Author Archives: justifiedandsinner

Has your Faith matured, or just gotten old?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:
3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:3 (NLT2)

68 We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?
69 Of course, it is true that those who despise the sacrament and lead unchristian lives receive it to their harm and damnation. To such people nothing can be good or wholesome, just as when a sick person willfully eats and drinks what is forbidden him by the physician.
70 But those who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help, should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems. For here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils.

Sin can be forgiven but not corruption, simply because at the root of every corrupt attitude there is a fatigue for transcendence. In front of God who does not get tired of forgiving, the corrupt person gets tired of asking for forgiveness.

You can’t go to a seminar for church leaders where you won’t hear about the “nones”, the people who have no religious affiliation at all, that won’t even declare themselves agnostic, or atheist.  They are described by those who “observe” them as apathetic toward any form of organized religion.  

I am not sure as I would describe them as the apathetic ones.  

I think I would describe as apathetic those who believe we can’t reach them, just as five to ten years ago we gave up on GenX and tried to focus on the millennials.  You might be thinking I am talking about being apathetic about out-reach, about Evangelism, 

I am not, I think our problem is deeper than that, that our apathy starts with the very salvation and the presence of God. It starts with what Martin Luther called despising the sacrament, or “getting tired of asking forgiveness” that Pope Francis describes as being subject ot corruption.  We see it as well in Paul’s words in Hebrews, asking what hope is there for those who neglect so great a salvation.

As a pastor, as one who trains others in ministry, what  I’ve learned is that people can only respond so long to motivational cries for evangelism before they burn out.  They can only keep their purpose-driven lifestyle up so long before it fades and disappears and we lose our first love. If doing our duty is our motivation in our being missional, in working where God has sent us to be a light, then we will fatigue like metal, We will allow our spirits to be corrupted.  

Some call this backsliding, others term it a “falling away”. I simply think a spirit of apathy has found room in our hearts and slowly taken over. Instead of maturing in our relationship with Jesus, we’ve allowed it simply to age, to get old. As it ages it becomes more fragile, brittle, and even bitter.

Where is the answer?  

It is going back to what is amazing, what moves us from the fear of God into being in awe of Him.  In once again finding the joy that comes when we know we are forgiven, that God is restoring our relationship with Him, and restoring the calling in our lives. We need to see the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist as the incredible blessing it is, and the promise of again knowing we are forgiven, and that God desires to share in our life, as He invites us to share in His. 

The medicine that cures apathy is God’s mercy, applied to the wounds in our lives caused by sin.  That healing changes us, and as we experience the fact that we are loved, that God rejoices when we allow Him to forgive and heal us of the damage inflicted by sin.  That promise, fo forgiveness realized is not easily forgotten, nor that feeling as we take and eat, and take and drink, and experience the depth of God’s love. Prayer, reading the scriptures, remembering the promises given to you in baptism, receiving Christ in the Lord’s supper, and hearing your sins are absolved renews your faith.  A renewed faith is full of joy.  That joy is contagious, that joy, lived out day to day is noticeable…..and you can’t be apathetic about it.

That joy is the thing that will attract the “nones” 

You want to reach a broken world?  Let God reach you in your brokenness… and heal you of your sin!

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 234). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Suffering, and trying to blackmail God….

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9  In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 (NLT2)

776    Don’t fall into a vicious circle. You are thinking: when this is settled one way or another, I’ll be very generous with my God. Can’t you see that Jesus is waiting for you to be generous without any reservation, so that he can settle things far better than you imagine? A firm resolution, as a logical consequence: in each moment of each day I will try generously to carry out the will of God.

I have been at people’s sides when they were so overwhelmed that they thought they would never live through it.  And I’ve been there when they not only expected to die, they actually expected it. The feeling as darkness closes in, as our hope in this life seems to fade, these emotions?  feelings?  Those words aren’t strong enough, this level of life seems too unbearable, even as tears come without warning, or worse, the days when you wonder if there are any left. 

It is those times we want to be like Luther, hiding in plain sight in a thunderstorm, trying to make a deal with God. “God, if you will only let me survive this, I will dedicate my life to you as a monk, or go on the mission field, or give up my favorite moments of sinful joy.”

