Category Archives: Pope Francis

Communicating the Beauty of the Gospel

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  However, as the scripture says, “What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (TEV)

A good communicator is sensitive to beauty, perceives it and does not confuse what is beautiful with what is fashionable or only “nice” or simply “neat.”
Because it is human, sometimes beauty is tragic, amazing, touching; it sometimes pushes us to think what we do not want or unmasks our errors.

One of the challenges we face, whether we are with friends and family at a meal, or if we are before the church preaching the gospel, is communicating the beauty that is our relationship with God.

We can’t describe heaven, and I think that is intentional, for heaven is not about the location as much as it is the presence.  The presence of the people of God in the presence of God. No sorrow, no tears, no pain, rather we will know the purest of joy, the most incredible peace.  These are things that cant be described in words, we just will never find ones that significantly portray this beauty.

Not that we understand beauty all that much.

A pretty girl in a bathing suit may be considered beautiful by most, year, does that compare to a picture of a wounded soldier, being greeted and welcomed home by his family?  Or a picture of Mother Theresa embracing a poor victim of leprosy in the streets of India? What about a rainbow, coming out on the edge of a storm,

I think the most vivid thing we can communicate, the most beautiful thing we can describe is the scene of redemption, the prodigal being embraced by a father, whose tears of joy wash the young sinner.  The face of Peter, as Jesus reminds him, despite the betrayal, to feed the sheep.  The face of Moses, a stubborn pessimistic, man hiding from his destiny, in awe at the bush on fire that doesn’t burn.  The sinner at the communion rail, who finally understands the words, “for you…” and doesn’t want to leave the only place they have found peace.  The old man, who with severe memory problems, looks for meaning in the church, decides to study for the diaconate and preaches an incredible sermon of our need for God, and the fact God was with us.  (the amazing tears that flowed from his wife’s face, as she was convinced that he actually could do this… I cry just thinking of them. )  The little six-year-old, who begs and pleads for the body and blood of Christ, and lights up at her first communion

These things are beautiful, and though not perfectly described, give us a hint of the beauty that awaits us, as the redemption, as what is broken in our lives is healed. THere is beauty, a beauty that is found in the incredible transformation as we go from being alone to being in a relationship with God. As we realize that is our existence, our meaning in life.

God with us… nothing more beautiful in this life, or the next…

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 302). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Soul Care… A Necessity for churches in our Day?

photoDevotional Thought of the Day:

Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.   1 Thessalonians 5:13-15

Tenderness is not a virtue of the weak; on the contrary, it spells fortitude, attentiveness, compassion, openness to the other, in short, tenderness is the daughter of love.

If you minister to anyone, whether as a “professional” (pastor/priest, ministry director, worship facilitator) or as a  volunteer (elder, deacon, altar guild, bible teacher etc) I want you to go back and read those words in red again.

Go ahead.  Go back and read them.

One more time, please.

Sounds like a formidable task!  I am not sure which of the tasks is the most challenging!  Patience is tough, warning folks is often an invitation to pain. Then there is this, stopping people from repaying evil with evil.   That might mean taking the damage intended yourself.

And this letter wasn’t written to pastors, but to the church.  It is how we are to minister as a whole, to each other.  And these things are challenging because they require great care and caution.  They can’t be done with a velvet-gloved iron fist, but with tenderness, with discernment.

With love.

And it is what our broken society needs.  It is what is relegated to a class or two in seminary, and rarely do we train our elders or Sunday school teachers in it.  We by-pass this critical step of being a brother, of helping people to learn to love as Christ loved. For that is what soul care is, loving our neighbor, even loving our enemy.

It is the fulfillment of the law that happens as we are transformed into the image of Jesus.

We need to be there for each other, for the broken in our communities, for those who are questioning the world and all there is in it.  We need to be there when we are broken when we are hurting when we want to give up.  When our souls are thirsty.

That is what the body of Christ does for each other.

Who is God calling for your to treat tenderly today?  WHo will you minister to tomorrow, that needs God’s mercy and love?

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 274). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

10 years, 20 years, some thoughts about God’s work in and through us.

