Monthly Archives: January 2016
He Set You Apart!
† In Jesus Name †
May you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who set you apart from before you were formed, who will have you share with others His love, and our need for it!
To the Nations
A few weeks ago, 6 of us had the blessing of picking up 24 youth who were all born in Eritrea. Just curious, how many of you know where Eritrea is?
Last week, Pastor Bernie shared for a few moments about what happened in the Sudan, where he put stoles that our ladies made, on the shoulders of 16 newly ordained pastors, just as he had three years prior.
Yesterday, some of us went to a Himalayan restaurant in Artesia, and celebrated with a young lady and her family, as she prepares for a wedding next week.
Next week on our campus, our brothers and sisters in the second service will be celebrating Chinese New Year.
As I look out over our congregation or our preschool chapels, I see people from all over the world, from 5 continents. And from even some very, very different places, like Lawrence, Massachusetts.
It is an amazing thing to think of, as we hear again, God’s word to Jeremiah
5 “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
God’s words to Jeremiah, and to us. Yes, to us.
Jesus has done the same thing to us that He did to Jeremiah. He set us apart with a purpose, to share a message with people from all of the world. A message that we all need to hear, even as it has to tear some down, and lift others up.
What we call law and gospel in “Church language”. That’s the message Jeremiah was given; it is the message Jesus died to reveal, it is what Peter and Paul and others claimed from the Middle East throughout all of Europe to Central Africa to India in one generation.
It is the same message that everyone needs to hear, no matter if they are 3 or 93, no matter their ethnicity or their culture.
It is a message that crushes those of us who think we are the only righteous folk around, revealing to us that we are sinners, and there is nothing we can do to repair what we’ve broken. For that is what sin does. It shatters relationships; it shatters family, it shatters us as individuals.
God’s law isn’t just about behaving properly; it is a way God designed for us to live in peace, to know we are loved. And when we step outside the plans God has for us, it crushes us, as the things He warns us against come true.
One pastor put it this way, use the Law to afflict those comfortable in their sin, and those afflicted by their sin, comfort them with the good news.
The news every prophet, every pastor, every evangelist and every believer counts on and is chosen by God to embrace and share with others.
The news of the gospel. That God loves us that He will heal our brokenness. That He will make our lives like new. That our sin will be forgiven, that our the relationships will be reconciled.
This is the gospel that all need to hear, it is the reason we have hope.
God has made all of the creation, and all of us in it, with a purpose. The purpose of living with him, as His children, as the people He loves. He loves us so much that Christ died to make this possible. TO heal our relationship with Him and with others, not just until the next time we destroy it, but for all of eternity.
That is why when we are saved when He cleanses us, there is no need to do so again.
Like most ministers, Jeremiah had a problem with God trusting Jeremiah with the message. We can find a million reasons why we shouldn’t have to share God’s message with our neighbors and family, never mind to the world.
But God has chosen us. He knows us as long as He knew Jeremiah, from since before we were born, from before we were conceived.
The message isn’t complicated, and as we realize it, the inclination to share it is automatic. God is with you. He loves you; He wants to comfort you and reconcile and heal that which is broken.
Don’t hold back, let Him do so…and rejoice!
Devotional Thought of the Day?
18 Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people. 19 And pray also for me, that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel’s secret.
Ephesians 6:18-19 (TEV)
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi – As we pray/worship so we believe, so we live.
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.
447 You lack interior life: that is because you do not consider in your prayer other people’s concerns and proselytism; because you do not make an effort to see things clearly, to make definite resolutions and fulfil them; because you do not have a supernatural outlook in your study, in your work, in your conversations, and your dealings with others… Are you living in the presence of God? For that is a consequence and a manifestation of your prayer.
The Church has brought about the emancipation of simple souls and has promised even to them the ability to be philosophers in the true sense of the word, that is, to comprehend what is essential to human nature as well as, or even better than, those who are learned. (a few sentences later) But how can this teaching of the Church be binding if it is not binding on theologians? The essence of the Church’s teaching ministry consists precisely in the fact that the proclamation of the Faith is the valid touchstone for theology as well. This proclamation is the object of the reflection of theology. The faith of simple souls is far from being a kind of watered-down theology for the laity, a so-called “popular Platonism”; the relationship is exactly the opposite: proclamation is the standard for theology, not theology for proclamation
Back in the days of taking algebra and geometry, my instructors would get upset at me because I didn’t include every step as I solved a problem I would get the answer correct, but the missing steps, things I assumed everyone knew, were missing. My attitude was that they didn’t matter. I would eventually find out it they did……
I think the church, especially those who preach, teach and blog are guilty of the same thing. We love to come across as profound in out theology. We love to say why this piece of arcane theology is far more accurate than that, or why this practice will lead to a slippery slope, where those doing or thinking this will become heterodox, then heretical, and then bound for hell. Well, we might leave that last part out.
