Doubting? Go…. A Trinity Sunday Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20


church at communion 2Doubting?  Go Ahead!

Matthew 28:16-20

 I.H.S.†

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that any thoughts of doubt and hesitation is simply set aside, as Your Lord says, “Go in My Name”  AMEN!

A Measure of Doubt/Hesitation

At first, I don’t think we understand it. It doesn’t make sense.

Here the apostles are, standing there in the presence of Jesus, the one who died in front of their eyes, and who was raised from the dead.  They had seen him walking, eating, teaching, with the holes in his hands, and they have seen the gaping wound left by the spear.

And as he stood in front of them, some doubted.  They wavered, they hesitated. They doubted.

It doesn’t really make all that much sense to us at first.  How could they doubt, they were in the presence of God!  They were overwhelmed, and couldn’t answer the question, “What does this mean?” because they could quite process the resurrection itself.

Jesus reaction is interesting.  He doesn’t confront them as sinners, and He doesn’t comfort them in the place they are.

He simply tells them, Go back to what is their “normal life” and while you are living, make disciples of everyone and anyone.

For men who were doubting, men who were hesitating, it is an interesting directive.  One that we need to hear today as well.

Unbelief or Doubt?

As we look at this, I think we need to be clear about what these disciples, these followers of Jesus were experiencing.

It wasn’t unbelief or disbelief.  It was doubt, it was a word that means to hesitate in commitment or action, it was to waiver, or be paralyzed in the moment because you don’t know how to act.

To think of it in a positive way, it’s like that moment when you are told you are one, husband and wife, and the pastor gently prods you to kiss your wife for the first time.

“My wife?”   Uhm – who is that… I mean – I am really married now?  Ahh – there she is! And everyone laughs as the kiss is much too quick, or far too long!

Or it’s like that moment when you receive news that your life is changing… and you don’t even know how to begin processing it, yet you must act.  You might even be ready to go through the motions, but what are you doing?

He is risen!  He is risen indeed… and that means we have risen indeed.

So what?  What happens next?  What am I to do with this?

How does the resurrection of Jesus, and His ascension, change my life 2000 years after the fact?

The Answer?  Go!

Jesus answers that question, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine.  Therefore, it is time to go…

Go and disciples of people from every walk of life, from every culture, from every demographic statistic there is, that can be used to divide people.  Disciple, not just making converts, but a continuing process of revealing to people the promises of God that will be and are given in their baptism, and continuing to reveal to them not just the God’s laws which are commanded, but the blessings that are promised in commands as well.

Go and do this, and here is where we see the Trinity’s authority given to us, just as it was given to Jesus by the Father.

Next month, I get to act on President Stoterau’s behalf, installing the Rev. Mark Jennings as the pastor of Peace, Pico Rivera.  My responsibility, my authority, is very limited, yet I will be acting on our District President’s behalf.  When God says disciple them, baptize them, teach them to keep my covenant, we have all the authority found in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to do so.

Which is amazing, if you think of it!  God has transformed us to the extent that He entrusts us, just as He did the eleven disciples!  Disciple people, walk with them as Jesus did with the eleven disciples, as much as the eleven disciples did with people like Stephen and Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquilla, Phoebe and Mark.

How does that affect our doubt, our hesitation, to know that we are backed by God on this ministry of reconciliation we have been given?

This incredible, glorious, majestic, merciful, loving Triune God has called us, and is transforming us, and sends us out to minister to believers and unbelievers alike!  Revealing to them the work of God, done in their baptism, and the relationship God defines in the New Covenant, the same relationship that He promised in the Old.!

And as we make the sign of the cross, as we remember our baptisms, we remember how His plan and work, from before the foundation of the world, to the cross and to Pentecost has been to disciple us.

The Promise… I am! With you

If you are still doubting, if you are still hesitant, if you think you don’t have what it takes to disciple another person, to point them to the promises of baptism, to share and remind them of God’s gift of life, and the blessings of living in relationship with Him, hear these last words,

And be sure of this, I AM with YOU Always, even to the end of the age.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit!  They have kept their promise and come and made a home with you.

You aren’t alone, you aren’t powerless, God, who gives you His name, is with you.  When you are hesitant, even doubting, know that when God says “go”, He is also saying, “I am with you!”.

He loves you too much to stay away.

Amen!
So let’s go… and disciple each other and our world.  AMEN!