 In Josemaria’s words, we refuse to be generous with God unless He miraculously settles the issue, solves the problem, provides the miracle.  We look at accounts like Luther’s, or we misappropriate the story of Gideon’s fleece, and blackmail God, only giving Him what He should have if our demands are met if our rescue is completed if we receive the blessings we want.   We can even find justification for our actions in Jacob’s wrestling with God, demanding a blessing from Him.  

Except that Gideon’s fleece wasn’t something that directly benefited him, and Jacob’s blessing was not a blessing of his choosing. 

And Luther?

I wonder if God hadn’t already been working on his to give up the legal profession for the ministry.  Seems like an awfully random thing to come up with in the midst of a storm. Repent of something might be more common, fearing God’s wrath certainly, but sacrificing his life as a living sacrifice? 

I think he may have already been doing a Jonah routine on that one.

And God used his suffering to benefit many.  God would use his sacrifice to reform the church (yes the Catholic Church reformed after that – some of his issues were handled at Trent, and then Vatican I & II… and maybe some more..eventually) 

When we try, under duress or plan, to blackmail God, we take our eyes off of Him, and we ignore or refuse to see and hear His plan, and how it will be good. Even in this midst of pain, even in the midst of suffering. 

That’s when we need to listen to Paul, and the sure confidence he has in God, who rescues us from sin and death. We learned to rely on God he writes. instead of relying on ourselves. It is a plea to us as well; that we would know we can rely on Him, too. “He will continue to rescue..”

We need to know that.  For the, we can hear Josemaria’s advice, to give generously, without any reservation, without any thought of the suffering, for we shall endure eternally with Jesus. Don’t wait for everything to work out, give of yourself generously during the crisis.  Depend on His faithful love. Look forward to the day we will be at home with the Father/  As it is now, with the Spirit indwelling in us, so it will be with our dwelling in the Father’s presence, fully experiencing the breadth, width, height, and depth of His love. 

Heavenly Father, when we suffer, help us to keep looking to you, knowing Your love is faithful always, that you do promise all to work for good for us who love You.  Help us to realize we aren’t always the best judge of that, and simply trust in You.
We pray this in Jesus name, AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1791-1795). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Get That Church (the gathering, the mass) is a Celebration?

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Do we go to church for our benefit, or God’s?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Hallelujah!
Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly. 2 Let Israel celebrate its Maker;  let the children of •Zion rejoice in their King. 3 Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre. 4 For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation. 5 Let the godly celebrate in triumphal glory; let them shout for joy on their beds.   Psalm 149:1-5

39 In conclusion, now that we have the right interpretation and doctrine of the sacrament, there is great need also of an admonition and entreaty that so great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, may not be heedlessly passed by. What I mean is that those who claim to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently.

Since I started studying for the ministry in 1983, I have usually been taught two things about what happens when the people of God gather together. (You may call this a worship service, a divine service, church, or the mass; but I am talking about the main time a group of people are gathered by God together, where they sing, hear scripture read, a teaching time (called a sermon or homily) and perhaps (more about this later) sharing in our communion with the Lord’s Body and Blood.

Both teachings focused on service.  The difference is who is serving whom.

In the first theory, we go to church to serve God.  We go out of obedience to the commandment which talks about keeping holy the Sabbath. We go to church because it is our duty, and if we miss doing our duty, God will punish us, either actively, or perhaps by withholding the blessings He would have poured out for us.

The problem is that looking at this “active” view of church reduces it to mere duty, and then we start to ask how much is enough.  Can I serve God by going once a month instead of weekly?  Can I get by with once a year or one a quarter?  How active do I have to be to be a Christian?  Why can’t I just be with God at the beach, or in a forest?

The second theory is that we go to church to be served by God. That His servants exist to make sure we receive what we need through explaining God’s word and giving us the sacrament.  This breeds a consumer mentalism to church as well, as we go to the church that feeds us the best.  We want the purest doctrine, explained in an enjoyable way that drives away our sin and weaknesses and makes us stronger in our faith and the way we approach life.

