Category Archives: Theology in Practice

Who gets the Best Reception Heaven?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

So He told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field o and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.   Luke 15:3-7

But there is already the threat of invasion by the virtuoso mentality, the vanity of technique, which is no longer the servant of the whole but wants to push itself to the fore. During the nineteenth century, the century of self-emancipating subjectivity, this led in many places to the obscuring of the sacred by the operatic.

Among all those who passed away, there were two men.  The first was the most famous preacher of the time, and the other, a man who spent most of his life in prison, and only as he approached death, did he stop fighting, and God drew him close. There would be a worldwide celebration of the former man at his memorial service.  The latter man would have 2 or 3 at his graveside, with a chaplain in tears. 

They get to heaven, who do you think gets the better reception?  Which person gets the warmer welcome?  Whose arrival makes the biggest splash?

We might think it was the man who spent his life dedicated to serving God, whose life and messages affect more people than anyone can count, more than anyone knows. 

Yet, time after time Jesus tells us that it is not a contest, that the joy over the one lost is greater than the 99.  That the person hired at the last moment gets the same wage//reward as the one who worked from dawn. That John the Baptist, who was used by God to call many to repentance, is the least in the kingdom of God. 

And yet, even in the church, we applaud the famous, those whose charisma leads them to become popular, the opera soloist with the voice no-one can match, but who causes us to be reduced to listeners, to observers.  

God isn’t a respecter of persons, St Paul tells us.  Yet we are, I am not sure why, but even in the church, we are.   We need to remember that they are sinners, saved by grace, that is why they are saints, even as we are.

All because of Jesus.

It’s all because of Him.

Going after you and me when there were 99 back at the ranch, rescuing us, carrying us, working to heal us.   Just as the Spirit is still drawing people to Him, through us.

WHo gets the best reception in Heaven?  

Jesus… who made it all possible, and has invited us all to that feast, as the guests He so dearly loves!

 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Christian, do you ever feel like your life is a waste?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the day:

16 Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. 17 At the time of the banquet, he sent his •slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’
18 “But without exception v they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’
20 “And another said, ‘I just got married, w x and therefore I’m unable to come.’
21 “So the slave came back and reported these things to his master. Then in anger, the master of the house told his slave, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ 
22 “ ‘Master,’ the slave said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room.’
23 “Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will enjoy my banquet!’ ”   Luke 14:16-24 HCSB

The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.
For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.

Vivification.  That incredible blessing as the Holy Spirit pierces our heart with the law, and then creates life in a person, creating in them the ability to believe in God, and the ability to depend upon Him.  We talked about Justification a lot, and Sanctification some, but Vivification?  Not so much!

To put it in less technical language, Jesus brings us to life, all of us, through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The older versions of the creeds talk of being quickened, and that is what we are talking about.  We were dead in sin, and in baptism intimately linked with Jesus death, and then so united, we rise to new life again. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us born again!

Too often though, we don’t encourage each other to live this new life.  We talk about being united with Jesus in life, but we too often forget we are united in His mission as well. To use the parable from Luke, we forget the importance of the party and choose instead to waste this new life away. 

We come up with so many good excuses though!  I can worship God on my own, I don’t have time for long prayers, or studying His word.  We don’t have to do these things -because we don’t earn our salvation!  We keep making the excuses, we keep telling ourselves we will get back to church later, that we will open that dust-covered Bible, that we will spend more time in prayer, and we will try to love our neighbor, and our enemy.

And with each excuse, we choose to not walk with Jesus, we choose to ignore His wonderful invitation, and we fail to see the Spirit work through us.

This isn’t “do this or you won’t be saved”, it is “this is what salvation is”, walking with God, knowing His love, ministering to others, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is having a life worth meaning, a life we can look back on and truly say, God was with us!”

Lord, have mercy on us, forgive us of making excuses, and help us live in everlasting life, with you!  AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Can We Recognize the Ministry of the Average Christian? (and help them accomplish it?)