Our Attitude Toward “Those” Sinners… Hatred, Disgust, or…


Tau CrossDevotional Thought of the Day:

10  For those whom Yahweh has ransomed will return, they will come to Zion shouting for joy, their heads crowned with joy unending; rejoicing and gladness will escort them and sorrow and sighing will take flight. Isaiah 35:10 (NJB)

210         At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity.

If the Church stays “indoors,” she certainly will age. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the “existential peripheries,” where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, religious indifference and of all human miseries are found.

Right now, I am in the midst of the Psalms, and over and over I see the writers of them describe scornfully those who do not follow God.  There is often no call for mercy, no call for mercy, just a call for harsh, blind, and effective justice.

To use Lutheran-speak, there is a great call for the Law to be applied, yet little for the gospel.

As I look through FB post after FB post, I see the same attitude is prevalent among many in the church today.  Whether their antagonist is a political figure or someone in Hollywood, whether it is all of Islam or those who understanding of morality is contrary to that found in scripture, there is a sense that we have to persecute them, that we have to not only separate ourselves from them but make sure everyone knows they are condemned to hell.

We want to apply the law to them, even as we desire the comfort of God’s grace to be shown to us, even in our struggle with sin.  We overlook all of Jesus’ teaching which calls us to love them, to seek out their reconciliation, to seek them out and share the gospel with them.

While I wish we would recognize that there might be a better way that to shout at them and shake them awake from their soul-sleep; I think we need to grow in the grief that St. Josemaria describes.  We need to know the sorrow and sadness that comes from watching people we know, people we should love struggling without God, without knowing His love, without knowing His mercy.

Look at that person you would condemn, is it that impossible that God would bring them home, with the joy that Isaiah describes? It is possible that God would desire to remove the blinders from their eyes, heal their souls, cleanse their hearts?

Or maybe, it is those in the church that need to be awakened. Maybe we are the ones stumbling in the darkness, who need to once again hear of His grace. That we need to experience the depth of His love and mercy and having done so, now want to share that time, that way of the baptized life with the world.

Lord, help us to grow int he awareness of your mercy, your love, your presence in our lives that Your compassion for the lost becomes our compassion, and that we would see them transformed, even as the Holy Spirit transforms us.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

How to Survive Burnout in Ministry. (Whether “Professional” or “Volunteer”)


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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13  Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. 14  Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15  Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16  Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:12b-16 (NLT)

207         An indispensable requirement in the apostolate is faith, which is often shown by constancy in speaking about God, even though the fruits are slow to appear. If we persevere and carry on in the firm conviction that the Lord wills it, signs of a Christian revolution will appear around you, everywhere. Some will follow the call, others will take their interior life seriously, and others—the weakest—will at least be forewarned.

It doesn’t matter whether I am a 52-year-old pastor, or a 19-year-old teaching Sunday School to a class of 25 2nd=8th graders.  There is a point when you approach burnout.

Been there, done that, and it seems taken out on a lease on an apartment at that address at times.  I’ve seen others there as well, and some crash and burn, and others persevere, not by the strength of character, or a stubborn will.  For those things cannot last through burnout.  There is something more, something internal, yet foreign.  Something, dare I say it, supernatural, that sustains them.

It’s not just a matter of personal faith, but rather, the reason that we can have faith, that we can trust, that we can depend on the Lord.

Paul tells his young apprentice to keep focused on reading scriptures, using the word of God to encourage and teach them.  As odd as this seems, it is a prescription for dealing with burnout.  For there is something empowering when we see people receive that strength. Paul urges this young man to throw himself even more into the ministry, which seems counter-intuitive.  Yet, if we focus on the work of God, we encounter Him, we find the Holy Spirit who strengthens and preserves us.

We see God is faithful, and because of His promises, we see people’s lives changed, as they are delivered from darkness into light, as we see their burdens lifted, and as we do, not only are we amazed, we find the perspective that enables us to endure.

St Josemaria speaks of the same thing as he talks of a faith that speaks with constancy about God.  Sure, it isn’t as dramatic a change as some would prefer to see, but the change is far deeper, as people will come alongside in service.  Others will grow deep in their appreciation of God’s love.  Witnessing these things assures us that our burnout is not in vain and that we can endure, for the cost is worth it.

Assured of that, the burnout loses its grip on us.  We still may be tired and weary, we may wonder if the trials will ever end, but that is not comparable to knowing this….

The Lord is with You!