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional thought of the Day:

61 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, 3 to provide for those who mourn in •Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair.  Isaiah 61:1-3  HCSB

This is important:
the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

Today is the 10th anniversary of my installation as the senior pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, Ca.  This month is the 20th anniversary of my going from part-time ministry as a jail chaplain and preaching during vacations and when churches were looking for a new pastor, as I became the pastor of First Christian Church of Yucca Valley, Ca.

As these anniversaries approached, other things have happened that have made me think about ministry, of what I’ve seen God do in these places I have served. It’s been an interesting road, with lots of laughter and probably more tears with people I grew to love, that I was sent to care for.

The passage in red primarily applies to Jesus, and a little less to Isaiah.  Yet it is what Paul imitated of Jesus, what he encourages the entire church to imitate in 1 Corinthians 11.  We are to bring God’s healing, revealing His love and mercy, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to people that are brokenhearted, to free those who are oppressed, to comfort those who mourn.

It’s not been easy.  Nor has it always been successful. There is heartache when people would rather deal with the consequences of sin, and the guilt and shame that oppress them. We mourn because of their sin, we mourn as others would rather condemn them than seek to reconcile them back to God.  There are the times where we don’t have the words that we would think are needed to comfort those who grieve.

And yet, trusting Him, the church and those who serve it plod on. We might be distracted for a moment, but by the Spirit’s call, we re-focus again, as we go where God wants us to be, as He guides us to serve those who need His love.

It is bearing such a burden, as I think about the baptisms, the funerals, the sorrow and grief, tears and joy that Pope Francis’s words gave me comfort this morning.  We have to find the courage to trust in His mercy, in His patience, to look for our sanctuary, which is found in His ever-presence.  That is where we are safe, that is where we find peace and find healing for our own brokenness.

But it takes courage, and trust to dwell there.  For we have to lay aside our sorrow and grief, our own guilt and shame, our own “wisdom” and often our own sense of self-preservation. We have to learn to trust God, to be able to cry out, Lord, we trust you, help us when we don’t.

Ultimately, the ministry of the priesthood of all believers comes down to these simple things, to help people know the cleansing, comforting, healing merciful presence of God.   When we do this, it is amazing…. when we struggle, we need to trust God that He will fulfill the work that has begun.

He will.. for He has.

For those who have trusted God to speak through me, thank you.  I hope you have grown in experiencing His love.  May we all see Him at work in all of us in the years and decades to come.

AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 273). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Burning out between God and Mankind

Future and a HopeDevotional Thought of the Day:
7  You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger. I am a laughing-stock all day long, they all make fun of me. 8  For whenever I speak, I have to howl and proclaim, ‘Violence and ruin!’ For me, Yahweh’s word has been the cause of insult and derision all day long. 9  I would say to myself, ‘I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more,’ but then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not do it. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (NJB)

The prayerful persons are doubly seduced, by God and by people.
On the one hand, they cannot do without God because they need to constantly look for Him as they know that they are beloved and wanted by Him, nor can they do without the people because they feel the need to serve them as they see in them the face of God.
The prophet Jeremiah felt this experience to the core.

I started writing this blog when I came across both readings in my devotions last week.

The first is a verse I’ve come to know all too well.  The complaint of Jeremiah, that somehow God tricked him into ministry, that He seduces us, that He deceives us into this work where we get caught between God and mankind.

By the way, this is not just a pastoral issue, but an issue for everyone who ministers to other people. Elders, Sunday School teachers, parents, those who teach Bible Studies, we all find this challenge as we seek to point people to God, as we walk alongside them on their journey, as we see them struggle with sin, and with the narcissism that affects us all.

I love how Pope Francis describes it, we feel the need to serve them as we see in them the face of God.  Despite their brokenness, despite their sin (and ours!), we see in them the image of Christ Jesus, and we know we have to help them see Jesus.

Sometimes that is a burden that is tiring and seems unending. Sometimes it seems like they will never listen, or at least keep the memory of what they heard for even a day.

There are days the weariness gets to be such a burden that you want to quit, you don’t want to speak about God again.  Not even think about Him, Jeremiah determines.

