

That’s something an idol can’t do – it can’t lead you on the dance floor, or through the dance of life, or even through the dance of the liturgy……

Only God can…. so relax, know the hands that hold you, realized that He created the dance, and He will assure its completion and its beauty….

The Church that Needed to Repent and Be Reconciled to God’s Will


The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acts 11:1-18

In Jesus Name

May you be encouraged, and rejoice as God shows you the love and mercy He has given you, as you witness it given to others.

I wonder if Peter was reading from the prophet Jonah?
As Peter starts to describe the way in which salvation had come to the Gentiles, I’ve wondered something.  What was it he was praying about?  What had he been meditating upon?

Was Peter working through the lessons he had been taught over and over and even a third time by Jesus?  Was he considering the incredible grace of God that restored him each time he sinned, each time he tried to play God?

I wonder if he was reading the book of the Old Testament prophet Jonah…who would likewise be called to a place, to bring word of God’s love?  Was he being sent to bring  the blessed gift of repentance to a place his upbringing said wasn’t eligible or worth God’s mercy. Was he going to a people that his culture said was beyond God’s love.

Peter as always, struggled with where God was leading him to serve.  It seemed that the third time God gave him the message; he actually “got” it.  That is the story of chapter 10, which he recounts to those who were struggling with what he did here.  This chapter isn’t really about what Peter did, to share God’s love with the Gentiles, it is what he did to help his fellow Jews to grasp how deep that love of God was, for every person of every ethnicity in the world.

It is amazing to me that Peter didn’t take on the criticism directly, nor did he take it personally.  Instead, he simply focused on what God had done, and laid out the story as it happened.  As Peter did this, led by the Holy Spirit, people changed.

 

Two Groups to Win…

Peter Is summoned to talk with those concerned about “those people” receiving the word of God. They are concerned about Peter compromising the gospel by fellowshipping with them.  There will be a conversion here, a needed one, as people are reconciled to God’s will.

It is not the obvious one though, though that too is marvelous!  The work of God is so incredibly evident there, as those who were far from God, and in bondage to sin.  It is amazing and yet unexpected to hear that God was already working in them, that an angel miraculously intervened in Cornelius’s life, and he sent officials to bring Peter to him, for Peter was to bring them the message that would save him, and all of His household.

How amazing!  That God work so bluntly, so clearly, so undeniably! By the time the vision is over, the words of God were burned into Peter’s heart.  “What God has made clean, do not declare common!”

How incredible that this became true – not just about bacon and lobster, but about Cornelius and all his family!  How amazing that those who were thought to have no hope, were given hope, were given life… were given the presence of God in their lives.

Which leads us to the second “conversion”, the second group that needs to be reconciled to God.  They weren’t as far off, these who wanted this issue examined thoroughly.  It was a foreign idea to them that God would work with these foreigners.  It would be a difficult transition – they needed to see more than just information about God, they needed to see His heart, they needed to understand His will that no one should perish in bondage to sin.  They needed to be reconciled to God, to come in line with His will….
And the Holy Spirit did that – again through the God’s love shared patiently through Peter.

The Critics Silenced…

God’s consistent will seen

 

In the midst of Peter sharing what God had done, as he explains that the men where there, that will of God is hinted at – when he says “And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.  That word is the same as the word criticize above – again it means to thoroughly examine things – except in this case, no examination, no criticism.  Peter, inspired directly by God’s Spirit, fully reconciled to God’s word by the vision goes…to bring words of life

 

He starts sharing about God’s love – He starts to lay out the gospel, to share with them the incredible love of God demonstrated through the incarnation, through the life, death, resurrection.  He didn’t even get to the part about baptism, before it was evident that this was a God moment, a time when the Holy Spirit was creating life and faith and transforming them, bringing them to repentance.  The very same things that happened at Pentecost – with the Spirit falling on the people of God, with the word being proclaimed, with people’s heart’s being opened and healed as they were washed and cleansed, as they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s consistent love – showing a depth and dimension unforeseen despite the prophecies, despite the promises that foreigners and immigrants would be welcome. God’s consistent love – so praised in the Old Testament, made evident even for those who were wrongly considered “far off”.