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  And to some, his ‘gift’ was that they should be apostles; to some prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; 12  to knit God’s holy people together for the work of service to build up the Body of Christ, 13  until we all reach unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God and form the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NJB)

Hence the highest office is that of the ministry of the Word, with which all other offices are also conferred at the same time. Every other public office in the church is part of the ministry of the Word or an auxiliary office that supports the ministry, whether it be the elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17) or the rulers (Rom. 12:8) or the deacons (the office of service in a narrow sense) or whatever other offices the church may entrust to particular persons for special administration. Therefore, the offices of Christian day school teachers, almoners, sextons, precentors at public worship, and others are all to be regarded as ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word and support the pastoral office.[1]  (Italics mine)

Everything that has been said above concerning the People of God is intended for the laity, religious and clergy alike. But there are certain things which pertain in a special way to the laity, both men and women, by reason of their condition and mission. Due to the special circumstances of our time the foundations of this doctrine must be more thoroughly examined. For their pastors know how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they were not ordained by Christ to take upon themselves alone the entire salvific mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary they understand that it is their noble duty to shepherd the faithful and to recognize their ministries and charisms, so that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one mind.  (Italics mine)

Thirteen years ago, I was installed as the pastor of a Lutheran Church for the first time.  I had served those people for well over a year as a vicar, (basically a student pastor) while going through a time of transition.  I was glad for the 30 months or so of transition, it gave me a chance to work through the differences in theology and the difference in practical ministry.

There were two sermons were given that day, one directed toward me, another directed to me and the people of Shepherd of the Valley.  The latter, given by Greg Seltz was basically about the unity of pastor in people.  A unity that is found in our baptism, a unity that is seen in our mission, our apostolate.  It is not pastor over people or people over the pastor, but pastor and people.  It was a great sermon, and something we need to understand in every congregation, in every parish!

We don’t always get this correct.  Many people think the pastor is the evangelist, the only one that works in what the quote from Vatican II calls the salvific mission of the Church.  Pastors don’t save anyone, neither does the average person, but they are saved by Christ, through the work of the Church. 

We both have roles, even as Walther writes in Church and Ministry ( an incredible nook from the early days of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).  He says they are to be recognized as ecclesiastical and sacred, as part of the ministry of the Word, supporting the pastoral office.  

Yet there are clergy and laity in both the Roman Catholic Church and in Lutheran churches that don’t understand this.  They don’t get that the ministry is God’s, entrusted to the entire church together.  It is our mutual responsibility, to reveal to the world the Love of God, and God’s desire to reconcile all to Him.   Each has their own role, each has their own God-given place in this ministry. 

Such a responsibility isn’t to be hoarded like Gollum’s precious ring or relegated to the pastor/priest alone, to provide a convenient scapegoat when the church shrinks.  Nor is this responsibility a duty, with checklists and deadlines.  It is best done, when all, so in awe of God’s love, work naturally, sharing it with those around them, and then bring them into the family of God.    Serving together, ministering together, we see the world turned upside down, amazed not just at our love for each other, but the love of God that pours through us, to them.

We, the church, pastor, and people, are here for the world. To reveal to them the greatest treasure, the greatest of blessings, which brings the news of the greatest love, and the greatest of peace.

It is time again, to work as the church, the people of God.

Lord, have mercy on us and help us be your body, reaching out to the world.  AMEN!

[1]Walther, C. Church and Ministry : Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1987.

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.  Italics mine

Can the Church Leadership Quit Lusting for Power and Control?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you 2  to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. 3  Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock. 4  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (TEV)

705      Christian responsibility in work cannot be limited to just putting in the hours. It means doing the task with technical and professional competence… and, above all, with love of God.

A society that tends to turn people into puppets of production and consumption always opts for results. It needs control; it cannot give rise to novelty without seriously compromising its purposes and without increasing the degree of already existing conflict. It prefers that the other be completely predictable in order to acquire the maximum profit with a minimum of expenditure.

I often receive advertisements for books and seminars about Christian leadership.  Books that talk about the management of the church, the proper way to administrate things.  Some bring the best and brightest of secular management and leadership theorists into play.  This is nothing new, as names like Peter Drucker, John Maxwell and Steven Covey have long tried to bridge the gap between secular leaders and leaders in the church. Most of the church consultants I know use those kinds of models, those kinds of systems.

