Category Archives: Ancient Future

The Secret to the Revitalization of the Church, or a church

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD, for the Day of the LORD is near. Indeed, the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated His guests.   Zeph 1:7

Unfortunately, although Christianity is not a department store that must anxiously gear its advertising to the tastes and desires of its clientele because it has merchandise to sell off that it neither wants nor needs, it is all too often compelled to act as though it were. But if this were its nature, we could confidently predict its imminent bankruptcy. Actually, however, the Christian Faith is rather (to use an admittedly one-sided and weak image) the divine medicine that should never adapt itself to the wishes of its clientele and to what pleases them, for that would be to destroy them utterly. Its role must be to require them to turn away from their imaginary need, which is in reality their sickness, and to entrust themselves to the guidance of faith.

I just spent a few days with guys who are called to be pastors. In many ways, they feel like they’ve been drawn ot the ministry, they seen the people’s needs and the call of the people for them for shepherds. I was on a team that had as its goal the task of assuring that these men were ready to take on this burden, and/or what steps would prepare them for it.

They, with one or two exceptions, are called to serve smaller churches, in most cases groups of 20 or 30 people that gather around God’s word, that receive the promises of God delivered through them, as they speak God’s word, and as they feed them the Body and Blood of Jesus.  These churches would possibly close without these men or someone like them.  But these men need to revitalize these churches, they need to see life breathed into them.  Their churches, like mine and every other church I know of, need to have the vitality and life of the bride of Christ.

And of course, in my readings this morning, I come across two passages that deal with revitalizing our lives.

The second one is more obvious than the first.  While there is a necessity to understand a church’s context and ensure the church is speaking to the people instead of at the people, all too often that takes the nature of a marketing plan.  It requires compromise in the nature of the mission.  Marketing cannot compromise the mission, and methodologies cannot change the message, the messenger, or change what the means of change.  That is it cannot change the grace, God’s love and mercy delivered to sinners to heal them and give them life, shared in the peace with God.  If you do that, you have changed the mission.

Pope Benedict is, in this Lutheran Pastor’s opinion, absolutely correct. We have the medicine, delivered through word and sacrament, that treats what really has broken people.  God’s love binds them to Him, having cleaned them of sin, and of its shame and guilt.  It also heals us of the anger and resentment that has broken us, as we’ve been the victims of sin.

We can’t change that. To do so would be to fail to deliver what people need the most, Jesus.  Nor can we hide it, causing people to need to discover it, and then decode our language and actions we tried to protect and hide it within.

All this brings us to the first, and far more important quote.  It brings us to the point of this devotion.  And while it is what you and I need to do, right now, and often each day, It is what these pastors (de jure and soon de facto) need to do to revitalize their church.

Realize you are, right now, in the presence of God.

God who is drawing all things together through the blood of Jesus.  For that is what the Day of the Lord is, for Christ has become our sacrifice, prepared to deliver us from the power and oppression of sin.

ANd to consecrate us, His guests, to make us holy as we have been drawn into His presence. To be set apart for this relationship with our Heavenly Father, our Almighty God. To be re-vitalized, freed of all that weighs us down. Healed of all the damage a life of sin can cause, restored to be who we were created to be.

This is who we are, in congregations and parishes that make up the Church, His Church, His beautiful bride.

And be in awe… incredibly aware of the glory and power and love of God, which makes this all possible.   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.) (pp. 340–341). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Confession of a Burnt Out Minister of God

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the day:

14 May the day I was born be cursed. May the day my mother bore me never be blessed. 15 May the man be cursed who brought the news to my father, saying, “A male child is born to you,” bringing him great joy. 16 Let that man be like the cities the LORD demolished without compassion. Let him hear an outcry in the morning and a war cry at noontime 17 because he didn’t kill me in the womb so that my mother might have been my grave, her womb eternally pregnant. 18 Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame?  Jeremiah 20:14-18  HCSB

14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.

I always worry when in my devotions I read passages like those above.

No, this confession isn’t mine, it is Jeremiah’s.