Both of these ways make sense, and in part, they both are true., in that in a church service, in the mass, we should be serving God and He, most assuredly,, serves us.

But the reason we go to church, the reason we are gathered into the assembly of His people (and those that are becoming His people) is neither.

The reason we are gathered is that it is a celebration,  It is a time for us, as the Psalmist says, to sing and dance as we rejoice in the presence of our King, our Lord, our Heavenly Father! It is likewise a chance for God to take pleasure in His people.  It is, as one of my professors was known to utter, “the people of God gathered in the presence of God”

It is why our forefathers called it the “Celebration of the mass” understood as the “Gathering/Communion of the saints”.  Yet this gathering, this celebration is that not just of the saints, bit the saints gathered around and in fellowship with God.  That communion, that fellowship, that time where we and God are together, His people and Him, that is the treasure we find in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (which is why the passage from Luther’s catechism described it being offered daily!)

This church service/mass and Lord’s Supper/Eucharist isn’t a solemn occasion, though certainly, it is one we should treasure and celebrate with all we are. It is God and man, together, living as one, because of Christ.  It is a Thanksgiving feast, a celebration of peace with God, and the welcoming of the prodigal home.

It is a time we celebrate with an abundance of Joy, it is one God where God looks out on His people and is pleased.  It should be an amazing time, where we realize what God has done, adopting us as His kids, and we adore the one who loves us.

Celebrate this, my friends. and jealously treasure this time with the One who loves us, and draws us together.

Heavenly Father, draw us together with greater and greater frequency, with a hunger to know You, to explore and experience Your love.  We pray this all in Jesus name!  AMEN!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 451). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

We Beleive… but are we sure?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  He saved us and called us to be his own people, not because of what we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace. He gave us this grace by means of Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10  but now it has been revealed to us through the coming of our Savior, Christ Jesus. He has ended the power of death and through the gospel has revealed immortal life. 11  God has appointed me as an apostle and teacher to proclaim the Good News, 12  and it is for this reason that I suffer these things. But I am still full of confidence, because I know whom I have trusted, and I am sure that he is able to keep safe until that Day what he has entrusted to me. 2 Timothy 1:9-12 (TEV)

791    You lack drive. That’s why you sway so few. You don’t seem very convinced of what you gain by giving up the things of the earth for Christ. Remember: “A hundredfold and life everlasting!” Would you call that a poor bargain

This afternoon I shall officiate at a service for a dear lady who recently departed. It is not the first funeral I have done, it is not even in the first 100. This lady was over 90 years old, led what most would call a successful life, and seemed so strong that she would out last us all.

I will be at another service later this week and had a  couple only a few weeks ago.  If I believe the statistics, it is not just people who are dying, it is the faith community they belong to, or once belonged to, in other words, the church.  My denomination may close 25% of its congregations in the next 10 years, it may shrink even faster than that, if something doesn’t change.

And as I am having to deal with mortality, I read the words of St Josemaria this morning, and I realize the point he makes. I am not sure we even realize there is an existence beyond this life, we dont’ think about what is beyond death, we just try to hold it off.  Some of us, myself included, are struggling to survive day to day, so even next week seems like an illusion. 

How can we be grateful for something that is not quite tangible? How do we consider the necessity and blessing of salvation if we can barely think further than Friday? 

Paul considers that He is confident because He knows whom he depends upon, the Lord who has revealed life and immortality to Him.  There is a relationship there that sustains him, it is that relationship that gives him the ability to be sure, that no matter the suffering, that he will dwell in the presence of God forever. 

That goes beyond theological knowledge, it is something that our hearts and souls have to grasp, to hold on to, to find hope in this promise of God.  Being convinced and persuaded of this reality that God plans, His promises are there for us, that His work will be completed in us, that assurance changes how we interact with each other.  

You want to change how you or your church reach out, help them understand that for many, eternity is but a breath away.  Help them know the blessing of living in God’s presence now, the peace, the freedom from sin, the blessing of knowing God is with them, leading them home.

AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1826-1828). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Brings the Greatest Pleasure? A Concordia sermon on Ephesians 1:3-14

church at communion 2

What Brings the Greatest Pleasure?
Ephesians 1:3-14


† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you as much pleasure as you receive it and share it with others as it brings God!

 The Pleasure of a Job Well Done

This week I had to drop off nine cases of books at Concordia University. Mark Siegert, one of the professors in the Cross-cultural Ministry Center and I used dollies to bring them from the car to the building, a distance of about 100 feet up a gradual hill.

As we finished, we both laughed.  For we both managed bookstores before we got into ministry, he ran Concordia’s and I ran Pepperdine’s.  Back in the day, we would unload with our crew, shipments of 200 plus cases. And barely be tired.  That day, we were both exhausted after three simple trips! On the way back, I thought of those days, I remember the feeling after a long day shuttling cases of books, and watching the sun go down over the ocean, drinking a coke with my employees.

There is something special about doing a good job, and the sense of pleasure from accomplishing it with people you call your friends.

If that is so, how much more pleasure would God have, from accomplishing His greatest work, and celebrating it with those he loves?

The Job He Has Done

In Paul’s epistle to the church in Ephesus, we heard this morning about the work of God and the pleasure it gives Him.   In fact, Paul was so impressed, he told us about this work of God in 12 ways, which I want to go over again.

1.  He blessed us with every spiritual blessing as we are united to Jesus

2. He chose us to be in Christ to be holy and without fault, any fault, as He looks at us!

That I think is a bit of work!  At least in my case!

3.  He adopted us into His own family! He did this, again, by uniting us to Jesus, to His death and resurrection!  This wasn’t just down to make us happy, to give us joy, but this is what said gave God the greatest pleasure!  Making us His kids in every sense of the Word.

4.  He poured out His glorious grace on us, for we belong to Jesus

5. He is so rich in Kindness He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son

We need to pause here, and stop and think that Jesus’s blood paid for that sin you committed on Wednesday, yes, that one sin you thought you could hide, that no one would know about.  He paid for that sin, with the blood poured out, there on the cross.

We need to understand this, not just the thousands of sins that we commit over a lifetime, but that sin that haunts us, that we fear if it became known, it would ruin us. That sin, as well as all the others, paid for so that we could be adopted.

6.  He will bring everything together as one, at the right time!

What a day that will be, no more division, nor more struggle!

7.  Because we are united to Jesus, we have an inheritance waiting for us, we have a place!

8. Because He chose us, everything in life will work out according to His plan!

now there are days I don’t understand how everything works out into His plan, and I have to be honest with that.  There are those times I don’t see it, yet, what gets me through those times is refocusing on His plan, on His desire that all would be with Him!  When I refocus on that, the suffering is still there, but somehow its grip on me diminishes in strength. For the more we look to Him, the surer we are of His love, and therefore His promises

9.  Even though others were saved first, God made sure that because we have heard His word, He has saved us as well!

Number 10 in this recounting of God’s work is amazing, and I wish we had hours to go into it.

10.  He identified us as HIS! He picked us out of the lineup and said, you are mine, and He did this by giving us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, just as He promised long ago!

11. The Holy Spirit, given to us in baptism is the guarantee of the promises He gave us.

This wonderful comforter counted here as the guarantee of our salvation is just eh beginning of it.  Again, another sermon series could be on each of these points that Paul is sharing with the church in Ephesus!

and the final one, something that expands on an earlier point.

12.  He purchased us to be His people.

We are His people, and this is the work, the thing God has labored at, and suffered to see happen.

We are His, identified as His, adopted as His, united in Christ’s death where He paid for all our sins and freed us from them so we could have this wondrous relationship with Him!.

And someday, the sun will set for a final time, and all of us will arrive home.

This is what brings Him pleasure, not the

And find God rejoicing, with the largest of smiles, pleased at the work He has done, making us all His own.

Christianity is not just about getting us to heaven or avoiding hell, it isn’t just about doing good and not doing evil.  It is about being in a relationship with God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ whose blood was shed so that relationship would become possible.

