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The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.”  Mark 4:26-29 NCV

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.

Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed)  An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.

Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement.  Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.

The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.

But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline?  What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.

What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives?  Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran,  or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God.  The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us.  It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations.  Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things.  Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement.  Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?

Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that?  What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love?  What effect would that have on our worship?  Our preaching?  Our teaching?  Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?

What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.

Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read.  Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens.  They make Him known.  People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found.  Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!

God chooses to commune with us!  God is here, not distant!  He loves us!  We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory!  Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Your Church Doesn’t Need to Be New to Grow.

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The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God. May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

Discussion Thought of the Day:
35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News about the kingdom, and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses. 36 When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them because they were hurting and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Jesus said to his followers, “There are many people to harvest but only a few workers to help harvest them. 38 Pray to the Lord, who owns the harvest, that he will send more workers to gather his harvest.”  Matt 9:35-48  NCV.

Finally, I use these biblical, ancient roots together with insights and practices from Christian history to constitute the foundation for addressing the third issue faced by today’s church: how do you deliver the authentic faith and great wisdom of the past into the new cultural situation of the twenty-first century? The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past.
These three matters—roots, connection, and authenticity in a changing world—will help us to maintain continuity with historic Christianity as the church moves forward. I hope what I cull from the past and then translate and adapt into the present will be beneficial to your ministry in the new cultural situation of our time.

858      The first step towards bringing others to the ways of Christ is for them to see you happy and serene, sure in your advance towards God.

In my “different” (some would say twisted) experience in the church, more than once I have come across those who are focused on Church Growth.  Originally, church growth theory came from those who saw abundant numbers of conversions on the mission field, and sought to replicate it now that they were “back home”.  Now church growth is more affected by statisticians and pollsters, men who observe and make judgments based on what they see, trying to replicate what worked in Texas in Missouri, or what worked in Atlanta in San Diego and Boston.

And the cry today is not to grow the church because that doesn’t work!  The idea today is that new starts, new missions, new ideas make the greatest difference, and therefore deserve the greatest talent and the greatest money.

Churches that are forty years old or older and are in decline?  Give up on them, let them die the experts say. We’ve consulted with them, we’ve given them surveys and tests, we’ve tried to transform them, and they continue to dwindle.  Just give up on them, merge them into bigger churches, sell their properties and use it to start new churches. 

There is a greek technical term that describes such advice, taurus skubala!  Translated into English, it is easily seen as bullcrap.  ( I would type bullshit, but some people might be offended!)  

The reason the experts, the consultants fail to transform churches is simple.  They aren’t part of the community. They come in on a wing and a prayer, they don’t understand the dynamic of why God put a congregation in that place, ( see the dedication of the Solomon’s Temple for the reason) they try to create a vision where there already was a vision, where there has always been a vision.

And the community struggles to adopt its new identity. It isn’t them, it isn’t authentic, it’s an act.  And sooner or later they give it up, and give up the hope that was given to it!  They wander around like sheep without a shepherd, simply following what is in front of them, and the shepherds, tired and weary, plod on after them. 

But what if the church went back to what it treasured, and from their roots, used what they treasured in Christ and allowed Him to transform them and the world.  That was Webber’s plea, with his Ancient-Future Church series.  That is what Escriva considered the Opus Dei – the very work of God.  

We can shepherd people toward the God we know, that is our call in a new church plant or in a church that is 1700 years old.   It is the work of the 80-year-old retired pastor caring for the inner city church that can’t afford a full-time guy; it’s the work of the 26-year-old, fresh from seminary.  It is the work of the lay people, who are shepherded by their pastors and priests.  For as we do our job, the people know the happiness and serenity that is found in the presence of God.  There, in His glorious presence, they find all they need, and it is contagious. 

Bring people to Jesus, show them His way, reveal to them His love through word and sacrament.   That is how you apply the Bible to their lives.  That is how you give them hope, bring them healing, teach them to love as they are loved. 

This is what we’ve always done, though somehow we lost that in doing that.  It is the reason for the liturgy, for the praises we sing, for our homilies and sermons, for the sacraments we invite people too, knowing that they can and do experience God as they are washed and absolved and fed.  As they have always been.  Whether they realised it or not, whether we realized it or not.