But it could be, as it could be the confession of so many pastors and priests and others who work in the church.  It doesn’t matter whether they are volunteers, or whether this is a paid vocation.

Burnout is inevitable.

There are days serving the church where it seems we would be better off dead.  (And we even think maybe those we serve would be as well!)  There will be days where the demands of our duties and the problems they bring will overwhelm us.  Where we would rather lock ourselves in our offices, and simply write.  Or find some passing big fish and dive into it, ala Jonah!

And Vatican II points out that devotion alone isn’t the answer, it also notes that just going through the motions of ministry doesn’t solve the problem as well.  We can do the job, it can bless others, but it is just as empty as becoming a monastic and retreating from the world which needs us, simply because we know we need God.

We can minister more effectively, and help others, even in the midst of burnout and brokenness, when we accept that the weariness is sometimes necessary.  That God is with us, even there.  That the Holy Spirit, the great Comforter, the Lord of life will lift us up, and empower us, and work through our lives to call others to depend on the God who is there.

Max Kolbe, the Catholic priest who died in a concentration camp, probably knew this weariness more than any pastor in the USA today.  Imagine, working with the guards, who denied their actions were evil.  He served the Christians who were in despair, Fr. Max served and died for those who didn’t know Jesus as well.

How did he do such a thing?

Maximilian Kolbe was an individual deeply marked by Christ, wholly ordered to Christ. When he immersed himself anew in the witness of Holy Scripture, he was not searching for theories, not on a voyage into the past. It is impossible to live with a mummy—with a merely historical Jesus; nor can we live with mere words and programs—with a “thing”. But Kolbe lived from and for Jesus. He could do this because he heard in Scripture the voice of a living Person. He heard Jesus as a living Person because he experienced him as a living Person; he could touch him in the Blessed Sacrament in which he forms a Church and is present for us.

The only way to minister through the hardest times and despair in ministry is to hang on to what we’ve been entrusted with as ministers.  Not word and sacrament, but what they are conduits of, the experience of encountering Jesus in both word and sacrament.  Of knowing God loves you, because of that encounter, of knowing His care because it too is encountered in the sacraments.

As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT) 

Knowing about God’s love won’t sustain you in the darkness, it won’t keep you moving through the despair. It won’t help you see God at work in the midst of the pain.  But knowing you are known, finding hope in the fact you are loved, being refreshed through the grace and mercy poured out upon you.  Being filled through all your being with God Himself.

That is what we need, and that is what He provides… so relax, hear God!  Hear God! And find rest for your weary soul!  AMEN!

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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. 281). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Where Will We Find Ourselves?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for the day:

11 Just as underwear clings to one’s waist, so I fastened the whole house of Israel and of Judah to Me” g—this is the LORD’s declaration—“so that they might be My people for My fame, praise, and glory, h but they would not obey.  Jeremiah 13:11 HCSB

We have to be candles,
burning between
hope and despair,
faith and doubt,
life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place where people must always find us.

And if our life means anything,
if what we are goes beyond the monastery walls and
does some good,
it is that somehow,
by being here,
at peace,
we help the world cope
with what it cannot understand.

We may talk about finding ourselves, or our search for meaning, but I am not always sure we are ready to find ourselves.  Each generation has their search, whether it was the boomers in the 50’s and sixties, or the GenX’er, or now the Millenials.  Eventually, the majority of the people will settle down into a life that isn’t truly satisfying.  A life filled with turmoil, anxiety, uncertainty.

Lite I mentioned, I am not sure we are all ready to find ourselves.

Because the search will lead us into what Brodrick calls the “disquieting place”.

We live there, but we don’t want to find ourselves there, bouncing between optimism and pessimism, between joy and sorrow, in a place which is more often surreal than real.

And to be content there… in the midst of the disquiet, in the realm of the dysfunctional, in the place where balance isn’t found, that is when we truly find ourselves.

Because there, we learn to do what God desires, what God designed us to do.

To cling to Him like a pair of underwear!