Not just for you and me, but for every broken person that Christ died for, for every person He would save, for every person that God would adopt, for we know the pleasure it brings Him.

May he work through each one of us, helping us to see many more come to hear His of His work in their life!  AMEN!

 

Dare I pray this? Dare I not?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. 24  Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. Psalm 139:23-24 (NJB)

Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. 2 For the person who speaks in another •language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks •mysteries in the Spirit. l 3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church.  1 Cor 14:1-4 HCSB

771    God exalts those who carry out his will in the very same things in which he humbled them.

There is a joke about being cautious as you pray for things like patience and faith, because surely God will hear those prayers, and give you the opportunity to see your growth.  Of course, the only way to see growth in those things is when you have to demonstrate them.

Even though the idea of having to be patient is scary, the idea of praying the psalmist pray this morning is even scarier.  To give God permission, to beg God to investigate every nook and cranny of our heart, our soul, our very being, and to make sure I am not doing anything offensive, anything evil, anything that would lead me to ruin.

God knows our right and our wrong, our acts of rebellion, our sin, but to invite Him in to purge them from us?  That is a hard prayer, that is one that scares me, for somehow I think that what I hide from him, what I deny to myself, somehow doesn’t count, it doesn’t affect me and others, it just was a passing moment, something I barely remember.

And yet, it is only after I pray that, only after letting Jesus carefully circumcise my heart, that I can begin to understand how great His love his and be in awe of His mercy. It is only then that I can begin to realize what it means to be the one He loves, and adore God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only then that life begins.

A focus on such love, pursuing such love is essential for those of us who preach, who prophesy, who teach.  Whether it is to a parish of thousands, or to two or three in a elementary sunday school class.  I believe there is a distinct impact on preaching and teaching that comes from knowing we are loved.  Not just knowing it as a fact, but living in the midst of that love, knowing that love so well that we easily trust Him, even with the darkest parts of our lives.

It is as we are rescued from that darkness we can speak of it in a way that edifies the church, that lifts them up, that convinces them of the love of God.  THat allow them to realize that God loves them as well, that they can trust Him to transform them.

That when God humbles us, it is so that, cleansed of all that has damaged us, we can be lifted up, healed, and in awe, knowing He loves us.

Such is our calling, such is our relationship with HIm… and though this prayer still scares me, can we pray it together?

Heavenly Father, we count on our love, we acknowledge the need of the Spirit to come through our lives, cleansing us from our sin, our brokenness, our pursuit of things we know distress you. Lord, help us to pursue the love you told us you have, and counting on that love, search our hearts our souls and minds, Find the things that displease You and take them away, so that you may guide us on this way of everlasting life.

AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1785-1786). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Independence or Isolation? We need ot be careful which we choose.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1 I lift my eyes to You,  the One enthroned in heaven. 2 Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God until He shows us favor.    Ps. 123:1-2 HCSB

Many men and women are experiencing more and more today serious lowliness and neglect as a result of their excessive zeal for autonomy which they inherited from modernity. But mostly they have lost the support of something that transcends them.

For the last day or two, pictures from last summer remind me of my favorite place on earth.  It is a quiet place, and even in the midst of the summer Deer Cove on Lake Ossipee was quiet, tranquil, a great place to walk, enjoy God’s creation and peace.

I miss it, this idyllic, beautiful peaceful place. 

When life is stressful and overwhelming, when I am dealing with people in great trauma, I long to find the autonomy, the independence of such a place. 

Yet I hear Pope Francis’s words this morning and I know my desire to be introverted, independent, emotionally off-the-grid is a trap.  What I would be choosing is isolation, not freedom.  What I think is an escape is a sentence, a form of suffering I could not bear.

We choose, far too often the very thing prison wardens do to those who will not live by the rules.  We dwell in that place that makes memory stealing diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia so frightening. 

Complete Isolation. 

Complete Autonomy

Complete Loneliness. 

While a good deal of our stress comes from others, so should the support that comes from the people of God.  So does the reminder from others that I need to hear, that the Lord is with me. (and also with them!)  We were made to live in community. 

