Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:
*While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand.h Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you one of us or one of our enemies?” 14 He replied, “Neither. I am the commander* of the army of the LORD: now I have come.” Then Joshua fell down to the ground in worship, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The commander of the army of the LORD replied to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. Josh 5:13–15
“..what difference is there between philosophy and the teaching of Christ? If we merit the forgiveness of sins by these elicited acts of ours, of what use is Christ? If we can be justified by reason and its works, what need is there of Christ or of regeneration?” (Apology of the Augsburg Confessio; Article IV
I have a friend who still contends that the Dallas Cowboys are still America’s Team. I will concede that in his presence, noting that Bill, Tom and the rest of the New England Patriots are God’s team. Another friend declares that God is surely a fan of the Nebraska Cornhusker’s while demeaning the Oklahoma Sooners to be cheered on by someone a bit south of God’s abode.
Most of the time, I think such revelry and rivalry is fun, as we claim which side of a battle is holy and righteous. Except around the college bowl season – or the NFL playoffs. It is then that such discussions take on a more serious form.
We do this in other arenas as well, such as the political arena, as those who are pro-gun rights seek a verbal “trial by combat” with those who are for taking care of refugees and immigrants seeking solace. Or those who are pro-life take the field against those who want universal healthcare. Republicans versus Democrats, Tea Party versus something called being progressive.
We also do this in the realms of philosophy and theology, as if who wins in the public debates of blogs and podcasts determine where there is truth, and who is correct. Lutherans versus Reformed, Catholics versus Protestants, Pentecostals versus Baptists, Liberals versus Conservatives, Traditionalists against those who prefer Innovation. Everyone, absolutely everyone attacking the Muslims. Oh, and we are all on the defense against the JW’s and LDS.
Even within denominations we see this, and it tears the church apart.
Listen, folks, Melancthon nailed it. You are not saved by your pure theology or the logical supremacy of your philosophy. It is not what you think or what those thoughts cause you to do that saves you. What Joshua realized as he talked to Jesus, was simple.
It isn’t about whether God is on our side.
It isn’t whether your blog or mine has more followers or hits. It’s not whether my Patriots can again intercept a pass on the goal line. There are political positions on both sides of the aisle that need to be listened and heeded.
But what is important is whether you find yourself in the presence of God, with other broken sinners, finding the healing that you need. That the Holy Spirit will bring you to life spiritually, whether you will be transformed, and live in peace.
The desire to win so divides us if our definition of winning is causing the other person to submit to our view. But a desire to see God’s love win is one where humility reigns, not bravado. It is where sacrifice and service take on more meaning than statistics and trophies. It is where hanging in there with that person who others would give up on matters more than attracting the stars, and the crowds. It is where truth matters more than our opinion, and, therefore, the journey is mutual, not combative.
We seek fellowship, with all, based in our relationship with God.
This is life, in Christ.
May we seek it in the next year, and lovingly work with all. AMEN.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 109). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Another year, another step, an incredible look at God’s glory, and hopefully a greater dependance on Him.
Devotional thought of the day:
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people* did not accept him.12 iBut to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 *j who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh* and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory,the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. Jn 1:9–14 NABRE
I will seek Thee, Lord, by calling on Thee; and will call on Thee, believing in Thee; for to us hast Thou been preached. My faith, Lord, shall call on Thee, which Thou hast given me, wherewith Thou hast inspired me, through the Incarnation of Thy Son, through the ministry of the Preacher.
This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.
As we can see in the lives of such individuals, faith is a kind of passion, or, more correctly, a love that seizes an individual and shows him the direction he must go, however fatiguing it may be—the spiritual equivalent, perhaps, of a mountain to climb, which to the ordinary Christian would seem foolish indeed but to one who has committed himself to the venture is clearly the only direction to take—a direction he would not exchange for any conceivably more comfortable one.