As we gather tomorrow, may we shepherd the people to Jesus… may they respond as they find healing, peace and joy, and may others come to see Him as well.  AMEN!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3040-3041). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

nativityCalled to Belong: Called to Be His Own

Romans 1:1-7

† In Jesus Name †

What People Need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this good news?

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

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

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

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

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

That God calls us to belong.

You.

Look at verse 6.  Let’s read it together

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

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

You are called to belong to Jesus.

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

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

God loves you.

And therefore you belong to Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!

 

Has the Church become a pathetic loser?

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Devotional Thought fo the Day:
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors.* 3 Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first! NAB-RE Rev. 2:2-4

414    How pathetic: a “man of God” who has fallen away! But how much more pathetic: a “man of God” who is lukewarm and worldly!

A lot of conversations I’ve been in recently have been about the church in decline.

One talked about how we need to start lots of new churches because old churches can’t grow.  

With another friend we talked about how three churches, healthy two decades ago, may share in the services of one pastor, rather than simply have someone come in every Sunday to preach.

A third conversation was about one of the largest of mega-churches, and how it, and its worship, are but a shadow of what they once were.

We look at the extremes of the church, and it is no less grievous.  One side wants to embrace society’s ills, setting aside the scripture that tells us to shine the light in the darkness.  They do such by just agreeing to live there.  The other extreme also avoids shining light in the darkness, by shining light where there is the brightness of day.  Like in the passage from the Revelation, they do all the good things, they detest the false teaching, they suffer abuse and endure.

What you don’t often hear anymore, is how in love the church is with God!

How head over heals we are, how much we are in awe and wonder, and how we adore God. How amazed we are to find ourselves counted as His loved ones.

The result of loving our love for God?  Lukewarmness, busyness, being focused more on what is going on around us, than being aware of His glorious presence in our life.  A church that focuses itself on outreach, or on maintaining a level of purity.

We need to remember this – we need to rekindle that love!  But how does that happen?

We need to spend time, resting in God’s presence, meditating on His love, hearing His voice which calls out to us. We need to hear of His love for us, His desire for us to be in His presence.  As we meditate on such things our love for Him grows, depending on Him, having faith in Him becomes easier, as does sharing that love with others.

Pastor  – you want you church to come alive, for people to grow in faith (and in a pure faith?)  Then fall in love with God, rejoice in His love for you.

The rest will fall in place.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1033-1034). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why We Aren’t A Post Christian Society


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

9 *But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy!   1 Peter 2:9-10

A single hour of quiet listening to the word of God would often be more effective than whole days of sessions and discussions, and a moment of prayer would be more effective than whole stacks of paper, for it is not only what we do that makes us effective. Sometimes the impression arises that behind our hectic hyperactivity there lurks a paralysis of faith, since in the last analysis we have more confidence in what we ourselves contrive and accomplish.

47 For this reason, too, Paul asks, Since we are called according to the purpose of God, “who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
48 This doctrine will also give us the glorious comfort, in times of trial and affliction, that in his counsel before the foundation of the world God has determined and decreed that he will assist us in all our necessities, grant us patience, give us comfort, create hope, and bring everything to such an issue that we shall be saved

For a decade or more, I have the phrase post-modernism adapted and used to describe a weak church, and so developed phrases like “a post-Christian society” or living in a “post-church society.”

I will agree that the church seems to be less “effective” from a business perspective, at least in areas where it was thought to be very “effective” for decades.  Among those of European descent, among those who were upwardly mobile and driven to live life better than their parents did.

But calling us post-church or post-Christian is wrong, for it presumes that the society we are discussing knew the riches they had in Christ, that they were recipients of the grace and mercy, the peace and love of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, 

And then walked away… not just from the church, but from the love of Christ the church was there to help them explore, to be at their side as they in awe, encountered God revealed to them. 

To call this society “post-Christian” means they walked away from what St Peter describes as leaving the darkness for a wonderful light, that they abandoned being God’s people, and recipients of the mercy that would bring healing and hope to shattered souls. I don’t see people doing that; I see them walking away from meetings and discussions, from stacks of paper describing programs, and from a church that ministered only to their sense of logic, and couldn’t continually keep them in awe.

