Category Archives: Theology in Practice

The Cost of Fixing Injustice


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our day:
22  Then Peter took him on one side and started to remonstrate with him over this. “God bless you, Master! Nothing like this must happen to you!” Then Jesus turned round and said to Peter, “Out of my way, Satan! … you stand right in my path, Peter, when you look at things from man’s point of view and not from God’s”
24  Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his own soul? What could a man offer to buy back his soul once he had lost it? Matthew 16:22-26(Phillips NT)

When you want to control your abandonment in the hands of God, the tenderness of your filial relationship is lost. Neither ideology nor psychoanalysis or sociological interpretation of the mystery knows of tenderness. Rather, they know the art of manipulation, not of caress.

You want the world to change.

You can’t understand why the problems in our society exist, why there is hatred, why people can’t work together.  You want them to change (whoever “them” is) and you easily get frustrated by their actions.

I get that, I am tired of my own anger at people who are angry at people who are angry because they are reacting against what they perceived as unjust.

I’ve got some news for you (and it applies to me), the change and the peace we seek doesn’t begin with their change, it begins with the change that needs to happen in us, in you and me.  It starts with your giving up all rights to yourself.  It starts with your relationship to God.  It starts with you letting God be God and trusting Him to do exactly what He promised to do in our lives.  You need to let Him guide you in life, and listen and follow. Not partially, but totally.

As Pope Francis notes, you can’t really control your abandonment in the hands of God.

There is a reason for this, which he explains as “the tenderness of our filial relationship is lost”.  What that means is that as we play God, as we determine we are in control of our lives, we forget and lose track of our relationship with God.  We forget about the fact we are His beloved children (hence filial – that of a son), we forget that He desires we walk with Him. , we forget about the love our Father in heaven has for us.

All this happens as we try to take control of our destiny, for 10 minutes or for a lifetime.  THat is what Jesus talks about in that trying to save our life, we lose, but if we abandon it to the care of the Father, to the guidance of the Spirit, to the work of Jesus on the cross, we gain it.

And we gain a sense of justice, a sense of righteousness that God fills our life with.  We realize that righteousness means we love those we consider unlovable, and rather than just condemn those who acts are unjust and unrighteous, we put them in God’s hands,  We pray that He would spare them by transforming them just as He is doing to us.  We work to help them realize they are His beloved children and that He has saved them from their sin.  That is how injustice is fixed, first as we remember that Jesus’ work has committed us into the Father’s hands, and then, abandoning our will, our destiny, our life into his hands, we see Him work miracles, reconciling others through our work, as He guides us to love them.

Easy?  No, and yet yes.  He does the work!  We have to just stop fighting Him…..

The cost?  Already paid for on the cross of Calvary.  The blood of Christ that was spilled that sin would be covered, and separated from the sinner.

This is our hope, whether the injustice is minor, or national.  That Christ came to redeem the ungodly, and we have seen it happen in our lives.

So go, in His name, and love.

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.

What We Pass On…. Is it Truly Good?


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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought for Our Day:

5 Isaiah then told the king, “The LORD Almighty says that 6a time is coming when everything in your palace, everything that your ancestors have stored up to this day, will be carried off to Babylonia. Nothing will be left. 7Some of your own direct descendants will be taken away and made eunuchs to serve in the palace of the king of Babylonia.”
8 King Hezekiah understood this to mean that there would be peace and security during his lifetime, so he replied, “The message you have given me from the LORD is good.”  Isiah 38:5-8  TEV

802         When someone has a very small heart, it seems as if he keeps his desires in a narrow, neglected drawer.

The king in the passage indicated he thought the message of God’s wrath was good, and that bugs me.  Is he so self-centered that he doesn’t realize he is welcoming, even approving of God’s wrath to be poured out on others because of his own sin?  Doesn’t he realize he is rejoicing in his people’s, his descendants suffering? 

What kind of king is that? 

What kind of father?

Which brings a hard question to ask, what kind of things will our children, our grandchildren, and those who follow us in Christ have to face because of our lives today?

I am not talking “our” in a corporate sense of America, or even of the entire Church, or my denomination or congregation.  I am talking about you and me. 

In my case, my cynicism, my own reactions toward those I don’t relate well too, that I don’t trust, that I struggle with, and consider my adversaries, my enemies.  Those, if I am in a more condescending mood, that I consider a royal pain in the ass.  How will I treat those who add fuel to my already raging sense of cynicism or those who provoke my fine sense of irony? 

