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499 Years Later How is YOUR Re-formation Going?

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

499 Years Later
How is YOUR Re-formation Going?

 Jesus, Son, Savior

 May the mercy of God our Father, poured out on us as we were untied to Jesus in Baptism, be as real, as reforming our lives and God’s church.

Does History Guarantee our Reformation?

There was once a group of people who thought themselves good, who counted their spiritual heritage back across the generations, for they knew God had worked across those generations, and had often preserved His people. They did what they were told would make them holy, they regularly met and celebrated the promises of God. They ignored their sin, often while condemning the sins of others.

It sounds like the descendants of Abraham, doesn’t it?

Could it be said of Lutherans, even Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Lutherans, Even the people that gather here at Concordia Lutheran Church, even those here right now?

I think Jesus’ answer to us would be the same to those Jews who needed to be freed from sin, as He calls us all to be disciples, to remain in the truth He instills in us, to celebrate the truth that indeed sets us free!

To put it in another way, to be able to answer the question,

“499 years later, how is your re-formation going?”

Or do we know that the Holy Spirit is at work, reforming us!

Are we still enslaved to sin?

Jesus told them and told us, that if we are sin, we are enslaved to it, in bondage to it, that it set a trap and caught us in it, a trap we cannot easily escape.  That’s why you can’t escape it at times, or the guilt and shame it can cause.

Ever lay awake at night, wondering why you said or did something, or have it come back to haunt you?  Ever feel the suffocation of shame, as you think, if they only knew how bad I was, they would never forgive?

One article I read said that Luther had an over-active sense of guilt, a by-product of depression, and a burdened soul that created the Reformation to find comfort for his broken soul.

Would we all have souls so hungry to be found righteous, and haunted by our own unrighteousness! Would we all seek out the comfort God offers to those who are broken, and would we all point others, in need of us, to the comfort the cross offers!

For we need relief of being ensnared by sin, we need to hear that we’ve been freed from it, we need to know, in the midst of broken lives and a broken world, that there is peace!

That’s why Jesus points out that in their slavery, they may seem to be part of Abraham’s family, but they are slaves, people without rights, who aren’t part of the family.  They lived in the illusion of it, while still in bondage.  But if they would follow Jesus, if they would walk with Him, learn of Him, and find their place in Him, they would be free.  They would be transformed.

We need to be transformed, which was the hope both the Reformation and the Restoration movements offered.

We need to see our reformation and restoration both personal, and permanent.  To declared us free from the power of sin, freed to become the children of God!

We are part of that family

That was the freedom, the comfort, the relief Luther, and so many before and after found.  In being a disciple, not just someone who learns by sitting in a classroom, but one who walks with Jesus in every aspect of life.  Where we let God form us, even disciplining us as the Holy Spirit works to reform and transform us.

This is what happens at the Cross when we are united to Christ’s death and His resurrection, that is where our personal reformation begins, ever as Paul wrote to Titus.

3  Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4  But—

That is us, back when before this happened>0

“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8  This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:3-8 (NLT)

This is the teaching a disciple of Jesus remains in, the fact that He saved us, baptizing us in water and the Spirit, cleansing us from all sin.

That is where our confidence in being part of God’s family comes from!  Not from anywhere else!  That is where our reformation happened, even as it is revealed throughout the rest of our lives, and completed on the day of Christ.

And knowing that leaves us in a place of peace, A peace that is found as we remain in Christ Jesus.  In that peace, we find the stillness needed to know He is God, and we have not only been freed, but we’ve become part of the family.  AMEN!

Why Christianity Isn’t a Solo Act

Devotional Thought of the Day:

21  It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22  I truly delight in God’s commands, 23  but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24  I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? 25  The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Romans 7:21-25 (MSG)

19  My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back 20  and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.
James 5:19-20 (MSG)

1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 (NIV)

59    It’s good for you to know this doctrine, which is always sound: your own spirit is a bad advisor, a poor pilot to steer your soul through the squalls and storms and across the reefs of the interior life. That’s why it is the will of God that the command of the ship be entrusted to a master who, with his light and knowledge, can guide us to a safe port.

