Category Archives: Book of Concord

Communicating the Gospel: Don’t confuse the method for the purpose!

pexels-photo-279991Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21  For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)

24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them. 

The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel.  It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk.  And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”.  While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale.  Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.

Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box.  Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.

Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias.  Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force.  We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them.  ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.

But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel.  Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate.  For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.

What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed!  Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel.  The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.

Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus.  The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.

And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.

This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you.  Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!

 

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel

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.

The Struggle of Being Holy….and How it Accomplished!

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day
15  So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17 (NLT2)

6. We also believe, teach, and confess that, although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.

Men expect redemption from themselves, and they seem quite prepared to provide it. Thus there is linked to the primacy of the future the primacy of practice, the primacy of human activity above all other activities. Theology, too, shows itself more and more open to this concept—orthopraxis replaces orthodoxy. “Eschatopraxis” seems more important than eschatology. If in earlier days it was left to popular enlightenment to tell the lower class that artificial fertilizer was more effective than prayer, now, after a suitable interval, we can read similar commentaries in the kind of “religious” literature that strives to reflect the contemporary Zeitgeist; we can even find voiced there the argument that under certain circumstances prayer itself will have to be “refunctioned”: it can hardly be considered any longer an appeal for divine assistance; on the contrary, it must be regarded as a period of quiet composure in preparation for the practice of human self-help.

Benedict XVI’s words about orthopraxy replacing orthodoxy (right practice replacing right praise) seem eerily prophetic.  Written in 1971, these words I believe talk of the church today.  For the focus on doing things correctly, doing things in a way that seems holy to man dominate both traditional and contemporary Christianity, It can be seen in both conservative and liberal voices.

As he notes, even prayer becomes the preparation for doing things correctly, 

As I look at this, I think I see a tie into the quote from the Lutheran Confessions in green.  I think that we struggle with the fact that while we believe, the weakness and shortcoming we have (which is simply a fancy way of saying we still sin).  We don’t know how to deal with our own frailty, our own brokenness.  We are impatient with the healing we are experiencing in Christ, and so we seek to fast track our own sanctification.

If only we can do everything right, if only our performance reveals how much faith we have, then maybe others will see us as holy, and then, based on our testimony, we can believe we are holy.   So we look for the masters, the life coaches, the pastors who will show us the way to worship, how to live, how to raise our kids, and be a bastion or moral and religious perfection.

And instead of being an imitator of Christ, we try to become a clone of those who we follow.  Driven by the fear of being revealed to be something less than faithful, we take on the mannerisms, while leaving a soul behind that is empty, broken, and struggling with the sin that so easily ensnares us.

Prior to the passage from Romans above, we see Paul going from the joys of rising with Christ in baptism, to the absolute low of discovering he still can’t get things right.  Orthopraxis is impossible,  He can’t do what is right, he can’t help but do what is wrong.  In this moment of shame and self-pity, he finds in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That despite his struggle with sin, God sees Paul as righteous, holy, a son of God.

This discovery changes things, it changes our fear of our sin being discovered into a cry for help,  Daddy! Daddy! HELP!  We realize that our hope is not found in our attempts to be holy, but in hearing His voice tell us we are His children.  In hearing His promise to complete everything in the day of Jesus. We find our transformation not by our work in ministry, not in our perfection of word and sacrament, but from being there, broken, and finding healing.

Nothing I can do will bring you the level of holiness you will be satisfied with, in this age. For satisfaction means you want to judge if you have made it, or rely on the judgment of others. That desire for satisfaction will drain you, ripping out from you the core of your heart and soul.

But allowing God to minister to us, allowing His grace, His mercy and love to pour into us, living life being drawn to Him, sometimes in tears, this is our hope.  Not starting with prayer, but a life lived in Him, allowing Him to recreate us.

This is our hope of wholeness, of holiness.  Letting God be God, as we realize we are His.

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 474). 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.) (pp. 242–243). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Is he evil incarnate or an angel or?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day

 24  Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27  “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ 28  “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. 29  “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30  Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30 (NLT2)

16  So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT2)

We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man’s nature and original sin, not only in the beginning when God created man pure and holy and without sin, but also as we now have our nature after the Fall. Even after the fall our nature is and remains a creature of God. The distinction between our nature and original sin is as great as the difference between God’s work and the devil’s work.
3 2. We also believe, teach, and confess that we must preserve this distinction most diligently, because the view that admits no distinction between our corrupted human nature and original sin militates against and cannot co-exist with the chief articles of our Christian faith, namely, creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our flesh.
4 God not only created the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, even though they are corrupted, and God still acknowledges them as his handiwork, as it is written, “Thy hands fashioned and made me, all that I am round about” (Job 10:8).

It seems like we either want to anoint people as angels or condemn them as demons.  We want to be able to accurately pick out which are sons of Satan, and which are children of God.