By leaders, I mean anyone who leaders, whether it be the Sunday School leader, the deacons, elders, or altar guild, or the pastors and denominational leaders that go by terms like Bishop, President or even Pope. My favorite title for a leader, and I have heard every Pope in my life refer to it, is their title, “servant of the servants of God.”  Not the King, or the Lord, or high exalted leader but the servant of those who serve.

Back to leadership itself.  I think the problem we often see when secular leadership style and theory come into play in the church is the idea of profit.  Not necessarily monetary, but the idea of profit as in return on investment (ROI).  I’ve seen this as churches prepare budgets, as denominations determine where to plant new churches, and whether to close other, smaller churches.  The latter because they use up too many resources (money, land, building space)

St Josemaria calls us o think differently, to work with the love of God.  Not just putting in the hours, but truly investing our talent, our knowledge, our competencies, all bathed in the love of God.

Francis likewise warns of turning the church into a puppet kingdom, where we strive for results and growth, forgetting the person’s needs, and basing outreach on maximum profit for minimum expenditure.  I’ve seen this in meetings where rather than come alongside smaller churches in urban areas, advisors tell them to become legacy churches, closing and selling their properties to help growing churches thrive.  We want predictable and sure methods for growth or revitalization, something with a quick turnaround, rather than something that might consume us.

We come full circle back to Peter’s epistle then, where he tells us not to do out work for pay (whatever the “payoff is – it might not be money)  Rather we should do our job from a desire to serve, even as our Lord served.  To work, not demanding this and that of those we are entrusted to, but by being examples to those we care for, investing in them, not expecting them to invest in us first.  We need to love them, not manage them,  Just as Christ loves and guides us, with gentleness and care.

This is contrary to modern business practices, yet it is the nature of ministry, of serving others, it is the nature of imitating Christ Jesus, who expended it all to save a bunch of corrupt and often shameless sinners like you and I.

May we lead our people into the peace and wonder that is found as Christ is revealed, as He ministers to, cleanses and makes us Holy. May we all find that healing available only in Jesus, as we help others heal.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2578-2581). Scepter But Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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 Church is NOT an Organization… it is an Organism…

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10  Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11  Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13  Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14  Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 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. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christ exists only in his body, not just as an ideal; that means: with all those others—with the permanent, time-transcending community that is his body. The Church is not an idea, but a body, and the scandal of the Incarnation, on which many of Jesus’ contemporaries came to grief, continues in the vexations of the Church, but here, too, the saying is applicable: Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me. This communal character of the Church necessarily means, then, her we character: she is not just somewhere; we ourselves are the Church. Certainly, no one can say: “I am the Church”; each must and may say: We are the Church. And “we”—that is not just a group that isolates itself, but one that belongs to the whole community of all the living and deceased members of Christ. Thus a group can really say: We are the Church. The Church is here in this accessible we that removes boundaries—not just social and political boundaries, but also the boundary between heaven and earth. We are the Church—from this proceeds our co-responsibility, but also the privilege of being co-workers; from this comes our right to criticize, but we must always begin with self-criticism. For Church—we repeat—is not just somewhere, someone else; it is we who are the Church.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Church appears and truly is dysfunctional.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a Bible study of 6, or a congregation of 60 or 1000, or the Church as the entire Body of Christ, throughout the world, and throughout time. We are dysfunctional; we are broken, we argue and fight, we try to one-up each other.  We allow politics to divide us, then complain about the division.

Sociologists have fun studying us.  

And yet we need, desperately need to be part of such a dysfunctional family.   As much as we need each other, as much as we need to realize the “we” of the church, we struggle with it. 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this, trying to help us realize that we need to remove the boundaries. No easy task there.  But it is needed.  We need to picture the Church as the Church.  We need to picture ourselves as more “we” at every level.  We need to be able to weep and laugh with others who are part of this magnificent, beautiful, incredible, dysfunctional family.  No, not just a family, a body.  We aren’t an organization, we, the church are an organism. 

St. Paul gives a great description of what the church should look like in the passage quoted above… the loving sincerely, full of respect, devotion, hope, and joy.  What an incredible idea, to live like this.

Some will reply, how can we do that?  Others more theologically trained will determine this description is law, and they will use that determination as an excuse not to live this way, ignoring how the chapter started, because of God’s great mercy…..

