Category Archives: Theology in Practice

Do We Still Hear Jesus As We Walk With Him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

The Division Between Sacred and Secular? What if it Didn’t Exist?

St Francis Catholic Church

The Former St. Francis Church

Devotional Thought for our Days:
31  Well, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s glory. 32  Live in such a way as to cause no trouble either to Jews or Gentiles or to the church of God. 33  Just do as I do; I try to please everyone in all that I do, not thinking of my own good, but of the good of all, so that they might be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (TEV)

The Benedictine tradition is marked by a spirituality rooted deeply, intentionally in the issues and activities which confront us every day. These include the seemingly endless quotidian chores which fill the greater part of most of our days. Working. Eating. Caring for the sick and providing for the poor. Talking. Reading. Dealing with difficult people, just like ourselves. The Rule emphatically validates the sanctity of these efforts, drawing them up into the same sphere of holy activity as prayer, and meditation on sacred Scripture. Kitchen utensils and garden tools of the monastery are to be treated no differently than the sacred vessels of the altar. Guests are to be welcomed as one would welcome Christ himself. Rather than drawing lines between sacred and profane, or attempting heroic theological gymnastics to keep the high work of spirituality unspotted from the lowly tasks of this world, the Rule unabashedly weds life in Christ to life in the sanctified dust and sweat of our daily-grind existence.

6      Do not be afraid. Do not be alarmed or surprised. Do not allow yourself to be overcome by false prudence. The call to fulfil God’s will—this goes for vocation too—is sudden, as it was for the Apostles: a meeting with Christ and his call is followed… None of them doubted. Meeting Christ and following him was all one.

There are times the people that make up the church today seem to have a split personality. ( Or would it be better to say we are simply two-faced?)  

We create one set of rules for behavior with our friends at church, that is our sacred world’ and another set of rules for our behavior in the secular world.  And as a result, we don’t bring our religion/relationship with God into the “real” world, and we don’t want to bring before God in prayer our real life.   

I am not sure if we think he wouldn’t be interested, or is incapable of understanding it (I mean Jesus “lived” so long ago!  How could He possibly understand the fast-paced, media-hyped, techno/cyber crazy world in which we live?

Or maybe we want the disconnect between our sacred and secular worlds for our own benefit. Do we keep this illusion, that it is sacred and secular in order that we can have our sin and our Communion too?  

Is this a big deal?  It is when we think of the mission of the church, to be ambassadors of reconciliation, of bringing everything, of shepherding everything back to Christ.  To reveal His active and grace-filled presence to those around us, to the effect that they are saved  But if we have disengaged the two worlds, at least in our minds, then we can let them go, each to their own way.

Until the distance is so far we can’t stand on both.  Then we become hyper-spiritual and condemn all the physical, or we become even more driven to satisfy our own pleasure, hedonists of the first order. 

Some have tried to counter this division – Luther and his talk of vocation comes to mind.  The quote from Robert Webber above, citing the work of the Order of St Benedict is another.  And undoubtedly this get to the heart of St Josemaria’s Opus Dei – walking in faith in the midst of a broken world.

We need to stop dividing the life we have been given by God!  

He walks with us through every part of our day, and we need to rely on Him during every part of our day.  It is His mission to save the world and to do it through His people.  Whether they work at Subway, or a University, whether they are pastors or stay at home moms.  Whether they are 12-or 92.  God walks with each of s, everywhere.

Knowing that changes things, it changes them by making them holy, precious, the work of God.

When we cry out, “Lord have mercy on us” it includes all of our lives, all that we do, all that we encounter, and we need to know, He is here, the Lord is with us! Not to judge, but to guide.  Not to condemn but to comfort, to give us hope, to draw us into His glory and love.

Sacred?  Secular? Hole? Profane?  Religious?  Worldly?

These divisions aren’t real for us, for rejoice, we dwell in Christ! 

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 252-257). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Setting Aside Sin Evil – Such An Easy Task? Why not?

Devotional Thought for our Days

 Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. Christ is your n life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. n In your past, evil life you also did these things.

But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. 10 You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God.   Colossians 3:3-10 NCV

3       My Father—talk to him like that, confidently—who art in heaven, look upon me with compassionate Love, and make me respond to thy love. Melt and enkindle my heart of bronze, burn and purify my unmortified flesh, fill my mind with supernatural light, make my tongue proclaim the Love and Glory of Christ.

