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Do I Need to…. go to church, pray, confess my sins…etc

Devotional Thought of the Day:

41  Many of them believed his message and were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to the group that day. 42  They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. 43  Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. 44  All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. 45  They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. 46  Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, 47  praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
Acts 2:41-47 (TEV)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1)

“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever. (2)

Lord, since eternity is Thine, art Thou ignorant of what I say to Thee? or dost Thou see in time, what passeth in time? Why then do I lay in order before Thee so many relations? Not, of a truth, that Thou mightest learn them through me, but to stir up mine own and my readers’ devotions towards Thee, that we may all say, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. I have said already; and again will say, for love of Thy love do I this. For we pray also, and yet Truth hath said, Your Father knoweth what you have need of, before you ask. It is then our affections which we lay open unto Thee, confessing our own miseries, and Thy mercies upon us, that Thou mayest free us wholly, since Thou hast begun, that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves, and be blessed in Thee; seeing Thou hast called us (3)

The question is asked less of me now than in was in the 80’s or 90’s, and I am not sure whether that is a good thing or as I fear a bad thing.

In the 90’s I heard it more from college students and young couples, perhaps because their children asked it, “do I have to go church?”, “why do I havvvveee to gooo to chhhhhurch?”  Or the “can’t I just worship God in the forest, or at the beach, or playing my music?”

Somewhere along the line I think the answer was changed from the real “why” to simply, “you have to”, and as we often do, we find excuses.   The same of course goes for prayer, or for confessing our sins, or reading the scriptures.  Even for pastors.  Ask yours what he was reading this week, that wasn’t done for preparing for church or a Bible Study. (If you don’t want to embarrass them I have a friend named Rich that would be more than willing to!

Some say that we go to church/pray/commune/confess for God’s sake – that we go to serve.  That is a crappy reason! It’s been seen as a crappy answer for a long time!  It has a partner in crime, the reason that says we go to be served!  (since it is all about us you know!)  I would use a more guttural term for that one.

We don’t go to church so that someone “gets something” or is benefitted,  Neither do we pray or study the scripture for its benefit.  When we use them, we set ourselves up to fail, for often, if we get anything out of church, it is subtle, and takes a while to process and see the effects of going?  We see ourselves struggling with the same thing, fighting the same anxieties.  And who really believes that God is somehow “helped” by our presence, as if church wouldn’t be as glorious without our presence?

So then why do we go?

If it’s not because we HAVE to?
If it’s not because we benefit?
If it doesn’t benefit God?

It is because church, like prayer and communion is about the encounter.  Any benefit is secondary to that encounter.  God and His people, those being reconciled and healed, coming together as one body.   It is that encounter that is life, it is, in every sense, a foretaste of our eternal life WITH God, and the angels, archangels, and all the community of heaven. That’s why the early church met, not just on Sunday and for a special few on Wednesday nights, but daily in the temple.  They prayed together, they ate together, the worshiped and celebrated the Eucharist, and in doing so, encountered God and they encountered His people, even as they were being added daily….

That is why the sermon isn’t the best point, the gathering that begins in the passing of the peace, and flows through communion is.  That is where we come face to face with the God who draws us to Himself.  Note, I said draws US.  Not the individual, not you and I.  He draws US, and gives us a serenity that allows us to drop everything as we encounter God, and His people.

It is this encounter we need, it is this moment that transcends everything,  God, and man, this is the life.

This is why… this encounter… this being with God.

This is what it means to be His church, the one’s whom the Father calls, by lifting Christ high, and drawing us to Him.


(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  The Small Catechism -: Article III

(3)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Incredible, Precious Long-forgotten Wisdom

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

 My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. 2 Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. 3 Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days.  4 Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. 5 For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation. 6 Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him.  (Sir 2:1–6  NAB-RE)

13 Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man’s whole heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest.  14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to Himself, because he is the one eternal good.

Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.

292      You should repeat very often: Jesus, if ever a doubt creeps into my soul, setting up other noble ambitions in place of what you are asking of me, I tell you now that I prefer to follow you, no matter how much it costs. Do not leave me!

Bear with me, as a share some background to this post…. Growing up, my first full Bible was a white “leatherette” Bible with a silver cross imprinted on it.  Like the one in the picture, though the leatherette was cracked, and the pages worn…

I remember reading and being asked by Father Alex questions each week about what I read.  I was probably not more than my son’s nine years old then, and I remember reading the book of Ecclesiasticus, or  Sirach, or properly the Wisdom of Ben-Sirach.  Do I remember what I read sitting on the couch against the bay window? No, I just remember it was a book of the Bible that gave me peace. Peace I needed then, as I dealt with a few serious issues in life. The deadly threat of Marfans, often being sick with Asthma, trying to work through the idea I that was adopted, and possibly what would now be known as Aspergers. For by no means did I “fit in” at school, nor could I understand why “they” didn’t fit in with me.