That which they may have walked away from, did it give them comfort in the midst of suffering, did it bring them a sense of God’s peace that goes beyond explanation and understand?  If so, why would they have walked away from it?

So what is the answer?  Perhaps it is to evangelize the church first, what is called the New Evangelization in some circles.   To teach people that God does answer a cry for mercy, that He hears their prayers, that he will offer them comfort and peace. As this is taught, as it is revealed through His word, and through His sacraments, then the church will naturally evangelize again.  

Teach them about Christ,God incarnate, God crucified and raised, God who comes near, and stays.  God who listens and comforts, who guides and gives meaning to life. Who walks beside them in this lonely life.

It may sound too simple, but simple doesn’t mean wrong, nor does it mean ineffective.  It means that we communicate and reveal the love of God to those who need it, in the church and presently outside it. 

It is time to give people the hope of sharing in the glory of Christ, in the presence of Jesus. 

 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

 

Why Are We Afraid of Intimacy With God?

Discussion and Devotional Thoughts of the Day:Dawn at Concordia

 11  I will live among you in my sacred Tent, and I will never turn away from you. 12  I will be with you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. Leviticus 26:11-12 (TEV)

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. (1)

78      Heroism, sanctity, daring, require a constant spiritual preparation. You can only ever give to others what you already have. And, to give God to them, you yourself need to get to know him, to live his Life, to serve him. (2)

I have pondered why the church is anemic in America.

We have incredible theologians, great exegetes, and emphasis on apologetics.  We have Church Growth studies and strategies, church planters, church restorers, more seminaries than anywhere else in the world.

Yet the church in America still is in decline.  It is so bad now, that we actually have experts in church viability, and strategies to close churches.  The key phrase these days is a legacy church – a church which realizes it isn’t viable, and therefore determines how to will its assets to something that will live and thrive.

We’e forgotten His promises, we’ve forgotten that this faith we have, is faith in those promises, a trust that is based in not knowing about God

A trust not founded in theological treatises, or exegeting the word skuballw correctly, or in knowing which studies to use to understand a church, or which programs might work in which context. It’s a trust that isn’t dependent on using a 14th century liturgy, (or one from a red, blue or maroon hymnal) or haing the right contemporary service order.  All these things are tools, they can be used in our churches, But we never, ever dare put our trust in them.  They are not what we count on, they are not whom we believe on, and they will let us down.

It is a trust that comes from knowing God, and knowing Him intimately.

It is then we can study His promises and claim those promises (not promises we or others create) as His promises to us.

But it still isn’t about the promises.  They are incredible, they are awesome… but our faith isn’t in them.

It is in Him.

It is in realize that He lives with us, in us, that He has come to us, and saved us, cleansed us, is healing us, and is shepherding us, His church, that we come to know Him.  Yes, intimately, and we know He knows us more intimately that we will ever know ourselves.  It was that knowledge that caused Him to comes to us, to die for us, for in knowing us, He loves us, and we… amazed, in awe, begin to learn to love Him back.

That love of His for us is what makes us holy..  It is what drives missionaries and martyrs.  It’s what makes grandma’s and great aunt’s pray for their prodigals on their knees, It is what makes all the heroes of the faith trust in God in their darkest hour.  It is what is causing the church in the “third world” or the Global South, to grow in the face of persecution, in the face of famine, in the face of spiritual warfare.

It’s time we remembered that…. its times we shared that, in chruches, and restaurants, in our homes, our workplaces.

God is with us.  God loves us… and share the extent of that love.

 

(1)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 493-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can God Re-Build a Church? Look at His Heart & His Track Record!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

  In the first year that Cyrus of Persia was emperor, the LORD made what he had said through the prophet Jeremiah come true. He prompted Cyrus to issue the following command and send it out in writing to be read aloud everywhere in his empire:  “This is the command of Cyrus, Emperor of Persia. The LORD, the God of Heaven, has made me ruler over the whole world and has given me the responsibility of building a temple for him in Jerusalem in Judah.  May God be with all of you who are his people. You are to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem.  If any of his people in exile need help to return, their neighbors are to give them this help. They are to provide them with silver and gold, supplies and pack animals, as well as offerings to present in the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4 (TEV)