But that community starts in the presence of God,  Where love and mercy are the greatest of gifts, the purest grace.  (this is a necessity, otherwise, our sin and brokenness can make the community a nightmare.)  As a community, as the Body of Christ, we look to God to provide that which we need, and the confidence of that provision grows.  

Even as we learn to be merciful to each other, it grows. For that is the power of the Lord demonstrated in our midst.  

Our desire for freedom, for independence, for autonomy is really a desire for freedom from sin and the brokenness, guilt, shame, and division it causes.  As the sin is forgiven, as the mercy is realized, as our hearts re-discover peace and joy, the desire for independence disappears. 

For we realize God is with Us, we realize His provision unites us, brings us together as a family. Brings us together in His peace. 

Which is what we need, more than anything. 

Heavenly Father, as we try to run away from all that oppresses us, help us look to you, open our eyes to Your mercy and love, Help us to rejoice in Your presence, together with all your saints. Help us to be confident in Your work in our lives.  AMEN!

 

 

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 227). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

When Luther Bashed “Faith Alone”

christening the dew the priest

Devotional Thought of the Day:

3  Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8  This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:3-8 (NLT2)

28 Our know-it-alls, the new spirits,4 assert that faith alone saves and that works and external things contribute nothing to this end. We answer: It is true, nothing that is in us does it but faith, as we shall hear later on.
29 but these leaders of the blind are unwilling to see that faith must have something to believe—something to which it may cling and upon which it may stand. Thus faith clings to the water and believes it to be Baptism in which there is sheer salvation and life, not through the water, as we have sufficiently stated, but through its incorporation with God’s Word and ordinance and the joining of his name to it. When I believe this, what else is it but believing in God as the one who has implanted his Word in this external ordinance and offered it to us so that we may grasp the treasure it contains?
30 Now, these people are so foolish as to separate faith from the object to which faith is attached and bound on the ground that the object is something external. Yes, it must be external so that it can be perceived and grasped by the senses and thus brought into the heart, just as the entire Gospel is an external, oral proclamation. In short, whatever God effects in us he does through such external ordinances. No matter where he speaks—indeed, no matter for what purpose or by what means he speaks—there faith must look and to it faith must hold.

760    Here is a thought that brings peace and that the Holy Spirit provides ready-made for those who seek the will of God: Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit—“The Lord rules me, and I shall want nothing.” What can upset a soul who sincerely repeats these words?

One of the challenges that all public speakers and authors having is being understood.  People hear one thing you say, they read one thing you write and they latch onto one phrase and interpret it in a way that appeals to them.

I see this with Luther, and especially with His statement that gets dissected about the fact that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as revealed in scripture alone (you can add through Christ alone and to the glory of God alone to the mix as well)

When I became a Lutheran some 17-18 years ago, (although my friend always thought I was, and that I didn’t know it) I misunderstood this phrase, breaking each Sola/Only phrase apart as if they were bullet points  First understand this one, then that one, then add the third.  They don’t see them as a continuous phrase, that radically changes its meaning f you divide them.

Yet Protestants do this all the time, especially with faith alone and scripture alone. And when you see Catholic criticism of Luther, it is offered by criticising what people think Luther said.

This isn’t new by the way,  Both Zwingli and the Anabaptists did this during Luther’s lifetime, and in the quote from the Large Catechism, we see Luther confronting the misrepresentation!  These “know-it-alls” in redefining “faith alone” separate from the rest create an anti-sacramental version of what Luther taught and personally depended upon.  When they separate faith alone, they dismiss any work that is done, saying no works matter, even Gd’s.

And this one is critical. For in taking Luther’s phrase out of context, they steal from believers the security God provides as He baptizes and seals us into His family.  It’s not about the water as Luther clarifies, but the word of God that infuses the water with His promise.

This is what faith grabs a hold of, it is what faith depends upon. Not something vague, not something that we do, but something God promises and does as He gives us a new birth and new life in Christ.  A specific action of His, mixed with a specific promise wherein God is the change-agent in our lives.