Every year I pick a different translation to read through, thanks to one of my computer programs, and this year it is the New American Bible, Revised Edition.  What replaced my beloved first “full” Bible.  As such it has Wisdom/Sirach in it, as it is a Roman Catholic translation.    First time I’ve probably read this section of the Bible in 30 years or more.

Now I know why I recall the peace that came from it, sitting in my living room – it talks of what Luther calls faith, it identifies what Augustine burned for, what Escriva says we should often repeat, crying out for the Lord to help us remember and stayed focused upon.

This is faith, to cling to God no matter what assails us, to trust God, to do so recognizing His Majesty, His mercy,  His love.  For as we trust in Him, as we depend upon Him, He will make our ways straight,  He will not just give us hope; He will be our Hope.  Maybe as a child I understood that better than I do today, maybe there was less theology, less human insight.  This is what scripture said – cling to God…do not leave Him, trust in Him….

A message I need to hear today, as new problems arise, as even as I serve Him, I find Sirach right – there are so many trials, so many heartaches, so much that challenges my embrace of the Lord, who embraces me.

Probably as some of my Protestant friends are reading this, their mind is going to throw a stumbling rock in the way!  Sirach isn’t scripture, and all the side conversations of what that means.  Perhaps my Catholic friends will be wondering why I can quote Luther next to Augustine or Escriva (some Catholics might question that as well! )

Drop it.  Drop all that crap now!  

Hear the words of Sirach’s wisdom, wisdom that is not only in harmony with three of my “heroes”, or role models, but is in accord with all of scripture.  This is what the covenant means, this is what the promise of God declaring that we are His people, that He is our God. This is faith; this is why we are declared just, why we are made holy. Whther you think this is pure scripture, or a good book, you can’t argue with the fact it is scriptural in its teaching, it is what all of scripture proclaims, and urges us to believe.

That we could know the peace of God being our sanctuary, where we find rest and peace, peace that goes beyond all understanding, that guards our broken hearts and minds, and makes them whole.

Cling to God, no matter what happens as you serve Him. Know His love, know He holds you… even as you cry out,

Lord, have mercy!

You will find He will strengthen your faith, and He will be your hope.  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1189-1191). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Stop Fooling Yourselves, You Need His Help!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

Accept the sacrifice of my confessions from the ministry of my tongue, which Thou hast formed and stirred up to confess unto Thy name. Heal Thou all my bones, and let them say, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? For he who confesses to Thee doth not teach Thee what takes place within him; seeing a closed heart closes not out Thy eye, nor can man’s hard-heartedness thrust back Thy hand: for Thou dissolvest it at Thy will in pity or in vengeance, and nothing can hide itself from Thy heat. But let my soul praise Thee, that it may love Thee; and let it confess Thy own mercies to Thee, that it may praise Thee.

When God names himself after the self-understanding of faith he is not so much expressing his inner nature as making himself nameable; he is handing himself over to men in such a way that he can be called upon by them. And by doing this he enters into co-existence with them, he puts himself within their reach, he is “there” for them.

180 Because of his promise, because of Christ, God wishes to be favorably disposed to us and to justify us, not because of the law or our works: this promise we must always keep in view. In this promise timid consciences should seek reconciliation and justification, sustaining themselves with this promise and being sure that because of Christ and his promise they have a gracious God

As I worked through my devotional readings this morning (which you see some of, above), there seems to be a connection between two themes.

The first is the presence of God in our lives.  That He revealed to us His name, not that we would misuse it, but so that we could use it, to call upon when we are in need when we have seen that need met.

The second is along the use of that name when we most dearly need it.  When sin has broken our lives, and the lives of those we should love. When sin has damaged the incredible blessings, God has given and entrusted to us.

I think both St. John’s epistle and the blunt words of Augustine make it clear, we aren’t confessing what we successfully hidden from God.  For nothing can be hidden from Him, and to pretend we can, is being foolish and ignorant.  To pretend to be sinless, to ignore the things we have done, said or thought that result in a need of healing is not just a lie, but it results in great damage.