I have struggled a lot with this as I’ve seen people react to a reaction of other people.  That it turn created a reaction, which more people are reacting to with more extremism, more hatred, more calls for violence and acting in anger.  

I want to react, I want to call people out on their hypocrisy, I’ve written twenty or thirty replies, then caught myself before posting them.  (and a couple of times, I didn’t) 

My reaction has to be one of love, it has to be less about me, and more about helping people reconcile, but oh this is difficult, it is brutal, it cuts me to the heart…. and yet, that is exactly what I need.   It is this process that St Paul wrote about when he wrote,

11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14  he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:11-15 (TEV)

The only way I can love those who seem unlovable to me is to live in the reality of my baptism.  To know that when I was (and still can be)unlovable, God did anyways.  And because He loves me (and you) He is working on me (and you), as I must trust He is working on everyone!  Even those who don’t know Him, yet He is calling them to this change of life. To this circumcision of the heart (see Ezekiel 36:25 and following) which cleanses us, changes us, transforms us.  (this is what repentance is, and it is far more than saying, “i am sorry”_

It is in His work, that I must trust.  Not must in the sense of my obligation to Him, but rather must because if I don’t, I will soon realize I am what I annoys me, I am what I rail against, I am what i hate.

My hope?  In the one who loved me enough to die for me.  Who loves me enough to transform me, even as I struggle against it.  My hope is in Jesus… who is still my advocate, who is still my shepherd, who is my Lord.

May we all let Him change us, as He calls us to his side.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3314-3315). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Tired of Living on Auto-pilot!


DSCN0014Devotional Thought for the Day:
17  Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:17 (MSG)

1 It is also taught among us that such faith should produce good fruits and good works and that we must do all such good works as God has commanded,6 but we should do them for God’s sake and not place our trust in them as if thereby to merit favor before God.

780         You suffer a lot because you realise that you don’t make the grade. You would like to do more, and do it more effectively, but very often you do things in a complete daze, or you don’t dare do them at all. Contra spem, in spem!—live in certain hope, against all hope. Rely on that firm rock which will save you and help you on. It is a wonderful theological virtue, which will encourage you to press on, without being afraid of going too far, and will not let you stop. Don’t look so troubled! Yes, cultivating hope means strengthening the will.

One of the reasons I like St Josemaria’s writings is because they speak to me.  The words in blue resonate deeply within me.  There are days I seem to be on autopilot, moving from one crisis to another.  Like the disciples in the boat last Sunday, I am not seeming to make headway.   I would love to be a more effective pastor, a better husband, a better dad, but things are so overwhelming, and I often consider myself a failure at all three.  I look at the quote in Green from the Augsburg confession, and wonder what good fruit and works are the results of God forgiving me?  Do I do things for the glory of God, thanking Him along the way?  Or I caught in a lifeless vacuum?

And I know I am not alone.  Too many are overwhelmed by anxiety and even paralyzed by the day to day drag that they feel.  We move through life, as I said, on autopilot.

There are enough life coaches, self-help books, counselors and others who exist to get you out of the doldrums ( at least they claim to!) out there.  Billions of dollars a year are spent by people who want more out of life, even if they can’t define what the more is.

St Josemaria describes how we grow in all of this.  It is not by our own strength or determination.  It’s not by being “forced” by someone’s manipulation, using guilt or reward to motivate, critique or praise to push you into the next level, the next phase.

So how do we get past auto-pilot?  How do we find a life that is full of good fruit?  How do we get to the point where every detail of our lives praise and honor God?  How can we show our Lord the gratitude for all of His work that He has done, from creating us, (and the world we live in ) to His redeeming and reconciling us to Himself, to making us Holy?  How can we accomplish this?

St. Josemaria notes a theological virtue – actually a simple one which cultivates hope, that diminishes the anxiety and overcomes that sense of sluggishness.  This fantastic blessing of theological virtue?

Faith!

Dependence on God!

Relying on God who is our solid base, who will support you and help you through life 

That reliance is what we need so that even when we have no option but to be on autopilot we realize He is at work, He is guiding you, He is not going to let us stop, for He is the author and perfecter of our faith.  He is our shepherd, our Master, our God.