They realized God meant it when he said the Messiah would be a light to all nations,
They realized God meant it when He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed by his descendant,

They realized Jesus meant it when He said that His blood would be shed on behalf of many, for the forgiveness of sins.

I love the way Paul would describe it,

 

19 you are no longer outsiders or aliens, but fellow-citizens with every other Christian – you belong now to the household of God. Firmly beneath you in the foundation, God’s messengers and prophets, the actual foundation-stone being Jesus Christ himself. In him each separate piece of building, properly fitting into its neighbour, grows together into a temple consecrated to God. You are all part of this building in which God himself lives by his spirit. Ephesians 2:19 (Phillips NT)

 

Peter, the one who was a bit too quick to speak, who overreacted, took his time, laid out what God had done, and when it was complete, there was silence. The doubt dropped to the floor. No one could object to God’s work. They had neither the strength, nor the desire.  Just as Peter realized, when he sad,

17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”


and the party began began.

The Reason for Praise

I have to admit – I love the spontaneous praising and glorifying of God, as these circumcised Jews realize that God loves the long time nemesis – the people of the world. The barriers are down, we are one…
That is what they are realizing, it is what we need to realize. It is what can and should break down every barrier between people – this idea that God has made us one, that God has granted to us “the repentance that leads to life.”

You see, there is something special in watching a brother or sister become part of the Body of Christ, as we did last week.  There is something incredible about seeing that – or those “aha’ moments as we gain a little in understanding more about the depth of the Lord’s passionate love for us.

This is the work God does in both Jews and Gentiles. The change is what Luke describes with the word repentance here – this transformation of both our heart and will, redeeming us from our being oppressed by sin, and reconciling us with the will of God.  That is the work of repentance – a total transformation of our heart and mind, both are used in the prophecies to describe God’s work.

And God has transformed, He has granted this repentance – this change to living a transformed life in Christ.

We see it here, when a child, or a youth, or even someone who has lived 8 decades comes – and is given the promise of that change as they are baptized into Christ!

We are witnesses to it happening here as well! As we gather at the family feast – where God our Father provides us with the Body and Blood of Chris! As He again grants us the power of the transformation, He has promised.  For it is here that He reconciles us with His will, as He reconciles us together as one people – no matter our place of birth or whether the times since can be easily measured in days, years, or decades.  He reconciles us together no matter the language we speak, or have spoken, no matter our height or weight or anything else.

We are One, in Christ.

And that is something so glorious – for God has transformed us all into His people. To Him be all the praise, all the glory and honor.

AMEN?

 

Us and Them…. both granted by God repentance to life!


One of the greatest blessings I have is to work with men who are in training to serve the church as deacons, some who go on to be trained to serve as pastor.  Vicar Mark is one of those.  I’ve had the blessing of being his instructor, his supervisor, his mentor – and especially his friend.   We work each week through the sermon passage, as we encourage each other to preach Christ crucified – the hope of God’s people to share in His glory.  Here is his sermon this week, another look at the passage I also preached on.  May both sermons lead you to rejoice in God’s work in our (humanity’s) life. 

Getting our of God’s Way
Acts 11:1-18

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who fought the fight and emerged victorious over sin and death, winning our salvation through the cross and that open and empty tomb.

He is Risen!

 

Alleluia, amen!

 

I was looking online this weekend ay pictures 27 years later of the nuclear accident at Cheyrnobal in what was once the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The cities and the area around the power plant look like a ghost town. It took me back to a time in which the world feared nuclear holocaust or M.A.D. mutually assured destruction.

Them and us or if you prefer, us and them.

As a child growing up in the shadow of the Cold War, this was a frequent term that I remember hearing. It pertained to the former evil empire called the Soviet Union who is the them and the God fearing, freedom loving United States who naturally was us.

If you listened to all the propaganda and rhetoric that spewed forward during this time and watched the finger pointing you would have thought that these people who were ‘them’ were some kind of monsters who rejected God, didn’t believe in human rights and didn’t love their children and wanted to crush us out of existence.

