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The Limit of a Pastor’s (or Priest’s) Authority…

 

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29  for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law. Matthew 7:28-29 (NLT)

14  When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT)

Confession has two parts:
First, a person admits his sin
Second, a person receives absolution or forgiveness from the confessor, as if from God Himself, without doubting it, but believing firmly that his sins are forgiven by God in Heaven through it.

The pastoral work of our parishes should involve reflection, logistics, planning, etc., but only in order to dedicate more quality time to the important task: works of charity.

Thus he discoursed gravely and paternally; in default of examples, he invented parables, going directly to the point, with few phrases and many images, which characteristic formed the real eloquence of Jesus Christ. And being convinced himself, he was persuasive.

The other day a lady from our community called me and asked if we helped people other than Christians. I replied that we do, and then she proceeded to describe needs that couldn’t be met by a church 50 times larger than the one I pastor.  But she demanded that I demand my people to meet the need she had. 

She said I had the authority to do so… and was disappointed and angry that I couldn’t. 

But it got me thinking about the church and the authority it invests in those that it calls pastors, or ministers, or priests. 

I think the perfect portrayal of a pastor is found, not in theology books, but in the priest/bishop described in blue above.  The quote is from Les Miserables, and the Bishop is the one who forgives the sins of Jean Valjean, giving him the silver he stole.  He talked directly, and with authority, the authority that is proper for one in ministry, the authority to be merciful, the authority to reconcile, the authority that is persuasive, because the pastor is convinced himself.

Not of his authority, for that is simply delegated.  

We are (or we should be) convinced of God’s mercy toward us.  We need to be convinced that though we can never fully understand His love, we can experience it, and lead people to experience His love. The authority is seen most clearly when we realize that we are the ones who have been forgiven, we are the ones who God has saved from the brokenness we chose. 

It is that conviction that leads us to wield the authority we are delegated, the authority to pour out the grace of God upon broken people, assuring them of the healing of God found as He cleanses them of their sin.   We can speak for God about this, in fact, we must speak for God in this way.  For He commands it.  

This is our vocation, this is our call.  Somewhere along the line, we picked up other hats, other roles, especially administrative ones, but our only God-given role is that we are overseers and caretakers of souls.  Mercy is what we’ve been authorized to distribute.  Love as well, for in reality, they are the same thing.  Or to use the word that combines them, charity.   The more we can delegate the other stuff, the more time we spend doing what we are called to do, the more the church will come alive, as is it freed from the sin which so ensnares us.

If you are a pastor/priest, find ways to preach and teach God’s word, revealing to people God’s love, and administer the sacraments as often and faithfully as you can.   If you are not, turn to your pastor/priest for such care often, and do what you can to free him up to use this special gift to bless others.

And at all times, praise God for providing this minsitry of reconciliaiton ot us all! 

 


Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

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.

Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables (English language) (Kindle Locations 438-439). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Which Miracle Would You Choose? Which is more needed?

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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought for our Broken Days:

Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 But so you may know that the Son of Man  has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, 11 “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” Mark 2:8-11  HCSB

476      For each one of us, as for Lazarus, it was really a veni foras—come out—which got us moving. How sad it is to see those who are still dead and don’t know the power of God’s mercy! Renew your holy joy, for opposite the man who is decomposing without Christ, there is another who has risen with him.

A little background is necessary for this blog.

I grew up with a genetic disorder known as Marfan’s Syndrome.  It’s one of those nasty connective tissue disorders that affects my eyes, my spine, and my heart.  It was responsible for a cardiac arrest in my twenties, and the necessity of two of my heart valves being replaced 20 years ago.  I also had to deal with severe asthma attacks and allergies that put me in the hospital often and caused me to miss as many as 60 days of school in third grade.  Looking back, I was probably significantly on the Asperger’s spectrum, because my social skill wasn’t exactly…. normal. (If you know me, you know it still isn’t!)