It is one of the most grievous things a pastor can observe.  

When a person is driven away from the church in the midst of their need, or in the midst of the pain caused by the need – they try to drive the church away. 

I’ve been there myself, not recently, but not so long ago that I can brush off the pain easily. Being at the end of the rope isn’t good, it is worse when the rope is set afire by fear, by pain.  

Guilt and shame can do this, so can anxiety, so can the unrighteousness of the world. We fear judgment, and condemnation. We fear people pitying us, or looking down in scorn at our brokenness. We may even fear healing, and push away attempts, rather than take a risk that God and those He sends us can be trusted to not do more damage.

Paul knew this – he recognizes he wretchedness, and his need to hear the answer that is found in Jesus. 

Paul also knew the danger of being the person who is helping and warns those who do to watch their own lives carefully, less they find their own brokenness.  We get deceived by our own estimations, we exaggerate our spiritual health until its too late, or are so overwhelmed by the pain we can’t see anything blessed.

We need others to point us to our hope in Jesus,ro remind us of the Holy Spirit’s work, right now, right here, in our lives.  We need to enter His rest, but often we can’t – unless guided, or even dragged to that place.

But what if they let us down?  What if they are drowning too?  What if we drag them down? Been there, had my mind pound those ponderings through my head. 

Logically, I can answer that with another 100 plus Bible passages and another thousand cute, overused stories and cliches.  But the best answer is to simply be there and keep pointing the person to Jesus.  For He is the reason we have hope.  The only reason.

That reason, and only that one, leads to hope, and the hope to peace. Peace found in Christ, in His promises, in HIs love, in His bringing us into the glory of the Father. 

But we can’t get there alone…… we will betray ourselves. But we have our brothers and sisters.  For the church is a place where broken people find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping other heal.  

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 305-307). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Ministry Priorities: Do We Have Them Right?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

4  whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Acts 6:4 (NAB)

22  So turn from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart. 23  Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. 24  A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, 25  correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, 26   and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26 (NAB)

11  This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; 12  if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. 13  If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. 14   Remind people of these things and charge them before God to stop disputing about words. This serves no useful purpose since it harms those who listen. 15  Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation. 16  Avoid profane, idle talk, for such people will become more and more godless, 2 Timothy 2:11-16 (NAB)

I’ve been going through Acts for about 7 months with one of the Bible Studies I teach.  And so as devotional reading got to Acts, I sort of went into glide mode.  Got this, know these words well. Then, as I got to Acts 6 – the passage that gives birth to the ecclesiastical office of deacon, the first quote above hit me between the eyes.

I need to rethink some of my ministry, and especially my priorities. 

We shall devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of word…..

But do we?  

There is no doubt I need to pray more, times of dedicated prayer and in times of just enjoying life as God and I walk together, times as well where the family of God breaks out in prayer.

But what about the ministry of the word?  It is important I think to understand that this is not talking about careful exegesis, or studying the logic and reason to use it to argue and divide.  The ministry of the word is not using it to divide the believer and unbeliever, to prove the who is orthodox and who is heretical.  The ministry of the word is the ministry of reconciliation.

That is why Paul urges tolerance and gentleness in our teaching, that through these words, people can be called to dance with God, to live with Him. 

This is our work, and it is why prayer must be so much a part of our ministry.  For only from growing in our dependence on God, can we understand and commit to His will, to see all come to deliverance.

I need to clarify what I mean by this is our work, our vocation. I am not talking that it is our job as if we work 10-12 hours and then we go off duty.

This is our life work, this ministry of the word, this ministry of reconciliation.  And what we do in our free time is just as much part and parcel of that work as our time in the office, at the pulpit, or beside the hospital bed. So if we blog, or podcast, it must be the goal of that work.  If we are out having a beer, this ministry is still our work, if we are meeting with other ministers, this call to reconciled, to be reconciled to God still is our life.

So let us lay aside the sin, and all other things that hinder this, and let us look to our Lord Jesus, who reconciled us to Himself at the cross – and may we live with Him, praying and ministering at His side.