I mean can you imagine a country that doesn’t believe in the Triune God, kills its unborn children, makes certain human beings drink from different water fountains and make them sit in the back of a bus and wants to crush a country out of existence?

Oh yeah, that would be us.

This them and us attitude actually had the world on the brink of WWIII a few times but that was political and governmental. Our countries had vastly different ideologies and political doctrines, but what really separated the people?

There were believers there just like there was here or lack of believers. They loved their children and each other just as much as we did ours. All they wanted like we wanted was to live. Both sides wanted to live in peace free from the threat and actual happening of war.

One other thing that both sides shared is that both sides were sinners in desperate need of the peace that passes all understanding.

Both sides needed Christ.

Them and us.

The attitudes of ‘them and us’ does nothing but cause harm. It produces distance and misunderstanding between the two parties and it manifests pain and hurt.

There was a case of them and us as we read from Acts today. Peter is headed back to Jerusalem after meeting with uncircumsized men or if you prefer Gentiles. He had been sent there to share the Gospel with those unclean Gentiles? Them!

The circumcision party as they are called or Jews who believed in Christ are not happy with Peter. They are the usor I guess for us, the Jewish Christians are the them?

Christ did not come to save these unclean Gentiles, they weren’t born into this, they had no training in the religious ways or Laws of Moses. They probably even ate bacon and ham!

Well, these Jewish believers had heard that Peter had shared the Gospel with a Gentile family and even ate with them they were very unhappy and began to criticize Peter saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal, so he ate a meal with them?”

A meal was a major deal and if you ate with someone that was interpreted as a mark of acceptance and fellowship. It could have major ramifications if a leader such as Peter were eating with them, the unclean!

Were they thinking that Peter had gone to them and was no longer part of us?

That really was the farthest thing from the truth. Peter was still very much a part of this group but he proceeds to tell them what God gave to him in a vision.

God shares with him that it is ok to eat bacon!

In Peter’s vision he sees animals, beasts of prey, reptiles and birds of th air, all animals that had been considered unclean and unfit to eat. Upon seeing all these different animals, he is then told to kill and eat them!

This is my kind of vision, now if I am only to drink hefeweizan along with it…

But seriously folks, Peter says that he can’t because they are unclean.

The Voice answers him saying, “ What God has made clean, do not call common.”

Scripture says this happened to Peter three times! What is with Peter and groups of three?

All I know is because what was once unclean God made clean. Bacon all around, for everyone!

These things are made clean because of one thing.

He has Risen! Jesus has done what had to be done. He took our sin and carried it to the cross for us!

All things unclean have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and made new. We were unclean in God’s eyes and now we have been cleaned up.

We were unrelatable because of our sin and rebellion and disobedience but because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus our high priest, we are no longer held to to be unclean and we now have received a relationship wit our Heavenly Father.

This is what Peter is explaining to them about his vision.

Jesus just didn’t atone for the Jews. He did this work for all people, all nations. He did it for them and us. Peter then talks about at that very moment men showed up to take him to the Gentile Cornelius and his family and Peter says the Sprit told him to go with them without making any distinctions. They go and the Holy Spirit comes and this Gentile and his whole family including servants are converted!

Peter’s defense to the Jewish believers didn’t come from himself and what he did but instead from God and what He did and who shows no difference between Jew or Gentile, them or us.

Our Father showed no difference between them and us or us and them because we all need Christ. We all fall short and we all need deliverance and redemption and forgiveness.

But yet like them, those Jewish believers, we can get caught in the ‘them and us’ in dealing with the world around us or even dealing with fractions within the church or our very own church here at Our Savior.

This ‘them and us’ mentality can stand in our way of God and hinder our vision and idea of how, where, when and why of what our Father is doing at all times for His beloved children.

Peter tells in verse 17,

“If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

How brash and rebellious and arrogant we are to ever think that we can stand in God’s way and hinder Him. But we try consciously and sometimes subconsciously to do just that. How can you possibly stand in the way of God? You might as well stand on the tracks in the path of an oncoming freight train with a paper plate as your shield.

