Category Archives: st josemaria escriva

Priorities in a Time of Plague

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Devotional Thought of the Day:
31  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT2)

Raise magnificent buildings? Construct sumptuous palaces? Let others raise them. Let others construct them. Souls! Let us give life to souls—for those buildings and for those palaces! What fine dwellings are being prepared for us!

There is a balance to life, especially a religious life.

It is hard not to worry about the food we will eat this week or next.  It is hard not to see the pictures of the lines. It is hard not to try and make large plans, and make decisions that affect our people. It seems every other day that the government is changing what restrictions are out there, and foreseeing the impact on our people is hard.

As I get to work, my instinct is to lay aside my devotions, to get right to work. There is so much to do, so many people to talk to, care for, so many different things to consider, how do I have time for 30-45 minutes (or preferably 75-90 to catch my breath and remember I  dwell in God’s presence?

My devotional readings this morning were kind of bland.. which didn’t help. I didn’t see anything much to think through that was applicable to my day until I got to St. Josemaria.

Soul care!  What German Lutherans call seel-sorge – this is our calling as the church. Making sure our people are looking to God – realizing that even now, we still need ot seek Him, and lay our burdens down.  Then take the guidance He offers, and go about our lives, assured of His peace.

So I will let those who make the decisions, make the decisions.  I will care for those who come to me and go to the ones who are mine. I will point them to Jesus, and find ways to help.

God is with us, and the peace that news brings gives us the ability to live, and love those around us.

Seek Jesus first!

It will make a difference.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Praise… and Prayer: Which comes first?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

22 People of Israel, every year you must set aside ten percent of your grain harvest. 23 Also set aside ten percent of your wine and olive oil, and the first-born of every cow, sheep, and goat. Take these to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped, and eat them there. This will teach you to always respect the LORD your God.
24 But suppose you can’t carry that ten percent of your harvest to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. If you live too far away, or if the LORD gives you a big harvest, 25 then sell this part and take the money there instead. 26 When you and your family arrive, spend the money on food for a big celebration. Buy cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, and if there are any other kinds of food that you want, buy those too. 27 And since people of the Levi tribe won’t own any land for growing crops, remember to ask the Levites to celebrate with you.
28 Every third year, instead of using the ten percent of your harvest for a big celebration, bring it into town and put it in a community storehouse. 29 The Levites have no land of their own, so you must give them food from the storehouse. You must also give food to the poor who live in your town, including orphans, widows, and foreigners. If they have enough to eat, then the LORD your God will be pleased and make you successful in everything you do.  Deut. 14:22-29

Fifth, your trust must not set a goal for God, not set a time and place, not specify the way or the means of his fulfilment, but it must entrust all of that to his will, wisdom, and omnipotence. Just wait cheerfully and undauntedly for the fulfilment without wanting to know how and where, how soon, how late, or by what means. His divine wisdom will find an immeasurably better way and method, time and place, than we can imagine.

714    Yours is a desire without desire, as long as you don’t put firmly aside the occasion of falling. Don’t fool yourself telling me you’re weak. You’re a coward, which is not the same thing.

Prayer is hard.

Very hard.

Every week, with 50-80 people, I pray for about 150… Some are just people we need to pray for – those in government, those serving people and responding to protect and heal.  Others are grieving, or are ill, others are facing a struggle that cannot be discussed.

And we pray… I attempt to lead us in putting all these people, and their concerns, in the hands of God.

There is a balance between telling God what to do and having the faith that God not only will act but is acting at this moment. Part of me wants to say with Jesus, “not my will, but Yours.” and part of me wants to be the old lady that hassled the judge.

And to this I hear the words, “you aren’t weak, you are a coward..” and I wonder if it is true, at least when it comes ot prayer. Am I afraid to really let God have everything in my life? Am I willing to let Him answer my prayers in His time, in His wisdom, in His way? Luther advocates this, but how hard is it to do?  And how the heck did he learn to wait “cheerfully and undauntedly” without even the slightest bit of knowledge or control?