“Hallowed be thy name.” 
What does this mean?
A
nswer: To be sure, God’s name is holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may also be holy for us.
5 How is this done?
Answer: When the Word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as children of God, lead holy lives in accordance with it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But whoever teaches and lives otherwise than as the Word of God teaches, profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, heavenly Father!

Paul’s words are difficult in verse 5, these words we hear as commands, as Law.

Put all evil things out of your life…

This sounds easy – that is until Paul defines it, then defines it more. 

How are you doing with that?  I pray you are doing better at it than I am.

It is a battle. A battle not between Good and Evil with Evil being those opposed to us, it is a battle inside each of us, to turn away from the evil we, to embrace good.  But even this battle is a paradox, for we cannot do this by our own strength or will-power.

When we believe we are the masters of our spiritual development, when we believe we can put all these things out of our life by ourselves, we’ve fallen back into the trap of the evil one. Yet that is what we hear often when we read this passage, it is what our pride focuses upon. 

What does it miss… the embrace of Christ as He died, that embrace that continues through His death to the resurrection.  The beginning of life in Christ, and the being MADE NEW AND ARE BECOMING LIKE THE ONE WHO MADE YOU. 

This is what St. Josemaria is talking about, as he points out a part of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is God who makes us new, it is God who changes us, it is God who separated us from evil and our sin, and is our hope for staying disconnected from it.  (that is not to say He is responsible if we return to it!)  Therefore it is our prayer, our begging God to do what we cannot, even as we realize that He has not only promised this, it is His desire. 

It is our need.

And it is how we let go of the evil that has bound us, as we adore our Lord for what He has done and is doing.  We don’t actually create the separation, we don’t broaden it even, we just leave it behind as the light of the glory of God. His love revealed and realized draws us away from the life we had before.  

We can pray for this, that God would do His work.  Not that He wouldn’t do it if we don’t pray, but that as we pray we would realize God is at work, already doing this to us.  This is what Luther was getting at in the small catechism. We pray this to know what God promised to do, and so we can realize it is being done.

It is being done, let us continue to pray we see Him doing it! 

AMEN!

[1]  From the Small Catechism: edition from Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 242-246). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Hope for the Miracle of Reconciliation

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

I want them to be strengthened and joined together with love so that they may be rich in their understanding. This leads to their knowing fully God’s secret, that is, Christ himself. In him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are safely kept.  Col. 2:2-3 NCV

  1. To attribute to God the good one sees in oneself.
  2. To recognize that the evil in oneself is attributable only to oneself.
  3. To make peace with an adversary before sundown.
  4. Never to despair of God’s mercy.  (from the rule of St Benedict)

For at first Jerome, when objections were raised against him (e.g. for his statement, “If anyone says that God demands the impossible, let him be anathema”) simply replied in his Dialog. adv. Pel., Bk. 2 [MPL 23.577], “These things are impossible for our nature but possible for grace.” And he understood grace only in the sense of the aid and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Also Augustine in his first argument with the Pelagians said many things like this: “Grace restores the will so that the restored will fulfills the Law.”

The green words above are from the rule of St Benedict.  They are critical for us to understand in these days where division is growing, where people are reacting not to what is said, not even to what they think they heard, but how they interpret it.

One friend recently said that he wouldn’t watch football because of the protests of players.  He didn’t listen to what they said, he immediately interpreted it through his emotions, and admitted it, bringing into the equation his father, who was buried at Arlington Cemetery. 

I wonder if he realized some of those players have relatives buried there as well?

I am not saying the football teams or those who support their actions are any better at listening to people.

In fact, the anger towards each other is simply reactionary.  It is done with though, but not thought about the other people involved. 

What originally started with one man, concerned with issues far deeper than a meme or slogan, has polarized many in this country, deepening the rifts.  Rifts encouraged by some in the media, rifts that are unavoidable according to some.

Rifts that even divide those in the church, those who are united by something more powerful than anything else known, the power that raised Christ from the dead.

A power that we need to see now.

Chemnitz pointed out that what seems impossible for our nature is possible for grace, specifically the aid and renewal tht the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete/Comforter brings into our situation. The Spirit who is responsible for the good we see in ourselves, and overcomes the evil which we must recognize and take responsibility for, only to accept the grace that will redeem it. 

