Category Archives: Augsburg and Trent

The Truth about the Ministry.

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

Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days…

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 
37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit o in him?” Genesis 41:16, 37  HCSB

33. Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful34. For in the liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer.
Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read “which were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.

It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.

One of the most challenging things to teach on in the church is the concept of the ministry.  Specifically, who can and should preach and administrate/officiate the sacraments.  

Some would open up the doors to anyone to do so, and God can and does choose a group of diverse people to serve Him, that doesn’t mean all can/should preach, or administer the sacraments.  To follow this path leads to chaos, and everyone teaching what is right in their own eyes.  Even worse, when someone is speaking on God’s behalf, and by His order, there is doubt about it.  When we make the ministry about our “rights” to be the pastor, we aren’t listening to God.

Others would follow the opposite extreme, reducing every part of ministry to those who are called and ordained as pastors.  This would include things like evangelism and even to teach Bible studies.  This leaves the church weak, undernourished, and unable to meet the needs of a broken world.  The pastor surely is the primary messenger, when he is speaking God’s word” but that doesn’t make him the only servant of the church!

I wish it would be as simple for us as it was for Pharoah, that every person could see clearly whom God chose to shepherd them. That every shepherd could do their job perfectly, without fault or hesitation. Such a thing would be an incredible blessing.

Pastors and priests are human though, and we do screw up, sometimes royally.   We stand in God’s presence as we lead His people, and there are times we do act as Jesus, speaking for Him, feeding His people, drawing them to Him at the cross.  It is in those times where it is not our perfection that matters but His. We are at our best when we realize as Joseph did, that we aren’t able to, but God can.

You see the ministry is never about the man, it is about the Man whom he stands in for, the Man who works through our voices and our hands.  The ministry is about those who receive God’s word and promises, whom the sacraments, these sacred moments are there to bless.  And when we make it about the man standing there, preaching, standing there, putting Christ’s body into the hands of hungry souls, that we have sinned.  We then have taken our eyes off of the Lord, off of the promises, and orbit outside the relationship in order to critique and judge it.

This is contrary to the gift Jesus gives the church, as a simple gift of men He calls the church to recognize His call upon.  Men who are qualified to serve based on God’s teaching.  Men whom He will speak through, and limit their words to drawing people into God’s glory.  men who see the ministry as simply God and the church, and find great joy in seeing them together.

 Focus there, on people hearing God say, “you are my people” and the people saying “You are our God!”  

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Are You Ready for this? Do you really want this revival/renewal?

20141022_100825 - Copy - Copy - CopyDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
5  A man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6  Jesus saw him lying there, and he knew that the man had been sick for such a long time; so he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7  The sick man answered, “Sir, I don’t have anyone here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first.” 8  Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” 9  Immediately the man got well; he picked up his mat and started walking. The day this happened was a Sabbath, John 5:5-9 (TEV)

211      Lazarus rose because he heard the voice of God and immediately wanted to get out of the situation he was in. If he hadn’t wanted to move, he would just have died again. A sincere resolution: to have faith in God always; to hope in God always; to love God always… he never abandons us, even if we are rotting away as Lazarus was.

XI. CONFESSION
1 It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse. However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins,2 for this is impossible. Ps. 19:12, “Who can discern his errors?”

XIII. THE USE OF THE SACRAMENTS
1 It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.  2 For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith.

I often hear people saying they miss the way church used to be.  They may indicate the music or the preaching. Mostly what they long to see are the full sanctuaries on Sunday morning, and church campuses that were busy every day and night of the week.   In dact, for a couple decades we can see the phenomena of people moving from one church to another, looking for the one that is coming alive, that seems to have a new life about them.

We want revival, much like the man who was at the pool wanted to be made well, much like Lazarus, to his surprise, found himself alive at the command of Jesus.  ( I love St Josemaria’s idea that he could have decided to stay there, as I think it is descriptive of many of us!)   

But are we ready for it?  Do we really desire it?

