Category Archives: Vatican II

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

How can we be in “Fellowship” with Those in Error? (or How can we not be?)

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:

51 When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of Him, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. 53 But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem.54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 
55 But He turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.  Luke 9:51-56

2  Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:2-6 (NLT)

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.14* For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour.15* They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities

But as the words of this decree show, the apostles did not want to impose an ordinance on the churches. For they say that no one should mind if his brethren do not correctly compute the time in celebrating Easter. The text of the decree is preserved in Epiphanius: “Do not calculate, but whenever your brethren of the circumcision do, celebrate it at the same time with them; even if they have made a mistake, do not let this bother you.”….  44 The apostles wisely admonished the reader neither to destroy evangelical liberty nor to impose a necessity upon consciences, since they tell him not to be bothered even if there has been a mistake in the calculations.

I have had to walk a few people through the same question in the last few weeks and to be honest, I have struggled with it as well.

If they are in error, do we separate ourselves from them (i.e. kick them out)?  Or who are we “in fellowship” with, and how much should that concern us.  For that matter, is fellowship something that is able to be constrained within a man-made,, man-defined organization?

And into that equation today is thrown a few more things to consider.  Two scripture passages, a quote from Vatican Council II’s Lumen Gentium, and a quote from the Lutheran Confessions.

All point to something we need to remember, fellowship is defined by God, as being united, first and foremost with God.  There is only one church, one body of Christ.  Paul is explicit in the quote from Ephesians, as he is in First Corinthians.  We are united to Christ, that is what defines us as the ecclesia, those called, those drawn into Jesus, and united to Him at the cross.

That’s why the Roman Catholic Council notes that there are many ways we are linked, including in our baptism, that we are honored by being called Christian. Even though we don’t agree with all they profess, and we don’t recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter.   That’s why the Lutheran Confessions clearly point out a time when the church chose unity over what had been declared doctrine, and praise and encourage loving our brothers enough to celebrate God’s grace, even if they are mistaken about the day and date.

Can we be comfortable with error?  Is there a point where the links are no more, where what binds us together is severed?  I suppose that if what bound someone to Jesus were severed, then the link between would be cut as well.  But the work of the church, even then, is to reconcile the one severed from Christ because of sin back to Christ.  There is still a link there, just as there was with the prodigal, though the prodigal didn’t know it.

And the Lutheran Confessions make it clear, there are some errors that seem extreme at the time, (i.e. food offered to idols, the dating and celebration of Easter, even the use of the spiritual gifts i  1 Cor. 14) that should not divide us, but that we can overlook those minor errors for the sake of the church, His church.

This means in the caring process, we may not commune together for a season, but it doesn’t stop us from praying for them and with them, it doesn’t stop us from talking, it doesn’t stop us from having the goal of being united in Christ Jesus.  Of making every effort to be united in the Spirit.  These times, where discipline is broken, where unity is hindered, the goal is still that unity, unity found in the grace and forgiveness and restoration that is the reason Jesus came in the first place.

So next time you look to win the argument, consider whether winning gives you the idea that you are the better or the more orthodox or Biblical believer…and consider whether your actions are conciliatory, or divisive…..

And then, do what builds up the body of Jesus….

 

 

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

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

Did Jesus Come For You?

nativityDevotional Thought of the Day:

15 While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also guests with Jesus and His disciples, because there were many who were following Him. 16 When the scribes m of the Pharisees saw that He was eating p with sinners q and tax collectors, r they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat s with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor,  but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:15-17

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.

It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity, those who think Jesus wouldn’t associate with them are the very ones He came to unite to himself.  And those, who think they are spiritually adept often miss out on the blessing.

I dare say that our liturgies have for too long aided and abetted this problem.  The look and sound more like the pious Pharisee than the broken tax-collector.  The content of our services, from the mass to vespers and then compline need to be in the language that is profitable, that is beneficial for those broken by the weight of sin.  It needs to resonate with their soul and reveal to them the love and mercy of God, their God, who would have them dwell in peace.

I think those at Vatican II and those who influenced the council’s deliberations were starting to see this.  That the liturgy was for all the people of God, not just those who knew the right actions, the right words, and could repeat them without knowing the power of their meaning.  ( I wish my own small part of Christianity would follow suit, but I fear it is heading away from such thoughts)

We desperately need to be formed by the word of God in our prayers, in our liturgy.  And by we, I don’t mean those on the membership roster of our church and the churches we trust.  It means all the people of God, those He died for, those He is drawing to himself, those who may fight now, only to be baptized tomorrow.  The people of God include all who don’t believe God’s mercy is available to them, for in their humility, they will receive it. Those who think they are good enough already, why would they bother? The liturgy can cause us to really cry out for His mercy, and express praise and wonder at God’s love seen as Jesus was slaughtered like a lamb, that we might live.

