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Has your Faith matured, or just gotten old?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:
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 2:3 (NLT2)

68 We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?
69 Of course, it is true that those who despise the sacrament and lead unchristian lives receive it to their harm and damnation. To such people nothing can be good or wholesome, just as when a sick person willfully eats and drinks what is forbidden him by the physician.
70 But those who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help, should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems. For here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils.

Sin can be forgiven but not corruption, simply because at the root of every corrupt attitude there is a fatigue for transcendence. In front of God who does not get tired of forgiving, the corrupt person gets tired of asking for forgiveness.

You can’t go to a seminar for church leaders where you won’t hear about the “nones”, the people who have no religious affiliation at all, that won’t even declare themselves agnostic, or atheist.  They are described by those who “observe” them as apathetic toward any form of organized religion.  

I am not sure as I would describe them as the apathetic ones.  

I think I would describe as apathetic those who believe we can’t reach them, just as five to ten years ago we gave up on GenX and tried to focus on the millennials.  You might be thinking I am talking about being apathetic about out-reach, about Evangelism, 

I am not, I think our problem is deeper than that, that our apathy starts with the very salvation and the presence of God. It starts with what Martin Luther called despising the sacrament, or “getting tired of asking forgiveness” that Pope Francis describes as being subject ot corruption.  We see it as well in Paul’s words in Hebrews, asking what hope is there for those who neglect so great a salvation.

As a pastor, as one who trains others in ministry, what  I’ve learned is that people can only respond so long to motivational cries for evangelism before they burn out.  They can only keep their purpose-driven lifestyle up so long before it fades and disappears and we lose our first love. If doing our duty is our motivation in our being missional, in working where God has sent us to be a light, then we will fatigue like metal, We will allow our spirits to be corrupted.  

Some call this backsliding, others term it a “falling away”. I simply think a spirit of apathy has found room in our hearts and slowly taken over. Instead of maturing in our relationship with Jesus, we’ve allowed it simply to age, to get old. As it ages it becomes more fragile, brittle, and even bitter.

Where is the answer?  

It is going back to what is amazing, what moves us from the fear of God into being in awe of Him.  In once again finding the joy that comes when we know we are forgiven, that God is restoring our relationship with Him, and restoring the calling in our lives. We need to see the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist as the incredible blessing it is, and the promise of again knowing we are forgiven, and that God desires to share in our life, as He invites us to share in His. 

The medicine that cures apathy is God’s mercy, applied to the wounds in our lives caused by sin.  That healing changes us, and as we experience the fact that we are loved, that God rejoices when we allow Him to forgive and heal us of the damage inflicted by sin.  That promise, fo forgiveness realized is not easily forgotten, nor that feeling as we take and eat, and take and drink, and experience the depth of God’s love. Prayer, reading the scriptures, remembering the promises given to you in baptism, receiving Christ in the Lord’s supper, and hearing your sins are absolved renews your faith.  A renewed faith is full of joy.  That joy is contagious, that joy, lived out day to day is noticeable…..and you can’t be apathetic about it.

That joy is the thing that will attract the “nones” 

You want to reach a broken world?  Let God reach you in your brokenness… and heal you of your sin!

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 234). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

The Challenge of Being Right

16  I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. 17  For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.”
Romans 1:16-17 (TEV)

When relating these events in his Gospel, Saint Matthew continually emphasizes Joseph’s faithfulness. He kept the commandments of God without wavering, even though the meaning of those commandments was sometimes obscure or their relation to the rest of the divine plan hidden from him. The Fathers of the Church and other spiritual writers frequently emphasize the firmness of Joseph’s faith. Referring to the angel’s command to fly from Herod and take refuge in Egypt,7 Saint John Chrysostom comments: “On hearing this, Joseph was not shocked nor did he say: ‘This is strange. You yourself made it known not long ago that he would save his people, and now you are incapable even of saving him—we have to flee, to set out on a long journey and spend a long while in a strange place; that contradicts your promise.’ Joseph does not think in this way, for he is a man who trusts God. Nor does he ask when he will return, even though the angel left it so vague: ‘Stay there, until I tell you to return.’ Joseph does not object; he obeys and believes and joyfully accepts all the trials.”8 Joseph’s faith does not falter, he obeys quickly and to the letter. To understand this lesson better, we should remember that Joseph’s faith is active, that his docility is not a passive submission to the course of events. For the Christian’s faith has nothing whatever to do with conformity, inertia, or lack of initiative. Joseph entrusted himself unreservedly to the care of God, but he always reflected on events and so was able to reach that level of understanding of the works of God which is true wisdom. In this way he learned little by little that supernatural plans have a logic which at times upsets human plans.