That’s why I asked which comes first, true prayer or true worship?

I think it has to be worship!

And we can’t worship until we know why we worship!  That is how the Old Testament passage relates. One of the major tithes the people had to gather, 10 percent of their harvest, and all the firstborn of their flock was to throw a party!  What kind of party? A party to “respect” the Lord- to realize His presence, to realize how He provides and cares for you. To celebrate the fact you aren’t alone.

With that knowledge, prayer seems… easier, it seems more natural, it seems to be how we are to relate to God, for it is in response ot how He cares for us.

I only have thoughts about whether prayer is effective when I am not thinking about God, when I am not in awe of His presence, of His love, of His care. When I am focused on that, such as during a worship service, prayer flows, it works, it is…

So, if you are struggling, if you aren’t sure God is with you, get with some other sisters and brothers in Christ. Be reminded of God’s love and mercy, and His presence… and praise Him for that, together.  Then pray about what stresses you, what causes you anguish, anxiety, stress, pain…

And leave it in the hands of the Lord who loves you.

 

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 89.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Talked About What People Should Expect of Their Pastor, But What Should He Expect of Them?

St Paul closing

Devotional Thought of the Day:

2 I have chosen Bezalel from the Judah tribe to make the sacred tent and its furnishings. 7 Not only have I filled him with my Spirit, but I have given him wisdom and made him a skilled craftsman who can create objects of art with gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood. 6 I have appointed Oholiabh from the tribe of Dan to work with him, and I have also given skills to those who will help them make everything exactly as I have commanded.you: Ex 31:2-6 CEV

†3 Judas had betrayed Jesus, but when he learned that Jesus had been sentenced to death, he was sorry for what he had done. He returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and leaders 4 and said, “I have sinned by betraying a man who has never done anything wrong.”
“So what? That’s your problem,” they replied. 5 Judas threw the money into the temple and then went out and hanged himself.
6 The chief priests picked up the money and said, “This money was paid to have a man killed. We can’t put it in the temple treasury.” 7 Then they had a meeting...  Matt. 27:3-7 CEV

612    Get rid of those proud thoughts! You are but the brush in the hand of the artist, and nothing more. Tell me, what is a brush good for if it doesn’t let the artist do his work?

Yesterday I wrote about the things that pastors should be doing, sharing the gospel with people everywhere, forgiving and retaining sins, and being that hands that administer the sacraments. The people of God should be able to expect these things, and indeed, ensure their pastors have the time to do so.

But what about the other side of the coin?  What should a pastor (and other church leadership) expect of those people they invest time serving?

I think we see that in the reading from Exodus, as two men are called, not to be priests and pastors, but to use their gifts in the service of God.  These two, out of two million people, were ordained and commissioned, set apart for a certain task. See how God has made it clear that the Holy Spirit is guiding him in this, and God has given him wisdom and made him a skilled craftsman for this very vocation?

Pastors shouldn’t have to beg people to use their God-given skills and wisdom to do what the Holy Spirit is preparing them to do.  Most of it isn’t miraculous stuff, it is day to day things, like these guys sewing together the tent, and making the furnishing.

The other thing is the one thing scripture shows Judas doing right, even as he does what some consider the worst sin in scripture. With great sorrow, desiring an answer for the guilt and shame he is feeling, e goes to the priests, looking for hope, looking for mercy, trying to figure out what do with his soul being crushed.

He did the right thing, even in the Old Covenant there was a way to confess sins and be given the hope of forgiveness, of having the sins washed away, of having God breathe new life into a soul oppressed by darkness. (That they “held a meeting” rather than absolving Judas might be the worst case of clergy malpractice in history)

Pastors need to expect people will come to be given hope, to confess their sins, that they will know they are forgiven. That is part of people’s responsibility, but it also takes pastors being open to it, encouraging it often. They need to be helping people to know the burdens they bear, guilt, shame, resentment, anger, are all within God’s ability to remove.  They need to know it is God’s desire to free them from that crap.