I think Pope Benedict hits on the key, how this dysfunctional group of spiritually immature people become the “we” of the church when he talks about removing not just boundaries here on earth, but the boundary between heaven and earth.   As that boundary is removed, as we realize we dwell in the presence of God, as we are in awe of His love, we are transformed, and those things Paul talks about, those things beome who we are. The more our attention and focus is drawn to God and His glory, the more His presence is revealed and overwhelms us.. The greater this unity is realized as well.  

This is the mystery that Paul refers to in Col. 1:27-28, the idea that Christ dwells in us!  (The “you” there in Greek is plural), It is the blessing of the description of the Body in 1 Cor. 10-13, it is the picture of the redeemed, resurrected united people of God in Ezekiel 36-37.

It is the truth of this, “we” are the church, the people God called out to make His own.  And He has. 

WHich is why the people of God know peace that is beyond explanation, for we dwell, our hearts and minds safe and secure in Christ.  AMEN

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.

Our Life in the Christ: revealed in our Church’s liturgy, music, artwork..

Concordia Lutheran ChurchDevotional Thought of the Day:
10  And he gave these orders: “At the end of every seven years, the Year-All-Debts-Are-Canceled, during the pilgrim Festival of Booths 11  when everyone in Israel comes to appear in the Presence of GOD, your God, at the place he designates, read out this Revelation to all Israel, with everyone listening. 12  Gather the people together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living among you—so they can listen well, so they may learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, and diligently keep everything in this Revelation. 13  And do this so that their children, who don’t yet know all this, will also listen and learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, for as long as you live on the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.Deuteronomy 31:10-13 (MSG)

Christ has died.   
Christ has risen
Christ will come again
We were dead in our sins
Now we’re buried with Him
We are risen in Christ
We are given new life
And Christ will bring us home
Making us his own
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again!

The Christian images, as we find them in the catacombs, simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and the meal of the three angels with Abraham speak of Christ’s Sacrifice and the Eucharist. Shining through the rescue of the three young men from the fiery furnace and of Daniel from the lions’ den we see Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Still more than in the synagogue, the point of the images is not to tell a story about something in the past, but to incorporate the events of history into the sacrament. In past history, Christ with his sacraments is on his way through the ages. We are taken into the events. The events themselves transcend the passing of time and become present in our midst through the sacramental action of the Church.
The centering of all history in Christ is both the liturgical transmission of that history and the expression of a new experience of time, in which past, present, and future make contact, because they have been inserted into the presence of the risen Lord. As we have seen already and now find confirmed anew, liturgical presence contains eschatological hope within it. All sacred images are, without exception, in a certain sense images of the Resurrection, history read in the light of the Resurrection, and for that very reason they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ.

324 Looking at his mercy, faith comforts and consoles us. Our opponents teach wrongly when they praise merits in such a way as to add nothing about this faith that takes hold of mercy

The readings this morning were just crammed full of thoughts that I needed to hear.  I could have doubled the amount I quoted, and foregone writing.  Except that I need to, for as I’ve said before, my devotions have to be thought through, meditated upon, and brought together in my writing.  It used to be called spiritual journaling, and someone once suggested i put it out there to be shared.

Today, it seemed like a lot of my readings were set up to talk about living within the story.  About faith is a life of dependence on God, living in harmony with Him, rather than a statement of what theological statements we hold to be true.

We see that in the words from the Lutheran confessions, as we take hold of mercy. That is faith, this incredible love of God that is revealed to us, that floods our lives so that we can hold onto it.  For faith is an engagement with God with not our mind at first, but our heart and soul.

Pope Benedict in the longest quote talks about this in the imagery in the early church and the synagogue, when visuals made our sacramental life part of the narrative poured out in visual representation.  And all of that representation is reflected in the resurrection, the very summit of our being made one with Christ.  For we are united to Him in His death, in order that we can rise to our new life with Him.

That is the reason for the reading of the entire community of Israel, over 2 million people, plus the foreigners that make their home among them.  (Note that part about the aliens!) They were to know the covenant, so that they could be in awe of God’s love and provision for them!  Even more than that, this awe was lived out before Him. In other words, not just in His are of vision, but right before Him, in His presence.