“Land of my fathers, how I long to return, to touch the thy earth, and find again they sacred paths, well walked with the Gospel of peace, veiled now in the shadow of mediocrity.  What means these stones, which beset they coastline, who in tristed in agaony cry out in praise and supplication of Him, and the renewal of the faith that bled to secure them there….Yet we would walk again Thy sacred paths, repair Thy ancient ruins, restore Thy Broken Altars, raise of the foundations of many generations….”  (1)

Since I watched a small church in Van Nuys close, the building sold away, the money given to more growing and “growing” churches, some might say I have an attitude problem.

Every time I hear of a church being written off, or the attitude that we can combine parishes, that we can leave churches in “maintenance mode”, until they whither and die I get a bit…. well pissed off is what I want to say, but know I should not.  Experts give up on churches that are more than 25 years old, they say they are in a death cycle, and quote statistics about churches that are 5 years old or younger being the source of most abult baptisms and growth.  We buy into these studies – and dismiss the lessons of scripture – we dismiss the times where God has taken things that have long been broken, or considered dead and/or impotent, and created life that is wondrous and beautiful and so outrageous we say with jaws dropped open….. WOW!

Think about..
Israel in captivity for 400 years plus – rebuilt into a powerful nation

Exra rebuilding the temple – at a unbeliever’s direction and underwriting

Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones, Jeremiah’s promises.

Hannah and Elizabeth and Sarah  – wombs that were old and dried up (that’s what scripture says)  Their men weren’t spring chickens either…

Though my wife and I aren’t in their age bracket – or in their physical deterioation – we are both within 366 days of being considered “senior citizens” by our community.  And we just found out we are expecting. That kind of shock makes you think.

Or renders you  incapable of thinking.

Gof has interesting plans in life… and life is what His plans are about.  Restoring it, Rebuilidng it, Cleansing it, with all His craftsmanship rendering it into a masterpiece that makes you jaws drop – more than a 48 year, 364 day old man trying to get his mind to consider he will be a dad again.

My point is, if God can do this – why would he want to let a congregation die, or fade off?  Why would he want where his name has been put, to be rendered impotent, the doors closed, the windows bordered up – the building sold and a starbucks or liqour store or antique store put in its place?

I don’t believe He does, it is not how He has worked.  He has brought us, His people, to the place where we can cry out to Him, and like those who have gone before testify to us – He always answers…. Rebuilding our congregations is about trusting Him, hearing Him, knowing His love for us and our community.

So let’s cry out Lord have mercy – and knowing His heart – let us see how He will rebuild our churches, His Church, through us!

 

(1)from Celtic Daily Prayer – Aidan Reading 2/10

Who is more faithful to the faith? Wrong question!

Jesus Christ Crucifix

Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day

8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9  Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you from the right way. It is good to receive inner strength from God’s grace, and not by obeying rules about foods; those who obey these rules have not been helped by themHebrews 13:8-9 (TEV) 

Although it seems a paradox, those who call themselves sons of the Church may often be precisely those who sow greater confusion.  (1)

I see a lot of confusion among the people of the church caused by those in the church today.  Matter of fact, the old cliche, “we’ve met the enemy and we are it!” may be at a epic high.  It doesn’t matter what denomination, what movement, what area, there is a battle who is more faithful.  In my denomination, the battle as to who is most faithful often is waged between those who want to abide by the old rules, the old ways and customs and methods of the church in its 1940’s-1950’s heyday, and those who define faithfulness as being tied to ourreach and mission.  We get convinced that only if we can find the right box, with the right walls, then God will bless us – because we are faithful. That God will cause the church to thrive because of our perfect liturgy, our our desire to see people know Christ.

And we lovk ourslves in a box…. Sometimes in fear, sometimes in frustration, sometimes just because we want and need a way to now we are okay with God.

It is ironic.  But then, as sinners, we are good about making it all about ourselves.

In other times, it was waged over music, or church governance or finances or any of a number of good and practical things.  We focus on concepts, on the theology, on the practice… and we forget about the content, the relationship.. to put it bluntly, what I see lacking the most in these battles, is our desire to know and make known the Lord who loves us.