If these things happen, we won’t need to talk about reviving churches… it will happen naturally.

In summary, the people need to do, as part of the ministry of the family of God, what God has called them, gifted them with skill and wisdom, to do.

And come, as often as needed, to be assured of the grace of God cleansing them of every sin.

Lord, help this occur!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I can’t do this! (God says, “Here, I will hold your beer”)

Rainbow at ConcordiaDevotional Thought of the Day:
12  My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. 13  God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. 14  Do everything without grumbling or arguing. 15  Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world, 16  as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. Philippians 2:12-16 (CEV)

That false humility is laziness. Such a “humbleness” leads you to give up rights that really are duties.

I could come up with 1000 parables about this, the Marine Recruit who doesn’t think he can climb the wall, the student who doesn’t think they can handle algebra, the new employee who is convinced they can’t do the job on their own, the pastor who…

O wait, I can’t make this too personal.

I can’t direct it towards me, after all, I am nobody.

( I say this, despite reading Exodus for the last couple of weeks… )

St. Josemaria’s words cut me deeply, as I think of all the things I claim I can’t do. After all, I have a load of ready-made excuses.  Genetic ones, you know, the kind I don’t want pity for, but heck, I will take a lesser burden if you want to help a poor guy out.  And then there is this lack and that lack. And then there is the fact that I am a sinner. I obviously cannot do this.  A man has got to know his limitations, at least what the theologian Clint Eastwood said. And I know mine, and I am not capable. I know this.

In fact, I don’t know that.

But is my focus on my inability a sign of laziness?  If not, what if I am just afraid of what God might require?

Either is a possibility if I am honest.

For what I forget when I do my self-evaluation is the work God is doing in my life, and in yours. God has saved us, and we need to realize that means we are changing.  That we can listen to God and hear His vision, what He wants us to do, whom to forgive, whom to love, who to reach out to, in sharing that love.

He gives us even, the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him, what He has created us to do, what He has called us to do, what the Holy Spirit has equipped us to do.

Maybe it is time to stop procrastinating, stop finding excuses, and simply let God lead us, as He builds His Church.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, remind us that You are the potter, that even as Jesus obeyed and went to the cross we can bear our crosses with the joy You have set before us, knowing that You will be with us all the way! Thank you Lord for not giving up, but calling us and working in us, giving us the desire and ability to be Your faithful children.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Luther, what are you talking about? Don’t seek heaven? HUH???

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought for our Day:

8 I also want them to build a special place where I can live among my people.  Ex. 25:8

19 Don’t stay far away, LORD! My strength comes from you, so hurry and help!  Psalm 22:19 CEV

Our life should not be directed toward our own advantage, not even to our salvation or any blessing, whether temporal or eternal, unless all of this ultimately leads to God’s honor and praise.

The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life.

579    Faith. It’s a pity to see how frequently many Christians have it on their lips and yet how sparingly they put it into their actions. You would think it a virtue to be preached only, and not one to be practiced.

As I was doing my devotional reading this morning, I first came across the reading from Luther, and I was stung by the idea that my life shouldn’t be focused on the advantage I have for how I will spend eternity.

After all, isn’t that why we are Christians so that we don’t end up in hell?

Isn’t that reward what we are after?

And then I came up against the question of evil, and the answer that I know to be true, but it does not, in any means, satisfy my questions. Nice job explaining the theology, but where is the comfort I need, when dealing with this broken world?

St. Josemaria brings the lesson home for me, as he reminds me that faith in God is not supposed to be just preached, but something that only exists when practiced. I can talk all I want about depending on God, about believing He is there, about trusting in His provision and protection, but I have to do so, if my words are going to be anything. If I don’t actually believe, if I don’t put my trust in God and what He has promised, all the theological discourses mean nothing.