In the process, for all of the above, my parents would have people pray for me.  We even went to see Kathryn Kuhlman once, which required a really long bus trip. My folks did what they could as did the experts.  If ripping off the roof of a house would have secured my healing – they would have done it.  For me, the idea of physical healing isn’t just a passing idea, it is something desired for a long time.  Regular back pain, poor eyesight, and the clicking of mechanical valves impact me greatly at times – both physically and psychologically, and more times than I want to admit, spiritually.

As I read that passage this morning, it hit me.  God did answer a prayer for healing in my life, but not the physical healing we all wanted.  Instead, what God gave me was what the paralytic was offered, the forgiveness of my sin.

All of it, and that is a lot.

From the things that would cause me not to sleep at night because of guilt and shame, to the little things in the eyes of the world, to the sin that I attempt to justify.

He came to die, that all my sin would be paid for, the debt I incurred by committing it erased.  For that, I will ever be grateful.

I think the scribes had it right for once when they noted that forgiving sins was a far greater miraculous act, a act far more requiring the full power, authority and responsibility of God.  

There are doctors and others who can perform physical miracles today, there are people who have the gift of doing so, and among those even some who don’t believe in God.  But forgiving sin, that is a whole different matter.

And Jesus, fully God, fully man, can forgive our sin and does.  He has that right, He has the ability, and he invested that ability in His people, with the responsibility given to those who shepherd them, who guide them into God’s presence, the men who reveal God’s presence in their lives.

This miracle is one that impacts us far beyond our mortal life.  That is why it required more dunamis, more power/authority/responsibility/capability than other miracles.  It was why the scribe doubted.

Would I love to be healed completely of the effect of Marphans?  Yes
Would I like to be more socially skilled, and less awkward?  Hmmm… tough one. 🙂  (there are days when the world not making sense is a good thing)

But were I to have all that, and not have the forgiveness of sins, all would be lost.  So I will rejoice in my weakness, and rejoice in a Lord that loves me and shows me the mercy I so need, and so do not deserve.  This is what raises us like Lazarus from the dead, this is the power of God’s mercy at work, this is the power that raised Christ from the dead at work in you and I!

Come know the joy of being forgiven, reconciled, redeemed,

( and we can still pray that God heals the rest!)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1820-1824). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Words That You Need to Hear Me Say, but “I” dont say them.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21  (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:19-23 (NAB)

So rejoice my friends, based on your confession and your faith in Christ hear these words. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the  † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  adapted from the Lutheran Liturgy, Confession, and Absolution 

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

It is necessary to discover anew the meaning of the scandal that enables one man to say to another: “I absolve you from your sins.” In that moment—as, for that matter, in the administration of every other sacrament—the priest draws his authority, not, certainly, from the consent of a man, but directly from Christ. The I that says “I absolve you …” is not that of a creature; it is directly the I of the Lord. I feel more and more uneasy when I hear the facile way in which people designate as “ritualistic”, “external”, and “anonymous” the formerly widespread manner of approaching the confessional.

It does seem scandalous, every Sunday as I stand in from of my parishioners and guests, and dare to forgive their sins.  Who am I to have just a great task.  Or worse, in those times where people aren’t repentant, to hand them over to Satan for a season.   ( 1 Cor. 5:5,  1 Thes. 1:20)  

But who am I to dare tell Joe that his sins are forgiven?  What if he is a man who cheats on his wife, or is verbally abusive toward his co-workers?  What if he’s been stealing and breaking into houses, or cheating on his taxes?  What if he constantly gossips about political figures?

How dare I stand there, look at him, and say, “I forgive your sins…”

Luther has it correct, the focus is not on me, but on you hearing what God desires you to hear.  You are freed from the bondage you put yourself into by sinning.  The eternal consequences have been transferred to Jesus on the Cross, they are not yours.  You need to cherish these words,  value them as life-giving, life-restoring.  It is a spiritual form of CPR and first aid. 

Pope Benedict seems to resonate with these words as well, as he discusses the delegation of Christ’s authority (see Matthew 28:18) to forgive sins is given to the pastor to use, for the benefit of God’s people.  THe “I” there is no longer dustin the sinner, but it is Jesus speaking to you.  

His authority, His message, His decision.

You are forgiven.

It is finished.

For by the stripes Jesus bore, you have been healed!

Rejoice!