There is another group that is strongly opposed to theological teaching, whose modern creeds are, “Love your Jesus, hate your religion” or “Relationship not Religious rules”. They are no different that those two hundred years ago cried out “no creed but Christ”.
They are the simply souls who know there is something missing in our theological proofs. Who realize the dissonance, that there is a weak point in our equation. They might not be able to put a finger on it, but they realize what we believe is not impacting how we live.
Think about how many blogs, sermons, Sunday school classes urge us to pray, that teach us how to enter into conversation, either publicly or individually with God? Sure you can find blogs about worship, usually to the extent of “those guys don’t do it right”, but how many help you connect to the awe of realizing you are in the presence of God?
The Lutheran Confessions almost seem snarky when talking about calling prayer a sacrament because then we might take this encounter with God more seriously. St Josemaria talks of living in God’s presence is a consequence and manifestation of our prayer, simply because you have to know He is here to talk to Him. Pope Benedict, then a cardinal, talks of those freed form sin and their simple faith, which is greater than the deepest of theology. (read Augustine’s Confessions and you will eventually find that are the end of his journey)
The missing part of our sermon/blog equation is the starting place. The time spent pouring our heart out to God and letting His comfort and presence bring us hope. It is what will form the basis of our theology, of our teaching, of that which we write and blog. And that is what makes our life, this realization that we dwell in the very presence of God, in His holiness, in His glory. That we can give Him every burden, every anxiety, as He draws us to Himself, as He cleanses, heals, and makes of our lives, our souls, something incredible.
Prayer and worship cannot exist without faith, not just the faith described in theological tomes and creeds, but the dependence, the trust in God to give us what He promises.
To understand that God is here, for you, drawing you into His love. Theology might teach about it, prayer, worship, the sacraments are all experiencing it. Theology tells us what is happening to us, if it is based in prayer. Otherwise, you never get past it to living out that life in Christ.
Spend time in prayer, spend time listening and pouring out your hearts and souls to God, who loves you enough to give you His name to call upon. Who wants to walk with us, live with us, rejoice and cry with us.
Don’t skip by prayer to get to your theology, it is not just a requirement, it is what the theology needs to discuss! For it is life.
Lord have mercy on us!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1981-1985). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 40). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
36 If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.
John 8:36 (TEV)
423 Under the pressure and impact of a materialistic, pleasure-loving, faithless world, how can we demand and justify the freedom of not thinking as they do, and of not acting as they do? A son of God has no need to ask for that freedom, because Christ won it for us once and for all. But he does need to defend it and practise it whatever the circumstance he finds himself in. Only thus will they understand that our freedom is not bound up in our surroundings. (1)
This morning on the way to work, I heard a man complaining about the necessity to pay that his children could pray in school. He prattled on about how unfair it was that this wasn’t truly a free country, that it cost to have his kids raised by those who would teach them to pray. ( By the way, I know “Prattled” isn’t used much, but it fits the sounds he was making)
I think in this country we have made freedom an idol. Certainly we consider free speech a right, as well as the vague term “freedom of religion” or as some would have it, “freedom from religion.” We get upset when those “rights: are taken away, or limited. We get even more upset when others use those “rights” in a way that threatens, disagrees or demeans us. I’ve even heard the verse in red above used in discussions about the freedom of religion as if the Americanism – that Jesus gave us freedom, and anyone who would take it away should be damned. (Or at least, mocked and embarrassed behind their back on Facebook) The idol of freedom or even the freedom of religion does nothing long range for mankind. It is an illusion, and it is not Christian freedom.
Our freedom is part of the peace that God gives us. It is, as St. Josemaria says, freedom of not thinking as they do, or acting as they do. It is not a freedom the world can give. It is not a freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights or the Magna Carta. It is the freedom Peter and Paul knew, as they were prisoners in Rome. It is the freedom and peace that Stephen knew, as men laid their coats down at Saul’s feet, and picked up stones to crush him. It is freedom martyrs longed to share with their tormenters.
