Monthly Archives: April 2016

What Scripture Says about the Presidential Election…


Devotional Thought of the Day:
20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.   1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)

43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ 44  But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45  so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. 46  Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! 47  And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! 48  You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 (TEV)

145      You must never treat anyone unmercifully. If you think someone is not worthy of your mercy, you should realise that neither do you deserve anything. You don’t deserve to have been created, or to be a Christian, or to be a son of God, or to have the family you have…

If you are hoping for me to justify voting for your preferred candidate, you might want to stop reading now.  But I pray you continue to read, and think through the Bible verses above, the quote from St. Josemaria, and the words I write.  Struggle with them, doesn’t dismiss them.

You might get angry; you might say what I am saying isn’t realistic, that I don’t know how evil the “other” candidates are, and how your candidate is the only hope we have. 

That doesn’t matter.  I think, no, I know God well enough to know He will keep His promises no matter who is elected. 

What I am concerned about is how your heart, your soul is doing, and what this election will do to it.   Will you so harden yourself, will you be so affected by those who would have you live in fear and even hate the other candidates, that you forget you have been given the grace that would lead you to love each of the candidates?  

You have been made a new creation, you have been counted righteous, you’ve been given the Holy Spirit, and are reminded by word and sacrament to imitate Christ Jesus, even as the Holy Spirit transforms you into His image.   (see 2 Cor. 3:16ff)

Which means you are called to love those you can see, in this case, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump, Mr. Sanders.  People who were created in the image of God, people who Christ died for on the cross, even as He died for you. 

Look at the Gospel readings from Mathew, and the call to love your enemies.   Look at the first reading, where St. John tells us we are made to love, and if we don’t love those we see, how can we the God who made them, whom we can’t see?

This isn’t easy, I understand this, and I struggle with it.  I personally don’t like the positions of any of the candidates, and I am tired of making a decision based on the “least of all evils.” Possibly because I can’t be sure which is the least? 

But if I give into the fears, the anxieties, if I read the materials all over the internet, and sent to me, if I engage in the hatred and fear of those I don’t like, the biggest damage I do is not to my country, but to myself, and to those whose lives I will impact. 

For I will have lost the ability to love, to trust God enough to love those that aren’t lovable.  I will have lost the ability to show mercy, and to trust God for promises like Romans 8:28. And I will have lost my understanding of that which David so clearly explained. 

1  Whoever goes to the LORD for safety, whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty, 2  can say to him, “You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust.” 3  He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers and all deadly diseases. 4  He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.    Psalm 91:1-4 (TEV)

So learn to love these people!  Desire what is best for them, that they would know the love that will give them peace. When it is time, you will know how to vote, and you will know that no matter who wins, God is at work.  

Pray for them all, and place their care in the hands of a God who showed you mercy, and as you do, that mercy will be revealed, and in this time where the country is going ballistic with anxiety and angst, you will dwell in peace.

Lord, have mercy on us sinners!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 707-709). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Reason the Church is Here….


Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  When they saw him, they fell at his feet in worship, even though some of them struggled to trust Him. 18  Jesus went to them and said, “I have been given all responsibility in heaven and on earth. 19  You area going disciple people of all cultures: by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20  and instructing them to treasure this covenant relationship I committed to with you! And I am with you ever day, for forever.”   Matthew 28:17-20 (parker’s paraphrase)

