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God is Not like a Cell phone charger..

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18  “But will God really live on earth among people? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.
2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (NLT2) 

14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14 (NLT2

You can fool others about the relationship you have with God. A pious posture, a liturgy held with angelic face, the breviary opened and handy when someone enters the room are masks which have stuck so well to certain persons whom they really believed to be respectable and pious.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

We too often treat God as if he the cable we plug into our cell phones at night. We go to church on Sunday, and maybe Wednesday night, and plug in to get “recharged”.  Not a bad illustration in a way, because that is what God’s word and the sacraments do, they revive us, and they help us to remember God’s presence.

They help us to remember that God is showing us mercy, that when we pray, God forgives, restores, heals us of our brokenness. That is why our time at church should be such a great moment in our lives, and a blessing we know we can’t go without.

The problem is that we take this “recharging” and then it is as if we “unplug” from God, and walk out the door. We act and live as if God lives at church, and stays there, waiting for us to return next week.  During that week, having returned to our brokenness, we find ourselves drained of power, unable to overcome the sin which easily ensnares us, and our piety and holiness become an act, a facade which is easily seen through…

and does fool God for a moment. 

No matter what we believe, whether we believe in God or not, He is here.

Full of mercy and truth, ready to hear our prayer and forgive, ready to restore and heal what is broken, and comfort us in the process. 

God isn’t our recharging station, God is more like our battery, and the charging station doesn’t restore the charge in the battery, it simply restores our ability to realize He is there, and He is our life.  

And as He reveals our brokenness, as we stop playing games and trying to hide it, a wonderful thing happens.  We realize He is with us, dwelling with us, dwellin in our midst.  AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.


A Lesson We Need to Learn. Church is not “Respectable”

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

The devotional thought of the day:

12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”  Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)

Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!

One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.

People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.

When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual.  When four do, when I see how they resonate,  the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;

I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.

The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it.  As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest.  We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.

It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God.  Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.

Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are.  We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party.  When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.

I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness.  That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.

As shattered as we are, yet…

Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them.   That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us.   They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful.  He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  Because He loves us…..

And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.

We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.

Let us pray,  Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose.  Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort.  AMEN!

Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

We Still Need Reformation, (perhaps more than ever!)

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought for our Days:

6 “This may seem impossible to those of the nation who are now left, but it’s not impossible for me. 7I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, 8and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly.  Zechariah 8:6-8 TEV

96      Discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance, and then, from everything that happens, you will be able to draw more love for God and a greater desire to respond to him. He is always waiting for us, offering us the possibility to fulfil at all times that resolution we made: Serviam! I will serve you!

One of the books I am presently reading is Metaxas biography of Martin Luther.  It is more than a bit distressing, as constantly Metaxas points out that what happened was out of control of everyone involved, especially Luther.

Why couldn’t the church simply reform?  Why did the leaders not listen and discuss things like the Church did at the Jerusalem council?  Why was the division and later shattering of God’s family so unavoidable?

As I read Metaxas account, it seems like the reformation was a huge tidal wave, that consumed all in its path.

So where was God in it all?  Can we, as another Catholic Priest/Reformer of the Church advised, “discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance”?   

Personally, I find this difficult, I get overwhelmed by what seemed impossible to stop, Much like the people of Israel in the time of Zechariah.  It was impossible for them to even think of the restoration of the people (not the nation) Israel.  The people of God who struggle with Him (that;s what Israel means), yet are His people, for He is their God.   Yet the prophet assures them that for God this is not impossible, but it will happen.

God will restore His people, He will call them to His side,, He will call them home together.   It is God’s plan, His desire, His will, that we shouldn’t perish, and that He will call all His people home, together.

So how to grow in faith, in confidence that what God has promised, God will deliver? Even when the darkness seems to overshadow life?  How can I trust, as Joseph did, that God means all of this for good?  From the reformation which shattered the Western Church to arguments which threaten my own denomination today, that God will use these storms to bless those who love Him?

I have to look to the cross, the place where God seems the most vulnerable, even more, vulnerable than when He was in utero in Mary. To look to the cross as Jesus, fully God and fully man, is murdered by those who found God’s inconvenient and bothersome. As He died for all of our sin.  The sin of the Catholics, the Protestants, even the Orthodox.  s He died to cover the sins for those who do not know Him yet, but will as we reveal Him to them.  It is there- when even nature went dark and shook with fear, to realize even in the dark moment, God was at work.  Using the greatest evil Satan could ever con man into doing, turned out to be the greatest of blessings.