If the word is to form us, we have to be able to understand it, simply and without a dictionary, lexicon, and thesaurus by our side.  This message is to needed, to precious, to amazing to conceal it with elaborate words, and movements that have no meaning because they are not know, not explained, not heard.

We all, from the youngest to the oldest, from every continent and country, from every economic group, language group, everyone, needs to know that Jesus came for us all.  It is really a simple concept, one spoken originally in simple Hebrew, Aramaic, and common Greek.  We can and show do the same today so that the people God draws to us will know Him, as the Spirit reveals Him to them through our words, our music, our liturgy.

As we finalize our words for the Christmas celebration, may we do so, and may all those the Spirit draws near profit from them.  AMEN!

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

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The Truth about the Ministry.

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

Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days…

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 
37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit o in him?” Genesis 41:16, 37  HCSB

33. Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful34. For in the liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer.
Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read “which were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.

It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.

One of the most challenging things to teach on in the church is the concept of the ministry.  Specifically, who can and should preach and administrate/officiate the sacraments.  

Some would open up the doors to anyone to do so, and God can and does choose a group of diverse people to serve Him, that doesn’t mean all can/should preach, or administer the sacraments.  To follow this path leads to chaos, and everyone teaching what is right in their own eyes.  Even worse, when someone is speaking on God’s behalf, and by His order, there is doubt about it.  When we make the ministry about our “rights” to be the pastor, we aren’t listening to God.

Others would follow the opposite extreme, reducing every part of ministry to those who are called and ordained as pastors.  This would include things like evangelism and even to teach Bible studies.  This leaves the church weak, undernourished, and unable to meet the needs of a broken world.  The pastor surely is the primary messenger, when he is speaking God’s word” but that doesn’t make him the only servant of the church!

I wish it would be as simple for us as it was for Pharoah, that every person could see clearly whom God chose to shepherd them. That every shepherd could do their job perfectly, without fault or hesitation. Such a thing would be an incredible blessing.

Pastors and priests are human though, and we do screw up, sometimes royally.   We stand in God’s presence as we lead His people, and there are times we do act as Jesus, speaking for Him, feeding His people, drawing them to Him at the cross.  It is in those times where it is not our perfection that matters but His. We are at our best when we realize as Joseph did, that we aren’t able to, but God can.

You see the ministry is never about the man, it is about the Man whom he stands in for, the Man who works through our voices and our hands.  The ministry is about those who receive God’s word and promises, whom the sacraments, these sacred moments are there to bless.  And when we make it about the man standing there, preaching, standing there, putting Christ’s body into the hands of hungry souls, that we have sinned.  We then have taken our eyes off of the Lord, off of the promises, and orbit outside the relationship in order to critique and judge it.

This is contrary to the gift Jesus gives the church, as a simple gift of men He calls the church to recognize His call upon.  Men who are qualified to serve based on God’s teaching.  Men whom He will speak through, and limit their words to drawing people into God’s glory.  men who see the ministry as simply God and the church, and find great joy in seeing them together.

 Focus there, on people hearing God say, “you are my people” and the people saying “You are our God!”  

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

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

The Search for Real Worship

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.” John 4:21 (Phillips NT)

17. In seminaries and houses of religious, clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual life. For this they will need proper direction, so that they may be able to understand the sacred rites and take part in them wholeheartedly; and they will also need personally to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as well as popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of the liturgy. In addition they must learn how to observe the liturgical laws, so that life in seminaries and houses of religious may be thoroughly influenced by the spirit of the liturgy.
18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.

When I was a child, my parents had a prayer meeting in our house, that lots of people attended.  It was not unusual for a few priests, a brother, a couple of Baptist pastors and an Assembly of God pastor to be present.  It was there I played guitar with Brother Michael, and there I learned to pray.

I also went to parochial school, and there we had masses and other services that were dedicated to God as well.  I would often serve as an altar boy and played the organ as well.  From those perspectives, I saw more of the mass and fell in love with the sacredness of it, even the parts I didn’t quite understand.

Since then, I’ve played and led praise bands, become a non-denomination pastor, then moved into the Lutheran Church where a form of the historic liturgy is our “style” of worship.  And yet the lessons from the prayer meetings and non-denom worship leading play into the planning of worship as well.

As I read Vatican II’s words in green this morning, I saw them trying to unify the two streams of worship I have known.  Starting with the pastoral training in seminaries, there must be part of that training that teaches the pastors and priests to worship God with all their heart, to understand and actively take part in the mysterion of God, to realize the Trinity is not just observing the mass, but participating in it.

