Category Archives: Devotions

We all know God loves us, but far too often the stresses, anxieties and problems in life crowd Him out of our view. Here find a moment to re-focus and remember how incredible it is that God loves us, and what it means to live in His presence, in the peace that passes all understanding…

Is it worth it?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
3  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5 (NLT2)

12  Not that I have secured it already, nor yet reached my goal, but I am still pursuing it in the attempt to take hold of the prize for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13  Brothers, I do not reckon myself as having taken hold of it; I can only say that forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front, 14  I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15  So this is the way in which all of us who are mature should be thinking, and if you are still thinking differently in any way, then God has yet to make this matter clear to you. 16  Meanwhile, let us go forward from the point we have each attained. Philippians 3:12-16 (NJB)

708    The world, the devil, and the flesh are a band of adventurers who take advantage of the weakness of that savage you have within you. In exchange for the poor bauble of pleasure, which is worth nothing, they want you to hand over to them the pure gold and the pearls, the diamonds and the rubies, drenched in the living and redeeming blood of your God—the price and the treasure of your eternity.

There are days when I ask myself the question that is the title of this blog.

The problem is that I ask it at the wrong times, or perhaps with the wrong attitude.  

I ask it on rough days when I am weary, broken by the events I endured, the pain and suffering encountered. I ask it with the attitude of trying to find a way out, a way to alleviate the stress that ll of the trauma and drama causes. I ask because, in the moment of the struggle, doubt creeps in and temptations arise.

The answer is that walking with Christ is always worth it, usually, somewhere between my heart, mind, and soul, I know this. Yet I also know Satan and the sinful nature that I still have to fight (see that described in Romans 7).  It doesn’t have to be the poor bauble of pleasure, it could even be the illusion that suffering and drama doesn’t exist. 

In those times, I need to remember the suffering He endured, and that He thought I was worth it!  I have to breathe, allowing the Holy Spirit to quiet and comfort me, allowing the Spirit to work deep within, reminding me of who God is, of where God is. 

This is why passing the peace and the Lord’s Supper are such important times in my life,  For there I am driven to remember He is with me, that His peace is where I am kept, I just have to remember it. As person after person shakes my hand, or grips me in a bear hug, I am reminded of where I am.  As they say, “peace be with you,” I realize that they know this because they have seen it in their own lives, as I tell them. I dwell in His peace.

That message is even more reinforced as I take in my hand body of Christ, and the cup containing His precious blood.   What a gift!  What a reminder that from the pain of the cross comes my hope, and the joy that is unspeakable.

Is it worth it?  This life lived, walking with people who struggling, each carrying his own burden? This carrying of burdens?  Of course.

God is with us!

So hang on to this hope, and know He is hanging on to you, as He walks with you.

AMEN. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1656-1659). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Same Words… found back to back, that help in the dark times of life!

IMAG0406

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 Why am I so depressed?
Why this turmoil within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him,
my Savior and my God.  ( Psalm 42:11 AND 43:5 HCSB)

695    In the moments of struggle and tribulation, when perhaps the “good” fill your way with obstacles, lift up your apostolic heart: listen to Jesus as he speaks of the grain of mustard seed and of the leaven, and say to him: Edissere nobis parabolam—“Explain the parable to me.” And you’ll feel the joy of contemplating the victory to come: the birds of the air under the shelter of your apostolate, now only in its beginnings, and the whole of the meal leavened.

As I was reading Psalm 42 this morning, the verse in red and it hit me.

The amount of trauma and conflict  (more of the former than the latter)  I have had to deal with recently has me somewhat depressed. Okay, more than somewhat. The accumulated weight of trying to guide people to God in at least 10 situations has taken its tole.

So I highlighted the verse, thankful for the reminder that my hope is in something far more stable, far more faithful. and knowing that, even in the midst of this dark time, I can praise Him.  Can?  I must, for that is the reaction of relief, as I remember He is here, as I remember His promises.

At least I do for a moment, then move on, back into reading the next Psalm, which is a little more positive, a little more upbeat, and yet, it ends with the same exact same words!  Okay, I’ve got the message Lord, and paused to let them sink in a little more.

I need to… I really do.