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1073-1077). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God’s Plan for Your Life, and Your Hesitation


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought fo the Day:
16  Meanwhile, the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. 17  When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. 18  Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19  Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time. Matthew 28:16-20 (NJB)

198         That way is very hard, he told you. And, on hearing it, you heartily agreed, remembering that bit about the Cross being a sure sign of the true way… But your friend noticed only the rough part of the road, without bringing to mind Jesus’ promise: “My yoke is sweet.” Remind him about it, because—perhaps when he realizes it—he will give himself.

Even as each of us is called into a relationship with God and all of His people, each of us has been given vocations, a great diversity of roles, and the gifts needed to fulfill them.

Yet, there is a common vocation, that of making disciples, for that vocation doesn’t belong to just a person, it is the vocation of the Body of Christ, the people of God.  If we are part of His one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, we are a people who have been sent into the world.  We have an apostolate, we are to be a mission-focused people.  Wherever we are, whatever other vocations we have, we are called to make disciples of those we encounter.

This way is hard, as St. Josemaria tells us, it can be brutal, and lonely.  It may have long stretches of doubt, of not seeing the fruit of our work.  It is all too easy to notice the rough parts of the road, the problems, and trials that exist on the road. For the work is hard, our Lord even had to die to make our discipleship a possibility, and so we shouldn’t expect this to be easy.

Fearing this hardship we hesitate, (some translations say doubt) We have trouble committing to God’s work, knowing it will take us on a rough road, knowing it will cost.  We hesitate, we wonder if we can do this if we are truly called to it if God would actually ask us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  And Jesus tells us, in the midst of the hesitation, even as we doubt ourselves, “Let’s go, we’ve got people to disciple, even as I disciple you!”

But how can we embrace the roughness?

Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, the joy of knowing His mission, the reason the Father sent Him was for our salvation, for bringing us back into the family.  He suffered in order to welcome us home.  Expecting that joy allowed Him to endure the pain, the insults, the betrayals,  the loneliness.  He saw us, cleansed, holy, redeemed, and was able to see it through.

For us to learn to have that attitude is beneficial, but we have something that even makes it sweeter.  We have His authority backing us, and His presence sustaining us, that the Holy Spirit causes (and therefore is responsible) the changes in the lives we of the people we are sent to serve.   We have the incredibly sweet joy of knowing God is with us, sharing in our ministry, even as we share in His.

So, in the midst of the bitter road, we anticipate hearing the angels rejoicing, as another sinner is transformed by the power of God.  We hear the joy as one is baptized, or bows their knees at the altar, amazed that they are welcome, that their presence is desired. What joy they know, and how joyous is it for us to see!

This is our vocation, for all the members of the Body of Christ, we share in it, in the joy, in the tears, led by or Lord who shares in it all with us.

And that is truly sweet….

So when tired, worn out, struggling, look to the Lord who is with you, and know the joy set before us all.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1034-1038). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Are We Giving to People? Some Thoughts about the Purpose of Preaching and Leading Worship


DiscussionAltar with communion Thought of the Day:
14  My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15  this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16  I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17  that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG) 

I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.

But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.

The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.

Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.

All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus?  What do they need to know?  How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?

Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.

When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching.  That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.

So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture.  Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.

With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach.  They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.

In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected.  We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe.  And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.

It is all good stuff and beneficial.  However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.

It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.

I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth.  First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us.  He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.”  It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God.  To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,

This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know.  That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.

This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes.  With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.

Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it.  Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.

We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man.  That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.

This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together!  AMEN!

Anyone and Everyone. A Pentecost Sermon on John 7:37-39


Anyone and Everyone

John 7:37-39

I.H.S.

 May the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life not only bring you the comfort but also may it bring the love that will flow out others and change their lives!

Quiz:

Since it is the end of the school year, I thought it would be appropriate to give you all a little quiz about Pentecost this morning.  The first is yes/no, the second is multiple choice.

Question #1  Is Pentecost only a New Testament “holy day.”

Nope, it was an Old Testament Feast, celebrating the harvest.  At this point you can see what the rest of the harvest might look like, we see it commanded in Leviticus 23:15.

Question #2  How many people did the Holy Spirit fall upon at Pentecost.

A)  120       B)  12    C) I am not sure

How many think A? B?  Anyone want to admit to C?

Well C was the right answer, and anyone who didn’t get both questions right has to stay after service for some much-needed catechesis.  Don’t know what catechesis is?  Well, it’s a lot like going to a doughnut shop with some friends and having a good discussion.  All those who got the answers right can also come.