AMEN

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.

Why Isn’t Our Faith “Greater”

Devotional Thought of the Day:

If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me?b 47 Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.” John 8:46-47 NAB-RE

Faith is a vital, deliberate trust in God’s grace, so certain that it would die a thousand times for it. And such confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes us joyous, mettlesome, and merry toward God and all creatures. This the Holy Spirit works by faith, and therefore without any coercion a man is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory, who has been so gracious to him. It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire.”  (1)

. But devotion to the Cross had a very different origin. Christians used to turn toward the east when they prayed as a sign of their hope that Christ, the true sun, would rise upon history—as a sign, then, of their belief in the future coming of the Lord. In the beginning, the Cross was closely linked to this eastward orientation of prayer. It was represented as the standard carried before the King on his arrival—with the appearance of the Cross the head of the procession had reached the throng of praying people. For the early Christians, the Cross was primarily a sign of hope—not so much a turning back to the past as a turning forward to the coming of the Lord.  (2)

As a pastor, I am used to people struggling with “Faith.”

Most often, this is because they define faith as a known, for example, “the Christian Fatih” or the subdivisions such as  “the Catholic Faith” or the “Orthodox Faith”.or the myriad and diversity of “Protestant Faith.”  This definition reduces faith to a list of doctrines, a list of teachings, and reduces the Bible to a textbook to be learned, studied and interpreted. This definition confuses us then when we talk about “sharing” our faith, leading us to believe such is a matter of indoctrination, of our doctrinal positions overwhelming yours in some cosmic spiritual battle.

Faith doesn’t know doctrine, it is, as the Lutheran Confessions say, It is a vital, deliberate trust (or dependence) in God’s grace.   It is listening to God and rejoicing not just in the rules, but realizing that God encodes in the law these incredible promises, incredible blessings.  Such is what He commanded, what He commissioned and guaranteed with the cross and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

That’s why the issue of works being aa result of faith is not surprising, and not all that complicated.  The vital trust results in it!  If you trust God,  if you hear Him declare you are His, that nothing can separate you from  His love, then you simply live.

That is why Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote about the cross the way he did – it not only talked of the blessing of the cross in the past, but the sign of Christ’s return. ( the old Celtic crosses always included the sunrise behind the cross for the reason as well!)  For faith is not just hope about the sins being covered by Calvary’s cross, it is the hope or eternal life, of eternal joy, of the day when every tear is wiped away.

The cross is a symbol of the hope of the future, of what God has promised to open up for us, the very thing we trust Him to achiece>  Eternity, lived in the full glory of God, this is our hope, this is the end goal for the scriptures, the end of the means of grace poured out for us in baptism, the Lord’s supper and the mercy of being cleansed of every sin.

Eternity is when our faith is fulfilled, when our dependence on God is proven, when hope is seen to be reality.

This we can share – at whatever cost it takes – this we can rejoice in, this we can know, even when we can’t explain every bit of theology.

This is our faith, our vital dependence on God.

This is what happens when we hear Him testify,

“I love you so much; Christ died on the cross so we could be re-united..”

AMEN!

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

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…

It’s not Inconvenient! It is theft of a treasure, your treasure.

Devotional thought for the weekend:

16 He replied to him, “A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. 17 When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’ 18 But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, ‘I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 The servant went and reported this to his master. Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 The servant reported, ‘Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.’ 23 The master then ordered the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. 24 For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ”  Luke 14:16-24 NABRE

 3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?   Hebrews 2:2-3 (NLT)

I’ve got to work!  I’ve got responsibilities!  I’ve got family obligations! (Though what obligation a newlywed has to his wife… or wait – nevermind!)  

Following Christ doesn’t have a simple agenda.  It can’t be planned out a month in advance.  There are times it means that after a hard day’s work, you spend the night helping a neighbor, or helping (with love) to that obstinate, pain in the ass relative. 

There will be long days, days where plans are changed, days where things are moved around.  Days where our devotions may not happen when we want. There might even be a day when we have to miss church, not to go to a ball game, but to help a hurting person.