As God proved He is Immanuel, God with us.

As I look at a broken and fractured church, on his the supposed anniversary of the Reformation, my hope is in God’s promise, that not one of those in Christ will be lost, that He will call all of us home, and that He will continue to make us a holy people.

Lord, have mercy on us!  Help us to see You in everything we encounter, and in all of History!

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 553-556). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Doing What is Right…. there is only one way.

Devotional Thought for our Day:

1  People of Jerusalem, run through your streets! Look around! See for yourselves! Search the marketplaces! Can you find one person who does what is right and tries to be faithful to God? If you can, the LORD will forgive Jerusalem. Jeremiah 5:1 (TEV)

804         That friend of ours with no false humility used to say: “I haven’t needed to learn how to forgive, because the Lord has taught me how to love.”

Unrighteousness is a contagious disease.

It spreads like wildfire, often consuming those who are trying to fight it the hardest.

We find ourselves caught hating those who hate, gossiping about those who gossip, seeking to be unjust to those who presume are unjust.  Not forgiving those who do something unforgivable.

We seriously need to send out search parties to find one righteous, just person.  Just one!

At least God lowered the standard from the days of Sodom and Gomorrah! Then Abraham got him down to 10 righteous people.  Now we have to find only One! If only there was some way to find that person, if only there was some way He could rise above the crowd, so that God could easily see Him!

The man has been found!  He’s been lifted up on the cross!  God forgave Jerusalem and all who look to Him for forgiveness!

God’s looked beyond our unrighteousness, beyond our betraying Him, beyond our brokeness and forgave us, not because He had to, but because He loves us.   He proved what St. Josemaria states, that one who loves doesn’t have to learn to forgive, the love they are compels them to do so.  Love will seek the course of reconciliation, it has to, and that means forgiving.

That is what the righteous and just do…

And that is contagious as well.

Lord, help us ot know we are loved, help us to be so overwhelmed by our experience the incredible height and breadth, depth and width of that love that we begin to love as well, and as we do, forgive as we’ve been forgiven!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3319-3320). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.


 

It’s time to come home… coming to our senses about sin and the family of God

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
17  Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. 18  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” ‘ 20  So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15:17-20 (NAB)

985    You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.

Why, Then, is the Law to Be Taught, and What is Its Legitimate Use?
I. That people might learn from the Law seriously to acknowledge both their manifold sins and the judgment of God against sins, namely that they are subject to divine wrath and the curse or eternal condemnation, unless they are set free through Christ, so that they thus turn themselves away from sins, fear the wrath of God, and seek the true physician who alone can heal our weaknesses. Ro 3:20; 4:15; 2 Co 3:6–9; Eze 18:30–31; Mt 9:12.
II. That the Law, written by the finger of God, might be for the reborn a sure norm and rule, showing which works God has prepared, in which He wants the reborn to walk and serve Him. Dt 12:32; Eze 20:19; Ro 13:8; Cl 2:20–23.

He came to his senses. We need to do the same. 

Growing up 40-45 years ago, there was a rule in our home, be back int he house before dark.  We lived on 3 hilly wooded acres in New Hampshire, and darkness fell fast, there was nothing like lingering twilight in the, once the sun went down, darkness descended, and it was a black darkness.  

More than once, I would leave too late to get home before darkness caught me.  Once i remember sitting in the small ancient cemetery (newest grave was 1810 or so) a half mile down the road, fearing what my arrival home would bring.  As a side note, I don’t recommend sitting in a dark cemetery with huge creaky oak trees blotting out the moonlight.

Car lights could be seen, and I feared each one would contain my parents, out searching for their young rebellious, disobedient son. After about an hour passed by, as the night was getting colder, desperation would force me to leave my refuge, and walk my huffy bicycle home. 

As I walked by my neighbors, looking in their windows, I wondered if they knew of my misadventure if my folks had checked with the Stobers and the Zahns.  Eventually, I tried to figure if I could sneak in, through the basement sliding glass door, or maybe through the studio or kitchen door.  But I made it home, and at first hugged, then scolded, then hugged again, I was finally safe, and the anxiety could fade away.

