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Delayed Gratification and the Missio Dei.


dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the day:

9  The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 10  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and melt away, the earth and all that it contains will be burned up. 11  Since everything is coming to an end like this, what holy and saintly lives you should be living! 2 Peter 3:9-11 (NJB)

48      It would be good if it could be said of you that the distinguishing feature of your life was “loving God’s Will”.

Most of us go through life, living day to day.  Because of that we give little thought to tomorrow, or next week, or eternity.

We want everything now, and the struggle ( noted 30 years ago by M Scott Peck ) with delayed gratification has only become worse.  We can’t wait months anymore, sometimes we can’t wait hours.

SO how can we understand a God who will be patient for decades with us, who will be patient for millennia with humanity?  How can we understand the patience that is born of a desire to have us realize we are His people?

For that is His desire, that we realize the Jesus died, not just to separate us from our guilt and shame, but so free of it that we spend time with our God who is holy and righteous, who wants to care for our children. God is patient, hoping we understand His desire to call us His friends.

If this realization was the distinguishing feature of our life, and of our lives together, how incredible our lives would be!  How we would consecrate ourselves to His mission, to the vocation of the apostolate – realizing we are sent, whether we work in a church, or at Best Buy or running a country, to see this desire of God fulfilled.   Whether it is a friend we are sent to , or a homeless person, or a corporate CEO/COO.  It doesn’t matter. God desires to see all His friends at His table.  All of them.

Eternity is the goal, an eternity spent in the most loving relationship there is, eternity spent free of pain, of guilt, of shame, and eternal life.

So think about tomorrow…. and God’s desire for it… and watch your life change!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 402-403). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Forging the faithful… and standing the heat…. Words of Encouragement for those who serve God’s treasured people


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the day:

28  So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me. Colossians 1:28 (Phillips NT)

12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature.
Ephesians 4:12-13 (TEV)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun. I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood! How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

I was talking to another person in ministry this week, and we were talking about how to encourage young people to make the sacrifices of entering the ministry.  Within the context was also the discussion of the sacrifices we make to serve others. One of the sacrifices you might realize as you read the words in blue above.

If we are to be the instruments that which the Holy Spirit uses to “forge” people, to shape and mold them as we teach them and administer the sacraments, that weans we have to deal with the heat as well. Using more Lutheran terminology, you can’t preach Law and Gospel without hearing it yourself.  For that is how St Josemaria’s forge works, as we are purified and fashioned for the life God has planned for us – to be there for them.

Yet if we spend time at the forge, we have to be there in the heat, we have to hold on, and care for those God gives us to care for, to be there with the fire and the hammer, to work despite the heat, despite how it zaps our strength, despite their sweat and tears (and even the stubborn refusal to bend to God’s will)

Over 20 years of preaching in jails and churches, spending time at bedside and with those who are ill and dying, this is what ministry has taught me.  It is those moments where the heat is the hottest that I remember – not for the pain, but for incredible beauty that appears as the Holy Spirit transforms them, as the Spirit revitalizes them and reveals in them the image of God in which they were created, which was marred and broken by sin.

And being in the heat – you get to witness this, you get to see it. You get to look to God and say – I see what you did there, Oh my, how holy!  How they shine because of Your care, your mercy and love!  How they reflect your glory!  As we see this, the heat is forgotten, the Lord and His beloved children are all our mind can focus upon. It is an incredible blessing to see, more than any discomfort, far worth the sweat and the tears…

Miraculously something else happens, those of us who serve as tools, who endure the heat for others, realize the same heat that transformed them, is why we are able to bear the heat, because we too have been transformed and tempered as well.  While sometimes we think we are not made for this work, God turns our lives into masterpieces as well.

Praise God for the heat of His forge, and the work He gives us…. for it is an incredible thing to have a small part in, as He uses us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Does the Church Treasure the Trivial?


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

946    If you want to give yourselves to God in the world, more important than being scholars, you must be spiritual, closely united to our Lord through prayer. You must wear an invisible cloak that will cover every single one of your senses and faculties: praying, praying, praying; atoning, atoning, atoning.*  (1)

There was a time where I longed to study, to be the most knowledgeable person.  I loved to play games like Trivial Pursuit, and another game called Tribond.  (you try to link three things together by what they have in common)  I would read and read, hoping to master this piece of history, or that.

I think we have entered an age where the church does is doing the same thing.  We want our pastors to have advanced degrees, we want consultants who will share with us the wisdom gain from surveys and studies. We applaud those who have the title theologian, and our young pastors and priests turn to podcasts and blogs to prove their knowledge, and their ability to dominate any discussion.