Liturgy must be “lived” whether it is the historic liturgy or the common liturgy of prayer meetings and evangelical gathering.  Those facilitating it must get caught up in it themselves, so that while they are aware of the people’s participation, they first are praising God for all He is, in their life.

It’s not about being the best musician, the best singer, the perfect reader of scripture, the perfect liturgist. ( We can add ushers, altar guild members, sound techs, parishioners)  It is about knowing the presence of God in this place, of realizing the blessings He is pouring out, and responding with others, even helping them to do value this time with God.

These words we say, and in the liturgy they are all from scripture, are the words of God, scripture read and sang and breathed.  They are the words of life that kept Peter and the apostles bound to Jesus when everyone else ran away. They are the words, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states. that touch us. That the Spirit uses to draw us into Christ, to develop in us a dependence on Him, and in that dependence, to pour out all we are upon Him.

This isn’t something I think we teach people to do in a lecture, or even in a sermon.  It is something that is modeled and formed in them, and in order for that to happen, it must be modeled and formed in those who lead. Whether this is in a full liturgy, or in a back yard worship time that simply happens among friends.

God is with us, may we realize this, and help those who come to our churches, bible studies and prayer meetings realize it, and when they do, cry confidently, “Lord, have mercy on us”

 

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

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

Brutal Honesty; Atheism and Christianity

Devotional Thought for the Day:
14  “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.  Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)

For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.  (1)

God must become a reality for us, too, must be more real to us—no! not just more real—than the things we can grasp, so that to please God can become for us a criterion that is also a final liberation from the question of success.  (2)

As I read the words in blue this morning, I thought fo the articles and books I have read about post-modernism and the utter contempt in which some Christians hold those who claim to be atheist or agnostic.   I thought about the memes and quips and quotes which mock and condescendingly treat those whose struggle with God is not so different from our own.

Fifty-one years ago, or perhaps a little more, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church made a brutally honest statement about atheism.

They took responsibility for it, or perhaps, they noted that the Church has a hand, a responsibility for its origin.  For how could a religion (and atheism and agnosticism are informal religions develop counter to some other religion, if that religion wasn’t there?

The Catholic Church was brutal in its honesty, as we in other branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church should be.  We haven’t lived dependent upon God, and therefore our actions, our sin, our hypocrisy has so hurt and broken people that they rebel against God.  They strike out at Him, actively or simply by dismissing Him as a myth, and if we are honest, we know that we bear some responsibility for that.

Maybe it was the pastor who treated a young sinner without giving  him any hope of mercy, or people who turned their back on the young pregnant mom.  Maybe it was the elders or deacons who overlooked their friend’s abusive nature; and they didn’t rush to help his oppressed family.  ( Joe after all, was a good guy, don’t you know?)  Or maybe it was the Sunday school teacher, or confirmation instructor, who turned a deaf ear to questions that really mattered, that plagued the person they were instructing.

To be honest, as I think about such stories, I wonder why more people aren’t atheists, and more people are sure they can’t know whether God exists.

Even as I write this, I want you to be sure – if you were the person whose actions drove someone away from God, there is no time like the present to ask God to forgive you, assured of the forgiveness guaranteed at the cross.  Maybe consider, if you can still contact the person, that you ask their forgiveness as well. You would be surprised what and attempt at reconciliation does for healing wounds of the past, theirs and yours.

But for the future, how does the church stop creating atheists?  How do we stop de-churching those, as we have done in the past?

The obvious answer is seen in those verses above in red, to let the love of God shine through us.  Our light not being our skills, or incredible personality or personal stardom, but the simple love that reaches out and serves.  Whether it is greeting someone and asking how they are really doing, and humbly walking beside them in their pain, or praying for them, or helping them in any other of a myriad of ways.

In short, loving them as you love yourself, caring for them as you would desire others, as you would need others to care for you.   That is easy to say, and how do we do it?

At Vatican II there was a young scholar who would become Pope Benedict.  His words in blue pretty much sum up how we become a light, and how we see that it is never snuffed out.

Know God is with you, realize how real He is!  With Paul, oh I desire that you would explore the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for you, revealed in Jesus. His teachings, His miracles, His death, His resurrection, everything from HIs work in Creating this word to dying for it, till the day of Judgement is to communicate this love, this incredible, real, life-transforming, cleansing love.

And when we are realizing that love when our hearts and minds are finding rest as we look to Christ, we shine with His glory, the glory they will praise Him for, as they to are drawn into it.

This isn’t rocket science, it is simply worship in spirit and truth.