It is a freedom that, like the peace we are given, is divine.
Hear the rest of Jesus statement, the context of the discussion on Freedom:
34 Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever. 36 If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. 37 I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are trying to kill me, because you will not accept my teaching. 38 I talk about what my Father has shown me, but you do what your father has told you.”
John 8:34-38 (TEV)
Here is our freedom. The freedom from guilt and shame that breaks us down as we realize the consequences of our sin. The freedom to see the relationships shattered by sin. The freedom from resentment, the anger and hurt we store in our memories, as if we can protect ourselves from further injury, further hurt.
It is a freedom that is part of our faith, part of the trust and dependence we have in God. Dependence on His fulfilling promises like that in Romans 8 that everything will work out for our good, that nothing can separate us from Him. Promises like Genesis 50, that what others plan for evil, God will use those things for good. The promise that is revealed as we look to Jesus, the author of our faith, and the one who makes it perfect.
This is freedom, true freedom.
Let us treasure the Lord, who frees us, more than the illusion of freedoms that would leave us oppressed and bound to sin and unrighteousness.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1893-1897). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:20 *W
20 *When David went home to bless his own house, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him and said, “How well the king of Israel has honored himself today, exposing himself to the view of the slave girls of his followers, as a commoner might expose himself!” 21 But David replied to Michal: “I was dancing before the LORD. As the LORD lives, who chose me over your father and all his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel, not only will I make merry before the LORD, 22 but I will demean myself even more. I will be lowly in your eyes, but in the eyes of the slave girls you spoke of I will be somebody.” 23 Saul’s daughter Michal was childless to the day she died. 2 Sam 6:20–23 NABRE
426 Once you were pessimistic, hesitant and apathetic. Now you are completely transformed: you feel courageous, optimistic and self-confident, because you have made up your mind, at last, to rely on God alone. (1)
There is an inner war within me, one which swings between wanting a time of quiet reverence, and times where like David, we are just so in awe of God’s presence that we forget ourselves, and just enjoy the moment.
There is a part of me that understand’s Michal’s view, a call for some reference, a call for propriety, a call for being sedate and controlled in the presence of God. That we should be like Isaiah, so afraid of being a sinner in the presence of God, that I freeze. As if all the world should be like the calm reflections of Lent.
There is a time and placed for that kind of lowliness, that form of meekness. But it can’t be forced or manipulated any more than the kind of joy that David exhibited. That is part of my thoughts this morning, which we can’t manipulate the quiet, reverent spirit anymore than we can manipulate a spirit that is celebratory. And while those who try to help lift the spirits of those who are depressed are accused of manipulation, we don’t accuse those like Michal, David’s wife, of the same thing.
There is an inherent danger to the Michal’s of the world. For to manipulate people into that mood does breed the kind of spirit that Josemaria speaks of; a spirit that is pessimistic, hesitant and apathetic. A Spirit that doubts God, and searches for reasons to dismiss His presence, to be freed from His love. The reaction from the Michal’s, those who rejoice in the bitterness of a Monday, is very dangerous.
For it divorces the person from the strength that comes from being in the presence of the Lord. It gives a permanent case of the Mondays, a spiritual barrenness that can lead to a life of complete barrenness.
The Michal attitude even steals the peace that it seems to protect so diligently. For peace is so refreshing, so wonderful, that you enjoy it. You throw a parade, or a party, you dance and sing. You act like the prodigal’s dad, so overjoyed that his boy is home, that nothing could stop the celebration.
Are there times of sorrow? Of course! Are there times of great pain, or great loss? Yes, though it is limited. Are there times where we should approach God in so much awe we can’t speak. Yes, there are times for that as well. Even then, there is a joy that breaks the silence, a confidence that speaks of a life lived in Jesus. Not the bitterness and resentment that refuses to tolerate other people’s joy.
What makes the difference, is to depend on God for that which He promised. We depend on Him to make all things work out for good, all things to be a blessing. To know that even when life doesn’t seem fair, God is still faithful, and He will bless you. When we know this life is God’s work, the joy breaks out.
Relax, know that you are safe, that you have found a refuge in the hands of God.