We desire expertise in churchwork, for we believe that making the church great again requires great knowledge.

This is what we’ve grown to treasure.

We will even downplay anything that smells of spirituality, calling it pietistic, or fanatic. Relationships come to mean less and less, as we prefer followers.  Reconciliation loses importance and submission, preferably blind submission, becomes what we expect in our churches.  (Even to the extent that we are told to send our troubled folk to larger churches, where they can be marginalized)

What would happen if this changed.  If the people we admire were those of prayer, and of devotion to Jesus.  What if those we pointed out for others to emulate were those who talked of Jesus love, and clung to him because they knew their hope was there because He promised to be with them?

What if we treasured those who desired reconciliation, and healing of broken relationships?  What if we used as examples those who actually tried to imitate Christ, and asked forgiveness when they failed?

What if the church treasured those who treasured the love that is heavenly, that is Christ? Who loved even in the face of persecution, or great personal cost?

Wednesday is a the start of lent.

Perhaps giving up earthly treasures and honor to encourage heavenly treasure would be a good way to spend the 40 days….

(1)Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2193-2196). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Necessity of Ministry…and those who minister.


church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.    Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)

36  As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37  So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38  Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (TEV)

914    How pitiful are those crowds—high and low and middle-class—without an ideal! They give the impression that they do not know they have souls: they are a flock, a drove, a herd. Jesus, only with the help of your merciful love will we turn the flock into a legion, the drove into an army, and from the herd of swine draw, purified, those who no longer wish to be unclean.

The coach of my favorite football team has two very simple and yet profound slogans.

The first is “do your job.”  which helps keep focused each member of the team, from players to coaches, trainers, the owner, and even entry level office staff and custodians.

The second talks about the nature of the focus.  “No days off.”  That speaks of the team as something more than a job, working on that team is what theologians call a vocation. It is who you are, it is part of what defines them.  These two catch-phrases have come with a fair share of success.  Actually, according to some, far more than just a fair share.

These are lessons those in the church and who lead it need to understand.  Our ministry is more than just a job.  It is a vocation, it is what we’ve been sent to do, our apostolate, our mission. Because of the nature of what we do, it demands our focus, and it should define who we are.

It is critical, far more critical than winning trophies and wearing five rings.

We see this in words from the Old Testament, a passage often translated  “where there is no vision, people perish” or sometimes “where there is no prophetic vision.”  But the translator of the Message has its sense – for the vision is not of what we are called to do, but what God is doing.  It is the vision of the promises God the Father has given to us, delivered in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who delivers us from evil. This isn’t just a vision for the church to grow, or build a new building, or raise money for this and/or that.  It is the vision of God, gathering His people from every tribe and language, to live with Him.  The vision of God being their God, and they being His holy people.   

It is the vision that pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles are to give them, what our worship is to cause them to be aware of. Which is where we come in, and where Jesus’ words about shepherds are so relevant.

People need those who are ministers in their lives, so that they might be drawn to God, and be given the vision of what God is doing in their lives.  This is our job, primary and completely.  It is the care these souls need, it is the mission that our sermons are tasked with, our Bible Studies, and why we baptize and commune people.

For without that, they are lost… they may not even realize what a soul is, never mind that theirs needs to be cared for, to have life spoken into it.  It is only with God’s help that this is changed, only His Spirit can breathe life into them who are dead, trapped and imprisoned by sin.

This is what we do, and as we study, as we visit and teach, as we lead and inspire, may it be focused, every day, on Christ, and drawing people to Him. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Be Different: Act like God’s Kids


clydes-cross-2Be Different:  Act like God’s kids

Matthew 5:38-48

In Jesus Name

May the gifts of God’s mercy, love and peace enable you to truly live life, as you learn to love those God brings into your life.

The hardest lesson to live!

The words of Jesus that I read this morning are hard to hear.

They are easily understood, but how easy are they to live up to?

Turn the other cheek!  Give up more than you are sued for, give to those who demand of you, don’t turn away those who want to borrow.

And these hard words of Jesus, “Love your enemies, pray, that is, ask God to bless, those who persecute you.”

In a world where we are trained to look out for ourselves and those we love, how do we even do this?  How do we set aside our resentment, our fears and anxieties, and the pain others cause, and love them?

Yet Jesus asks us to do exactly that….

And it doesn’t matter who our enemy is, whether it is a global one or the bully that lives down the street.

How can God ask this of us?  What is really going on here?  What is God up to?
What is God up to?
We see a clue in another of the verses,

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Why would God give good stuff to those who are evil?  Why would He rain blessings on those who are not just?  And what does that have to do with the challenge we have, in loving those who are our enemies, or who we think are, and therefore are afraid of them?