There are days where it is a challenge to live by faith, to live in view of the brutal world where people are butchered, tortured, and enslaved.  There are days where the pain is much closer, a friend struggling with cancer, a son dealing with the death of a parent, the parent dealing with the death of a child. It can even be more of an irritant, an argument among friends, or even a relationship being broken, a relationship between people who should be united, but can’t get past their brokenness.

Some may dismiss these latter things by noting that we are sinners, that we are supposed to be broken, that what we need to do is be confident in our absolution. Surely that is true for sins in our past, but the danger lies in assuming that such a lack of faith is appropriate for tomorrow.  The lesson that some will hear is that we don’t have to be concerned about loving our neighbor, caring for the widow and orphan, and if we fail to because of self-interest or greed or apathy?  Oh well, confess it, and be confident in your forgiveness.

St Josemaria, in talking about Joseph, quotes one of the key verses for Martin Luther. The just shall live by faith!    But what does that mean?  Does it mean that we are simply quickened (as the old Creed says) and are alive because of faith, or does it mean we actually LIVE, day by day, moment by moment, dependent on God, trusting Him for what He has promised, revelling in the joy of His presence, even when life sucks?

That is life by faith, life in Christ, real life, the kind of life that accepts what comes to us, trusting and depending on God. This was ultimately freeing to Luther, not just in absolution, but in living.  For Joseph, Escriva claims it gave him the strength to obey the angelic visitation that occurred in dreams (unlike Mary who encountered the angel face to face.)  He just went, because he trusted God.  He went depending on God, despite the oddities, despite the lack of answers, despite the appearance that God didn’t care.

You want to be right?  Live this way, dependent on God, so dependent that obedience becomes more natural, and that when we fail, we run for forgiveness – in both cases dependent on the promise of God… How does this grow?  Through encountering Christ through His word, through sacraments like the Eucharist, and through prayer and meditation on Christ.

For this is life!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1355-1371). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ethics, Ambition, Apathy and Success

Devotional Thought of the Day:
16  Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 17  He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ 18  And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods 19  and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” 20  But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ 21   Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
Luke 12:16-21 (NAB)

441         Take note of this. I told a certain noble, learned and dauntless man, on a memorable occasion, that by defending a holy cause, which “good people” were attacking, a high post in his field was at stake: he was going to lose it. With a voice full of human and supernatural seriousness, despising the honours of this earth, he answered: “It is my soul that is at stake.”

A long time ago, before I became a pastor, I remember being driven to do a good job.  Not because I always enjoyed it, but because if I did well, if my numbers looked good, I would be promoted. I took my joy in the bonuses and added responsibility.

I eventually burnt out on that, for I found out it was all vanity, a never ending circle of having to do better, for you prior best was now considered the standard, and so yuo were driven to do more, to take one more, to feel more pressure.  The temptation to take advantage of the letter of the law was large, again for both ego and the salary need had to be fed.

Then came a point where I didn’t want more responsibility, my ambition waned.  I just wanted something I could invest myself in, and do well. But not so well that others would want to add more responsibility to my burdens.  I didn’t want to coast, or slacken the work, but neither was I ready to take on more responsibility.  In a way, I lost all sense of ambition, struggling with what appeared to be the cost.  For I thought ambition would always lead to the end of the man in the parable, who fulfilled his desire, and didn’t get to enjoy it.

In those days, I would read that passage, or the St. Josemaria’s narrative, and use both to deny my sense of ambition, to pacify and counter it.  Simply put, you can maintain status quo, and have that negatively impact your soul, and the soul of others. We have to realize that what we do, and our attitudes and drives can be costly.  It doesn’t matter the goal, or whether we are driven to success or apathetic.  We have more than that binary option, don’t we?

I am struggling with the idea that ambition and ethics, ambition and Christ-likeness may not be as contrary as I think. Nor is it the goal of the ambition that we must question.  It is who benefits from seeing our goals acheived.  Is it our ego, or our soul, or the souls of others?

Maybe the question isn’t between being apathetic (masqueraded as contentment) or driven.  Maybe the question is how we define the “success” that we are driven to achieve?j

Can our ambition, our drive be harnessed to serve people?  To care for souls, to be as effective as we can, because we know the love poured into us.  To embrace the hardships that ambition requires, not to be praised as martyrs, but because we walk with Christ, and His desires become ours.  Can our souls and the souls of others benefit from our “success?”

St Paul wrote,  “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”  (Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT) )

This is the start to “holy ambition”, this focus on Jesus, on making Jesus known to others, to serving them sacrificially so that we give them the opportunity to find rest and healing in Jesus.  To take our thoughts and make them obey, to have them hear and be consistent with the nature of Jesus.

That takes effort, and work, patience and ambition.

The end result is worth it all.

We know Him.  Souls are saved…

It’s monday – time to get to work!

.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1960-1963). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I was glad when they said, “let’s go to the house of the Lord?” Really?