As I was reading all of this, I thought of my friend’s version of the liturgical hymn, the Memorial Acclamation.  Chris is not only an incredible musician and professor of worship but has a great understanding of sacramental covenant theology.   So when he recomposed this ancient part of Christian worship, he not only told Christ’s story, but he made clear what was inferred.  That we share in that death, and in that resurrection, and in Christ’s coming again.  What has become veiled and vaguely visible, Chris revealed in a glorious way. ( You can hear a rock version of it at the link!)

Every aspect of our ministry, from the music to the artwork and images, to the words we speak and lessons and liturgy are geared to help us make this transition.  We are not just people reading about history, we aren’t just witnesses to the story, we are the characters in the story, living and interacting in great awe with God.  Just as people have done since Adam and Eve walked through the garden.  Our people may not realize this, so we need, like Israel, to teach them more and more.  They need to know it, they need to experience His love. as do we, as do our communities.

May the Lord make this happen, opening our eyes more and more to His love!

AMEN!

 

The Memorial Acclimation by Rev. Dr. Christopher Gillette
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOPkjcqfF4

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

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

Are All Our Works Filthy Rags?

nativityDevotional Thought of the Day:
5  You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways. But you have been very angry with us, for we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? 6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. 7  Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. Isaiah 64:5-7 (NLT)

193 To disparage works like the confession of doctrine, afflictions, works of charity, and the mortification of the flesh would be to disparage the outward administration of Christ’s rule among men. Let us add a word here about reward and merit.
194 We teach that rewards have been offered and promised to the works of the faithful. We teach that good works are meritorious—not for the forgiveness of sins, grace, or justification (for we obtain these only by faith) but for other physical and spiritual rewards in this life and in that which is to come, as Paul says (1 Cor. 3:8), “Each shall receive his wages according to his labor.” Therefore there will be different rewards for different labors.

In the middle of the quote from Isaiah I underlined and italicized a “popular” verse. 

Popular for those who abuse it, as they use it to call people to convert, or to repent.   Some will wax on with great eloquence about how wrong EVERYTHING we do is, how even our best words are nothing more than filthy rags, or as the ESV says, “polluted garments”, those things made unclean because of blood or other bodily fluids.  SOme, trying to get the gut check factor in, will assume that the blood is from a female’s menstrual cycle.  But the idea is that everything we do is horrid, unclean, unable to please God.

I have heard this used as well, by good meaning pastors who are trying to properly distinguish between law and gospel, saying that all our works, even after God has baptized and cleansed us, are still nothing more than filthy rags, that we will never be able to fulfill the “Law”, and therefore we shouldn’t encourage people to try and keep the Law, or even try to apply it to our lives, lived in Christ Jesus.  (In Lutheran theology, we would refer to this as denying the Third Use of the Law)

Theologically, that isn’t the Lutheran position, as you can see in the quote in green above, from the Lutheran confessional document known as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  It clearly states there that we cannot disparage works of man that demonstrate Christ’s rule, His benevolent work in and through men and women.  It even talks there of mortification of the flesh, the work that Paul talked of in 1 Corinthians 9.  The confessions do quickly remind us that these works don’t merit salvation, but they do merit a reward from God,  Even if that reward is simply hearing Him say, “well done. my good and faithful servant!”  (that comment alone would bring me joy that would last an eternity, as I assume it would for any Christian!)

I would draw your attention to the very passage the quote about filthy rags comes from in the first place.  This is not a theological passage by literary style.  It is a narrative, the words of the prophet, repentant and contrite, pleading with God.  Pleading with God to rip open the divide between heaven and earth, to come into our midst, and save us.  To come and mold is, to do the very work Paul will describe in Phil. 2:10 – where we are described as God’s poiema – His masterpiece, as we are led to do the works God has prepared for us. Isaiah’s pleading is one of repentance, one of praying that God would reconcile and restore us.  That God would come and save us, bearing our sin, and suffering that we would be healed and restored.  This section about filthy rags was hoping for Jesus to come and die on the cross, and for us to be reborn with Him. 

And that my dear friend, has surely happened.

No wonder the Lutheran first generation talked of denigrating the work of God’s people as denigrating the very work, the very ministry of God! 

So be careful how you fling around this passage, and the doctrines you create or try to sustain it. For teaching, those things to people will give them the wrong idea, and you will liable for trying to paralyze the people of God.