So go look to Christ, ask Him to be merciful and be in awe as He answers that more profoundly than you would even have thought possible.

He loves you. And through you, he would call His children home.

(So stop treating them as outsiders, and welcome them!)

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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

The Nature of Suffering and Ministry: Some thoughts on those criticizing Mother Theresa

Devotional THoguht for the Day:

41  He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 45  At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. Luke 22:41-45 (NLT)

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.  (1)

17 Alms could be listed here, (among the sacraments) as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises.  (2)

I read a critique about St. Theresa of Calcutta (still Mother Theresa to me) yesterday which said her being made a saint should be controversial because of two things.  The first is that she glorified suffering instead of relieving it, and that she had a strong missional spirit, to the extent she was accused of using her ministry to make proselytes.

I think the author has no idea of suffering, or to be more precise, he makes a generalization about suffering that is too short-sighted.  On top of that, he confuses proselytism with ministry. 

There is suffering that must be relieved – some of it simple, such as feeding and educating the poor.  Or the sacrifices that are made to relieve suffering in the midst of natural disaster and other traumatic experiences. W e need to be there – to alleviate what we can – and to ensure that as we do, they know they are loved.

The is suffering that cannot be relieved (especially in the short run) without a miraculsou healing, which can and does happen.  Yet it is not on-demand, and only God knows why in this case and not that. Such are the poor with leprosy Theresa and her co-workers ministered to, or those on hospice I helped our nurses minister to  as their staff chaplain.  The answer here is not to simply do away with those who suffer, but to be there with them, to make sure they are not abandoned, to offer comfort and peace to them and those around them.  The answer cannot be euthanasia, that is not an answer, it is dismissing the value of the person, who is a valuable part of our community.  SO there is suffering that must be endured – but never alone! 

Then there is suffering which should be endured, for the sake of the gospel, in order to share the love of God with people.  The kind of suffering that Theresa chose, the physical and psychological and even spiritual despair that accompanies ministering to those who are suffering.  This is the suffering that is “sacramental” as the Lutheran confessions explain sacraments.  It is the suffering the church gladly takes on, for in this ministry, we encounter Jesus. It is the suffering the apostles would feel – that would even exhaust them to where they fell asleep because of the turmoil, because of the ministry, because of the grief.

This is where the writer accused Mother Theresa of proselytizing the people she and her co-workers minister too.  As if they did this to grow numbers in a club, or as if they got a bonus from God for making converts. I’ve been in similar circumstances, and often, being there when all others have left, when others can’t stand the pain, the suffering, even the stench of disease, is when we encounter the Holy Spirit at work, and a heart made ready to know a love that makes a difference. 

It’s not caring for people so that they will convert, but as God reveals himself, it happens. They find His love, they find HIs mercy, they find a strength that turns their suffering into something holy, for both them and the one offering care.

That is when suffering, well there isn’t a word I can think of except beautiful or glorious, or maybe transcendent.  When hope prevails over pain, and joy is mixed with the sorrow, when God is present, and when the line between patient and caregiver is blurred, because we realize in that moment God is caring for both of us, and we are simply His kids.  He ministers to each, through the other.

That is something that is hard to notice from an office, from a keyboard or even watching video that recorded the ministry.  You have to become part of it, have a stake in it, and serve those, and be served. It happens, as God dwells among His people.

As He hears and answers their cries for mercy, sometimes in ways not expected, but He answers, and hearts and minds are brought to know a peace that is beyond understanding.

 

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

(2)  Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  (from Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…

Should I Stay or Should I God: Balancing Devotion and Ministry

Devotional Thought for the day:

29  So the people of Israel—every man and woman who was eager to help in the work the LORD had given them through Moses—brought their gifts and gave them freely to the LORD.   Exodus 35:29 (NLT)

63 But after a man is converted, and thereby enlightened, and his will is renewed, then he wills that which is good, in so far as he is reborn or a new man, and he delights in the law of God according to his inmost self (Rom. 7:22). And immediately he does good, as much and as long as the Holy Spirit motivates him, as St. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”8
64 This impulse of the Holy Spirit is no coercion or compulsion because the converted man spontaneously does that which is good, as David says, “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host.9

In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.21

I remember back in the day there were those who thought Franklin Planners and Day Runners were the key to success.  Just use all the little tabs, the priority tools, the calendar and you would be a success in business.

That is of course, assuming you were able to keep track of the $120 leather bound notebook!  We complain about our cell phones being leashes these days! Those things took the place of God in our priorities!