I have to realize the truth of Exodus 25, that God wants a place to dwell with us, that He wants to have a part (a major part) in our lives, both now and eternally. That is why I don’t seek heaven for my sake, heaven’s promise is worthless except for one thing, we will be with God. That is faith, that is depending, not just on the promises of no more tears and no more sorrow, but that He will be ours, and we His.  That is what He glories in, that is what is His mission, that is why all that was created, was created.

It works in the reading from Psalm 29, in the midst of the pain, David doesn’t seek relief, he seeks the presence of God. For knowing God is here, endurance is no longer the question, nor is the suffering.  Evil, with all of its ability to crush us, and sin’s power to torment, and the questions both raise, fall aside when we are exploring the breadth and width, the depth and height of God’s love, revealed in Christ Jesus.

Heaven?  Angels, and streets of God? Earth? Troubles and tribulations?

Does either matter, is either noticeable when we are dancing with God?

I think this is what the greatest of the faithful have realized. Not their own might or own strength did they endure. They simply knew He was with them.

Lord, help us to realize You are with us… and help us to desire You more than anything else… AMEN!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 36.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 84.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Please! Stop Trying to Be Holy!

This word... princess pride

Devotional Thoughts for the Day

Then Jesus told them, “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.”  CEV  Matthew 22:21

See, now you understand the meaning of the term “to hallow” and “holy.” It is nothing else than withdrawing something from misuse and dedicating it to its proper godly use, just as a church is dedicated and appointed solely to the service of God. In like manner we must be hallowed in our whole life, leaving nothing but the name of God to dwell in us, in other words, nothing but kindness, truth, justice, etc. Hence the name of God is hallowed or profaned not only with our lips but also with our soul and all the members of our body.
Second, God’s name is defiled by robbing and thieving. Although wise men will at once understand what I mean, it will be too subtle for the simpleminded, since we are here referring to the arrogant ones who regard themselves as righteous and holy and do not feel that they are profaning the name of God as those in the aforementioned group do. While they dub themselves righteous and holy and truthful, they freely and fearlessly pilfer and purloin God’s name

551    Flee from routine as from the devil himself. The great means to avoid falling into that abyss, the grave of true piety, is the constant presence of God.

As I read the words Luther wrote nearly 500 years ago, I knew I had to write on the first paragraph, and what holiness/perfection truly is.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it cannot be spoken about enough.  We hear, 44  I am the LORD your God, and you must dedicate yourselves to me and be holy, just as I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44 (CEV)) and we get to work, trying our damndest to become what we think holy means, or when we fail, working equally hard to maintain the illusion of holiness.

It is the latter action that leads us to be convicted of robbery, trying to steal what is not ours. We profane God’s name, Luther writes, when we pretend to be something we are not when we put up the charade that we are perfect, that we are righteous, that we are holy.  For not only do we not understand holiness, but we also take the responsibility that is God’s alone when we declare we are. What a scam the devil has laid upon us, to get us to think that we determine whether or not we are righteous, and others are not!  Falling for it, we try to determine what is good and what is evil, unaware of our own spiritual blindness.

Holiness is as simple as what Luther notes, taking something misused and redirecting it towards its purpose. Whether it is God’s name, no longer used to swear, condemn or falsely justify ourselves and others, or whether it is our lives, created in His image in order to spend time with Him. This is the truth that St. Josemaria talks of, in regards to being pious and holy, the key is simple. Being constantly in the presence of God. Finding out that we are int he presence of a loving, merciful, gentle God who will gently (and firmly) heal our brokenness.

Stop trying to be righteous, stop putting on an act that presents you as holy and perfect. Instead, spend time talking to God, letting Him do the work that only He can do. Look to Him, focus on His love, spending as much time aware of His presence as you can.

Holiness will be taken care of, He promises.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 29.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

When A Christian’s Experience is More Important than Knowledge

Devotional Thought of the Day:

5  I trust your love, and I feel like celebrating because you rescued me. 6  You have been good to me, LORD, and I will sing about you.
Psalm 13:5-6 (CEV)

O children of God, seek after a vital experience of the Lord’s lovingkindness, and when you have it, speak positively of it; sing gratefully; shout triumphantly.