Instead, we need to confess, and in doing so, we praise God for being so gracious, for being merciful, for a love that overwhelms the wrath we deserve.  Like the worship that we label lament, the worship of confession is beyond words that can express God’s glory.  For in both lament and confession, we hope for that which is beyond our imagination.

God takes us, in all of our brokeness, in all of our despair, in the depth of human anguish, and lifts us, comforts us, heals us.  As the Lutheran Confessions speak, God sustains those who timidly approach the throne, confident not in their own merit, but sustained by Jesus.

This has to be the message of the church.  The hope that every believer, not just pastors, and priests, passes on to those around them, friend and foe, neighbor and refugee, family member and… well those family members.  It transcends any moral issue, for all are immoral until they encounter the cross. It is the message found in every Bible, and it is our more precious vocation, that of children of God.

So come, confess your sins, yeah even those you wanted to excuse or argue aren’t sins.  Stop trying to defend what you know is wrong. Hear you are forgiven, and rejoice.  For the confession and the joy are praise to the Lord, who loves you more than you can know, and welcome you to explore every dimension of that love.

Never, ever, be afraid to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”  For He has. AMEN!



Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 22). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 131–132). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Augustine’s confession and the reality of Monday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. 12  Why do you keep me under guard? Do you think I am a sea monster? 13  I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain. 14  But you—you terrify me with dreams; you send me visions and nightmares 15  until I would rather be strangled than live in this miserable body. 16  I give up; I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense. 17  Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? 18  You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. 19  Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? 20  Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you? 21  Can’t you ever forgive my sin? Can’t you pardon the wrong I do? Soon I will be in my grave, and I’ll be gone when you look for me. Job 7:11-21 (TEV)

For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it, I found not. Not in calm groves, not in games and music, nor in fragrant spots, nor in curious banquetings, nor in the pleasures of the bed and the couch; nor (finally) in books or poesy, found it repose. All things looked ghastly, yea, the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. For in those alone found I a little refreshment. But when my soul was withdrawn from them a huge load of misery weighed me down. To Thee, O Lord, it ought to have been raised, for Thee to lighten; I knew it; but neither could nor would; the more, since, when I thought of Thee, Thou wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou wert not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God.  (1)

Yesterday’s sermon was on the slaughtering of the innocents, and the despair of Israel as the children were led away into captivity.  An odd way to begin the year, I thought.  I included statistics that were overwhelming, the number of martyrs, both those who died without denying Jesus, and the number of lives cut short before their 

It’s enough to make you stagger, to bluntly reveal our brokenness, to tear our hearts apart by simply being honest.  Even those who helplessly look on are devastated and struggle to find God, and even more, we often push away the comfort He would give us.  

Often times, we are too polite, to bound by a sense of hospitality, to address these things.  We want to shove the pain into some dark corner or our soul  We are afraid to be honest with God, to openly cry about the pain, to admit the anger, to let ourselves be purged of our bitterness.

Augustine tried to find such solace, he couldn’t escape the pain. Neither could Job.  But it is as they confess this, as they struggle with the god they cannot see, that they cannot fathom, that hope begins.

I understand them, perhaps all too well.  When I am at such points, overwhelmed, I want to run and hide.  To find solace in a place like Lake Ossipee, NH.  To dive into the fictional works I love, of earlier times in history, or the worlds of Tolkien or Feist. I long to be someplace other.  To replace prayer with the study of theology, to replace the sacred times, the sacramental life with busyness serving others.  Ministry can be a great place to hide in the illusion of self-preservation known as denial. 

David knows this grief, as did Solomon.  the emptiness, the lack of the peace we pursue. You can’t read the Psalms without noting it, or Ecclesiastes without finding the bitter pain of a life that seemed only to be defined by vanity.

It is in facing that vanity, that lack of peace, that emptiness that we can realize our need for God.   That we can understand what faith is, that we can understand how intimate the relationship is, where God teaches us to desire and pray to see His Kingdom come and will be done. 

Stop running, cry out with your soul until you can be still. For then you will know that He is God, know He is here, and that He is your refuge.  For being still is not possible until we deal with the pain that would have us fight or flee. It is then, broken, wounded, weeping, that we come to the cross, and indying to ourselves, we find Him.

There, at the cross, worn out and weary beyond measure, you will be still; ou will find what Agustine and Job, David and Solomon all found, and what transformed them.  A God who comes to us… and brings healing and peace.



Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Christmas, Children and the Wisdom of Philosophers & Theologians

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

13  Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, “You must let little children come to me – never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13 (Phillips NT)

But behold, I see a thing not understood by the proud, nor laid open to children, lowly in access, in its recesses lofty, and veiled with mysteries; and I was not such as could enter into it, or stoop my neck to follow its steps. For not as I now speak, did I feel when I turned to those Scriptures; but they seemed to me unworthy to he compared to the stateliness of Tully: for my swelling pride shrunk from their lowliness, nor could my sharp wit pierce the interior thereof. Yet were they such as would grow up in a little one. But I disdained to be a little one; and, swollen with pride, took myself to be a great one.

But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.

The words in blue from Augustine, one of the smartest philosopher-theologians amazed me this morning.  As he writes his confession, not unlike Solomon, he describes the times of darkness.  Even as he hungered for truth, he couldn’t find it.

Pope Benedict XVI’s words in the third quote support this lack of finding that which is sought for, as he responds that only conversion can bring what we need, what we search for in our lives.  To paraphrase Socrates, we are only truly wise when we realize how much we don’t know..

It is ike Christmas and the difference between a child and an adult receiving a gift.  The child is awe of the gift, even the box the gift came in!  They are in the moment, enjoying it. They are often in awe, as if to say, “this is for me?”   They dive into the joy of the moment, and that is their reality

As we grow older and know more, there is an innocence lost about such moments.  We don’t often dive into the presents, the moments of joy, and we contemplate instead on how we will pay the bills, or why people don’t understand us (proven by one of those gifts again!

( I was thinking, based on years of marital counseling – people can treat sex the same way, losing the awe and being int he moment, instead trying to analyze it!)

SO it is with God, if we stay outside and try to study and understand Him.  When developing the next great theological manuscript, or understanding what a dead guy said about some aspect of God, or His creation.   We spend too much time looking for the big answers, seeking to understand things that are far greater than us, things that simply exist when we approach them as children

The solution to this is simple. The same as it is for the adult at Christmas.  We need to get down on the floor and become part of the celebration. We need to engage in the joy, in the moment, in the relationship that God desires with us.   We need to pray more, trust more and celebrate His love with all of our heart and soul, mind and strength.

That may mean dropping that theology text, or putting aside that debate.

That’s okay, if you were meant to write it, or read it, you will get far more out of it when you have spent some time in the moment with the Lord who created that moment, and desires to spend it with you.  If you don’t believe me, think about Augustine, Benedict, Luther, Socrates, and the 2-year old who simply wants to sit at the altar rail throughout the church service.

Lord, have mercy on us, please give us the trust and awe of a child!

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.



Augustine, St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Wesley walk into a bar…

English: OFM General Curia : Francis of Assisi...

English: OFM General Curia : Francis of Assisi and Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DEvotional thought of the Day:

 33  Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. 34  So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.Matthew 6:33-34 (NJB)

537         You take everything so lightly that I am reminded of the old story. The cry went up: “There is a lion coming!” And the naturalist answered: “Why tell me? I catch butterflies.”  (1)

A few days ago, I asked what the four shepherds of God I named above and the reader would talk about, were they found together.

An atheirst and pastors were the first to respond, A joke about them calling Francis A sissi, a quesiton about why two of them would be there, a couple other comments, no one taking the matter all that seriously. Until the final comment – that these incredible men would talk about God, and His gifts of mercy and love and peace.

I thought of it again, coming across the quote from St Josemaria this morning.  We as people will think about everything but the Kingdom of God.  We will be anxious over the state of our nation, ticked off at the government, worried about our health, we’ll struggle over finances, we will concern ourselves about the morality of others, but how often does our heart find itself in awe of God’s presence.  How often do we contemplate the depth of His love?  How often are we willing to place ourselves comepltely in His care, and then live a life that imitates those as they imitated Christ Jesus?

How often are we willing to see God at the center of our lives?  Or are we unwilling to give up that throne?

As I tweeted this mornign, “We trust God with the infinite eternity, but will we trust Him with the finite now?”

Our Faith must not be confused  with our faithfulness, for if we depend on our being faithful, we’ve made ourselves into idols.  Faith is trusting in His faithfulness, to lean upon His goodness, to strive to find rest in Him, to prayt hat the Holy Spirit would help us to do so.  For we don’t enter His presence by our faithfulness, He draws us there… and there we learn to trust Him. .. more and more.  To be in awe that HE would love us, that He would be merciful.

So pray that I, and that you, would relaize where we dwell more often, that we would be open to God revealing to us His grace, That we would learn to be as excited as children on Christmas, as we contemplate His grace, both for what it means eternally, and what it means today.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2325-2326). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edi

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