We are like the believing Jews questioning Peter. We believe according to what we determine and we put limits and requirements on things. We receive this incredible gift of grace and love from God but don’t always show grace and love to others.

It becomes that game of them and us and we don’t stand in God’s way but in each other’s way not remembering that God’s gift of reconciliation is for all people, them and us, Jew and Gentile, believer and un-believer.

These Jewish believers had to have known the fulfillments of all the prophecies such as Abraham being promised that His offspring would be a blessing to all peoples and all nations. What about the Song of Simeon that we sing in the Nunc Dimittis, A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people, Israel just to name a few but they were standing in the way with their rigid ways.

 

When we try to stand in the way it does become a them and us kind of thing. But if we trust and have faith depending on our Father and not our own reasoning or scheming, knowing that Jesus sits at His right hand and intercedes and advocates for them and us, His people, and knowing that the Holy Spirit comes to us, sanctifying us and strengthening us in faith through Him then the them and us goes away and we are one people under and through the saving power of Jesus Christ.

 

As Peter tells the group about the fact of this Gentile family gifted by God with belief and redemption Scripture tells us in verse 18,

” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying,” Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

The them and the us are now the we who are no longer unclean. We are now cleaned up and made righteous, called by Christ to live in a relationship with God and be His forever.

To Him be all glory!

Alleluia, amen!

 

 

 

Stressed? Challenged? Attacked? Oppressed? Your reaction can be Fight or Flight…….or Trust and Testify


Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Je...

Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the former Mosque (Cathedral) of Cordoba, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

11  Boaz answered her: “I have had a complete account of what you have done for your mother-in-law after your husband’s death; you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know previously. 12  May the LORD reward what you have done! May you receive a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”   Ruth 2:11-12 (NAB) 

 5  You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6  For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 7  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:5-10 (NLT)

Last night, as I drifted off to sleep, my mind was working through all the issues of the week, and there were a number of serious ones.  Even two that sprang up a couple of hours before bed.   Some will be dealt with quickly, some are going to linger for months, and all of them have the potential to cause both anxiety and worse heartache.   I can often deal with the stress, and with others heartache, but when I encounter some things – and see the lack of grace, and concern for the people whom God has created, the heart ache is overwhelming.
Scientists from Biologist to Sociologists  talk about such times being the mechanism which fire off a “fight or flight” response.  That is, the trauma is such that we have an energy spike, and our reaction is to use that energy to run away and hide (the Elijah response – where is that cave again?) or fight (remember St. Peter in the garden with a sword?)  Things get tense – and we are informed it is “natural” to feel the pull to one response or the other.  Or sometimes we are paralyzed, as our minds can’t decide which to do – and the energy is release, and instead of one or the other…we simply get more anxious, more agitated.

Been there, done that, have the hole in the ground because my head was spinning so fast it turned my body into a drill bit.  Fight or Flee – I want to do both right now – and so I look like Shaggy on the old scoobydo cartoons – feeting moving faster then the eye can perceive – and going no where.

For those of us whom God has claimed in the waters of Baptism – there is actually another option.  It requires something more than fight or flight.

It takes remember that God is God.  That He is our refuge, our strength – as Martin Luther said – he is our Fortress.   (that hymn btw is not the anthem of a warrior, but the lament of those needing refuge and their joy in finding it in Christ)

The option is to trust.  To have confidence in all of God’s promises – not just about being our refuge, but indeed seeing how God will bless us even more.   Taking refuge as Ruth did, in God is about more than spending time in His sanctuary, it is realizing that He has made us His sanctuary.  To know that God has called us to these times and these places – to testify of His love, to reveal to people His will, that He doesn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked – that He desires to bring people to reconciliation and repentance, to have Him the trust in Him – even to the extent of what He teaches.

Trust and Testify.

To know He is God, to intimately, deeply, without reservation know it. To know He is our refuge, our sanctuary.  Our Hope, our love.