For what it will take is the sureness of our absolution.  Revival and renewal, whether individual or parish wife, requires something.  The realization that every one of our sins are forgiven!  Revival, being brought to life in Christ means we know and depend on the promises that nothing, including that sin, can separate us from the love of God. 

What an incredible thing these sacraments are, these sacred times are, when we realize that God is at work as He desires to be, awakening and strengthening our faith, our dependence on Him. 

For that is what having a strong faith means, we depend on God more, not less.  We realize His presence in our lives more, not less.  We let Him guide our lives, much like a leaf caught up in a stream…drifts and goes where the current takes it.

This kind of reliance on God’s mercy and love, these things we call grace, is at the heart of every revival, every renewal in the history of the church.  It is the hope that underlies the Lutheran Reformation, and the Catholic councils we know as Vatican I and Vatican II.  This is Escriva’s “The Way” and what Luther preaches so clearly in his catechesis. 

So Jesus says to His church today and to you and I,  

“Do you want to be healed?” 

“Do you want to be forgiven of your sin?”

“Do you want to be renewed, and revived”

It starts with trusting in God enough to pray, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!” 

Holy Father, Lord Jesus, and Blessed Holy Spirit, in your mercy, help us to say yes, letting you in to cleanse us of all sin and unrighteousness, helping us not to fear coming clean as much as we fear to remain trapped in our sin, which drives us apart from you.  We pray this in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit! AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 922-926). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Why the Church Needs to Be One…

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our Days:

18 Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul delights; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick, until He has led justice to victory. 21 The nations will put their hope in His name.

1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.
2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.

194      Nam, et si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis, non timebo mala—though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, no evil will I fear. Neither my wretchedness nor the temptations of the enemy will worry me, quoniam tu mecum es—for you Lord are with me.

Our Lord prayed that His church would be one, as united as God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ are one.  Historic churches usually use either the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week, in which they state they believe and depend upon the Holy Spirit to work through the church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

And most of us desire the church to be unified, if by unified we mean that those who disagree with us come to our position, imitate our practice, and bow to our superior, more Christ-like version of the one true faith.

But do we ask why we need to be one?

Do we seek the underlying reason to put our own preferences aside, to work diligently through the different understandings, why we need to humbly listen and work with each other?

It is seen in my devotional readings this morning.

This world is broken without hope.  It is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and it does fear evil, the anxiety seems to be growing at a palpable rate.

Our only hope is in the Lord, who will deal with us with both His incredible power and HIs incredible care.  He will nurse us back to heal, like someone tending a bruised plant, the Holy Spirit’s gentle comfort us will take us and kindle in us a roaring fire.

Our unity directly affects that witness, the ability to give that hope.  That doesn’t mean we compromise on things critical to having trust in God, but rather, we work all the harder at making it happen.  We acknowledge our broken fractured church and pray together, then work to see it become one, for it is one in Christ Jesus.

Lord, give us the desire to see You heal our brokenness, our divisions. Help us to seek you together in prayer, and to work diligently together to give this world the hope it can only find in You.  Lord, have mercy on us all, for we are sinners in need of your healing.  AMEN!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 873-876). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Search for Real Worship

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.” John 4:21 (Phillips NT)

17. In seminaries and houses of religious, clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual life. For this they will need proper direction, so that they may be able to understand the sacred rites and take part in them wholeheartedly; and they will also need personally to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as well as popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of the liturgy. In addition they must learn how to observe the liturgical laws, so that life in seminaries and houses of religious may be thoroughly influenced by the spirit of the liturgy.
18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.

When I was a child, my parents had a prayer meeting in our house, that lots of people attended.  It was not unusual for a few priests, a brother, a couple of Baptist pastors and an Assembly of God pastor to be present.  It was there I played guitar with Brother Michael, and there I learned to pray.

I also went to parochial school, and there we had masses and other services that were dedicated to God as well.  I would often serve as an altar boy and played the organ as well.  From those perspectives, I saw more of the mass and fell in love with the sacredness of it, even the parts I didn’t quite understand.