We want to separate the wheat from the weeds, we want to declare that not only are the reformed theologians correct when they say people are predestined to heaven, and therefore others are predestined to hell but that we somehow know which is which. Somehow we think in our baptism we were all given the spiritual gift of discernment, that enables us to see into people’s hearts and souls, and determine who is saved, and who is not.

Then we can declare this person is a good person, and that person is the purest evil.  People we don’t even know, but that we judge from thousands of miles away.  People we’ve never talked to, that we’ve only seen in the news, or mentioned on Twitter.

What we aren’t allowing for, in these judgments, is the work of God, and we deny the grace which is extended to all, including us.  We deem what God desires to be impossible, and then for others, which sins we willing overlook, as automatic.  By automatic, I mean we judge the heart based on works we see and assume the person is righteous.

In either case, what we’ve done is stopped seeing the need for praying for them.  If we think they are saved, we think that prayer redundant.  If we think they are condemned, there is no need to ray, as their fate is already determined.   If they are close, not only do we stop praying for them, we may stop telling them about God. We might give up on the power of God to transform them, just as we need Him to transform us.  Eventually, this leads to complacency affects our own walk with God.

This thinking about people, the Lutheran Confessions brought out in my reading this morning, is counter to our theology.  FOr we should see in even the most notorious of sinners the handiwork of God’s creation.  It may be marred by sin, it may be broken, but it is not, in this lifetime, marred so much so it is beyond recognition. They are still God’s creation, they are still His children.  AMEN!

We are not our sin, and our weakness to temptation does not define us.  Or the person next door, or the person being lambasted or praised on FB or Twitter or SnapChat or the nightly news. That sin and sin nature is removed by Christ so completely that it proves it was never meant to be us, or how we are defined.

We are new, we are complete.  What God does in us, can be done in others. What we pray to happen in their lives, we testify can and is happening in ours.   This is our hope for everyone, near or far, friend or enemy, family member, and ourselves.

That all would come to experience the love of God.

So next time you are tempted to say someone is pure evil or pure good, remember the impact that makes on you….

God’s peace.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 466). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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.

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.

The Context of God’s Love

Devotional THought of the Day:

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who •fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.   Psalm 103:11-14  HCSB

When we say “God loves me”, we should not only feel the responsibility, the danger, of being unworthy of his love, but we should also accept the words of love and grace in all their fullness and purity, for, by implication, they tell us also that God is a forgiving and benevolent God

88 Here again there is great need to call upon God and pray, “Dear Father, forgive us our debts.” Not that he does not forgive sin even without and before our prayer; and he gave us the Gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness, before we prayed or even thought of it. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.

So many songs that talk about how great the faithful love of God miss the incredible, glorious context of how and when His love is communicated to us. Even greater is the measure of His love when we realize that He doesn’t just love us when we are holy, perfect and mature in our faith.

The psalmist puts it into context for us, the reason we know His love, His compassion is that He has removed our transgressions from us. He loved us when we are broken, in bondage to the sin and sinful desires which so easily entrap us. Luther notes that this forgiveness, this removal of sin was accomplished even before we prayed or thought to pray. Pope Benedict writes that we should accept these words of love, for they tell us God is forgiving and benevolent.  He desires the best for us, even when we aren’t at our best.

This is the love of God, and it is what Satan and the demons that work alongside him would have us forget.

Yet, we need to know our God and His love that is so clearly described in verse 14.  The Lord knows us!  He knows what we are made of and that we’re dust without Him.  He realizes how broken and shattered we are. He realizes our struggle with temptation, and the guilt and shame we live in, which we hide or grow callouses to cover our guilt and shame.

He knows it all.

And still is faithful in HIs love, committer in His mercy and compassion.  In Hebrew, the word cHesed is used for all those, the dedicated love, mercy, and compassion that is always faithful to those in the relationship with God.

And how wonderful it is!   He loves you!  He forgives you!  He knows You – and still loves you!  The context of His love for you is your brokenness, which He is healing!

How amazing, how glorious!  This is our God!


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. 215). San Francisco: Ignatius Press

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 432). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press..

 

The Difference Between a Preacher and a Pastor

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the day:
5 For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers. For I became your father r in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 This is why I have sent Timothy to you. He is my dearly loved and faithful t son in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church.   1 Cor. 4:15-17 HCSB

How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus, how much tenderness is in there!
Brothers and sisters let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!

But what is it to pray that his name may become holy? Is it not already holy? Answer: Yes, in itself it is holy, but not our use of it. God’s name was given to us when we became Christians at Baptism, and so we are called children of God and enjoy the sacraments, through which he so incorporates us with himself that all that is God’s must serve for our use.

As I was working through my readings this morning, the first, the reading from Paul’s letter to a church he loved (and struggled to love) kept coming back to mind.   And then as I read Pope Francis, and Pastor Martin Luther’s words, I saw great examples of what Paul was teaching.

Anyone can deliver a lesson, a sermon that is exegetical and explains the Bible passage more completely than someone can see at first glance. To be honest, you don’t even need a good preacher to do so, for we have 2,000 years of commentators like John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Lenski, Matthew Henry and William Barclay who will do that for you.

Someone whose primary goal is preaching can do the studies, or borrow them from someone else, and lecture you, mailing you on what you did wrong, showing you how you must behave, and reminding you of who God is, helping you explore the incredible knowledge we have in scripture.  They are instructors, and we need that kind of information.

But a sermon, a real sermon, is something a pastor crafts and delivers.  It is a pastor, someone who acts as a spiritual father.  Someone who has learned from their errors, and cares enough to help you when you are in error, guiding you back to the way that is “in Christ”.

The pastor brings you to see God in all His glory, the glory that comes from our love and our mercy.   He wants you to experience the healing that happens when seeing Christ, you respond to His love being poured out upon you. When you realize as Luther said, that God through His word and sacraments, just doesn’t teach you, but see you incorporated into Christ that our thoughts turn to Him, depending on Him to care for us. 

A pastor shepherds you to the place where you realize what a treasure it is to know God as your Father, when you realize the difference that makes in your daily life, no matter how challenged, no matter how boring, no matter how broken.

you see this in the words of Pope Francis, and Fr. Martin Luther.  You see them not just wanting to impart knowledge of God, but helping people experience the love. 

Imagine a boy learning to teach.  The instructor tells him all about the bait, all about the rods and reels, all about the way to study the river or the lake.  The pastor father takes the young man fishing, watching him learn, urging him to be patient, applauding him when he catches something, consoling him when the big one gets away.  This is the father-pastor at work, and that care needs to occur in the midst of the sermon, in the midst of the worship service.  Helping people “catch” God, who is never far away….reading to be caught, ready to be devoured, ready to be incorporated i our lives, as we are incorporated in His.  

This is a pastor’s calling… to help people experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great ot understand fully (see Ephesians 3:19) while being made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 216). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 425). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

God’s “safe place”…the place He fits in…

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  1 Co 3:16   HCSB

1 How lovely is Your dwelling place, LORD of Hosts. 2 I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 64:1-2 HCSB

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.

King Solomon once asked if there was ever a place God could fit in.

As I read the readings quoted this moring I thought of Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple, and as I read that we were God’s sanctuary, I didn’t think about it in view of a huge cathedral’s sanctuary, but the place for someone seeking a home, seeking a place where you “fit in”, where You were loved.  To quote the old song from the show “Cheers”, the place where “everybody knows Your name”.

A sanctuary is a place where you are at peace, where you can rest, and be yourself.  Where it is safe.  Where you are worry free and free to discover who you are, and live as you were meant ot live. Some people mock those described as “millenials” for wanting such a place, for struggling to understand this world and the chaos we have seen it become.

Yet even as the Psalmist desires to be in the dwelling place of God, (something I resonate with a lot, as I struggle with my own sin and the sin of the world)  I find it comforting to know God seeks this place as well.  That God would look for His safe place, the place where He would be who He knows Himself to be, to create and find every part of His sanctuary.  God is far more desirous of that place than we are, and the extreme measures He will go to create that place, to found the place where He fits in, to dwell in the place where everyone knows (and praises) His name.

People reading this may think that I am picturing God as a wimpy needy person, just as they picture the millennials who they berate and mock.  The need for a safe place and a call for it by the younger adults of this day is not about them being wimps, it is about their keen sense of the dissonance that sin causes, the brokenness that our hearts and souls cannot tolerate.

And neither should ours.

We, especially those in the church, should be crying out to God, to make His presence know, to help us to understand that He dwells in our midst, that we are the sanctuary we so eagerly seek out.  We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see those out searching for a place, drawn to Him, pointed there by our words, by our lives.  For this church is the place we find ourselves in the heart of Christ, and it is there, as the Spirit dwells in us,.

This is the sanctuary God desires more than anything, for Jesus, died to establish it.  This is the community that is called holy, that is set apart to know and love one another, where everyone knows your name, and everyone knows His. This is His masterpiece, this church made not of wood and stone, but of hearts and souls, the place figured in the words of John 1, where it says he came and made His home among us. This is what all creation culminated in, this sanctuary, this safe place God has made to dwell in with us.

Realize my friends, you dwell in Him, and you are His sanctuary.  For this is His desire, to have this sanctuary for Himself.

Lord,, help ys to realize that in the Sabbath you rest, and envisioned us finding rest and peace with You.  In making us Your Holy People, you created a place where You fit in, where You would rest in peace with those you call by name, who call You by Name and call upon that Name. Help us to do so often so that every burden is lifted, and every praise is sung.   AMEN!

 

 

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

 

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