To testify to that – to show others how He has saved us from sin, how being in His presence, death is no longer something to be feared,   To realize we don’t have to reach out to  Him, but He has us in the firmly in His grasp.

Lord, help us to realize that when we cry out – Lord Have Mercy, it is for the same reason Luther said we pray “They will be done”.  Not because You will not, but that we would know You have.  AMEN.

Hungry for more than Discipleless Christianity


Devotional Thought of the Day:

Nave of Salisbury Cathedral, with Sibirica Min...

Nave of Salisbury Cathedral, with Sibirica Minor II in foreground – geograph.org.uk – 188287 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. 26  For there is no longer any sacrifice that will take away sins if we purposely go on sinning after the truth has been made known to us. 27  Instead, all that is left is to wait in fear for the coming Judgment and the fierce fire which will destroy those who oppose God! 28  Anyone who disobeys the Law of Moses is put to death without any mercy when judged guilty from the evidence of two or more witnesses. 29  What, then, of those who despise the Son of God? who treat as a cheap thing the blood of God’s covenant which purified them from sin? who insult the Spirit of grace? Just think how much worse is the punishment they will deserve!  Hebrews 10:23-29 (TEV) 

 

 

  57  As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58  Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” 59  He said to another man, “Follow me.” But that man said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” 60  Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” 61  Someone else said, “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.” 62  Jesus said to him, “Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.”     Luke 9:57-62 (TEV)

 

 

28  “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”     Matthew 11:28-30 (TEV) 

Yesterday in Bible Study we came across the first passage above.  It is a bit scary, given the predisposition of people to sin, and even to argue that sins isn’t sin, or more commonly that my sins aren’t as foul, disgusting and pathetic as the sins of those people “out there”!   Indeed we love to look outside ourselves, outside our churches, outside our country even, and point out their sins, their idolatry, their evil.

Or better yet, let’s ignore the issue of sin altogether in the church, and focus instead on issues like music, or what is a proper liturgy, or what is the nature and relationship of sanctification to justification.  Let’s focus on church growth, or maintaining pure doctrine; even if that means the church must diminish because of how we work to purify it.  There are more than enough things to worry about, there are more than enough cute sayings we can make meme’s out of, or tweet till we turn blue.   We want to be Christians, whether Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist or Baptist or Non-Denom, without being disciples – and that is why our churches are so weak.

Instead we can be His friends, we can let Him mentor us, correct us, challenge our idols, especially the idol of our reason, our logic, our ideas of what is right and wrong, what is righteous, or what is sin.  We can go – okay Lord, I don’t get this, but I trust YOU!

Will we let the refiner’s fire work in our lives, will we let his abrasive fuller’s soap burn our filthy rags and transform them into glorious white robes?

Will we let Him heal us of our sin?

Will we be reconciled, redeemed, revived, renewed, recreated?

Or do we want a nice academic, thoughtful (but controlled) form of Christianity that asks nothing of us, that allows us to create a facade of righteous, with all the right actions, all the right words, all the proper things… but without a true and honest relationship with the one who hung on a tree to make that relationship possible?

I’ve said it before – following Jesus is more like Ballroom dancing that mountain climbing – will we move with Him, will we allow Him to guide us, to teach us., to bless us with His word, His sacrament, His Death and Resurrection?  This isn’t about some form of false piety, it’s about walking with God, and letting Him be our loving, merciful, faithful Shepherd and the Firstborn and Friend.

A last thought – the blessing from the Book of Hebrews:

 

 

 20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen!    Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will we trust what God has revealed? Or must we explain (and know) more than that?