Then I scroll over to my friend’s writing.  For I resonate with so much that St. Josemaria Escriva writes, it feels like the words of a wise friend when I read them.

WHich takes the hope, seeping through the darkness, and causes it to shatter the darkness.

Even though I reached on the passage yesterday, I forgot that often how Christ minister’s to us in our brokenness, is how He ministers through us ot others.   Knowing how we have died and risen with Him, and find shelter in Him, means that in my death and resurrection Christ’s work will help others find peace and freedom. They will find rest as I minister to them, they will find hope, and by God’s grace, the darkness they encounter will be shattered as well.

including the 10 plus situations where brokenness and darkness seem so… overwhelming.

What kind of God do we have, that can take someone as broken and struggling as I am, and give me the peace to help others who are breaking and broken?  What kind of God can help people find refuge and sanctuary through all of us, even as our faith wavers a little?  How incredible is that?  How amazing?

Only the God who is loving and merciful, the God who is our Savior, who is our God.

As we realize what it means that He is our God, that we have been drawn to Him and made His people, it is time to react… it is time to praise Him and adore Him, and walk with Him!

Amen!

What joy would it bring you to know God will use all things for good for you, even the trauma, the suffering, even the conflict?  

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1620-1625). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

How Ministry Works – A Concordia Sermon based on Mark 4

church at communion 2How Ministry Works
Mark 4:26-34

I.H.S.

 May the grace, mercy, and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you as you mature in trusting God and serve those around you!

 Cornfields of Dandelions?

As we look at the kingdom parables in our gospel reading this morning, I imagine you think the Farmer creates a farm like the ones we may be had driven by, where the seeds are planted in nice neat rows.

But the scripture says he throws the seeds, just slings them across the field, so a better illustration would be those beautiful flowers that spread their spores across the fields of my youth.

You know, those lovely things we call dandelions!

The spores fly where ever there wind blows, and overnight your beautiful yard is covered In bright yellow flowers, though some might call them weeds.

That is how the Kingdom of God is, as the seed of the gospel is blown about, and creates life from seemed barren, lifeless, and even dead.  Yet that seemingly dead and lifeless seed, like the spores on a dandelion, produces incredible abundant life.

Without any manipulation of the farmer.

Which is why Jesus shared this parable with the disciples, and with us.

We’ve lost control!!!!

The first commandment is, I believe the simplest, and yet the hardest to put into play.

“You shall have no other gods to rival me. 4  ‘You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. 5  ‘You shall not bow down to them or serve them.; Exodus 20:3-5a (NJB)

That bow down part needs to be explained a little.  In the culture of the time, it was more than a mark of respect, it was a mark of submission, of recognizing that the other person was responsible for you and had the right to direct your life any way they wished, including ending it.  It was the kind of complete submission that occurs to one who has lost a war, or who really trusts the person they bow to, knowing the character of the person that they entrusted themselves to, as they bowed.

TO have a God means to trust them with your life, to run to them in times of trouble and need, and to trust their compassion, to trust them to make things right.

There is a problem with that, and it is not a new one.  It is the reason Jesus told this parable.

We like to be in control, we like to know the outcome of our days, and whether the times we endured are worth it.  We want to be able to have the right to question God and tell Him how we want the universe ran, or at least our tiny corner of it.

So too in the church, the challenge is to be focused on the gospel, on sharing God’s love as far as we can fling it and trusting the Holy Spirit to provide the result that our Triune God desires.

Except it always doesn’t work quite the way we like, and the Kingdom of God, which we would like to see nicely organized and ordered, in our opinion, seems messy and slow in its growth, and we can’t stand not seeing what is happening.  We can’t wait for the blade to explode out of the seed, and the heads of wheat to form, and the plant to mature.

So we might get impatient, and rather than trust God, we trust ourselves.  We strive to control and determine how and when growth happens. And in making ourselves God, we fall deep into sin.  Believe me, it is easy to do, to become distracted from sharing the reason we have hope in what seems to be a dark and trying life.

It is pretty easy to move from frustration to sin, from impatience with God’s process to trying to take over and play God ourselves.

And yet the seed lies there, about to burst into life, all under the control of God, and not ours.

So how do we learn to trust Him, to look to Him to provide the growth, while still planting the seeds?