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

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 Do We Play Hide, and Not Seek?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought fo the Day:

16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NLT)

323         Anyone who hides a temptation from his director shares a secret with the devil. He has become a friend of the enemy.

3 With regard to the time, it is certain that most people in our churches use the sacraments, absolution and the Lord’s Supper, many times a year. Our clergy instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments in such a way as to invite them to use the sacraments often. On this subject our theologians have written many things which our opponents, if they are but honest, will undoubtedly approve and praise.

There is no hope, no chance to correct the wrongs, no chance to fix that was broken, the person thought.  So they had one of two easy solutions,  Ignore the problem, or run and hide from it. either way, the damage increases, and the help needed to overcome the problem is ignored.

If this was a medical issue, (and yes people ignore and hide from them) most of us would come alongside the person and urge, even beg them to seek help.  If it was an addiction, we might risk their anger and do the same.   But how many of us are going to take such an action on something that is far more critical, the spiritual health of our friends and family?  How many of us would even think to suggest absolution, the ministry, and sacrament of reconciliation, if someone was sharing their battle with guilt and shame?

St. Josemaria’s words are harsh, that when we hide our sins, when we don’t confess them, when we don’t ask for help in dealing with them, we effectively align with Satan, and we accept the bondage of guilt and shame which will paralyze and haunt us. 

That’s pretty serious, and after 20 years of ministry, and seeing the problems that unresolved guilt and shame brought upon people, upon their family and friends, I concur. All we do when we ignore sin, or when we isolate ourselves from others because of it is fall, to trust in Satan’s deception. 

Confession and absolution, the hearing that God does forgive us because of Jesus’ work on the cross, that free us from that bondage, it starts the healing of brokenness that would otherwise crush us. It is liberating, it brings about both incredible joy and incredible peace. 

It’s time to stop ignoring our sin, or hiding from others as the sin and guilt tear our souls apart.  

God loves you and wants you to know, He desires to cleanse you of it all, to restore your soul, to mend the broken hearts.  He wants us to encourage each other to know this, to hear it from those entrusted to speak on His behalf.

Come, know the peace of God, and rejoice in the freedom Christ’s blood bought you!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1526-1527). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.  

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

The Paradoxical Mystery of Confession

St Francis Catholic Church

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

14 Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, 15and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. 16For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, he helps the descendants of Abraham. 17This means that he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people’s sins would be forgiven. 18And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered.  Heb 2:14-18 TEV

261      God is with you. The Blessed Trinity dwells in your soul in grace. That is why, in spite of your wretchedness, you can and should keep up a continuous conversation with the Lord.

Growing up Catholic, the thing you learned to fear was that once a week meeting with your priest.  For us at St. Francis Elementary School, the parish priest would come to the school, and though he never made eye contact with you, his presence intimidated you.

You were afraid to mention your sins, and logically, I do not know why.

He wasn’t a mean.
He wasn’t known for asking outrageous acts of Penance, (the usual was 5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Mary’s and 2 acts of contrition – you could say that much on your way back to class)

But there was something intimidating about confessing to another person, even to a man God put in place to remind you that you were forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross!

Now some forty years later, and being a Lutheran pastor who absolves people of sins, I realize there is no difference.  People are still intimidated, still anxious, people still struggle with guilt and shame.

Even though we know the solution is found in our merciful high Priest Jesus, we shy away from Him, we put up our defenses, we deny we have done wrong. We try to hide our wretchedness, the wretchedness that eats us alive, that causes our souls to wither, our hearts to break.

We need to learn to trust, to depend on this God who came to us, to be like us, to free us from that sin, that shame, that oppression.  We need to let Him help us, to speak through those He’s called and ordained to do this very work.

We need to hear, “you are forgiven”

There is the paradox, the One we fear the most, the One we want to hide from the most, is the Lord who can do something to cut away our sin,,,to cleanse and purify us.

This is what we need, this is what we’ve been promised, this is what we should run to in hope, this time where God dwells in our heart with all His grace and love.

So don’t hesitate.  There are pastors and priests waiting, desiring to do their job, to tell you that which is the best news you will here today, or any day….

