Monthly Archives: February 2017

A Pastoral Confession: The Paradox of Holiness

DSCF1421Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

13  So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’.
1 Peter 1:13 (Phillips NT)

887    That discouragement produced by your repeated lack of generosity, by your relapses, by your falls—perhaps only apparent—often makes you feel as if you had broken something of exceptional value: your sanctification. Don’t be worried: bring to your supernatural life the wise way simple children have of resolving such a conflict. They have broken—nearly always through frailty—an object that is dear to their father. They’re sorry, perhaps they shed tears, but they go to seek consolation from the owner of what has been damaged through their awkwardness; and their father forgets the value—great though it may be—of the broken object and, filled with tenderness, he not only pardons, but consoles and encourages the little one. Learn.

Like most pastors, I struggle with this thing called holiness.

On the one hand, Scripture clearly lays it out as a requirement for our lives, and as a measuring stick for me personally, and for my vocation, my life as pastor.  If my goal is a pastor is to present you perfect and holy to God (see Col. 1:28)) then it is the standard to judge my work, my vocation, my life.

I’ve looked at how pastors treat holiness, looking for examples and encouragement, but I find too little.  I see most pastors and priest taking one of two attitudes about it, and neither seems to help.  I will go so far as saying both are contrary to scripture.

The first attitude is one of regimentation, of physical and mental obedience that doesn’t affect the heart.  This quickly develops into legalism, that is less concerned about you than about your life being lived visibly according to the set standards.  Everything becomes measured, notated and analyzed like a geometry test.  It is not discipleship as much as a form of cloning.  And it burns people out, for no one can live up to the standard, including those who see themselves as being responsible for measuring people against it.

The second attitude is just as dangerous, even though it seems the exact opposite.  TO deny the need for holiness, to say it is a unachievable goal, and that Jesus broke us free from answering completely to the law. ( For Lutherans, this would be those who deny that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a third use of the law)   As the legalists do this is not about the person, it is about the behavior.  They might say since holiness is impossible, just rely on grace to forgive you.  Not directly, but that is the result of their theory.

So I either push them too hard or don’t care what they do.

So where am I to shepherd them too?  How are they to be holy even as the Father is holy if they aren’t taught what holiness is, and how it develops in a person?

Even harder is my own application of holiness if I am not holy, how in the world can I expect to lead them into holiness, into a deeper, more committed, more fulfilling relationship where the peace and comfort that comes from knowing God loves them is their primary desire?

I think it comes from understanding what holiness is, what it looks like.

St. Josemaria gives a picture of it, with his description of a child breaking a treasured item. This is going to God, the owner, the author, and perfector of our holiness, and asking for comfort, for consolation – this is holiness.  At the very purest level, this seeing God’s help in restoring what is marred, what is broken, what is shattered, this is the kind of holiness we need to see.

The holiness of a child, seeking comfort, seeking peace, because we know what we have done, this destruction of what God treasured, is an act of faith, and an act of trust.

God will look past it; He promised He could because it was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Knowing this, we can run to Him; we can tell those running to Him the words of comfort, “Your sins are forgiven!”

This is the faith that runs to God, knowing He is with us.  Knowing and depending on a love that will allow nothing to separate us from Him. Providing for the people of God this encouragement, this blessing, this life.

Not just dismissing their sin, as if it didn’t cost the blood of Christ, nor scourging them and beating them up for their not living like the Lord who shed His blood for them.

It is in His death, which we are united to in baptism, that we find the grace St Peter talks of, the grace that gives us our hope, the hope that sustains us, and actually sanctifies us, for when we walk in His presence, when we run to Him for forgiveness and comfort, there He is working, making us Holy.

May we all run to our Father, and cry out for His help!

AMEN!


Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2049-2055). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why I Can’t Grow Up… I fall too much!