Time to find rest in the trees!

The other parable gives us the idea of how to do so, as we realize the seed of the gospel is simply Christ, who was planted in the ground.

This seemingly simple man, in the most remote part of the Roman Empire, dies, killed by his “own” people, those that claimed to follow God. And even as He is planted in the ground, the apostles had no idea of what we think of as Christianity today.  They could see nothing but pain.  Yet in His being planted, life is formed and created in us.  A Billion people have found life in Christ, and in the second service, as a lady is baptized, another finds rest, like the birds that find a home in a mustard tree, safe deeply within from the predators.

It is when we know we are there when we can breathe deeply, and rest, and realize how God cares and provides for us that we learn to trust Him when we learn that He is the Lord of the church when we realize that He is God.

For we find our refuge and our hope in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and in the promised God gives us, as we are united to Jesus in our baptism.  He cleanses us of all our brokenness and all the times where we’ve tried to play God.

This is what God does, hiding us so completely in His grace that we simply trust Him, that we simply relax and know His love, so incredible that we simply get back to work, throwing out the seed of the gospel, the very love of Jesus.

The gospel that draws people into a relationship deep within Christ, a place where we are revived and renewed, as we dwell in His love!  AMEN!

The Church’s Obligation to Welcome the Stranger in Need

nativityDevotional Thought of the Day:

41  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! 42  I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; 43  I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’ 44  Then they will answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ 45  The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’ 46  These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.Matthew 25:41-46 (TEV)

In short, thievery is the most common craft and the largest guild on earth. If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves.
229 These men are called gentlemen swindlers or big operators. Far from being picklocks and sneak-thieves who loot a cash box, they sit in office chairs and are called great lords and honorable, good citizens, and yet with a great show of legality they rob and steal.
230 Yes, we might well keep quiet here about various petty thieves in order to launch an attack against the great, powerful arch-thieves who consort with lords and princes and daily plunder not only a city or two, but all Germany. Indeed, what would become of the head and chief protector of all thieves, the Holy See at Rome, and all its retinue, which has plundered and stolen the treasures of the whole world and holds them to this day?
231 This, in short, is the way of the world. Those who can steal and rob openly are safe and free, unmolested by anyone, even claiming honor from men. Meanwhile the little sneak-thieves who have committed one offense must bear disgrace and punishment so as to make the others look respectable and honorable. But the latter should be told that in the eyes of God they are the greatest thieves, and that he will punish them as they deserve.  (and then a few paragraphs later)
247 If, when you meet a poor man who must live from hand to mouth, you act as if everyone must live by your favor, you skin and scrape him right down to the bone, and you arrogantly turn him away whom you ought to give aid, he will go away wretched and dejected, and because he can complain to no one else, he will cry to heaven. Beware of this, I repeat, as of the devil himself. Such a man’s sighs and cries will be no joking matter. They will have an effect too heavy for you and all the world to bear, for they will reach God, who watches over poor, sorrowful hearts, and he will not leave them unavenged. But if you despise and defy this, see whom you have brought upon yourself. If you succeed and prosper, before all the world you may call God and me liars

There is a struggle in the church today, one that is neither simple nor easily solved.

It is dealing with the issues of social justice, and how we treat the homeless, the needy, the stranger in our midst, that comes to us, asking for help, crying for a place of refuge.

And far too often the church looks at the situation as if the problem is them  How do we solve their problem, how do we help them live within what the laws (federal, state, local) demand of them, at the same time,  helping them as we ought to.

The words I encounter in my reading in the Large Catechism, and in the gospel show me the problem isn’t with them, but with us.  It is them we look at as if they were the disgrace, yet our lack of love is more disgraceful.  It is their cries, unanswered byt the world of the church, that rise up as prayers to God.  It is our hearts that need to be confronted, broken, and restored by God’s mercy.

Hear that again, it is those that have, and especially those who are in positions where their actions take what little the needy have to rely on, that are more in need of mercy, God’s mercy, than those who cry out to Him.   For if they understood that mercy, it would result in their caring for those whose situations may indeed be shameful, or disgraceful, even such that in desperation they turn to crime.

And then what is to be said for those who vote for those people, or invest in their companies, or work with or for them, or do business with them?  DO we not bear a burden for those sins as well, and thereby need God’s mercy?

