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My Struggles with “Devotions”, “Spiritual Disciplines”, “Prayer”. Maybe its time to take a walk!

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the Day

11  I will live among you, and I will not despise you. 12  I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. Leviticus 26:11-12 (NLT2)

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
2 What does this mean?
Answer: I believe that God has created me and all that exists; that he has given me and still sustains my body and soul, all my limbs and senses, my reason and all the faculties of my mind, together with food and clothing, house and home, family and property; that he provides me daily and abundantly with all the necessities of life, protects me from all danger, and preserves me from all evil. All this he does out of his pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on my part. For all of this I am bound to thank, praise, serve, and obey him. This is most certainly true.

Men are not the result of chance or of a struggle for existence that brings victory to the practical and the strong. No, man is the product of God’s creative love. God is. That means that he can act, and that he truly does act—now—in this world and in our lives.… Do we trust him? Do we regard him as a reality when we assess our lives, our day-to-day experiences?

Some time back I was telling you: come out of the caves! Today I repeat: come out of the sacristy, of the parish’s offices, of the VIP rooms! Get out! Engage in the pastoral of the atrium, of the doors, of the houses, of the street.
Don’t wait; get out!

“I want more the Sundays and Wednesday nights!  Because if you can’t come to me every day, then don’t bother coming at all!”

I remember those words of Keith Green playing from my radio, and from the old cassette tapes I had while I was in high school.  And I thought they were God’s words, backed up by scripture and the Holy Spirit, for they caused great conviction, great guilt and shame when I missed my devotions when I struggled with times of prayer.

I had to spend time in the word, I had to spend time in prayer, I must, or God would refuse to talk to me, after all, we know He is a jealous God!

Yet the despair, the guilt, and the shame… easily I could have thought, maybe I am just not one of those called to follow God.  I thought often that I am not holy enough, spiritual enough, good enough for God. How could he love one as weak, and as full of coubts as I am?

Even today, I tend to define my time with God as Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights with God’s people, and the hour or so of prayer and reading I do.  Corporate and Individual.  Times that I truly treasure. times that sustains me.  Times that I wish I could instill in my son how precious they are, that I could help him and my church family see how much a treasure they have waiting for them.

Have to admit, that is frustrating!  How can they not see how much they need this time?  How can they not see how it will benefit them? Why can’t they see how much they need to know what scripture will show them.  Others who writings told the story struggled and found strength in knowing what God would reveal to them are precious as well!  ALl these blessings, that simply get overlooked, and put on the shelf, or the Bible App relegated to the back page of our phones/Tablets, etc)

You can’t force people to spend time with God, you can’t manipulate it, you can’t threaten hell.  So how can I help people find the blessings that are so necessary in my life?  THat I depend upon, given the brokenness that I have to encounter.

As I read the readings above this morning, perhaps I have found something that I knew but didn’t appreciate recently.  The reason that all these things I set apart time to do helps is because it helps me realize that God is there 24/7/365.   That we are His people, that He loves to not just meet us in the “designated” place and the “appointed” times, but He wants to walk through life with us, pointing out the ways He provides and sustains us.

That is why I need my devotional times, my time in prayer, my time reading scripture and those who went before.  Because I need to know that God is with me in the rest of the day, in the walks we take, in the people we encounter (and He is with them as well) In every aspect of life.

He is there.

He created us to be His people.  And so He loves us, sustains us, provides for us, and wipes away our tears when needed.  It is encountering these truths in my “special times” that sustains me in the broken times…and in the good times, and in the routine times.  That is why I treasure them, and that is why my son, and my church family, need ot know.

God is with you…. when you need Him. Everywhere, walking with you. He is your God…your Creator, Sustainer, Comforter,  AMEN!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 344–345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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. 163). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 165). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

What Are We Teaching our Children?