5 We should have preferred, and we besought and petitioned the Almighty, that our churches and schools might have been preserved in the teaching of God’s Word and in agreeable Christian concord and that they might have been well managed and carried on in a Christian fashion and in harmony with God’s Word, as they were while Dr. Luther was alive
I started a journey a year ago, and today I start a new one.
The journey began by adding to my devotional reading several things. The Bible, using a translation I like called the New Living Translation, The Book of Concord, which I read twice, The Documents of Vatican II, the Edicts of the Council of Trent, and as I went on I added a devotional called the Co-Workers of the Truth, a very pastor devotional book composed of the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
It was an interesting journey, one which unexpectantly opened up a new category for my devotional blog. It is called Augsburg and Trent, but simply is where I see the Lutheran Church (once called the Evangelical catholic Church ) and the Roman Catholic Church (referred to recently as the Evangelical Catholic Church by George Wiegel and others) holding a pastoral application of doctrine together… or more together than I would have thought.
I will do a similar journey this year, dropping the writings of Trent, and adding two earlier sources, that of the writings of Augustin and Patrick. Augustine’s because is writings were the basis of a lot of what Luther wanted to see the church reform to, at least according to Him. Also, Calvin points to him often, and I’ve heard scholars describe his Christian faith as simple. Patrick because I am curious about the dude. A strong theologian by all accounts, and a noted missionary/apostle. Both writers write from a time of the earlier church, and in times where God’s love was revealed to many.
The goal is simple – not much different than the quotes above. To seek Christ as Augustine desires, and to call upon Him in faith. As Vatican II urges, to learn to given people a new energy and desire to examine the height and depth of God’s love which will impact their very lives. As Cardinal Ratzinger writes, to create the passion and love for God in my own life and the life of His people. Finally, as the Book of Concord writes, to have for the people a perspective that produces in believers a life like Christ’s, lived in harmony with scripture.
Such a journey is worth the time, (probably about 45-60 minutes a day) if indeed I can help us realize the truth that the Apostle John notes, that Jesus dwells among us, and to help us see His glory, finding in it the mercy, the love and the peace we so desperately need.
And yes, I will continue to blog where I find ideas that strike me, that challenge me and cause me to grow in understanding of God’s love for us, and communicating that to others. And I would love the comments and discussions that come from these thoughts.
Thanks for reading… and encouraging me to record my journey… Godspeed
Rev. Dustin T. (d.t.) Parker
Pastor, Concordia Lutheran Church
PS – my prior pattern was a Bible Translation and a book called Celtic Prayer, and writings of a Catholic saint by the name of St. Josemaria Escriva. The Bible reading and the writings of Escriva will continue. 🙂
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.Catholic Church. (2011).
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
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. 345). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional thought of the day:
27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. 31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NLT)
72 If you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength. 73 If you wait until you are rid of your burden in order to come to the sacrament purely and worthily, you must stay away from it forever.
142 If you are really fighting, you need to make an examination of conscience. Take care of the daily examination: find out if you feel the sorrow of Love, for not getting to know Our Lord as you should.
If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world
We don’t talk about it much, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic or those of us somewhere in between.
Because of the pressures of time, we don’t take the time we need for it either. This practice that would lead us to appreciate the sacraments better that would make more vivid and real what it means to be promised that our sins are forgiven and removed.
For I think we fall into two categories when it comes to sin.
We dismiss it, because, after all, our sin isn’t as great as “their” sin. I mean – look at the world, their sin is so much greater than ours, and they proudly flaunt their sin in front of all the world.
Or they are so crushed by it, they can’t imagine that God would ever notice their pitiful existence, never mind welcome them into His presence, nor spend the time and patience to create something holy and sacred, while removing all that mars the beauty He created in them.
That is where this idea of the “Examination of Conscience” comes into play. It is a time to think about our sin, and the struggles we have in our faith. Not to add to the guilt and shame, though we may shudder a bit as we really think through how much we have done wrong. But in examining our conscience, in taking the time to realize how often we push God away and put ourselves in His place, we begin to realize how incredible His love for us is. We begin to realize what He has saved us from, and then we appreciate more what He has saved us to experience. Being in the presence, sharing in the glory of God. This is what an examination of conscience leads to, as it allows us to realize our need for Christ.