The other day I was touched by a friend, one who doesn’t have much herself but gives what she has and even buys somethings intentionally to give to the homeless that live between her work and her home.  She wondered where the homeless had gone to, for she had a trunk full of food and water for them.  What a wondrous thing, someone who understands that while she can’t do much (in the world’s eyes) she can do something!  And she hurt because she couldn’t find those she regularly helped.

Jesus tells us we will always have the poor and needy and the alien among us (Stranger in the Greek is Xeno – alien, those not of us,) but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to love them, to assist them, to defend them.  For in doing so, we encounter Jesus, and in doing so, we encounter the mercy we ourselves need, as we find forgiveness, and restoration, and the power of Christ in our lives..

Lord, have mercy on us!

 

 

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959).( Explanation of the 7th commandment of the Large Catechism), The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 396). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Who Told You? A Sermon on Genesis 3:8-15

church at communion 2Who Told You?
Genesis 3:8-15

In Jesus Name

May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that instead of seeking a hiding place from God, you should seek the refuge you find in Him!

Who Told You?

In today’s first reading, the one from Genesis 3, there is a question that God asks Adam, one that is relevant to ask today.

Who told you?

Specifically, who told you that you were naked, literally that you were exposed, who told you that your sin was visible for all to see?  ( who was all anyway?)

How did you find out you had sinned, how did you come across that information?

Where did this guilt come from that drives you to do things that are as unnatural as the sin you are trying to hide?

As I thought about this question, it came to me that you and I need to ask that question today as we have to deal with our own brokenness, with our own sin, and the damage it does to us.

For I think we’ve been taught about sin in such a way that we react to it as Adam did, hiding, getting defensive, shifting blame, all in response to the guilt that convicts us far more cruelly than God would.

So who told you that you were exposed, that your sin was something so horrible that you had to hide?

Who told you to pass the blame?

As Adam was anxiously dealing with the idea that God found him.  As God asks Adam who told you that you were naked, did you eat of the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  While all that is scrambling his mind, he comes up with an answer.

Not my fault God!  It’s her fault, you know, the one YOU gave me.   She gave me the fruit, and because she is a blessing from you, I listened to her.

And since then, some men have avoided that problem, simply by not listening to their wives!

Of course, that causes other problems, and is just as sinful!

But who told Adam that the best way to deal with sin was to pass the blame?  To hide behind Eve, rather than hiding behind a tree?  Who told him that he wasn’t responsible for stopping Eve from falling into sin?

In trying to defend himself, to justify his own sin, Adam finds himself guilty of more than one sin, he finds himself shattering more relationships and allowing sin to get a better and better hold on his soul.

We do this all the time, and so does most of the world.  When we fear getting caught when we know the guilt and shame and embarrassment that comes from doing something we know we shouldn’t do or refusing to do something we should.

Who told us to do that?  Who told us that we needed to be defensive, that a defense even needed to be given?  For that is as much of a lie as the temptation to sin was in the first place.

Yet Adam does it, as will Eve, who will follow the pattern and play the blame game, blaming the snake for deceiving her, for leading her into temptation.

Who told us to hide, to try and escape from God’s notice. Who told us to hide behind others, trying to get them to pay for our sin?

Who told you about Eve’s offspring?

I am not sure where we get this idea to hide from God, but we do it all the time, don’t we?

What we need to hear, is the last verse of the passage, for it tells us how sin is to be dealt with.  It is the very first prophecy about Jesus in the Bible, what Luther called the “proto-gospel”.

You see it on the painting on the cover of the bulletin, as the offspring of Eve crushes Satan and all his minions on the cross.  Even as the serpent sees Christ die, Satan’s efforts to dominate, to lead people away from God are crushed.

This is what we need to know!  That sin, Satan, and death are crushed at the cross of Christ.  We have been made free!

Seeking Refuge, not Hiding

There is something that drives us to hide from God, and from others, like our parents, our spouses, our children, even our pastor, when we sin.

It is ironic when we run from God when we hide behind someone else, I think what we are trying to do is to find a place of rest, a place where the effects of our sin are negated, and we think hiding will provide it.  We don’t understand there is an option, there always has been.