It surprised me, as Dr. Webber quoted the Rule of St Benedict, to see #71 – to make peace with an adversary before sundown,  But the context is amazing, for in thinking of that task – that discipline, we could easily despair. “I can’t do it”, “it’s impossible” “They will never…”  I could easily despair, to which the Rule responds, “Never despair of God’s mercy”

There is our answer, there is our hope for reconciling the unreconcilable, the hope for healing relationships shattered by history, our present, and concern over our future.

It is the hope we see in Paul’s words in red above, the idea that we can be joined together in love, understanding God’s secret – the hope of being in Christ himself.

Heavenly Father, Lord bring peace to our fractured and divided society.  Bring the hope and love that comes by Your Holy Spirit.  Help those of us who claim to follow you to do so, to hear those who are our adversaries, and to be with them, that we all may be saved.  AMEN!

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

4 Meisel and del Mastro, The Rule of St. Benedict, 52–54.

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

The Words That You Need to Hear Me Say, but “I” dont say them.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21  (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:19-23 (NAB)

So rejoice my friends, based on your confession and your faith in Christ hear these words. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the  † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  adapted from the Lutheran Liturgy, Confession, and Absolution 

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

It is necessary to discover anew the meaning of the scandal that enables one man to say to another: “I absolve you from your sins.” In that moment—as, for that matter, in the administration of every other sacrament—the priest draws his authority, not, certainly, from the consent of a man, but directly from Christ. The I that says “I absolve you …” is not that of a creature; it is directly the I of the Lord. I feel more and more uneasy when I hear the facile way in which people designate as “ritualistic”, “external”, and “anonymous” the formerly widespread manner of approaching the confessional.

It does seem scandalous, every Sunday as I stand in from of my parishioners and guests, and dare to forgive their sins.  Who am I to have just a great task.  Or worse, in those times where people aren’t repentant, to hand them over to Satan for a season.   ( 1 Cor. 5:5,  1 Thes. 1:20)  

But who am I to dare tell Joe that his sins are forgiven?  What if he is a man who cheats on his wife, or is verbally abusive toward his co-workers?  What if he’s been stealing and breaking into houses, or cheating on his taxes?  What if he constantly gossips about political figures?

How dare I stand there, look at him, and say, “I forgive your sins…”

Luther has it correct, the focus is not on me, but on you hearing what God desires you to hear.  You are freed from the bondage you put yourself into by sinning.  The eternal consequences have been transferred to Jesus on the Cross, they are not yours.  You need to cherish these words,  value them as life-giving, life-restoring.  It is a spiritual form of CPR and first aid. 

Pope Benedict seems to resonate with these words as well, as he discusses the delegation of Christ’s authority (see Matthew 28:18) to forgive sins is given to the pastor to use, for the benefit of God’s people.  THe “I” there is no longer dustin the sinner, but it is Jesus speaking to you.  

His authority, His message, His decision.

You are forgiven.

It is finished.

For by the stripes Jesus bore, you have been healed!

Rejoice!

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

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

The Life of a Saint is Never Perfect, Which is Why They Are Holy

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our days:
7  But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own. 8  We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; 9  we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; 10  always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. 11  Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. 12  In us, then, death is at work; in you, life. 13  But as we have the same spirit of faith as is described in scripture—I believed and therefore I spoke—we, too, believe and therefore we, too, speak, 14  realising that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up with Jesus in our turn, and bring us to himself—and you as well. 15  You see, everything is for your benefit, so that as grace spreads, so, to the glory of God, thanksgiving may also overflow among more and more people. 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (NJB)

929         Don’t forget that we will be more convincing the more convinced we are.

As you look at paintings of saints, some are portrayed in very peaceful serene moments, a soft glow seems to be about them, even without the golden halos  There are others that show them in the depth of darkness, fully engulfed in pain, fully engulfed in a battle against Satan and sin and despair.  

I find great comfort in the latter type of paintings, for I know far more people engulfed in a similar battle, who benefit from knowing they aren’t the first to do battle with temptation, sin, doubt, resentment, guilt, and all the lies of Satan.  For when we look at Francis or St John of the Cross or Luther or Walther or Mother Theresa battling that which oppressed them, we realize there must be hope, for we know how the story of these holy men and women ring true in the moment.

Paul is correct, in these lives lived in the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t just see the brokenness, we see the Holy Spirit comforting and sustaining them, as the victory of Christ’s death on the cross becomes more and more real.

For united to that death, we find life. 

United to His suffering, we find peace.  

Yesterday I had the responsibility of sharing God’s love with a family, a neighborhood of people who were devasted by the death of a young man.  A man so devastated by the pains of life that it overwhelmed him and he thought peace could only be found in the arms of death.

The confidence to speak in that situation comes not from theology books, or the education I have received, but from the darkness, I’ve seen Christ deliver so many people through over the years, from the darkness I have needed to be rescued from as well.  St Josemaria is so insightful in his words, I can convince people of God’s love, because i have been convinced as well.

One of the 80+-year-old ladies is responsible for our church mission statement.  She said one morning in Sunday school that Concordia is the place where people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal.

It is an absolutely beautiful, brilliant and true statement about our church.  It may not be fancy or measurable, it does not meet the standards of the guru’s who teach church leadership.  It doesn’t hold out a goal for some future time where we will have a perfect, thriving, idyllic large church.

Chruch isn’t some kind of utopia on earth.  It is a place for the broken, for the different, for those struggling with life, with shame and guilt, with resentment and hatred.  It is where we find healing and hope amid our brokenness, amid the tears and the pain to deep for tears.

This is what the saints knew… this is why the paintings can show them in despair, and in glory, for both are true, in Christ.

And we are called saints just as those whose faith in God we admire!  For we, like those who walked before us, are those called out, drawn to Jesus, those made holy the Holy Spirit, whose healing is being accomplished, for it is God the Father’s will.

He has heard our cry for mercy, and has answered it.  May we always be convinced of this, even as we convince others of it.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3775-3776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do Not Pursue Virtue and Perfection. There is a better route…

nativityDEvotional Thought for our Days:
7 So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem n was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to beat me and keep me from being too proud. 8 I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. 10 For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong.  2 Cor. 12:7-10

In a letter to Leonie, Therese writes,

I find perfection very easy to practise, because I have realised that all we have to do is take Jesus by the heart. Consider a child who has just upset his mother by losing his temper or disobeying her. If he goes and hides in a corner with a sullen look on his face and cries because he is afraid of being punished, his mother will certainly not pardon his fault. But if he comes to her and holds out his arms to her and smiles at her and says, “Give me a hug, I’ll never do it again,” how can his mother resist taking him fondly and pressing him to her heart, forgetting his childish wickedness? Yet she knows perfectly well that her dear child will do it again as soon as the occasion arises, but that makes no difference; if he takes her by the heart again, he will never be punished.

Tugwell informs us that “Therese had herself been tormented by scruples for more than a year” but later on came to a different conclusion about herself: Even if she committed every possible sin, she would still have exactly the same confidence in God. She no longer needed the assurance of her own virtue.

11 Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active. Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are, and in the meantime he chatters and jabbers a great deal about faith and good works.

When I came across the words of St Therese, (quoted by a Baptist) I was a little in shock.  

The words resonate with me, I could have perhaps said them myself, for the value running to God when we see, and when we are tempted is beyond explanation.  To know the comfort of God, the mercy, and peace that flows over us as we are in God’s arms, 

Knowing that love of God is so powerful, so overwhelming that we dropped the carefully constructed facade of virtue that we create.  His love makes us so confident we can drop the attitude of piety that we careful craft, and admit that we are simply poor, broken sinners. Sinners who have no confidence in our own strength, but instead learn to completely depend on Jesus. We can depend on God like the child running to his mother, rather than being punished in the corner.

This is when holiness, when sainthood is seen by others.  When it is not contrived, when it is not planned, when it is no longer an act, but the natural life lived in the presence of Christ. It’s the life of faith that the reformers saw, one that doesn’t argue about faith and works, one doesn’t even contemplate how to do good works, but simply does them, constantly active. It doesn’t wait for the exegetical, historical and systematic explanation of loving God and therefore loving those around them, but faith does that, while searching the scriptures for God, find the promises delivered to them in and through Jesus. 

That is true holiness, one that isn’t holier than thou but realizes that hope for its brokenness is found in the God we adore, and in finding in His heart, our life.

Dwell in peace… knowing the blessed life that is found in Christ!  Amen!

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

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

Apologetics is Never, Ever, Defending the Faith!