I sometimes think we think of salvation, of God’s deliverance of us from sin like a lifeguard saving us from a near drowning experience. We needed the salvation, because we couldn’t calm down, we couldn’t overcome the waves of life. Examination of our conscience reveals to us that we’ve been saved from drowning, not in a simple rip current, but as we opened the front door of our submarine a mile under the ocean.
And there, in the depths, we find the cross, we find the blood of Christ, we find salvation, a rescue we so need. Even us who count on so many other things to save us, or count on them to have proven we’ve been saved. Examination of conscience removes all such illusion.
That’s why Luther advises us not to wait until we are holy enough to run to where God’s grace is poured out on us. Because if we wait, we will never be good enough, we will never be free enough, for it is at the baptismal font that we find our peace. It is at the altar we find the promise of God’s love, it is as the pastor pronounces our sin forgiven, that we realize the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love for us. It is an awe-inspiring ride, from the depths of despair to the heights of highest joy.
This is the love of God, for you!
So take the time, examine your conscience, and know the love of God which truly rescues you. AMEN
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 455). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 794-796). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s Works, vol. 48: Letters I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 48, pp. 281–282). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
devotional thought fo the day
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matthew 28:20b (NLT)
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Mt 1:23
“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Mt 18:20
“Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” (1)
2. In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1:15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14–15) and lives among them , so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. (2)
584 Stir up the fire of your faith! Christ is not a figure of the past. He is not a memory lost in history. He lives! Iesus Christus heri et hodie: ipse et in saecula! As Saint Paul says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today—yes, and forever!” (3)
We cannot probe more deeply into the roots of the world in order to change it than by resting on the Heart of God, thus making it possible to call upon the living Ground and Power that supports everything and is alone capable of restoring all things (4)
When something keeps showing up in my morning devotions, I figure it must be something I need to share with those who read my blog. Actually, I don’t want to admit the real reason, and writing the blog helps me, because I write what I need to hear/read. It is God’s way of seeing if there is anything functioning in my brain, trying to get me to understand the most critical fact the church needs to remember. The critical fact I need to remember.
To know that not only God is, not only does He love us, but that He is with us. He has designed us to live with Him, describing us as being in Christ, abiding in Christ, the Holy Spirit residing with us. Over and over and over. That is why we can trust in Him because He is present because we have a relationship with Him, a relationship more intimate, more complete than any other relationship we have.
It all begins and ends with that relationship.
Every doctrine focuses on it, from Justification that makes it possible. Sanctification, the doctrine of being set apart, to that relationship. The sacraments, by which the reality of the relationship is communicated. Scripture, the record of the promises God makes to us, and a record of how He faithfully keeps those promises. Faith, the trust that becomes the natural expression of the relationship.
This is where we need to focus; it is this fact that is the reason for evangelism. It isn’t about transforming behavior (though that may happen), it isn’t worry about whether the world reflects what God teaches us is good and holy behavior. (We struggle with it, why do we expect them not to?)
This is what our religion is all about, walking with God. Everything else in Christianity, in our religion brings us to know this.
It is what matters in the end, and it is what gets us through this day.
I need to be reminded of this daily, so I expect that you will hear of it often.
The Lord is with you!
1. Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 365). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
2. Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana
3. Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1395-1397). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
4. 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. 211). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
6 I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.
27 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? 28 Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe. 29 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. 30 That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (MSG)
1 It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.
They should, therefore, constantly exert themselves to have the faithful know and live the paschal mystery more deeply through the Eucharist and thus become a firmly-knit body in the unity of the charity of Christ.9 “Intent upon prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4), they should devote their labor to this end that all those committed to their care may be of one mind in prayer10 and through the reception of the sacraments may grow in grace and be faithful witnesses to the Lord.