Seriously though, as I read the Book of Concord and the words from Vatican II this morning I was taken back to those days, to friends who assured me that having a organized and structured life was the key to successful ministry, and those who insisted that instead it is a pastor’s duty to first spend extensive time in devotion and prayer.  Not measured in minutes -but hours a day, a day a week – a week a year.  That only then will a pastor be able to endure.

And of course, each was backed up by Biblical examples.

There are still those who put forth those answers today.  That want me to read these books they found – by Steve Covey or by Dallas Willard.  (representative of the two thoughts)  I am torn between the two often – there are people that I need to go see, things I need to plan, and yet there is also the need – a desperate need, to be still, to know that He is God, He is my God, my loving, merciful benevolent Father, and I am his child.

So how do you strike a balance?  Or can you?

I have tried for far too long, more than 3 decades tried to discern this balance.

And the answer is far more… simple.. and thus more overwhelming.

Follow Christ’s will….

There are going to be times we have to lay aside everything and go.  There are times where we have to manage our time.  And there are times – where if we don’t seek God’s face, where we don’t encounter His presence, we will be worthless.

How do I know the difference?

By being in tune with Christ, with knowing He is walking with me.  To understand that I am not the messiah – and I draw my strength from knowing His mercy for me personally. (This is why I have absolutely no problem with a daily celebration of the Lord’s Supper!)    I need to know His presence, I need to know His cleansing work within me.

Then it is simple to hear his voice, then it is simple to know how to give, how to spend that time.

It has to be the Holy Spirit who coordinates that – I can simply keep focusing on Jesus, and depend on Him to make it work.

And so He does.

That is what “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” is all about.  AMEN!

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration:  II Free Will or Human Powers

Catholic Church. “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Real Pastoral Care: Real People & Real Brokenness Being Guided to Jesus

Devotional Thought of the Day:

76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord* to prepare his ways,r
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our Gods
by which the daybreak from on high* will visit us 
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  Luke 1 76-79

Finally priests have been placed in the midst of the laity to lead them to the unity of charity, “loving one another with fraternal love, eager to give one another precedence” (Rom 12:10). It is their task, therefore, to reconcile differences of mentality in such a way that no one need feel himself a stranger in the community of the faithful. They are defenders of the common good, with which they are charged in the name of the bishop. At the same time, they are strenuous assertors of the truth, lest the faithful be carried about by every wind of doctrine.56 They are united by a special solicitude with those who have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or perhaps even from the faith. Indeed, as good shepherds, they should not cease from going out to them.
Mindful of the prescripts on ecumenism,57 let them not forget their brothers who do not enjoy full ecclesiastical communion with us.
Finally, they have entrusted to them all those who do not recognize Christ as their Savior.  (1)

As Zechariah considers his son’s birth, as the Spirit fills him, as it will fill John, the words are worth considering, worth being struck with awe.

John prepares a people who are lost, blinded, in fear of death ready for a miracle.  He is to begin to reveal to them their salvation, to ready them for the day when the Glory of God, seen in Jesus, will shine into their darkness.  He would give them the knowledge fo the forgiveness of sin, which his cousin Jesus would actually bring us.

That God, Himself and no other, would come to guide us, to shepherd us into a place of great peace. To prepare the people of God for the arrival of the messiah, that was John’s role, as it is the role of everyone in ministry, especially pastors and priests. (though really, every Christian is in ministry)

Decades before the term “missional” became in vogue, Vatican II noted this when it describes the role of priests. I would include pastors in this, but I want to draw attention to these things,

the are to reconcile
They are to see no one feels themselves a stranger in the community
the are to defend the common good, and the assert the truth – that is to present Jesus and His mercy so clearly that people aren’t blown about by doctrine.

But get this as well

We who are in ministry are to unite with those who haven’t encountered Jesus in the sacrament, who haven’t been trusting and depending on Christ.  We can’t cease to try and guide them back to Jesus.

And if brothers are divided – knowing that Jesus would see us unified, we don’t just dismiss those whose theology is different than our own!

And finally, Vatican II says – those in ministry have entrusted to them ALL who do not recognize Jesus as their savior.

This was John’s ministry, it is ours.  Some will call it being missional, some will call it the apostolate.  I really don’t care which you use, as long as you actually are doing it.  A mom guiding her children, a pastor guiding Hs parish, a friend reminding another that God is indeed with them, and cares and loves them.

This is the ministry, this is our life as a church, led by priests and pastors, we guide people to Jesus, we reveal His love, and then we are overwhelmed again and again, as He works in their lives.

Revealing to us that they are the children of God, the ones He died to reclaim.

Lord have mercy on us sinners, help us lay aside our own brokenness, that we can help others see their salvation.  AMEN!

 
(1)  Catholic Church. “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

 

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