The first answer is the old one, (First written by Augustine) that talked about the fact that in hating our enemies we are hurting ourselves more than we could ever hurt them.

A better answer is seen in one parable, where Jesus taught that He doesn’t remove the weeds among the wheat; because we can’t be sure of not uprooting wheat when we dig out the weeds.  Likewise, the enemy of today may become the friend, the brother in Christ.  The one which we are praying for may stop persecuting us, as Paul the apostle went from killing and tormenting Christians, to being one who preached about Jesus’ love from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome and perhaps beyond.

We don’t know, we just know the heart of God, who the apostle Peter tells us is patient, not willing that any should die in their sin, but that would come to the transformation that happens when our sin is forgiven.

To put it another way, what makes the different between a weed and what is not how they look, but what happens when they encounter Jesus.  That’s why the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel would write this,  “

 21  But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. 22  All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. 23  “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:21-24 (NLT)

 Knowing God’s heart, and knowing that neither we nor angels can know how someone will turn out, these are things that help us love those that others tell us can’t be loved.  Knowing that every single one of them God loves and desires to be one of His own.  This helps too…

Acting like God’s kids!

But what helps the most is knowing that God loves us, while we were His enemies, while we chose to live without him, choosing to do what we thought was right more than we cared what He thought, what He wanted.

Paul makes it clear – while we were all His enemies, Jesus died for us. He died, taking on the judgment we deserved.  He died to make sure that our sin wouldn’t divide us from God.  He died that we might live, and live life knowing God loves us and is with us.

So for us to be God’s kids – to live like that, we need to know what He loves, and how Jesus lived.  Loving those the rest of the world considered unlovable, loving those who are our enemies, and asking our Father to bless those who make our lives difficult.

For when we know that, loving those who the world considers our enemies, is nothing more that loving those our Father in heaven would have become our brothers and sisters.  And loving them becomes possible because we dwell in God’s glorious peace, peace that the world doesn’t understand, which is the peace in which Jesus guards our hearts and minds.  AMEN!

The Battle for our Mind…. will we dare surrender, or not?


clydes-cross-2Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus: 6  Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. 7  But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, 8  he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.    Philippians 2:5-8 (NJB)

1  We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2  We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. 3  For even Christ didn’t live to please himself. As the Scriptures say, “The insults of those who insult you, O God, have fallen on me.” 4  Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Romans 15:1-4 (NLT)

I cannot sufficiently admire the ardour with which this counsel was put in practice by St. Louis, one of the greatest kings the sun ever shone on. I say a great king in every kind of greatness. He frequently served at table the poor whom he maintained, and caused three poor men almost every day to dine with him, and many times eat the remainder of their pottage with an incomparable love. When he visited the hospitals, which he frequently did, he commonly served those suffering from leprosy and ulcers, and such as had the most loathsome diseases, kneeling on the ground, respecting, in their persons, the Saviour of the world, and cherishing them as tenderly as any fond mother cherishes her own child. 

856    Spiritual childhood demands submission of the mind, which is harder than submission of the will. In order to subject our mind we need not only God’s grace, but a continual exercise of our will as well, denying the intellect over and over again, just as it says “no” to the flesh. And so we have the paradox that whoever wants to follow this “little way” in order to become a child, needs to add strength and manliness to his will.

What a challenging concept St. Josemaria brings out in the words in blue above. 

It is challenging enough to bend my will to make sacrifices that I do not want to, but the truth is, I can do that without putting my mind and soul into it.  You can force yourself to do just about anything, but to submit how you think – how you feel about it, now there is a challenge.

if we change how we act, but resent doing so, or are apathetic at best, how does that benefit?  Doesn’t  that attitude, that state of mind rob us of doing our best – and even going beyond to help those in need?  And the action is torturous to us.

We can bend the will, but what we really need is what scripture calls repentance, (see Romans 12:1-3), the transformation of our mind.  What Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3:15ff as the Spirit changes us as we gaze upon Christ, what is echoed in Hebrews 12:2-3 as well, as we journey without eyes set on Christ.

This is what King Louis, one of the few Kings that was labeled a saint knew.  It was for joy that he entertained the poor, and cared for the lepers, cherishing those in whom he saw his beloved savior. That changes our mind, which drives our will for the love and joy involved, rather than with resentment.  Then sacrifice, and submission becomes an incredible joy, even as it was for Christ! For to help those who need encouragement is our vocation, our doing what we are created to do.  As our mind is submitted to Christ’s, and His mind and attitude becomes ours, the greatest joy is when we bring our enemy to the Father, seeing them reconciled to Him.