Will new camera 12 2008 167Devotional Thought of the Day:
13  Then some little children were brought to Him (Jesus), so that he could put his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples frowned on the parents’ action but Jesus said, “You must let little children come to me, and you must never stop them. The kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children like these!” Then he laid his hands on them and went on his way.    Matthew 19:13 (Phillips NT)

870    Don’t try to be older. A child, always a child, even when you are dying of old age. When a child stumbles and falls, nobody is surprised, and his father promptly picks him up. When the person who stumbles and falls is older, the immediate reaction is one of laughter. Sometimes, after this first impulse, the laughter gives way to pity. But older people have to get up by themselves. Your sad experience is that each day is full of stumbles and falls. What would become of you if you were not continually more of a child? Don’t try to be older. Be a child, and when you stumble, may your Father God pick you up by the hand.

Of all the spiritual writers I have read, and there have been a lot, from every little corner of Christianity, St Josemaria Escriva has had the most profound impact, because of the practical way he sees our faith, our dependence on God.   I would recommend his book “The Way,” to anyone seeking a faith that is more than Sunday morning, or 5 minutes reading a devotion the size of a postcard.  It is no different today, my 52nd birthday, as his words hit home, and hit home hard.

There is a part of me that wants to know more, be wiser, have words of wisdom and maturity that are profound.  To be able to preach words that inspire those who are down, which call people to repentance in a way that they run like mad into the waiting arms of God, trusting in His mercy.  I want to help people explore the height and depth, the width and breadth of God’s love for them.

This has been my dream since I was an awkwardly tall 8-year-old with untied sneakers, telling a family friend, Fr. Alex, that I wanted to be a priest, I wanted to tell people about Jesus and give them His body in communion.

At 52, I am still awkward, my sneakers are still often untied, and though my falls aren’t physical, they are still there.  I understand Paul’s words in Romans 7 all too; clearly, I am not the mature, wise, holy person I know I should be.  In fact, like most pastors and priests, there are days I wonder why I am here.  Can’t God do better?  Can’t He make me the kind of shepherd these people need?  Can’t Jesus find someone who does better with temptation, and able to deal wisely with the evil that is so oppressive?

St. Josemaria snaps me out of this spiritual downward spiral with his words this morning  (odd they show up on my birthday, isn’t it?)  The best thing I can do is not astound people with wisdom, it is to let them see God pick me up.  To let them see the joy in my eyes when He does.  To be the child that runs and desires to be in His presence, even if the foolish disciples try to bar my way, I am going to see Him, I am going to hear His blessing.

Hopefully, along the way, I will drag some of my friends with me, and maybe even an enemy or 2….000?

If I pretend to be something other than a child, as I’ve tried, I will still fall. But I will try, as an adult, to excuse the fall, to justify it, to make it out to be less painful.  I will force myself to try and get up on my own, only to fall again, and perhaps even harder, or take others with me. But as a child, as one who is confident of God’s presence, who knows His love and mercy, then I know He will pick me up, that He will run to my side, that He will care for me.

Not that I want to fall, I want to make Him proud.  But as a child, when I do, I can cry out for help, and He will come.

And if I can teach my people that, and they confidently cry out (knowing His love and mercy)  when they fall as well… I’ve done my job as a brother in Christ, and as their pastor. For they have learned about His love… and have experienced it.

A simple cry, “Lord Have mercy on me, a sinner….Papa, help!” 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2005-2010). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why there is no “them”

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. 10  Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. 11  Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12  cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. 13  Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. 14  Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. 15  Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. 16  Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. 17  Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.
Romans 12:9-17 (MSG)

Christ raised up the image of Adam. You are not just clay; you extend beyond all cosmic dimensions to the very Heart of God. It is not the one who is scourged who is degraded, but the one who scourges; not the one spat upon, but the one who spits; not the one put to scorn, but he who puts to scorn; it is not pride that raises man up, but humility; not self-glorification that makes him great, but that union with God of which he is capable.

Union with God, what a concept laid out for us in this quote in blue.  Union with God. 

I hear in the background two voices, one saying we can’t be buddy buddy with God, the other where Jesus tells us that we are not his servants, but his friends.   One that cries out for reverent submission, one which sees God the Father running faster than anyone else to welcome us home.

I struggle with this because I have seen the extreme where Jesus being our friend mutates to the idea that He is a good ole boy who understands our sinful nature and simply turns a blind eye to it.  I have seen the other extreme as well, where we are so terrified of being caught in sin that our reaction is to try to run and hide from Him, rather than run to Him.