Back to the Holy Spirit, and Pentecost, which is the reason we are here today.  If it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit, I am not sure we would be here together, and Pentecost is where the church came alive, as the Spirit falls on the people of God, creates in us faith, and transforms us into the Father’s children.  

It is a feast day where we see that anyone who believes is welcome and that everyone who believes will be given the Holy Spirit, who will flow out of their lives into a world that is incredibly thirsty and need to know they are loved.

Anyone who believes

I want you to hear the invitation that Jesus gives in the Gospel, that anyone who is thirsty can come to Him.

It doesn’t matter your age, or your whether you are male or female.  It doesn’t matter if you are 5 or 95, it doesn’t matter if you are from Indonesia, from Austria, from Guyana or even Boston.

On the first Pentecost they came from all over, religious people, people that came because of culture, we even know that some who weren’t Jewish, but simply curious about the God Jews worshiped came. Many didn’t know what they were thirsting for, like the crowd we heard about in Athens two weeks ago, but they knew they didn’t have the answers they needed in life.

They were thirsty,

Jesus goes on to talk about any that who believe in Him can not only come but that they can have that thirst quenched.

Believe in Him, not believe about him, or believe He was this or that.  Believe in Him, trust Him, depend on Him, take God at His word to be involved in your life.

That is what believing in Him is about.  As one pastor put it, the kind of belief, faith, and dependence that causes us to participate and contemplate on this incredible love.  He described it this way,

Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself”

Even as we know and begin to trust that Jesus loves us this much, it takes us aback, it is too incredible, to amazing, and trusting in Him causes us delight and joy, as we explore as Paul urges us to

18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God
That is what happens as God makes us His children, it is a miracle of our baptism, of our Pentecost.  It is the beginning of trusting God when He says, “I love you, let me provide and care for you,”

And when we come to know this love, it changes everything, for the Spirit has brought us to life.

Everyone will have the Spirit

Let’s go back to that second question for a moment, how many people did the Holy Spirit descend upon?  We know it was more than 3132 because it wasn’t just the men, but their family, their wives and children that were baptized that day.  And upon each of them, just as upon us, the promises of the Holy Spirit was made as sure as the water was wet.

It is what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit being poured out on us that is amazing, that from our hearts will flow the Holy Spirit. That from our hearts the love of God will pour out with the Spirit, reaching and touching those around us.

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike— and they will prophesy.

All this talk of prophesying, it just means speaking for God, sharing His love, sharing the message that the Spirit uses to bring others to life and faith.

A message that we all have, empowered by the Spirit we all have been given, and share with those who like us, need to know they can trust in God, that they can depend on Him, that He is with them, and with us.

This promise of the Holy Spirit being given to anyone who believes, to everyone who believes is why Jesus was born, and died, and rose. It is why Jesus when He was drawn to heaven, did what He promised and had the Spirit given to us.  The Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit has come, and is yours, just as Jesus said.

He is here, as sure as God’s promise….

The Spirit is here, to transform our hearts, and flow from them to bring healing to this broken world.

And here in our hearts, the Comforter provides His incredible peace, and we can relax, protected by Jesus, our hearts and minds kept safe by Him.  AMEN!

Why I Don’t Want Sinners to Change their Behavior.


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”  Mark 7:17-23 NCV

He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.

Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people,  Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners.  Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.

Most fail.

They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired.  They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment.  Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.

These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.

Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough.  Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability.  Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage.  It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion.  The matter is deeper.

So how do we deal with it?  Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well.  it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness.  It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.

This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest.  It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying.  It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.

This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism!  That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.

The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.

All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace…   Amen!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

 

Contact Management Software and the Missio Dei


DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the Day:

When it was late in the day, his followers came to him and said, “No one lives in this place, and it is already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the countryside and towns around here to buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”  Mark 5:35-37  NCV  

191         When I speak to you about “apostolate of friendship”, I mean a personal friendship, self-sacrificing and sincere: face to face, heart to heart.

On any given morning my email box is filled with thirty to a hundred emails, and about 80 percent I simply delete.  What really irritates me are the ones that are form letters sent out by a contact management software, that try to make it look like they are personal messages.

One recently even mentioned that if I had already responded to the previous email, they apologize for the software not being updated to recognize this and that they would stop sending the email eventually!  I get the feeling that if I called the person, they would not know that they “contacted” me.  I know some of the programs are set up to send letters, pre-written, on a schedule.

They didn’t.  Their software program did.