316 You tell me: “Yes, I want to!” Good. But do you “want to” as a miser wants his gold, as a mother wants her child, as a worldling wants honors, or as a poor sensualist wants his pleasure? No? Then you don’t “want to”!
It was a long time ago, thirty-five years ago when the nights seemed so long. I was young, working as a dishwasher at a Denny’s back in New Hamshire. I worked the graveyard shift, the eleven to seven am a shift. I would go from there off to high school. There was a point on those nights, I can never forget.
When you work those shifts, or if you are just having a tough time sleeping, there is a time where the darkness begins to crush you. It is about two hours before the sunrise, until the moment the hint of dawn starts to lighten the sky. I would run up the ladder, get out on the roof, and watch the miracle of a sunrise.
But oh, the pressure of night in the two hours of the night! It causes a sense almost like claustrophobia, as you wonder whether the night will ever end.
As I read the first quote above, the psalmist is comparing his hunger for God’s presence to the night guard waiting for dawn, those feelings resonated within me. And It resonated so much, that the blog came about.
I think there are times we get spiritual insomnia. We forget God is here, and we get overwhelmed by the darkness that is in life. The evil that casts it dark shadow over us, that would oppress us with that same feeling that occurs in the hours before dawn. The more the darkness crushes us, the harder it is to remember that dawn is coming, the harder it is to remember His light has shown in our lives… and still does.
No wonder Paul will talk of those who have fallen asleep and even died because they didn’t recognize the Body and Blood of Christ!
I put two quotes, after the scripture quotes, one from the Lutheran Book of Concord, one from the Roman Catholic documents. Both talk of the strength found in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist The strengthening of faith, the communion that grows strong among the people of God. It is something we agree on, this recognition of God’s presence, and His work in our lives. His supernatural work seen as the Holy Spirit, strengthens, cleanses, heals, comforts and makes new.
The God we encounter as we are fed His Body and His Blood.
As His light again is brought into our lives.
As it shatters that darkness that we feel crushing us. I’ve been in those darks nights, I’ve felt the pressures, the anxieties, both from physical darkness and spiritual darkness. Perhaps that is why I so desire and love to share in Communion, why I appreciate it so much. It is more refreshing than even the dawn.
So run to the altar, desire God’s presence as St Josemaria challenges us to desire it. Even as that desire grows, know how He comes to you, through His Word, through His sacraments,
And find the rest those who work at night find, as their day ends with the dawn.
 Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 35). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
9 Pius XII’s encyclical letter, Mediator Dei, Nov. 20, 1947: A.A.S. 39 (1947) p. 97 ff.; Paul VI’s encyclical letter, Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965.
10 cf. Acts 1:14 and 2:46.
 Catholic Church. (2011). Decree concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church: Christus Dominus. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. 20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:14-21 (NLT)
236 A firm resolution: to abandon myself in Jesus Christ with all my wretchedness. Whatever he may want, at any moment, Fiat—let it be done! (2)
Four Hundred, ninety-seven years ago, a professor at a University posted the above as the introduction to discuss Ninety-Five thesis about Indulgences.
As far as I have read, his intent wasn’t to start a reformation, yet it is the anniversary of the publishing of this event that history notes as the start of the Protestant Reformation.
To quote one of the characters in a WEB Griffin novel, “i regret that it is was necessary”.
Indeed, I dread the celebration of the events that would follow, as the works of Luther went viral. As that viral nature exploded, as the conversation that he was intent on having didn’t occur. As the church began to splinter apart.
Please understand me, I fully acknowledge that the discussion was necessary, the truths that Luther re-discovered, especially that we cannot merit salvation on our own, that God comes to us in our wretchedness, Yet this was not Luther’s truth alone, and it needed to be understood, both head and heart.
What causes the regret is the division in the Body of Christ. The idea that one group can be kicked out, while another group can walk away. An idea that know has morphed into the idea that I can belong to a church, or denomination, and simply ignore that which it teaches that I don’t agree with completely.