To have faith in Him means to depend on Him, to trust in His words as He makes good on them specifically in each of our lives.  As St. Josemaria says it is recognizing that the Lord rules, that his action He does so care for us, so changes us that we want for nothing,   This is something Zwingli and the Anabaptists don’t offer, an assurance based on God’s tangible work.  It is also something the Catholic Church didn’t catechize well in Luther’s time, as people just assumed baptism worked because they were told it worked because the water was holy.

It works because of God’s promise, because of God’s love poured out on us in action He ordained.  Knowing that brings comfort and peace, something to personally hold on to, a promise that guards our hearts and minds.

May we all hear Him, hear His promises

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1769-1771). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why is He Standing at the Door, Knocking?

Jesus_knocks_on_door_heartDevotional Thought of the Day:
20  “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20 (NLT2)

117 Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that affects our bodily welfare and directs us to seek and expect help from no one but him.
118 But this petition he has put last, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done. Then he will preserve us from sin and shame and from everything else that harms or injures us.

Our God is so eager to forgive that at the slightest sign of repentance he is ready with his mercy. He does not forget the covenant he made with our ancestors.

716    “I don’t know how to conquer myself!” you write me despondently. And I answer: But have you really tried to use the means?

As I read the passage from Luther’s Large Catechism (in blue above) this morning, I found words that explained a key to what we need to do as those who disciple others, or who act as spiritual directors. 

Luther nails it so well, as he explores the Lord’s prayer.  It is something we get so confused as we disciple people, as we serve as their spiritual directors and/or pastors.  In reality, we put the cart before the horse, asking people to believe in God’s mercy, in God providing for us, and in God’s forgiveness before God’s presence is established as a reality in their lives.   We want to help them know they are free from their past, and to be strong enough to overcome temptation.

St. Josemaria’s thoughts are similar, as he wonders about the person who can’t overcome the compulsion to sin and fail when confronted by temptation.  His question about the means of grace come to a similar conclusion as Luther’s.  If you haven’t been brought into the presence of God through hearing His word, and partaking in His sacraments, how can you ever be assured of His mercy and protection?  How can you know that He is guiding you and that all things work for good in your life, as you grow in loving Him?

Which brings me to the title of the blog post today, why is Jesus standing at the door and knocking?  Is it simply to call us to account for our sins, clean us up, forgive us our sins, strengthen us against temptation and then leave us to fight the good fight on our own?

Of course not!  

He comes to spend time with us, in fellowship, sharing in life.  TO feast with us, and for us to know we are there for Him.  It is all about the relationship, not just the things that He does that makes the relationship possible. That’s why Luther says we need to see His name made Holy, to see His kingdom established, to see His will be accomplished among us. All these things are based on God being present in our lives, walking with us, living with us.  This happens before we can know His provision, His protection, and really the power of what it means to be forgiven and free. 

You can’t know those things apart from the relationship described in Covenant, where God promises us that we are His and that He is ours.  That relationship is why He stands at the door and knocks.   He wants to be with us, it is sharing our lives as we share His.

For those who pastor, for those who disciple or direct the spiritual growth of people, (and if you are being served by such) this has to be the priority.  To explore the breadth and width the height and depth of God’s love as we experience it.  This is the end of the means, this is the purpose we exist for, and as we learn ot live in it, we find it easy to ask God and live in the assurance that He will answer our prayers for daily bread, for the ability to forgive as we are forgiven, to overcome temptation and not fall into evil.

Never forget this, the Lord is with you!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 436). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 223). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1679-1680). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Really Matters; A sermon on life based from 2 Corinthians 12

church at communion 2What Really Matters
2 Cor. 12:1-10

 † In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize what matters in this life., which allows you to depend on His faithfulness.  AMEN!

The Fable of the Animals

As Vicar Timothy and I talked about this passage this week, he told me an ancient Chinese fable.

Once upon a time, there was a gathering of the animals.  And as they gathered along the seashore, they wanted to know about each other, what strengths they could bring to the community.  There was a gracious grand eagle, who told of his ability to soar high over the land and see how glorious the kingdom was.  There was a huge elephant, who talked about his power and strength that was greater than all of them so he could take on all the heavy jobs. A Blue whale, resting comfortably offshore, talked of being the largest animal in the ocean, and an ability to explore deeper than any other animal.  One after another they went, telling of what they could do best.