This is how we treat God, whether we’ve run far off, or whether we are hiding deep inside our own hearts as we sit in church on Sunday morning.  St Josemaria tells us our shame should have driven us home, desperately seeking refuge, rather than ensnared us and kept us anxious, cold, hungry and left…. outside, tormented, and scared what would happen when we finally arrived home. 

As a pastor, there is a need for me to teach people that the best place for them to be, when struggling with sin, is in the midst of God’s family.  There, mercy and peace is waiting.  Forgiveness and love will be manifest.  Chemnitz was correct, where the Law serves properly when it moves believers from remaining in sin to remember they are set free from sin by Jesus, and enables them to respond to that mercy and love.  That it shows them they can seek the healing of their hearts and souls, for this is why Jesus reaches out to them.

People need to know that church is a safe haven fro sinners, a place where they aren’t going to be condemned for being snared by sin, but where they will find peace, as others similarly wounded assist them, and help them depend on Jesus.  

This is the church, this is the Father’s home, where we find His compassion.

So come home, enter the warmth and light, and know love and peace…. it’s time.

And if you see me or anyone else hiding behind a tombstone, bring us home too.

For we all get caught in the darkness from time to time.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 2290). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition 
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. 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.

Struggling with Division in God’s Church… WIll We Die With Him?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the day
8  Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9  And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10  So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.
11  This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 12  If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. 13  If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. 14  Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them. 2 Timothy 2:8-14 (NLT)

Augustine tells us that, one day, he tore himself away from his friend Alipius in order to be alone in the garden with his misery, his temptations, his inner conflict. In that moment of overwhelming agitation he thought he heard a child’s voice calling repeatedly to him: “Tolle et lege—Take and read!” He arose, found a Bible, and read these words: “Put on the Lord Jesus!” This was the turning point of his existence. Augustine had, in that moment, discovered the word of God. (1)

Over the years I have spent in ministry, I have struggled with how we deal with division, denominationalism and sectarianism in the church.

Some have the ancient answer, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials freedom(liberty), in all things charity (love, grace, mercy.)  The problem is that they divide soon after based on what is essential, and insisting on non-essentials, and dismissing charity as being weak.

Others handle the division by misquoting Romans 16:17, and the idea that we should toss aside those with heretical and even heterodox doctrines.  I say this because the context includes causing divisions in the church by use of these doctrines, these teachings.  Whether they be teachings about theology or practice.  Heretical meaning that they are against God and His desire to save all of mankind.  Heterodox meaning that they aren’t giving glory to God in their teaching and practive as God deserves.

I’ve been part of both groups at times, and I can tell you the sincerity and intent of both groups are noble.  Even as they fail to apply it properly.  In being a participant and observer of this, I have reached a conclusion.

We are all broken.  We all have our heretical and heterodox practices. As we all have those things that glorify God in their holiness, proving God has set us apart for Himself  Even in the beloved churches I’ve been blessed to be part of, whether it was St Joe’s – Salem NH, St. Francis Church in Lawrence, MA, First Baptist, Salem, The Crystal Cathedral youth group, OVBC, North Orange Christian,  Arrow Hwy Wesleyan, West Valley Christian, First Christian YV, Good Shepherd Lutheran YV,  Shepherd of the Valley, Anze, and now Concordia Lutheran – Cerritos.  I’ve named them all for a reason; I can think of people in each of those church’s who were holy and broken.  Whose doctrine needed to conform to Jesus, and yet who Jesus worked through in diverse and yes, miraculous ways.  Who indeed needed to grow, but were growing.

So how do we do this?  How does a splintered, fractured church see Christ’s church?  Does it welcome people of all beliefs and say that doctrine and practice don’t matter?  Does it instead force everyone to become clones?  I can’t agree with either perspective. Indeed, I think both extremes of full inclusion and full exclusivity miss the mark.  That’s being nice; I believe both are sinful.

If we can admit we have areas of our theology and/or practice that are broken, then we have some hope.As we find healing for our brokenness in Jesus, that healing will bring us the unity we need.

We have the opportunity to do what Paul was setting as an example for Timothy.  We remember His death and resurrection, and the fact that He has united us to Him, bonded Himself to us in that event, so that we can know life, both now and everlasting.