The balance isn’t even on the radar of the extremes, for the balance is found as God draws us in and in His cultivation of our relationship with Him.

Even as we do this, we need, we must realize when we talk of God loving us this way, we are talking about a larger group than you and I.  We are talking about all the people that Christ died for, really we are talking about all people.

You aren’t just a bunch of dirt, and neither am I.  Our value is that our lives don’t just matter to God – they are previous, we are precious – priceless in His evaluation.  So are those we discount, those we struggle with, those we fear.  Their lives are just as precious, they are people that God has in His heart.

This is why Paul calls us to love people, to recognize God’s Spirit in them, and to see God’s desire that all would be His family.  Just as we are. To realize our enemies have the same God who cares for them, the God who doesn’t dismiss or write them off, or consider them lower that dirt. He discovers the beauty in each of us, or rather, He created us with that beauty, and reveals it more and more as we know HIs love.

This no “them” for a Christian, no dividing line, even that label enemy cannot divide people from us, for it didn’t divide us from Jesus.  He draws us into himself anyway, loving us, cherishing us, healing our souls, and helping us to see others whose souls He would heal as well.

Lord have mercy on us all… AMEN!

 

 

 

 

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

Brother to Brother…..one glorious hope!

church at communion 2Discussion Thought of the Day:
3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.    Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Where man is no longer believed to be under God’s protection, to have God’s breath in him, then people begin to assess him from a utilitarian point of view. Then there appears the barbarity that tramples on human dignity.  (1)

Twenty-one years ago, an album containing the music of two masters was put together, one singing the lead of the other’s composition, both playing the instruments and blending their voices together.  They went on tour together, and while I would love to see many people in concert, to see Michael Card and John Michael Talbot together, would be one of my dreams.  

The album was called Brother to Brother, and it was playing in the background when I came across the words of Pope Ratzinger in my devotional reading this morning.  The lead song, One Faith,  comes from another favorite album, JMT’s The Regathering, which finds its inspiration in the words above from Ephesians 4.  It pictures the regathering of all the saints, into the perfect communion that is Christ Jesus.  As I look out on a broken world and the one holy, catholic (small c means all of us) apostolic and sadly fractured church, that day seems so precious, so wonderful and so far away.

It is the prayer and desire of Jesus fulfilled, that we truly be one, even as the Father and He are one.

And we see the glimpse of it in Pope Benedict’s (Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them) above in blue.  When we realize that every man is under God’s protection, every man has God’s breath in them, we can no longer view them as anything utilitarian.  We cannot hang generalizations, we cannot define them by affiliation or hang demographic labels on them.  Even the labels adversary and enemy fade away, along with fears and anxieties, as we see Christ in them, and therefore find someone who is loved, even as we are loved.  Someone Jesus is calling to, even as he calls to us.

Pope Benedict went on to say, We must always look upon other men as persons with whom we shall one day share God’s joy. We must see them as persons with whom we are called to be members of the body of Christ, with whom we shall one day sit at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the table of Jesus Christ, as persons called to be our brothers or sisters, and to be, with us, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of God.”

This isn’t easy.  It means we must trust and depend on God more than our fears, our anxieties, our resentments.  it requires seeing the individual as more than important than those things.  The only way to do that is to see the heart of God, the Lord who gave His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed for all on the cross, and then unify all He calls in a meal where He shares His body and blood again.

Including those that don’t understand yet, for we are called to love them, and invite them to this feast…..We won’t conquer our fears, we won’t willingly become martyrs if necessary if we don’t see them loved by God, even as He loves us.

Lord have mercy on us sinners, and help us to see that You died for each and every individual.  AMEN!

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

The Battle for our Mind…. will we dare surrender, or not?

clydes-cross-2Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus: 6  Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. 7  But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, 8  he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.    Philippians 2:5-8 (NJB)

1  We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2  We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. 3  For even Christ didn’t live to please himself. As the Scriptures say, “The insults of those who insult you, O God, have fallen on me.” 4  Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Romans 15:1-4 (NLT)

I cannot sufficiently admire the ardour with which this counsel was put in practice by St. Louis, one of the greatest kings the sun ever shone on. I say a great king in every kind of greatness. He frequently served at table the poor whom he maintained, and caused three poor men almost every day to dine with him, and many times eat the remainder of their pottage with an incomparable love. When he visited the hospitals, which he frequently did, he commonly served those suffering from leprosy and ulcers, and such as had the most loathsome diseases, kneeling on the ground, respecting, in their persons, the Saviour of the world, and cherishing them as tenderly as any fond mother cherishes her own child. 