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we can and must follow a way that is directly opposed to our own natural gravity, to the gravity of egoism, to the search for what is merely material and for the maximum pleasure that we confuse with happiness. Discipleship is a way through agitated, stormy waters that we can follow only if we are in the gravitational field of the love of Jesus Christ, if our gaze is fixed on him and therefore supported by the new gravity of grace that makes possible for us the way to truth and to God that we would have been unable to follow by our own efforts. That is why being a disciple of Jesus is more than concurrence with a definite program, more than sympathy and solidarity with a person whom we regard as a model. It is not just Jesus, a human being, that we follow; we follow the Son of the living God. We follow a divine way. Where does Jesus’ way lead us? It leads us to the Resurrection, to the right hand of the Father. It is this whole way that we mean when we speak of following Christ as his disciple. Only thus do we journey the whole way of our vocation; only thus do we really reach the goal of undivided and imperishable happiness. And only from this perspective do we understand why the Cross is also a part of our discipleship as followers of Christ (cf. Mk 8:24). There is no other way for us to come to the Resurrection, to the community of God. We must follow the whole way if we want to be servants and witnesses of Jesus Christ. And every single step is different depending on whether we intend to go the whole way or merely to carve out for ourselves a kind of human party program. We can come to Christ only if we have the courage to walk on the water and to entrust ourselves to his gravity, the gravity of grace.

I have to start with a disclaimer.  I want to write nothing about this post, save what you see above.  The charge for us to disciple the world, by helping people enter into a relationship as part of the people of God, and then to teach them to treasure this covenant relationship, this relationship based on God’s plan, on His terms, for Hs is God.  That is the work of the church that is how we are to love our neighbor; that is the work of God, or as my favorite pastor/author noted, the Opus Dei.

These words of Cardinal Ratzinger in blue (later Pope Benedict XVI)  are an incredible description of that relationship, this discipling process.  Go back and read them again.  Go ahead, go do it.  And again, savor the words describing your relationship with God, as you are pulled into this incredible.

But is this what we are about in the church?

Is this what we value in our own lives personally? Do we understand this incredible, blessed fellowship we have been brought into with the Father, Sona nd Holy Spirit?

We need to, and we need to get that this is far more than obeying laws and commandments (though that is part of it).  It is, to use the Old Testament prophecies, the very “being” that is knowing that we God has made us HIs people, and He is our God.

This is what is revealed, from the very beginning to creation to each time someone is baptized or is revived as their sins are forgiven, or are renewed as they take and eat the Body broken for them, the bloodshed to bring them into this covenant relationship.

This is what we treasure; this is what we guard, (which is what tereo means – not just obey/observe) This is what we reveal to the world, it is how we disciple, this is how we live.

Even when we struggle, or doubt, for Jesus is our Lord. And He is with us.

AMEN!

(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. 140). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Revival and the Sacrament of Reconciliation


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
5  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.    Psalm 32:5 (NLT)

18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.   2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NLT)

Since absolution or the power of the keys, which was instituted by Christ in the Gospel, is a consolation and help against sin and a bad conscience, confession and absolution should by no means be allowed to fall into disuse in the church, especially for the sake of timid consciences and for the sake of untrained young people who need to be examined and instructed in Christian doctrine

.126      You asked me to suggest a way for winning through in your daily struggles, and I replied: When you lay your soul open, say first of all what you wouldn’t like to be known. In this way the devil will always end up defeated. Lay your soul wide open, clearly and simply, so that the rays of God’s Love may reach and illuminate the last corner of it!

We used to refer to it as “Private Confession” in the Lutheran Church.  Theologically we refer to it as COnfessiona and Absolution, with the emphasis on the Absolution part.  The quote in green is from our confessions, where it is numbered among our sacraments, and in the minds of our forefathers, too great a treasure to forgo.

My brothers in the Roman Catholic church call this the Ministry of Reconciliation, and I have to admit I like that name as well.  It reminds us what forgiveness does, it makes things right, it applies the blood of Christ to our brokenness, it brings healing, much-needed healing to souls damaged by guilt, shame and resentment which comes along with our sin and rebellion,  It is the duty of the church, it is at the heart of its very mission, to  pronounce this news of God’s mercy, of His care.

It is what brings life back, this far too overlooked sacrament, this anxious moment where we trust God enough to lay our soul wide open.  It is then, as the Lord of Life, the Holy Spirit circumcises our heart with the power of God’s love, that all which hinders our life.