548    If you feel the Communion of the Saints—if you live it—you’ll gladly be a man of penance. And you will realize that penance is gaudium etsi laboriosum—“joy in spite of hardship,” and you will feel yourself “allied” to all the penitent souls that have been, that are, and that ever will be.

I grew up among a generation that was told not to focus on experiences, not to trust our feelings. to only focus on a logical, rational presentation of Christianity.

I’ve also seen the other extreme in my youth, where people chased after religious experiences, who wanted to feel the positive vibes that come when experiencing the supernatural, I think those excesses of the late 60’s and 70’s led to the pendulum swing of the 80’s and into the new millenium.

Both sides treat the other side with suspicion, both sides blame the other for the death or at least the hospice status of the church. ANd both try to convince me and others that their focus is the best and only hope, relying not on God for the growth of the church, but on man’s wisdom, and man’s ability to create the right… environment… that will bring about revival.

While I think both are wrong, and grow weary of both, I do think think that a sign of revival is an experience, Not one of great passion, not one of great signs and wonders.

Instead a humbling experience, one that touches the depth of our brokenness, and leaves us tired, exhausted, and in awe of what we’ve encountered… the grace of God.

That is what Spurgeon is talking about with the term loving kindness. cHesed in Hebrew, it is that experience of the merciful love of God that comes to us in our brokenness, in the depth our our sin, when we are with hope, and dries our tears and whispers to us that we are forgiven, that we are being healed, and restored.

That is what Escriva is talking about with the joy in the midst of hardship, the experience that causes us, in the future when we sin again, to pray for repentance and restoration with confidence,

It is the quiet celebration of the Psalmist, who though he believed there was no hope, found that hope in the middle of despair.

We aren’t talking about seeing a miracle that leaves everyone applauding like a Superbowl victory, (Well heaven parties like that) but one that leaves us like the feeling, having worked all night, to see the break of dawn…knowing that peace and rest is near… yet struggling to believe it.

We have to experience this healing, we can’t just “know” it happened once. We need to struggle with it, to ask, ‘could God have really loved me this much, and then be assured, by scripture and by the sacraments, yes, He does.

THis experience is contagious, it sweeps communities and nations, it changes individuals and countries, it changes the church, which welcomes sinners home with confidence, expecting to see the miracle again that reminds us of our miracle…. as we share in something that leaves us… awe doesn’t seem strong enough a word.

This experience can’t be manipulated, it is not subject to our feelings or our knowledge. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, drawing us, even dragging us to the foot of the cross, helping us see we belong there, nailed to the cross, sharing in Christ’s death, and wondering why we are even allowed near Him. And then coming to the realization that because we died with Him, we rise from the dead with Him.

That’s not head knowledge, that is life…and that life has to be lived….

Heavenly Father, help us to see the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, drawing us to the cross, uniting us to His death and resurrection. Help us to see this, not as observers, but from actually experiencing the reality of the SPirit’s work. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN!



C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1322-1325). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Cost of Being an “Institutional” Church Member

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day

28  And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. 29  When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 (MSG)

519    Serviam!—“I will serve!” That cry is your determination to serve the Church of God faithfully, even at the cost of fortune, of honor and of life.

Were they to take our house
Goods honor child or spouse
Though life be wrenched away
They cannot win the day
The Kingdom’s ours forever

(From “A mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther)

Yesterday, after a memorial service, one of the people there asked me how I can be there for people in times where the emotional pain is so evident, so dominating, so crushing. I shared one or two of my secrets, and the irony(?) that I have discovered, the more I can embrace their pain with them, the more I can laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry, the more that I see God at work, comforting them.

Funerals and weddings are not the hard part of ministry, nor are the other times when a pastor, priest or even a lay minister is able to make the presence of the Holy Spirit known to people. In those moments, the tears the grienf it is worth it.