It is then nothing else matters, for we realize that our self-interest, our burdens, our anxieties stop us from knowing the greatest joys, from seeing God in His glory, as He dwells with us.

Lord have mercy on us, and constantly remind us that our lives are in You!  AMEN!

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1975-1978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can anyone stop “them”? Should anyone?


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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
28He said to them, “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. 29And so when you sent for me, I came without any objection. I ask you, then, why did you send for me?”

Peter spoke up: 47“These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptized with water?  Acts 10:28-29, 46b-47

Philothea, our possessions are not our own, but were lent to us by God to cultivate them, and it is his will that we should render them fruitful and profitable, and therefore we perform services agreeable to Him in being careful of them; but then it must be a greater and more solid care than that which worldlings have of their goods, for they labour only for love of themselves, but we must labour for the love of God.

As I was reading this passage in Acts this morning, I noticed something I had overlooked before, something staggering in light of some of today’s issues.

Peter didn’t know why he was there!

He knew God wanted him there, he knew he was going to speak for God, but Peter didn’t get what God was about to do.  A few verses later he sees it, as he stands in the midst of those that represent the oppression of his people, an evil, violent government, and people that days before, he considered defiled. He believed they were so defiled and unclean that simply by walking into their home, he would be considered defiled and unclean.

Even so, the Spirit sent him to Cornelious’ home, and taught him over and over that God is the one who determines who is unclean and defiled, not culture, not tradition, not even the anxieties that plagued them.

Then, even as Peter is learning this lesson for real, God takes it a step further. He just doesn’t confirm that these people can hear the gospel, He pours out His Spirit upon them. Peter’s obedience to the command to not consider them unclean results in their salvation, their being made one of us, the people of God. Our brothers and sisters in Christ.

How wonderful!  How incredible!

And how much a lesson we need to see in our day and time.

God may not send us into their homes today, it seems that He is bringing them into our homes. They are refugees and immigrants, they are those who are turning to us for help, just as Cornelius was guided to send for Peter.

Will we consider them unclean and defiled?  Will we let our anxieties rule over our mission?  But as we encounter them ( and all we encounter) will we let God determine whether they are deserving to hear of His love?   Will we let God move their hearts, and put His Spirit within them?

Or will our attitudes put up road blocks?  Will our self-righteous judgment drive them away, insisting that we have to protect what is ours?  (which really isn’t – see the quote from St. Francis De Sales in blue)

The realization that I started this with was that Peter didn’t know exactly why he was there, he had been told by God that he was to go, that this was God’s plan. As so he went, and came to know Cornelius, and so found the greatest joy.

May our faith grow like his, where we can set aside our fears, our anxieties, our biases and share with people the love of God. And so discover the one we thought was our adversary is really our brother.

Lord have mercy on us all…

 

 

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

 

Has It Fallen off the Church’s Radar?


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10  Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11  May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. 13  He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, 14  by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.
Colossians 1:9-14 (TEV)

780    Deo Omnis Gloria—“All glory to God.” It is an emphatic confession of our nothingness. He, Jesus, is everything. We, without him, are worth nothing: Nothing. Our vainglory would be just that: vain glory; it would be sacrilegious theft; the “I” should not appear anywhere.

A question arose as I came across these readings this morning.

Do we please God?  

The question began to transform a little, first int this,

DO we care about pleasing God?

and then it hit home,

Have I taught my people about what pleases God?  Have we, as pastors and leaders int he church equipped our people, not just the the knowledge, but the ability and the desire to please God?

Do we, as Paul did for the church in Colossae and others, pray for this for them?

Or has God’s pleasure, what pleases Him, fallen off of the church’s radar?

Have our words praised and glorified God, but our actions and thoughts forgotten what pleases Him, what He desires?

From my Lutheran perspective, we fight so hard against the teaching of works meriting salvation that we shy away from teaching that we should please God after our baptism.  We are afraid our people can’t understand the difference, that they will deliberately misunderstand.  It sounds like a good justification at first, but it is a poor excuse.

We know what pleases God, all you have to do is read the last 6 chapters of Isaiah and see it over and over.  Or hear the parable of the prodigal son or the Good Samaritan.  We know about God finding the treasure in the field, and giving His Son to purchase it, and the joy in heaven over one sinner transformed.  There we find His will, that none should perish, that all should come home.

Yet we don’t do this work alone, it is His will, His desire, and we receive the strength from His glorious power.

That is why He gets all the glory, as we live as He wants, as He revealed.  We live reconciled to Him, and we grow in desire to do what pleases Him, lifting high His cross, seeing people drawn to His mercy, into His grace!  And as we do, we come to know Him better, to rely on  Him more.