The temptation is just to skip it that day, to pick up tomorrow what we should have done today, and just push it all back a day.  Been there, done that. One year – my read through the Bible – which should have gone November 1 to October 31st, well – I gave up mid-February as I was already a month behind!  Guilt and shame set in, because I wasn’t giving God the proper response He deserved.  I wasn’t a good disciple, and I wondered if I was so weak, why would people follow me as a pastor?

But I didn’t understand discipleship – and I didn’t really understand the purpose of devotional time, and that misunderstanding gave me the ability to set it aside, to declare it inconvenient. An inconvenience somehow excused the necessity, because the ministry was more important than devotions, or work projects were, or family and family…uhm… obligations.

I realized sometime in that year that I missed the reading, and the liturgy I entered into every morning. I realized I didn’t “do” devotions to prove that I was devoted to God!  (Sometimes we do it to prove to Him, and sometimes just to prove it to ourselves.)  I can’t prove my devotion, and too be honest, as long as was my motivation, I would falter and fail.

Devotional time is not about proving our devotion as if providing us improved us.  I need my devotional time – because it proves His devotion to me. I need to know that, I need to know the love that won’t let me go, I need to be convinced that I can run to His arms, depending on a mercy that promises to forgive my sin, and cleanse me from the sin of a world that could crush me.

This is my time with my Father, to hear of His love, His mercy, His desire to rescue me from the brokenness of my life.

And so, if life made me miss, I get back and make it up, savoring the little steps I take with Him, as He points out a little more of the height, the depth. The width and breadth of His love for me, and for my people, and for the community of humanity.

I need this time, which comes all together as I write a blog, or a sermon, or just worship and pray.  I desperately need it, so much so I can’t count it inconvenient to miss, I consider it theft, and do what I can to get what God would give me back…. 

You too need a time like this, not just to read, not just to pray, but to realize the blessing of God; that is in your life. No, that is your life.

Start simple – and as you begin to be in awe – add a little more….. and become hungry to know more and more of this Lord of life.

For this is His mercy… the mercy we sinners cry out for… 

If I Only Had A Fork

If I Only Had a Fork!

Luke 14:1-14

I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ be so evident in your life, that you rejoice at the thought of a meal, knowing it is a foretaste of the most wonderful of feast, that you’ve been invited to…

A portable feast…

Last Sunday, on the way back from dropping off our trailer in Hemet, we stopped in Riverside for dinner.  I was kind of tired, and ate less than half my dinner, but it was so good, I had them pack up the rest to bring it home.  It didn’t make it.

There was a man in the parking lot, and as we left, he asked if we had any money for food.  He didn’t look homeless necessarily, and as my first thoughts doubted his sincerity, I decided to test him, and asked him if what he really wanted was food.

A simple nod, and I was hooked, I handed over the cashew nut chicken….

He didn’t even look me in the eyes as he said thanks, and quickly took off across the mall parking lot.

As we drove through the parking lot, I didn’t see him until we got to the street at the light.  There he was, sitting on the curb devouring the food with his hands, oblivious to how sticky and messy it was…..

If I had only known how hungry, if I had only known how desperate,

Then the light turned green, and as I pulled out onto the road and then onto the freeway, I struggled with my thoughts, I could have got him a drink, or a gift card for more food – or at least a fork.

The challenge

As people entered the rabbi’s house, their neighbor was in severe discomfort.  I assume no one tried to help him, not one asked Jesus if he would heal this man.  Instead they rushed to find a place to recline, close to the host, and able to easily hear the conversations between him and this guest, this wandering miracle worker.

Why didn’t they ask the miracle worker to care for their friend?  Why was their first priority to make sure they got the best seat, the freshest coffee, the perfect donut?

Are you and I any better?

Do we rush by people, seeking to talk to someone else? Are we more concerned with getting to “our place”

Jesus also talked about who we invite over, or those we go out with, do we only invite those who can invite us back?  Its the same thing – not that we should be hospitable, but that we have agendas going, agendas that serve ourselves, but also cause us to look past those struggling around us….