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our Days:

18 All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself, and God gave us the work of telling everyone about the peace we can have with him. 19 God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace. 20 So we have been sent to speak for Christ. It is as if God is calling to you through us. We speak for Christ when we beg you to be at peace with God. 21 Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NCV

15 But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect.  1 Peter 3:15b-16

870         Matters can rarely be resolved by aggressive polemics which humiliate people. And things are certainly never cleared up when among those arguing the case there is a fanatic.

In my high school freshman or sophomore yearbook, there is a note from an acquaintance with I used to argue with a lot.  We were both interested in history and debate.  She was a disciple of Engels and Marx, me, not so much.  Her note was full of admiration, a salute to our ability to debate and still respect each other.  (despite frustrating the hell out of each other – because we couldn’t understand the position of the other! )

As I read the words from St. Josemaria this morning, my heart brought back the memory of those words.  And of many presentations, I have seen about “apologetics”.  Usually, these include th idea that we are on a “crusade”, that we have to defeat our enemy, crushing their logic, unveiling their inconsistencies, doing battle and claiming the victory in Jesus name.

There was no call for respecting them as those Jesus died for, whom God created.  No sense of love, or peace that would envelop the conversation, and rarely, any hope that was explained and explored.  I encountered this as well when teaching world religions once, where several of my seminary level students wanted to know how to crush people who depended on false Gods.  They chose the path of the fanatic and the aggressive polemics that leaves people broken and crushed. 

Compare that to the verses above, the idea of being ready to explain the reason (this is where we get the word apologetic from btw) for the hope we have!  Peter goes on to say, but do so with gentleness and respect.  Look at how many times Paul mentions peace that God makes with us.  Look at the idea that God is calling to those whom He would reconcile to Himself, to those He would give His peace to, through us. Reading that, does it seem that the tactic best suited to doing so is walking with them, exploring this hope we have, this incredible idea that God wants to live with us in peace.  Helping them see that Jesus would walk with them, in all the ways described in the beautiful words of Psalm 23.

Some might say this doesn’t allow us to properly deal with their sin, but I don’t agree.  Sin is brokenness, and whether we will admit that everything we do is sin ( and Christians play this game too!) we do recognize the brokenness it causes in our lives. Sin is not just our deliberate rebellion in this action or that, but those sins are the symptoms of the brokenness of sin, something every religion deals with, mostly through threats and punishment, of being cut off and sent away.

Christianity meets that brokenness offering hope, offering peace with God, because of the cross and the empty grave.  A completely novel way not just to scare people away from future sin, but to bring comfort to the shame, the guilt, and despair that we all live with because of our pasts.  

This is the apologia, the hope, the peace, knowing the love of God who comes to us.It’s not something we have to defend or hit people over the head with.  It is something offered with great love, with mercy consistent to God. 

It is what we depend upon, what we hope for… it is Jesus….with us. 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3559-3560). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who am I? A simple answer that leaves you saying OMG!

Devotional Thought for our days…..

19 If our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else in the world.  1 Corinthians 15:19  NCV

18  We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18b  NCV

Paradoxically, a widespread decline in traditional religious practice in the West runs parallel with an ever-increasing hunger for spirituality. The question at the forefront of most of the great spiritual classics used to be “What or who is God?” Nowadays the characteristic question of the contemporary spiritual seeker is more likely to be “Who am I?” Great Christian teachers of the past such as Julian of Norwich understood quite clearly that these two questions are inextricably linked.
And I saw very certain that we must necessarily be in longing and in penance until the time we are led so deeply into God that we verily and truly know our own soul.  (a quote from Phillip Sheldrake’s Spirituality and Theology in Webber’s text The Divine Embrace:  Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life) (1)

850         In your heart and soul, in your intelligence and in your will, implant a spirit of trust and abandonment to the loving Will of your heavenly Father… From this will arise the interior peace you desire.  (2)

Who Am I?  

I’ve been trying to answer that question for as long as I can remember.  I see som many others trying to answer it as well.

Who is God?

Most people don’t bother to ask this, and those who do pursue it with an academic passion that is absolute, and yet nearly impossible to communicate to others simply.  (this is why we develop creeds and confessions, statements of belief and doctrinal texts, and then wonder why they don’t sell as well as novels and religious fluff)

Some might even try to describe this in general terms as Webber’s citation seems to above.  The older folk are more concerned with proving beyond a shadow of a doubt who God is (or isn’t) and the younger (gen X and Millennials ) struggling with who we are.  