DSCF1394 - CopyDoes it make you a better king if you build houses of cedar, finer than those of others?  Your father enjoyed a full life. He was always just and fair, and he prospered in everything he did. 16 He gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him. That is what it means to know the LORD. 17 But you can only see your selfish interests; you kill the innocent and violently oppress your people. The LORD has spoken.  Jeremiah 22:15-17  TEV

Our educational work should have a purpose: to elicit a change in our students, to make them grow in wisdom, to help them undergo a transformation, to provide them with knowledge, with new feelings and, at the same time, achievable ideals. Many institutions promote the formation of wolves more than of brothers and sisters by educating their students to compete and succeed at the expense of others, with only a few weak ethical standards.

As I finally got to reading my devotions today (actually tonight) I was struck by the words of Pope Francis.

It doesn’t help that as we were cleaning our garage, I found one of my old report cards, in fact, the same grade my son is entering.  I showed it to him, and was amazed at the pressure he felt to live up to my standards. (I should have shown him my sophomore year of High School)  Then I read Pope Francis’s words, shortly after seeing a picture of my dad and son, one of the last taken of them together.

My dad had a unique challenge – my brother was the star athlete, I was somewhat of a brain, at least by small town standards.  Getting us to work together was a challenge, and competitively, we were fierce. How he got us to play and work together was a remarkable challenge, especially as he was somewhat competitive as well!  Our schools weren’t so good at the task, firing us up to compete, playing on our pride and baser instincts.   (My one exception was St. Francis for junior high – they taught us to work together…and those 15 kids mean the world to me still!)

My wife is a teacher, our church has a preschool and once had an elementary school.  We have a lot of friends who are teachers as well.  (If you are reading this, please drop the red pens for a moment!)   And in a sense, I teach others, a little (and a significant amount) older than my wife and friends, but none the less, teach.

Which gets me back to Pope Francis, and his words about educating people.  Are we encouraging a competitive factor in them?  Are we encouraging them to be successful by standards that leave others behind?  Or are we teaching them to work together, to forgive each other, to lift up each other?  Are we hearing the prophet Jeremiah speaking for God as he takes on our selfish natures, as we have no problem oppressing people, or allowing them to be oppressed so we can live in peace?

We need to learn to teach like Jesus did, who though He was God, knelt down with a basin and towel and washed the feet of some pretty stubborn, argumentative and rebellious students. We need to teach them to serve each other, and those around them, whether we teach them Math, English, Geography, Computer Information Systems, World Religions or 1, 2, 3 John.

It’s a challenge, whether in preschool, middle school, college or a simple Bible Study.  For what we are teaching them is to love one another…which means we need to learn to love them.  As Paul says in Romans 12, really love them.   For God loves them, and wants to walk with them all.

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.

 

 

How do we treat scripture? How do we teach people to treasure it?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
11  I keep your law in my heart, so that I will not sin against you. 12  I praise you, O LORD; teach me your ways. Psalm 119:11-12 (TEV)

Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony

Yet I was forced; and this was well done towards me, but I did not well; for, unless forced, I had not learnt. But no one doth well against his will, even though what he doth, be well.

Augustine’s comment from my devotions this morning is something I need to think about, as I prepare my sermon for tomorrow.  How do I teach people to see the Bible?  Do my sermons, and what and how I teach lead them to treasure this incredible gift of God?  Or does what I teach and preach cause them to dismiss is, willingly twist it, and allow them to create a god that appeals to their desires, rather than meets the needs of their deepest brokenness?

The same for the scripture that resounds from within our worship – the liturgy which is so full of scripture.  Do I facilitate their worship with a passion that honors God as He blesses us through the words He dictated, that He breathed through prophets and apostles, kings and leaders of worship?

If we preach about other than Jesus, if we teach Christianity as a simple set of rules to follow or something that changes from what was written, we dismiss the blessing of scripture. If we treasure theology over the word, we again dismiss the word of God, for the word of mankind. We dismiss the message of His loving-kindness, His mercy, His presence in our lives, which the scriptures reveal.  The very treasure that reveals that we don’t need to be God, for He loves us.  That real, lasting pleasure comes through His word.  That peace is found in Him, and as we live in Him, we realize this incredible blessing, this incredible grace.