Teachings on the sacraments? Who cares! Teaching about what is sin, and what isn’t? Don’t need to bother with that! Teaching about the gifts of the Spirit and the role of the church? Why bother, it doesn’t really affect me today, does it? Teaching about how to care for sinners, based on the love of Christ seen in His treating us who are sinners? Not necessary, just condemn them as an abomination. This is what the church has resulted in, because we choose to divide, rather than to reconcile.
Some treat the Protestant Reformation as if it was a spiritual “Independence Day”. As if it were a celebration a small portion of the church is now completely independent of the body of Christ. But the Body of Christ cannot be divided, the Invisible church is always that of one Lord, whom we trust in, One faith in Him, one Baptism where we are united with Christ. Given the ministry of reconciliation, not of further division, and definitely not of celebrating the division.
Celebrate what Luther discovered in regards to the gospel of Christ – AMEN! An awesome thing to celebrate. But not the division that occured then, in fact, maybe it is time to have those discussions, to pursue the truth that is found in Christ Jesus, to work to see the Church reconciled in Him, to abandon our wretchedness and find the glory of being united in Him.
Lord have mercy on us sinners….
(1) Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1004-1005). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Pragmatic THeological Thoguht of the Day:
18 “But can you, O God, really live on earth among men and women? Not even all of heaven is large enough to hold you, so how can this Temple that I have built be large enough? 19 LORD my God, I am your servant. Listen to my prayer and grant the requests I make to you. 20 Watch over this Temple day and night. You have promised that this is where you will be worshiped, so hear me when I face this Temple and pray. 21 Hear my prayers and the prayers of your people Israel when they face this place and pray. In your home in heaven hear us and forgive us. 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (TEV)
32 “When foreigners who live in a distant land hear how great and powerful you are and how you are always ready to act, and then they come to pray at this Temple, 33 listen to their prayers. In heaven, where you live, hear them and do what they ask you to do, so that all the peoples of the world may know you and obey you, as your people Israel do. Then they will know that this Temple I have built is where you are to be worshiped. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (TEV)
658 We should make no mistake… God is no shadowy or distant being who created us then abandoned us; nor is he a master who goes away and does not return. Though we do not perceive him with our senses, his existence is far more true than any of the realities which we touch and see. God is here with us, really present, living. He sees and hears us, He guides us, and knows our smallest deeds, our most hidden intentions. We believe this—but we live as if God did not exist. For we do not have a thought or a word for him; for we do not obey him, nor try to control our passions; for we do not show that we love him, and we do not atone… Are we going to continue living with a dead faith”? (1)
“After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.” (2)
Tomorrow we start a new year in the church. I would ask that for a moment, like “secular” new years, we think about our lives as those who facilitate the worship of the people of God. (Both those who know they are, and those who will come to know they are in this year)
Tomorrow is also the first Sunday of Advent or the Parousia, that season we spend trying to understand the desire of the peope of God for the Messiah to come, for the promises to be fulfilled, for God to dwell among us. We do this, so that we too can desire God’s presence and His return. That is why the ancient church cried out “Maranatha!” the cry of Come Lord Jesus!
There are days, especially in this last year, where I admit I was crying this out for the wrong reason, And perhaps, leading my people to cry this out for the wrong reason as well.
You see, I cried it out because things were rough, because I was in mourning, or in despair. Where I wanted the suffering of people around me to end, Not that we would die, but that we would be rescued from this place, and brought into the presence of God in Heaven, where there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more cancer, no more death. I wanted us all to be rescued from this life, and brought into the joy, the glory, the peace of God that we shall know for eternity. We have endured a lot these last few years…have had to minister to each other, with seemingly no break. We need rest and healing and a time to breath in deeply, and know the message of Christmas, that God is with us.
Something we already know… sort of.
And that is where the challenge for this New Church Year is going to be found.