And remember the joy of knowing God’s invited you to be a part of His feast!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1905-1907). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the day:
13 No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right; 14 and blessed are you if you have to suffer for being upright. Have no dread of them; have no fear. 15 Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. 16 But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations. 17 And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. 1 Peter 3:13-17 (NJB)
The next question is obvious: Is the dispute with other religions not basically just as much an instance of Christian self-righteousness as the dispute among the denominations was an instance of denominational self-righteousness? In consequence, it is no longer Christianity that is at issue, but religion as such, which makes its presence felt among mankind under a variety of forms in which it is not basically a question of changing content, but of the inner nature of religion itself, which can be expressed in many contents, even entirely without the word of God. Catechesis is thus reduced to mere information on the one side, to instruction regarding religious attitudes (but with no prescribed content) on the other side, and faith silently quits the field. (1)
“65 As we explained before, we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit.
66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[i]” (2)
Pope Benedict XVI’s quote this morning struck a nerve in me. It causes me to look within, to try and understand exactly what my motivation is, as I minister. Is it a matter of personal pride in my intellect? Is it, as Benedict asks, a matter of self-righteousness, or worse, a sense of gnostic condescension? That I have the secret knowledge to a good life, even an eternal life, and those of other religions do not, is that my motivation? Or worst of all, have I set my faith to the side?
That question is hard, very hard. It is one that I am afraid to ask.
It is the same conversation that Peter is having with the early church, as he talks to them. Give the reason you have hope, do it with respect. Do it with the love that cares more about them knowing Jesus than you do about winning the argument.
That is what Luther is getting at, in talking about the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit reveals that we live in the presence of God, as He gives us the ability, the comfort, the assurance that God wants to reconcile us all to Himself. Some have only seen God in nature. Others
Christianity isn’t a privilege. Christianity isn’t a combat sport. Christianity means sacrifice, just as Christ suffered for us. Peter talks about this as following in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul encourages the church to imitate him, as he imitates Jesus. They call us to sacrifice and serve, that people would be able to presented perfect to Jesus.
This is far more than finding ourselves more righteous. This is eternity, this is living free of the guilt and shame caused by our sin, by the relationships in our lives that were broken. A relationship with the God who created as to be His “beloved”.
TO engage in that kind of work takes sacrifice, it means putting aside our own pride, our own desires, our very lives. And that requires to take up the faith that we’ve laid aside. It requires that we realize salvation transforms more than our future. It transforms our lives, from our baptism through the day God completes us.
This isn’t pietism, it is the reaction of gratitude to a God who revealed Himself to us, who made known His attitude toward us, who invited us to be part of His work, part of His ministry. It is the Holy Spirit. This is what communing with God does for us. As we kneel at an altar, as we see revealed to us the love of God for the world, as we are given hope, we explain that reason to others.
This is the life of a believer, this is the life of the children of God.
Lord, Have mercy on us, and help us to realize you live in our very lives.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 32). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(2) [i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)
When then he came, I found him a man of pleasing discourse, and who could speak fluently and in better terms, yet still but the self-same things which they were wont to say. But what availed the utmost neatness of the cup-bearer to my thirst for a more precious draught? Mine ears were already cloyed with the like, nor did they seem to me therefore better, because better said; nor therefore true, because eloquent; nor the soul therefore wise, because the face was comely, and the language graceful. (1)
Today’s average Christian assumes on the basis of this principle that faith is a product of the individual point of view, of intellectual endeavor, and of the work of specialists, and such a point of view seems to him more modern and more self-evident than the Catholic positions. For many today it is hardly comprehensible that a mysterious divine reality lies behind the human reality. But, as we know, that is the Catholic understanding of Church.
In this sense it is said, “The doers of the law will be justified”; that is, God pronounces righteous those who believe him from their heart and then have good fruits, which please him because of faith and therefore are a keeping of the law.
253 These words, spoken so simply, contain no error…. (3)
No, this isn’t about Tom and Bill, and the game this week. But it is what happens on Sunday, and should happen through the rest of the week as well.
It is about something far more important, far more important than another Superbowl, and more accolades. It is about a dynasty, but not an earthly one.
The passage from Augustine, the second quote above, reaches out to when he was expecting a great man to give him insights on life that would change everything. And the man, though a phenomenal speaker, failed to impress. The rest of that passage goes on about how disappointed, and yet relieved, for from there he would go and realize more clearly the love of God
Benedict XVI, (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote how this issue has been recycled in our age. That philosophers and theologians, the specialists, have so spoken of faith and Christianity that people don’t always realize that what religion is, is an encounter with the Creator of the myseterious divine reality that lies behind what we perceive as reality. What disappointed Augustine in the arrival of Faustus is now the norm. What Jefferson tried to do, in eradicating the miraculous from scripture, has been accomplished by those who study it until it is dead. Simply put, they have studied it until it is either a complex set of moral guidelines or completely accepted to be a nice set of fables.