Devotional and Discussion thought off day…

 25  And I have been made a servant of the church by God, who gave me this task to perform for your good. It is the task of fully proclaiming his message, 26  which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all human beings but has now revealed to his people. 27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. Colossians 1:25-27 (TEV)

Let us not try to reduce the greatness of God to our own poor ideas and human explanations. Let us try to understand that this mystery, for all its darkness, is a light to guide men’s lives. As Saint John Chrysostom said: “We see that Jesus has come from us, from our human substance, and has been born of a virgin mother; but we don’t know how this wonder came about. Let us not waste our energies trying to understand it; rather, accept humbly what God has revealed to us. Don’t try to probe what God has kept hidden.”5 If we have this reverence, we will be able to understand and to love. The mystery will be a splendid lesson for us, much more convincing than any human reasoning. (1)

Thirty years ago this fall I started studying Theology seriously, well as much as an 18year old dual major in Bible (exegetical theology) and Homiletics can be “serious”.  During that time I have seen a lot labelled theology which is at best that which is called, “speculation”.  The speculators are sincere, have great intentions, and are often brilliant.  Their brains work like super computers, and they can store and analyze so much, that to be honest, I often find myself in awe when I am in their presence.   Until they move from knowledge that is scriptural into the realms of speculation.  Some of those who speculate (and which of us haven’t) aren’t so bright, and indeed, we make some of the most challenging errors.

Examples abound these days, and indeed throughout history.  The movement known as Higher Criticism, which combines historical and linguistic knowledge of scripture and its environs, but then turns to specualtion when it makes the data subservient to the observations and logic of the scholars examining it.   Another example is those who will wax eloquent on the relationship of justification and santification, or those who debate on the nature of the Eucharist – with such speculation as to when it becomes, to the radii at which the Words of Institution are effective.  These all take that which God hasn’t revealed – and make it not only necessarily to meditate on such things – but to come up with the categories and prove their “logic.  Another mystery is the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ.  And the list grows and grows, including eschatology, pneumatology, baconatology (why can good things happen to bad people) etc.

English: The Lord's Supper. Christ standing at...

English: The Lord’s Supper. Christ standing at an Orthodox altar, giving the Eucharist to the Twelve Apostles. Frescoes in the upper church of Spaso-Preobrazhenski cathedral. Valaam Monastery Русский: Алтарная апсида верхнего храма Спасо-Преображенского собора Валаамского монастыря. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why can’t we leave what God left hidden, or left a mystery, hidden and a mystery?  Why can’t we simply accept that we will not be omniscient in this life – and continue to explore the height and depth, width and breadth of the love of God, revealed to us in Christ Jesus?

Ultimately, why can’t we trust God?

We have more than enough to work with – as Colossians informs us – we have the very glory of God, into which we are drawn, to examine.  We have the relationship – not of the divine and human attributes of Chirst, but the relationship between us and Christ to meditate upon.  Christ in us, the very gift of our baptism, the very thing we celebrate in the Lord’s supper, the assurance of our absolution leading to our being welcome in the presence of a Holy and Righteous God.  How is that someone that can be laid aside, in order to determine who was more accurate in their speculation about sanctification?

If we leave what God left as mystery, if instead we dwell on the incredible things He has revealed – will that not lead to a great appreciation of His role in our lives?   Will it not lead to wonder when we see a baptism and know the promises are for us?  Will it not lead to a reverent but absolutely joyous celebration of the Lord’s Supper?  Will it not lead to….worship and a desire to spend more time in communion with God?

Or do we grasp all that God has revealed all ready and full applied it within our lives?

I haven’t…

So let us rejoice we have a God who is so big -that we cannot understand all that He has created and planned, but we can rely on His faithfulness and His revelation…

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 667-674). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Necessity of Teaching People Worship and the Liturgy: Evangelical Catholic IX


Jesus Christ Crucifix

Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought of the day, please discuss and meditate on it:

 2  Be like newborn babies, always thirsty for the pure spiritual milk, so that by drinking it you may grow up and be saved. 3  As the scripture says, “You have found out for yourselves how kind the Lord is.” 4  Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by people as worthless but chosen by God as valuable. 5  Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 2:2-5 (TEV)