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1092-1094). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The One Exception to Judge Not… there is someone needing judgment.

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
27  It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (TEV)

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” says the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and you shall not be condemned” (Luke, 6:37). “No,” says the holy apostle, “judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart” (2 Cor. 4:5). Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges of one another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because everyone has enough to do to judge himself, without taking upon him to judge his neighbour. 

As I read the words in blue this morning, I knew I had to write about them.  

I didn’t want to, because the moment I read them, I start judging all the people around me who are not just judging others but condemning them. The spirits of division, of bitterness, of hatred aren’t just seeping into their lives, we are drowning in the flood of them.

We aren’t foolish enough to claim we are more righteous than the world, but we are more than willing to bash people, Trump, Clinton, the Kardashians, people of other religions, heck some even bash the New England Patriots and their loyal fans.  And the bashing is always judgmental, always condemning, always done in a way that raises anxiety

It is a sickness, one which depresses and isolates.  Personally, I long for the days when I was an introvert and could shut out the world. Even as I write this, I see it for what it really is, a form of judgment, a temptation to isolate myself from the evil, without recognizing that I can’t escape from it, for in trying to do so…. I embody what I am trying to flee.

It was the last line from St. Francis de Sales that helped me this morning, the line about everyone having enough to do to judge themselves.

You might think it odd I found this to be good news, the purest of gospel.  For judging myself does bring the gospel into my life, erasing the need to judge others. For there, when I realize my frailty, when I recognize my sin, my instinct is to cry out for grace, to find sanctuary from the evil that not only threatens me externally but seems to well up internally.

In examining myself, I find the need to find a safe place, a place where judgment is cast aside, where burdens are lifted, where hope is revived and finds stimulation.  Where I find a love beyond measure, seen in a grace where God forgives my desire to judge others, and the times where I do so. Examining myself drives me to absolution, and to the altar where God reminds me of His love by giving me His body and blood to eat and drink, where I get to fellowship with Him!

There, I find not just the peace I need eternally, but I find others receiving it as well.  I find it offered to those I struggle with, those I want to judge, those I want to condemn.  And even if they aren’t there as my parish communes, they might be on their own, and they are to be welcomed at all places. 

Not only am I reminded of God’s grace forgiving me, drawing me to Him, into Christ, but I also am reminded that forgiveness is for all….

And for the moment, peace invades my darkness, shattering it, revealing a wholeness, completeness, that will be mine when we are found before Hi throne.

This is life in Christ, this is why I try to remain devout, depending on Him.  For there I find the answer to my cry,, not for judgment, but for mercy.  

For all of us.

Judge not… except yourself, so you may run to Him and find peace.

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

A Pastoral Confession: The Paradox of Holiness

DSCF1421Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

13  So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’.
1 Peter 1:13 (Phillips NT)

887    That discouragement produced by your repeated lack of generosity, by your relapses, by your falls—perhaps only apparent—often makes you feel as if you had broken something of exceptional value: your sanctification. Don’t be worried: bring to your supernatural life the wise way simple children have of resolving such a conflict. They have broken—nearly always through frailty—an object that is dear to their father. They’re sorry, perhaps they shed tears, but they go to seek consolation from the owner of what has been damaged through their awkwardness; and their father forgets the value—great though it may be—of the broken object and, filled with tenderness, he not only pardons, but consoles and encourages the little one. Learn.

Like most pastors, I struggle with this thing called holiness.

On the one hand, Scripture clearly lays it out as a requirement for our lives, and as a measuring stick for me personally, and for my vocation, my life as pastor.  If my goal is a pastor is to present you perfect and holy to God (see Col. 1:28)) then it is the standard to judge my work, my vocation, my life.

I’ve looked at how pastors treat holiness, looking for examples and encouragement, but I find too little.  I see most pastors and priest taking one of two attitudes about it, and neither seems to help.  I will go so far as saying both are contrary to scripture.