This is what made the difference, this gospel, in Augustine’s life.  To see, to hold in your hands the story of God’s love for you, revealed!   That is our turning point and over and over in our lives we need to have it.  The best example I can think of is a swordsmith, who folds the steel over and over on itself – each time gaining more strength.  So too as we remember Christ, as we hear and read and speak of His love, that strengthens us.  As we hear of the promises given to us in baptism, that strengthens us, as we eat His Body and drink His Blood we again encounter His presence, a presence that leaves us in awe, as we realize His mercy and love.

This is our God, here in our lives.  Listen to Him, Know Him….

And as that happens, the issues that divide us that shouldn’t fade, and we will realize a unity not based on our faith, but His faithfulness.  And together we can cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  AMEN

(1)  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. 327). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

We Talk of Winning Souls, but Do We Protect them?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.Ro 13:11–14NLT

64         What a wonderful thing to convert unbelievers, to gain souls!… Well, it is as pleasing, and even more pleasing to God, to avoid their being lost.

This week, as I prepare to preach on Mark 9, this theme keeps coming back in my devotions.

This idea of the Church, its pastors, and its people, not caring whether we cause others to walk away from the church.  Whether we, with all of our theological studies, with all of our systems and programs, do not have a pastor’s heart, a brother or sister’s care to encourage people like Paul does above.

Do we encourage people to live lives that will bring God glory?  Not because of their perfection, but because of the love we show others?  Because we don’t look out for #1 but look out for the one, who isn’t in line?  Who is starting to wander off, who is choosing the darkness, or just being tempted by it?

I am not, by any means, talking about a forced life of purity.  For such doesn’t exist.

But I am talking about a life that recognizes the love of God and treasures it more than the pleasures of the moment.  That knows the promises and blessings, the love and mercy of God who comes to us.  A life that journeys close to the cross,

And we allow too many not even to know that is possible.

It is simple in theory to change, as we encourage each other to hear God, not just a verse here and there.  But time spent understanding the breadth and depth, the width and height of God’s love.  To share in that word, not just study it in a closet, to rejoice and point out the blessings confirmed to us as they flow through the sacraments.  To make sure that the old who know the story best hear it alongside those who haven’t heard it, so they may all rejoice together in God’s presence.

All of us, those who have been in the church for all our lives, and those who are just coming to hear of His love.

That’s the way it has been, that is what we even see at the dedication of Solomon’s temple.  All come to pray, all come to know His love. 

The family, acting like a family, the people of God, gathered around Him.

Bringing others, ensuring everyone has a place, helping others continue to focus on Jesus.

May our lives be lived in Him, and may they draw others to reconcile with God and encourage

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 487-489). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Church – your consultants faith? Is it in statistics and probabilities, or in God?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
 Do this because you are a people set apart as holy to GOD, your God. GOD, your God, chose you out of all the people on Earth for himself as a cherished, personal treasure.  GOD wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you.  He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. GOD stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know this: GOD, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. Deuteronomy 7:6-9a (MSG) 

Something similar has happened to us. With little effort we could find among our family, friends, and acquaintances—not to mention the crowds of the world—so many worthier persons that Christ could have called. Yes, persons who are simpler and wiser, more influential and important, more grateful and generous. In thinking along these lines, I feel embarrassed. But I also realize that human logic cannot possibly explain the world of grace. God usually seeks out deficient instruments so that the work can more clearly be seen to be his.

I have had it with the church statistics “experts”.  The well intention men and women who tell churches that they have only a 25 year life cycle, that they are going to die and close their doors, and that this can be a good thing.

Or the men who say that the fastest growing churches, and the best return of investment is to plant new churches (even if they are only 2 miles from a healthy church.  Who play around with statistics and charts and give advice and sell their coaching services. Whose advice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as people believe them, and forget that ministry is not about statistics and what gives us the biggest bang for our buck.  The new thought is that a church while it still has value should close, before it loses what value it has, in order that God would do something new somewhere else.  (That line I have a problem with, because doing something new in scripture was about the cross and resurrection – the death of Christ – not his church)

We don’t “do” church in ways because of what makes sense in a business model.  Statistics don’t governthe church, God does. Brooklyn Tabernacle was once a dead, tiny church, the American Baptist hcurches in Northern Calfiornia were once empty.  My first church was under 20 in attendance.    We do church because God calls us to minister to those who are broken, to reconcile people to them, to see their souls healed. We are there to pray for comfort and healing of the cancer patient, to remind the imprisoned that God hasn’t given up on them, to help people broken by divorce, or challenged by changes in their lives, or the past that haunts them.