That is not the “job” of the theologian or the philosopher. They are, by their labels, those tho are to study the logic, the reason of God (the-logos) and the lover of wisdom (Philo-sophia) Their job then, should be to reveal the God that was revealed to them, to pass on the truth and wisdom and awe of a God who left heaven, humbled himself, served and died on a cross to prove to us that He loves us.
The Lutheran confessions exemplify this when summarizing the incredible truth. God pronounces sinners righteous because they believe, trust, depend on His revelation of His love for them. That belief/trust/faith/dependence is what God sees, as the Holy Spirit transforms their lives. This is what Benedict knows as faith, even as he weeps over its being redefined, not by the world, but by the church. It is the revelation Augustine was hoping to hear. God loves us, and depending upon that love, revelling in it, adoring the God, who loves us, changes us.
Which brings us back to St Paul, and his words to a young church, easily swayed by fancy orators and powerful leaders. People need to trust in God, the God, who will never let them be shamed.
And the way they come to know that is simple. We bring it to them; we send to them those who will reveal that love to them. That is how we do our job so that all can come to know His love.
It’s not rocket science. It is the work of those who understand the word of God, and those who love wisdom.
So do your job, send, be sent, share Christ, and watch the glory of God enfold as the Spirit transforms lives, heart and minds that find peace in Christ Jesus.
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(2) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 30). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 143). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 (NLT)
40 Learn this article, then, as clearly as possible. If you are asked, What do you mean by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? you can answer, “I believe that the Holy Spirit makes me holy, as his name implies.”
41 How does he do this? By what means? Answer: “Through the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
42 In the first place, he has a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it, he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
Catholic theology must state more clearly than ever before that, along with the actual presence of the word outside her boundaries, “Church” is also present there in one form or another; that, furthermore, the boundaries of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit are not congruent with those of the visible Church. For, on the one hand, the Spirit, the grace, on whose action the Church depends for her very existence, can be wanting even to those within the Church; on the other hand, it can be efficacious in those outside the Church. To borrow Congar’s cogent phrase, it would be both foolish and perverse to identify the efficacy of the Holy Spirit with the work of the ecclesial apparatus.
Yesterday was the day that many of God’s people celebrated what is called the Confession of St. Peter. The celebration that God the Father revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Father. Like Pentecost, it is one of the formative days of the Church, for it is that day when the church received it’s first “creed”.
A creed is simply a statement that describes what you depend upon in life. It is not a complete statement of doctrine, of that which people intellectually know. For while a “belief statement” or “doctrinal statement” expresses what is contained in our mind, a Creed adds to that what is in our heart, our soul, and is the source of our strength. It is what we depend upon, the truth we believe we can base our entire life upon. It is what distinguishes the church from every other group.
And so, like Pentecost, yesterday was a celebration of the church, and what it is built upon.
Christ, the Son of the living God.
With that being understood, I must confess a different problem, which is caused in part by both my naivete and my cynicism. Naivete because I expect the church to be the church. And I expect its leaders to strive to limit the politics and power struggles. I naively expect them (and myself) to live according to this truth we hold dear, this Man, who was the Messiah, the one Anointed to save us. My mind tells me logically; there must be that church, led by those striving to be like Christ, who’ve set aside everything and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and focus on Christ, the author, and perfecter of our faith.
Can’t there be such a thing, a group of people who are gathered into one Body who live and breathe based on what they believe in?
My cynicism says, “Uhm, no.”
Yes, we can find congregations where this is a focus and priority. Or a Bible Study. But there doesn’t seem to be a denomination out there where this is true. I have to admit a lot of frustration in this, because why can’t it be so? I can look at one denomination, where the leadership is struggling to help people live like Christ, yet their doctrine gets in the way. I look at another where the doctrine is as good as it can be, and yet the power struggles are so blatant, so extreme that it sickens me. I’ve seen too many crushed by it while seeing others rejoice over the pain caused to their “enemies.”
Is it foolish and perverse to want to identify an “ecclesiastical apparatus” with the efficacy of the Holy Spirit? My naivete calls for such a church; my cynicism wants to find a cave and lock myself into it. The option is not to spout that I want a relationship but not a religion and head for the beach. If ti were, Christ is a liar. He said nothing couldn’t prevail against His church. He died for her, so she must exist!