But the challenge of being in the institutional church is when it seems not to be worth it. When you are in a meeting and people have hidden agendas. When people struggle with each other, and do not see the answer is struggling together.

When the brokenness of lives so blinds them to the healing that is found in Christ, the healing He does within the church, and through those He has called and given to the church.

When the church is forced to change its focus from the Jesus to dealing with the problems that are threatening to tear it apart. Such stuff happens in the institutional church, but it also happens in the house church, and in our families. As long as there is one sinner in the room, it will happen. And if you are there, or I am, there is a sinner there.

Yesterday, we ended the service by singing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”. Not as a triumphal anthem, but as a song of need, a song of despair, and yet hope as he finds that God has him (and the church) THe part of the verse quoted above struck me again, especially given the loss the people were experiencing endured. It is echoed in St Josemaria’s words.

We usually think of such threats as external, or they should be. The people who for one reason or another hate the church, or feel threatened by it. But sometimes they are internal, as people do fall into sin, as people do deal with stress and brokenness. Paul easily recognizes the stresses that can occur when people are brought together, are drawn together in to the presence of God.

So if we are going to face that within or without the institutional church, why bother to belong to one? Why bother to deal with the added stress, why deal with the extra pain, the extra betrayals, the extra anxieties and fears? Why would someone who struggles with social constructs and the complications they bring ever dare enter into this willinging, and serve the church?

Why bear the cost of the trauma, the pain, the disagreements, the dishonour?

Simple. The eyes of a widow that full of tears, reaches out for a hug and whispers, “Yes, I know God is with me.” The grief that is shared, but the hope of the resurrection to life together in the presence of God. Watching God at work, reconciling people together. The joy, the quiet simple joy that comes as the people of God find themselves celebrating their forgiveness and their adoption as God’s co-heirs at the altar of mercy and peace.

Everything endured is worth that….whether the injury is external to the church or internal.

Seeing God at work is that priceless, and seeing Him at work in and through me and the people I struggle alongside, (and sometimes with) is nothing compared to the glory and healing found in Christ. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1258-1259). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Worried about Churches Shrinking and Closing? Consider this threat.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning* of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev. 3:14-17 NLT

437    If one of my fellow men had died to save me from death … God died. And I remain indifferent.

In the last week I have received over 25 emails, texts, or posts referring me to articles that provide hope for the church. Well not, really. They don’t provide hope, they provide an answer to their doomsday prediction – that the church in the next ten or twenty years will be even more in decline than it is today.

They may state we are in a post-Christian, or post Church age. They may say the “nones” are a sign of our ineffective ministry, they may claim society is getting more secular, and even hostile to the church. There are more and more reasons that people come up with for churches in decline. They then give advice to counter the threat, many even coming to the theory that we need to “save what we can”.

But those answers are, for the most part, systematic, programmatic, and structural. They make the vision of the church a response to the perceived threat. They make what drives the church an almost militant response to the outside world, and a militant response that seeks to regroup, even while it retreats.

And in the process forgets God, and remains indifferent to His role in His church, in His Kingdom. We have become like Laodicea, trying to work in our strength, and our riches, when most churches have so little in the bank. When we churches have less in attendance that they are supposed to have on their various boards and committees. We look at the threats so much, we don’t realize how needy we truly are.

If we realize our need, it is the panic button, it is the hiring of consultants, it is the blaming of the lack of support and guidance of our denomination or our brotherhood. We might even think it is the congregation’s leadership, or its pastor that is at fault.

When what we need to do, is realize that we will, in this life, always be in need. We will always struggle, whether our church is 35 or 700, or 22,000. Not because we are failures, not because we are sinners, but because we need and have someone who cares for us, who provides for us, who is with us.

The One we neglect to depend on, even as we sing His praises. The Lord who gives us life, who makes right what is wrong in our lives. We need ot look to HIm, to remember He is present, to remember His love for us. We have to remember and celebrate His death on the cross, to do all the above.