We can seek refuge in God, instead of seeking a hiding place from Him.

Instead of laying the blame off on others, Christ will willingly, even joyfully remove it.

Seek refuge, not a hiding place.

Which means seek a refuge in God, we allow Him to remove all the guilt and shame, all the anxiety over punishment, all the anxiety of having our sinfulness exposed to the world.

For that was why He was looking for Adam and Eve, and until the cross, why He put them out of the garden.  Not as a punishment, but to sustain them until Christ’s death and resurrection would cleanse them from sin, and they and all who trust and depend on God were given refuge, in the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

For there we find life, and peace that is beyond compare or comprehension.  For in Christ we are kept secure, our hearts and minds are in His possession.  AMEN!!!

The Church Has No Excuse for Aging…

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  The people say, “Let’s return to the LORD! He has hurt us, but he will be sure to heal us; he has wounded us, but he will bandage our wounds, won’t he? 2  In two or three days he will revive us, and we will live in his presence. 3  Let us try to know the LORD. He will come to us as surely as the day dawns, as surely as the spring rains fall upon the earth.” Hosea 6:1-3 (TEV)

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation n to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, o and also to the Greek. 17 For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. 
18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them because God has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.  Romans 1:16-20  HCSB

If the Church stays “indoors,” she certainly will age.
The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the “existential peripheries,” where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, religious indifference and of all human miseries are found.

In fulfilling its educational role, the Church, eager to employ all suitable aids, is concerned especially about those which are her very own. Foremost among these is catechetical instruction,16 which enlightens and strengthens the faith, nourishes life according to the spirit of Christ, leads to intelligent and active participation in the liturgical mystery17 and gives motivation for apostolic activity.

Romans 1:16 is, for Bible College and Seminary students, repeated often.

I am not ashamed!  

But this isn’t a badge of honor, it is not considering the context. It is a call to go out, and help those who have been caught up by sin, those who are in bondage to it, those who are broken by it.

We are to be there for the people without excuse, but therefore, without hope.  The word for excuse there is the negative form of the word of the apostle Peter uses when he declares, 

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)

This world, so full of misery and strife, so full of pain that they have become indifferent to religion cannot realize that they can return to the Lord,  That they can return to the Lord who allowed them to deal with the consequences of the sin of the world, including their sin. 

They don’t know that God will come to heal them, that they can know Him, not just academically, but in a deep rich way, more deeply that can e described by words, but is celebrated as we take the Body Broken for us, as we share in the blood shed for our sins. 

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it presents hope to these people who are unaware of that hope even exists, that broken relationships, can be healed, THAT GOD CARES FOR THEM.  

This has to be the message of the church. It is not that we are better than them, holier than them that we go out to encounter the world.  It is because we found hope for our brokenness, hope that we are being healed, being transformed, a work that isn’t always easily visible, but one that God has promised to do.

If we are not ashamed of this hope, of this ability we are all given to interact and depend on God, then there is no excuse for the church to get old. The is no excuse for us hiding within the doors of our churches, waiting for the pastor to grow our church.  We have a world that doesn’t need us to complain about them, but that needs us to give them the hope we have, to help them return to the Lord, to know that anyone can die with Christ and the cross, and be raised to a new life with Him, in Him.

This is the gospel, that God loves us… 

Let us not hide that hope within our walls, but let it burst out as fast as the kids run for donuts after service gets out!

Lord have mercy on us all!  And help us to spread the news you have!

 

 

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 192). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Catholic Church. (2011). Declaration on Christian Education: Gravissimum Educationis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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The Job that Pastors and the Church Needs to Be Better Trained to Do

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head —Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth s of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part Eph 4:10-16  HCSB

They are to be carefully instructed in the art of directing souls, whereby they will be able to bring all the sons of the Church first of all to a fully conscious and apostolic Christian life and to the fulfillment of the duties of their state of life. Let them learn to help, with equal solicitude, religious men and women that they may persevere in the grace of their vocations and may make progress according to the spirit of their various Institutes.
In general, those capabilities are to be developed in the students which especially contribute to dialogue with men, such as the ability to listen to others and to open their hearts and minds in the spirit of charity to the various circumstances and needs of men.