It’s time to cut through the confusion, its time to strip away both new ideas and old man-made requitements and just draw our strength from where it comes.  Hebrews says it is a gift of God, it is grace, it is walking each day in His presence, reveling in His mercy, depending on His faithfulness, trusting ourselves into His loving hands…confident of His faithfulness.

Seeing whatever happens as something He is working through, whether it is joyous or a cross, whether it is in abundancae …well… let me quote Paul

8  We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; 9  there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. 10  At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (TEV)

Here is the key that stops us from looking for affirmation of our faithfulness- because we don’t need it.  We have Christ.   We have a God who says, “you are my child, I have begotten you… dwell in my love.”

And when we do.. all sorts of interesting things happen…not that we’d notice… for our lives would be constantly praising Him… for His faithfulness.

So stop trying to prove your faithful, that your faithfulness is superior or more holy.. and just dwell in His presence, evjoy His love.. and adore Him..for He is our God, and we are His kids.

AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1664-1665). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Our Church’s Strategic Plan: Prayer

The Mission:  Briefing #2
Our Strategic Plan:  Prayer

John 12:20-33

 

Jesus, Son and Savior

 

As You look around you, may you realize the great need there is for the grace, the mercy and love that is yours to give, for that is your gift from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

At least we can? Not..

It’s probably a matter of semantics, just the way people phrase things, but I have heard it a lot this week.  It’s been said different ways, but it still sounds the same…

“Pastor, we’ll be praying, but if there is anything we can do….” Or

“Pastor, we know there is probably nothing we can do, but we’ll be praying for you and your family…”

By the way, if you’ve said that, I know that isn’t how we mean it. Or at least I don’t think we think that way.  Or maybe….. we do.

In contrast – today’s epistle reading takes a different tact…


I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.

In our Lutheran Confessions, Melancthon wrote of it this way,

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

So I repeat Paul’s words – and will more and more today, I urge you, first of all… to pray for all people!

Where is our faith?

       

Whether we realize it, or not, when we set prayer as a secondary action, as a safety valve, we are breaking the first and second commandment.  You heard me, we are sinning, by placing another god in our lives, by not calling upon God in both prayer and praise.
Luther wrote about it this way:

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God?

Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart;

 

For faith is not just about salvation, it’s about deacon Mike’s favorite theological phrase! It’s about that intimate relationship we have with God. It’s about trusting Him in everything – and running to Him first when we don’t know what to do, or how to love and care, all that we know is that He is where we find hope, and comfort, and love.

So Paul urges not just Timothy, but us to pray for all people.  To get God involved in their situation, to deliver them from whatever is oppressing them, especially the sin and unrighteousness of this world.  To pray that God would save them, even as He has saved us.  That His grace, His mercy and love that we know – for that is why we praise Him…would be revealed to them so clearly it would knock them over…like Paul was knocked over on the road to Damascus.

You see that’s how we deal with all people!  Yes – I mean all people.  Pray for those who annoy you, who irritate you, who’ve hurt you, who’ve betrayed you!  Put them in God’s hands, let God help them with their hurts, and your will find yourself healing as well.  For that is what it means that God is our God – that we trust Him with our who heart – even with our bruised and battered hearts…

For He is faithful and He will reconcile us all in His heart.

We have to grasp the heart of God!

That is really what prayer is about, and why it makes so much sense to put those we care for, and those who we struggle to care for, into the very hands of God.  He’s the one who can take care of their burdens, and the burdens and anxieties that they can cause us.

That is why Paul brings in God’s will.  He just does not want everyone to be saved – that is a weak translation there.  The word is desire; it is a word full of passion and zeal.  It is all about His heart yearning to know each and every one of us, to bring healing to us, and you know – that means He has to deal with those we love whose situations break our hearts… and those who simply break our hearts.

For Jesus came and lived and died for each of us, even as we broke the Father’s heart, and occasionally still do. As we get to know God’s heart; as His love is revealed to each of us.

That’s why the great prophecy about baptism in Ezekiel 36 talks about God cleansing us and removing our hard stone hearts and putting in them a heart of flesh and His Spirit – that’s part of the transformation that begins in us when we are baptized, when God gives us His Spirit.