Seriously, it is in that place where life spins us back and forth between the extremes that we find our only hope is clinging to God.  It is in our relationship with Him that we can find rest and peace, it is in Him that the paradox of life can be put to rest.

In Him, the disquiet turns into a crescendo of praise.

And clinging to Him, we reach outside of ourselves and find that we can help the world cope with what it cannot understand.

It is as we cling to Him, ministry happens…..

So learn to realize the disquiet can be a blessed place as well, and when it isn’t, remember to cling to God like a pair of underwear clings to its owner.

William Brodrick  (https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/  )

The Necessity of the Lord’s Supper

Altar with communionDevotional thoughts of the day:
17  But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18  First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19  But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! 20  When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-20 (NLT2)

19 9. We believe, teach, and confess that no genuine believer, no matter how weak he may be, as long as he retains a living faith, will receive the Holy Supper to his condemnation, for Christ instituted this Supper particularly for Christians who are weak in faith but repentant, to comfort them and to strengthen their weak faith.

If liturgy is to survive or even be completely renewed, it is essential that the Church be rediscovered. I add: if people’s estrangement is to be overcome, if they are to find again their true identity, it is indispensable that they find again the Church that is not a misanthropic institution, but the new “we” in which alone the “I” can acquire its foundation and its security.

Paul’s admonish to the church in Corinth is one I think we need to hear today.  It is neither easy nor would it make sense to most Christians today. 

They might see the admonition as one solely concerned with what I call hospitality, the reason Paul admonishes them is that they don’t wait for each other and that the taking of the Lord’s Supper becomes a testimony to their division and their lack of love for each other. I think it is far more severe than that, for the Lord’s supper is not a simple meal.

It is given to us, this blessed Body and Blood of Christ, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to heal our very souls, to quench the doubts and empower a trust in Him that would result in seeing the world changed. 

And yet we neglect it.  We put it off and only celebrate it on occasion, or we rush out of church after it, unaware of what we have received, or if aware, minimizing it.  We don’t see it as what establishes us, as a “we” (the people of God) and gives a real identity to the “I”.

By the way, in regards to Pope Benedict’s use of misanthropic, I had to look the word up.  It is the exact opposite of philanthropic.  It is to hate mankind, a charge we have to take seriously, for I do believe many see us that way.  It shouldn’t be accurate; but many see us as trying to oppress mankind, rather than freeing them from guilt and shame. In many ways. our poor and unbalanced proclamation of sin and the gospel does this, as we close off communion to only those in the club, or make people think they have to be “good” enough or have a perfect understanding of theology in order to receive the gifts of God.

It is about His ministry, His welcoming us home, it is the feast for prodigals, the feast He throws, giving all of Himself, to lift us up, to nourish us, to help us realize we are united to Him.

It is there, at the altar, that the liturgy goes from being an ordeal to become a blessing of renewal.  It is there our hope is renewed, our lives transformed, our hearts and souls healed. 

It is what those outside the church need to see evidence of so that they too will be drawn into union with Jesus, through His death and resurrection. It is what those in the church need to have, that they may once again realize their sins do not separate them from God, for God separates the sin from them.

If the church is to find renewal, it will be here… celebrating the love of God given to us all, welcoming us home.  All of us. 

Don’t neglect this necessity in life, don’t diminish it, hear God’s words, hear what they promise, and then come, take and eat the Body of Christ broken for you… and drink of His blood, poured out for you, that makes you part of His family, and cleanses you of all your sin. 

You and I need this… so let us celebrate His love, together!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 484). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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. 248). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Our need for community, a special community.

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
42  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44  And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

As the Father is called Creator and the Son is called Redeemer, so on account of his work the Holy Spirit must be called Sanctifier, the One who makes holy.
37 How does this sanctifying take place? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion by purchasing us through his birth, death, and resurrection, etc., so the Holy Spirit effects our sanctification through the following: the communion of saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. In other words, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us upon the bosom of the church, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

We often talk about the Body of Christ from a functional or clinical viewpoint.  That is, we will talk about it as we try to find people their place in the church, finding out what part they will play, what gifts they have.  Or we might use the concept clinically when one person is disrupting the unity of the church, and we appeal to them, reminding them that they are a part of the whole.