Know that God works through His people, all His people, as He walks with them, and will do amazing things!  And proclaim this and encourage it, as God renews and revitalizes the church!

AMEN!

 

 

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

Already Broke Your Resolution? Good! Now you can really change!

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for your new year!

4  “Israel, remember this! The LORD—and the LORD alone—is our God. 5  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (TEV)

14  Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ. 15  Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds. 16  But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.” 17  Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:14-18 (TEV)

503      Love Our Lord passionately. Love him madly! Because if there is love— when there is love—I would dare to say that resolutions are not needed. My parents—think of yours—did not need to make any resolutions to love me: and what an effusion of tenderness they showed me, in little details every day! With that same human heart we can and should love God.

In Lutheran thought, most commands are what are known as “Law.”  Law has three purposes, The first is to keep civil peace.  The second use of the law is to show us that we are guilty of sin and deserving eternal punishment.  Knowing that we can be drawn to Christ to receive grace, the merciful forgiveness that restores us, and welcomes us into the presence of God.  The third use of the law is simply to show us how to live, now that we are bound to Him, for Christ’s life is the picture of a life lived in full harmony with the law.

But the command following the words of the Lord being our Lord, the phrase known as the Shema, is not Law in the Lutheran sense.

Yes, we may struggle ot love God with everything we are, and if we think about it, this could make us wallow in guilt and shame.  Most of us can keep our resolution longer than we can maintain a love for God that includes every part of our life!  But if we feel guilty, or if we just ignore our shortcomings, we are missing the incredible, glorious, life-changing words that come before it.

The Lord, and the Lord alone, IS OUR GOD!

This line is why this isn’t Law, it I the purest of Gospel, for it describes what it means for us to have God (using His name YHWH) as our God. Loaded into that phrase is the idea that God takes responsibility for us, provides what we need, loves us. It means His nature of loving mercy (cHesed/Agape) is at work in us, bringing to completion the work began in us.

And as we consider this, as we think it through, there is no need for a resolution, no need for goals to change us.  As we think and meditate on God loving us, we love Him, we adore Him, we become more and more hungry to hear of His love, and to share it with others.

So maybe you made a resolution or four to change in this new year. To lose weight, to be more patient with people, to be more determined in your spiritual disciplines.  Maybe you already broke one or two.

That’s okay.

Real change in our lives starts with something else.

Being still, and knowing He is our God.

Knowing His passion and love for you…

Just sit there for a moment, and let His love sink in…

and find yourself changed.

Godspeed my friends!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1920-1925). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Which Miracle Would You Choose? Which is more needed?

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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought for our Broken Days:

Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 But so you may know that the Son of Man  has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, 11 “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” Mark 2:8-11  HCSB

476      For each one of us, as for Lazarus, it was really a veni foras—come out—which got us moving. How sad it is to see those who are still dead and don’t know the power of God’s mercy! Renew your holy joy, for opposite the man who is decomposing without Christ, there is another who has risen with him.

A little background is necessary for this blog.

I grew up with a genetic disorder known as Marfan’s Syndrome.  It’s one of those nasty connective tissue disorders that affects my eyes, my spine, and my heart.  It was responsible for a cardiac arrest in my twenties, and the necessity of two of my heart valves being replaced 20 years ago.  I also had to deal with severe asthma attacks and allergies that put me in the hospital often and caused me to miss as many as 60 days of school in third grade.  Looking back, I was probably significantly on the Asperger’s spectrum, because my social skill wasn’t exactly…. normal. (If you know me, you know it still isn’t!)

In the process, for all of the above, my parents would have people pray for me.  We even went to see Kathryn Kuhlman once, which required a really long bus trip. My folks did what they could as did the experts.  If ripping off the roof of a house would have secured my healing – they would have done it.  For me, the idea of physical healing isn’t just a passing idea, it is something desired for a long time.  Regular back pain, poor eyesight, and the clicking of mechanical valves impact me greatly at times – both physically and psychologically, and more times than I want to admit, spiritually.

As I read that passage this morning, it hit me.  God did answer a prayer for healing in my life, but not the physical healing we all wanted.  Instead, what God gave me was what the paralytic was offered, the forgiveness of my sin.

All of it, and that is a lot.