Making the experience people have when they come to our churches have be one where they are sure Christ is with them.
Where it’s not about us, where we don’t go through the motions, where we don’t block people’s reception of God’s presence because of our poor-formance (misspelling intentional)
Look at the readings from the Dedication of Solomon’s temple above, there is an assurance in Solomon’s words that they are in the very presence of God. All of Israel, gathered there, assured of His love and that nothing can spearate them from His love. That strangers, people who don’t even know who God is except for his title, would be able to come and know that this place, this altar, where we stand, is where God has gathered them as well.
For the sake of our people – this article isn’t about worship styles, traditional Liturgy, or contemporary. It’s about us, you and I, and how we approach this blessed time we share with the people of God. The time were our voices, our body language, our intimate reverence and joy betray to our people that we KNOW we are in the presence of God the Creator, That He is here. I would desires that our readings are filled with awe, realizing that this is what God has thought through and inspired so His love is revealed to His people. That the readings are also clear, and done in a language and manner that doesn’t require a dictionary to understand. That our prayers, whether pre-written or from the heart, assist them in laying every burden down at His feet, entrusting them to Him, as He desires. That every spoken word be such that thy know this is something we do, but something that is our life. That our music and the way it is played isn’t about leaving them in awe of our talents and voices, but lead them voicing their awe at the God who loves them so much, that for the joy of revealing this to them, endured the cross and all its sufferings. The God that welcomes them and draws them to Him, broken, sinful, needy, that He might heal and comfort, cleanse and encourage.
That every person, whether life-long church goer, or first time guest of God, encounter Christ.
That’s what our ceremonies are designed to teach, whether liturgical or common, whether accompanied by majestic pipe organs, or simple strings, or even acapella.
That’s what makes the difference in our lives, in the expression of our trust in God.
KNowing He is here.
Desiring Christ’s last return, not just to escape the pains of this world.. but because we will see Him, the God who loves us, face to face. That the glory we now see hints of, as we see one baptized, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, as we see the prodigal welcomed home, and the joy of all in celebrating it, that we would see that joy, that glory in its fullness.
In His presence.
So here is the challenge, as you enter the church tomorrow. Breathe deeply, let your nerves calm down, your burdens be dropped, His joy lift you high. For we dwell, as Solomon did that day, in the very presence of God.
The God who has had mercy on us, who has come to us, and in whose presence we live.
Then, as our people see this, may they know and be assured that and rejoice they dwell in Christ as well!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2759-2766). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.(1)
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Augsburg Confession. Article XXIV (p. 56) . Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
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- Is it insane to keep doing/teaching/preaching the same thing over and over, and expecting… (justifiedandsinner.com)
- “We’ll get together then, God. You know we’ll have a good time then! (justifiedandsinner.com)
- A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (joshuareich.org)
Devotional Thought of the Day….
1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (TEV) 15 I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.
5 Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), “Faith comes from what is heard.” As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament “the visible Word,”5 for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (1) (from Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession)
“XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” (2)
“What do United Methodists mean when they call this act a sacrament? Our Confession of Faith states: “We believe the sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening [bringing to life], strengthening and confirming our faith in him. ” (3)
530 Many Christians take their time and have leisure enough in their social life (no hurry here). They are leisurely, too, in their professional activities, at table and recreation (no hurry here either). But isn’t it strange how those same Christians find themselves in such a rush and want to hurry the priest, in their anxiety to shorten the time devoted to the most holy sacrifice of the altar? (4)
Yesterday I had the great blessing of going back to my alma mater, and teaching a class on the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist and Holy Communion) it was really a good experience for me, and I think I caused some of the students to think.
I started the class with my own “personal theology” regarding the Lord’s Supper. I’ll briefly state it here:
You have a 16 oz cup that contains 8 ounces of wine. Do you:
(1) Agree and argue the position alongside the optimists that it is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior.
(2) Agree and argue the position that it is only grape juice, and it only is a act of faithful obedience….
or (3) find some bread and with the people of God celebrate (give thanks) the gift of God given to the people of God as you commune with Him?