It is impossible, and I think Pope Francis tells us why.

Not only are we burdened to do something about the sin and brokenness we see, we are likewise burdened to encounter God ourselves. We need to know we are wanted in this relationship we have with Him, we are loved!  Despite the effort, it takes to clean us up, He still wants us with Him, He still loves us.

That love burns within us, it changes everything, in our lives. It is the fire that burns within, the love of God who created us in HIs image, He restores that image as the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus.

And if he can do that to you and I, surely he can do that to those we minister to, those we serve, those whose lives we weep over.

And so like Jeremiah, we enter another week, looking God, serving those He is calling to His side, helping them to see God at work in their lives, too.  And know this, count on this promise, revealed to us by the apostle Paul.

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you j will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.   Phil. 1:6-7 HCSB

 

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 257). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Transforming the Sounds of Silence…

561266_10150669017895878_539105877_9573351_938050676_n

Devotional Thought of the Day:

19  So by virtue of the blood of Jesus, you and I, my brothers, may now have courage to enter the holy of holies by way of the one who died and is yet alive, who has made for us a holy means of entry by himself passing through the curtain, that is, his own human nature. Further, since we have a great High Priest set over the household of God, let us draw near with true hearts and fullest confidence, knowing that our inmost souls have been purified by the sprinkling of his blood just as our bodies are cleansed by the washing of clean water. In this confidence let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation – for he is utterly dependable – and let us think of one another and how we can encourage each other to love and do good deeds. And let us not hold aloof from our church meetings, as some do. Let us do all we can to help one another’s faith, and this the more earnestly as we see the final day drawing ever nearer. Hebrews 10:19 (Phillips NT)

Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there may be a great spirit of communion.  

Once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help, and go unanswered, nothing’s ever the same again. Nothing. Even God changes.
But there is a healing hand at work that cannot be deflected from its purpose. I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry. Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.
Out there, in the world, it can be very cold. It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.
We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair, faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites.

The song came up in a discussion yesterday, the cover of a classic that is even rawer, more real, more…powerfully and compelling than Simon and Garfunkel ever imagined.

I have listened to it over and over this morning, in awe of the pain, of the devastation and emptiness observed.  (one track is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Dg-g7t2l4&start_radio=1&list=RDWJCGY0Hxz1M )  In awe of the helplessness expressed as the singer looks upon those he would help, and they won’t listen.

This morning, in my devotions, the resonance continued, as the quote in blue echoed the theme… the brokenness, the rawness, of prayers of a child unanswered, or prayers of a friend. The only answer is tear-soaked prayers of my own, and the insistence that we live between the moments of hope and despair, and faith and doubt, death and life.

Life is about more than good and bad luck and the distribution of them that is so absurd. Yet there are days it seems so, as evil seems blessed, as good seems oppressed, as sin and brokenness seem to reign over the land.  Even in the church, as people set aside their relationship with God to define and be in a religion that resonates with their opinions, beliefs, bias and political positions.

So how do we survive, and how do we help people caught up in the meaningless and vanity of this life?  Can we truly bring them peace, can they find it within what we reveal to them, with what we encourage each other?

The scripture passage from Hebrews says, “YES” and I do not believe it to be so!

I can’t believe it, I have been too overwhelmed by the times where there are no more tears, when the heart feels heavy and empty, and where eyes seem lifeless.  I can’t believe it, because I’ve seen the people in bondage to their pain, their grief, their shame.

I can’t believe it!

I know it though, my soul is in awe when it is has seen people come to life, be renewed, be healed of brokenness that has shattered them, and their family.  I have seen God do the impossible, I have seen the tears return at altars once abandoned, I have seen peace wash over those whose lives have known only suffering. I have seen joy break through empty eyes like the sun exploding through the darkness of night.

I know it.

I have seen this prayer come true,

and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

That is the difference having a relationship, a deep, abiding, intimate relationship with Jesus makes in life. A life with Him that is shared with others, as we remind each other of this,

As we realize that in the sound of silence, in that place stillness, we can encounter and be lifted up by the fact that He is God, and He loves us.