675    It’s true that he was a sinner. But don’t pass so final a judgment. Have pity in your heart and don’t forget that he may yet be an Augustine, while you remain just another mediocrity.

There is a term I was introduced to when I became a Lutheran pastor.  

It was “seelsorge” or caretaker of souls.  It is similar to the idea in the Anglican Church of being a curate of the church,  The person responsible to see people guided into God’s presence so that their hearts and souls (and often more) can be healed. 

But that just doesn’t include the members of a congregation or parish.  It is the entire community.   As St Josemaria reminds us, those whom we might discount because of their past may be called to something “more.”,  they may become the giants we are looking to as examples. 

It doesn’t matter if they are the mouth of the church, or the heart, hidden away, praying in their prayer closet. Our job as the caretakers is to make sure they have what they need, the ability to depend on God because we know Him.  This drives the ministries of the church, This drives the work of helping everyone mature in the presence of God, 

To help people grow in their dependence (for that is what faith is) in God, to help them grow in knowing and experiencing His love as He is present in their lives, Vatican II was correct.  Those who minister, those of us who pastor and care for souls need to know how to guide them. to help them be conscious of their calling and being sent out into the world, of what Catholics call their apostolate, what Protestants call being missional.

We are to train them, to guide them into the presence of Jesus, into knowing His mercy, His love, His gift that cause us to dwell in peace. This isn’t just the pastor’s job, it is the work of every minister in the church. 

It is who we are… it is why we exist, and it was what we need to be trained to do.  I really think that needs to become more and more how we train our pastors, our deacons, our elders and various ministers of the church.  It is more important than knowing the trivia of scripture or knowing the all the theological information there is.   We have o know God is with us, and we have to teach God will be with them.

We have to know how to use God’s word, to administer the sacraments in such a way that people know they belong in God’s presence, whether they are young or old, male or female, whether their sin is hidden or notorious. Whether they become ushers in the church or the next Augustine or do the really critical work of teaching the children of the church.  (which is all to often overlooked!)

This is the ministry of the church.  The caretaking of souls entrusted to it by God.  Not just the recognized members of the church.. but the church.

Lord have mercy on us and help us to be trained and train people to care for souls.  AMEN!

Questions:
What do you think the hardest part of caring for souls is?

What do you think the greatest blessing is?

 

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1568-1570). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is it worth it? A reflection on 20 plus years of ministry….

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his prosperity and doubled his previous possessions.11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring. 
12 So the LORD blessed the last part of Job’s life more than the first.  Job 42:10-12  HCSB

670    Jesus says: “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.” Try to find anyone on earth who repays with such generosity!

Twenty years ago this August I made the decision to leave my position at Pepperdine University, and become a full-time pastor at the small desert church I was pastoring on weekends. Ten years ago, we made the decision to leave our very comfortable life in the mountains where I pastored, to come back to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

In both situations, the decisions had a significant financial impact, and more, for pastoring means you are there as people die, as others struggle with their sins (a number of times I have had members or former members who were arrested ) as people struggle with their brokenness.  Though most pastors don’t know it, part of the burn out is from something psychologists call “Second-Hand Shock Syndrome”  a subset of PTSD that occurs for those like pastors, nurses, fireman and counselors who encounter regularly the brokenness. of the world.

As I have thought about the last 20 years (and some before that as a jail chaplain) and looked at others who struggle in ministry, the words from Job and St. Josemaria echo in my ear.  I wonder, seriously wonder at times, when the payoff described will happen.

I am not asking you to feel sorry for those in ministry, especially me.  There are incredible blessings out there, every time I see someone baptized, or someone cry with joy as they realize that “God loves you” and “the Lord is with you” aren’t just trite sayings.  They are the truth and a life-changing truth. We get to see these incredible miracles, and they are a blessing that goes beyond description.

Yet there are days as well when most of us wonder when the work will ever get easier if the stresses will ever end.

So is having newer homes, and more kids, and more riches the reward that is waiting?

If that is all that is waiting for me, the answer is simple.

No, absolutely not.

While God is generous and loving and merciful, I think the blessings, whether now or in heaven that counts is what happens before chapter 42.  It is in the discussion God and Job have, in the fact that here is a man who converses with God, whom God challenges, yet doesn’t throw away. Whom God will declare is righteous, and though suffering becomes a blessing to his friendly tormentors.