I don’t mind bulk mail, I understand that missionaries and other churches are busy, and I appreciate copying me along with many others for support and prayer.  I don’t even mind advertisements that are automated.  It’s the idea that someone thinks that they will gain by making the advertisement look like a personal contact.

In the gospel reading this morning, the disciples were amazed by the people wanting to hear Jesus.  I imagine they loved the accolades, the great joy (and a little frustration) that comes with being a superstar, or at least part of His crew.   They were learning about the kingdom of heaven, and they would learn a lesson today.

” the show’s over, they need to go eat!” they tell Jesus. We are done with them, you taught, they listened, some were healed.  Good day, let’s pack it up and get the rest, relaxation, and prayer you mentioned.

Jesus’ reply, “you feed them”

Don’t care from a distance, actually care   Don’t just see their need, make sure the need is met.  You can do it, (Jesus knowing he would supply the food) just do it.

That’s how the Missio Dei works, the apostolate of friendship as St Josemaria describes it. Laughing with them, crying with them, being involved.  Not just monitoring responses to a contact system, but actually getting involved in their lives.   Not just keeping in contact, but being in communion with them.  And as St. Josemaria said, this means there is a sacrifice, there is something personal, face to face, heart to heart.  There is cost, but there is also immeasurable grace, mercy, and love.  For God is there.

As I was writing this, I think back to several conversations recently.  The basic idea of each was that the pastor seemed to be writing the sermons directly to the person that heard it.  Pastors who hear this often reply, “that was one I was preaching mostly to myself.”  They are astonished when they realize how that sermon also touched their people’s hearts as deeply as they struggled with it.

I believe this is evidence of the relationship of people and pastor in communion with each other.  It is the evidence of the apostolate of friendship, the communion of saints that we confess in our Creed.  It is about learning what sacramental and incarnational ministry mean, and it is imitating Jesus.

Get to know those people around you, be their friends, share their struggles, rejoice with them in their celebrations.  Whether pastor or layperson, you need to understand you were sent into their lives, and you get to help them explore the love of God. And as you do, with them you will find His love ever more true, every more bright, ever more glorious!  AMEN!

j

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1012-1014). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?


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

Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.”  Mark 4:26-29 NCV

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.

Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed)  An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.

Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement.  Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.

The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.

But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline?  What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.

What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives?  Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran,  or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God.  The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us.  It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations.  Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things.  Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement.  Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?

Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that?  What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love?  What effect would that have on our worship?  Our preaching?  Our teaching?  Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?

What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.

Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read.  Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens.  They make Him known.  People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found.  Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!

God chooses to commune with us!  God is here, not distant!  He loves us!  We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory!  Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Stop the Noise!!!!


ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:

5  Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. 6  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. 7  My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. 8  O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

179         Days of silence and of intense grace… Prayer face to face with God… I broke out into thanksgiving, on seeing those people, mature in years and experience, who opened out to the touch of grace. They responded like children, eagerly grasping the chance to convert their lives, even now, into something useful… which would make up for all the times they have gone astray and for all their lost opportunities. Recalling that scene, I put it to you: do not neglect your struggle in the interior life.

These days are filled with noise, and if it weren’t enough to have noise, it is noise that in many cases can’t be trusted, no matter where it originates.  And as the noise grows, it gets louder and louder, as those making noise want to grab our attention

As I sit here in my home, I have no television on, no music playing through my Groove Ap, there is just the odd bird chirp, my fingers making noise on the keyboard, and my artificial valves clicking away.

It is odd, and uncomfortable at first, this silence.

It takes a moment to adjust, to move past the temptation to close my eyes,

And as I write, my mind drifts to Sunday morning, and the Body and Blood of Christ that I will give to HIs people, the nourishment they need.  My mind drifts to the people I know are dealing with high stress. who need healing of body, mind, and soul.  My mind drifts then to my own failures and stresses, some I would rather not deal with, but the silence drives me there, and there in the midst of my own brokenness, I find Jesus…

Hard at work, the craftsman of life, transforming my brokenness into something glorious, something that others can see that will cause them to praise God, and desire such a journey for themselves.  If that alone were the reason for my journey into silence, into the place where I have to leave my anxieties, grief, guilt, shame and pain in Christ’s hands, it would be perhaps enough…

Yet there He is, welcoming me into this place, relieving my burdens, and my sin, and in doing this, I realize the what defines His glory far beyond His power, authority, wisdom.  What defines His glory is, His love for us!

Do not be afraid of the silence, but be still, and find in that silence, your refuge in God.  Amen

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locatitemptation63). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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