856    Spiritual childhood demands submission of the mind, which is harder than submission of the will. In order to subject our mind we need not only God’s grace, but a continual exercise of our will as well, denying the intellect over and over again, just as it says “no” to the flesh. And so we have the paradox that whoever wants to follow this “little way” in order to become a child, needs to add strength and manliness to his will.

What a challenging concept St. Josemaria brings out in the words in blue above. 

It is challenging enough to bend my will to make sacrifices that I do not want to, but the truth is, I can do that without putting my mind and soul into it.  You can force yourself to do just about anything, but to submit how you think – how you feel about it, now there is a challenge.

if we change how we act, but resent doing so, or are apathetic at best, how does that benefit?  Doesn’t  that attitude, that state of mind rob us of doing our best – and even going beyond to help those in need?  And the action is torturous to us.

We can bend the will, but what we really need is what scripture calls repentance, (see Romans 12:1-3), the transformation of our mind.  What Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3:15ff as the Spirit changes us as we gaze upon Christ, what is echoed in Hebrews 12:2-3 as well, as we journey without eyes set on Christ.

This is what King Louis, one of the few Kings that was labeled a saint knew.  It was for joy that he entertained the poor, and cared for the lepers, cherishing those in whom he saw his beloved savior. That changes our mind, which drives our will for the love and joy involved, rather than with resentment.  Then sacrifice, and submission becomes an incredible joy, even as it was for Christ! For to help those who need encouragement is our vocation, our doing what we are created to do.  As our mind is submitted to Christ’s, and His mind and attitude becomes ours, the greatest joy is when we bring our enemy to the Father, seeing them reconciled to Him.

It is then nothing else matters, for we realize that our self-interest, our burdens, our anxieties stop us from knowing the greatest joys, from seeing God in His glory, as He dwells with us.

Lord have mercy on us, and constantly remind us that our lives are in You!  AMEN!

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1975-1978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can anyone stop “them”? Should anyone?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
28He said to them, “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. 29And so when you sent for me, I came without any objection. I ask you, then, why did you send for me?”

Peter spoke up: 47“These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptized with water?  Acts 10:28-29, 46b-47

Philothea, our possessions are not our own, but were lent to us by God to cultivate them, and it is his will that we should render them fruitful and profitable, and therefore we perform services agreeable to Him in being careful of them; but then it must be a greater and more solid care than that which worldlings have of their goods, for they labour only for love of themselves, but we must labour for the love of God.

As I was reading this passage in Acts this morning, I noticed something I had overlooked before, something staggering in light of some of today’s issues.

Peter didn’t know why he was there!

He knew God wanted him there, he knew he was going to speak for God, but Peter didn’t get what God was about to do.  A few verses later he sees it, as he stands in the midst of those that represent the oppression of his people, an evil, violent government, and people that days before, he considered defiled. He believed they were so defiled and unclean that simply by walking into their home, he would be considered defiled and unclean.

Even so, the Spirit sent him to Cornelious’ home, and taught him over and over that God is the one who determines who is unclean and defiled, not culture, not tradition, not even the anxieties that plagued them.

Then, even as Peter is learning this lesson for real, God takes it a step further. He just doesn’t confirm that these people can hear the gospel, He pours out His Spirit upon them. Peter’s obedience to the command to not consider them unclean results in their salvation, their being made one of us, the people of God. Our brothers and sisters in Christ.

How wonderful!  How incredible!

And how much a lesson we need to see in our day and time.

God may not send us into their homes today, it seems that He is bringing them into our homes. They are refugees and immigrants, they are those who are turning to us for help, just as Cornelius was guided to send for Peter.

Will we consider them unclean and defiled?  Will we let our anxieties rule over our mission?  But as we encounter them ( and all we encounter) will we let God determine whether they are deserving to hear of His love?   Will we let God move their hearts, and put His Spirit within them?