As always, there is a third choice, as I I thought through the lesson, I was struck by something truly astonishing. While the sacramental churches disagree on what I would call the mechanics of the Lord’s Supper – exactly how and when and in which ways the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, they don’t disagree that the Eucharist has a dramatic and transforming effect on those who trust in Jesus, on those in a relationship with Him.
For it is highly effective, and as a means of grace, brings into our lives so much, it is a wonder that anyone would ever avoid it, or not be glad to celebrate it.
The challenge is that how it affects us is not academic, or philosophical, but rather deeply spiritual, and if I dare us the word, emotional.
Maybe that is why we can’t agree on the mechanics, but can agree on its effect. We can’t academically and logically dissect the Bread and Wine, we can’t scientifically prove the presence of God there… and our post-enlightenment minds struggle with what we can’t forensically prove, what we can’t observe and demonstrate in regards to the elements.
It’s not knowing about God that is important when it comes to the sacraments, it’s about knowing Him. About realizing the depth of His love, the “sure-ness” of His presence, of resting in His comfort and peace, of being in community with Him, every part of us.
Melanchthon (author of the first quote from the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession) was absolutely right – this is about God’s work in our hearts. Like the very word of God it cuts our hearts open and circumcises them, cleansing us, as in our baptism – of the sin which ensnares us. Bathing us in God’s presence, His glory, His love, and bringing healing to our very hearts, our very souls. It is God working in us, the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us into the image of God – as the sacrament ( the physical element and the word of God – takes hold of us. ) is there.
I didn’t include the RCC quote I used – because of its length, but instead a quote from St Josemaria Escriva, a favorite writer of mine. I can begin to understand their practice of adoration and contemplation about the “mystery” of this – the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. Of sitting silently in wonder at the depth of God’s love, at the incredible power of the Holy Spirit within us, to take the time to think through what we’ve shared in, this body and blood, this precious gift, that causes faith to well up within us. For far too often as he points out – we rush through such times – we want to get it done, move through it. Yet think about a good meal – bacon wrapped bacon wrapped shrimp for example. You want to savor the smell, the enviroment, the flavor. Could we take such a time with the Lord’s Supper as well, to let the moment nourish our hearts longer – to set aside our intellect and realize how precious it is, that God comes to us, that He is here? To realize the Spirit’s work in us, drawing us to Him, transforming us, healing us, taking our burdens…
If I, in this week of returning to my alma mater – convince them of nothing theologically – that’s okay. It’s not what I am aiming for. it’s not what the sacrament is about. Doing a dissertation explaining 5000 years of sacramental theology? Cool – but what is needed – knowing our need for God’s presence… and knowing He responds to that need, for this He has promised, this blessing is ours…in Him.
So my friends, take and eat…. take and drink often, and know that the Lord is with you… AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 211–212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) The Articles of Faith (Anglican) http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html
(4) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1282-1284). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV)
210 At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity. (1)
The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear (awe) and so may also pray. (2)
One of the reasons I am a Lutheran pastor, one of the reasons I love our confessions is the same reason I often am found quoting a Catholic priest/saint named Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. ( It is also the reason I am indebted to my non-denom Bible College professors, especially Doug Dickey and Rodney Vliet, and my fellow alum and now professor Chris G.
For all of the above, and some others in life, there is no division between pastoral practice – how we minister and equip others for ministry, and the depth of our theology. It’s not the academics against the pragmatics, the “confessionals” versus the “church growthers”. And while the theology differs a bit at times, there is a…. holistic approach that requires that we realize the harmony between doctrine and practice. The pastor/priest or whatever form of ministry (professor,teacher,deacon, director of ministry) cannot divide his day by saying, from 8-9 I will pray, from 9-11 I will do theology, from 1-5 I will fulfill my pastoral duties and ministry obligations, and from 7-10 I will do church growth. It is one constant movement, one constant life.