Scripture, the word of God, can make us uncomfortable.  If afflicts us in the places we need to be corrected, the very place of our brokenness.  It confronts our broken and twisted desire for pleasure, our love of self, our illusion that we are truly master’s of our fate.  It is hard to learn to love that which hurts.  Even so, when we realize the Holy Spirit applies it to our brokenness, even the discomfort is embraced, sure that God’s peace will comfort us, and bring us to wholeness.  If we are to find hope for our brokenness, if we are going to offer and provide it to those people we are to care for, where the Spirit reveals it is in scripture. It is there the Lord who is our hope of glory, of life eternal, is found.  There what He needs to heal us of is shown, as is the cure, His presence, His blessing of us through His word, joined to water as He baptizes us, as He nourishes us with His body and blood.

Back to the original thought, of teaching and preaching in such a way that the word of God is treasured.  That our words portray His word, which He, the WORD, is revealed.  That people know this isn’t just man’s words written on paper, proclaimed in our message. It is the word of God, the One who desires to love us, reveals to us that this love has no limits there on the pages of scripture.

If we show them we treasure it, they will begin to as well, and they will do well as they hear it, as they read it, as they treasure His word in their hearts.

As we do this, as we treasure the word that reveals to us the love of God, as we set an example for our people, we shall find that He has answered our plea.  That our thoughts and words are acceptable to God, our Rock and Redeemer.  AMEN!

Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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

Why I Gave Up Exegetical Preaching for Apocalyptic Preaching

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28  So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29  That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. Colossians 1:27-29 (NLT)

“The key is not to offer commentary but to help the people in the pews understand what is happening in the text so that they can understand what is happening now and respond in faith,”  (1)

Just as steel must be warmed before it can be molded or bent, the human heart must be warmed by the love of God in order to overcome fear and be molded by the truth of Gospel, the archbishop said. Without encountering the love of Christ, “the faith simply looks like rules and regulations.” Ultimately, priests and deacons foster an encounter with God when they preach Christ crucified, he said.  (2)

When I was a Bible College Student, the method of preaching that everyone was being trained in was called expository or exegetical preaching.  You went through a book of the scriptures, chapter by chapter, sometimes verse by verse, explaining the background, the language, the details so that people would have a deep knowledge of the passage.  This was the method of greatly admired preachers like Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Haddon Robinson, and within my brother at the time, pastors like Ben Merold and Max Lucado.  Denominations like Calvary Chapel still make the claim that this is the only way to preach.

It was such a popular method that 3 of my four undergraduate courses in preaching were based in it, as were most of the 40 units I had in Bible.  I have a good friend who has his MDiv and another graduate degree in it. I was trained in that way, and I still teach some Bible studies that way.

But I don’t preach that way anymore. Haven’t in a while.

And as I am teaching a course in preaching (called Homiletics) at the present moment, I’ve been thinking about it.  How do you describe the style of preaching?  I was reading the article the blue quotes come from, and I realized the word I was looking for to describe the style of preaching.

APOCALYPTIC

Now, before you get the idea that I am talking about end times scary stuff, that is not what apocalyptic means, nor for that matter what the apocalypse is about.

Apocalyptic preaching is revelatory! It reveals! It is about teaching what was hidden, what was concealed.  Apocalyptic preaching is about that which was hidden behind the curtain (not the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, but the one in the Tabernacle/Temple.)  It is what Paul is talking about to the church in Colossae – our hope is found in the secret being revealed.  The secret of Christ being in us, being united to us, and us to His cross and resurrection.  That united to Him, we will share in His glory, we will live eternally in the presence and love of God the Father.