Knowing He is there can help us when dealing with mundane as well as the overwhelming.  It gives life to those moments, those places we serve in our vocation.  

Remember He promises to make all things work for good, and He does.

He is with you… rely on Him.  That isn’t law, but the purest of gospels, for He desires you to have the blessing of knowing He is your God, and you are His beloved people.  AMEN!

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

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3230-3236). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Let Them Make Peace With Me! But what does that mean?


20170124_103703Devotional Thought for This Day:

5 “But if the enemies of my people want my protection, let them make peace with me. Yes, let them make peace with me.”  Isaiah 27:5  TEV

748         Let us make a firm resolution about our friendships. In my thoughts, words and deeds towards my neighbour, whoever he may be, may I not behave as I have done up to now. That is to say, may I never cease to practise charity, or allow indifference to enter my soul.

It is very possible to misread Isaiah in the passage above, to think that the burden of reconciliation God is placing on those who are the enemies of His people.  That are the ones to “make peace”, therefore it is their effort, their work.  We hear it as a demand from him, as the thundering voice of God’s law, with the undertones of wrath below it.

We choose to hear it as God’s law – as the prophetic voice that will allow us to thrash them unless they prove their intent to make peace.  Which means, of course, that we can then have the same attitude, because the enemies of God’s people are our enemies, because we are God’s people, right?

This gives us full license to be holier than thou – or at least holier than those racists, or those politicians, or those other people, you know, the ones that don’t go to our church but go to “that” church, or no church at all.

I even heard that to preach “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you is law, therefore we don’t have to obey it, just confess it when we fail too! ( We need a refresher in Augsburg Confession Article VI)

St. Josemaria’s words caught my attention this morning. He described a desire to change his attitude toward his neighbor,  whoever he maybe!  He then describes a life that is charitable, that loves, that has compassion, and never allows indifference to enter his soul.

What if that neighbor was an addict to drugs, or dealt them?  what if that neighbor was into porn, or and it was wrecking his life and family? What if that neighbor was a militant atheist or someone who morality and ethics we question.  What if they murdered someone, deliberately or by neglect? What if that neighbor was one of those in Charlottesville that was rioting?  (It doesn’t matter which side, or whether they were those who just wanted to “amp” up the tension)

Each of those people may be identified as our neighbor, and we need to rid ourselves of our apathy, we need to find the ability to be compassionate toward him or her.  We need to invite them to make peace with God, and then perhaps, over time, with us.

Which brings us back to Isaiah, and the question about God’s intent about these enemies.  Does He mean they have to make peace with Him, atoning for their own sin, proving their intent?  Or is it an invitation to be at peace with God, to be drawn to Jesus, and the cross which cleanses us from all sin?

From St. Paul,

8  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 (NLT)

Let them make peace, a peace for which the price has already been paid.

It is an invitation, one that will result in them (and us) being cleansed of all sin and unrighteousness.

It is there, in this invitation, that we ALL can find hope. …

Lord Jesus, help us to shed our apathy, our indifference toward our neighbor, and with great compassion and love lead them to where God reconciles them with Himself.  And remind us constantly of the wonder of the peace you give us, as by grace you save us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3115-3117). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

American Bible Society. The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation. 2nd ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1992. Print.

The Priceless Blessing We Cannot Afford to Neglect…


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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional thought of the Day:

23  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Matthew 14:23 (NLT)

26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1) 

The intercessor is a worshipper who has understood the deepest feelings of God and clings to them, despite contrary appearances.

In prayer, our flesh, identified with the Word made flesh and moved by the Spirit, longs for the Father. This is the mystery that unfolds in prayer and that promises us a unique communion with the Father, in the Spirit, and through the Son.
He takes our flesh and we receive his Spirit.

I am sitting in my office, as I do most Saturdays.  My primary task is finalizing my sermon, the two Bible studies I teach tomorrow.  As I do, there is another task I do… on that can be heartbreaking at times.

It is receiving the prayers that people drop into mention, that text or message me or email me about.  They want to make sure they are included in the bulletin for our people to pray about, or if more confidential, that I will include them in my private prayers. 

This morning has been no different, in fact, one could say “business” has been a bit brisker than normal.  A military person going to Korea, another beloved friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend dealing with diabetes and other health concerns, people with family problems, people looking for a new home, people with family struggles.  There are a lot of people we pray for, an act often called intercession, or petitioning God on their behalf.  Or more simply – we ask God to bless them and care for them in their situation.  That includes praying for healing, for strengthening their trust and dependence on Him, which will give them hope.  Mostly that they would see God acting in their lives. 