This is a ministry we all need, for we need the freedom that we find as Christ delivers us from sin and death, as He liberates us from the oppression that can so dominate our lives.

Luther makes it clear, that part of this ministry is too timid consciences, those that are unsure of God’s grace, those that are bruised and battered by their own lives, by their pasts, by the fear that they won’t be accepted by God, or by His people.  That is no different today, as people will  gradually talk to a pastor or priest, as if trying to see if the water is scalding or frigid, only to warm up and get to the heart of what troubles them.

They need our ministry, our time, out ears to hear their confessions, our mouths to say what they long to hear, our eyes and hearts to assure them that the forgiveness we speak, is not ours, but we speak it for Him.

Because this life-giving ministry was given to us.

To stand by their side, to encourage them to cry out to God, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”

And to know that He has had mercy… and will walk by their side in life.

 

 

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 312). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 644-647). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where Renewal Starts…..


Devotional Thought of the Day:
26  This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27  It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.     1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)

109      There is an enemy of the interior life which is both little and silly. Unfortunately, it can be very effective. It is the neglect of effort in one’s examination of conscience.  (1)

For this reason private confession should be retained in the church, for in it consciences afflicted and crushed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare and receive consolation which they could not acquire in public preaching. We want to open up confession as a port and refuge for those whose consciences the devil holds enmeshed in his snares and whom he completely bewitches and torments in such a way that they cannot free or extricate themselves and feel and see nothing else but that they must perish. For there is no other greater misery in this life than the pains and perplexities of a heart that is destitute of guidance and solace.
To such, then, an approach to confession should be opened up so that they may seek and find consolation among the ministers of the church.  (2)

Growing up in the 1970’s there was a lot of talk of renewal, and movements which facilitated various renewals.  There was a call for liturgical renewal, retreats that offered times of personal renewal, parish and congregational renewal, and the movement which was known as the Charismatic Renewal.

Each form of renewal brought promise, sometimes delivered, sometimes frustrated.

Then in the 90’s we replaced renewal with revival, and then revitalizatiom.

Now it seems that renewal, either personal, congregational, across a denomination, or across the entire church has been tossed aside.  We’d rather close churches, and start something completely new.  We’d rather give up on people whose faith has become dormant, and focus on new conversion.  Or worse, offer hope to those churches and people, not through the renewal of their spirit, but through returning to the forms that left them dried, weary and with a withered faith.

How will these new lives survive when their new churches hit 20-25 years old (the age when some skeptics say churches begin to die)   What will happen to the faith of these people who are guided toward the dry, repetitive faith that caused their churches to dwindle?

Or is there an option?

Could it be found in these words from Paul about the examination of our hearts and souls? Could it be in letting confession and the examination it offers fall into disuse we have hindered renewal/revival in the church, and if the church is not renewed, neither is the world?

What joy have we prevented people from knowing, what joy and peace could we offer them, simply by helping them realize their need for forgiveness while assuring them it is offered?  What joy and peace have we neglected giving our people, what guilt and shame do they bear, not knowing they bear it without need?

We talk of wanting churches to grow, in number, faith and practice, yet we do not offer them the basic respite the psalmists craved, and rejoiced and rested as they received it.

What if we offered them a real chance to examine themselves, to consider their lives, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out in hope?  What if our words assured them of God’s mercy, of the forgiveness He years to give, of the love He would assure them they have?

Our people need to examine themselves, knowing that they are doing so to find their freedom in Christ.  To know that doing so will bring them life, as God sets aside all that would inhibit their life, and transform and make them Holy. For that is what absolution, that is our cleansing.

That is renewal, that is revival, that is life being restored to those who are weary and worn, broken and devastated.

May we, and our people cry out for the Lord’s mercy, knowing He who provides it is faithful.
AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 589-591). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 6: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 6, pp. 297–298). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Hope for the Church II: Do Our People….