Or will our attitudes put up road blocks?  Will our self-righteous judgment drive them away, insisting that we have to protect what is ours?  (which really isn’t – see the quote from St. Francis De Sales in blue)

The realization that I started this with was that Peter didn’t know exactly why he was there, he had been told by God that he was to go, that this was God’s plan. As so he went, and came to know Cornelius, and so found the greatest joy.

May our faith grow like his, where we can set aside our fears, our anxieties, our biases and share with people the love of God. And so discover the one we thought was our adversary is really our brother.

Lord have mercy on us all…

 

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

 

A Heartfelt Story and Plea, from those whose disabilities aren’t easily visible.

A good friend wrote this, but she wrote it so well she is speaking for me and my son, and others with genetic disorders, diseases, even things like Aspergers and other things that make life different and challenging.  It is not my usual blog, but it is something we all need to understand!  Please read and consider what Sharon and I and many others go through… and how you can either be a friend, or drag us down…how you can love them, rather than igoring or mocking them.

I want to share something very important to me. It all starts with a story.

On the side of the road, leaning against a building nearby the sidewalk, sits a young woman. She seems to ignore the tripping hazard caused by her outstretched legs. A cardboard sign is propped up nearby with the typical sob story followed by a request for donations. Also at her side is a small grocery cart containing a few essentials. It goes everywhere with her. She rarely moves from her spot during the day, but when she does it’s with an annoyingly slow plod. In general however, she sits. Always in the same place, often barely moving for hours on end. In appearance she looks healthy enough, but it’s hard to miss her slowness in responding, her glazed eyes, her excessively flushed cheeks. Occasionally someone will offer her a job, and she always politely declines. Most passersby assume that she is a lazy alcoholic who deserves little attention.

What people don’t know is the physical pain she endures every single hour. That her legs are kept outstretched because that’s the least painful sitting position she can manage. How even holding the sign for an hour would cause her arms to scream in agony, so she keeps it to the side instead. That she walks slowly and leans heavily on the cart to minimize the stabbing sensation of every step. How she wishes that she could accept offers of work, but knows that even an hour’s work will cause too much pain for her to continue. Even her begging location was chosen for its close proximity to where she could sleep, rather than for its traffic and success in income. That she tends not to move a muscle out of necessity rather than desire. People don’t realize that her flushed face, glazed eyes, and slow responses are also her own body’s making. Not alcohol or drugs. How pain combined with flu-like fatigue and lightheadedness causes her to struggle at maintaining any level of concentration.

This young woman could be me.

I am disabled. I’m also physically unable to work. Yet at the same time, I look perfectly “normal” and “healthy” to any observer. All of the symptoms described for the young woman are a simplified version of my personal experience. If I did not have my incredibly supportive family and friends, I would very easily end up on the streets.
When you talk about healthcare, welfare, and the disabled as if they’re all faking or lazy, you communicate that people like me are worth less than you. You communicate that you would rather prevent a single “lazy” person from receiving free stuff than provide assistance to 99 individuals in need. You assume that people like me, who are legitimately disabled yet look “healthy” on the outside, are lazy and lying. You communicate that you would rather assume I am lying about my condition than provide help.
When your first response to the possibility of people dying by losing healthcare is that the sick are probably going to die anyway, then you communicate to me that it would be fine if I died due to lack of assistance. You ignore the fact that people with non-life-threatening conditions can die due to those conditions, simply through inadequate support.
If your reaction to disabled people dying due to lack of medical access is that now they’re out of their misery, and oh yay their family is free to have a life again, then you communicate that I am better off dead. That I am such a burden to my loved ones that it would benefit everyone if I simply committed suicide. You communicate to me that my life isn’t worth as much as yours, because I am unable to hold a traditional job. That my reliance on others to live takes away my worth as a human.
When you call yourself a Christian and say these things, you communicate that you agree with the priest from Luke 10:31.

Whenever you talk about welfare, healthcare, or disabled people, please think of people like me. Don’t dehumanize the conversation. You are talking about the lives of human beings. Please remember that.

Thank you.

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