I think Luther, in explaining the work of the Holy Spirit, brings the topic up from a view that is not primarily functional.  Rather it is experiential, that the Holy Spirit brings us into the special community to reveal to us the dimensions of God’s love and transform us.  That transformation is called “sanctification”, which is another way of saying making us holy, setting us apart to a special relationship, to be one with God and all His family.

His family, His holy people, His holy community, His communion.

This is easy to say, but hard to accept, this idea that we are one body, that we are one community (no matter how fractured or impaired)  That we are one in Christ, which makes us one, even as Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit ) are one. That we live and move and have our being in Christ, as the Spirit sanctifies us, removing every bit of sin, causing us to live, reflecting the glory of Christ into the darkness of a world that doesn’t know hope.

We are, whether we want to admit it, one, holy, catholic (all of us in all places/times) holy and apostolic church.  This isn’t our work, it is what the Holy Spirit has established and drawn us into, even while we are being saved. This isn’t just a theological teaching or a pragmatic tool to use.  It is our reality, it is where we together explore the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ.

Let us pray, as Jesus prayed, that we all may be one!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 415). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Who would deny them grace?

Devotional THoguht of the Day:

44  While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message. 45  The Jewish believers who had come from Joppa with Peter were amazed that God had poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles also. 46  For they heard them speaking in strange tongues and praising God’s greatness. 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?” 48  So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay with them for a few days. Acts 10:44-48 (TEV)

In our ecclesiastical circumscription, there are priests who do not baptize the children of single mothers because they were not conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are the hypocrites of today, the ones who “clericalize” the Church and prevent God’s people the access to the source of salvation.

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

As I read the words of Pope Francis this morning, I was, I don’t even know the words to say.  Perhaps horrified, but also angry, and in a sense humiliated that there would have been priests (and Protestant pastors) at the time of my birth that would have denied my God’s grace.

My birth mother, (who I met decades later and admire) was not married when I was conceived. She put me up for adoption, but even so, it is scary to think that someone ordained would deny me God’s blessing.  Or for that matter, how such a decision would affect the single mother.

Baptism, (and the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution) are sacraments where God pours out His grace upon us. Where He promises and reaffirms the promise that our sin is forgiven, that because of Jesus death, we have been recreated, made clean, redeemed, reconciled to God, delivered, saved.

Where we know that God is with us. 

I think this talks about two things.

First, our role as pastors to urge people to receive the sacraments, to not forsake baptism, neither getting baptized or in recalling the promises of it regularly.  Also to be frequent at the altar for communion (or if you are a shut-in, ask for the church (your pastor/ priest to bring it too you!) We need to encourage our people to confess their sins, and have confidence that as they do, assuredly God forgives them of their sin and cleanses them from ALL unrighteousness!

We cannot set up barriers to salvation!  

But at the same time, we must teach people why these sacraments are so incredible, why we need them so much.  I included Luther’s words above about the Lord’s Supper for that reason.  He was convinced and so am I, of the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper. What the Eucharist gives is the knowledge of God’s love and His presence within us.  Not knowledge just as in intellect, but the knowledge that is “on-the-job”.  The experience of His blessed presence as we take and eat, as we drink the cup of salvation. 

God is with us! 

We need to know that, and woe to anyone who would stop, hinder, or simply not make it available to those in need.

Heavenly Father, help those in your church to pint out your promises of love, the mercy and forgiveness you pour out in Your word, and in the sacrament. Help us to do everything we can to encourage people to come near, and know You are with them.  AMEN!

A question of the day:  Do you think the church can minister to those who have been hurt by it before?  How?