It’s a question about why we are here really, are we hear to love God and those He brings in our lives, or do we live to serve ourselves?

I encountered that question in my devotions yesterday, as the author wrote,

“They confuse renewal (God’s work in our lives, healing us) with comfort.”

And often we do this – and get upset with God when things aren’t as comfortable as we would want.

Sometimes it is better to be uncomfortable, if in doing so, we understand the incredible love of God that we see revealed in the life of Jesus.  As He embraced discomfort to care for people, for us.

The Invite

As we consider the lesson – the idea of stopping to care for the broken, the being humble and taking a seat in the servant’s area, and in inviting those who can’t pay you back, we see Jesus being not only one speaking this, but living it.

He doesn’t just stop to heal the man with edema, as He came to the cross, he came to die to heal you and me.  His blood, poured out on the cross brings healing to our brokenness.

He didn’t run to the top spot, to lose the world, but he became a servant, and God the father would call him to sit at His side, He embraced the servant’s role, the life lived in the poor section, to minister to you and I, to care for us, to make sure we knew we are invited to the feast in heaven, even at the cost of his death, and that death on the cross.
He is our host, He says we belong here – with Him.  He shares His life with us, even as the Father makes us co-heirs with Christ.

When Jesus offers us a feast – when he says, “

Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you, from the creation of the world!”

That’s what He is talking about here, and making sure, than in our desire to be there, we leave no one behind.

What a Blessing!

In the original division of the readings the gospel reading stopped at verse 14.

One of the nice things about doing our own bulletins, is I get to fix it, when I think they made it too long, or in this case , too short.

Let’s read verse 15 together,

15  Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”

There is a man hungry enough for God’s kingdom that he wouldn’t care if he had a fork or not!  It’s time to dig in…

 Because of Jesus – that is you and I are attending that banquet, and in a moment, we get a little taste of it.

We’re invited, we been saved and healed and we’ve got great seats, and even a fork!

AMEN!

The Context and Measure of Holiness

Devotional Thought of the Day:
38 *“You have heard that it was said,x ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 yBut I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles.z 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.a
Love of Enemies.* 43 b“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. NABRE – Matt 5:38-48

24. Yet man must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he devotes himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stay at his vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead to “make himself all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22)

This Christ calls all sinners to himself and promises them refreshment. He earnestly desires that all men should come to him and let themselves be helped  (2)

I have heard many people define holiness over the years.  Some confuse it with purity, a lack of sinlessness and being completely remote from the world.  But those who promote this view do not know how to deal with Jesus eating with whores and tax collectors, filthy sinners and fisherman.

Others would discuss holiness in view of martyrdom, the peaceful testimony of Christ in the presence of persecution and death. But most of us will only be inconvenienced because of our faith; if that is the real reason for people taking a dislike to us.

Others will look upon great acts, the work of those who are steadfast in the faith, who have this or that gift, who spend hours locked away in prayer, or tending to the poor and needy.  As if holiness is some kind of heroic virtue, instead of a life we are called to live.

The last group treats holiness with little concern at all, saying in reaction to those above, that holiness is a virtual impossibility, that no one can attain holiness, that it is impossible by our own strength or power, and that God doesn’t really care, as long as we depend on Him to forgive our lack of holiness.

This last view is the most dangerous.  It steals from us our hope in this life, and it convinces us that how we live, what salvation is about, isn’t living dependent upon God. It denies, faith, hope, and love. And it justifies our self-centeredness, our Machiavellian-inspired theology and practice, and our apathy towards evangelism and service.

In one of the greatest calls to holiness – in the Gospel reading above, Jesus tells us we need to be perfect, (other translations use “holy” here ) even as God is perfect and holy.

It is not an impossibility.  If so, Jesus wouldn’t have commanded it, nor would the Father hold us to that standard.

The context provides the measurement of such holiness as well, the love   The love of our enemies, and the love of those who you aren’t connected to, recognizing the fact that in Christ Jesus you are connected.