Otherwise, I would contend, if you think our lives can be divided like this, you have done none of the above, but have simply whistled into the wind. The Lutheran doctrine of vocation, and Escriva’s teaching on the apostolate doesn’t work this way. For both find their beginning point – and entire existence, in one place.
As this blog is titled – “the heart of theology and the heart of ministry is the Heart of Christ”.
Our theology finds itself created, not in books and seminary or catechetical courses, but in our baptism, at the point where God transforms us, begins to conform our mind to that of Christ. As we are united to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, theology begins, ministry starts. (yes even as a baby is baptized!) For as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, as the word begins to germinate in us, quickening life, we become theologians, we become ministers, servants of the word.
And it is the sacred heart of Christ which replaces our cold, stone hearts (see Ezekiel 36) and we begin to see the world as Christ does. The more we see Christ’s heart and desire to be with us, the more we comprehend the depth of the Father’s love, the more we realize that our masses, our Bible studies, our retreats serve not to just impart doctrine – but to lead us to pray, to lead us to worship, to lead us to interact with God as He shares His glory with us as we dwell in His presence.
Ministry and Theology have to find their essence there, in the heart of God.
Otherwise – you can find blog after blog of theologians claiming programs aren’t based in the faith, and pastors who call their seminary experience their death, and their seminaries nothing more than cemeteries. They both have a point – and the point is the same…..
Without being found and nurtured and developed within the heart of Christ – they aren’t theology and ministry, they are academics and business practices.
But when those very same things are baptised, when they are united with the heart and mind of our benevolent, caring Master Jesus…. when we look at those struggling without Christ as St. Josemaria describes them, as we wolf down theology that shows the glory of God’s work in us, then it is theology, it is ministry, it is one….
for we are one…in Christ.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 250). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
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1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Romans 6:1-4 (NLT)
We should concern ourselves with this revealed will of God, follow it, and be diligent about it because the Holy Spirit gives grace, power, and ability through the Word by which he has called us. We should not explore the abyss of the hidden foreknowledge of God, even as Christ answered the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” by saying, “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:23, 24). Luther puts it this way: “Follow the order in the Epistle to the Romans. Concern yourself first with Christ and his Gospel so that you learn to know your sins and his grace. Then take up the warfare against sin as Paul teaches from the first to the eighth chapter. Afterward, when in the eighth chapter you are tested under the cross and in tribulation, the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters will show you how comforting God’s foreknowledge is.”5[i]
So much so that we neglect the Biblical admonitions to be free of sin, to realize that Christ has overcome it, and we have something far better to do, to think, to say.
I think it is partially fear that stops us from talking about living as disciples, living in Christ, living lives set apart to the purpose of walking with God. For us, its not the fear that noone will listen. (We already know that only about 10% of what we say sinks in..) Rather its a fear that we will somehow, accidently cause people to believe that they do something to be saved. That does happen, simply because all of us like to think we are better than we are. For us the usual temptation is to think that because we’ve go the right doctrine, because we are baptized and believe, we are saved. Even so, the balance of works caused by faith, as compared to works causing faith is a tough one to manage.
Yet, we have to, and Luther tried to give us a pretty simple way of handling sin in his commentary on Romans… that I find.. intriguing.
1. Let Christ deal with the sin… look to Him, see His cross – see HIs love for you demonstrated as he takes the sin from you…
2, Go to war with sin – realize how it steals your life, your hope, your ability to love. The way we battle it is by confessing it and trusting In Christ’s cleansing. As we war – we also go after those captured by sin, and take them back, for they were made by God to be His. Seeing people freed from sin is a powerful encouragement to all around.
This is all seen in the great passage from last week’s epistle,
But realize we do this – not because we have to, but as a response to the gifts we’ve been given by God…
Cry out “Lord have mercy” and remember that freeing you from sin is a way He has…
5 Preface to Romans, EA, 63:135.
[i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 621–622). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
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