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
15  After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.” 16  A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17  A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.   John 21:15-17 (TEV)

“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever.  (1)

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. (2)

79      I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character. (3)

There is a secret to ministry, A secret because it seems like we’ve forgotten it, not because someone has hidden it.  It is something Luther and Melancthon, Ignatius and Escriva all understood.

The necessity of prayer. The necessity of what is called “the interior life” or a devotional life.  Prayer not just as obligation, prayer not as a conversation between good friends (though that is part of it).  Prayer that actively turns over to God the things that are His, our very lives, and finds comfort and peace in the midst of it all.

But prayer is the kind of conversation that Jesus and Peter had on the beach, a time where we, broken, finally hear Jesus. It is then that we realize that He knows we love Him, that we realize He accepts us, and is transforming us, and is calling us to serve, even as we ourselves are being healed.

This is the piety that Escriva talks about, the piety that makes the difference, that teaches us to love, (to be charitable, to be grace-driven, not purpose driven) For as we realize the richness of God’s grace, of His love, of His presence, of His knowing we love Him; that love causes us to be devoted to Him, to adore Him.  (I think the old A.C.T.S. prayer model had it wrong, it should be Confession, Supplication, Thanksgiving, Adoration – for adoration flows out of the freedom given in that which precedes it!)

It is from that place of devotion, that place of adoring the God who welcomes Himself into out life, and walks with us, that ministry begins.  It is in knowing he accepts our love that our holiness and piety matures, a holiness and piety that sees the Kingdom of God established and revealed here, in our daily lives.

We do love Him, He accepts that love, because of the incredible dimensions of His love for us.

And realizing that changes everything in the church, including giving broken churches the hope we need to know…..

The Lord is with us!

AMEN!

 

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  (The Small Catechism Article III:The Second Petition

(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Article XIII)

(3)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 495-497). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Only Real Hope for the Dying Church…


Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 O God, you are my God— it is you I seek!
For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts,
In a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
3 I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.
4 For your love is better than life, my lips shall ever praise you! Ps 63:2–4 NAB-RE

Let me know Thee, O Lord, who knowest me: let me know Thee, as I am known. Power of my soul, enter into it, and fit it for Thee, that Thou mayest have and hold it without spot or wrinkle. This is my hope, therefore do I speak; and in this hope do I rejoice, when I rejoice healthfully. Other things of this life are the less to be sorrowed for, the more they are sorrowed for; and the more to be sorrowed for, the less men sorrow for them.

About twenty years ago, there became a movement known as being “seeker-sensitive.”  The problem is that they were looking for the wrong seekers.

The seekers were the people in the pews already, the members and regular folk who came to church, seeking God.  To learn that they could pray like David did in the Psalm above, or like Augustine in the quote in blue.

The seeker-sensitive movement, later re-defined as the “attractional model” didn’t change the course of the Church.  Nor did the counter reaction to it,  which focused on purity of teaching and practice before doing anything else.

In the meantime, the people who could have been seeking the presence of God, who could have learned that God would answer their desire, their yearning for His presence, were given academic studies, and told to save the world. And the Church suffered, having lost her First Love, the one She was betrothed to marry at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

What would happen if we realized God was waiting for us, yearning for our company, desiring our love, wanting to enter our souls, making them fit for Him, and holding them in that condition?

What if we realized that in sanctuaries, we could find the stillness that would allow us to know that He is our loving God, our refuge, our impenetrable fortress?  That there we would see the glory of His love for us, pouring out in the words fo scripture, and through the waters of baptism, and in the celebration that His body was broken, and blood poured out for us?

My dear brothers in ministry, my dear fellow believers walking with Jesus.  Seek Him out!  Know that the Lord is with you!  Yes!  Revealed in Word and Sacrament, there incarnationally, and truly present with you, even when the sanctuary is your body.  For you are the temple of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a broken world that the Spirit would bring hope and healing too.