Those who would do evil to you, those who would demand more than is their “right” of you, those who you would say are your enemies.

Holiness is loving them.

Holiness is caring for them.

Vatican II notes this with the call to work in the vocation of the gospel – without thought or cost – even if it means a lifetime of service. It means living this way at the cost of renouncing yourself, or the people who are “yours”, serving instead “all men”, yes, including those aren’t “ours”

That they aren’t our religion, our countrymen, out ethnicity, our race, our culture, our family, or our friends; even so, we are to love them as if they are!  We are to love them because they are.

This is having the attitude of Jesus, the attitude Philippians 2 tells us to have – as described in the great hymn that we love in verses 5-10.  The preceding verses tell us we are to have this mind, this attitude, this same servant’s heart, and love those who are different from us.

NO option.  This is what the people of God are to do.

By now – you are tempted to stop reading this – to write me off as naive, or pelagian, or some kind of fanatic.  A blogger who obviously is so heavenly minded he can’t be of benefit.

We think we aren’t capable of that kind of holiness.  We cannot possibly love like that, can we?  Can we actually care more about our enemies and adversaries as much as those like us?  Can God expect us to love our enemies and lay down our lives for them?   WOuld any many?

Well, any man not nailed to a cross and who rose again three days later?

If we say we cannot,  we miss the work of God.  For He calls us, inspires us, and empowers us.  This si the refreshment and help that the Lutheran Confessions describe as well, ad walking with God that is daily and practical, and incredibly effective.  I

Holiness isn’t walking alone, it is walking with God, moving with Him.  Loving as He loves, serving as He serves, bringing healing and trust as He brings it to us.  Such is our calling, and such is our life

AMEN.

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Yet – 3 Powerful Words of Powerful Faith.

Devotional Thought for the Day

17 For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, 
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. 19 GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.*  NABRE – Hab 3:17-19

Anything done out of love is important, however small it might appear. God has come to us, even though we are miserable creatures, and he has told us that he loves us: “My delight is to be among the sons of men.”10 Our Lord tells us that everything is valuable—those actions which from a human point of view we regard as extraordinary and those which seem unimportant. Nothing is wasted. No man is worthless to God. All of us are called to share the kingdom of Heaven—each with his own vocation: in his home, his work, his civic duties, and the exercise of his rights.

Nothing is wasted!   What marvelous words are uttered by St Josemaria! 

Words that resonate with the Habbakuk’s conclusion of his book. Let me paraphrase!

“Life Sucks!  YET I will rejoice in the Lord! YET I will exult in my saving God!

For as our souls, our very lives are entrusted to Him (something the Holy Spirit does, because Jesus paid the price to make it happen on the cross!) everything has meaning, and we begin to see how all things can indeed work for good, for those who love God. 

That’s a hard thing to trust God for, especially when we think of him as the deists did in the centuries following the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.  Because they couldn’t trust the God they couldn’t see, they reasoned he left town,  Because they couldn’t understand that God was there in darkest points of history, they assumed he wasn’t there, and that He didn’t care and abandoned those He promised to walk with, those He promised to support, and heal, and strengthen.

Nothing is wasted. 

Man is that hard to hear! For there has been much that I can’t count as beneficial without coming to the same conclusions.  Where are you, my God?  Why did You abandon me?  Why did I have to go through this?  Why do I see it repeated? 

Nothing is wasted.

Not even the times of emptiness.

Not even the times where I cry out in anger, in pain, in fear.

Those words talk of dependence, of the greatest level of what we call faith.  The point where rock bottom we realize He is hear, and just go, “Lord, I can’t anymore, all I have to cling to are Your promises, the promsies I can’t believe are true for me. 

Yet, I abandon myself to you, I will depend on what I can’t see, what may be beyond my logic, but what you promise is real.

You are here… I can see that today…when I couldn’t last week, and may struggle next month to see it.

You are here!

So I will praise You, So I will rejoice in a God who wrote those promsies through prophets, and etched them in the hands of His Son.

Yet… a powerful word.

One I need to pull out and use… often.

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1394-1399). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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