Since then, I’ve played and led praise bands, become a non-denomination pastor, then moved into the Lutheran Church where a form of the historic liturgy is our “style” of worship.  And yet the lessons from the prayer meetings and non-denom worship leading play into the planning of worship as well.

As I read Vatican II’s words in green this morning, I saw them trying to unify the two streams of worship I have known.  Starting with the pastoral training in seminaries, there must be part of that training that teaches the pastors and priests to worship God with all their heart, to understand and actively take part in the mysterion of God, to realize the Trinity is not just observing the mass, but participating in it.

Liturgy must be “lived” whether it is the historic liturgy or the common liturgy of prayer meetings and evangelical gathering.  Those facilitating it must get caught up in it themselves, so that while they are aware of the people’s participation, they first are praising God for all He is, in their life.

It’s not about being the best musician, the best singer, the perfect reader of scripture, the perfect liturgist. ( We can add ushers, altar guild members, sound techs, parishioners)  It is about knowing the presence of God in this place, of realizing the blessings He is pouring out, and responding with others, even helping them to do value this time with God.

These words we say, and in the liturgy they are all from scripture, are the words of God, scripture read and sang and breathed.  They are the words of life that kept Peter and the apostles bound to Jesus when everyone else ran away. They are the words, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states. that touch us. That the Spirit uses to draw us into Christ, to develop in us a dependence on Him, and in that dependence, to pour out all we are upon Him.

This isn’t something I think we teach people to do in a lecture, or even in a sermon.  It is something that is modeled and formed in them, and in order for that to happen, it must be modeled and formed in those who lead. Whether this is in a full liturgy, or in a back yard worship time that simply happens among friends.

God is with us, may we realize this, and help those who come to our churches, bible studies and prayer meetings realize it, and when they do, cry confidently, “Lord, have mercy on us”

 

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print

The Lord Is With You… Even there!!! (A particularly powerful parable)

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Devotional Thought for our days:

5  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7  Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.  Galatians 4:5-7 (NLT)

14  Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin. 16  Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)

80      If you are a good son of God, in the same way that a little child needs to be assured of the presence of his parents when he gets up in the morning or goes to bed at night, your first and last thought each day will be for Him.

Luther saw in this the very essence of Christian theology. God reached down not halfway to meet us in our vileness but all the way down, to the foul dregs of our broken humanity. And this holy and loving God dared to touch our lifeless and rotting essence and in doing so underscored that this is the truth about us. In fact, we are not sick and in need of healing. We are dead and in need of resurrecting. We are not dusty and in need of a good dusting; we are fatally befouled with death and fatally toxic filth and require total redemption. If we do not recognize that we need eternal life from the hand of God, we remain in our sins and are eternally dead. So because God respects us, he can reach us only if we are honest about our condition. So it fit well with Luther’s thinking that if God were to bestow upon him— the unworthy sinner Luther— such a divine blessing, it must needs be done as he sat grunting in the “cloaca.”

It is not what we think of as a holy place, yet it was.

A man who suffered incredibly from guilt and shame, whose anxiety nearly paralyzed him, when it wasn’t driving him mad. 

And he finally had that aha moment while sitting on a toilet. During a particularly hard bowel movement. 

Seriously? Yeah, seriously.  

In a way, it is the perfect parallel physically to what needs to happen to us spiritually.  We might call it thus, “The Kingdom of God is like a good laxative!  We need to get rid of all the crap in our lives, the sin which binds us up!  We try to eliminate the sin’s stench by trying to legitimize our behavior, to justify or excuse it.  We do all things these, and all they do is cause us pain, and grief, and more foul air.  And when God comes to us, all that crap is eliminated. 

We need God to meet us there! And that is what Luther realized God would do, a God who loves His children so much that He will meet us even there. A God who would answer the cry of a child in pain,  a God who would be there for us, no matter what we are dealing with in life.  A God who knows the crap we’ve been messing around in, and loves us enough to set aside the stench and do what needed to be done.