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 208). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Do We Have To Talk about the “S” Word?

pexels-photo-279991.jpegDevotional THought of the Day:
16  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17  so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (TEV)

18 Lay the greatest weight on those commandments or other parts which seem to require special attention among the people where you are. For example, the Seventh Commandment, which treats of stealing, must be emphasized when instructing laborers and shopkeepers, and even farmers and servants, for many of these are guilty of dishonesty and thievery.8 So, too, the Fourth Commandment must be stressed when instructing children and the common people in order that they may be encouraged to be orderly, faithful, obedient, and peaceful. Always adduce ma.ny examples from the Scriptures to show how God punished and blessed.

531    “Treat him well for me, treat him well,” said a certain elderly bishop with tears in his eyes to the priests he had just ordained. Lord, I wish I had the voice and the authority to cry out in the same way to the ears and the hearts of many, many Christians!

The “S” word, sorry to tell you, isn’t “sex”

It’s the other “s” word that is difficult to talk about and for the same reason.  It is just as awkward, embarrassing, and produces as much anxiety as talking about sex with your 11-13-year-old child.

And the consequences of not having conversations about sin are worse than letting the world teach your kids about sex.  For lacking understanding about either sex or sin can lead to incredible pain, sorrow, and even death.

Not just physical death, the death of the spirit, death one’s soul.

So it is one we need to have.  Not just pastor and parishioner, but parents and kids, those who teach and govern with those whose lives they are entrusted with, those whom God has put in their lives to love and care for beyond the point of sacrificing convenience, to the point of complete sacrifice.

We have to get by the discomfort and have these talked with each other. talking about the sins which entrap us, the sins which drive us into despair, the sins that isolate us.

but we have to do it with the skill and wisdom that only comes because of the love we have, because of the love we know God has for them.  To talk about sin with the deliberate intent of freeing each other from its burdens of guilt and shame, from its curse and the death it causes.

We can’t talk about just to prohibit it, as if we could, by proper persuasion, convince them to never sin again. That will last an hour or two, and then they will hide the sin that entraps them, denying it, or justifying it in some form of logic we twisted them to use.  I say “we” because talking about sin improperly leads people to fear talking about it with us.  They have to realize that our goal is not to condemn the sinner, but free them.

This has to be made clear in our teaching, not just to proactively work with them to rely on God to overcome temptation, but also to help them run to the comfort and peace that comes with repentance, with absolution, that comes via the Holy Spirit washing and renewing our hearts.

This is our ministry, as pastors, as leaders, as parents, as those entrusted with the lives of others.  Yet in order to dohese things, we have to be confident that God is working in our life as well, cleansing and strengthening us, causing us to run to the Father, through Jesus.

This is who we are… and Lord help us talk about sin… in the way you did!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 340). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1285-1287). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can I Trust in Jesus for this?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional THought of the Day:
And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22  But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23  I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Philippians 1:20-24b (NLT)

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.

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.

Though our faith, our dependence on God based on His promises begins with the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus our Messiah, there are other things we have to depend on Him for, as noted in the epistle in red above.

I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ…

That sounds awesome, 

It also sounds impossible.

This week I am all too familiar with my failings, with my brokenness.  my own failures, my own struggles with sins that plague me.

So how can God use something so shattered?  How can God work through something that has to be so,,, needing healing?

I can trust that He will clean me enough from my own sin and unrighteousnes=, enough that I can be smuggled into the Father’s presence as I dwell in Christ.

But can God work through me?

There are days I am not sure.  (especially Saturdays as I struggle to write sermons)

Pope Benedict XVI talks about needing ot go through the cross to the Resurrection, We have to dwell there with Him, as He takes the pain, as He agonizes under the weight of our sin, As He removes it from us, and bares His own soul to takes on the pain our cleansing and healing requires. 

It is there, with Him on the cross, that we find the same path that He took, that leads through death to the Resurrection.

It is there, on the cross, that we find hope.  It is there. where we find the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. It is there we find the absolution we need to realize that to live is Christ, and eventually, to die is gain.  For if I have died with Christ in all my brokenness, if I have trusted Him to make it all right, If He shows me compassion and consoles me, then there is hope.