This is prayer, this is, in a very real way, communing with God.  Or as the Lutheran confessions (in green) call it, a sacramental time.  Pope Franci echoes this sentiment when he calls it the mystery that is unfolded and revealed, a time of intimate communion, a time where we understand the deepest feelings of God and cling to them.

As I prepare for tomorrow’s sermon, this hits home strong.  Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, he sends the crowds away, and he heads in to the hills to be alone, to pray.  Specifically, the word for prayer is the word for petition.  He has to talk wiht the Father about the people he encountered, He has to bring them into the relaitonship He has with the Father because they matter to both of them!

Add to this the action of the Holy Spirit, seen in the passage from Romans. This incredible thought that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well, praying when we are too overwhelmed when we cannot find the words when we can’t find the words or thoughts to pray.  It is then that the Spirit is definitely interceding with and for us, with words that are inaudible, because the Spirit’s groans,, the Spirit’s pleading is beyond expression. 

That is how much the Spirit cares, how much the Spirit is in touch with our needs, with the needs of those we love, and those they love.

Prayer isn’t some empty time of waiting for an appeal to be heard and decided.  It isn’t a time to do out of a sense of obligation, either to God or to those who ask.

It is the time we have been given to walk with God, to see His heart, to realize His love for them is even deeper than ours.  THat He cares more for those we intercede for than He does for flowers and birds, and if he cares for them and makes them beautiful bow much more for us is He active, then we can relax, we can be at peace.

Such is this priceless gift of prayer, our time with God. And like the other sacramental times, we need to slow it down hear his voice. To let Him comfort our tears, to let Him still our anxious hearts, to help us realize He is with us….even when we don’t know what to pray.

He is with us…

If that is all prayer did,, was make us aware of that, it would be worth it.

Yet to realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are advocating for us, pleading for us, praying with us….. how that helps us… how incredible, how much more does it help us understand the heart of our incredible God who loves us!

Be at peace, the Lord is with you!

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

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 Truly Important Ministry….is Unseen but by a few.


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional thought for your day:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2  When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3  But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4  Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)

718         If only they could see the good things I do!… But don’t you realise that you are carrying them around like trinkets in a basket for people to see how fine they are? Furthermore, you must not forget the second part of Jesus’ command: “that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Nearly a year ago, I did the memorial service for an incredible lady.

The bulletin of that service still resides on the little refrigerator in my office, a reminder of our very simple, very special relationship.

Every Tuesday at 9 am, I would travel about 500 yards from my office, enter the house she had a bedroom in, and talk a moment, then pray for her.  No more than 15 minutes, more likely ten or so. On occasion, I would bring her the leftover flowers from church on Sunday,

And every time I left, even when she was too tired to talk, I felt lifted up.  She ministered to me far more than I ministered to her.

I knew she had a couple of incredible jobs in her life.  The executive assistant to a seminary president, the producer of a mega church pastor’s television ministry.  She didn’t talk about those things.  Rather it was the joy of hearing from this friend or that pastor.  It was about reading the sermons of those she knew.  It was always about someone else,

Given the honor of officiating at her service, I realized that day how much of an honor it was.  Men who served the church for decades and trained thousands of preachers were there.  They told me of the things my friend did, and how she ministered to them for decades.  How she helped and raised money for seminarians and worked for equity among the staff. How she interacted with world famous preachers ( I still love the story of her moving a bicycle rack to protect a parking spot for Billy Graham – and how he helped her move it back where it belonged when he got there! )

Yet I knew none of this as I visited her, as I prayed for her, as we looked at Roses and carnations and lilies and marveled at the hand of God that created the beauty we observed.   I simply knew a lady whose bright eyes ministered to me as I prayed for her, a  lady who lived so simply, so beautifully that I looked forward to visiting her each week.

I think she got the passages above and the incredible things she did in life weren’t paraded around, for her reward was to hear Jesus welcome her home.  Looking back on a life full of incredible service to God wasn’t her style, it wasn’t what she counted as important. Rather it was finding God’s peace, as a neighborhood pastor stopped by, and she could fill his life with God’s peace, even as she rejoiced in a small time of prayer.