 “This emphasis on beauty in the liturgical life of the Church is another reason why Evangelical Catholicism takes sacramental preparation and adult catechesis so seriously. Absent a true understanding of what the liturgy is, grounded in a firm grasp of what the Gospel is, those who “come to church” do not grow in living faith. Liturgy without Gospel is superstition, or self-worship, or both. Thus evangelical Catholic parishes take care to provide ongoing liturgical catechesis; this is primarily done through preaching, but it is also done through the various other means by which pastors communicate with their people. Pastors who understand that liturgical catechesis is a matter of empowering their people to exercise the priestly gift that is theirs by reason of Baptism will be likely to be effective in building worshipping communities that celebrate the sacred liturgy nobly, according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Evangelical Catholic liturgy is, finally, mission-driving. Having been lifted up to the threshold of the Throne of Grace through the dignified celebration of the Church’s liturgy, evangelical Catholics leave Sunday Mass with a new charge of missionary energy. Thus they are always ready to welcome non-Catholic Christians and nonbelievers to the Church’s worship as a means to meet Jesus Christ and enter into friendship with him.” (1)

I recently began a new class at our church, one that is, at once a review of our our faith and of the what and why of our Liturgical Worship.   I need to start off with a disclaimer I suppose, that I find an incredible richness in the liturgy, yet because of the uncommon language, and the unexplained movements, that richness is mostly hidden.  When I comment to that extent some have accused me of being a proponent of anti-liturgical or aliturgical (i.e.  Contemptorary Worship) even though I have noted the same errors in those groups. The church (and I mean the church in its entirety ) in the twenty-first century simply doesn’t do a good enough job teaching people the way in which we worship.  This is true whether it is in the uncommon language and movements of Liturgical churches, or the Contemporary services where the simpler movements are still not explained, and are often far removed from the interaction of a Liturgical Service.

In Wiegel’s article – there is much that is true to the church outside the auspices of Rome. (As well of course, as the Church of Rome about which he writes.)  Specifically of the quote above, and the Bible passage, I would highlight these things.

1.  Worship/Liturgy without the Gospel is empty superstition
There is a part of me that loves to describe food, for example the sizzling of a thick slice of bacon, with its incredible flavor investing the air throughout a home.  It’s because I love watching people uncontrollably begin to react.  You can’t help it.  The same thing should happen within the liturgy – when people are so aware of the grace, the gospel, the love, the mercy and peace  that is about to be shared, that they cannot but begin to react in expectation.  Like those babies in Peter’s letter, there is a desire that builds within us, when we know about what we are to receive.  Absolution, being reminded of the promises of our baptism as we make the sign of the cross, the fact that we are welcome into the Father’s presence, not only that – He desires our presence!  Then, the incredible feast – that which we must give thanks and praise.   ( I hope maybe you are longing for communion like deacons hunger for bacon.)

But imagine not knowing what bacon tasted like?  Imagine not knowing what the flavor that is carried throughout a home where it is cooked.  How could you know how good, how alive the flavor would make your mouth come alive?  The same is true with the liturgy – we rob people when we don’t show them how the Liturgy delivers to them everything of Christ – His presence, His mercy, His love, His comfort, forgiveness, peace, healing…… to them.  This is true as well – when the service is robbed of liturgical elements, when we don’t take the time to realize that that’s the Lamb of God, sent to take away  our sins as well as the sins of the world,  or,  my gosh – we have seen His salvation,  or even as simply as hearing that every burden we have, God desires to take away from us, that we may realize that indeed His is the glory and the honor and the power….as we pray as He taught.

2.  Teaching the people the Liturgy, (and how it delivers to them Christ) is something that empowers them, that helps them realize the gifts given to them in their baptism.  Heling them know that they are God’s children, priests and kings.  As Peter says, as we are joined to the Chief Cornerstone in our Baptism – we are used to build that spiritual temple – where we all work together, serving together, as His priests, where our work is acceptable to God, because it isn’t ours, it is Christ’s Jesus. (see Romans 12:1-10)  People need only realize what is being given to them, if how the liturgy teachings them, shows them, how to dance with God through life, even through the slow and somber times.  Having realized the incredible power of God’s love, having been taught what they need to know about Christ, having realized how God has ministered to them through word and sacrament…how could we not be empowered?  Look at Acts – every time someone proclaimed the Gospel of Christ’s work, the sermons weren’t even completed before someone did something.  Because they proclaimed the gospel – and the people heard it.