From the things that would cause me not to sleep at night because of guilt and shame, to the little things in the eyes of the world, to the sin that I attempt to justify.

He came to die, that all my sin would be paid for, the debt I incurred by committing it erased.  For that, I will ever be grateful.

I think the scribes had it right for once when they noted that forgiving sins was a far greater miraculous act, a act far more requiring the full power, authority and responsibility of God.  

There are doctors and others who can perform physical miracles today, there are people who have the gift of doing so, and among those even some who don’t believe in God.  But forgiving sin, that is a whole different matter.

And Jesus, fully God, fully man, can forgive our sin and does.  He has that right, He has the ability, and he invested that ability in His people, with the responsibility given to those who shepherd them, who guide them into God’s presence, the men who reveal God’s presence in their lives.

This miracle is one that impacts us far beyond our mortal life.  That is why it required more dunamis, more power/authority/responsibility/capability than other miracles.  It was why the scribe doubted.

Would I love to be healed completely of the effect of Marphans?  Yes
Would I like to be more socially skilled, and less awkward?  Hmmm… tough one. 🙂  (there are days when the world not making sense is a good thing)

But were I to have all that, and not have the forgiveness of sins, all would be lost.  So I will rejoice in my weakness, and rejoice in a Lord that loves me and shows me the mercy I so need, and so do not deserve.  This is what raises us like Lazarus from the dead, this is the power of God’s mercy at work, this is the power that raised Christ from the dead at work in you and I!

Come know the joy of being forgiven, reconciled, redeemed,

( and we can still pray that God heals the rest!)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1820-1824). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Making Prayer Profitable…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

5  “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6  But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. 7  “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Matthew 6:5-7 (NLT)

Sometimes I ask myself: “To whom do you pray?”And it is not hard to find the answer: “To God”, the Father or Jesus. There also are many people who pray to God as divine essence.  This is not prayer, of course. Christian prayer is primarily a person to person event; we pray to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit.

90. The divine office, because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer. And therefore priests and all others who take part in the divine office are earnestly exhorted in the Lord to attune their minds to their voices when praying it. The better to achieve this, let them take steps to improve their understanding of the liturgy and of the Bible, especially of the psalms.
In revising the Roman office, its ancient and venerable treasures are to be so adapted that all those to whom they are handed on may more extensively and easily draw profit from them.

One of the hardest and yet profitable lessons I’ve learned over the years is about prayer.  And that prayer is not just conversation, it is an intimate conversation with God. 

Back in Junior High, my friends and I would say the rosary or pray through the stations of the cross, and we would make it a race, thinking that it was simply the saying of the prayers themselves that resulted in a blessing.  Later, when I was a Protestant, training for the ministry, we only prayed “from the heart”. These prayers were full of words, especially “Lord” and “if it be Your will” and other phrases, spoken more because we didn’t know what to say, or how to say it.  And so a prayer over a meal would last well into the time a normal family would be having dessert!  In many ways, though perhaps heartfelt, they were babbling, as Matthew’s Gospel tells us the prayers of those who don’t know God pray.

Prayer is anything but vain, and it shouldn’t normally be incoherent babbling ( unless in the midst of trauma – but that is another conversation)  And whether the prayer is one written by some other pilgrim or our own, it needs to resonate with both our brokenness, and the hope we have in the God who will heal. 

This is something Vatican II was obviously trying to address, as it looked at the various services throughout the day,  We need to know what we are saying, we need to realize that God is hearing these words, personally. It is not a formula, nor an algebraic equation to work out, nor the vain babbling of someone struggling to think of something to say.  ( it is usually at that point when we should be listening, rather than just babbling – again – another blog sometime)

it is when the conversation is personal, in the midst of the deepest, most intimate relationship we have, with the Lord who created us, that we are actually praying.  A prayer that is beneficial, because it is sacred, a time set apart just for us, individually and in a group, to walk with the God we are learning to love, as He reveals to us how much He loves us.  This is when prayer is beneficial, when it is profitable, when we realize how much we are sustained.

So, my friends, I urge this, take the time, savor not just His word you hear and meditate on, but savor the words you say to Him, hear them, and know He is responding.  For you are His children, and He is your Father and your God.  Amen!

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.

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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