Wo are the church to “do” grace, to be “grace”, to be the place where God incarnates, where he is revealed.

The church is something that can’t be reduced to statistics, or to methodologies.  Because it isn’t about numbers, it is about life.  It is about the supernatural invading and transforming the natural. It is about the power of God made clear as it transforms the lives of people who thought there was no hope.

What does beating the statistical models take?  How can we avoid being another church which closes its doors?

It’s so simple that the experts can’t see it.

Know Christ! revel in His presence! Help people give to God the burdens and anxieties they carry.  Plead with them to let God  reconcile them!  Teach them to treasure God’s time and presence. Fall in love with Him to the point where your heart beats in harmony with His.

It works, because God promised not to abandon us… but to work through us.

Abide in Him. And watch what He does … it is amazing!

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 424-429). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Lord Is With You! What Does This Mean?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day

And from that day the name of the city will be ‘The LORD Is There.’” Ezekiel 48:35b (NLT)

12  Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT) 

Being saved means being loved and only the love of God can purify damaged human love and restore the network of relationships that has been fundamentally alienated. (1)

7 First of all, there is in this article no disagreement among us concerning the following points: That it is God’s will, ordinance, and command that believers walk in good works; that only those are truly good works which God himself prescribes and commands in his Word, and not those that an individual may devise according to his own opinion or that are based on human traditions; that truly good works are not done by a person’s own natural powers but only after a person has been reconciled to God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit, or, as St. Paul says, “has been created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

In church gatherings following what is called the traditional liturgy(3)  there are two phrases, a statement, and a response, which I have come to treasure.

The pastor/priest/bishop says, “The LORD is with you!”  And the people respond, “And also with you”, or perhaps in some forms, “and with your spirit”.

As I write this, the 1001st blog on justifiedandsinner, I can think of no better phrase, nor better promise to explore. If justification is the core doctrine in theology, this statement is the heart of theology. In fact, it is the sole reason for justification.  Justification exists in order to draw and unite to God, a people who weren’t a people, to create His family, to give those who did not have a real god, but followed idols, a God that loves and cares who heals and forgives, who is merciful, and therefore just.

That is what it means; that is the bottom line promise throughout scripture.  It was the promise in the Garden, and the promise of the Exodus, the promise of the restoration of Israel, as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel foretold it.  Though we can’t realize it, this promise was fulfilled and made real at the cross.  The promise was restated as Jesus promised at the Ascension that He would never forsake us, and at Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came to abide in those God called and made His own.  In the people, God is transforming and making into the image of His son.

This freedom from sin God gives us has a dramatic effect.  It changes us into God’s workmanship – not just someday, but even now.  That is what repentance is, not just some heartfelt apology, but the transformation of our mind, the putting on of Christ.

Side effects of the Lord being with you are well described above, but  few highlights

  • We are clothed with love Paul says, not as a command, but as the promise of our Baptism, a love that flows out to others.  This isn’t some matter of force, or of obligation.  It is a transformation God works inside us, the effect of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in us.
  • We become those who walk in good works, as the Lutheran Confessions describe.  Again, it is not a matter of obedience of our will, but the effect of reconciliation and renewal.
  • We see relationships in a new light – that they are healing and healed by the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead

These are incredible blessings, things beyond our ability to see and lay hold of perfectly.  That again proves it is not ours naturally, but still something that becomes more and more our transformed nature, the effect of the trust in God the Holy Spirit works in us.  It is part of what this idea that God is with us means.

But it is not the primary, glorious meaning to the Lord is with you….

The primary, glorious meaning of this simple phrase, is the phrase itself…..

HE is with YOU!

Revel in that, knowing that nothing can separate you from His love.  AMEN!

1)  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. 221). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 552). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(3)  What traditional liturgy means fluctuates greatly over time and denominational affiliation -but the basic outline is similar.

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