It is this relationship, where God knows me better than I know myself, where He doesn’t abandon me (though sometimes I wonder why He hasn’t!) that is the ultimate level of generosity, that is the ultimate payoff. Intimacy with God who loves us is what this is all about, and that is more precious than any earthly reward.

And it isn’t just for pastors and priests.

He calls us all to be His sons and daughters. He desires to clean us from all that mars us, to heal our brokenness, to never leave us alone, to guide us through every portion of life, even when we don’t notice.

And to bring us into eternity, where we will see Him face to face.

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself;  my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me. Job 19:25-27 HCSB

There it is, the “payoff” that makes this all worth it.  To look at a God and know Him, not as a stranger.  This is what makes it worth it for the lady that teaches 3-year-olds in Sunday School, or the Elder who takes communion ot the shut-in (and rushes to get there, so the lady can then go play Bingo at the senior center!) or the worship leader, tired from a hard week, who still smiles and ignores her own pain and anxiety and leads the people of God in praising Him, or the returned prodigal, who rejoices that wherever he goes people want to talk about God.

Or the pastor, who is simply tired… yet keeps on going, sustained by the God who is not stranger….but loves us all.  And who is reminded of that presence by those who lovingly tell him, “and also with you!”

For the Lord is with you as well… and I pray that you will see Him revealed, in all His glory, as you are embraced by Him.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1559-1561). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Church, Know Who Your Enemy is… and isn’t!

IMAG0406

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

the devotional thought of the Day:

12  For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. Ephesians 6:12 (TEV)

1  To you, who were spiritually dead all the time that you drifted along on the stream of this world’s ideas of living, and obeyed its unseen ruler (who is still operating in those who do not respond to the truth of God), to you Christ has given life! We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature, being in fact under the wrath of God by nature, like everyone else. 4  But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ – it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved – and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve – it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do. Ephesians 2:1-4 (Phillips NT)

The circumstances of various regions being duly considered, students are to be brought to a fuller understanding of the churches and ecclesial communities separated from the Apostolic Roman See, so that they may be able to contribute to the work of re-establishing unity among all Christians according to the prescriptions of this holy synod.
Let them also be introduced to a knowledge of other religions which are more widespread in individual regions, so that they may acknowledge more correctly what truth and goodness these religions, in God’s providence, possess, and so that they may learn to refute their errors and be able to communicate the full light of truth to those who do not have it.

66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Even back to my childhood, I remember people telling me who the enemies of God are, and therefore who the Church’s and my enemies are.  And often, far too often, we would rise up to figure out how to start a new Crusade to crush this new enemy.

Some of the enemies were external to the church.  Atheists and Agnostics who were so burnt by the church that they felt they had to “save” people from it.  Other religions that were out to convert us (before we converted them!)  Some of our enemies were internal to Christianity, (ex the Catholics pointing to Luther, the Baptists pointing to the Catholics, the Pentecostals pointing to the less emotional Presbyterians and Methodists.  And some of these enemies were even in our congregations, like those who went to war over worship styles, or those that supported t this change, or those that just wanted them to remain the way they always were.

But we treat our enemies as if we were on a holy crusade against the heretics and infidels of our times.  The church too often focuses on witch-hunts rather than ministering to those who are in need.  Especially the ministry of reconciliaiton, and the ministry of deliverance,salvation.    Deliverance from sin, deliverance from idols, (see Ezekiel 36:25) deliverance from the broknness that plagues our lives and relationships.  THat should be our focus, to the believer and unbeliever, to our brothers and sisters in Chirst, and towards our enemies and adversaries, who, we pray, will become our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As Paul says, we don’t battle against them, but aginst those that hold them in bondage!  Vatican II and Luther note that they have some ideas of God, What they know isn’t enough, because while they understand that God must be just, that there has to be “karma”, a payment your have earned for the sin you have committed, they have no idea that God could be, that God desires to be merciful.