There is our primary answer to the church being in decline – to look to Jesus. The church in Laodicea was told this, in this way,

“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 Rev. 3:20 NLT

These words weren’t written to unbelievers, they were written to the church, to the one Jesus says he wants to spit out, just a few verses before! These words echo Paul’s who says we are to plead with people, “Come Back to Christ!”

He has always been our hope, and the hope for the world! He has the answer to our brokenness, and the trauma in our society. He is the answer for our churches, and whom we aren’t to neglect, in our sermons, in our worship, and in our meetings and planning and vision casting. We need ot remember Him especially in our response to the dwindling numbers in our churches. What will fill them again is not our wisdom or strength, not our structure, or our regrouping what we have. What will fill them in the power of God, the power of God that raised Christ from the dead, and is at work in you, as you walk with Him, as you hear and respond to the Holy Spirit’s direction. As we lead His people to remember Him, as we share in communion, as we walk out with Him into His mission field that is in our lives.

You want to see the church thrive? Realize what God is doing right now, in your life, as He is present. Look around you, see the people that need that very same blessing, and pray for them. As the s Spirit leads, even tell them you are doing so, or ask them if you can pray for them right there, confident that God is there, hearing you both.

If we, the people who are the church, would realize we live in God’s presence, the church will not be empty for long.

The Lord is with you! AMEN!






Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1074-1075). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Working on the Core, Spiritually

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day

8  “How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you as I did Admah, or treat you as I did Zeboiim? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong. 9  I will not punish you in my anger; I will not destroy Israel again. For I am God and not a mere human being. I, the Holy One, am with you. I will not come to you in anger. Hosea 11:8-9 (TEV)

386    Don’t forget, my son, that for you there is but one evil on earth: sin. You must fear it and avoid it with the grace of God.

I recently started taking my son ot the gym. His first day, the trainer started working with him and talked about working on his core – and if he takes care of that (unlike Dad has) everything else he does would benefit him far more.

The thought was in the back of my mind as I wrote a paper last week on the Biblical theological foundations of worship. There had to be a core thought that threaded through scripture. FOr while the form may change a little from Adam’s sons times, through Abraham and Moses, through the Kingdom and into the New Testament, the core doesn’t change.

It cannot change.

That core is our struggle with sin, and more importantly, the ability to know God’s heart, and instead of fearing wrath, responding in confession, and the desire to be forgiven and healed.

A theologian would talk of this as the primacy of the Doctrine of Justification. I think, pastorally, we should talk of it as our core. Not core doctrine – but core as the place where our strength health comes from, the place that if it is swell exercised and strengthened, the rest of our spiritual nature will follow. If it is breaking down, if it is ignored, then the rest of our spiritual formation will crumble, and we will struggle, and even let our faith be minimalized and maybe disappear.

If however, we remember God’s heart, His determination and His unwillingness to give up on His people, that trust grows. If we understand the strength and power of His love, the love that raised Jesus from the dead, then we begin to trust Him, and trust Him with our brokenness.

There are exercises in the gym to strengthen our physical core. Crunches, working on certain machines, doing certain stretches. Spiritually there are exercises as well, all of them based on interacting with the love and mercy of God. Bible Study can be, as can prayer. But those things can often be focused on something other and our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. The sacraments are great core practices, as they cause us to encounter this heart of God.

Specifically, I want to address Confession and Absolution. For there we encounter God’s command to those serving you, and the power in hearing the words, “Your sins are forgiven”

You need to hear that. I do as well. We need to desire to hear that as well, so that when we do sin, we run to God, knowing how He won’t give up on us, and how He is there to heal and forgive, even to strength against temptation.

This is our core, this relationship where broken sinners can trust God enough to let Him deal with their brokenness.

So come, confess your sins. Hear you are forgiven, and strengthen your ability to depend on the God who loves you…

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 976-977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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