Revealing that secret to people who are broken by this world, by its sin, just as the people ere in the days of Jesus, and all the days since Adam and Eve were broken.  That God desires to bring healing to them, not just understanding.  That God wants to reconcile them, not just demand from them. The sermon is to reveal Him to them, the relationship He desires to have with them, it should strengthen that relationship, help they trust Him, depend on them.

That isn’t always done if you are worried about defining the minutiae.  What needs to be done, – show them their need for God, and show them, God, not just wanting to meet that need, but desiring to, no matter what it costs. Or what it costed. This is what gets us through the tough days, this is what gives us hope as we try to cope without our brokenness and the worlds.  It is what gives us hope, even as we deal with death.

One last quote from the article.

“Sobering recent statistics reveal many Catholics (I would say Christians of many stripes) don’t even think it’s possible to have a friendship with God, so they certainly don’t know, with every fiber of their being, that they are loved, infinitely and passionately, by the One who has made it all,” he said  (3)

Helping then know that, this is the nature of apocalyptic preaching. It is giving them the reason we have hope.  To know that are cry, “Lord have mercy” is heard.

May everyone who preaches this weekend do that, and may people see revealed the love they need… and have.  God’s.

(1)  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/archbishop-to-priests-heres-how-to-not-give-bad-homilies-17455/

(2)  Ibid

(3)  Ibid

Pay Attention to What the Prophets Wrote!!

Pay Attention to What They Wrote, Until…Concordia - The place where people find Healing in Christ while helping others heal!

2 Peter 1:16-21

 

In Jesus Name

May you know the height, the depth, the width and breadth of God the Father’s love for you, as we see it revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

How do we see scriptures?

Maybe I am just projecting my own personality onto Peter, but I think he must have had the hearing of a typical guy, somewhere from age of 4 until the age of 94.  In other words, he probably had that dreaded disorder called “selective hearing”, especially at church.

Well, it’s not completely based on my own experience, but on his words in the epistle, look at verse 19.

19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote,

Maybe it is because I am cynical, but I see Peter, prior to the experience of the transfiguration, sitting in synagogue because his mom or wife is dragging him there.  As the Rabbi is reading the Torah, or Isaiah, he’s thinking about where he will fish this week, about the taxes he has to pay, about the challenges he faces working with his dad…who happens to be sleeping two pews back…

Let’s be honest, there are times in our lives where the Old Testament scriptures, and sometimes the New Testament scriptures don’t seem as important to us as who will win the big game, or the struggles we face at work, or the challenges that affect those we love. We may have forgotten the wisdom of Leviticus last week already, the often repeated phrase in the midst of the commandments,

I am Yahweh, your God.

Or we might have forgotten the phrase we learned back in January, “Alleluia, He is Risen!” (therefore I am risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Something happened to Peter, up on that mountain. That changed how he looked at scripture, how he felt about those boring Old Testament scriptures… so much so that he encourages us, begs us to pay close attention to them…..

I pray we shall, as we encounter the Christ they reveal to us.

Getting Peter’s attention…As we hear Peter tell of the event, we hear his passion well, how much this event, years later, changed him.  It is one of the reasons why I love teaching people how to read scripture, and the bottom line is to read it like you would read to a young child.  Let me read it again, but first, consider this.

Imagine someone coming up to you, Al, and asking that all the stories you told, about the joy of baptizing your granddaughter were really true?  Or asking any of you ladies if your wedding really happened?  Or some event that moved you more than anything else in your life, actually was that important.  Now, as you think through that attitude – hear these words.


16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

I wouldn’t call it being defensive, perhaps Peter could be, but this is important to him, it is one of those events that you don’t forget, for God is revealed to you in all of His glory. As you realize, like Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and every other prophet, and yes, Peter, James and John that there it is a wondrous thing to be found in the presence of God, and to realize you are welcome there. 

Instead of hearing a list of his sins, and the verdict of complete judgment, Peter hears God the Father’s voice, uttered from heaven, sharing about His love for His son……..