I miss my friend – but thank God for what she taught me about ministry and walking with God, watching Him at work.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2995-2999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Time Management and the Church


St Francis Catholic Church

This was the church of my parochial school… a place where relationships were formed… with our students and with God

A devotional thought for the Day:

42 They spent their time learning the apostles’ teaching, sharing, breaking bread, n and praying together.  Acts 2:42 NCV

Chapter 7 Baptism into union with Jesus is the sign of our new spiritual identity with the Triune God and with each other in the church. In baptism Christians embrace the new life that is the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
Chapter 8 The spiritual life is a living into our baptism—dying to all that is sin and death, rising through the new birth into the new life modeled by Jesus, the one who images humanity completely united to God’s original purposes for creation. The spiritual life contemplates the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ and participates in the purposes of God for humanity.
Chapter 9 The spiritual life is disciplined by the rule of steadfastness, fidelity, and obedience; it attends to prayer, study, and work; it meets God in daily life, in material things, and in people.
Chapter 10 The spiritual life is nourished by the church, which is the continued presence of the incarnate Jesus in and to the world. The spiritual life is nurtured by worship that sings, prays, preaches, and enacts the divine embrace in its daily prayer, weekly celebration, and yearly attention to God’s saving embrace in the services of the Christian Year. (1) 

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

A friend put up a meme the other day, that testified to the power of a good hug, one of those so powerful that you can feel the other person’s heart beat, and the ability it has to calm you down and assure you that everything will be all right. I experienced those kinds of hugs on vacation, as some of my friends from junior high got together 38 years after we had last seen each other. It was remarkable and refreshing.  (thanks, Ana, Dina, Christos, Danny, Glenn, and Brian!)

It is the kind of life the church had in its infancy, one we call koinonia or living in communion with each other.  We become a community that is incredibly close, and there for each other.  It is hard to explain, the level of such a relationship, where even years melt away as…. I can think of no other word… the intimacy of the communion is restored. ( Not physical intimacy as in sexual intimacy, but a connection of souls)

Webber would note that such an embrace is possible because of God, of His drawing us into His story, of Him invading ours, not just to purge us of our sin, but to embrace us, to heal us, to bring us into the depth of His peace. The outline of his chapters above shows how this happens in baptism and the spiritual life that is created as we learn to walk with God. This is what Pope Francis was talking about when he mentions our service and ministry of tenderness that begins with a personal (intimate) encounter with God.   If not a part of our lives we will (and still do when we forget to return there) burnt out, we will be overwhelmed.  But with God’s embrace, and with those around us who likewise are locked in His embrace, we are safe… and can find the rest we need, even as we hurt.

Webber went on from the start of the Divine Embrace to note that this spiritual life, this divine embrace is nourished in the gathering of people known as the church.  It is there we find the presence of the incarnate Christ in the world (this is why some call the church our mother and say salvation is not found apart from her! )  As we pray and worship, as we continue in the apostles teaching of the Word of God (Jesus) as revealed in the word of God (scripture)  as we take and eat the body of Christ, and take and drink His blood, poured out to remove all of our sin and restore our relationship with God, this divine embrace, this intimate relationship with God is restored, and it envelops all of us.  

This early description of the church in Acts talks of this – look at what they did! It doesn’t say they held endless meetings or held strategy meetings for growth.  It says that they did the things which reminded us and strengthened our awareness of God’s embrace.  

Maybe it is the time we got back to being the church, rather than doing church.  Our people need it, we need it. and oddly enough God treasures it far more than we can realize.  For He sent Jesus to minister to us, even to the point of offering His life as a sacrifice, that we could be held in God’s hands…

Time management in the church?  Where is our time of understanding God’s word, praying together, sharing our lives and meals together, and sharing in the Eucharist?  It may seem too simple, but the joy we will find being those God called together will be far more contagious than anything we can plan.  

The Lord is with you! It is time to manage our time so that we spend most of it Celebrating that Divine Embrace!

 

 

 

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

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.

A Problem: How We Talk About Sin Has Changed.


Devotional Thought of the Day:

61 Knowing that his followers were complaining about this, Jesus said, “Does this teaching bother you? 62 Then will it also bother you to see the Son of Man going back to the place where he came from? 63 It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life.  John 6:61-63 NCV

Luther, too, employed this “core” as unquestioningly in his catechism as the Council of Trent did in the Roman catechism. That is to say: every statement about the Faith is ordered to the four basic elements: the Creed, the Our Father, the Decalogue, and the sacraments. The whole foundation of Christian life is thereby included—the synthesis of the Church’s teaching as it is based on Scripture and Tradition. Christians find here what they are to believe (the Symbolum or Creed), what they are to hope (the Our Father), what they are to do (the Decalogue or Ten Commandments), and the ambience in which all this is to be accomplished (the sacraments). Today, this fundamental structure has been abandoned in many areas of catechesis with results that are plainly evident in the loss of the sensus fidei among the younger generations, which are often unable to take a comprehensive view of their religion.

Although all nations see the horrible confusion, vices, and grievous calamities of the human race and feel the burden of sin, yet only the church of God teaches both where sin comes from and what it is and hears the Word of God concerning divine wrath and present and eternal punishments. And though human wisdom teaches us how to guide morals [and] disapproves and punishes actions against common reason, yet it does not recognize what is inherent in the consideration of sin, namely guilt before God or the wrath of God. Alexander saw that he had acted shamefully when he killed Clitus and he mourned as a result, because he made a judgment contrary to nature, but he did not mourn because he had offended God or because he was guilty before God. But the church points out the wrath of God and teaches that sin is a far greater evil than human reason thinks. Nor does the church reprove only external actions which are in conflict with the law of God or reason, as philosophy does; but it reproves the root and the fruit, the inner darkness of the mind, the doubts concerning the will of God, the turning away of the human will from God and the stubbornness of the heart against the law of God. It also reproves ignoring and despising the Son of God. These are grievous and atrocious evils, the enormity of which cannot be told. Therefore Christ says, “The Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me, and of righteousness because I go to the Father, and of judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged” [John 16:8–11].

It is now the third generation since the decline of the church in America began.

I have heard many theories about each of the generations as those in the church grieve over their absence.  We mourned the boomers who came and went, sometimes coming back.  Their kids, my generation, some either came and stayed, but others fell aside and rarely come back, even for Christmas and Easter.  It is any wonder why we think the millennials won’t come?

Our situation could be described in the words in blue above, the desperate times, the confusion, the carelessness towards vice and greed.  Those words are nearly 500 years old, but so reflective of our days today.

Except the church has forgotten about how to teach and preach about sin. Part of the church would ignore sinful acts, thoughts, deeds.  The same part would love to condemn and even crucify some specific sins that abhor them. But our focus (and I do mean our) is on “sins” rather than sin.  It is the symptoms that concern us, rather than the cause.  It is act, the thought, the deed that we either want to justify or condemn.

And because we are so two faced in the church, those outside the church only hear our rants about sins and sinners, and never about the issue, sin.

One of the reasons for teaching the basics of the faith with the outline of Commandments, Creed, Prayer, Sacraments was that it causes us to deal with sin, not just sins.  It causes us to face the evil that we live with, that we are held hostage by, that we love and we hate.  To deal not just with sins, the individual thoughts, words and actions that are contrary to scripture, but we must deal with the root cause.

Sin. That which divides us from God. divides us from each other, and shatters us personally.

That’s what needs to be dealt with, that’s the evil that has to be overcome in this world.

Our evil.  Your’s and mine.

That’s what Jesus did.

That’s what we all need to hear – no matter the generation, no matter the age.  That’s what we’ve taught for generations… what we need to teach again.

To give them the hope we all need.

Church – get that straight.. give them hope to deal with their brokenness – help them realize God still loves them, will cleanse them, heal them, declare them to be His own.

They will come for that.. they always have.

 

 

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.

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

When a Command isn’t just Law…


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

73 You created me, and you keep me safe; give me understanding, so that I may learn your laws. 74 Those who honour you will be glad when they see me, because I trust in your promise. 75 I know that your judgements are righteous, LORD, and that you punished me because you are faithful. 76 Let your constant love comfort me, as you have promised me, your servant.  GNT Psalm 119:73-76

God “commanded” the world into existence (Ps 33:9; Isa 45:12). All creatures and elements therefore obey his command (cf. I Kgs 17:4; Job 37:12; Ps 78:23). God also directs the course of history by decreeing crucial events; indeed no determinative event happens without God’s ordaining it (Lam 3:37). Indeed he decrees that his people be victorious (Ps 44:4 [H 5]).
What God commands to be done, he provides the means to accomplish, e.g. he instructed Moses concerning the building of the cultic furniture and buildings; then he inspired Bezalel and Oholiab with the Spirit of wisdom to be able to accomplish the work (Ex 31:2–6; 35:30–36:1). Regarding the making of these objects the text first details the instructions and then describes Israel’s careful fulfillment of God’s commandment (Ex 25–30; 36–39; Lev 8; cf. Ex 39:5, 7, 32, 42f.).

Over the last year and a half, one of my Bible Studies has been slowly working through Psalm 119.  Over and over it talks about the joy that is found in the law of God, in His commands, in His directives, in His ordinances!

The challenge is that we Lutherans tend see this only as Law – the commands that we cannot hope to keep, and therefore find ourselves. condemned.  My old denomination as well had this problem, as it divided the covenants of God into Law and Promises.

We hear Law, we head commandment, we hear precept and our mind automatically goes into “theology mode”.  This is God’s command, we have to fear when we hear it because we cannot hope to meet its demands, it will only point out our sin.

But that is not how the Psalmist continually refers to God’s law in Psalm 119, and in most of the Psalms.  It is a delight, a joy, something that grabs our attention and holds it, breathes life into us!  It inspires and empowers us.

It is not just what we refer to as the terms of the covenant, or the law which we properly distinguish from gospel. It is the entire Covenant, the law and gospel complete and in perfect tension.  The entirety of theology, the word of God complete.  Our need for salvation, His saving us at the cross of Christ.

As the apostle Paul put it so beautifully,

3  Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4  Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love 5  God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.” Ephesians 1:3-5 (TEV)

This is what God tells us He established by His very commands from the beginning.  It is His reason, His word, it is Christ’s pleasure and purpose, as well as the Father’s and the Holy Spirits.

The quote in blue, for the word law in the psalm quote, coems from a Hebrew Lexicon.  It states it well, what He commanded, He establishes the means to accomplish, indeed the entire Trinity is invested in making it come to pass.

For us, so that we could be His people, His children, so that we would know Him as our God, our benevolent, loving, caring, comforting Father.  So He has commanded this to be, and so it is!

Let that bring you great peace, great joy!  What God has established, ordained, commanded, made His law is now.  You are His.  AMEN!

Hartley, John E. “1887 צָוָה.” Ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1999 : 757. Print.

 

Civil Rights and/or Following Jesus…


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
29  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (TEV)

7  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. 8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross. Philippians 2:7-8 (TEV)

413         Aspire to have no more than one right: that of fulfilling your duty.

I often hear fellow believers and even those who are ministers of the gospel talking about our civil rights being infringed upon, and even warning us that they are being taken away.   Our freedom of speech, our freedom to assemble, our freedom of religion, our freedom to own guns.

They are being stripped away we are warned, we have to rise up and defend these rights.
I have to wonder what would happen if the church instead rose up to love, to serve, to sacrifice for others, to follow the path that Jesus walked, living life as a servant.  A servant who has no rights, whose focus is on pleasing His master, fully assured that His master will care for him.

Ask yourself this morning, which are you more attached to, your civil rights, or the yoke of Jesus?  Which are you more likely to fight for, your ability to have free speech or the eternal life of the one who would hinder your free speech?   Which will matter at the end of the day, having your voice heard in Washington D.C., or having your voice heard as His by those crying in grief, or those struggling with sin?

It’s a hard question, and like me, you are probably lining up a list of “buts”.  Thoughts like, “if we don’t defend our freedom of speech and freedom of religion then we won’t be able to share Christ’s love…”  Here’s the harder question, with all these rights, and with our focus on them, are we sharing His love, is our money and time going to that, or to fighting for the rights, funding and working for those we think will defend them?

A hard question indeed.

Will we ask it?

Will we take up the right we have as Jesus’s co-workers in the ministry of reconciliation? Will we see the wonder of shattered relationships healed,  of the guilt and shame being washed away?  Will we see our burdens lifted, our anxieties fade away as we see the glory of Christ revealed?  These are the things Jesus fought for, our access to the Father, our knowing His love and mercy, our being transformed into His likeness as the power of the Holy Spirit is at work.

Will we trust in God, depend on Him, walk with Him,

The Lord is with you!  May He be revealed in your life, and may His glory and love bring you joy, as it shatters the darkness!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1856-1857). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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