Finally, there was Mr. Frog, who looked around and considered all the incredible things others could do.  He didn’t do all that much, just sat on his lily pad and watched and observed and occasionally… caught a passing fly for dinner.  You know, sort of like this! He thought his life was boring, and if that’s all he said he was, the other animals would mock him, or laugh, or perhaps ignore him.  And so he came up with an odd talent of his and said he could transform himself into a much larger being.  So he swallowed more an more air, extending out his belly and making it larger.  He looked around and realized he didn’t impress anyone, so he refused to swallow his pride, swallowed more air and puffed himself up even more, and again, puffing himself up even more, and finally, he puffed himself up so much, his gut exploded, and body parts went all over the room.

Too Great – or the Ultimate martyr

We do this all the time, no matter the culture.  We want others to think we are great, or what we do is great. We want to be admired, we want to be someone, even if only in our grandparents, or grandkids eyes.  So we exaggerate a little. We feed our ego.

Or if we can’t be the greatest, we make ourselves out to be martyrs, those who sacrifice everything for others. I suffer more than you do, see how great I am at giving things up so you can have what you want?  That too feeds our ego, if we serve more and harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything.

It’s to people like us, the frogs of the world that Paul writes to when he writes to Corinthians. Average people, but people that struggle with their identity, with their reputation.

Paul, you know, the apostle who spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the guy, who like John, had a revelation of Jesus that we’ve never read about, save in these few words. Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that all his earthly credentials were as valuable as the remains of the human digestive system.  Here is saying that even visions from heaven are not worth it, because maybe they take attention from what really matters.

And then he says something really strange, the problems he has, the thorns in the flesh, the stresses, the brokenness, these things are a blessing.  A blessing simply because when we are in the midst of the trauma when we are in the midst of the thorns. There, we hear God say these simple words,

My grace is all you need, Those were words that enabled Paul to boast, not about his strengths, not about his suffering, but his inabilities, his weakness, his brokenness. Because when he was at his worst, the power of God was able to be seen in Him.

My grace is all you need…..

If we could only understand that.

The incomplete fable
Going back to Timothy’s fable, it ends with the frog, blown out of shape, his body exploding from trying to live up to the hype, trying to live up to the pressure from blowing his value all out of proportion.

I asked him what he thought most people would think God would say if he walked up on the scene.  He thought most people in the world, even Christians, would expect God to lecture the frog, or even judge and condemn him for doing all that damage to himself.  For breaking the commandments, for making himself the idol that needed to be worshipped, for bearing false witness about himself.  Mr. Frog, people would think – you have done yourself in.

That is not the God that tells us, “My grace is all you need”  He gently picks up each part of us, and puts us back together, healing us.  That is what grace is, not just forgiveness as in, “you aren’t going to get punished for this” but the grace that brings healing to whatever we’ve done, that restores us and makes us hole.

What our sin destroyed, God calls back into being.  What sin has killed, God resurrects.

If he does that with our sin, He also does it with those things that challenge us in each day.  The insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that exist as we try and serve those who need it, as we care for those who can’t seem to care for themselves, as we love those who consider themselves unlovable.

Beyond our Sin

If this is true regarding Christ saving us, it extends into all our life and all our ministry to others.  We don’t need to be the one people praise, we don’t need to be the one everyone notices.

What matters is that people know we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that it will get us through the trials and pains that serving God too often results in, even if those challenges are as brutal as Paul mentions.  For that is Paul’s context, in this letter. He doesn’t care where he ranks among the apostles, even though he could claim it.

He would rather have God’s people know that in every part of life, the thing that matters is God is there.  If that is seen in his weakness, praise God. For then they know in their weakness, in their days where anxiety sets in, in those days when nothing gets done, or it seems two steps forward result in 10 steps back…

In those days, He is there, and our ministry, our caring for others, he does in ways far beyond anything we can imagine. For what really matters is that you know God’s love, and His mercy, and His faithfulness.  Understand that… and you will be at peace.

AMEN!

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