And without both questions being asked, neither is ever truly answered.  

And in asking both at the same time, as Julian of Norwich and Augustine and Luther did, as Webber is trying to ask, we find the answer.  In that answer is the hope and peace that we so need.

We can only define God in terms of His relationship to us, as our Creator, Redeemer, the One who makes us Holy, the One who loves us and is our Father, Brother, Friend, Counselor, Encourager, Comforter.

We only find out who we really are when we are defined by God, as He ministers to us. We may not like to hear it, but we have no identity outside of our identity to Him, our identity in Him. 

it is in that definition of “who am I” that I find out I am loved, cared for, guided,  That GOd is transforming us into the very image of Jesus, to be like Him, yet to be ourselves.  And yet this definition, this transformation is far more than we know, for it is an eternal transformation.  

Paul isn’t joking when He says without the resurrection we are a hopeless group of people.  For a life trusting in God is not just about this life, and the change takes our entire life to begin to see.  It may mean we live in hardship, it will mean that we deny ourselves, abandoning ourselves into the hands of the Lord whose love for us is seen in the scars on His hands.  

Spend some time there, at the cross.  Spend some more time there, at the altar, examining yourself and knowing how desperately you need Him, and the fact, HE IS HERE!  And we will be with Him Forever!  Everything we are in life flows from Him, and it is glorious and real, and now, and yet even more to come!

The answer to Who is God?

He is your God

Who are you?  

You are His!

So live life, based on these words:  He is our God, we are His People!  AMEN!

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

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3487-3489). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

What Are We Teaching our Children?

DSCF1394 - CopyDoes it make you a better king if you build houses of cedar, finer than those of others?  Your father enjoyed a full life. He was always just and fair, and he prospered in everything he did. 16 He gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him. That is what it means to know the LORD. 17 But you can only see your selfish interests; you kill the innocent and violently oppress your people. The LORD has spoken.  Jeremiah 22:15-17  TEV

Our educational work should have a purpose: to elicit a change in our students, to make them grow in wisdom, to help them undergo a transformation, to provide them with knowledge, with new feelings and, at the same time, achievable ideals. Many institutions promote the formation of wolves more than of brothers and sisters by educating their students to compete and succeed at the expense of others, with only a few weak ethical standards.

As I finally got to reading my devotions today (actually tonight) I was struck by the words of Pope Francis.

It doesn’t help that as we were cleaning our garage, I found one of my old report cards, in fact, the same grade my son is entering.  I showed it to him, and was amazed at the pressure he felt to live up to my standards. (I should have shown him my sophomore year of High School)  Then I read Pope Francis’s words, shortly after seeing a picture of my dad and son, one of the last taken of them together.

My dad had a unique challenge – my brother was the star athlete, I was somewhat of a brain, at least by small town standards.  Getting us to work together was a challenge, and competitively, we were fierce. How he got us to play and work together was a remarkable challenge, especially as he was somewhat competitive as well!  Our schools weren’t so good at the task, firing us up to compete, playing on our pride and baser instincts.   (My one exception was St. Francis for junior high – they taught us to work together…and those 15 kids mean the world to me still!)

My wife is a teacher, our church has a preschool and once had an elementary school.  We have a lot of friends who are teachers as well.  (If you are reading this, please drop the red pens for a moment!)   And in a sense, I teach others, a little (and a significant amount) older than my wife and friends, but none the less, teach.

Which gets me back to Pope Francis, and his words about educating people.  Are we encouraging a competitive factor in them?  Are we encouraging them to be successful by standards that leave others behind?  Or are we teaching them to work together, to forgive each other, to lift up each other?  Are we hearing the prophet Jeremiah speaking for God as he takes on our selfish natures, as we have no problem oppressing people, or allowing them to be oppressed so we can live in peace?

We need to learn to teach like Jesus did, who though He was God, knelt down with a basin and towel and washed the feet of some pretty stubborn, argumentative and rebellious students. We need to teach them to serve each other, and those around them, whether we teach them Math, English, Geography, Computer Information Systems, World Religions or 1, 2, 3 John.

It’s a challenge, whether in preschool, middle school, college or a simple Bible Study.  For what we are teaching them is to love one another…which means we need to learn to love them.  As Paul says in Romans 12, really love them.   For God loves them, and wants to walk with them all.

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

 

 

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