Amazing…

Wonderous….

Mind blowing…

And completely foretold in the Old Testament.

Now God has Peter’s attention… but will He have ours?

Getting ours…

Words shining in Darkness

So do we need a transfiguration event, an experience like Peter’s to help us take scripture, including the Old Testament writings more seriously?  Do we need something to help us pay attention to all the promises of God’s love, to the promises of Jesus coming to deliver us, to carry us back into relationship with God our Father, the promises that God will never abandon us?

Or will Peter’s words, about these stories he tells, that are neither fables or myths be enough?  I can point us to the transformation in Peter’s life, the repentance and humility that becomes so part of Paul’s life, the changes in people like King David’s life, the determined hope of Jeremiah?

What will it take for these stories to so impact us, that we can’t wait for Bible Study on Wednesday or church on Sunday, but that we desire and guard our time that we can spend as Paul encourages us; to pay close attention to what is written and proclaimed by the prophets?

Will it take a mountain top experience?  I don’t think so, been on enough retreats to know the fervor fades, much as Moses face did coming off of Mt Sinai.

What about the other things Peter witnessed, the miracles, the great teaching, or the things he experienced, the walking on water, or looking into an empty grave?

What will help us see the these words in scripture as a lamp shining into the darkness

What would help us know these words, in order that we could bring light into our neighbor’s darkness? If not for our sake, for theirs, to see them transformed as we have been, as we are in our baptism, to see their joy as they come and celebrate God’s love at the altar, as we commune with the Body and Blood of Christ?

Peter’s answer was simple – the experience made him realize that the scripture was all about Christ’s light invading our darkness, about His coming, the incarnation, about God dwelling with us.  When the Nunc Dimitis is SPOKEN by Simeon, he quotes the Old Testament about the light that shines for the darkness.

Similarly John takes up that theme…
14  The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NJB)

They saw His glory, His light invading the darkness.  That is what makes the difference, and it is what we need to see, to really think through.

We say it sort of, when we ask how people who don’t know God’s love can survive in life.   We realize something has happened to us, but do we realize how much?

Yes, and yet no,

We can’t , until we find ourselves before the throne of God,

Until that day…

Which is why we should pay close attention to scripture, to hear the promises, to see what eyewitness record, to see the lives that are changed because they walked with God, and the lives that were sustained, because they know God is there….

Put simply, the reason we read scripture is to know that our lives, as we walk through them with God, are transformed.  That we walk with Jesus, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and we in Him.   To know and be assured of the promises that spell out the depth of His love for those He calls to be His own.  The very things that life tries to hide.

Those prophets, those writers  tell us of His love, of His mercy, of His healing presence. That’s why Luther said he saw Jesus on every page of scripture, because that is who He was looking for there!

You see, that’s what devotional reading of scripture, and even serious study is about.  To know as Paul tells it, of the incredible depth and height, the width and breadth of God’s love for us in Christ. It’s not about knowing the theology, its about knowing God.

It’s why it’s not fable or myth – it changes lives to know that love, to understand the promises, to get why this baptismal font and this altar and the words we say here matters.

It’s about God’s love – a love that can’t be stolen from you, a love that will see us to the day when we clearly see Him.

But until that day, of the promises you have been given, I end it with this one,

May you know you dwell in the presence and the peace of God our Father, a peace that can’t be put into words, but indeed a peace that holds us, comforts us, strengthens us, as our hearts and minds secure, for we abide in Christ Jesus our Lord.   AMEN?

So pay close attention to those promises then!

 

 

 

 

A Real God Addressing Real Brokenness through and in us = Real Church

English: A homeless on the corner of Cologne C...