This is the power, the reason for private confession, it teaches me the doctrine that God is here, that the Lord is with us, that He is with me.  That He just doesn’t forgive my sin our of some kind of duty, some kind of ill-advised promise, but that the promise exists for the same reason the forgiveness does because He loves us. This is remarkable, it leaves me in tears of awe.. it leaves me with hope, for I know why I can depend on Him

Even the Hope that my life is now His to use, His to work through, and the responsibility to make it something good lies on Him.  Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis explains it this way,

To place our sight on our own death and resurrection causes our lives to change its center from “what we could do” to “what the Lord has done for us” and “will do with us.”

And so He has done for us and will do with us, many things, for He is our God, and we are His people. 

Lord, when we feel broken, when we feel the weight of our sin, remind us that You are here.  COmfort us with the gospel, that Jesus has lifted that sin away from us, and died to release us from its weight. Help us to live in view of His cross, where we were united with Him. Help us to rejoice, and then to depend on you as we find that our life is You. Bless people O Lord, and may we see how you use us to do so, as they give you the honor and praise 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. 140). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 145). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

The More Incredible Victory and its Unintended Blessing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our Day:
so David inquired of God, “Should I go to war against the Philistines? Will You hand them over to me?”
The LORD replied, “Go, and I will hand them over to you.”
11 So the Israelites went up to Baal-perazim, and David defeated the Philistines there. Then David said, “Like a bursting flood, God has used me to burst out against my enemies.” Therefore, they named that place the Lord Bursts Out. 12 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David ordered that they be burned in the fire.   1 Chronicles 14:10-12  HCSB

The Lord has shaken you; he has done it without anesthesia, like he did to Abraham, asking him to give up his son, his dreams, his projects.He tested him without explanation, introducing him to the school of detachment to be truly a free man and completely available to the projects of God who was planning to make him a collaborator in the great history of salvation

 

If you must be heard, let it be like the babbling brook,
laughing over the rocks.
If you must be seen, let it be like sunlight
giving warmth and comfort to all.
If you must be acknowledged, let it be as the eyes
behold the skies in all their glory.
If you must lead, let it be like the wind and all its unshackled direction.
If you must learn, let it be like breathing, the natural flow of in and out, and done without thinking.

I love the naive thoughts in the last of the quotes from my devotional reading this morning.  I say naive because I know that the only way to accomplish such communication and leadership  You have to be naive, you have to be blessed with a simpleness, that simply does things naturally.

Like Abraham sacrificing Issac, you have to be freed from the things that keep us from living in the freedom we need to be naive, to simply rely on God, detached from all that would possibly separate us from God.

To separate us from our idols, including the idolatry of our dreams, our plans our visions.

Which is something hard to give up, these visions and plans we carefully set up, after careful study, deliberation, and even prayer.  (Most churches go through this regularly, trying to craft vision stations, mission statements, delineating core values in a precise and pragmatic way)  But what if we have to sacrifice this on the altar, what if we have to realize that while we think we know God’s plan, we may not?

Will we do so as willingly as Abraham did?

Or will we need someone like David for us?

It may seem overlooked in the tremendous victory David had over the Philistines, but there is a more incredible victory that blesses the Philistines more than it blesses the Israelites.

It’s there in verse 12, that because of God working through David, God delivered the Philistines from their idols.  In fact, the victory was so complete, they walked away from their idols. They were freed from them, and the emptiness they offered. The Philistines were freed from the brokenness, and though they had other issues to deal with, they weren’t bound to worshipping the dreams, the desires that these idols represented.

While I would wish my relationship with God was so strong, that my faith was so strong I could do what Abraham did, I am not that strong, I am not that devoted, I am not that willing to sacrifice my idols.  So I need to pray that God sends a David to bless me, to win the victory for me that only one I count as my adversary could win.

In reality, isn’t this what Jesus did?  While we were His enemies, He died for us, freeing us from our idols, freeing us from our self-centered idolatry.   And as we are freed, then the Holy Spirit works in us the kind of selflessness that some would count as naivete, the selflessness that is so blessed.  He won the victory against our sin and idolatry but won the victory for us.  Just as David did.