The first attitude is one of regimentation, of physical and mental obedience that doesn’t affect the heart.  This quickly develops into legalism, that is less concerned about you than about your life being lived visibly according to the set standards.  Everything becomes measured, notated and analyzed like a geometry test.  It is not discipleship as much as a form of cloning.  And it burns people out, for no one can live up to the standard, including those who see themselves as being responsible for measuring people against it.

The second attitude is just as dangerous, even though it seems the exact opposite.  TO deny the need for holiness, to say it is a unachievable goal, and that Jesus broke us free from answering completely to the law. ( For Lutherans, this would be those who deny that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a third use of the law)   As the legalists do this is not about the person, it is about the behavior.  They might say since holiness is impossible, just rely on grace to forgive you.  Not directly, but that is the result of their theory.

So I either push them too hard or don’t care what they do.

So where am I to shepherd them too?  How are they to be holy even as the Father is holy if they aren’t taught what holiness is, and how it develops in a person?

Even harder is my own application of holiness if I am not holy, how in the world can I expect to lead them into holiness, into a deeper, more committed, more fulfilling relationship where the peace and comfort that comes from knowing God loves them is their primary desire?

I think it comes from understanding what holiness is, what it looks like.

St. Josemaria gives a picture of it, with his description of a child breaking a treasured item. This is going to God, the owner, the author, and perfector of our holiness, and asking for comfort, for consolation – this is holiness.  At the very purest level, this seeing God’s help in restoring what is marred, what is broken, what is shattered, this is the kind of holiness we need to see.

The holiness of a child, seeking comfort, seeking peace, because we know what we have done, this destruction of what God treasured, is an act of faith, and an act of trust.

God will look past it; He promised He could because it was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Knowing this, we can run to Him; we can tell those running to Him the words of comfort, “Your sins are forgiven!”

This is the faith that runs to God, knowing He is with us.  Knowing and depending on a love that will allow nothing to separate us from Him. Providing for the people of God this encouragement, this blessing, this life.

Not just dismissing their sin, as if it didn’t cost the blood of Christ, nor scourging them and beating them up for their not living like the Lord who shed His blood for them.

It is in His death, which we are united to in baptism, that we find the grace St Peter talks of, the grace that gives us our hope, the hope that sustains us, and actually sanctifies us, for when we walk in His presence, when we run to Him for forgiveness and comfort, there He is working, making us Holy.

May we all run to our Father, and cry out for His help!

AMEN!


Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2049-2055). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Take Sin’s Cure Seriously Enough?

chemnitz-on-us-dwelling-in-jesusDevotional Thought of the Day:

26  The LORD said, “Do not make idols or set up statues, stone pillars, or carved stones to worship. I am the LORD your God.   Leviticus 26:1 TEV

16  Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
James 5:16 (MSG)

Marcion taught, on the basis of the opinions of his master Cerdo, that there is one god of the Old Testament, just, stern, and punitive toward sin, who rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom, Gen. 19:24; and there is another god of the New Testament, merciful, beneficent, long-suffering, who “causes His sun to rise and sends rain on the just and the unjust,

 

Our Saviour has left the holy sacrament of penance and confession to his Church, that in it we may cleanse ourselves from all our iniquities, as often as we should be defiled by them. Never suffer your heart, then, Philothea, to remain long affected with sin, since you have so easy a remedy at hand. A soul which has consented to sin ought to conceive a horror of herself, and cleanse herself as quickly as possible, out of the respect she ought to bear to the Divine Majesty, who incessantly beholds her. Alas! why should we die a spiritual death, when we have so sovereign a remedy at hand?

I have to wonder how much Marcion’s idea of two gods, one of the Old Testament and One of the New affects our viewpoint of sin.

The thought is prevalent today among many in the church, and it drastically colors our viewpoint of sin.  We tend to dismiss things in the Old Testament that were prohibited  (and not declared clean like bacon and Gentiles!) because we see the God of the Old being different, and having different standards than Jesus.

Perhaps that is why we don’t take the cure for sin seriously?

We all are sinners, whether it is gossip, or sexual sins, or hatred and name calling. We’ve developed our justifications, our defenses, such as – well that was in the Old Testament, and life is different in the New Testament.  We even have simply gotten to the point where we deny that sin is sin.  We ignore its gravity, its pain, its horror.