As we realize this, how it changes us!  How it reforms us and the way that we look at life!  How it draws us to Him, to adore Him,, to love Him, to worship Him, even as we run to Him with confidence, assured that he can take care for the crap we cannot deal with by our own reason or strength.

This is our God, cry out to Him in confidence!  Lord have mercy on me! 

And assured of His love and grace, know the relief, the peace that His presence brings!  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 498-500). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (p. 97). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Where and How We Worship and Pray: Does it Matter?

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our Days….

3“Is there anyone among you who can still remember how splendid the Temple used to be? How does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all. 4But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you. 5When you came out of Egypt, I promised that I would always be with you. I am still with you, so do not be afraid.
6 “Before long I will shake heaven and earth, land and sea. 7I will overthrow all the nations, and their treasures will be brought here, and the Temple will be filled with wealth. 8All the silver and gold of the world is mine. 9The new Temple will be more splendid than the old one, and there I will give my people prosperity and peace.” The LORD Almighty has spoken.   Haggai 2:3-9  TEV

Threats against those who do not love God: Ps. 11:5; 109:17; John 3:19; 1 Cor. 16:22; John 12:25; 14:24; 1 John 3:14.
Threats against those who do not trust in God: Ps. 49:6 ff.; 115:8; Prov. 11:28; Is. 59:4; 42:17; Jer. 17:5; 7:8; Luke 18:14; Mark 10:23.
Threats against those who do not hope in God: Job 8:13; 11:20; Prov. 11:28; Is. 20:5; 28:13.
Threats against those who do not fear God: Prov. 29:25; Hos. 10:3; Deut. 11:28; 2 Cor. 10:6; 2 Thess. 1:8.
Promises connected with love: Deut. 11:5–7; Ex 23:20 ff.; Is. 64:4; Prov 4:6; 8:17; John 14:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; John 16:27.
Promises connected with trust in God: Ps. 125:1; Jer. 17:7; Ps. 37:5; 56:11; 91:14; 31:1; Prov. 29:25; Is. 40:31; Rom. 5:5.

 

It cannot be that we choose for ourselves whether or how we shall worship God: what is important is that we respond to him in the place where he gives himself to us. We cannot decide on our own terms where God is to meet us, and we should not strive to reach him by our own efforts. He can come to us and let us find him wherever he chooses.

Of the three readings I posted above from this morning, the middle one troubles me the most.  Chemnitz’s inventory of threats (curses in Covenantal terms) is pretty clear.  If you don’t love God, if you don’t trust Him, if you don’t find Hope in His words, or aren’t in awe of His glory and power, what you have chosen is wrath and abandonment.  Yes, there are promises if you do love and trust in Him, but the threats, the curses that one could choose?  Why would anyone?  Why would anyone not warn someone who is heading that way?

Compare that to the promise of Haggai, and the people that looked out of their lives and couldn’t believe how far they had come from the beauty they once knew or heard of from their parents or grandparents.  The majesty of the temple of Solomon, where people could pray and know they were forgiven,  The beauty of the place where they met with God, sure that He put His name there  A place where their trust and dependence on God was rewarded, blessed, nurtured.

There is not much difference really, between Chemnitz and the prophet. They are both urging us to listen,, to really hear and depend on God.  We need to do that, and realize that while we are His people, He is our God.  

That means we have to let Him care for us, we have to let Him heal us.   We can’t be the doctor of our own souls. Which means when He prescribes something for us, such as being in a community of others who are struggling to trust Him as well, this is His good will for us, not some kind of harsh discipline. 

That’ why I love Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI’s ) remind us that we don’t get to choose for ourselves.  Nor do we have to seek God out.  He will find us, It is not by our own efforts we are saved, it is not something we deserve or are owed.  

God will go out and find us, and bring us home, but that is where we should stay, in the home, the church where He has placed us so that He can give Himself to us!  This is the greatest of miracles, the most glorious thing we can experience in this life, or in eternity. 

God, coming to us, loving us, cleansing us, and making us a holy people. 