Lord Jesus, free us from our idolatry, as David freed the Philistines from their idols.  (and if necessary, use our adversaries to bless us in this way!)  Help us to be like your Son, our Lord Jesus, who was able to love selflessly, and naturally love, show mercy and care for those around Him.  AMEN!

QUESTION OF THE DAY:
Are you willing to be delivered from that which you depend on more than you depend on God?  Do you even know what your idols are?

 

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/meditations/meditation-day-20/

Can We Recognize the Ministry of the Average Christian? (and help them accomplish it?)

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  And to some, his ‘gift’ was that they should be apostles; to some prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; 12  to knit God’s holy people together for the work of service to build up the Body of Christ, 13  until we all reach unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God and form the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NJB)

Hence the highest office is that of the ministry of the Word, with which all other offices are also conferred at the same time. Every other public office in the church is part of the ministry of the Word or an auxiliary office that supports the ministry, whether it be the elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17) or the rulers (Rom. 12:8) or the deacons (the office of service in a narrow sense) or whatever other offices the church may entrust to particular persons for special administration. Therefore, the offices of Christian day school teachers, almoners, sextons, precentors at public worship, and others are all to be regarded as ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word and support the pastoral office.[1]  (Italics mine)

Everything that has been said above concerning the People of God is intended for the laity, religious and clergy alike. But there are certain things which pertain in a special way to the laity, both men and women, by reason of their condition and mission. Due to the special circumstances of our time the foundations of this doctrine must be more thoroughly examined. For their pastors know how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they were not ordained by Christ to take upon themselves alone the entire salvific mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary they understand that it is their noble duty to shepherd the faithful and to recognize their ministries and charisms, so that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one mind.  (Italics mine)

Thirteen years ago, I was installed as the pastor of a Lutheran Church for the first time.  I had served those people for well over a year as a vicar, (basically a student pastor) while going through a time of transition.  I was glad for the 30 months or so of transition, it gave me a chance to work through the differences in theology and the difference in practical ministry.

There were two sermons were given that day, one directed toward me, another directed to me and the people of Shepherd of the Valley.  The latter, given by Greg Seltz was basically about the unity of pastor in people.  A unity that is found in our baptism, a unity that is seen in our mission, our apostolate.  It is not pastor over people or people over the pastor, but pastor and people.  It was a great sermon, and something we need to understand in every congregation, in every parish!

We don’t always get this correct.  Many people think the pastor is the evangelist, the only one that works in what the quote from Vatican II calls the salvific mission of the Church.  Pastors don’t save anyone, neither does the average person, but they are saved by Christ, through the work of the Church. 

We both have roles, even as Walther writes in Church and Ministry ( an incredible nook from the early days of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).  He says they are to be recognized as ecclesiastical and sacred, as part of the ministry of the Word, supporting the pastoral office.  

Yet there are clergy and laity in both the Roman Catholic Church and in Lutheran churches that don’t understand this.  They don’t get that the ministry is God’s, entrusted to the entire church together.  It is our mutual responsibility, to reveal to the world the Love of God, and God’s desire to reconcile all to Him.   Each has their own role, each has their own God-given place in this ministry. 

Such a responsibility isn’t to be hoarded like Gollum’s precious ring or relegated to the pastor/priest alone, to provide a convenient scapegoat when the church shrinks.  Nor is this responsibility a duty, with checklists and deadlines.  It is best done, when all, so in awe of God’s love, work naturally, sharing it with those around them, and then bring them into the family of God.    Serving together, ministering together, we see the world turned upside down, amazed not just at our love for each other, but the love of God that pours through us, to them.

We, the church, pastor, and people, are here for the world. To reveal to them the greatest treasure, the greatest of blessings, which brings the news of the greatest love, and the greatest of peace.

It is time again, to work as the church, the people of God.

Lord, have mercy on us and help us be your body, reaching out to the world.  AMEN!

[1]Walther, C. Church and Ministry : Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1987.

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.  Italics mine

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