If what you desire is to see the Church stop its death spiral, seek Christ.  Dwell in Him.  Rejoice in His love and mercy.

Years later, you will look back in awe.. amazed at what He has done.

(1)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Lesson the Church Must Re-Learn, to Survive


Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ.      1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)

22  I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: 23  I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.
John 17:22-23 (TEV)

74      We all have to be ipse Christus—Christ himself. This is what Saint Paul commands in the name of God: Induimini Dominum Iesum Christum—put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Each one of us—you!—has to see how he puts on that clothing of which the Apostle speaks. Each one personally, has to sustain an uninterrupted dialogue with the Lord.  (1)

It seems like every expert has a reason for the church dwindling in the last 50 years.  Some blame the declining birthrate among Caucasians.  Others say it is the necessary cost for remaining faithful to God, another group says it is because only new church plants grow, and that we invest too much in places where God put his name already.  ( I have to wonder, do they really believe God gave up on churches older than a generation? )

I am no expert, I have never spent money studying the issues, I haven’t left the parish to become a consultant, or a church bureaucrat.  I am not a mega church pastor, or a blogger with 10,000 subscribers.  I shepherd people, broken as I am, into the presence of Christ, and am in awe when He fulfills his promise, the promises I share in sermons, in classes, over a beer.  So take my words for what they are.

I think the issue  is simple,   

We’ve forgotten to share with people that not only are they saved, but that they become the children of God, the co-heirs of Christ Jesus, To use fancy theological terms, which while God hasn’t infused righteousness (He counts us righteous ) He has infused us with holiness. 

We’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, to dwell within us, to teach us, to transform us into the image of Jesus.  Not that we become superheroes, but servants, slaves, those who humbly walk with God. (see Phil. 2:1-10)

What is missing in the church, whether liberal or conservative, confessional or missional, no matter what the label we place on ourselves or others is this.

We’ve forgotten the concept of Christlikeness. 

Or, rather than considering it the promise of the Covenant, the blessing of the Gospel, we turn it into some kind of foreign works righteousness, and dismiss it as the Law we cannot hope to fulfill. 

It is the promise, the gospel, this blessing and privilege of repentance, (see Acts 11) that is granted to all who believe:  Hear Paul’s words,

29  No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
Romans 2:29 (NLT)

It is the change of heart, produced by God, a change Ezekiel 36 attached to God’s sprinkling of water, that Titus 3 confirms happening as the Father pours our His Spirit on us.  

Finally, it is the blessing of the prayer mentioned in John 17 above, as Christ gives us all that the Father gave Him, the unity, the glory, the ability to love. The ability to serve, even to die for those who are in need.  Even our enemies. Even those we would have looked down on.   To wash their feet, to let those betraying us close enough to embrace us, to work with whoever is considered unclean, that they would know the love of God.

This is our life; it is why we aren’t whisked into the throne room immediate after our baptism.   This is being the church of Christ the family of God.

It is time to heed the gospel found in Hebrews 12,

1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)

 

 

 

1)    Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 484-487). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

When Christians Grieve…. An Honest Conversation:


Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (TEV)

I knew what I was keeping down in my heart. And being very much displeased that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and appointment of our natural condition must needs come to pass, with a new grief I grieved for my grief, and was thus worn by a double sorrow.

When I came across these words of Augustine this morning, they resonated deeply within me.  He is right, I am so weakened by grief, that even this weakness causes me to grieve.

I’ve laid to many to rest recently; I am watching friends bury those they love, their dads, their husbands, their siblings, and even their children.  Funerals with hundreds in attendance, a graveside with 7.

I grieve because I grieve, that my faith seems so weak in the face of death.  As I attempt to move past this grief, I find myself unable to do so.  Even as I see those I am ministering to, those who I try to point to the hope that is in Christ, hope I firmly hold onto because I know His love,the tears still flow, the heartache still pounds.