Cardinal Ratzinger went on, “What matters is not just some pious feeling of ours that relegates religion to the realm of the nonobligatory and private but the obedience that hears God’s call and accepts it. The Lord does not want our private feelings; he wants to form us into a community and to build the new community of the Church on faith. The body must share in the divine worship as must the community with its hardships and discomforts.”

This is who we are, the people that have a God whom we can truly and completely depend on, a God who sees us complete, the masterpiece of His creation, a glorious work of grace and love.  

As we cry out for His mercy, the prayer should contain a willingness to receive that mercy, where He has promised to pour it out. 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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.

500 Years Later: What Blessings Does the Church have in Common?

It was an amazing opportunity, a blessing that would have been unheard of at the 450th anniversary of the Reformation.  A chance for a Lutheran pastor to explain where we have come from over the last 500 years, and using writings of a Pope, Martin Luther, Vatican II and a leading Lutheran Theology professors, give us hope and urge us on to seek reconciliation.

here is a rough draft recording of the talk…..okay a really rough draft.

May we pray that the Church would be one and that it would be seen as one by us.  AMEN.

Is this why the American Church is paralyzed, and of no effect?

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our days…
1 God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.  We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake,  Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD of angel armies protects us.  River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High.  God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn.  Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten, but Earth does anything he says.  Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD of angel armies protects us.  Attention, all! See the marvels of GOD! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,  Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. 10  “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” 11  Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD of angel armies protects us.  Psalm 46:1-11 (MSG) 

Sometimes the impression arises that behind our hectic hyperactivity there lurks a paralysis of faith, since in the last analysis we have more confidence in what we ourselves contrive and accomplish. But we are effective by no means only through what we do but also through what we are if we become mature and free and genuine by sinking the roots of our being into the fruitful stillness of God.

These comforting sayings are all true and surely do not deceive us: Psalm 46 [:1], “God is our refuge and strength, a great help in the trouble which besets us.” Sirach [Ecclus. 2:10], that wise man, said, “What man who has put his trust in God has ever perished?” And [I] Maccabees 2[:61], None who puts his trust in him will lack strength. Again, Psalm 9 [:10], “Lord, thou hast not forsaken those who seek thee.”

If I were to believe those who study the church in America, God must be on vacation in Africa.  For this generation is lost to us ( although I remember them saying that about my generation as well)  The church develops this program and that to reach them, they have conferences to ponder what might be effective, and there are days I believe there are more church consultants and coaches ready to help advise pastors, or if you can’t afford an hour or two of advice, send you the video’s of their training seminars.

Yes, church attendance is down, but I think a major part of that is that our calendars are too jam-packed, that they are too hectic.  Pope Benedict was right – our hectic hyperactivity caused by our anxiety has resulted in a paralyzed faith.  It’s paralyzed, not because God is on vacation, but because we are looking to ourselves for the solution, what we can accomplish.  

Paul Borden’ written a number of books about revitalizing the church.  I’ve read them and was amazed by his insistence on the role of prayer in the process.  Yet when I talk to revitalization specialists, what I find is that they omit this crucial step, and move on to steering committees and those who will do the outreach.  They only start with churches that are over a certain size, knowing the rule that says 20 percent will do 80 percent of the work.  They don’t think prayer is a major part of that, they don’t see the necessity for spending time in communion with God.  We paralyze the faith of our people by robbing them of prayer, of sacred times 

Why do we wonder why the church is shriveling up?  

Luther found great comfort in Psalm 46, in the role God reveals as His own.  He is our castle, the place we find safety and serenity. (it is the basis for his masterful ballad, A Mighty Fortress. Pope Benedict notes that we sink our roots, deep into this truth, that God is our God, as we are still in His presence, that is when the fruitfulness comes.

In awe of God, in awe of His love, in awe of the fact that He will lovingly wrestle with us, letting us struggle, so that we learn to trust Him, that we learn we can depend on Him. That the mission of the church is His mission, His work, that He does in and through us.

That is the difference between the church here, and the church that is exploding in other places.  The amount of stillness, of seeing God at work, of knowing His presence.