May ours do as well.

3.  And that is why the third thing happens:  liturgy is, finally, mission-driving. Thus they are always ready to welcome non-Catholic (insert your own “brand here) Christians and nonbelievers to the Church’s worship as a means to meet Jesus Christ and enter into friendship with him.

I love that Wiegel described what it means to be missional, to have an apostolate.  It’s not about recruiting people to become members of the organism.  It isn’t about getting them from their churches to ours, or to convert them for the sake of numbers.  I love the way Wiegel puts this…it is so… well Lutheran.  Worship is a means (and it contains the means) to meet Christ, and enter into a relationship with Him.  A relationship where He no longer calls use servants – but indeed, friends.  This is what it is all about, this is why we do what we  do.

They need to know Him – and this liturgy – honed and translated into the language of the people, does that very thing….. so well.

So I encourage you – if a pastor or priest, church musician, worship leader, singer – know  why and what you do – and share it with those who need to know Jesus….. and then watch your liturgy come alive…..

(1)  Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (p. 74). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Narcissism in the Church today….breaking it down so “they” can say AMEN!


First United Lutheran Church ca.1890

First United Lutheran Church ca.1890 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 19  “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. 20  Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. 21  It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. 22  “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. 23  If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! 24  “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. Matthew 6:19-24 (MSG)

Saint John tells us that the other enemy is the lust of the eyes, a deep-seated avariciousness that leads us to appreciate only what we can touch. Such eyes are glued to earthly things and, consequently, they are blind to supernatural realities. We can, then, use this expression of Sacred Scripture to indicate that disordered desire for material things, as well as that deformation which views everything around us—other people, the circumstances of our life and of our age—with just human vision. Then the eyes of our soul grow dull. Reason proclaims itself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the center of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that “you shall be like gods.”22 So filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God. (1)

When we hear the words of the gospel, we often look to our society, to the excess of things that people have.  The chasing after the faster car, the nicer home, the bigger screen.  Some of it comes as well as we think about our children or grandchildren, and we want “the best” for them as well.  The best schools, the best universities, the best spouses.  All around us is this culture of narcissism, and yes, even among us in the church as we buy into the ways of the world.

But it can slip into the church in a different way as well – when we demand that the church meet our needs, that it provides for us.  That the worship service provide what we think we need, that the beauty there is for us to enjoy, that everything in the church revolves around its members – for isn’t the church here to minister to “us”?  You want to know whether a church is healthy or narcisstic?  Look at where it’s treasures are.  Is the budget and the best resources, focused on ministering inward?  Or is it on ministering to those around us – and we the center of the church’s work.  Does the church find comfort in its own secret language, in being anti-cultural instead of counter-cultural?  What about the music – and the sermons?  Do we want the sin confronted to be the sins in our community, or are we willing to have our sins addressed, with both the law that nails them to the cross – and the grace that cleanses us of them? Is the beauty of our liturgy, our sanctuaries, our Bible translations and sermons and our music such that someone who is not familiar with the church, will perceive God’s glory during the service?  Or is it all about those within the church?

Or are we willing to be such a church, that we see what Paul is really saying to the church in Corinth,

 16  Otherwise, if you say your blessing only with the spirit, how is the uninitiated person going to answer ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, without understanding what you are saying? 17  You may be making your thanksgiving well, but the other person is not built up at all. 1 Corinthians 14:16-17 (NJB)  

Paul is telling us, that church doesn’t exist just to encourage the individual – especially the individual who already has been baptized, gifted with faith and repentance, and sealed as God’s child.  The world doesn’t revolve around the believer, nor should the church.  Instead, we are called to love as Christ loved, to submit ourselves to others our of reverence for Christ, to die to self.

For interestingly, it is then, as we willing lose our life – that we find it, and in dieing to self – we truly live.

So this week – as you receive God’s love – see who God is sending you to… to love so well – that they find themselves saying Amen….

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 475-484). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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