Lord, help us, those you have tasked with shepherding your people, to reveal your love and mercy to them.  Help us to pray for them, that they too would understand your will, and as they grow to respond to Your love, to do that which brings You great pleasure.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1802-1804). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Paradox of being a Christian Leader…


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.

I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor.  At the time, I didn’t understand.  Today I do. 

The blessing requires a high price to be paid.

I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve.  Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home.  Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals.  The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old. 

The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief.  It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected.  It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.

It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain.  It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection.  It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them.  It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel. 

This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well.  For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.

That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader. 

Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….

as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world. 

AMEN

 

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.

 

Called to Belong: Called to Be His Own! An Advent Sermon on Romans 1


nativityCalled to Belong: Called to Be His Own

Romans 1:1-7

† In Jesus Name †

What People Need?

There are a ton of articles circulating across pastor’s desks, as they have for the prior three generations.  When I was in college, they asked why my generation was leaving the church and provided great statistics on why people like me, the children of baby boomers, weren’t attending church.

I wondered about it a lot, as I had gone to a large youth group in high school, in fact, it was significantly bigger than any church I’ve belonged to, and really, was bigger than all the churches I’ve pastored since.

In the nineties and up to about 2004 or 2005, pastors, church planters, it seemed everything churches did were questioning why people of my age group weren’t in church, and trying to make churches attractive to them.

As if we are all the same.  As if our needs, our anxieties, our challenges, our doubts and fears were the same.

It has changed now, as churches seem to have lost focus on those in my age group – those once labeled genX.  GenX is history, the church “experts” no longer mention us. Now the concern is with the millennials, Marissa, Melissa’s, Kelcie’s age group.  A group that is two or even three generations removed from the days when youth filled every church, when complete families, three and four generations worth of family found themselves sitting together on Sunday morning.

And for the most part, the experts still treat whichever generation they mourn the absence of as if they are all alike.  They want to find the “one” thing that will draw them all, the one key element that will draw them to church,

And perhaps, there is the problem in the first place.

If all we deal with is generalizations, how can we assure the individual whether 25, 50, 78 or 91 that they matter, that they belong?

To be honest, that’s been a challenge, even for pastors I’ve know in my life. Can the individual know that they are important, that God has called them to belong, that He has called them to be His own?

Yet, God calls us, individually here, to be part of this family, and maybe we can learn from that

Why is this good news?

When scripture talks about good news, we need to understand why it was good.  As Paul is writing to Gentiles, we need to understand that this was one of the largest generalizations ever created.

It was everyone who wasn’t Jewish by birth, who couldn’t trace their ancestral tree back to Abraham, Issac and Jacob. A lot of folk.  Good folk, bad folk.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, smart, wise, silly. Older, younger, men and women, Some who wanted to find God to each out for help, others that simply wanted to mock God.  And few that would want to make money off of people, but saying only they knew the way to God.

The only thing they have in common, is that they didn’t belong.  Even someone adopted into a Jewish family didn’t quite make it, and those who were hyphens, those who were half Jewish and half something else, they were treated with less of a welcome.

We were all outsiders, stuck in the darkness, not worth the time for a Jewish Rabbi to share his wisdom, not allowed to hear the sweet words that God had accepted our sacrifice for our sin.  For that is why we became outsiders, our inability to love God with all we are, and our struggles to love others, including our enemies, as God has designed for us to live.  Because of that sin, we were outsiders, out in the cold and dark, possessed by our sin, oppressed by sin’s guilt and shame.

That is why the gospel is good news, For it smashes the demographic divisions, it grinds up generalizations, for what defines us is that we are wanted.

That God calls us to belong.

You.

Look at verse 6.  Let’s read it together

And you are called among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Though, he wrote this letter to an entire congregation, as you sin in the next verse, that “you” is singular.

You are called to belong to Jesus.

You are called to be a saint, one of God’s Holy People, whom He loves.

You are.  Singular.  Not because you are this age or that, because you have this heritage or that, no because except for this one.

God loves you.

And therefore you belong to Jesus.

He bought you at the cross, freeing you from the sin and hell which had power over you.

This is what Advent leads to, what Christmas and Easter, the manger and the cross.

That’s what has made the difference in every church I’ve been blessed to be a part of, we knew we belonged together, for we now we belonged to Christ.

I want you to hear those words one more time, what we need to hear, each of us in this room , and every person on this planet,

Matter of fact, maybe it will sink in deeper if we say it together,…

And I am included among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this to me and all who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.

Amen!

 

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