That is our message, that is why we need to understand their religions, not to defeat them in battle, but to realize what they do teach about God, however they have veiled Him, and reveal Him fullu, so that they can depend on Him fully.  We need to tell them the good news about God’s mercy and love, so that the Holy Spirit will fulfill the promise of working through the word, to illuminate their hearts.

We can’t have that kind of focus if we remain in ignorance, nor can we see this as our mission, what we’ve been sent to do, if we think of the people as our enemies and adversaries.  This is why scripture commands us to love our enemies, because, in the final analysis, they are not our enemies.

Get to know them, share wth them the reason that we broken sinners have found hope…. and look to God, who loves you so much, and has an eternity planned for you that is beyond comprehension.

The Lord is with you!

Question of the day:  If we know God is with us, why would we fear those with different beliefs?

 

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Evidence Within, a sermon on 2 Cor 4:5-12

church at communion 2The Evidence is Within
2 Cor 4:5-12

† I.H.S. †

May the gifts of God’s mercy and peace become so integrated in your lives that everyone can see and praise God that Christ lives in you!

Can you keep going?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see my first two churches.  They are 115 miles from here, in a desert community called Yucca Valley.  Saw a lot of friends at one of them, as we gathered to pay respects to a man I helped trained in ministry.  He was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks after he was installed as a pastor at his first church.  Drove by the other, my very first church.

During the drive I back, I did a lot of thinking, about why I’ve been doing this twenty years as a pastor and years before that as a chaplain.  I thought about my friend, who at 62 started seminary to become a pastor, and who died a week ago.  I thought my own mentor that retired in that place whom I was able to see. And I thought about some of the challenges that fellow pastors and ministers are facing…

And I heard again these words of St Paul that were read this morning…

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

I’ve seen that statement become true not just in pastors’ lives, but Christians who live all over the world.  Some face physical threats, in places like the Sudan, or China.  Some are harassed and mocked because of their faith.  Some face challenges in the inner city, or in churches that struggle to survive, both financially and because of conflict.  I know a younger lady, with a master’s degree in International Business, who set that aide to be a missionary among the refugees in Turkey, while her sister is working at an orphanage school in Nigeria.  I know people who serve in churches as teachers or setting up everything every Saturday for Sunday service, who volunteer thousands of hours.

Not one of them does it for the accolades or the applause. Just like the Apostle Paul in that passage  – we don’t talk about ourselves. Those who know and follow Jesus serve each other and the world for Jesus sake.

Because God has shown the light of His glorious light into our hearts.

That is why all this is here… To help people know that…

Why?

In verse 6-7, Paul explains why people would embrace suffering,

. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

The light that invades the darkness…A darkness that affects our hearts and oppresses our very lives.

The darkness has a name, it is called sin.

What is this thing we call sin?  Basically, It is failing to love God and hear His voice as He shows us how to live.  It is failing to love Him and all those around us, helping them. even those that count themselves, enemies and adversaries, because God loves them and would invite them into this incredible relationship with Him, that would make them our family.

Sin can seem as little as a tiny lie or breaking an oath or gossiping about someone.  It can seem as big as murder or theft.  In every case, it works to destroy relationships, it plunges us into darkness.

This is the darkness God’s love shatters.

The love that we see in Jesus, as He died to remove all that darkness, all of the burdens, healing the relationships that have been broken.

That is what the cross is all about… the payment for the sin, but in order that we can be in fellowship with God, so that we walk with Him, not only during this life but eternally.

That is the reason for the forgiveness of sin, for the forgiveness of those times where we put ourselves first and forget God and others.  Yet despite the damage we’ve done, and may still do, God is willing to deal with it, He has dealt with it.  By dying on the cross for us, and rising from that death, so that even death cannot separate us from Him

This is what it means for Him to shine His glorious love into our lives, by revealing to us the love that erases the punishment, in the life and eternity, that we would have earned.

The Evidence

It is that glory that you see, in the lives of people that are willing to give up everything, fame, fortune, salaries, comfort, their own pride, even the right to be angry at someone who has hurt them.  This is the love you see, as someone gives up their comfort, or even their retirement, to serve others, This is the glory you see, the evidence that Jesus lives in us, even in us broken down older folk.

God loves us, and wants to cleanse all of us and make us His own people. His own children.   It is then we know the peace of God, which goes beyond all comprehension, as He guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

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