Why can’t I move from the trauma to the healing?  Why can’t I move from the sorrow to the joy?   Why can’t I move from the frustration that comes in realizing that life is all too short, to the confidence I should have, because I am a believer?  After all, I am a pastor, I should have enough faith, I should realize the truth, I should be able to shut out this sorrow, this grief?

Or should I?

I think Paul the apostle would say no, that it is in the midst of the trauma we find the Spirit’s comfort, where we find the healing that God has promised there will be a day when death loses its sting.  It is in the midst of the frustration that I stop trying to be strong, well aware that I cannot be. It is in the middle of the sorrow that I do find the peace, and yes the joy that comes from realizing that Jesus is here, sharing that grief, sharing that sorrow.

That death was defeated, not by avoiding it, rather it is dying that He destroyed death, and we now find life in Him.

I will admit this, in this last month and a half, when I have over and over been swamped with grief, and then have been grieved that I am not strong enough to get past it, in this time the most incredible worship I have experienced in my life has occurred.  Simply because God has met us, and comforts.  He is truly our refuge, our sanctuary, our hope and our life.

God has answered, His mercy is known… and we can rest….

Can I be thankful for the grief?  Not for the reason, I grieve, but for that which has accompanied the grief, His strength supporting me in my weakness?

Yes, I can be thankful for that.  AMEN!

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Maranatha! I am not sure you know what this word means!


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!   Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)

22  Whoever does not love the Lord—a curse on him! Marana tha—Our Lord, come! 23  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
1 Corinthians 16:22-23 (TEV)

Yet when the Church departed from her Semitic motherland she took with her some words that have since become familiar to all Christians: amen, alleluia, hosanna—and, above all, marana-tha!  (1)

59      If you respond to the call the Lord has made to you, your life—your poor life!—will leave a deep and wide furrow in the history of the human race, a clear and fertile furrow, eternal and godly.  (2)

I love reading Pope Benedict on the topic of worship, especially about liturgical renewal.  Despite being one of the greatest theological minds of the last 200 years, his focus is that liturgy must be understood, and it must reveal Jesus. This morning, the devotional I have that is made up of his writings focused on this,and it is very good.

What struck me the most was the blue quote above, and the word that we need to keep from our “Semitic motherland”.  Not amen, that is, “this is true.”  Not Alleluia, that is, “Praise you YHWH/LORD.”  Not even the cry hosannah, which means “save us, LORD”!

The word that he would have us keep more than all, is the prayer, Maranatha!  Come Lord!  
I thought I knew the word, but I looked it up, just in case.  It is a bold prayer, but more than a bit terrifying in context.  For the prayer is for God to come with all of His justice, to come with His judgment. To answer a call to purge that which is evil, that which is wicked, that which is sinful and rebellious. It is the cry of the psalms, Lord, rescue the righteous, to pour out your wrath on those who deserve it.

To get rid of the murders, the cheats, the liars, those who are envious, the sexually impure the gossips… those who sin actively and passively, in what they do, but also what they say and think.
 
Are you ready for that?  Are you confident that your soul is clean enough to have God come back right now?  Everyone wants to end up in heaven, but are we ready to be judged for what we have done, or didn’t do?  Do you feel a sudden need for confession, to hear the words you are forgiven?

I know I do…

I need to know that grace!  I know I need to realize that I have found my hope, in that in Christ’s mercy, my sins have been purged from me, that I am counted as righteous because He cleansed me, uniting me to His death and Resurrection in Baptism (Romans 6, Colossians 2, 1 Peter 3) I need to be comforted, and know the love of God for me, a sinner. 9

It is in this Easter season that we are reminded that we are hidden in Christ, in heaven already.  For we dwell in the presence of God Himself. We need to realize this, contrary to the old saying, we need to be so Heavenly minded, so that we can be worth something here on earth!  

That is what Josemaria Escriva is talking about as well, responding to the call that Jesus has put on our life. Not the call to be a pastor or priest, or a lay leader, but the call of all, to be the children of God, to live in His presence. As we think of heaven, as we realize we are dwelling already in His presence, that changes us, and we leave a mark on this earth that makes a difference, because we love as He loves us.