English: A homeless on the corner of Cologne Cathedral, Germany, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

35Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. 36  When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. 37  “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! 38  On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”    Matthew 9:35-38 (MSG)

744 You don’t have an ounce of supernatural vision and it is only their social standing that you notice. Souls mean nothing to you at all, nor do you serve them. That is why you are not generous… but live far from God with your false piety, even though you may pray a lot. The Master has said very clearly: “Depart from me … into that eternal fire … for I was hungry … I was thirsty … I was in prison … and you did not care for me.”  (1)

It is the time of Advent, a time where our readings in Church traditionally deal with the brokenness of people.

It’s the days before Christmas, and for many people i know, it will be a hard one, as they grieve.  I don’t even like writing this, for it causes me to face my own grief, and the burdon of knowing so many who will be grieving as well.  Others wonder about their own future, as health or finances are limited, as anxiety builds.  Students in college are facing finals – a particular pressure to perform, and papers that must get done.   We deal with our own brokenness, our own loneliness.  The darkened days result in a physical drain as well.  For many, this season of Peace and Joy becomes one of questioning – why can’t I feel that joyous?  Why can’t I know that peace everyone else seems to know so well?

With all of this going on, for the church, for all believers I raise a question.

Will you see those around you?  The hostess at the restaurant whose smile is forced, the person at the office party who doesn’t quite engage everyone else, but leaves as soon as possible.  The single-mom who is struggling with trying to figure out how to make all the ends meet and still have something for her children for Christmas?  The people that you know who’ve lost someone in the last year or two… who will be alone this Christmas? The homeless person – who is sick because there was no room at the rescue mission?

Will they see you?  Not just as another person who doesn’t care, but as someone who will at least acknowledge the brokeness and spend time with them – even if they can’t materially help.  Will you be there for them.  Will you allow God to work through you to bring them some peace, some knowledge that they are loved?  Will you know the joy of imitating Christ, of represnting Jesus to those He has sent you to, even as the Father sent Him to us?

Will we care for the people who are without shepherds, who are lost in this crazy world? Will our heart break over the trauma, physical, emotional, spiritual, that is all around us?

As we talked last night in the class I am teaching, we talked about how evangelism is not just a 5 minute chat with someone who doesn’t know Christ. It’s about being alive in Christ, of realizing that love, of knowing that others desperately need to know it – and that they are all around us.  Even those sitting in Bible Study with us, even those leading worship up front.  THis morning as I visited with some friends, I was amazed to hear of their care for me and for others in our church, even as they faced their own challenges.  They minister to others incredibly, even as they minister from their own weakness.  Saturday, I was blessed by a friend, who wanted to check up on me, to know how/if I was handling my own grief, and dealing with the “burden” of caring for others.  This is church. Real church, The people of God who are willing to let a real God be God, and minister to them, and through them.  I can go on and on, but ministry, real ministry is seen in our relationship with God, that interacts with our relationship with each other.

We all need a real God, we all need to know He is with us as we face real challenges, and our own real brokenness, as we help others find His healing as well.  That is when “Church” (those gathered/called together by God to be His people) is “real church”  When we take the time to spend it with those who need it, even if it makes us late.  Even if it costs us a little time and money. For then we see them… and they see us… and we, together, see Christ revealed in our presence.

So take time – invest it in those around you.  Not just those that will left you up, but those that need to be lifted up.

You would be amazed at the depth of peace and joy that comes from seeing God with us…..

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3102-3107). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

How to Build the Church

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

 11  Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13  This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14  Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  Ephesians 4:11-15 (NLT)

418         The Lord can raise children of Abraham from the very stones… But we must make sure that the stone is not crumbly, for though hard rock may be shapeless, it is easier to hew good stone for building from it. (1)

While the church, whether Lutheran, Protestant or Catholic finds a renewed focus on evangelization, I sometimes fear that we are so focused on conversion, that we forget the responsibility of the Church and the churches have to grow and disciple those who have come to Christ.   Evangelization isn’t just about that first contact, it is about a continual growth in our trust, in dependance on Christ, on God.