Worse than the horror, what we are really doing is robbing ourselves, and those we teach, of a wondrous gift, a gift that is more valuable than anything we could purchase.  We don’t cover up and hide the sin, we bury and hide God’s glorious love and mercy.

We rob ourselves of forgiveness, of the healing and restoration God has promised us.  We rob ourselves of being right with God, of knowing His love and presence.  As De Sales teaches, why should we embrace a spiritual death, when our remedy is so at hand?  When that remedy is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you, that this covenant promise would be yours – that you would be righteous, innocent and holy, being freed from sin.

Paul’s words in Hebrew echo again here – run to Jesus, for if e neglect such a great salvation, what else is there?  And if we are neglecting it because we don’t want to deal with sin, what is there?

The challenge is presenting this, not as the choice between wrath and paradise, for that is not the primary purpose of forgiveness.  That purpose is so that we can know, that we can be assured that God is our God, that we are His people, that we are in fellowship, a deep intimate relationship that is based on the deepest of love.  His love which doesn’t ignore our sin, but heals us. That was His plan throughout the Old Testament (read the dedication of the Temple if you don’t believe me) and is fully revealed in Jesus in the new.

Which is why Chemnitz follows his comments about Marcion with the beautiful, intimate description of our dwelling in the Word of God  (that is, Jesus) as a baby dwells in the uterus.  Safe, secure, nourished, until we find the day where glory shines… and all that is God is revealed.

Til then, we dwell in His peace. Amen!

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.1885. Print.

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 

Is Your Church a Refuge Where You Can Really Pray????

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”   Mark 11:16-17 TEV 

 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NLT)

Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.

As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.

Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking.  It wasn’t that at all.  I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.

The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities.  But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.

Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)

As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….

Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives.  There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.

Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives.  Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.

We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.

What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,

19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.

This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family.  The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken.  As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”

By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.

That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….

May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Recovering from, “Lord, I WILL NEVER….”

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

33 Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!” 34 Jesus said to Peter, “I tell you that before the cock crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.” 35 Peter answered, “I will never say that, even if I have to die with you!” ……75  and Peter remembered what Jesus had told him: “Before the cock crows, you will say three times that you do not know me.” He went out and wept bitterly…  Matt 26:33-35 & 75d  TEV

Confound yourself: But, alas! my Creator, instead of uniting myself to Thee by love and service, I have become rebellious by my inordinate affections, wandering and straying from Thee, to unite myself to sin: valuing thy goodness no more than if Thou hadst not been my Creator.
4. Prostrate yourself before God: O my soul, know that the Lord is thy God: it is He that has made thee, and not thou thyself. O God, I am the work of thy hand.

I saw a meme this morning that said the best celebrations of Christmas are preceded by powerful tears of advent.

I think the thought is correct, if only needing to be unpacked a little, to help us explain, to help us grieve, to help us weep, to help us heal.

As we hear Peter’s strong words at the Last Supper, I hear them with my voice.  I hear me telling the Lord how I will not fail Him, how I will gladly even face death if that is what it takes.  Yet I find it harder to face life, to hear those crows as I fail, over and over again.

I won’t commit that sin again, I won’t fail to love, I won’t fail… and I do.

You do as well.

We do as de Sales indicates, we fail to see ourselves united to God, we fail to love Him with all we are, and we unite ourselves to sin.  We wander about, trying to satisfy our passionate desire, trying to convince ourselves that we are actually good enough, strong enough, holier than the next person, which should be enough.

We need to hear that rooster, we need to remember Jesus words, we need to remember we are the created, not the Creator.

For then, we prodigals can rush home, for we realize there is no other hope, and that all we desire, is found in the Lord who proved His faithfulness to us; even as we see the proof in the nail holes in His hands, and the gaping wide wound that reveals His heart.

So realize you will cry, you will fail, you will sin, and He will absolve, and forgive, and heal.

(and you might find such love will sustain you through the next temptation…)

Cry out, through those tears, and with confidence in His fidelity, “Lord, have mercy in me, a sinner…”  Then let Him draw you into His glory, where you will find healing and peace…

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

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