The closer we come to God, the more His love is revealed in our lives, the more we find ourselves trusting in Him enough to give Him our pains and anxieties, which so often include, or are about, or caused by others.

The same “others” that Jesus also hunt on the cross and for whom He died.

That’s what we have to understand, that is what is true – the love of Go, seen as Jesus, the only one who can act  as an intermediary between God and man – does that very thing.

We’ll talk about that more in Bible study – but think about this – the reason Jesus can bring God and man together.. is because He is… God and Man.

His heart is for us, and He brings us into His sacred heart – He brings us into a relationship so clear that the more we spend time in it, the more we heal and our new heart is revealed to be His.


But our first step isn’t to go on a crusade…

        Protos panton

 

That is why our first step is not some crusade to go save the world.  Our first step is to fall on our knees and ask God to bless people, to help them, that’s why we intercede on their behalf.

It’s not something we do as a last resort, or when we can’t think of something else to do.  Paul urges us, literally he comes along side to help us and points out our first step – is to reach out…not to them, but to the Father who will have Jesus intercede in their lives.

This is the strategy of our mission as believers, our mission of the church.

I urge you, first of all to pray for all people.

And Paul repeats the concept – Ask God to help them..

Intercede with Him on their behalf.. even if you don’t like them… ask God to be with them..

Four times in four ways… God asks us this.  It’s called a parallelism.

It’s like when you wife, or your mother, tells you to do something… if she tells you twice..  uhm you better listen…

But if she gets to three…

But this is even more important…we’re talking about our eternity here, and about our relationship with God. Our relationship with God…. Like communion its not an individual thing – but a God pulling us all into Him thing. That’s what He does – that’s why we go to Him, and as Paul says – as Paul urges us, we go to Him first.

 

A last thought:  Why give thanks?

As we chew on this, for the heart of God is something we cannot just academically “get”, as we strive to realize what it means that God wants us all, in Christ, reconciled, as we learn to pray for all men, I would ask one more thing….

Why do we give thanks for them?  Why are we urged by Paul, along with praying for them, to give thanks for them? Even the politicians and bosses and all that oppress and antagonize us?
Because, when we realize God’s heart toward them, our hearts melt as well… and even more..
Because whether positive or negative influences in our lives…when we are urged to bring them and their situation before God.. wefind we are in His presence… and there…

 

There is peace. And may your realize that unexplainable, unsurpassable peace of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!


[i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Gravity and God’s Grace….

Devotional Thought of the Day….

 32  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  John 12:32 (NLT)

As I walk between the extremes of Christianity, and my own branch of the church, I hear a lot of advice about the church.  Some suggest that God will bless the church, if we are faithful to this model.  Wait, most of them say that – their models just appear – whether traditional or contemporary, whether doctrinal or social – fundamental or liberal to be at odds with the other models.  I would content they might not be as much as they think, they are often making observations about the same thing from different perspectives.

But that isn’t the point.

I would contend that it isn’t how liturgical you are, or whether you church is Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist, or whether you are involved in social ministry, or training the next generation of leaders, or whatever it is.  What matters is, is Christ lifted up.   For Jesus is where we find hope, it is His love, His desire to reconcile us to the Father, that is seen when He is lifted up on the cross.   I will contend that this is the unseen core of the what drives both the church growth crown and the we have to be faithful to our past crowd.

They both love, even if they don’t realize it, how Christ is revealed to them.

The grace and mercy of Christ is like gravity – it is so needed, and the more people need it, the more they get caught in its pull.  The more aware they are of being broken, the more they are pulled to the one who is lifted up, just so their souls can find healing.  Such was the story of the serpent on the pole – look there – find healing.  It was the nature of Solomon’s temple – for believers – look there – find forgiveness/healing, for non-believers, God will hear them – and bring them what they need.

It is, always and forever, about our relationship with Christ, for nothing else provides us with what we need, nothing is like the one crucified to show us His love, His mercy, His desire for us to be His people.

May the Holy Spirit remove from us everything else that catches our eyes,,,, leaving only Christ visible…and then, as the Spirit transforms us into His image – may we see that around us with His eyes.

English: Resurrection of Christ

English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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