You see, Christianity isn’t just a conversion experience, it is a relationship with God that God defines, that God sustains, that God deepens as He reveals Himself.  And the church is the instrument He reveals Himself through, as He is sahred through the word of God in songs, in sermons, in Bible Study and prayer, and of course in special acts we called sacraments – where God promises and fulfills them to His people.  This defined relationship is why some call Christianity a relationship.

But back to this devotion, and this concept of growing in the relationship as God reveals His love to us, and through us to each other and the world.  It is why we have churches, and BIble Studies and all sorts of things – but they have to focus on that relationship, on clearly communicating and revealing Christ, and in the process teach us how to reveal Christ to each other, as we love them as Christ does.  (see the book of 1 John for an explanation of the necessity of this)   So we grow together, we encourage each other, we support and work with each other.

That is what St Josemaria is talking about, when he talks of hewing a stone, helping it fit into the others, as God build His church….

Basic?  Perhaps… but on this day.. maybe that is needed, so we don’t do something else, but stay on task as the church, His church!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1875-1877). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Pro Football, Pastoral Care and Christian Leadership

Tom Brady

Tom Brady (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion thought of the Day:

 11  Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13  This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14  Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16  He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.  Ephesians 4:11-16 (NLT)

It was one of the worst games that I have seen Tom Brady play in 14 years.

Two of his rookie wide receivers drop 17 passes between them  Besides one veteran returning from injury, only six passes of 26 were caught in the game.  It was frustrating, obviously so.  Even the fact that they beat a nemesis didn’t take away the sting that this game was just…. ugly.

An espn article quotes Brady after the game…

“It’s unrealistic for them to feel like they can do it like 10-year veterans. That’s not what they are,” Brady said. “But they’re trying hard and they work real hard and they have a lot of skill.”

As I thought about the game that night, and yesterday, I saw some great applciation to ministry.  Especially to the very unique combinaiton of pastoral care and how that makes Christian Leadership somewhat different than Leadership in the world.

Yousee, in the real world – you play that badly, and you will get cut, or you will lose your starting position, until you can demonstrate some level of trustworshiness. Until you can prove you can get the job done.  In business, you might just get fired.  Some coaches and bosses can be quite callous about that. They would just get rid of you.. no questions to be asked.  Here’s your last check, and don’t let the door hit you on the…

Some would even argue that the Patriots owe it to their fans – and especially to Tom Brady, one of the best qb’s in history, if not the best, to get rid of these guys and get him some real football players.

But Christian leaders have another level of responsibility.  They aren’t just called to develop the good people, they are called to equip all the people of God.  Including those that, how can we say it, mmove at a different pace than the rest?   

It’s unrealistic to expect people not to fail in their walk with God.  It is unrealistic to expect them to grow at the same rate; to comprehend to the same depth, that all would awlays trust God, as completely, as deeply…

Yet i think that’s what we sometimes do, I know that is how most Bible Studies are written, as if every congregation, and every Bible study, and every confirmation class developed in the same way.  And we are trained to use them, right out of the box from the publisher – hand out the individual books – and get the study down in 13 weeks.

If people drop the pass, if they miss a week – wel, that’s their fault, and that one or two truths.. they aren’t that important.  Are they?  That odd question from the back right of the “classroom” – the one that opens a very special can of tangental worms… requiring a half-hour deviation?  Just skip it – deal with it privately.  Right?

No – we can’t expect everyone to get everything, to know it all, to not have a bad week, a bad game.  We are called to be patient, and to let our desire that no one perish determination our actions and thoughts, rather than just our frustration  We – pastors, ministers, priests, vicars, deacons, elders, and every other leader in church, are called to lead by serving.   To lead sacrificially, to lead like Christ did… bearing our cross.  To love them, knowing what it will take to get them to grow in faith, and in their being set apart to walk with God.

Leadership in  the church, and among Christian leaders is more like the USMC – we don’t leave anyone behind…. even if that requires the impossible.