Both Luther and Benedict point to such a church, a church that is focused on what Peter confesses, a church where the Holy Spirit is working, sometimes clearly within the structure of the denominations, but often not. A church some theologians would label the “invisible church”, but because the Holy Spirit is working, it is visible, you know when you are there. A church based primarily on doctrine, not primary on the organization and structure, but gathered by the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is using the word, is connecting people to Jesus and then to the Father.
This is what Pope Benedict wrote of, “the Spirit, the grace, on whose action the Church depends for her very existence,” and Luther reveals why, “The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
As I see this, it comforts by shattered naivete, you see the church does exist! We see Her as we see the Holy Spirit working; as the Spirit reconciles people to God and each other, as the spirit heals the broken hearted, and sets free the those bound by sin. It also shatters my cynicism, for the miracle of the Holy Spirit at work just denies the idea that there is no church. For what else could explain what happens when Christ crucified is preached. For then, the church is no longer invisible but is becomes an intact mosaic, one that is not bound within the lines drawn by man, but rather drawn together in Christ.
The church, broken, yet healing, is a glorious thing, as this occurs, St Paul described it well. “All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
May we be patient and determined, as the Holy Spirit works, pointing us to Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 416). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 29). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Were You Talking To Me?
Yes, You Were Talking to Me
† IHS †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ continue to astound you, as you realize that means God really loves YOU, He really loves You!
A More than a Bit Uncomfortable
One of the odd pleasures in my life happens on Monday Evening, as I hear the guys that I study worth gripe and complain about a term we use, to describe what we have as believers. It is almost funny to watch their discomfort as we talk about relationships.
They struggle with the idea that God calls us into an intimate relationship with Him. They will complain that guys don’t like to talk about relationships in general and that using the word “intimate” will shut almost every man down.
They will admit that there is no better phrase to describe what God calls us into. But they will still struggle with the phrase, and I don’t think it is just because of the words involved.
I think there is something deeper that bothers us, something that unnerves us.
Yes, it unnerves me as well! Please don’t tell the Monday night guys this, as much as I love talking about the intimate relationship God desires to have with his people, when it comes to talking about the God desiring that kind of relationship with me, my reaction is like Al Pacino’s.
Are you talking to me? Are you talking to… ME?
Yes, the Old Testament is talking to us, about God and us, and a relationship deeper than anything we’ve ever known!
Why had the discomfort?
Hear some of the phrases from our Old Testament reading this morning,
Because I love (insert your name), I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for (insert your name again), I cannot remain silent.
How about this one,
2 The nations will see (insert your name) righteousness. World leaders will be blinded by (insert your name) glory!
It keeps going
(insert your name), new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim (Insert your name) as his bride.
Then God will rejoice over (insert your name one last time) as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Yes, God is talking to us, these incredible words are
How comfortable are you with this?
Have to admit, it is a bit awkward for me to hear these words. I mean I love God, I love to hear about His love for me and all of His people, but it is a challenge to work through God not only loving us but desiring us, yearning for us, delighting in us. And it only gets worse when we take our us, and put in our individual names. It is awkward, but once we get past that awkwardness, it is amazing!
I think the key is that second phrase up there, the one about the nations seeing our righteousness, about the world leaders being blinding by our glory.
It would make sense if we were that righteous, that holy, that glorious. But I have to admit I am not. A person who is righteous, who is holy, yes, they would certainly deserve the love of God. They would be the kind of person God would like, that he would delight in, that makes sense.
But you and I?
How righteous are we? How much would God delight in what I did on Wednesday, or what you over there were thinking on Thursday, or on what you said to that irritating person last Monday? What about the musicians, would God delight in everything you thought, said or did on Friday?
I think far more than the word relationship or the word intimate is our knowledge that God yearns, loves, and delights in us who do not deserve that kind of attention. Someone else surely might, but not us.
We sin. In our thoughts, in our words, and in what we do, and did not do.
That is why we are uncomfortable with this. We don’t deserve this kind of attention.
What if God, after all of this, realized that who He loved would struggle with faithfulness. For that is what sin is, it is our not being faithful to God. When we sin, it is as if we were cheating on God. No, not as if we were cheating on God, we do cheat on God when we sin.