This isn’t just thoughts of piety, but immense practicality. We need to cry out Maranatha, but we need to do so in faith, knowing out relationship with Jesus, knowing that repentance which He grants us, which gives us life.  And that repentance, that cry of faith, changes us, and through us, changes the world. 

So cry it out, in awe, in fear, counting on Jesus to do what He has done.

And live life, knowing He is with you.  

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. 130). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 436-438). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Monday: A perfect day for church! (I need it!)


Devotional Thought of the Day:

 20 How great is your goodness, Lord, stored up for those who fear you. You display it for those who trust you, in the sight of the children of Adam. 21 You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from scheming enemies. You conceal them in your tent, away from the strife of tongues. 22 Blessed be the Lord, marvelously he showed to me his mercy in a fortified cPsalm 31:20–25 (NABRE)ity. 23 Though I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your eyes.” Yet you heard my voice, my cry for mercy, when I pleaded with you for help. 24 Love the Lord, all you who are faithful to him. The Lord protects the loyal, but repays the arrogant in full. 25 Be strong and take heart, all who hope in the Lord.      Psalm 31:20–25 (NABRE)

42  All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47  all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.    Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

After the happy encounter on Easter morning, Mary Magdalen wants nothing more than to return to the former familiar status quo, to leave the Cross behind her as though it were just a bad dream. She wants to have “her teacher” as she had had him formerly. But that conflicts with what has transpired. No one can have Jesus as “his teacher” while disregarding the Cross.  (1)

As a young man, even as one who wanted to and was studying to be a pastor, I never understood why the church met in Acts daily in the temple.  Part of it seemed practical, how could you write a sermon every day, and do an adequate job.

Perhaps part of that is that I focus on the teaching aspect of their getting together, not the sacramental, the communal nature of it.  As one who was trained in expository and exegetical preaching, I tended to believe that the sermon was the critical part of any gathering of the people of God.  That it was and is the major tool in the box of the preacher, in order to make disciples of all nations.

Looking at Benedict’s words this morning, another piece of the puzzle fell into place.  If we think Jesus’ primary role is that of the teacher, the disciple whose lessons show us how to live, we have tragically missed what being a believer is about. 

It is for walking with God, about living life in HIs presence, in the presence of God who loves us. The love which drove Jesus to the cross, that love which had the Father throw all of His wrath on Him, the wrath we deserved, onto Jesus.  Check out Isaiah 53:10 and Hebrews 12:2-3 to see this more clearly, as it was for joy Christ went to the cross, and it pleased the Father to crush Him there.

So we could be the children of God. the holy children of God!

So great is His love for us!

So back to why I want there to be a church service on Monday, what Catholics and old fashioned Lutherans call a “mass.” It is because of the Psalm above.  As God becomes our refuge, our hiding place, the refuge, and fortress that David sought, that Luther’s most famous hymn celebrated and rejoices to find. 

It is there, that Jesus becomes more than a teacher, as we celebrate His incarnation in our midst, as we celebrate His sacrifice, as we take and eat, and take and drink the very body and blood of Christ.  It is there, with our knees bent, we find our refuge, we find our peace, at the altar where we encountered the crucified and risen Lord.   Where we find our healing, where we find our peace.

Where we no HIs promise, that He won’t forsake us, that we don’t walk alone.

Maybe I am a wimp, or too weak in my faith, but why should someone like me not value and treasure such times?  I have to deal too often with death, and with brokenness in life, in my life, in those I minister to, and that refuge, that time of rest and renewal is too meaningful.

The cross, the grave, the resurrection, and the knowledge we aren’t alone…..

What a blessing…

Maybe the early church knew what they were doing!

KNow God is with you my friends… know He is your refuge!

Even on Monday.  AMEN!

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. 129). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

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