So know this, the Lord is with you, His church!  He is your fortress, your sanctuary, and He will give you peace.  And from there, in the stillness of His glory, we find that we are not paralyzed… that we aren’t drained… but rested and ready to serve at His side. 

 

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.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 43. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

Is Correct Doctrine and Practice Enough? Are We Just Going Through the Motions?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our Day:

2 I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. 3 You have patience and have suffered troubles for my name and have not given up.
4 “But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. 5 So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place. Rev. 2:2-6  NCV

Here we must also mention those hypocrites who put their trust in their own righteousness before God, as the Pharisees in Luke 18:10 ff. Upon such people falls the guilt of many sins, because they do not recognize their own weakness, they do not recognize that in the eyes of God they are worthy of punishment because they have a false confidence and do not call upon God through Christ the Mediator. Indeed, they put their own works forward in the place of the Mediator’s. I have described their attributes above under the fifth degree.

A third point should be added here: when absolution has been given, one should accept the new melody of life and let oneself really be re-tuned to the new rhythm of God. The first indication of this new melody in our lives is prayer, for the new life is above all also a turning to God. 

It seems like a new idol is gaining strength in the church.  That pastors, ministers, and others who serve are being trained to serve this idol.  That people are being led to put their faith in this idol, that if it is served, that if sacrifices are made to appease it, then everything will be okay.  

It really isn’t a new idol, it simply put on new clothes and addresses a certain fear we have, that somehow, God is displeased with us, that this is the reason that churches in 1st world countries are shrinking and closing. 

The church in Ephesus also had to deal with this, look at what the Apostle John wrote it above. 

They didn’t tolerate false teaching, they tested everyone and discovered who was teaching falsely.

They had patience and suffered troubles (even ones they didn’t create for themselves!)  

They had doctrine and practice of that doctrine down pat, so much so that Jesus even praised them for it!  Yet they were as empty as the Pharisees railed against.  When we enter a point where our focus is primarily correct doctrine and practice, we leave behind the Lord we love, (ironically the one correct doctrine should lead us to adore, which is what is the definition of true orthodoxy!)

Please hear me, teaching correctly about God’s grace is important, critical even.  Worshipping Him in a way consistent with what the scriptures reveal is also very important.  Do things our own way, in what makes sense to us in that moment is dangerous.  But making doctrine and practice THE focus of our ministry, or how we judge other’s ministry is still idolatry. 

St John encourages us to return to our first love, the love we had for the Lord who delivered us, who brought us into fellowship by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To change our hearts ( not our minds (doctrine and practice dwell there too!) and return to what we did at first, being in awe, trying to learn how to love God.  It is from such a life of prayer that doctrine and practice really come alive anyway.  The words mean more, they aren’t just rote, the actions we take we find are nourished and strengthed by the Lord we dedicate them to Him!

I love how Pope Benedict XVI phrased this, in regards to absolution.  THe idea of God re-tuning us, transforming us to live in this new melody of life, these new movements, My guitar cannot tune itself, neither can I tune myself.  Yet as God does this, as I get out of the way, I find myself desiring to spend more time with Him.  I find the music that is life sweeter and more comforting, more serene.

FOr it is God turning us to Himself, revealing His presence, His embracing us, even as the prodigal was embraced by the Father who loved him.

For He loves us…and therefore, we can love Him, our first love…

Lord Jesus, help us to know the presence of the Holy Spirit, Tune our hearts and souls so resonate deeply with your voice, that we may love you more, and so that this new melody would be heard by many. AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.  quote from Melancthon

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.

 

Do We Still Hear Jesus As We Walk With Him?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven.  Heb 1:2-3 NCV

I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)

I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.

Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”

To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.

With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)

I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution.  Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian!  I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others.  That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right?  Or at least make sure I get in the door?

THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor.  I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer.  I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.

When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,

I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”

This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.

And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress.  We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,

For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”

And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!”  Amen.

 

 

 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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.

 

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