Unfaithful in a deep, intimate relationship with the God who loves us.
Yeah, that makes us uncomfortable.
This is Your God…
But hear God again,
1 Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
It may seem odd for God to pray for us, you should insert the word “interceding”. He promises He isn’t going to stay passive, He says that twice! He isn’t going to stop interceding in our lives until we are as righteous until the fact of our salvation is so glorious that no one can deny it.
That’s the love of God for you. That is the work on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit every day.
God determines that He guarantees that no one can ever call us forsaken, for He will not forsake us. We will have hope, for God ensures no one can call us desolate. Instead, God tells us He will delight in us, That we are the Bride of Christ, that He has made a covenant, a promise to us that we will always be His as He marks us with His name.
Here God is giving us a new name again, this time from the Book of Revelation.
Rev 3:12 — All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.
And God won’t stop working in our lives until we are victorious.
This is our God, this is the God who yearns for us, who loves us, who delights in us, Who shows that love in the work He does, making us His own. In the work, He accomplishes in us, and through us.
That is the relationship He creates in our Baptism, that He restores through our hearing of His love and hearing that we are forgiven, that we celebrate with a foretaste of the wedding feast, that we call communion and the Lord’s Supper.
For this is our God, who works in us deeper than we even are aware of, this is the God, who yearns for His people, so much that Christ would die to make our new name a reality.
So let us celebrate! He knows our name when making these promises, Yes, He is really talking to you when He talks of His love and delight. (and me!)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 Samuel asked him, “What have you done?” Saul explained: “When I saw that the army was deserting me and you did not come on the appointed day, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I said to myself, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not yet sought the LORD’s blessing.’ So I thought I should sacrifice the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel replied to Saul: “You have acted foolishly! Had you kept the command the LORD your God gave you, the LORD would now establish your kingship in Israel forever; 14 but now your kingship shall not endure. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart* to appoint as ruler over his people because you did not observe what the LORD commanded you.”1 Sam 13:11–14 NAB-RE
Afterward, however, David regretted that he had cut off an end of Saul’s robe.b 7 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to lay a hand on him, for he is the LORD’s anointed.”c 8 With these words David restrained his men and would not permit them to attack Saul. Saul then left the cave and went on his way. 9 David also stepped out of the cave, calling to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked back, David bowed, his face to the ground in homage, 10 and asked Saul: “Why do you listen to those who say, ‘David is trying to harm you’? 11 You see for yourself today that the LORD just now delivered you into my hand in the cave. I was told to kill you, but I took pity on you instead. I decided, ‘I will not raise a hand against my master, for he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 12 Look here, my father. See the end of your robe which I hold. I cut off an end of your robe and did not kill you. Now see and be convinced that I plan no harm and no rebellion. I have done you no wrong, though you are hunting me down to take my life. 1 Sam24:6–12 NAB-RE
Thus she came to understand Chesterton when he described men and women who, signed with Christ’s Cross, cheerfully walk through darkness. Finding this hidden life means releasing the sources of this world’s energy, linking the world to the power that can save it, giving it the resources for which it seeks in vain within itself. It means digging for and uncovering the wellspring of joy which can save and transform things and people and which has the power to undo and make good past suffering. (1)
The line from King Saul typifies the battle that so many “first-world” Christians have to face today. “I thought I should…” Saul was trying to be ready to fight the enemies of God, things weren’t going well. He knew things would change with the sacrifice that was to be offered by the prophet-priest, but he wasn’t there. Saul was King, didn’t that give him the right to take any role in his kingdom?
And so, in thinking, in following and obeying his own mind, rather than the command of God, he lost everything he was trying to protect.
We do that, we enslave ourselves to our logic, to our reasoning. We listen to what we think, rather than what God reveals. We will dismiss what God reveals in scripture, we will dismiss what He commands us to do, and we will find a way to see disobedience and dishonoring God as logical.
We will set our logic, our reasoning in the place of God, make it an idol, and worship it by obeying what it teaches.
Well, maybe it won’t be our reasoning, as in yours and mine. No problem, we can all find brilliant theologians and philosophers whose brilliance is proven by the fact they agree with us. We can find a way to avoid hardship, to avoid self-sacrifice or suffering. We can justify our own pleasure, and we can do it with the resonance of righteousness.
Well at least self-righteousness.
Even as we contend that scripture isn’t as reliable as it should be. Or that it is outdated or outmoded.