Devotional THought of the Day:

 1  It made me glad to hear them say, “Let’s go to the house of the LORD!”   Psalm 122:1 (CEV)

 4  The one thing I ask of the LORD— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his TemplePsalm 27:4 (NLT)

Have you ever woken up in the morning, and felt ashamed because you didn’t bounce out of bed, eat reakfast and race to the car, wanting to get to church a little early, to help or just to pray?  

Or when people are so joyously ravind about their worship “experience”, have you wondered if they somehow were in a different dimension and were part of a different service?

Do you worry that you are becoming like that church in Revelation that was described as having lost their “first love”?

Good, that means I am not alone!

It may not happen as much anymore, but there are seasons in my life, even as a pastor, when church became a chore.  Where my sense of worship became more mechanical, where I just did my job.  And no, I wasn’t glad when the alarm went off, when I wasn’t overjoyed at being in church, and my mind ran off to a thousand other things.  Where scriptures like the first one above, just seemed to cause more guilt, than encouragement. Where I figure, well if I can’t get anything out of it. at least I can serve God.

Which leads me to ask, what are expecting? Hopefully some good music (here excellent music) a decent sermon, some needed hugs and smiles.We expect to hear that our sins are forgiven, that all is right in God’s view of the world.

These things are all awesome things, but they aren’t the reason we are glad to go up to the house of the Lord.

Pslam 27 gives us the reason, to gaze upon Him, to fidn the greatest joy in His presence, to be able to just, know His love, and revel in it. What we need to remember about such gatherings that God draws us to be part of, the communities He brings us into, is that He is there.  The reason I am glad to go to church, is when I think through all the ways He makes His presence clear to us, when are gathered by Him in His name.  When we can breath and slow down, and His comfort and ehaling find us, where we feast with Him.  When I can realize the motions I so often find myself going through, as not just motions, but God ordained dance steps with Him as our partner. Where we hear his guidance, where we look upon His love, the body and blood given and shed for us, when we remember His promises poured out on us in Baptism. Church isn’t about the actions, but the Lord’s presence those actions reveal.

Think about Moses, walking onto Holy Ground, about Isaiah before the throne of God, about Solomon as they dedicate the temple – and God’s presence fills it,  about Thomas in the upper room gathering, seeing the hands and side… pierced for Him.  Know His love, revel in the relationship that is manifest there.

the reason I was glad to go to the house of the Lord?  Because He is there… calling me to come be part of His family… to come home, to be home, with Him.

 

 

The Challenge of Apathy

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:

It is, I believe, the greatest sin that challenges my generation of believers, and I know that it presents the two biggest challenges I have, as a pastor, and as a believer.

The first is dealing with the apathy of others – the lack of commitment of time and energy to the thing that we will confess means the most to us, our relationship with God, our trust in Him, the communion that He calls us into.  We allow sin to come in and choke the Life lived in trusting God out.  Choked out by the noise, the prevalent immorality, the pressure of finances, the demands on our time, the futility of the events of the world and leaders whose actions terrifying us… and as the Church, we become paralyzed.

The second is more personal, as I look out on my work, and say, what can one small church pastor do to stop this slide?  I don’t see any reason to swim against the tide, unless I can bring others with me.  So why fight, when few it seems actually want to join in the battle?  When few even want to see the battle, but instead look to their own comfort.  I read the prophets, and I identify with the Jeremiah’s who realize that there is an end to the battle, yet wonder how distant it will be, how far until the next revivial, the next time that god’s people stop doing what is right in their own eyes, and call out… to Him.. and find His presence…and knowing that peace is there no matter what – start joyously sacrificing to bring others into that peace, that joy, that merciful presence of God.

When will we realize that sacrfiice, isn’t sacrifice if what comes out of it completely obscures what life was like, before there was LIFE?

One of my favorite verses, which doesn’t seem like it deals with apathy, is from St Peter’s epistle.  “simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. 1 Peter 3:(Phillips NT)

It does though, for it provides the answer to apathy, which is simply to adore the Lord who wasn’t apathetic towards you.  To know that hope which He gives to you, as the Holy Spirit dwells within you, which is both the guarantee of God’s love and work and mercy, and the Comforter, Encourager and Strength.   Realize that there will be days when the old adam, the you before you knew Christ, rises up and questions the worth of you action.  Remind that old self that he was killed off in baptism, that your life now, is in Christ.  You heart and mind, guarded by Him, kept in the Father’s unsurpassed, indescribable peace….

And you will find yourself apathetic, about dealing with apathy…. and as you are drawn by the Holy Spirit against the current of the world, don’t be surprised if others follow in your wake,  their battle a little less, for you that is how God is using you.  (and note – when you are weary.. their surge will help you as well.)

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