Why?  Because we got the win, its assured, Christ is victorious, and therefore those with Him are as well. so let’s take our time – and work with everyone whom God brings ( or sends us out to go get)  If it means things gets dirty and ugly and frustrating, there is a win at the end of the game.  So we do what we do, fixing our eyes on Christ – the one who generated and perfected our faith in God.

The announcers both expressed a confidence during the game that was longer reaching than just the game.  They said, that by the end of the season, Brady will have transformed these two young receivers into a weapon that couldn’t be stopped.   If a mere man, playing a game can do that…. what can God do with and through us?

Let’s find out!

How Do You Read the Scripture? As the Authority, or as a Pilgrim?

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

105 Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.Psalm 119:105 (TEV) 

“You are badly disposed if you listen to the word of God with a critical spirit.”  ( #943 -The Way, St. Josemaria Escriva)

The juxtapostion of the course I am taking andmy denomination’s convention(held every three years) is causing me much thought about how we view scripture and indeed what we believe and how we communicate it.

In both cases, what is being heard and read seems to indicate we think interpretation of scripture and communicating it gives us some authority over it. In the case of the textbooks, there is a not so subtle projection of doubt, and a definite attitude that we are the authority, not the text.  I have experienced a similar thing as we begin this convention, where people speaking have locked in their mind what they think the scriptures mean – (as well as the Lutheran Confessions)  And if you challenge their assumptions, well let’s just say there is a lot of loyalty to the assumptions.
Again, we find ourselves as the judge – and our interpretation ( or that handed to us) as being the final statement, the final judgment.

I would suggest instead, that we return to the point where God’s word is that which we use as the norm and standard.That we know it so well, and hold it in such esteem, that we do love this communique from our God – and we allow the Spirit to use it to stir up faith within us.   For it is His revelation of His love, of His plan, of Himself to us, to bond us to Him.

May we read it, may we hear it and consume it, knowing that God has given the word to usas a precious gift.

For it shares with us the answer to our plea: Lord Have Mercy!

and His answer is….  I AM.

Patience, Professors, Persevering, and the Plan of God.

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

 10  You’ve been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, 11  troubles, sufferings—suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me! 12  Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it. 2 Timothy 3:10-12 (MSG)

Study. Study in earnest. If you are to be salt and light, you need knowledge, capability. Or do you imagine that an idle and lazy life will entitle you to receive infused knowledge?  (1)

Recently, I chose to return to school.  I have to admit some trepidation over this, I’ve never been the one to fit into most educational systems, I don’t care about the what as much as why, and that gets me in trouble at times.

My first class, two weeks in, I am struggling with the texts, and the line of thought which doesn’t going directly to the stated purpose of the course, or for that matter, to the reason I challenged and entered this program.  As I was thinking last night – do I challenge the professor? Do I just drop out? Or do I trust God who opened this door, and dedicate the work to God, who makes it all possible?

The latter will be tough, it will challenge me in a way I do not like – it challenges my intellectual pride and my apathy when it comes to education without clear cut meaning.   But that is perhaps where I need to be challenged the most – to do things in a disciplined way even though I don’t see the logic or reasoning.  I’ve got to go through the motions, but seeing them, not just as make work, but rather as part of His plan.

We need to do this as followers of Christ as well.  Maybe we don’t get why we go through the motions of liturgy, or why it is beneficial to go to Bible Study as well Sunday Church.  We don’t get yet, why communion is so critical to our faith and our need to commune as often as possible.  It may take some time to realize how precious the work of God is, when He baptizes a baby, or a 94 year old lady.  We may know the Bible passages – we may be able to argue it intellectually, but there is something in the process of grasping the why… that takes it to a whole different level, that of our soul.  That of instinctual trust, that of Christ transforming us, as we look to Him for the strength to do that which challenges us.

So pray for me inmy studies, that I could dedicate them to God, and do well… and pray for us all, as we struggle with God’s plan, not seeing His hand in it, but finding the strrength to persevere, because He is here.

Lord Have Mercy we pray!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 868-870). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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