That is the sound of silence, transformed by the Holy Spirit…

Lord, help all who read this resonate, not only with the honesty that brokenness leaves us with but with the hope that even in the silent darkness You come and are with us.  Help us to realize that You are our sanctuary, our fortress, our peace.  AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 251). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

William Brodrick from https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/
IT

Ministering to others will always include suffering, but here is the secret to surviving it.

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. Romans 12:15-16 (TEV)

1  Keep on loving one another as Christians.2  Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. 3  Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them. Remember those who are suffering, as though you were suffering as they are. Hebrews 13:1-3 (TEV)

25  And so there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. 26  If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 (TEV)

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.

Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.  William Goldman from the Princess Bride

Though life isn’t always pain, (it just seems like it some years!), There is enough of it to go around.

Since ministry is about meeting people where they are at and revealing to them the love and mercy and work of Christ in their lives, it must also be true that “ministry is pain, and anyone who is telling you different, is selling you something!”

As we look at the quotes from the Apostle Paul, there is a simple acknowledgment of this fact.  We share in the suffering, we share in the tears and the pain of those who are enduring hard times.

There is no avoiding that truth.  If your church, your Bible Study and the people in them aren’t experiencing anxiety, pain, concern, it is probable that they are, you just don’t see it.  It is possible that everything is awesome but more likely, people are afraid to open up to share what they are struggling with in life.

So, given that we will encounter people who suffer, who we will share the tears and the pain with, the question then becomes, how do we survive this, especially when there are many people struggling, many tears to share, many people to care for in our circles?  How do we share in the pain, without it having a long-term effect on us mentally, physically and spiritually?

On a tangent, modern psychology is now recognizing such stress on the life of caregivers (counselors, pastors, teachers) and first responders, as they develop information on “Second Hand Shock Syndrome” a form of PTSD that constant exposure to others’ stresses can cause.   Take it from me, I have learned to be aware of its effects, as they impact others around me when I am dealing with too much.

My answer may seem too simple, not scientific enough, and not always possible.

It is the answer that Pope Francis notes in the quote above.  It is the personal encounter with Christ that can alleviate the oppressive discouragement,  It is only encountering Jesus, regularly and intimately that enables us to continue to be tender and caring with those who are weeping, with those who are broken.

We find our hope and theirs, as Christ is healing our brokenness, as He is wiping away our tears, as the Holy Spirit comforts us with a peace that goes beyond all logic.  But that only comes in those moments where we realize His presence, where we just are still and know He is God, that He is our God.

Such as at the altar, when we receive His Body and Blood.  Such as in our daily time where we pray, and read, and simply adore the Lord who has given us life. SUch as the time when we hold each others hand, and silently pray as we weep, and then experience His peace.

Are we still going to weep?  Yes.

Are we still going to feel helpless and broken?  Yes, absolutely.

Are we going to endure, sure of the ministry that is God’s, that He shares with us, that will bring comfort and peace to those we serve?  Yes, absolutely.

God is with you, know that dwell on that, and the tears can flow, and the weeping can occur, and you will be amazed at what he does thru… and in you.

Godspeed, and God’s peace….

Heavenly Father, help us in our brokenness to rely on the Spirit’s comfort, and help us to see that comfort shared with those who are weeping… in Jesus name, we pray, AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 244). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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

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

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

I miss it, this idyllic, beautiful peaceful place. 

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

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

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

Complete Isolation. 

Complete Autonomy

Complete Loneliness. 

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

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

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

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

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

Which is what we need, more than anything. 

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

 

 

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

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

Who would deny them grace?

Devotional THoguht of the Day:

44  While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message. 45  The Jewish believers who had come from Joppa with Peter were amazed that God had poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles also. 46  For they heard them speaking in strange tongues and praising God’s greatness. Peter spoke up: 47  “These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptized with water?” 48  So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay with them for a few days. Acts 10:44-48 (TEV)

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

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

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

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

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

Where we know that God is with us. 

I think this talks about two things.

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

We cannot set up barriers to salvation!  

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

God is with us! 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

.

%d bloggers like this: