Category Archives: Theology in Practice

Lord, teach us to pray…but how do we handle the silent times?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

1  Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (NLT2)

For the person who loves Jesus, prayer—even prayer without consolation—is the sweetness that always puts an end to all sorrow: he goes to pray with the eagerness of a child going to the sugar bowl after taking a bitter dose of medicine.

The words from Luke’s gospel above lead to the Lord’s Prayer.

As I read them, I feel great gratitude to the unknown disciple, for he asked something we all needed him to ask.

Lord, how do we talk with the Father?  How do we pray?  What do we pray for?  How does this all work?

Teach us…

And so He does.

Luther’s small catechism does a great job explaining how each of the petitions helps our trust in God, what we pray for and what it means to know God is answering that request in our lives, in our world, in our time.

These times become such a blessing, as we realize the promises of God, that as we open up to him, the relief and peace is amazing…

And even, as St Josemaria notes, times where God seems silent when we aren’t immediately comforted, become times where peace pervades, for we know He is at work.  The more we pray, the more our eyes are opened up to God at work in our lives, the more we trust Him when we don’t hear or see the answer immediately.

But that takes time, time to see that confidence build, time getting used to seeing God in the unexpected, in the broken, in the moments where reconciliation is needed.  Getting used to seeing Him working in ways unexpected, and in ways that leave you in awe.

As we get used to that, then we run to Him more frequently, we do so with greater expectation, like the child St. Josemaria describes.

It is hard to explain, this desire to run to God our Father, to just pour out our pain and anxiety, ot talk of the future, to hand over our sins and failures, things that He promises to deal with so that we can live in peace with Him.

That doesn’t mean prayer is a perfect art, or that we still don’t struggle.  We do.. and yet that is a blessing as well… for then we learn again – He is there.

So pray, let it all out..and enter His peace.

AMEN

 

 

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

Understanding the Wrath of a Loving God.

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - Resurrection

Devotional Thought of the Day:
10  But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.    Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT2)

But the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well as God’s love. So does the New. What is the wrath of God then? Is it real or not?
It is real, but it is not part of God Himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how His love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from Him. The very light that is meant to help us appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness. The mother’s embrace can appear as the worst imaginable torture to the angry child who wants only to fight. Thus some of the saints say the very fires of Hell are made of the love of God but experienced as wrath by the spiritually insane.

Over the years, I’ve encountered two primary attitudes toward the idea of God’s wrath.

Neither is accurate.

The first is to ignore or deny that God can and will pour out His wrath on those who choose to dwell in sin. This usually goes along with the fact that we disagree with what sin is, as we defend those we love engaged in it, or we rejoice in that form of sin ourselves. Because of this, we simply can fathom how God could be so mad at the sin as to condemn us for it.

The second used to be more prevalent in the church, and that is to see wrath as purely an action that is driven by God’s righteous anger. Those lousy people (and sometimes including us) deserve to get punished, and God gets painted as a sadist who enjoys watching them suffer.  In reality, the sadist (or masochist if we think we deserve the wrath) is us.  We see a lot of this in those people who have wanted to portray this virus (and the ones before it like AIDS) as a form of God’s almighty anger, and a foretaste of the wrath to come at the judgment.

Both are wrong, and in my opinion, so change the image of God that they are heretical.

Ezekiel tells us several times that God does not take joy in the death of the wicked. he also divinely shares that repentance by those who are evil will see them forgiven, not punished, restored, not condemned.  Let me say it again, God doesn’t take joy in the wicked. Never has, never will.

Similarly,  the Apostle Peter tells us that God is patient with us because He doesn’t want any of us to perish. The apocryphal picture of Peter at the gate of heaven allowing some and barring others is misleading – Peter and the church being given the keys is about freeing people from bondage – allowing them to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 16) even as the church rocks the gates of hell to free people from its embrace.

Are there good people that will reject God that Ezekiel mentions? Yes

Are there people who will choose the bondage of sin, despite the availability of grace and forgiveness, surely.

And this is where God’s wrath comes in, not from a sense of anger, but the sense of love. While we may see it as punitive, the goal for God is restorative.  It is not contrary to His nature of love, but love requires it.  Kreeft makes this point clear above in the words shared purple – a point that C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book (the Great Divorce) to demonstrate. Simply put, those who end up suffering in Hell would choose their idol and their sin, they would embrace its cost, rather than enjoy the presence of God.

Only once has it pleased God to pour out His wrath, and that was on Jesus.

It was God’s good plan this translation says, others say it gave God pleasure, it pleased Him, to pour out that wrath on Jesus.

On Jesus…

No one else.

And the satisfaction of restoring people to God is all worth it.  The satisfaction for restoring you to God was why Jesus endured the cross – that is the glory was Hebrews 12 describes.

All other times God disciplines and pours out His wrath is the hardest act of love, the ay to embracing an angry child, for, in that embrace, Jesus takes into Himself our sin, and pays the price.

With that understanding of God’s wrath, we no longer have to deny it, we no longer have to project it on others. We now longer have to judge and condemn, we can simply urge people to let God love them and to rejoice as He does, and they change, relaxing and knowing His peace.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 128.

Measuring a Church’s (and Its Pastor’s) Effectiveness

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

41 Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. 42 They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” John 4:41–42 (CEV) — 

1. Liturgy is for all. It must be “catholic”, i.e., communicable to all the faithful without distinction of place, origin and education. Thus it must be “simple”. But that is not the same as being cheap. There is a banal simplism, and there is the simplicity which is the expression of maturity. It is this second, true simplicity which applies in the Church

I often hear church leaders talking about how effective a church is, and I hear some trying to measure churches to determine whether this church is viable, whether it is still worth the “investment” of talent and treasure made in it over the years.

A lot of these studies are based on numerical analysis – has the church grown, have their offerings been stable, what kind of turnover has occurred among staff and other leadership. Consultants will come in and do surveys for larger churches and denominations.  They, in turn, pass this information on to smaller churches, which but into the theories and lose morale, and eventually close. (That larger churches often benefit statistically from this is another story)

After all, numbers are important, and statistics tell a story that might be hard to refute without knowing the true story of the faithful. In fact, we often do not hear the stories, because the statistics seem so conclusive.

No one would have believed that a church community would have been viable in a remote Samaritan Village. Never mind that the person that got the ball rolling would have been a woman with a past. No one except Jesus.

But look at the statement they make to her!  They had moved from believing in God because she had told them, to believe in God because they had experienced Him. What an amazing statement this is!  One that every pastor should desire to hear! To know our people are experiencing the incredible, immeasurable love of Christ  – not just hearing about it second hand!

I am not saying they go past needing the guidance of spiritual shepherds and prophets, that is part of our role, but they resonate with the teachings of Christ – they realize that God is speaking to them, especially during sacramental times, or when God is silent. Or they recognize that it is the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, and comforting them as the Spirit cleanses and heals them.

This level of maturity makes a huge difference in a church. And it will see the church do things that go beyond logic, as they serve those around them. People will care, (and struggle when care is difficult) they will give beyond what is reasonable, they will be there when no one else would.

So how does a pastor do this?  I think Pope Benedict wrote about it well. To present the gospel in a simple yet mature way. To not cheapen the masses, worship services, and Bible Studies that we give. Rather  – we need to make them communicate the incredible love that God has for His people – so that they know it – so that they experience it, so that worship is full of the joy that comes, even in the midst of trauma and lament.

The more they know, the more they experience, the more mature they get, the more they can echo what the lady was told  – “we are certain that He is the Savior of the World.

Therefore… out savior.

If our people know this, then we’ve done our job… and the work of the Holy Spirit through us has been effective.

Let us rejoice when we see God working hits way through our churches.  And may e find a way to support it, whether it is 25 people working together in Southgate or 150 in Cerritos, or 5000 in some other place.

AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 122.

Encounter God… and See! A Sermon on John 9 during the pandemic

Encounter God… and See
John 9

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ help you to see Him, and see Him at work in your life!

DO you believe

Towards the end of the encounter of the Blind man and Jesus, Jesus asks a question to the man that was formerly blind.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

What Jesus is asking him is whether he believes in the Messiah and whether He believes He has come.  It is one of the titles a Jewish person would have known referred to the Messiah,

Do you believe in the Messiah?  Jesus asks.

The man encountering Jesus replies, “Who is he, sir?  I want to believe in Him!”

The encounter then takes a new direction – as Jesus reveals to the one born blind he is the Messiah.

Before we deal with that, I want to ask another question, an interesting one.

Did he only believe because he saw Him?

Did the Blind man only believe in Jesus because he saw Him?

Or another way to phrase the same question, if the man had encountered Jesus, but Jesus did not give him the ability to see, would he have believed in Jesus?

It is an important question and one we need to face….

Will we only believe and trust in God, if He does what we desire most?

Will we only turn to Him if He keeps us safe from the flu or the coronavirus?  Will we only trust in Him if He heals our broken land, and ends the isolation that is so affecting all of us?

Will we only believe if God does things our way?

And if He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, will we reject Him?  Will we refuse to believe in Him? Trust in Him?

Depend on Him?

There is our question for the day… and a hard one.

The Dark Question

It’s one, if we are honest, we are afraid to ask.  Even if we aren’t sure of the answer.

Matter of fact, that is why we need to ask this!

Because we need to come face to face with the question.

Is our faith in God, is our being a Christian based on God doing what we desire?

Is it based on God caring for us the way we want?

If I am honest, the answer would be yes, at times. My faith wavers, it struggles, and I have to be able to admit that. I get frustrated when things don’t go my way, and I hurt in times like this.

And this passage gives me the comfort to admit this… and then reach out to God… and say where are you?

Why I can

The first is this – Jesus was working in the man’s life way before he asked the question. He was giving the blind man the ability to see and doing things that though the guy didn’t know who Jesus was, he knew something was happening that could only be accountable to God.

Back in verse 17 the man stated, “I think He must be a prophet!”  And then in verse 33 he said, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it!”

He saw God at work – even before he truly understood Jesus was the Messiah before Jesus was the Savior. He recognized something out of the ordinary was happening, something that couldn’t be normal, or just a coincidence.

While for us that may not be healing, God is still going to be at work in our lives way before we recognize that the Holy Spirit is carefully opening us up, and calling us into that place where we begin to heal, where we see God at work

Where we can then hear the question asking us whether we believe and as we go… uhhh… or ask this question or that one, we see Jesus revealed to us. And as He is revealed the Holy Spirit grants us both faith and repentance.

The Holy Spirit does that as well, working in us, revealing to us Jesus’s work through the gospel and then sacramentally, as God cleanses us from Sin and sets us up in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Then, the Spirit has worked in us, we are no longer blind to the work of God, we can say with the man in today’s gospel, “Yes, Lord, I believe!”

How can we behold Jesus today?

You see that is the key, not saying I believe because of this argument, or that apologetic.  We believe because God is at work, and we, even as limited as our vision is, begin to see Him at work. We encounter Him doing something in our lives.

I am not saying our salvation is based on our experience or our emotion. I am saying that as God is at work, it becomes hard to deny it.

So how do we “see” Jesus at work today?

I mean he’s not down at the hospital, or the Braille institute, opening the eyes of the blind. My eyesight isn’t that bad, so where is He? Where can see that He has worked?

I see Him in the eyes of those who commune, I heard Him in the words of those who respond to me, “and also with you!” and “he is risen indeed! And therefore, we are risen indeed!” In the voices of those singing His praises.

But I see Him the most as His word and sacraments breathe life and power into the lives of the people around me. As I see people reconcile with those they have offended and forgive those who have offended them.  I see it in the eyes of those I tell that God has forgiven them of all their sin, and as people ask the hard questions, the ones that cause us to have no other option but to trust in God, and in the midst of that trauma, find peace and serenity that goes beyond anything we can logically explain.

The Spirit is at work within you – because He has promised to be, and God always keeps those promises.  This is our encounter today – wherever we are.

So be still… and know and see, He is God!  AMEN!

Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought fo the Day:

“What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. 22 Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV

Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.
There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills oof our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best o our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.

Churches, Worship, and the Missing Generation?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:

After a while the people of Joshua’s generation died, and the next generation did not know the LORD or any of the things he had done for Israel. 7 The LORD had brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they had worshiped him. But now the Israelites stopped worshiping the LORD and worshiped the idols of Baal and Astarte, as well as the idols of other gods from nearby nations.  Judges 2:10-13  CEV

On the other hand, we must acknowledge that, together with the affirmation of this rich inheritance with its high technical demands, there is a desire to see the liturgy completely open to all, a desire for the common participation of all in the liturgical action, including liturgical singing, and this, inevitably, must put a curb on artistic requirements.

We should, then, learn what the sacraments are, what purpose they serve, and how they are to be used. We will find that there is no better way on earth to comfort downcast hearts and bad consciences. In the sacraments we find God’s Word—which reveals and promises Christ to us with all his blessing and which he himself is—against sin, death, and hell. Nothing is more pleasing and desirable to the ear than to hear that sin, death, and hell are wiped out.

When I was in High School and College, it was said that my generation (the early GenX’ers were leaving the church in droves. The worship wars were just starting to ramp up, the Seeker Sensitive movement had yet to begin, and the church changed from a place where the Gospel was preached to a place where scripture was exposited and doctrine was defended.  Still to this day, there are not a lot of people in my age group in the church.

I have seen all sorts of plans over the years to reach them, and now it seems the church has given up on us, and now they mourn the Millenials not being in church.  Now all sorts of ideas are being floated by boomers to reach them as if they are the last hope for the church in the world. We’ve even labeled this time as the “post-Christian” era, and strategize about how to consolidate our resources, closing churches as if the buildings were nothing more than fiscal assets, and our concern is not “return on investment” but eerily similar, where we make decisions based on a ratio membership against property value.

It is not unlike the time of the Judges, the time where a generation or two seems to be missing, and the church desperate for survival looks to consultants and business experts to guide them.

At the same time, the worship wars have gone underground, become more programmatic, and worship, whether contemporary, tradition or liturgical, has become more spectator driven and less participative. We’ve got it backward in many ways.  Pastors and priests should be facing the people when they are proclaiming the gospel in the sacraments, revealing the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Worship teams should be facing the cross and altar when facilitating the worship of God, rather than standing with their back to the altar.  In both cases, man is standing in the way of others being able to see and interact with God.

Pope Benedict was right, we have to put a curb on the artistic “performance” of the skilled musicians and liturgists, so that people can participate, so they can sing, so they can pray, so they can communicate with God!

This is why Luther was so adamant about people knowing how the sacraments are to be used, to comfort terrified consciousness, to communicate peace, their promises being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit as He transforms each and every one of them, from every ethnicity, from every language, from every generation.

It is this participation in worship, encouraging and empowering people to interact, not just with other believers, but together interacting with God, that was missing in the days of the judges.  They didn’t share what they saw God doing in their midst in the past, in the present, and the hope of what He would do in the time to come.

They didn’t share what they saw God doing in the sacramental acts at the Tabernacle, they didn’t share in the promises of the covenant. And so the generation that followed didn’t know God, didn’t know the benefit of walking with Him, so they searched out other gods.

But they did it, one by one, family by family. What was to be passed down, the work of God, the covenant describing the relationship, was all not passed on, but simply treasured in their own hearts.

If in these days, we are to see the church revive, we have to help people see God. Older people, younger people, people of every description you can imagine. We have to help them worship the God who reveals His love, His mercy, His care to them… and not get in the way while doing it…

Let’s call them now… and plead with them, “let God reconcile you to Him….”

AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 99.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 111.

When the Struggle is Real….

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

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

24  The LORD doesn’t hate or despise the helpless in all of their troubles. When I cried out, he listened and did not turn away. 25  When your people meet, you will fill my heart with your praises, LORD, and everyone will see me keep my promises to you. 26  The poor will eat and be full, and all who worship you will be thankful and live in hope. Psalm 22:24-26 (CEV)

Joshua, please come and rescue us! The Amorite kings from the hill country have joined together and are attacking us. We are your servants, so don’t let us down. Please hurry!” Joshua 10:6 CEV

Grace and mercy are there where Christ on the cross takes your sin from you, bears it for you, and destroys it. To believe this firmly, to keep it before your eyes and not to doubt it, means to view the picture of Christ and to engrave it in yourself. Likewise, all the saints who suffer and die in Christ also bear your sins and suffer and labor for you, as we find it written, “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfil the command of Christ” [Gal. 6:2]. Christ himself exclaims in Matthew 11 [:28], “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will help you.” In this way you may view your sins in safety without tormenting your conscience. Here sins are never sins, for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ.

I sat in the E.R. hallway, trying to come up with something to calm my anxious soul.  The lady, screaming profanities at the top of her voice didn’t help, but I was able to pray for her, and the staff that tried to calm her down. The flood of traffic, and the delay at seeing how I was bothered and comforted me at the same time.  After all, if they were really worried about me, wouldn’t they have me in a bed, and be constantly looking in on me?

So I sat in the hall… trying to block out the noises, trying to find some sort of peace.

My prayer was not so different from the people sending word to Joshua ( whose name is shared with our Savior Jesus) Lord have mercy!  Come help… make everything all right.

It took a while, six hours later to say I had severe gas bloating….

Six hours that seemed like a year.

As I have struggled with a few serious health issues over there, I will admit, I have wondered if God hates me. I have wondered if this sin or that is not forgiven, and that is why I have to suffer. I wonder if the suffering I help people endure in the churches I pastor is my fault, It is not a challenge to spiral, to let depression or anxiety fill the space where I forgot God was…

He is still there of course, as Psalm 22 reminds us.  He has not forsaken us in our sufferings, He is there. Reminding each other of that..of God who is present, who is merciful, who is loving,,. well, that is how we carry each other’s burdens.

As to sin being the cause of our personal suffering, and the suffering all around us, consider the words Luther was able to pen…

Here sins are never sins… for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ!

Be at peace, Christ has not only overcome the world, He has overcome your world.

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 105.

Almost Tempted to…but I can’t…

Jesus Laughing

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn!  Deut 9:4-6 CEV

Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.

It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.

Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.

Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise

The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.

It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)

Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.

They are that significant, at least to me.

But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith.  So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.

The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.

We aren’t good enough.

We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.

And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.

Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay.  We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.

That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more.  We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle.  It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.

That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God.  Pope Benedict is right on in that quote.  Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.

That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.

In your soul and mine. (gulp)

Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.

You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…

That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 88–89.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.

Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for the Day:
27  Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)

6  Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7  Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8  And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9  It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)

For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.

Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.

I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.

Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.

Only one.

It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.

Does your liturgy,  your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?

The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.

Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way?  If not, reset them.  Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy?  If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them.  Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.

Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time.  So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.

Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all.  And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.  

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.

Do We Have the Courage to “shut up?” Some thoughts about worship…

ST MARY OF PEACE

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Stay quiet before Yahweh, wait longingly for him, do not get heated over someone who is making a fortune, succeeding by devious means. Psalm 37:7 (NJB)

The continual recitation of the canon aloud results in the demand for “variety”, but the demand is insatiable, however much these eucharistic prayers may proliferate. There is only one solution: we must address ourselves once again to the intrinsic tension of the reality itself. In the end even variety becomes boring. This is why, here especially, we are in such urgent need of an education toward inwardness. We need to be taught to enter into the heart of things. As far as liturgy is concerned, this is a matter of life or death. The only way we can be saved from succumbing to the inflation of words is if we have the courage to face silence and in it learn to listen afresh to the Word. Otherwise we shall be overwhelmed by “mere words” at the very point where we should be encountering the Word, the Logos, the Word of love, crucified and risen, who brings us life and joy.

It happens every so often, when a worship leader or the rubrics (the small italic letters in our hymnals or bulletins) call for silence, that a musician determines that he must fill the silence with a solo.  Sure, it is well-meant, and not ostentatious. just a little light playing.

But there is a reason for silence, a reason for the awkward feeling of emptiness. the time when we are left alone with our thoughts when we need to realize they aren’t on God.

It is awkward, it even may produce a moment or two of guilt and regret.

That doesn’t mean we should ditch those moments.

In fact, we need them!  Desperately need them.

We need to enter the heart of worship, as the old worship song describes, the moment of awe in the presence of God, a presence so powerful we cannot speak.  It is not that we dare not, rather, we need to wait for God to speak.

We need to be comforted by Him, we need to enter into His presence to hear that He is taken care of our sin, and we belong with Him.

We can’t do that if we are trying to fill each and every moment with sound, with novelty, with trying to make things fresh and new.  Eventually, you can only overload people with so much, before the stimulation overload numbs them, and their participation is minimized.  ( Try playing five songs without a break, each one with the congregation clapping – how many are left at the 13-minute mark? )

I am not saying we do the stuff dry and without meaning either.  And i don’t think Ratzinger/Pope Benedict was saying that either.  Rather I think his point is making sure people realize that they are in the presence of God…..

and are loved by Him…

and have the time of silence ot know this… to realize it, not just as an academic point, but in the depth of their souls, the place that needs the most healing.  Time to descend to that place, and there, even as we cry out because of the pain, we find God at work, cleansing the wounds, healing them, comforting us…

We need this.

For it is the heart of our worship…

Lord, help us to shut up… and hear You, see You at work comforting us, and healing us.  AMEN!)

 

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 73.

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