Compare Saul’s obedience to his reasoning to David’s obedience ot God. There is a price on David’s obedience, the price of discomfort, the price of being hunted, the price of even being an outcast and an exile. He had the power to change that, one quick action would have given him the kingdom. But he chose to disobey the wisdom and reasoning that would call him to disobey God.
He embraced the darkness, the hardship, the pain. And he worshiped and obeyed God. God brought him through it, and through other challenges. Sometimes David would see it right away, sometimes he too would forget and need to be called to repentance. The key is to find the humility to remember that God is God. To live in the grace of a life forgiven, a life where we hear the Spirit, and the Spirit draws us into obedience, into a life of awe, not matter how dark.
Like the lady in Pope Benedict’s story, David cheerfully embraced the darkness, knowing that God had promised and God had commanded. It was a willingness to obey even though life may have looked freer, and more joyful, had he simply killed off those trying to kill him. He loved instead, and at great personal cost, and cost to those who were loyal to him.
I am not sure what your wisdom and reasoning calls you to dismiss from God’s word. Maybe it is sexual issues, maybe it is a call to servanthood, to give up your “rights”, in order that someone else may benefit. Maybe it is simply accepting that His word is His word.
I know this, it is a temptation for all of us, a chance to say, “I thought”, and in that thought, contradict what God has commissioned. A temptation that can only be overcome by looking to Jesus, and letting His love cleanse us from it.
Together then, let us cry out to God to have mercy on us.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 26). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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 1:8-10 (NLT)
Accept the sacrifice of my confessions from the ministry of my tongue, which Thou hast formed and stirred up to confess unto Thy name. Heal Thou all my bones, and let them say, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? For he who confesses to Thee doth not teach Thee what takes place within him; seeing a closed heart closes not out Thy eye, nor can man’s hard-heartedness thrust back Thy hand: for Thou dissolvest it at Thy will in pity or in vengeance, and nothing can hide itself from Thy heat. But let my soul praise Thee, that it may love Thee; and let it confess Thy own mercies to Thee, that it may praise Thee.
When God names himself after the self-understanding of faith he is not so much expressing his inner nature as making himself nameable; he is handing himself over to men in such a way that he can be called upon by them. And by doing this he enters into co-existence with them, he puts himself within their reach, he is “there” for them.
180 Because of his promise, because of Christ, God wishes to be favorably disposed to us and to justify us, not because of the law or our works: this promise we must always keep in view. In this promise timid consciences should seek reconciliation and justification, sustaining themselves with this promise and being sure that because of Christ and his promise they have a gracious God
As I worked through my devotional readings this morning (which you see some of, above), there seems to be a connection between two themes.
The first is the presence of God in our lives. That He revealed to us His name, not that we would misuse it, but so that we could use it, to call upon when we are in need when we have seen that need met.
The second is along the use of that name when we most dearly need it. When sin has broken our lives, and the lives of those we should love. When sin has damaged the incredible blessings, God has given and entrusted to us.
I think both St. John’s epistle and the blunt words of Augustine make it clear, we aren’t confessing what we successfully hidden from God. For nothing can be hidden from Him, and to pretend we can, is being foolish and ignorant. To pretend to be sinless, to ignore the things we have done, said or thought that result in a need of healing is not just a lie, but it results in great damage.
Instead, we need to confess, and in doing so, we praise God for being so gracious, for being merciful, for a love that overwhelms the wrath we deserve. Like the worship that we label lament, the worship of confession is beyond words that can express God’s glory. For in both lament and confession, we hope for that which is beyond our imagination.
God takes us, in all of our brokeness, in all of our despair, in the depth of human anguish, and lifts us, comforts us, heals us. As the Lutheran Confessions speak, God sustains those who timidly approach the throne, confident not in their own merit, but sustained by Jesus.
This has to be the message of the church. The hope that every believer, not just pastors, and priests, passes on to those around them, friend and foe, neighbor and refugee, family member and… well those family members. It transcends any moral issue, for all are immoral until they encounter the cross. It is the message found in every Bible, and it is our more precious vocation, that of children of God.
So come, confess your sins, yeah even those you wanted to excuse or argue aren’t sins. Stop trying to defend what you know is wrong. Hear you are forgiven, and rejoice. For the confession and the joy are praise to the Lord, who loves you more than you can know, and welcome you to explore every dimension of that love.
Never, ever, be afraid to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” For He has. AMEN!
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 22). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 131–132). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.